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Help Fight Hunger This Holiday Season

December 19, 2014

Aiken+sullivanFor a majority of Americans, the holiday season is a time of celebration, feasting, and thankfulness. In the midst of our merriment, however, it's important to remember that while many of us are planning our holiday meals, millions of Americans will be wondering where they are going to get their next meal.
Feeding America recently revealed the results of its quadrennial study, Hunger in America 2014 (176 pages, PDF) — the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind. The study concluded that, in the most recent calendar year, one in seven Americans — or more than 46 million people — sought food assistance from the Feeding America network.

On the surface, people relying on foodbanks may not appear to be "hungry." They may have a home and a job. Yet all too often, they struggle to get enough to eat for themselves and, in many cases, their families. Many qualify as working poor — they work long hours but are paid such meager wages that they are forced to choose between paying the heating bill and buying food. And for a person living paycheck to paycheck, one car problem or unforeseen illness can have devastating consequences. Despite their hard work, food-insecure people often find financial stability out of reach.

Foodbanks are a lifeline for millions of people and families in need. In every county across America, they provide food for people struggling to get by. Yet while these services are critical, the provision of food alone will not solve the problem of hunger. As the plight of the working poor demonstrates, food insecurity does not exist in isolation. It intersects with other basic needs such as housing, access to health care, and employment. To truly solve the problem, we have to meet the needs of low-income families holistically and help them build a pathway out of poverty.

Recognizing this, some foodbanks have begun to partner with job training organizations, healthcare workers, financial firms, and others to help the people they serve access resources that enable them to meet other priority needs. Bank of America, for example, has committed to working with Feeding America to provide families facing hunger with access to the benefits and financial tools they need to begin building a financial safety net and, ultimately, a path to economic stability. Partnerships such as these enable food-insecure families to reach goals they once thought unimaginable, including saving for college, buying a house, and achieving financial stability.

Here's another thing to keep in mind: You don't have to be involved with a large organization to make a difference. All of us have a role to play in solving hunger and ending poverty, and the holiday season is when foodbanks across the nation face increased demand. This holiday season, celebrate by doing your part to help fight hunger. Find your local foodbank and make a donation, volunteer, and/or spread the word. Together, we can help foodbanks provide hungry Americans not only with food but with the resources they need to have a brighter tomorrow.

Bob Aiken is CEO of Feeding America, the nation's network of foodbanks. Kerry Sullivan is president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which has partnered with Feeding America as the exclusive sponsor of its annual Give A Meal program. For every $1 donated to the program, Bank of America gives $2 to help provide meals to individuals and families in need. The 2014 program ran from September to December and marked the fifth year that the program has successfully raised $1.5 million in online and text donations to support national and local hunger relief efforts.

 

Philanthropy in India: Dasra’s First Forum in the U.S.

December 17, 2014

The enthusiasm on display at the Dasra Philanthropy Forum on November 10 could have fueled a week-long conference. Hosted by the Ford Foundation, the day-long event brought together more than thirty speakers, five panels, and a crowd of over a hundred philanthropy, nonprofit, and social business leaders to discuss philanthropy in India, with a special focus on empowering the country's 113 million adolescent girls.

Dasra_forum_panel

Based in Mumbai, Dasra (which means "enlightened giving" in Sanskrit) works to bring about sustainable, long-term social change in the world's second-most populous country. For the past five years, the organization has convened key stakeholders for an annual week-long conference to discuss, explore, and evaluate the challenges the country is facing, as well as how the private and public sectors  can work together to create greater impact. The event at Ford marked the organization's debut in the U.S., and the opening plenary remarks delivered by Tarun Jotwani, the organization's chair, charged the room with energy and anticipation of the conversations to follow.

The brainchild of Deval Sanghavi and Neera Nundy, Dasra was founded in 1999 to help transform the practice of philanthropy in India. In the years since, its staff has grown from eight to nearly eighty. Their efforts, in turn, have affected some 730,000 lives across India, of whom 325,000 have been women and children. In 2013, the organization created the Dasra Girl Alliance, a public-private partnership with USAID and the UK-based Kiawah Trust — subsequently joined by the Piramal Foundation — to ensure that every woman in India feels safe and empowered and that every girl receives an education. Indeed, it is the organization's belief that "Girls are essential agents of change in breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation." To give girls in India the tools they need to realize that vision, Dasra aims to raise $30 million for health- and education-related initiatives, of which $9 million has already been raised, and to have changed the lives of over a million women and girls by 2018.

In the meantime, there's lots of work to be done. According to the World Bank, while India's GDP grew from $834 million in 2005 to more than $1.8 trillion in 2013, less than 10 percent of the country's population earns enough to pay income tax. As Deval Sanghavi noted, "Macroeconomics is not going to solve this problem; we need private philanthropy to complement government and business efforts."

Back at the Ford Foundation, the conference's format balanced well-attended panel discussions with smaller sessions offered concurrently. Many of the former featured Indian philanthropists who shared personal stories of their efforts to rally Indians around the idea of change, while others focused on the importance of partnerships and how investments in girls must connect to the broader themes of economic prosperity and stronger communities. Parallel sessions included discussions focused on the country's new Corporate Social Responsibility Law (which requires corporations to spend 2 percent of their net profits on charitable causes) and how it could affect the country's economy; the role of foundations in India; and how Mann Deshi, the largest microfinance bank in Maharashtra, with more than 165,000 clients, is improving the economic well-being of women from low-income communities.

Two broader themes that emerged during the event were the speakers' commitment to India and the importance of partnerships in overcoming the country's deep and long-standing social and economic inequities. Peter Smitham, chair of Atlantic Philanthropies, underlined the strategic nature of such partnerships when he noted in a panel discussion moderated by Jeff Bradach, co-founder of the Bridgespan Group, and which included Desh Deshpande, founder of the Deshpande Foundation, and Vijay Goradia, founder of the Vinmar Group, that "Charity is about making a gift; philanthropy is about making a change." Deshpande's and Goradia's observations based on personal experience similarly struck a chord among those in attendance, which included seasoned philanthropists as well as individuals who were learning about strategic giving to Indian communities for the first time. Goradia told the crowd how a visit to a preschool in the slums of Mumbai led him to realize that investments in programs, as opposed  to infrastructure, might be a better way to scale a successful intervention and build long-term sustainability. As an example, he cited Pratham, an organization established in 1995 that successfully scaled its efforts to nineteen cities in less than six years and today impacts millions of children in Pakistan, Kenya, and Brazil. For his part, Deshpande stressed the importance of a multi-sectoral approach, saying, "You need government to help out because they have all the big money. If you want to really create a system of change, you need to have the government's help."  

Conversations about the power of collaboration carried over to the afternoon discussion, during which a number of panelists, including Lynne Smithan, co-founder of the Kiawah Trust, and Bradley Bessire from USAID, acknowledged that partnerships are critical to the success of almost any social change effort. Smarinita Shetty, head of the Dasra Girl Alliance and moderator of the session, asked the panelists how they each came up with the "glue" needed to hold partners together. Jeff Walker of the MDG Health Alliance pointed to "multi-stakeholder coalitions" as the answer, saying "there is no other way." Walker also noted the "need to build a culture of strong listening" and suggested that philanthropy was "a tool for innovation, not the only answer. There shouldn't be a wall between donors and doers." Smithan agreed, and offered this formula for success: "Building a movement of really impactful nonprofits; helping organizations grow; and helping other organizations share best practices, knowledge, and become more interested in monitoring and evaluation."

What's next for Dasra? I had the opportunity to speak with Neera Nundy about the organization's plans after the event ended. She told me the conference had helped remind her, and others, about the urgent need for philanthropic investments in India, and that while there is a lot of talk about India as an emerging global power, there remains an unfilled role for philanthropists — in India as well as those who are part of the Indian diaspora — who want to be more engaged and strategic about their giving. "Being an enabling platform for individuals to engage in India is an opportunity for us as well as others," she added. "It's about building a community of funders that give to India, and connecting newer funders with more experienced funders. Knowledge transfer is important to newer funders and sharing experiences is critical to Dasra's operations. We're not about being prescriptive; we want to let funders choose what resonates most with them."

Likewise, information sharing is central to the organization's message to the international philanthropic community, particularly as it relates to women and girls. As Nundy told me, it's time for global philanthropy to be "open about challenges. Investing in things that may not always be results-oriented in the short term is okay. Addressing issues with an integrated approach. And taking risks even when the hoped-for results are not always clear."

Sue Rissberger is liaison for Africa and Asia in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center.

How to Improve Your Mediocre Fundraising Copy

December 16, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannFor most of us, the month of December generally means two things: fundraising letters and holiday parties.

Okay, maybe that's just me.

Still, end-of-year gifts and donations account for a substantial amount of the money raised by nonprofit organizations, which, in an effort to capture every bit of potential support before January 1, typically kick off the end-of-year fundraising season with a series of direct-mail appeals and then move on to email solicitations.  

I'm sure you can relate, but at this point in the year, both my mailbox and my email inbox are stuffed with solicitations from nonprofits. But here is where I'm different from most of you: I actually read every letter I get so as to better understand why I should pay attention and why I should (or shouldn't) give to an organization. In other words, the fundraising nerd in me comes alive!

That said, a funny thing happened to me recently: As I was reading through a stack of direct-mail pitches, I began to feel grumpy, agitated, a little Scrooge-like.

I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me and then it hit me: I've grown impatient with much of the fundraising copy I read. Some of that impatience has to do with all the numbers and statistics I'm asked to process. A few of the letters include language I haven't heard since my high school economics class. I've also noted a growing trend of organizations tossing my name around as if it were a magic incantation. (One solicitation I received included at least ten "Derricks" in the body of the text.) And then there was the solicitation signed by the CEO of the organization which insinuated that only a gift to his organization would make a difference this year and that no organization, anywhere, has the kind of "impact" his does. 

As I was reflecting on the effectiveness of these different approaches, I had an epiphany: there is an alarming amount of bad fundraising copy being written these days. And what's worse, I suspect the people responsible for that copy, and the people in leadership positions who sign off on it, think it's pretty good. 

Why do so many fundraising and development pros write bad copy? And why are so many executives content to let it out into the world? I don't really have answers to either of those questions, but I do have some thoughts about why so many of the fundraising solicitations we receive are just plain bad.

You assume I read your last solicitation. I hate to say it, but there's a good chance I never finished (or even glanced at) your previous solicitation. Fundraising copy writers often make the mistake of assuming that their target audience has read every word they've ever written. As you sit down to finalize your next fundraising appeal, remind yourself that most of the people on your mailing list probably haven't read your previous solicitations, and be sure to remove from your copy any phrase like:

"As we reported in our last newsletter…"

“As you know from our website…”

“As you may have heard…

You think everyone loves your cause. This is a pretty common mistake. Your organization is your baby, and you want to believe everyone loves your baby as much as you do. I recently met with a nonprofit board member who asked me why, if they are so popular on Facebook, more of their "fans" were not making donations. Sound familiar? The reality is that most of the individuals who decide to "like" your Facebook page are in the "I am curious" stage -- and are likely to remain there. They may have an interest in, even an affinity for, your cause, but it doesn't mean they are hopelessly in love with your organization or its work. It's your job to explain why your organization is worthy of their respect and, yes, even their love. They need to view it as a conduit for their values and their desire to make the world a better place. So try to avoid language such as:

"We know how important our organization is to you…"

"You support our mission because…"

"You know our work matters…"

You forget that I respond to emotion. Etymologically speaking, philanthropy means "love of humanity." The human aspect is so important here. We are emotional beings, and when we see an individual in need, we are likely to want to lend a helping hand. When you fill your solicitation letters with lots of numbers and statistics, you are forgetting that because I am a human being, I am predisposed to help other human beings. You are appealing to the analytical side of my brain and ignoring the side where my compassion and empathy are located. That's the side you want to appeal to. So try to avoid dry statements of fact like:

"Did you know that 33 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 11 and 24.5 percent of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 have reported…"

"We serve more than 2,700 people in fifteen communities across three counties..."

"Your gift means that 326 people will receive much-needed services between September and the end of the year.…"

You confused me for a foundation. Thank you for thinking I make philanthropic investment decisions on a daily basis. And you flatter me when you think I employ an elaborate process when deciding where to allocate my charitable dollars. The reality, however, is a little different…and the language in your fundraising appeals should reflect that fact. You're not applying for a grant, you're asking me for a donation (of time or money). I tend to get excited when you tell me about an individual who was helped by your efforts -- and what I can do to make that happen for someone else. Systemic change is good, but helping real people is better. So try to avoid language like:

"Your gift will help us become more sustainable by…"

"When you donate, your gift will have an impact on the field for years to come…"

"Giving to our organization means you will be joining forces with countless others to…"

You forgot I haven't heard from you since the last time you asked me for money. With apologies to my nonprofit colleagues who work so hard on retention issues, should you really assume I've heard from you since the last time I made a gift to your organization? Did you thank me? I hope so. (And I won't mind if you thank me again.) But chances are, I didn’t respond to your previous appeal with a gift, so you should avoid language like:

"In our last update, we shared stories of how your gift changed…"

"You've given before, but your gift today will mean more than you know..."

"Let's be honest: We can't do without loyal supporters like you…"

And most important of all…

You think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to giving. This is probably my biggest gripe with fundraising appeals. Too many organizations, for some mysterious reason, seem to believe that everyone gives in the same way and for the same reasons, that donors all work through the same processes and make the same decisions you hope they'll make. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving is an intensely personal thing. It means something different to each and every one of us. Similarly, how I define the impact of a gift is bound to be different than how you define the impact of that gift. I'm not saying I am right and you are wrong; I'm simply pointing out that people are different, so don't write fundraising appeals that assume they are all alike. In other words, avoid phrases like:

"Like me, you know that…"

"Our donors support us because they know…"

"We know what matters to you…"

I know, a rose is a rose is a rose. But at the end of the day, all of us are trying to achieve the same thing: copy that really speaks to the person on the receiving end of our solicitations. If you absolutely have to use abstract language, impenetrable jargon, and loads of statistics in your solicitations, may I recommend you send them to yourself. But if you truly want the average person to not only make a donation, but to deepen their understanding of your work, tell them about that work in the most direct and personable way you can. And remember, it's not about your organization; it's about rallying people to a cause they already care about.

Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he urged readers not to be distracted by fundraising one-offs like the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Agriculture

On the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation blog, David Festa, vice president for ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, suggests that if "we're going to meet growing needs for food and water,...[b]usiness as usual just isn’t going to cut it." But, adds Festa, there are reasons for optimism, as retailers, food companies, agribusinesses, farmers, and ranchers all rethink their roles in the food supply chain to do more with less while improving the ecosystems on which they, and all of us, depend.

Civil Rights

Interesting look by the New York Times  at police shootings in New York City in 2013, the last year of the Blo0mberg administration. According to an annual NYPD report released early in the week, shooting by officers, "whether unintentional or in the course of confrontations with suspects," fell to 40, from 45 in 2012, and were down from an eleven-year high of 61 in 2003.

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention! blog, Allison Fine, author of the recently released Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, suggests that the secret to succeess in today's social media-driven world is to communicate with people instead of at them.

Speaking of a "world gone social," what are the attributes of CEOs who "get" social media? Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt have the answers in the Harvard Business Review.

Data

On the Markets for Good site, Beth Kanter shares ten ideas about how to find to data-nerd types to help enhance your organization's data collection and analysis capabilities.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy's Paradigm Shift

December 13, 2014

The following was sent to us by George McCully, creator of the Massachusetts Catalogue for Philanthropy, which was launched in 1997 as a collaborative project of about twenty leading foundations, corporations, and individual donors in the state and distributed annually through 2007, and the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory, in 2011.

(Click on chart for larger version)

Paradigm Shift-Final-GMcCully-12-10-14 copy

Lots of ideas, trends, and concepts to chew on here. Which ones do you agree with? Disagree? What would you add? How will this historic shift affect your organization/institution and practice? Share your thoughts below...

Can Data Help Save Lives and Protect Vulnerable Populations?

December 12, 2014

Headshot_regine_websterThe use of data to drive philanthropic decisions has been discussed at great length within the philanthropic sector over the past few years, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has been captivated by all the energy around the topic. One of our founding principles is to transform the field of disaster philanthropy, and we have achieved some traction toward that goal. But over the past two years, we gradually realized that a key element was lacking in our tool kit.

That key element was funder data. More specifically, which disasters are funded, by whom, for what purpose, and with what goals in mind?

The beginning of an answer lies in our newly-released report, Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2014: Data to Drive Decisions (52 pages, PDF).

The report, the result of a partnership between CDP and Foundation Center, is the most comprehensive analysis of disaster philanthropy to date. As stated in the key findings section, the report "provides a snapshot of funding for disasters by the largest U.S. foundations." Based on 2012 data, it is also designed to establish a baseline and serve as the foundation for a longer-term effort to collect and aggregate data from the philanthropic community. Subsequent reports will provide insights into more current and comprehensive trends on disaster giving.

Key findings from the report include the following:

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Tackling Poverty in Place

December 10, 2014

Headshot_margery_turnerInitiatives that focus on our country's most distressed neighborhoods have been the subject of lively and insightful debate lately. Three big themes animate my own thinking about this work, highlighted in a talk I gave last week at a forum organized by the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC.

  1. Place matters. If we care about poverty, we can't ignore neighborhoods.
  2. The strategies we employ should be "place conscious," not myopically "place based."
  3. Race matters. As we tackle poverty and place, we can't ignore the central role of racial inequality and injustice.

Place matters. Neighborhoods play a huge role in shaping the well-being of families and kids. They're the locus for essential public and private services — schools being perhaps the most significant. Neighbors and neighborhood institutions help transmit the norms and values that influence behavior and teach children what's expected of them as they grow up. And where we live determines our exposure to crime, disorder, and violence, which profoundly affects our physical and emotional well-being long-term.

Research shows that conditions in severely distressed neighborhoods undermine both the quality of daily life and the long-term life chances of parents and children. In fact, Pat Sharkey's research shows that living in a high-poverty neighborhood undermines some outcomes across generations.

It goes without saying that tackling poverty — especially inter-generational poverty— requires sustained interventions at many levels. Nationwide efforts to expand employment opportunities, boost wages, strengthen work support systems, and bolster the social safety net are all necessary. But I'm convinced they're insufficient for families living in severely distressed neighborhood environments. Interventions that explicitly target the neighborhood conditions most damaging to family well-being and children's healthy development have to be part of our anti-poverty policy portfolio.

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Urgently Needed: People, Supplies, and Money for Ebola Response

December 09, 2014

Headshot_rebecca_milnerThe current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is one of the great public health challenges of the still-young twenty-first century. In a few short months, Ebola has infected more than fifteen thousand people and claimed over fifty-five hundred lives, with the vast majority of fatalities in just three countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Despite the toll Ebola has already taken and the broader threat it poses to populations everywhere, the global healthcare community has been painfully slow to respond. As of mid-November, International Medical Corps remained one of only a handful of foreign humanitarian relief organizations treating Ebola patients in the region.

To be sure, operating an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) safely and effectively in rural West Africa is no easy task. Any organization taking on the challenge must be experienced in working in remote, difficult conditions. An arduous four-hour journey is required to reach our seventy-bed ETU located on the grounds of a former leprosy colony in Bong County, Liberia, a hundred and twenty miles north of Monrovia. We opened a similar-sized ETU in neighboring Margibi County at the end of November and expect to have a pair of fifty-bed ETUs operational in Sierra Leone by year's end.

Maintaining an ETU of that size requires three critical components: people, supplies, and money. While the majority of our staff are local Liberian nationals, it is a constant challenge to keep a sufficient and steady flow of skilled international medical and technical personnel willing to give up a two-month chunk of their lives to work in a potentially dangerous environment, then risk being ostracized — or even quarantined — upon returning home. To treat Ebola patients effectively, each ETU requires a staff of around two hundred and seventy. At present about 90 percent of the staff are Liberian nationals. We follow a medical staffing ratio of three expatriate and four local physicians, along with eight expatriate and twenty-four local nurses for every fifty patients. Additional staff are required to provide water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and other needs. Ambulance crews pick up suspected cases to isolate them as quickly as possible, then return those who test negative for the virus or who have been successfully treated to their homes. Trained crews also disinfect, protect, and bury the remains of those who succumb to the disease.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

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'Under Construction': Growing Kings

December 05, 2014

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.

There's an old saying that goes, A boy is born, a man is trained.

In the hodge-podge of races, cultures, ethnicities, and all their companion traditions that is America, there's no formalized, hard-and-fast entrée into manhood. Sans a singular rite of passage, it just kind of happens from family to family, community to community. Getting a driver's license, losing one's virginity, graduating from high school or college and joining the workforce, turning 18 or 21 (depending on whom you ask) — all have been pointed to as touchstones in the shaping of masculinity. Fathering a child is perhaps the most significant of all, but the consensus view holds that, the mechanics of biology aside, the ability to procreate does not make a male a father — nor make him a man.

The absence of active dads in black and Latino communities has been well-documented as the by-product of systemic social factors and poor personal decisions. Whatever the reasons, the result is boys growing up without real-life role models and male figures unable or unwilling to offer their time, wisdom, and emotional maturity to boys looking for the way forward. Mentorship doesn't necessarily substitute for the absence of a biological parent, but it often does provide boys and young men with support and encouragement from older guys who can relate to them because, not too long ago, they were them.

Continue reading »

How Much Do Foundations Really Give to Detroit?

December 03, 2014

Spirit_of_Detroit-2560x1600It is no secret that the once-great city of Detroit has fallen on hard times. In response, philanthropic foundations, while wisely insisting that they can never replace government, have stepped up their levels of giving in the city in an effort to save its key institutions and civic infrastructure from collapse. So it seems perfectly logical to ask, as the Detroit News did recently, "How much are funders giving to Detroit?"

In turns out there are at least three answers to that question, depending on how one interprets "give to Detroit" and how the numbers are crunched. According to the Detroit News, eleven top funders "awarded Detroit $512 million in grants from 2008-2012." That number is based on Foundation Center data and is a solid one, but it only tells part of the story.

To understand why, let's look at one of the eleven funders — the Ford Foundation — mentioned in the Detroit News story. The News reports that the foundation provided $27.8 million in grants to Detroit from 2008-12. That's true, with two important clarifications. First of all, though not made explicit in the story, the News was only interested in grants to organizations located in "Detroit proper," as opposed to the Detroit metropolitan area. The second clarification is that the Ford Foundation number intentionally omitted a series of grants totaling $13.7 million to the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan. Large, national foundations like Ford frequently make the equivalent of block grants to community foundations, which have the on-the-ground presence, networks, and expertise to re-grant those funds effectively to community-based organizations. Foundation Center researchers took that $13.7 million out of the Ford totals and counted whatever portion had been re-granted as part of the "grants awarded Detroit" by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. This was to avoid something called "double counting"; still, it would not be inaccurate to say the Ford Foundation provided $41.5 million ($27.8 million + $13.7 million) in grants to organizations in "Detroit proper" from 2008-12.

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Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2014)

December 01, 2014

PhilanTopic had a lot to be thankful for in November. In fact, thanks to a lot of great content, it was our busiest month, traffic wise, since we launched the blog back in 2007. Here's a recap of the posts that proved to be especially popular.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 29-30, 2014)

November 30, 2014

Advent_wreath2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz asks some important questions about the purpose of civil society -- that peculiar space which "stands alongside, interdependent with the private and public sectors" -- in a democracy, and provides some answers of her own.

Fundraising

The December Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Joe Garecht at the Fundraising Authority, is open for submissions. This month's roundup is dedicated to getting nonprofits (and the people who run and govern them) to think bigger about fundraising. To have your post considered for inclusion, it must be submitted by the end of the day on December 29. Good luck to all!

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, argues (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that social media "has democratized fundraising so that deep pockets are no longer required. Anyone with five dollars and a smartphone can be a philanthropist."

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it may be too late to take advantage of the fundraising advice Hilary Doe, a vice president at NationBuilder, shares on the Huffington Post, but, as she makes clear in her post, truly effective fundraising is all about year-round engagement with your supporters.

International Affairs/Development

How much of the money pledged by donor governments for Ebola relief efforts has been delivered to date? The answer, according to a report by Abby Haglage on The Daily Beast, is "not much."

A text message about a commercial jetliner hitting a water buffalo on takeoff is the point of departure for Zia Khan, vice president for strategy and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, to reflect on India's past, present, and future.

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[Infographic] A Simple Guide to Great Giving

November 29, 2014

'Tis the season to give. But as the infographic below reminds us, there's giving — and there is Great Giving. With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, here are some questions you should ask  when selecting a charity to support are:

  • How much can I afford to give?
  • How will my donation be used?
  • Is my charity currently financially sound?
  • Am I donating through a middleman or giving platform?
  • Is the charity I support a registered non-profit?
  • Is the administrative compensation for my charity reasonable?

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Allison Fine, Author, 'Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media'

November 28, 2014

The last time we chatted with social media expert Allison Fine, in 2010, her second book, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Social Change (co-authored with Beth Kanter), had just been published. In that book, Fine and Kanter exhorted nonprofits to become comfortable with the social media tool set and to use those tools to encourage two-way conversations, simplify their work, and make themselves more transparent to stakeholders, constituents, and potential donors. A valuable follow-up to Fine's first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (which won the 2007 Terry McAdams National Nonprofit Book Award), The Networked Nonprofit helped shift the conversation around nonprofit adoption of social technologies and cemented its authors' reputations as thought leaders in the field.

Earlier this week we caught up with Fine as she was preparing to launch her latest book, Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, and found her to be as funny and passionate about the power of social technologies as ever.

Headshot_allison_finePhilanthropy News Digest: Your new book argues that we're living in a time of tremendous change and disruption, and that one result of all this change is a shift in power from institutions to individuals. If this is the age of the empowered individual, why do so many people feel so overwhelmed by forces outside their control?

Allison Fine: We are moving from a world ordered by institutions to a more chaotic one where any person can use the social media toolkit to, say, start a newspaper or a business on their computer, share their artistry online, or organize a protest. This kind of disaggregation is freeing but also noisy and a little bit frightening. What do you pay attention to when unfiltered information is flying every which way? That's why I wrote the book. Everybody can have a voice, but it is up to organizations, particularly cause-driven organizations, to ensure that smart and reasonable voices are heard.

PND: "Matterness" is a multi-layered concept. How would you explain it to someone who isn't tech savvy and whose idea of giving back is to write a couple of checks to her favorite charities at the end of the year?

AF: I don't think of "Matterness" as a tech idea, I think of it as a fundamentally human notion: every person deserves to matter, but we need organizations to sustain any kind of change effort. Rather than embrace that idea, however, organizations continue to work hard to distance themselves from their own constituents in order to sustain the illusion of control. In a disaggregated world, a world that has gone from three TV channels to thousands on cable and online, only organizations that treat their constituents like real people with their own unique talents are going to survive.

Hurrah and thank you to anyone who wants to write a check to their favorite cause! But here is an experience a lot of people can relate to: a friend of mine wrote to her college and said she didn't have any money to give but she could mentor some aspiring undergraduate female scientists. The college wrote back and said, "We'd rather have a check." This unresponsiveness has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the default settings embedded in organizations, settings that assume people on the inside are smarter than the people on the outside and that if everyone just did what they were told, everything would go fine. There are a huge number of people who want to bring their talents, intelligence, networks, and good will to causes who are being locked out right now because the organizations behind those causes are in the habit of only asking for donations. Reordering the relationship between people and organizations is the core of what needs to change.

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Ferguson and Foundations: Are We Doing Enough?

November 25, 2014

Blackmalestudent_301X400Like many Americans, I was glued to my television set last night as I watched the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, erupt in violence. This is not a post about the merits of a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Rather, it is my attempt to make sense of a very complicated situation and to ask whether philanthropy is doing enough to address the fact that there are too many Michael Browns in America, too many angry and frustrated communities like Ferguson, too much real and perceived injustice in our society, and too much polarization in the way these difficult issues are covered and discussed.

You don't need me to tell you that nearly every major indicator of social and physical well-being underscores the fact that black men and boys in the United States do not have access to the structural supports and educational and economic opportunities they need to thrive. More than a quarter of black men and boys live in poverty. Black fathers are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to live apart from their children. Young black males have the highest teen death rate, at 94 deaths per 100,000, and 40 percent of those deaths are homicides. Black males between the ages of 25 and 39 are more likely to be incarcerated than any other demographic group, leading author and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander to note that "More African American adults are under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

Is philanthropy doing enough to address this appalling state of affairs? In a word, "no" — though in some ways that should not be surprising. Foundations are endowed, private institutions required to serve the public good in a way approved as "charitable" by the Internal Revenue Service and in accordance with their donors' intent. They are fiercely independent, idiosyncratic, and, at times, risk averse and short-sighted. A foundation executive once told me he and his colleagues had given up on access to safe water as a program area because "it was too complicated and we couldn't have any impact." Yet foundations have the choice to be different, not least because they represent one of the few remaining sources of un-earmarked capital in the economy. It is precisely this independence and autonomy that gives them the freedom to take risks and work on long-term solutions.

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Seven Measures of Financial Health

November 24, 2014

Headshot_john_hooverThe Internal Revenue Service is requiring more public disclosure from charities. The industry has data aggregators – GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the Urban Institute, to name a few – that aid in this process. But a comprehensive analysis of an organization’s finances is the only way to really understand its overall health and viability. And while a verdict of weak or declining health is never welcome, it can be seen as an opportunity to move forward with new strategies, partnerships, collaborations, or even a merger.

Before you can determine your organization's financial health, however, you need to ensure that you are looking at the right measures:

Step 1: Determine what you want to measure. Identify your top measures. Focusing on a handful of top measures makes it easier to take a deeper dive into the data, while too much analysis can compromise stakeholders' ability to focus on the bigger picture.

Step 2: Establish benchmarks and targets. Each area of the social sector is different. To determine a reasonable target range for each of your measures, you need to have a good understanding of your peers and competitors. For example, universities often have significant operating surpluses that they then redirect to their endowment, scholarship, and/or capital funds. Once you've determined the appropriate ranges, establish targets in the top quartile for each measure, and use the bottom quartile as an early warning "time-to-right-the-ship" system.

Step 3: Determine your units of measure. Choosing the right unit – whether it's percentage, a ratio, or time – for each measure will help you tell a story that brings additional donors and stakeholders to the table.

Step 4: Use a consistent period of time. A rolling five-year period is a good length of time for establishing organizational trends. For instance, if four of the last five years resulted in operating deficits and there is no action plan to achieve a surplus, it's likely the deficits will persist. On the other hand, revenues can change significantly from one year to the next. A charity may record revenue in year one but not spend it until year two or three. Looking at year one – or year two or three – in isolation could skew the picture and lead to unwarranted optimism or concerns. Looking at all three years or, even better, a rolling five-year period, will give you a more accurate picture.

Below are some commonly used measures of financial health:

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Taking Stock of Your Nonprofit’s Revenue Potential

November 21, 2014

Headshot_nancy_osgoodIf you've ever worked in retail, you're familiar with the taking-inventory drill:  The store closes early and the employees hunker down and count the merchandise.

Taking inventory is the process of counting and valuing what a store has in stock. Although time-consuming, it has many benefits:

  • It flags issues before they become larger problems.
  • It provides an explanation for bottom-line results.
  • It creates a benchmark.
  • And it helps management decide whether or not to invest in additional stock before expending resources to buy more.

So what do retail practices have to do with nonprofit leadership and revenue?

As nonprofit leaders and trustees, we need to "take stock" of our organization’s revenue on a regular basis. Doing so in a thoughtful, deliberate way allows us to avoid the risk of "buying more"― that is, pursuing new opportunities ― before we've "sold" what we already have.

Several years ago, I developed a tool for doing just that. Imagine a tool that allows you to look at the trends in performance of all your revenue streams at once over a five-year period. The Revenue Inventory™ allows you to see and understand both missed opportunities and growth opportunities through the lens of past performance. 

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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."

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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