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22 posts from June 2011

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June)

June 30, 2011

As is our custom on the last day of every month, here's a short list of the most visited PhilanTopic posts in June. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

Looking for Answers in the Wrong Places?

June 29, 2011

(Mitchell Sakofs is dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Central Connecticut State University and an occasional contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he wrote about investing for meaningful change.)

Lamppost_night One evening, a student of the great teacher Nasrudin found the sage down on his hands and knees under a lamppost. "Teacher, what are you doing?" asked the student. Nasrudin responded, "I am searching for my keys." The student offered his assistance and after an hour of searching he told his teacher he did not think the keys were there to be found. Nasrudin stood and said: "Of course we won't find the keys here; I lost them in my house." Incredulous, the student asked why he was searching under the lamppost. Nasrudin sighed with frustration and exclaimed: "Young man -- we look here because the light is much better."

Recently I participated in a meeting where the topic of conversation focused on improving student learning in public schools. In fairly short order, the conversation turned into an indictment of university teacher preparation programs, with a focus on such conceptual sound bites as:

Prospective teachers...

  1. need deep content knowledge;
  2. must be equipped with classroom-management skills, possess discipline-specific pedagogical knowledge, exemplify professional dispositions, and be action-oriented researchers so they can analyze student performance data and better differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the increasingly complex classroom environment;
  3. must be the best and brightest -- i.e., come from nationally ranked top-tier institutions.

The implication of the conversation was that prospective teachers, in general, did not possess any of the qualities identified above. Quite frankly, I had a problem with that. Here's why:

First, I agree with the first two assertions in the list; what concerns me, however, is the unsubstantiated assertion that they are not, in fact, being met. Ample data exists which shows that most teachers possess good content knowledge. While concerns on that score may have been justified in the past, most aspiring teacher professionals who graduate from university preparation programs today major in a content area like math, science, or history rather than education, and the vast majority have to pass discipline-specific tests before the university can recommend them for certification. Interestingly enough, a number of high-quality studies have shown that deep content knowledge alone is insufficient to make a good teacher, and that teacher education programs have evolved to take this reality into account. The comments made by superintendents in the meeting I attended would appear to be mired in misconceptions and informed by the unfortunate but all-too-common practice of scapegoating.

But what really concerns me is the way the superintendents linked the third assertion in the list with the first two. There is little research to support the assertion that nationally ranked top-tier institutions do a better job preparing teachers than regional institutions, and it is opinion rather than fact that a student with high SAT scores or one who graduated from an elite institution will be more effective in the classroom than one who enters the profession from a less-well-known regional college.

Indeed, rather than having a substantive conversation about what needs to be done to improve our nation's public schools, I sensed a disconcerting air of elitism in the conversation that was all the more disturbing as it mutated into finger-pointing and blame-placing. Unfortunately, the refrain, while it borders on caricature, has become all-too-familiar: Our schools are failing because teachers are bad, teachers are bad because universities are not preparing them well, and our salvation lies with our elite institutions.

As a college administrator whose work focuses on preparing future teachers, I could not remain silent and commented that any substantive conversation wishing to address the challenges of public education needed to move beyond a criticism of teachers, prospective teachers, and colleges and universities to issues such as poverty, family structure, parental commitment to and engagement with their kids' education, the professional preparation and skills of school leaders, budgets, and policies and practices that work against student learning (e.g., unreasonable increases in class size, a narrowing of the curriculum, lack of material resources, etc.) -- issues that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan alluded to in a recent "open letter" to America's teachers in which he acknowledged the frustration teachers experience when they "alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded school systems."

To my surprise, my comment was met with angry indignation from a former superintendent who, raising his voice and jumping up from his chair, said I was being condescending, that everyone knew the problems in public education were exacerbated by cultural and economic factors, and that it was insulting to think otherwise. When he finished, I wondered out loud why then such factors were not included in the conversation. A teacher's union representative who up to that point had been silent agreed.

Research tells us that having a well-qualified classroom teacher is a key factor in promoting student learning; research also affirms that other factors (e.g., socio-economic status, class size, quality and availability of resources) also correlate with student learning. Teacher IQ does not, nor is there evidence to suggest that regional institutions do not do as good a job of preparing teachers for the classroom as nationally ranked institutions.

Truth be told, today's teachers are some of the best prepared in our nation's history. Their content knowledge is strong, as is their understanding of pedagogy and curriculum design. Weak teachers exist, of course. But national standards coupled with evolving state regulations have greatly reduced their numbers.

With the above in mind, I believe private philanthropy is uniquely positioned to make a real and positive difference in public education by more fully illuminating the many challenges confronting public education in this country as well as the landscape of possibilities unfolding around us. Real and meaningful solutions to the education crisis will not be found if we limit ourselves to looking where the light already shines.

-- Mitchell Sakofs

Key Facts on Bay Area Grantmakers

June 28, 2011

Bay Area grantmakers represent a substantial segment of California's foundation community. In 2009, just over a third of the state's grantmaking independent, corporate, community, and operating foundations were located in the nine-county Bay Area, and those funders held close to half of California assets (45 percent) and accounted for more than half of total giving (52.4 percent). Compared to California and U.S. foundations overall, Bay Area foundations in 2009 reported the fastest growth in total giving and assets since 2000.

"For the first time since the recession hit, we now have hard data that tell us the true impact it had on Bay Area foundations," said Janet Camarena, director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office. "Though these funders saw a significant loss of assets, they fared better over the long term than their colleagues statewide and around the nation."

BayArea_SumStatsTable 

BayArea_ChangeAssetsFig 

BayArea_ChangeGivingFig 

The largest Bay Area foundations by assets in 2009 were:

BayArea_TopAssetsTable 

And the largest by total giving were:

 BayArea_TopGivingTable 

Other findings from the report:

  • $3.1 billion -- Giving by Bay Area foundations in 2009
  • 2,498 -- Number of grantmaking foundations in the Bay Area in 2009
  • 9.4 percent -- Share of Bay Area foundations reporting more than $1 million in giving in 2009
  • 26.5 percent -- Share of 2009 grant dollars awarded by Bay Area grantmakers for Education (top-ranked field)

Indeed, Bay Area foundations included in the 2009 grants sample prioritized giving for education and the environment and animals, consistent with California foundations overall. Relative to the universe of California grantmakers in the sample, Bay Area funders provided a roughly similar share of their giving for education (26.5 percent vs. 24.1 percent) but notably largers shares for the environment (24 percent vs. 17.4 percent), science and technology (7.2 percent vs. 6 percent), and international affairs (5 percent vs. 3.8 percent). In contrast, they directed a substantially smaller share of their giving for health (8.6 percent vs. 15.8 percent) and human services (8.2 percent vs. 10.9 percent).

 BayArea_GivingSubjFig
BayArea_GivingTypejFig 
BayArea_GivingPopFig 

According to the report, the top ten Bay Area Foundations awarding grants to Bay Area recipients were:

BayArea_RecipsTable1 
 

While the top ten non-Bay Area foundations awarding grants to Bay Area recipients were:

BayArea_RecipsTable2 

To download a free copy of Key Facts on Bay Area Grantmakers (3 pages, PDF), click here

 

Weekend Link Roundup (June 25-26, 2011)

June 26, 2011

Summer-solstice Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Capacity Building

Based on his organization's success in creating a viable business model, Guidestar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff shares some best practices -- including being patient and realistic -- related to organizational sustainablity.

Impact/Effectiveness

Social media guru Beth Kanter has a few suggestions for folks interested in making measurement more fun.

On the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan suggests that passion is a prerequisite to "doing philanthropy in a strategic, analytical, data-driven way." Writes Buchanan:

Good decision-making is hard in life. But in philanthropy, data-driven decision-making is even tougher still, because the challenges we're working to address are deep-seated, complex, and interdependent -- and because the data is often harder to come by and more open to alternate interpretations than in other domains. The work is also more emotionally intense than it often is in business or in the lab, making the lure of decision-making that is unmoored from the data all the stronger.

But, while passion and emotion are often the problem because they can lead us astray, they're also the solution. For it is only a passionate commitment to really getting it right -- to seeing results -- that can provide the will and discipline necessary to do the hard work of data-gathering, strategy formulating, assessing, and analyzing....

Continue reading »

This Week in PubHub: College Access and Success

June 24, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that explore ways to strengthen teacher preparation programs.)

Much of the discussion about boosting the number of college graduates in the U.S. seems to focus on preparing students for college-level academics and expanding access to postsecondary education through community colleges. But many students who do go to college ultimately drop out without obtaining a degree -- especially those from low-income families. This week in PubHub, we're highlighting four reports that examine college access and success, with a focus on affordability, academic supports, and employment outcomes.

Instead of increasing opportunities for economically disadvantaged students, current tuition tax credits, deductions, and financial aid policies are more likely to benefit middle- and upper-income students, a new report from the Education Trust argues. Funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education, the report, Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial-Aid Policies Hurt Low-Income Students (20 pages, PDF), found that as a result of regressive federal, state, and institutional policies, low-income students are often expected to pay more than their middle-income peers as a percentage of family income. Indeed, out of nearly twelve hundred four-year colleges and universities, only five enrolled low-income students at rates as high as the national average, expected those students to pay no more than middle-income students as a percentage of family income, and had a graduation rate of at least 50 percent. With only 8 percent of youth from the lowest-income quartile earning a bachelor's degree by age twenty-four (compared with 82 percent from the highest-income quartile), any reforms to financial aid policies, the authors argue, must give priority to helping low-income students, removing technical barriers to accessing financial assistance, and ensuring enough support to raise completion rates.

Cost is not the only obstacle for low-income students looking to attend and graduate from college. While nearly half of all undergraduates begin their college career at a more affordable community college, only a third of them earn a degree or certificate within six years. The MDRC report Opening Doors to Student Success: A Synthesis of Findings From an Evaluation at Six Community Colleges (12 pages, PDF) highlights lessons learned from the Opening Doors Demonstration program, which is designed to raise college completion rates through learning communities and targeted student services such as academic counseling as well as performance-based scholarships. According to the report, the scholarships helped low-income parents enroll as full-time students and earn more credits, while enhanced counseling and freshmen learning communities resulted in modest improvements in academic performance and second-term registration. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the report calls for further innovations in developmental education and financial aid reform.

Racial/ethnic disparities in college completion and transfer rates also are commonplace. According to Divided We Fail: Improving Completion and Closing Racial Gaps in California's Community Colleges (20 pages, PDF), a report from the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at CSU Sacramento, about 75 percent of African-American and 80 percent of Latino/Hispanic community college students fail to earn a certificate or degree or transfer to a four-year college or university within six years. The authors offer a model for increasing overall completion rates and reducing racial/ethnic gaps that involves analyzing and reporting student achievement data and implementing best practices based on those findings. Funded by the Campaign for College Opportunity and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the report points out that strengthening community colleges is essential to raising educational attainment among the Latino/Hispanic population, whose share of California's working-age population is projected to reach 50 percent by 2040.

The Lumina Foundation for Education report The Degree Qualifications Profile (34 pages, PDF) examines college success from the perspective of the economic and societal value of the degrees students earn. The report proposes a qualifications framework that would define degree "quality" and improve capacity throughout the postsecondary education system to ensure that students learn the things they need to know. The profile includes benchmarks for applied learning, intellectual skills, specialized knowledge, broad integrative knowledge, and civic learning at the associate, bachelor's, and master's degree levels and across all fields of specialization. Such a framework, the authors argue, would provide a common vocabulary for sharing best practices, as well as a foundation for better public understanding of institutions of higher education and more reliable measures of accountability.

Care to weigh in on efforts to expand college access and improve rates of success? Do you know of any practices or policies that are helping students from low-income families and communities of color not only gain access to higher education but also succeed in college? What aspects of the debate are missing or being overlooked? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

And be sure to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than seven hundred reports on education-related topics.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Film and the 'Dirty War'

June 23, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the Film and Video Festival at this year's Council on Foundations conference.)

TheDisappeared How would you like your new Web site to get 40,000 visits within two weeks of launch?

That's been the experience of Memoria Abierta, a Buenos Aires-based nongovernmental organization that is working to preserve the historic memory of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina and the so-called "dirty war" it waged against its political opponents. Earlier this month the organization published an online catalogue of films about the dictatorship, and the response has been overwhelming. Most visitors to the site have been from Argentina, but La Dictadura en el Cine ("The Dictatorship in the Movies") is open to any Spanish-speaker who wants to learn not just about what happened in Argentina but also how the terrible events of those years relate to similar situations elsewhere. Indeed, as post-conflict societies increasingly look to international courts for justice and search for local approaches to conflict resolution, knowledge about what happened in Argentina can be a crucial tool.

"We’ve wanted to do this project since we were founded more than a decade ago," Patricia Valdez, the director of Memoria Abierta, a coalition of four human rights groups working on various aspects of the junta's legacy, recently told me. "We knew there were a lot of films made about the history, both fiction and documentaries: we identified four hundred and fifty for the catalogue. And they continue to be made -- we found thirty-two new ones produced just last year! We also knew there was great demand to see these films and that many of them were not available." All the films in the catalogue can be viewed onsite at the organization's offices in Buenos Aires.

With funding from the Dutch embassy (as part of its efforts to encourage human rights programs in Argentina that promote transparency and accountability), the project finally got some traction last year. Two researchers (with assistance from other consultants and advisors) worked for over a year to identify films and track down copies. Films were selected on the basis of two criteria: that they dealt with the dictatorship, however obliquely; and that they had been publicly screened in a festival, a commercial theater, and/or a community center. The vast majority were made in Argentina, including many, like The Official Story, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1986, the first Latin American film to ever receive that honor, that are well known internationally.

Continue reading »

ANNOUNCEMENT: Lisa Philp Named Vice President for Strategic Philanthropy and Director of GrantCraft

June 22, 2011

We're excited about this...

Lisa_philp Lisa Philp has been appointed vice president for strategic philanthropy and director of GrantCraft, a new position at the New York City-based Foundation Center. Ms. Philp recently stepped down as managing director and global head of philanthropic services for the J.P. Morgan Private Bank in New York, where she oversaw $100+ million in annual grantmaking by 65 foundations and, with her team, advised several hundred major donors each year.

Beginning October 1, Philp will oversee GrantCraft -- originally created by the Ford Foundation to help grantmakers hone their craft and be more effective -- which became a joint project of the Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre earlier this year. In that role, she will be responsible for overseeing GrantCraft's web site, the creation of training resources, and the development of new products with her counterpart Ms. Rosien Herweijer, recently named GrantCraft director by the European Foundation Centre in Brussels. As the Foundation Center's lead on strategic philanthropy, Philp will work with foundations, affinity groups, regional associations of grantmakers, donors and their advisors, and philanthropy intermediaries to help meet their needs for custom knowledge services that facilitate cooperation and working at scale on important social, economic, and environmental issues.

"Under Lisa's leadership, the Foundation Center is poised to expand and strengthen the strategic resources we provide to grantmakers globally," said Foundation Center president Bradford K. Smith. "Lisa's passionate commitment to social change, her extensive networks, and proven track record bode well for both the Foundation Center and the philanthropic community at large."

Prior to joining J.P. Morgan in 1998, Philp served as a program officer for youth development and education at the Robin Hood Foundation and as director of communications and government relations at Philanthropy New York. She also has held positions at several Washington, D.C.-based nonprofits, including the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Public Technology, Inc.

Philp formerly served as chair of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, as a vice chair of the New York Women's Foundation, and as a board member of Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families. A frequent commentator on philanthropy matters in the press, she has also taught master's level coursework on philanthropy as an adjunct professor at New York University.

Join us in welcoming Lisa to the Foundation Center!

 

'Giving USA', 2011 Edition

June 20, 2011

GivingUSA The annual Giving USA report was released earlier today, and the headline number -- charitable giving totaled $290.89 billion in 2010, up from a revised estimate of $280.30 billion in 2009 -- failed to generate any real enthusiasm. In a year that saw equity markets and endowment values rebound sharply from the dark days of 2008 and 2009, the estimated increase represents growth of just 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Before we get to some of the commentary, here are a few other numbers from the report:

Giving by type of donor

  • Individual giving was up an estimated 2.7 percent (1.1 percent in inflation-adjusted terms), to $211.77 billion.
  • According to the Foundation Center, foundation grantmaking by private, community, and operating foundations fell 0.2 percent (-1.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to $41 billion.
  • Charitable bequests rose 18.8 percent (16.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $22.83 billion.
  • Corporate giving was up 10.6 percent (8.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $15.29 billion.

Giving by type of recipient

  • Representing 35 percent of overall contributions, giving to religion was up 0.8 percent (-0.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $100.63 billion 
  • Giving to education increased 5.2 percent (3.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $41.67 billion.
  • Giving to foundations (private, operating, and community) rose 1.9 percent (0.2 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to $33 billion.
  • Giving to human services was up 0.1 percent (-1.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $26.49 billion. This includes most of the $1.43 billion donated for Haiti disaster relief; ex Haiti, giving for human services would have declined 4 percent (-5.6 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations (e.g., United Way, United Jewish Appeal, Combined Federal campaign, freestanding donor-advised funds like the Fidelity Charitabel Gift Fund) increased 6.2 percent (4.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $24.24 billion.
  • Giving to health rose 1.3 percent (-0.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $22.83 billion.
  • Giving to international affairs jumped 15.3 percent (13.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $15.77 billion.
  • Giving to arts and culture rose 5.7 percent (4.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $13.28 billion.
  • Giving to environment/animal-related organizations fell 0.7 percent (-2.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $6.66 billion.

Downward revisions

  • The report also revised downward estimates for total giving in 2008 and 2009 --from $307.65 billion and $303.75 billion, respectively, to $303.65 billion and $280.30 billion.

The glass-half-full nature of the report was captured by Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, who called the inflation-adjusted increase of 2.1 percent in overall giving "good news." But, added Rooney, "the sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting, and if giving continues to grow at this rate, it will take five or six more years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession."

In the Nonprofit Times, sector veteran Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, echoed that sentiment: "It seems like we've gone quite a ways back in the giving and it's going to take us a long time to recover, unless the economy takes a giant step forward." Boris also noted the significant revision to the 2009 data: "It makes me a bit concerned...talking about $280 billion in 2009; you have to go all the way back to 2003 or 2004 to see numbers like that."

Elsewhere, the Nonprofit Quarterly's Ruth McCambridge and Rick Cohen thought the picture painted by the report was "alarming," in that the numbers suggested "a significant disinvestment in people in need on the domestic front." And they cautioned fundraisers not to assume that "the unending generosity of the American charitable donor will win out."

But what most concerns McCambridge and Cohen about this year's report (as Phil Cubeta picked up on in his Gift Hub blog) is the evidence it offers for a growing "class divide" in society and the nonprofit sector. "What the Giving USA numbers suggest," they write,

is not only a crisis of declining charitable giving reaching human services or social safety net groups, but a class divide where the groups that do well in charitable solicitations are those with connections, with the social class interrelationships that give them automatic access. Meanwhile, charitable giving for human services is very much the province of the less moneyed donors, the payroll deduction donors, the people who volunteer at the shelter or food pantry or clinic because they know the tangible importance of those institutions to their communities....

Just as corporate CEO compensation is now back at pre-recession levels even while joblessness persists, the needs of the poor and of the organizations that serve the poor have virtually disappeared from political discourse and from the priority lists of philanthropy. And the incentives -- bequests, IRA rollovers, etc. -- flow toward the institutions with the fundraising infrastructures and the social connections to major donors....

What do you think? Were you surprised by anything in this year's report? Do you expect overall giving in 2011 to be up more than the 2.1 percent we saw in 2010? Do the numbers in this year's report reflect the growing inequality in American society? And is it time, as McCambridge and Cohen suggest in their article, to rethink the incentives built into our charitable giving structure in a way that addresses that inequality?

CORRECTION, June 22, 11:50 a.m.: The original version of this post mistakenly attributed the first paragraph of the quote above to Gift Hub blogger Phil Cubeta. The graph in question actually was part of an insightful piece written by the Nonprofit Quarterly's Ruth McCambridge and Rick Cohen. Thanks to the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence's Fayre Crossley for bringing the misattribution to my attention. And my apologies to Ruth and Rick for the mistake.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (June 18 - 19, 2011)

June 19, 2011

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

Fathers-day6 Corporate Philanthropy

Brigid Slipka weighs in on an article in the New York Times in which Stephanie Strom discusses The Single Bottom Line (14 pages, PDF), a paper by Daniel Altman and Jonathan Berman which argues that for-profit companies can achieve the most social good by focusing on their bottom lines rather than diverting resources to corporate social responsibility programs, double- and triple-bottom-line accounting, and hybrid structures. Alas, if the purpose of the paper "is...to encourage greater social good," writes Slipka, it comes up short.

Global Health

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green commend the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI), which last week received $4.3 billion in new pledges at an international donors conference. "GAVI's ability to attract additional funds at a time when budgets, particularly of govenments, are under severe pressure, is evidence both of a degree of political courage...and, above all, of the fact that this is one aid policy that really works."

The guys at GiveWell, who have refrained from recommending GAVI in the past "because we have trouble fully understanding its activities," agree that immunizations are "one of the best interventions out there for achieving good." But in light of the alliance's recent announcement, writes GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky, "we are fairly confident in not recommending GAVI because it appears to have all the funding it needs (which, given its area of focus, we consider very good news)."

Philanthropy

On his Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that foundations should be more active supporters of federal initiatives like the Social Innovation Fund and the proposed Pay For Success program. Writes Stannard-Stockton, "Large foundations don't need to participate in these new programs. But they should. It is the right thing to do and represents one of the most attractive ways for savvy foundations to leverage their program expertise to influence more funds than they ever dreamed possible."

Social Media

Kris Putnam-Walkerly has updated her list of foundations and funder networks on Twitter and added a second. The lists are available on Twitter here and here.

On the Council on Foundation's Re: Philanthropy blog, Mark Carpenter explains why it's important for foundations to have a social media presence.

Women

And over at the Deep Social Impact blog, Joanne Duhl shares some info from High Impact Giving to Women and Girls, a publication put together by the Philanthropic Initiative for Bank of America Merrill Lynch that "lays out a series of questions to help you decide on the philanthropic path that's most appropriate for you...."

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

-- Regina Mahone

7 Tips for Finding Stories in Your Organization

June 17, 2011

(Regular contributor Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. In April, we posted an abbreviated version of a lecture on the Ethics of Working with Story that Thaler delivered to Kent State University’s graduate program in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management.)

Bullseye Here are some tips on how you can elicit stories about your organization from colleagues, board members, donors, clients, grantees, and others.

1. Ask about moments of emotion. Ask people -- and yourself -- when you have felt passionate, connected to, engaged with, surprised, proud of, or touched by your organization, a client, or an event. You can also ask people to recall turning points -- moments when something important seemed to change.

2. Ask for the stories behind the words. My colleague Madelyn Blair says "stories are made up of words, and words are made up of stories." Look at your mission statement and tagline. What stories do the words inspire? Look, especially, at your organization's stated values -- might you have a story about when you last felt that way?

For example, I recently worked with the smart staff of Hazon. The Hazon tagline is "Jewish inspiration. Sustainable communities." The organization's staff is committed to exploring stories about being inspired at work and how their work impacts the greater world. And they're eager to explore the meaning of the word sustainable: What does it mean? Can the definition change when it's used in reference to a person? A workplace? A community? The world? When did staff most feel like they were living sustainably?

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NPO Job Openings (May 2011)

June 16, 2011

Last month's disappointing job numbers fueled fears that the economy may be sliding back into recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls grew by 54,000 in May -- far less than most economists had predicted and the lowest monthly total so far this year -- while the number of unemployed (13.9 million) and the unemployment rate (9.1 percent) were essentially unchanged. The number crunchers at BLS also revised nonfarm payroll employment down in both March (from +221,000 to +194,000) and April (from +244,000 to +232,000).

The less-than-rosy numbers accelerated a month-long selloff in equity markets already worried about high gas prices and European debt woes. Soft housing numbers -- the widely followed Case-Shiller home-price index hit a new low in March, below the previous bottom recorded in April 2009 -- and an Empire State Manufacturing Survey reading of -7.8 in June, down significantly from May's level of 11.9, added to the sense of an economy struggling to find its footing.

Here at PND we use our own (unscientific) indicator -- job openings at tax-exempt U.S. organizations, as measured by job postings to the PND job board -- to gauge the health of the economy. And so far this year the news has been pretty good.

(Click on chart for bigger image.)

Jobcounts_may2011 

As the chart indicates, postings to the board have been up, on a year-over-year basis, every month in 2011 except for January. (The chart also shows that every month in 2010 showed improvement, on a year-over-year basis, than the corresponding month in 2009, with the exception, again, of January.)

As noted, this is a completely unscientific indicator, for the following reasons:

  • Given that income streams for most nonprofits are relatively predictable on a year-over-year basis, employment trends in the sector tend to be less volatile than in the for-profit sector, making changes in nonprofit payrolls a lagging rather than a leading indicator.
  • Because any tax-exempt organization in the U.S. can post a job at PND for free, activity on the board is somewhat counter-cyclical (i.e., the board tends to get busier as nonprofit budgets are squeezed).
  • Our ability to post jobs is a function of the (limited) resources we're able to dedicate to the task, something that fluctuates over the course of a calendar year.

That said, our indicator would seem to suggest that nonprofit sector employment is hanging in there, even as the overall economy slows. A quick glance at the chart also shows that the board was busy last summer, as recession-battered nonprofits finally began to staff up in anticipation of a slow but steady recovery. One would expect that much of that hiring as already happened and that June, July, and August will not be as busy on the hiring front as they were in 2010. But you never know. We'll keep a close eye on it and will revisit our indicator in early September.

In the meantime, we'd love to hear what's happening at your organization. Are you hiring? Are other nonprofits in your region hiring? In what areas? And how does the rest of the year look? Will you be adding to head count? Reducing it? Let us know in the comments area below.

-- Mitch Nauffts

 

A 'Flip' Chat With...Premal Shah, President, Kiva (Parts 2 and 3)

June 15, 2011

(The videos below were recorded as part of our 'Flip' chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat, with Big Duck VP of client relationships and strategy Farra Trompeter.)

In part one of our three-part video conversation with Premal Shah, president of the online microlending site Kiva, we asked Shah to explain how Kiva works, where it fits into the microfinance landscape, and how it has been received by more established players in the field of philanthropy.

In part two (below), we ask Shah about the SMART campaign, a global effort to create and promote agreed-upon principles for the microfinance industry; the difference between profiting from and exploiting the poor; and Americans' awareness of microfinance in general.

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

 

(Running time: 5 minutes, 43 seconds)

And in part three, Shah talks about Kiva's growing presence in the United States; the obstacles to the continued development of microfinance in this country; and what he's most excited about as he looks ahead a year or three.

 

(Running time: 6 minutes, 3 seconds)

What do you think? Is Kiva changing the way the world thinks about the billion or so people at the bottom of pyramid (BoP)? Will the organization's first-mover advantage continue to insulate it from meaningful competition? Does microfinance have a future in the United States? What could or should Kiva be doing to have even more of an impact?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Matt Sinclair

A 'Flip' Chat With...Premal Shah, President, Kiva (Part 1)

June 14, 2011

(This video was recorded as part of our 'Flip' chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat, with Big Duck VP of client relationships and strategy Farra Trompeter.)

For much of its existence, Kiva.org -- an online platform that enables people to make small loans to poor people in developing countries -- has been one of the coolest nonprofit Web sites around. Founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley in 2005, the organization capitalized on its Silicon Valley connections -- its current president, Premal Shah, was a product manager at PayPal -- and the Web 2.0 boom to become the darling of social change activists and the DIY philanthropy crowd in just a few years.

Indeed, by the end of 2009 the organization had won a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and a Webby People’s Choice Award, had been named one of TIME’s “50 Best Web Sites” (2008), had registered more than 250,000 users, and had facilitated over $100 million in loans.

That same year (2009), the organization announced that it was piloting a program in the U.S. to allow individuals across the globe to make small loans to U.S. entrepreneurs through its field partners, ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund. A year later, with unemployment hovering in the low double digits, Kiva announced a $1 million contribution from Visa to expand its reach within the U.S. generally -- and, through the addition of ACCION Texas-Louisiana, the largest microfinance institution in the country, the Gulf Coast specifically -- and further empower small businesses.

Having been named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things of 2010, the now five-year-old organization continues to expand. During the recent Microfinance USA 2011 conference in New York City, PND spoke with Premal Shah about the state of the microfinance industry, how the field of philanthropy has responded to Kiva’s emergence, and the status of the organization’s efforts in the U.S. Part one of our chat with Shah is posted below; parts two and three will follow tomorrow.

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

 

(Total running time: 5 minutes, 36 seconds)

What do you think? Is Kiva changing the way we think about the billion or so people worldwide at the bottom of pyramid (BoP)? Is the organization's business model sustainable? What should it be doing to have even more of an impact?

-- Matt Sinclair

IRS Revokes Tax-Exempt Status of Organizations Not Filing Returns

June 13, 2011

(Ines Sucre is a reference/outreach librarian at the Foundation Center-New York. A version of this post appears on the Philanthropy Front and Center-New York blog.)

Irs_logo After telling nonprofits since May 2010 that they would lose their tax-exempt status if they did not file their required annual information returns, the IRS has just released its initial automatic revocation of exemption list.

Automatic revocation of exempt status occurs as a consequence of not filing either a Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-PF or Form 990-N (the e-Postcard filing for small organizations with gross receipts of under $50,000) for three consecutive years. Organizations whose status has been revoked will be removed from Publication 78, the cumulative list of tax-exempt organizations. They may also owe federal income tax.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has created a searchable database of the revocation list. A June 8 article by Chronicle writer Lisa Chiu goes into some depth about the issue.

The IRS is telling donors and foundations that organizations included in the list are no longer eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts. Donors also are reminded not to rely on IRS determination letters dated before the date of revocation or on a prior listing in Publication 78 as definitive proof of an organization's exempt status.

What Can You Do If Your Organization's Tax-Exempt Status Has Been Revoked?

The IRS spells it out:

  • Since the revocation of exempt status is automatic, there is no appeal process. Instead, organizations will have to re-file Form 1023 (or 1024, if applying for other than public charity status) to reinstate its exempt status.
  • Apply using the EIN assigned previously to your organization.
  • If the IRS determines that your organization meets the requirements for tax-exempt status, it will issue a new determination letter.
  • Pay a user fee based on your organization's annual gross receipts.
  • Direct the application to its correct destination by writing "Automatically Revoked" at the top of the application form and envelope. Mail to: Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 12192, Covington, KY 41012-0192.
  • An organization may request a retroactive reinstatement if it has reasonable cause for not filing its annual information returns.

Smaller Charities Get Some Relief

Small organizations that have lost their exempt status because they failed to file a Form 990-N e-Postcard in 2007, 2008, and 2009:

  • Will be able to claim reasonable cause for failing to file if they submit to the IRS an application for reinstatement of tax-exempt status.
  • Should write "Notice 2011-43" at the top of their application and on the mailing envelope.
  • Will pay a reduced user fee of $100.

For more information visit the IRS Web site, where you'll find a news release, a fact sheet, and an FAQ.

-- Ines Sucre

Weekend Link Roundup (June 11 - 12, 2011)

June 12, 2011

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

Communications/Marketing

At Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention blog, guest blogger Joan Stewart shares five lessons nonprofit communicators should take away from Congressman Anthony Weiner's sordid social media disaster.

Grantmaking

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Joanne Duhl wonders whether a funder that has had a negative experience with an organization and decides not to renew its grant has additional obligations to the grantee in question. Should the funder "reach out to the executive director for a candid conversation about [its] concerns? [Should it] relay [its] concerns to the Board of Directors, who are ultimately responsible for the organization?" Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nonprofit Management

Over at the Philanthropy Potluck blog, the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Susan Stehling shares findings from a recent GrantCraft survey that asked foundation staff how they "think about time and how they manage it."

Philanthropy

Last week, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched Philanthropy's Promise, an initiative to encourage the nation's leading foundations to dedicate a majority of their grant dollars to underserved communities and at least 25 percent to strategies that address the root causes of social problems. To date, sixty-four foundations have signed on to the campaign and submitted statements explaining their support for the initiative.

While D.C.-based blogger Brigid Slipka thinks the campaign is an important step on the part of foundations toward shedding their "siloed identity," she doesn't think it meets the definition of "collaboration." To help funders move in that direction, Slipka lists three collaborative activities foundations could engage in now -- data sharing, developing a universal grant application, and joint advocacy -- to advance the campaign's many admirable goals.

Foundations amass a wealth of information about nonprofits and community needs. But how can "we get [them] to share the critical information they collect," Lucy Bernholz asked in remarks she delivered last week at the Personal Democracy Forum and shares in a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "This is tricky -- foundations are neither rational market actors nor subject to the pressure of the electoral cycle," writes Bernholz, "We need strategies that mix demand with use with pride plus ambition." To that end, Bernholz offers "three easy things you can do to help unlock foundation information," including:

Ask them for it. You know the old adage, when you want money ask for advice? When you're asking foundations for money, also ask them for the data they have on an issue. As you use online giving platforms ask for data from foundations. If you use a foundation's grants list as a resource in your own giving -- let them know that and share that information online.

Give them permission to share your information. Proactively suggest to foundations that it's OK with you for them to share your proposal with other funders. Encourage them to seek partners on your behalf.

Show them what their data look like. Show them what we know. Here's where we need data hackathons that include foundation data, apps that mix private funding sources with public data streams, and trend analyses...that make sense of the information the funders are sitting on. Go to the Foundation Center's website, which hosts the Glasspockets site with information on the open sharing practices of foundations, and map that data with your public datasets -- show them what is possible....

Social Media

Last but not least, in a recent Fundraising Success magazine article, Heather Mansfield of the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog offers ten common mistakes nonprofits make when using social media.

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

-- Regina Mahone

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