Google for Nonprofits

Yesterday, Google launched its new Google for Nonprofits program. This new program offers free applications and outreach tools. Check out some of their new offerings:

Only approved nonprofits can participate in this new program, so if you’re interested apply here.

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10 Charlottesville Nonprofits Women Should Love

Today is International Women’s Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the event. Although it’s much better known abroad, it’s beginning to gain some traction here in the U.S. While thinking about how far women have come, and how far we still have to go, I couldn’t help but think of our many local nonprofits that are working to help advance women’s issues. Here are ten nonprofits in our community that are working for women:

The Charlottesville Track Club

The Track Club is the nonprofit host of the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler. For the past eighteen years, this all-women’s event has encouraged and inspired women of all ages to train and run (or walk) four miles to raise money for the UVa Cancer Center Breast Care Program. Is 2011 the year you’re going to join them?

League of Women Voters Charlottesville/Albemarle

Since 1946, the League of Women Voters has been working at the local, state, and national levels to encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government. They’re the ones who put together that handy non-partisan voting guide that so many people turn to before heading to the polls on Election Day. They also host candidate debates and political discussions for the public.

Sexual Assault Resource Agency

SARA serves those who have experienced sexual assault. You probably already know that they offer a 24-hour hotline and counseling services. You may not know that they offer self-defense courses for women and work with our local schools to implement prevention education. SARA also provides trained volunteers that help survivors by accompanying them to the emergency room, health care facilities, police station, or court.

Planned Parenthood’s Charlottesville Health Center

Everybody thinks they know what Planned Parenthood does, but I’m guessing there’s at least one thing listed below that’s news to you. They provide breast exams, Pap tests, anemia testing, thyroid screening, cervical cancer screening, infertility education, HIV and STD testing, and adoption referrals in addition to birth control, emergency contraception, and pregnancy planning services.

The Women’s Center

The Women’s Center offers leadership programs, mentoring services, counseling and career support for community members, students, staff and faculty. Programs include free short-term counseling, support groups, and a legal clinic. They are also the sponsors of the Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program that pairs middle school girls with UVa students, and IRIS: A Journal about Women.

Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

VSDVAA is coalition of people and agencies devoted to ending sexual and domestic violence. They provide resources, networks, education, and advocacy. They also provide training for for victim advocates, police officers, doctors, social workers, therapists, and other professionals who work with survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Shelter for Help in Emergency

The Shelter offers emergency, temporary housing to victims of domestic violence in need of safety. They have a 24-hour hotline for survivors, family, and friends. They also offer counseling and case management. They even have a Pet-Safe foster program that provides temporary housing for victim’s animals so that they don’t have to stay behind in a violent situation.

FOCUS Women’s Resource Center

For more than thirty years, FOCUS has worked to serve women in the areas of education, employment, and counseling. Today, they offer additional programs, such as Teensight, to address the problems of teen pregnancy, at-risk youth, and youth unemployment in our community. They also provide legal assistance and micro loans to women looking to start their own businesses.

The Women’s Initiative

The Women’s Initiative provides behavioral health services in the form of counseling (including services for the uninsured), support groups, and education for women with “challenging life situations.” They also offer workshops for stress relief, such as journal writing, time management, breathing techniques, and knitting.

Women’s Health Virginia

Women’s Health Virginia works to enhance Virginia women and girls’ health and well being through education, research, and collaboration. This is a great place to find meetings, conferences, support groups and and other online resources related to women’s health.

While I’m on the topic of women in our community, I wanted to mention two upcoming events:

The Emily Couric Leadership Forum will be holding their annual awards luncheon on March 24th. The forum encourages women to adopt an active role in government, public issues, and policy debates affecting their communities; and to inspire young women to pursue activities which will enable them to become effective leaders.

The University of Virginia is “Celebrating Women of the University” March 25-26. This conference is in recognition of the 40th anniversary of full co-education and in celebration of the efforts of women both before, during, and after that transitional time.

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Another Woman’s Treasure

I am not a fan of yard sales. Hauling my ill-fitting, out of style clothes, random housewares, and misunderstood chachkes out to front yard for neighbors and strangers to pick through seems embarrassing at best. That’s one reason why I choose to donate my old stuff.

Another reason is the amount of time and energy it takes to hold a yard sale. It’s a lot of work and often the payoff is not worth the effort. That’s why I don’t usually recommend yard sales as fundraisers for nonprofits. It sounds easy enough: collect stuff that people no longer want and sell it to people who want it. But most nonprofits aren’t in the retail business and therefore aren’t equipped to manage the donating, sorting, pricing, vending, and hauling of lots of random stuff. It takes a considerable amount of organization to pull off a successful sale.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. For years, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA’s rummage sale and FOCUS’s flea market were not to be missed. People lined up around shopping centers waiting to get in. They eventually added “preview sales” where you paid to get in a day earlier. The sales were so successful (and the organizations had so much stuff to store) that they opened year-round retail establishments.

If you’re considering a yard sale as a fundraiser, start by checking out the pros. The Senior Center’s yard sale is going on today and tomorrow. In the past, this sale has brought is almost $15,000! When you stop by, you’ll see why. The sale is held inside the Senior Center, so there’s no concern about weather. There’s great ambiance. A gentleman plays jaunty tunes on a piano as you shop. Everything is clean, sorted, and clearly priced. There are no heaps, piles or boxes to dig through. The volunteers running this sale have been doing it for years and they know what works.

Don’t even attempt this as a fundraiser if you don’t have an experienced yard sale-er on your committee. In addition to the planning, advertising, and organizing, you need someone who understands the yard sale subculture. For a better idea of what’s involved, heed these words of advice from the Yard Sale Queen.

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Get a Jump on Spring Cleaning

Yesterday, I opened all the doors in the house. Our dogs basked in the sun while I hung laundry on the line and carried flats of vegetable seedlings outside. The daffodils are up. The lilacs are budding. Spring is on the way!

While it may be too early to pack up the sweaters, it’s not too early to start thinking about spring cleaning. As you wipe off the winter dust, you’ll inevitably come across things that you no longer need or want. While almost every local nonprofit accepts donations of stuff they need, the following nonprofits specialize in reselling your donations in order to support their programs and services. Be sure to take a look around when you drop off your donation. You know what they say about one man’s junk…

FOCUS Flea

FOCUS accepts “boutique-style” women’s clothing. Between March 7 and April 22 they will also be accepting gently used professional clothing as part of the Charlottesville Community Job Fair’s Career Clothes for Job Seekers’ clothing drive.

SPCA Rummage

The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA accepts antiques, collectibles, toys, furniture, seasonable clothing, books, electronics, house wares, and sporting goods.

Twice is Nice

Twice is Nice, JABA’s “upscale resale boutique” accepts new or gently used in-season clothing, jewelry, furniture, decorative housewares, and books.

Schoolhouse Thrift Shop

The Schoolhouse Thrift Shop is run by the Episcopal Church of Our Savior. Proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity, Ministry With the Aging, the Alliance for Interfaith Ministries, and the Gertrude Mitchell House. They accept clothing, toys, and baby items.

Salvation Army Thrift Store

The thrift store accepts furniture, clothing and shoes, appliances, records, books, videos, sports equipment, artwork, toys, household goods, televisions, knick-knacks and many other items.

Goodwill

Goodwill accepts gently-used clothing and household items.

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Another Grateful Trip to the Dentist

There’s nothing quite like the happiness of emerging from the dentist’s office after hearing the words, “Everything looks fine. Keep up the good work.” Smooth, clean teeth, and that minty, fresh baked cookie aftertaste. (Nicole, my dental hygienist, used chocolate chip cookie dough flavored polishing paste. She likes to mix things up.) No lectures on flossing, no questionable areas to keep an eye on, no needles, and no drilling. I’m actually smiling. But most of all, I’m grateful.

As a child, I hated going to the dentist. An accidental injury to my mouth at the age of seven resulted in years of unexpected complications—cracked and broken teeth, root canals, and even an abscess. The fear of not knowing what they might find knotted my stomach to the point that I couldn’t even eat before an appointment. Years after all of my childhood dental problems had been corrected, I still had many a sleepless night before a visit to the dentist.

I’m not sure when all of that changed, but I’m pretty sure that it happened around the time that my husband took an interest in indigent dental care in Virginia. As he spouted off statistics about uninsured, toothless Virginians, I began to realize how lucky I was to even set foot in a dentist’s office, not to mention that I’d had great preventative care as a child, and I’d always had dental insurance. While I was scared that my dentist might find some pitting, or god forbid a cavity, people who live in some rural parts of our state have to drive more than an hour just to find a dentist and even if they do, they probably don’t have any way to pay for it.

While I am troubled that so many people in our community cannot afford dental care (more than 33,000 children, according to Community Children’s Dental Center), I am grateful that we have three nonprofit dental clinics in our area that serve the uninsured:

Piedmont Regional Dental Clinic is a new nonprofit that plans to open its doors later this year. They are in the process of hiring full-time staff and purchasing equipment. (Check out the great spreadsheet that looks like a bridal registry of all of the dental and office supplies they need.)

The Community Children’s Dental Center opened in 2004 and currently serves about 4,800 children in our area.

The Charlottesville Free Clinic was founded in 1991 and provides acute dental care for working uninsured adults and their families.

All three are in need of support and accept donations online.

P.S. Don’t forget to floss.

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Samoa Sales – Not So Simple Anymore

Yesterday afternoon, on my way into the grocery store, I was stopped by an all too familiar phrase, “Would you like to buy a box of girl scout cookies?”

Of course, I had already seen them from across the parking lot. A card table with a cheerfully decorated poster board sign, three girls (with a couple of moms lingering in the background), and boxes and boxes of girl scout cookies. My first thought was, “Whoo hoo! Samoas!” My second was the realization that selling Girl Scout cookies had been my foray into fundraising. Samoas, Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, and Trefoils helped me get where I am today.

I was a member of Troop 388 for many years. When it came to cookies, our first task was to sell as many as we could in pre-orders. Living in a rural area, I couldn’t go door to door, so many of these sales were to my relatives or to my parents’ coworkers. The real fundraising came after the cookies arrived. We set up our stand outside of the Pantops Food Lion and tried to sell as many as we could to entering and exiting customers. It wasn’t just about sales. It was about the mission of the organization, empowering young girls, building confidence, creating leaders, and making the world a better place. (Oh, and also funding our spring trip.)

Over the years, the cookies have gotten smaller, the price per box has risen (from $2 to $3.50), and the whole operation has fallen under criticism. Did you know that the troop only receives about $.50 for every box of cookies they sell? There are ongoing debates as to whether or not this is a decent nonprofit fundraiser or a shrewd business model. Some people are so put off that they are refusing to buy girl scout cookies as a matter of principle.

This year, the Girl Scouts are cutting their cookie offerings in hopes of increasing profits. My friends at Green Blue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition will be happy to see that by redesigning the cookie package, manufacturers have eliminated 150 tons of paperboard and saved 3500 gal of fuel. (You can fit more packages on a truck if you get rid of the box, thereby making fewer deliveries.) I wonder what effect, if any, the package redesign will have on their brand. If Girl Scout cookies are no longer sold in boxes, are they able to set themselves apart? Isn’t this just a reminder that they’re store-bought cookies like any other? (You know they haven’t been made by real Girl Scouts since the 1930s, right?) Does it really matter since they’re only sold for such a limited time anyway?

I’m more curious about it from a troop’s perspective. Is it really worth the time and energy for such a small profit? There are far more effective ways to raise money to fund trips and activities. Heck, a good old fashioned bake sale would be way more profitable. How much of a Girl Scout’s identity is tied to cookie sales? Does the benefit of confidence building, sales and business education, and community outreach outweigh all of this?

Cookie sales are not as simple as they seemed when I was seven. If, like me, you love the cookies but want to make sure that you’re not exploiting the scouts, you can always make a donation with your purchase, or volunteer with a local troop.

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Hanging out at the GAB

Last week, I went to Richmond to visit the General Assembly. (Although it made for a long day, I was able to time my visit so that I could also tour the incredible Richmond SPCA and stop by the Sorensen Alumni Reception.) If you’ve never been, I urge you to go, and see for yourself how a bill becomes law. Visit your delegate or senator, sit in on a committee meeting or watch a session from the gallery. Warning: If you’re new to politics, your first visit may be a frustrating experience. Bills move quickly and often die before they reach the floor. Rarely does anyone pay attention in committee. Points of privilege seem to take forever. Legislators carry on while their fellow “gentlemen” text and check Facebook. Bring along a buddy and it’s the perfect backdrop for MST3K. For political geeks like me, it’s fascinating place to hang out. For nonprofits, it’s a very important place: they need to be involved in the political process, but so often are not.

Be a known quantity

At the very least, your senator and delegate should know that your organization exists. Do not wait until the General Assembly is in session to make your organization known. Meet with your representatives at their home office. Invite them to visit your organization to learn more about what you do. Add them to your mailing list. Send them invitations to your events. If you do visit the General Assembly Building, stop by their office and say hello. (It’s a good reminder that they’re in Richmond working for you.) It’s important for elected officials to know your role in the community so that they can help you, and it’s important for you to be a resource that they can turn to information.

Consider Lobbying

Make sure your nonprofit understands the difference between advocacy and lobbying. The IRS has restrictions for 501(c)(3) organizations. Know where the lines are before you cross them. The Center for Nonprofit Management offers an excellent overview of IRS rules regarding lobbying and advocacy by nonprofits.

You are entitled to lobby and advocate for the causes and constituents you represent. Nonprofits should get involved in the political process as it affects government funding for their programs and policies that impact their ability to carry out their mission.

Start by tracking and monitoring legislation. (As I’ve mentioned, Richmond Sunlight is the best tool for doing this.) Nonprofits have first-hand experience and expertise in their field that can play a key role in shaping public policy. For example, the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), is on the ground in communities across the Commonwealth fighting predatory lending. Who better to rally the troops or help educate legislators than those who are dealing with this on a daily basis?

Visit the General Assembly on an “awareness day” for your cause or designate a “lobby day” for your members to meet with legislators. (Today is Lobby Day for the Charlottesville Chapter of VOP.) For those of you who’ve never participated in something like this, Richmond Sunlight offers a video with tips on how to advocate at the General Assembly.

Even if your nonprofit does not lobby for policy change, it is essential that you communicate to federal, state and local leaders the ways in which your nonprofit serves people in your community.

For more information on lobbying and advocacy, visit:

Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest

Colorado Nonprofit Association Lobbying Toolkit

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – The Law and Nonprofit Advocacy

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