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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. [1]. 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.

1. Key Informational Elements. We saw the individual financial sustainability plans as facilitating communications and planning within each grantee institution. To that end, we expected each plan to articulate the program’s rationale – how does it fit into the vision of the institution in its efforts to support the field of Jewish education? How consistent is the program with the institution's view of current needs and anticipated future trends? Similarly, we expected each plan to identify how long the program should be continued (we do not assume every program will last forever), and we wanted to see a timeline for anticipated fundraising activities. In our feedback to grantees, we recommended that their plans include a detailed budget, budget assumptions, and analysis (e.g., break-even analysis) that spells out the calculations and assumptions on which current decision-making is based.

2. Feasibility. It is critical that a financial sustainability plan is feasible. For example, if the break-even analysis identifies a break-even point but the circumstances under which this is to be achieved are unreal, the analysis serves no purpose. To make the case for the viability of long-term plans, authors should include as many specifics as possible. Projections of philanthropic contributions should include names of funders, projected amounts, and, at the very least, an overview of future fundraising plans. Projections of tuition revenue should include enrollment estimates, market demand assumptions, and description of strategies to align tuition discounts with measurable student needs (rather than blanket across-the-board tuition discounting policies). Finally, plans should include an assessment of organizational capacity (e.g., the availability of qualified staff with relevant expertise), which is key to successful implementation.

3. Need. Higher education institutions sometimes choose to run programs at a loss as a service to the field or as a marquee program that can promote institutional capacity and reputation. But financial sustainability plans highlight the costs of such a strategy, allowing institutional leaders to better judge the level of their investment and the return. To ensure that such decisions are based on valid assumptions and consensus among chief officers in the institution, an effective financial sustainability plan should address the need for the program along multiple dimensions.

4. Commitment. Programs can be sustained over the long term when institutional leadership (president, provost, dean) are committed to the program through the allocation of funds, sharing of infrastructure, and active participation in targeted fundraising efforts. Additionally, financial sustainability planning benefits from use of proven strategies and processes for ongoing review and revision of the financial sustainability plan.

Supporting the Continuation of Higher Education Programs in Jewish Education

HUC-JIR, JTS, and YU developed financial sustainability plans that took into account multiyear projections of costs and revenues. This involved hard work and time — and many of the questions we asked them to address were new to leaders at those institutions who had not often been held accountable to rigorous financial benchmarks. All three grantees were torn between offering their very best to the field of Jewish education and making promises they were likely not going to be able to keep within the limitation of their financial resources. That is understandable.

But spending money and time to ensure the financial health of programs over the long term is something that grantees need to do. Crafting implementation plans that can be sustained over the long run is a new and difficult task with which grantees must begin to grapple. And it is something the Jim Joseph Foundation is committed to in order to make sure its philanthropic investments produce long-term results.

Dr. Mark Schneider is a vice president and an institute fellow at AIR. Dr. Yael Kidron is a principal researcher at AIR.

‘Under Construction’: Healing With a Groove

October 29, 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.

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.

Launched in 2013 at Delta State University and funded with a $150,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program introduces 12- to 19-year-olds to both the cathartic art and technical science of creating their own music. It gives young black men a constructive platform for self-expression — no previous musical ability required — and a chance to hear, see, and feel the entire song-making process.

Tricia Walker_Director_Delta Music Institute"Healing with a Groove grew out of a discussion program that I was a part of when I was a professional singer and songwriter in Nashville," says Tricia Walker, director of the Delta Music Institute (DMI) and entertainment industry studies program at Delta State.

"The Country Music Hall of Fame developed a curriculum on lyric writing for elementary school students. Volunteer songwriters would then put music to the lyrics and the singers, songwriters, and children would come to the museum on a field trip to hear their songs recorded. That was one part of it," she explains. "The other part was a dialogue group that would facilitate a discussion about issues of race and diversity. They created a safe environment to talk about the questions that sometimes make people uncomfortable."

Walker used the model to mold Healing with a Groove as a response to some of the specific concerns in Bolivar and Sunflower counties, two of the eighteen counties that comprise the Mississippi Delta, where the population is more than 65 percent black and 34 percent of residents live in poverty. The program gives boys instruction in songwriting, audio engineering, and music technology, which is the fun part, and outfits them with the additional support of college student mentors who look like them, which is an essential part.

Breaking Down the Black Boy Bravado

In the center of a relatively empty auditorium inside the Delta Music Institute, a cluster of teenage boys sit in a circle of hardback chairs. They're quiet, slouched in the way that teenage boys slouch to demonstrate their resolute kind of cool. It's the first day of Healing with a Groove and they are, for the time being, a band of same-age strangers sizing each other up.

Travis Calvin_Project Coordinator_Healing with a GrooveThe atmosphere is subdued but without tension until Travis Calvin, the project coordinator and a Delta State alumnus with a fresh degree in music industry studies, cuts into the silent posturing with an ice breaker. He asks each of the young men to introduce themselves — name, school, what they like to do in their spare time — and then to strike a pose at the end of their spiel. The next person up has to repeat the information of the boy beside him, he explains, with the onus on the last man standing to rattle off all the names and the distinguishing details of those who went before him.

The first boy stands. "My name is Shawn. I like to play ball and pull girls." He whips out his cell phone and places a pretend call as his pose. The ring of new compadres nods in agreement and everybody laughs, including Calvin and his staff. They know this guy because they essentially are this guy, and the room comes alive with easy familiarity. They're warmed up now as another boy stands. He says his name and adds offhandedly, "I like to trap."

"We gonna change that," someone shoots back. "Trap" is slang for hustling, more often than not drugs, and it's claimed the lives of far, far too many black boys seduced by instant financial return. Still, no one in the group judges, no one lectures, no one delivers fire-and-brimstone damnation upon him. The certainty that he will be positively influenced and perhaps reach a whole new level of decision-making is enough for now.

Everyone having been given a chance to learn a little bit about the others, the boys sit quietly for a moment. Then someone starts to beatbox, and instinctively every head in the circle starts bobbing. The music — even more organic than the harmonicas and cigar box guitars that produced the music of their blues-singing grandfathers — is one of the shared loves that knit black men together. This group is no different. The brotherhood is the beat, the camaraderie is the bass line.

Although the program is designed around racial reconciliation, the initial self-discovery has to begin here in this ring of brown boys, before integration is even introduced into the conversation, Calvin explains. "Right now, to deal with race relations, we talk with the guys based on perception and identity because I believe that in order for us to come to the table and communicate, we have to address issues with ourselves first. We have to build confidence in ourselves and learn who we are."

In its first year, the program served seventy-five young men. This year, it has enrolled twenty students in its first month. Each participant has been referred by an educator, not necessarily because of their stellar academic performance or model behavior in school. "Every teacher says their child needs it," says Calvin. "So far, the struggle has been to get them to recommend students who are not as well-groomed, not your 'A' students." Those aren't the kids the program is primarily trying to reach. Instead, they boys are chosen because the folks who refer them see their promise and believe they'll benefit from the unique mix of candor and hands-on learning that is the hallmark of Healing With a Groove.

For the next three weeks, this particular group will meet to discuss what it's like to be them, to be young and black and male in Mississippi, in the South, in post-Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown America, and the challenges they experience — within themselves, their households, and their communities. Based on those conversations, they'll write lyrics and create music. In the closing phase of the program, they'll lay down tracks in a DMI Mobile Music Lab, a recording studio and production room housed in the high-tech splendor of a customized bus that travels from partner site to partner site

The Healing Place Is the Place That Needs to Be Healed

There are no actual signs barring anyone from being or going anywhere they please in Cleveland or its neighboring Delta communities. Those relics of the Jim Crow era have long since been removed. But their social imprint lingers, and the area remains largely segregated, mostly out of antiquated convention. It's not difficult to imagine that black boys coming of age on the margins of their own community would feel unheard.

"There were areas that certain people were restricted to and over time, even though those boundaries were no longer there physically, they remain mentally. We want to eliminate that. If a person feels like certain parts of the county are not available to them, that's a problem," says Will Hooker, the administrator for Bolivar County. He is a homeboy by definition, born and raised in the area, and knows firsthand the conditions that exist because, before he was an elected official with a title and an office in City Hall, he experienced them like most other young, black men in the Delta. His involvement with Healing With a Groove dates to its inception; he now serves on its board of advisors.

"When this program came about, we found that we still have some mental barriers that we need to identify. There are those who sometimes feel like they don't have a voice. We want their feedback. If you take time to hear what they're saying, there are still areas that we have to tackle because young men growing up in this community will never reach their potential if they place limitations on themselves. We want to free them up," Hooker says. "This program is that bridge, that common ground where we can communicate, hear each other, and then move forward."

As it stands, the area is partitioned, like many working-class towns, by a set of railroad tracks, dividing the black side from the white. Two high schools — East Side High, with its nearly all-black student population, and Cleveland High, integrated but seemingly more privileged than East Side — exist just barely a mile from each other, still symbols of the bad old days of segregation.

The district has been under pressure to be more intentional about blending the two populations. Its proposed solution is to turn East into a magnet school to attract whites. Until then, two high schools means two different homecoming parades, two different athletic programs, two different everything. That duality is symbolic of the area itself, one side silently tolerant of the other but real community eluding it because talking race, really talking race, can get messy and hurtful and ugly.

Mic Hargrove_Mentor_Healing with a GrooveHealing With a Groove fortifies the students growing up in this atmosphere with programming that breeds honest dialogue accompanied by personal revelation. So while the racial dynamics may not change in Bolivar County any time soon, the young black men who live here hopefully will. Mic Hargrove, a junior at Delta State and a mentor with the program, has seen it happen. "We did a workshop in Meridian, and one guy we were working with asked, 'Do you know what it's like to be invisible?' That's how he felt. But by the end, he was one of our main participants. He was the one who recorded the 'Rise' verse," Hargrove says, referring to a song the group recorded together.

"We give people a chance. We choose which person is going to actually put their voice on the song. Everybody collectively helps write it, but then we choose one person to actually record. The invisible guy was the person that ended up recording the song. It was cool."

Activities like the one Calvin led with the young men in the circle help to lower defenses and machismo. Maintaining that forgiving attitude throughout allows them to feel at ease enough to share their stories, experiences, concerns, and realities.

"When we tell about ourselves and are open with them, when they see that we are real and that we are there for their benefit, then they kind of open up. Once we open up, they open up," says Hargrove, an artist in his own right who describes the message in his music as "hope and faith and progressive thinking." That, whether in song or in spirit, is exactly what the young brothers under his tutelage need.

Taking the Music on the Road

A state-of-the-art production studio inside a 26-foot-long bus would intrigue the average adult. It downright thrills the Healing With a Groove guys. The DMI Mobile Music Lab is indeed impressive: it's dark, cool, an environment conducive for creating. A shiny wood-grained doorway in the back leads to the booth where the boys will record the songs they've written. The production workspace featuring four big-screen Apple monitors mounted flush to the walls and lighted equipment tucked under the desks looks like the control panel for something really great. For the boys, it is.

Vickie Jackson_Project Coordinator_Delta Music Mobile LabWhen Calvin's latest group climbs into the bus for the first time, they are all visibly and audibly wowed, transformed for a moment into wide-eyed kids. Vickie Jackson, the lab's project coordinator, never tires of that reaction. Then she puts them to work. She admits that she loves a self-aware a-ha moment, but her strategy is to engage the group with the nuts and bolts of music production, then covertly slide in as many teachable moments — about race, women, themselves — as their time together allows.

"The whole process, from songwriting to recording, is important. I want to provide them with a platform to speak honestly about themselves and race relations. Once you develop self-esteem, you're saying, 'I know who I am. Now I can figure out who I am with you'," she explains. "But I also want to teach them about the science, the art behind creating music."

Jackson isn't necessarily trying to churn out the next generation of great American artists and music producers. She does hope that navigating the music-making process will expose the boys to the college experience and encourage them to continue their learning. "I tell them, if this is something you really like, you can come to a university and study more about this. There are other opportunities out there for you." Sometimes they become interested in the production side of things and consider, maybe even seriously, a career behind the scenes. It does happen, Jackson says, but she's happy just to broaden their perspectives in general.

There's a line in a song titled "Trying to Make It" on the seventeen-track CD produced by the young artists at work that is profound:

"The more I learn, the more I understand where I'm coming from" — which, as grown folks who have lived a little bit of life know, is just as important as being clear about where you are going. There's tremendous power in storytelling for both the person weaving the tale and the people who have the pleasure of hearing that tale. For their part, the architects and organizers of Healing With a Groove have done a beautiful thing simply by introducing dozens of young men to themselves and their community's greatest legacy, music.

— Janelle Harris

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

How the Charitable Sector Keeps Us All Afloat

October 14, 2014

Rosenman_headshotAs social and environmental problems grow worse and the resources to address them are stretched thinner, nonprofit organizations and foundations have to make hard strategic choices about where best to intervene. In effect, they need to think about their distinctive societal role when considering their options. While experienced staff, veteran board members, and expert consultants struggle with those decisions, there's an apocryphal tale that many at a recent Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits meeting found useful in terms of framing the problem.

But first, what is the distinctive role of the charitable sector in American society? That question has become more complicated with the emergence of for-profit conversions, social-benefit corporations, social impact bonds, and other types of hybrid organizational structures and market finance schemes that blur the lines between the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Based on years of personal polling from the back seat of taxicabs, I have come to realize that the American public thinks charitable organizations are all about voluntarism, sacrifice, and donated income in service to those in need. Clearly, that's not true these days for large swaths of the charitable sector. What, for instance, makes a nonprofit daycare center different from a for-profit one just across the street?

When I ask them the question, nonprofit leaders most often say their organizations provide services to those who can't afford to buy them. But when you consider the increasing prevalence of third-party payers, subsidies to service users, and contracts and grants to service providers and the preferential tax treatment they often receive, along with the fact that fees-for-service generate the lion’s share of charities' income, this "market failure" rationale doesn't hold up very well.

The nonprofit leaders I've spoken to also say their organizations, as distinct from businesses, do much to improve civil society in the U.S., though they rarely provide specific examples of how their organizations do this. Similarly, nonprofits claim a distinction between sectors with regard to a strengthening of democracy, though few can point to related activities beyond their own governance.

A final distinction seems more significant: nonprofit leaders often point out that for-profit businesses are all about increasing the market for their products, while nonprofits typically work to reduce and eliminate societal need — although, again, most aren't able to say how their organizations actually do this. Still, it points to a compelling difference between the two sectors, especially when linked to nonprofit efforts to strengthen democracy and civil society.

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Profiles in Compassion: Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe

October 13, 2014

Headshot_sister-rosemary-nyirumbeRecently, I attended a screening of the documentary "Sewing Hope," an hour-long film about the efforts of Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe, a Catholic nun living in Uganda, to help girls and young women abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia led by Joseph Kony that was the subject of the viral "Invisible Children" campaign in 2012.

Narrated by the actor Forrest Whitaker, the film grabs you from the first frame. In harrowing detail, it describes how girls from rural villages were abducted from their homes and forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence against their own family members in order to prove their loyalty to the LRA. Many of the girls were raped and tortured, with Kony himself responsible for dozens if not hundreds of rapes, and many became pregnant and ended up bearing children. Girls that were able to escape often found themselves ostracized by family members and friends who viewed them as damaged goods.

Hearing about these girls, Sister Rosemary, the director since 2001 of the Saint Monica's Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, and one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People for 2014, realized she had to do something. Before long, she had opened doors of the center to as many of these girls as she could find and set about teaching them how to sew and make dresses, handbags, and other goods, imparting skills that can help them provide for themselves and secure a desperately needed measure of independence. Displaced children were placed in school and given a new lease on life, away from the horrors of Kony's atrocities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 11-12, 2014)

October 12, 2014

Flock-of-migrating-cranesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Kauffman Founders School blog, Neil Patel explains why email marketing  trumps social media.

Although he's primarily talking about news, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, explains how social media has become the new press release, with lessons for all of us.

Giving Pledge

According to this short Bloomberg TV segment, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, the second richest man in the world, will not be signing the Giving Pledge anytime soon.

Impact/Effectiveness

In the second installment of a two-part series on the Markets for Good site, Peter York, the founder/CEO of Algorhythm, an "impact science organization that combines social science, outcome measurement, next generation analytics and technology to place highly accurate and actionable insights into the hands of social change agents,"argues that it's "time for the social sector to try out the method that medicine, psychology, business, economics and ecology have been using for a long time: the observational cohort study (OCS)."

Crain's Chicago Business has a good article about a group of investors led by Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker that plans to invest $16.9 million in "an innovative financing scheme that allows Chicago to expand pre-kindergarten programs for more than 2,000 low-income children over the next four years." According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is the fifth social impact bond to be announced in the U.S.

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How Community-Based Fundraising Can Relieve the Financial Burden of a Health Crisis

October 11, 2014

Headshot_david_bakelmanEven for people who have health insurance, a health crisis often can turn into a financial crisis. Traumatic injury or illness can lead to transplants, extensive rehabilitation, and/or a lifetime of expensive medications. Uninsured expenses add up over the long term and place a significant financial burden on families who are already facing tremendous challenges.

Many people don't realize how severe this financial burden can be. But, in point of fact, it's a major problem affecting thousands of Americans and their families every year. Annual costs for a C-6 quadriplegic, for example, can range up to $111,000. Transplant patients regularly have to cover $600-$1,000 per month in out-of-pocket medication co-pays. Many patients who find themselves paralyzed after a catastrophic injury may be unable to continue working and may need to make renovations to their homes or find new transportation options. Others may need lengthy stays at specialized treatment centers or to relocate for an extended period of time.

For many patients and their families it can be uncomfortable to ask relatives and friends for financial support. That's understandable. But members of the patient's local community are often eager to help and welcome guidance on the best ways to do so. Professional organizations like HelpHOPELive provide the support necessary to help community fundraising volunteers launch and sustain successful fundraising campaigns that can help patients and their families over many months or years as they face long-term challenges with uncovered medical expenses.

With that in mind, here are a few steps for organizing a successful community-based fundraising campaign to help meet the uninsured medical expenses of someone who has experienced a catastrophic illness or injury:

Identify a support network. A support network includes a patient's family members and friends, of course, but it should also include co-workers, neighbors, and members of local clubs, schools or community faith-based organizations. For example, HelpHOPELive held a transplant fundraiser in honor of Allen West ("Wes") Edgar at his church in Alabama. More than three hundred people came together for a benefit concert and silent auction that helped raised $15,000. The funds raised helped Wes get listed for a transplant, and he received a kidney in March 2013.

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5 Questions for...Bekeme Masade, Executive Director, CSR-in-Action

October 10, 2014

As part of a new International Data Relations series that engages with executives, leaders, and country experts on philanthropy and the social sector from around the globe, Sue Rissberger, liaison for Africa and Asia in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center, spoke with Bekeme Masade, executive director of CSR-in-Action in Nigeria. In the Q&A that follows, Masade shares her perspective on the philanthropic sector in Nigeria and explains how CSR-in-Action, a social business networking platform and advisory enterprise in Lagos, is helping to drive collective social action in the country -- and Africa more generally.

Foundation Center began working in Nigeria in 2013, and Bekeme has played a pivotal role in providing local expertise to inform the center's initiatives. One of those initiatives is a new Web portal, set to launch this fall, designed to highlight the efforts of philanthropy in Nigeria and provide resources for those interested in helping to build the capacity of the country's social sector.

Headshot_bekeme_masadeSue Rissberger: How is the philanthropic and nonprofit sector defined in Nigeria?

Bekeme Masada: The philanthropic sector in Nigeria is broadly comprised of actors who give and receive goodwill. Organizations who receive goodwill include orphanages and institutions that support the physically and mentally challenged and, more recently, the "empowerment" of vulnerable groups. These actors are often supported by corporate organizations as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. Religious organizations in Nigeria, such as churches and mosques, are an example of actors distributing goodwill by channeling their resources and efforts to support social causes, including the refurbishment of schools and the provision of potable water by donating bore holes to their host communities.

The nonprofit sector in Nigeria, on the other hand, is mostly defined by foundations and nongovernmental organizations, with the latter often supported by businesses as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. It is common practice for businesses in Nigeria to support a specific cause by financially supporting an NGO, or sometimes a public institution like a school. More often than not, though, there is no clear distinction between NGOs and foundations, as smaller foundations often engage in the same kinds of activities as NGOs. In fact, only a handful of Nigerian foundations are engaged in grantmaking activities – primarily those owned by wealthy individuals and a few that are directly owned by a for-profit business.

SR: There are now five Funding Information Network partners located in four cities in Nigeria: Abuja, Lagos, Kano, and Port Harcourt. What is your vision for how these Funding Information Network partners can service civil society organizations in Nigeria?

BM: These partners will serve as primary sources of information on philanthropy for Nigerian civil society organizations within their respective geopolitical zones. We envisage a system where CSOs use the Funding Information partners to identify grantmaking organizations, develop their proposal writing techniques, and apply for international or local grants. A primary challenge to the effective usage of these partners, though, is publicity. The degree to which partners in the network are utilized will depend on the amount of publicity they receive.

We believe there is an information gap with respect to available grant opportunities in the teaching/thought leadership space. Knowing this, Funding Information Network partners could be of service to actors beyond the stratum in which civil society organizations traditionally operate.

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Charting New Terrain With Foundation Maps

October 08, 2014

Headshot_Dara_MajorAll the buzz around "big data" seems to have ratcheted up the social sector's expectations for data… and awareness of the gaps in our data infrastructure. But what most of us are looking for is "good data" – data that enables us to reflect, to ask new and different questions, to make better decisions. "Good data" challenges our assumptions and helps us see something we hadn't seen before.

The social sector has long struggled to collect, make sense of, and share data in ways big and small – internally, within and among foundations and nonprofits, as well as externally.

The data collection part has been particularly challenging, given the lack of resources, data standards, and taxonomies that facilitate not only smart data gathering from individual organizations but that pave the way to using data in comparative settings and across multiple organizations.

The sense-making part has been just as challenging in the absence of shared frameworks for understanding that data. Bespoke efforts by a single funder or group of funders may serve to advance their efforts in the short run but often fail in the long run to create accessible, field-level insights.

With the launch of Foundation Maps, however, Foundation Center is showing us how all these challenges are connected – as well as the enormous value to be gained if we are more intentional about building solutions to problems collectively.

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What a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Can Tell Us About Our Stewardship of the Planet

October 07, 2014

Audobon_passenger_pigeonOn my morning walk the other day, I happened on a small bird in obvious distress lying on the sidewalk. Apparently, it had flown into a building and injured itself – or that's what staff at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education said when I called them to see what I could do to help the poor thing. Rick Schubert, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the center, said the bird was probably migrating south, since it didn't sound, from my description, like a bird that was native to the area. Schubert went on to say that migrating species of birds established their migratory routes long before cities were a feature of the landscape and that they are not particularly good at navigating around tall buildings.

Soon enough, the bird died, and I was overcome by grief – not just for the little voyager that never made it to its destination, but for the precarious state of all our birds. As I learned from the Audubon Society's Audubon Birds and Climate Report, which was issued last month, half of all North American birds are severely threatened by climate change.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of the phenomenon can be seen near my home in Philadelphia. The rufa red knot, a bird smaller than a robin, migrates more than nine thousand miles every spring from the tip of Patagonia to the Canadian arctic, and makes the return journey every fall. The birds time their three-month trip north to arrive at the southern Jersey shore for the horseshoe crab spawning season; the abundance of food enables them to double their weight in preparation for the remainder of the journey north. Sadly, horseshoe crabs were overfished for bait in the 1990s, and that has resulted in a 70 percent drop in the rufa red knot population. Better crab harvest management since then has stabilized the declining bird population, but according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the red knot is "particularly vulnerable to climate change."

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E-What?

October 06, 2014

Headshot_joyce_whiteIt wasn't so long ago that I first heard the term "big data." At the time, I didn't give it much thought. After all, I'm the executive director of a regional association of grantmakers – there are lots of research facilities, academic centers, affinity groups, and data geeks out there collecting and analyzing data in our field. What could I possibly add to the conversation?

Now I know – and not only do I want you to know, I want you to join me in spreading the word about Foundation Center's eReporting Program. Simply put, regional associations of grantmakers can play a critical role in building the information infrastructure that supports a more vibrant and effective nonprofit sector. We can help to harness the grants data of nearly six thousand funders and centralize it in a way that makes it more readily available to inform every aspect of our work – from collaborations, to research, to due diligence, to strategic investments. And we can help fill in the picture of what is currently happening in our sector – still a surprising need in 2014, given our expectations for the availability of real-time information in just about every other aspect of our lives.

For me, the light bulb started to glow with a research project on giving to communities of color by Oregon funders. Working with Foundation Center and a group of local funders who were interested in understanding how – or whether – their funding reflected the demographic changes happening in our region, we produced a report, Grantmaking to Communities of Color in Oregon. In the process, we realized we didn't have the inputs needed to create great outputs. Working primarily with two-year-old tax forms that had grant descriptions like "For the library project," we soon realized that while the report marked an important step based on the data we had, it didn't necessarily provide a complete picture. And because many funders weren't coding their grants, other entities were drawing their own conclusions about where funding was being directed and deciding, as best they could, who was benefiting from the grant. Not exactly a best practice.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2014)

October 05, 2014

Harvest2008Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Current Affairs

The New York Times has an excellent Q&A, complete with timelines, maps, and links to other resources, on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- and the chances of the virus gaining a toehold and spreading in the U.S. 

And the Washington Post has a disturbing, deeply reported story about the failure of the world's health organizations to respond to the outbreak in a timely and effective fashion.

Environment

According to an item in Al Jazeera America, a new report finds that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. Based on the World Wildlife Fund's bi-annual "Living Planet" survey, the report also found that earth has crossed three (out of nine) "planetary boundaries" — biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels, and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers — beyond which lie "potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it."

Innovation

Nell Edgington has a nice roundup of social innovation reads from September, including posts by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund's Ira Hirschfield, the Hewlett Foundation's Daniel Stid, and Carly Pippin of Measuring Success.

Nonprofits

In a post on the GuideStar blog, Jacob Harold, the organization's president/CEO, revisits the Lake Washington Declaration, a set of principles that informs an emerging movement aimed at building "a data-driven information infrastructure that provides all actors in the social sector with the insight they need to inform their decisions."

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some excellent tips for boards looking to onboard a new chief executive.

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Boards and Fundraising: 3 Things Everyone Can Do

October 04, 2014

Headshot_andy_robinsonIf you ask fundraising professionals to describe their deepest and most enduring fantasy, the answer would sound something like this: "Give me a wealthy board filled with wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money."

Sure, those boards exist, but they are very rare. Unless you work with a legacy institution like a university, hospital, or major cultural organization, you are unlikely to have that board. Ever.

Fantasies can be fun, but they distract us from what we can realistically achieve. The good news: your board, wealthy or not, can still raise money. To help them succeed, you need to set clear, simple expectations and give them the tools and training to do the work.

#1: Give Money

Everyone on your board needs to make a gift based on their financial ability. This is essential because:

  • There's karma in fundraising, and you can't ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
  • It's a litmus test. If people are unwilling to invest in your organization, do they deserve to lead it?
  • Many grantmakers and major donors will ask, "Do you have 100 percent board participation? Is everyone on the board giving?" You really want to be able to answer, "Yes!"

To be clear, I don't believe in giving quotas that require board members to contribute a specified amount. Your board must represent the diversity of the community you serve, and you don't want to price people out of board service. But I strongly believe that everyone can give something, regardless of their financial circumstances.

My recommended language for your board agreement: "We expect to be one of your top three charitable commitments while you serve on the board."

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'Under Construction': Phoenix Indian Center – College and Career Readiness

October 03, 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 nd was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

The Hohokam Indians made their mark nearly two millennia ago. In the hot desert region that is home to Phoenix today, the Hohokam developed agriculture based on a sophisticated irrigation system. Using only hand tools, they fashioned a canal network stretching more than five hundred miles through the Gila and Salt River valleys.

This summer, Augustine Newman, 16, heard of these amazing feats of engineering for the first time. This wasn't just historical fodder; the pre-industrial technology of the Hohokam fueled a deep pride in Augustine, an aspiring scientist who is half-Apache and affiliated with the San Carlos Tribe. "We Natives had our own system," he explains. "We were able to be self-sufficient."

PIC_augustine_newmanAugustine was among sixty young men who heard about the Hohokam canal system during a tour of the offices of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a diversion system that carries water from the Colorado River to municipalities and reservations in central Arizona. The visit was part of a summer career exploration program within a larger College and Career Readiness initiative organized by the Phoenix Indian Center. Katosha Nakai, former chair of the center's board of directors and CAP's tribal affairs and policy development manager, led the tour through the many CAP departments — accounting, legal, engineering, water operations. The tour largely served to show the young men the kinds of jobs available with the right training and education.

The trip to CAP was one of many eye-opening moments during the first phase of a program serving young American Indian men in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Over two short weeks, the guys connected with each other, explored their roots, and considered different college and career options. It was a time for surveying the world beyond their home base in Phoenix or on one of the nearby Indian reservations.

It's quite possible that the Hohokam irrigation canals are not featured in local school textbooks. One of the program’s participants, Nathaniel Talamantez, who is Akimel-O'Otham and a member of the Gila River Tribal Community, says that at his school "maybe they'll do two pages [of Indian history] in the book and that's it."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2014)

October 02, 2014

The leaves are turning, days are getting shorter, winter's closing in. Still plenty of time, though, to catch up with the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in September. Have a post you'd like to share with our readers? 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....

Eleanor Roosevelt and Data Post-2015

October 01, 2014

Headshote_angela_haricheTwo weeks ago, I was down with the flu AND jetlagged, so all I could manage to do in the evenings was get under a blanket and watch all fourteen hours of "The Roosevelts" on PBS. I thought it was riveting and the timing was perfect. It has been a particularly busy time for us at Foundation Center and there have been an inordinate amount of meetings and conferences around the annual meeting of the UN general assembly. Happily, most of the people sharing a table with me at these events had also been watching "The Roosevelts." We all admitted it was nice for once to discuss something else other than the grind during the lunches and coffee breaks!

So, it was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, president of the United Nations Foundation, said at a recent Ford Foundation event, "Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt post-2015." I think that was my best tweet all week. But what does it mean? Well, Eleanor certainly was a force. In fact, she was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was able to move the needle on things in the face of incredible resistance. And "post-2015" is about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals effort comes to an end next year.

The event brought together leaders from philanthropy, the UN, business, and civil society to talk about philanthropy and the role of the sector in the coming years. Brad Smith, president of Foundation Center, and Helena Monteiro from WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support) convened a session that focused on the data and knowledge needed to a) get a better grip on what we know and don’t know about funding for global development goals; b) how to get an accurate picture of development progress; c) how to build standards and trust so working together isn't so hard; d) how to climb the mountain of definitions when so many cultures (both organizational and geographic) name things differently; and e) how to remember that we are talking about people's lives here. It was noted during the session that ten years ago nobody would have wanted to attend a session on data!

So what came out of it?

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 27-28, 2014)

September 28, 2014

Hk_protests_07011Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Economy

A new report from Jennifer Erickson and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress explores the "middle-class squeeze" -- the double-barreled phenomenon of stagnant income and rising costs that has eroded middle-class Americans' standard of living over the last decade or so.

Technology has been one of the factors behind stagnating middle class incomes. But in this Q&A with Eric Brynjolfsson, a professor of management science at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Nobel laureate Robert Shiller and Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, suggest that the exponential advance of machine learning will further exacerbate inequality and may lead to the end of paid employment for most of us.

Education

It's pretty much become conventional wisdom: Education is the antidote to racial inequality. But an analysis of the Fed's recently released 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances by Demos' Matt Bruenig finds that "white families are much wealthier than black and Hispanic families at every education level....[and] that all white families, even those at the lowest education level, have a higher median wealth than all black and Hispanic families, even those at the highest education level."

Cassie Walker Burke, an assistant managing editor at Crain's Chicago Business, has a good, balanced piece in Politico Magazine about the "Kalamazoo Promise" -- an initiative conceived and funded by philanthropists in that Michigan city "to pay for college for any student who attended the Kalamazoo schools from kindergarten on and then attended a public college in Michigan.

"[M]any public school leaders work with counter-productive assumptions about the readiness, interest and even the basic capacity of regular people to understand the changes our systems need to keep up with the times," writes Nicholas Donohue, president/CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. And that's a shame, Donohue adds, because direct community engagement just may be the key to advancing meaningful education reform.

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[Infographic] How to Track Your Social Media Data and Measure ROI

September 27, 2014

This week's infographic, courtesy of Infographic World -- with a tip of the hat to Darin McKeever and Beth Kanter -- provides a mini-tutorial on how to track and measure your social media efforts. Lots of really useful information here, from what to track, to posting guidelines, to tools you can use to make sense of all the data you are (or should be) collecting.

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'Name That...'

September 26, 2014

Once in a while, a news item here at PND generates a comment that makes us smile, think, or both. Samuel Prince, director of development at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, appended such a comment to an item in today's news hole titled "Donors, Nonprofits Get Creative With Use of Naming Rights."

The item, which is adapted from an article that first appeared in the Financial Times, considers the "creative use" of naming rights by nonprofits looking to boost their fundraising revenue. But as Mr. Prince notes in his comment, "the naming of physical items by donors has been going on a very long time and dramatically pre-dates the mid 1990s." To illustrate his point, he shares the following:

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 20-21, 2014)

September 21, 2014

The link roundup is back, just in time for the autumnal equinox and what some are calling the largest climate change-related demonstration in history. Lots of other things happening as well, so let's get to it....

Charity

Writing in TIME, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reminds us that the National Football League is full of players and coaches who exemplify the word "character" and work tirelessly off the field to make a difference in their communities.

On the CoinDesk site, Tanaya Macheel reports that United Way Worldwide has announced it now accepts donations in bitcoin, becoming the latest charitable institution to accept the digital currency.

Communications/Marketing

In the latest installment of her "Big Idea" podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Allison Fine speaks with Internet pioneer and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls about the "intention economy" and the movement to put customers' needs and desires before those of your business or organization.

On the GrantCraft blog, Marc Moorghen, communications director at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ponders a question that most of us have asked at one point or another: What is communication all about?

And on her blog, Beth Kanter, recently returned from co-facilitating the "Impact Leadership Track" at the NTEN Leading Change Summit, addresses another good question: Does rigorous data collection thwart effective storytelling by nonprofits?

Education

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Betsy Doyle and Mike Perigo, a partner in and the head of the education practice at the Bridgespan Group, look at the efforts of district officials and local funders in Memphis, Tennessee, to improve the quality of instruction in Shelby County, where sixty-eight public schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state in terms of academic achievement. According to Doyle and Perigo, those efforts will be based on "a three-pronged talent strategy focused on: 1) retaining great teachers, 2) developing local teacher talent, and 3) recruiting national talent."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Teach for America co-founder and CEO Wendy Kopp defends her teacher-training organization from a spate of recent criticism "based on misrepresentation and toxic rhetoric." The impact of TFA, she writes,

is clear. Twelve years ago, D.C. students were scoring at the bottom compared with their peers in other large cities. Today, although there is still much to be done, schools in the nation's capital are improving faster than any other urban district's. This change is the result of the efforts of many people, but without Teach for America alumni, we'd lose much of the energy behind it. We'd lose schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and much of her cabinet, the mayor's deputy for education, the state superintendent, the past four "Teachers of the Year," the managers of the school principals, 20 percent of principals, hundreds of teachers and the leaders of many nonprofits working to support schools and students.

Would the United States really be better off if thousands of outstanding and committed people did not apply to Teach for America? We should be cheering those who devote their energy to working alongside others to meet the extra needs of our most marginalized kids. Not all of them will be teachers forever. But teachers can't solve this problem alone. We also need those who choose careers in education administration, policy, public health, law and business, who will carry with them the conviction and firsthand experience to lead change from outside the classroom....

Impact/Effectiveness

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Kopczynski, Jesse Fripp, Katie Early, David Jeromin, and Topher Wilkins dissect four myths that have grown up around the emerging field of impact investing and then explain why it's important for everyone in the social sector "to understand the impact space as a middle ground — an ecotone — between the traditional philanthropic space and the traditional commercial space."

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'Thoughtful' vs. 'Thoughtless' Giving

September 19, 2014

Headshot_deriick_feldmannAre you a thoughtful giver? A simple question, right?  But think about it. How much thought do you really put into your charitable giving? And what about other donors? Would you say the majority of donors are "thoughtful" givers? Or are they "thoughtless" when it comes to their giving?

Okay, let's back up a bit. When I say "thoughtless,"  I don't mean that they're boorish, rude, or insensitive. On the contrary, if they're giving to a charitable cause, it's a pretty good indication that they are more than willing to think about and empathize with others. In other words, they are thoughtful people. But how much thought does the typical donor put into his or her giving?

Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine recently received a nice raise. Feeling like she wanted to share some of her good fortune with others, she decided to add a couple of new charities to the list of organizations she regularly supports. But she wanted to be methodical about it. So, she made a list of the five causes she cared most about – not just nonprofit or charitable causes, but any cause – and then researched two or three organizations, local and national, that were active in each. At the end of the process, she had between ten and fifteen organizations that she felt were good candidates for a donation. After narrowing the list down further based on things like the difference each organization claimed to make, their communication efforts, and their transparency and stewardship practices, she selected two nonprofit organizations that she hadn't previously donated to and decided to become a supporter of their work.

Any strategic philanthropy professional or donor advisor who looked at my friend's process would immediately consider her a dream client; she should be the poster child for any conference with strategic philanthropy or highly engaged grantmaking on its agenda.

Which brings me back to my original point. There are two types of donors:

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