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Communicating the Lia Fund’s Sunset Plans to Grantees

May 04, 2015

Sunset_13Randy Lia Weil believed in beauty, fairness, the human heart, and the wisdom of nature in all things. She was a dancer, teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, and artistic spirit. Gracious, graceful, and exceedingly generous, she was the catalyst for many people to create new possibilities for their lives and their dreams.

Prior to her passing in 2006, she created a trust and named a number of friends and colleagues from diverse disciplines with experience in nonprofit organizations to act as advisors to help identify potential grantees. This group created a small private foundation, The Lia Fund, to carry on her values and help realize them in the world.

The Lia Fund made its first set of grants in 2008, and for six years made grants to social change organizations in the areas of climate solutions, community arts, and holistic health and healing that promoted a holistic view of the world informed by the wisdom of nature. In recognition of the great need for resources to support grassroots organizations, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the foundation decided to spend down its assets, making its last grants in 2014.

The foundation was thoughtful in its decision to spend down, and used that decision to drive transparency in awarding grants and communicating clearly with grantees. Because of the early nature of its decision, the $5 million in grants awarded to a hundred and seven organizations were progressive, purposeful, and appropriately communicated so as to make an impact during the foundation's lifespan.

The Decision to Spend Down: The 2008 Crash

Although The Lia Fund's corpus was modest, the board and community advisors did not initially start out with the idea of spending it down in a specified timeframe. Instead, they were absorbed in creating the nuts and bolts of the foundation: deciding on grantmaking priorities, choosing critical issues to fund, and deciphering how thirteen individuals could most efficiently participate in the foundation's grantmaking process.

In 2008, as the markets were tanking, the board and advisors saw grant money grow scarce, especially for grassroots groups. Investment portfolios plummeted, causing some foundations to sit out a couple of grantmaking cycles in order to meet their existing grant obligations. After watching many colleagues radically reduce their grantmaking budgets, the response of The Lia Fund's board was to do the opposite and boost our annual grantmaking threefold.  But we could only do that if we committed to sunset and spend down all the foundation's assets within seven years of our first grants. Which meant we would plan to award $840,000 in grants per year instead of $280,000, and go out of business in a few years!  This was something of a boon for social-justice organizations and small grassroots groups, especially nascent environmental groups and alternative arts programs, which, as the recession deepened, were almost always first on the chopping block.

The Lia Fund also had a distinct decision-making advantage over more established foundations in making the decision to sunset: We were newly formed and therefore nimble. We had no permanent, full-time staff; our board only had four members; and our community advisors were volunteers, many with their own nonprofits to run. That reduced the incentives to continue the foundation in perpetuity and also gave us a unique perspective into emerging needs and our ability to address those needs.

Increasing the Size of Our Grants

The board's decision to increase our grants budget also meant we could raise the average threshold of our grants to the $15,000 to $25,000 range. This also meant that, in most cases, our grants would underwrite close to 25 percent to 30 percent of the budget of a smaller organization.  Responsible philanthropic practice tells us that providing 35 percent or more of a small nonprofit's budget makes that nonprofit vulnerable to failure, especially if the funder and grantee have not discussed an exit strategy. We also knew that the widespread practice of making grants to an organization for three years and then moving on is risky business for small grassroots organizations and leaves many groups on the threshold of financial collapse when a major funder exits without notice or support. For us, funding a large portion of an organization's budget was a short-term reality, but it also meant we had to be extra vigilant about the challenges that flow from that strategy.

Communicating Our Spend-Down Schedule — Repeatedly

The pleasure of awarding larger grants brought with it the responsibility to communicate with our grantees that the foundation would be sunsetting in the not-too-distant future.  We communicated clearly, early, and often with our grantees that we were not a long-term source of funding, and that we were a small private foundation and not an endowed independent one. In addition, our website made clear our intention to sunset; our grant award letters explicitly explained our spend-down plans; and we asked grantees detailed questions about their fiscal sustainability and fundraising strategies during site visits.  Each encounter with our grantees was an opportunity to remind them that the foundation would be closing its doors in 2014.

Helping Grantees Plan for Our Departure

Communication isn't just about what we said; it was about what we did to support grantees. It was in the best interest of our grantees and also of the foundation to be a resource to them beyond our grantmaking to ensure their long-term sustainability. For very large grants (i.e., $100,000 and above), the trust added another $5,000 restricted grant upfront to help grantees develop a well-thought-out sustainability plan that detailed how our funding was going to be replaced. 

For multiyear grants, we focused on grantees' development and fundraising strategies, conducting our programmatic due-diligence work at the front-end of the relationship while focusing on grantees' expansion of their funding sources during subsequent grant cycles, all the way up to their final grant. For each grantee, we asked, "What are your plans for replacing our grant at the end of the grant term? Where are you doing with respect to pursuing other revenue streams?"  

By year four of our relationship, for example, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, an education center and organic farm in Sonoma County, California, had turned around their foundation grants to individual donor ratio from 60/40 to 30/70. By year six, they had raised enough funds for a capital campaign to expand their retreat center, which, when completed, would generate more income for the organization, making it less dependent on foundation grants and individual donations.

What We Would Have Liked to Do: Final Capacity-Building Grants

What else could we have done? We would have liked to set aside capacity-building grants during our last year. The board and community advisors initially thought of restricting our last round of grants to capacity-building support. But in the interest of sticking with best practices, we concluded our final grantmaking round with general support grants, as was our practice in all previous grant rounds. In many ways, we saw general support grants as a form of capacity building that allowed our grantees to apply their grants to the area of the organization most in need of support. We also trusted we had done what we could in communicating our sunsetting strategies so that grantees knew best how to use our exit grant. 

In summary, a foundation that commits to spending down has to weigh the trade-offs: The short-term ramping up of the foundation's grantmaking must be balanced against the eventual withdrawal of all support to its grantees. A sunsetting foundation not only loses its direct influence on its grantees, it also sacrifices its impact in its field after it is gone. That means that the foundation has a responsibility to be transparent about its plans, to announce them well ahead of time, and to communicate, communicate, communicate with its grantees.

Headshot_beth_rosalesRecently retired, Beth Rosales has worked in philanthropy for more than thirty-five years at a number of progressive foundations, including the Vanguard Public Foundation, the Funding Exchange, Tides, the Women's Foundation of California, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Rosales serves on the board of Asian Health Services, a community clinic that serves low-income families in Oakland, California, and enjoys spending time with her twenty nieces and nephews, all of whom are hapa (mixed) Filipino-American.

This post, the twentieth in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series, produced by GrantCraft in partnership with The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, first appeared on the GrantCraft blog. 

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2015)

May 02, 2015

PhilanTopic hosted lots of great content in April, including opinion pieces by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation in Detroit; and Peter Sloane, chairman and CEO of the New York City-based Heckscher Foundation for Children; Q&As with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org; Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina; and Judith Shapiro, president of the New York City-based Teagle Foundation; a terrific book review from the formidable Joanne Barkan; thought-provoking posts from regular contributors Mark Rosenman and Derrick Feldmann; and a great Storify assembled by our own Lauren Brathwaite. But don't take our word for it...

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

Creating a Culture of Mentorship Among Young Professionals — It Starts With Senior Management

May 01, 2015

Headshot_peter_sloaneWe know that young professional mentors who work in the for-profit world can play a crucial role in changing the life trajectories of underserved youth. Despite the trumpeting of mentorship programs by a large number of companies, however, too few know how to create a culture of mentorship. I'm not talking about encouraging employees to build camaraderie or esteem by spending a day cleaning up a roadside, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or pantry, or taking a poor kid to a ballgame (with company T-shirt and hat included). I'm not even talking about creating a culture of corporate "internship programs," which seldom lead to long-term employment for underserved youth but which often do feature prominent, well-intentioned CEOs on their boards (and on their billboards). If you think you don't need a more effective way to promote a culture of mentoring for less fortunate kids among your own workforce of young professionals, do it yourself and lead by example.

Before I began promoting that idea, I tried it with our own organization. I agreed to be a mentor to a young person attending a Catholic high school through Student Sponsor Partners. I wanted all to see that mentorship was rewarding for both the mentee and for me. Soon I was hearing stories from our staff and even my own kids about "their" mentees. 

So, when an invitation to speak to a firm's young employees at one of its regular professional development lunches came, I jumped at it — albeit with the ulterior motive to spread the word about the importance of senior management's commitment to mentorship. In anticipation of the presentation, I was furnished with an agenda, complete with time segments blocked out and a short period for Q&A. The agenda was fine, but predictable — tell them about your foundation's history and what you do kind of stuff, and then entertain questions for a few minutes at the end. The day before the lunch I even received a call assuring me that one of the partners would be happy to assist by prompting me with questions. I, in turn, assured the caller I was comfortable speaking to young professionals and did not need an agenda or prompting. I've done this often, I said, and with good results — that is, if you ignore my speech at my daughter's wedding, which I had decided to wing, only to find myself, when the time came, so overcome by emotion that the wedding planner had to prompt me to welcome the guests (the only part of the speech that rated more than a failing grade with my family).

The result of my lunch with the firm's young employees was not what the firm expected, but it surely proves my point: the way to create a culture of mentorship is for senior management — CEO, CFO, and others included — to take on a mentee themselves, and to make it known publicly that they have done so. After all, don't we tell young professionals looking to climb the career ladder to pay attention to the way senior managers dress, to what time senior managers come in and go home every day, to how they conduct themselves in the workplace — and to copy them?  In other words, we tell young professionals to take their cue from the people at the top.

So what happened at the lunch? As I was coming to the end of my remarks, I asked each of the young professionals to serve as a mentor to an underserved youth, and offered our foundation's resources to help arrange it and underwrite the cost. The response? Hesitation, confusion, uncertainty?  All of that. But then I looked over at members of the senior management team, who appeared to be nodding encouragement, pointed directly at each of them, and asked if they would take on a mentee. What could they say? No? Not a chance. Nodding their heads, they all agreed. The deal was done. They had created a culture of mentorship simply by agreeing to be mentors themselves.

Lunch over, the room emptied; all except senior management (I was their invited guest). As they walked me to the elevators, I just know the thought going through their minds was: Why did we invite this guy to lunch?

Peter Sloane is chairman and chief executive officer of the New York City-based Heckscher Foundation for Childrenwhich works to level the playing field for underserved youth. He has lunch dates open in June. 

Shelter – Now. Then. And Later.

April 30, 2015

Family-tent-rural570-300x200The average American gets nine hours of sleep a night. Most of those Americans sleep in a home with a roof, and have a pillow, a mattress, and some sort of cover.

But what does sleep look like for residents of Kathmandu?

Over the weekend, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the capital city of Nepal. More than 5,000 deaths have been confirmed (a figure that is expected to rise dramatically), and upwards of 8 million Nepalese have been affected by the quake. Shelter is already presenting itself as a serious problem and, based on what we have learned from other disasters, particularly earthquakes, will continue to be a major problem.

Shelter Now

The government of Nepal reports that over 70,000 homes have been destroyed. Given that relief efforts have not yet reached more rural and remote villages, that figure is expected to rise. As of 2011, the average household size in Nepal was 4.7 – which means that upward of 329,000 individuals have been rendered homeless. Of the 8 million people affected by the quake, 2.8 million are described as displaced from their homes, with many of those individuals sleeping outdoors out of fear that continued aftershocks will destroy their weakened residences. What's more, the affected region has been hit with what has been described as "relentless rain," putting many people in a precariously vulnerable position.

The recently released UN Flash Appeal covering the time period from now until the end of July calls for $50 million to provide shelter and non-food items to those who have been displaced, as well as an additional $5 million for camp management.

Shelter Then

Over the course of the next few weeks, international nongovernmental organizations (iNGOs), the government of Nepal, and multilateral organizations engaged in the shelter cluster will distribute tents and start to build temporary/semi-permanent shelters for displaced persons. Once the aftershocks subside, rubble will be cleared and land will be prepared for rebuilding.

When thinking about shelter in the months ahead, it is important to factor in the climate of Nepal – a country with brutal weather. Temperatures can range from 110 degrees in summer to freezing cold, winters are snowy, and there's plenty of rainfall in between – all the more reason shelter is of critical importance to quake-affected Nepalese. Joel Charny, vice-president of humanitarian policy and practice at InterAction, told me that "whatever shelter solution gets developed has to be a solid, resilience-based solution."

Shelter Later

Charny indicated that the "ideal" solution eighteen months from now is to have all displaced persons back in some sort of permanent shelter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, the shelter response fell far, far short of that goal. Either because of issues of land tenure or because the semi-permanent solution implemented was semi-adequate, many of the people affected by Katrina and the Haiti earthquake were displaced for up to five years or remain in semi-permanent shelter. Charny said that until we know the full scale of the damage in Nepal and how many houses have been destroyed, it is difficult to estimate whether the international aid community will be able to deliver a permanent shelter solution to all the people who have been displaced. On a more upbeat note, if there is enough local labor and materials available, the only obstacle to achieving that goal will be financing.

The philanthropic community will need to be part of the permanent shelter solution for the foreseeable future. There are iNGOs that excel in this area. There are standards and approaches grounded in science, all of which are designed to restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of people who have been displaced – sooner rather than later, if possible. But rebuilding permanent shelter for those who have been displaced will not happen without outside assistance. So, in closing, I'd like to share an excerpt from a report I read earlier this week, Responding to Earthquakes 2008: Learning From Earthquake Relief and Recovery Operations. The report paints a compelling picture of the economic impact of permanent shelter and is worth keeping in mind as your foundation begins to formulate a response to the disaster in Nepal:

Seven Economic Impacts of Shelter

  1. Income increases faster for families provided with shelter than for others.
  2. Emergency shelter investment generates an economic payback conservatively valued at 3 to 8 times the value of the initial investment.
  3. Shelter has a positive economic return for the poorest and most vulnerable, even in the short term.
  4. Shelter benefits last well beyond the recovery period.
  5. Shelter benefits are larger after a year or two because of forward linkages.
  6. Shelter has a vital but under-appreciated role as capital for development.
  7. Beyond capital, but linked to it, shelter also has an under-appreciated role as a platform for income gains.

Regine A. Webster is vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. She can be reached at regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org. This post originally appeared on the Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog and is republished here with CDP's permission.

(Photo courtesy of Plan International USA)

______

Sources for this blog include:

  1. Joel Charny, InterAction
  2. acaps.org
  3. UN Flash Appeal for Nepal
  4. Responding to earthquakes 2008: Learning from earthquake relief and recovery operations http://www.alnap.org/resource/5239.aspx

What Does It Really Mean to Be an Engaged Donor?

April 29, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannI interview donors, young and old, all the time to learn why they support and give to the causes that are dear to them.

One question in particular generates interesting responses every time I ask it:

How involved are you with the organizations you support?

You might expect responses to that question to be pretty similar, and in fact I've found that they generally fall into one of three categories:

Response #1: I am fairly involved in the organizations I support and closely follow what they're up to on social media and through their newsletters.

Response #2: I am very involved with the organizations I support and try to help out as a volunteer at least once a month.

Response #3: I am heavily involved with the organizations I support and make a point of attending their annual galas and writing big checks.

What's the common thread here? The donors all believe they are actively engaged with the organizations they support. The sad reality, however, is that the organizations themselves probably see many of those donors as disengaged.

My conversation with donors and fundraising executives over the years merely confirms that view.

Why is that?

It's an interesting question, and I believe the answer has a lot to do with fundraisers' perception of their donors.

I recently had the chance to bring in and talk with fundraisers at five different organizations with which my firm works. Once they were settled, I asked each of them to answer the question: What does it mean to be an engaged donor? Here's what they said:

Fundraiser #1: "An engaged donor is someone who gives more than once a year, attends an event, and visits headquarters occasionally."

Fundraiser #2: "An engaged donor promotes our work to others, gives regularly, and contributes to making the organization stronger through her advice and counsel."

Fundraiser #3: "An engaged donor is a donor who reads our information, attends events, and gives something every year."

Fundraiser #4: "An engaged donor gives commensurately to their means and encourages others in their networks to give through their example and involvement at events."

Fundraiser #5: "An engaged donor is willing to volunteer, serve, and help the organization regularly throughout the year."

All great answers, right? But do they reflect reality? Do donors like this actually exist?

So I asked the group another question: How many of your donors would qualify as "engaged" based on the definition you just shared?

Not surprisingly, all five of the fundraisers present said that only a small number of their donors actually meet their own definition of "engaged."

So what does that mean?

It means we have a pretty big disconnect between what we would like our donors to be and do and what they're willing to be and do.

Which begs the question: Why do so many organizations feel they have to create programs for their donors that demand a higher level of engagement. And to what end? Isn't it enough that most donors already think of themselves as supporters of your organization?

In other words, many organizations are over-communicating and trying too hard to move donors to a level of engagement that donors themselves are uninterested in. Those organizations need to be reminded that, when it comes to donor engagement, as in life, less is often more.

To help you stay focused on that guiding principle, here are a few simple rules you might want to keep in mind:

Donors, not your organization, should decide how much donor engagement is enough. Allow your donors to choose the level of involvement they want to have with your organization – and to be comfortable in their decision, regardless of what they decide. Be sure to set up post-gift calls as a way to establish an ongoing conversation with your individual donors and use those calls to better understand the involvement each of your donors wants to have with your organization going forward.

Donors want to hear more from your organization than just a call to action. It’s true. Donors want to think they are more than just a source of money or time. They want to hear what you are doing to address the issue that caused them to be interested in your organization in the first place, the ways in which their gifts are being used, and the stories of the people who are being served. Only asking a donor for time or money eventually will turn them off and cool her interest in your work.

Communication is not donor engagement; it's a form of donor engagement. Newsletters, action alerts, and other communications vehicles are an aspect of donor engagement, but they don't define it. Yes, you need to create relationships with your donors in which communication is used to inspire, inform, and motivate them, but the real work of engagement happens on a more personal, high-touch level.

Create categories of support/engagement and donor "personas" to go with them. One thing you can do that doesn't cost a lot of money and may be helpful is to map out your relationships with your donors – the frequency of their communication with your organization, the size of their gifts and frequency of their giving, their level of volunteerism and event participation, and so on. Next, try to group that activity into different support/engagement categories – high, average, low, etc. – and see if you can identify a generalized donor persona for each category – i.e., what they want, what they don't want, what they expect, and so on. Don't worry if most of your donors would rather not be actively involved with your organization all the time. Do try to learn what they want – and may be willing to do beyond that – and then do your best to give it to them.

It's rather simple, actually. You need to accept the fact that your donors have given some thought to the kind and amount of support they are willing to provide your organization – and then figure out which of them might be coaxed into doing more and which of them are comfortable, for the time being, at their existing level of engagement. If you can do that, more of your donors will be happy, you and your colleagues will be happier, and your organization's future will look a lot brighter.

Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency for causes. In addition, he leads a national research team for the Millennial Impact Project, the premier study dedicated to millennials and how they engage with cause work, and is the co-author of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. In his last post, he explored the importance of taking your donors on a journey.

 

Calling the Piper’s Tune

April 28, 2015

Headshot_mark_rosenmanNonprofit endorsements for sale? That might be the takeaway when more than thirty charities in the District of Columbia write to government regulators in support of a popularly opposed regulatory action sought by a local funder, with many even lending their logos to full-page newspaper ads.

Pepco, a regional electric utility that serves the District (and mid-Atlantic region) wants to sell itself ­to Exelon, a national energy company with a poor reputation among environmental groups and consumer advocates. The overwhelming majority of the charities endorsing the acquisition in letters to DC's Public Service Commission (DCPSC) have a couple of things in common: they have no environmental mission or apparent expertise on energy issues, and they have received or benefited from Pepco philanthropic funding, which Exelon promises to continue for ten years.

The offered premium of 24 percent over market valuation is enough to convince Pepco to seek approval to sell its electric distribution network to Exelon. The opportunity to become the largest utility company in the country and use Pepco’s significant ratepayer base to dilute its nuclear electric generation investments is motivation enough for Exelon. But what’s in it for local charities?

A big part of the answer was summed up nicely by Meta Williams, the regional development director in the United Negro College Fund's Washington, D.C. Area Office. In a letter to D.C Public Service commissioner Brinda Westbrook-Sedgwick, Ms. Williams noted that Pepco and Exelon are important donors to UNCF, provide a great deal of support to other charities, and are admirable corporate citizens, making their plan worthy of endorsement. Yet, she went on to say in conversation with me that she had not considered environmental, energy, or related issues in deciding to write to the Public Service Commission, that policy was not made in her office, and that she was speaking only for UNCF’s fundraising arm and not for the organization itself – none of which is clear from her letter.

Although the Washington Area Women's Foundation directly refused to discuss its letter in support of the acquisition, it likely made a mistake when, in addition to mentioning the importance of Pepco funding for it and other charities, it asserted that "Exelon's reputation as a leader in environmental policy… augers well for citizens of the region." In fact, a number of environmental organizations, including Climate Action, Empower DC, the Energy Justice Network, the Environmental Network, Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch, Green Neighbors, Interfaith Power and Light, the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Solar United Neighborhoods, and the Sierra Club, all oppose the very deal WAWF wrote to support.

So, too, do several D.C. councilmembers, the attorney general of Maryland, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, and every one of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that took a position (i.e., 19 of 41) on the issue. ANCs are composed of ordinary D.C. citizens elected by their neighbors to give D.C. residents more of a voice in policy decisions, and they are doing their job on this issue: 50 percent of D.C. voters have an opinion on the proposed acquisition, with 44 percent opposing it and only 6 percent supporting it. The Office of the People's Counsel also has made it clear that the proposed acquisition is not in the public interest.

And yet, the American Red Cross of the National Capital Region, Homeless Children's Playtime Project, Latin American Youth Center, Salvation Army of the National Capital Area, Urban Alliance, YWCA of the National Capital Area, and others all have submitted letters to the Public Service Commission urging approval of the proposed acquisition – and have declined or rebuffed requests to discuss what led them to take action on such a controversial issue seemingly unrelated to their core missions.

Their silence on this matter and their refusal to be accountable for their support of such a controversial plan is profoundly irritating. While the financial health of an organization may seem like the most important thing to its leaders, forsaking the broader common good for the narrow interests of any charity is something we should not condone.

Indeed, having been rebuffed in my attempts to get the above organizations to comment on their decision to write the commission in support of Exelon/Pepco, I didn't even bother to reach out to Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, Covenant House, Friends of the National Zoo, Greater Washington Urban League, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of the National Capital Area, or the many other organizations that wrote the commission to urge approval of the deal.

The tone, tenor, and structure of most of the letters in question betray another commonality among the organizations endorsing the Exelon/Pepco proposal. After reading the letters, it strains credulity to suggest that they were not solicited or that writing guidance was not provided by someone.

Pepco refused to make anyone available for an interview and asked that all my questions about charities’ support for the acquisition be directed in writing to their media relations staff – which then declined to answer, instead issuing a boilerplate public relations statement saying that the company had "actively shared" information with its "nonprofit partners."

A few of those partners did agree to chat – sort of ­– on the record about the endorsement letters they sent to the commission. The head of Samaritan Inns, for example, said he was "not in a position to comment on that" when asked to discuss what brought him to pen an endorsement of the deal other than to say that "our relationship with Pepco is a very valued one and I need to leave it at that."

Elsewhere, a staffer at Goodwill of Greater Washington regretted failed efforts to set up an interview with the organization's president/CEO and instead emailed his answer to a series of questions. In response to the question, "Did Pepco or Exelon solicit a letter in support of the merger?" the organization said that although Pepco had been a funder for a number of years, "they neither required nor demanded that we write a letter in support of the merger." (Emphasis added.)

Similarly, the director of the Anacostia Community Outreach Center said his organization did not receive "direct funding" from Pepco and was not asked to contact the DCPSC, and, moreover, that he often wrote unsolicited letters regarding important policy issues. When asked if he had been aware of the considerable opposition to the merger by environmental, energy, and consumer groups, he insisted that he endorsed Pepco's proposal regardless of whether environmentalists and others might have protested the corporations' plans because it "is firmly rooted in a culture of philanthropy."

But does the support he's talking about really count as philanthropy? Decades ago, as corporations were beginning to put their independent foundations under the control of their marketing, communications, and public relations departments, people began to realize that the motivation for such moves had more to do with profit than the public good. In embracing that principle, Pepco and Exelon certainly are not alone.

For example, the New York Times reports that Comcast  followed a similar approach in recruiting nonprofit organizations to support its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable – a now-abandoned deal that would have further limited consumer choice in much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region and ultimately, according to experts, led to higher cable fees for millions of people.

The pattern of corporate funders using grantees to support their cause was raised to a high art by tobacco companies and today extends to major sports team foundations in California pushing for special charitable raffle legislation that would benefit their associated for-profit franchises. CEO Jan Masaoka said CalNonprofits is dismayed the leagues are contacting nonprofits that have received grants from team charities seeking to influence a public policy matter on an issue far afield from the nonprofits' missions.

I'm willing to concede that Pepco executives may not have "required or demanded" that the company's grantees behave similarly in showing support for Exelon's acquisition bid. But when they and nonprofit leaders assiduously avoid discussion of the endorsement letter process, one can be excused for thinking that maybe the funder suggested to its grantees that their support would be most welcome and took steps to make it easier for them to communicate it.

I sympathize with nonprofit leaders who work hard to sustain organizations that are doing vital work. I really do. In most cases, theirs is a thankless job. But we do the sector and society no favors when we choose to ignore heavy-handed tactics by corporate funders with their own agendas – or give a pass to nonprofit leaders who promote a corporate funder's agenda at the expense of the public good.

Mark Rosenman is a professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University. In his last post, he explained how the charitable sector helps keep us all afloat.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 25-26, 2015)

April 26, 2015

Ss-150425-nepal-earthquake-09Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Disaster Relief

In the aftermath of a major natural disaster like the powerful earthquake that struck Nepal yesterday, early assistance -- in the form of money -- is the best and most effective kind of assistance. On her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog, Joanne Fritz shares other ways to help victims of a natural disaster.

Nearly $10 billion in relief and reconstruction aid was committed to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in that impoverished country. Where did it all go? VICE on HBO Correspondent Vikram Gandhi reports.

Education

Has the education reform movement peaked? According to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, "The zillionaires [who have funded the movement] are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity." Which is why, says Kristof, it might be time to "refocus some reformist passions on early childhood."

Evaluation

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Johanna Morariu, director of the Innovation Network, shares five grantmaker and nonprofit practices "that undermine or limit the ability of nonprofit organizations to fully engage in evaluation."

Fundraising

What is social fundraising? Liz Ragland, senior content and marketing associate at Network for Good, explains.

Nonprofit With Balls blogger and Game of Thrones fan Vu Le has some issues with the donor-centric model of fundraising. "When [it's] done right," he writes, "it’s cool; when it’s done wrong, we sound like the used car salesmen of justice...."

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Judith Shapiro, President, Teagle Foundation

April 24, 2015

Judith Shapiro has spent decades in and around higher education in the United States. The first female professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she taught from 1970 to 1975, Shapiro joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College in 1975 as a member of the department of anthropology and later served as acting dean (1985-86) and provost (1986-94) of the college. She went on to serve as president of Barnard College — the first person to come through the New York City school system to do so — from 1994 to 2008 and was named president of the New York City-based Teagle Foundation in 2013. Shapiro has researched and written widely about gender differences, social organization, cultural theory, and missionization, and throughout her career has spoken out on a broad range of topics.

Headshot_judith_shapiroPhilanthropy News Digest: You spent most of your career in academia, including fourteen years as president of Barnard College. Is being a foundation president a lot different than being a college president?

Judith Shapiro: I loved being president of Barnard. But the job was unremitting, whereas my job here doesn't feel as if it consumes my entire life. Being a college president is really strenuous, but having that in my background is espec­ially useful to this particular foundation. One interesting difference in my situation is that, for the most part, I spent my academic career in elite institutions: Brandeis, Columbia, University of Chicago, Bryn Mawr, Barnard. But since coming to Teagle, I've been exposed to a much wider variety of institutions and learned that there are truly interesting things going on in all kinds of institutions.

It's good that there's diversity in our educational sector, not only among institutions of higher education, but also among foundations, and among foundations that are involved in higher education. Lumina, for example, can focus on policy-related issues in higher education, Mellon can dig into the arts and digital humanities, and Sloan has a nice focus on undergraduate STEM, whereas Teagle doesn't specialize in any of those areas. So there's a nice division of labor among foundations, but also opportunities for them to coordinate and cooperate. You know that foundations often like their grantees to collaborate, and it's a good thing for foundations to work with each other as well.

PND: That type of collaboration often comes with challenges. As an anthropologist, how would you recommend that some of the cultural challenges be addressed?

JS: Some of the challenges are very real. The Center for Effective Philanthropy examined how foundations can and do work together and found that, in some cases, the cost of the collaboration in terms of coordinating activities was so great that the foundations collaborating really had to step back and decide whether the partnership made sense. In general, I think the pooling of funding is a good idea, but you have to find a way to combine the distinctive focus and identity of the various partners and avoid getting carried away by the kind of institutional narcissism that results in organizations competing with or not paying attention to each other.

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Empowering Women Through Homeownership and Volunteering

April 23, 2015

Habitat_for_Humanity_buildA home is more than just the bricks, mortar, and lumber used to build it. It’s an investment that many families make to lay the groundwork for a more prosperous future. Yet even as the housing market continues to improve, many low-income families, particularly those headed by single mothers, struggle to provide a stable, safe, and healthy home environment for their children.

“It all comes down to giving people in this country [a shot at success], and the single most important shot is a place to live securely,” said Vice President Joe Biden at a forum in April co-hosted by Habitat for Humanity International at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they have a base and a foundation and an opportunity. All they are asking for is a chance, a chance to raise their families and build their dreams.”

Millions of women across the country are hoping to become homeowners one day and lift their families out of poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 18 million women were living in poverty in 2013, an all-time high. Single mothers and their children are particularly vulnerable, with nearly six in ten poor children living in families headed by women.

In Lynwood, California, single mother Nikki Payton and her three daughters currently live with family members, sharing a room in a small two-bedroom house. Because all three daughters have health issues and suffer from asthma, Payton applied to purchase a Habitat for Humanity home so her family could live in a healthier environment. In Detroit, Marketta Jackson, a single mother of six, lives with her family in housing in desperate need of repairs. It’s also difficult for her mother, who uses a wheelchair. Jackson looks forward to some day having a home where her mother can get around easily and her family feels safe and secure. 

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Classroom Saints and Fiends

April 21, 2015

Cover_teacher_warsThe Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Dana Goldstein
Doubleday, 2014, 368 pp.
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Reviewed by Joanne Barkan

The crusade — now more than a decade old — to remake K–12 public education in the image of a business enterprise moves on two fronts. One is private management of public resources: convert as many "regular" public schools as possible into privately run charter schools while also setting up voucher systems that allow individual students to use public funds to pay for private school tuition. The second front is transformation of the teaching profession into...what? Here the stated goals and actual policies of the market-model "ed reformers" are a tangle of contradictions.

Ed reformers, whose political identities run the full gamut, claim that putting a great teacher in every classroom will offset the disadvantages suffered by poor and minority children outside school and will close the academic achievement gap between these students and middle-class white students. Teaching, therefore, must become a highly respected, well paid profession that attracts the most talented graduates of the most prestigious colleges and universities.

Yet these same ed reformers have worked tirelessly and successfully to undermine the substance and reputation of the profession. They bear responsibility for focusing public school teaching on standardized test preparation and for using student test scores to determine how much teachers are paid (merit pay), who is fired, and which schools are shut down. They promote mini-length training programs to replace experienced teachers with lower-paid, non-union neophytes; they help to pass state laws that weaken collective bargaining and cut pensions and benefits; they advocate abolishing tenure (due process) so that teachers can be fired at will; and they've conducted a nonstop media operation to depict public school teachers as greedy, poorly trained, and ineffective to the point of endangering the nation's future.

The disrespect for teachers embedded in the ed reformers' policies is matched only by their overt hostility toward teacher unions. Not surprisingly, job satisfaction among public school teachers has plummeted in recent years.

The ed reformers' stance looks like a Madonna-whore complex: teachers are miracle-working saviors of poor and downtrodden children, or they are villains preventing these children from benefiting from a good education. According to Dana Goldstein in The Teacher Wars, this kind of saint-fiend split has characterized Americans' view of teachers since universal public education first took hold in some states in the 1830s. Again and again since then, reformers of different stripes have tried to improve teaching with some of the same fixes — merit pay based on test scores, fast-track training programs, ranking teachers — with the same lack of success.

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Black Male Achievement: Seizing the Moment in Detroit

April 20, 2015

Headshot_tonya_allenAt a March meeting in Detroit, a number of stakeholders committed to improving outcomes for young men of color sat around a table, sharing the words that best captured how they are experiencing the beginning of citywide work on the My Brother's Keeper initiative.

They shared words such as powerful, encouraged, and committed. All good things to hear.

When it came time for the one youth participant, a senior from Detroit's East Village Preparatory High School, to share, he paused and said quietly, "I just feel loved."

That's one of the best things I've heard in a long time. I want all young men of color in Detroit and across the nation to know, without a doubt, that they are important to our future, worthy of our investment, and indeed loved.

As president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, chair of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, and co-chair (with Bob Ross of the California Endowment) of the nationally focused Executive Alliance, I have the honor of being in a position to drive what's happening locally in my city of Detroit, as well as across the country.

And what I see – and work to encourage – is a growing momentum. In Detroit, stakeholders are meeting on an urgent schedule to create a citywide plan to improve outcomes for young men of color. That plan includes four platforms for action – education, health, workforce development, and safety. I'm encouraged to see who is at the table; they include not just longtime partners who have devoted decades to this work and know it well, but also new partners, including representatives from the city's business sector, bringing unique ideas, energy, and resources.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 18-19, 2015)

April 19, 2015

Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

National-cherry-blossom-festivalData

How can nonprofits use data to create a culture of continuous improvement. Beth Kanter explains.

Evaluation/Effectiveness

In a post on her Giving Evidence site, Caroline Fiennes suggests that charities are being asked to do too much evaluation -- and presents some evidence to support her argument.

Writing on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Nancy Baughman Csuti, director of research, evaluation and strategic learning at the Colorado Trust, says that funders can and should

engage in deeper conversations with grantees to understand their needs regarding evaluation, continue to provide general operating support, and, with that, encourage time to review results, reflect, and adapt. We can encourage grantees to share what they have learned and provide resources and assistance for them to do so, and do the same ourselves. As funders, we should jump on the opportunities to encourage our grantees to embrace a culture of evaluation and learning that results in seeing problems and solutions differently. And always, we must do ourselves what we ask of grantees....

Human/Civil Rights

Civil society and human rights groups find themselves in a new world characterized by "multiplicity," public disillusionment, and growing non-institutional activism, writes Lucia Nader on the Transformation  blog. And if they want to remain relevant, she adds, they'll need to find a balance "between preserving what has already been achieved, and deconstructing, innovating, reinventing and transforming [themselves]."

Journalism/Media

Is the nonprofit news model sustainable? Based on his reading of Gaining Ground, How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability, a new report from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Inside Philanthropy's Paul M.J. Sucheki has his doubts.

Nonprofits

$23.07/hr. That's Independent Sector's latest estimate of the value of volunteer time. More here

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Key Milestones in Campaign for Black Male Achievement

April 18, 2015

5 Questions for…Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org

April 17, 2015

Forty-five years after the first Earth Day in 1970, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled and the planet faces the potentially devastating effects of accelerating climate change. At the same time, calls for educational and philanthropic institutions to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies have gotten louder and a grassroots divestment movement has emerged from college campuses across the country.

PND asked noted environmental activist and author Bill McKibben about the impact of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the role of philanthropy in the fight against climate change, and the prospect that something meaningful will come out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Bill_mckibben_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: The name of the organization you co-founded, 350.org, refers to the goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current level of 400 parts per million to 350 ppm — a level, according to climatologist James Hansen and others, that is necessary to preserve conditions on Earth similar to those which prevailed as humans evolved and flourished. Where do things stand as of 2015? And do we have any chance of meeting the 350 ppm target?

Bill McKibben: Where we stand is the CO2 level in the atmosphere climbs 2 ppm annually — and the Arctic and the Antarctic are dealing with preposterous changes that even the most pessimistic scientists thought would take many decades to arrive, oceans are acidifying, and the cycle of floods and droughts is deepening. If we managed to get off fossil fuels with great haste — if we worked at the outer edge of the possible — then by 2100 forests and oceans would have sucked up enough carbon that we'd be moving back toward 350 ppm. Much damage would be done in the meantime, but perhaps not civilizational-scale damage. But that window is small, and closing.

PND: 350.org’s Fossil Free campaign aims to convince educational and religious institutions, governments, and other organizations that serve the public good to divest their investment portfolios of fossil fuel companies. One frequently heard criticism of the campaign is that it is trying to put out a fire with a garden hose. That is, getting a few dozen or hundred institutional investors to divest their portfolios of fossil fuels will have no measurable impact on the activities of large energy companies — or on other investors who may see an opportunity as those stocks are sold. What’s wrong with that argument?

BM: If it was all anyone was doing, it would not be enough, not even close. Of course, we're also fighting against new pipelines and coal mines, and for the rapid spread of renewable energy. But divestment is one of the things that knits it together — it's been the vehicle for spreading the news that these companies have four times the carbon in their reserves than any scientist thinks we can safely burn. That's why everyone, up to the president of the World Bank, has hailed divestment as a crucial part of the fight.

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5 Questions for...Claudia Natera, Coordinator, Alternativas y Capacidades

April 16, 2015

Organized philanthropy in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, is still in its nascent stages, and getting a handle on who is doing what and where can be difficult. To address the dearth of good information about philanthropy in Mexico, in 2013 Foundation Center partnered with Alternativas y Capacidades, a civil society organization that works to promote transparency and accountability in the Mexican philanthropic sector, and two other organizations to create Fondos a la Vista, a clearinghouse for information on civil society organizations in Mexico.

Recently, the Foundation Center's Marie DeAeth spoke with Claudia Nateria, the coordinator of the Fondos a la Vista project, about the some of the challenges confronting the Mexican philanthropic sector and the work her organization is doing to address those challenges.

Marie DeAeth: What are some of the significant features of the philanthropic sector in Mexico?

Headshot_claudia_nateraClaudia Natera: One significant feature is its size. When compared to other Latin American countries, the Mexican philanthropic sector is considerably smaller. For instance, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina have a higher number of nonprofit organizations relative to their populations. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, or INEGI), there are around forty thousand civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mexico, although we do not have information on all of them. Only about seven thousand organizations are authorized as tax exempt by the Mexican Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, or SAT); there are twenty-four thousand other nonprofits that receive government funding. Keeping in mind that some organizations could appear on both registries at the same time, we have information on around twenty-seven thousand organizations. That means that there are approximately thirteen thousand nonprofit organizations that are operational, but the fact that they are not registered with SAT or the National Institute of Social Development (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Social, or INDESOL) makes it difficult to gather information about them.

Another challenge for philanthropy in Mexico is a lack of confidence on the part of society. A 2013 national survey showed that Mexicans are willing to help each other, with nearly eight out of ten saying they had made a charitable donation in the last year. However, only one out of ten did so through a civil society organization. That means Mexicans prefer to give money to people on the street than to a CSO. According to the survey, one of the main reasons for that is the distrust the average Mexican feels toward civil society organizations specifically and toward institutions in general. This lack of confidence is a serious challenge for the philanthropic sector in Mexico and one that we have to try to overcome through better transparency practices.

MD: What are some of the other challenges you face?

CN: In addition to a lack of confidence in the sector, one major challenge is the small number of grantmaking entities in Mexico. In Fondos a la Vista we've identified only about two hundred grantmakers focused solely on giving funds to other organizations. And most of those grantmakers do not provide money for capacity-building programs or initiatives. As a result, many nonprofits in Mexico struggle to secure funding, which weakens their ability to perform their work. The challenge for us is to create awareness in the Mexican grantmaking community about the importance of funding capacity-building projects as part of their social investment strategies, which would help them achieve greater social impact.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 11-12, 2015)

April 12, 2015

Lincoln_shotOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Corporate Philanthropy

Indiana Business Journal reporter J.K. Wall looks at how Eli Lilly & Co. is shifting its corporate philanthropy from an approach focused on social responsibility to one that emphasizes "shared value."

Fundraising

In a post for the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, writer and consultant Cynthia Gibson asks whether organizations that work to foster a "culture of philanthropy," a mindset in which "fundraising is seen less as a transactional tactic and more of a way of operating," are more likely "to boost their giving levels and donor retention; strengthen trust, cooperation and engagement among board and staff members; and align mission and program goals more seamlessly with revenue generation." What do you think? Click on over to the Haas Fund site to share your thoughts.

Governance

Long admired for its no-tuition policy, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Manhattan began in 2014 to assess incoming freshman a tuition fee of $20,000 — a decision that led to student protests and media scrutiny of the school's financial dealings. Earlier this week, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman launched an investigation of focused on the Cooper Union board's "management of the school's endowment; its handling of its major asset, the iconic Chrysler Building; its dealings with Tishman Speyer Properties, which manages the skyscraper; and how the school obtained a $175 million loan from MetLife using the building as collateral." New York Times writer James B. Stewart reports.

Human/Civil Rights

On the D5 Coalition blog, Ben Francisco Maulbeck, president of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, shares some thoughts about what foundations can do to support LGBT communities in the wake of the "religious freedom" bill signed into law by Indiana governor Mike Pence.

International Affairs/Development

On the Global Dashboard blog, policy analyst and researcher David Steven looks at five ways co-facilitators have made the targets for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals worse.

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Want to Improve Health? Help People Use and Share Their Data

April 10, 2015

Withings scaleIn 1823, a young French physician, Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis, published a controversial article urging doctors to compile, share, and study statistics about their patients. He said that by recognizing larger trends across a community, physicians could more effectively treat individual patients. One of Louis' findings, based on thousands of case histories and autopsies he conducted, was that the common practice of bloodletting was probably not a good idea.

Many of his colleagues initially disagreed, but it was hard to argue with Louis' numbers, and bloodletting soon fell out of favor. Meanwhile Louis' "numerical method," as he called it, expanded beyond specific treatment to include background information on patients – their ages, their jobs, where and how they lived – and laid the foundation for modern epidemiology and today's clinical trials.

Today an exponentially greater revolution in health information sharing is under way. New technology is offering everyone, not just health professionals, vastly more health-related data than we could have imagined even a few years ago. This new era of data, both big (populations) and small (individuals), offers remarkable opportunities to improve health, by helping to stop the twenty-first century equivalents to bloodletting – those unhealthy behaviors and unnecessary medical procedures that are draining our physical, mental, emotional, and economic well-being.

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5 Questions for...Karen McNeil-Miller, President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

April 07, 2015

They are communities which nurtured many of us and to which many of us return when we want to recharge and reconnect. The fact that they are rural and removed from the economic dynamism driving the revitalization of urban areas across the country also means they often lack the capital  financial and human – needed to improve the circumstances of people who call them home. That organized philanthropy, like much of corporate America, finds it relatively easy to overlook such communities further complicates the situation.

One foundation looking to change that dynamic is the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a philanthropy established in 1946 by Kate Gertrude Bitting Reynolds, the wife of William Neal Reynolds, chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, to improve the health and wellness of low-income residents of North Carolina. In March, PND spoke with Karen McNeil-Miller, the trust’s president, about Healthy Places North Carolina, a new place-based initiative focused on rural areas of the state.

Headshot_karen_mcneil-millerPhilanthropy News Digest:  The Reynolds Charitable Trust has always supported efforts to improve the health of North Carolinians. What's new about Healthy Places NC?

Karen McNeil-Miller: Well, for us, almost everything. For instance, we're not leading with money, which is a huge thing. We're not going into these communities saying, "Here's our agenda, apply for a grant." We're going into these communities and, essentially, are trying to help them organize themselves. In a way, we're leading from behind instead of leading from in front. The trust is deferring its goals to the goals of the community; we want the community to determine what it needs or what it would like to change, and then we'll bring our resources to bear to help them achieve those goals.

PND:  Beyond a lack of resources, what are some of the challenges unique to rural communities that you aim to address through the initiative?

KMM: Well, one of the things we want to address is the building of human capacity. These days, it's hard to get folks to move to rural communities, which means if you want to help these communities thrive, you have to build the leadership capacity of the people who are already there. 

We also want to help them, where we can, with access to care. In so many rural communities, you may have a primary care physician or two, but hospitals and specialty care are much less common. So, through the initiative, we've been helping community-based organi­zations invest in tele-health infrastructure, whether it's tele-psychology, or tele-therapy, or even tele-osteo­pathic medicine. 

Of course, one of the most plentiful assets in rural communities is land. So helping communities make the best use of their land assets, whether it's through building an amenity like a playground, or bike or walking trails, or any of the other things that make communities more livable and healthy, is something we're interested in.

What's harder to address is job creation. But if we can help local people see the connection between physical and mental health and economic health and help them build their capacity to partner with local government to create the kinds of amenities that help attract jobs and improve quality of life for everyone, that will be big. We want everybody to start thinking that health is their business, not just the purview of healthcare institutions. It's about broadening the conversation to people who don't normally see themselves in the health business, to people in law enforcement, to people in the educational system, to business and industry, and bringing them all together to talk about what they can do to make their community the healthiest community possible. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 4-5, 2015)

April 05, 2015

Baseball_grassOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Community Improvement/Development

"[T]he stories of individuals, communities and organizations who are working to help... transform [Detroit] street by street — in small and much larger ways — are often overlooked," writes Frances Kunreuther, co-director of the Building Movement Project, on the Transformations blog. In contrast, Detroiters who are working at the neighborhood level "know that the real promise of urban transformation comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out — building a new city from the bottom up."

Education

The debate in Congress over reauthorization of "No Child Left Behind," former President George W. Bush's signature education initiative, is a useful reminder, writes Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books, that "[p]overty is the major obstacle to equal education. To overcome that obstacle requires not only investing greater resources in the education of poor children, but creating economic opportunity and jobs for their parents."

Fundraising

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Michael Anft reports on research which shows "the charity world lacks a basic understanding of how donors' brains work, how would-be donors behave in certain situations, and what incentives can successfully woo them."

NPR reports that the dramatic shift in fundraising engendered by social media -- think Movember, the Ice Bucket Challenge, and Giving Tuesday -- is putting pressure on large national nonprofits to rethink their walk-related events.

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Top Five Strategies to Raise More Money From Foundations

April 03, 2015

Fundraising-treeWe all know that grants are awarded in response to submitted proposals — not the draft sitting on your desk but the one you actually get out the door. Sounds simple, doesn't it? If you're spending too much time writing, editing and fine-tuning your proposals, you won't get them in front of the decision makers at foundations — or at least not enough of them to bring in the significant dollars you could be raising. That's why my "top tip" for bringing in more funding is to spend more time asking and less time writing.

But getting more proposals out the door isn't a strategy in and of itself. Effective fundraisers need to determine the correct amount to ask for from foundations that care about what they do, and then work to build connections with those funders over time.

To that end, here are my top five strategies for streamlining your fundraising program and ensuring that you spend your time as effectively and efficiently as possible:

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McKnight Foundation’s Strategic Framework, Updated for 2015-2017

April 02, 2015

StrategyWith 2015 in full swing, we are pleased to share with you the McKnight Foundation's new Strategic Framework, updated and refreshed for 2015-2017. This is the second iteration of this important document, the first of which was developed in 2011 and implemented for 2012-14. We got good mileage out of our inaugural framework during the first three years, and we are excited to put the new one — a slightly streamlined model which retains the parts that worked well and revises those that needed tuning up — to use during the next three.

McKnight's Strategic Framework is very much a living document, which — like our work — must evolve in response to a changing environment if it is going to remain useful and relevant. We intentionally took an open and collaborative approach to the updating process, inviting input from stakeholders connected to McKnight's mission at all levels. Naturally, our board and staff were highly engaged; but we took a further step this time around, turning to our network of grantees, peers, and other partners for ideas on mapping our strategic course based on their unique contexts.

I want to thank everyone who responded to my earlier blog post inviting input as we updated the previous framework. It was gratifying to hear affirmations of McKnight's embrace of adaptive action in addressing complex challenges and changing external conditions. There were also comments specific to individual program areas and suggestions for new issues we should consider, all of which were shared with relevant staff. I also heard from several foundation and nonprofit colleagues that they had used the framework format for their own reflection and planning efforts. Thank you for contributing to our process; your input helped make the final product relevant and useful to us, our peers, and our partners.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2015)

April 01, 2015

Soft breezes and the hint of warm earth. The season's first daffodils signaling all clear. A fond "see ya next year" to the winter coat that kept hypothermia at bay. April Fools! But don't despair. Our most popular reads of March will inform and delight as you wait for the real thing to arrive....

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

Weekend Link Roundup (March 28-29, 2015)

March 29, 2015

Umbrella_april-showersOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Collaboration

On the Rockefeller Foundation blog, Zia Khan, the foundation's vice president for initiatives and strategy, shares four "counter-intuitive lessons" about cross-sector collaboration.

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Bill Anderson, technical lead for the Secretariat of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), examines the potential for a people-based data revolution across Africa.

Education

50CAN, a network of local education advocates "learning from and supporting each other," has launched a new blog called The Catalyst to help local education leaders develop policy goals, craft their advocacy plans, and secure lasting change.

On the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation blog, Cari Schneider, director of research and policy for Getting Smart, suggests that one of the least appreciated barriers to effective education reform is definitional in nature.

Fundraising

Why do people give to charity? The Guardian explains.

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Invest in Leadership Development to Retain High Performers of All Races

March 28, 2015

Leadership_diversityWhile people of color in the United States account for nearly half – 48 percent – of the total student population, leadership in nonprofit education organizations doesn't mirror this demographic fact. In a recent survey, From Intention to Action: Building Diverse Leadership Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, Koya Leadership Partners and Education Pioneers found that at the director level within education nonprofits, only 39 percent of leaders are people of color. At the vice president level, the number dips to 18 percent. At the CEO level, 25 percent of leaders are people of color.

Through our collective research, we concluded that while most nonprofits have the right intentions when it comes to diversity and inclusion, many don't have practices in place to build and retain diverse leadership teams.

The absence of tools for ensuring "fit," a lack of retention initiatives that support employee and career growth, and not enough time spent building strategic partnerships that help attract candidates of color are leading to a less diverse workforce and to poor hiring decisions across the board.

Among other things, our survey found that nonprofits often put too much focus on recruiting, rather than investing in, diversity at the leadership level. While recruiting is necessary to bring talent into an organization, a healthy organizational culture depends on leadership development from within. Without it, nonprofits – including education nonprofits – can expect to continue to experience high turnover.

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The German Philanthropic Sector: A Conversation With Rupert Graf Strachwitz

March 26, 2015

Dr. Rupert Graf Strachwitz is director of the Berlin-based Maecenata Institute for Philanthropy and Civil Society, an independent academic center established in 1997. A political scientist and historian and the son of a German diplomat and English writer, Graf Strachwitz chaired the German Advisory Council on Global Change from 1995 to 2001 and has been a contributor to the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project since 1990. He was interviewed by Emily Keller, international data relations liaison at Foundation Center.

Emily Keller: What is unique about German philanthropy?

Headshot_rupert_graf_strachwitzRupert Graf Strachwitz: The huge diversity in function, size, operating methods, governance, and vision is arguably the most unique feature of the German philanthropic sector. A uniform foundation model does not exist in Germany, nor do German foundations conform to an international model.

EK: How would you describe the philanthropic sector in Germany?

RGS: The German philanthropic sector looks back on a very long history. The oldest foundations still in existence probably go back to the first millenium. The greater part of these foundations were connected to the established churches. People donated funds, real estate, building materials, and time, and engaged artists to build, embellish, restore, and maintain church buildings. An estimated fifty thousand of these foundations still exist under the auspices of the established churches, plus an additional fifty thousand that serve immediate church purposes. Through the many political upheavals and changes that have marked German history, these institutions survived.

Secular foundations in Germany also have a long history that goes as far back as the Middle Ages. Approximately two hundred and fifty of these remain and many of them are more than five hundred years old. Some had a single donor back in the day, while others were started by what we would call crowdfunding efforts today. They operated hospitals, hospices, and other related business, and made grants in support of universities, schools, and other institutions.

Due to this complex history, German foundations still perform four distinct functions, with larger foundations quite regularly performing more than one: ownership, by which I mean not holding assets but fulfilling their purpose through the exercise of ownership rights; operational; grantmaking; and supporting individuals in need.

In recent years, major grantmaking foundations have tried — successfully, in most cases — to become more operational by managing their own programs and/or institutions. Most of our nongovernmental universities, a new phenomenon, are owned and operated by foundations.

Another important aspect of the German philanthropic sector is the fact that philanthropic institutions come in a variety of legal forms. Besides a special form of legal entity described in the Civil Code that is remarkable for not having outside owners or being subject to a specific form of government regulation, foundations may exist as trusts without legal personality, limited companies (gemeinnuetzige GmbH), or foundations under public law, which are arms-length components of government. The latter includes philanthropic foundations as well as private benefit or family foundations.

Public benefit foundations in many cases are not created and endowed by private citizens but by corporations, membership organizations, government bodies, and, more recently, even other foundations. The common denominator among them is their adherence to the founder's intent in perpetuity.

Unlike many other countries, German philanthropic institutions are not restricted in their choice of assets, with the exception of particularly risky ones. Some of Germany's major foundations are sole or majority shareholders of major corporations. Others may own and manage agricultural and forestry businesses, vineyards, publishing enterprises, or other non-related businesses.

About half of all the foundations in Germany today were created in the past fifteen years, with a significant number also having been created in the 1990s. That first wave followed the extinction of a large number of foundations which faced the loss of their assets in the hyperinflation after World War I, having been required by law to invest in government bonds.

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How to Visualize Philanthropy? Listen. Improve. Repeat.

March 24, 2015

FM_Tight_Network_Example_When Foundation Center was developing Foundation Maps, a platform through which users can explore the world of philanthropy, our staff met with dozens of potential end users. My colleagues connected with foundations, funder networks, philanthropy consultants, and nonprofits — on their home turf, whenever possible — to better understand how they do their work. The goal was to spark ideas for how we could create tools to make their jobs easier. Just as a site visit brings a grantee’s work to life for funders, these user experience (UX) interviews enabled our geographers, programmers, and web designers to deepen their understanding of your needs and envision new possibilities.

Our process can be summed up in three words. Listen. Improve. Repeat.

Listen: We synthesized what we heard from our UX investigation and channeled it into the first iteration of the Foundation Maps application. Features were developed to help target audiences meet their core needs: scanning (funders), member support (funder networks), client service (consultants), and fundraising (nonprofits). We launched Foundation Maps with the ability to visualize funder, recipient, and grant data through a variety of filters with map and list views. The Professional version added even more sophisticated features, including trend charts, demographic overlays, and something we named Pathways (philanthropy's version of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game).

Improve: In our view, a platform like Foundation Maps is never finished; we're constantly striving to make enhancements. To keep it fresh, Foundation Center cleans, codes, and adds new data to the platform every week. We keep a running list of user needs that informs future improvements. We just introduced a free trial with a quick feedback survey. And we plan to keep sharing what we're learning in a free webinar series to be held on the first Wednesday of each month, starting April 1.

Repeat: Meanwhile, suggestions from our original UX interviews continue to inform our development work. For example, we learned there's a critical need to quickly and easily see what funding is happening at the local level, and that has served as guidepost for us, informing our Get on the Map campaign with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Iterating on this need also led us to create a series of new features for the just-released Foundation Maps Professional 2.0:

  • Area Served: With Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, you can filter grants by geographic area served, enhancing the ability to understand a regional story — whether that region is in the U.S. or in another corner of the world. For example, if a grant is made to an organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, but is for a public health project in India, it will appear on the Area Served map in India, along with grants made to recipients located in India and other grants made to recipients located anywhere but also designated for India.
  • Constellations: Our team also realized that funders are keenly interested in knowing who is and isn't connected within various funding communities, so we kept experimenting with network mapping long after the initial UX work. The result? The new Constellations feature in Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 reveals a broad ecosystem of foundation and recipient relationships that can be filtered by any number of options – for instance, community development grants over $500,000 in the United States or early childhood education in New York City. Or, as in the screenshot above, you can select your own organization and several peers to immediately see the organizations that you fund in common as well as those you support solo.

When it comes to knowledge services, we're going to keep listening to our users, keep striving to improve those services, and keep repeating the process. That's how we learn, and how we can help you visualize the world of philanthropy.

Sign up for a free trial of Foundation Maps Professional 2.0. Tune into our first monthly webinar. And let us know how we can help you use data visualization to explore who is funding what and where.

Lisa Philp is vice president for strategic philanthropy at Foundation Center.

5 Questions for…Nancy Northup, President and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights

March 23, 2015

Nancy_northup_for_PhilanTopicMore than forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a woman's right to have an abortion in Roe v. Wade, a number of states have passed laws designed to restrict women's access to reproductive health services, including emergency contraception and abortion. In Congress, meanwhile, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services in most cases and has routinely been attached as a "rider" to annual appropriations bills for the Department of Health and Human Services, recently was attached to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act — a bill designed to protect citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have been trafficked and/or sexually assaulted or abused.

We asked Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global human rights organization that uses constitutional and international law to secure women's reproductive freedom, about these legislative trends, efforts to push back against them, and the road ahead.

Philanthropy News Digest: Your organization recently launched a campaign, "The War on Women Is Over! If You Want It," that was inspired by Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1970 "War Is Over" campaign. What are the goals of the campaign, and what kind of response has it generated?

Nancy Northup: We launched the campaign on the forty-second anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision with the goal of inspiring current activists engaging and educating new audiences about the profound threats to women's freedom here in the United States. We're thrilled with the support we have received so far, from men and women across the country. Celebrities like Taylor Schilling, Susan Sarandon, Martha Plimpton, John Lithgow and Yoko Ono herself have all thrown their weight behind this campaign, and we couldn't be more grateful.

We were inspired by the power and history of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1970 "War Is Over" peace movement, which brought together thousands of anti-war activists across the country and unified them behind a simple message. And we are incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the personal blessing of Yoko Ono as we go forward with the campaign.

PND: The inclusion of the qualifier "If You Want It" would seem to suggest that society — women and men — have become complacent about women's reproductive freedom in the decades since Roe v. Wade. Why is that?

NN: There are countless dedicated people — clinic escorts, providers, doctors, lawyers, youth activists, researchers, elected officials, writers, volunteers, and donors — actively engaged in the fight for women's reproductive freedom. The vast majority of Americans support women's access to safe and legal abortion as part of a full range of reproductive health care. But the anti-choice community has waged a successful propaganda war, based on fear and misinformation, to marginalize the seven in ten Americans who want to see Roe v. Wade upheld, and that has made people feel alone and reluctant to speak up. This campaign is about giving the silent members of our majority an opportunity to make themselves seen and heard.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2015)

March 22, 2015

Think_springOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

Cold winter, wasn't it? Well, yes, if you were on the East Coast of the United States. Not so much everywhere else.

According to Equities.com, the Guardian has launched a campaign to encourage the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the two largest funders of nongovernmental medical and scientific research in the world, to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil fuel companies. "We have to confront our own inconsistencies," said Professor Chris Rapley, former director of the Science Museum in London. "Either [Gates and the Trust] accept the argument that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or they don't. It's highly symbolic when charities like this make a stand."

Education

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, argues that annual, comprehensive education data is vital to ensuring that all students have access to a quality education.

International Development

In the Washington Post, Kevin Sullivan and Rosalind Helderman offer a closer look at how Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable work in Haiti has both succeeded and failed.

Leadership

On the NCRP blog, Britt Yamamoto, executive director of iLEAP, a nonprofit organization that works to inspire and renew social leaders, shares some key takeaways from the NCRP report Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed?) Philanthropic Opportunity.

Grantmaking

The future of innovation in the social sector is...general operating support, writes Jocelyn Wyatt, executive director of IDEO, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Nonprofits

Boston-based venture capitalist Todd Dagres is a fan of Shark Tank, the ABC business-pitch reality show, and according to the Boston Globe's Sacha Pfeiffer, he's looking to create a competition modeled on the show where "[e]arly-stage not-for-profit organizations could pitch their missions to investors, who would vet them on their plans and fund those they consider most promising."

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[Infographic] 10 Traits That Make Nonprofits Great

March 21, 2015

This week's infographic, courtesy of the Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit educational organization "established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among the nation's youth that the American dream was no longer attainable," doesn't break any ground when it comes to the traits that make nonprofits great. These are things all nonprofits need to (rather than should) do if they hope to succeed over the long term. But while some (#4, #6 and #9) are more important than others, all contain at least a kernel of good advice....

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8 Keys to a Successful Client/Design Firm Relationship

March 19, 2015

Casablanca-Blaine-RenaultIn my last post, I suggested that the shared interests of nonprofits and design firms make us ideal collaborative partners. One of our readers, Emily, added a valuable perspective, commenting that trust was an essential element of the client/design firm relationship because while those who work at design firms and at nonprofits may have shared goals and values, we often have different experiences and vocabularies.

Emily's comment made me think about how, in my experience, communication often is the biggest impediment to a productive client/design firm relationship. It also underscored the importance of discussing the dynamics of the client/design firm relationship before exploring the nuances of the design process itself.

In other words, what do clients and design firms want and expect from each other? And what can we do to ensure that those needs and expectations are met?

Process Makes Perfect

For clients in any consultative relationship, it can be unsettling to work on an important project while navigating unfamiliar territory. You've got a lot invested professionally, financially, and emotionally. You have a sense of where you'd like to go, but only a basic understanding of how to get there. And to get there, you have to depend on people you only recently met.

This dynamic highlights a truism: when it comes to design, process is far more important than results. Process enables us to more consistently create effective solutions, embrace the unknown, and blend a wide range of skills and disciplines (especially if you accept Herbert Simon's definition of "design" I shared) in my last post. Structured effectively, process turns design into an inclusive endeavor by inviting participants from both sides of the client/design firm divide to set expectations, establish benchmarks, and work toward a common goal.

At my firm, process is as collaborative as the work we produce. We are continuously evaluating it, getting feedback from clients, discussing it internally, and evolving how we work – all with the goal of creating the best possible experience and the best possible results. Given the complexities and competing interests inherent in collaborative design, that is no small task!

The Convergence of Business and Design

Used to be that design and business professionals operated in silos, with designers brought in at the end of a process to execute other people's ideas. Over the last twenty years or so, however, "design" has become an integral part of the business lexicon. Clients expect to be part of the process, and designers want (and often expect) a seat at the table when strategy is being developed. This new, more collaborative "co-design" model offers great advantages. It can also bring its fair share of challenges, as individuals with shared goals but different experiences, vocabularies, and expectations are asked to work together to design solutions to complex problems.

An effective process with clearly defined phases can help strengthen this collaboration. Process, however, is only one part of the equation; for it to work, everyone must respect and be mindful of everyone else's goals and priorities.

Rules of Engagement

To help foster this kind of open, collaborative dynamic, we at MSDS have made the following principles the cornerstones of our design process. We live by them, and we look to build relationships with clients that encourage them to do the same.

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