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21 posts from October 2016

Weekend Link Roundup (October 29-30, 2016)

October 30, 2016

Tree-with-Falling-LeavesOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Aging

Next Avenue, a public media site dedicated to meeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans, has released its 2016 list of the "advocates, researchers, thought leaders, innovators, writers and experts who continue to push beyond traditional boundaries and change our understanding of what it means to grow older."

Environment

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the NAACP is mounting an effort to convince African Americans that environmental issues are "closely intertwined with health and economic opportunity for black Americans." Zack Coleman and Mark Trumbull report for the Christian Science Monitor.

Fundraising

Regular PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann has some advice about how foundations can overcome the biggest challenge they face: turning dues-paying members into committed donors.

Giving

For the first time ever, the top spot in the Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual ranking of the nation's biggest-grossing charities has gone to a public charity affiliated with a financial services firm. What does that mean for charity in America? Caroline Preston reports for The American Prospect.

For Vauhini Vara, a contributing editor for The New Yorker, the Chronicle's finding "seems to symbolize how the wealth gap in the U.S. is having an influence on all spheres of public life." But Brain Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide (which slipped a notch in the Chronicle list after many years there), tells Vara that "[r]eal social change happens when millions of people get involved, average donors get involved, and work collectively on big issues."

Health

Over the first ten years of its existence, the New York State Health Foundation awarded $117 million to more than four hundred grantee organizations to improve the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. To mark its ten-year anniversary, the foundation has released a report with some of the lessons it has learned.

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Good-Bye, 'Nonprofit(s)'; Hello, 'Philanthropy'(-ies) and 'Charity'(-ies)

October 29, 2016

Computers and the Internet are producing an explosion of data and knowledge about philanthropy, enabling ­— and even compelling — us to update our terminology and practices.

The chart below is an example. It presents IRS data, via the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), on the numbers of charities and private foundations filing Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF in the last two years, arranged in new ways: by states and nationally, and as a percentage of all "nonprofits." The numbers show that "charities" and "philanthropic" organizations account for only about a quarter of the "nonprofits" in the U.S., rendering the conventional use of the latter as a synonym for charities and philanthropic entities problematic.

The term "nonprofit" refers to a tax-exempt organization. All charities and foundations are "nonprofits," but only a quarter of the "nonprofits" registered with the IRS are actually philanthropies — conventionally defined as "private initiatives, for public good, engaged in public fundraising for tax-deductible donations." The 75 percent of non-philanthropic nonprofits registered with the IRS are extremely heterogeneous and include things like condo associations, real estate trusts, trade associations, social clubs, cemeteries, teacher retirement funds, and so on. Although they are in the "public interest" (and thus are tax-exempt), they are generally self-serving and the donations they receive are not tax-deductible.

A decade ago, the Catalogue for Philanthropy examined in detail the IRS Master Nonprofit Data File for Massachusetts and found that 75 percent of the state's more than 40,000 "nonprofit" organizations had nothing to do with philanthropy as defined above. Another 15 percent fell into a "gray" area requiring further examination beyond what we could glean from their 990s and websites. The remaining 10 percent, approximately 4,000 organizations, were determined by us to be philanthropic. Based on that 1:10 ratio, we estimated that, nationally, there were 200,000 to 300,000 "philanthropies" registered with the IRS, out of a "nonprofit" total (depending on the source) of 1.5 million or more.

Since then, my colleagues and I have identified independent data — millions of contributions, nationwide, over the last twenty-five years from donor-advised funds, community foundations, and Internet giving platforms — that seem to confirm our view that the number of charities and philanthropies in the U.S. is closer to our lower estimate than the million-plus organization number routinely cited as the size of the "nonprofit" sector.

Then, last spring, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that in 2015 the IRS had received only 295,000 Form 990s, the tax document that active 501(c)(3) "public charities" are required to file annually. In our view, this is incontrovertible evidence that confirms our lower estimate of the number of charities nationally and further suggests that the number of Form 990s filed with the IRS could be a useful criterion for distinguishing the number of "public charities" from "nonprofits."

After the Chronicle article appeared, we went to the NCCS website and, using the "TableWizard" tool there, produced counts for the previous two years (August 2014 to August 2016) of the numbers of charities and private foundations, by state, that had submitted Forms 990, 990-EZ,or 990-PF. To those, we added another category, number of "nonprofits" by state (and total). This is the result:

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How Associations Can Overcome Fundraising Barriers

October 27, 2016

Give_chalkboardOver the last three months, I've had conversations with four associations about their approach to raising money. The conversations usually touch on many of the same points:

"We're an association and are struggling to raise additional funds from our members."

 "We think it's because a lot of our members may not fully understand what we do and why we need to raise money from them."

 "We've seen a decline in our membership and have had to restate our membership levels."

"We are trying to figure out how we can offer our members giving opportunities as an alternative to membership dues."

 "We're not sure we are relevant anymore. People are spending less time with our content even though it's really good. Our members tell us that's what they want, but in the end they don't follow through."

"What should we do? Do we have a fundraising or a membership problem?"

If you work for an association, I suspect you've had similar conversations with your colleagues.

Before I share with you the advice I give to my association clients, I want to first discuss a major challenge that, in today's competitive fundraising environment, most associations face.

Content Is King — and There's a Lot of It

You have the best newsletter out there. You've established rigorous business rules to ensure you get the right professional development content to your members in the right format and at the appropriate time. But no one is consuming it. Not that your members don't find it valuable — it's more that they can't find it. Let's be honest: there's an abundance of content and information out there, good and bad. And, to make matters worse, associations today have lots of new competitors for the attention of their members — consultants and thought leaders who are creating their own content and targeting it to your members. What does it all mean? It means your members are in the driver's seat when it comes to deciding what is good and what is not, what is useful and what is not. It also means that many associations are scrambling to learn as quickly as they can how they can make their content stand out in a very crowded environment.

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[Infographic] Who's Financing the Campaign Finance Conversation?

October 25, 2016

"If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy...."

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, political scientists

"The reality is we that have a corrupt campaign finance system which separates the American people's needs and desires from what Congress is doing. So to my mind, what we have got to do is wage a political revolution where millions of people have given up on the political process, stand up and fight back, demand the government that represents us and not just a handful of campaign contributors...."

— Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

"Legislative action will never bring genuine campaign-finance reform. Consultants will prove endlessly inventive in gaming whatever system the reformers can devise so as to give their candidate an edge and allow the power of massive money to be felt. But reform laws will become irrelevant and redundant as the Internet replaces the special-interest fat cats as the best way to raise money and takes the place of TV as the most effective way to get votes...."

— Dick Morris, author/political consultant

"There are two things that are important in politics: Money, and I can't remember what the second one is..."

— Mark Hanna, Gilded Age fixer/politician

______

Complaints about the influence of money in politics have been around since....well, forever. In ancient Rome, campaigning for political office was expensive, and bribery — both direct and indirect — was common. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, money more or less disappeared from Europe, but with its return in the Middle Ages, the connection between money and politics reemerged with a vengeance, leading no less a personage than Lorenzo the Magnificent, Machiavelli's patron, to adopt as his motto: "Money to get the power, power to keep the money."

America's founders had conflicting views about the role of money in politics. In 1787, Madison conceded "that the chief danger in a republic was the likelihood that a majority of poor men would pass laws that penalized the rich and undermined the nation’s stability," while Thomas Jefferson, thirty years later, declared that the "end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations (sic)." In the 1830s, a period of growing factionalization in American politics, Alexis de Tocqueville was surprised to find that "the wealthy classes of United States society stand entirely outside politics and that wealth, far from being an advantage, has become a real source of unpopularity and an obstacle to the achievement of power." One Gilded Age and three-quarters of a century later, President Teddy Roosevelt found it necessary to declare that "laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes."

In our own time, the post-Watergate zeal for tougher campaign finance laws has given way to a post-Citizens United environment in which corporations and associations are accorded the same right to political speech as individuals and most limits on money in politics, corporate or otherwise, have been obliterated.

With the quid-pro-quo nature of politics more evident than ever and public trust in government at close to all-time lows, organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, with the support of foundations across the country, are working to advance reforms that would reduce the influence of corporations and individual mega-donors in our politics and give "ordinary voters a far louder voice." As the infographic below shows, foundation funding for those efforts totaled nearly $94 million from 2011 to 2016 and included grants from established national funders like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as newer funders such as Omidyar Network, the philanthropic vehicle created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 22-23, 2016)

October 23, 2016

Finish-line-aheadOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

On the Triple Pundit site, Eric Griego, director of business development at @Pay, a secure mobile giving platform, shares five strategies for improving your cause marketing communications.

Fundraising

It's the most stressful time of the year — and, in a post on her blog, Beth Kanter shares a few self-care tips for nonprofit fundraising professionals taken from her new book (co-written with Aliza Sherman), The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout.

On the WeDidIt blog, Ryan Woroniecki shares eight tips for converting your online donors to major donors.

This #GivingTuesday, November 29, Foundation Center and Philanthropy News Digest will be turning our social media feeds over for the day to fine winners of our "Elevate Your Cause" sweepstakes. Learn more.

Higher Education

The dining hall staff at Harvard University has gone on strike for a yearly minimum wage of $35,000 — and the administration of the richest university in the country is not pleased. Michelle Chen reports for The Nation.

Princeton University, the third-wealthiest endowed university in the country, has agreed to an $18 million settlement with neighbors who claimed the university’s tax-exempt status unfairly made their property taxes higher. Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline.com.

And in Washington Monthly, Annie Kim looks at how the Internet wrecked the college admissions process.

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Communications Network site, Hattaway Communications' RJ Bee and Kate Pazoles share three lessons for taking ownership of your evaluation efforts.

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5 Questions for...George Abbott, Community & National Initiatives, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

October 21, 2016

Headquartered in Miami, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation long has been regarded as one of the most interesting and innovative foundations operating in the United States. Led by Alberto Ibargüen, a former publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Knight bills itself as a national foundation with strong local roots an orientation informed by the Knight brothers' high regard for the more than two dozen communities where they once published newspapers. Today, Knight's stated goal is "to foster informed and engaged communities," which it believes are "essential for a healthy democracy." To help advance that goal, in 2015 the foundation launched the Knight Cities Challenge, a competition designed to surface innovative ideas that can make cities more interesting and vibrant places to live and work.

Earlier this week, PND chatted via email with Knight's George Abbott about the 2017 Cities Challenge, the kinds of ideas the foundation is looking for, and Knight's unique approach to grantmaking. The challenge will be accepting applications through noon on November 3.

Philanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues have opened the application period for the third annual Knight Cities Challenge and have announced that, in 2017, you'll be awarding $5 million in grants through the competition. Without prescribing in too much detail what kind of ideas you're looking for, what kind of ideas are you looking for?

Headshot_George_AbbottGeorge Abbott: We're looking for ideas with the potential to create impact in one or more of our three focus areas: keeping and attracting talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement. The challenge is designed to fund innovation and to provide "risk capital." We're not looking to do maintenance funding — to give money to fund year three of a four-year program. Instead, we're looking to fund new things and ideas and help cities add to their success, with those three focus areas in mind.

PND: The 2016 challenge attracted forty-five hundred applications and awarded grants ranging from $4,400 to $334,000 to thirty-seven entries. Any personal favorites among the winning entries?

GA: I couldn't single any one out as a favorite, but I'm happy to mention a couple of projects that stood out.

There's the Sunset Rises Again project in West Palm Beach, Florida, which will engage residents of that community around the renovation of the Sunset Lounge Jazz Club in that city's Historic Northwest neighborhood. While the community engagement aspect of the project is still in its early stages, the head of the Community Redevelopment Agency there told me the project has already redefined the way the city thinks about public civic engagement.

The Innerbelt Bicycle Park in Akron, Ohio, is another project that stood out. Our grant is helping to kick-start a process to turn what will soon be a non-operating freeway in downtown Akron into a new amenity for the community: a mountain bike park. The highway isn't even closed yet, but the project has developed tremendous momentum, with the city already having identified which section of the highway can be used for this project, calls coming in from around the country offering pro-bono support, and the project garnering widespread media attention in national outlets such as Fast Company and CityLab.

And the third project I'd mention is Pedal to Porch in Detroit. The organizers of that project are going to use their grant to fund monthly bike tours of Detroit's various neighborhoods that enable riders to meet and interact with longtime residents of those neighborhoods. Actually, this was a project that was launched through our Emerging City Champion program last year, and its success there led to a Knight Cities Challenge application and the project lead, Cornetta Lane, being asked to expand the program in other cities, including Charlotte.

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Does It Count, If You Don't Count It? The Future of Social Impact Measurement

October 19, 2016

Solutions_outcomes_signpostOutcomes. Impact. Results. In the for-profit world, all are key to the long-term viability and health of an organization. Today, in the giving sector, we are seeing the same concepts around performance and measuring outcomes take center stage. 

But as the conversation around best practices for results-focused giving continues to gain traction and the ability to demonstrate the results of giving becomes more important, organizations and individuals across the philanthropic spectrum, from foundations to nonprofits to corporations, to the individual change agents that support them, are struggling to define a common language for performance measurement and reporting. 

While that language may not yet exist, players across the giving sector can agree that being able to demonstrate social impact involves many of the same elements as good storytelling.

Needless to say, the power of good storytelling has been a feature of politics, business, and our dinner tables for as long as any of us can remember. That's because the best stories get to the heart of their subject and leave the listener feeling moved — whether to act, reflect, or investigate the subject matter. And while a story focused on a single individual, if told well, can grab our attention, when the story relates to something bigger or greater than ourselves, it is even more powerful.

Across the giving sector, we see champions for social good who understand that strong stories, powerfully told, can make a difference. Nonprofits, foundations, and corporations alike are harnessing the power of storytelling to share the impact of their work, to draw people to their mission, and to inspire action. But once social impact begins to be viewed through a storytelling lens, it becomes clear that crafting a compelling story about impact starts with a focus on measurable results. In other words, a donation or giving campaign that doesn't lead to the measurement and reporting of results is like a story without an ending. 

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Philanthropy as if Democracy Really Mattered

Infographic-foundation-funding-for-democracyI've been doing quite a bit of traveling overseas recently, and everywhere I go people seem to be scratching their heads at the U.S. presidential election.  Living through it day-to-day via television and radio is challenging enough, but trying to explain it in a rational way to people who know little about the United States but somehow expect more from the self-proclaimed "greatest nation on earth" is close to impossible.

Fortunately, I head an organization in a sector, philanthropy, that is trying to do something to "fix" American democracy. That work has nothing to do with the candidates of the moment, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and everything to do with the system that produces, funds, promotes, nominates, and elects candidates for national office. Even better, that work can be explored in depth through Foundation Center's Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a data visualization platform for funders, nonprofits, journalists, and anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in supporting and improving U.S. democracy. Produced with the support of a group of foundations — Carnegie, Hewlett, Rita Allen, JPB, MacArthur, Open Society, Rockefeller Brothers, and the Democracy Fund (a creation of Omidyar Network), among them — the platform captures more than $3 billion in foundation grants made since 2011 and is refreshingly free from the rhetoric, factoids, and outright lies that have dominated news coverage of this election cycle. It focuses, instead, on important structural issues such as campaign finance, civic participation, open government initiatives, and journalism education and training.

Here are a few examples of what you can find there:

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Elevate Your Cause Sweepstakes

October 18, 2016

GivingTuesday_11.29.2016This #GivingTuesday, November 29, Foundation Center — the parent organization of Philanthropy News Digest — is giving nonprofits an opportunity to grab the spotlight by "donating" our social media channels to a few lucky winners!

Enter our Elevate Your Cause Sweepstakes for a chance to win 1 of 5 spots on our Twitter and Facebook feeds on #GivingTuesday and increase your reach by 130,000 people globally. The five winners also get a fundraising success kit valued at over $3,000, while all entrants who meet the entry requirements* will receive a free trial to Foundation Directory Online, our top fundraising prospect research tool!

We'll be accepting entries through November 9. To enter, click here.

Good luck to all!

*Open to 501(c)(3) organizations in the United States that have been in existence for at least a year and have a valid email and existing online donation page. ARV of all prizes: $3,498. 

[Review] What Universities Can Be: A New Model for Preparing Students for Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership

October 17, 2016

College application season is upon us, and every publication, it seems, has a list bestowing the title of "best" on this or that group of colleges and universities. But with tuition costs continuing to climb and more students than ever looking to further their education beyond high school, important questions have been raised about the value of a college education: Is it worth it? Is the admissions process fair? And what larger purpose should higher education serve? Answers to these questions are elusive.

Book_what_universities_can_be_for_PhilanTopicCornell University professor Robert J. Sternberg, author of nearly sixteen hundred academic articles and editor or author of numerous books, including Teaching for Successful Intelligence and Educational Psychology, adds his perspective to the debate over the purpose and direction of higher education with his new book, What Universities Can Be: A New Model for Preparing Students for Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership (Cornell University Press, 2016). A scholar as well as an accomplished administrator who has served in leadership posts at Yale, Tufts, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Wyoming, Sternberg uses the book to correct misconceptions about higher education and share his vision of what a university should be.

The state of U.S. higher education has been the subject of many books in recent years, providing those interested in the topic with no shortage of perspectives with which to engage. Some, such as Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education (PND review) or Andrew Delbanco's College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, are historical or philosophical tracts that highlight the trends and challenges confronting American colleges and universities. Sternberg's book is different. Part professional reflection, part prescriptive blueprint, it addresses how universities and colleges can better fulfill their missions in the twenty-first century while preparing their students for an increasingly diverse and complex world.

"The purpose of higher education," Sternberg writes, "is to develop active concerned citizenship, ethical leadership, and democratic participation through the nurturance of high-level creative, critical, practical, and wisdom-based and ethical skills." With this as his starting point, he lays out a framework he calls Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership (ACCEL) through which institutions of higher education can provide students with an "education that prepares [them] for and promotes [their] interactions with the world." Chapter by chapter, Sternberg outlines how each function in a university — from admissions and financial aid, to teaching assessments and university governance — should be structured to accomplish that goal, while sharing insights into the challenges and opportunities today's college and university leaders face.

He is critical, for example, of the narrow admission criteria favored by elite institutions and the way in which students are determined to be worthy of passing through their gates. He is likewise troubled by their reliance on standardized "aptitude" tests and overly narrow definitions of intelligence, which, he argues, are likely to lead in the long run to a "closed," stagnant, and stratified social structure. Indeed, with the country ever more divided between haves and have-nots, such an outcome is one of the challenges the ACCEL model is designed to combat, with Sternberg viewing the model as both a way to level the admissions playing field and as a tool to strengthen civic bonds and boost social mobility.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 15-16, 2016)

October 16, 2016

Fruits-Fall-HarvestOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Contra Donald Trump, the majority of African Americans do not live in poverty or inner cities. Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic.

In Yes! Magazine, Liza Bayless interviews Marbre Stahly-Butts, deputy director of racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy, about why divestment from the prison and military industries is critical to a just future.

Climate Change

On August 7, Scotland, one of the windiest countries in Europe, generated enough electricity from wind turbines to power the entire country. And it's goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 may be within reach. The Washington Post's Griff Witte reports.

Communications/Marketing

"Most people are uncomfortable talking about race, discrimination, privilege and power," writes the Knight Foundation's Anusha Alikhan, who moderated a panel on diversity and inclusion at the Communications Network annual conference in Detroit in September. "[W]e get tripped up by the need to be nonpartisan, while balancing the interests of a variety of groups and even our own upbringings.... [But how] do we produce real change in these areas if we don’t acknowledge their roots?" Alikhan shares some takeaways from that conversation that communications teams can use to "advance hard conversations and create deeper connections with their communities."

Disaster Relief

Relief efforts for hurricane-battered Haiti gained some traction during week, with the United Nations launching a $120 million appeal to fund its activities there, the World Health Organization gearing up to send a million cholera vaccine doses to prevent a more serious outbreak of the disease, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announcing a gift of $2 million in cash and product donations, and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt announcing he will donate $10 million through his foundation for recovery efforts. To learn more about recovery challenges and opportunities for donors, check out this webinar hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Haitians need all the help they can get. But according to the Washington Post's Peter Holley, they don't trust the American Red Cross to provide it.

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Mastering the Video Interview

October 15, 2016

Video-interviewLike it or not, the video interview is a recent development that's here to stay. At my executive search firm, Koya Leadership Partners, we leverage video interviews as a standard part of our candidate evaluation process, and more and more clients are building them into their own processes in order to save time and money. But for job candidates, they require a bit of a different approach.

Here are a few tips that will help you make a great impression in your next (or first!) video interview:

Do a test run. Download the software used by your recruiting agency or the employer you hope to be working for and test it with a friend for the things like volume levels and lighting. If you're using Skype, make sure your profile image and ID are professional and appropriate.

Pay attention to the background and your appearance. Make sure the physical space immediately around and behind you is neat and professional looking. The ideal location has a plain background (move that giant movie poster or funky piece of art!) and a chair at a desk or table that puts you at the right height for the camera to frame your upper body and face.

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'Business of Giving': Brad Smith, President, Foundation Center, Chats With Denver Frederick

October 13, 2016

The following is the transcript of a conversation between Bradford K. Smith, president of Foundation Center, and Denver Frederick, host of "The Business of Giving." In their conversation, which aired September 18, Frederick and Smith talked about the next frontier of philanthropy — managing information and producing and sharing knowledge. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. "The Business of Giving" can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. on AM 970 The Answer in New York City and on I Heart Radio. For an audio version (running time: 45:38) of Denver and Brad's chat, hop on over to the BofG site.

Denver_fredericks_brad_smith_vertical (2)Denver Frederick: The rate of change is increasing in every field of endeavor, including philanthropy. And in order to be a true leader in the field, a person can't be 100 percent consumed with just the well-being and state of their own organization; one also must leave some space and time to contemplate what all these changes mean for the entire sector. One individual that fits that description perfectly is my next guest. He is Bradford K. Smith, president and CEO of the Foundation Center. Good evening, Brad, and welcome back to the Business of Giving.

Bradford K. Smith: It's great to be back.

DF: For those listeners that are not familiar with the Foundation Center, tell us about the work you do.

BKS: I think the easiest way to understand us is what Bloomberg does for the financial markets, we do for philanthropy!  Basically, we publish data and information about the transaction of philanthropy. In other words, these endowed foundations that make grants to support organizations in the social sector to make the world a better place — we track all that information. We put it out there in an unbiased way so that you can search it; you can find it; you can understand who's funding your cause, who's not funding your cause, what foundations are doing, and what they're not doing.

DF: Let's talk about foundations for a moment. When we look at philanthropy in the U.S., last year about $375 billion was made in contributions. What percentage of that comes from foundations?

BKS: It's roughly 16 to 17 percent,  and this is a common misunderstanding. A lot of people look at nonprofits in America, and they assume that their larger supporters are wealthy foundations and maybe individuals. But the largest source of income for American nonprofits in the aggregate is actually government. Foundation money is very important because it's one of the few sources of income that nonprofits have that usually is not earmarked; it's very flexible.

DF: Well, let's talk a little bit more about that. I think foundations are pretty abstract to most people. It's kind of a big idea out there, and I think you have a wonderful way of explaining it by talking about the sources of influence that they hold.  There are three of them, and let's pick up on each. I'm going to start with the one you just mentioned. The one that is obvious to everybody: money. But as you say, it's a very special kind of money, right?

BKS: Correct. Foundations have a really important role in American history and American society. Basically, our government has created a kind of social pact in which wealthy individuals are given a tax incentive for creating a charitable foundation. They make a donation of a portion of their assets to the foundation. They no longer control those assets. They can't take them back for personal use. They get a tax exemption in exchange for creating a stream of charitable giving in the future. Now, there are a lot of ways to look at the size of the philanthropic sector in the U.S. There are a lot of foundations. I  know when the Foundation Center was created in 1956, there weren't near as many. In fact, when the Foundation Center published the first print directory of American foundations, there were about four thousand foundations. And today there are well over eighty thousand foundations. And the assets they manage — their investments — surpass $800 billion. And it's the earnings on those investments, which are tax-free, that are used to actually fund grants and fulfill their charitable purpose.

DF: Right. The second source of influence that foundations have is "convening power."

BKS: Well, there are not a whole lot of people in this world whose job is to give away money. And people always were sort of perplexed about that. They said: "Gosh, how do you find the organizations to be worthy of getting the support of the foundation?" And I used to tell them: "Look, when you are in the business of giving away money, you don't have to go looking for people; they find you." So, one of the things that gives a foundation virtually a seat at any table is the fact that they're giving away money.

And the other thing is, they're giving away money that, unlike congressional money or city money, isn't earmarked by elected officials for their pet causes. It's very flexible, long-term, risk-taking money. But this also gives them the ability to "convene." And we find that the foundations that are having the greatest impact on the issues that are working — whether it's criminal justice reform, or climate change, or job creation — are not just giving away grants in a retail kind of way. They're actually creating tables to which policy makers, academics, activists, and others can come and really think about what the long-term solutions are to these serious problems that our society and world face.

DF: And it would seem, in an era of collaboration, they do have that special role. They don't have a dog in the fight; they're neutral….

BKS: Correct.

DF: They give money away, and they have an incredible ability to get everybody to come when they call a meeting.

BKS: Yeah. When I worked with the Ford Foundation, the two jokes they always tell you when you start to work there is that all your phone calls get returned. And immediately, it seems like all of your ideas are brilliant.

DF: That's right, and you also become a little funnier and better looking, too.

BKS: That's right. Two of the perks.

DF: And finally, and this is so important: the accumulated knowledge that foundations hold. Speak to that.

BKS: I think this is really the frontier for foundations. Roughly, I think we can say that — and I know you've had a lot of speakers come on this program — foundations have moved from the notion of just giving away money, a charity approach, to what a lot people call social investment. The idea that even though you're making a grant, you're investing in a solution, and you're expecting return in the form of impact.

But another way to look at foundations is — I gave a presentation on this recently, and I said: "When it comes to knowledge and information, foundations are like black holes, and they need to become supernovas."

So what do I mean by that? The average foundation receives hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals from nonprofit organizations — different kinds of social sector organizations filled with ideas about how to make the neighborhood, the community, the city, and the world a better place. Some portion of those get approved. As part of the process, the groups that get the grants provide written reports periodically — progress reports — full of information also. Then there's also the foundation staff themselves. When you’re sitting in a foundation, let's say you're working on early childhood issues, on any given day you probably talk to four or five different people who are the best in their field, who have fantastic ideas about how to solve all the issues around early childhood learning. And you accumulate all that knowledge; that knowledge is in your head; it's in your notes; it's on your hard drive. All these documentations are  flowing in to foundations. If we weren't philanthropy — if we were Google or we were Facebook — we would have data scientists crawling all over that stuff!

DF: Tagging everything.

BKS: Tagging everything, looking for correlations, trying to extract [information]. This is a tremendous source of potential knowledge about how we can make this world a better place. And I think the next frontier for philanthropy is going to be managing information, and producing and sharing knowledge.

DF: Let's talk a little bit about that frontier. A few years ago, the Foundation Center launched a site called Glasspockets.  The tagline was: "Bringing transparency to the world of philanthropy." And, when it comes to the world of foundation transparency, there is a [recent] development which you believe will have a profound effect: the machine-readable 990. Tell us what that is. And what is the significance of it?

BKS: I think that phrase, "machine-readable 990s" — if we went out onto Broadway here and we asked a bunch of people what they think about machine-readable 990s, we'd get a lot of blank stares.

First of all, the whole notion of transparency is in the DNA of the Foundation Center. We were created during McCarthyism when foundations were being investigated for support of un-American  activities. And a group of foundation leaders felt that the best way to deal with that kind of suspicion was to create a public information service about philanthropy. And part of that is, we're not an advocacy organization; we're not a membership organization. We're neutral.

But there is one thing we advocate for, and that is transparency; that's why we were created. And in fact, the name of the site, Glasspockets.org, comes from a quote that was used at the founding of the Foundation Center. "We think foundations should have 'glass pockets'."  That was coined by the chair of the Carnegie Foundation board at the time. So we've been promoting foundation transparency. And for years, the tax return that foundations file, which is called a 990-PF — it's what endowed foundations file in exchange for their tax exemption — has been open information. What that means, or what it has meant until very recently, is that that document, if you request it, should be available from the foundation itself and available from the Internal Revenue Service. 

Now, what a lot of people don't understand is that those documents, or some portion of them, are filed electronically online by foundations. But many of them are still filed in written form —

DF: The old-fashioned way...

BKS:  — and some of them — because we see this all the time — are still filled out in pencil. But until very recently, regardless of how they were filled out, the Internal Revenue Service was fulfilling its public information requirement by making them available as image files, something called a .tiff file. Probably the easiest way for people to understand it is that it's just like a .pdf.

But even if you file it digitally, anybody who requests it essentially gets a picture of it. Now if you've ever tried to edit a .pdf, or do anything with a .pdf — you can't do anything with it, right? It's not like a Word document. It's not digital. It's a picture; it's like a photograph. So, we and GuideStar and other organizations that work a lot with these tax returns in order to get information from them, basically had to create a pretty significant infrastructure to try to extract data from these documents — which is largely a manual process. But as of just a few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service surprised everyone by releasing all the tax returns — the 990-PFs  that have been digitally filed — as machine-readable open data.

So, what is machine-readable open data? What that means is, it's actually released in a form where it can be automatically harvested by a computer with no human intervention. Basically, if you think of the computer as like a vacuum cleaner — it sucks in all the information, and then using algorithms and other kinds of computer programs, you can manipulate and begin to do all sorts of things with that information. All of a sudden, the barriers to actually creating something useful out of information have been drastically lowered and made much cheaper.

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5 Things to Do Before Issuing an RFP: Advice From a Former Nonprofit Leader

October 10, 2016

RfpImageIn my former life (B.C., or "Before Constructive"), I ran a nonprofit in New Zealand that raised awareness and funds for cancer research. Like a lot of nonprofit leaders, I wore many hats and had a wide scope of responsibilities, including the organization's communication strategy and a major overhaul of its website. I found the latter experience both fascinating and terrifying — and, believe me, the learning curve was steep. Despite my initial trepidation, however, I was gradually bewitched by the process — and the meeting of minds that was our partnership with the agency we eventually selected. It was magic: our mission and vision, their creativity and expertise, all of it leading to something that looked great and truly had the power to change lives.

On returning to the U.S., I made the leap to a brand strategy and design firm with the intention of participating in and experiencing that magic on a more frequent basis. These days, I'm often the first point of contact between Constructive and social sector organizations that reach out to us for assistance. And in that role, I get to chat with many people like my former colleagues about their challenges and how we can help them better advance their missions.

With half a year under my belt here, I find myself wishing I could do more to share the agency viewpoint with all the fantastic social change organizations out there. And I often daydream about time-traveling to tell my past self how to find an agency partner that would not only do a great job on my project, but also bring a perspective to the work that I didn't know was missing and add value I didn't know existed.

So, if you're beginning a search for a branding or digital agency and are struggling to develop an effective RFP, here's a little helpful guidance (I hope) from a former nonprofit leader who has moved to the agency world and is deepening her understanding of both sides of the nonprofit-agency equation.

1. Clarify your goals (but don’t be prescriptive). If you're issuing an RFP for a website redesign or rebranding project, you're already familiar with the pain points that brought you to this stage. Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is to clarify the likely challenges and strategic goals for the project. But don't get carried away!

As someone responsible for selecting a partner for an important project, it's tempting to create an RFP that includes everything you might need in painstaking detail. If nothing else, you may tell yourself, it will make it easier to evaluate the proposals you receive in response to the RFP. But there's a fine line between articulating your goals for a design/rebranding project and being prescriptive about how you expect to achieve those goals. And time you and your colleagues spend "designing" your ideal solution now is likely to be time, as the process unfolds, that's not particularly well spent.

According to business development expert Blair Enns, the vast amount of information easily accessible on the Internet has led to a dramatic rise in the number of organizations that approach agencies, of all kinds, with entrenched ideas about the solutions needed to solve their problems. And that often leads to unfortunate consequences. You don't have to be a genius to appreciate Einstein's observation that "it's unlikely that [a] problem will be solved from within the context it was created." While proactivity in a client is something every agency welcomes, it can be a problem when experts in a domain are not allowed to exercise that expertise. A good partner will be equally effective in combining the expertise of the client with its own unique expertise to create something greater than either could achieve on their own. And if there's one thing agencies bring to the table that clients are unlikely to develop on their own, it's an "outside" perspective and new thinking.  

So, if you're issuing an RFP, yes, absolutely, make sure you know what your goals for the engagement are. But before you spend valuable time adding painstaking detail to your RFP, remember that you want to leave room for good ideas not necessarily your own to flourish. Then go find a partner who is willing to ask challenging questions and can help shape, not simply implement, your vision.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 8-9, 2016)

October 09, 2016

Haiti Hurricane MatthewOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks has some good advice re the dangers of committee writing and the three-verb fumble.

Disaster Relief

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, killed more than seven hundred people in Haiti and ravaged the southwestern tip of that impoverished nation. On the Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog, Regine A. Webster answers three questions for donors: When should I give? How should I give? And where should I give?

Derek Kravitz and a team from ProPublica have uncovered documents that purport to show local officials in Louisiana were "irate" over the American Red Cross’ response to the August flooding in that state, the country's worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Education

On Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog, author and education expert Alfie Kohn explains why pay-for-performance schemes for students and teachers are counterproductive.

International Affairs/Development

According to the World Bank, "[t]he number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than 100 million across the world despite a sluggish global economy," with 767 million people were living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, down from 881 million people the previous year.

On the UN Foundation blog, Aaron Sherinian shares thumbnail bios of seventeen young people who are working to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nonprofits

With pension costs rising and stock market returns flat, a growing number of municipalities are "looking for ways of taxing what until now have been tax-exempt sacred cows." Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trust's Stateline initiative.

Beth Kanter has officially announced the launch of her third book, The Happy Health Nonprofit (with Aliza Sherman), which "explores why burnout is so common in the nonprofit sector and simple ways to practice self-care and bring a culture of well-being into the nonprofit workplace." 

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

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