Saturday, August 18, 2012

Tides: Marketing Analysis

Tides Center is a nonprofit organization focused on social change through fiscal sponsorship and donor advised funds.  Fiscally sponsored nonprofit organizations, also  known as Projects receive services that include: financial management, human resource management, and risk management.  Projects such as Global Community Monitor use social marketing techniques to change public opinion about industrial operations that pollute neighboring areas, and generate community action against industrial toxic pollution.

About Tides:
The Tides Center is a San Francisco based independent 501 c(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by the Tides Foundation in an effort to oversea projects once handled by the Tides Foundation Projects Program.  Tides Center’s mission is to partner with individuals, nonprofits, and donors to implement programs that accelerate positive social change, this includes programs and activities that create and promote a healthy society, one which is founded on principles of social justice, broadly shared economic opportunity, a robust democratic process, and sustainable environmental practices.  Tides Center believes healthy societies rely fundamentally on respect for individual rights, the vitality of communities, and celebration of diversity.  Tides  Center supports over 300 projects in forty states and twelve countries ( 

Target Public and Positioning:
Tides Center uses market segmentation to attract an input public, or individual donors, and consuming public of start up organizations working towards social change.  By focusing on social change in their mission, the Tides Center is able to position itself as a social-minded organization.  Other ways the Tides Center differentiates from other nonprofit organizations is through their 4P marketing mix that includes: their product, offering fiscal sponsorship and donor advisement, their place, being accessible to individuals and groups locally in the Bay Area and nationally, their promotion, through the various projects they  sponsor, and price, charging sponsored projects 9% of their annual revenue.  Tides Center implements a needs-center orientation by upholding their social-minded mission focus, while at the same time centering on the needs and wants of their target publics.  Willa Seldon, former Tides Center Executive Director, believes Tides Center success is due to their concentration on infrastructure and partnership with various nonprofit organizations (
    Tides Center brands itself as being  the nations leading fiscal sponsor providing innovative technology and efficient infrastructure.  Other fiscal sponsors in the Bay Area, such as Aspiration and Community Initiatives, offer similar administrative services to nonprofits at a cost of around 10-15% of the organizations revenue.  Unlike Tides Center, these competing fiscal sponsors do not require the sponsored organization to work in areas that affect social change (,

Unique Value Proposition:
Through Unique Value Proposition, the Tides Center exemplifies how donors and nonprofits will benefit from the services offered.  Philanthropic services include donor advised funds, family giving, and philanthropic advice.  Donor advised funds focuses on donor benefits, as donors are able to recommend how their money is to be utilized.  Donations are tax-deductible and anonymous, if desired. 

The anonymity of the funds received by the Tides Center has raised controversy. As some websites suggest, there should be a paper trail for donors and their suggested projects., for example, accuses the Tides Center and Tides Foundation of money laundering, stating that Tides obscures their funding sources, allowing large public charities such as Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Heinz Endowment to indirectly fund projects in which they do not want to be publicly identified with (  In a similar article, Western Journalism-Who Funds the Radical Left in America,  writer Steven Baldwin claims, the social-minded agenda of Tides is dedicated to “destroying the American way of life” that includes, the “Christian-based culture and a free enterprise system“.  To prove his point, Baldwin lists various Tides-supported groups that are allegedly environmental extremists such as the Ruckus Society, pro-terrorists (Iraq Peace Fund), pro-Islamic (Council for American Islamic Relations), radical legal groups (The National Lawyers Guild), and voter fraud groups (ACORN) (

Whether or not Tides Center actively supports “radical leftists groups” is arguable, however, to ensure financial clarity, Tides Center’s IRS 990 forms are available on their website listing the assets, receipts, and expenditures.  In 2008, their revenue totaled $97,956,171 with $88,985,021 coming from contributions and grants, and $7,333,213 from program service costs. $232,916 was used towards professional fundraising fees.  Tides Center provides the names and amounts of each grant, however, the purpose of the received funds is often listed as “general support” (

Groups interested in gaining fiscal sponsorship through Tides Center must work on issues that include: civic engagement, community development, economic opportunity, education/training, environmental sustainability, health services/health care reform, housing/homelessness, human rights, human services/social services, international development, social justice, sustainable food and agriculture, violence prevention, and youth development and organizing.   (  Along with working on the issues above, interested groups must have $100,000 in confirmed funding and a minimum first-year operating budget of $200,000 in order to be eligible for fiscal sponsorship.  The fee for eligible groups is 9% of their annual revenue, 15% if the income is from Government sources, and 6% if their revenue is over $1 million ( 

Fiscal Sponsorship Services:
As a Tides Center Project, groups receive the following services: 
Financial management that includes online donations, bookkeeping, general ledger, financial reporting, and compliance.  

Grants management of Foundation and Government grants. 
Human Resource management that includes employment administration, benefits administration, risk management, compliance, and Human Resource policy development. 
Risk Management that includes liability management and government compliance. 
Payroll management of payroll processing, tax deposits, and filings.  Project relations that include, staff expertise, thorough communications, learning and networking  opportunities, and capacity building. 
Advisory Board Consultation that consists of  year-round consultations, new project assessments, Governance and Guidelines Handbook, training, managing conflicts of interest, annual review and goal setting.

Tides Center prides itself on their expert staff  and partners to provide services to its projects.  Service partners consists of Boardsource, a nonprofit that helps other nonprofit boards through consulting practice, publications, and membership programs.  Foundation Center, a resource for organized philanthropy.  Give Something Back, an office supply company that uses cause-related marketing by donating a portion of their net profits to community groups concerning the environment, public health, arts and culture, human services, and education. a nonprofit that uses internet technology to assist other nonprofits with fundraising and donor management.  Techsoup a software product philanthropy service for nonprofits (
The Tides Center Board is responsible for all legal and fiduciary aspects of Tides Center Projects and employees.  This includes: taxation, audit, whistle blower policy, conflict of interest disclosure policies, compliance issues, regulator issues, policies and procedures (  In most cases, the Board is not actively involved with Projects.  Projects are instead directed by an Advisory Board.

Program Director
Tides Center Projects are managed by the Program Director, who is in charge of overall programmatic operations, fundraising and financial sustainability, and supervision of project employees and volunteers (

Global Community Monitor:
Tides Center promotes itself through the numerous projects they sponsor.  Sponsored projects often employ social marketing techniques to gain public and media attention to  influence and create social change.  Global Community Monitor (GCM), for example, is a Tides Center project that focuses on environmental sustainability and justice.  GCM’s mission is to empower communities affected by industrial pollution and toxics, to recreate a healthy and sustainable environment.  GCM’s target public is individuals living in polluted communities near industrial operations, also referred as industrial fence-line neighbors.  GCM provides these communities with technical assistance and training to monitor, record, and confront continuing industrial pollution.  This includes makeshift air monitoring devices.  Consistent with the social marketing mix method, GCM ultimately wants the target public to hold industrial operations accountable for their unsafe environmental practices, this is their product.  Clean, unpolluted communities is their price and perceived benefits.  The communities living near these industrial operations is their place.  The data collected by the target public often attract media attention that, in turn, attracts policy makers.  Gabriel Meyers, a former Project Coordinator with GCM, worked on a campaign targeting Pacific Steel Castings (PSC) in West Berkeley, California in an effort that established a coalition of neighbors near PSC in the West Berkeley, Albany, and Kensington area, the Healthy Air Coalition.  Through a massive door knocking campaign to raise public awareness and conduct outreach about PSC’s toxic pollution. Through Meyers’ efforts at the door, he was able to mobilize community members to form the Healthy Air Coalition.  Together with GCM, the Healthy Air Coalition, and another environmental justice nonprofit: Green Action,  they demanded clean air and mobilized to take action for environmental justice for the West Berkeley, Albany, and Kensington area.  Similar efforts by GCM gained mainstream media attention from Newsweek writer Anna Kuchment, who featured West Oakland high school students who used monitoring tools supplied by GCM to test the air quality outside their campus, and found high levels of heavy metals such as lead and nickel.  Articles such as Kuchment’s attracted further attention from Bay Area neighbors and the city council.  The efforts of GCM and Bay Area neighbors were able to influence the public opinion of holding polluting industries accountable for their unsafe actions by demanding a change in their toxic use reduction.

Tides Center’s clear sense of their social-minded mission is present in the services offered to fiscally sponsored groups and donors.  Their attentiveness to all publics that include, donors, staff, partners, and clients, allow Tides Center to become one of the leading fiscal sponsors in the Nation with over $90 million in revenue.

Additional Sources
Interview with Gabriel Meyers, Former Global Community Monitor Project Coordinator

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