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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."

On LinkedIn, The Economist's Matthew Bishop (Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World, In Gold We Trust) reports that a task force established by British Prime minister David Cameron and chaired by British venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen has determined that impact investing is an idea "whose time has come." What's more, writes Bishop, four themes in the report "stand out as particularly important if we are to refocus business on activities that demonstrably make the world better": the rise of impact organizations, three-dimensional investing, an impact measurement revolution, and new markets for impact.

Nonprofits

In a post on her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington looks at the five questions every nonprofit leader should ask.

Public Affairs

Of all the things one can (and should) worry about, this is the thing that keeps me up at night. Delighted to see the Obama administration finally taking concrete steps to address the problem.

Social Media

The Nonprofit Quarterly shares a good piece from its summer issue by Julie Sweetland and Rob Shore, director of learning and creative director, respectively, at the Framework Institute, about the importance of "Thinking carefully about the frames we reinforce or disrupt [through] our storytelling" -- especially when disseminating those stories via social media.

With the aim of showing "everyone the right content at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them," Facebook has announced two changes to its News Feed algorithm --  1) giving greater weight to trending topics, and 2) taking into account the rate at which people like or comment on a post -- that "tips the scale to breaking news."

And on her Nonprofit Tech for Good blog, Heather Mansfield shares nine "must-know" practices for maximizing your content distribution efforts on social media.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

'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:

Thoughtful Donor – The "thoughtful" donor makes gifts that match her interests and often has a personal connection to a cause or the recipient organization.

Thoughtful donors identify the causes they're most passionate about (e.g., education, human rights, environmental sustainability, global health, local economic development, cancer research, etc.). They research and learn about local, national, and global organizations that operate in those areas before deciding on the organizations they truly want to support. Typically, these are the donors that use filters based on their own experience when making gifts.

Thoughtless Donor – The "thoughtless" donor often makes a gift on the spur of the moment or in response to peer pressure or influence.

Thoughtless donors give in the checkout line when asked to donate $5 to a specific charity. They buy and donate when the boss's daughter comes by selling trash bags for a school fundraiser. They often give out of emotion. They are the donors organizations try to target through point-of-sale campaigns, cause marketing efforts, and other types of broad messaging designed to generate general awareness of a cause.

I’m sure you've all heard about the Internet phenomenon known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In a single month, the campaign rasied nearly $95 million for the ALS Association in what is probably the most viral, inspirational example of "thoughtless" giving I have ever seen. Again, "thoughtless" doesn't mean people who participated in the challenge were apathetic or unconcerned. Indeed, many had a direct personal connection to the disease. However, the vast majority of the millions of people who participated in the challenge had never considered donating to ALS research before. Their donations weren't the result of long-term planning but the direct result of peer influence.

Okay, based on the above definitions and examples, which are you, a thoughtless or thoughtful giver?

If you're like most people, you're probably both.

As professional fundraisers, we have to be careful not to lose touch with who our donors are. They are full of good intentions and care deeply about their communities, their family, and helping individuals in need. In a very real sense, they are us, right? Like our donors, our emotions are triggered when we hear or see a message that conveys hurt, pain or need, and we act when we see opportunities to address those needs and improve someone's life.

Because the desire to help others appears to be hard-wired into humans, we will always be drawn to nonprofits and NGOs that provide an outlet for us to do good. And creative marketing and fundraising strategies can, and routinely do, leverage that human desire to help.

Is that wrong? No. In a perfect world, perhaps, all actions, including our personal giving, would be informed by rational thought. Donors would let logic and lots of research guide their giving, as opposed to emotion and impulse. But in reality, not everyone is going to give thoughtfully all the time. And we shouldn't blame or judge them. We all act on impulse. We all like to do favors for our friends. We act when our emotions push us to act. After all, we're human.

And so we need to make sure that own fundraising efforts leverage both kinds of donors, the "thoughtless" and the "thoughtful" -- as well as everyone in between.

How does one do that?

First, identify your "thoughtful" givers and then figure out what you need to do to inform them about all your good work. This is where all your efforts to track and quantify your impact come in handy. You should design the collateral materials based on those metrics – your reports and infographics and issue briefs -- with the thoughtful donor in mind. You want to demonstrate to them, as clearly and persuasively as possible, the difference your organization is making. At the end of the day, you want them to think one thing and one thing only: "Absolutely, you are the cause I want to support."

Conversely, to reach "thoughtless" donors, focus on emotion-driven, in-the-moment opportunities to give and be sure to put your networks and all the peer influence you can muster to work. In fact, peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives tend to be the most effective form of thoughtless fundraising. These kinds of initiatives also will help you attract new donors, some of whom will turn out to be "thoughtful" and willing to support your organization over the long term.

So there you have it. Two kinds of donors and two different strategies with which to appeal to them. The next time you sit down to review or revise your fundraising strategy, think about what you are doing to appeal to the "thoughtless" givers who may not be that familiar with your organization but can be persuaded by an appeal to emotion, a compelling point-of-sale pitch, or a cause-marketing campaign with the potential to go viral. And think about that smaller group of "thoughtful" givers that really want your organization to succeed and will support it to the hilt if you show them that it really is making a difference in the world.

Good luck and happy fundraising!

Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he explored the paradox of direct mail.

Helping Low-Income Students Gain College Access AND Success

September 16, 2014

William_goodloe_for_PhilanTopicAs children across the country headed back to school this fall, the United States reached a milestone of sorts: nearly half the children enrolled in public schools now come from low-income families. As the public school population in the U.S. grows poorer, the need to improve college access and success for low-income students grows ever more acute. Indeed, politicians, business leaders, and policy makers are beginning to recognize what those in the philanthropic community have known for decades: a college education is the most reliable way of moving people out of poverty — permanently.

At Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, we know it's not always so easy to get low-income students on the path to higher education. To address that reality, we operate a program for low-income students called SEO Scholars that spends four years preparing program participants for college and another four years providing counseling and mentoring to make sure they graduate.

We're careful to say that SEO Scholars is not the answer for every student. We work with a specific population — students from low-income families (the average family income is less than $30,000 a year) in New York and San Francisco who are motivated to better their lives. In most cases, their regular teachers think they'll do just fine without additional help. The data tell a different story. Without additional help, many low-income students, no matter how motivated they are, graduate from high school without the academic preparation they need to succeed in a rigorous four-year college. Without additional support, low-income students who routinely get As and Bs in high school tend not to perform as well on the SAT or ACT. And in the college selection process, they "undermatch" — enrolling in a community college, a for-profit school, or a local college where dropout rates often are unacceptably high, instead of aiming for admission to a more competitive school with higher graduation rates and deeper financial aid resources.

Continue reading »

Bright Shiny Objects

September 15, 2014

Headshot_maria_mottolaI like Alec Baldwin. I really do. He's sassy and good-looking. He's got a great head of hair and that instantly recognizable deep, silky, authoritative voice lulls you in whether he's cueing up classical music, bossing Liz Lemon around, or sharing intimacies with celebrity friends on "Here's the Thing." He's also sometimes unapologetically audacious.

So why would it bother me that he's going to be the keynote speaker at the Independent Sector conference in Seattle?  I mean, I've been on conference planning committees and I know you need a big name to entice people to log off email and travel great distances to talk to one another. I admit, Alec Baldwin is not just a pretty face. He's a smart guy with strong opinions who hasn't shied away from politics or policy issues.

So in some ways I should not have been surprised to see his photo pop up in an email with a banner announcing "Summer Surprise! Alec Baldwin will be the plenary speaker at the Independent Sector Annual Conference in Seattle."

But honestly, the whole idea is kind of depressing. While it may be a coup to snag Alec Baldwin as a speaker, to give him the spotlight at this particular point in his career feels like we won the celebrity consolation prize. It feels, truth be told, a little desperate.

Did we forget that just a year ago Alec Baldwin allegedly hurled angry homophobic insults (more than once) at reporters? Yes, he tried to make things better, but he ended up making things worse with a meandering screed he penned for a New York magazine blog that rationalized his actions by blaming an aggressive press corps that "made him do it."  It was an epic read: half mea culpa, half angry diatribe. Watching Baldwin turn himself inside out so thoroughly and so frantically elicited the same feeling you get from craning your neck to look at an accident you know you should avert your gaze from.

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[Infographic] LGBT Rights Around the World

September 13, 2014

If, like us, recent headlines have you feeling more than a little discouraged, the infographic below should cheer you up.  While acknowledging that gays and lesbians around the world have widely different experiences, it notes that the legal status of LGBT individuals in the U.S. has improved markedly in recent years. As regular readers of PND and PhilanTopic know, that's due, in part, to the tireless efforts of foundations such as Gill, Arcus, Ford, Haas, Pride, Horizons, Tides, and van Ameringen. And while acceptance of gays and lesbians is not yet the norm in many regions of the world, recognition of same-sex relationships and/or marriage is becoming more common -- a reminder that social change, while not easy, is possible when enough people see an injustice and commit themselves to righting it.

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Making School Choice Work Requires New Cross-Sector Investments

September 12, 2014

Headshot_robin_lakeAs many thoughtful education reform advocates now admit, public school choice has created new possibilities for families desperate for better options. But it can also create significant access challenges for disadvantaged families. In cities where many state and local agencies oversee district and charter schools, fragmented governance makes solving those challenges especially difficult.

This is evident in cities like Detroit and Cleveland, where parents now have many school choices and districts must compete for students. While good new options exist in the form of charter and private schools, many families can't get access to them. District officials and charter authorizers protect their own schools from closure, so that weak schools stumble along and overall educational quality stagnates. Recognizing that the best schools have little advantage over weaker ones, the best educators and charter providers go elsewhere.

Recent research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education holds good and bad news for school choice advocates: we found that many parents in "high-choice" cities, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds, are today actively choosing their children's schools and getting access to their first or second choice. Yet our research also shows that too many parents face barriers to finding good schools, including difficulty in obtaining reliable information to inform their choices, navigating different eligibility and application requirements, and finding adequate transportation. Parents with the least education and those who have children with special needs report the most significant barriers.

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Tracking the Human Rights Response to HIV

September 10, 2014

"Good decisions always require good information, and when resources are limited, data matters even more...."

– Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research

Headshot_sarah_hamiltonIn August, AVAC and amfAR issued a report, Data Watch: Closing a Persistent Gap in the AIDS Response, that calls for a new approach to tracking data on the global response to AIDS. What's unique about Data Watch is that it places equal emphasis on filling the gaps in both epidemiological and expenditure information. Data has always reigned supreme in the public health world, but in their new report AVAC and amfAR pose a simple question: What happens to our quest to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 if we don't know whether we have the funding to sustain our efforts?

Through improved data, for instance, we now know that key populations (i.e., men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people, and sex workers) represent a major share of the epidemic, largely due to such factors as stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws that continue to marginalize these populations and keep them from the care and treatment they need. With human rights abuses continuing to fuel the epidemic and impacting the health and rights of those most at-risk, targeted funding for a human rights response to HIV is critical.

But is that happening?

Sadly, no. Recent research from the Join United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [1] found that less than one percent of the $18.9 billion spent on the overall HIV response in 2012 supported human rights programming.

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Foundation Transparency: Are Foundations and Nonprofits Seeing Eye to Eye?

September 08, 2014

Headshot_buteau_gopalNonprofit and foundation leaders have starkly different views about the importance of foundation transparency. That's what we learned when we surveyed nonprofit and foundation CEOs about their attitudes about this issue. Nonprofit CEOs value foundation transparency and believe it contributes to their effectiveness. "Openness, which [foundations] require of us, would be very helpful in creating a good working relationship," said one nonprofit CEO. But the majority of foundation CEOs don't see transparency as crucial to impact.

We found that 91 percent of nonprofits agree that "Foundations that are more transparent are more helpful to my organization's ability to work effectively," but only 47 percent of foundation CEOs agree that "Foundations would be able to create more impact if they were more transparent with the nonprofits they fund."

Why might nonprofit and foundation CEOs have such different attitudes toward foundation transparency?CEP_transparency_findingsFirst, foundations may not share nonprofits' understanding of transparency. To nonprofit CEOs, foundations are transparent when they are "clear, open, and honest about the processes and decisions that are relevant to nonprofits' work." Transparency is not only about what information foundations share — which Glasspockets helps to track through its transparency indicators — but how effectively foundations have communicated that information to nonprofits.

Foundations may also think they are transparent enough. But nonprofit leaders' assessment of foundations' transparency suggests they could do better: on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicates "not at all transparent" and 7 indicates "extremely transparent," nonprofit CEO respondents on average rate the overall transparency of their foundation funders a 4.7. As one nonprofit CEO said, "I don't think there is intent to be less transparent, but often times foundations may assume we know things about their programs, opportunities and goals we don't really know."

Nonprofit CEOs also tend to think foundations are not transparent enough about what has not worked in foundations' experiences — but fewer foundation CEOs see it that way. We found that 88 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe foundations should be more transparent about this, while only 61 percent of foundation CEOs disagree that, "Foundations do a good job of publicly sharing what has not been successful in their experiences." Perhaps nonprofits see this issue differently because they clearly understand how they could use such knowledge. "One of the best learning tools is to see what has not worked. Learning from foundations and their other grantees would be very instructive," said one nonprofit CEO.CEP_transparency_findings2While there are some examples of foundations actively working to be more open — notably the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with its "Work in Progress" blog and Darren Walker's efforts to build a culture at the Ford Foundation where "openness is held in as high regard as our intellectual curiosity, our rigor and our commitment to the values we share" — too few foundation leaders seem to recognize the need, from nonprofits' perspective, for greater transparency.

— Ellie Buteau is vice president of research and Ramya Gopal is associate manager of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy. This post originally appeared on Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog.

[Video] "Ecosystem Philanthropy" | Jennifer Ford Reedy, President, Bush Foundation

September 06, 2014

In this recent TEDxFargo talk, Reedy, the fourth president of the Saint Paul-based Bush Foundation, uses a variety of examples, from "Sesame Street, to the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, to the dramatically different but equally influential efforts of Albert and Mary Lasker and John M. Olin, to explain "why so many attempts to do good in the world don't work as intended and how the most effective philanthropists understand the social ecosystem they are trying to effect and put it to work for them."

Reedy concludes her talk with four lessons for philanthropists and philanthropy practitioners looking to drive change in a world of unintended consequences:

  • Activate others.
  • Watch, wait, and do.
  • Think long and lasting.
  • Don't underestimate the power of individuals.

(Running time: 18:08)

Are you involved in -- or can you point to -- a successful example of "ecosystem philanthropy"? Which of Reedy's lessons (if any) does it exemplify? And what lessons would you add to the list? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

To Increase Your Organization’s Impact, Work With People Who Reflect Your Values

September 05, 2014

Headshot_carrie_richAs consumers, we constantly make purchasing decisions that express our values. A consumer seeking to live a healthy lifestyle might buy organic produce; a consumer conscious of her carbon footprint might purchase a Prius.

Leading an organization provides similar opportunities to invest in our values, especially when it comes to the colleagues with whom we choose to surround ourselves.

Employees, volunteers, and contractors all play crucial roles in the growth of any organization. Indeed, the people on your extended team are as important — if not more important — than your organization's mission and brand. They are the face of the organization, and ultimately their actions and creativity define your brand and activate your mission.

So how do you ensure your team reflects what your organization is all about? Here are some tips to consider:

Understand where they are coming from. Working with people who reflect and believe in the values of your organization doesn't happen by accident. It requires being clear about who you want to work with and why you want to work with them. And it also requires you to understand what motivates an individual to want to work for your organization. What is it about the organization that resonates with him/her? Why do they think they would be a good fit for your team? How will they provide value to the team? The more carefully you consider these questions as you are interviewing, be it a potential new hire, a contractor, or a volunteer, the more confidence you will have in your final decision.

Continue reading »

Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

September 03, 2014

Headshot_richard_brewsterHave you ever "ghost dialed" someone? You know, when the phone in your purse or pocket accidentally dials a number? Well, that recently happened to me with a board member of a human services nonprofit. We were surprised to be talking to each other but continued. The organization was well known in its community and had been successful, but our conversation ended up being pretty depressing: the nonprofit was in the process of shutting down.

I did some research and discovered that the organization's budget grew from $5 million to $10 million in just five years. Then a crisis came, they lost a major source of revenue, and there followed a painful five-year decline.

Why did this happen? A little more research and some reflection on others' experience suggests that four key conditions need to be met in order to survive a crisis like the loss of a major funder:

1. Sustainability isn't just about dollars. A nonprofit's programs need to be relevant today, not for situations or problems that are five or ten years in the past. The human services group above offered only housing, even as other agencies in the area began to provide services such as day care to low-income people, enabling them to keep their jobs (and pay the rent).

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2014)

September 02, 2014

Don't know what it's like where you are, but here in NYC someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that summer is over. Which is okay, because before it ends we want to make sure everyone has a chance to catch up with all the sizzling content we posted on PhilanTopic in August. Enjoy!

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

Why WITNESS and Other Nonprofits Are Adopting the Serious Business of Monitoring and Evaluation

August 28, 2014

Last month, The New York Times "reviewed" the still-in-development Participant Media Index, which is designed to measure the impact and engagement of social issue documentaries. Anyone in the nonprofit world knows that impact and engagement are the buzzwords du jour. More than a passing fad, however, impact evaluation is serious business – one that many of us in the social change realm grapple with every day.

This has not always been the case in the eighteen years I've worked in the sector. Funders have increasingly driven the trend, asking grantees to not just monitor our progress, but also to develop innovative ways to quantify that progress and share our learnings more broadly. In this way, the nonprofit world is catching up with the fields of medicine, psychology and education – all of which have embraced "evidence-based practice" over the past two decades.

This is mostly a positive development. By laying out concrete objectives and outcomes at the start of a grant (in the proposal), organizations are forced to think more strategically and are held accountable for delivering on their promises. The most forward-thinking funders understand the risk inherent in our work – that social investments, like those in business, are not guaranteed to succeed, and that organizations can learn as much from their failures as their achievements. Yet careful planning (yes, even the ubiquitous logic framework) can help increase the odds that we uphold our end of the bargain: To ensure that precious resources are used to successfully mobilize positive social change.

WITNESS has always been considered an innovator in impact evaluation, starting in the mid-2000s with our groundbreaking Performance Evaluation Dashboard, and including a massive effort we launched recently to overhaul our program. Indeed, we are constantly looking for new ways to ensure we maximize our performance and learnings. But this approach is not without its challenges. Human rights advocacy is notoriously difficult to measure, change is often incremental, and ultimate "wins" can take years to achieve. Video advocacy is even more complex, since video is a complementary tool, intended to corroborate other, more traditional forms of documentation.

A point system for tracking Ouputs, Oucomes and Impact from WITNESS' first Performance Dashboard for our fiscal year 2006.

(A point system for tracking Outputs, Outcomes and Impacts from WITNESS’ first Performance Dashboard covering our fiscal year 2006.)

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5 Questions for…Michael Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

August 26, 2014

With a new school year beginning and debate over the Common Core State Standards heating up, we thought it would be an excellent time to talk to an expert on the subject.

According to Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a D.C.-based think tank dedicated to advancing educational excellence for every child, the "Common Core Wars” scorecard currently stands at 42-4-3-1: forty-two states out of the forty-six that signed on to Common Core are still on board (including "plenty" of states that have "rebranded" the standards); four states (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia) never adopted them; three states (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Missouri) currently are going through a review process that will result in new standards; and one state, Oklahoma, has repealed the standards.

Headshot_michael_petrilliPND conducted the following Q&A with Petrilli earlier this month.

Philanthropy News Digest: One concern of opponents of the Common Core is that the standards are not as rigorous as some existing state standards. But a Fordham Institute analysis found that the Common Core standards were superior in content and rigor to the standards that three-quarters of the states were using in 2010. What are critics of the Common Core getting wrong? And why should any state with demonstrably tougher standards in place adopt the Common Core?

Michael Petrilli: Even critics of the Common Core acknowledge that the standards are more rigorous and challenging than what the vast majority of the states had in place before. To be frank, that's not saying much: most state standards pre-Common Core tended to be vague, misguided, or both. And the associated state tests, which often were set at ridiculously low levels, encouraged "drill and kill" style teaching, and regularly sent false signals that most students — and schools — were doing fine, were arguably worse.

The real question is how the Common Core stacks up to the best state standards, such as those that were in place in Massachusetts, Indiana, and California. In our judgment, it's a toss-up. Our reviewers gave the Common Core a grade of "A-" in mathematics and a "B+" in English language arts; a handful of states did slightly better, particularly in English. A smart move, then, would be to combine the Common Core with the best of these previous standards, as Massachusetts did in 2010 by adopting the Common Core but keeping, among other elements, the list of exemplary literary authors that was part of its old standards.

Why, you ask, should any of the handful of states with strong standards adopt the Common Core? We admitted to being divided on this question in 2010, though we anticipated some upside to the move to common standards, including the proliferation of high-quality Common Core-aligned curricula and assessments. In other words, it was our belief then that if states stuck with their old standards, even good ones, their educators would miss out on the improvements in curricula and assessments that we fully expected would soon sweep the country. Four long years later, we're finally seeing our prediction come true. Common Core-aligned curricular resources are starting to enter the market, and next spring Common Core-aligned assessments will replace the old state tests in at least half the country. And we still anticipate that these tools will represent big improvements over what preceded them.

But now the question, particularly in red and purple states, is whether states should stick with the Common Core. In Ohio, for instance, there's a bill under consideration that would move the state to the old Massachusetts standards in math and English. While that might have been attractive five years ago, in the interim school districts in the state have invested tens of millions of dollars in professional and curriculum development related to the Common Core. Ohio also is planning to use the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, which looks to be a huge improvement on its previous test. So, changing assessments again would bring enormous additional costs. Such a switch also would be greatly demoralizing to Ohio educators, who have been working hard to implement the Common Core. In short, teachers and administrators would be right to be frustrated by a move to dump the standards simply because of politics.

PND: Another frequent criticism of the Common Core is that it was paid for and developed by a handful of large foundations behind closed doors and represents U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's reform agenda. You've written elsewhere that it was "a huge mistake" for some Common Core supporters to urge the federal government to create incentives for state adoption of the standards. What about the role of foundations in the process? Could the Common Core, or something like it, have been developed without the support of the Gates, Hewlett, and Broad foundations?

Continue reading »

'Under Construction': Northside Achievement Zone

August 25, 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.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

It's the classic question, probably the best way for an adult to get inside the mind of a child, who must imagine life ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.

Common sense dictates that we should outwardly deem every child's answer to that question as  airtight. Whatever you want, you can have. We'll embrace the different versions of those high-achieving future selves — whether it involves saving patients' lives, discovering a new gene, leading a Fortune 500 company. Privately, however, we may imagine less rosy futures, aware of certain realities that often impede the path to success, including income and wealth, geography, race, gender, and educational quality.

For a tightly knit group of residents in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, however, "whatever you want, you can have" is the gospel truth. For every child, no exceptions.

They have decided to aim very high for their children and to partner with mentors, teachers, tutors, and other professionals to provide the supports needed for their children to be ready for college and beyond. The mobilizing force behind this group is the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a Promise Neighborhood collaborative that seeks to end intergenerational poverty in North Minneapolis through education.

Delajuante Moore, Josh Mendez, and Jason Spellman are among the more than 1,600 youth — many low income and youth of color — living in North Minneapolis that, with their families, are enrolled in NAZ. All three young men have thought about what they want to be when they grow up. Delajuante, a rising eighth-grader and recent graduate of Ascension Catholic School (a NAZ partner school), wants to be a lawyer. His classmate Josh is looking at different options but is really interested in being a video game director. Jason, a rising sixth-grader at KIPP Stand Academy (another NAZ partner), wants to be a doctor.

UC_Jason_SpellmanThrough the messaging of NAZ and its partners, the young men are reminded constantly that their plans rest on getting a college degree. At KIPP, a college-preparatory charter school, Jason and his classmates are proud members of the "Class of 2024," the year they expect to graduate from a four-year university. With Josh and Delajuante, Jason participates in an afterschool program called 21st Century Academy that is designed explicitly to help middle-school-age students prepare for college and careers.

Nine local schools also partner with NAZ, along with a total of twenty-seven nonprofit anchor organizations, including afterschool and expanded learning programs, housing agencies, and early childhood centers. Together, all these actors form a tight circle of support around Northside students and families. And while these resources may be available in a majority of low-income communities, the NAZ difference is the way in which it coordinates and aligns the various partners, and in how it champions a Northside "culture of achievement," with empowered families leading the way.

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The 'Overhead' Pledge

August 21, 2014

Cut_costsI was in a room full of international development professionals at the InsideNGO Annual Conference, and the excitement was palpable. Why? We had all just raised our hands and pledged to fully disclose the true costs of our nonprofit operations to anyone who wanted to see them.

This is a breakthrough for our sector, and affirms that we are willing to transparently and consistently report our costs. What's more, the pledge is based on the understanding that the overhead debate actually undermines nonprofits' ability to deliver transformational results. We are convinced that overhead transparency will lead to more open dialogue, real collaboration with funders, and a greater focus on outcomes and results.

Within the core concept of transparency, however, there are two recommendations we are focusing on right now:

Eliminate functional allocation. This IRS requirement allows organizations to allocate costs rather indiscriminately to programs, fundraising, and general administration categories. While the goal is to shed light on organizational efficiency across the nonprofit sector, the relaxed guidelines allow organizations to manipulate their expenses across categories, often inflating their program costs to appear more efficient. Organizational efficiency is never cut-and-dried, however, and more importantly, the guidelines don't take into account organizational effectiveness.

Eliminate direct and indirect costing on grants. Each funder has its own guidelines around direct and indirect program costs. When funders cap the amount they are willing to pay toward indirect costs, organizations are incentivized to manipulate their numbers in order to recover as much as of their costs as possible, or worse, they cut investments in organizational capacity that can result in them having greater impact.

Failure to eliminate these provisions will only serve to:

  • Starve nonprofit organizations from making key organizational investments that boost their impact and increase their efficiency.
  • Create division within organizations between program staff (perceived as "wanted" costs) and operation staff ("unwanted" costs).
  • Limit consistency and distort real benchmarking across the sector.
  • Increase administrative costs (necessitated by having to manage expense reporting in multiple ways to meet a variety of funder needs).
  • Reduce transparency.
  • Place the focus on administrative costs instead of impact and obscure questions around the real cost of social change.

So that day in D.C., we all raised our hands and pledged to clearly and honestly disclose the full costs of our operations, accompanied by explanations about why our investments were essential to achieving our respective missions.

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All Aboard for Practices That Matter

August 19, 2014

Headshot_nikki_powellIt's a common refrain these days: a perfect storm is changing the way philanthropy is done, and that change is likely to accelerate in the years to come.

Some of the forces driving this change are external, beyond the control of stakeholders in the field. Others are emerging from the field itself and represent some of the best opportunities philanthropy has to embrace, leverage, and accelerate its own evolution.

One of those internal forces is the simple yet confounding issue of grantmaking practices.

You don't need me to tell you that complexity is the rule when it comes to grantmaking strategies. Every funder has its own ideas about who it wants to fund, why, and the outcomes and measures of success it uses and is looking for.

At the same time, meeting nonprofit needs has become trickier, as the demand for services continues to outpace the resources available to meet those needs, making the decisions on who should be funded that much harder.

Against this backdrop, I'm pleased to report that some of the most exciting changes in philanthropy, changes that involve the how of grantmaking, are just waiting for funders to take advantage of them. As the association representing grants management professionals – the people who actually develop and execute grantmaking practices at foundations – Grants Managers Network has a unique vantage point on the ways in which grantmaking practice is becoming more important. Indeed, we feel so strongly about the issue, we've decided to share our perspective in a new report titled Blueprint for the Future.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 16-17, 2014)

August 17, 2014

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

Education

Why hasn't the once-booming tech ed sector solved education's problems? Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor for the publication, shares some thoughts on that question from Paul Franz, a former doctoral candidate at Stanford who now teaches language arts in California. Those thoughts, writes Meyer, "mirror my own sentiment that education is a uniquely difficult challenge, both technically and socially, and that its difficulty confounds attempts to 'disrupt' it...."

Fundraising

The "ice bucket challenge," a grassroots campaign aimed at raising funds for the ALS Association, a a charity dedicated to finding a cure for amyotropic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease), went viral this week. Around the country, celebrities and members of the public were filmed being doused with a bucket of ice water and then posted the footage to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. "Multiply this activity 70,000 times," writes William MacAskill, a research fellow in moral philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, "and the result is that the ALS Association has received $3 million in additional donations....[A] win-win, right?" Not according to MacAskill, whose own nonprofit, Giving What We Can, champions the principles of the effective altruism movement. The problem, writes MacAskill,

is funding cannibalism. That $3 million in donations doesn't appear out of a vacuum. Because people on average are limited in how much they're willing to donate to good causes, if someone donates $100 to the ALS Association, he or she will likely donate less to other charities....

***

This isn't to object to the ALS Association in particular. Almost every charity does the same thing — engaging in a race to the bottom where the benefits to the donor have to be as large as possible, and the costs as small as possible. (Things are even worse in the UK, where the reward of publicizing yourself all over social media comes at a suggested price of just £3 donated to MacMillan Cancer Support.) We should be very worried about this, because competitive fundraising ultimately destroys value for the social sector as a whole. We should not reward people for minor acts of altruism, when they could have done so much more, because doing so creates a culture where the correct response to the existence of preventable death and suffering is to give some pocket change....

Before you get too upset, read the entire piece. (MacAskill is a thoughtful young critic who, like many other people in the sector, has grown impatient with the status quo.) Then come back here and tell us why he's wrong — or right.

For an entirely different take on this question, take a look at this recent post by Philanthropy Daily contributor Scott Walter, executive vice president of the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., which is unsparing in its criticism of effective altruism (and Peter Singer, who inspired the movement).

In a short post on the BoardSource site, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions' Tom Ralser looks at the important distinction between a donor and an investor.

Continue reading »

Grantees Sound Off About Philanthropic Funding System

August 15, 2014

MarcMaxson_GG_sweaterI believe that philanthropic foundations could make major progress in serving their constituents if they paid more attention to what grantees were saying about them. Not in the cozy pat-each-other-on-the-back love-fest way. I mean by listening to real, honest feedback.

Recently, we at Feedback Labs (as a neutral third party) decided to ask a group of twelve hundred organizations to publicly share stories about their experiences with funders, adopting our community storytelling approach to the task. That approach emphasizes open-ended narratives with a few follow-up questions, intermediation (people are a little more likely to say something negative if the boss isn't in the room), and confidentiality.

Sample Feedback

I selected these particular comments because the variety of issues addressed in them illustrates the importance of asking open-ended questions. In this case, the question was: "Talk about your experience approaching a grantmaking or funding organization that either did or did not grant you funding. What was the relationship like? Did you receive support from them?" (Feel free to add your own story to the collection here.) What follows are some representative highlights from the stories told by grantees about funders and the grantseeking process:

Comments from GlobalGiving partner organizations:

  • The process leaves little room to establish a relationship with a grantmaker because we're usually just asked to fill in a standard form and maybe attach a project summary and financial documents.
  • It was important for us to understand who the decision makers are. What are their priorities? And what aspects of the project are particularly appealing to the funder, given its vision and mission?
  • It was an unsolicited proposal, and we really didn't attempt to build any relationship with the foundation by writing to them or calling them up to ask where our proposal the previous year had fallen short. That really affected our chances of winning a grant.
  • We got to meet the organization through a mutual friend who had been following our work for years.
  • I was nervous when I sent the first email requesting support for a program in Nairobi. However, the funder responded positively and even made a trip to Nairobi to see the program first hand.
  • We waited endlessly for a decision on our proposal. One of the basic problems in dealing with a large CSR unit is that you have to keep following up and have a person dedicated to making sure that happens.

And here are some comments from smaller, emerging organizations not yet partnered with GlobalGiving:

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How Philanthropy Can Help Unaccompanied Child Refugees Now

August 13, 2014

Headshot_daranee_petsodTen-year-old Lucinda sits alone in a courtroom awaiting her fate. In front of her is a judge who will decide whether she is deported to her native Honduras. At the opposite table sits an experienced attorney advocating for her deportation. Her case will be argued in English, a language she does not speak. No one sits beside her.

Lucinda does not have an attorney. She does not have anyone to testify to the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her caregiver in Honduras, or to the psychological impact of that trauma and the ordeal she endured during her perilous journey to the United States. She has no expert witness to describe the non-existent child protection system or the rampant violence against women and girls in her home country. The burden of proof for her asylum claim rests entirely on her ten-year-old shoulders.

Driven by violence in Central America and Mexico, an increasing number of children like Lucinda are seeking refuge in the United States. Between 80,000 and 120,000 children are expected to arrive in 2014 alone, up from 6,000 in 2011. A growing number of these new arrivals are children fleeing some of the world’s most dangerous countries — the murder rates in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador rank among the highest in the world; these are countries where it is not uncommon for gang violence to claim even the youngest lives. Many of these children have endured unspeakable forms of trauma on their journey north, and in immigration courts across the country, thousands of them — some as young as four and five — are appearing without legal representation.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 9-10, 2014)

August 10, 2014

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

Advocacy

On Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog, Michelle Baker, a San Francisco-based attorney, checks in with the second of two posts on the lag ins and outs of issue advocacy. (You can read the first post here.)

Civil Society

"One of the defining features of civil society...is that participation is voluntary," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. And "[i]f civil society claims a role in pursuing social justice than it has a special obligation to do two things - protect people's power to act and make sure that digital data aren't used to exacerbate existing power differentials.

Environment

Marketplace's David Brancaccio looks at the Sustainable Endowments Institute's Billion Dollar Green Challenge and online GRITS platform, which helps "universities take their operating cash or endowment, upgrade the energy efficiency of campus buildings, and get a bigger return in savings than the stock market would earn them."

Leadership

What kind of leadership skills do emerging nonprofit leaders need to succeed? Beth Kanter takes a look at two recent studies that "take a pass at answering that question...."

The Talent Philanthropy Project's Rusty Stahl has a good post on the handful of foundations that invest in nonprofit leadership.

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Make an Impact in Your Community: Join the Funding Information Network

August 06, 2014

More than ever, nonprofit organizations need information: metrics and analysis to improve their systems and services, learning opportunities to develop their capacity and advance their missions, and data to inform program design and implementation. In communities across the country, information hubs such as libraries play a crucial role in the exchange of information for nonprofit organizations, which are popping up in record numbers to serve their communities and solve critical problems.

Thumb-finThe place where information meets social sector advancement is where Foundation Center's Funding Information Network can be found. For more than fifty-five years, the center has served nonprofits by providing sophisticated fundraising resources and accessible learning opportunities. Our network of satellite partner organizations that bring these resources to local communities was started in 1959 and is now four hundred and seventy-five strong.

If your organization is already committed to the improvement of your community and is looking for ways to help your audience get the funding information and training it needs to solve problems and enhance the quality of life in your region, then consider becoming a partner with Foundation Center through the Funding Information Network.

Funding Information Network partners:

  • are located in public libraries, universities, nonprofit resource centers, NGOs, and foundations in every state in the U.S. and more than ten countries;
  • play an active, engaged role in their nonprofit communities, providing important funding information and training opportunities developed by the center over more than a half-century of work in the philanthropic sector;
  • connect people to the resources they need through training sessions and database orientation programs, often taking training out into the community to audiences where they live;
  • provide access to Foundation Directory Online Professional, the premier tool for identifying potential funders from a vast repository of more than 100,000 grantmakers.

As public libraries play an increasingly larger role in providing small business resources to their communities, many employ a business librarian and set aside space specifically for business development resources and trainings. Participation in the Funding Information Network, which provides comparable resources for nonprofit organizations, is the perfect complement to these business tools. And public libraries are uniquely positioned to deliver Foundation Center-vetted skill-building classes to their audiences because many already host other kinds of learning opportunities. Public libraries make up the largest segment of Funding Information Network partners.

Another active and growing group within our Funding Information Network is community foundations. We believe there is tremendous untapped opportunity for the country’s more than seven hundred community foundations to expand the outreach they already provide to their constituents by becoming network partners. Many of these foundations receive far more grant applications than they can fund, and housing Foundation Center materials at their site allows them to provide applicants and grantees with a clear pathway to much-needed supplemental or alternative funding opportunities.

But public libraries and foundations are not the only types of partners in the network; we also welcome nonprofit resource centers, universities, NGOs, and other social service agencies. And now, more than ever, we're looking to expand to new locations where our services are needed. We believe every community deserves to have access to the information and tools that will help it pursue social improvement projects, and it's our goal to see that happen. Active, engaged network partners are what drive the Funding Information Network. The ideal network partner is any organization that has and seeks connections with nonprofits, public agencies, individual community advocates, and funders in their local community.

We invite you to consider becoming a partner with Foundation Center through the Funding Information Network. Learn more about the network, how to join, and how to nominate another organization.

Katherine Farnan is manager of network engagement at Foundation Center.

[Newsmaker] Paul Connolly, Director, Philanthropic Advisory Services, Bessemer Trust

August 05, 2014

At the turn of the twentieth century, great industrialists of the Gilded Age, men such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman and Julius Rosenwald, began in earnest to turn their attention to philanthropy. Controlling vast personal fortunes that grew larger by the day and ever-mindful of the social disruptions and widening income inequality that had come to characterize America, they began, in the words of historian Robert Bremner, "to found institutions capable of distributing private wealth with greater intelligence and vision than [they] themselves could hope to possess."

Institutions like the Carnegie Institute and Carnegie Corporation of New York, the General Education Board and Rockefeller Foundation, MIT and the Eastman School of Music, the Rosenwald Fund and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry helped establish the template for organized philanthropy as we know it and, in the words of TIME magazine founder Henry Luce, helped make the twentieth century "the American century."

Today, a new economic revolution is roiling the planet, disrupting old ways of thinking and doing and contributing to levels of income inequality not seen since the 1920s. At the same time, a new generation of philanthropists, inspired by the example of Carnegie, Rockefeller and others, are leveraging their wealth, networks, and know-how to address seemingly intractable and urgent challenges.

Paul Connolly has had a ringside seat on the changing philanthropic landscape for almost twenty years – first as an officer and director at consulting firm TCC Group, where he oversaw the firm's capacity-building and nonprofit and philanthropy practices, and today as director of philanthropic advisory services at Bessemer Trust, a privately held wealth management and investment advisory firm. Through his writing (Navigating the Organizational Lifecycle: A Capacity-Building Guide for Nonprofit Leaders) and frequent thought pieces in sector-focused publications, presentations at the Council on Foundations' annual convenings and other national conferences, and travels as a trainer and facilitator, he has had his finger on the pulse of the growing and increasingly dynamic philanthropic sector in the U.S. and has helped shape its evolution.

PND caught up with Connolly earlier this month and asked him, among other things, about foundations' ability to move the needle on deeply entrenched social problems, the difficulty of measuring impact, and the generational dynamic in philanthropy.

Headshot_paul_connollyPhilanthropy News Digest: You joined Bessemer Trust last year after more than sixteen years at the consulting firm TCC Group, where you served in a variety of roles and established yourself as a social sector thought leader. Why the change?

Paul Connolly: While at TCC Group, I had the chance to work with many talented colleagues and remarkable clients who were deeply committed to the greater social good. The firm tripled in size while I was there, and I had the opportunity to help steer that growth and provide strategy, capacity building, and evaluation assistance to a burgeoning and stimulating mix of nonprofits, philanthropies, and corporate community involvement programs.

When Bessemer Trust approached me about this job, I felt ready for a new challenge, and it seemed like an excellent setting to positively influence social impact in a different way. In my new position, I am privileged to guide individual philanthropists as well as established foundations. And because we are in the midst of what some are calling a "golden age of philanthropy" – more foundations are being formed, major gifts are getting bigger, and the pace of the massive intergenerational wealth transfer is accelerating – Bessemer is a great place to make a meaningful difference. Plus, it's a growing firm with a stellar reputation that values the philanthropic advising function. So it seemed like the right job at the right place at the right time.

PND: Bessemer, which was established as a family office in 1907 by Henry Phipps, a co-founder of Carnegie Steel, today serves over twenty-two hundred families with more than $97 billion in assets. Do all those families include philanthropy in their wealth-management strategies?

PC: Virtually all our clients incorporate philanthropy into their wealth-management strategies in some way. The purpose, scope, timing, and form of their giving vary widely, depending on the client's financial resources, motivations, values, and family and business context. Some clients are active in charitable giving during their lifetimes, others prefer to endow a foundation or designate bequests as part of their estate planning, and many practice a combination of the two. In the same vein, certain individuals prefer recognition for their donations, while others prefer to remain anonymous. So, they employ different vehicles for giving to help them achieve their particular goals.

Bessemer has about $4.4 billion in assets under supervision associated with five hundred and fifteen family and independent foundations, endowments, and trusts that collectively award more than $220 million in grants annually. In addition, many of our larger clients have professionally staffed foundations that are not directly connected to our firm. Our clients also contribute extensively both through individual gifts and, increasingly, donor-advised funds, which are managed by Bessemer Trust, community foundations, or other entities.

PND: You mentioned a few of the different vehicles available for charitable giving. Is there a dollar threshold for which Bessemer recommends starting a foundation instead of contributing to a donor-advised fund?

PC: Due to the greater administrative costs incurred by foundations, we usually suggest a starting size of at least $1 million if the client intends to continue adding funds in the future. An ideal target for establishing a private foundation is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.

PND: What do you tell clients who may be interested in giving not only money but their time?

PC: We are definitely seeing more and more clients who want to donate their time as well as their funds to nonprofits. Some are younger donors who grew up volunteering and want to continue providing hands-on support. Others are successful executives who are retiring, want to start a new career chapter devoted to civic engagement, and have lots of energy and wisdom to offer. A case in point is a client who sold her human resources company and is now devoting her time to providing pro bono assistance to a few nonprofits that are dedicated to helping veterans enhance their employment skills and secure stable jobs. As you might imagine, her industry knowledge and connections have proven extremely valuable to those organizations.

The key is to help clients clarify their goals and get them thinking about how they can most effectively give, and then help them find the right nonprofit match. Some clients derive the most satisfaction by providing direct voluntary service, such as preparing food in a soup kitchen or tutoring a student who is struggling in school. Others may want to contribute their expertise, leadership ability, and network access by serving on a nonprofit committee or board.

We also realize that when a prospective donor wants to provide pro bono assistance, the nonprofit benefiting from that assistance usually wants to cultivate the relationship so that over time the donor will provide financial support as well. With that in mind, we counsel our clients to clarify expectations around their volunteer roles, responsibilities, and time commitments, as well as the amount of money they might be expected to "give" or "get" to support the nonprofit financially.

PND: How, if at all, do generational dynamics affect your conversations with clients?

PC: Bessemer Trust is more than a hundred years old, and we work with multiple generations of families. Much of our work is facilitating discussion and decision-making among family members about their shared values and interests, as well as ways to engage future generations in philanthropy.

That said, we have seen certain shifts in families' approach to philanthropy. Some younger donors have a more engaged style, are skilled at leveraging their networks, and are more willing to take risks. They also may be more interested in causes like the environment, advocacy, and animal welfare. Recent research by 21/64 and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy has documented these generational changes in a compelling way.

In some cases, we've been able to help different generations discover common ground for their philanthropic interests, which can be a unifying force. We're currently facilitating such a dialogue with a family where the parents want to more actively engage their three adult children in the family foundation. We're guiding them to focus on areas of shared interest, such as their cultural and ethnic heritage and funding research for a disease that has affected family members personally.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (August 2-3, 2014)

August 03, 2014

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

Advocacy

Michelle Baker, a San Francisco-based attorney, has a very good post on Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog about the do's and don'ts of issue advocacy from a regulatory perspective. It's the first of a two-part series, so be sure to bookmark it and check back later this week for part two.

Arts and Culture

Still not sure what "creative placemaking" is or why you should care? Not to worry. On the National Arts Strategies' Filed Notes blog Taylor Craig explains it all, with the help of a few friends.

Impact/Investing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Manuel Lewin, head of responsible investment at Zurich Insurance Group, and Brian Smith, chief strategy officer at Population Services International, share highlights of a report jointly produced by their organizations that provides a framework designed "to help investors and nonprofits speak a common language, and better understand various financial models through which they can engage with each other."

International Affairs/Development

In Forbes, Andrew Cave looks at Bill and Melinda Gates' efforts to help bring financial services -- bank accounts, loans, insurance, etc. -- to the 2.5 billion people in the world who are "unbanked."

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2014)

August 02, 2014

Ah, the lazy, hazy days of August...a perfect time to catch up on some of the great content we posted in July, including new posts by Derrick Feldmann and Mark Rosenman, the Association of Black Foundation Executives' Susan Taylor Batten, and the Case Foundation's Emily Yu. Pull up a hammock, kick you flip-flops off, and enjoy!

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

The Paradox of Direct Mail

August 01, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDirect mail has become a polarizing topic in the nonprofit fundraising world. Many bloggers and development veterans feel that it's one of the most important tools in the fundraising toolbox. Others – many of them focused on targeting a younger demographic – want to change or do away with the practice altogether.

For what it's worth, approximately 90 percent of the direct mail I receive winds up in the recycling bin, unopened and barely glanced at.

And I'm not alone. For many new and younger donors, direct mail is viewed as intrusive, messy, and a waste of resources. So why do so many organizations continue to embrace it? The answer is simple: It works.

According to the 2012 Channel Preference Study from Epsilon, a full-service ad agency headquartered in Irving, Texas, more than seven out of ten (73 percent) consumers said they prefer direct mail for brand communications, in large part because it allows them to consume information at their convenience. Okay, so that only demonstrates direct mail's relevance to brand and product marketing. What about fundraising?

Well, here again, recent studies show that direct mail works. For example, Blackbaud's 2012 Charitable Giving Report found that 93 percent of overall giving comes from traditional fundraising methods, with online giving accounting for the rest (7 percent).

It's a paradox. For most people, direct mail is utterly annoying, and yet it still gets the job done.

Does that mean fundraisers should ignore the preferences of their donors, especially the younger ones, and hold on to the practice for dear life, acting on what donors actually respond to rather than what they say they want?

I'm not so sure. Traditional industries of all types and sizes are being disrupted by new, innovative business models based on digital technologies. Take a look at these examples and see if you can spot the common denominator:

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'Under Construction': Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

July 28, 2014

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit that showcases 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.

Grassroots

Jesse Esparza stands tall as he squints into the afternoon sun.
He doesn't quite fill the dark suit that hangs from his shoulders, and his hands, clasped together before his waist, only half-emerge from their sleeves.

Under-construction-bmoc-jesseBehind him stretches Stockton's Southside, the most distressed section of the most violent city in California. Jesse tells the story of the white ribbon tied at the base of a small oak tree in McKinley Park. It's a tragic story — the senseless murder of a friend's cousin, a teenager caught up in a cycle of retaliation — and his telling is both somber and matter-of-fact. But where the trauma gets particular, he generalizes, describing the way news like this travels on seismic waves through his community. "You're in shock," he explains. "You're in denial, you don't want it to be true. You're hoping it's someone else." Only 18 years old, Jesse has already been through this set of emotions more times than would be fair in a full lifespan. One might say he possesses a wisdom beyond his years, though its acquisition is troubling.

In a quiet moment of reflection, Jesse's eyes search the blades of grass as if for answers. His skin is smooth, almond colored, his face open and strong. He seems to play an image in his mind for a few moments before looking up again, lifting his eyebrows. He reaches for words to fill the silence and lights on a stock phrase. "It's pretty crazy," he says. He repeats this again and again over the next hour, the only words he can find to move past each newly risen memory as a casual drive through his old neighborhood transforms without notice into an impromptu ghost tour. The points of interest form a web of violence, dozens of vague memorials to those friends who will never have a chance, as Jesse has, to break through.

Boys & Men

The day has been a long one. All morning Jesse has been talking change politics with some of the most engaged men and women in the state. It's the Fourth Annual Stockton Summit of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a decentralized coalition of organizations working at all levels of civic engagement for policy changes that will improve the lives of young Californians. In one report after another, data show young men of color face more systemic barriers than their white peers, making them much more likely to drop out of high school, serve time in prison (or juvenile hall), be unemployed, and ultimately die young. The situation, according to those involved, is dire.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

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

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

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Doubling Down: When a Foundation Renews or Expands a Grant

July 25, 2014

Headshot_sandy_edwardsAs a new foundation in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation outlined a strategy of awarding large multiyear grants. Through a careful planning process, we determined that multiyear grants would give grantees the time needed to successfully implement and evaluate bold initiatives — and that longer-term investments likely would be needed for  the foundation's grantmaking to achieve substantive goals. As of June 2014, 82 percent of the foundation's grants had at least a three-year term, and a full 67 percent were for four years or more. As a result, only in the last few years have we begun to consider the renewal or expansion of grants to key grantees.

There are many factors in this process. At its core, an opportunity for renewal or expansion of a grant initiative is a result both of positive outcomes demonstrated by a grant evaluation and/or a deep relationship that has developed between the foundation and the grantee. Both of these critical factors — one tangible and the other more abstract — evolve over the lifetime of a grant period.

During the grant development stage, foundation staff work closely with future grantees to determine the strategy alignment of a potential grant, with a particular focus on the extent to which it addresses the core priorities of an organization's work. Once a grant is awarded, the relationship between the foundation and grantee is hopefully strengthened through open and honest dialogue. Major grant awards include an independent evaluation to determine whether project goals are being achieved (in ways that advance both the foundation's and grantee's missions), key learnings are being disseminated, and to help guide the continued efforts of the grantee. Fortunately, there are many grant renewal success stories we can highlight, each one unique and with important insights to offer.

In 2007, the Jim Joseph Foundation funded the Foundation for Jewish Camp's Specialty Camp Incubator, which resulted in the opening of five new camps (92Y Passport NYC, Adamah Adventures, Eden Village Camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventures, and URJ 6 Points Academy) in the summer of 2010. In addition to significant enrollment growth at each camp, an independent evaluation (31 pages, PDF) conducted by Informing Change reported that campers, as a result of their camp experience, had improved their specialty skills, become more self-confident, knew more about being Jewish, felt more positive and enthusiastic about being Jewish, made more decisions based on the camps' Jewish values, and felt closer to Jewish kids their age. As a foundation committed to creating more and better Jewish learning opportunities, we welcome the opportunity to build on a successful grant and, based on the successful outcomes generated by the incubator effort, we decided to fund a second incubator and the launch of four more camps in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. This grant will broaden FJC's sources of funding and enable it to continue to enhance and strengthen the Jewish summer camp experience with a proven model that increases the number of exciting camp options.

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Films Are Films: Measuring the Social Impact of Documentary Films

July 23, 2014

Movie-filmEarlier this year, the firm I founded – Aggregate – partnered with the organizers of the True/False Film Fest to conduct a survey of the filmmakers whose films screened at the festival in 2014. True/False is well-regarded among filmmakers, who often talk about how well the festival organizers treat them and the obvious regard the organizers have for the art of storytelling.

The goal of our survey was to understand how these filmmakers felt about their films' potential contribution to social change, any ambitions they had to capitalize on that potential, and their views with respect to measuring the social impact of their films. While True/False isn't specifically a social change film festival, 72 percent of the filmmakers who responded to the survey believed the film they screened at the 2014 Fest could contribute to social change.

As we were getting ready to share the outcomes of the survey, the New York Times reported on the efforts of Participant Media, the film and television production company started by Jeff Skoll, to establish an index that would enable it – and others who invest in social change films – to determine which films "spur activism" and which do not. Based on my reading of the article, the Participant Index measures the ability of a film to inspire "emotional involvement" and "provoke action." So, while a film may generate an intense emotional response, if it does not also lead people who have seen it to take action, it would receive a lower score and, perhaps, not be as well received by potential funders interested in that particular issue.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the filmmakers we surveyed expressed concern about anyone measuring the social impact of their films; indeed, two-thirds (66 percent) said they opposed the idea of using metrics to gauge the impact of their films. While I believe strongly in the value of measurement and metrics, I share some of their concerns. If, for instance, filmmakers and funders begin to weigh the "effectiveness" of films solely in terms of the actions taken in the short term by the audiences for those films, it could lead to the bankrolling of more didactic narratives about issues that lend themselves to relatively straightforward solutions. And that would be a blow to good storytelling.

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