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81 posts categorized "Civil Society"

Weekend Link Roundup (August 9-10, 2014)

August 10, 2014

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

Advocacy

On Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog, Michelle Baker, a San Francisco-based attorney, checks in with the second of two posts on the lag ins and outs of issue advocacy. (You can read the first post here.)

Civil Society

"One of the defining features of civil society...is that participation is voluntary," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. And "[i]f civil society claims a role in pursuing social justice than it has a special obligation to do two things - protect people's power to act and make sure that digital data aren't used to exacerbate existing power differentials.

Environment

Marketplace's David Brancaccio looks at the Sustainable Endowments Institute's Billion Dollar Green Challenge and online GRITS platform, which helps "universities take their operating cash or endowment, upgrade the energy efficiency of campus buildings, and get a bigger return in savings than the stock market would earn them."

Leadership

What kind of leadership skills do emerging nonprofit leaders need to succeed? Beth Kanter takes a look at two recent studies that "take a pass at answering that question...."

The Talent Philanthropy Project's Rusty Stahl has a good post on the handful of foundations that invest in nonprofit leadership.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

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

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

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Charities and the ‘Compassion Gap’

July 09, 2014

Rosenman_headshotAny traces of the "compassionate conservatism" championed by George W. Bush in the early days of his administration has long since evaporated under the heat of Republican extremism. Today, more than three-quarters of American conservatives think the poor "have it easy," while fewer than 10 percent believe the "poor have hard lives" and receive inadequate assistance.

What's more, many conservatives believe the poor have easy lives because "they get government benefits without doing anything," ignoring not only the limits of public aid, but also the obstacles that must be overcome to obtain food stamps, Medicaid, day care, public housing, and other kinds of government assistance. In fact, more than 80 percent of conservatives also say that the government programs on which the poor so desperately depend do more harm than good.

Can four out of five conservatives really be so hard-hearted that they cannot imagine how profoundly difficult life is for people without enough money to feed their children, to fill an essential prescription for an ill parent, or to access a safe place to leave an infant while they try to find a part-time, no-benefits, minimum-wage job that gives them no hope of escaping what in many cases are slum- and crime-ridden neighborhoods? "Have it easy?" Really?

These findings are consistent in that more than half of conservatives believe that people are poor because of "lack of effort," while fewer than 30 percent of conservatives believe poverty results from "circumstances beyond [an individual's] control." Despite all we have learned over the years about the causes of poverty and related ills, conservatives seem bound and determined to reduce the issue to the simple fact of people making bad decisions and doing bad things.

That kind of thinking ought to be greeted with dismay by most charities, even if their missions address problems other than poverty. Blaming the victim does not make the work of nonprofits any easier, does not incline people to support well-meaning interventions, and, at the end of the day, is the opposite of charitable. Indeed, with respect to most problems of concern to nonprofits, there is no path forward if people are seen as the sole source of their own troubles.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2014)

June 30, 2014

Summer -- and the World Cup -- are heating up. Before you head out for that well-deserved vacation, here's another chance to catch up on some of the great content we posted in June....

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Philanthropy as If Democracy Really Mattered

June 05, 2014

Philanthropy could have far greater impact if government worked better. That's the conclusion of a recent survey of more than two hundred foundation leaders by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. According to the report based on the survey, "Foundation CEOs believe the greatest barriers to their foundations' ability to make more progress are issues external to foundations — particularly the current government policy environment and economic climate."

The more than 86,000 independent foundations in the United States make some $54 billion in grants every year in a wide range of areas, including education, health, environment, and the arts. Though rightfully proud of their accomplishments, the leaders of those foundations are far from satisfied. With a mandate to serve the public good, they want their foundations to have greater impact, and that requires the kinds of policies and government action needed to scale the many worthy programs piloted with philanthropic dollars.

Fortunately, foundation leaders are doing something about their frustration. Since 2011, more than one thousand American foundations have granted nearly $1.4 billion to organizations working to help American democracy live up to its promise. These data are displayed in Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a new interactive data platform developed by Foundation Center with support from eight of America's leading funders: the Rita Allen Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Omidyar Network's Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The platform defines what "democracy funding" means for philanthropy, establishes a baseline for such funding, and allows users to quickly grasp, in terms of both major trends and detail, who is funding what and where, across the nation.

Screenshot_democracy_tool

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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."

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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:

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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.

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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...."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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