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24 posts from October 2009

Quote of the Day (October 31, 2009)

October 31, 2009

Quotemarks "We live in tumultuous and challenging times; we can stand on the edge of the precipice. We can fall headlong into an abyss of unprecedented poverty, shrinking opportunities, environmental devastation, and increased social turmoil. Or we can embrace our current set of crises as an opportunity. As we are forced to cope with food shortages, high fuel costs, a shrinking middle class, growing wealth divides, global migrations, and cataclysmic environmental events, so too must we face changing the social world because we cannot afford merely to tinker with the consequences of these problems. We must move more deeply into the roots of these challenges in order to solve them...."

-- Maya Wiley, executive director, Center for Social Inclusion

Frightening Proposals

(The following post was written by Stephen Sherman, reference librarian at the Foundation Center-Atlanta, and originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-Atlanta blog.)

Halloween-bat-moon-clipart1 Foundation staff review stacks upon stacks of grant proposals each year. From time to time, they may even see proposals that are downright scary. In the spirit of Halloween, here are three "monster" proposals that you should try to avoid.

Frankenstein's Monster

Sure -- it sounds easy enough. Everyone writes their respective sections of the proposal and then puts them together in one document and sends it to the funder. Too often, however, the result can be a loosely-stitched-together proposal that's confusing and full of inconsistencies and repetition. Reviewers can tell when a proposal has been patched together without substantial revision, and a narrative that is disorganized and incoherent is much less convincing than one with a consistent voice that flows smoothly from section to section.

While it's not uncommon for several different individuals in an organization to be involved in the proposal writing process, it is imperative that one person take the lead when it comes to editing and formatting the final document. This individual should review the proposal for accuracy, consistency, organization, and especially continuity. A well-edited proposal will flow naturally from section to section and convey the story of your organization and its programs with ease.

The Blob

It starts with an executive summary and a statement of need. Then the narrative hits the project description and continues to grow -- rapidly surpassing 3, 5, 10 pages -- until the proposal has become a bloated mass of paper and ink.

Brevity can be one of the most difficult traits to develop as a proposal writer. There is a compelling urge to include as much detail as possible when describing programs to prospective funders. However, this can cause a proposal to become lengthy and cumbersome for the reader. Besides, most applications now come with strict guidelines that limit sections of the proposal to certain page lengths. How can a proposal writer cope with these restrictions?

First, it's all about finding the right amount of detail to include. For example, if you are seeking funding for a tutoring program, the grantmaker probably doesn't need to be told how many desks are in each classroom. They might want to know, however, the number of volunteer tutors you plan to recruit and how. Other ways to keep your proposal concise include using simple, direct language and avoiding long, rambling sentences. Having an outline can also help you stay focused on the key points you want to get across to the reader in each section. Brevity doesn't just apply to the narrative, either, so remember to limit your attachments and supporting materials to those items that the funder specifically requests in their guidelines.

Night of the Living Dead

Who among us hasn't pulled an all-nighter? Whether it was cramming for that final exam in college or staying up to get that presentation ready for the big meeting, we've all been guilty of procrastination at some point in our lives. Still, this is no way to succeed in grantseeking.

What quality do reviewers look for most in a proposal? Clarity. This is something that you're not likely to achieve while hunched over your laptop at two o'clock in the morning. Moreover, the less time you leave to check through a proposal, the more likely it is the reviewer will find troubling mistakes in grammar and spelling that may contribute to a negative response. How do you fight the urge to put off finishing a proposal until just before the deadline?

Keeping an updated grants calendar with important submission deadlines and follow-up dates will help you stay on track with your proposals. Even better, creating self-imposed due dates for proposals well in advance of actual deadlines will ensure that you have plenty of time to revise and edit the document before sending it off. And on those occasions when you become aware of a new opportunity at the last minute, consider waiting until the next funding cycle to apply. Keep in mind: You only get one chance to make a first impression with a grantmaker. Don't let it be a frightening one!

Want some more tips on proposal writing? Check out these titles:

Grant Proposal Makeover: Transform Your Request from No to Yes
Cheryl A. Clarke and Susan P. Fox
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2007

The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing, 5th ed.
Jane C. Geever
New York: Foundation Center, 2007

-- Stephen Sherman

'The Philanthropist': Going, Going, Gone?

October 29, 2009

Philanthropist_purefoy Back in July, we ran a nice piece by Diana Campoamor, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, about NBC's summer replacement series The Philanthropist. Over the course of eight episodes, the show, which featured a hard-partying, skirt-chasing businessman-cum-philanthropist by the name of Teddy Rist (played by James Purefoy), provided viewers with a whirlwind tour of (and brief history lessons about) some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden places on earth.

It also rubbed some people in philanthropy the wrong way. Campoamor wasn't one of them. In her piece, she made the point that

for the first time in recent pop culture history, a depiction of someone who calls himself a philanthropist (until recently, one of the most boring words in our language to most people), will have a chance to enter our homes and make us all aware of the need for the truly lived, philanthropy-centered life. That in itself is a big accomplishment....

Now, two fans of the show, Deborah Brancheau and Tamara Rudorfer, are trying to use the Causes application in Facebook to save the show from cancellation and, in the process, generate some donations through America's Giving Challenge for Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights around the world.

According to the two women, the show is a great example of how capitalism and philanthropy can coexist and work together to solve tough social and economic problems in war-torn and poverty-stricken regions.

(You can watch all eight episodes of season one, with limited commercial interruptions, on Hulu through September 10, 2010.)

Brancheau and Rudorfer are asking supporters of the show -- and of human rights in general -- to:

  1. Become members of "Save 'The Philanthropist' Through Charity" cause by visiting: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/380724.
  2. Make a donation to the cause. The money will go directly to Human Rights Watch. If you have questions about how donations are handled check out:
  3. http://apps.facebook.com/causes/help?category=Donation+questions.
    Urge the president of primetime entertainment at NBC to reverse the decision to cancel The Philanthropist by following the directions outlined on their Cause page: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/actions/2241?cause_id=380724.

I don't know about you, but I think this might be a cause worth supporting. Sure the show was glitzy and over the top, but how many prime-time network dramas deal seriously (and often compellingly) with things like ethnic cleansing, child slavery and sex trafficking, and desperate poverty? How many mention, let alone try to understand, countries and places such as Myanmar, Kosovo (my favorite), Kashmir, and Haiti? ("None" is the correct answer.)

America's Giving Challenge ends November 6, but Brancheau and Rudorfer vow to continue their efforts on behalf of the show beyond that date. We wish them luck.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Does Measurement = Randomized Control Trials?

October 28, 2009

(The following post by Andrew Wolk, CEO of Root Cause, a nonprofit that works to advance solutions to social and economic problems by supporting social innovators and educating social impact investors, originally appeared on Andrew's blog. Click here to read a recent op-ed piece by Wolk in PND.)

Performance_bargraph There is a debate going on about how to identify and invest in the highest-performing nonprofits -- with a great emphasis on randomized control trial (RCT) studies.

The RCT, a research methodology that involves randomly selecting subjects from a larger test group to receive an experimental product or service, is undoubtedly a rigorous way of determining whether a cause-and-effect relationship exists between a given service and a desired outcome.

The current interest in RCTs is an encouraging sign of the growing momentum for linking nonprofit funding to proven results and investing in what works, particularly if we can also disseminate the information far and wide.

At the same time, RCTs raise concerns for me, as they could end up stifling rather than encouraging social innovation.

The trouble with randomized control trials is that they are extremely expensive to carry out and so only the more developed and/or the best able to access resources participate. Most nonprofits struggle with finding the funds for general operations, let alone conducting an RCT.

So, we are stuck between encouraging social innovation and the strong desire to invest in what works. I believe we need to develop a spectrum that links an organization’s stage of development, with measurement requirements, to levels of investment. The stages could look something like this:

The Social Impact Measurement Spectrum

Impact_spectrum

Stage 1 - Start-up: At the earliest stage, start-ups with promising ideas could receive minimal support in exchange for a commitment to developing and tracking an initial set of measures that align with standards in the organization’s field.

Stage 2 - Proof of concept: At the next stage, the organization would have a simple, internally driven performance measurement system that would drive internal continuous improvements while generating initial data on the impact of the organization’s model. Funding would be increased to match the increased rigor of the organization’s measurement, but it would still be far less than that given to organizations at later stages.

Stage 3 - Promising, not proven: At this stage, organizations would be required to operate a full performance measurement system that is integrated with their business models and publicly share the results. They might also do an external evaluation at this stage to further elucidate their impact.

Stage 4 - Spread of proven model: This final stage would occur when an organization has conducted an RCT study with positive results. They would be able to receive substantial investment in exchange for a commitment to share the details of their model so it spread and others could learn and adopt the organization’s successful practices. The Coalition for Evidence Based Policy is building a site that will identify social interventions shown in rigorous studies to produce sizable, sustained benefits to participants and/or society.

A spectrum like this would do a few important things. It would provide a framework that would inform how a social innovation might spread; it would provide a roadmap to the kind of measurement system an organization should develop over time; and, lastly, it would give an idea as to the amount of funding an organization could expect as an innovation moved toward greater proven social impact.

-- Andrew Wolk

What do you think? Is Wolk's concept helpful and/or workable? Share your comments below....

Social Issue Documentaries

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar.)

Docfilm_bwcamera The audience for documentary films is bigger than ever, as evidenced by the increasing number of documentary festivals and broadcast venues, both public TV and cable, as well as streaming and Video on Demand (VOD). And the opportunities to see documentaries are matched by the variety of documentaries available -- from expository to impressionistic, right wing to progressive, local to global, short to very long.

As the field has grown, more funders are considering whether and how they can connect their priorities to documentary films and, indeed, the broader field of media. At the same time, nongovernmental organizations are considering how to use documentaries beyond the traditional "public relations" or "lesson" formats. Confronted by an explosion of social media sites (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) and the proliferation of "screens" (laptops, netbooks, smartphones), groups are experimenting with technology to see what makes sense for their message and their constituency.

Documentary filmmakers and distributors are challenged to keep up. The familiar venues of the past are not necessarily the best ones today. For example, theatrical release, even in "art houses," works only for films that can attract a broad audience -- An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11 are anomalies in terms of number of tickets sold and box-office revenues. Which is not to say that a good documentary film without an Al Gore cannot find an audience; it just might be an audience that would rather watch the film on their preferred personal screen rather than in a movie theater.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (October 24 - 25, 2009)

October 26, 2009

Chain-links Our weekly roundup of news and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

Social media guru Beth Kanter shares this nugget with arts organizations on her blog: "A successful social media strategy with arts audiences is more like an audience development or education program, not a straight ticket sales strategy."

Corporate Philanthropy

"While most U.S. companies are not making changes in their corporate citizenship practices...38 percent of those that are...have reduced their charitable giving, 27 percent have increased layoffs, and 19 percent have trimmed research and development for sustainable products," writes Todd Cohen, citing a recent study, on his Inside Philanthropy blog. And with "companies becoming more strategic in their giving," Cohen adds, nonprofits

should be working to team up with companies in ways that will generate not only the contribution of corporate dollars but also ongoing relationships that will build a pipeline of other resources that include in-kind support, employee volunteers and expertise, and corporate sponsorships and connections....

Social media site Twitter has announced a new partnership with Crushpad, a San Francisco company that tries to connect city dwellers with the resources and tools to make great wine. Through the Fledgling Initiative, Crushpad will help people "make awesome wine for the benefit of Room to Read," a nonprofit organization that works to increase the literacy of children worldwide. According to the ServiceNation blog, it's an interesting initiative "because it doesn't take the usual global approach to raising money....Instead, it...taps the passion of a small subset of potential donors, in this case wine lovers...."

To learn more, watch this video featuring Twitter co-founder Biz Stone; John Wood, the founder of Room to Read; and Crushpad founder Michael Brill:

Governance

Is the nonprofit governance structure flawed? Can board structures be eliminated altogether? Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns argues that the current system is flawed. And because "the IRS has not been willing to accept another construct," says Burns, only a new business structure, like the L3C, or low-profit limited liability company, may offer a solution to the problem.

Leadership

Rosetta Thurman offers this list of eleven tips for do-it-yourself nonprofit professional development:

  1. Find your own mentors
  2. Remember you can learn a lot from your peers
  3. Don't underestimate the power of reflection
  4. Join a board of directors
  5. Communicate your leadership involvement with your employer
  6. Be proud of the training you receive from your local YNPN chapter
  7. Become an expert
  8. Invite yourself to everything
  9. Do a really good job in the position you're in right now
  10. Ask a lot of questions
  11. Find your true passion

Philanthropy

On his Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton challenges a commenter's claim that a previous post of his advanced the idea that social investors know better than nonprofits how to run nonprofit programs. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Poverty Alleviation

On the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, shares his thoughts on class mobility and what it has been like to spend his adult life working for social justice after growing up poor. His conclusion?

I wish there were more people in the nonprofit and foundation sectors who would speak out about their experiences of having grown up in poverty. It would be a good tonic. I and others might be more likely to discard some of our questionable experiments in social engineering. If I were able to see the poor neither as super-beings nor as eternal victims, I might gain a truer picture of how they sometimes participate in perpetuating their own misery. I might spend less time feeding my sentimentalism and my self-righteousness, and more time feeding the hungry.

The next step for us is even harder. It’s to admit that even with our privilege and our education, in spite of all the learned men and women at our beck and call, we typically haven’t the slightest clue about how to change a system that not only keeps people in poverty but continues to create them in prodigious numbers....

Social Entrepreneurship

"Will the Social Innovation Fund fund social innovation?" asks Nonprofit Quarterly contributor Rick Cohen in a new essay commissioned by the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal. Among other things, Cohen raises seven areas of concerns about the fund. Here are a few:

  • Will it stay true to its commitment to find "hidden jewels" in the nonprofit sector as opposed to falling prey to focusing on nonprofits that have the better public relations, substantial research "proving" their innovations, and resources with which to match the SIF and foundation funds they will be receiving;
  • Given that the fund is administered by the federal agency whose primary mission is to promote service and volunteerism, will it be able to avoid the reflexive tendency to over-focus on organizations that emphasize volunteers (or stipended volunteers);
  • Will it remain cognizant of the limitations of foundations as intermediaries for identifying nonprofit innovations; and
  • Will it be able to support and sustain innovative nonprofit organizations in light of the severe financial constraints that are affecting most nonprofits during this economic downturn.

Social Media

Heather Mansfield has compiled a list of 29 nonprofit bloggers to follow on Twitter.

#BeatCancer, a charitable campaign launched at the BlogWorld & New Media Expo, set a Guinness World Record last week for generating the most social media messages in a 24-hour period -- and in the process raised $70,000 from sponsors eBay/PayPal and MillerCoors Brewing Company, which donated a penny for each tweet, status update, or blog post that included the "#breastcancer" hash tag. (H/t: AFP blog)

A recent Financial Times article about MySpace "conceding defeat" in its competition with Facebook to become the largest online social network struck a chord with Allison Fine. Indeed, says Fine, nonprofits can learn a valuable lesson from MySpace, which "has changed its frame from competing with Facebook to focusing in what it does best." The lesson for nonprofits? Organizations that want "to be viable and effective in the digital age" should not wait to take the social media plunge.

Women

Last but not least, the World Affairs Council has posted an audio recording of a conversation between its CEO Jane Wales and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, co-author (with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn) of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Pep Talk for a Rainy Day

October 24, 2009

Sun_and_clouds "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way...."

The opening passage of A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best-known in English literature. Writing seventy years after the events portrayed, Dickens managed, in a few brilliantly turned phrases, to capture the fear, euphoria, and relief of a disillusioned society on the threshold of epochal change.

A hundred and fifty years after Dickens published his book, we find ourselves at a similar threshold. And if, like me, your view of the world is tinged with a healthy skepticism, you're probably thinking it will be a while before the clouds part, our animal spirits are revived, and we're ready to plunge once more into the breach.

If, on the other hand, you've been around the block a few times and, like John Mauldin (Thoughts From the Frontline), prefer the sunny side of the street, this is the best of times.

It's all a matter of perspective, as Mauldin explains in the most recent installment of his weekly missive. "[L]et's review those wonderful days from whence we sprang, so fraught with the advantages of having nothing," he writes, addressing himself to his good friend, the author (Empire of Debt) and financial newsletter (The Daily Reckoning) writer Bill Bonner.

It was the middle of the '70s....Inflation was high and rising. The Soviets were seen as a major threat. Japan was beating our brains out and buying everything, even if nailed down (like Pebble Beach and New York skyscrapers). I had to borrow money at 15% (or more) to buy paper in order to meet customer demands for printing. And guess what? The banks got into trouble and called loans willy-nilly....

There were multiple successive and ever-deeper recessions. Gold was rising and the dollar was seen as a joke. Howard Ruff (a good friend to both of us when we were starting out!) and almost every newsletter writer were telling people to buy gold and freeze-dried food to protect themselves against a near-certain economic, if not apocalyptic, catastrophe. Unemployment was high and rising for a decade.

The correct answer to the question, "Where will the jobs come from?" back then was, "I don't know, but they will." And that is the correct answer today.

In 20 years, no one will want to come back to the halcyon days of 2009. Our kids...are getting ready to live through what will be the most exciting period in human history. There will be a century's worth of change, measured by the standard of the 20th century, just in the next ten years, and then we will double that pace in the next ten after that. Medical miracles will mean our kids and grandkids will live a lot longer than their dads, although I intend to be writing well into my 80s, like our mutual hero Richard Russell.

There will be whole new industries developed in the US. How do I know that? Follow the money. The rest of the world spends a fraction of what we do on research and development. Where do you go if you are looking for venture capital?

Do I care if the Chinese and the "developing" world are far better off, relatively speaking, than the US in 20 years? Not a whit. Good on them. I hope they make discoveries and inventions and grow new businesses that benefit us all. But we are not going into some long dark night. We, and our kids, get to choose how we respond to what is the reality of the day.

Our nation had to almost hit the wall in 1980 before a Volker could come along and force us to take the pain of recession to beat back inflation. And we will have to come perilously close to the wall this time before we take action as a nation. Way too close for comfort. Maybe you are right, and we have a soft depression. I hope not; but even so, the world will be better, far better, in 20 years, with far more opportunities than today....

You are right in this: it is personal gumption that makes or breaks us. There are those who started out with less than we did (hard to imagine but true) and made a lot more. And there are those who started out with far more and made less. But there are very few who are happier than either of us. Or luckier.

Our kids? It is not the times that dictate the man (or daughter!), but the response of the man which dictates his own time. Today promises a brighter future for someone young than any other time in history, whether they are in the US or Brazil or China. They just have to seize it.

And as our kids do just that, and as the millions of kids of those who read us do so, and the billions of kids who are just now getting ready to bust loose all work to achieve their dreams, the world is going to be a far more fantastic place. Smooth ride? Not a chance. We didn't get one; and in thinking through history, there have not been many smooth rides. Why should we think that will get any better? Our kids will just have to live with our generational (and individual) iniquities, government debt and all, and figure out how to master their own fates. But if I had a choice to take the '70s or today? In less than a heartbeat I would choose today. And I bet you would too!

You're right, Mr. Mauldin. Thanks for the reminder.

-- Mitch Nauffts

The Benefits and Limits of Storybanking, Part 2

October 23, 2009

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her first post in this series, Stories Are a Vital Source of Knowledge, appeared in September.)

Story-narrative My previous post on the Benefits and Limits of Storybanking generated this offline comment from a professor at Rutgers University: "Thaler -- a very informative and thought provoking post. My question -- do you limit your storybank contents to a select number of stories that can be used by members of an organization so people remain 'on point'? And who approves the stories to be told? Or is that approach too authoritative, too top down?"

My response: If your storybank is established to support advocacy on a specific issue (for instance, to get more farmers markets to utilize food stamps or to pass an increase in your state's minimum wage), then the organizers of your effort may wish to limit the stories used to those focused on the specific message. Ideally, you would also have stories that are personally relevant to each messenger and audience segment.

If your storybank is focused on programmatic outcomes and organizational successes, there should be no quantitative limit to its contents. In fact, I would urge you to listen for narratives and anecdotes that illustrate the values, failures, challenges, and problem-solving capacity of your organization.

Continue reading »

Introducing the Social Impact Exchange

October 22, 2009

This is interesting.

Socialimpact4-4-4 Duke University and the Growth Philanthropy Network, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have launched the Social Impact Exchange -- a collaboration of funders, philanthropic practitioners, researchers, and others that "will act as a focal point for studying, funding and implementing large expansions of proven social purpose organizations."

More specifically, the Exchange has three main goals:

  • Developing and sharing knowledge on practices for expanding programs that work
  • Providing venues to collaboratively fund expansion of successful initiatives
  • Helping to build a field infrastructure for more efficient and effective scaling

To that end, the Exchange will make available an up-to-date library of relevant publications on a Web platform; offer training online and at an annual conference and regional meetings; and, most importantly, facilitate collaborative investment in "high-impact, well-vetted opportunities" through an online clearinghouse and a Social Impact Business Plan Competition.

If things work as planned, all this activity will serve a larger goal: the creation of a national social capital marketplace. According to Dr. S. Robert Levine, co-founder and chairman of GPN, such a marketplace, in order to be successful, must exhibit or feature:

  1. investment standards, transparent information, and performance reporting;
  2. a collaborative financing process that includes individuals, foundations, grants, and debt;
  3. sufficient "deal flow," a pool of high-impact nonprofits to demonstrate how a marketplace works;
  4. large-scale distribution to donors and a broad, diversified network of growth funders;
  5. a network of expert intermediaries that aggregate growth capital for qualified scaling initiatives; and
  6. a focal point for shared learning, knowledge development, and collective funding of high-impact growth initiatives.

Some of this "infrastructure" exists, while much of it is still the subject of discussion. And despite all the thought and hard work that people a lot smarter than me have invested in the idea, I remain skeptical. But that's a post (or three) for another day.

In the meantime, with folks like Joel Fleishman, Ed Skloot, Robert Levine, and Cynthia Massarsky involved, this is an effort you'll want to keep an eye on.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Making Sure the Important Stories Get Told

October 20, 2009

(The following was posted earlier today on the Communications Network blog and is posted here with the permission of Commnet director Bruce Trachtenberg.)

Hechinger_medium_logo It seems that philanthropy abhors the absence of news outlets and news services as much as nature abhors vacuums. Increasingly, foundations are funding a range of non-traditional ventures to fill the growing gap caused by the shrinking number of newspapers and disappearing beat reporters who used to specialize in topics of national importance such as education and health. Examples range from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Kaiser Health News, an independent news service that provides coverage of the policy and politics of health care, to ProPublica, which specializes in traditional investigative reporting about issues of national importance such as tracking how the federal stimulus money is being spent and which is primarily funded by the Sandler Foundation.

One of the latest examples of a foundation-funded project to increase national and regional coverage, this time of education, is the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University. Through initial support from the Gates and Lumina foundations, the Hechinger Institute is transforming itself from a training organization for journalists to "a source of in-depth, analytical and explanatory journalism about education." According to the institute's director, Richard Lee Colvin, who previously was the lead education writer at the Los Angeles Times, this change is occurring at a time "when traditional news media outlets have cut their spending on news-gathering due to a loss of advertising revenues."

Colvin says the institute will function like a broker -- seeking funding from foundations that want to increase coverage of education and then using that support to write and publish stories in partnership with mainstream publications as well as publish on and distribute through its own Web site.

Even as recently as "five years ago the idea that some outside entity, and one supported by foundations, would have anything to offer a commercial news operation would have been laughable," Colvin adds. "It would have been viewed as compromising journalistic integrity." Today, things have "completely changed. All sorts of new arrangements are being set up every day."

While being supported by foundations, Colvin is quick to add that the institute operates without any editorial oversight by its benefactors and that foundations are not the focus of its coverage. Instead, it's the issues driving the foundations' work that the institute seeks to focus on and, in the process, raise awareness of, especially among policy makers.

"What we're doing is just another way of demonstrating that the 'old rules' of the communications and news businesses no longer apply. Any foundation trying to affect policy understands the importance of engaging audiences. In the past, a big part of that might have been done working with and cultivating reporters and sending out releases and advisories. That practice will undoubtedly continue. But these days the number of people who specialize in certain topics or who can devote the time and attention that some subjects require, is shrinking."

Colvin notes that the institute is "agnostic as to platform and media." He says that in addition to print partners, it also will seek opportunities to create content for online outlets and produce radio and video stories.

Kevin Corcoran, a program officer at Lumina who previously was on the foundation's communications staff, sees the institute as "a credible third-party intermediary" that is able to produce content that both news organizations and the public "can trust." In particular, he adds, because the institute has focused on training journalists to be better at covering education issues, "the staff there knows these topics" as well as any beat reporter.

The fact that the Hechinger Institute can set itself up to produce independent journalism financed by a foundation and then offer the reporting to traditional news outlets is another example of how the news business is continuing to remake itself. And, maybe more importantly, the pairing of hybrid or non-traditional news organizations with foundations is helping to ensure a steady flow of information to inform both the citizenry and policy makers.

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

2009 Nonprofit Tagline Award Winners Announced

Nancy_180 Earlier today, our friend Nancy Schwartz, president of Nancy Schwartz & Company and publisher at GettingAttention.org, a great resource for nonprofit marketing and communications professionals, announced the thirteen winners of the 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards competition.

Selected from 60 finalists drawn from the 1,702 nonprofit taglines submitted for consideration, the winners include Common Cause (in the Civic Benefit category), the United Negro College Fund (Education), Earthjustice (Environment & Animals), the Cleveland Foundation (Grantmaking), and Homeboy Industries (Jobs & Workforce Development).

The winning taglines will be featured in the 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Report (due out in November) along with:

  • The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines
  • The 7 Deadly Sins – What Not to Do
  • Over 2,500 Nonprofit Tagline Examples

For a complete list of this year's winners and their taglines, visit Nancy's blog.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (October 17 - 18, 2009)

October 18, 2009

Chain-links Our weekly roundup of news and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

This year’s Blog Action Day, on October 15, saw bloggers from 155 countries contribute posts and resources related to climate change and the environment. For a roundup of featured posts, check out the Change.org site.

Communications/Marketing

On her Getting Attention blog, nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz shares a recent case study in which Tracy Mitchell, general manager of the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York, explains how she "tackled her marketing dilemmas, even before the recession hit in full force."

Community Improvement/Development

Referring to the recent incident involving ACORN workers who were caught on videotape allegedly advising individuals how to evade the law, Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns argues that as "in the public...and private sectors, mistakes...can be made by individual nonprofits." What is worrisome, says Burns, are the efforts by some members of Congress to use the incident as an excuse to repeal the Community Reinvestment Act, which, as Burns notes, was designed to end redlining -- the nefarious practice of "walling off" inner-city neighborhoods from mortgage loans. Adds Burns: "When [an organization’s] failing becomes a rallying cry to turn against parts of society that have limited voice, it's time for the nonprofit sector to take a stand."

Fundraising

After reading a new study from the Center on Philanthropy which found that donors who were asked to give in person by someone they knew were more likely to give than those asked by phone, mail or email, Todd Cohen says nonprofits need to "get back to basics" and "invest the time...to understand, cultivate, and engage their givers."

International Affairs/Development

A lively debate erupted early in the week as bloggers responded to an october 2 post by the Center for Global Development's David Roodman in which Roodman argued that popular microfinance site Kiva isn't quite what it seems. According to Roodman, that's because fewer than 5 percent of Kiva loans are disbursed after they are listed and funded on the Kiva site -- the way most people think the site works. After defending that practice in a separate post, Philanthropy Action editor-in-chief Tim Ogden raised other questions about the microfinance lender. Writes Ogden: "First, all losses from Kiva-securitized loans are borne by the Kiva user. Second, Kiva's monthly repayment reports are not based on actual repayment data." Then he asks: Will the "illusion...of person-to-person" giving lead to Kiva's demise, as it did for sponsor-a-child organizations in the '90s? Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton weighed in with his own thoughts on the controversy (here and here), as did Holden and Elie at GiveWell (here). By week's end, Kiva co-founder and CEO Matt Flannery had posted a thoughtful response to Roodman, and, as GiveWell reported, the Kiva team had made some changes to its donor-facing page.

On her Business of Giving blog, Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim takes a closer look at Africa Rural Connect, an online community that uses crowdsourcing technology to find a "solution for Africa's development challenges."

Nonprofit Management

According to a recent article in the Wall Sreet Journal, the "Great Recession" is over. (And we have a bridge in Brooklyn we'd like to sell you.) If that's true, says Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, nonprofits should move quickly to "reset the future path of [their]...financial health." According to Stannard-Stockton, that means:

  • developing the next generation of your most effective program;
  • putting in place an outcome measurement system;
  • creating and starting to build a reserve fund;
  • upgrading your technology infrastructure; and
  • hiring a top notch fundraiser.

Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta argues on his Free the Nonprofits blog that the so-called psychic benefits of nonprofit work are overrated. Writes Pallotta:

Most nonprofits are small and starved for capital, preventing employees from fully capitalizing on their personal potential. Nearly every good idea is met with a dearth of resources, a prohibition on taking risk, or a broken donated computer. Whatever psychic benefit that theoretically might have accrued from putting those good ideas into action is outweighed by the grind of shoestring budgets and overstretched systems that is the reality....

If you work for a nonprofit, you'll want to read the rest of his post.

Philanthropy

In part three of her "Decoding the Future" series, Lucy Bernholz offers further insights into the possible future nexus of philanthropy and technology. The big issues front and center in any such discussion, notes Bernholz, include "networks + network governance, the [giving] commons, [and] cloud technology."

Social Media

Ten Gen Y bloggers, including Allison Jones, Rosetta Thurman, Elisa M. Ortiz, Tracey Webb, and Kevin Gilnack, have formed the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance to help "young...bloggers reach wider audiences and collectively bring important issues...to the forefront." Congrats and best wishes to all involved.

Social media has moved beyond "shiny new object syndrome," says Future Buzz blogger Adam Singer, and that means the key to success for organizations (and individuals) hoping to establish a meaningful presence in an increasingly crowded landscape is to be the starting point of conversations. Adds Singer:

[T]hose who continuously start conversations in a niche become referential for the rest of that niche. And once people are conditioned to go somewhere on the web for certain type of content, it is a habit that may prove hard to break. If this place is your site, you’ll greatly benefit. This is because we have designed the web to be a very social place -- and so the places where people regularly converge will continue to grow....

On her blog, Beth Kanter explains how to put "social learning" (aka "learning in public") into practice.

Volunteerism

On Friday, President Obama visited former President George H.W. Bush in Texas to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Points of Light movement, which was created to bring "individual citizens together in their own organizations to solve problems in their own communities." Writing on the Huffington Post, Points of Light CEO Michelle Nunn argues that while the movement has been a resounding success, "the call to citizens to step up and make a difference has never been more important."

Women

Last but not least, Allison Fine offers her takeaways from the recent Voices Against Violence blogathon. Sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and NBC Birmingham affiliate Channel 13, the event was designed "to raise awareness of the terrible toll of domestic violence on women and communities." And it was a success, says Fine, because

the importance of the partnership between broadcast media and social media was clearly highlighted....Rather than being threatened by the bloggers, NBC and the Women’s Fund recognized the importance of building a strong relationship with them. The future won’t be social media or broadcast, it will be social media AND broadcast -- in some combination that we are still developing....

We couldn't agree more.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: 'Acid Test'

I've been a little derelict about curating new TED talks over the last month or so. But instead of a new one today, I want to share a beautiful twenty-minute film titled Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification.

Narrated by Sigourney Weaver and produced by the National Resources Defense Council, the film argues that the burning of fossil fuels is steadily compromising the rich biological diversity of the planet's oceans and threatens to turn them into a "sea of weeds." The canary in the coal mine? Coral reefs, which, if current trends persist, could be extinct in twenty to thirty years. If you care about the future of the planet, you'll want to watch. (Running time: 21:34)

We'll be back with a new TED on Sunday talk next week. In the meantime, here's a list of some our favorites. Enjoy.

And for those who can't get enough of TED, check out Jim Simpson's post about a cool hidden feature of most TED Talks.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times: Rx (Roundtable Exchange) Program Summary

October 16, 2009

(This entry was originally posted on the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland blog.)

Jigsawpuzzle In August, a small, engaged group of nonprofit leaders joined K.C. Henry, Principal, Transitions Unlimited, at the Foundation Center-Cleveland for Rx: Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times. Rx (Roundtable Exchange), a free peer-support group for development professionals or leaders from any type of nonprofit organization, is designed for those with at least five years of experience and is limited to twenty nonprofit representatives who come ready to participate and actively contribute questions, answers, and ideas to the group. It is presented in partnership with the Nonprofit Consultants Forum. Walter Duvall, the reporter for this session, provided these notes.

The roundtable began with an exercise to identify the most pressing questions participants had regarding strategic planning. Here's a summary of the discussion:

  1. Is there a right or wrong way to do strategic planning?
    The right way to create a strategic plan for an organization is the way that produces the best result. The process will vary according to the organization's experiences, resources, culture, and needs. Working through the process of assessment (SWOT is a basic technique), goal setting, developing SMART (specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound) objectives, and reviewing the organization's mission and vision is difficult if done in a piecemeal fashion. Kicking off the process with a planning retreat is generally a good idea and can be accomplished in as little as 6 - 8 hours.

    The planning process can be initiated and led by either the board or staff, and both groups should be involved. When board members lead, their focus should be on mission, core values, organizational objectives, and key strategies. Staff should always be involved in putting the plan into operation, implementation, and creating functional work plans, staffing and resource plans, and detailed budgets.

  2. When do we know that the time is right to hire a consultant to lead our organization through a strategic planning process?
    Before hiring a consultant, you need to know why the organization is undertaking a strategic planning process and what you hope the end result will be. Knowing answers to those questions will help you determine exactly what you want a consultant to do. Another question to ask is whether the organization will benefit from an outside, objective opinion? Do you need someone who can say things that perhaps an internal group would hesitate to bring up? Do you need a fresh perspective that a consultant can bring to the table? On a more practical level, would your organization's strategic planning effort benefit from some managerial assistance in gathering data, scheduling and facilitating meetings, convening volunteers and other key stakeholders for input, and other tasks that the organization is not resourced to perform?

For more information about strategic planning, take a look at these resources:

  • Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders. Washington, DC: American Society of Association Executives, 2008. This analysis begins with a listing of fifty key trends that will impact society over the next decade and then delves into the challenges they pose for nonprofit leaders. The book concludes with a framework for decision-making, both in the short term and over several years.
  • "Tactical Mapping: How Nonprofits Can Identify the Levers of Change," Nonprofit Quarterly, Summer 2009. Discusses tactical mapping as a method for nonprofits to survey the terrain of the issues their groups address; the article focuses specifically on the area of human rights. Through tactical mapping, which visualizes the relationships and institutions surrounding an issue, nonprofits can better assess how to confront the issue and create change. Includes several diagrams to illustrate how the mapping process works.
  • Jeri Eckhart-Queenan and Elizabeth Bibb. "Tapping Into the Board's Talents". Board Member, September-October 2008, p. 8-11. The authors discuss how nonprofits can make use of their board members' expertise during the strategic planning process. Includes a list of questions that organizations should ask themselves while formulating a business plan.
  • Jay W. Vogt. "Grounded Visioning: A Quick Way To Create Shared Visions". Nonprofit World, July-August 2008, p. 12-4. A consultant offers six steps for developing a shared vision among staff members of the organization's future. Emphasizes the need for a vision to be inspiring yet practical.

Do you have other resources you can recommend? Feel free to share them in the comments section....

-- Cynthia Bailie

World Food Day 2009

October 15, 2009

WFD Friday, October 16, is World Food Day. Here are nine things you should know about child hunger, courtesy of Save the Children USA:

1. For the first time in history, more than a billion people live with chronic hunger -- and at least 400 million of them are children.

2. In the developing world, volatile, historically high food prices together with the ongoing impact of the global economic crisis continue to drive families into poverty, putting millions more children at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

3. Drought is adding to extreme food crises in Guatemala and East Africa. In Ethiopia alone, three million children urgently need food.

4. A child dies every six seconds from hunger-related causes.

5. When there isn't enough food, poor families resort to skipping meals, pulling children from school, selling off livestock and assets and foregoing health care.

6. Poor families in developing countries typically spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food. Meanwhile, U.S. families spend only 5 to 10 percent of their budget on food.

7. When small children are malnourished, their physical and intellectual development may be permanently impaired.

8. Food shortages will increase as world population grows. By 2050, 70 percent more food will be needed to meet demand. Yet investment in agriculture is historically low.

9. It takes more than food to end hunger. For instance, the most agriculturally productive region of Mozambique has the highest rates of child malnutrition in the country. Poor families must be able to access a healthy diet.

(Sources: 1. FAO, WFP 2. World Bank 4. FAO 6. IFPRI, USDA 7. Lancet 8. FAO)

There is some good news. World leaders have pledged support for a $22 billion food security initiative and the Obama administration has outlined a new strategy to fight hunger. You can help these plans become reality by contacting your congressional representative today.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

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