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30 posts from October 2010

Weekend Link Roundup (October 30 - 31, 2010)

October 31, 2010

Halloween-pumpkin-2 Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen lists a few characteristics of what Clay Shirky, in his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, calls "The People Formerly Known as the Audience."

Fundraising

In honor of Halloween, Future Fudraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks shares "some things that should scare the heck out of fundraisers," including cuts to their acquisition budget, branding experts (the "brain-eating zombies of the fundraising world"), and the boss who loves your work.

Leadership

Back from the Council on Foundation's Next Generation Task Force sessions, Jillian Vukusich of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties lists some of the benefits and opportunities for Gen Y leaders on Kris Putnam-Walkerly's Philanthropy 411 blog.

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Cynthia Gibson looks at a new study from the University of Michigan which found that "college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979." Gibson explains how the findings are likely to effect "young people who DO care about 'making the world a better place'."

Philanthropy

"Just because you have data doesn't mean you know anything," writes Lucy Berhnolz in a new post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "Just because you have a map doesn't mean you're an explorer. And just because you have data and cool visualization tools doesn't mean you'll make better decisions or be a more effective grantmaker." Adds Bernholz:

For donors and foundation program officers, data and data visualizations have to meet an even higher threshold -- they are going to have to make it easier to know something than to not know it. Right now, most of the structural incentives in philanthropy make it OK to not know what everyone else in your field is doing. Plus, it's hard to find out. Those two factors -- making it necessary to know and making it easy to know -- are big barriers to adopting these tools or changing the way foundations make decisions. Technology can make it easier to access data and easier to show the data in new ways. But unless the incentives for knowing and doing the work change, we'll have a lot of very cool tools that few will use....

In a two-part series on his White Courtesy Telephone blog (here and here), Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga takes issue with a Stanford Social Innovation Review article in which William and Flora Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest disagrees with funders who "think it would be intrusive" to demand that their grantees be able to articulate a theory of change.

Voluntarism

On the Social Citizens blog, Emily Yu wonders whether downloading a Facebook app for a nonprofit or tagging photos online for a cause constitute "service," and, if so, how that type of service should "be weighted when it comes to evaluation metrics."

Women

The Nonprofiteer offers her take on a new study which found "that at all income levels women give more than men -- both more frequently and more generously when controlled for income." "If we're lucky," she writes, "the study will help eliminate the prejudice afflicting most professional fundraisers: that women are timid askers and chintzy givers who never donate without asking someone's permission...."

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

-- Regina Mahone

Frightening Proposals II

(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.)

It's Halloween again, and we couldn't help but reprise the theme from last year's post and bring you more frightening proposals. With a nod to some classic horror films, here are some habits that provoke dread and angst in the hearts of proposal reviewers.

The Fog (the virtue of clarity)
Fog_spooky In an attempt to impress a new potential funder with your educational expertise, you bring out your heftiest thesaurus and start stringing together words in your best academic tone. You cite DOE research on the merits of mainstreaming versus differentiated instruction and the impact of NCLB on the children of socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Your project proposes to engage the interdisciplinary learning styles of students by synthesizing holistic relationships among community stakeholders and promises to challenge students to expand their learning horizons through innovative programming. The result, unfortunately, is a frightful haze of jargon, acronyms, and vague terminology that obscures any real notion of what the project hopes to accomplish.

What's the most important characteristic that funders point to when describing a successful proposal? Clarity. After all, if a funder can't understand the goals or methods of the program, what incentive do they have to fund it? Suggestions for proposal writers:

  • Use acronyms sparingly, and if they are absolutely necessary, be sure to spell them out at least once.
  • Don't use a big word when a simpler one will do.
  • When the proposal is finished, give it to someone outside your organization to read and see if they can readily understand the project and its objectives.

The Invisible Man (keeping your budget consistent)
Your proposal narrative includes a detailed description of how you will hire four project managers to lead your vocational training program for young adults. Yet when the reviewer turns the page to examine your budget, it includes salaries for only three new staff members. So, where did that fourth project manager go? Will they work for free, or are they just invisible in the eyes of your accountant?

The budget can be the most important piece of your proposal. When reviewing proposals, many funders look to the budget first for a quick overview of the project. A poorly composed budget can be the reason many proposals go unfunded. More than anything else, the budget must be consistent with the proposal narrative. Any supplies, equipment, or, in this case, personnel costs must reflect the staffing and methods outlined in the project description. When a grantmaker sees clear inconsistencies or mathematical errors in a proposal budget, it raises questions about an organization's ability to properly manage funds. Other recommendations for budgets:

  • Keep a worksheet showing how all expenses were calculated with explanatory notes in case questions pop up from funders
  • Be as accurate as possible in projecting costs. Get actual quotes from vendors and always double-check your math.
  • Identify all expense items and then research specific costs for each line item. Don't forget to account for inflation and other annual increases when budgeting for multi-year projects.
  • Don't leave out in-kind contributions. Even if goods or services are donated, they still represent part of the overall costs of the program, and, on the revenue side, demonstrate community support for your program that will reflect well on the proposal.

Scream (following the rules to survive)
When Scream was released in 1996, it gave us three little rules to surviving a horror movie. Follow these rules, the characters were told, and you might just make it through the experience in one piece. But if you don't, you could find yourself in serious danger. The same principle applies to proposal writing. Okay, so you probably won't have a foundation's program officer putting on a scary mask and chasing you around your office if you stray a little from the application guidelines. But you may find that a grantmaker is less likely to fund your proposal if you fail to include key components or don't follow the proper procedures. Some tips:

  • Keep a print copy of the funder's guidelines and use it as a checklist when compiling your application materials. 
  • When in doubt, contact the funder and ask. If your nonprofit hasn't had an audit, for example, call the foundation and ask if you might substitute a copy of your most recent Form 990 or other financial statements.
  • Submit your proposal far enough ahead of time so that if you are missing a key document, you still have time to send it in before the deadline. 

The rules may seem tedious from the grantseeker's perspective, but these guidelines are meant to facilitate the grantmaking process and cut down on the amount of time foundation staff spend reviewing stacks of proposals. Follow the instructions and the reviewer will stay happy. Ignore the rules, and it will make the funder want to, well, you know...

Want to exorcise your proposal writing demons? Check out these titles in our library collection:

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

90 Days to Success in Grant Writing.
By Tim Kachinske and Judith Kachinske.
Boston: Course Technology PTR, 2009.

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

-- Stephan Sherman

And don't forget to check out the Developing Proposals area of our new GrantSpace site for additional resources, including podcasts, training, and sample documents. 

-- Stephen Sherman

25 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World

October 29, 2010

PicassoDonQuixoteSancho The Utne Reader has just published a great list of twenty-five forward-thinking people who, in its words, have the "rare ability to dream of a better future -- so vividly and so passionately -- that it inspires them and others to action."

The list includes the likes of "hacktivist" Julian Assange (Wikileaks); documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer); Kickstarter.com founder Perry Chen; MacArthur "genius award" winner and Project HEALTH founder Rebecca Onie; and author and environmental activist Bill McKibben.

As I said, the list makes for great reading, and I'm pretty sure it will inspire you to get up and out from behind your desk and do...something.

It also got me thinking: Who in our field has seen the future and is doing something constructive to lead the way forward? Who is unafraid to tilt at windmills and topple shibboleths? Who are the visionaries in philanthropy?

To quote the great Ritholtz: What say ye?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October)

As we did last last month, here's a list of the five most popular PhilanTopic posts over the last thirty days. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month? Let us know in the comments section below...

Readings (October 28, 2010)

October 28, 2010

Some of the things that caught our attention today:

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

This Week in PubHub: Immigrants and Their Children

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that explored the essential role of arts and culture.)

With immigration policy one of the hotly debated issues in the run-up to the November 2 midterm elections, this week PubHub is highlighting reports that examine the integration of immigrant families, with a focus on their children, native- and foreign-born.

According to The Integration of Immigrants and Their Families in Maryland: A Look at Children of Immigrants and Their Families in Maryland, prepared by the Urban Institute for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2006 almost one in five children in the state had at least one foreign-born parent. While the poverty rate among children of immigrants is comparatively low, roughly 27 percent live in near-poverty (i.e., family income below 200 percent of the poverty line). The report also found that the number of limited-English-proficient students in public schools statewide doubled between 2000 and 2007, and that there were wide racial/ethnic discrepancies in school readiness and performance. To help close the gap, the authors recommend a three-prong strategy: providing adult education, language, and job skills training to parents; improving access to child care and preschool programs; and strengthening targeted programs for English-language learners and at-risk students.

English-language learners are the focus of Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for Long Term English Learners, a report from Californians Together. The study argues that the state's one-size-fits-all education reforms have resulted in a generation of secondary school students who, after years of either having little or no access to effective language development programs and/or being socially and linguistically segregated, are neither proficient in English nor on track to graduate on time. The report lays out basic principles for addressing the needs of long-term English-learners and recommends a comprehensive secondary school program that includes specialized courses, clustered placement in heterogeneous and rigorous grade-level content classes, explicit language and literacy development across the curriculum, and systems for monitoring progress and triggering support.

English language acquisition isn't the only obstacle children of immigrants, some of whom arrive as refugees, have to overcome. Partnering With Parents and Families to Support Immigrant and Refugee Children at School, a 2009 issue brief from the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, explores the impact of refugee and immigrant experiences on children — from trauma that results in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and behavioral problems to the pressures of serving as their families' interpreters and negotiators — and their unmet mental health needs. Among other things, the report outlines a number of considerations for working with students' families and school staff in offering school-based mental health programs, including breaking down cultural stigmas and learning to recognize the signs of trauma and stress.

One traumatic experience many children of immigrants must live through is the deportation of an undocumented parent. The Urban Institute's Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement analyzes the impact of family separation due to arrest, detention, and/or deportation on children’s physical as well as mental well-being, including safety, food security, housing stability, and behavioral issues. The authors recommend changes to immigration laws, enforcement strategies, and the responses of community groups and public agencies in order to mitigate the hardships children suffer in the process.

Given that 25 percent of foreign-born children and 16 percent of native-born children of immigrants do not graduate from high school, addressing the educational and mental well-being of immigrant children is an urgent matter if America is live up to its promise in the twenty-first century. What role can philanthropy play in strengthening existing services for immigrant children? And which strategies and programs, if any, have already proved to be effective? Use the comments box below to share your thoughts.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than seventy immigration-related reports.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Readings (October 27, 2010)

October 27, 2010

A few items that caught our attention today as we were sailing the Twitterverse:

Thoughts, questions, concerns? 

Bridging the Knowledge Gap About Grantmaking for People with Disabilities

(Laura Cronin is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. Her last post was a Q&A with Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.)

Ada_diamond_color Every funder can, and should, be a disability funder.

A group of New York grantmakers and advocates gathered last week under the auspices of the Disability Funders Network (DFN) to discuss how to make that statement a reality and to galvanize support for a fuller embrace by organized philanthropy of the twenty-one-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to DFN, an estimated 54 million Americans have at least one disability, making them the largest minority group in the nation. As baby boomers age and more veterans return from war, experts estimate that number could double within twenty years. But less than 3 percent of philanthropic giving is directed to programs serving people with disabilities.

The Kessler Foundation, a DFN member, recently commissioned Harris Interactive to survey the impact of disability on national workforce participation.

Results from the survey reveal that while 70 percent of corporations polled have diversity policies or programs in place, only two-thirds of those with programs include disability as a component. In addition, only 18 percent of companies offer an education program aimed at integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. The findings are notable given that most employers consider the cost of hiring people with disabilities to be the same as hiring employees without a disability (62 percent). The panelists urged funders to design programs to explicitly consider disability.

Continue reading »

Questions for Melinda Gates

October 26, 2010

Melinda_gates Deborah Solomon is an award-winning journalist, biographer (Jackson Pollock:
A Biography;
Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell), and cultural critic. And, since 2003, she has written a weekly Q&A feature for the New York Times Magazine.

If you were looking for a single word to describe Solomon's Q&As for the Times, "quirky" would be as good as any. (A few years ago, "controversial" might have been a better choice.) She likes to poke and prod, isn't afraid of controversial subjects, and can dish out snark with the best of them. Sometimes it works; sometimes, not so much.

Her Q&A with Melinda Gates ("The Donor") in the most recent issue of the Magazine is an example of the latter. A snarky question about the Gates Foundation's focus on women's health in the developing world, a series of three questions designed to get Gates (who attended an all-girls parochial high school) to criticize the Church's stand on abortion, and this exchange:

DS: Do you own an iPod, which is made by Apple?

MG: No, I have a Zune.

DS: What if one of your children says, "Mom, I have to have an iPod?"

MG: I have gotten that argument -- "You may have a Zune."

DS: Do you have an iPad?

MG: Of course not.

DS: Is it true that Bill works on an Apple laptop?

MG: False. Nothing crosses the threshold of our doorstep.

I get it. Solomon's Q&As are infotainment, designed to be consumed quickly and without much thought before one digs into the meatier narrative journalistic pieces elsewhere in the magazine. But, really. Do you own an iPod? You can do better, Deborah.

In that spirit, I asked a few of my colleagues here at the center what they would ask Melinda Gates if she happened to drop by their office and had time to answer a question or two. Here's what we came up with:

  • What are the biggest changes you've seen in philanthropy since the Gates Foundation was established in 1994?
  • What's driving the boom in global philanthropy?
  • How long will it take emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil to establish philanthropic traditions that rival the tradition of philanthropy in the U.S.?
  • Does the Gates Foundation have too much influence in the areas in which it works?
  • How do you respond to critics who argue that, given its influence, the foundation should have more than four trustees?
  • Is there a succession plan in place for Warren Buffett and Bill Sr.? What if something happens to you or Bill?
  • What other foundations do you admire? How about nonprofits or NGOs?
  • What is the most critical issue not funded by the Gates Foundation that you'd like to see other grantmakers address?
  • Would you ever consider running for public office?
  • Given your wealth and the highly visible nature of the problems you and your husband have chosen to address through your foundation, how do you stay grounded? Where do you seek wisdom?
  • Do you ever get tired of all the attention and scrutiny you get paid?

It's a start. Now it's your turn. What would you ask Melinda Gates if you had a chance to ask her one question? Let's see if we can crowdsource the perfect interview....

UPDATE: October 27, 10:52 -- As reader Fred Silverman, VP of marketing and communications at the Marin Community Foundation, pointed out in an e-mail,  Solomon's third question about Apple products referenced the iPad, not the iPod (again). Bad typing on my part. I've corrected the mistake.

 -- Mitch Nauffts

ANNOUNCEMENT: 5th Annual Knight News Challenge Open for Entries

October 25, 2010

Knight_news_challenge Hard to believe, I know, but it's been two years since we last wrote about the Knight News Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the Knight Foundation-funded media contest "seeks innovative techniques and technologies that advance the foundation's goal of informing and engaging communities." In the first four years of the challenge, a total of $23 million was awarded to 56 media innovators chosen from more than 10,000 entries. (Click here to learn more about past winners and their projects.)

This year, for the first time, the competition is featuring four experimental categories: Mobile (innovative ideas for news and information on all types of mobile communications devices); Authenticity (projects that help people better understand the reliability of news and information sources); Sustainability (new economic models supporting news and information that enhances citizen engagement); and Community (groundbreaking technologies that support news and information specifically within defined geographic areas).

(In the first three categories, the foundation prefers entries with a community focus; a place-based focus is an "absolute" requirement for the Community category. All software produced by contest-winners must be open-source.)

The contest opens for entries October 25 (today) and closes December 1. Individuals, nonprofits, businesses, schools, and government are all eligible to enter.

Entries submitted to the contest will be reviewed by experts in news, technology, and community. Final recommendations will be made by Knight staff, with the winners to be chosen by the Knight board and announced next June at an event at MIT.

The foundation will conduct an online chat tomorrow, October 26, at noon EST, to answer questions about this year's contest. To sign up for an event reminder about the chat, visit the News Challenge Web site.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (October 23 - 24, 2010)

October 24, 2010

FallHarvest Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen advises nonprofit communicators to use humor when crafting their organization's message. Writes Andresen, "If [Malaria No More] can make a campaign about blood-sucking, life-threatening mosquitoes funny and effective, then the rest of us have no excuse to be just a wee bit more aspirational -- if not amusing -- in our messaging...."

On Thursday, Nancy Schwartz announced the seventeen winners of the 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards competition. Selected from among 70 finalists by more than 6,100 voters, the winning taglines "range from the regional (Indiana State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association) to the national (Youth Service America) [to the] global (Episcopal Relief & Development)."

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss chastises mega-wealthy philanthropists for believing that "the answer" to education reform "is specific and around the corner: a longer school day; a longer school year; charter schools; technology; standardized tests in every subject; assessing teachers by standardized test scores; for-profit education; training new college graduates for five or six weeks as teachers and then sending them into the toughest schools in America." The fact, adds Strauss, is that

there is no strong research to show that any of those elements will do much to help education by themselves, and even together, and some will hurt. Take charter schools, the pet project of many of Wall Street’s wealthy hedge fund founders, who have ignored the largest research study on charters that shows most of them are no better or worse than traditional public schools.

The strong link, born out by research over years, between educational attainment and poverty is ignored by these donors. These financial wizards believe that the public education, the nation’s proudest civic institution, should be run like a business.

...

Parents shouldn’t have [to shop around] to find a school acceptable for their children. Their neighborhood public school should be staffed with effective teachers and funded properly so that their kids can have an opportunity to get a fine education....

Journalism/Media

On the Humanosphere blog, KPLU's Tom Paulson, a Seattle-based reporter with decades of experience on the medicine and global health beats, shares his thoughts about a recently announced partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ABC News aimed at promoting greater coverage of global health issues.

Impact/Effectiveness

Social Citizens' Kristien Ivie explains why nonprofits "need to be able to do both storytelling and impact measurement" when reporting back to donors about how grant funds were used.

Philanthropy

In a recent post on the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga looks at a new report, Do Nothing About Me Without Me, from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Interaction Institute for Social Change that, says Ruesga, "raises some vexing questions about the proper division of labor between foundations and the communities they aim to serve."

Last week, Blackbaud released the results of its annual Global State of the Nonprofit Industry survey. On her Nonprofits blog at About.com, Joanne Fritz shares four trends captured by the survey.

Social Media

"Even if...'the revolution will not be tweeted'," writes Jane Wales on her Its Your World blog, "social media offer[s] tools, which, when used to [their] full advantage, can promote transparency, collaboration, and a new openness to ideas from unusual sources. Surely, these are values to promote," adds Wales, "especially in the world of social change...."

When it's time to get started with social media, writes Allison Fine, co-author (with Beth Kanter) of the Networked Nonprofit, "do have a conversation with your senior staff and board about the real fears that using social media invokes." Fine offers other social media do's (and a don't) in a recent post on her blog.

On the Case Foundation blog, Emily Yu shares a few examples of how nonprofit organizations are using location-based technology to accomplish their mission while engaging new and/or current supporters.

And Larry Blumenthal -- founder of Open Road Advisors, a consulting firm that helps foundations, nonprofits, and other organizations use the Web and social media effectively -- has compiled a list of the top hundred (and other) foundations that blog. Is your foundation missing from the list? Let Blumenthal know here.

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

-- Regina Mahone

A 'Flip' Chat With...Will Maitland Weiss, Executive Director, Arts & Business Council of New York

October 22, 2010

(This is the ninth in our series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can access other chats in the series here, including our conversation with Allison Fine, co-author of the Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change)

Every year, the Foundation Center hosts a series of events in October that focus on funding for the arts. This year is no exception, and last week I had the opportunity to attend a Dialogue with Donors event at the center's New York library featuring panelists Perian Carson of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Susan Feder of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Stuart Post of the Brooklyn Community Foundation. (For more information about the event, be sure to read my colleague Tracy Kaufman's post at the Philanthropy Front and Center – New York blog.)

I had hoped to interview panel moderator Will Maitland Weiss of the Arts & Business Council of New York after the event, but he was already late for another appointment. So, earlier this week I stopped by the ABC/NY offic to chat with Weiss about the council and its work.

ABC/NY, a chapter of the national organization Americans for the Arts, "serves both the arts and the business communities of New York, with programming in volunteerism, professional development, leadership development, and economic impact." The breadth of services provided by the organization's five-member staff is vast, impressive, and especially welcome in this period of economic distress and uncertainty.

During our chat, Weiss described what the funding climate is like right now for arts organizations and discussed how social media has the potential to increase individual giving for the arts. He also offered some advice to nonprofits interested in partnering with business.

If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.

(Total running time: 8 minutes, 7 seconds)

As the Great Recession continues to exact a toll on artists and nonprofit arts groups, PND is especially interested in examples of the arts and the business community working together for mutual benefit. Are you seeing more or fewer examples of successful partnerships between arts groups and business in your community? What do those programs look like, and what do they have in common with partnerships in other fields? And what advice would you give to nonprofit arts groups looking for support from the business community? Feel free to share your thoughts/opinions/advice in the comments section.

-- Regina Mahone

The Art of Memory

October 20, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Muslim Voices of Philadelphia project.)

Earlier this month, in Buenos Aires, closing arguments were made in one of the legal cases brought against the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, the period of the so-called Dirty War. The case, referred to by the names of the three clandestine military centers ("Atlético-Banco-Olimpo") where 181 victims were detained, is one of hundreds that have been opened since the amnesty laws that protected members of the military from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity were struck down. The trials are open to the public, and the courtrooms have been packed by families of the victims and citizens interested in a resolution to this painful episode in the country's history.

Architecture, sculpture, and painting; music; film and video; poetry, drama, prose -- all have been employed to tell the tragic story of a people's loss and pain after similarly brutal episodes in the past. The arts are fundamental to the process of memorialization.

In Argentina, the process has included myriad plaques and other expressions of remembrance and remembering. At the national level, a group of ten human rights organizations gained the support of legislators in 1998 to establish the Park of Memory on the banks of the river that forms the country's northeastern boundary, the Rio de la Plata, and construct the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism. In short order, an international competition to commission additional sculpture and a visitors center for the park was launched.

"In a world that finds itself widely aestheticized, art seeks out strategies and loopholes in order to continue constructing meaning," writes Florencia Battiti in an essay in the catalogue produced for the monument's official dedication in 2007. "In a society such as Argentina's, where terror reigned and justice has not yet entirely arrived, art as a social practice adds its efforts to the (always insufficient) task of reconstructing memory and the cultural fabric that was torn apart...."

More than 600 sculpture proposals were received and 17 selected; to date, seven have been installed. They include a life-size sculpture by Claudia Fontes of Pablo Miguez, a 14-year-old boy who was "disappeared." The sculpture is stainless steel, polished to a mirror-like finish, and situated in the river -- the widest in the world at that point -- opposite the park, where it appears to float on the surface.

Continue reading »

A Conversation With Milton Chen, Author, 'Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools'

October 19, 2010

(Milton Chen is senior fellow and executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Prior to joining GLEF, Chen was founding director of the KQED Center for Education in San Francisco and an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Laura Cronin, director of the Toshiba America Foundation, spoke to Chen earlier this month.)

Chen_milton Laura Cronin: Your new book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools, is exceptional for a number of reasons. What's most striking to me, however, is how your decision to focus on successes in specific classrooms reveals so much new information about how teaching and learning works. It's a wonderfully hopeful and yet very practical book. Instead of revisiting the current system's flaws, you've become a sort of purveyor of education-related innovations and sensible solutions. How did that come about?

Milton Chen: Education Nation is really my attempt to curate a "best of" collection of education-related stories and films connected to our work at Edutopia. Our approach has always been to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. Shining the spotlight on innovative schools, classrooms, and other learning environments has been our strategy, one that appealed to George Lucas from the very founding of the foundation almost twenty years ago. I do feel that the solution to our education crisis lies in redesigning our system of public education, not pointing the finger at problems with the old system.

LC: Anyone interested in our nation's schools should read your book and get the full story about each of the six edges of innovation you describe. By way of introduction, can you talk about your chapter on the "Time/Place Edge"?

MC: One of the most exciting areas of innovation is in how learning time and places are expanding. By "learning time," I don't mean simply extending the school day or year with the same old, traditional types of learning that aren't working. As my colleague Milt Goldberg says, "A lousy eight-hour day is worse than a lousy six-hour day." That said, many districts and their partners are finding ways to capture more learning hours for creative, project-based, technology-infused learning during afternoons, evenings, weekends, and summers.

Continue reading »

'Txt if by Land, Tweet if by Sea'

October 18, 2010

(Jereme Bivins is the Foundation Center's social media manager. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

PaulRevereDefendsLiberty On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere set out from Boston to warn a small group of American patriots, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that British troops were on the move and coming to arrest them. Revere did not have access to Twitter or e-mail. He couldn't send a txt message or BBM his friends to warn them. The only tools at his disposal were the lanterns that hung in Boston's Old North Church ("one if by land, two if by sea") and the borrowed horse that carried him to Lexington.

Malcolm Gladwell's "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted" opens with a vivid retelling of the lunch-counter sit-in protests from the early days of the civil rights movement. It was a dramatic time, fraught with gut-wrenching violence and extraordinarily brave acts of civil disobedience. Gladwell uses the example of the sit-ins to make a point about social media's potential as a tool of empowerment and change. And "tool" is certainly the operative concept here, for in equating social media with a larger collective desire for social change, Gladwell misses a fundamental point.

Social media in and of itself is no more an agent of social change than a hammer is a carpenter. Sure, Facebook and Twitter help us to construct social networks; that's inherent in their design. But beyond keeping up with distant relatives, old high school flames, and (increasingly) our parents, social media has become a tool for connecting geographically dispersed strangers with common interests. When used creatively, it can spread social-change ideas virally, inspire support, and catalyze action. In fact, how individuals are activated is the really interesting part of Gladwell's argument.

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, co-authors of The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change, argue that social media can deepen the commitment of change-minded activists. Gladwell, on the other hand, argues that the "weak-tie" nature of social media architecture tends to drive participation without necessarily deepening commitment. Citing online giving totals generated by the Save Darfur Coalition's Facebook page, Gladwell notes that the average donation to the campaign, when divided by the coalition's nearly 1.3 million members on Facebook, was a modest nine cents.

Of course, in most cases and causes, level of commitment isn't measured by dollars raised. In Gladwell's lunch-counter sit-in example, nobody, then or now, measured the success of the action based solely on the amount of funding it generated for civil rights organizations. On the contrary, as with the Save Darfur campaign, the sit-in campaign inspired other activists to organize additionals acts of civil disobedience, from letter writing and petitions, to boycotts, to freedom rides.

What once had to be organized almost exclusively by word-of-mouth today can be organized online far more quickly and inexpensively. Twitter, Facebook, Meetup, and other platforms are all being used to coordinate and promote in-person events, marches, rallies, and grassroots campaigns.

At the same time, social media is democratizing philanthropy. What had been a sector dominated by large nonprofits, endowed foundations, and mega-wealthy individuals increasingly is accessible to everyone with an online connection and a credit or debit card, as a growing number of online giving platforms make it ever easier for us to donate to causes we feel passionate about. Recently, for example, a friend of mine decided to participate in the St. Baldrick's Foundation's "Brave a Shave" fundraiser to fight childhood cancer, pledging to remove every hair from her head in return for small donations from friends. Over the next several months, she harnessed the power of her social network (Facebook) by writing on friends' walls, sending them messages, and communicating with them via Facebook chat, eventually raising almost $2,300 for the campaign. Gladwell might argue that $2,300 is a small amount when divided by the number of people she approached, but that's $2,300 more for cancer research than St. Baldrick's likely would have received otherwise. And while social media itself was not responsible for my friend's interest in or engagement with that particular cause, it proved to be invaluable in helping her achieve her goal.

Social media is also providing us with a new measure of transparency when it comes to the working of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors and enabling us to see and experience the good that our donations and sweat equity do. YouTube hosts powerful footage of Habitat for Humanity building and donating homes to those who don't have one. Flickr hosts beautiful images of the ONE Campaign's fight against poverty and disease. The Foundation Center's Glasspockets initiative showcases the online transparency and accountability practices of foundations, allowing you to not only see which foundations have "glass pockets," but what's inside them.

Will social media change the world? Maybe. Despite its rapid adoption, the concept of social media has only been around for a few years and we've yet to fully appreciate its potential to contribute to the public good. In the meantime, the story of Paul Revere galloping toward Lexington to warn of the advancing British army is a dramatic part of our history: a brash patriot, feverishly charging through the night to save his friends from almost certain death. It's one of the defining moments in our history, as much a part of the foundational American myth as Plymouth Rock, Bunker Hill, and Valley Forge. But if someone had been kind enough to lend Revere his iPhone to send the message that the Bristish were coming, I'm sure Paul would have graciously accepted.

-- Jereme Bivins

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

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