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76 posts categorized "Civil Society"

Weekend Link Roundup (April 12-13, 2014)

April 13, 2014

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

Civil Society

Writing in The Week, journalist Matt Bruenig takes a closer look at the one part of the charity versus social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Daniel Stid considers the implications of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission for the foundation's developing plans for grantmaking in the democracy area.

Data

"Big Data is suddenly everywhere," write New York University professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times. "But precisely because of its newfound popularity and growing use, we need to be levelheaded about what [it] can — and can't — do." Before we embrace big data as the answer to all our problems, they add, keep in mind that big data:

  • is very good at detecting correlations but never tells us which correlations are meaningful;
  • often works well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement;
  • can be gamed;
  • often generates results that are less robust under further scrutiny than initially thought;
  • is subject to what might be called the "echo-chamber effect";
  • can amplify errors of correlation;
  • is prone to giving scientific-sounding solutions to hopelessly imprecise questions; and
  • excels when applied to things that are common but often falls short when applied to things that are less common.

Environment

As part of Goldman Sachs' Focus On series, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, makes the business case for investing in nature (video; running time: 3:08).

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the the summary of its new report on climate impacts a few weeks ago, the word "transform" has been flying around in climate circles, writes Megan Rowling on the Thomson Reuters Foundation site. And if you listen closely to those conversations, adds Rowling, "the message is clear: the world has not yet changed radically enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, nor even to protect itself from the more extreme weather, gradual climate shifts and sea-level rise that are already hitting us. Instead we"ve been fiddling with adaptation while the planet burns."

Nonprofits

Using the results of the Nonprofit Finance Fund's sixth annual State of the Nonprofit Sector survey, Nell Edgington looks at the financial sustainability crisis in the nonprofit sector and argues that it stems "in large part from a lack of understanding among funders of the true costs of social change work."

Philanthropy

A nice new infographic from the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that volunteering continues to be an important part of the American identity.

Harold Simon, executive director, and Miriam Axel-Lute, associate director/editor ofShelterforce, the journal of affordable housing and community building, chat with Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, about the "important institutional conversations" taking place at Ford about how the foundation does its work and the extent to which it is "prepared to be disruptive in [its] own internal structures and practice to actually work in a way that reinforces the way work actually happens on the ground."

Ruminating on a recent article by Demos senior fellow Michael Edwards that examined the role of money in social change work, NPQ's Rick Cohen shares a not altogether flattering assessment of NGOs and their funders. "Admirable for his social justice ideals, Edwards' ideas go against the flow of today's NGOs and funders," writes Cohen.

Despite their rhetoric of social justice, they are devoted to business principles embedded in a structure of 'social enterprise.' Funders are increasingly top-down despite their language of bottom-up, increasingly refusing unsolicited proposals, and increasingly functioning like operating rather than grantmaking foundations. The experiments promoted by the nation's top foundations, like social impact bonds, increasingly aim to generate wealth for private investors (such as Goldman Sachs) at the expense of resources generated and paid by government. The idea of shared decision-making may be espoused by some grantmakers, but it is an anomaly in foundation practice, especially among those new foundations whose tiny boards of family members reflect the lack of democracy in modern philanthropy....

Women

And on the Glasspockets blog, Yinebon Iniya, manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center, reports on a recent roundtable discussion organized by Data 2X, a partnership between the United Nations Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that aims "to advance gender equality and women's empowerment and further global economic and social gains through improved data collection and analysis...."

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

To Create Change in America, Think Local

January 17, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanWe live in an age defined by profound change: New technology has revolutionized how we communicate and get our work done. The Great Recession has left many of us searching for jobs or struggling to gain skills that make us employable in the "new" economy. Shifting demographics offer promise and challenges as our neighborhoods transition. Federal and state funding cuts have left services previously taken for granted on shaky ground.

These changes have particularly affected the U.S. nonprofit sector, especially that portion focused on promoting equitable development, effective and transparent government, and smart and fair criminal justice policies. As anyone who works with these groups knows, nonprofits have been devastated by reductions in public and philanthropic funding.

At a time of rapid change in both the public and private sectors -- some of it driven by federal budget realities and some by how organizations are evolving to meet the demands of new technology and public expectations -- the cuts have limited nonprofits' ability to shape policy, provide services, and engage in collaborative partnerships.

The Open Places Initiative grows out of the realization that the ability of communities to respond to these challenges requires increased civic capacity, especially for efforts that attempt to further the inclusion and participation of those with low incomes, people of color, and other marginalized communities in civic, economic, and political life. By investing in nonprofit collaborations -- and supporting nonprofit groups in their partnerships with government, business, and local communities -- Open Society aims to expand nonprofits' potential to pursue effective responses to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that are re-shaping the country.

As part of this new initiative, we have awarded nonprofit collaborations in Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico $1.9 million each over two years.

Our commitment to these collaborations is long-term. Indeed, we plan to continue funding each site for at least three years -- and potentially for as many as ten. What's more, each Open Places site is taking the lead in determining the issues it will address and the form of collaboration it will pursue.

Here are a few examples:

Continue reading »

Newsmakers: Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

December 18, 2013

Headshot_darren_walkerIn September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation. Before coming to Ford, where he was vice president of the foundation's Education, Creativity, and Freedom of Expression program, Walker served as vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he guided the organization's efforts to develop housing for low and moderate-income families in Harlem.

Recently, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, spoke with Walker about the current social change environment, the influence of the foundation's activities on his life, and his hopes for the foundation going forward. Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and an affiliated faculty member of its Center for Nonprofit Strategy & Management.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is it like to be president of the Ford Foundation?

Darren Walker: Although I've been at the foundation for more than three years, in many ways I still have a lot to learn. I certainly didn't arrive here with any idea I would end up as president. When I walked through the doors of this institution for the first time, it was a transformational experience, because the Ford Foundation represents the ways in which my own life has been changed by philanthropy.

I'm a graduate of public schools. I attended public school in a small town in Texas, and I am also a graduate of the first Head Start cohort, a program that was developed out of Ford Foundation-supported research on early child development at Yale University. After high school, I attended a large land grant university -- thanks to Pell grants, another Ford Foundation-supported intervention -- so I know all about Ford's commitment to public education in this country.

After college, I worked on Wall Street and one day found myself at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which was hosting a representative of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a creation of -- you guessed it -- the Ford Foundation. LISC had awarded a grant to the Abyssinian Development Corporation for capacity-building initiatives that would allow it to realize the aspirations of the organization's founders, who had a dream in the mid-'80s that Harlem could be a community that could regenerate itself from within. And the Ford Foundation, through LISC, believed in that dream and invested in it. And that capacity-building grant made it possible for ADC to hire me. So my journey, like the journeys of so many others, has been deeply influenced by the Ford Foundation.

I was thrilled to receive a call from the foundation's board chair, Irene Hirano-Inouye, and have her tell me that the board had voted to appoint me president. Actually, I wasn't sure how to respond, beyond saying, "Yes!" because I know that with this job comes huge responsibility, and that I stand on the shoulders of some extraordinary people.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 7-8, 2013)

December 08, 2013

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

Civil Society

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Diana Aviv, chief executive of Independent Sector, and Gary Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation, argue that a recent proposal from the IRS aimed at clarifying federal rules on nonprofit political activity, while well intentioned, "is flawed in so many ways that it will undermine one of the key ways through which nonprofits do their work: helping Americans understand major issues in elections and encouraging them to register to vote and cast ballots."

A thought-provoking post (and set of comments in response) by Daniel Stid on the Hewlett Foundation's new Work in Progress blog about philanthropy's role in "curing the mischief of faction." The post introduces a new Hewlett initiative to address "political polarization [in Washington] and its three most notable markers: increasing ideological coherence within and divergence between the Republican and Democratic parties, hyper-partisanship, and gridlock." The goal, writes Stid, is not to forge a "national consensus or centrist agenda that will somehow span and resolve the multiple points of disagreement that separate our parties and their affiliated coalitions." Rather, the foundation hopes, "to help make it possible for the representative institutions of the federal government to solve problems in ways that most Americans will accept and support."

Education

In The Atlantic, Alexander Russo has a roundup of the most notable education stories of 2013, including Teach for America becoming (even more of) a lightning rod; school closings in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit; and the backlash against the Common Core.

Using Pope Francis' recent comments about capitalism and income inequality as a point of departure, Kaisa Snellman, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, argues in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog that while mobility statistics from the United States are grim, "the future looks even grimmer....For the last two years," writes Snellman, "my collaborators and I have been studying growing class gaps in various precursors of life success. And the findings are alarming. The children of college-educated parents and those of less-educated parents are raised in very different ways and are launched on very different trajectories in life...."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (September 28-29, 2013)

September 29, 2013

Ty-mattson-breaking-bad-02Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

How are market forces, public policies, and digital technologies changing nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and associational life at the heart of civil society? That's one of the questions the Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society set out to answer last year through a series of monthly charettes. Now, the fruits of those conversations (and a lot of good, hard thinking) have been captured in a series of reports issued by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Written by Lucy Bernholz, Chiara Cordelli, and Rob Reich, the reports -- The Emergence of Digital Civil Society (42 pgaes, PDF); Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013: Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology (38 pages, PDF); Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the New Social Economy (18 pages, PDF); and The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the Next Century (30 pages, PDF) -- are thought-provoking, deeply researched, and a pleasure to read. They're also available as free downloads from the Stanford PACS site.

Responding to Dan Pallotta's hugely popular TED Talk -- and echoing some of the conclusions arrived at by Bernholz, Reich, and Cordelli in their Recode Good work -- Ashoka's Valeria Budinich suggests that one of the most important points made by Pallotta in his talk (and first book) is a point everyone chooses to ignore: Philanthropy's moral foundations -- and the resulting legal and policy framework in which it operates -- have remained largely unchanged since the 1700s.

Climate Change

The most exhaustively researched climate report in history is out -- and, as environmental journalist Richard Schiffman explains in The Atlantic, its findings are grim.

For those as troubled by the findings of the report as Schiffman is, the UN Foundation's Kathy Calvin has some words of encouragement.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy and the Open Society: A Q&A With Christopher Stone, President, Open Society Foundations

August 22, 2013

Headshot_christopher_stone"George Soros once told a group of people he and I were speaking to that my appointment signaled no change in the Open Society Foundations, because change had been a constant since OSF's birth and would continue into the foreseeable future," said Christopher Stone when we spoke to him earlier this year.  "And that certainly applies to our funding priorities."

Since Stone joined the Open Society Foundations as president in 2012, many have wondered how, if at all, the change in leadership might affect the global network of philanthropies started and funded by Soros, the hedge fund billionaire. After all, Stone succeeded Open Society's founding president, Aryeh Neier, a former executive director of Human Rights Watch, national director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a close Soros friend who led the foundation for nearly twenty years, helping "to make...[it] into a truly international organization." With foundations in dozens of countries around the world, it was unclear -- and concerning to some -- how Stone intended to "streamline" what Soros previously had described in an interview with the New York Times as "a very complex organization." But, as Stone told us when we spoke with him, what Soros was alluding to was nothing more than new ways of organizing the Foundations' work so that it could "achieve more with each grant, program, and strategy."

Before joining Open Society, Stone served as Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. Prior to that, he served as director of the Vera Institute of Justice, founded the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and served as a founding director of the New York State's Capital Defender Office and the Altus Global Alliance.

PND spoke with Stone in May and followed up with him via e-mail earlier this month.

Philanthropy News Digest: You were once described by Open Society founder George Soros as an "outsider insider." What did he mean?

Christopher Stone: I think he meant that I've been associated with the Open Society Foundations since the 1990s, but I haven't truly been inside the organization. I've been an advisory board member of the Open Society Justice Initiative since 2004 and an occasional advisor and grantee of the organization since the Open Society Institute was created in 1993. But I've been outside the organization in the sense that I haven't worked directly for Open Society, and I haven't been on any of its governing boards, until now. I can appreciate the organization and understand its history, but I don't have the commitments and am not wedded to any particular elements of the foundations that George Soros, I think, is hoping we will be reviewing over this transition.

PND: What has your varied experience taught you about the potential and limits of philanthropy?

CS: Over the years, I've known a number of foundation presidents and worked with many foundations, occasionally as an informal advisor and mostly as a grantee. Among other things, I've learned that, like other fields, the philanthropic sector is all about relationships; that foundations vary tremendously from one to another; and that they are really dependent in all sorts of ways on their grantees. Not just to execute the projects they support, but to help define and inform their sense of the field. Foundations work hard at getting outside opinions and observations. But it's a hard thing to do, and I think the mutual dependence of foundations on grantees, and grantees on foundations, is not as obvious to a lot of people who assume that the grantee is a supplicant and the foundation has all the cards.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 13-14, 2013)

July 14, 2013

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

Civic Engagement

On the Knight Foundation blog, Scott Warren, co-founder and executive director of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement by educating students on how they can work with local leaders to solve community problems, explains how a grant from Knight -- the largest one-time grant ever awarded to Generation Citizen -- will enable the organization to evaluate what it does, demonstrate that action civics works, and make a difference in classrooms across the country.

Communications/Marketing

People are reading less, skimming more, and relying more on social media for their news -- all of which means you should craft shorter articles for your Web site, right? Not necessarily, writes Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Communications blog. Indeed, longer content, in the right place and context, can improve both conversions (people doing the thing you want them to do on a Web page) and SEO rankings. With that in mind, Miller offers the following common-sense recommendations:

  1. Use as many words as you need, but only as many as you need!
  2. Hire good writers who understand the difference.

"With 43 percent of all emails now being opened on a mobile device, nonprofits need to start thinking differently about the way they approach their email marketing," writes Ryan Pinkham on the Constant Contact Email Marketing blog. Pinkham goes on to share four nonprofit email newsletters that look great and work well on mobile: Pajama Program (single-column template); Alex's Lemonade Stand (a clear call-to-action); Strong Women, Strong Girls (clear and concise); and Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) (mobile-friendly links).

Education

Public pushback against Teach for America's efforts to place recent college graduates in low-performing schools isn't news, writes Zach Schonfeld on the Atlantic Wire. But the fact that the anti-TAF "movement is now largely originating from the organization's own alumni base" certainly is. Indeed, writes Schonfeld,

many of Teach for America's...opponents point out that the high turnover of trainees being dispatched to some of the country's most challenging school districts -- often without any long-term plans to be teachers -- is precisely the problem. Anthony Cody's experiences in Oakland corroborated this critique. In a typical cycle, the school would lose about half of its corps members after their second year. By the third year, half of those who had remained after the second year would be gone. The problem, Cody explained, is that many who join Teach for America don't actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone for policy work, law school, or business school....

Fundraising

On the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Nell Edgington, president of nonprofit consulting firm Social Velocity, weighs in with a "radical" fundraising idea: that every nonprofit board should be responsible for bringing in 10 percent of the organization's annual operating budget. And to get there, writes Edgington, boards need to do three things: take the time to understand the organization's "money engine"; share the financial burden; and tap into their unique assets.

Higher Education

Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jenna Cullinane, higher education policy lead at the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin, argues that in order to move the "elusive achievement needle...change at scale is what matters." Yet scaling innovation in higher education "is especially challenging because of decentralized decision-making, antiquated incentive systems, and increasingly unpredictable funding challenges." Indeed, writes Cullinane, one could argue that "the basic premise of 'scaling up' -- that one starts with small pilot projects, and then grows the numbers of colleges or individuals served -- is untenable. An alternative might be to work at scale" -- i.e., design for scale from the beginning by looking at the whole system and minimizing the cost of the transition; plant the seeds of scale at all target institutions from the outset while creating multiple levels of engagement; and seek permission to scale from all levels of the system.

Impact/Effectiveness

Our friends at the Social Impact Exchange have posted a nice roundup of blog posts from and about the 2013 Scaling Impact Conference, with contributions from the Philanthropy Roundtable's Ashley May, the John A. Hartford Foundation's Christopher Langston, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Andrea Ducas.

Journalism

Guest blogging on the Committee to Protect Journalists site, Alan Pearce, author of the e-book Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-Surveillance, Search, says that in light of Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's global monitoring of electronic communications, it's time for journalists to get smart about counter-surveillance tools and how to use them.

Philanthropy

In a series of short videos on Bridgespan's GiveSmart blog, Paul Brest shares three lessons he learned about strategic philanthropy during his twelve-year tenure as president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: 1) provide nonprofit overhead support; 2) take risks, but be clear about goals; and 3) promote learning by being open about failure.

Social Entrepreneurship

Writing on the HBR blog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cautions entrepreneurs to steer clear of "pop-up opportunities that look like short cuts to success" but turn out to be costly distractions. To help entrepreneurs avoid such distractions, Moss Kanter offers the following advice:

  • Establish clear principles by which opportunities are judged;
  • Prove the concept you want to prove;
  • Put the right words around the project and stick with them; and
  • Don't be insular.

Social Media

Texas state senator Wendy Davis's well-publicized filibuster of a draconian anti-abortion rights bill was a "singular feat of courage and stamina," writes Allison Fine in The American Prospect. But Davis's filibuster, adds Fine, "was the last piece of tile fitted into a much larger mosaic of people and actions that brought Texas progressives back to life" -- an effort whose success "hinged not just on the existence of outstanding grassroots organizing and social media activism, but on their integration" as well.

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

--The Editors

Weekend Link Roundup (June 29-30, 2013)

June 28, 2013

Hancock_150th_stampOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Responding to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder on Tuesday, a decision that found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional, Niki Jagpal of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy writes that the court, in so ruling, gutted "key provisions of the VRA that protected historically disenfranchised populations." Specifically, the decision undoes the "'preclearance' requirement in the original VRA," which compelled "local governments and states with a history of voting discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting procedures and laws." Although the court's decision doesn't nullify Section 4, its implementation now depends on Congress enacting "a new statute determining which states and individuals it applies to."

Jagpal continues,

The right to vote is the most fundamental way in which citizens have a voice in our democracy. In addition to Congress needing to reinstate the key provisions of the VRA, it is imperative that nonprofits working on voting rights issues be provided with the kinds of support they need to complement the hoped-for statue.

Philanthropy has an opportunity to contribute to the public good by helping to restore implementation of the now-gutted provisions. And grantmakers must consider that the Court’s ruling is likely an outcome of a sustained, well-funded movement among conservatives to roll back provisions of the VRA and the Civil Rights Movement....

Communications/Marketing

Kivi Leroux Miller shares a slideshow from her webinar "21 Things Nonprofit Marketers Can Stop Doing!" -- a list that includes outreach campaigns designed with the general public in mind, rather than efforts focused on groups likely to support your cause; letting lawyers or accountants dictate marketing strategies; and paying for custom software instead of using commercial or open-source solutions that are more likely to be updated as technology and the market changes.

Continue reading »

What We Value

February 19, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directs Caring to Change, an initiative that seeks to improve how foundations serve the public. In his last post, he wrote about accountability -- or the lack thereof -- in government, business, and the nonprofit sector.)

Rosenman_headshotIn his State of the Union address, President Obama called for government-provided student financial aid to somehow be tied to the value of the education which it helps underwrite. While it's an interesting idea, it presents a challenge not only to institutions of higher education, but to every nonprofit organization in the country. Put simply, who gets to measure the value of any charitable program? Who gets to stipulate their purposes and assess their performance and the outcomes they deliver?

Although such data are not readily available, we know that the White House believes that how well a particular college or university's graduates do in the job market after graduation ought to be a part of a "college scorecard." We also know that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who gave the Republican rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address, feels even more strongly about the idea and has joined with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to push The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which requires colleges and universities to provide detailed information to prospective students about how much one can expect to make in any given field post-graduation.

Given the state of the economy and students' understandable concerns about their futures, that makes a lot of sense, practically and politically. But should that be the principal measure of the value of higher education? When did we decide that the value of an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree should be quantified and measured in vocational education terms? And who decided it?

Continue reading »

Let's Think Smarter About the Charitable Tax Deduction

January 14, 2013

Jan Masaoka is CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits), publisher of Blue Avocado, and author of The Best of the Board Café, Nonprofit Sustainability (with Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman) and The Nonprofit's Guide to Human Resources.

Jan_masaoka_headshotOn New Year's Day, lawmakers in Washington finally agreed to disagree and passed a bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. But with the federal government looking at another trillion-dollar deficit and record levels of debt, no idea for balancing federal expenditures and revenue will be off the table for long.

For many nonprofits, keeping the charitable tax deduction off the table is the issue. But while the issue itself may seem straightfoward, there are more nuances and choices to it than meet the eye. There are many ways, for example, to increase taxes that would not have a directly negative impact on nonprofits -- which, after all, are a huge part of the safety net for the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, and many others.

The deal made to avoid the fiscal cliff left the charitable tax deduction untouched for the most part -- and for the time being. To be clear: neither eliminating the deduction nor reducing the deductibility rate was discussed; the administration's proposal would have lowered the current cap on the deductibility of charitable gifts from 35 percent to 28 percent of one's income. The one tiny change passed was the reinstatement of the Clinton-era Pease Amendment, which will raise taxes on some of the wealthiest donors by perhaps $2,000 each.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 3-4, 2012)

November 04, 2012

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

Civil Society

On the NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Niki Jagpal discusses a recent article from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council about the "unsettling statistics on the status of voting rights in our country." According to PRRAC, voter identification laws, early voting restrictions, purging of "legitimate registered voters because of baseless suspicion of their citizenship status," and felon disenfranchisement continue to marginalize low-income individuals, communities of color, younger voters, and the elderly.

Disaster Relief

In the days following the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy near Cape May, New Jersey, nonprofit bloggers were busy sharing resources for those interested in contributing to relief and recovery efforts. On her Have Fun, Do Good blog, Britt Bravo has compiled a list of articles and Web sites that suggest ways to donate and volunteer; Idealist's Allison Jones has a few additional suggestions for New Yorkers looking to get involved in relief and recovery efforts; and longtime New Jersey resident Nancy Schwartz suggests three organizations on the ground in that state -- the NYC Rescue Mission, the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey -- that are "providing services right now and need your help to keep it up."

Looking at the response to the storm through a tech/data lens, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz tracks, in a series of posts, the many ways in which organizations and individuals used information communication technologies during and after the storm, while the Weakonomist looks at how Sandy might affect the economy.

Continue reading »

'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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Clinton Announces Revisions to Tax Regulations to Support Civil Society Worldwide

September 24, 2012

Small but interesting announcement timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative and the opening of the 67th session of the UN general assembly:

In conjunction with a meeting of the State Department's new Global Philanthropy Working Group -- the sixth and newest pillar of the department's Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society initiative -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced Treasury Department and IRS guidance "aimed at lowering the legal barriers and administrative costs associated with cross-border philanthropy in support of civil society worldwide."

According to a statement issued by State, the proposed revisions to "equivalency determinations" -- i.e., the process by which a U.S. grantmaker evaluates whether an intended foreign grantee is the equivalent of a U.S. public charity -- allows foundations to rely on a broader range of professional tax advisors when making such determinations. It's hoped that "this will make professional tax advice in this area easier to obtain, significantly reduce the administrative costs of foundation grantmaking to foreign civil society groups, and ensure that accurate determinations regarding foreign grantees are made."

For the last year or so, Tech Soup Global, in partnership with the Council on Foundations, has been working on an equivalency determination information repository (EDIR) service called NGOsource. To learn more, click here.

 

Weekend Link Roundup (July7-8, 2012)

July 08, 2012

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

Civic Engagement

On the Knight Blog, Elizabeth Miller looks at the report The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning, which explores the three dimensions of mobile games that focus on art or neighborhood civics: civic learning, performance/art, and social change. "Learning is inherent in games, since their engagement depends on providing challenges that are just barely possible," the report's authors note. "And when games are tied to physical space,

their action ties to learning about our own neighborhoods -- how to move through them, and to change them. The art of such games is often the physical world itself, with better sounds and graphics than any screen! And the digital side of games draws in the civic, if only because it is so easy to link to more information on how to take action, or how to learn more. In other words, the experiential nature of games pulls mobile experiences on civics into being a mix of art and learning....

Disaster Relief

On her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog, Joanne Fritz offers tips on how to help those affected by the wildfires raging in Colorado and elsewhere out West.

Fundraising

Fundraising is a valuable skill that nonprofits cannot afford to underinvest in, argues Joe Garecht on the Fundraising Authority blog. It is also a marketable skill that a good fundraiser can take to another organization if, as the title of his post suggests, "You Aren't Paying Your Development Staff Enough." Writes Garecht:

If your organization's executive director is making $150,000 per year and the top development staff member is making $60,000 per year, your nonprofit is in trouble. Likewise, if your organization is raising $5,000,000 per year and you only have one full-time development person, your nonprofit is in trouble. Under either scenario, you will never raise what you really could and should raise, and

never do all of the good that you really could do, simply because you aren't making a big enough investment in your development [function]....

"It seems that the Great Recession is similar to the Great Depression in one more way -- the drastic drop in large charitable gifts," writes Joanne Fritz in another post on her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog. Citing the Chronicle of Philanthropy's  Holly Hall, who found that the decline in large charitable gifts between 2007-10 mirrors a similarly precipitous drop between 1931-45, Fritz writes: "I have trouble with the idea that our tough economic times have been a match for the Great Depression, or that the decline in large charitable gifts will last as long. But I do think that large, monolithic fundraising campaigns of any kind are doomed...."

Governance

Gene Takagi has an excellent post on the Nonprofit Law blog, which he co-authors with Emily Chan, about the roles and duties of nonprofit board members.

Innovation

On the Forbes site, contributor Lori Kozlowski chats with Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin about the meaning of philanthropic innovation in 2012.

Social Media

"Although we often focus our discussion on how organizations can use social media for marketing and fundraising, the best reason for nonprofits and foundations to be on social media is to practice thought leadership," writes Rosetta Thurman in a post on her eponymous blog. "When it comes to foundations in particular, this opportunity can be even more impactful, as they are often seen as conveners, curators and catalysts for change within the nonprofit community." Thurman goes on to single out the Geraldine Dodge Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region for blogging "not just to share information, but to influence public opinion and community collaboration."

And on the First Giving blog, Taylor Corrado highlights six nonprofit branding lessons from the book Made to Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath:

  1. Keep it simple -- Don't dumb it down, but get straight to the point.
  2. Embrace the unexpected -- In other words, create curiosity.
  3. Be concrete -- Provide details, examples, and facts.
  4. Be credible -- Testimonials from beneficiaries are more effective than those from board members.
  5. Don't shy away from emotion -- Humans respond better to emotions than statistics.
  6. Think "story" -- Good stories are unexpected, filled with concrete details, and should always be emotional.

That's it for this week. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org.

-- The Editors

Nonprofits Missing From Big Battles

June 06, 2012

(Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, Rosenman and co-author Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation, wrote about efforts by Congress to curtail the advocacy rights of nonprofits.)

Rosenman_headshotWe are seven months from what some are calling "taxmageddon" and others describe as a "fiscal cliff." And while leaders in the nonprofit sector are narrowly focused on proposed changes to the charitable tax deduction that could reduce charitable donations by about $2 billion a year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already approved cutting trillions of dollars from programs critical to low- and moderate-income people and the charities that serve them.

Charities and foundations should be gearing up to confront immediate and near-term policy battles of extraordinary consequence to them. Instead, they seem to be wearing blinders -- or simply fear controversy, no matter the stakes.

Congressional Republicans seem to want a repeat of last summer's divisive struggle over raising the debt limit and are committed to pursuing new budget cuts. This comes after the House recently approved changes to last year's deficit-cutting sequestration agreement and shifted what was a shared annual burden of $109 billion entirely to domestic programs.

House Republicans also are trying to preserve Bush-era income tax cuts for wealthy Americans, an action that if successful will cost an estimated $1 trillion in revenue over ten years -- and doesn't include the loss of billions in revenue from estate tax reductions for millionaires. They have already passed the budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a plan that goes well beyond a renewal of the Bush cuts and give millionaires an additional tax break averaging $265,000 a year while cutting over $3 trillion from programs that serve low-income people or fund the charitable programs that help them.

This is not chump change. To give you a sense of the magnitude of the proposed cuts, the shift in sequestration alone is more than the total annual giving of all U.S. foundations combined. And the so-called Ryan plan calls for cuts in domestic program over ten years that are about seven times the equivalent projected total of foundation giving -- a shortfall that would result in some two million people losing their access to food stamps and another forty-four million having them reduced. The Ryan plan also would eliminate the social service block grant through which nonprofits now provide services to some twenty-three million people, over half of them children, as well as invalids dependent on Meals on Wheels programs, those in foster care, and those who rely on nonprofit childcare.

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