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15 posts from September 2014

Weekend Link Roundup (September 27-28, 2014)

September 28, 2014

Hk_protests_07011Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Economy

A new report from Jennifer Erickson and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress explores the "middle-class squeeze" -- the double-barreled phenomenon of stagnant income and rising costs that has eroded middle-class Americans' standard of living over the last decade or so.

Technology has been one of the factors behind stagnating middle class incomes. But in this Q&A with Eric Brynjolfsson, a professor of management science at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Nobel laureate Robert Shiller and Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, suggest that the exponential advance of machine learning will further exacerbate inequality and may lead to the end of paid employment for most of us.

Education

It's pretty much become conventional wisdom: Education is the antidote to racial inequality. But an analysis of the Fed's recently released 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances by Demos' Matt Bruenig finds that "white families are much wealthier than black and Hispanic families at every education level....[and] that all white families, even those at the lowest education level, have a higher median wealth than all black and Hispanic families, even those at the highest education level."

Cassie Walker Burke, an assistant managing editor at Crain's Chicago Business, has a good, balanced piece in Politico Magazine about the "Kalamazoo Promise" -- an initiative conceived and funded by philanthropists in that Michigan city "to pay for college for any student who attended the Kalamazoo schools from kindergarten on and then attended a public college in Michigan.

"[M]any public school leaders work with counter-productive assumptions about the readiness, interest and even the basic capacity of regular people to understand the changes our systems need to keep up with the times," writes Nicholas Donohue, president/CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. And that's a shame, Donohue adds, because direct community engagement just may be the key to advancing meaningful education reform.

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[Infographic] How to Track Your Social Media Data and Measure ROI

September 27, 2014

This week's infographic, courtesy of Infographic World -- with a tip of the hat to Darin McKeever and Beth Kanter -- provides a mini-tutorial on how to track and measure your social media efforts. Lots of really useful information here, from what to track, to posting guidelines, to tools you can use to make sense of all the data you are (or should be) collecting.

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'Name That...'

September 26, 2014

Once in a while, a news item here at PND generates a comment that makes us smile, think, or both. Samuel Prince, director of development at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, appended such a comment to an item in today's news hole titled "Donors, Nonprofits Get Creative With Use of Naming Rights."

The item, which is adapted from an article that first appeared in the Financial Times, considers the "creative use" of naming rights by nonprofits looking to boost their fundraising revenue. But as Mr. Prince notes in his comment, "the naming of physical items by donors has been going on a very long time and dramatically pre-dates the mid 1990s." To illustrate his point, he shares the following:

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 20-21, 2014)

September 21, 2014

The link roundup is back, just in time for the autumnal equinox and what some are calling the largest climate change-related demonstration in history. Lots of other things happening as well, so let's get to it....

Charity

Writing in TIME, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reminds us that the National Football League is full of players and coaches who exemplify the word "character" and work tirelessly off the field to make a difference in their communities.

On the CoinDesk site, Tanaya Macheel reports that United Way Worldwide has announced it now accepts donations in bitcoin, becoming the latest charitable institution to accept the digital currency.

Communications/Marketing

In the latest installment of her "Big Idea" podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Allison Fine speaks with Internet pioneer and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls about the "intention economy" and the movement to put customers' needs and desires before those of your business or organization.

On the GrantCraft blog, Marc Moorghen, communications director at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ponders a question that most of us have asked at one point or another: What is communication all about?

And on her blog, Beth Kanter, recently returned from co-facilitating the "Impact Leadership Track" at the NTEN Leading Change Summit, addresses another good question: Does rigorous data collection thwart effective storytelling by nonprofits?

Education

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Betsy Doyle and Mike Perigo, a partner in and the head of the education practice at the Bridgespan Group, look at the efforts of district officials and local funders in Memphis, Tennessee, to improve the quality of instruction in Shelby County, where sixty-eight public schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state in terms of academic achievement. According to Doyle and Perigo, those efforts will be based on "a three-pronged talent strategy focused on: 1) retaining great teachers, 2) developing local teacher talent, and 3) recruiting national talent."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Teach for America co-founder and CEO Wendy Kopp defends her teacher-training organization from a spate of recent criticism "based on misrepresentation and toxic rhetoric." The impact of TFA, she writes,

is clear. Twelve years ago, D.C. students were scoring at the bottom compared with their peers in other large cities. Today, although there is still much to be done, schools in the nation's capital are improving faster than any other urban district's. This change is the result of the efforts of many people, but without Teach for America alumni, we'd lose much of the energy behind it. We'd lose schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and much of her cabinet, the mayor's deputy for education, the state superintendent, the past four "Teachers of the Year," the managers of the school principals, 20 percent of principals, hundreds of teachers and the leaders of many nonprofits working to support schools and students.

Would the United States really be better off if thousands of outstanding and committed people did not apply to Teach for America? We should be cheering those who devote their energy to working alongside others to meet the extra needs of our most marginalized kids. Not all of them will be teachers forever. But teachers can't solve this problem alone. We also need those who choose careers in education administration, policy, public health, law and business, who will carry with them the conviction and firsthand experience to lead change from outside the classroom....

Impact/Effectiveness

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Kopczynski, Jesse Fripp, Katie Early, David Jeromin, and Topher Wilkins dissect four myths that have grown up around the emerging field of impact investing and then explain why it's important for everyone in the social sector "to understand the impact space as a middle ground — an ecotone — between the traditional philanthropic space and the traditional commercial space."

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'Thoughtful' vs. 'Thoughtless' Giving

September 19, 2014

Headshot_deriick_feldmannAre you a thoughtful giver? A simple question, right?  But think about it. How much thought do you really put into your charitable giving? And what about other donors? Would you say the majority of donors are "thoughtful" givers? Or are they "thoughtless" when it comes to their giving?

Okay, let's back up a bit. When I say "thoughtless,"  I don't mean that they're boorish, rude, or insensitive. On the contrary, if they're giving to a charitable cause, it's a pretty good indication that they are more than willing to think about and empathize with others. In other words, they are thoughtful people. But how much thought does the typical donor put into his or her giving?

Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine recently received a nice raise. Feeling like she wanted to share some of her good fortune with others, she decided to add a couple of new charities to the list of organizations she regularly supports. But she wanted to be methodical about it. So, she made a list of the five causes she cared most about – not just nonprofit or charitable causes, but any cause – and then researched two or three organizations, local and national, that were active in each. At the end of the process, she had between ten and fifteen organizations that she felt were good candidates for a donation. After narrowing the list down further based on things like the difference each organization claimed to make, their communication efforts, and their transparency and stewardship practices, she selected two nonprofit organizations that she hadn't previously donated to and decided to become a supporter of their work.

Any strategic philanthropy professional or donor advisor who looked at my friend's process would immediately consider her a dream client; she should be the poster child for any conference with strategic philanthropy or highly engaged grantmaking on its agenda.

Which brings me back to my original point. There are two types of donors:

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Helping Low-Income Students Gain College Access AND Success

September 16, 2014

William_goodloe_for_PhilanTopicAs children across the country headed back to school this fall, the United States reached a milestone of sorts: nearly half the children enrolled in public schools now come from low-income families. As the public school population in the U.S. grows poorer, the need to improve college access and success for low-income students grows ever more acute. Indeed, politicians, business leaders, and policy makers are beginning to recognize what those in the philanthropic community have known for decades: a college education is the most reliable way of moving people out of poverty — permanently.

At Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, we know it's not always so easy to get low-income students on the path to higher education. To address that reality, we operate a program for low-income students called SEO Scholars that spends four years preparing program participants for college and another four years providing counseling and mentoring to make sure they graduate.

We're careful to say that SEO Scholars is not the answer for every student. We work with a specific population — students from low-income families (the average family income is less than $30,000 a year) in New York and San Francisco who are motivated to better their lives. In most cases, their regular teachers think they'll do just fine without additional help. The data tell a different story. Without additional help, many low-income students, no matter how motivated they are, graduate from high school without the academic preparation they need to succeed in a rigorous four-year college. Without additional support, low-income students who routinely get As and Bs in high school tend not to perform as well on the SAT or ACT. And in the college selection process, they "undermatch" — enrolling in a community college, a for-profit school, or a local college where dropout rates often are unacceptably high, instead of aiming for admission to a more competitive school with higher graduation rates and deeper financial aid resources.

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Bright Shiny Objects

September 15, 2014

Headshot_maria_mottolaI like Alec Baldwin. I really do. He's sassy and good-looking. He's got a great head of hair and that instantly recognizable deep, silky, authoritative voice lulls you in whether he's cueing up classical music, bossing Liz Lemon around, or sharing intimacies with celebrity friends on "Here's the Thing." He's also sometimes unapologetically audacious.

So why would it bother me that he's going to be the keynote speaker at the Independent Sector conference in Seattle?  I mean, I've been on conference planning committees and I know you need a big name to entice people to log off email and travel great distances to talk to one another. I admit, Alec Baldwin is not just a pretty face. He's a smart guy with strong opinions who hasn't shied away from politics or policy issues.

So in some ways I should not have been surprised to see his photo pop up in an email with a banner announcing "Summer Surprise! Alec Baldwin will be the plenary speaker at the Independent Sector Annual Conference in Seattle."

But honestly, the whole idea is kind of depressing. While it may be a coup to snag Alec Baldwin as a speaker, to give him the spotlight at this particular point in his career feels like we won the celebrity consolation prize. It feels, truth be told, a little desperate.

Did we forget that just a year ago Alec Baldwin allegedly hurled angry homophobic insults (more than once) at reporters? Yes, he tried to make things better, but he ended up making things worse with a meandering screed he penned for a New York magazine blog that rationalized his actions by blaming an aggressive press corps that "made him do it."  It was an epic read: half mea culpa, half angry diatribe. Watching Baldwin turn himself inside out so thoroughly and so frantically elicited the same feeling you get from craning your neck to look at an accident you know you should avert your gaze from.

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[Infographic] LGBT Rights Around the World

September 13, 2014

If, like us, recent headlines have you feeling more than a little discouraged, the infographic below should cheer you up.  While acknowledging that gays and lesbians around the world have widely different experiences, it notes that the legal status of LGBT individuals in the U.S. has improved markedly in recent years. As regular readers of PND and PhilanTopic know, that's due, in part, to the tireless efforts of foundations such as Gill, Arcus, Ford, Haas, Pride, Horizons, Tides, and van Ameringen. And while acceptance of gays and lesbians is not yet the norm in many regions of the world, recognition of same-sex relationships and/or marriage is becoming more common -- a reminder that social change, while not easy, is possible when enough people see an injustice and commit themselves to righting it.

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Making School Choice Work Requires New Cross-Sector Investments

September 12, 2014

Headshot_robin_lakeAs many thoughtful education reform advocates now admit, public school choice has created new possibilities for families desperate for better options. But it can also create significant access challenges for disadvantaged families. In cities where many state and local agencies oversee district and charter schools, fragmented governance makes solving those challenges especially difficult.

This is evident in cities like Detroit and Cleveland, where parents now have many school choices and districts must compete for students. While good new options exist in the form of charter and private schools, many families can't get access to them. District officials and charter authorizers protect their own schools from closure, so that weak schools stumble along and overall educational quality stagnates. Recognizing that the best schools have little advantage over weaker ones, the best educators and charter providers go elsewhere.

Recent research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education holds good and bad news for school choice advocates: we found that many parents in "high-choice" cities, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds, are today actively choosing their children's schools and getting access to their first or second choice. Yet our research also shows that too many parents face barriers to finding good schools, including difficulty in obtaining reliable information to inform their choices, navigating different eligibility and application requirements, and finding adequate transportation. Parents with the least education and those who have children with special needs report the most significant barriers.

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Tracking the Human Rights Response to HIV

September 10, 2014

"Good decisions always require good information, and when resources are limited, data matters even more...."

– Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research

Headshot_sarah_hamiltonIn August, AVAC and amfAR issued a report, Data Watch: Closing a Persistent Gap in the AIDS Response, that calls for a new approach to tracking data on the global response to AIDS. What's unique about Data Watch is that it places equal emphasis on filling the gaps in both epidemiological and expenditure information. Data has always reigned supreme in the public health world, but in their new report AVAC and amfAR pose a simple question: What happens to our quest to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 if we don't know whether we have the funding to sustain our efforts?

Through improved data, for instance, we now know that key populations (i.e., men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people, and sex workers) represent a major share of the epidemic, largely due to such factors as stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws that continue to marginalize these populations and keep them from the care and treatment they need. With human rights abuses continuing to fuel the epidemic and impacting the health and rights of those most at-risk, targeted funding for a human rights response to HIV is critical.

But is that happening?

Sadly, no. Recent research from the Join United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [1] found that less than one percent of the $18.9 billion spent on the overall HIV response in 2012 supported human rights programming.

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Foundation Transparency: Are Foundations and Nonprofits Seeing Eye to Eye?

September 08, 2014

Headshot_buteau_gopalNonprofit and foundation leaders have starkly different views about the importance of foundation transparency. That's what we learned when we surveyed nonprofit and foundation CEOs about their attitudes about this issue. Nonprofit CEOs value foundation transparency and believe it contributes to their effectiveness. "Openness, which [foundations] require of us, would be very helpful in creating a good working relationship," said one nonprofit CEO. But the majority of foundation CEOs don't see transparency as crucial to impact.

We found that 91 percent of nonprofits agree that "Foundations that are more transparent are more helpful to my organization's ability to work effectively," but only 47 percent of foundation CEOs agree that "Foundations would be able to create more impact if they were more transparent with the nonprofits they fund."

Why might nonprofit and foundation CEOs have such different attitudes toward foundation transparency?CEP_transparency_findingsFirst, foundations may not share nonprofits' understanding of transparency. To nonprofit CEOs, foundations are transparent when they are "clear, open, and honest about the processes and decisions that are relevant to nonprofits' work." Transparency is not only about what information foundations share — which Glasspockets helps to track through its transparency indicators — but how effectively foundations have communicated that information to nonprofits.

Foundations may also think they are transparent enough. But nonprofit leaders' assessment of foundations' transparency suggests they could do better: on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicates "not at all transparent" and 7 indicates "extremely transparent," nonprofit CEO respondents on average rate the overall transparency of their foundation funders a 4.7. As one nonprofit CEO said, "I don't think there is intent to be less transparent, but often times foundations may assume we know things about their programs, opportunities and goals we don't really know."

Nonprofit CEOs also tend to think foundations are not transparent enough about what has not worked in foundations' experiences — but fewer foundation CEOs see it that way. We found that 88 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe foundations should be more transparent about this, while only 61 percent of foundation CEOs disagree that, "Foundations do a good job of publicly sharing what has not been successful in their experiences." Perhaps nonprofits see this issue differently because they clearly understand how they could use such knowledge. "One of the best learning tools is to see what has not worked. Learning from foundations and their other grantees would be very instructive," said one nonprofit CEO.CEP_transparency_findings2While there are some examples of foundations actively working to be more open — notably the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with its "Work in Progress" blog and Darren Walker's efforts to build a culture at the Ford Foundation where "openness is held in as high regard as our intellectual curiosity, our rigor and our commitment to the values we share" — too few foundation leaders seem to recognize the need, from nonprofits' perspective, for greater transparency.

— Ellie Buteau is vice president of research and Ramya Gopal is associate manager of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy. This post originally appeared on Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog.

[Video] "Ecosystem Philanthropy" | Jennifer Ford Reedy, President, Bush Foundation

September 06, 2014

In this recent TEDxFargo talk, Reedy, the fourth president of the Saint Paul-based Bush Foundation, uses a variety of examples, from "Sesame Street, to the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, to the dramatically different but equally influential efforts of Albert and Mary Lasker and John M. Olin, to explain "why so many attempts to do good in the world don't work as intended and how the most effective philanthropists understand the social ecosystem they are trying to effect and put it to work for them."

Reedy concludes her talk with four lessons for philanthropists and philanthropy practitioners looking to drive change in a world of unintended consequences:

  • Activate others.
  • Watch, wait, and do.
  • Think long and lasting.
  • Don't underestimate the power of individuals.

(Running time: 18:08)

Are you involved in -- or can you point to -- a successful example of "ecosystem philanthropy"? Which of Reedy's lessons (if any) does it exemplify? And what lessons would you add to the list? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

To Increase Your Organization’s Impact, Work With People Who Reflect Your Values

September 05, 2014

Headshot_carrie_richAs consumers, we constantly make purchasing decisions that express our values. A consumer seeking to live a healthy lifestyle might buy organic produce; a consumer conscious of her carbon footprint might purchase a Prius.

Leading an organization provides similar opportunities to invest in our values, especially when it comes to the colleagues with whom we choose to surround ourselves.

Employees, volunteers, and contractors all play crucial roles in the growth of any organization. Indeed, the people on your extended team are as important — if not more important — than your organization's mission and brand. They are the face of the organization, and ultimately their actions and creativity define your brand and activate your mission.

So how do you ensure your team reflects what your organization is all about? Here are some tips to consider:

Understand where they are coming from. Working with people who reflect and believe in the values of your organization doesn't happen by accident. It requires being clear about who you want to work with and why you want to work with them. And it also requires you to understand what motivates an individual to want to work for your organization. What is it about the organization that resonates with him/her? Why do they think they would be a good fit for your team? How will they provide value to the team? The more carefully you consider these questions as you are interviewing, be it a potential new hire, a contractor, or a volunteer, the more confidence you will have in your final decision.

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Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

September 03, 2014

Headshot_richard_brewsterHave you ever "ghost dialed" someone? You know, when the phone in your purse or pocket accidentally dials a number? Well, that recently happened to me with a board member of a human services nonprofit. We were surprised to be talking to each other but continued. The organization was well known in its community and had been successful, but our conversation ended up being pretty depressing: the nonprofit was in the process of shutting down.

I did some research and discovered that the organization's budget grew from $5 million to $10 million in just five years. Then a crisis came, they lost a major source of revenue, and there followed a painful five-year decline.

Why did this happen? A little more research and some reflection on others' experience suggests that four key conditions need to be met in order to survive a crisis like the loss of a major funder:

1. Sustainability isn't just about dollars. A nonprofit's programs need to be relevant today, not for situations or problems that are five or ten years in the past. The human services group above offered only housing, even as other agencies in the area began to provide services such as day care to low-income people, enabling them to keep their jobs (and pay the rent).

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2014)

September 02, 2014

Don't know what it's like where you are, but here in NYC someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that summer is over. Which is okay, because before it ends we want to make sure everyone has a chance to catch up with all the sizzling content we posted on PhilanTopic in August. Enjoy!

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

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    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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