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

October 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Donor intent. When nine-year-old Sam in Colorado Springs sent us his entire allowance of $1, he did not expect us to hold on to his donation for the next disaster. Sam knew that people in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were hurting now, and he wanted to do something to help them. Perhaps he had seen a picture of children wearing their winter clothes indoors because they had no heat. Perhaps the senior citizen on a fixed income who sent $500 worried about other seniors and wanted to make sure they wouldn't have to live in apartments ruined by mold.

Robin Hood doesn't have an endowment to support our core grantmaking. The reason is simple: What's the point of saving for a rainy day if it’s pouring outside? Since Robin Hood’s board covers the organization’s administrative costs, every dollar we raise is granted out within twelve months. With the Robin Hood Sandy Relief Fund, we accelerated the process. Two-thirds of the dollars donated to the fund came to us through "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief." Featuring some of the biggest names in music, movies, and television, the concert at Madison Square Garden was attended by more than thirteen thousand people and seen by millions of viewers around the world. The vast majority who contributed to relief efforts that night were looking to help victims of the storm in real time, not to help Robin Hood prepare for the next disaster.

3. Nimbleness. While private contributions are no match, and should not be considered a replacement, for public funds in major disaster situations, Robin Hood and other charities could (and did) respond far more quickly than government. Indeed, many government programs were not rolled out until a year after the storm.

Because the Robin Hood Sandy Relief Fund was a re-activation of the Robin Hood 9/11 Relief Fund, we benefited from having an existing governance structure in place and a model for moving quickly. Most importantly, our relief committee, which was comprised of various board members, met weekly to ensure that donations to the Relief Fund were being allocated efficiently and effectively.

In the end, it took ten days for a federal omnibus bill to pass after Hurricane Katrina. It took ten weeks for an omnibus bill to pass after Superstorm Sandy. In contrast, it took Robin Hood three days to start awarding grants for Sandy relief, even though, like so many in lower Manhattan, we were displaced from our offices for a week by the storm.   

From the day it made landfall, it was clear Sandy was not like other storms that had battered the region. For starters, it was huge, affecting an area the size of Western Europe. And it was unusually destructive, causing upwards of $80 billion in damages. As we look back on our efforts to assist the region in the days and weeks after the storm hit, my colleagues and I think about the many occasions over the past year when we've had the privilege of visiting a family in their rebuilt home. Every story we hear is a story of loss — not just of physical belongings like furniture and clothing, but of irreplaceable photographs and mementos. But every story is also a story of hope and optimism — and a testament to what the generosity of strangers can accomplish.

Two years after Superstorm Sandy, thousands of families are still in need and have yet to return to their homes. As the recovery and rebuilding process continues, so too will the Robin Hood Sandy Relief Fund, as we allocate any new funds for Sandy as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Emary Aronson is managing director of education and the Relief Fund at the Robin Hood Foundation. Originally established to help those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Robin Hood Relief Fund was re-activated following Superstorm Sandy to support organizations  working to assist Sandy victims across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Spotlight on Philanthropy in Colombia

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

History

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

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

Challenges

Colombia's history has contributed to the challenges confronting its philanthropic sector. Decades of political corruption have eroded the public's trust in foundations, which are often viewed as having been created by their wealthy founders to avoid taxes and are frequently suspected of taking advantage of legal loopholes to secure favorable contracts and other kinds of agreements with government entities. To overcome those suspicions, the country's philanthropic sector is faced with the exceptional challenge of embracing and demonstrating real transparency and accountability. To that end, AFE is working to make the funding initiatives of its member foundations available to the public and share transparency and accountability best practices with its members and other social sector organizations. At the same time, as Suarez notes, many organizations in the sector are attempting to institutionalize and professionalize their operations, and that, she adds, "implies big changes in terms of the culture of the boards of some nonprofits."

Opportunities

As the social sector in Colombia continues to mature and becomes more professional and transparent, many organizations also are seizing the moment to form alliances with peer organizations and with private and governmental entities. The Colombian government increasingly is involving nonprofits and foundations in exchanges of knowledge to benefit the social sector, and is doing more to foster public and private partnerships. "Today there is a greater willingness in the public sector to work with the private social sector, represented by corporate and family foundations, and vice versa," Suarez explains. "This is reflected in the increasing number of partnerships, especially at the national level and in large cities. Partnerships are not a new phenomenon in Colombia," she adds, "but in recent years they have become a widespread strategy."

Other emerging trends include increases in corporate volunteering programs, foundation giving for educational endeavors, and an increase in the number of foundations that are interested in operating their own programs directly.

Clearly, this is a pivotal moment for the philanthropic sector in Colombia, and we look forward to following events as they unfold. Suarez herself recently had more to say on the subject in a post on Philanthropy in Focus, the blog of Foundation Center partner WINGS. AFE’s website also is a good resource for those eager to learn more about organized philanthropy in the country.

Marie DeAeth is Liaison for the Americas in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center. Her conversation with Maria Carolina Suarez Visbal is part of a new blog series that engages executives, leaders, and country experts on philanthropy and the social sector from around the globe.

Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

October 30, 2014

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

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

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

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. To help Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative grantees, we developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. [1]. This interactive tool can be used to:

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

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting the Continuation of Higher Education Programs in Jewish Education

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

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

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

‘Under Construction’: Healing With a Groove

October 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

It’s fertile ground for Healing With a Groove.

Continue reading »

A Message From GuideStar President/CEO Jacob Harold

October 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Link Roundup (October 25-26, 2014)

October 26, 2014

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

Economy

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

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

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

Grantmaking

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

International Affairs/Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

[Infographic] Corporate Philanthropy: The Win-Win

October 25, 2014

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

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

October 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Slow and Steady Wins the (Fundraising) Race

October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

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

October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archiving Simply: How FACT Prioritized Sharing

October 20, 2014

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

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

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

Continue reading »

Four Cornerstones of Online Fundraising

October 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

October 17, 2014

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

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

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

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Arts Education and Human Development: Creating Space for Transformation

October 15, 2014

Selvon_waldron_PhilanTopicArt can change lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How the Charitable Sector Keeps Us All Afloat

October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Profiles in Compassion: Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe

October 13, 2014

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 11-12, 2014)

October 12, 2014

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

Communications/Marketing

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

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

Giving Pledge

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

Impact/Effectiveness

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

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

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

October 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charting New Terrain With Foundation Maps

October 08, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 07, 2014

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

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

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

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E-What?

October 06, 2014

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2014)

October 05, 2014

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

Current Affairs

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

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

Environment

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

Innovation

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

Nonprofits

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

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

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Boards and Fundraising: 3 Things Everyone Can Do

October 04, 2014

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

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

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

#1: Give Money

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

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

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

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

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

October 03, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2014)

October 02, 2014

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

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

Eleanor Roosevelt and Data Post-2015

October 01, 2014

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

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

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

So what came out of it?

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 27-28, 2014)

September 28, 2014

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

Economy

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2014

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

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'Name That...'

September 26, 2014

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

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

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