Fundraising for Equipment

Question: I need an X (boat, monitoring equipment, computer, event tent, vehicle, etc), and I need it fast. How can I raise the money fast?

Answer: Good news: Raising money is at its simplest and most gratifying when you’re raising money for a thing! Think about it—you’re more likely to give $20 to your kid if he says, “I really need $20 to put gas in my car” than you are if he says, “I really need $20—Can I have it?” Your members and major donors believe in your work and they want to feel as if they’re contributing to something tangible. It’s also a good way to involve your entire board in fundraising when there is a big fundraising push for one particular thing—everyone gets excited and everyone gets the satisfaction of a job well done when the goal is achieved.

The “Thermometer Method” is a good strategy when raising a particular amount of money for a particular thing. There’s a good reason elementary schools and libraries always have that big fundraising “thermometer” on the side of their building. It gives the people who are giving money (as well as potential givers) a good idea of what has been accomplished and how much of the goal is left. They like to know that they are giving to something that other people in the community also thought was important, and that has an end in sight. Finding a fresh way of announcing on your website, your office building, in your emails or mailings how much money is left to raise in this particular campaign will help get people excited about giving as well.

Filing for 501(c)(3) Status

Question: I’m part of a group of people that wants to protect our local river. Should my group file for our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status or get a fiscal sponsorship for the time being?

Answer: That’s a big decision! It’s important to know that when you’re thinking about organizing a group of people around an issue, you can either file for 501c3 status yourselves or find a 501c3 nonprofit that will let you borrow theirs. There are some definite benefits and definite drawbacks to each solution, and the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. Let’s explore:

Why would we want to ask another organization to be our fiscal sponsor? The benefit of this is that without going through the process of filing for 501c3 status, you’re able to accept donations though a registered 501c3 nonprofit, so the donor would be able to claim any money they donate to you as tax exempt on their taxes. In addition to that, it allows your group to be able to accept grant monies (since you can’t get a grant without 501c3 status).

There are also a few drawbacks to adopting a fiscal sponsor. The first is simply that there may not be an organization that is willing to sponsor you. Being a fiscal sponsor does create more accounting work for them, and the more money your group makes, the more work it will create for the sponsor group. In addition to that, the fiscal sponsor is entitled to take a percentage of all the money you make—a service fee for sponsoring you. This fee is subject to negotiation, but it’s usually between 2%-10%.

And finally, fiscal sponsorships are generally temporary fixes—sort of a patch job to hold you until you get your feet on the ground or until your temporary project is completed. In fact, here are a few examples of situations in which it would be a good idea to get a fiscal sponsor instead of applying for 501c3 status yourself:

• If your group can deliver programs effectively, but doesn't have support staff to do it at the moment.
• If your group is organizing around a temporary issue or project. There is no use in spending the time and expense of applying for a 501c3 if the work is not long-term.
• Pilot projects and test runs that haven't demonstrated long-term viability are always good candidates for fiscal sponsorship.
• If your organizations has applied for 501c3 status, but is awaiting confirmation, you can get a fiscal sponsor in the interim in order to accept donations.

Our group wants to file for 501c3 nonprofit status. How do we do it?
As is true with any good idea the IRS has ever had, there is a form. This form (called the 1023) is what you will complete to apply for 501c3 status. It is 30 pages long and can be found here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1023.pdf. You can fill it out online if you like, but a word of advice: it is a very, very good idea to have the application reviewed by a lawyer before you send it in. The reason for this is, just like with your personal taxes, the 1023 is created by people who don’t realize how difficult it will be to answer some of the questions they ask in their form. If you inadvertently answer a question incorrectly, which is entirely possible and reasonable, then it will hold up the whole process for who-knows-how-long. Lawyers generally know where the pitfalls are in an application like this, and their advice will expedite the whole process.

The cost of filing for 501c3 status is currently $400, and as of  January, 2010, they've come out with a new software package for helping you to fill the forms out correctly.

Board Responsibilities

Q: I was recently asked to be on the board of my local river group and I accepted—perhaps too hastily.  My problem is, now that I’m on the board, I’m not sure what my job is. Can you help me?

A: Being on a nonprofit board can be really fun—some people are in it for the chance to socialize with likeminded people, some are in it to feel like they’re making a difference for their local river, and some people—like you, maybe?—are there because someone asked them. 

First, all non-profit organizations require a board of directors to exist, and the vast majority of charitable organizations in the country are what are called 501(c)(3) organizations (named after the section in the Internal Revenue Code that describes them).  501(c)(3) nonprofits don’t have to pay income tax, are eligible to apply for grants and can accept donations that are tax deductible to the donor, among other things.  Because nonprofits get these benefits, a board of directors is required to oversee the organization.

The legal reason for a nonprofit board of directors is that,  just because a nonprofit organization is not technically “profitable,” that doesn’t mean that they don’t make money, and somebody has to be accountable to the people who are investing their cash in an organization that is providing a public service—like protecting a local river. A board member’s job is to oversee  the organization’s finances AND fundraise for the organization(either by “giving or getting” money), review monthly financial reports, approve the budget and ask good questions and exercising due diligence.  The board also is responsible for appointing a capable chief staff person (in some cases), and through maintaining control of Big Decisions such as merging, closing, or substantial changes to mission.

And speaking of mission—a board member has a responsibility to the organization’s mission.  Typically, if you’re on the board of a nonprofit, it means you have some sort of investment in the mission of that organization and want to make sure the organization is having an impact. This is the fun stuff for people who love rivers and have opinions about how they should be protected. It’s where the volunteering, the advising and the championing come in. 

The board also acts as a safety net for the mission of the organization. You’ve probably heard of boards that have picked up the pieces after a disastrous executive director left in the middle of the night. If a small business had a similar problem, it would probably have to close. But many important nonprofit charities have survived to do good work again because a board has stepped in. Even the boards that haven’t been paying much attention can wake up and work miracles in a pinch.

Finally, nonprofit boards are responsible for being accountable to the folks the nonprofit serves.  They ask the question, "What does our constituency need us to do?"  In a river group, that constituency might be the people who fish, swim and boat the river—it could even be the wildlife that relies on the river to survive.  Whoever it is that your board views as its “constituency,” that’s who you’re doing your work for. Though it can be tempting to make program decisions based on what you think this donor or that friend might want us to do, our responsibility as nonprofit  board members is always keeping that constituency in mind when making decisions for the organization.

So, all this said, the board probably asked you to join because they thought you could offer something important to the organization. It’s okay to ask them why they asked you because that might help you know which hat you’ll need to wear as a member of this organization. If you’re both an accountant and an avid paddler, they might have taken a look at your resume and thought you would be a good addition to their organization.  But it’s nice to be able to be clear on that from the beginning.

Also, you might want suggest that the board create a “Board Book” that outlines what the board roles and responsibilities are for that particular nonprofit.  It can help orient a new board member in a way that makes them feel like they’re set up to succeed in the organization.

For more on Board of Directors Roles and Responsibilities, click here for the River Network board resource library.

Dealing with a Quarreling Board of Directors

Question: Some people on our nonprofit board have bad manners at board meetings. A couple of them are always chatting together while someone else is making a point, this one person talks too much without saying anything, and others don’t say anything at all during the meeting, but wait until it’s over to stand out in the parking lot with a friend to say what she should have said in the meeting. I don’t feel like we’re getting anything done!

It sounds like your board needs some ground rules! Having a set of norms (a “behavior contract”) that your board follows encourages behaviors that will help it do its work, and discourages behaviors that interfere with a group’s effectiveness. Norms are the rules that govern how we interact with each other, how we conduct business, how we make decisions, how we communicate, even how we dress when we get together.

Norms fundamentally exist in a group whether we set them for ourselves or not. Consider your coworkers, your family or a group of your friends. Groups of people are constantly making unconscious rules of engagement for themselves, and these rules exist whether or not you acknowledge or formalize them. Writing norms helps to create groups that are able to have honest discussions that enable everyone to participate and be heard.

How to Create a Set of Norms for Your Board
In order to create a set of norms, a board has a couple of options:
1. A group can observe how things are already being done within the group and decide what works or doesn’t work within that framework.
2. A group can brainstorm all the ideal behaviors for groups, and refine them into a list everyone can agree on.

Norms Work Best If…
1. Stated in the Positive—they identify what you DO want.
2. Stated in the present tense—as if you are already doing them.
3. Written by the people who will be using them.

Creating Norms
Norms generally fall into 4 different categories:

Answers the questions…
• What are the rules of attendance and punctuality?
• What are the roles of the individual members of the board?

Answers the questions…
• How do we speak and listen to each other?
• How will we deal with the agenda?

Answers the questions…
• How will we make decisions together?
• How will we deal with differences of opinion?

Follow Through
Answers the questions…
• What are someone’s responsibilities once he/she has accepted an assignment?
• How will decisions be supported once they are made?

Finding Out about Problems in Your Watershed

Q: Our watershed group wants to find all the information we can about what is going on in our watershed.  How do we get the best, most up to date information about activities that are impacting local rivers and streams?

A: There are a lot of ways to find out what’s impacting your local waters—some take referencing a website and others are slightly more labor-intensive.  Below is a list of things that can help you start:

  • Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD)
    All EPD Permits announcements, stream buffer advisories, public comment and other notices are now available from EPD’s redesigned webpage: https://epd.georgia.gov/latest-news

  • If you would like to receive stream buffer variances delivered to your email account, contact:
    Kim Jenkins
    NonPoint Source Program
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • EPD Environet: To receive copies of proposed rules at least 30 days prior to their consideration by the Board of Natural Resources via mail or e-mail at no charge, add your name to the EPD Environet database by calling 888.373.5947.  You can also find these online: https://epd.georgia.gov/latest-news

  • Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
    To receive announcements regarding Coastal Resources Division, Parks, Wildlife Resources Division or other DNR activities, sign-up online: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/GADNR/subscriber/new

  • US Army Corps of Engineers
    All Corps announcements, including Public Notices and Joint Public Notices are available online: https://www.sas.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx

    You can have notices delivered to your email account: To subscribe, please complete this form and e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or fax to 912-652-5995; or mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ATTN: CESAS-RD, 100 West Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah, Georgia 31401-3640. You can modify or cancel your subscription at any time by submitting a revised form or by contacting our office.

  • Public Notices
    Looking for a clearinghouse for notices – visit the Georgia Press Association’s Statewide Database of Public Notices from Georgia’s Legal Organ Newspapers: https://www.georgiapublicnotices.com

  • Pay attention to local government decision making.  Because each county and/or city government is organized differently, it’s important to understand fully who the decision makers are for your area, how the decisions are made and how you can comment on the process. For instance, some local governments have excellent websites that are regularly updated with meeting times and agendas.  Other governments in the state make it necessary to call a specific office in order to find out about meetings, so find out how things work in your area.

  • Keep up with local news! Keep an eye out for local rezoning or land use decisions, comprehensive land use plans, buffer variances, changes to ordinances that impact land or water, it could be anything! Keep your eyes open! A subscription to a local paper is a good way to keep on top of local news!  

  • Paddle your local rivers and keep an eye (nose, ears, etc) out for anything unusual.  Georgia River Network can provide you with training on how to spot erosion and sedimentation problems through the Get the Dirt Out program.  Contact Jesslyn at our office if you would like to schedule training for your group.