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13 posts from February 2018

Breaking Through Branding B.S.: The Benefits of Nonprofit Brand Strategy

February 27, 2018

Branding-strategyWhen I tell people I work on brand strategy for mission-driven organizations, I get a lot of blank stares and raised eyebrows. I get it: brand strategy is a bit of a buzzword these days and not exactly easy to define. Adding to the confusion, there's a lingering perception that brand strategy belongs exclusively to the corporate world, that it's something mega brands like Nike, Coca Cola, and Starbucks leverage to woo new customers in a crowded marketplace.

So this article is for all those interested in, confused by, or skeptical about nonprofit brand strategy. It's my answer to the raised eyebrows, a proclamation of my firmly held conviction that a well-articulated brand strategy can be transformative for organizations working to create social change.

Agreeing on a Definition

Our team has written a lot about brand theory, and my aim in this article is to move beyond theory and discuss some of the tangible outcomes of a successful nonprofit brand strategy. But to make sure we're all on the same page, I first want to quickly review what brand and brand strategy are.

There are many definitions of brand, but for our purposes let me define it as the collective perception of an organization shared by its customers or constituents. Brand lives in the minds and experiences of all the different people who come into contact with an organization, including staff, board members, donors, beneficiaries, etc. Brand strategy is an articulation of how a brand is meant to be understood and expressed. At Constructive, we break down brand strategy into the ideas that drive and position an organization, the messages that express them, and the designed experiences that translate these ideas into more tangible deliverables such as a visual identity, communications collateral, and digital presence.

So with that out of the way, how does a successfully defined brand strategy actually help social change organizations accomplish their mission?

A Gut Check

In my opinion, some of the greatest benefits to be gained from a brand strategy engagement come from the process itself.

Brand strategy engagements typically (and always should) begin with extensive research and analysis of the organization and its existing brand. At Constructive, this phase is known as "discovery," and our research can take the form of interviews with internal and external audiences, surveys, peer analyses, and workshops with organizational leadership and staff. The culmination of this phase is a brand assessment that articulates the organizational goals for the brand strategy engagement, the perceived weaknesses and strengths of the organization's current brand, and a plan for mitigating challenges and leveraging opportunities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 24-25, 2018)

February 25, 2018

George-harrison-guitar-1963-via-APOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

In an op-ed piece originally published in The Hill, Mott Foundation president Ridgway White argues that eliminating funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, as the Trump administration has proposed, would strip "resources from a successful initiative rooted in communities, dismissing decades of evidence proving that consistent participation by students in quality afterschool programs leads to improved school attendance, better grades and higher graduation rates...."

Education

New York has the nation's most diverse public school system. It also is the most segregated. Michelle Chen reports for The Nation

With lots of support from the tech industry, "computer science for all" is making its way into k-12 curricula across the nation. But whose interests are being served, students' or the industry's? And given rapid advances in artificial intelligence, will the short-term focus on filling today's tech-sector jobs ultimately backfire? Benjamin Herold and the Education Week team explore theses questions with some leading thinkers in the field, including Code.org founder Hadi Partovi, the CSforAll Consortium's Ruthe Farmer, the National Science Foundation's Janice Cuny, and University of Michigan professor Megan Tompkins-Stange, who tracks trends in education philanthropy.

On Medium, Nellie Mae Education Foundation president Nick Donohue lays out his hopes for a strategic planning process recently announced by the organization — a process that aims to build on its belief that "to prepare all of New England’s students to succeed, [it needs] to focus on where the need and opportunity gaps are...[which] means thinking more deliberately about how [it] serves low-income students and students of color."

Fundraising

On the GuideStar blog, Adam Weinger shares five strategies designed to boost your fundraising results with matching gifts.

Gun Violence

Inside Philanthropy's Philip Rojc has a roundup of the handful of celebrities and philanthropists who have gone public with support for the student-led #NeverAgain movement that has dominated headlines and acted as a focal point for gun reform advocates nationwide since the mass shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ten days ago.  

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Labels…Do They Matter?

February 22, 2018

I-am-what-you-label-mePhilanthropy researchers have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to understand the donor's point of view, and they've taken much of what they've learned and condensed it into a sector-specific typology: Donor. Volunteer. Activist. Advocate. Maybe it's time, however, for a more sophisticated approach to how we classify these types of constituent relationships — and how we structure our organizations around them.

In many nonprofits, departments and staff are organized according to the nature of their constituent involvement. You have volunteer coordinators, corporate donor managers, major gift directors, membership managers, and so on. What's more, many nonprofits still keep their development functions separate from their marketing and communications teams.

The most effective nonprofits don't operate this way.

Ask yourself this: Do the labels we attach to people influence how we relate to them, or how they view their relationship to us?

What do we really mean when we say things like, "She's a key donor." "He's a great volunteer." "She's a real advocate."

Do the people we talk about in those terms see themselves in the same way? Does she see herself as a "donor," or a "volunteer," or an "advocate"? And does it matter if she doesn't?

From donor engagement studies and the research on millennials we have done, we know that most nonprofit supporters don't think of themselves in terms of their transactional relationship with the organizations they support. They don't give or volunteer out of loyalty to an organization. More often than not, their willingness to give or volunteer is rooted in the idea that their support for an organization or cause will improve the lives of others.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 17-18, 2018)

February 18, 2018

Chloe-kim-02Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Education

How can we make strong learning outcomes accessible to every child in public education? Charmaine Jackson Mercer, a new member of the Education team at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, shares her thoughts.

Fundraising

Forbes Nonprofit Council member Austin Gallagher, CEO of environmental nonprofit Beneath the Waves, shares five fundraising tips for new nonprofit leaders.

Gun Control

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington argues that the pattern of social change in America — from the abolition of slavery, to women's suffrage, to the legalization of interracial marriage — should give us hope that Americans, led by moms, will come together to support commonsense gun legislation.

Health

Th real cause of the opiod epidemic that is devastating America? According to a working paper authored by Christopher Ruhm of the University of Virginia its not what you think it is. Richard Florida reports for CityLab.

Human Trafficking

Here on PhilanTopic, Catherine Chen, director of investments at Humanity United, announces that, through its Pathways to Freedom challenge, Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis have been invited to partner with the organization to address the urgent problem of human trafficking.

International Affairs/Development

Hungary's right-wing nationalist government has introduced legislation that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organizations that support migration and pose a "national security risk" — a bill seen by many has targeting the "liberal and open-border values" promoted by U.S.-Hungarian financier/philanthropist George Soros. Reuters'Krisztina Than reports.

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Cities Are Raising the Bar and Building Beloved Communities Where Black Men and Boys Can Thrive

February 16, 2018

Cbma_promise_of_placeTo build beloved communities across America where black men and boys are healthy, thriving, and able to achieve their fullest potential — that is the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's (CBMA) core mission and rallying cry.

CBMA's work is driven by the unwavering belief that black men and boys are assets to our communities and our country, that they possess untapped potential and brilliance, and that they thrive when given opportunities to succeed. We cannot truly prosper as a nation when any group is left behind and forced to exist on the fringes of society. The well-being of black men and boys is directly connected to the well-being and strength of our families, communities, and nation as a whole.

Over the past decade, CBMA has supported leaders in cities across the United States who are working to accelerate positive life outcomes for black men and boys and whose efforts are moving the needle in measurable ways. To chart and track the progress happening in these cities, in 2015 CBMA developed the Black Male Achievement (BMA) City Index, which scores cities based on their level of engagement with and investment in black men and boys. In conjunction with the new index, we released Promise of Place, a first-of-its-kind report series that assessed commitments and targeted initiatives across fifty cities focused on supporting black men and boys. A few weeks ago, we released a follow-up report, Promise of Place: Building Beloved Communities for Black Men and Boys, that explores whether those cities are keeping their promises. Encouragingly, we have found that most cities have in fact increased their investments and actions in support of black men and boys.

The new Promise of Place report finds that, since 2015, 62 percent of the cities included in the index have ramped up their efforts to support black males across a variety of focus areas and needs, with scores based on five key indicators: demographic mix, commitment to black men and boys, presence of national initiatives supporting black men and boys, targeted funding supporting black men and boys, and CBMA membership. Detroit and Washington, D.C., remain the two highest scoring cities, each with a score of 95, while Jackson (Mississippi), Seattle (Washington), Omaha (Nebraska), and Mobile (Alabama) saw the greatest improvements in their scores. Cities not captured in the first report — including Denver and Yonkers, New York — have since become highly engaged in leading black male achievement efforts.

To be clear, the BMA City Index is not a ranking of which cities are doing the best with respect to this work. Rather, it is meant to serve as a starting point to see what commitments and engagements cities are making to black men and boys. It is imperative that city and community leaders hold their cities accountable to these commitments and continue to collaborate on measuring the impact of their efforts.

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Building City Leadership to Combat Human Trafficking

February 15, 2018

Top_image_humanity_unitedIn America's small towns and big cities, in fields and on construction sites, in restaurants and bars, homes, and local businesses, slavery still exists in a pernicious, often-hidden form. Exploited for their labor and for sex, human trafficking victims are men, women, and children. There is no one race, face, or nationality.

Nor is there a single solution to the problem, given the different circumstances of human trafficking and the different needs of survivors. Yet funding for anti-trafficking efforts over the last fifteen years has mainly flowed through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, with an emphasis on strengthening a federal and local law enforcement approach and ensuring that victims receive services. Local efforts have also focused on large police operations to combat sex trafficking. Much less has been done to identify and respond to labor trafficking, which is often misunderstood or mischaracterized as employment disputes.

In an effort to develop and spur bold, cross-sectoral approaches to the challenge of ending human trafficking in all its forms, Humanity United, in 2013, launched the Partnership for Freedom, a public-private partnership aimed at catalyzing new ideas, data, commitments, and actions in the anti-trafficking movement through three "innovation challenges." In our third and final challengePathways to Freedom, Humanity United and the NoVo Foundation, in collaboration with 100 Resilient Cities, challenged the twenty-four 100RC member cities in the U.S. to propose a holistic, comprehensive approach to the problem of trafficking. We are pleased to announce that three of those cities — Atlanta, Chicago, and Minneapolis — have been invited to partner with us to tackle this pressing challenge.

To support the three cities as they develop and implement citywide plans to address labor and sex trafficking and better support survivors, Pathways to Freedom will award each city funding for a senior fellow for two years who will serve directly at the highest levels of municipal government. The fellow will work across multiple city agencies and with a range of community stakeholders. Each winning city also will receive technical assistance to fill knowledge gaps with respect to labor trafficking.

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What’s New at Foundation Center (February)

February 13, 2018

FC_logoLast month, we launched this monthly series as a way to keep you posted on what we at Foundation Center are learning, where we're speaking, what data we're collecting, and how you can contribute to that story. And while athletes from around the world are slipping, sliding, and jumping their way to glory in South Korea, we've been hard at work bringing data and knowledge to the fore for philanthropy globally. Here's the latest:

Projects Launched

  • Our Advancing Human Rights platform was updated with new trends data, revealing a 45 percent increase in human rights funding worldwide between 2011 and 2015, from $1.4 billion to more than $2 billion. In partnership with the Human Right Funders Network, we began to map the landscape of human rights grantmaking in 2010, which led to this first-ever five-year analysis. In addition to the site update, we also launched a blog series featuring human rights funders who provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into key trends related to their areas of focus. And we created an infographic that distills the key findings from the analysis.

Content Published

What We're Excited About

  • We are a founding partner of the first U.S.-based Opportunity Collaboration Conference, taking place in Florida in May.
  • We answered nearly 900 questions about nonprofit management and the social sector more broadly through our online chat service in January.
  • We're giving GrantSpace — our website geared to grant seekers — a makeover so it's simpler to find what you're looking for. Keep your eyes peeled for the new site in April.
  • Our revamped custom training program for grantseekers uses in-person and online tools to connect participants in meaningful ways and promote concrete outcomes. Through assignments, peer review, expert coaching, and workshops, you'll be supported from start to finish. Email our training team at fctraining@foundationcenter.org for more information.
  • A soon-to-be-released GrantCraft Leadership Series paper by Barbara Chow focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy.

Projects in the Pipeline

  • In partnership with Sustain Arts and Audience Architects, a new report mapping the dance ecosystem in the Chicago area
  • In partnership with the Council on Foundations, a report on international grantmaking by U.S.-based foundations

For more on these projects or how to work with us, send us an email.

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Our staff will be speaking at these upcoming events:

Our staff will be attending and/or exhibiting at these events:

Data Spotlight

  • 328,486 new grants added to Foundation Maps since January 1, of which 4,045 were made to 2,591 organizations outside the U.S.
  • New data sharing partners: Austin Family Foundation, Charities Aid Foundation of America, ClimateWorks Foundation, Laffey-McHugh Foundation.

Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I'll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

Weekend Link Roundup (February 10-11, 2018)

February 11, 2018

Market_3275653kOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

What if boycotts — punishing companies for perceived anti-social or -environmental practices by refusing to buy their products or services — isn't the most effective way to change corporate behavior? A new report from public relations firm Weber Shandwick suggest that "buycotts" — in which consumers actively support companies that model pro-social behavior — are overtaking boycotts as the preferred mode of consumer activism. Eillie Anzilotti reports for Fast Company.

Economy

In the New York Times, Kevin Roose profiles self-declared 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who tells Roose, "All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society....[W]e're going to have a million truck drivers who are out of work [and] who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or [a] year of college. That one innovation will be enough to create riots in the street. And we're about to do the same thing to retail workers, call center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms."

Giving

The 80/20 rule, whereby 80 percent of charitable gifts come from 20 percent of the donors, seems like "a quaint artifact of a simpler time," writes Alan Cantor in Philanthropy Daily. These days, the more accurate measure is probably closer to 95/5  and, according to the authors of a new report on giving, it's headed toward a ratio of 98/2. What's a nonprofit leader to do? "[G]o where the money is. Try not to sell your souls to your top donors, and do your best to maintain a broad constituency of supporters. "

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Heather McLeod Grant and Kate Wilkinson argue that, with a new generation of donors arriving on the scene, "we need to pay more attention to how values around philanthropy pass from one generation to the next and how that initial spark of generosity awakens — factors that most nonprofits can’t influence but should heed to as they cultivate donors."

Broadening access to college and increasing college completion are imperative, but they are not enough, argues Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and president emeritus of Michigan State University, if students who complete a degree are not ready for employment.

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A Conversation With Kavitha Mediratta, Executive Director, Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity

February 09, 2018

Chattel slavery — a practice (and later institution) in which enslaved Africans and African Americans were bought, sold, or traded as property at the whim of their "owners" — was common in British America from the earliest colonial days. Gaining a foothold in the tobacco country of Virginia and Maryland in the seventeenth century and spreading north and south from there, it was well established in the mid-Atlantic and South by the time of independence, reinforced, as historian Ira Berlin writes, by a regime of violence that was "systemic and relentless; the planters’ hegemony required that slaves stand in awe of their owners. Although they preferred obedience to be given rather than taken, planters understood that without a monopoly of firepower and a willingness to employ terror, plantation slavery would not long survive."

The violence employed by the slaveholding class to protect and extend its authority was, as Berlin notes, buttressed by special judicial codes, the courts (including the Supreme Court), and the U.S. Constitution itself. As the institution grew in scale and scope in the nineteenth century, driven in part by the invention of the cotton gin, which greatly boosted the profitability of cotton as a crop, and the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the slaveholding class stepped up its efforts to promote ideologies that justified the institution’s existence — as well as the brutality and means, judicial and extra-judicial, used to maintain it.

While these explicitly racist attitudes were, as Eric Eustace Williams has argued, a consequence of slavery rather than its cause, their regrettable persistence has caused incalculable damage to American society, infected countries such as South Africa — which continues to struggle with its own history of racial apartheid — and even today divide Americans against each other. Indeed, whether America ever comes to grips with the pernicious legacy of slavery remains an open question.

Recently, PND spoke with Kavitha Mediratta, founding executive director of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a ten-year, $60 million initiative launched by Atlantic Philanthropies, about that question and what her program is doing to support creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in both the United States and South Africa.

Mediratta previously served as chief strategy advisor for equity initiatives and human capital development at Atlantic and before that led the education program at the New York Community Trust and directed school reform programs at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. She has, in addition, written extensively on race and educational opportunity in the U.S., with a focus on inequalities in school discipline, and has taught in elementary and middle schools in New Jersey, Chicago, and India.

Headshot_kavitha_medirattaPhilanthropy News Digest: How did you get into philanthropy and racial equity work?

Kavitha Mediratta: Well, actually, racial equity work is what led me into philanthropy. I came to the United States with my parents, who are Indian, when I was three, and we settled in a community on Long Island where we were pretty isolated. This was in the 1970s, and we thought America's days as a segregated society were behind it, but that's not really how it was on Long Island when I was growing up, and from an early age I was exposed to some of the contradictions between the idea of America as a place of opportunity for all people, and the way in which black people in America and others who are seen as different often are treated.

As a result, I became interested in racial equity pretty early on. I worked as a teacher and then as an organizer and policy analyst before ending up doing a lot of work with parents and high school students to improve public schools, which I saw as a key locus of opportunity for young people of color but that too often failed to deliver on those opportunities to help children realize their full potential. And it's really the work I did with young people that brought me to philanthropy, and Atlantic [Philanthropies], which had long supported people of color who were working to reform public education, and public institutions more broadly, in America.

PND: What are we talking about when we talk about racial equity? Do you have a definition that informs your day-to-day work?

KM: For us, racial equity is about creating a society in which opportunities and outcomes for people are not defined on the basis of racial categories. But we go a little bit further than equity, in that we talk about dismantling anti-black racism, aka white supremacy, as an important step toward building a truly just and inclusive society. And what we mean by a just and inclusive society is a world in which everyone has the opportun­ities they need not only to thrive, but to be seen fully for who they are, which is an important thing, since, at the moment, only some people in America are seen fully. The question is, How can we build a world in which all people are seen fully for who and what they are, and who are treated with the dignity, respect, and right to self-determination that all members of our national and global community deserve?

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Strengthening Philanthropy’s Role in the Resistance

February 08, 2018

WPI-SAC-1An increase in the minimum wage. Criminal justice reforms that have led to a 25 percent drop in the number of people incarcerated in state prisons. A Domestic Worker Bill of Rights that extended labor protections and overtime pay to five hundred thousand low-wage workers. Climate change laws that are delivering real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Expanded rights for transgender people.

Even as the federal government has become openly hostile to policy priorities such as immigrant and worker rights, environmental protections, and expanded access to health care, California has forged its own path. Not only are local and state governments standing up to oppose federal overreach, they are shaping real policy solutions that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation. And, in many cases, the state's progressive victories have been achieved with the help of philanthropic support for advocacy efforts.

For a long time, funders were wary about getting involved in policy work. That reluctance is fading as a growing number of funders realize that policy and systems change are critical levers for achieving their equity and social justice goals. And at a time when the federal government is intent on turning back the clock on progress that has benefited so many vulnerable communities, philanthropy is coming to see the value of investing in local and state policy work aimed at protecting and advancing people's rights.

But what is the best way for funders to support policy advocacy? How can foundations and other donors be more strategic about investing in policy change as a means to achieving their broader missions? And what exactly are the rules around lobbying and advocacy for foundations and their nonprofit partners?

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A Cooperative, Comprehensive Approach to Saving African Elephants

February 06, 2018

Elephant_cooperation_500I fell in love with wildlife as a child when I traveled to Africa with my father, who was a biologist. Back then, the beauty of the continent was difficult for me to put into words, and it stayed with me. But if I was in awe of all the different species I saw on that trip, I was overwhelmed by the elephants — so much so, that when I became a father myself, I wanted to share their beauty and majesty with my daughter. I had to wait a few years, but when she turned 15, we traveled together to the continent that had captured my imagination many years earlier.

It was not what I had expected, and my heart almost broke when I saw firsthand the devastation local elephant populations had suffered in the years since my last visit. I explained to my daughter that these magnificent creatures were being killed for their tusks — which would be smuggled out of country and turned into trinkets and bogus medical remedies to satisfy the growing consumer market in far-away countries such as China and Vietnam. What's more, at the rate they were being killed, African elephants might become extinct in my lifetime, and that her children — my grandchildren — might never have the chance to see one in the wild.

As a co-founder of a hundred-million-dollar company, I had long felt the need to give back, and when I got back to the U.S., I decided I would dedicate myself to saving the African elephant from extinction. It soon became apparent, however, that I would have to embrace unconventional strategies if I hoped to have the slightest chance of succeeding. As I returned to Africa several times over the next few years to learn about amazing organizations already working toward this goal, I realized I didn't need to start another NGO to bring a new approach or project to the table. Instead, I could create a nonprofit organization that would fund established projects and organizations already making a difference and use my connections and influence to bring those projects and organizations to the attention of donors and activists here in America.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 3-4, 2018)

February 04, 2018

AP-Groundhog-Day.3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans,

"It's obvious," writes Andre Perry on the Hechinger Report site, "that black history is needed all year long. But white history as we know it can no longer be the standard in a multicultural society, which is supposed to maximize the potential of all of its members."

Arts and Culture

Janet Brown was named executive director of Grantmakers in the Arts in December 2008 and retired from that post in December. On his blog for the Western States Arts Federation, Barry Hessenius talks with Brown about what has changed in arts philanthropy, GIA's racial equity work, and the current status of creative placemaking efforts in the U.S.

Civil Society

We look to civil society for many things and benefits, but do we appreciate and understand the critical role it plays in our democracy? In an excerpt from Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2018, philanthropy scholar Lucy Bernholz lays it out for us:

Majority-run democracies need to, at the very least, prevent those who disagree with them (minorities) from revolting against the system. Civil society provides, at the very least, the pressure-release valve for majority-run governments. Positioned more positively, civil society is where those without power or critical mass can build both and influence the majority. It serves as a conduit to the majority system and a counterbalance to extreme positions. It also serves as an outlet for those actions, rights, and views that may never be the priority of a majority, but that are still valid, just, or beautiful. When it exists, civil society offers an immune system for democracy — it is a critical factor in a healthy system, and it requires its own maintenance. Immune systems exist to protect and define — they are lines of defense that "allow organism[s] to persist over time."...

Corporate Social Responsibility

The UNHCT, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that it will only reach 1 out of every 4 Syrian refugees at risk this winter. And with 200,000 displaced families in Syria, 196,000 in Iraq, 174,000 in Lebanon, 115,000 in Turkey, and 83,000 in Jordan, the global refugee crisis isn't likely to be resolved simply or quickly. Writing for Inc., Anna Johansson has a nice list of companies that are stepping up to help refugees.

Perhaps in an effort to appeal to socially aware millennials, Hyundai and Anheuser-Busch InBev will be running cause-based marketing spots during this year's Super Bowl. A harbinger of things to come or just business as usual? E. J. Schultz reports for AdAge.

Education

Here's another (bittersweet) milestone of note: DonorsChoose Just funded its millionth project. Fast Company's Ben Paynter has the details.

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What's in a Job Description?

February 02, 2018

It might not be obvious, but search firms like ours get lots of unexpected looks into what really goes on at the organizations we work with. And we're not just talking about hiring practices. We also gain insights into office culture, power dynamics, and reporting structures (those that work as well as those that don't). Where does all that information come from? Not from exit interviews or placement questionnaires. No, if you really want to get the inside scoop on an organization, all you have to do is look at the documents that every supervisor and employee loves to hate. 

Yes, I'm talking about your organization's job descriptions.

How do job descriptions reveal more than they were meant to? Let's look at six fairly common types and zero in on what they might be saying about your organization.

The All-Do Can-Do Job Description

Everyone can't (and shouldn't) do everything, but apparently your supervisor never got the memo. Under "responsibilities," this single-spaced three-page monstrosity not only includes "leap over tall buildings" and "argue cases before the Supreme Court," it also has the nerve to end with "other duties as assigned."

What this could mean: There's a good chance with a job description like this that no one knows exactly what the core functions of the position are, so the team responsible for creating it threw everything and the kitchen sink in just to be sure. Unfortunately, that often means that the person who ends up in the position is spread too thin and is likely to underperform. Can't say we're surprised; lack of clarity in a job description inevitably leads to confused priorities and overwhelmed staff. 

Pro Tip: Keep your job descriptions to one page. (Anything longer may be the reason the position is still open.) 

Unrelated Educational Requirements

You value education; we value education. But nonprofits too often are guilty of asking for educational credentials that not only don't match the requirements of the job in question — they don't make sense given the salary range. Why would a junior coordinator need a $75K master's degree? Or why is there an educational requirement for a fundraising position? In a sector where almost everyone is passionate about social justice, why do we insist on either excluding qualified candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds or saddling our junior staff with untenable debt?

What this could mean: Your organization isn't really serious about diversity and inclusion. By insisting on including expensive educational requirements in your job descriptions, you could be eliminating otherwise qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds before your candidate search even starts.

Pro Tip: "Or equivalent experience" in a job description gives you much more flexibility and will open up the candidate pool to a much broader variety of qualified people.

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  • "Public education does not serve a public. It creates a public. And in creating the right kind of public, the schools contribute toward strengthening the spiritual basis of the American Creed. That is how Jefferson understood it, how Horace Mann understood it, how John Dewey understood it, and in fact, there is no other way to understand it...."

    — Neil Postman (1931-2003), American author, educator, media theorist, and cultural critic

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