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25 posts from July 2013

Continuing the Fight for Voting Rights

July 30, 2013

(Ryan P. Haygood is director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund's Political Participation Group, which works to promote the full, equal, and active participation of black people in the democratic process through legal, legislative, public education, and other means. He has represented people of color in a variety of actions involving voting discrimination, including challenges to discriminatory voting measures under Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and state laws.)

Headshot_ryan_haygoodIn June 2013, a significant provision of one of the greatest pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted fell. In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act. This key provision identified the fifteen states and localities that were subject to Section 5 of the legislation because of longstanding racial discrimination with respect to voting.

Section 5 required those states and localities to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C., that proposed changes to their voting laws would not discriminate against voters of color -- before those changes were implemented. By striking down Section 4(b), the Supreme Court immobilized Section 5, which is like letting someone keep his or her car but taking away the keys.

The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. represented black community leaders from Shelby County and argued the case in the Supreme Court. We fought to keep these protections in place, and presented irrefutable evidence that racial discrimination persists in the places covered by Sections 4(b) and 5 of the legislation.

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Dilemmas of a Water Funder

July 29, 2013

(David Rothschild leads the Portfolio Team at the Skoll Foundation. His post below also appears on the WASHfunders.org blog.)

Headshot_david_rothschildWhat a moment! At an April press conference, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, held up a handwritten number and announced, "2030. This is it. This is the global target to end poverty."

That historic moment also served to underscore some of the dilemmas that I and other WASH (clean water, sanitation, and hygiene) funders grapple with. How do we establish audacious -- yet realistic -- goals? How do we announce an ambitious goal -- such as full water and sanitation coverage in a number of countries -- and have confidence that we have a reasonable chance of achieving it?

What should our role as funders be, if not to push boundaries? If we just continue to provide incremental progress, we may never solve this problem. If the president of the World Bank can put forth aggressive goals, then foundation funders can -- and should -- do the same. After all, moving the needle on the world's most pressing problems is a moral imperative.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 27-28, 2013)

July 28, 2013

Corn-on-the-cobOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Community Development

The declaration of bankruptcy by the City of Detroit, though not unexpected, was a shock to those of us old enough to remember the heyday of Motown and the Motor City. In the most recent issue of the Cohen Report, NPQ's Rick Cohen argues that "the nation has to confront...persistent racial and social inequity and what it has done to this city. [The] nation was quick to come to the aid of the automakers," writes Cohen,

with past presidents and the current one promising not to let Detroit (read: Detroit business) slide into financial oblivion. The same commitment must now be made to the 700,000 people of Detroit, with the message that this nation cares about their future opportunities as much as it cares about GM's and Chrysler's. But the terms of the deal have to be different, and that’s where nonprofits and foundations have a crucial, inescapable role to play....

Higher Education

Seemingly overnight, digital disruption in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses) has set its sights on higher ed, and many universities have felt obliged "to join the...revolution to avoid being guillotined by it," writes Matthew Bishop in the latest issue of the Economist. But is there a viable business model in MOOCs for existing institutions (many of which have been around for centuries), or are they a lose-lose proposition "in which cheap online providers radically reduce the cost of higher education and drive many traditional institutions to the wall"?

Nonprofits

On the GuideStar blog, Jacob Harold cites the parable of the three blind men and the elephant to argue that it's time for funders and nonprofits alike to move away from a sole focus on the overhead ratio and toward a more "holistic" view of nonprofit effectiveness.

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A House Divided

July 26, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the third installment of that series (click here for the second, "Emmett and Trayvon: How Racial Prejudice Has Changed in the Last 60 Years," by Elijah Anderson), Thomas J. Sugrue, the David Boies Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the racial wealth gap in America over the last fifty years has not only persisted, it has worsened -- in large part because, African Americans, going back generations, have had little opportunity to build and pass on wealth. Sugrue's latest book is Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

___________

Billboard_soup_lineIn 1973, my parents sold their modest house on Detroit's West Side to Roosevelt Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and an assembly-line worker at Ford, and his wife, Virginia (not their real names). For the Smiths -- African Americans and native Mississippians -- the neighborhood was an appealing place to raise their two young children, and the price was within their means: $17,500. The neighborhood's three-bedroom colonials and Tudors, mostly built between the mid-1920s and the late '40s, were well maintained, the streets quiet and lined with stately trees. Nearby was a movie theater, a good grocery store, a local department store, and a decent shopping district. Like many first-time home buyers, the Smiths had every reason to expect that their house would be an appreciating investment.

For their part, my parents moved to a rapidly growing suburb that would soon be incorporated as Farmington Hills. Their new house, on a quiet, curvilinear street, was a significant step up from the Detroit place. It had four bedrooms, a two-car attached garage, and a large yard. It cost them $43,000. Within a few years, they had added a family room and expanded the small rear patio. Their subdivision, like most in Farmington Hills, was carefully zoned. The public schools were modern and well funded, with substantial revenues from the town's mostly middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers. All of the creature comforts of the good suburban life were close at hand: shopping malls, swim clubs, movie theaters, good restaurants.

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Finding Hope in a Cause

July 25, 2013

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based creative fundraising agency. In his last post, he argued that the annual report is yesterday's news.)

Feldmann-headshotFive years ago I joined with a few others to start Achieve. During the formation process, I looked into obtaining "key man" insurance, which provides financial relief to a company if something unexpected happens to one of its key leaders.

As with any life insurance policy, I had to pass a physical exam and submit to a battery of blood tests. A week after the exam, my insurance agent called to discuss an "odd reading" from one of the tests that pointed to an anomaly in my liver function. He then told me it could have been caused by me having a drink or two the night before. When I assured him I hadn't, we agreed it was a fluke.

A few days later, after visiting my doctor and submitting to another blood test, my insurance agent called me with some perplexing news. "I know this sounds crazy," he said, "but your liver enzymes are high again and the underwriter won't insure you." He then suggested I get a note from a doctor saying the test result was incorrect and that I was the picture of good health.

I waited a couple of weeks but finally went to see a specialist. While he was flipping through my medical records and charts of my blood work, he looked at me and asked, "How long have you been scratching your legs?"

"What?" I must have looked confused.

"Did you know that the whole time I've been sitting here going through your records, you've been scratching your legs?" Then he pulled up one of my pant legs. There were scratch marks all over my leg. I hadn't even realized I was doing it.

A couple of weeks later I had minor exploratory surgery. After the procedure, he sat me down to confirm what he had suspected: I had a chronic condition called primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC -- an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and subsequent obstruction of the bile ducts. The itching was caused by bilirubin, a byproduct of normal metabolic processes, that had entered my blood stream because my bile ducts were completely closed.

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How Will Millennials Give? 5 Questions for Sharna Goldseker, Managing Director, 21/64

July 23, 2013

Earlier this year, Sharna Goldseker and her colleagues at 21/64, a nonprofit consulting practice, in partnership with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, released the findings of a study of high-capacity donors between the ages of 21 and 40. In publishing those findings, Goldseker and her colleagues hoped to reflect back to these Millennials donors what they were saying about themselves so as to help them become more proactive as both donors and agents of social change, encourage and inform conversations about philanthropy among multiple generations, and help those who seek to engage and assist these next-gen donors to do so in more effective and productive ways.

Laura Cronin, a regular contributor to PhilanTopic, recently spoke with Goldseker about the priorities of this new generation of philanthropists and what makes them different from their parents and grandparents.

Headshot_sharna_goldsekerLaura Cronin: Your consulting firm, 21/64, specializes in next-gen and multi-generation philanthropy. How did you get involved with generational issues in philanthropy, and how does a generational approach help both experienced and younger donors be more effective?

Sharna Goldseker: In my previous job as a program officer at a multi-family foundation office, I discovered that the quality of the grantmaking conversation often relied on family members' ability to communicate with one another. So, in addition to researching and assembling dockets, I began to work with the executive director to prepare trustees in advance of board meetings. Typically, she would meet with the older trustees, and I would meet one-on-one with younger family members. It was through that process that I first learned the value of understanding an issue from the vantage point of everyone around a board table -- even next-generation family members who might not be expected to have a voice in the decision-making process.

When we established 21/64, we held core this idea that every family member involved in a family foundation should be empowered to bring his or her own values, experiences, skills, and voice to the table. And since then, we have found that when everyone is involved in the deliberative process and listening well, the whole is more effective than the sum of its parts. One of our goals is to help families establish that kind of healthy communications process and put systems in place that will keep it going long after our involvement with the family has ended.

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How Should Philanthropy Respond to Obama's Speech on Black Men and Boys?

July 22, 2013

Shawn Dove is manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, an initiative of the Open Society Foundations "to create hope and opportunities for black men and boys who are significantly marginalized from U.S. economic, social, and political life." In collaboration with the Open Society Foundations, the Foundation Center recently launched BMAfunders.org, a go-to resource for data and information related to black male achievement that also highlights the role philanthropy can play in supporting black men and boys. A version of this post appears on OSF's Voices blog.

Headshot_Shawn Dove_How do we as a nation heal from the open wound caused by the Zimmerman verdict? Words from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, offer guidance: "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

I've watched President Obama's speech responding to America's Trayvon Martin moment more than ten times now. And with each viewing, I am increasingly inspired by our president's courageous depiction of the challenges black men and boys face in a society that too often perceives them as criminals and ignores their potential to be productive contributors to this great nation.

Debates about race, gender, the criminal justice system, and states' "stand your ground" laws rattled the country in the week leading up to the president's speech. When he finally spoke, Americans of all races who have devoted their time and resources to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys had divergent reactions -- from sighs of relief, to jaw-dropping disbelief, to tears of joy. Others thought the president's message about how America views, values, and invests in black men and boys was off-base, too late, divisive, and lacking a call to action.

Much of what the president said resonated with me, particularly as a black man, the father of young twin boys, and the manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. What was perhaps most compelling was how he helped the country understand the pain black communities were experiencing by weaving explanations of the complex policies that create the disproportionately large population of incarcerated African American men with his personal experiences of being racially profiled. What also resonated with me was the refrain "Where do we go from here?"

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 20-21, 2013)

July 21, 2013

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

Data

This is the era of big data, and that's a good thing, argues Matthew Scharpnick, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Elefint Designs, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. But, he adds, "for every new piece of valuable data, a much larger pile of useless data surrounds and obscures it. It's tough work to sift through it all to find the pieces that lead us to greater insights." Which is why,

Organizations need to understand what stories they want to tell with their data -- ideally before those data sets are even gathered. While it's important to let the data collections speak for themselves --being careful not to manipulate them to present stories that are not there -- it's equally important to gather the right kinds of data and to do so with a strategic understanding of how they can become insightful information tied to the larger narrative of the organization. When the right data are gathered in the right way and presented intelligently, that is where the magic of data begins to fulfill its promise...."

Diversity

Writing on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition, a five-year initiative to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy, reflects on the initiative's progress at midpoint and suggests that it's a bit of mixed bag. "Those who question whether the effective inclusion of diverse perspectives has a positive influence on smart decision-making should look closer at the evidence," she writes. But at the same time, recent events

make it clear that building philanthropy's capacity to fully include diverse perspectives must be as salient and pressing for foundations as dealing with the much-buzzed issues of "big data," managing "networked organizations," "scaling what works," or fostering "collective impact." None of these approaches will reach their fullest potential if they cannot effectively manifest in a diverse and complex world that is yearning for equity....

Higher Education

Responding to a special report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that examined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's postsecondary education strategy and outisize influence on the postsecondary debate, Daniel Greenstein, director of the Postsecondary Success program at the foundation, writes that while he and his colleagues welcome a rigorous public conversation about the challenges facing our education system, the report "missed the big picture." Namely, "that nearly three out of four students aren't enrolled in full-time, four-year degree programs and that the current system doesn't work for adults who are juggling jobs, family and other priorities while they also work toward a degree."

Nonprofits

Looking to start a nonprofit or social enterprise to address a critical community need, one that will be more than just a flash in the pan? Ayesha Khanna, president of Civic Incubator, shares some practical tips to help you do just that:

  • Define your objectives and what you want to accomplish.
  • Develop a business model and test your assumptions.
  • Find seed funding to allow you to make little bets.
  • Develop diverse funding streams.
  • Enroll others in your mission and work.
  • Create a public relations strategy.

Has all the recent talk about overhead myths and ratios left you a bit confused? If it has, hop on over to the Charities review Council's Smart Giving Matters blog, where you'll find five surefire ways to get the full picture of a nonprofit's effectiveness.

Philanthropy

In a new paper ("Beauty and the Beast: Can Money Ever Foster Social Transformation?") written for Hivos, a foundation in the Netherlands, Michael Edwards, one of our favorite contrarians, argues that instead of its current fixation on market-based revenue generation for social change, philanthropy should be directing more support to what he calls "democratic" and "transformational" funding models. (Back in 2012, we published a terrific series of posts by Edwards on more or less the same topic.)

In a similar vein, Josh Mailman, founder of the progressive Threshold Foundation, argues in a video on Bridgepsan's GiveSmart site that philanthropy is missing a great opportunity to "advance business accountability and business responsibility." Mailman, who was among the first investors in yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms, the Utne Reader, and household products maker Seventh Generation, believes that movements drive social change, and that "getting wealthy people involved in building movements is a really good idea, because movements are mostly people that don't have money."

"Orthodoxies are those [assumptions] we are so accustomed to that we barely think about them, let alone question them," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. In the social sector, they include things like the inviolability of property tax exemptions and the charitable deduction, intellectual property rights, and the right to privacy in the digital sphere. The problem with that approach, Bernholz adds, "is in thinking that the rules that have worked for the last century will stay the same, will work the same, will still be useful or needed for the next century. Some might. Some won't. Some shouldn't...."

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Lisa Suchet, CEO at the UK-based Nationwide Foundation, shares some interesting learnings from the foundation's Money Matters, Homes Matter and Families Matter initiative, which awarded three-year grants to nine charities working with disadvantaged groups to address housing and homeless issues n the foundation's service area.

Writing on their Philanthropy Potluck blog, the folks at the Minnesota Council on Foundations share some findings from a new Council on Foundations report that looks at staff demographics and compensation levels at foundations around the country. Among the findings:

  • The graying of foundation staff has accelerated significantly.
  • There is still a large gender gap at the top of large foundations.
  • Twenty-nine percent of private foundations reported that they employ people of color, while only 19 percent of community foundations said the same. 

Social Good

Trevor Neilson, president of the Global Philanthropy Group, advises readers of the Huffington Post Impact blog to ignore those who disparage Millennials as "lazy, entitled and narcissistic." Not true, says Neilson, who suggests, to the contrary, "that Millennials have more power than any generation in modern history to drastically improve our world for the better...."

Transparency

Last but note least, kudos to the Blue Shield of California Foundation, which earlier in the week posted a downloadable version of its 2012 Grantee Perception Report -- along with a frank assessment of the dimensions in which it has improved since 2010, as well as areas where improvement is still needed.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org. And stay cool!

--The Editors

Emmett and Trayvon: How Racial Prejudice Has Changed in the Last 60 Years

July 19, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part seriess, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the second installment of that series (click here for the first, "America's Twentieth-Century Slavery," by Douglas A. Blackmon), Elijah Anderson, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University, explores how racial prejudice in America has changed in the sixty years since fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi, was brutally beaten and possibly shot by a group of men, who later dumped his body in a nearby river, because he had flirted with the daughter of a local storeowner. Anderson's latest book is The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

___________

 

Headshot_elijiah_andersonSeparated by a thousand miles, two state borders, and nearly six decades, two young African American boys met tragic fates that seem remarkably similar today: both walked into a small market to buy some candy; both ended up dead.

The first boy is Emmett Till, who was fourteen years old in the summer of 1955 when he walked into a local grocery store in Money, Mississippi, to buy gum. He was later roused from bed, beaten brutally, and possibly shot by a group of white men who later dumped his body in a nearby river. They claimed he had stepped out of his place by flirting with a young white woman, the wife of the store's owner. The second boy is Trayvon Martin, who was seventeen years old late last winter when he walked into a 7-Eleven near a gated community in Sanford, Florida, to buy Skittles and an iced tea. He was later shot to death at close range by a mixed-race man, who claimed Martin had behaved suspiciously and seemed out of place. The deaths of both boys galvanized the nation, drew sympathy and disbelief across racial lines, and, through the popular media, prompted a reexamination of race relations.

In the aftermath of Martin's death last February, a handful of reporters and columnists, and many members of the general public, made the obvious comparison: Trayvon Martin, it seemed, was the Emmett Till of our times. And while that comparison has some merit -- the boys' deaths are similar both in some of their details and in their tragic outcome -- these killings must also be understood as the result of very different strains of racial tension in America. The racism that led to Till's death was embedded in a virulent ideology of white racial superiority born out of slavery and the Jim Crow codes, particularly in the Deep South. That sort of racism hinges on the idea that blacks are an inherently inferior race, a morally null group that deserves both the subjugation and poverty it gets.

The racial prejudice that led to Trayvon Martin's death is different. While it, too, was born of America's painful legacy of slavery and segregation, and informed by those old concepts of racial order -- that blacks have their "place" in society -- it in addition reflects the urban iconography of today's racial inequality, namely the black ghetto, a uniquely urban American creation. Strikingly, this segregation of the black community coexists with an ongoing racial incorporation process that has produced the largest black middle class in history, and that reflects the extraordinary social progress this country has made since the 1960s. The civil rights movement paved the way for blacks and other people of color to access public and professional opportunities and spaces that would have been unimaginable in Till's time.

While the sort of racism that led to Till's death still exists in society today, Americans in general have a much more nuanced, more textured attitude toward race than anything we've seen before, and usually that attitude does not manifest in overtly hateful, exclusionary, or violent acts. Instead, it manifests in pervasive mindsets and stereotypes that all black people start from the inner-city ghetto and are therefore stigmatized by their association with its putative amorality, danger, crime, and poverty. Hence, in public a black person is burdened with a negative presumption that he or she must disprove before being able to establish mutually trusting relationships with others.

Most consequentially, black skin when seen in public, and its association with the ghetto, translates into a deficit of credibility as black skin is conflated with lower-class status. Such attitudes impact poor blacks of the ghetto one way and middle-class black people another. While middle-class blacks may be able to successfully overcome the negative presumptions of others, lower-class blacks may not. For instance, all blacks, particularly "ghetto-looking" young men, are at risk of enduring yet another "stop and frisk" from the police as well as discrimination from potential employers, shopkeepers, and strangers on the street. Members of the black middle class and black professionals may ultimately pass inspection and withstand such scrutiny; many poorer blacks cannot. And many blacks who have never stepped foot in a ghetto must repeatedly prove themselves as non-ghetto, often operating in a provisional status (with something more to prove), in the workplace or, say, a fancy restaurant, until they can convince others -- either by speaking "white" English or by demonstrating intelligence, poise, or manners -- that they are to be trusted, that they are not "one of those" blacks from the ghetto, and that they deserve respect. In other words, a middle-class black man who is, for instance, waiting in line for an ATM at night will in many cases be treated with a level of suspicion that a middle-class white man simply does not experience.

But this pervasive cultural association -- black skin equals the ghetto -- does not come out of the blue. After all, as a result of historical, political, and economic factors, blacks have been contained in the ghetto. Today, with persistent housing discrimination and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, America's ghettos face structural poverty. In addition, crime and homicide rates within those communities are high, young black men are typically the ones killing one another, and ghetto culture, made iconic by artists like Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, and the Notorious B.I.G., is inextricably intertwined with blackness.

As a result, in America's collective imagination the ghetto is a dangerous, scary part of the city. It's where rap comes from, where drugs are sold, where hoodlums rule, and where The Wire might have been filmed. Above all, to many white Americans the ghetto is where "the black people live,” and thus, as the misguided logic follows, all black people live in the ghetto. It's that pervasive, if accidental, fallacy that's at the root of the wider society's perceptions of black people today. While it may be true that everyone who lives in a certain ghetto is black, it is patently untrue that everyone who is black lives in a ghetto. Regardless, black people of all classes, including those born and raised far from the inner cities and those who've never been in a ghetto, are by virtue of skin color alone stigmatized by the place.

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What's The Story, Data?

July 18, 2013

(After twenty-five years at the Ford Foundation, Kyle Reis recently joined the nonprofit social enterprise TechSoup Global as Senior Director of Global Data Services and East Coast Representative. When not busy raising three daughters or reading Emily Dickinson poems, he spends his time thinking about the intersection of data, design, and social change. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_kyle_reisData are not sexy.

There, I've said it. The sentence proves the point. Data are. Data is. Data, hmm. Personally, I love data. But we all know what invariably happens when the 'D' word comes up in conversation other than at a hackathon or Google staff party. Our eyes glaze over, we nod that, yes, this is indeed the era of Big Data, and then excuse ourselves to freshen our drink.

But let me clarify. It's not that I love data per se. The data point "New Jersey" does not, thankfully, excite me. What I do love, however, is what can come of data, particularly when it gets big and varied. Often, a surprising thing happens: the data get interesting. Really interesting. Even more importantly, the data become meaningful. Individual data points begin morphing into larger concepts like, say, the Law of Large Numbers. Now we're talking sexy. I would even go so far as to call the Law of Large Numbers awesome! See for yourself:

Law_large_numbers

OK. So, formulas aren't sexy either. But, in layman’s terms, what this tells us is that, as we get more and more data (e.g., rolls of a die, Google "flu" searches, grants approved by foundations), the data become more predictable and informative. Data points bond together and in so doing undergo a kind of metamorphosis in our perception. They begin to reveal previously hidden truths, to show surprising patterns and correlations, and to surface anomalies. If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers or studied the concept of positive deviance, you know how much we can learn from that which deviates from the norm. Here's a quote from the Positive Deviance Initiative that touches on this topic, and sounds a lot like something that would be of interest to foundations:

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges....

When cultivated and well-presented, this "data metamorphosis" takes on a new resonance for one simple reason: it begins to reveal stories.

We all love stories. Stories resonate. Stories delight. Stories move us. For foundations, stories are vital to our work. Stories of need or injustice, of action or inaction. Not only can stories help us decide who to fund, but also what results from our funding. However, for philanthropy's stories to move others to action, they must have data.

Why data, you might ask. Isn't the folksy anecdote that moves us to action good enough? In the past, the answer might have been yes because supporting an organization that's doing good is better than not supporting one. But this is no longer sufficient. The needs are too big for us to be funding all but the best organizations. So how do we find these organizations? Using data. Data matter. Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

And that's why initiatives like the Reporting Commitment are so important. Though it might seem small that sixteen foundations -- including some of the largest in the country -- have begun publishing their grants data in an open, accessible fashion -- the truth is this is big news. Here's what these records look like:

Rwjf_grant_record

In just nine months these sixteen foundations have made available to the public more than 10,000 grants totaling $9 billion. Now imagine what this data set could look like in two or three years' time, with several hundred foundations contributing tens of thousands of grants totaling tens of billions of dollars. Then imagine these same foundations and others working to improve people's lives downloading this data and mashing it up with Census, World Bank, or other information. Or using word clouds and other visual tools to reveal beautiful patterns. Or mapping the geographic-area-served data to see if funding is reaching the places of greatest need. And then, if you will, imagine this data being used in ways we can't yet dream. This metamorphosis of data could be spectacular, and the impact of what we do with this knowledge would be tangible.

So here is my call to all funders: join the Reporting Commitment. Send in your data so that you and others can use it to tell the stories that are out there waiting for the data to find them. Do this and you, too, will come to love data as I do.

-- Kyle Reis

Tips for Seeking First-Time Support

July 17, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last post, she wrote about how grantwriters can help build the capacity of their organizations.) )

Headshot_allison_shirkNonprofits approaching a foundation for support for the first time often are asked, "Who else is at the table?" That's because foundations and corporate grantmakers are more likely to fund a program or project that others have deemed worthy of support. Not only does it simplify the due diligence process, it makes it easier for a program officer to demonstrate to senior leadership and/or the board that the program or project will be fully funded.

But as any grantwriter or development professional knows, it's not easy to get a funder to actually sit at the table. Here are a few tips designed to help you demonstrate to potential first-time funders that your project or program merits their support:

Craft a strong needs statement. Just as the right music is important at any dinner party, a well-crafted needs statement is critical when seeking first-time support. It's the piece of the proposal that sets the mood and demonstrates how well your organization understands the underlying problem it is working to address. Spare no expense in making sure you have a good one.

Don't forget about letters of support. One metric that nonprofits often fail to mention is the number of letters of support they receive and the time it took to solicit those letters. For example, you might mention in your proposal that, "We asked members of the community to send letters of support on behalf of the project and in just two weeks we received more than two thousand." (Good for you!) If the funder doesn't discourage the submission of additional materials, you might even want to include a few of the best as attachments to your application -- especially if those letters demonstrate financial or volunteer support or tell a story that supports your needs statement.

Don't hide your volunteers under a bushel. What's better than a letter of support? Sweat equity. Being able to show that members of the community are pulling together with their time and talents is worth its weight in gold. Be meticulous in documenting the amount of volunteer time already allocated to the program or project and put a dollar value on it. (Independent Sector updates that information every year and provides it in a user-friendly table on its Web site.) And if a professional in the community has donated time on a pro-bono basis, count her time at her hourly rate rather than the standard volunteer rate.

Show that you have broad support in the community. Have you already started to receive individual donations in support of the project or program? Share the number and amount with the funder. A large number of individual donors can be just as impressive as a sizable grant from a single source.

Solicit matching grants. Ask one of your loyal supporters if it would be willing to put up a matching grant. Matching grants with the potential to double, triple, or even quadruple the value of the original grant are viewed by many funders, first time or otherwise, as an opportunity to leverage their own grant dollars.

Be happy with small grants. You don't have to hit a homerun every time you step up to the plate. Even grants of a few thousand dollars can take your fundraising efforts to the next level. Indeed, sometimes the real value of a grant is the credibility it confers on your program or project.

Cast a wide net. Spending a few hours with a tool like Foundation Directory Online is almost guaranteed to lead you to new prospects. Avenues for identifying new sources of funding in FDO include searching for companies in your geographic area and then clicking on the "grantmaker" tab, or searching grants made to projects similar to yours. For more search tips, check out the online FDO tutorial.

Prospecting for first-time support is something that even large nonprofits and charities do, so don't be bashful about approaching a funder who has never supported your organization. Once they're actually sitting at the table, they may never want to leave.

What strategies have you used to get first-time support for a project? We'd love to hear them. Use the comments section below....

-- Allison Shirk

Food for Thought: Work Together to Fight Hunger

July 15, 2013

(Former Arkansas state senator John Brown is president of the Windgate Charitable Foundation. A version of this post originally appeared as a special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)

Hunger-1Fifty million people in the U.S., and one in four children, don't know where their next meal is coming from, despite our country having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans.

Last fall at the Conference of Southwest Foundations' annual meeting, my colleagues and I watched clips from A Place at the Table, a documentary that examines the many issues hunger causes and provides insight into what life is like for the millions of people in America who suffer from it. Most of the people featured in the film were working but just did not make enough money to put food on the table for the entire month. Many of them did not qualify for food stamps or bridge cards.

We all left the conference with a new perspective and appreciation of the gravity of the hunger problem in America. It was a wake-up call.

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, a statewide alliance focused on hunger relief, education and advocacy, estimates that on any given night more than 560,000 of our fellow Arkansans will go to bed with an empty, gnawing ache in their bellies. One in six of our neighbors cannot put food on the table for their family. It isn't because we don't have enough food. The cause is poverty.

Nineteen percent of Arkansans live below the poverty line and often don't have the money to buy milk and bread, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey. Out of the millions of Americans who are food-insecure, a lot of them are right here in the Natural State. In fact, Arkansas is right at the top of the USDA's list of states with the most food-insecure households.

Hunger is a serious economic, social, and cultural threat -- to communities here in Arkansas as well as across the nation. Indeed, according to a 2011 report from the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, "hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health-care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed."

The effects of hunger on children's health and educational achievement are especially alarming. Research conducted by Children's HealthWatch and reported on by Feeding America shows that food-insecure children are 90 percent more likely than kids from food-secure homes to have their overall health reported as "fair/poor" rather than "excellent/ good." And a 2012 survey of public school teachers by Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign shows hungry students struggle with poor academic performance, behavior problems, and health issues.

The good news is that the problem can be solved if we, as Americans, agree that making healthy food available and affordable for all is in our best interests.

I recently toured the Arkansas Foodbank with a group of grantmakers from private foundations across the Southwest to learn more about how the agency is addressing the problem of hunger in the state. The foodbank is a member of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, which was formed almost ten years ago with the support, encouragement, and financial assistance of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Today it provides more than twenty million pounds of food annually to help feed people in need. Collaboration has helped the alliance make great strides in the fight against hunger in Arkansas and is something the two hundred and forty members of the Conference of Southwest Foundations see as key to eliminating food insecurity in the region.

A lot of people think that it's up to government to fix big problems -- and, yes, philanthropic and government assistance are part of the solution to ending hunger in America. But they're not enough. The fact is, eliminating something as monumental as hunger -- in Arkansas and nationwide -- will require a commitment by each and every one of us to come together to make sure that every family is able to feed itself and no child ever goes hungry.

-- John Brown

Weekend Link Roundup (July 13-14, 2013)

July 14, 2013

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

Civic Engagement

On the Knight Foundation blog, Scott Warren, co-founder and executive director of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement by educating students on how they can work with local leaders to solve community problems, explains how a grant from Knight -- the largest one-time grant ever awarded to Generation Citizen -- will enable the organization to evaluate what it does, demonstrate that action civics works, and make a difference in classrooms across the country.

Communications/Marketing

People are reading less, skimming more, and relying more on social media for their news -- all of which means you should craft shorter articles for your Web site, right? Not necessarily, writes Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Communications blog. Indeed, longer content, in the right place and context, can improve both conversions (people doing the thing you want them to do on a Web page) and SEO rankings. With that in mind, Miller offers the following common-sense recommendations:

  1. Use as many words as you need, but only as many as you need!
  2. Hire good writers who understand the difference.

"With 43 percent of all emails now being opened on a mobile device, nonprofits need to start thinking differently about the way they approach their email marketing," writes Ryan Pinkham on the Constant Contact Email Marketing blog. Pinkham goes on to share four nonprofit email newsletters that look great and work well on mobile: Pajama Program (single-column template); Alex's Lemonade Stand (a clear call-to-action); Strong Women, Strong Girls (clear and concise); and Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) (mobile-friendly links).

Education

Public pushback against Teach for America's efforts to place recent college graduates in low-performing schools isn't news, writes Zach Schonfeld on the Atlantic Wire. But the fact that the anti-TAF "movement is now largely originating from the organization's own alumni base" certainly is. Indeed, writes Schonfeld,

many of Teach for America's...opponents point out that the high turnover of trainees being dispatched to some of the country's most challenging school districts -- often without any long-term plans to be teachers -- is precisely the problem. Anthony Cody's experiences in Oakland corroborated this critique. In a typical cycle, the school would lose about half of its corps members after their second year. By the third year, half of those who had remained after the second year would be gone. The problem, Cody explained, is that many who join Teach for America don't actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone for policy work, law school, or business school....

Fundraising

On the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Nell Edgington, president of nonprofit consulting firm Social Velocity, weighs in with a "radical" fundraising idea: that every nonprofit board should be responsible for bringing in 10 percent of the organization's annual operating budget. And to get there, writes Edgington, boards need to do three things: take the time to understand the organization's "money engine"; share the financial burden; and tap into their unique assets.

Higher Education

Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jenna Cullinane, higher education policy lead at the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin, argues that in order to move the "elusive achievement needle...change at scale is what matters." Yet scaling innovation in higher education "is especially challenging because of decentralized decision-making, antiquated incentive systems, and increasingly unpredictable funding challenges." Indeed, writes Cullinane, one could argue that "the basic premise of 'scaling up' -- that one starts with small pilot projects, and then grows the numbers of colleges or individuals served -- is untenable. An alternative might be to work at scale" -- i.e., design for scale from the beginning by looking at the whole system and minimizing the cost of the transition; plant the seeds of scale at all target institutions from the outset while creating multiple levels of engagement; and seek permission to scale from all levels of the system.

Impact/Effectiveness

Our friends at the Social Impact Exchange have posted a nice roundup of blog posts from and about the 2013 Scaling Impact Conference, with contributions from the Philanthropy Roundtable's Ashley May, the John A. Hartford Foundation's Christopher Langston, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Andrea Ducas.

Journalism

Guest blogging on the Committee to Protect Journalists site, Alan Pearce, author of the e-book Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-Surveillance, Search, says that in light of Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's global monitoring of electronic communications, it's time for journalists to get smart about counter-surveillance tools and how to use them.

Philanthropy

In a series of short videos on Bridgespan's GiveSmart blog, Paul Brest shares three lessons he learned about strategic philanthropy during his twelve-year tenure as president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: 1) provide nonprofit overhead support; 2) take risks, but be clear about goals; and 3) promote learning by being open about failure.

Social Entrepreneurship

Writing on the HBR blog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cautions entrepreneurs to steer clear of "pop-up opportunities that look like short cuts to success" but turn out to be costly distractions. To help entrepreneurs avoid such distractions, Moss Kanter offers the following advice:

  • Establish clear principles by which opportunities are judged;
  • Prove the concept you want to prove;
  • Put the right words around the project and stick with them; and
  • Don't be insular.

Social Media

Texas state senator Wendy Davis's well-publicized filibuster of a draconian anti-abortion rights bill was a "singular feat of courage and stamina," writes Allison Fine in The American Prospect. But Davis's filibuster, adds Fine, "was the last piece of tile fitted into a much larger mosaic of people and actions that brought Texas progressives back to life" -- an effort whose success "hinged not just on the existence of outstanding grassroots organizing and social media activism, but on their integration" as well.

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

--The Editors

America's Twentieth-Century Slavery

July 13, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic will publish an eleven-part series of stories, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

The first installment in that series, "America's Twentieth-Century Slavery," by Douglas A. Blackmon, tells the shameful story of how hundreds of thousands of freed slaves and their descendants were forced into bondage in the decades after the Civil War. Blackmon, a journalist, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

___________

 

Slavery-another-nameOn July 31, 1903, a letter addressed to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House. It had been mailed from the town of Bainbridge, Georgia, the prosperous seat of a cotton county perched on the Florida state line.

The sender was a barely literate African American woman named Carrie Kinsey. With little punctuation and few capital letters, she penned the bare facts of the abduction of her fourteen-year-old brother, James Robinson, who a year earlier had been sold into involuntary servitude.

Kinsey had already asked for help from the powerful white people in her world. She knew where her brother had been taken -- a vast plantation not far away called Kinderlou. There, hundreds of black men and boys were held in chains and forced to labor in the fields or in one of several factories owned by the McRee family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Georgia. No white official in this corner of the state would take an interest in the abduction and enslavement of a black teenager.

Confronted with a world of indifferent white people, Mrs. Kinsey did the only remaining thing she could think of. Newspapers across the country had recently reported on a speech by Roosevelt promising a "square deal" for black Americans. Mrs. Kinsey decided that her only remaining hope was to beg the president of the United States to help her brother.

"Mr. Prassident," she wrote. "They wont let me have him....He hase not don nothing for them to have him in chanes so I rite to you for your help."

Considered more than a century later, her letter courses with desperation and submerged outrage. Yet when received at the White House, it was slipped into a small rectangular folder and forwarded to the Department of Justice. There, it was tagged with a reference number, 12007, and filed away. Teddy Roosevelt never saw it. No action was taken. Her words lie still at the National Archives just outside Washington, D.C.

As dumbfounding as the story told by the Carrie Kinsey letter is, far more remarkable is what surrounds that letter at the National Archives. In the same box that holds her grief-stricken missive are at least half a dozen other pieces of correspondence recounting other stories of kidnapping, perversion of the courts, or human trafficking -- as horrifying as, or worse than, Carrie Kinsey's tale. It is the same in the next box on the shelf. And the one before. And the ones on either side of those. And the next and the next. And on and on. Thousands and thousands of plaintive letters and grimly bureaucratic responses -- altogether at least 30,000 pages of original material -- chronicle cases of forced labor and involuntary servitude in the South decades after the end of the Civil War.

"i have a little girl that has been kidnapped from me...and i cant get her out,” wrote Reverend L. R. Farmer, pastor of a black Baptist church in Morganton, North Carolina. "i want ask you is it law for people to whip (col) people and keep them and not allow them to leave without a pass."

A farmer near Pine Apple, Alabama, named J. R. Adams, writing of terrible abuses by the dominant landowning family in the county, was one of the astonishingly few white southerners who also complained to the Department of Justice. "They have held negroes...for years," Adams wrote. "It is a very rare thing that a negro escapes."

A similar body of material rests in the files of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the one institution that undertook any sustained effort to address at least the most terrible cases. Dwarfing everything at those repositories are the still largely unexamined collections of local records in courthouses across the South. In dank basements, abandoned buildings, and local archives, seemingly endless numbers of files contain hundreds of thousands of handwritten entries documenting in monotonous granularity the details of an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century....

Continue reading »

Skills-Based Volunteerism: Setting a New Standard for Corporate Community Impact

July 12, 2013

(Nicole Stein is vice president of community responsibility at Umpqua Bank, where she oversees strategic charitable giving, associate volunteerism, financial literacy initiatives, and environmental sustainability issues.)

Headshot_nicole-steinThe old adage "Do what you love; the money will follow" has long sparked debate over the interplay between professional success and personal happiness -- and how to marry the two in an authentic way. The ongoing evolution of the corporate philanthropy landscape suggests a possible answer.

Companies are looking for ways to differentiate themselves, engage their clients and customers, attract and retain high-quality employees, and inspire action that creates positive change in their communities and around the world. Employees, too, want their jobs to make a positive difference -- not just in their chosen professional fields but also in their communities. Studies have shown that volunteering and serving others makes us happier. The act of giving back and engaging in activities one is passionate about also inspires us to incorporate those actions into our daily lives, including our work lives. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, a new report from Net Impact, found that 65 percent of college graduates entering the job market expected to make an environmental or social impact through their jobs, while 45 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut for a position that makes that possible.

Continue reading »

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