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19 posts from October 2013

Philanthropy Not Talking Power

October 31, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, an initiative that sought to improve how foundations serve the public. In his previous post, he urged nonprofit leaders to do more to restore Americans' confidence in the sector's ability to serve the common good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn a way, foundations are partly to blame for the dysfunction in Congress. After all, conservative-leaning foundations helped build the Tea Party movement and are still supporting it and many like-minded organizations. Reasons for assigning blame to moderate and progressive foundations are less obvious -- and mostly have to do with actions not taken and opportunities squandered.

In the wake of the government shutdown and the destructive and economically costly legislative brinksmanship around the debt ceiling, some leaders in the foundation world are calling for philanthropy to play a more active role in healing our democracy, fixing a broken Washington, and developing an immediate action plan in support of those ends.

They rightfully note, as have others, that the myriad issues of concern to foundations and nonprofit organizations are powerfully affected by the actions of and funding provided by government. They point out that moneyed private interests continue to trump the public interest when it comes to policy. And they note the growing sense that economic inequality in the United States may be undermining belief in the American dream and our very system of government.

What's more, a survey soon to be released by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds that a majority of U.S. foundation leaders view the "current government policy environment" as a significant barrier to their organizations' ability to achieve their programmatic aims -- and those responses were gathered before weeks of acrimonious debate in Congress and the sixteen-day shutdown of the federal government.

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Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

October 29, 2013

(Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is the interim director of the Youth Policy team at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Headshot_RhondaTI was a STEM whiz as a child — a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

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[Review] 'The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations'

October 28, 2013

Book-cover_The_CycleA spate of negative developments, including the decision of a bankrupt New York City Opera to shut its doors, the ongoing lockout of musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra, and surveys showing a decline in theatre attendance, would seem to spell trouble for nonprofit performing arts organizations.

Don't cue the fat lady just yet, suggests Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in his new book, The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2013). Yes, nonprofit arts organizations face significant challenges — including the aging of their traditional audiences, the impact of disruptive technologies, and the lingering effects of the Great Recession — but by following the principles laid out in his book, any arts organization, regardless of size, target audience, or location, can set in motion "an internal engine that powers consistent success."

Known in some circles as the "turnaround king" for his successful efforts to save or revive financially troubled organizations such as the Kansas City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, and the Royal Opera House in London, Kaiser draws on his extensive experience to illustrate in The Cycle how "good art, well marketed" attracts loyal audiences, volunteers, board members, and donors whose support can be reinvested in developing even bolder, more exciting programming, eventually creating a positive feedback loop with a circular momentum of its own.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 26-27, 2013)

October 27, 2013

Bats-On-HalloweenOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

Nice recap by Beth Kanter of a recent brainstorming meeting at a foundation that was looking to develop a strategy for its digital platforms. Facilitated by Peter Maher, founder and CEO of the Luma Institute, the session spent a fair amount of time on some of the human-centered design techniques shared in the institute's Innovating for People design guide. After describing the process in some detail, Kanter generously shares what she learned from the session in a sixteen-slide deck at the end of the post.

Data

The 2013 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows (Kate Crawford, Gustavo Faleiros, Amy Luers, Patrick Meier, Claudia Perlich, and Jer Thorp) have issued a white paper, Big Data, Communities and Ethical Resilience: A Framework for Action, that considers the potential contributions of data science and technology in creating more resilient communities in the face of a range of stresses -- environmental, political, social and economic.

The Nonprofit Quarterly's Rick Cohen looks at the "medium data" partnership recently announced by GuideStar and the Foundation Center -- and finds much to applaud.

The Global Open Data Initiative has released a draft Declaration on Open Data and invites your comments and feedback on its contents.

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[Infographic] Social Impact Bonds

October 26, 2013

This week's infographic, courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation, looks at pay-for-success, or social impact bonds (SIBs), an innovative financial approach to the chronic shortage of public-sector funds for effective social interventions in which government partners with private foundations and investors willing "to provide upfront funding for early intervention services and provides financial returns on those investments if, and only if, the intervention is successful."

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Foundations as a Catalyst for Improved Health Outcomes

October 25, 2013

(Garth Graham, MD, MPH, is president of the Aetna Foundation, which works to strengthen disease prevention programs, revitalize neighborhoods, support the arts, provide assistance to those in need, and empower the diverse voices that shape our nation.)

Headshot_garth_grahamThrough grants and support for research, foundations are uniquely positioned to serve as catalysts for social change in a way that conventional businesses and other nonprofits are not. We also operate in a space that provides us with the rare opportunity to bring together policy makers, corporations, experts, and community organizations to look holistically at an issue and promote the changes needed to achieve our goals.

As a physician and in my new role as the president of the Aetna Foundation, I am reminded every day of the responsibility my colleagues and I have to improve the health of children and adults and to make our healthcare system more equitable and effective. Over the years, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have strengthened disease prevention programs, helped revitalize neighborhoods, supported the arts, provided aid to those in need, and listened to the diverse voices that shape our nation.

In addition to promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and promoting integrated and well-coordinated health care, one of our priority areas is fighting obesity. While childhood obesity rates in the U.S. are starting to level off, 5 percent of American children and teens are severely obese, which, according to new information from the American Heart Association, puts them at risk for premature heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

We have worked, for example, to better understand and evaluate how changes in food access and choice affect consumption patterns and health outcomes. We have funded partners who look at different parts of the food supply chain to help us understand how best to influence positive behavior changes related to healthy eating. And through strategic partnerships with a range of organizations, we have been able to gather data about how these programs work.

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5 Questions for...Pierre Ferrari, CEO, Heifer International

October 24, 2013

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, severe malnutrition affects one out of every four children under the age of 5 -- 165 million children worldwide -- even as unsustainable farming practices exacerbate climate change and environmental degradation. “Addressing malnutrition, therefore, requires integrated action and complementary interventions in agriculture and the food system, in natural resource management, in public health and education, and in broader policy domains,” the FAO argues in a report issued to mark this year's celebration of World Food Day. Last week, PND checked in with Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Heifer International, about the organization’s efforts to support sustainable agriculture and help end hunger in developing countries and here in the U.S.

Headshot_pierre_ferrariPhilanthropy News Digest: Describe how the Heifer International model works, and how it has evolved over the years?

Pierre Ferrari: Our development model begins at the community level when members reach out to local Heifer International offices. We provide training in topics ranging from improved livestock management to gender equality and small business skills. When participants have completed training and prepared their farms to receive livestock, we distribute these living gifts. Every family that receives an animal is contractually bound to pass on the first female offspring -- or the equivalent in value -- as well as the accompanying training, to another family in need.

There are two billion people on the planet living on less than $2 per day. We at Heifer International recognize that to make a meaningful dent in this horrific situation, we must work faster and at a greater scale than ever before. To that end, we are currently evolving our approach from project-based to program-based. We will, of course, continue working with farmers, but we are beginning to more strategically engage a wide range of carefully selected partners to connect our values-based community development model to emerging and growing agricultural markets.

To that end, in the U.S., through our Seeds of Change Initiative, we are bringing farmers together in both Appalachia and the Arkansas Delta together to create programs that address entrenched poverty and a lack of sustainable food systems in both regions. We are also working to recruit and support small farmers to help increase their production so they can meet regional demand for locally grown food. And we are connecting small, low-income farmers to larger regional economies and profitable markets. In both Appalachia and the Arkansas Delta, many farmers lack access to resources and capital. The initiative provides technical support, grants, loans, and direct investments for farmers and food entrepreneurs.

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New Initiative Moves Beyond College Access for Low-Income Students

October 22, 2013

(The following post was written by AiLun Ku, a program director at the Opportunity Network, which works to put high-achieving low-income New York City high school students on the road to college and a good career, and Greg MacDonald, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.)

Headshot_ailunku_gregmacdonaldEvery college economics professor can tell you about the multiplier effect, but when they do they usually focus on the income side of the equation. In contrast, Lafayette College and the Opportunity Network have developed a multiplier effect in the form of an investment that expands diversity at a highly competitive liberal arts college and enriches the experience for low-income, first-generation students.

Issues of college access continue to make headlines. The Lafayette College-Opportunity Network partnership moves beyond the debate about access by supporting students not only through the admissions process but throughout their college careers.

Through the partnership, Lafayette will admit, with each incoming freshman class, three to six well-qualified applicants from the Opportunity Network and provide them with financial aid to fully meet their needs during their college years. Students attending Lafayette through the partnership will be spared having to overcome the major obstacles to higher education faced by so many first-generations students — cost and a lack of information and guidance needed to navigate the admissions process.

But gaining admission to college is only half the battle. Today, even high-achieving high school students are graduating without the tools needed to excel in a college environment that often is dramatically different from their home and high school. Too many students need to learn how to manage time and money, how to advocate for themselves, how to find and ask for academic help, how to adapt to life on a college campus where most students come from higher-income backgrounds, and how to build a network of people willing to support them in school and beyond.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 19-20, 2013)

October 20, 2013

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

Fundraising

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has released its annual Philanthropy 400 report, which finds, among other things, that America's biggest charities raised just 4 percent more on a year-over-year basis in 2012. (Subscription required.)

International Affairs/Development

Leaders and effective leadership, not aid, are the keys to hunding hunger in Africa, write Howard Buffett and Tony Blair in TIME magazine. The good news, they add, is that "Africa increasingly is a land of leaders who have a progressive vision for their countries and for improving the quality of life for all of their people. Given the right support, Africa's leaders can instigate huge, positive changes for millions of people...."

Buffett also has an excellent piece on LinkedIn about the importance of failure -- in development work, in philanthropy, in life.

On the foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes explains the foundation's decision to become one of the first private foundations to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which works to make information about spending on development easier to access, understand, and use.

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Minding the Gap: Addressing Inequalities Through Pro Bono

October 18, 2013

(Iris Dooling is a Research and Partnerships Fellow at the Taproot Foundation.)

PBW_logo_805There are many gaps in American society: the Achievement Gap between low- and higher-income students, the Wage Gap between men and women in the workplace, and the Justice Gap -- to name just a few. Although not as frequently publicized as some of the others, the Justice Gap refers to the growing number of low-income individuals who are too poor to afford legal services but not poor enough to qualify for legal aid.

While defendants in criminal cases have the right to a lawyer, low-income people facing significant civil legal problems -- divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy, child custody battles, immigration status issues, domestic abuse charges -- are often left with no choice but to represent themselves in court. Even individuals who qualify for legal aid do not have the same kind of access to competent legal advice as paying clients. According a 2009 report from the Legal Services Corporation, on average there is only one legal aid attorney available for every 6,415 low-income people, compared to one private attorney for every 429 people with incomes above the poverty line.

Many in the legal profession are working to address this gap by providing pro bono legal services directly to low-income individuals or to organizations that serve their needs. Although essential, their efforts only fill a small fraction of the actual need. According to Cynthia Domingo-Foraste, an attorney at Safe Horizon, an agency that supports victims of domestic abuse, "For every [individual] I am able to help, I must turn another away. Pro bono work can go a long way toward closing this gap. As lawyers, we have the tools to help those in need, but we have to commit to using them."

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Why International Organizations Raise More Money

October 16, 2013

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, a creative fundraising agency based in Indianapolis.)

Feldmann_headshotI like to get e-mail from nonprofit organizations. Whether it's a newsletter or a solicitation, I enjoy reading about what I can do to help someone less fortunate.

Because I'm in the business, I also read and analyze every newsletter or solicitation I receive for tone, language, visual presentation, and overall creative concept. I save the good ones, discuss the bad ones with clients and colleagues, and try to connect with organizations that are doing a good job to let them know how much I appreciate their outreach and efforts.

Looking for a fresh dose of inspiration, I recently decided to go back and review the e-mails and newsletters I've received since the beginning of the year, all 453 of them. Here's a quick breakdown by category:

Number of organizations: 86
International mission-based organizations: 19
U.S. mission-based organizations: 67
Newsletters: 326
E-mail solicitations: 82
Volunteer requests: 23
Sign-the-petition e-mails: 22

Most of the e-mails were sent by Indianapolis-based organizations working to address an issue or need in the city, Indiana, or the region. No surprise, since I call Indianapolis home and am happy to support efforts that directly or indirectly make things better for my family, friends, and neighbors. I'm also more informed about the challenges my local community faces than I am about issues and challenges in other communities, regions, and countries and, in many cases, able to see the impact of my donations firsthand.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 12-13, 2013)

October 13, 2013

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

Communications/Marketing

In a guest post on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications blog, Wild Apricot's Victoria Michelson shares her top three tips on writing for a nonprofit audience.

The folks at the Communications Network have added four more guest posts -- by Chris Wolz, president/CEO, Forum One Communications ("ComNetwork Gumbo"); Beth Kanter ("Designing Transformative Communications Capacity Building Programs for Nonprofits"); Maryland Grier, senior communications officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation ("Making the Invisible, Visible"); and Akilah Williams, communications officer at Crown Family Philanthropies ("What's Your Movement"?) -- featuring observations, takeaways and ideas from the network's annual conference earlier this month.

Data

In a post earlier this week, Markets for Good's Eric Henderson announced the campaign's theme for October: Business Models for Open Data. As Henderson explains: the task "is to explore what's working now...what we should be doing to develop sustainable business models for open data....[and what] the right questions [are] to move forward."

The Rockefeller Foundation has posted a draft Code of Conduct that "seeks to provide guidance on best practices for resilience building projects that leverage Big Data and Advanced Computing." Written during this year's PopTech & Rockefeller Foundation workshop in Bellagio, Italy, the guidelines include the following:

  • Wherever possible, data analytics and manipulation tools should be open source, architecture independent, and broadly prevalent.
  • Infrastructure for data collection and storage should operate based on transparent standards.
  • Use Creative Commons and licenses that state that data is not to be used for commercial purposes.
  • Adopt existing data sharing protocols.
  • Report and discuss failures.

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[Toolkit] 'The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits'

October 12, 2013

Cover_art_of_listening_greenliningInstead of our usual Saturday infographic, we're changing things up a little this week and highlighting a different kind of resource. The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits (32 pages, PDF), a new publication from the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, California, offers a variety of helpful tips and best practices for nonprofits that have yet to take the social media plunge or are looking to get more bang for their social media buck.

The guide is organized into seven sections, each with its own tips:

  1. How to Listen
  2. How to Communicate on Social Media
  3. How to Build an Audience and Following
  4. How to Manage Social Media Accounts
  5. How to Generate Consistent and Engaging Content
  6. How to Develop an Organizational Social Media Policy
  7. How to Measure Effectiveness

Nonprofits new to social media will want to start with the How to Listen section, which includes advice about how they can use tools like Twitter Search, Netvibes, and Facebook Graph Search to identify buzz terms/trending topics in each program/issue area they plan to communicate about. The How to Manage Your Social Media Accounts section name-checks useful apps such as Hootsuite, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck. And the How to Develop a Social Media Policy section offers a handful of tips and tools, including a "negative feedback" matrix from Idealware, that even seasoned social media managers will appreciate.

So, whether your organization is confused about what it should be doing to maximize its social media efforts or just getting started, The Art of Listening is well worth a look. To download a copy, click here.

The Brave New World of Good

October 08, 2013

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't."
(William Shakespeare)

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."
(Aldous Huxley)

Globe-handsWelcome to the Brave New World of Good. Once almost the exclusive province of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic foundations that fund them, today the terrain of good is disputed by social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, impact investors, big business, governments, and geeks. Their tools of choice are markets, open data, innovation, hackathons, and disruption. They cross borders, social classes, and paradigms with the swipe of a touch screen. We seem poised to unleash a whole new era of social and environmental progress, accompanied by unimagined economic prosperity.

As a brand, good is unassailably brilliant. Who could be against it? It is virtually impossible to write an even mildly skeptical blog post about good without sounding well, bad -- or at least a bit old-fashioned. For the record, I firmly believe there is much in the brave new world of good that is helping us find our way out of the tired and often failed models of progress and change on which we have for too long relied. Still, there are assumptions worth questioning and questions worth answering to ensure that the good we seek is the good that can be achieved.

Markets

The potential of markets to scale good is undeniable. The most successful nonprofit and foundation efforts can only be replicated in multiple locations, while markets routinely attain regional, national, or even global scale. But even "philanthropic investment firms" like Omidyar Network, which was born out of eBay-inspired market zeal, have added outright grants to nonprofits as an essential part of their change strategy. Perfect markets exist only in economic theory. In the real world, avarice, corruption, politics, and power conspire to exclude minorities of all descriptions from their share of market rewards. Social policy and philanthropy, for all their faults, persist precisely because market booms benefit too few and market busts hurt too many.

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A New Kind of Strategy for Nonprofits -- Convene, Reflect, and Take Time to Strategize

October 07, 2013

(Carla Goldstein, JD, is chief external affairs officer at the Omega Institute and co-founder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center.)

Headnote_carla_goldsteinThe top managers of the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice only get to meet once a month, if that. "We needed time away from our hectic court-based environment to think more clearly, without interruption, and in a supportive environment," says Ann Marie Scalia, attorney-in-charge of the Manhattan Juvenile Rights office. Theirs is not a unique story.

In Washington, D.C., GirlTrek, a national nonprofit focused on helping black women and girls improve their health by walking, was at a turning point. The group was growing exponentially but needed time to plan and figure out the most strategic way to scale and launch their big push to get one million black women "walking in our neighborhoods" by 2018.

In New York State's Orange County, the domestic violence prevention organization Safe Homes identified a need to improve their internal communications and supervisory structure and to incorporate self-care into their institutional culture. That might seem like a luxury, but given the high stress levels among staff in an extremely challenging environment, it was critical for Safe Homes.

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