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24 posts from April 2009

Quote of the Day (April 29, 2009)

April 29, 2009

Quotemarks "Let's be honest....Should we use philanthropy to make up for the shortfalls of a system that is basically sound, or should we use it to help transform that system in more radical ways so that much more of the population is able to share in the fruits of success and become philanthropists themselves -- a much more democratic model? Are larger crumbs from the rich man's -- or rich woman's -- table the best we can hope for? Is that the limit of our ambition? Is philanthrocapitalism really just trickle-down economics in a new and friendly disguise...?"

-- Michael Edwards, author, Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism (Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic renewal, "Philanthrocapitalism: Savior or Emperor?") 

D.C. Gets a 'B'

April 28, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This is the final installment in a five-part series that explores the growing movement to recover and maintain the urban canopy in the Northeast. In her last post, she wrote about Philadelphia's efforts to restore its trees.)

Casey Trees, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to "restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the Nation's Capital," has issued a report card on the state of that canopy: a "B" overall, with an "A" for tree health and a "C" for protection.

"Ideally, we'd have a whole lot more trees here, all in good condition," said deputy director Michael Galvin. "But we're pleased with the conclusion of the assessment, that D.C. gets a 'B'. We hope it will help focus the work that's being done."

The assessment was based on five qualities measured over the past year: not only the coverage provided by the canopy but also the health of the trees, the rate at which trees are being planted, the protection and maintenance provided to trees, and public awareness of the canopy and the government agencies and community organizations charged with its well-being. The tree canopy, which currently covers 36 percent of the city, was determined using satellite imagery. Tree health was measured in two hundred randomly selected plots where bugs, disease, and mortality were examined. Casey Trees looked at available data from the city government to determine the rate of planting and how the existing regulations and ordinances were protecting the canopy.

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Advice for Young Nonprofit Workers

Gen_y_400 As a member of Gen Y working in the nonprofit sector who did not attend this year's Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference in Washington, D.C. last week, I was thrilled to read Caroline Preston's coverage on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's conference blog. Each year, national YNPN members meet to discuss how young nonprofit professionals can move up and work more effectively with other generations; however, this year's event "took on a darker hue because of the economy." As Preston writes:

The economic crisis is shaking up the nonprofit world in ways that are making it more difficult for young workers to find jobs but could also present them with new and unusual opportunities to advance, said speakers and participants....

"Business as usual is out," said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector. "You may have thought that long before the economic crisis, but now you’ll have a lot of executives who will be interested in the kinds of solutions you have in mind. This is the time for creativity and innovation...."

Preston shares a number of tips and advice from conference speakers and participants for keeping young employees motivated. Here are a few of her takeaways:

  • The economic crisis offers an opportunity for young people to:
    • move up, because a lot of executives are looking for creativity and innovation
    • help their bosses discover new technology and make an impression
    • get "cool new jobs" because seasoned employees are leaving their positions or have been laid off
  • Young workers should look for nonprofit work now, because:
    • when the economy rebounds, the opportunities for growth will be big
    • the nonprofit world needs good, connected leaders to make the world a better place
  • Organizations should:
    • invest more in professional development as they give existing employees new responsibilities
    • restructure their organizations to cultivate young leadership

Along with this good advice, speakers at the conference urged young professionals not to give up on the sector while the recession strains resources across the board. Writes Preston:

People in their 20s and 30s are often considered "sector hoppers," unwilling or uninterested in staying in one job or one type of organization for too long.

Speakers said they were concerned that the economic crisis and the strain it is putting on workers will accelerate that trend. But never before has the nonprofit world needed good leaders as much as it does today, said Independent Sector's Ms. Aviv.

"We need smart, connected people who are interested in making the world a better place," she said. Ms. Aviv said she understands just how challenging the work is, ending her speech with a poem entitled, "I’m Tired, I’m Whipped."

But as young people think about career options, Ms. Aviv said, "Think about the difference you’re making."

What advice can you offer young nonprofit professionals to keep them from leaving the sector? And if you're a young nonprofit employee, what is keeping you motivated and engaged in your work?

-- Regina Mahone

Philadelphia’s 'Green' Awards

April 27, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This is the fourth installment in a five-part series that explores the growing movement to recover and maintain the urban canopy in the Northeast. In her last post, she wrote about the re-issue of a beloved field guide to Washington's urban canopy.)

Washington, of course, is but an example -- maybe the best supported, thanks to the Casey gift -- of a nationwide movement to recover and maintain an urban canopy, along with other "green" activities.

Mayor Michael Nutter also has a tree plan to help Philadelphia catch up with its peer cities. Like Washington, Philadelphia suffered from the urban exodus of the 1970s and 1980s, losing 200,000 trees by 2004, including more than 20,000 removed through maintenance. New trees will be planted over the next two years to replace those removed, but the city has a long way to go.

Fortunately, the mayor has some great local partners, including Philadelphia Green, a city-wide program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that pioneered community gardens and pocket parks thirty years ago in response to abandoned factory buildings and the resulting decimation of neighborhoods. Philadelphia Green is still working with community-based organizations and thousands of volunteers to turn vacant lots and urban blight into locally grown food, shade, and an improved quality of life -- reducing crime and isolation along the way.

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From The Answer Desk: What Do Nonprofits Need to Know About the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?

(The list of stimulus package resources that follows was put together by our colleagues Stephen Sherman, in Atlanta; Katie Artzner, in Cleveland; and Jean Johnson, in San Francisco.)

Signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will provide more than $787 billion in spending and tax cuts intended to help stimulate the national economy.

ARRA MapShotThe Foundation Center has collected the best resources on how nonprofits may be able to access stimulus package funding. And our new MapShot: Best ARRA Funding Resources by State connects you to information about funding and other current opportunities in each state.

The act includes new or expanded government grant programs designed to provide assistance to communities or individuals affected by the economic crisis. Nonprofit organizations interested in applying for grants provided by the act should visit Grants.gov for a listing of Recovery Act funding opportunities. For-profit organizations can find recovery procurement and contracting opportunities at FedBizOpps.gov.

In order to provide full accountability and transparency around the distribution of stimulus funds, the federal government has created the Recovery.gov Web site. Visitors to the site can read the full text of the act, view a timeline of administrative deadlines, and find news and updates on funding opportunities from federal agencies.

Most state governments and federal agencies have also created their own economic recovery sites. Directories of these official sites can be found at:

The National Council of Nonprofits has issued a series of special reports on the economic stimulus and recovery, including:

The National Council of Nonprofits also encourages organizations to contact their state nonprofit associations or their state and congressional representatives for more information on local stimulus funding.

Selected resources below may also be helpful.

Independent Sector -- Economic Recovery Act and Nonprofits -- Provides analysis of and commentary about ARRA, along with tips for nonprofit organizations on establishing strong ties with policy makers.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: State-By-State Estimates of Key Provisions Affecting Low- and Moderate-Income Individuals -- Issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this report outlines key provisions of the act affecting low- and moderate-income individuals and includes a state-by-state analysis of funding provisions.

StateRecovery.org -- A service of the Council on State Governments, StateRecovery.org is targeted toward officials in state government but contains useful information on federal assistance, listings of grant opportunities, and a series of reports analyzing the prospective impact of stimulus funding at the state level.

National Conference of State Legislatures -- Economic Stimulus 2009 -- Provides summaries and analysis of major provisions of ARRA for state legislators, as well as information of use to the general public.

National Governors Association -- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- Created to provide information on state implementation of ARRA, analysis of many of the act's provisions, and links to additional resources.

Have a question? Ask us.

-- Stephen Sherman, Katie Artzner, and Jean Johnson

Weekend Link Roundup (April 25 - 26, 2009)

April 26, 2009

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

Communications/Marketing

In response to the Dominos Pizza Web 2.0 fiasco -- two employees posted a gross-out video on YouTube that included one of the employees putting cheese up his nose and then on a sandwich -- Katya Andresen offers five recommendations should that kind of disaster ever happen to your organization.

Diversity

Rosetta Thurman has assembled a list of twenty unaffiliated nonprofit bloggers of color who write about philanthropy. Like Thurman, we hope the list continues to grow.

Economy

How is the economic downturn affecting chambers of commerce, economic development groups, and professional associations? McKinley Marketing recently surveyed 2,500 members of the American Society of Association Executives -- the trade association for trade associations -- to gauge the impact of the economy on ASAE members. Rick Cohen, Nonprofit Quarterly’s national correspondent, examined McKinley's findings and arrived at a couple of conclusions:

  1. Membership and constituency development activities strengthen organizations in normal times and sustain them through financial challenges. As membership rolls shrink, however, the strength of associations tends to wither.
  2. To survive this economic downturn, associations may have to spend money on strategies that build short- and long-term organizational sustainability.
  3. This is one deep, sweeping recession, and its reverberations clearly will extend into 2010, with 501(c) organizations of all sorts suffering.

We think Cohen is right on that score, and would love to hear what other nonprofits are doing to prepare for a recession that could persist into 2010. Leave your comments and suggestions below.

The arts groups that survive this downturn will not necessarily be those who produce the best product, the Nonprofiteer writes, but rather the ones that are able to combine a reasonably good artistic product with skillfully managed resources.

Philanthropy

Fascinating discussion on the Tactical Philanthropy blog a few days ago about finding a better word for philanthropy. In response to a question posed by Sean Stannard-Stockton about the meaning of philanthropy, Jeff Trexler, the Wilson Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Pace University, wrote:

One reason why the word “philanthropy” may no longer resonate is that it is a word out of its time. A few hundred years ago, using a Greek derivative to convey a regard for humanity had ethical, philosophical and class connotations that are now all but lost. The narrowing of the term by the late 19th century reflects, in part, a subtle mode of legitimizing new mercantile and industrial wealth by associating it with the language of the educated elite. In short, the cultural factors that gave the word a distinct valence have long since receded, leav[ing] us with a term that has relatively weak signaling value....

The rest of the post and accompanying comments are just as much fun.

"We don't pretend to be able to be all things to all nonprofit organizations. During a time of economic challenge that is unprecedented for many of us, MMT's resources are too limited to solve the many fiscal difficulties all our communities are facing. But we plan to keep challenging ourselves to find ways to do more," writes Meyer Memorial Trust CEO Doug Stamm in a recent post on the Portland, Oregon-based foundation's Web site. He continues: "We understand the value of core support. In fact, we know that -- now more than ever -- many organizations are financially challenged to maintain their core work, [and over] the next year, organizations displaying the following characteristics will likely be best positioned for core support through our Responsive and Grassroots Grants programs":

  1. well-established in its community
  2. plays key roles in and provides important services for its community
  3. has a demonstrated history of well-managed organizational development (e.g., board development, strategic planning, strong fiscal management)
  4. has established clear and reasonable organizational goals for the coming year
  5. has been thoughtful in its approach to the economic downturn
  6. is requesting support of an amount and for a duration that aligns with MMT’s current grantmaking approach

Strikes us as a pretty good description of what funders are looking for most of the time.

Nonprofits spend plenty of time asking donors to support their missions, but can a grantmaker request the same in return? Chris Murakami Noonan, communications associate at the Minnesota Council on Foundations, interviewed several corporate grantmakers for the spring issue of MCF’s Giving Forum and asked them that question. Their answers may surprise you.

Excellent post on the South Asian Philanthropy Project blog about giving to charitable causes by Pakistani-Americans.

Social Media

Stan Schroeder on the Mashable blog has dubbed 2009 the year of social media. And if his statistics don't convince you Twitter is worth the fuss, maybe Hugh Jackman can. The Australian actor made news last week after he asked his followers on the popular microblogging site to help him choose a chaity to donate $100,000 to. The catch? You had to make your case in 140 characters or less. (Jackman ended up splitting the $100,000 between two organizations, Charity:Water and Operation of Hope.

Beth Kanter urges nonprofit organizations that are struggling to develop a social media policy to first have a discussion about their social media strategy. Writes Kanter:

There needs to be discussion. Not only about the potential concerns and how to respond, but how the organization or its internal culture can embrace social media....

A policy in of itself does not guarantee effective social media use, and if the policies magnify dysfunctional internal communications issues or silo culture, a policy may even get in the way of the organization owning social media.

As part of effective social media strategy development, the internal conversation must take place. But the policy can only be effective if the organization's culture can become agile enough to allow the rapid response to stakeholders and accommodate experimentation. The conversation is the first step. And it probably won't happen unless the organization's leadership facilitates the conversation and using social media to have that internal conversation is also a great way to improve understanding.

Excellent advice, as always.

On the NetSquared site, Amy Sample Ward has posted the twenty-four finalists in the Change the Web challenge, a competition designed to encourage the building of innovative online tools that help people find and share opportunities to take action for social change. The top three winners will be announced at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco on April 28.

The response on Twitter and in the nonprofit blogosphere to an article in the Washington Post on Wednesday ("To Nonprofits Seeking Cash, Facebook App Isn’t So Green") that painted a rather grim picture of the popular Facebook Causes application was immediate and almost universally negative. According to Allison Fine, the Post article repeated many of the same criticisms of the Causes app featured in an earlier WaPo article and included a number of inaccuracies. For a different take on the controversy, read this post by We Media blogger Brian Reich.

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

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

TED on Sunday: Al Gore

Congressman, senator, 45th vice president of the United States, presidential candidate, award-winning author, husband and father -- Al Gore has filled his sixty-one years on earth with enough achievement and success to last three lifetimes. But it is as a tireless advocate for the environment that he is most likely to be remembered by future generations. In this TED talk from 2008 -- a followup to his June 2006 talk ("15 Ways to Avert a Climate Crisis") -- Gore argues that we are facing a planetary emergency that requires a new generation of heroes to rise above our culture of distraction and create a sense of urgency around the climate crisis. The science is indisputable; the time for talk is over. What we need now is decisive, coordinated action on a global scale. (Filmed: March 2008. Running Time: 27:54.)

-- Mitch Nauffts

'City of Trees': The Book

April 25, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This is the third installment in a five-part series that explores the growing movement to recover and maintain the urban canopy in the Northeast. In her last post, she wrote about tree planting efforts in Washington's Anacostia neighborhood.)

Casey Trees_Choukas-Bradley An earnest-looking crowd, admitted tree-huggers, filled a room at the Botanic Garden earlier this year for one of several events organized by Casey Trees to launch the re-issue of a beloved field guide to Washington's urban canopy, City of Trees, by Melanie Choukas-Bradley, with illustrations by Polly Alexander.

First published in 1981 and re-issued in 1987, City of Trees is all about Washington, with lots of stories specific to the city's history, monuments, and characters. The trees included in the book, on the other hand, are an eclectic lot, thanks to the city's mild climate. The book lists more than a dozen different types of magnolias -- their outrageous flowers and egg-shaped fruit, evergreen leaves, and lemony fragrance are distinct elements of the city -- and sprinkled among the many native species are trees from other countries -- including arboreal gems such as the cherry trees gifted to the city by the Japanese government in 1912.

The book is a treasure, though a bit hefty for hiking about. The illustrations are clear and detailed, the descriptions thorough, the writing lively and informative. The introductory text gives a colorful history of trees in the city and the personalities linked to them. We learn, among many interesting details, that the tulip poplar is the city's quintessential park tree; it's native, and it thrives in an urban environment. There are sections on tree viewing by location -- the Mall, the Capitol grounds (where Frederick Law Olmsted, the visionary behind New York's Central Park, insisted the trees be labeled, turning it to a spacious arboretum), the memorials -- as well as places just outside the city like Theodore Roosevelt Island, where the pedestrian visitor comes upon a great peaceful Art Deco plaza.

In her talk at the Botanic Garden, Choukas-Bradley mentioned some important changes to the city's canopy since the first edition, such as the grounds surrounding the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened a few years ago; the surrounding gardens are sprinkled with trees common to North American Native habitat, including witch-hazel, sassafras, and tulip.

Continue reading »

Anacostia: Back to the Garden

April 23, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This is the second installment in a five-part series that explores the growing movement to recover and maintain the urban canopy in the Northeast. In part one, she wrote about Washington, D.C.'s love affair with its trees.)

Casey Trees_ training volunteer planters "This area used to be covered with blossoms from all the trees," said Diane Fleming, tree planting volunteer, longtime Anacostia resident, Anacostia Garden Association activist, and Casey Tree board member. "Look at it now!" Lamenting, she gestured up and down the mostly treeless streets.

But that could change. Ms. Fleming was one of a few dozen volunteer tree planters that had gathered last Saturday in Anacostia, the largely African-American, largely poor area across the river from Capitol Hill. The mixed crowd (white, black; very young to older; neighborhood residents and non-) was preparing to plant trees on the 1500 blocks of U Street and V Street, SE, to benefit a group of homeowners, the first planting in this particular area of small houses. The Historic Anacostia Block Association had organized the planting on what turned out to be a glorious spring day.

For Ora Coleman, one of fifteen neighbors who had signed up for a "Casey tree," it was a glorious day. "I'm getting a lilac, a big one," she said, as she beamed at the group of planters laboring over a large hole in her back yard. "I've planted them before but they were too small to survive. This one" -- she presented the ten-foot tall tree lying on its side -- "this one will live."

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Green City

April 22, 2009

(A regular contributor to PhilanTopic, Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. She recently reviewed Paul Collier's new book, War, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places for PND and filed two on-the-ground reports -- here and here -- from El Salvador about that post-conflict country's recent presidential election.)

Casey Trees_ Capitol trees Slated to talk about movies at the kick-off event of Washington’s "Film Fest DC" some years ago, Lina Wertmuller, the Italian filmmaker, surprised the audience by first exclaiming "You live in a garden!" and going on to regale those in attendance about the trees and parks and flowers she'd seen since arriving for the festival. Wertmuller is not the only visitor captivated by the 2,000-plus acres of urban park and the variety of planted trees -- 3,000 around the Capitol building and the Library of Congress alone. And then there are the flowering cherry trees -- 3,750 trees on the banks of the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial alone -- a sight that brings 700,000 visitors to Washington each April.

To live in Washington, D.C., is indeed to live in a garden: Golden Gate Park in San Francisco may be the largest urban park in the United States, but it's a rectangle of green; in D.C. the park is spread throughout the city, an everywhere presence of shade and blossoms and birdsong. The largest section, Rock Creek Park, meanders as the stream does, south from the city limit at Candy Cane City in Maryland down to Thompson Boat Center, where the creek empties into the Potomac River near Kennedy Center. Created in 1890, it is the "oldest natural urban park" under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, a place for people to run, bike, picnic, ride horses, and walk -- and home to two hundred deer, red and gray fox, coyotes, beaver, and the largest density of raccoons in the country.

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Global Philanthropy Forum Annual Conference

Gpf_climatechange A quick post to let you know that the Foundation Center is providing the information platform for GPF's 8th annual conference, which opens today in Washington, D.C.

As part of that effort, my Research and Web Services colleagues have put together five terrific slide decks filled with background statistics and examples of innovative solutions supported by philanthropy in five key areas of activity being addressed at the forum: poverty at home and abroad, access to health care, climate changeeducation for a global society, and reconstruction and reconciliation in post-conflict societies. Resources compiled for the conference include data on top grantmakers and grantees, significant grants awarded in recent years, and the geographical distribution of international grant dollars. Within each issue area, three to five subtopics are further illustrated by brief case studies describing creative approaches to the issue.

To learn more, check out GPF's annual conference page. Or click here to read my interview with GPF president and co-founder Jane Wales.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Poverty Unbound

April 21, 2009

(Tony Pipa's twenty years of executive leadership span nonprofits, foundations, and global NGOs seeking to alleviate poverty. In his last post, he questioned whether nonprofits' eagerness to import methodologies and metaphors from the business world undermines the characteristics that give the nonprofit sector its value and meaning.)

Image-bridging As someone with an interest in both the domestic and international dimensions of poverty, I'm struck by the sometimes limited crossover and dialogue between people working on the issue here and those working abroad. It's especially painful to hear a U.S. congressman who sits on an influential foreign relations committee declare in conversation that there's no comparison and to watch executives of international nonprofits nod in assent, or to be visiting the Gulf Coast region and have local activists grumble about government funds going overseas.

Those examples suggest a potentially unfortunate scenario: having a sort of development protectionism develop, where the pressure to divert funds to local rather than international causes builds over time. There has been speculation that the recession is prompting private donors to rethink their priorities along these lines, though -- because of lags in the data -- it's still too early to tell. Recently Gary Becker and Richard Posner, two University of Chicago faculty members, debated whether donors should receive a tax benefit at all for supporting global causes.

On the other hand, the mindset of international development acolytes sometimes suggests a sort of moral high-handedness. When 40 percent to 50 percent of an entire city is given over to slums, they'll say, you can't chalk it up to bad choices. Living on less than a dollar a day or fleeing to a refugee camp to escape a civil war is fundamentally different than someone struggling to make ends meet in the United States, and donors get a much bigger bang for the buck in the developing world, helping scores more people with smaller investments.

Whatever grains of truth are contained in the attitudes on either side, they distract us from a substantive conversation with the potential to be immensely productive. The forces behind poverty in both contexts have more in common than not, and there is much to learn from successes and failures that can be adapted and applied across silos.

Take emergency response. International humanitarian organizations -- many responding to a domestic crisis for the first time -- were some of the most successful in reaching low-income survivors after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Just think what the U.S. could learn about disaster preparedness from Bangladesh, which experienced a cyclone in 1991 that killed 138,000 people, then in 2007 experienced another of similar magnitude that killed less than 10,000. Will we be able to demonstrate such substantial improvement if another Katrina hits in twelve years?

And what might international philanthropists and NGOs learn from the approach of the Jacobs Family Foundation in redeveloping the Diamond neighborhoods of San Diego? With the foundation's support, community-led development is being coupled with patient capital and a commitment to transferring financial ownership in a way that is -- pardon the cliché, but here it’s apt -- truly empowering. As a result, more than four hundred local residents have ownership stakes in the $23.5 million Market Creek Plaza commercial development; 120 residents were involved in its design; new housing, a park, and a community center are on the drawing board; and by 2020 the community will own it all. It’s a project that is successfully building local governance, a perennial challenge for international development.

Certainly cross-pollination does occur, but often it’s the exception rather than the rule -- and more unnatural than it needs to be. You won’t find many members of InterAction at Independent Sector's annual conference, and I wonder how many foundations or think tanks that run both domestic and international programs structure regular and substantial learning interactions among those different staff teams.

It’s heartening that Jeff Sachs, Angela Glover Blackwell (of PolicyLink, a leading organization advancing economic equity in the U.S.), and David Lane (of the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty in the developing world) will share the stage at the upcoming Mobilization to End Poverty conference. It will be interesting to see if they discuss where their separate advocacy agendas might mesh and complement each other. In addition, this year’s Global Philanthropy Forum (see PND's interview with GPF president and co-founder Jane Wales) will focus on both the domestic and international implications of five transnational issues. Perhaps the next step would be for GPF and the Neighborhood Funders Group -- the affinity group of foundations working to improve economic conditions in U.S. communities -- to co-sponsor a conference on solutions to poverty.

Global development advocates argue that efforts to reduce global poverty should play a more prominent role in U.S. foreign policy, because improving human security abroad enhances the standing of the U.S. in the world and helps to alleviate socioeconomic conditions that give rise to violence and terrorism. While it's not often presented this way, philanthropic investment that seeks to create opportunity and stability, and better position our citizens to compete and prosper in a global economy, is also about strengthening human security. Both are about creating a better, safer world. Working across boundaries will help us get there faster.

-- Tony Pipa

Two-Thirds of Foundations to Reduce Grantmaking in 2009

April 20, 2009

Econ_crisis Close to two-thirds of foundations responding to a new Foundation Center survey expect to reduce the number and/or the size of grants they award in 2009. According to Foundations Address the Impact of the Economic Crisis, organizations seeking new sources of support and recently established entities will be especially challenged in securing foundation funding. The report is based on survey responses from more than 1,200 U.S. foundations.

The new survey finds that over half of respondents are reacting to the economic crisis by engaging in more non-grantmaking activities. Fully two-thirds of these funders plan to seek out more collaborations and partnerships in 2009, while roughly one-third indicate that they will be initiating more convenings. At least one out of five respondents expects to engage in more foundation staff-led activities, provide more technical assistance, offer more bridge/emergency financing, or engage in more advocacy.

"Foundations are not rolling over in the face of adversity," said Steven Lawrence, the center's senior director of research and author of the advisory. "The new survey shows foundations being creative, strategic, and willing to dig deep to ensure that their agendas move forward while this crisis persists."

Other key findings from the advisory:

  • Foundations will draw on various resources to fund 2009 giving in 2009 — close to two out of five respondents expect to draw at least in part on their endowments to fund grants.
  • About 14 percent of respondents either have made or plan to make exceptional grants or launch special initiatives in response to the economic crisis, largely by reallocating their existing grants budgets.
  • Nearly one-third of respondents made operational changes (e.g., changes in investment strategies, reducing operating expenses) as a result of the 2000-02 economic downturn that they believe better prepared them to face the current downturn.

"Foundations can do so much more than simply make grants," said Foundation Center president Bradford K. Smith. "The important thing is for them to remain true to their values and causes and to stand by their nonprofit partners."

Foundations Address the Impact of the Economic Crisis is the latest in a series of research advisories that explores the impact of the economic downturn on the nonprofit sector. The advisories and a variety of other resources designed to help nonprofits and foundations deal with the challenges of the unstable economy are available at the Focus on the Economic Crisis area of the center's site.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Project Streamline Update

April 15, 2009

Project_streamline In this economic downturn, both grantmakers and grantseekers are being asked to do more with less. Project Streamline (see this for a more complete description), a collaborative initiative of eight organizations, including the Foundation Center, is working to improve grant application and reporting in ways that reduce costs for both grantmakers and grantseekers. To that end, the collaborative has released its Spring 2009 online newsletter. Learn how grantmakers are right-sizing application and reporting requirements. Read a profile of the Arcus Foundation and its streamlining efforts. Consider and discuss ways that grantseekers can support streamlined grantmaking. You can also learn more about Project Streamline, its next phase, and how you can participate.

Click here to explore the newsletter.

A Matter of Perspective: Bridging the Communication Gap in a Time of Crisis

April 14, 2009

(Betsy Brill is the founder and president of Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd., a Chicago-based global philanthropic advisory practice that helps individuals, families, and closely held businesses more effectively manage their charitable giving. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Comm_gap We were helping a wealthy couple define their legacy giving. They wanted to name a small charity in their will and I advised them to start funding capacity building during their lifetime. "Capacity building?" asked our client, a former CEO. "Why fund capacity now when the gift will come sometime in the future?"

"Imagine," I replied, "that you wanted to scale up a small business to serve a much larger market. You would expect to make investments in management and management systems to prepare the company to meet market demands. It's no different in the nonprofit world. We refer to the necessary investment in infrastructure and resources to ensure stability as 'capacity building'. It makes sense to do this work before they receive your legacy gift so that they are prepared to use it well."

It’s All About Perspective

This story illustrates a common misunderstanding inherent in many donor and nonprofit relationships. The nonprofit wants, or should be able, to ensure that it has the ability to meet current and future challenges in pursuit of their mission. The donor, however, is more focused on his future gift and what it could do and has given little or no thought to whether the organization has the capacity to support his intent and will be able to make those results possible.

Fortunately, our client quickly recognized the correlation between the business example and the nonprofit and understood the value in making capacity-building grants. In fact, he went on to fund a strategic plan and board training in addition to an annual contribution for general operations.

While this was a positive outcome for all parties, I have seen similar instances where the donors chose to disengage, not fully understanding the nonprofit's need. Recognizing the distinct perspectives that donors and nonprofits bring to a relationship is a key component to reducing the chance of miscommunication. Indeed, just as donors need transparency from the organizations they support, nonprofits need to understand where donors are coming from so they do their best to maintain the relationship.

Communication and the Current Environment

The current economic environment puts pressure on both sides of the philanthropic relationship. Nonprofits are seeing grant revenue from foundations diminish and are turning to donors who have fewer resources. As donors and nonprofits negotiate relationships at a critical time, the need for clear communication could not be more pronounced. Here are a few ways in which donors and nonprofits can bridge the communication divide:

1. Clarify Intent -- Before making a request or making a donation, both nonprofit and donor need to be clear about what they hope the interaction will accomplish. There is no harm in an organization requesting funds to meet a specific need or to fill a gap in the budget. Not only does this help the donor understand how the funds will be used and to what end, but it also builds relationships going forward. Similarly, donors need to be clear about their intent before making a gift: Why are they giving to this organization at this time? What do they hope to achieve?

2. Communicate Intent -- This may seem like a forgone conclusion, but too often nonprofits and donors forget to include the other in their thinking. Nonprofits may struggle with questions such as how to ask a donor to help with a budget deficit, for example, or donors may not state that a particular gift does not reflect their ability to give in the future. However, if these types of considerations are "on the table," rather than silent forces guiding the conversation, both sides of the philanthropic dialogue will benefit.

 

3. Understand Context -- With the environment changing rapidly for both donors and charities, it's more important than ever to maintain an atmosphere of transparency. Donors may be willing to support a new initiative if they understand how this initiative relates to the organization's mission or what the "back story" is behind formalizing the initiative. And if donors find themselves in a situation where they cannot give at the same level, communicating this information to the organization enables it to plan and better understand the importance and value of the gift made, whatever the amount. Similarly, the nonprofit should communicate how it is navigating through the economic environment and alert donors if there are problems, before the problems become overwhelming.

 

4. Ask Questions -- Informed philanthropists are the most enthusiastic and committed -- long term. They want the nonprofits they support to succeed, yet they are becoming more discerning about where they give their money. They are engaging in more deliberate due diligence before writing checks. Organizations that anticipate the questions that will be asked of them are more apt to receive grants or contributions. Organizations should also feel free to ask donors questions.

Especially since the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal came to light, it's important to know as much as possible about the people and institutions helping to secure the financial strength of an organization -- what are their motivations, interests, long-term commitments, and desire for involvement?

The recession has created new terrain for both donors and nonprofits. Nonprofits face falling revenues and rising needs while donors manage reduced incomes and asset values. But urgency is too often a ripe environment for miscommunication. Successful philanthropy is a partnership between donors and nonprofits. Partnerships take work and require both partners to be good listeners. Now, more than ever, donors and nonprofits need to hear what the other partner is saying it needs and wants.

-- Betsy Brill

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