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74 posts categorized "Community Improvement/Development"

'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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[Commentary] If Nonprofits Fail

July 05, 2012

Jennifer Talansky is vice president of knowledge and communications at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a national nonprofit that provides a continuum of financing, consulting, and advocacy services to nonprofits and funders nationwide. Talansky held previous marketing positions at Credit Suisse Asset Management, Partnerships for Parks, Hearst Magazines Brand Development, and JP Morgan's Private Client Group.

NFF-logoRecently, the Nonprofit Finance Fund released the results of its 2012 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey. The response to those results has varied widely based on who is interpreting the data. While many who are well-acquainted with the long history of the sector's financial woes saw the results as confirmation of their own experiences, some saw the results and told us, "That doesn't look so bad!" This divergence of perspective about what constitutes a healthy nonprofit sector begs the question: What is an acceptable level of instability -- or even failure -- within the sector?

Nonprofit financial health can be an abstract and technical subject. Let me start with a look at something more familiar. I live in New York City, where there's a pizza joint on almost every corner. Unless she has a favorite or is a friend of the owner, most New Yorkers don't blink if one of these pizza places goes out of business. Heartless as it may seem, it's the kind of economic Darwinism that one grows used to in a city with high commercial rents and an overabundance of almost everything.

Yet, there are repercussions to this kind of churn beyond a more limited pizza choice. The revenue once generated by the shuttered pizza joint supported the owner or group of owners, their families, other dependents, and employees. Its taxes contributed to the maintenance and expansion of the city's infrastructure, including teachers, police, and trash pickup. Perhaps the owners also donated to a local charity, or gave their time to a local business association. And because their basic needs were covered, the pizza shop owners and employees probably did not need to access some of the social safety-net services that a growing number of people in the city have come to rely on. With the failure of that one pizza place, the community lost all the economic and social good that was bound up in it.

Now let's take my example a step further and shift our thinking to the nonprofit sector. Like the pizza place, nonprofits contribute to their local economies in a variety of ways, including rent, the regular purchase of supplies, job creation, and more.

But imagine that the "business" at risk of failing is a domestic violence shelter. And that we're no longer in New York City but instead in a rural community in the Midwest. And that this particular shelter is the only safe haven for women and children within fifty miles. Is it acceptable from a community perspective if the shelter only has enough money to cover the next thirty days of its expenses, as is the case for one in four of the more than forty-six hundred organizations we surveyed? Or that it's like the 50 percent of survey respondents that don't expect to have the resources to keep up with demand for their services in 2012?

One of the more powerful aspects of the survey is its reflection of the collective voice of the organizations working to provide some of the most critical social services in our communities. But we mustn't succumb to statistical numbness: the survey numbers aggregate many individual stories, and each of those stories has local -- or wider -- meaning. For instance, it sounds great that "only" 20 percent of the organizations responding to the survey had to reduce or eliminate programs in the past year. Yet among these nine hundred organizations, 63 percent were unable to keep up with demand for their services. From Georgia to Texas to Montana, this simple fact has serious repercussions for the populations and communities that depend on those organizations and services.

Indeed, consider what a leader of one of those organizations told us: "We have seen a dramatic increase in the need for our services. As available resources decrease across the country, the demand for basic needs continues to grow....Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children in the nation. It takes more than a roof over [one's] head to break the cycle of homelessness, particularly when domestic violence is involved....Our greatest challenge is securing a steady stream of revenue and funding for services and programs."

So when we look at the numbers, it may seem like a small victory that "only" 31 percent of survey respondents finished 2011 with a deficit -- which means the other 69 percent either broke even or ended the year with a surplus. And yet, among the more than twelve hundred organizations that said they ran a deficit in 2011, 39 percent were human services organizations -- precisely the kind of organizations that provide the basic safety-net services that the most vulnerable in our communities rely on -- while another 15 percent work to educate our children.

And as if that's not sobering enough, when respondents filled out the survey in late January, 34 percent of those with a deficit in 2011 were already anticipating operating in the red in 2012. Are the rest of us willing to accept the possibility that, with two (or more) consecutive years of deficits on the books, many of these organizations may have to shut their doors? Do we, as a society, have a plan to replace the critical services they provide? The answers to those questions are unclear, the stakes are high, and, unfortunately, failure is a possibility.

NFF launched its annual sector survey in January 2009, during the darkest days of the recession. The nonprofit financial picture painted in the response to that first year's survey was pretty grim. Our hope, as the economy improved (albeit slowly) in the three-plus years since then, is that we would see a similar positive shift in the nonprofit sector's finances. That has not been the case and any improvements along the way have been modest.

Let's be honest: Business as usual is not working. The business models, revenue sources, and practices that have long been mainstays of the nonprofit sector are no longer adequate to see us through the challenging times that lie ahead. We must consider other approaches that tap new sources of money, generate new cross-sectoral partnerships and ideas, and help identify new solutions to persistent social problems. Because without fundamental change -- change that involves both innovation and more risk taking -- we will see the same disappointing results year after year. And that's a prospect that none of us should be willing to tolerate.

To see the results from the most recent NFF survey and from past annual surveys, please visit http://nonprofitfinancefund.org/survey. For individual stories behind the numbers, the "In their Words" section is likely to be of special interest. And for a more localized look at a particular sub-sector or state, we encourage you to check out our new NFF Survey Analyzer, which lets you easily filter the data in multiple ways.

-- Jennifer Talansky

Weekend Link Roundup (June 9-10, 2012)

June 10, 2012

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

Communications/Marketing

What to do when people say bad things about your organization online? Before you respond in kind, take a deep breath -- "then suck it up and deal," writes Network for Good's Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing blog. "As long as the person isn't a troll, he or she deserves to feel heard, acknowledged and understood. I've found some of my biggest fans were initially critics. By taking the high road with them, I won them over and learned something from them in the process...."

Community Improvement/Development

After looking at how Kepler's, an independent bookstore in Menlo Park, California, is using crowdsourcing and other digitally enabled techniques to reinvent its business model, Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz asks: "If you run an institution that thinks it has a community purpose...what would your community do for you?"

Corporate Grantmaking

Here at PhilanTopic, the Foundation Center's Andrew Grabois shares the news that the center has begun to add CSR data to Foundation Directory Online. "Appearing as a separate tab on individual company profiles," writes Grabois, "more than fourteen hundred companies will have at least one CSR measure that users of FDO can incorporate into their prospect research."

Leadership

"If we're going to be the leaders of 'learning organizations', we need to be learners ourselves," writes GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff on the GuideStar blog. "That means sharing problems and opportunities with not only your closest allies, but also building a network of interesting people we can learn from...."

Nonprofit Management

At the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Susan Stehling of the Minnesota Council on Foundations discusses the benefits of collaboration, with a focus on what collaboration expert Karen Ray calls the "four phases of alliance" –- cooperation, coordination, collaboration, and consolidation.

Philanthropy

On NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Christine Reeves recaps a recent event at the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement dedicated to Inderjeet Parmar's new book Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power. Reeves writes that she was disappointed the panelists -- which included Parmar, Thomas Asher of the Social Science Research Council, Kathleen McCarthy of the Graduate Center of CUNY, and Patricia Rosenfield of the Rockefeller Archives Center –- did not get around to discussing "truly urgent and important questions such as:

How can philanthropy be more responsive to disparities, diseases, hunger, discrimination, poverty and other urgent issues of our time? How can philanthropy, nonprofits and marginalized communities partner together to leverage philanthropy’s limited dollars? How can we shift the philanthropic power conversation away from the power of philanthropic institutions and towards empowering historically underrepresented populations or fostering equality of opportunity? [And how] can we all better understand, attack and solve the important and urgent problems that disproportionately affect marginalized communities?...

Instead, the panelists discussed what Andrew Carnegie might have done today, a hundred years after founding the Carnegie Corporation. But, writes Reeves, the questions that went unanswered "need to be at the forefront of philanthropy, and [they] require all the time, talented people, and resources we can give them...."

Social Media

On her blog, Beth Kanter shares a very good "remix" of a Link Building by Imitation presentation that highlights the differences between good and bad content curation.

Last but not least, in a guest post at the Philanthropy 411 blog, Brad Aronson offers twenty-two tips for nonprofits interested in extending their reach and impact through 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

Why LISC? It Starts With a Cold Call

May 30, 2012

(Michele Sullivan is vice president of the Caterpillar Foundation. A version of this post appears on the LISC Web site.)

Peoria_skylineNot unlike most cities in the U.S., Peoria, Illinois, and its surrounding communities have areas where existing businesses have left and economic development has ceased, housing is crumbling, crime and unemployment are high, and public transportation is inadequate or nonexistent. Yet, the residents of these areas have the same desires as everyone else. They want a safe place to live and raise their children, a job they like, local neighborhood businesses to shop in, and a neighborhood they can be proud of.

Peoria is blessed to have a strong base of nonprofit organizations to help families in blighted neighborhoods that are struggling with the problems mentioned above. While the Caterpillar Foundation supports many of these organizations, we recently found ourselves asking, Why aren't these neighborhoods thriving?

As we thought about that question, it became evident that nonprofits and stakeholders in the community were treating symptoms, not causes, and that the greater Peoria area needed an organization to help redevelop blighted neighborhoods and address challenges such as affordable housing and high crime rates. What's more, those efforts were needed not just within Peoria proper; poverty and high unemployment extend beyond the city limits. Which got us wondering: Does such an organization exist?

Be honest. Everyone rolls their eyes when a cold call comes in. Steve Sagner, head of development for LISC, came calling in February 2011. LISC was fundraising and wanted an investment from the Caterpillar Foundation. Doubt turned to curiosity. As the conversation turned to what LISC had to offer, my team and I began to think this was just what Peoria needed. With a thirty-year track record of revitalizing communities in need, LISC would take the lead in mobilizing all available resources for job training, business development, affordable housing, child care, and more. By the end of the call, LISC agreed to do an assessment of Peoria for a possible future office.

The assessment was soon completed and the news got better. LISC agreed that Peoria fit its organizational model. And while it admitted it had not worked in a metro area which required a rural and urban strategy, it was confident it could deliver results. To be honest, we weren't sure. But the day LISC program VP Anika Goss-Foster took us to visit the Auburn Gresham neighborhood in Chicago was the day all the dots got connected. When we saw that thriving neighborhood, the 'Net center full of people on computers working on resumes and reading USA Today, the new Walgreen's, the financial office for residents, and, most importantly, the pride of local residents, we knew that making an investment in bringing LISC to Peoria was the right idea at the right time.

Caterpillar, Inc. -- and by extension the Caterpillar Foundation -- promotes the health, welfare, and economic stability of communities around the world where its employees work and live. One such community is Peoria, Illinois, our hometown and global headquarters. LISC's expertise and experience, coupled with Peoria's strong nonprofit base and support from the city and county, has convinced us that the residents of the greater Peoria area have a much brighter future to look forward to.

Has your view about cold calls changed? Ours sure has.

-- Michele Sullivan

[Infographic] Playgrounds That Build Communities

May 23, 2012

Nice infographic from the folks at KaBoom!, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating great playspaces with the participation of community members, and the Knight Foundation, which today announced that it is providing $1.5 million to the organization for the construction of nine additional playspaces in Akron, Ohio, Miami, and Detroit.

  Kaboom_infographic

The grant announcement coincides with the release of a report, KaBOOM!: Playgrounds That Build Communities (exec summary, 10 pages, PDF), that provides lessons for groups seeking to engage volunteers in community change efforts. Based on a Public/Private Ventures evaluation of Knight-funded KaBoom! projects in five states and the District of Columbia, the report found that:

  • The majority of KaBoom! project planning committee members believed they had developed or improved in a variety of skills related to organizing, leading, and executing large-scale change efforts.
  • Most of the respondents to the survey reported positive changes across a variety of skills, abilities, and attitudes related to their community.
  • All the community partners showed increases in their organizing and leadership skills, and many went on to apply these skills to other efforts post-playground build.
  • Much of the effort involved in building a KaBoom! playspace is mutually reinforcing: Planning committee members and community partners become more skilled and confident through the effort, which enables the participating organization to employ participants' skills in other and more ambitious tasks.
  • After participating in a KaBOOM! project, planning committee members expressed a greater sense of hopefulness that they can improve their communities by working with others.

To download the full report (58 pages, PDF), click here.

 

The L.A. Riots, Twenty Years Later: A PubHub Reading List

May 05, 2012

Last Sunday, April 29, was the twentieth anniversary of the start of what became known as the Los Angeles Riots -- four days of civil unrest and violence sparked by the acquittal of white LAPD officers who had been captured on video in March 1991 brutally beating Rodney King after a high-speed car chase through the San Fernando Valley. In the days that followed the verdict, Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, and a Guatemalan immigrant were brutally beaten by a mob in the South Central neighborhood, home to many of the city's low-income African Americans; buildings were torched; stores were looted; and more than fifty people lost their lives. The prevailing view at the time, as captured by New York Times reporter Don Terry, was that "the acquittal...was only a spark put to a tinderbox of anger constructed from years of deep poverty, governmental neglect, racism, charges of police abuse and high unemployment."

Twenty years later, how much has -- and has not -- changed?

Rand_reparableharmAccording to Reparable Harm: Assessing and Addressing Disparities Faced by Boys and Men of Color in California (126 pages, PDF), a report from the RAND Corporation, African-American and Latino men and boys continue to be negatively affected by structural racism and a variety of socioeconomic, health, and education disparities. Young African-American and Latino boys are more than three times as likely, for example, to live in poverty as their white counterparts; almost seven and more than three times as likely to have HIV/AIDS; more than five and almost three times as likely to end up in prison; more than sixteen and five times as likely to be a victim of homicide; and nearly twice and almost seven times as likely to drop out of high school. Funded by the California Endowment, the report calls for a range of targeted interventions, including more effective foster care and prisoner-reentry policies; community-based zoning laws that address the social determinants of health; and mentoring and school-based programs for children traumatized by violence. The California Endowment itself has funded the National League of Cities Institute's Gang Prevention Network and the Healthy Returns Initiative.

Aecf_puenteOne nonprofit that has worked with disadvantaged and at-risk youth in Los Angeles since before the riots is the PUENTE (People United to Enrich the Neighborhood Through Education) Learning Center, which offers preschool, kindergarten, tutorial, and college preparation programs as well as job and computer skills training, English as a second language, and literacy programs for adults. Of, By, and For the Community: The Story of PUENTE Learning Center (21 pages, PDF), a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, describes how the family-focused organization -- which had a thriving center in the Boyle Heights neighborhood -- was offered the site of a burned-out ARCO station by the ARCO Foundation in the wake of the riots. "The embers were still warm, and the total damage had not been tallied," recalled former ARCO Foundation president Russell Sakaguchi. "We wanted somebody to provide hope and relief to that very visible corner. We wanted an organization that wasn't going to flounder, that was sensitive to the shock in that community [and] had faith in its ability to deliver."

Starting with two trailers, PUENTE eventually built a state-of-the-art facility with ten classrooms serving a thousand students of all ages, one-third of whom are African-American and two-thirds Latino. (As of 2005, the population of South Central was 45 percent African-American, 47 percent Latino.) One of the organization's keys to success, the report notes, is its sharp focus on its educational mission, which enables it to address issues even more fundamental than racial disparities or cultural differences. "Our mission," says PUENTE vice president Luis Marquez, "is not about any particular ethnic group; it's about people. It goes way beyond ethnicity and race. It's about humanity."

Csii_alltogethernowAmong other things, the riots highlighted the serious racial/ethnic tensions that existed between long-established African-American communities in Los Angeles and the more recently arrived Korean and Latino communities. The influx of immigrants into historically African-American neighborhoods has continued in the two decades since, and racial/ethnic tensions have become more pronounced as unemployment rates have climbed. All Together Now? African Americans, Immigrants, and California's Future (66 pages; 7.15MB; PDF), a report from the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, examines the potential of inter-ethnic alliances to address tensions created by demographic and economic changes. But bringing the various communities together first requires a forward-looking agenda. To that end, the report notes,

  • A number of community-based organizations have developed new mechanisms to both manage tensions and build toward a common ground. Leadership development is key, but the first step is creating the space for new and honest dialogue about what is shared and what is different.
  • Seemingly specific issues can be effectively connected to both populations. The criminalization of black (and Latino) youth has its parallel in the excessive enforcement of a broken immigration system; the racial profiling embodied in Arizona's 2010 immigration law echoes an experience all too familiar to African Americans. If [minority groups] pursue economic opportunity and fair treatment for all residents, the [focus on] difference[s] can give way to a concert of common interest.
  • A common and unifying agenda should be based on a vision of everyday social justice. "Everyday" means three things: address[ing] daily needs around education, the economy, and the social and physical environment; ensur[ing] that dialogues go beyond a more comfortable middle-class and multi-ethnic elite and reach grassroots participants; and realiz[ing] that this will require effort every day and over the long haul.

Funded by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, James Irvine Foundation, and John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the report calls for an approach which recognizes that "African Americans have laid the groundwork for America's commitment to equality and fairness" and "that immigrant rights will be insecure as long as African Americans remain vulnerable to racial profiling and economic despair."

Ncrp_strengtheningAll three reports suggest that twenty years after the L.A. riots and almost fifty years after the Watts riots, the City of Los Angeles, the state of California, and the nation still have a long way to go in addressing the racial and socioeconomic disparities that made South Central such a tinderbox on the eve of the Rodney King verdict. At the same time, all three reports suggest that we have only begun to tap the potential of civic engagement, advocacy, and community organizing efforts to bring communities together and advance the cause of social justice. And, of course, funders have a role to play here. Funded by the California Endowment and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the NCRP report Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles notes that for every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement efforts of fifteen Los Angeles County nonprofits between 2004 and 2008, $91 in benefits were generated for marginalized communities.

To learn more about the factors contributing to enduring socioeconomic, health, and education disparities in Los Angeles (and across the country), the demographic shifts that sometimes exacerbate racial/ethnic tensions, and efforts to address these and other problems, see also:

Why Place & Race Matter
PolicyLink; California Endowment

State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation Brookings Institution

Critical Condition: Examining the Scope of Medical Services in South Los Angeles
California Endowment

Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America's Older Industrial Cities
Brookings Institution

Shared Prosperity, Stronger Regions: An Agenda for Rebuilding America's Older Core Cities
PolicyLink

What do you think? Have we made as much progress, as a country, as we should have in the twenty years since the L.A. riots? And if not, what is holding us back? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Kyoko Uchida

This Week in PubHub: Race, Place, and the Wealth Gap

February 10, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that addressed the topic of protecting the rights of people with disabilities.)

Research shows that racial/ethnic disparities in a variety of areas, including wealth, health, and educational attainment, have worsened over the past two decades. This week in PubHub, we highlight four reports that examine the extent of these disparities, as well as how they are linked and reinforce one another.

According to the Pew Research Center report Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics (39 pages, PDF), the median net worth of white households in 2009 was twenty times that of African-American households and eighteen times that of Latino households -- a wealth gap, in both cases, nearly double what it was in 1984, thanks in part to the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble and the recession that followed. Indeed, since 2005 Latinos and African Americans -- many of whom live in states characterized by housing market volatility and/or who derive more than half of their net worth from home equity -- saw their median household wealth fall by 66 percent and 53 percent, respectively, compared to only 16 percent among whites.

What factors other than the housing boom and bust are driving disparities in household wealth and asset accumulation? The Urban Institute report Private Transfers, Race, and Wealth (36 pages, PDF) examines the role of financial support from extended family members and friends, large gifts, and inheritances in asset accumulation and finds that African Americans and Latinos are much less likely to receive large gifts and inheritances than whites -- a fact that contributes significantly to racial and ethnic wealth gaps. Funded by the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations, the report also found that large gifts and inheritances are a bigger factor in wealth accumulation among African Americans than among whites or Latinos, and that the disparity in private transfers of wealth accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the black-white wealth gap.

Does the wealth gap influence racial/ethnic disparities in child development, health, and economic mobility? And if so, how? According to Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children (16 pages, PDF), a report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development based on 2007 data, 32 percent of white households with young children were income-poor while 14.2 percent had no assets, compared to 69 percent of Latino and 71 percent of African-American households that were income-poor and 40 percent (for both groups) that had no assets. Lacking the financial resources to pay for high-quality early childhood education or college tuition, children in income- and asset-poor households face a future of limited economic opportunity, the report argues. Indeed, racial/ethnic disparities in child outcomes related to health status and skills development appear as early as the age of 2. The report also notes that while there is an inverse correlation between a mother's educational attainment, economic insecurity, and child outcomes, the wealth gap between households headed by white and African-American mothers with bachelor's degrees increased fivefold between 1994 and 2007. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research, and the National Institutes of Health, the report calls for helping economically vulnerable households of color build wealth and accumulate assets as a way to improve child well-being.

Would narrowing the wealth gap in and of itself eliminate disparities in health status and child outcomes? Any effort to mitigate the former must first address the links between location, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status as well as the physiological effects of bias and discrimination, Why Place & Race Matter (113 pages, PDF), a report from the California Endowment and PolicyLink, argues. According to the report, race/ethnicity is a greater determinant of health status than income, while structural racism continues to shape the economic, social, and physical environments of low-income communities of color -- which, in turn, affects the health status of residents of those communities. Among other things, the report argues that strategies for building healthy, thriving, sustainable communities must be race-conscious and focus on addressing both community conditions and individual interventions simultaneously.

To mitigate racial/ethnic wealth gaps, these reports suggest, policy makers and funders first need to address disparities in health, environmental justice, educational achievement, neighborhood safety, and other areas. Do you agree? And, if so, what strategies are working and deserve more attention and support? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than two hundred and sixty reports on topics related to minorities.

-- Kyoko Uchida

This Week in PubHub: Funding for Social Justice

January 12, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examined specific grantmaking strategies and practices designed to maximize fundamental long-term social impact.)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, this week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of the rights of marginalized populations.

Foundation support is essential if advocacy and community organizing efforts to improve the lives of marginalized populations are to succeed, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues. Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in the Gulf/Midsouth Region (88 pages, PDF) found that between 2005 and 2009 twenty organizations in the Gulf/Midsouth region secured more than $4.7 billion -- $114 for every dollar invested -- in benefits for marginalized communities, trained more than 31,000 local residents in civic engagement techniques, and achieved significant policy changes in the areas of environmental justice and LGBTQ and immigrant rights, with foundations providing 78 percent of the funding for said activities. Funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the report urges grantmakers to invest more in building the region's advocacy and community organizing infrastructure, make flexible investments in groups working in rural areas, and support organizations with people of color in leadership positions.

Of course, foundations that fund social justice activities saw their endowments take a hit during the post-Lehman financial crisis, as described in the Foundation Center report Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy (35 pages, PDF). While the report found that giving for social justice as a percentage of total giving by foundations in the sample varied only slightly between 2005 and 2009, in 2009 it fell below 2007 levels, with small foundations experiencing the sharpest declines in the value of their assets. Funded by the Cricket Island, Edward W. Hazen, and Ford foundations in partnership with NCRP, the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, the report projects that unless the field sees five years of above-average investment returns, social justice grantmaking in 2015 will remain below 2008 levels.

The good news, according to Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), is that giving within and on behalf of communities of color is increasing. Commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the report found that, given the disproportionate need in communities of color, those communities typically have received a too-small percentage of mainstream philanthropic dollars -- a gap that was exacerbated by the Great Recession and cuts in public-sector funding. In response, the report argues, donors of color and others have begun to direct more resources to communities of color, with an eye to building advocacy skills in those communities and empowering local leaders and residents to lead short- and long-term change efforts. The report calls on mainstream funders to advance this kind of identity-based philanthropy by providing seed funding for grassroots efforts and forging stronger connections with local philanthropic leaders and other change agents.

What about trends in social justice work abroad? Mobilising for Social Justice: Migrant Rights Centre Ireland's Community Work Model (50 pages, PDF), a report from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland that was funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, offers case studies of MRCI's "community work practice" model on behalf of migrant workers' rights -- work that, among other things, encourages marginalized migrant groups to take part in decision-making structures through participation in discussion/action groups, empowers them through consciousness-raising and skills-building activities, and promotes advocacy and collective action.

What are your thoughts about the future of funding for social justice philanthropy? Are you aware of any new trends or developments that could energize the field or take it to the next level? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.

And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on the topic of civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Weekend Link Roundup (November 26 - 27, 2011)

November 27, 2011

Aurora-borealis-NWTOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Community Improvement/Development

On the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga issues a call to support community-based organizations, which, he says, "are just too good and too important to fail."

On the Knight Blog, Philadelphia program manager Donna Frisby-Greenwood announces the beta launch of Change By Us, a platform for Philly residents who want to share ideas, join or create projects, build teams, and find resources to advance their projects.

Economy

Did you find yourself fumbling for words when the dinner-table discussion turned to income inequality and the Occupy Wall Street movement this weekend? The next time that happens, you might want to mention this finding about the widening income gap, courtesy of the Weakonomist:

In 1967, the lowest fifth (called a quintile) of income earners earned 9 percent of what the top quintile earned. In 2010 that number was 6.5 percent. That means the gap between the top and bottom has widened.

But there's a problem with statistics like that. It's a measure of household income. Household income is the total income of anyone living at a particular address. Since 1967, the total number of households in the US has grown 95 percent, while the population has only grown 56 percent. How can that happen? When a household splits in half, you get two households. Say mom and dad get divorced and each make $30k a year. You go from having one household that makes $60k to two that make $30k. How does this get reflected in the data? It skews the low-income numbers down. In the lowest quintile household, on average, there are zero income earners. In the top, of course, there are two. If more households had two income earners, you'd see less of the widening gap....

International Affairs/Development

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green explain why the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness created by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2005 to manage development assistance has been disrupted "beyond repair" by the financial crisis.

Leadership

GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff weighs in on organizational leadership, which happened to be the subject of Ashoka CEO and founder Bill Drayton's remarks upon accepting the John W. Gardner Leadership Award and is discussed at length in Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs' book Leadership Agility. During his remarks, Drayton urged nonprofits to trade in their hierarchical structures, which, he said, don't work anymore because they "are no longer able to respond quickly or sufficiently enough," for a team approach, while Joiner and Josephs argue that today's organizations need to "nimbly anticipate and respond to rapidly changing conditions," and that the team approach is one way to do that. "There's a lot to think about here," writes Ottenhoff. "In some ways, these observations seem to be stating the obvious. But if [it's] so simple, why aren’t we doing it?"

Public Policy

On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Niki Jagpal looks at at a new study from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life which found that there has been a "dramatic increase in the size and influence of the 'religious lobby.'" These findings, Jagpal writes, "are important for any foundation concerned with advancing our democracy or engaging in policy."

Regulation/Oversight

In and op-ed for the New York Times, Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff looks at the favorable tax treatment accorded donor-advised funds, many of which are affiliated with and managed by large financial institutions like Fidelity, Schwab, and Goldman Sachs, and calls on Congress to enact rules "that require donor-advised funds to distribute all of their assets to real public charities within seven years of their contribution."

Social Media

To kick off the holiday season, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz highlights a few campaigns that embrace a sense of fun, including a #GoodSpotting sweepstakes organized by the Case Foundation that invites Twitter users to share pictures of an individual or organization doing good using the hashtag #GoodSpotting; participants who enter the contest on the foundation's Facebook page can win up to $500 in holiday spending cash -- and up to $5,000 for the charity of their choice.

Guest blogging at Beth's Blog, Mary Trudel and Rory MacPherson of Trudel | MacPherson Arts Consulting share findings from a new national study that looked at social media use by arts organizations. Among other things, the study, How Strong Is Your Social Net?, found that 70 percent of the 1,600 arts groups surveyed feel that social media is delivering on its promise and hype.

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

-- Regina Mahone

Funding for Capacity Building: 5Qs for Karen Brown, Fairfield County Community Foundation

November 14, 2011

(Karen Brown is vice president of programs at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, where she is responsible for overseeing grantmaking and providing philanthropic advisory services to donor-advised fundholders. Laura Cronin, a regular contributor to PhilanTopic, interviewed Brown recently.)

Karen_Brown Philanthropy News Digest: Nonprofit executives have been managing against a backdrop of economic turmoil for three years years now. What have the most successful Fairfield County groups been doing to keep it together during these difficult times?

Karen Brown: One key element of navigating this economic climate is transparency. Funders need information from grantees in order to make the case internally for all the grants in their portfolio. One exemplary executive director in our area has done something very simple and smart along these lines. After each of his board meetings, he sends a synopsis to us and to his other funders. It doesn't include every single detail of the meeting, but it gives a full picture of what transpired, and when I read it I feel as if I was there. It keeps me in the loop, and it's probably a document he needs to create anyway, so it's efficient. It's just an example of how communicating with funders and donors can be managed in a cost-effective way that gives them the information they need to make informed decisions.

PND: While great management is no substitute for a robust economy and a healthy fundraising environment, what kind of strategies should nonprofits pursue to ensure that they have the capacity to manage through tough times?

KB: We've been urging grantees to continue to invest in staff and professional development and not to look at those kinds of investments as frills. Employee morale and team building are crucial in a difficult economic climate. And funders need to consider supporting these programs in order to help organizations hold the line on their budgets without sacrificing effectiveness.

Other groups we fund are asking for support for short-term strategic planning -- looking two years out instead of the traditional five. This gives them something to focus on and a set of near-term goals that can keep them on track.

Funders can also be helpful by providing support for organizational assessments. We've assisted several grantees in hiring outside experts to come in and take a thorough look at all aspects of their operation, from leadership to fundraising to their business systems. That kind of thorough organizational assessment can help a grantee focus more attention on its key strengths and identify areas in need of improvement. The key is finding the right third-party help.

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5 Questions for...Carol Coletta, President, ArtPlace

October 29, 2011

Carol_colettaLaunched last month, ArtPlace is a public-private collaboration designed to drive revitalization in cities and towns by putting the arts at the center of economic development. During its inaugural funding round, ArtPlace awarded more than $11 million to thirty-four community-based projects across the country working to integrate artists and arts organizations into local transportation, housing, community development, and job creation efforts. Prior to joining ArtPlace, Carol Coletta served for six years as president and CEO of Chicago-based CEOs for Cities, a national network of "urban leaders catalyzing a movement to advance the next generation of great American cities." While there, Coletta and her team worked to convince urban leaders of the importance of "quality of place" and the attraction and retention of talent. When tapped to help establish ArtPlace, Coletta said she thought it was an opportunity "to work directly on quality of place, which I knew to be such a key element of what makes communities successful."

Philanthropy News Digest: ArtPlace has been described as an initiative to accelerate “creative placemaking” in the United States. What is creative placemaking, and why is it important?

Carol Coletta: That's a good question. It has been used as a very broad umbrella to describe many things, but it all boils down to this: a portfolio of strategies with art and culture at the heart aimed at changing the trajectory of community.

For the past six years I've been running an organization called CEOs for Cities, and prior to that I ran the Mayors' Institute on City Design, an NEA program. While I was at CEOs for Cities, we came to the point where we understood that much of what makes cities successful is talent. The quality of place becomes really essential to the attraction and retention of people, and that’s the most important thing you can do for community. So, I think what makes creative placemaking and ArtPlace so important is that it's not an add-on. It's not a nice to-do. It really becomes an essential part of a community's economic success.

PND: The ArtPlace approach is based on the idea that the ability to attract and retain talent depends, as you say, on quality of place, and that the best proxy for that is "vibrancy." How do you plan to measure the vibrancy of a place?

CC: By examining the changes that take place in the people, the activities, and the value created in a community. We're actually developing a new set of vibrancy indicators -- including a transparent analysis of data collected by others on a regular basis -- that can be updated inexpensively and used by anyone. We expect to make it available through our Web site by the second quarter of 2012.

PND: The idea of a creative class serving as an engine of economic growth and prosperity figures prominently in the work of Richard Florida and others. But the context for their work is almost always urban. Is ArtPlace doing anything to promote the concept of creative placemaking in suburban and rural areas?

CC: Absolutely, because we think it has the same impact there. Let me just say as an aside that the creative class is a very broad term. It defines a very broad group of people, essentially those with college degrees, but I think in many ways the more useful measure is that of human capital. To your point, however, we are interested in what happens in rural and certainly suburban communities. One of the greatest challenges in rural communities is how they retain people. How do you make those places more appealing to keep people there? We are seeing some exciting reinventions happening in rural places, including the Wormfarm Institute in Sauk County, Wisconsin, the Vollis Simplson Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina, and the Art and Agriculture project in Yolo County, California. And, while we still have some testing to do, we believe our vibrancy indicators will work in different parts of the country.

PND: Given that artists, designers, and arts organizations are engaged in creative activity by definition, what are you and your colleagues looking for as you review applications from potential grant recipients?

CC: In many ways we're looking for places where there are real partnerships happening -- not just endorsements or letters of support, but real partnership among artists and other organizations. So when you look at the outcomes, you can imagine one plus one equaling three. Let me give you an example. I think the work we funded in St. Paul, Minnesota, for a project called Irrigate represents a solid partnership of the City of St. Paul, Springboard for the Arts, and the Local Initiative Support Corporation. Since a new light rail corridor is being developed in the same area, you could even include the federal government and the Minnesota Department of Transportation in that partnership. What's interesting is that any one of these organizations could have done their work and it probably would have turned out well, but the fact that they've formed a strategic alliance makes the potential of the work much stronger. That's part of what we'll look at, whether there’s real collaboration and the opportunity to leverage the impact of the work.

We are also looking for work we believe has the opportunity to change the trajectory of the community and generate vibrancy. Not all artistic work is intended to do that. It doesn't make that work less worthy or less valuable. We're just not in a position to fund everything, so we've chosen to fund for this purpose to see if we can make a difference. Frankly, we believe that if we can demonstrate that investing in the arts in this way actually does contribute to vibrancy and to changing the trajectory of a place, that will result in a whole lot more money for arts and culture.

PND: Is it your hope that ArtPlace becomes a permanent feature of the arts landscape in America?

CC: What I hope is that funding for these kinds of initiatives becomes a permanent feature in the landscape of civic decision making, whether that involves a city or county government, a metropolitan planning organization or the federal government, a community foundation, or individual philanthropists. I will consider ArtPlace a success if we are able to influence the field in such a way that people begin to act on the belief that creative placemaking matters to the success of communities.

-- Regina Mahone

This Week in PubHub: Affordable Housing

October 27, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that explore the role played by the arts and culture in our civic life, community economic development, and sense of place.)

The collapse of the housing bubble and the ensuing recession have affected renters as well as homeowners, with the supply of affordable housing shrinking even as incomes have fallen. This week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine the impact of the Great Recession on rental housing and what philanthropic institutions are doing to address the crisis.

According to Rental Market Stresses: Impacts of the Great Recession on Affordability and Multifamily Lending (69 pages, PDF), a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the proportion of renters paying more than 30 percent of their incomes to cover "gross" rent (rent plus tenant-paid utilities) increased from 41.2 percent in 2001 to 48.7 percent in 2009, mostly due to falling real incomes and rising rents and energy costs. Moreover, as of 2009 only sixty-four affordable rental units were available per hundred low-income renters. And making matters worse, loan delinquencies among multi-family rental property owners also were up. Funded by the Annie E. Casey, FordMacArthur, Kresge, Rockefeller, and Surdna foundations, the report notes that a major risk for financially stressed renters is deteriorating housing quality due to lack of maintenance and investment.

In New York City, the share of multi-family properties in physical and/or financial distress increased from 3.3 percent in late 2009 to 5.5 percent in early 2011, a report from the University Neighborhood Housing Program finds. Based on UNHP's Building Indicator Project database, New York City's Multifamily Housing in Distress (39 pages, PDF) examines demographic trends and levels of distress among multi-family properties in the Bronx as measured (in part) by the disconnect between sales prices and net operating income. Funded by the Charles H. Revson Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners, the report calls for policy reforms to include such data in evaluations of loan quality and in banks' responses to distressed properties in their portfolios.

What is philanthropy's role in addressing the affordable housing issue? Based on interviews with foundation leaders, The Potential for Public-Private Partnerships: Philanthropic Leaders Considering Housing as a Platform (49 pages, PDF), a report from the What Works Collaborative (whose partners include the Brookings Institution, the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, the Urban Institute, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University), found little consensus on theoretical models for and approaches to supporting housing as a platform for programs and services designed to improve quality of life. Funders also expressed concerns about forming public-private partnerships with government agencies, citing the need to maintain their independence and grantmaking priorities, and emphasized the potential of targeted collaborations. A case study of a partnership to develop a ten-year community plan to end homelessness in the Minneapolis area highlights a number of accomplishments, including doubled prevention efforts, a street outreach system in collaboration with the local police department, and new housing opportunities for low-income families, as well as lessons learned.

What about supporting affordable homeownership through shared equity programs? Balancing Affordability and Opportunity: An Evaluation of Affordable Homeownership Programs With Long-Term Affordability Controls (41 pages, PDF), a report from the Urban Institute and NCB Capital Impact, examined the outcomes of seven programs that enable low-income families to purchase homes at below-market prices with resale restrictions and found that they succeeded in helping families accumulate assets while also creating a sustainable supply of affordable housing. The report also found that very few "shared equity" homeowners in the programs ended up being foreclosed on and that a large majority were still homeowners five years later, with two-thirds of those who resold their homes moving into owner-occupied market-rate housing. Funded by the Ford and Surdna foundations, the report suggests that shared equity programs could play an important role in advancing sustainable homeownership for lower-income families.

What are your thoughts on the philanthropic and policy responses to the shortage of affordable housing in the U.S.? Are you aware of any programs or successful public-private partnerships that have worked to boost the supply of affordable housing, especially for low- to moderate-income home buyers? Feel free to share your comments below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than seven hundred reports about community improvement/development and nearly a hundred specifically related to affordable housing.

-- Kyoko Uchida

[Video] Funder Collaboratives: A Conversation With Terry Mazany, President/CEO, Chicago Community Trust

October 07, 2011

(Susan Herr, a longtime advocate for social change, founded PhilanthroMedia, Inc. in 2007 to "celebrate the end of philanthropy as usual and advance the perspectives of those leading the charge." This is the third of four interviews she conducted for PhilanTopic on the topic of funder collaboration. Click here to view the first, with Patricia Swann, a senior program officer at the New York Community Trust, and here for Susan's conversation with Tade Aina, who directs the Higher Education and Libraries program at the Carnegie Corporation of New York.)

Terry Mazany is that rare breed of program officer who rises through the ranks of an organization all the way to the corner office. After a distinguished career as a public school administrator, Mazany joined the trust as a program officer in its Education Initiative, where he led the design and implementation of a $50 million, five-year commitment to improve Chicago schools. He later served as the trust's chief operating officer, before being appointed, in 2004, as the fifth chief executive in the trust's history.

He's also the kind of foundation president who relishes a challenge -- which is why Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley selected him in November 2010 to serve as interim chief of Chicago Public Schools, a district with 400,000 students, more than 650 schools, and a budget of $6 billion -- even as he remained in his "day" job at the trust.

When I spoke with Mazany in September about the benefits and challenges of funder collaboratives, he chose to focus on what he called the "disposition to collaborate." Foundations that have the most success, he noted with a wry grin, tend to be mission-driven and "humble."

For foundations that have strategic reasons for standing out from the crowd, that can be a challenge. This is especially true for public charities and community foundations, which have to both raise funds and disperse them. Having spent five years as managing director at the Community Foundations of America, I agree with Manzany's assessment that a community foundation's dual mandate does not preclude it from participating in collaborative efforts. Community foundations around the country are, in fact, widely recognized for their ability to serve as local and regional convenors.

As Mazany says in the video below, the best community foundations recognize that "collaboration gives us a greater stature and standing in communities. Donors, in particular, see that it's not all about us but that it is about...the larger interests of the community." I couldn't agree more.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

 

(Running time: 3 minutes, 34 seconds)

In a tough economy marked by volatile markets and a competitive fundraising environment, nonprofits must wrestle with many of the same issues. Where do their own needs end and those of the community or cause begin? Is collaboration the secret to going farther, or are there times when can going it alone makes more sense? Maybe the answer depends on the situation. Still, as Mazany makes clear, collaboration can be an important and valuable strategy for those who are able to "check their egos at the door."

-- Susan Herr

Poverty and the Marketization of Philanthropy

September 23, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the Jumo/GOOD merger, philanthropy, and social enterprise.)

End-wall-st-bull-collapsed-slide "Philanthropy is distorting markets for the poor!" exclaimed a prominent NGO leader at one of the many breakfasts held around Manhattan last week in connection with the Clinton Global Initiative. It was a statement intended to provoke, and it swirled around the table in a cloud of other market-friendly phrases ("impact investing," "social investment," "base of the pyramid," "shared value"). Finally someone said, "It's really confusing when everyone who makes grants, subsidized loans, or equity investments describes themselves as an investor." Which made me reflect on just how far the marketization of philanthropy has progressed. I mean, some days it seems like the last thing anybody wants to admit to being is a grantmaker!

To be fair, the intent of the provocation was to underscore the point that, today, there is a far wider range of market-based solutions available to address the needs of the poor than many of us might imagine. Yet beneath this whole discussion is an almost Rousseau-like view of "the poor" that informed an earlier generation of anti-poverty efforts. Then, foundations and governments poured significant amounts of money into "community development" abroad and "community building" at home while the kind of idealized communities they sought to promote were being buffeted by the politics of race, civil strife, immigration and, yes, markets, in the form of globalization.

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This Week in PubHub: Community Information Ecosystems

August 20, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examine the recent past and future prospects of journalism and the news media.)

The twentieth-century mass media model is being replaced, we're told, by a "new news ecosystem" in which the consumer of news increasignly is also a producer of news content. But for all its openness and egalitarian qualities, questions remain as to how well this ecosystem functions as a local community information system, whether people trust the information it delivers, and what investments are needed to make it better? This week in PubHub, we're highlighting four reports that examine how well the rapidly evolving news business is serving local communities.

The Chicago Community Trust report Linking Audiences to News: A Network Analysis of Chicago Websites (54 pages, PDF) analyzes the structure of the local news ecosystem -- more than four hundred Web sites -- in the Chicagoland area by mapping the way these sites are connected to one another via hyperlinks. Among other things, the report found that nearly 80 percent of the sites are rarely linked to from other sites and therefore unlikely to be found by consumers of local news and information, while more than 40 percent do not link out to other sites. Sites that are widely linked to include the region's mass transit systems, museums, and sources of original reporting such as chicagotribune.com and online-only publications like gapersblock.com and chicagoist.com. The report also found that whereas online-only sites are most likely to link to other sites, traditional media sites tend not to, while specific content-oriented sites tend to share links among themselves but are rarely linked to from sites outside those fields. Funded by CCT, the Knight Foundation, and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the report calls for encouraging more linking among locally focused sites as a way of creating and encouraging a better-informed community.

So how does the public view community information ecosystems, what are the factors that shape those views, and how do those views in turn influence civic life? Those are some of the questions raised in How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems (13 pages, PDF), a report from the Monitor Institute, the Knight Foundation, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Based on surveys conducted in Philadelphia, Macon, Georgia, and San Jose, California, the report found that those who believe local government does a good job of sharing information are more likely to be satisfied with its performance, as well as the performance of other local institutions, the overall community, and the local information ecosystem (including the local media, libraries, public forums, and broadband connectivity). The report also found that confidence in local government transparency and increased access to local news and information are linked to a stronger sense of civic empowerment and active community engagement.

The Knight Foundation's Community Information Toolkit: Building Stronger Communities Through Information Exchange (53 pages, PDF), another product of the foundation's collaboration with the Monitor Institute, offers guidance and resources for community leaders interested in leveraging the power of information for community improvement, including a template for identifying local issues and how information affects them, data collection and assessment checklists, a scorecard for visualizing information ecosystem findings, and an action plan template.

One important element in a robust community information ecosystem is a high-quality online hub, a "well-publicized portal that points to the full array of local information resources," a 2009 report from the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy argues. Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action (34 pages, PDF), a 2011 report from the Aspen Institute and the Knight Foundation, describes what such a hub might look like, including core elements such as local government information, community news and commentary, and links to community resources. The report calls on government at all levels to facilitate access to relevant data, seed money, and infrastructure; on local libraries, media outlets, and colleges and universities to help develop content, technologies, and information resources; and on businesses, foundations, and venture capitalists to provide financing and in-kind support.

At the moment, the community information field is dominated by the Knight Foundation, which has invested considerable resources in examining the state of community information networks and their potential for boosting civic engagement. Are you aware of or involved in an interesting community information project? Do you think the "new news ecosystem" is living up to its potential to foster community improvement through increased civic participation? And if it's not, what can foundations do to help build a new news ecosystem that works for all Americans? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can check out new featured reports every week and browse more than a hundred and fifty reports that address topics related to journalism and media.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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