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68 posts categorized "Arts and Culture"

PND Talk: Why Give to the Arts When People Are Starving?

January 31, 2014

Long-time readers of Philanthropy News Digest may remember PND Talk, the message board we launched back in 2004 and maintained for the better part of a decade (until the launch of our new site in November).

During its heyday, PND Talk was a lively community frequented by a regular cast of generous, knowledgeable nonprofit professionals — people like Susan Lynn, Sheryl Kaplan, Rick Kosinski, Julie Rodda, Tony Poderis, and the late (and much missed) Carl Richardson and Linda Procopio.

Recently, some of us were reminiscing about PND Talk and the friends who made it such a valuable resource for so many years. And that got us thinking: Wouldn't it be great if we could share some of their advice and wisdom with our readers here at PhilanTopic?

Well, we can and we're going to — starting with the post below by author and fundraising consultant Tony Poderis, who for twenty years served as director of development for the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra. In it, Poderis addresses the longstanding dilemma faced by all development professionals in the nonprofit arts world: How do you justify philanthropic support for the arts and culture when so many people, here and around the world, struggle to secure the basic necessities of life? It's an interesting and provocative post, and we think many of you will want to add your thoughts in the comments section below....

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Arts_jobs_buttonFor those of you laboring — with love — in the nonprofit "field" of arts and culture, I can guess, with reasonable certainty (I come from that background, too), that you are challenged at times to justify your organization's existence, particularly at a time like this, when so many other, "more worthy" societal needs are crying to be met. How do you respond?

I've had to address that difficult question many times over many years. And for many arts and culture organizations, it continues to be a pressing one. I hope what follows is of some help the next time you are so challenged.

Why give to the arts when people are starving?

I actually saw that question scrawled among the marginal notes in a funding proposal for an orchestra. The notes were penned by a trustee of a grantmaking foundation during a meeting to review the proposal. Another trustee of the foundation, the one who presented the proposal on behalf of the orchestra, later shared the notes with me and asked what I could do to help counter his colleague's questioning remark.

Arts and cultural institutions are often forced into such defensive postures. They're accused of benefiting only the elite. The needs of the hungry, the homeless, the physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged are cited as being so overwhelming that something as frivolous as the arts should not be allowed or encouraged to draw from the limited pool of private funding available to support the work of nonprofit organizations. Those of us who work with and passionately support the arts are asked how we can justify "diverting" funds to the arts when such need exists.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2013)

December 01, 2013

Hope you all had a fun and relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. With 2013 rapidly coming to a close, it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month of November:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Share your favorites in the comments section below....

5 Questions for...Rise Wilson, Director of Philanthropy, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

November 05, 2013

Like all great artists, Robert Rauschenberg had an uncanny ability to see and shape the future. In a world that was growing smaller and in which creative technologies were more widely disseminated than ever before, he realized that the line between art and life, meaning and interpretation, high and low were increasingly arbitrary and personal.

Rauschenberg also viewed his art as a vehicle for social change and, as he grew older, actively supported people and issues that moved him. In 1990, he established the foundation that bears his name to benefit and promote awareness of the causes and groups close to his heart, which included arts education, environmental causes, and artistic collaborations of various kinds.

Rauschenberg died in 2008 at the age of 82, and today his foundation, led by its board and staff, is in the process of redefining the scope of its activities and transitioning from "a model that was artist-led toward one that serves the public good."

Recently, PND chatted by e-mail with Rise Wilson, who joined RRF as its first director of philanthropy in August, about the foundation's SEED program, which provides unrestricted operating capital to "boundary-pushing" arts organizations in their earliest stages, allowing them to build the capacity and programming.

Headshot_RiseWilsonPhilanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues have just announced a second round of SEED grants -- $30,000 in unrestricted operating capital to start-up arts organizations around the country. Why start-up organizations?

Rise Wilson: Before I speak to the choice to focus on start-ups, I should clarify that these particular early stage organizations were selected because they were choosing different operating models, pushing the boundaries of their medium, working in an interdisciplinary way, or in some other fashion "nurturing the new." Nominators were encouraged to identify organizations who were exemplary in their efforts to experiment, take risks, and support emerging artists. So the program is not just about start-ups for start-ups' sake but the importance of investing in new and untested models.

What we know from the legacy of our founder, Robert Rauschenberg, who invested in artists at the earliest stages of their careers, is how catalyzing this kind of support can be. Early investment validates that artists -- and, in the case of the SEED program, organizations -- are on the right path. It shores up their financial and logistical capacity to pursue their vision, and it can provide more space to test out ideas -- rather than choosing the safest, most "fund-able" projects to develop.

There is a marked absence of risk capital in arts and culture. Traditional philanthropy still seems to be operating with the tacit expectation that organizations should have at least three years of bootstrapping before receiving institutional support. Though there is wisdom in assessing a potential grantee's capacity to carry out its vision, there are a great many flaws in this metric of grant-worthiness. The ability to bootstrap is often tied to access to wealth, which is not evenly distributed -- geographically, demographically, or culturally. So there is a justice component that is available in the decision to invest in early stage work. To be clear, this justice element was not a core feature in the design of the SEED program, but it's available -- and in my new post at the foundation, it's one I plan to underline.

So there is a justice component, and on a really basic and fundamental level, there is the the fact that we need to figure out how to fund good ideas. Our sector is literally filled with creative thinkers. We are in the business of creativity and creative problem-solving, yet early stage funding is so tenuous it can kill great ideas, through neglect, before they've had a chance to take root. How do you prototype and pilot when funds are only available to proven, tested programs? We have an opportunity to apply lessons and strategies from the social-enterprise sector and impact philanthropy -- to encourage innovation, which by its nature often involves untested ideas, uncertain models, and starting from scratch.

As a foundation, risk-taking is one of our core values, so it is not only the kind of work we support but the way we approach our own. We want to remove barriers for creative thinkers to do good work, even when that means they are new, working with a fiscal sponsor, or have selected a for-profit structure as a way to advance their creative endeavors.

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

October 28, 2013

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2013)

October 06, 2013

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

Arts and Culture

In recent years, school districts across the country have had to restructure their arts curriculums to meet the growing emphasis on standards and the Common Core, while trying to manage with shrinking resources and support for arts education. To celebrate Funding for Arts Month here at the Foundation Center, our colleagues at IssueLab have pulled together a unique collection of reports, case studies, evaluations and white papers focused on the potential benefits of arts education for students and communities alike, complete with examples of the creative ways school districts are dealing with their funding constraints and challenges.

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging from the Communications Network 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans earlier this week, Liz Wainger, president of the Wainger Group, reminds readers of Kris Putnam-Walkerly's Philanthropy411 blog that while "data is an essential part of storytelling,...without a narrative you simply have data -- no passion, no call to action, no inspiration. And without data, you have raw emotion hanging in the wind."

For more great coverage of the Commnetwork conference, check out these guest posts by Liz Banse, vice president at Resource Media; Norris West, director of strategic communications at the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Elizabeth Miller, communications associate at the Knight Foundation; and Avalee Weir, communications manager at the Ian Potter Foundation in Australia.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 16-17, 2013)

February 17, 2013

Presidents-Day2013Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, James Irvine Foundation president and CEO Jim Canales discusses the foundation's new arts strategy, which has received both positive and negative feedback from the nonprofit community. "I admire those who have stepped forward to criticize aspects of our strategy, whether they believe it is wrong on its merits or they view it as yet another example of 'strategic philanthropy' gone awry, where we are dictating and imposing our solutions upon the field," writes Canales. "That is certainly not out intention.

What is different for us in our new Arts strategy is that rather than continuing with a broad-based approach that funded projects across multiple objectives, we made the strategic decision to direct our finite resources in a way that, in our view, will best position the arts field for future viability and success. In doing so, we are openly expressing a point of view about how we think the field must evolve to ensure its dynamism and relevance. Yet, we are very clear about our willingness to learn with our partners in this effort, to refine our approach accordingly, and to help to advance the field's understanding of the many ways to engage a broader cross-section of Californians (in our case) in the arts....

So, please keep the ideas, observations and critiques coming. It's the best way to ensure we can achieve the end we all agree upon: a vibrant, relevant and successful arts field....

Fundraising

The Mertz Gilmore Foundation and NYU Wagner's Research Center for Leadership in Action have issued a new report, Beyond Foundation Funding: Revenue-Generating Strategies for Sustainable Social Change (84 pages, PDF), that's designed to aid social change organizations, funders, and technical assistance providers in discussing and implementing different fundraising and revenue-generating practices.

Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks has a few choice words for fundraising consultants who show up at sector conferences with slick PowerPoint presentations designed to shame attendees into contracting their services, but who never, ever reveal whether the campaigns they are so proud of creating actually worked or not.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 8-9, 2012)

December 09, 2012

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

Arts and Culture

On its Web site, the James Irvine Foundation unveils a snazzy new infographic format to share what it has learned about arts and arts organizations in California through the work of its Arts Innovation Fund.

Climate Change

In an impassioned post on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping A Close Eye blog, Lisa Ranghelli urges foundation leaders to get involved in the fight against a warming planet.

Fundraising

On his Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks, author of the Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, provides a timely reminder to fundraisers to "keep calm."

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Minnesota Council on Foundations research manager Anne Bauers shares findings from NTEN's The State of Nonprofit Data report, which found that a lack of expertise, issues of time and prioritization, and challenges with technology, among other things, are holding many organizations back from tracking and using data more effectively.

To help organizations looking to close their data skills gap, Beth Kanter, co-author (with KD Paine) of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, shares some data visualization resources that she's come across recently.

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'Funding for the Arts' Month: Arts and Community Engagement

October 20, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida is features editor at Philanthropy News Digest. In her last post, she provided some background on the deteriorating situation in Syria through the lens of half a dozen foundation-sponsored publications.)

Irrigate_artshappenIn a commentary piece on Philanthropy News Digest earlier this month, Sharon DeMark, a program officer for the arts at Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, argued for expanding the definition of arts engagement in grantmaking. While citing examples of arts institutions that are experimenting with new ways to attract younger and more diverse audiences, DeMark also noted that the lion's share of grant dollars goes to a handful of large, established organizations, and that there is ample opportunity for funders to identify and support smaller, lesser-known groups and individual artists.

One example mentioned by DeMark that elicited comment was the Walker Arts Center's recent Internet Cat Video Festival, which showcased short videos curated by an online community from among more than ten thousand submissions. "Think expansively, yes," one comment on DeMark's piece read. "Pander to the lowest common denominators and call it the arts, no." Fair enough, but if the subject hadn't been cat videos, would this kind of crowdsourcing be considered "pandering"? Whatever your view of cat videos, there are any number of contests in which the public are invited to vote for their favorite arts organization to receive funding; for example, five South Florida nonprofit arts groups currently are competing for votes via text message to win $20,000 in the first Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice Awards. While it goes without saying that online popularity contests are in many ways a flawed mechanism for awarding philanthropic support, they have been shown to engage more diverse audiences in the arts by giving them a say in directing support to less established groups and artists.

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Libraries and Latinos: Return to Adams County

August 14, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she wrote about the Justice Matters series at Filmfest DC.)

Children_with_booksFour years ago, in my first post for PhilanTopic, I described how the Adams County Library system in a rural part of south central Pennsylvania used a modest donation to try out some new ideas and improve its services for the growing Latino population in the area, mainly families and seasonal workers from Mexico.

Since then, thanks to PhilanTopic's broad and inclusive vision of civic life, I've written about a presidential inauguration, a "City of Trees," the first moon landing, transitional justice, a memorial park in Argentina, and -- most frequently -- social issue documentaries and the organizations that support them. Over that time, I've really enjoyed the opportunity the PND team has given me to refine my vision of the nexus of philanthropy and social justice. But today, because this is my thirtieth (!) post for PhilanTopic, I thought it would be interesting to revisit Adams County to see what, if anything, has changed.

I caught up with library director Rob Lesher on his way to the annual library book sale, which was organized by the Friends of the Library at the main branch in Gettysburg; Lesher told me they hoped to raise at least $25,000. That's a lot of used books and a big shot in the arm for any library in an era of government cuts.

"It's been a challenge financially," says Lesher. "But the big news is that this summer we've seen the highest circulation months in our history. Seventy-five thousand items circulated in July, part of a fifteen-year pattern of growth. And 2011 was a record year, with seven hundred and fifty thousand items circulated; we'll equal that this year. Despite the cutbacks, we've managed to expand our services to Latinos. The key has been experimenting with new programs and partnering with community organizations."

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Eye On: Bill and Karen Ackman

July 31, 2012

(This is the first in a series of short profiles of individuals, couples, and families that have signed the Giving Pledge, the well-publicized effort spearheaded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the wealthiest Americans to commit the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes. For more about the Ackmans and the other eighty Giving Pledgers, visit the Foundation Center's brand-new Web portal, Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Ackmans-lgSome of Bill Ackman's earliest memories "include my father's exhortations about how important it is to give back." That disclosure is included in the "pledge" letter Ackman wrote on joining the Giving Pledge campaign earlier this year. 'These early teachings were ingrained in me," the letter continues, "and a portion of the first dollars I earned, I gave away. Over the years, the emotional and psychological returns I have earned from charitable giving have been enormous. The more I do for others, the happier I am."

A happy man, indeed. An "activist" investor whose Pershing Square Capital Management (PSCM) has made strategic investments in some of North America's best-known companies, Ackman, 46, has amassed a considerable fortune in his two decades as a hedge fund manager -- and is already busy giving it away, even as he continues to be a force on Wall Street.

But then, Ackman was marked for success from a young age. The son of a successful real estate executive in New York City, Ackman was raised in the wealthy Westchester County suburb of Chappaqua and earned a B.A. (graduating magna cum laude) in 1988 from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1992. (Cambridge is also where he met his wife, Karen, nee Herskovitz, who received a master's in landscape architecture from Harvard and subsequently worked for the Central Park Conservancy.)

That same year, Ackman and David Berkowitz, a friend from Harvard, co-founded the hedge fund Gotham Partners and, using a wide-ranging investment approach, grew it into a half-billion-dollar concern. The two split when Gotham closed in 2003, and Ackman wasted no time launching New York City-based PSCM in 2004.

From the beginning, PSCM's activist approach to making money was straightforward: identify an undervalued and/or underperforming company using proprietary research, build a large equity position in the company, and use that position to pressure management to make changes -- typically by liquidating assets, closing down non-core businesses, or eliminating inefficiencies -- that improve the company's profitability and boost its share price. Over the years, Pershing Square "targets" have included the likes of Wendy's International, McDonald's Corp., Fortune Brands, Borders, Target Corp., JC Penney, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Procter & Gamble. And while not all of Pershing's campaigns have succeeded in the way Ackman and his partners had hoped, enough have to make Ackman a wealthy and -- in some quarters -- feared man.

Which is all the more surprising given Ackman's low-key demeanor and penchant for progressive causes. Already philanthropically active in their thirties, Ackman and his wife began to think about ramping up their philanthropy as they neared forty and created the Pershing Square Foundation in 2006 as a vehicle to that end. Since then, the foundation has announced more than $145 million in grants and social investments in the areas of economic development, education, health care, human rights, the arts, and urban development. In 2010, for example, the foundation pledged $25 million to support K-12 education reforms in Newark, New Jersey, helping to match Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the city's schools.

Other significant grants announced by the foundation include commitments of more than $6 million each to the One Acre Fund and Root Capital, innovative organizations working to transform the lives of smallholder farmers in parts of Africa and Latin America; $10 million over five years to Human Rights Watch, the highly respected watchdog and advocacy organization; and $25 million to the Signature Theatre in New York City to help ensure that affordable tickets are available for every Signature production over the next twenty years.

And of course, with a little friendly encouragement from Warren Buffett, they were among the twelve new families or individuals to sign the Giving Pledge in April. As Ackman told Fortune at the time:

"While my motivations for giving are not driven by a profit motive, I am quite sure that I have earned financial returns from giving money away. Not directly by any means, but rather as a result of giving money away. A number of my closest friends, partners, and advisors I met through charitable giving. Their advice, judgment, and partnership have been invaluable in my business and in my life. Life becomes richer, the more one gives away."

-- Mitch Nauffts

Last updated: August 6, 2012

'On Being Unreasonable': A Conversation With Eli Broad

June 26, 2012

EliandEdyth_broadOver the course of a career that has spanned five decades and four industries, Eli Broad, who turned 79 this summer, has helped build two Fortune 500 companies, KB Home and SunAmerica, and, with his wife, Edythe, created the Broad Foundations, which focus on public education reform, scientific and medical research, art and culture, and civic projects in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, Broad has been asked many times to reveal the secret to his success. His new memoir, The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking, sheds some light on the path that took him from a job as an accountant in Detroit to fortune and fame. As Broad tells it, a good deal of his success stems from his willingness, over the course of his adult life, to take the kinds of chances others thought ill advised. What's more, he writes, he invariably succeeded because he and his partners did their homework and found a "niche where we could flourish."

As Broad explained during a recent conversation with PND, he hopes people looking to emulate his approach will read the book and "learn from my successes -- and, frankly, some of my mistakes."

Philanthropy News Digest: Your book celebrates the benefits of a certain kind of unreasonableness in terms of one's career path. Were you always unreasonable, or is it something you grew into?

Eli Broad: Oh, I've always thought of myself as being reasonable; it was others who thought I was unreasonable, because I'm demanding and always asking questions and not going with everyone else's flow.

I didn't start to think about unreasonableness until my wife, after we were married for several years, gave me a paperweight with a George Bernard Shaw quote on it that read: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."

PND: One thing I really enjoyed about your memoir was the chapter on asking "Why not?" What are some of the things you've learned by asking that question in a business context, and how has it influenced your approach to philanthropy?

EB: When I was a kid collecting stamps I remember reading in one of those magazines that were sent to stamp collectors that Chrysler International was selling one-kilo boxes of stamps that had been cut from envelopes collected from around the world. I took a streetcar to their office and bought a box for I forget how much. I then advertised a hundred stamps for $1.95 in the stamp magazine. I became Eli Broad, postage stamp dealer, age thirteen. And people would write to me as if I were a forty-year-old. By the time I was sixteen, I had saved enough to buy my first car, a 1941 Chevy, for $200.

You see, I've always asked, "Why not?" And people would always say, "It's never been done this way. You can't do it." I'd listen to what they had to say, but most of the time I went ahead and did what they said I couldn't do. And they'd say I was being unreasonable.

In philanthropy, my wife, Edythe, and I decided a long time ago not to give money just to maintain the status quo. We want to make a difference, whether it's in education reform, scientific and medical research, the arts, or other areas. So if we think something ought to be happening that isn't and we ask, "Why isn't this happening?" and don't get a good answer, we'll be inclined to fund it. But only if the program, whatever it is, meets three criteria: it will make a difference in twenty years; it wouldn't happen without our support; and the right people are available to make it happen.

PND: Did you have a model, either an individual or an institution, in mind when you established the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in the 1960s?

EB: I've always admired Andrew Carnegie and what he did in establishing libraries, colleges, and universities, and for what he said once: "He who dies with wealth dies with shame." I also agree with something someone else once said: "He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes."

PND: Is that why you and Edythe signed on to the Giving Pledge, the campaign started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to give at least half of their wealth to charitable causes?

EB: We were going to do that anyway, so when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett came around we decided to up the ante from 50 percent of our fortune to 75 percent. We hope that sets an example for others to follow.

PND: The Broad Foundations today focus on four areas: public education reform, scientific and medical research, art and culture, and civic projects in Los Angeles. What's the common thread connecting those interests?

EB: I'm not sure there is a common thread. Each came about in a different way. For instance, we started supporting public education reform initiatives after traveling to countries like Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Finland. At the time, about fourteen years ago, we realized American children were not getting the education they needed if the United States was going to maintain its preeminent role in the world. We came to the conclusion that our system of public education was broken and needed to be changed and strengthened to empower teachers and students to succeed. Since then, we've done a number of things in the education space, from helping to create a cadre of new public education leaders through our Superintendents Academy and Residency initiative, to creating a million-dollar prize that's designed to encourage urban schools to boost student achievement and close the achievement gap between ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

We believe the public education system needs to be reformed in other ways, too: our students need a longer school day and school year; we've got to expand digital learning and push more resources into classrooms; and more mayors and governors need to be involved. That kind of change is happening, albeit slowly.

Our interest in scientific and medical interest came about a different way. After one of our sons was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, I did a lot of research and learned that no one had yet figured out the disease's cause or a cure. So I thought, "You know what? All these young scientists, doctors, and researchers have theories and thoughts about the disease but they're not getting funding from the National Institutes of Health or elsewhere, because they're not established." Soon after that, we went into the venture research business in inflammatory bowel disease, which led to other things. For example, it led to my giving a grant to a man by the name of Eric Lander who was decoding the genome for the federal government.

PND: Lander helped establish the Broad Institute. Tell us a bit about how that partnership came about.

EB: While I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October 2001 to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science, Edye and I ducked into Eric's lab and we were blown away by the robotics and computers going twenty-four hours a day and all the bright, young researchers from Harvard Medical School and MIT who didn't want to go home because they were so excited about the work that was being accomplished there. So I said to Eric, "When are you going to be done with this?" And he said, "April 2003." I said, "What do you want to do then?" And he said, "I'd like to try and create an institute to take all we've learned and get it to clinical applications." I said, "Okay, what do you need to do that?" He said, "I need $800 million." And I said, "I hope you get it somewhere."

Well, he approached a lot of people, and he couldn't do it, so I told him we'd put up $100 million if Harvard and MIT would do likewise. And that's how the Broad Institute got created. Since then, it's become a huge success and today is number-one in the world in genomics.

PND: How did you get involved in the arts?

EB: Many years ago I was founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and then I got involved in a number of other projects in the city that people thought could never happen, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. I could go on, but everything we've done is really different than just supporting the status quo. It's making a difference, creating things that didn't exist, that probably should exist, and will make a difference twenty, thirty years from now.

PND: You mentioned some of the work you're doing through the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Has that prize helped to improve public education in the United States?

EB: Absolutely. We're seeing results. There are some cities that haven't received the prize but have put in their contracts with their superintendents to get the Broad Prize within x number of years. So it's creating competition. And the districts that win the prize feel very good about it.

PND: Is it more difficult to affect change in public education than in other fields?

EB: Oh, absolutely. You know, we believe in teachers. Some 95 percent of all teachers are great, but they work in a system that's broken, that has all sorts of work rules that don't let them do all the things they need to do to succeed, and that diverts too much money into central office bureaucracies and not enough into the classroom.

Recently, the Council on Foreign Relations came out with a report that said education is a national security priority, not least because 70 percent of adults in this country -- people between the ages of 18 and 24 -- are not qualified to serve in our increasingly high-tech military. That's astounding. If we want to maintain our standard of living, if we want to be a secure nation, we've got to improve public education and we've got to do it quickly.

PND: Is it important, in your view, for Giving Pledge dollars, yours and those of other Pledgers, to be used sooner rather than later?

EB: Yes, I believe so. Warren Buffett and others may have a different view, that if they make a whole lot more with their money now instead of giving it away, eventually there'll be even more money for philanthropy. But Edye and I believe in giving while we're still alive. And we don't just give money; we've also got great people at our different foundations helping the institutions to which we give with their business plans and in other ways.

PND: How do you respond to the growing chorus of critics who say that philanthropy is an activity of and for wealthy elites and that, as such, it is inherently undemocratic?

EB: Well, I don't agree with that at all. America has a long, proud history of philanthropy, and I think it is important for the wealthy to give back. Through our philanthropy in education, for example, we are working to help transform bureaucracies so that students and teachers have a chance to succeed. Governments can and should be doing this themselves on behalf of the students, teachers, parents, communities, and democracies they are supposed to serve. Unfortunately, too many are not. I think philanthropy has the ability to step in and ensure that underrepresented voices in our democracy are heard, especially when government considers this too risky to do.

Let's not forget, over the twenty-eight years since A Nation At Risk was published, public education spending in this country in real dollars has tripled, while student achievement has gone nowhere. We used to be number one in the world in terms of high school graduation rates. Now we're closer to twenty. We used to be in the top five in mathematics and now we're twenty-fifth or thirtieth. We have a failing system that people are trying to defend, and when people like Edye and I or Bill Gates get involved in trying to change it, they say, "Oh, that's not democratic." I don't agree. I think what we're doing furthers democracy, and that those who want to maintain the status quo are undermining the strength of our democracy.

PND: Why did you decide to write a memoir?

EB: Over the course of my career I've been asked time and again, "How did you start two Fortune 500 companies in two different industries?" And more recently, after my wife and I really took the plunge into philanthropy, people have asked, "How do you do all of that?" So I thought if I wrote a book about how I've done all these things, people could learn from my successes -- and, frankly, from some of my mistakes. I hope the book is helpful to young people, to entrepreneurs, and to others in a variety of fields.

PND: What advice would you give to young millionaires who are eager to use some of their wealth to make the world a better place?

EB: I think a lot of them are doing it already. Look at John Arnold, who was probably the most successful trader of oil and gas contracts. He recently announced plans to close his fund to focus on philanthropy. I think what I'm doing, and what others are doing, is setting an example for other young millionaires who want to make a difference.

-- Regina Mahone

'The Art of Being Unreasonable' Launches in New York City

May 07, 2012

Eli_BroadI had the pleasure Sunday evening of attending "A Conversation With Eli Broad" at the 92nd Street Y, an hour-long event marking the launch of Broad's memoir The Art of Being Unreasonable. At the event, Broad chatted with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose about his long and successful career (highlights of which are shared in the book's appendix). Broad, who turns 79 this summer, has helped build two Fortune 500 companies, KB Home and SunAmerica, and created with his wife, Edythe, the Broad Foundations, which focus on public education reform, scientific and medical research, art and culture, and civic projects in Los Angeles.

Rose began his interview by asking Broad for thoughts on the state of the economy, which Broad said will not recover until the housing market improves (in 2013?), before shifting gears to focus on the book.

While Broad doesn't consider himself to be unreasonable -- as he told the audience, "I don't think I'm unreasonable; other people think I'm unreasonable" -- he writes in his memoir that he believes "being unreasonable has been the key to my success." Throughout his career, he took chances that many said he was foolish for taking -- building homes without basements at a time when such a thing was unheard of, for example -- and succeeded because he and his partners did their homework and found a "niche where we could flourish."

During the Q&A portion of the event, one of my colleagues asked Broad -- who was instrumental in creating the first biomedical research institute in the world devoted to genomics, launching the largest urban education prize in the country, and has done much to nurture the burgeoning contemporary art scene in Los Angeles -- to share some of the ways in which his foundations assist nonprofit organizations and social causes other than through grants or philanthropic investments. "Foundations have to be innovative," said Broad, especially during tough economic times. The Broad Foundations, for example, offer their grantees lots of advice and counsel and, through the Broad Superintendents Academy program, provide business leaders with the training needed to make a successful transition to leadership positions in urban school districts.

That said, the one constant in Eli Broad's long career, which has spanned five decades and four industries, is a paperweight he received from his wife inscribed with this quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

And sometimes that means asking "Why not?" instead of accepting "no" for an answer.

Were you at the event? What did you take away from the conversation? And what do you think foundations should be doing, beyond awarding grants, to address the many social, political, and economic challenges we face? Use the comments section to share your thoughts...

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (May 5-6, 2012)

May 06, 2012

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

Advocacy

On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Lisa Ranghelli offers a positive review of Learn Foundation Law, a new online training tool for foundation program officers that was developed by the Gates, Packard, Moore, and Hewlett foundations.

Arts and Culture

On the Minnesota Council on Foundation's Philanthropy Potluck blog, Anne Bauers explains why it's critical for arts organizations to focus on audience-building efforts. Writes Bauers, "The [uncertain economy] challenges arts organizations to make smart and cost-effective decisions about strategies to attract and retain audiences, sustaining practices that work, and modifying or dropping those that don't. It also challenges organizations to change themselves in ways that encourage risk-taking, innovation and learning...."

Communications/Marketing

NTEN's Holly Ross discusses how the organization improved its e-mail open rates by sending mobile-friendly versions of its newsletter to subscribers, many of whom manage their e-mail on smartphones.

Fundraising

Something of a skeptic when it comes to social media as a fundraising tool, Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks looks at a recently published Nonprofit Social Network Report which found that the average cost of a Facebook "like" is $3.50, while the average value of a Facebook "like" over the twelve months following acquisition is $214.81. Among other things, writes Brooks, fundraisers should consider the following questions as they examine their organization's data to determine whether a robust social networking presence is worth the time and effort:

  • Does giving increase after a current donor becomes a Facebook follower?
  • Does donor retention improve among those who "like"?
  • Is the increase in value, if any, enough to make the $3.50 cost a good investment?
  • What types of Facebook engagement creates the best return?

Hosting April's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, the folks at the Rad Campaign share a selection of posts that explore the ins and outs of social fundraising.

Governance

Writing on the Huffington Post, Alice Korngold says that given the significant strategic and financial challenges and opportunities confronting nonprofits, nonprofit boards need to rethink the way they function. That process should start with a conversation about the organization's goals over the next several years, followed by a discussion about its revenue model. After that, the board should dive deeper into the expectations of individual board members and develop a system of accountability; determine the proper size and structure of the board; develop a plan for board composition based on board members' expertise, experience, background, and networks; and adopt best practices with respect to leadership succession.

International Affairs/Development

In a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Gerry Power of InterMedia highlights a report that looks at "how we can communicate about aid in a way that people understand and are encouraged to act upon." Key takeways from the report include:

  • Instill a deep understanding and appreciation for the objectives of international development when people are young and where values are nurtured;
  • Do not underestimate the challenge of leveraging public opinion as a means to influence policy; and
  • Facilitate more effective information and data gathering and sharing strategies for government decision makers.

Philanthropy

Writing on the Council on Foundations' blog, Michael Moody, the Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, suggests that "a theory about philanthropy as essential because of the failure of the other sectors is not so useful. What we need is a theory about philanthropy as essential to the other sectors."

On the Philanthropy 411 blog, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy executive director Rusty Stahl announces the launch of Generating Change, a new initiative that aims to "create deep discussion about the challenges and opportunities for nonprofit talent and leadership development; illuminate new ways funders can address this critical need at all levels; and increase investment in talent and leadership development at the individual, organization, movement, and sector levels."

Social Media

Last but not least, Rosetta Thurman shares a list of things every nonprofit leader should know about social media.

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

-- The Editors

The Art of Inclusion: New York Funders Mobilize to Make the Arts More Accessible

April 24, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she spoke with Douglas Bauer, executive director of the New York City-based Clark Foundation, about the foundation's efforts to build the capacity of its grantees.)

Disability_symbolsIf a person with a serious vision, hearing, or mobility impairment came to your office on business or joined your organization as an employee, you would do whatever you needed to to accommodate that person so he or she could do his or her job. Indeed, most people would be embarrassed if their employer failed to create an accessible work space for such a guest, while failure to do so for a new employee is illegal.

But what if everyone at the office gathered around the virtual water cooler on a Monday morning to share their excitement about the latest blockbuster exhibition at the local art museum or the holiday performance at the local concert hall? Would your colleague have been there on Saturday along with everyone else? Would the museum or concert hall have been equipped to accommodate a patron who is blind or hearing impaired? Would any of their foundation grant dollars have been dedicated to figuring out how to make it possible for that potential audience member to enjoy its offerings?

Gains won as a result of the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are now so familiar -- curb cuts, kneeling buses, signs in Braille -- that it is tempting to assume that issues of concern to people with disabilities have been embraced by the field of philanthropy. Unfortunately, the data tell a different story. According to the Disability Funders Network (DFN), of the $45.7 billion in foundation grants awarded in 2011, only $559 million -- less than three percent -- was directed to disability issues.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 10 - 11, 2011)

December 11, 2011

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

Arts and Culture

Back to blogging on a regular basis, the Nonprofiteer explains why "the argument for public funding [for the arts] needs to be focused...on the public benefits of art-making."

Communications/Marketing

On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz urges nonprofit communications staff and leaders to observe and learn from the media stumbles of political candidates, CEOs, and others. Good advice, as usual, from Joanne.

International Development

David Schwartz, donor partnerships director at the International Development Research Centre, reflects on lessons learned at last month's Bellagio Initiative Summit on the future of philanthropy and development. For Schwartz, the overriding takeaway was the need for various stakeholders in both international development and philanthropy to know and understand each other better. Contrary to the consensus view at the summit, however, Schwartz believes genuine collaboration between philanthropy and development exists and points to three examples: ESSENCE (Enhancing Support for Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Capacity Efforts) in the area of health research, the International Forum of Research Donors (IFORD), and the Think Tank Initiative.

Philanthropy

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz says we need to "open up" philanthropic data to help innovators think differently about how we can change the world.

In a guest post on the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Philanthropy Potluck blog, Tim Penny of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation explains how, in addition to their grantmaking activities, community foundations add value by identifying "current and emerging issues, channel[ing] resources to address their communities’ needs, and help[ing] their regions prepare for the future...."

Social Media

On the Mashable site, Zoe Fox looks at how activists around the world used social media to challenge the status quo in 2011.

Transparency

Beth Kanter recaps a San Francisco event co-hosted earlier this week by the Foundation Center and the Center for Effective Philanthropy on the topic of transparency and effectiveness. For those unable to attend, Kanter shares some takeaway tweets via Storify here.

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

-- The Editors

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