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28 posts from March 2009

A Listing I'd Like to See for a TV Documentary We Should Want to See

March 31, 2009

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, a stand-alone 501(c) dedicated to helping advance, promote, and encourage the adoption of effective communications practices in philanthropy. This post, like his previous post, has been cross-posted to the Comnetwork blog.)

I had a dream the other night that I opened my newspaper to the television listings page and saw this description:

Great Giving: The Quest to Make a Difference -- We all know the role government plays in providing for the public's needs. But how much do Americans really know about private money -- whether from individuals or foundations -- which is given away to help individuals, families, and communities, and also solve larger root problems we face as a society? Who are the people who have given, what has motivated them, and what have they accomplished? Those are among the many questions explored in this 90-minute documentary film that focuses on the history, legacy, limitations, and future potential of philanthropy, a force for good that continues to shape our nation and, by extension, the world.

Familytv I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the dream. Recently I'd been chatting with Gail Freedman, a filmmaker and friend, who has been on a quest the past several years to make just such a documentary, and which PBS is committed to airing nationally. While Freedman began work on Great Giving several years ago -- and its form and focus have evolved and sharpened -- she is convinced that the film is even more relevant today than when she first conceived of the idea. The question, though, is whether she'll be able to complete the project because of fund-raising challenges she faces. But more on that later.

Freedman is among those who can readily cite facts and figures about the lack of public knowledge about philanthropy. Yet she believes that deeper understanding of how philanthropy works, and doesn't, could lead to greater progress through greater public engagement -- especially in times like these, when we face unprecedented challenges. But by and large, philanthropy still operates "beneath the public's radar" and other than within insider circles themselves, "there is no forum for a broader discussion and broader comprehension of its potential."

Using the power of storytelling, Freedman's project is meant to remedy some of those gaps in knowledge and engagement in several ways. First, the film itself will go beyond the rather thin and scattershot coverage of philanthropy we're all used to. Instead, she intends to present "several in-depth case studies of philanthropic passion, innovation, and in one case, hubris, that are representative of the diversity, scope, significance, and potential hazards of giving." These stories, she adds, are meant to "illuminate larger truths about our history -- and by inference, about our present and our future."  In its current incarnation, Freedman's film has a narrative arc rooted in the past, but keenly relevant and resonant in the present. She quotes Winston Churchill: "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see."

She’s chosen to "mix things up" and combine stories about iconic figures whose names have become synonymous with giving alongside others who are relatively little known and less understood, but equally important (from Julius Rosenwald to Madam C.J. Walker to George Pullman -- Pullman being a textbook case of philanthropy gone wrong). Freedman hopes the film will convey both what philanthropy really can do to make a difference in the nation and the world, and what it can't do -- i.e., the limitations of private giving for public purposes.

Next she has plans for a range of public outreach to complement the televised film. These involve the Internet, special edition DVDs, print materials, etc., as well as an extensive program of screenings and special events all over the country. Curricular materials may also be developed for use in schools (K-12), colleges, universities, and by NGOs, in America and around the world.

"My goal," says Freedman, "is to produce a film and create opportunities for a range of complementary activities that can help galvanize public discussion, debate and awareness around this essential 'third sector' that is so crucial to our society and culture, and yet surprisingly little understood. I know that a television film alone cannot change things, of course -- but a television event can be a public catalyst for new perceptions and action."

Freedman is an award-winning independent filmmaker who has produced, directed, and written a wide variety of projects for independent distribution, as well as PBS, network television, cable, and syndication; and she also creates educational and nonprofit work.  In fact, the commissioned films she makes for foundations and nonprofits have given her an added "insider's" view and have enriched her insights. Her most recent production was Generation Rx, a documentary for MSNBC that aired in early March 2009, about the current epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

Ironically, and as noted, the one thing that's holding Freedman back from finishing the project and getting it on air is money. Completion funding has been hard to come by, even though she only needs about $300,000 -- a relatively small sum for such a large project. Gifts and grants so far have come from a mix of corporate, individual, and foundation donors; but in reality, only a handful of foundations have stepped forward.

So right now, that's her dilemma. She has a lot of terrific material already "in the can," and she knows how to spin a great yarn and engage the public -- but she needs help. There's no argument that such a project could foster greater awareness of philanthropy in America and help spark a long overdue national conversation about its value and importance to our society and the world.

She's giving it all she can. Maybe you can help, too. It's not just in her interest that this project should get finished, but ours, too. If you are interested in discussing her project, e-mail Freedman.

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

Grants That Make a Difference: The 'Men Read' Program

March 30, 2009

Several of you have shared stories about grants that have changed lives for the better. The latest, submitted by Jolene Constance, assistant warden at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in Louisiana, focuses on a donation not of dollars but of books -- books that have been an instrument of change and opportunity.

Grant Recipient
C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center (state prison for adult males)
DeQuincy, Louisiana

Grantmakers
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, Kentucky
and
Verizon Foundation
Basking Ridge, New Jersey

About the Grant
Donation of 1,000 books

Men Read Program2 The donated books were given to children visiting their incarcerated fathers during National Family Literacy Day weekend and every other weekend during the month of November. The fathers read the books to their children during visits.

Impact of the Grant
The children of incarcerated parents are the silent victims of crime. They do not see their loved ones as convicted felons but as people they love, miss, and can only see during visits. In many situations they are only able to visit a few times a year due to financial and geographic constraints. When children’s fathers read to them during visits, it facilitates reconciliation and a bonding experience that is rare in a prison setting.

Not only do books bridge social barriers, they bridge literacy barriers as well. To prepare, offenders read the same books in literacy classes that they'll read to their children. The program has helped to remove the stigma associated with lower-level reading among the prison population; reading children's books is now respected because those who do are seen as caring parents. This is a wonderful secondary benefit of the program.

What makes this particular grant a good example of the effective use of philanthropic funds?

It has been proven that children of incarcerated parents are at greater risk of becoming offenders themselves. By breaking that link, we can save a whole generation of young people from becoming adjudicated offenders, reduce the number of crime victims, and save taxpayer dollars now spent to house offenders. Rebuilding relationships between offenders who are being discharged and their families is priceless. If offenders are committed to their families, they are less likely to recidivate and more likely to become productive members of society, which means one less single parent household due to incarceration, one less family seeking financial support from government entities, and one less victim of a senseless crime.

----------------------

Do you have a story about a grant that made a difference? Submit your story, and we will continue to feature them on a regular basis here on PhilanTopic, at one or more of our regional Philanthropy Front and Center blogs, and at other areas of our Web site. We also encourage you to submit stories of grants that are addressing needs associated with the current economic crisis.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 28 - 29, 2009)

March 29, 2009

Chain-links Here's this week's roundup of noteworthy posts and articles from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

Fresh off teaching a social media immersion class to representatives of twenty-five nonprofit organizations in Norfolk, Nancy Schwartz writes on her Getting Attention blog that the palette of social media tools "is way too new, and changing too quickly, for any definitive must-dos." But she does have a few "should-dos":

  1. Use Google Alerts to "listen" to what others in the Web 2.0 world are saying about your organization
  2. Set up a Facebook Cause page to micro-fundraise and and build your membership
  3. Last but not least, talk, listen, and learn about social media where and whenever you can

Good advice.

Speaking of good advice, Robin Hood Marketing author Katya Andresen offers five helpful tips from her colleague Rebecca Higman for building and maintaining a clean donor e-mail list.

And a hat tip to Katya for pointing to Mark Rovner's terrific post about the importance of good storytelling for nonprofits -- and for clearly laying out the elements of a good story. If you only have time for one post this week, make it this one.

Economy

Ever wonder what a trillion dollars looks like? Now you know. (H/T Sean Stannard-Stockton)

International Affairs/Development

Lucy Bernholz weighs in on her blog with a generally favorable review of Jacqueline Novogratz's new book The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, but says the book could have offered more stories about the people whose lives have been changed by Novogratz's work. "We meet the people who use market forces to bring these tools far and wide," writes Bernholz, "but we don't meet (many) of the people whose lives are changed by them. Maybe in her next book...."

BlackGivesBack, a blog dedicated to philanthropy in the black community, concludes its series on Philanthropy in Africa with a Q&A with Bahia Akerele, an independent consultant based in the D.C. area who works with with national and international foundations as a strategic planner and project manager.

Philanthropy

In his fourth post in response to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®, Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest looks at the central question of whether "a foundation spend all of its assets today, or spend only the income they generate in order to preserve its ability to make grants in the future -- perhaps in perpetuity."

Whether foundations are doing enough to backstop nonprofits during the current economic crisis continues to be a hot topic of discussion on philanthropy blogs. In his Inside Philanthropy blog, Todd Cohen argues that "By hoarding and not paying out a bigger share of their assets in grants, foundations have cost the charitable world of billions of dollars now likely lost forever because of the plunge in the value of their endowments." At a time of "unprecedented economic crisis," adds Cohen, foundation boards "should be using their discretion to spend more of those assets, not save it for a hypothetical rainy day."

Nonprofit Consultant blogger Ken Goldstein agrees with Cohen -- though he's not convinced that the proposal floated by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and two of his Senate colleagues to change the current two-tiered excise tax foundations pay on their investment earnings to a single flat rate of 1.32 percent will do the trick.

Social media experts Qui Diaz, Beth Kanter, and Geoff Livingston have posted the results of their recent Philanthropy 2.0 survey. The goal of the survey, they write, "was to determine whether there is potential for nonprofits to cultivate significant donors online (defined as someone who gives $1,000 or more), and how that can be accomplished." The verdict: Nonprofits have a tremendous opportunity "to participate as trusted providers of credible information and ultimately cultivate the next generation of major donors through the social web."

And in his debut column for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that "information that enhances the ability to make smart grants is the real currency in philanthropy." Sean develops that idea further in a follow-up post on his Tactical Philanthropy blog:

[I]n philanthropy, we often celebrate the act of making a grant rather than the generation of impact. This focus elevates the importance of financial capital and makes the size of your endowment or the size of a gift the most important metric and the things that attract media coverage and public celebration.

But if you care about actually making a difference, if you care about impact, then you must recognize that the gift of financial capital is a simple act. It is only when that financial capital is deployed based on superior knowledge that impact can be achieved. Therefore it is the possession of superior knowledge that offers the best opportunity to change the world, make a difference and have an impact....

And that's it for this week. Have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

TED on Sunday: Clay Shirky on Epochal Change

In the debate currently raging over the future of newspapers, the man of the hour is Clay Shirky, consultant, author (Here Comes Everybody), and digital pioneer whose brilliant essay "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" has generated more buzz and feedback than anything written on the subject in many moons.

In this TED talk from 2005, Shirky argues that emerging communications technologies enabling loosely coordinated groups pose a terminal threat to traditional institutions and will lead to a massive readjustment, one arena at a time, of the way society works. Indeed, says Shirky, we are in the beginning stages of a revolution that will lead not from Point A to Point B, but from Point A to...chaos. The good news, according to Shirky, is that it will only be fifty years of chaos. (Filmed: July 2005. Running time: 20:48)

-- Mitch Nauffts

Nonprofit Strategies for Tough Times: Economic Stimulus Act FAQ

March 27, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about what philanthropy can do to ensure equal opportunity for all.)

ARRA_2009 While the media remains transfixed by the gyrations of the markets, the AIG bonus dustup, and the latest developments in l'affaire Madoff, the real action is occurring behind the scenes in federal office buildings around Washington, D.C.

Behind those doors, the federal government is moving at a speed unmatched in our lifetimes to revive the economy and get credit flowing. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes $787 billion in spending and tax provisions. The Stimulus Gravy Train has left the station.

The 400-plus pages of the act describe no less than thirty-four buckets of funding, including community development, alternative and sustainable energy, education, medical care, employment and job training, homelessness, women and children, nutrition and the arts.

How can nonprofits tap these new revenue streams, and what do foundations need to know about this massive influx of dollars? The following FAQ is meant to be a starting point. If you have other suggestions, we'd love to hear them (use the comments section below):

Continue reading »

My Fears and Hopes for Philanthropy

March 25, 2009

(Bradford Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the shape of philanthropy to come.)

Hands Recently I was asked to address a group of trustees concerning the outlook for foundation spending and my "hopes and fears" for philanthropy. In an environment where opening a newspaper, logging on to the Internet, or turning on a television provokes panic over the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, it seemed more appropriate to begin with the currency of the day -- fear -- before turning to something we seemed to have lost so quickly after the elections -- hope.

My fears for philanthropy are threefold. The first is that philanthropy will pull into its shell, shun new commitments, and go into "life-support mode" like space travelers on a voyage to a far-away planet: the vital signs are still there, but they are barely audible. The temptations to do so are many. Foundation assets, with very few exceptions, have been devastated by the collapse of the financial markets. On the management side, nonprofits and foundations alike have already made all the easy budget reductions and are now cutting into bone. On the grant side, foundation press releases are filled with phrases like "we will honor current grant commitments" or, somewhat more encouraging, "we do not foresee significant retrenchment."

My second fear is that if philanthropy does not take seriously the pressures to address inequality, injustice, and discrimination -- all of which were insufficiently addressed during the boom and will be aggravated in the bust -- then philanthropy may come to be seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If, as a sector, we allow that to happen, we will long for the days when we had the luxury to engage in heated debates about the principle of "philanthropic freedom."

The last item in the fear column is an outgrowth of the second. To the extent that philanthropy is seen as unresponsive and irrelevant to the needs of the day, the public policy cornerstone upon which it rests -- a tax exemption in exchange for charitable giving -- could be endangered. In an era of fiscal restraint and increasing pressure on public spending, far more will be expected of foundations at the same time that tax exemptions will be subjected to additional scrutiny. No sector will get the benefit of the doubt, and foundations, as an expression of private wealth for public good, will need to prove that they can be transparent, accountable, and relevant to the issues and causes about which people care the most.

Fortunately, when I am able to shake off the doom and gloom, my hopes prevail. First among those is that philanthropy will rise to the challenge by giving until it hurts -- and then some. This will mean increasing payout, as many foundations have already announced, by (in most cases) digging deeper into assets. For foundations that plan to exist in perpetuity, this will mark the contraction phase of the accordion. As one foundation executive told me the other day, "We are increasing our spending to respond to the crisis and have resigned ourselves to being a smaller foundation thereafter for years to come."

My second hope is that philanthropy will take a hard look at its own business models. While there is a lot of talk about the inevitability of many nonprofits having to close their doors, downsize, right-size, or merge, little has been said in this regard about foundations. As endowed institutions, foundations do not compete in the marketplace the same way as nonprofits do, and they tend to be more isolated from such pressures. Foundations with living donors can be as fiercely independent as the highly successful entrepreneurs that created them, but a crisis like this one can challenge even the most deeply held assumptions. Foundations that have never made program-related investments are considering staff-sharing arrangements with those that have the expertise. There is the occasional rumor of a merger. Some foundations may even begin to shift to a spend-down model, or, if they are limited-life foundations, may decide to spend down more quickly with the help of the financial markets. These trends would be offset at least partially by the creation of new foundations.

Third, with business against the ropes and big government back in Washington, if not the world, there is an opportunity for philanthropy to forge intelligent partnerships to make real progress on some of the deepest challenges we face. The "intelligent" part will come from philanthropy engaging in a way that makes maximum use of its comparative advantage as an independent source of flexible, risk-taking, and long-term social investment. Although $45.6 billion (the Foundation Center's preliminary estimate of giving by American foundations in 2008) may pale in comparison to the massive amounts being poured into bailouts and stimulus packages, its flexibility makes it golden.

My biggest hope is that philanthropy will see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-invent itself. As tempting as it is to blame someone else for the mess in which we find ourselves, we all share responsibility. As the president of Atlantic Philanthropies, Gara LaMarche, remarked in an October 2008 speech, "We have largely failed to articulate a broad and inclusive social vision that works toward the world as we would like it to be, not simply in the wretched state in which we find it. We have often lost the gifts of collaboration and common purpose with others who share our greater values." Like one who recovers from a life-threatening illness -- and we will recover -- our challenge will be to hold on to the perspective this crisis has given us about what is truly important in life and our work.

We have been presented with the challenge of a generation, if not a century, and we have the immense privilege to work in a field where our job is to leave the world a far better place than we found it. Are we the ones we've been waiting for? I certainly hope so.

-- Bradford Smith

'The Blue Bakery' (Excerpt from 'The Blue Sweater')

March 23, 2009

Earlier this month, PND staff writer Alice Garrard sat in on a breakfast book chat featuring Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm for the poor that invests in sustainable enterprises, and author of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. In this excerpt from the book, Novogratz describes her introduction to a group of struggling woman entrepreneurs in Kigali, Rwanda, in the late 1980s.

The Blue Bakery

"Poverty won’t allow him to lift up his head; dignity won’t allow him to bow it down."

-- Madagasy Proverb

Blue_sweater_cover In meeting women in and around the markets of Kigali, we rarely found a business that employed more than one woman and maybe one or two of her youngsters. I wanted to know what it would take to build a business that actually created jobs for poor people. There had to be something more than selling tomatoes or rice or baskets; besides, I wanted to see for myself what it would take to make a business work in Rwanda. I started asking around to see if anyone could point me to a business with more than a few workers.

Honorata, the shy woman who worked with Veronique, told me about a project she'd helped create for single mothers in Nyamirambo, the popular section of Kigali where lower-income people lived. When Prudence overheard us, she whispered in my ear that the women were prostitutes. I shrugged but didn't really pay attention, as it seemed to me the word was used too easily in Rwanda. Women who danced late at the same nightclubs I did could easily be labeled wanton or worse. Besides, I was eager to visit any legitimate business with potential for real growth.

Boniface drove us through the wealthy neighborhood of Kiyovu, down Avenue Paul VI, and into Nyamirambo. The day was hot; the air, heavy; the streets were jammed with cars crawling along, manuevering around potholes. Women walked hand in hand carrying enormous bundles on their heads. Small shops stood one after another, almost always doubling as homes. Kiosks, tailors, hair salons, pharmacies, stores that played videos at night were painted blue, green, yellow, orange, though the paint had worn off over the years and the colors had faded. The unpaved side roads were filled with old auto parts and the burned-out bodies of ancient vehicles. At the top of the hill stood a large mosque painted white with stripes of bright green. It reminded me of a wedding cake, a small oasis rising out of its chaotic surroundings.

The "kiosk Allah" -- a little shop selling sundries -- and an Islamic school were located next to the mosque, where the streets divided. Nyamirambo had a sizable Muslim population for a country that was mostly Catholic at the time. Turning right, we passed a tailor shop, a clothing boutique, and a shoe repair store, in front of which stood a 3-foot-long wingtip oxford shoe on a tall stick. Two doors down stood our destination: a singularly unimpressive gray cement building that housed Project AAEFR (Association Africaine pour des Entreprises Féminins du Rwanda).

"I've worked with them for years," Honorata told me. "The women have such good intentions, and you will like them, I am sure."

All I could hear was my mother telling me that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Her moral philosophy was that we show the world who we are through our actions, not merely through words or intentions. The detritus, disasters, and despair unwittingly created by well-intentioned people and institutions across Africa were evidence that my mother was right.

The group known as the Femmes Seules (or single women, code for unwed mothers) was one of many women's groups organized in part by Honorata and Veronique's Ministry for Family and Social Affairs. The women, among the city's poorest, would gather for training and some form of income generation. This particular group focused on a "baking project," which consisted of making and then selling a few goods in town and sewing dresses and crafts on order. In a moment, it was clear to me that "income generation" was a misnomer. Only one woman was sewing at all; the rest were simply sitting quietly.

There were about 20 of them in the cramped front room, all identically dressed in green gingham short-sleeved smocks, sitting on two long wooden benches in front of a pine counter with empty shelves behind it. There were no baked goods to be seen and no sign advertised what the group did.

"How long have they been waiting for us?" I whispered to Honorata.

"I don't know," she responded, "but they are used to waiting for visitors."

I hated that dynamic: powerless women just sitting, waiting all day if a donor was expected to visit, hoping someone might come in the door with help but feeling powerless to do anything for themselves.

I looked around at the women appreciatively. Bowing my head slightly, I said hello: "Amakuru."

Faces lit up, and one woman held her hand across an otherwise unfettered smile. In unison, the women responded "Imeza," meaning "fine." When one or two began talking to me in Kinyarwanda, I looked around awkwardly at Honorata and felt great relief when she began to translate. Any small effort to communicate on my part elicited gracious appreciation. Kinyarwanda is complex and difficult, and has what seems like four or five syllables in every word. The women applauded when I used some Swahili, for at least most of the Muslim women spoke that language. Still, I knew my African-language skills were on a child's level at best.

A solid, affable-looking woman named Prisca, also dressed in the green checkered uniform, stood in front of the group. With smiling eyes, a square jaw, and a wide, open face, she reminded me of my great-aunts who were built like tree trunks, with strong hands that knew hard work and sweat. She took my hand.

"Welcome," she said. "We're happy you've come to visit." She was hoping I would bring resources, preferably money, but her warmth was genuine.

While Prisca and I spoke French, the women stared. In Rwanda, children of the elites were taught French from a young age, but the poor learned only Kinyarwanda in primary school. Most of these women had spent only a year or two in school at most and couldn't speak a word of French. They seemed to range in age from 18 to their late twenties and carried themselves with an air of innocence and simplicity, wearing not a speck of makeup, jewelry, nail polish, or revealing clothing. Most women wore flip-flops, and their dresses could have passed for prison attire.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2009)

March 22, 2009

Chain-links Here's this week's roundup of noteworthy posts and articles from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

The economy and markets are a mess, giving is flat or down, and a growing number of nonprofits face uncertain futures. Indeed, last week Americans for the Arts, the nation's largest arts advocacy group, warned that as many as 10,000 arts organizations, or 10 percent of the total, are at risk of folding. In an impassioned post that sparked a lively conversation, Allison Fine compared the situation arts organizations find themselves in to the meltdown of the newspaper industry and suggested that while the "loss of newspapers and arts organizations creates an enormous, perhaps irreplacable, loss of social capital for local communities," the problem of trying "to figure out a new business model for arts organizations is much more difficult." In part, says Fine, that's because

the cost of delivering the product is largely fixed; there is no way around the fact that orchestras need violinists and cellists. Consumers of news exist in large numbers, some say even growing numbers, but many arts organizations...face the prospect that there may not be enough patrons to support their efforts -- ever....

Great comments and posts in response from Tom Watson, Brian Reich, Beth Kanter, Katya Andresen, Gayle Thorsen, and others, as well as a follow-up post by Fine, make this a conversation worth tracking.

Economy

Buzz Machine blogger and all around wise man Jeff Jarvis follows up his excellent post on the great economic restructuring we are living through with more thoughts about the true dawn of the post-industrial age. Both are well worth your time.

How bad are things out there? According to an article by Eyal Press in the Nation, the "most expensive presidential campaign in history and the cataclysmic financial meltdown of the past few months" has combined to produce a "perfect storm" on Nonprofit Street. Sadly, that's true, writes the Nonprofiteer. But let's not forget that the things "we can't do as members of the nonprofit community are precisely the things we can and should do as citizens." To wit:

[F]or years we've indulged in a widespread pretense that private charity by itself can provide the safety net society owes to its poorest. Great Depression II is proving once again that this is nonsense -- that the resources of the charitable sector are dwarfed by those available to the government, and always will be. So, as citizens concerned with social justice, now is the time for us to raise our voices in support of public policies to advance it -- including the taxation necessary to support it. Charities can beg, and we do; but only the government can compel the entire polity to step up and pay what’s needed, and it must....

Fundraising

Target Analytics, a unit of nonprofit software provider Blackbaud, recently released its 2008 donorCentrics Internet Giving Benchmarking Analysis, which found that people who go online to donate to charity for the first time often do not return to make additional gifts. Robin Hood Marketing author Katya Andresen offers her take on some of the other findings from the report.

Continue reading »

TED on Sunday: Mark Bittman on How We Eat

How and what we eat was back in the news this week, as First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted the importance of moving to a less processed, more nutritious and locally grown food supply by planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. In this talk from the 2007 EG (Entertainment Gathering) conference -- a TED offshoot launched in 2006 by TED founder Richard Saul Wurman -- New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman traces the 20th-century transformation of food production from a healthy, largely local affair to an industrial-scale activity that is ruining our health and killing the planet. Your visits to the supermarket will never be the same. (Filmed: December 2007. Running time: 20:08.)

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (March 20, 2009)

March 20, 2009

Quotemarks "People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

"The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve -- "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

"The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron -- a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers...."

-- Matt Taibbi, "The Big Takeover," Rolling Stone (3/19/2009)

To Be or Not to Be...

March 19, 2009

(Tony Pipa is a consultant whose twenty years of executive leadership span nonprofits, foundations, and global NGOs seeking to alleviate poverty. In his last post for PhilanTopic, he wrote about nonprofits and executive compensation.)

Harvard_biz05 Almost a year ago, I read a manifesto of sorts by William Deresiewicz, a former professor of English at Yale, titled "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education." Deresiewicz's exploration of the type of education occurring at our best universities -- which he says have forgotten that they exist to make minds, not careers -- includes such tidbits as:

  • It makes you incapable of talking to people who aren't like you;
  • It inculcates a false sense of self-worth;
  • It teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense;
  • It produces leaders who have many achievements but little experience, great success but no vision.
  • It's one of those pieces you have to read yourself -- there are too many provocations in it for any blog post to do it justice. Go, read it now, and whether you agree or disagree, be prepared to get riled up.

    To my mind, Deresiewicz's criticisms were prescient about the questions raised in the NY Times and elsewhere about business education and how the training of our "best and brightest" may have contributed to our current financial mess.

    I think one reason the Deresiewicz piece has stayed with me (other than I'm the product of an elite education) is that I feel the nonprofit sector is in danger of falling prey to the same pressures that gave rise to the situation he decries on college campuses.

    By becoming "a glorified form of vocational training," Deresiewicz asserts that universities have become "profoundly anti-intellectual." His description of what it means to be an "intellectual" captures, to my mind, the characteristics of a visionary and successful nonprofit leader:

    Being an intellectual means thinking your way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power....It takes more than just intellect; it takes imagination and courage.

    Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them.

    In our rush to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sector, and to import methodologies and metaphors from the business world in pursuit of that end, I worry that we give short shrift to the ways in which such methodologies alter and even undermine the characteristics that give the nonprofit sector its value and meaning. Indeed, all too often we seem incapable of articulating the sector's distinctive features in the face of business logic and fold our cards too quickly. There are eerie parallels between the humanistic side of nonprofit endeavors and the humanistic education that Deresiewicz sees as getting lost in the fray.

    As we continue to hear suggestions about what nonprofits should do to be more like for-profit businesses, let's not lose sight of the fact that a good deal of the sector's success is attributable to those very characteristics that so many in the business world are quick to dismiss. Yes, there's room for improvement in the way we go about our work. But the ultimate end should not be efficiency for its own sake, but improving lives and communities. That may be more inefficient than we like to admit.

    -- Tony Pipa

    Tell Us Your Social Media Story

    March 18, 2009

    Social-media-men

    Next Tuesday, I'll be delivering a keynote presentation on "Social Networking 101: The Importance of Engaging Youth Through Web 2.0 and Beyond" at a Youth Development and Outcomes Conference hosted by the Performance Institute. Among other things, I hope to provide a brief overview of social networking sites and how nonprofits are using them to advance their mission.

    For weeks now I've been trying to overcome my fear of speaking in public. I'm only 25, with just four years of work experience under my belt. I mean, what if I get laughed off the stage or people start chucking rotten tomatoes at me?

    Fears aside, I was able to put the final touches on my presentation last weekend, and this past weekend I worked on my introduction. I've been dreading writing the introduction because, as Beth Kanter noted last week, it's the hook, the key to grabbing an audience's attention, and therefore the most important part of the presentation.

    Taking Kanter's suggestion, I decided to start with a story. Here's the story I came up with:

    Although I only started working full time four years ago, I've been working with social media since I was a teenager. I grew up with the stuff. And the more immersed in social networking sites I become, the more I believe in their power to move people to action.

    While at college, I got involved with our campus programming board, which was responsible for putting on events in various locations around campus. Despite the fact that events were paid for by students -- a portion of everyone's tuition went toward campus activities -- most of them were poorly attended.

    I'm biased, of course, but we put on some great events in my four years as an undergrad. Chris Rock, Dane Cook, John Leguizamo, Ben Folds, Less Than Jake -- the list goes on. I mean, for kids my age, we're talking big-time celebrities. But even with that kind of talent, we couldn't get kids to leave their dorm rooms.

    In my senior year, I was elected director of the campus activities board. By that time, kids were using IM services like AIM (this was long before Twitter) to chat with friends, and Facebook and MySpace were beginning to build buzz.

    One of our campus activities board members came up with the idea of using these social networking tools to increase attendance at our events. Since the services were free and required minimal amounts of time (time most of us were already devoting to social networking sites) we jumped on the idea. First, we created an AIM account for the campus activities board and began to update the "away" message with information about upcoming events. We also made sure to point out the existence of our AIM account at our weekly meetings and promoted it on event posters and on our Web site. Then we created a group on Facebook and started sending out friend requests to other students with information about upcoming events. Even if we only attracted an extra ten people to an event, it was well worth the small amount of effort required on our part.

    That was my first experience with social networking sites and it taught me something about the power of social media. Facebook and IM made it easy for students to share ideas and suggestions with the committee. And by joining the conversation (setting up a profile on Facebook), listening to other students (reading their profiles, learning about their interests), inviting them to tell us which artists they'd like to see on campus, and actually following through with some of their suggestions, we ended up serving a larger percentage of the student body than we could have through more traditional means.

    My goal at the Youth Development and Outcomes Conference next week is to convince the eighty nonprofit professionals in the room that the negative stereotypes which define the "wired" generation are the very same tools that can be used to engage them. And the first step to increasing your impact in this brave new Web 2.0 world is to understand where and how your target audiences engage with social networks. Do they "tweet" or FB? Are they LinkedIn? Do they post videos to YouTube or v-cast on Vimeo? If you don't know the answers to questions like that, your chances of engaging the youth of today are pretty slim.

    So, how is your target audience using social media and social networking sites? What tactics are you using to engage 20- and 30-somethings? We want to hear your story. Don't be shy...

    -- Regina Mahone

    Democracy Update: El Salvador (and the Winner Is...)

    March 17, 2009

    (Kathryn Pyle, a regular contributor to PhilanTopic, recently reviewed Paul Collier's new book, War, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, for PND.)

    Mauricio Funes, a former journalist best known for a daily TV interview program and the candidate of the FMLN, the party of the former guerrillas, was elected president of El Salvador on Sunday. "El Frente," as the party is known, won 51 percent of the votes in an election that brought out almost two-thirds (65 percent) of the registered voters and marked an end to the twenty-year rule of the conservative ARENA party.

    "We have signed a new accord of peace and reconciliation," said Funes, alluding to the widespread view that the 1992 peace accords ended the armed conflict but did not produce the economic and social reforms promised. Speaking at a press conference after the election was called, Funes proposed a government based on dialogue and collaboration and invited the different social and political forces to "construct this national unity together." ARENA agreed to collaborate in the transition and be a critical but constructive partner.

    Funes also paid homage to Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980: "We will give special preference to the poor," he said, using the language of liberation theology. Poverty is a major issue in El Salvador, where more than half the population is poor and 30 percent of the rural poor live in extreme poverty. Remittances sustain fully one-quarter of all Salvadorans. When asked in a TV interview for specifics, Funes reiterated his campaign pledge to revive the agriculture sector as a way to quickly generate jobs and cited the potential for government programs to "level the playing field" -- for example, by extending credit to micro-businesses.

    Continue reading »

    What Social Media Can Teach Us About Sustainability

    March 16, 2009

    Social-media-men Thanks to Twitter, I've been reading (and learning) a lot about social media these last few months. If I were to recommend just one post or article on the subject to a nonprofit CEO, however, it might be the post ("How Nonprofits Can Succeed in the New Sustainability Paradigm: 6 Big Lessons From Social Media") Gayle Thorsen published on her ImpactMax blog earlier today.

    Thorsen begins by reminding us that, as bad as it is, the current economic crisis shall pass. But, says Thorsen:

    The current situation may not be so much a crisis as a paradigm shift. This isn't just a hard patch to work through in a few years then return to business as usual.  These changes are long-term, and they demand more of nonprofits than seeking new funding or cutting programs. They require the definition of a new normal, where flat is good.

    Nonprofits are going to have to learn how to develop and evolve without the expectation of growth. (Down deep -- didn't we all understand that steady growth couldn't last?) Out of its ashes is rising a more democratic, healthy paradigm --sustainability.

    So, how do nonprofits start thinking about and planning for this new paradigm? Not surprisingly, the world of social media offers some important clues. These rapidly evolving tools are creating a global conversation that's fueling the paradigm shift, and in the process they're modeling some of the behaviors that point to future success....

    Her six lessons are simple but worth heeding:

    1. Be nimble but think long-term

    2. Experiment and analyze

    3. Build and use networks strategically

    4. Let the public in

    5. Engage young people

    6. Focus on impact

    But don't take my word for it; read the entire post.

    -- Mitch Nauffts

    Weekend Link Roundup (March 14 - 15, 2009)

    March 15, 2009

    Here's this week's roundup of noteworthy posts and articles from and about the nonprofit sector....

    Uh, that was the idea...until the WYSWYG editor that Typepad foisted on its users a few months ago took our post and vanished it into the ether. Thanks, Six Apart. And apologies to Regina, who spent many hours over the last week putting it together.

    Oh, well. The torrent of 0s and 1s flows on. Time to go fishing....

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      — Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

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