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Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter?: An Update

November 20, 2014

Headshot_j_mccrayOver the past fifteen years, research by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has demonstrated that certain grantmaking practices support nonprofits' capacity to achieve results. To track how these practices are changing, GEO conducts a national survey of staffed grantmaking organizations every three years. As we prepared to release the results of our most recent survey, I wondered: How would experts in nonprofit management interpret the results? To find out, I asked CompassPoint CEO Jeanne Bell, co-author of the reports Daring to Lead and Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, and Don Crocker, executive director and CEO of the Support Center, which advises nonprofits and foundations in the areas of leadership and executive transitions, board performance, and nonprofit/foundation effectiveness, to share their thoughts on our key findings as well as how funders can best support nonprofits to achieve more impact.

Long-term grants are inspirational. Multiyear support (grants of two years or longer without the need to reapply) is returning to pre-recession levels. Most funders now give at least some multiyear support. "Multiyear grants are powerful," says Bell. "If the foundation and the nonprofit are in sync around core programming, multiyear grants give you sustainability and predictability." Crocker agrees, adding, "Even if you look at small businesses and social entrepreneurs, they'll tell you it takes four or five years for the rubber to meet the road and for really good results to start emerging. I think multiyear grants are inspirational, in that they allow the nonprofit to have a greater sense of security."

Unrestricted support enables creativity and responsiveness. After being flat for many years, the average share of annual grantmaking budgets devoted to unrestricted support showed a small but meaningful increase (from 20 percent to 25 percent). Why is this important? As Crocker says, "General operating support opens the door to much more creative thinking, allowing nonprofits to be more nimble and a lot more responsive to things that have changed in their community and the needs of their clients."

Boosting leadership capacity requires a collective approach. More than a quarter of the funders surveyed reported an increase in the dollar total of their grants for capacity-building efforts, which include leadership development, governance, and evaluation capacity. "Nonprofits are collections of leaders, including development directors and program directors and policy directors — it's not just executives," says Bell. "The foundations that do it well not only pay for leadership development, they also act as ambassadors and champions for individual leaders as well as networks. That’s something special that foundations can do but typically government and major donors can't."

Funders need to "get in the zone" of listening to grantees and asking good questions. Over the past decade, we've seen a sea change in the way funders think about engaging nonprofits. GEO found that the majority of funders are now seeking feedback from grantees and asking for their input on key decisions. However, while our research revealed that funders believe they are open to discussing key financial issues, a recent >Nonprofit Finance Fund >study found that nonprofit leaders don’t believe funders really want to hear about their financial needs. The way funders set the table for these conversations is important. As Bell says, "I don’t think that most program officers ask the kinds of questions on the way into a grant that would lead an executive director or development director to think she had more than one option."

The power dynamic between grantmaker and grantee makes it difficult for nonprofit leaders to be totally open with their funders. "Given the power dynamics," says Bell, "the foundation representative would have to say, 'You're a strategic grantee; I want to hear your answer to the question. What's the most valuable grant I could make to you?'"

Funders can start to build stronger relationships with their grantees by admitting that they don’t have all the answers. As Crocker says, "You need to get in the zone of saying, 'I want to talk to you about what I see because I have some questions. But I’m also assuming there are a lot of things about your finances I just don't understand. If you could help me to understand it, I think I could be more supportive to you.'"

Supporting collaboration is an important role for funders. No matter what you call it — collective impact, leveraging networks, or movement building — collaboration is an idea whose time has come, and funders are asking themselves how they can better work with each other and support greater collaboration among their grantees. At the same time, while our research found that funders overwhelmingly agree it's important to collaborate with other funders, the majority say they never or rarely support the cost of collaboration among grantees. Bell and Crocker agree that funders need to cover the cost of collaboration.

What's more, they both agree that the key to a successful collaboration is letting the community drive the decision-making process. Bell gives an example from her own organization's work that is supported by grant funding: "We're doing work in the domestic violence field in California," she says, "and we're about to do some work in the youth racial justice space, and it will be the participants who will determine how that grant is deployed."

A time for reflection.We are making important progress in the way we support nonprofits. But we could be doing more — and better. Whether you are a funder or a grantseeker, we want to hear from you. What are the small steps you can take to ensure that your organization is having the right conversations about how to best support or model nonprofit success?

J McCray is chief operating officer at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations where he is responsible for strategic planning, financial management, internal learning, and field research on grantmaker practice.

Tips for End-of-Year Foundation Fundraising

November 18, 2014

End_of_year_fundraisingThis is the time of year when every nonprofit CEO sinks or swims. Either you secure the last of the grants needed to balance your organization's budget or risk running a deficit and ruining its balance sheet. But while you might think it's too late to save 2014, the last six weeks of the year are actually an excellent time to pursue foundation grants. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

Foundations are like people. At the end of the day, whether it's a small family foundation or a large independent foundation,
it takes people to make a grant, and, when it comes to deadlines, most people procrastinate. In other words, an awful lot of grants get made in the last quarter of the year, and a surprising number of those grants are made in December.

Meeting the payout requirement is trickier than you think. Foundations are required by law to spend 5 percent of their assets annually for charitable purposes. This can include a portion of their own operating costs, but most of it tends to be paid out in grants. Many foundations base this 5 percent minimum on a rolling three-year average of the value of their investments. With the fairly constant oscillations of the stock market, you can imagine this is something of a moving target for most foundations. Add to that the fact that grants sometimes don't materialize, organizations implode, and stuff happens, and foundations often have to scramble to make last-minute grants to achieve their mandated 5 percent payout.

The stock market is on a tear. Though 2014 has been a bit bumpy, the markets are up and have been very good to foundations over the past three years. This means that foundations will be calculating their 5 percent payout on an asset base that is larger than at any time since before the Great Recession. It's the reason why U.S. foundations will pay out nearly $60 billion in grants in 2014.

Build on existing relationships. If you’re already being funded by a foundation, ask your program officer there (politely) whether there's any chance he or she might be able to make
a special, end-of-year, one-time gift to your organization. Ideally, this would be for general operating support, but it could also be for something that really speaks to your program officer's passion. Foundations are far more likely to make a last-minute grant to an organization they know well and trust.

FDO_screengrabTry reaching out to a new foundation, but target well. Do your homework by researching foundations you may have previously overlooked that are interested in your organization's priorities. FDO Free is a great place to start. With it, you can search the 990 tax returns of more than 90,000 foundations — I found more than 3,000 foundations whose 2012 tax returns mentioned "homeless" — sort them by state, and look up profiles of the ones located closest to you. The information in FDO Free is enough to get you started and the price is unbeatable. If you want to dive deeper and get more detailed information on new foundation prospects, right down to the individual grants they've made, you can always spring for a Foundation Directory Online subscription plan. But whatever you do, be sure to only apply to those foundations that are a good fit in terms of your organization's mission and programs. Wishful thinking aside, a thousand flowers will not bloom if you send out thousands of proposals at random.

Write a compelling letter of inquiry. Nothing kills a grant request faster than a lousy cover letter. Foundations get many, many more requests than they can approve and have developed a sixth sense about form letters, rambling prose that never gets to the point, and unimaginative email subject lines (i.e., "grant request"). Be creative. Put the ask as close to the top of the letter as possible. But above all, be compelling and concise.

Man the battle stations! If you are fortunate enough to snag an end-of-year commitment from a foundation, you will almost surely need to move heaven and earth to get all the paperwork done in time. Remember: It's worth it, and foundations tend to develop great respect for organizations that are willing and able to provide what is needed to complete the approval of a grant, regardless of the time of year.

Don't be disappointed. Regrettably, some foundations won't even respond to your inquiry. Others will a send form rejection letter, while still others will thank you for your request, appreciate it as a smart thing for an organization to do, and invite you to have a conversation in the New Year. Take that as a very good sign that you have broadened your circle of potential  funders and planted the seeds of a relationship from which future grants just may flow.

Yes, this is a tough time of year, but it is also the giving time of year. Responsible nonprofits owe it to themselves to go for those last-minute grants.

Bradford K. Smith is president of Foundation Center.

5 Questions for…Ian Clark Devine, Board Member, Bellosguardo Foundation

November 17, 2014

In the last years of her long life, heiress Huguette Clark became one of New York society's most-whispered-about curiosities. Born in Paris in 1906 to 67-year-old William Andrews Clark, a wealthy Guilded Age businessman, and Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, Clark's second wife, young Huguette grew up in splendid luxury in Manhattan and counted among her friends and contemporaries some of her father's grandchildren, including Devine's grandmother. After her father died in 1925, the young heiress and her mother moved from his Upper East Side mansion to a nearby apartment on Fifth Avenue, where Huguette lived for much of the rest of her life. After a short-lived marriage ended in 1930, she turned to art and art collecting, kept up her French and Spanish, and developed a passion for dolls, dollhouses, and Japanese culture. As she grew older, she also became increasingly withdrawn and reclusive — so much so, that when she passed away in 2011 just two weeks shy of her 105th birthday, only a handful of people could say they had seen her in the last twenty years.

Clark's death sparked a flurry of interest in her long, mysterious life — and in the disposition of her will, which almost immediately was challenged in court by members of her extended family. After two years, the case was settled in the family's favor, with the bulk of her fortune, including Bellosguardo, her coastal estate in Santa Barbara, California, going to charity. Earlier this month, PND exchanged emails with Ian Devine about the case and the creation of the Bellosguardo Foundation, which will oversee the Santa Barbara property, including its furnishings, artwork, and Clark's extensive doll collection.

Headshot_ian_clark_devinePhilanthropy News Digest: At the time of her death, your great-grand-aunt's estate was estimated to be worth around $400 million and included expensive real estate in Manhattan, Connecticut, and California; paintings by the likes of Cezanne, Renoir, and Sargent; and, famously, her antique doll collection. The disposition of her estate was challenged soon after her death by twenty of her grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews, and great-grandnieces, including you. Why did the family feel it necessary to challenge the will, and what, in your view, were the issues at stake?

Ian Clarke Devine: The Clark family worried that Huguette's advisors were taking advantage of her. There were signs of financial exploitation, family access was denied, one of her advisors was a convicted sex offender. The plight of Brooke Astor was very much in our minds. Family members filed a guardianship petition in 2009 seeking an independent firm to manage her finances and an independent evaluator to investigate her care. Despite indications of improper fiduciary management, the petition was denied.

When Huguette died in 2011, two radically different wills emerged, written only six weeks apart — after she had refused to create a will for more than fifty years! There were irregularities with both wills and several ethically dubious provisions. Taxes hadn't been paid in years. Challenging the will was the only way to uncover the truth. In fact, subsequent depositions under oath produced evidence of actions and behavior even more shocking than we had imagined. To boil it all down, the professionals closest to our aunt took advantage of her emotional vulnerabilities for personal and institutional gain. The doctors failed to assess her mental health. The Clark family believed that the professionals involved had to be held accountable.

PND: The dispute recently was brought to a close with the help of the New York Attorney General's office and the New York Public Administrator's office. In broad outline, tell us about the terms of the settlement.

ICD: The probate litigation and the settlement confirmed the family's belief that Huguette was the victim of emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her advisors and caregivers. It vindicated our decision to challenge the will. Though it took an excruciatingly long time, the settlement was quite sophisticated and honored Huguette's wishes as best as they could be discerned. The family was strongly in favor of the outcome.

The most welcome result was that the Bellosguardo Foundation, which otherwise might have become a vehicle for the enrichment of certain advisors, now holds tremendous potential to benefit the Santa Barbara community and the art world at large. Bellosguardo will be a place of pride. Credit is due to the New York State Attorney General's office and its Charities Bureau for outlining the steps to make Bellosguardo a viable foundation and a vital new force in the arts. And the settlement's structure will allow other charitable organizations to benefit in the future. All good outcomes!

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 15-16, 2014)

November 16, 2014

Ice-ballsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education 

On the NPR-Ed site, Emily Hanford has a piece (the first in a four-part series) about how Common Core is changing the way reading is taught to kids. (The piece originally appeared as part of American RadioWorks' "Greater Expectations: The Challenge of the Common Core.")

Environment

On Friday, the Sierra Club released a statement from its executive director, Michael Brune, in response to an announcement, expected this week, that the United States will contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF),  a new multilateral fund created "to help developing countries reduce climate pollution and address their vulnerabilities to the most dangerous effects of climate disruption."

Here on PhilanTopic, Gabi Fitz, director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center, shares the results of a collaboration between IssueLab and the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation to capture and share knowledge  about sustainable coastal fisheries management.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a post on Forbes, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, argues that pay-for-success models, although not a silver bullet, "hold the potential to illuminate what works and what doesn’t, and to optimize both delivery of service and tax dollars."

International Development

The mainstream media tends to focus on the bad news, but Africa is changing -- largely for the better, as this slide deck from Our World in Data shows.

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Growing the Field of Youth Philanthropy: A Funder’s Perspective

November 14, 2014

While working with young members of the Lumpkin Family Foundation as a program officer a few years back, I quickly realized I had two needs:

  1. age-appropriate resources to support younger members of the family (ages 16-21) in developing their own grantmaking process based on best practices in the field; and
  2. to connect these younger family members with other young people involved in their own family's foundation.

Youth_philanthropy_screenshotThrough the foundation's national membership association connections, I was able to connect with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation (FCF), and the young family members at FCF graciously agreed to meet up with the younger Lumpkin family members to share their experiences. That meeting served as a catalyst for a significant shift in the programmatic and grantmaking focus of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation to youth philanthropy. In 2012, I moved from the Lumpkin Family Foundation to FCF to help lead that effort, which today is known as Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led initiative for young people between the ages of 8 and 21 who want to get involved in philanthropy work, with a focus on grantmaking.

Soon after I arrived, FCF began more broadly to reach out to other foundations that were actively engaging younger family members in their grantmaking, and we quickly developed a lengthy and diverse list of organizations that were active in this space. Through our outreach efforts, we learned that the heads of family foundations increasingly are engaging younger generations for succession planning and wealth transfer purposes; community foundations are engaging youth in grantmaking activities as a way to build the philanthropic capacity of the community; and private and public schools are incorporating community change efforts and grantmaking activities into their classrooms and afterschool programs.

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Traveling Toward Greater Impact

November 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_broomeAnyone who has ever traveled with me – even just across town – knows that I get lost easily. North becomes south, left becomes right. As such, I’ve developed a heavy reliance on maps to tell me where I am and to help me figure out where I'm going. Otherwise, I'll spend a lot of time confidently headed in the wrong direction. That's exactly the value I see in the maps and analysis of human rights grantmaking created by the International Human Rights Funders Group and Foundation Center. They, too, can help those of us in the field of human rights philanthropy establish where we are and think critically about where we are going.

Where are we now?

First, in comparing the maps on the Advancing Human Rights website, it appears that human rights funding increased from $1.2 billion in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2011. However, an important factor in that increase is that an additional forty-plus funders began submitting their data to the project in 2011. When comparing "like with like" (only including the funders that submitted data for both years), we can see that funding for human rights increased by almost 8 percent.

The geographic distribution of the grants awarded also is interesting. In 2011, human rights funding in support of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia increased by 28 percent, while funding for the Middle East and North Africa increased by 33 percent. This increase may have been influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011. The initial benchmark research set means that, for the first time, we will be able to track philanthropy's response to the Arab Spring, as well as funding trends with respect to other regions, issues, and populations. This is an exciting development for our field.

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Delusional Altruism

November 12, 2014

Money_down_the_drainFoundations pride themselves on the good they do for others; that's the very nature and culture of philanthropy. However, in my fifteen years as a consultant who advises foundations, I've found that most foundations suffer from delusional altruism.

Delusional altruism is when you are genuinely trying to help people – but paying absolutely no attention to the operational inefficiency and waste that drains grantseekers or your own foundation of the human and financial capital necessary to accomplish your goals.

Let me give you three examples:

1. A foundation gives itself five weeks to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) that it has already written, but gives grantseekers only three weeks to apply. Five different departments within a large national foundation each had a week to modify – or simply sign off on – an RFP. By contrast, each applicant had to decide whether to apply, decide whether to do so jointly with other invited applicants, develop the proposal concept (possibly in collaboration), write the proposal, and get written commitments of matching funding – all within three weeks.

2. A foundation evaluation director sends an RFP to 50 evaluators to conduct a $40,000 evaluation. The evaluation director had prequalified a “mere” 50 evaluators and therefore received an overwhelming volume of proposals that he had to sort through and vet. Then he had to determine finalists and interview them, all before he could make a decision and actually hire someone.This left him exhausted, overwhelmed, and behind on other projects. It probably took him six months, whereas the evaluation itself could have been done in that time. He and his associate likely spent half of the $40,000 project fee just in their own staff time.

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A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 8-9, 2014)

November 08, 2014

GOP_waveOur (slightly abbreviated) weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Pooja Gupta, a writer at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, reviews the findings of a 2014 study published in Psychological Science which found that Americans' trust in each other and their institutions (the military excepted) has hit all-time lows in recent years. According to the authors of the study, "Trust in others and confidence in institutions [are] key indicators of social capital," but that kind of "capital"

was lower in recent years than during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s; the Iran hostage crisis and "national malaise" of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the height of the crime wave in the early 1990s; the Clinton impeachment of the late 1990s; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the financial crisis and recession of the late 2000s....

Climate Change

Not that the new Congress will have any interest, but here are ten facts about climate change from the UN's new climate report that should give everyone pause.

Fundraising

The host of this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, fundraising consultant Pamela Grow, has issued a call for submissions. As has been the case for the past few years, this month's roundup is looking for submissions that detail how nonprofit organizations around the world are creating an "attitude of gratitude" (i.e., celebrate the donors who make their work possible). Here's how to submit:

  1. Write a blog post, or choose a recent post that fits the theme.
  2. Submit the post via email to: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com – be sure to include your name, your blog's name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage).
  3. Get your post in by the end of day on Sunday, November 23. You can check back on Monday, November 24, to see if your post made the cut!

Global Health

The hysteria around Ebola in the U.S. may be fading, but the ignorance and misconceptions that fueled it in the first place are still very much with us, Angélique Kidjo, a singer and songwriter from Benin, reminds us in in an op-ed in the New York Times.

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Funding to Strengthen Democracy Is Critical to Long-Term Foundation Success

Ruth_holton_hodson_for_PhilanTopicMany in the progressive foundation community are wondering how the results of the midterm elections will affect their funding areas, be it health, education, the environment, income inequality, or civil rights. What will become of our hard work to move a progressive agenda forward? How far will that agenda be set back? Let me suggest one area that has an impact on every one of the issues progressives hold dear, an area that could sorely use some funding — the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy.

Contrary to what many have said, the midterm elections weren't determined by the vast sums spent (mostly) on negative campaign ads (though, of course, money played a role in the outcome). They were determined by people who made their way to a polling place and cast a ballot — the most sacred act in the democratic canon. It's simple. Who votes determines what government looks like, the policies it pursues, which programs are funded or are cut, which regulations are written or are dropped. Who votes is a critical factor in determining who is appointed to the Supreme Court and who heads the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services. In other words, who votes determines whether our elected officials will or won't champion a progressive agenda. What does that mean for foundations with missions focused on social justice, health and welfare, and education? It means that they are unlikely to realize their long-term goals of a better and more just society without also supporting efforts to strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy.

Take a moment and reflect on whether your foundation has ever considered supporting organizations working to ensure that young people, low-income people, people of color — people in society who are marginalized and stand to benefit the most from implementation of a progressive agenda — vote. I'd wager that more than a few foundations don't or won't because, as the saying goes, "That's not our issue." That's like a homeowner who decides to paint over serious cracks in her ceilings and walls without bothering to fix the problem in the basement that's causing the cracks. Our democratic infrastructure is in serious need of fixing, and the more it deteriorates, the harder it will be for progressive-minded foundations to achieve their agendas and the more money they will end up spending on short-term fixes.

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How to Help Low-Income Students Cross the Finish Line

November 07, 2014

Headshot_jessica_pliskaLast week Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a new partnership to help ambitious low-income students get into and graduate from top colleges and universities. This historic investment in college access is the latest initiative to expand opportunities for low-income students and is a big step forward.

I also know from hard experience that there is a next step.

For every hundred students from low-income families that start college, fewer than eight will graduate and secure jobs. So, if our goal is to enable these young people to take charge of their futures, we need to move the finish line: college graduation is not the final destination — launching a career is.

We need to integrate career education into our college access and success programs if we want to maximize the hundreds of millions of dollars we are investing in these students. College and career readiness cannot operate in separate, parallel dimensions, with career readiness as an implied outcome. Low-income students need interventions that are intensive, sustained, and rigorous.

My organization, The Opportunity Network, levels the playing field for high-achieving, low-income high school and college students by creating access for them to career opportunities and professional networks while they are still in school. Our curriculum builds what we call "career fluency." In addition to preparing students for college, we teach them how to build and leverage professional relationships for academic and professional success. One hundred percent of our students graduate from college, and 85 percent start career-track jobs or graduate school within six months of college completion.

I've seen firsthand that education is essential, but it isn't enough.

Continue reading »

Losing the Red Cross Would Be the Real Disaster

November 05, 2014

Headshot_beth_gazleyAs a disaster researcher and scholar of nonprofit management, I've followed the (well publicized) travails and (hardly publicized) successes of the American Red Cross over the years.

I've met its national staff at research conferences and local staff at state and county emergency management meetings, where I've served on the board of my local Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). I participated with hundreds of other invited experts in the governance audit that resulted in the "American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007." I’ve monitored the commentary after a ProPublica/National Public Radio exposé of the Red Cross appeared last week. And based on my observations, I have developed a healthy respect and sympathy for the Red Cross.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

There's no disputing the fact that the public needs better results from the Red Cross. The organization has been essential to our welfare since the day it was chartered by Congress to be our national disaster response agency — primus inter pares among hundreds of agencies known collectively as voluntary organizations active in disaster. In fact, the Red Cross predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by seventy-nine years.

Congress has entrusted a good part of disaster-related mass care and sheltering to the Red Cross. Somewhat less rationally, Congress imposed this public mandate on the Red Cross without much aid; the agency is expected to meet our nation's disaster relief needs largely through the philanthropic generosity of Americans.

Further complicating matters, the Red Cross has been plagued for years by leadership issues — issues that aren't easy to resolve because they are rooted in a number of larger, systemic problems:

Greater forces of nature. Climate change makes it harder for all disaster relief agencies to achieve their mission. In the ProPublica/NPR story, a Red Cross executive observes the challenge of "scaling up" for Sandy, a storm that covered an area half the size of Europe. The organization's inability to do that was due to climate change, not internal organizational problems. In 2005, disaster relief agencies reached the same conclusion when they reported that the impact of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina was many times larger than their capacity to deal with back-to-back disasters. The lesson is clear: As disasters get larger and more complex, we all have to work together to scale our disaster response capacity.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Moukhtar Kocache, author, ‘Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture’

November 03, 2014

Headshot_moukhtar_kocacheEarlier this year, the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace issued a report, Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture, that highlighted the synergy between the arts and social movements around the globe — and the general reluctance among funders to fund arts initiatives with a social justice component, and vice versa.

Recently, PND spoke with Moukhtar Kocache, the report’s author, about some of the challenges foundations face in funding "social-change-through-arts" initiatives and what can be done to change the existing dynamic. Kocache is an independent civil society, nonprofit, and philanthropy consultant whose areas of expertise include arts and culture, media, gender equity, social justice, and cultural activism and change. From 2004 to 2012, he was a program officer in media, arts, and culture at the Ford Foundation.

Philanthropy News Digest: What are the arts uniquely able to do in situations where liberties have been eroded and freedoms suppressed that more traditional advocacy activities are unable to accomplish?

Moukhtar Kocache: The arts are ubiquitous wherever human beings come together in common cause. I have yet to see, in our own time, a social movement that did not sing, dance, paint, make theater, and record its activities. The arts are closely associated with our notions of identity, self-determination, and healing. The challenge is how to develop the strategies, mechanisms, and tools needed to get to the next level, the level at which targeted interventions that amplify the role of the arts in social change processes are conceived and implemented. So, rather than ask what the arts can do that traditional advocacy can't, I would suggest thinking about questions such as, What forms of art are most suited for a particular type of social change cause? And at what stage and through what process can the arts help people coalesce around and amplify their response to a specific social issue or reality?

Today, artistic creation and artistic processes are extremely responsive to the challenges confronting all of us as citizens of a global village; rarely these days do we see art that does not, in some way, address a social or political issue that resonates with a broader constituency. Indeed, the arts often play a role before, during, and after periods of social change, informing and galvanizing communities and even societies through the various stages of social transformation. So, it's important to think more broadly about how we as a society understand the realm of art, because that will help us tailor and design social interventions with more nuance and precision.

Consider, for instance: civil rights-era protest songs; an artist-organized campaign to shut down a supermax prison; young women learning to make and screen short films about their marginalized role in society; a community working with artists and architects to redesign and rehabilitate public housing; victims and perpetrators of genocide engaged in making theatre together; children creating art in refugee camps; and so on. It's a short list, but it demonstrates how diverse activities that fall under the rubric of "art" can be, and how, at various times and through specific mechanisms, these activities help communities to heal, feel proud, build social cohesion, create new narratives, and mobilize for or against an issue.

PND: You write in the report that, despite growing interest in "the symbiotic relationship between art, self-determination, cultural democracy and social justice," arts funders and social justice funders remain reluctant to support "social-change-through-arts" initiatives. What are the reasons for that reluctance?

MK: Arts funders would say, "We do not fund social change," while social justice funders would say, "We don’t fund the arts." But this binary dynamic has meant that a wealth of learning and opportunities for impact has been missed and that a lot of grassroots creativity in marginalized communities is not being harnessed for social change. Part of the problem has to do with limited resources and capacity at the funder level where, for many grantmakers, supporting something new often is seen as too experimental, too risky, and/or a distraction from more "serious" and conventional funding strategies. Foundation staff also tend to feel ill equipped to venture into fields where they have little expertise, even though most people understand, at both a visceral and intellectual level, the power of the synergy between the two types of funding. I believe, however, that with time, foundations will become more versed in both the arts and social justice traditions, and that that will lead to more knowledge and a greater willingness to experiment among funders on either side of the funding divide we are talking about.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 1-2, 2014)

November 02, 2014

Your-vote-counts-buttonOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On her Social Marketing blog, communications consultant Julia Campbell has some advice for the American Red Cross, which again finds itself in the middle of a controversy over its response to a disaster (Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy).

Environment

In the fifth part of a seven-part series on the State of the Union offered by Stanford University, Farrallon Capital founder and philanthropist Tom Steyer and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu talk about the environment and climate change. (Running time: 1:33:37)

On the Al Jazeera America site, author and freelance journalist Nathan Schneider (Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypsereports on the return of an old concept, the commons.

Fundraising

In a link-filled post on her blog, Beth Kanter explains how #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, can help your organization reach Generation Z donors (kids born after 1995).

International Affairs/Development

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Andrew Grabois, manager of corporate philanthropy at Foundation Center, breaks down trends in funding for Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.

Bill Foege, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, argues on the Humanosphere blog that the public health response in the U.S. to Ebola "has been far better than we could have expected, given the cutbacks in the public health infrastructure of recent years [and] by the private care system sometimes making decisions based on cost or insurance status rather than health needs."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2014)

November 01, 2014

Lots of good posts here on PhilanTopic in October. Didn't catch them all? No worries. Here's a look back at the posts that were especially popular during the month. Have a post you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Two Years After Sandy: What the Robin Hood Foundation Has Learned About Disaster Relief

October 31, 2014

Emary_aronson_for_PhilanTopicOctober 29 marked the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. While for some the devastating storm is nothing but a bad memory, for too many in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Sandy remains present every day as they struggle to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Over the last two years, the Robin Hood Foundation’s Sandy Relief Fund has tried to do what it could to aid those in the tri-state area affected by the storm. With the help of many generous donors, we have provided more than $74 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and have helped tens of thousands of families.

While Robin Hood is not a traditional disaster-relief organization, we were prepared to help after Sandy made landfall. Thanks to our twenty-five years of experience as New York's largest poverty-fighting organization and our expertise in providing assistance to the families of victims of the September 11 attacks, we knew that many of the frontline, grassroots organizations that assist New Yorkers every day could benefit from our help. We made our first grants within three days of the storm to organizations already in the Robin Hood network. Ever since, we've been allocating funds for Sandy recovery efforts within a hundred days of receiving donations for that purpose. Two years after Sandy, we have made more than five hundred and fifty grants to over four hundred organizations in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and parts of Connecticut.

Along the way, we have learned many lessons about grantmaking, partnerships, and the nature of disaster relief. Two of the most important lessons have to do with the importance of being flexible and being transparent. Because we had "boots on the ground," we quickly got to know communities we hadn’t worked with before and were able to adapt to their post-storm needs. In terms of transparency, we made all our grants public on our website, including the name of the recipient organization and the amount and purpose of the grant, and located all those grants on an interactive map.

Two years on, the question we are asked most frequently is: What compelled Robin Hood to allocate funds so quickly? There are three reasons:  

1. Immediate need. Many people who found themselves in the storm's path quickly realized they were in urgent need of essentials. In many cases, they had lost their home, or had no heat, hot water, or electricity. Their place of work had been damaged or destroyed, or their child’s day care was shuttered. They began to run out of food and, if they were poor or disabled, could not access their benefits. They were traumatized. It is no accident we called our fund a "relief" fund. Our efforts were about providing assistance in the short term, not about preparing for the next disaster. Moreover, when we had engaged in post-disaster relief efforts before, we had made a point of focusing on the specific conditions of the disaster. In the days after Sandy hit, it was clear to us the situation required getting funds out to frontline organizations quickly.  

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Spotlight on Philanthropy in Colombia

Headshot_AFEMaria The Asociación de Fundaciones Empresariales (Association of Corporate and Family Foundations) is a Colombia-based association that works to promote accountability among corporate and family foundations in the country, encourage the sharing of best philanthropic practices, and act as a collective voice for its members in order to achieve greater impact and contribute to social equity and sustainable development. Recently, the Foundation Center's Marie DeAeth spoke with Maria Carolina Suarez Visbal, AFE's executive director, about the impact of current and historical events on the country's philanthropic sector, the challenges grantmakers face, and the opportunities they have to move Colombia forward.

History

After a civil war in the mid-20th century, Colombia experienced more than fifty years of violence at the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an "irregular military organization" that is still active in certain rural areas of the country. The country also has had to deal with violence perpetrated by drug cartels that help drive the global cocaine industry. "Violence, corruption, guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug cartels — all are present in Colombia and have definitely affected the different sectors of the economy, including the philanthropic sector," says Sra. Suarez. "At the moment, the country is engaged in a peace-building process in which we all have to be prepared to accept many changes. Nonprofits are not immune to this, and, indeed, they have an important role to play in a post-conflict situation."

The problems in rural areas are a big challenge for those engaged in philanthropic work, Suarez notes, particularly as the government is trying to negotiate a peace settlement with the FARC and civil society in the country remains focused on the process. Peace-building in rural areas is important to many AFE members, and they, almost uniquely in Colombia, have the human and social capital, knowledge, and capacity to empower and strengthen rural communities. As Suarez notes, "These challenges confirm that we must go into territories beyond where the foundation's family is from or where the foundation's parent corporation is located."

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Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

October 30, 2014

Headshot_schneider_kidron_300x600Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation's Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion of eighteen degree and certificate programs as well as leadership institutes at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU).

The foundation provided the resources needed for program development, staffing, student tuition assistance, and marketing/recruitment activities. The investment was substantial – each institution received $15 million over a period of up to six years. As part of its independent evaluation of the initiative, American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed not only how well the three grantees delivered these programs, but how they planned to financially sustain their programs into the future after the foundation's investment wound down.

Financial sustainability requires careful planning, typically using a dynamic document that is reviewed and revisited periodically. Such a document – the financial sustainability plan – describes strategies to contain costs and to cover them through fundraising and program revenues.

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. To help Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative grantees, we developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. This interactive tool can be used to:

  1. Identify the resources required to implement a program, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and materials, whether paid for directly or contributed in-kind, and subsequently to calculate program costs.
  2. Explore ways to reduce costs.
  3. Identify the effects of different levels of tuition and scholarships.
  4. Calculate fundraising needs and demonstrate to potential funders why their help is needed.

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

We created benchmarks for reviewing the financial sustainability plans submitted by each institution. The four criteria described below are based on the assumption that financial sustainability is a process, not an end. In other words, although the process aimed at achieving financial sustainability may not yet be completed, the financial sustainability plan contributes to a road map that programs can follow into the future.

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Philanthropy as a Partner in Implementing Post-2015 Development Goals

October 29, 2014

UNDP_in_PakistanPhilanthropy is evolving rapidly as a sector, taking new shapes and forms. Although philanthropic contributions are poorly measured because difficult to estimate, total philanthropy from Northern countries (DAC donors) was reported to be $59 billion in 2011.

Traditional philanthropic giving has been complemented by innovative new approaches such as impact investing and advocacy, and more voices are calling for strategic philanthropy to engage in the conversation around the post-2015 development agenda, another new development within the sector.

When we first reached out to foundations asking their views on future development goals, our conversation was mostly about explaining the MDGs. The language and the measuring mechanisms of the MDG framework have not been well known or used by foundations, despite enormous philanthropic resources committed to global issues such as education and health. Indeed, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), which is dedicated to global development, did not mention MDGs during its 2014 annual gathering.

But the conversation has shifted dramatically. Committed foundations and associations have stepped up their efforts to mobilize and educate peers about the importance of the conversation around future global development goals as well as the implications of that conversation for philanthropic strategies.

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‘Under Construction’: Healing With a Groove

Under_construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

Where there is joy, there is music. Frustration, music. Hope, music. Love found, love lost, music and more music. It expresses emotion when words alone are inadequate and provides a soundtrack for our lives.

In the Mississippi Delta, the cradle of the blues, the black experience has been chronicled by enduring and endearing songs that lament racism, relationship problems, social inequity, and the aggravation of being broke. The blues are a gift to the world, one that the Delta is best known for. The music spills out of unassuming juke joints that come alive after dark and that have produced more GRAMMY Award winners per capita than any other region of the country.

The blues is not necessarily the preferred language of the young men coming up now, though. They speak hip-hop and make personal heroes out of Southern-born rappers like Lil' Boosie and Yo Gotti, artists celebrated for their lyrical realness and rags-to-riches success. The issues that both genres address are the same, but the stories born out of them are set to a different beat.

It’s fertile ground for Healing With a Groove.

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A Message From GuideStar President/CEO Jacob Harold

October 27, 2014

Headshot_Jacob_HaroldIn 2013, I joined with partners at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator in writing an open letter to the donors of America explaining that "overhead ratios" are a poor way to understand nonprofit performance. We named this campaign "The Overhead Myth."

I'm glad to report that the response to the campaign, including the original Overhead Myth letter to the donors of America, far exceeded our expectations. More than one hundred articles have been written about the campaign. It comes up every time I hold a meeting or give a talk. For many in the field, it's been a deep affirmation of something they've long known. And, indeed, many leading organizations — the Donors Forum, Bridgespan, the National Council on Nonprofits, and others — have been working on the issue for years. 

But we also know we have a long road ahead of us. The myth of overhead as inherently "wasteful" spending is deeply ingrained in the culture and systems of the nonprofit sector, and it will take years of concerted effort for us to move past such a narrow view of nonprofit performance to something that fully reflects the complexity of the world around us. That effort is essential, however, if we want to ensure that we have a nonprofit sector capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. 

That's why last week the CEOs of Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and I released a second Overhead Myth letter — this one addressed to the nonprofits of America. In that letter, we suggest a set of steps nonprofits themselves can take to help dispel the Overhead Myth. We all share responsibility for allowing things to have reached this pass. And it will take all of us to fix it.

We direct this letter to nonprofits not because we feel they are the originators of the Overhead Myth but because they are in the best position to communicate with their donors and funders. We want to recruit nonprofits to help us retrain donors and funders to pay attention to what really matters: results. In the end, that means nonprofits have to throw away the pie charts showing overhead versus program — and  step up to the much more important challenge of communicating how they track progress against their mission.

In simple terms, we must — collectively — offer donors an alternative. In the letter, and on the accompanying website, we call on nonprofits to do three things as their part of this evolution:

  1. Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about their performance.
  2. Manage toward results and understand their true costs.
  3. Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

We have provided a list of tools and resources related to each of these  goals. These tools give nonprofits tangible steps they can take to engage their stakeholders around this critical issue. As the sector develops new resources and tactics, we will add them to the website.

We believe it will take a shared effort to focus donors' attention on what really matters: nonprofits’ efforts to make the world a better place. It doesn't matter whether you work at a nonprofit or donate a few dollars to a favorite charity every year, please join us as we seek to move from the Overhead Myth to the Overhead Solution.

For more information, or if you have a resource related to this issue that can help advance the cause, email overhead@guidestar.org.

GuideStar, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects people and organizations with information on the programs, finances, and impact of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits, serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 25-26, 2014)

October 26, 2014

Alloween-blackcat-660x500Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector.... 

Economy

In Salon, author and political analyst Thomas Frank (What's the Matter With Kanasas?) tries to square the immense popularity of Ted-like talks and books about creativity with the "easy assumption that creativity was a thing our society valued....[I] had even believed it once," Frank writes, "in the way other generations had believed in the beneficence of government or the blessings of Providence.

And yet [my] creative friends, when considered as a group, were obviously on their way down, not up. The institutions that made their lives possible — chiefly newspapers, magazines, universities and record labels — were then entering a period of disastrous decline. The creative world as [I] knew it was not flowering, but dying.

When [I] considered [my] creative friends as individuals, the literature of creativity began to seem even worse — more like a straight-up insult. [I] was old enough to know that, for all its reverential talk about the rebel and the box breaker, society had no interest in new ideas at all unless they reinforced favorite theories or could be monetized in some obvious way. The method of every triumphant intellectual movement had been to quash dissent and cordon off truly inventive voices. This was simply how debate was conducted....

Grantmaking

On the GrantCraft blog, Kris Putnam-Walkerly, author of the Philanthropy411 blog, shares three things she has learned from ride-sharing service Uber that foundations could use to improve the experience for their "customers" (i.e., grantees).

International Affairs/Development

In the most recent issue of the London Review of Books, Paul Farmer, a professor of global health at Harvard and a co-founder of Partners in Health, offers a no-nonsense assessment of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and what the global community must do to contain the virus. "First," he writes, "we need to stop transmission....Transmission is person to person, and in the absence of an effective medical system, it occurs wherever care is given: in households, clinics and hospitals, and where the dead are tended. Infection control, must be strengthened in all of these places....

Second, we need to avoid pitting prevention against treatment. Both are necessary....

Third, the rebuilding of primary care [in the region] must be informed by what has been learned from the response to this outbreak....

Fourth, the knowledge gained from the response must be built on. Every attempt to prevent the spread of Ebola should involve proper care for quarantined patients....

Fifth, formal training programs should be set up for Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans. Vaccines and diagnostics and treatments will not be discovered or developed without linking research to clinical care; new developments won't be delivered across West Africa without training the next generation of researchers, clinicians and managers. West Africa needs well-designed and well-resourced medical and nursing schools as well as laboratories able to conduct surveillance and to respond earlier and more effectively. Less palaver, more action.

Should you, the individual donor, donate to Ebola response efforts? The folks at GiveWell examine that question as only they can.

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[Infographic] Corporate Philanthropy: The Win-Win

October 25, 2014

As we reported earlier in the week, a new report from CECP shows that while giving by corporations in the U.S. increased between 2010 and 2013, the rate of growth in giving slowed. Based on a survey of two hundred and sixty-one companies, the report, Giving in Numbers: 2014 Edition (54 pages, PDF), found that the rate of increase in median total giving among companies which gave at least 10 percent more in 2013 than in 2010 — about half of the companies surveyed — fell from 21 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2012 to 6 percent in 2013. And among all other companies, median total giving fell 6 percent in 2013, the largest drop in that metric since the end of the Great Recession.

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New Philanthropy Center, Fund for 2025 Respond to Funders’ Needs

October 23, 2014

Headshot_michael_remaleyPhilanthropy New York, a "regional association of grantmakers with global impact," announced on Monday that it plans to establish a new Philanthropy Center at the "crossroads of the world" – Times Square. We also announced early commitments of more than $2 million to our Fund for 2025 campaign, an initiative to grow the capacity of the tri-state region's philanthropic sector. To that end, PNY aims to raise at least $2.5 million to underwrite its next decade of growth, including the new center, technology upgrades, expanded programming, and a public policy fellowship program.

The Philanthropy Center isn't some sort of shiny new apple of our collective eye but a concrete response to what we've heard from our members about the needs of the region's philanthropic community. At the end of last year, Philanthropy New York members, board, and staff wrapped up work on a Strategic Plan for 2014-2016, a plan that represents both a continuation of our mission and substantially revises the strategies we employ in pursuit of that mission. We believe that for our members to be fully positioned to tackle complex issues at the city, national, and international levels, PNY must be able to provide an appropriate level of support. We aim to do that by adding new programs, increasing member engagement options, and growing our public policy work;  improving our technology infrastructure; and developing fee-based business lines that further diversify our revenue streams and enhance our long-term sustainability.

As we start to plan for the move, I can't help but think it's another example of past-as-prologue.  In 2004 – a time when PNY occupied a small office with a windowless conference room and offered much more limited programming hosted at the offices of our member organizations – we faced the end of our lease and took a leap of faith, sub-letting more space in a Flatiron District building from the Foundation Center. Before that move, we typically produced fewer than a hundred meetings a year.  After the move, with a lean staff and better facilities, we typically produced a hundred and forty to a hundred and seventy programs a year. Having more-than-adequate, dedicated meeting space has made a huge difference in our capacity to be a convening organization and a center for cross-sectoral activities.

Now it's time to move again. Even as more and more information is disseminated electronically, we have considerable anecdotal evidence from our members, other affinity groups, and foundations across the country that there is a need for a central meeting hub for the philanthropic community in New York City. With that in mind, we envision a facility that is roughly the size of our current space but has smaller offices for staff; larger, more flexible meeting spaces; and technology options that enable us to grow the digital audience for certain types of PNY programs. The new center also will allow us to provide our members with opportunities to host their own convenings in state-of-the-art facilities. 

We recognize and appreciate the fact that the field of philanthropy has entered a new era of increased visibility and greater expectations. With the Fund for 2025 and our new center in Times Square, Philanthropy New York is positioning itself it to meet the philanthropic community's needs for years to come.

Michael Remaley is senior vice president of communications and public policy at Philanthropy New York.

 

Slow and Steady Wins the (Fundraising) Race

October 22, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannAre you suffering from "ice bucket" envy? Most nonprofit fundraising professionals and development officers are, whether they admit it or not. During the conferences and conventions I've attended over the past few months, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has dominated many of the conversations I've been part of. And it's easy to see why.

To date, the viral phenomenon has raised a jaw-dropping $115 million for the ALS Association. And its success has led other organizations to ask, Why not us? But should organizations try to replicate the Ice Bucket Challenge? And if they do, should they expect to see equally amazing results?

There's a phrase, "Fear of Missing Out," for what many of these organizations must be feeling. Regular users of social media will see it hashtagged a lot as #FOMO – that anxious feeling you get when your train (or plane) is leaving without you on it. Professional fundraisers often experience FOMO when we see other organizations' causes going viral. Yes, we're happy for them, but we'd almost certainly be happier if it was our cause that was breaking through the noise and becoming the focal point of everyone's attention.

Let's face it, too many fundraising professionals make the mistake of investing precious organizational resources to replicate other organizations' successes. What these professionals fail to realize is that organizations with causes that go viral don't follow repeatable rules. Instead, in almost every case, their success is rooted in being the exception to the rule.

Your cause is unique, just like you and the members of your fundraising team. Replicating someone else's idea is simply not "authentic," and when your donors and potential donors figure that out, they're not likely to be impressed.

My colleagues and I host an annual conference called MCON, a national event that highlights the future of cause engagement. At last year's conference, Jeffrey Raider, co-founder and -CEO of Harry's, spoke about the company's mission ("we make shaving a little better every day") and business model. For those of you who don't know it, Harry’s makes well-designed shaving products and ships them to the customer's home at a reasonable price. They've achieved a lot of success in a short period of time, and lots of organizations are trying to replicate their success.

During the Q-and-A following his talk, Raider was asked about this. Here's what he had to say:

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5 Questions for...John Kordsmeier, President, Northwestern Mutual Foundation

October 21, 2014

In August, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation marked the two-year anniversary of its Childhood Cancer Program, an initiative to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and generate additional funding for research on treatments and a cure, by announcing a $900,000 grant to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Earlier this month, PND spoke with John Kordsmeier, the foundation’s president, about the program.

Headshot_john_kordsmeierPhilanthropy News Digest: When did the foundation decide to focus on childhood cancer? Describe the process that led to that decision.

John Kordsmeier: Over the years, we've supported a number of causes in our hometown of Milwaukee and have provided assistance for families and individuals in the surrounding communities. In 2012, we refined our strategy and created a vision that identifies tangible social outcomes where we can make the greatest impact through our funding and the volunteerism of our employees. To help us realize that vision, we reviewed more than fifty social issues and narrowed the list to issues that are closely aligned with the company's support of children and families. We then further narrowed the list based on feedback from employees and company leadership.

As a result of that process, today childhood cancer is our signature cause. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the United States, yet research on pediatric cancer remains underfunded compared to other cancers. We're focused on accelerating the search for a cure for childhood cancers and helping children and their families receive the assistance they need to fight this terrible disease.

PND: The foundation commissioned a national survey of childhood cancer researchers in the fall of 2013. What did you learn from the survey?

JK: We commissioned the survey so as to better understand the state of childhood cancer research. Among other things, the survey found that one in five respondents – 21 percent -- would consider leaving the field of childhood cancer research and that their number one reason for leaving was lack of funding. More than a third of respondents – 34 percent – know a colleague who is considering leaving the field in the next two years, and of those who know a researcher who is considering leaving the field, the top reason, again, is lack of funding. Seven in ten respondents know of a researcher whose project is in danger of not getting additional funding, while nearly four out of five are concerned that future advances in finding better treatments and cures for childhood cancer will suffer due to lack of new researchers going into the field. Overall, nine in ten respondents are concerned that researchers are not pursuing research in childhood cancer due to a lack of funding.

Childhood cancer research is a field filled with hope, passion, and promise. There are research projects under way that have the potential to help children. That is why Northwestern Mutual is committed to increasing research funding to find life-saving cures for this disease.

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Archiving Simply: How FACT Prioritized Sharing

October 20, 2014

Headshot_diane_feeneyOver its eighteen years of existence, the French American Charitable Trust focused its grantmaking on strengthening community organizations in the United States and France. (We are a bi-national family.) So when we made the decision to spend down the foundation in 2012, we soon realized we had boxes and boxes of files to sort through – not a task on my to-do list I was looking forward to!

Fortunately, a colleague suggested I get in touch with Brown University, which has a program on community organizing and was looking for additional resources. The librarian at Brown asked me to send her a complete accounting of our files, which included documents ranging from board meeting notes to program assessments to grantee reports. She was interested in all of it, and her staff was able to sort through the files, catalog and archive them, and make them available to students and faculty. What a relief!

But we had more to do. Some of our documents were more relevant to the philanthropic community, and we didn't want those to only be available in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Four Cornerstones of Online Fundraising

October 18, 2014

Headshot_john_kenyonMany tactics contribute to successful online fundraising, but there are four elements that I consider to be essential cornerstones of success. Whether you are just getting started with online fundraising or are an old hand at it, they bear reviewing:

1. User-Centric Donation Process. Make your online donation process simple and easy for donors to use ― one click to the donation page from anywhere on your organization's website. If you have recently revised your donation page or are switching vendors, make sure to have actual donors test it out to identify any issues. Do the same if you suspect there is something off-putting or confusing about your existing online donation process. Ideally, your donation page should provide options for giving via mail, phone, and online. Also provide options for monthly giving and memorial/tribute gifts, as well as links to information on planned giving, stock transfer options, and even volunteering.

2. Ongoing Engagement. Provide interesting, useful content in a steady stream throughout the year, not just in your year-end appeal. Offer a variety of content that increases knowledge and awareness about your programs, results, contributors (staff, volunteers, board members, donors), and the communities you serve. Be thoughtful about the way you move prospects along your ladder of engagement, from not knowing anything about your organization to becoming a friend, donor, and more.

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Knight Cities Challenge: We Want Your Best Idea to Make Gary More Successful

October 17, 2014

Knight_cities_challlengeThe City of Gary, Indiana, is ushering in a new era. The days when the city was synonymous with urban blight and crime are fading into the distance.  Once a symbol of disinvestment standing next to City Hall, the Sheraton Hotel is being demolished and will be replaced with community green space.  Marquette Park has undergone an extensive renovation, making it a hub for community and family-focused events, including Gary's first marathon. Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, a newly renovated Boys and Girls Club sits in the once vacant Tolleston School. Gary's hometown brewery is producing critically acclaimed beer and continues to grow. And, IUN and Ivy Tech have partnered to build a new Arts and Sciences building on the corner of 35th and Broadway to serve as a cornerstone for future redevelopment projects.

The city is on the upswing, and everyone from teachers to business owners is feeling it.  But what's behind Gary's revival, and what can we do to maintain, support, and build on the transformation? How do we ensure that Gary continues to become a more vibrant place to live and work?

Over the next three years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a private, independent foundation based in Miami, will invest $15 million to answer these questions in Gary and twenty-five other communities across the United States. The foundation believes it is the city's own activists, designers, artists, planning professionals, hackers, architects, officials, educators, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and social workers who have the answers, and it wants them to take hold of their city's future. To that end, all are welcome to submit ideas to the Knight Cities Challenge in one of three areas that the foundation believes are the drivers of future success for Gary: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

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Arts Education and Human Development: Creating Space for Transformation

October 15, 2014

Selvon_waldron_PhilanTopicArt can change lives.

For over eighteen years, we have lived that reality at Life Pieces To Masterpieces, a comprehensive arts-based youth development nonprofit serving African-American males from the most underserved communities in Washington, D.C. We have seen — over and over, with more than a thousand young men — the transformation that happens when youth connect to and embrace their creative potential. We have learned that individual brilliance is a universal trait. It only needs the space to grow.

The research is clear: the arts play a crucial role in positive youth development. They stimulate imagination; build problem-solving and critical thinking; develop perception, vision, and self-confidence; teach delayed gratification and the ability to complete long-term tasks; stimulate memory; and motivate children to learn[1]. These benefits are particularly pronounced among youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Across all measures of academic achievement and civic engagement, youth from low-income backgrounds with high exposure to arts outperform their peers from similar backgrounds, and they reach outcomes “closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied.”[2] For funders seeking to assist in closing gaps in opportunity and achievement, arts education has proven to be among the most efficient and impactful investments available.

Of course, not all arts education is created equal. As an organization committed to holistic human development, we know that process and approach matter. All that we do with our Apprentices (program participants) is rooted in our award-winning Human Development System, a concrete set of beliefs, values, and strategies to help individuals connect to their sense of purpose. Our unique, collective process is structured not only to make art fun and creative (though it certainly is) but also to serve as a vehicle for processing experiences, healing wounds, and navigating challenges. For youth facing violence and trauma, it becomes a therapeutic outlet, a chance to reconnect with a sense of control and personal power in an often chaotic world. For youth too frequently told, shown, and exposed to ideas of their own inadequacy, it becomes a powerful tool to rebuild a sense of self-worth and reconnect to the reality of their brilliance.

The philanthropic community tends to operate in perpetual pursuit of silver bullets, hunting out promising outcomes and attempting to copy-and-paste the programs that create them into new environments and communities. We are very proud of our outcomes. In a city where the graduation rate for African-American males is well under 50 percent, for eight years in a row 100 percent of our Apprentices have graduated high school. And an external evaluation of our program found that 100 percent of program participants’ parents and guardians reported improved attitudes toward the future in their children. Still, we don’t claim the specifics of our programs or our artistic process to be any type of panacea. We have grown, developed, and innovated based on the specific needs and experiences of the community of which we are a part. That is why, rather than attempting to franchise or spread nationally, we are focused on reaching more of our target population in Washington, D.C.

We do, however, believe that one of the key factors to our success can and should be applied universally. And we believe that funders seeking to create a truly meaningful and sustainable impact should put this factor at the center of their funding priorities: the intentional commitment to building an environment of love, security, and expression. In an increasingly data-driven world, that can sound soft and unscientific. But it is the truth, as we have experienced it for more than eighteen years. The type of creative expression that produces real, transformative change is only possible when youth are able to immerse themselves in a loving, safe space. What matters is not handing a young man a paintbrush; what matters is allowing that young man to experience an environment that honors and respects his potential greatness.

So before asking an organization about its outcomes, ask about the kind of space they create. How do they make space for unique identities and means of expression? How do they ensure that each individual’s specific talents, abilities, and interests are engaged? How do they provide opportunities for participants to connect with themselves, their peers, and program staff? How do they make sure, every day and in every interaction, that youth in their programs feel loved, safe, and able to express their true selves? When those questions are answered honestly, with thought, care, and intentionality, you can trust that positive outcomes will follow.

Art can change lives. Creating an environment in which it does so is the real art of arts education.

Selvon Waldron, executive director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces, is a youth development leader and human rights activist.


[1] “Fact Sheet About the Benefits of Arts Education for Children,” Americans for the Arts. Washington, DC. 24 September 2013

[2] James S. Catterall, Susan A. Dumais, and Gillian Hampden-Thompson. “Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies.” Arts.gov, National Endowment for the Arts. Washington, DC. March 2012

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