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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September)

October 01, 2011

Long tail, short tail --- these were the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in September. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

 

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August)

September 01, 2011

As is our custom at the end of the month, we've pulled together a short list of the most popular PhilanTopic posts in August. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

America in 1961

August 04, 2011

Barack Obama turns fifty today. To mark the occasion, Tech Ticker's Aaron Task chatted with Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, about a new AEI report (10 pages, PDF) that looks (among other things) at Gallup Poll results from fifty years ago to see what Americans cared about when the president was born in 1961.

The report found that the majority of Americans:

  • thought President Kennedy should navigate a political course "halfway" between the right and the left
  • approved of an increase in the Social Security payroll tax to pay for "old-age medical insurance"
  • opposed buying or selling products to Cuba "so long as Castro was in power"
  • were opposed to women wearing shorts in public but were okay with them wearing slacks
  • were against of increasing the price of a stamp to 5 cents

As Bowman tells Task, "[Americans] were worried about prices but they felt pretty good about government as a whole. Interestingly, at that point, we were much more worried about big labor. Big labor was seen as the biggest threat to the country followed by big business and hardly anyone thought big government would be a threat."

She also notes that as the baby boomers age, they are becoming more conservative -- and that's likely to be an important factor in the next two or three election cycles.

Fascinating stuff.

Message to New Nonprofit Fellows: Tips and Reflections

July 29, 2011

(Today is the last day of Reilly Kiernan's year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she looked at how Millennials are changing the face of philanthropy.)

Good_luck It's hard to believe a year has passed and my fellowship at the Foundation Center is at an end. Over the past twelve months I've learned a tremendous amount about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. But before I embark on the next stage of my career in public service, I'd like to share a few tips with new nonprofit fellows looking to get as much as possible out of their fellowship experience:

1. Recognize that you have a lot to learn. As a fellow, you're probably just starting out in a field where your experience is relatively limited. Don't be afraid to ask questions and acknowledge the limitations of your experience. When I started my fellowship at the Foundation Center, I knew very little about the world of organized philanthropy. I was eager, however, to soak up as much knowledge as I could, and I knew that being honest about my own ignorance would pay off in the end. I was also lucky to be assigned to the Educational Services unit here. By being involved in the events and classes the center offers, I was exposed to and absorbed much of the content we teach to grantseekers. What's more, the lessons I learned weren't restricted to course content. I also gained experience working in a large, established nonprofit and grew to appreciate some of the dynamics of that kind of environment.

2. Recognize what you have to offer. Even though you may be new to an organization and unfamiliar with its work and culture, you still have plenty to offer. Indeed, your insights can be invaluable -- especially if you approach the work with fresh eyes. Don't be afraid to speak up, share your opinions, and engage with co-workers. I know my colleagues here at the center will attest to the fact I had few reservations about speaking up during meetings. Thankfully, I quickly learned that the organization welcomed my opinions and ideas. For instance, I was more social media-savvy than many of my colleagues, and so it made sense for me to assume responsibility for coordinating the social media efforts of the center's New York library.

3. Do whatever you're asked to do...with gusto. In the early days and weeks of your fellowship, you probably won't be given the most interesting tasks. It's hard, at any organization, to find work for a new employee that doesn't require certain specialized skills and experience. That doesn't mean your initial contributions won't be valuable or appreciated. If you're asked to populate a spreadsheet, proofread a letter, or even stuff envelopes, do so enthusiastically. Recognize that until you get your feet under you and are fully up to speed with the organization's work and culture, it takes work for your supervisor to provide you with work. And even if you're eager and prepared to help in more substantial ways, he/she simply may not have the time to train you on specific tasks right away. Jumping up and volunteering to take on any task is a great way to demonstrate that you care about the organization and are serious about its mission and your ability to contribute to that mission.

4. Don't be afraid to show initiative. Although it's important to do whatever you're asked to do -- however mundane it may be -- it's also important to to show initiative and find projects for yourself that are both worthwhile and fulfilling. I know, this can be a challenge. But having an honest discussion with your supervisor is a great first step in making sure you get assigned to tasks that are challenging, take advantage of your particular skill set, and allow you to contribute in truly meaningful ways to the broader work of the organization. My job over the past twelve months has involved a nice mix of recurring tasks (like helping out with classes and events), short-term tasks (proofreading materials, writing blog posts, editing video), and longer-term projects (planning my own event to introduce the "next generation" to the Foundation Center, coming up with a social media strategy for the NYC office, working with a colleague to develop a series of videos featuring user testimonials and class content). By making sure to balance my various responsibilities, I was able to stay busy and, more importantly, take ownership of my daily and weekly schedules.

5. Don't forget about the future. Time flies so quickly that if you don't take the time to think about the work you're doing, the things you're learning, and how your future plans are materializing, it's quite possible that twelve months will pass before you've had a chance to take stock of your fellowship experience. I've been fortunate to have been embedded within the center's professional development infrastructure, which facilitates this kind of reflection on an ongoing basis. For one thing, I've been able to contribute to this blog! I've also had regular structured meetings and performance evaluations with my supervisor, was assigned an unofficial "mentor" who shared great advice and served as a supportive sounding board for ideas, and was able to participate in the center's professional development group, which brings together entry- and mid-level employees from across the organization to talk about their work and hear senior managers speak about their own career paths. I'm incredibly grateful the center provided these avenues for me, and appreciate more than ever how valuable this kind of reflection can be.

It's been a pleasure to contribute to PhilanTopic, and I'll continue to follow it as I forge a career in public service. Until we meet again, thanks for reading.

-- Reilly Kiernan

Briefly Noted: 'The Idea of America'

July 23, 2011

From the July 25 issue of The New Yorker:

"The Americans revolted [against the British] not out of actual suffering but out of reasoned principle," [Gordon S.] Wood argues in a set of probing essays which explore how the principles of these revolutionaries became distorted by events outside of their control. Many of the Founders imagined republicanism as an antidote to the private pursuit of wealth, and hoped that America's politicians would be disinterested guardians of the public good, drawn from a self-sacrificing elite. When the emergence of rampant commercialism and partisan politics undermined such hopes, Federalists used the Constitution to introduce into our democracy a monarchical element, which has become increasingly pronounced. Such contradictions, Wood says, help explain our perpetual grapple with the Founders' ideas, "our despairing effort to make them one with us, to close that terrifying gap that always seems to exist between them and us."

Happy Fourth of July!

July 04, 2011

"This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all -- to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend...."

-- Abraham Lincoln, "Message to Congress in Special Session," July 4, 1861

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March)

March 31, 2011

As is our custom on the last day of the month, here's a short list of the most visited PhilanTopic posts over the previous thirty days. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February)

February 28, 2011

What a month. After decades of repression and stagnation under the rule of monarchs and military strongmen, the Arab world seemed to come unstuck in February -- and the world will never be the same.

As is our custom on the last day of each month, here's a short list of the most visited PhilanTopic posts over the previous thirty (minus two) days. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

Weekend Link Roundup (February 19 - 20, 2011)

February 20, 2011

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

Fundraising

After doing some more thinking about so-called cause competitions like America's Giving Challenge and the Pepsi Refresh Project, Networked Nonprofit co-author Allison Fine wonders how other groups might structure an effort that combines "the fun of competing without the detriment of causes competing against one another."

"I've always thought the catchphrase 'accounting is destiny!' that Clara Miller and George [Overholser] would throw around when they ran the Nonprofit Finance Fund was a little...nerdy," writes Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog. "But it sure seems to me that our simplistic nonprofit accounting standards, paired with our moralistic views around spending money on fundraising, is a major culprit of our undercapitalized nonprofit sector...."

On the Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta suggests that we're all to blame for convincing donors that organizations with low overhead costs are more efficient than those with higher costs. Writes Pallotta:

We've been telling the donating public that good charities have low overhead, and bad charities have high overhead. Well, I don't know about you, but when I hear "good," I think, "makes a difference." So, if you tell me [that] good charities have low overhead, then I don't need to know whether the money I give makes a difference. If they have low overhead, I can assume that they do! The Nonprofit Overhead Cost Project at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy came to the opposite conclusion. Their report, "Getting What We Pay For: Low Overhead Limits Nonprofit Effectiveness," indicates that the charities that spend less on capacity tend to have inferior programs. The donating public might want to know that, don't you think?

We have, as a result of our timidity, managed to confuse a well-intentioned public into basing their giving decisions on the wrong data. That's not what they want. And if they knew that's what we've been up to they'd be pissed....

Microfinance

Still confused about why it's okay for for-profit microfinance lenders to charge exorbitant interest rates? Watch as Philanthrocapitalism author Matthew Bishop explains it to a skeptical Felix Salmon in this seven-minute video.

Nonprofits

On the Case Foundation blog, Change Your Career author Laura Gassner Otting looks at the pros and cons of working in the nonprofit sector.

Philanthropy

Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz recaps a recent Guidestar webinar based on her ten predictions about how philanthropy is likely to change over the next decade.

Social Entrepreneurship

Sasha Dichter shares a few reflections on Generosity Day, a twenty-four-hour version of his Generosity Experiment. Organized by Dichter, Network for Good's Katya Andresen, and Malaria No More's Scott Case, the effort sought to "make [Valentine's Day] about love, action, and human connection -- because we can do better than smarmy greeting cards, overpriced roses, and stressed-out couples trying to create romantic meals on the fly."

Social Media

On the Chronicle's Social Philanthropy blog, Cody Switzer explains how the American Red Cross went "from #gettngslizzerd to getting donations" last week. After a young employee accidently posted a tweet about drinking using the organization's Twitter account on Hootsuite, a social media application that allows users to send updates from multiple accounts, the Red Cross quickly deleted the tweet and owned up to it on various social media channels. Writes Switzer:

The results were overwhelmingly positive. At one point on Wednesday, the phrase #gettngslizzerd was a trending topic on Twitter. Dogfish Head Brewery asked people to donate to the Red Cross, and several donors responded by posting that they had donated either money or blood. HootSuite pledged to donate $100. [Red Cross social media director Wendy] Harman said it's impossible to calculate the total direct impact of the tweet, but donations were up slightly above average....

And on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga explains how his foundation uses social media to communicate with local residents, especially during a disaster like last year’s BP oil spill.

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

-- Regina Mahone

Chart of the Day: 'The Kindling of Change' (NY Times)

February 05, 2011

Was Tunisia the first domino in a chain reaction that results in the fall of authoritarian governments across North Africa and the Middle East? No one can say for sure, but New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow has assembled a fascinating statistical portrait of the region that sheds light on some of the socio-political variables likely to influence the outcome.

(Click for larger version.)

05blow_g-popup


 

And how about that income inequality number for the U.S.?

What a Winter...

February 02, 2011

A colleague's daughter reports that they have two feet of snow in Massachusetts....

Two_feet_of_snow 

Ba da boom...

Social Change Work on Campus vs. the 'Real World'

January 03, 2011

(Reilly Kiernan is midway through a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about the growing popularity of running for charity.)

Ivory_tower_small After four years at Princeton, I knew the community service and public interest scene on campus like the back of my hand. I knew which forms to fill out if I wanted to host an event, where to find funding, and the best way to promote initiatives so as to attract participants. But in the "real world" of nonprofit work, I'm just beginning to find my way.

On a college campus, students are embedded in an infrastructure designed to support their interest in doing good. And that has its pros and cons. On the one hand, students tend to be well supported with funds and organizational structure. On the other, their freedom is limited by certain institutional parameters. I remember, for example, a friend being frustrated by the fact that, because of a prohibition against support for lobbying activities, the university would not provide funds for his group to travel to Washington to attend events in support of passage of the DREAM Act. Still, Princeton did a good job of providing students with opportunities to innovate within such constraints.

There are many similarities between public interest work on a campus and in the "real world," but in my first five months at the Foundation Center I've been more impressed by the differences.

Here are three things I've noticed about the real world of nonprofit work:

1. It’s about what you accomplish, not what you've learned. In retrospect, I can see that many of the volunteer activities on college campuses served two equal purposes: To benefit the local community, and to teach students about a specific issue. This dynamic changes in the real world, where the focus largely shifts to serving a target constituency. (I would love to see a grant proposal that asks for a portion of the grant to be used to provide employees of a nonprofit with a deeper understanding of the issue they are working to address.)

2. Giving back requires more personal initiative. At school, I received weekly e-mails alerting me to on-campus events, the campus was plastered with calls to action, and I was never more than a few hundred yards from a physical office and an actual staff that could provide me with all the service-learning opportunities I desired. Instead of feeling isolated in an ivory tower, I often felt like I was bombarded with too many opportunities to do good. Since leaving school, however, I've noticed that if I want to volunteer or get involved in a cause, it requires a lot more effort on my part. No one is asking me out of the blue to help with something he/she is putting together. That's not to say that meaningful volunteer opportunities are hard to come by; you just need to be more proactive about identifying them. (Which is one reason I've come to love sites like Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch, and NYC Serv.)

3. It's about the money. I realize now how lucky we were at Princeton. Even when the downturn forced the university to scale back its support for service-learning activities, there was still enough money to fund a wide range of service events, on and off campus. In fact, thanks to a special referendum in my senior year, the student body reassigned their social fees to promote service on campus. In contrast, I've met a lot of nonprofit employees since I started working at the Foundation Center, and the need to raise funds is never far from their minds. Large or small, old or new, nonprofits are always in need of funding. And that's a huge difference.

Obviously, there are other differences between working for social change on campus and in the real world. These are just a few that have jumped out at me over the last five months or so. What about you? Any recent graduates out there with a different experience and/or take on the "real world" of nonprofits? We'd love to hear from you.... 

-- Reilly Kiernan

GRAPHIC: The True Size of Africa

October 12, 2010

Once in a while you come across a picture or illustration that really is worth a thousand words. The eye-opening map overlay below -- billed as "a small contribution in the fight against rampant immapancy -- was created by Kai Krause, a user interface and software designer best known for his Kai's Power Tools series of products. (H/t @viewfromthecave via @chayling)

 

Africa_truesize

 

So, the next time you hear someone talking about "Africa" as if it were a large-ish (and largely homogenous) country, remind them: It's bigger than the United States, China, India, Japan, and all of Europe -- combined.

If the Bracelet Fits

October 01, 2010

(Reilly Kiernan recently started a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she asked what nonprofits might be giving up as they scramble to integrate social media into their day-to-day activities.)

Silly_bandz My one-now-three-bedroom apartment has more nonprofit employees per square foot than most flats in New York City. That's because I share it with two other twenty-somethings who also work for nonprofits.

Although we're all recent Princeton grads, each of us found our way into the sector via a slightly different route. Mary just started a two-year position at Teach for America and will be teaching third-graders at a charter school in the South Bronx. Dominique, a Project 55 fellow like me, is employed at Education Through Music, a nonprofit that works to bring musical education to children in low-income communities. And I'm here at the Foundation Center.

One night, not too long ago, Dominique said, "You know, we kind of work in a row."

I wasn't sure what she meant, so I asked, "A row?"

"Yeah," she said. "Mary works with children. I help get resources and programs to children. And you help me find the resources."

Dominique's comment got me thinking about how interconnected the nonprofit sector really is. And yet our experiences have been very different.

Mary has been working hard to deliver a curriculum designed to bring her students up to grade level. On a daily basis she has to persuade a group of eight-year-olds to sit still and pay attention. (What could be harder than that?) But while her work is unrelentingly demanding, she's also making a big difference in the lives of her students. This became clear when, a few weeks ago, one of her kids gave her a SillyBand to wear. (Readers of this blog may not appreciate the significance of the gesture, but to the children and tweens of America SillyBandz are a veritable currency.) Mary now proudly sports her pink submarine-shaped bracelet as a constant reminder that the hours of teaching and lesson planning are well worth it.

Because of ETM's small size, Dominque was able to jump right into the fray, suggesting projects of her own from day one, including a massive outreach effort designed to expand the organization's e-mail list and Facebook presence. Dominique is a really talented performer (even when she's just singing in the shower!), so she's happy to have found a place where her artistic inclinations are able to complement her commitment to doing good. And her enthusiasm for the organization is contagious. Just a few weeks ago, ETM held a wine-and-cheese fundraiser. Dominique reached out to all her friends in the city and was single-handedly responsible for bringing over sixty people to the event.

In terms of size, the Foundation Center is somewhere in between TFA and ETM. And so far, I've worked on a range of projects, from editing audio recordings of special events at the center's New York library, to compiling statistics about attendance at free courses, to researching social media best practices for nonprofits. One of the things I've really enjoyed about my first three months here is that my work includes short-term tasks that produce immediate results as well as bigger projects designed to advance the work of the organization over the longer term.

It's way too soon, of course, to say where our different paths will lead. But it's nice to know that nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes and that our different experiences will provide us with ample opportunity to share stories and learn from each other. It's also nice to know that we all share the same overarching goal: To do a little good in the world and leave it a better place.

-- Reilly Kiernan

9/11: Lest We Forget

September 11, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the Cordoba House controversy.)

9-11_memorial Nine years ago today, on a similarly gorgeous morning in the Northeast, almost three thousand individuals lost their lives in coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 43 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The horror of 9/11 will never be forgotten by the tens of thousands of people who lost loved ones or the hundreds of millions around the world who watched or listened to the terrible events of that day unfold on television, radio, or the Internet.

Nine years later, as we honor the innocent victims of the attacks and the hundreds of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to help others, let us also remember that the attacks were designed to strike at the core of what most sets America apart from every other nation in history: Its (sometimes fraught) embrace of pluralism, freedom of expression, and the right to worship in one's own fashion.

Nothing illustrates the unique nature of the American experiment better than the fact that individuals from 77 different countries lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Here's the list of countries, courtesy of the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Information Programs:

Antigua & Barbuda Ghana Panama
Argentina Greece Peru
Australia Guatemala Philippines
Austria Guyana Poland
Bahamas Haiti Portugal
Bangladesh Honduras Romania
Barbados Hong Kong Russia
Belgium India Slovakia
Belarus Indonesia South Africa
Belize Iran South Korea
Bolivia Ireland Spain
Brazil Israel Sri Lanka
Cambodia Italy St. Kitts & Nevis
Canada Jamaica St. Lucia
Chile Japan Sweden
China Jordan Switzerland
Colombia Kenya Taiwan
Costa Rica Lebanon Thailand
Czech Republic Luxembourg Trinidad & Tobago
Dominica Malaysia Turkey
Dominican Republic Mexico Ukraine
Ecuador Netherlands United Kingdom
Egypt New Zealand Uruguay
El Salvador Nicaragua United States
France Norway Uzbekistan
Germany Pakistan Zimbabwe

On this, the ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember and honor all those who lost their lives, celebrate our differences, and stand together for peace, tolerance, and international understanding.

-- Michael Seltzer

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