Predictable Disaster Giving

April 2013 has been unusually tragic with many disasters. First there was the Boston bombings, shortly after that was the Texas plant explosion, and finally the earthquakes in China and on the Iran/Pakistan border. In the aftermath of these tragic events, many of us feel compelled do something to help, and unless we are first responders or have had disaster relief volunteer training, there is only one reasonable option—make a donation.


In just one week, 50,000 donors gave more than $20 million to The One Fund – Boston. We can thank the media for making this remarkable generosity possible. Images of the Boston tragedy pulled at our heartstrings and moved many to take immediate action to give money.


But what about disasters that don’t get as much media attention? And what about other worthy causes, such as child hunger? Extreme disaster giving impacts the entire nonprofit sector since donors may be less inclined to give to other charitable organizations if they gave significantly in response to a specific disaster.


And how is all the money given to The One Fund going to be programmed out? Many gave on faith that this money would be distributed responsibly. Perhaps, it would be better if cities and states proactively develop victim compensation plans and when tragedy strikes, they can activate these strategies. They could even set limits to the fund based on the number of people affected so that once enough has been raised to cover estimated costs, donations are no longer accepted.


I am reminded of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I worked at the American Red Cross national office in D.C. shortly after this tragedy. I learned then that the Red Cross received more 9/11 donations than they could possibly use to provide traditional Red Cross disaster relief services. But since donations designated to a particular disaster have to be programmed for that relief effort, these donations could not be spent in other areas where there was significant need. There were multiple hurricanes causing devastation along the Atlantic coast in 2004 and there was not enough money in the Red Cross disaster relief fund to cover those relief operations. Yet, money sitting in the 9/11 fund could not be touched.


Disasters are horrible and, for the most part, unpredictable. But what we can predict is that they will continue to happen. Why not then proactively build a relationship with disaster relief organizations? Get to know The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and others and give annually so they are prepared to respond to all disasters, not just the ones that garner a lot of media attention.


The reality is, to most efficiently respond, disaster relief groups need money in their relief funds before a disaster strikes so they can pre-position supplies and train relief volunteers. Once the disaster happens, these organizations need to move quickly. They can’t wait for media coverage and disaster response donations.


Here’s how you can help in advance of the next one:

  • Give annually to your disaster relief charity of choice

             — Individuals: Get to know your local disaster relief groups.

             — Companies: Establish local, national, and international relief partnerships, and also give bulk products, space, or services in-kind if that makes sense. Plus, you will get better customer service and recognition for your support if you are building a relationship before disaster strikes. Surges in episodic disaster giving are overwhelming for nonprofit staff, therefore, some donors do not get the attention they deserve.

  • Get trained as a disaster relief volunteer with your favorite local relief organization
  • Get your family prepared for a disaster
  • Donate blood regularly – There is a constant national blood supply shortage. If a disaster happens in your backyard and you or a loved one needs blood, you want there to be enough. Plus, when there’s not a disaster going on, your blood goes to sick people who really need it.


The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any previous or current Payton Communications’ clients.

Holiday Giving Guide

I continue to be inspired by people’s generosity around the holidays. Here are some individual and workplace ideas to increase the impact of your philanthropic and volunteer efforts during this season of giving.


Giving Tuesday

  • Today, November 27, is #GivingTuesday. The campaign’s mission is to create a national day of giving to encourage charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.
  • Isn’t it time to create a new family holiday tradition? Why not suggest that instead of buying another ugly Christmas sweater, family members donate to a favorite charity?


Give Blood

  • The national blood supply declines around the holidays. Help keep it stabilized.
  • Make a blood donation appointment with the American Red Cross at a location near you.


Food/Toy/Coat Drives

  • For food drives, coordinate with your local food bank. You can search by zip code through Feeding America.
  • For toy drives, search by state and county to find local opportunities with Toys For Tots.
  • For coat drives, follow the drive organizer steps with One Warm Coat.
  • A great combination of a drive and a volunteer activity is Project Night Night. Individuals can purchase a new blanket, toy, and book and put them into a comfort tote for a homeless child.


Gifts that Give Back

  • Do good and check items off your holiday gift list! Shop your favorite online retailers though KarmaWell and they will donate a percentage of everything you buy to the causes you care about. A triple win!!!
  • As mentioned in a previous blog post, you can use to shop for gifts from certified B Corporations.
  • Charity gift cards are a great idea for workplace recognition or gift exchanges. They’re also good for the person on your gift list who already has everything. I like JustGive for donations to U.S. charities and GlobalGiving for those who might like to support projects abroad.


Matching Gifts/Money For Time

  • If your employer has a matching gift and/or volunteer grant program, take advantage of it! Programs vary by company, so check your company’s intranet or contact your company’s programs administrator for information on programs and policies.
  • If you’re not sure who administers your company’s program, or if your company even has a program, Double the Donation can point you in the right direction with its searchable database of corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs and contact info.


Donating Vacation Time

  • Does your employer have a “use it or lose it” paid time off policy? If you have more vacation days than you can possibly use before they expire, this recent WSJ article details how employees can donate extra vacation time to help disaster relief efforts.
  • If your HR administrator needs guidance on how to get a program like this up and running, have him/her check out this Employer’s Guide to Employee Leave-Sharing Programs.



  • Volunteer Match is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities in your community.
  • For Superstorm Sandy volunteer activities, check out Points of Light.
  • Keep in mind that plans for holiday volunteer activities are typically finalized a month or more before the event. It may be too late for this year and your time might benefit the nonprofit more during a slower time.


These are just a few suggestions. Please share other ideas you have in the comments of this post for others to see.


Happy Holidays (and happy giving)!

JetBlue and KaBOOM! Build a Playground and More!


In June, children at the Community School for Creative Education in Oakland, Calif. designed their dream playground and on Saturday, August 18th, their dream became a reality thanks to JetBlue, KaBOOM! and 250 volunteers. This is the 15th playground JetBlue and KaBOOM! have built together. The project was so impressive that I asked Icema Gibbs, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for JetBlue and Meredith Darche, Manager of Corporate Partnerships for KaBOOM! to share what makes their seven-year partnership so successful.


“We started by dating,” Gibbs quipped.  “JetBlue was invited to participate in a build with another funding partner and we had a great experience that turned into a marriage.” She added that KaBOOM! didn’t ask for money up front. “They wanted our involvement.”


JetBlue seeks nonprofit partners that can provide volunteer opportunities for its crewmembers and customers and projects that have a lasting impact in the communities JetBlue serves. They also favor a nonprofit that has similar brand values – KaBOOM! and JetBlue align on fun, passion, and safety.


Darche says what sets JetBlue apart as a national partner is that it brings all of its resources to the table. JetBlue not only provides a significant financial contribution, but has brought in more than 3,000 volunteers so far (employees and customers). It also helps with logistics and planning, travel vouchers, thought leadership, JetBlue swag, public relations efforts, and JetBlue even helps provide food for the events.


JetBlue and KaBOOM! create positive volunteer experiences with good food, fun music, and well-organized activities. During the build, volunteers are divided into teams. A team leader provides direction and answers questions so that no volunteer is left wondering what to do next. JetBlue encourages customers to come out and do something fun that is also good for the community. If customers participate because JetBlue inspired them, that inevitably helps JetBlue’s brand and supports its business. Dozens of TrueBlue (JetBlue’s loyalty program) members participatd in the Oakland project. And more than one Community School parent remarked that they will now choose to fly JetBlue because of this build.


Gibbs and Darche both agree that listening to your partner is the most important part of building a successful long-term relationship. KaBOOM! employees listened closely to JetBlue’s specific interests so that they could facilitate the best possible program. Icema recommends that other CSR leaders express a genuine interest in the cause and try to understand how the nonprofit organization works. She also suggests an inclusive strategy, not a top-down approach.


JetBlue provides opportunities for customers and staff to provide input. For example, in February, JetBlue customers were asked to choose the location for this project by voting on Facebook. , “You want the passion to be contagions,” says Gibbs. “The only way to do that is to listen.”


JetBlue has committed to building 3 more playgrounds with KaBOOM! through 2013, but together they are building more than playgrounds. They are building up a neighborhood. The Community School now has a new network of supporters who will help the community thrive, and the children of Oakland now have the opportunity to play in a safe environment.

B the Change

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – this popular quote paraphrasing Gandhi’s philosophy has been one of my favorites for a long time. Now it means even more to me.


Payton Communications recently underwent a rigorous impact assessment to become a certified B Corporation. A B Corporation is triple bottom line certification recognizing companies who believe there is a better way to do business by focusing on people, planet, and profit[1]. The “B” stands for “benefit,” as in the public benefits that are created for all of the stakeholders engaged in your business, not just your shareholders. B Corps are certified by a nonprofit, B Lab, to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.


We achieved our certification just in time to attend the B Corporation Champions Retreat this week in Half Moon Bay, California. Nearly 300 B Corp champions attended representing 60 industries and 15 countries. I am so proud to be a part of this inspirational group of social entrepreneurs who are using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are literally changing our world for the better.


B Corps are creating a new sector of the economy and they are thriving! There are 631 B Corps so far, representing $4.2 billion in revenue. An interesting stat I heard at the retreat is that while 36 percent of startups fail after two years, only 10 percent of B Corps fail after two years.


Measuring what matters helps companies attract and retain the best talent. According the Harvard Business Review, millennials, which represent roughly 50 percent of the global workforce, want work that connects to a larger purpose. Employees who care about this are more likely to step up and lead. Hewitt Associates has found that companies with higher levels of employee engagement outperformed the stock market by nearly 20 percent!


Not every company will meet the high standards to become a B Corp, but there is no harm in taking the assessment to benchmark performance and use the tools to set goals for improvement. Additionally, by encouraging your company to purchase products or services from a B Corp, you elevate the movement. Corporate purchasers can search the B Corps directory to find everything from office supplies to consulting and banking services.


Consumers can also support B-commerce! Check out Amazon’s to shop by B Corporation. They have 932 products up there from baby stuff to household items. I’ve already bought cleaning products and office supplies from certified B Corps and now I’m about to buy an awesome hammock to kick back in while I think about even more ways to “B the Change.”

[1] B Corps are different from Benefit Corporations, a class of corporation required by law to create general benefit for society as well as for shareholders (Benefit Corporation is a legal status just like LLC or S Corp).

Corporate Volunteers to the Rescue!

If your nonprofit is not yet taking advantage of corporate volunteer programs, here’s why you should (and a few pointers on how to get started).


Many nonprofits hold events or provide services during business hours (fundraising luncheons, food pantries, etc.). Typically, corporate volunteers prefer to participate in volunteer activities during business hours so it doesn’t cut into their personal time. So, offering employees the opportunity to volunteer on company time –and get paid for doing so– is a major corporate perk since many employees do not have time to volunteer outside of work. Plus, when you measure employee engagement over time, you find that it improves morale and retention, which ultimately improves profit! (These calculations can be complex. If you are a corporate volunteer program manager and you want help demystifying these stats, please contact me.)


In addition, many companies offer “dollars for doers”. Dollars for doers programs recognize employee volunteer efforts with donations. When an employee volunteers with an eligible nonprofit, the company matches their volunteer hours with a financial contribution to that nonprofit. The typical formula is $10-20 per each eligible hour spent volunteering with a maximum donation amount per employee (typically $500).


Pro bono work is not just for lawyers! Many companies have a formal skills-based volunteer programs to help nonprofits with everything from accounting to tech support. The value of this service is much higher than having that same skilled volunteer paint a fence. For example, the market value of having an IT professional serve food in a homeless shelter is tripled when that same IT professional provides pro bono tech support to the nonprofit instead. Currently, only about 15 percent of corporate volunteerism is skills-based, but I expect this figure to increase since pro bono service is a great way to support a nonprofit. To see which companies are setting the standard, check out A Billion + Change (, a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based service by 2013.


If you work for a nonprofit and you want to start using corporate volunteers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead. Many companies have a scheduled day or week of service.
  2. Try to offer group volunteer activities. Many corporate volunteer groups use this as a team-building opportunity for employees. And they usually want to wear their company t-shirts and get some good group pictures.
  3. Try to pick tangible, direct service work such as planting trees, picking up trash, painting fences, serving food, etc. Many corporate volunteers spend all day working in an office environment so they don’t want to be in an office stuffing envelopes on their volunteer day off – they want to get their hands dirty!
  4. Have corporate volunteers start with direct service work before diving into skills-based volunteerism. Your pro bono volunteers will appreciate the opportunity to see the mission in action first.

The Marriage of Cause and Company

At the 10th annual Cause Marketing Forum (CMF) in Chicago this week, I was struck by how far cause marketing has come. More companies are leveraging their financial and human capital to help nonprofits end hunger, ensure clean drinking water, eradicate infectious diseases, and so on. At CMF, recipients of the Cause Marketing Halo Awards and other cause marketing leaders shared best practices for building strong partnerships. To develop a long-lasting marriage, nonprofits and companies must bring their best assets to the table, work at the courtship, and nurture the relationship.

Here are some key takeaways from the cause marketing experts at CMF.


For Nonprofits:

  • Make sure you are registered for fundraising in each state that requires this. This is different than registering with the IRS as a 501(c)(3). Large nonprofits with in-house legal counsel are most likely already compliant, but I know of several small nonprofits that might be naïve about this legal requirement. Click here to read more about this.
  • DO NOT promote the cause marketing promotion on your corporate partner’s behalf! While this may help with fundraising, in doing so, you are actually advertising for the company and will have to pay Unrelated Business Tax Income (UBIT) on the fair market value of the marketing services you are providing for your corporate partner. Do not email your constituents about it, do not post flyers, and do not place ads for your corporate partners in your program materials. Besides, engaging in business activities, such as marketing services, detracts from your social mission and may jeopardize your tax-exempt status. So, what can you say about the promotion? Not much. Leave it at, “Thank you XYZ Company for supporting us. For more information, go to XYZ Company’s website” and include a link to the site with information about the promotion. That’s it. For more on this, check out attorney Ed Chansky’s article.
  • Talk to your corporate prospects about what’s in it for them. Have a few talking points about your cause and how XYZ Company’s investment could make an impact, but keep the pitch focused on what you can offer XYZ Company. Will the partnership increase favorability with customers? Will it increase sales? Will it increase employee retention? Share success stories about how other corporate partners benefited from their relationship with your organization.
  • In the first meeting, LISTEN to what your potential corporate partner wants. Don’t bring a ton of handouts to the first meeting. Ask questions and take notes so you can craft a partnership opportunity that addresses your corporate prospect’s business objectives. And DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Get online and research the company, their competitors, and the contact you are meeting with. The more you know, the better your questions will be.
  • Split your cause campaigns and programs up into different .org domains. You can attract sponsors for each different site and build up the interactive web features around a particular purpose. A great example from my days at the American Heart Association:,,, and about 15 other domains. On that note, according to Nancy Gofus, COO of .ORG, 81 percent of survey respondents believe an organization’s website is still the most trustworthy place to go for information (social media is great, but don’t neglect your website).
  • Tell stories! Who doesn’t love a well-told story? It’s why the movie industry is so huge. Craft stories about what your cause is doing and tell them well. Use pictures and videos!


For Companies:

  • Use your fabulous marketeers to promote the heck out of your cause marketing promotion. After all, it is a promotion. To maximize ROI for you and your nonprofit partner, you need to promote the campaign. In case you haven’t seen the research yet, your customers and employees actually want (and maybe even expect) you to partner with causes on their behalf. So be proud! Your stakeholders will thank you and you’ll make a much bigger impact on the issue your have chosen to address.
  • Be transparent. Don’t mislead consumers. Tell them exactly how much is going back to the cause.
  • Develop a cause program that achieves your business objectives and meets consumers’ fundamental human needs for a fulfilling life: certainty, variety, contribution, growth, significance, and connection. Inspire consumers to take action and be a hero for the cause. Then, reward them with loyalty program perks!
  • Incentivize consumer action! Everyone loves a freebie! Reward desired actions with coupons, discount codes, free gifts, etc. This is also a very measurable tactic!
  • Test your cause campaign with your company’s employees first before you put it in front of customers. Have them participate in volunteer projects or pro bono service with the chosen nonprofit. This will give you the opportunity to solicit feedback from a key stakeholder group and tweak the campaign before going to market. This degree of employee engagement also increases employee morale and productivity. And it will give you real stories to share with external audiences. Remember, your employees have families and friends – turn them into ambassadors for your company and your cause campaign!
  • If your cause partner comes under fire for a decision you may not agree with, talk about it. Maybe you can work through it in marriage counseling. Remember, at the end of the day, partnering with this cause is still doing something that’s good. Be brave. Pointing fingers only detracts attention from the lifesaving work that needs to be done.
  • For crowdsourced donation campaigns, use responsibly designed systems. It’s very easy for a tech savvy individual to cheat by gaming the system. If you do go down this path, rather than creating an “opt in” for voters to share their contact info with the nonprofit, make it an “opt out”. Your nonprofit partners deserve the opportunity to cultivate relationships with their voters.


For Both:

  • Create clear simple messages like Believe in zero and then leverage all of your resources to spread the word.
  • Leverage the power of social celebrity clout. Discuss which celebrities care about your issue and how you can approach them to take a stand in your campaign.
  • Be authentic. Don’t force a fit where there isn’t one. Date around. Look deep inside your organization and examine its core purpose. Seek partners who can help address that purpose with your shared target audience.
  • Start small. Don’t try to go too big with your cause marketing promotion too fast. Pilot in one market or region and then apply lessons learned as you expand.
  • Be responsible. Be a force for good, not evil.


When a cause and company build a strong partnership, stakeholders will celebrate the union by taking the desired action and ultimately making the world a better place thanks to your campaign.