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Answers to Questions on Philanthropy

Published: November 12, 2009

Stephanie Strom answers your questions on charitable giving.

Q. I am interested to know whether new nonprofits are still using direct mail or if they have moved completely to e-mail and other online ways of raising money. Obviously, the return on investments from e-mail and online is much higher, and, as a new nonprofit, gathering addresses is a time-consuming activity. Any information you have on whether new nonprofits continue to gather names and addresses for direct mail or are bypassing that for e-mail addresses would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time and knowledge.

— Andy

A. Thank you for an excellent question. Most new nonprofits do not have the financial wherewithal to use direct mail, which is expensive, and thus rely on e-mail and other technology-based means of communication.

As most of us know, however, big, established charities continue to use direct mail because it still raises more money than online tools. Although fund-raisers and technology experts once predicted that social media would be the death of direct mail, they now say that having the right mix of direct mail, e-mail and social media is more important.

Q. I’ve been e-mailing and calling local places to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day but no one ever gets back to me. Do you have any suggestions as to where my husband and I can volunteer?

— Nancy Torti

A. I’m not sure where you are, but in many communities, organizations like the Salvation Army, churches, food banks and others offer opportunities to volunteer. Try checking their Web sites for information about volunteering on Thanksgiving.

Q. All of my clients have very little name recognition, yet all of them do amazing work that affects the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and others around the world. I’m wondering how my clients can effectively attract the “everyday” donor without a catastrophe to respond to or tremendous name recognition?

Claudia Stepke

A. Unfortunately, I have no simple answer for you. Attracting donors is a time-consuming, difficult task, which is why wealthy institutions pay so dearly for “development” executives. For most organizations, word of mouth is the best way to advertise, and technology like e-mail, Twitter and Facebook can help amplify that word-of-mouth proselytizing — but most organizations don’t ask their existing donors to do that.

Q. Are there any specific Web sites you could make me aware of that let you know how much of the money given to certain nonprofit organizations is distributed for example, does the C.E.O. make a high six-figure income, etc.).

— Gaby Loredo

A. There is no one Web site that will provide the information for which you seem to be looking. Charity Navigator provides data based on the tax forms nonprofits use to report to the I.R.S. how much of every dollar donated is spent on administrative costs versus programs. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance offers reports on charities that include a variety of data and information. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has an annual compensation survey that lists the amounts paid to the leaders of some charities.