The Touching Driveway Moment that Will Save the World and Your Rec Room

This fall your teen may be heading off to college for the first time, perhaps with only the vaguest idea about a career.  As he or she backs down the driveway, you have one last chance to influence their future.  My suggestion:  wave them down, lean through the window and, in your gravest James Earl Jones voice, intone:

“My child, the ambitious among us want a rewarding career.  The thoughtful among us want to build a better world.  Those who are ambitious and thoughtful go to work for nonprofit organizations.”

Ignore the quizzical look that has become so familiar during your child’s endearing teen years.  Forge quickly ahead, saying:

“Nonprofits today employ nearly 12 million Americans.  The sector has grown into the nation’s third largest employment category, just behind retail (16 million) and manufacturing (12 million).”

They will nod thoughtfully, as they always do when you impart parental wisdom and statistics.  You have them hooked.  Bring it home with:

“Whether their mission is education or healthcare, safe neighborhoods or food security, ethical government or a healthy earth – nonprofit workers make irreplaceable contributions to our quality of life.  And you can too.”

Misty-eyed, they may ask the reason for this touching driveway revelation.  Answer with:

“Because, while these roles become popular career choices, few youngsters actually prepare for them.  The result is a serious leadership gap in the sector.  One of those unfilled, rewarding jobs could one day be yours – stimulating your mind, stirring your passions, and reducing the chance you’ll move back into our basement four years from now.”

Do not be distracted by the sun breaking from behind the clouds; ignore that distantly heard heavenly chorus. Just look into the inspired eyes of your offspring and know that you have, once again, helped to make our world (and your rec room) a better place…

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.  This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.

Saving the World – and My July 4th Picnic

Grilling the unenlightened for fun and nonprofit

Every July 4th, our family reunion brings me into contact with my clueless brother-in-law.  He’s the guy in every family who remembers exactly one fact about everyone else.  As expected, he quickly worked our conversation around to his usual dig. “Hey, dude, you work for a nonprofit.  So do you actually get paid?” he smirked.

Same wise-guy question every year.  Usually, I stifle an eye roll and slink off to find more potato salad.  This year, I was ready for him.

“Hey, dude, thanks for asking (again).  Yes, we get paid – pretty well.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, average compensation at nonprofits is actually $7.86 per hour higher than at for-profits.”

He scowled at me in confusion, as if someone had told him the keg was empty.

“That might help explain why nonprofits are now the nation’s third-largest employer category,” I added. “According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, only retail and manufacturing have more workers (16 and 13 million respectively) than nonprofits at 12 million.”  He pushed at his cole slaw with his spork.  “Oh, and employment in those sectors is declining, while nonprofit jobs are expected to grow,” I continued mercilessly.

He looked down glumly.  “Hey, something wrong with your brat?” I asked.  “Wait, there’s more.  Americans value nonprofits so much they gave them a whopping $427 billion in donations last year, according to Giving USA.”

“That’s a lot,” he mumbled.

“Sure is!  Man:  think about all those people and resources working to change the world!  And speaking of the world, do you know that if you laid $427 billion end to end it would circle the Earth more than 1,500 times?”

“Wow,” he mumbled, rising from his lawn chair.  “Hey, whaddaya know…it looks like I’m out of potato salad…”

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.  This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.


Can Milwaukee-area Nonprofits Energize Corporate Giving?

National Philanthropy Day honoree We Energies tells how

Here’s an easy multiple-choice question:  Last year, We Energies gave more than 2 percent of its net income to charity – twice the average rate for corporations nationwide.  That makes the company well positioned to:

  1. champion the community impact of corporate social responsibility
  2. advise nonprofits in how to build charitable relationships with companies
  3. accept the Wisconsin Organization Philanthropy Award being given at Milwaukee’s National Philanthropy Day celebration on November 13, or
  4. all of the above

Beth Straka, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations at WEC Energies Group, acknowledged that her company’s strong philanthropy is a bit of an outlier these days.  “Companies used to target 2% giving back in the 50s and 60s, but this target often fell by the wayside as companies consolidated and grew larger,” she says.

Stratka underscored corporate giving as an essential lifeline for organizations.  She offered advice to help nonprofits expand their corporate giving:

Do your homework.  “Research our mission, focus areas and eligibility requirements, and communities we serve,” she said. “Take time to develop a relationship so we can find the best possible fit.”

Help businesses do their homework on your organization. “Demonstrate your mission impact with key performance indicators,” Straka suggests. Also, be transparent about the organization’s financial health – corporate donors want to see you have the staying power to remain impactful.

Build two-way relationships.  Creatively help corporate donors achieve their goals.  “Nonprofits can add value by engaging our people, educating our workforce, providing meaningful volunteer opportunities for our employees, and helping us solve diversity and inclusion challenges.”

What about you?  How do you think nonprofits can optimize corporate relationships?

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach, Jevita Brister and Ellen Wilkinson for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.  Join us for the National Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 13.

Are Milwaukee’s Corporate Donors Maxed Out?

Experts say your company should double its gifts to charity


The $20.8 billion that American companies gave to charity last year sounds like a lot…until you consider their share was just 5 percent of the nation’s $410 billion in philanthropy.

So maybe it’s time to ask: are corporate donors maxed out?

Nope.  Uh-uh.  Negative.

That’s according to experts surveyed by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  While individual donors give away an average of 2 percent of their disposable income, the Chronicle’s survey found corporations give just 1 percent of pre-tax earnings.  Regulations allow them to give up to 10 percent.

Curt Weeden, former head of corporate giving at Johnson and Johnson, says CEOs should be saying to themselves, “Well, hell, we can at least do 2 percent…”

What would get would-be corporate donors to open their wallets?  Nonprofits take heed:  Companies view donations as investments and want to see their ROI on paper and in person.  Before asking for support, you should begin with questions like “How does our mission align with your philanthropic goals?” and “Can we provide rewarding volunteer opportunities for your employees?” and “How can we work together to better our community?”

The economy is roaring; the Dow is setting records. Now would be the perfect time to build the capacities of nonprofits – who, as always, will bear the brunt of community needs when hard times come again.  Imagine the human ROI we’d see if companies would double their giving, to match the generosity of individual donors.

Which Milwaukee companies are philanthropic stars?  Two chances to find out:  check out Milwaukee Business Journal’s Corporate Citizenship Summit on October 26, then attend the National Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 13, where the Association of Fundraising Professionals will honor our community’s top philanthropic leaders.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal, for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

What’s in a name? It’s mission that matters!

Area nonprofits follow sage advice from The Bard

“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet meant to say that a thing’s mere name (Romeo) can never describe its value (nice booty).

Literary historians have yet to confirm that Shakespeare ever visited Milwaukee (I checked Wikipedia).  But names chosen by some local nonprofits make me wonder if the Bard might have once done a Brew City book tour.

What would Shakespeare have made of the name “Running Rebels?”  The organization guides youngsters in avoiding gangs, drugs, violence.  How about “Rawhide” or “Lad Lake,” two other venerable youth nonprofits?

Would Juliet join “Pearls for Teen Girls?”

Could even Shakespeare’s incredible insight perceive “Seeds of Health” as the state’s only K-12 charter school system?  Or tag “Every Einstein” as promoting STEM learning for schoolkids?

“ABCD” is catchy shorthand for “After Breast Cancer Diagnosis,” a peer-to-peer mentoring organization.  “Meta House” has helped women overcome addiction since 1963.

If I asked you to donate to “Next Door,” would you write a check to your neighbor?  Or to our local child development group for underserved kids?

“Ex Fabula?” Nope, not a mall store for tweens.  Sponsors live storytelling events across the region.

The list goes on.  The origin story for each organization boils down to “Passionate citizens recognize community need, organize to make a difference.” (Cliff Notes, anyone?) Most of these are homegrown Milwaukee groups; they reflect our community spirit and depend on our generosity to succeed.

The names aren’t so funny now, are they?

Shakespeare would agree: I understand his first draft read “What’s in a name? Dude! It’s the mission that matters!  Remember that and you’ll come out smelling like a rose.”

(Bye now…I’m off to update a certain Wikipedia entry…)

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.


Beyond the Brass Plaque

Region’s fundraisers to honor leading figures in philanthropy

You see their names on buildings.  You read their names on plaques.  But behind all the brass and calligraphy, what really motivates our community’s philanthropists?

Every year the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Southeastern Wisconsin (AFPSEWI) honors six local leaders who exemplify the face of philanthropy.  Each honoree has something to teach us about the motivations of people who give up their time, talent and treasure to benefit the rest of us.

On November 13, at our region’s 40th National Philanthropy Luncheon, 600 of us will get to meet and appreciate this year’s honorees:

  • Through Harris Turer, nominated by Operation Dream, we’ll learn how people transform causes through major gift commitments.
  • To understand why people leave a legacy through philanthropy, we’ll meet Al Troyke, nominated by Bethesda Lutheran Communities.
  • Thanks to Discovery World’s nomination, WE Energies and the WE Energies Foundation will provide insight into the motivations of generous corporations.
  • Through Wendy Carlson, nominated by Susan G. Komen WI, we’ll see what it means to be a passionate volunteer.
  • Karen Spahn and the Milwaukee Public Museum will impress us with the creativity and energy of professional fundraisers.
  • And finally, 13 year-old Katie Eder — a fundraising prodigy nominated by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation — will convince us that philanthropy’s future is in good hands.

Make plans now to attend the 40th National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon, presented by AFPSEWI, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and media sponsor Milwaukee Business Journal.

You’ll take home a little inspiration.

You’ll renew your optimism about your community.

And you’ll never look at a brass plaque the same way again.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Corporate execs: expect provocative tax questions from fundraisers

Local experts suggest fundraisers ask businesses to contribute new tax savings

Fundraisers nationwide have sounded alarms about how the new tax law will affect philanthropic giving.  But at least three local experts don’t seem overly concerned.  Among other strategies, they suggest fundraisers use the tax changes to leverage corporate giving.

On May 17, a lunchtime panel answered national speculation about whether the law’s higher standard deduction would reduce taxpayers’ motivation to itemize their taxes, and thereby take away a powerful inducement to charitable giving.

Hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Planned Giving Council, the panel included Andrew W. Hibel (Charitable Catalyst and Founder of The Advise Us Foundation), Julie Quinlan Brame (Campaign Consultant, Milwaukee Public Museum) and Kathy Kielar (Senior Director, Major & Planned Gifts at WTTW|WFMT. Chicago).

The panelists encouraged the crowd with three main takeaways:

  • For donors who do choose to itemize, the law should have negligible effect on giving motivations
  • The new law will mainly affect donors of moderate-size gifts, because larger donors will likely continue to itemize
  • Because of the tax cut, all donors are likely to have more capacity to give

One donor segment anticipating greater giving capacity is the corporate community.  Kielar recommended “Don’t be shy about asking your corporate prospects how the new law will influence their company’s philanthropy.  Then broaden the conversation into how your mission would be a great investment.”

As nonprofits brace for expected disruption in traditional funding sources, expect fundraisers to sharpen their appeal to your company’s sense of social responsibility.  Nonprofits’ essential work in the community continues, and they hope your business will be a stronger partner than ever.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Revealed: Milwaukee Philanthropists Secretly Wish to Be Ordinary!

Time to nominate our area’s top donors, volunteers and community-builders

The scene:  last November’s National Philanthropy Day celebration in Milwaukee.

There I sat, in the crowd of 600-plus diners, listening to heartwarming thank-yous as our area’s leading philanthropists and volunteers received awards from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

I tried to put myself in their shoes, imagining how such public acclaim for altruism, generosity and community commitment must be like a dream come true for the honorees.

The suddenly it struck me:

The real dream-come-true for these people is not to receive an award.  As selfless builders of community, their real dream-come-true would be for their generosity to be the rule rather than the exception.

I bet those who receive awards on National Philanthropy Day 2018 will secretly wish others were receiving them as well.  But let’s honor them anyway — because applauding such selfless humanitarians is the best way I know to inspire more people to follow their example.

Please help:  nominate someone you know to receive an award.  Awards are given to exemplary donors, to organizations and corporations who give back, to leading volunteers and fundraisers, and to enterprising youth whose philanthropic efforts show us that tomorrow is in good hands.

Visit for award descriptions and nomination materials.

Then join me for on November 13 for this year’s luncheon.  We’ll hear gracious thanks from people who secretly hope they’ll be in the crowd with you and me next year, cheering on others who were inspired to do even more.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Who will catch the Trickle-Down?

Tax laws change; society’s charitable needs do not

My brother-in-law can’t come for dinner this weekend (I’m crushed) because he’s “getting his tax stuff together.”  Amid his annual drudgery, he lamented, “At least next year we’ll have the tax cut.”

The tax cut is reality, to the glee of many.  The grand bet is that more money in more pockets will catapult the economy, benefiting everyone.  More investment, more jobs, more opportunity.

Opportunity is great – but only if you’re in a position to act on it.  To actually seize the opportunity for a better life, people need education.  They need health.  They need job training, day care, secure housing, reliable transportation, a safe neighborhood, a clean environment – all the things our community’s nonprofit organizations work to provide.

Cutting taxes is only half the solution — like stocking the pond and expecting a fish dinner to leap forth. The intended outcome only happens if you equip the hungry to fish.  Giving would-be anglers the skills, tools and support they need is why our community’s nonprofits are in business (okay, the metaphor’s a stretch, but you know what I mean — even if my brother-in-law does not…).

Hometown Milwaukee understands this.  Our local business leaders continually howl at how difficult it is to find talent for available jobs.  The wise ones see the importance of investing in the community to feed the talent pipeline.

The government is putting some society-building money in our pockets; let’s invest it wisely.  While you’re plowing your tax savings into a new durable good or hot stock, don’t forget to invest part of it in our community, via generous contributions to your favorite nonprofits.  Tax laws change, but our community’s needs for education, health, shelter – for hope — do not.

In 2018, lots will change.

With luck, taxes will be less.

With luck, my brother-in-law won’t be such a mope.

What won’t change:  our responsibility to help nonprofits build the better society we all hope to see.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Caution to fundraisers: don’t be a knothole!

Let’s take a sober look at charity fraud warnings

Whew – did you survive our recent “holiday season overrun with fraudulent charity pitches?”

December’s AARP Magazine no doubt raised hackles among my fellow fundraisers.  It speculated that 2017’s many natural disasters might bring a blight of scammers; it helpfully pronounced that among year-end solicitations you receive, “chances are good that one or more are scams.”

Oh, and who’s to blame for all this fraud, per our AARP alarmists?  Apparently, donors are.  “Blame your good nature,” the article said, suggesting that Americans’ generosity ($390 million donated in 2016), gives rise to “scammers who prey on our charitable spirit,” often hooking you suckers with “nothing more than a well-worded request and heart-tugging photo.”

Hey!  As one of those request-worders, I resent the suggestion that charitable spirit is something to guard against.  After all, the vast majority of solicitations are legitimate, offering donors a genuine chance to create a better world.

That said, we fundraisers don’t resent public wariness.  We frequently talk about ethics — most recently at the December luncheon of our local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) chapter.  We discussed how isolated abuses linger for years and affect public opinion of the entire profession.

Hey, we get it:  a rising tide lifts all boats, but one rotten knothole can sink the whole ship.

To drive out the knotholes, AFP works hard to educate members about ethics.  We’re all on guard for missteps, because ethical lapses can damage every other fundraiser’s credibility.

The article got it right when it said: “Listen to your heart…but use your head as well.”  Yes, ask for charities’ registrations, and verify the percent of donations used for programs.  Any ethical fundraiser will welcome those questions – because we’re all committed to a rising tide, not a sinking ship.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.