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Warning to All Grantseekers: When Markets Tank, HOLD That Request!

August 24, 2015

Markets_downYou can't time markets but you can time grant requests. So when newspapers scream: "Massive sell-off on Wall Street as investors fear China slowdown" (New York Post), you should think twice before asking a foundation for money.

In good times, foundations can drive grantseeking nonprofits crazy with their demands for effectiveness and metrics to support those claims. At regional and national gatherings, foundation professionals speak passionately about effectiveness in sessions with titles like "Unlocking Impact...", "What Works...", and "The Cost of Achieving Outcomes..." What's more, every year it seems more and more foundations turn to online application and reporting forms that require nonprofits to produce copious amounts of detailed information about their logic models, theories of change, inputs, outputs, and outcomes.

But when stock markets head south, especially in the dramatic way they have over the past few days, there are only three indicators that matter: the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the NASDAQ Composite. If you are ever fortunate enough to make it into a foundation president's office, apart from the usual large desk you will be greeted by a television or monitor tuned to CNBC with its endless chatter about share prices and market moves. Remember, the vast majority of the 87,000 foundations in the U.S. are endowed, meaning the income that underwrites their grant budgets comes exclusively from the performance of their investments. Foundation presidents and the trustees to whom they report know that the ability to advance a foundation's mission depends on that performance, and they also know that they are being watched by state and federal regulators tasked with ensuring they are responsible fiduciaries and "prudent investors" of foundation assets.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 22-23, 2015)

August 23, 2015

Gone_fishinOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The student-led movement aimed at getting universities to divest their endowments of investments in the fossil fuel industry is going global, writes Rosie Spinks, and financial types on Wall Street and in London's City district are starting to pay attention.

Community Improvement/Development

The folks at Daily Detroit have posted a good Q&A with Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, which has played an important role in many of the major and minor developments in Detroit over the last five years or so.


Richard Marker explains how the well-known "rule of three" in the world of strategy, along with timely advice from colleagues and friends, made him realize how much he had "siloed" his own consulting practice.

Corporate Social Responsibility

With the "economic system that won the great ideological battle of the 20th century...facing a renewed challenge in the 21st," Fortune editor Alan Murray introduces the magazine's first-ever Change the World list, ten companies that are "doing well by doing good."

"For decades many companies ignored the social and environmental consequences of their activities. They saw their main responsibility as delivering returns to shareholders and viewed their obligations to society narrowly, as 'giving back' through philanthropy," write ;Michael E. Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Mark R. Kramer, a co-founder (with Porter) of FSG, a nonprofit social-impact consulting firm, in conjunction with the publication of Fortune's Change the World list. But what's emerging today, they add,

is something more fundamental — something we call creating shared value. Large companies are addressing big social problems as a core part of their strategy. They are disproving the flawed and simplistic notion that business and society are implacable opponents locked in a zero-sum game. Instead, they are demonstrating the radical idea that companies that tackle social problems through a profitable business model offer new hope for innovative and scalable solutions....

On Forbes, Ryan Scott says the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF), to be held in Geneva in October, is further proof that companies increasingly recognize "the essential role they must play in the march toward social change. Checkbook philanthropy isn't enough to impact communities or benefit a company's culture," Scott adds; "rather, businesses are seeing the positive results that happen when they engage all aspects of their mission and functions around corporate social responsibility.

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Tips for Surviving a Group Interview

August 20, 2015

Group interviewGroup interviews are a common feature of the job search process, especially in the nonprofit sector, where candidates may need to interview with work teams, search committees, and/or board members. If you've participated in one, you know they can be a little overwhelming. Typically, you're seated on one side of a table, with four or more people on the other who take turns grilling you. With a little preparation and the application of the tips outlined below, however, you can turn even the most intimidating group interview into an opportunity to showcase your strengths.

Know who's in the room. Request the names and titles of each person who will be participating in the interview and spend a little time looking them up on the organization's website and/or on LinkedIn so, in advance, you have a sense of who they are, what they do, and what they look like.

Take notes. Jot down interview participant's names as they introduce themselves and then address them by their name as the interview proceeds. Don't be afraid to take notes as people are asking questions, especially if they are multi-part questions. If nothing else, it will enable you to make sure you've addressed all the points you were asked to cover – and will help you get back on track if you start to ramble.

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[Review] Compassionate Careers: Making a Living by Making a Difference

August 18, 2015

Book_compassionate_careers_for_PhilanTopicWhen you have a choice of paths to take, take the path with a heart.

– Yaqui Indian proverb

In Compassionate Careers: Making a Living by Making a Difference, Jeffrey W. Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell encourage young people to take "the path with a heart" when considering how they want to spend their lives. Filled with the stories of people who did just that, the book describes the joy and fulfillment — as well as some of the challenges — of a cause-focused career.

There is plenty of inspiration, and even humor, in the stories Pryor and Mitchell share. Who knew, for example, that the initial motivation for Jane Goodall to visit Africa was her love for Tarzan? Or that, as a young girl, Goodall was convinced she would make a better partner for the jungle swinger than his "wimpy" wife.

More typical is the story of Ana Dodson, a young woman who was adopted from Peru as an infant and raised in Colorado by her adoptive family. At the age of 11, Ana and her mother made plans to visit Hogar de Ninas, an orphanage outside of Cuzco, Peru. Thinking the children in the orphanage probably had no one to hug, Ana decided to collect books and stuffed animals for them and approached the local Rotary Club for help. Invited to speak at a club luncheon, she raised $700 on the spot — and received a standing ovation. That was the beginning of Peruvian Hearts, the organization Ana started to provide orphaned girls and young women in Peru with medical care, skills development, and computer training. "The girls at the orphanage were wearing clothes that were all torn. They were malnourished and had no education," Ana, now seventeen, says. "It hit me that I could have been living in that orphanage. That...could have been me. And I wanted to do something to help them."

Ivan Suvanjieff had a different journey. The creator of PeaceJam, he and his girlfriend (now wife), Dawn Engle, envisioned bringing Nobel Peace Prize-winners together with young people to create a movement for global peace and justice. They had one contact — the Dalai Lama, whom Dawn had met while working in Washington, D.C. Intrigued by their idea, the Dalai Lama agreed to participate — but only if the couple could get other Nobel laureates involved. With no connections to speak of, Suvanjieff and Engle did the one thing they could: they picked up the phone and began making calls. Almost twenty years later, PeaceJam offers programs to young people from kindergarten through college and has engaged more than a million youth participants, as well as thirteen Nobel laureates, in its cause.

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Cultivating Programs for Next-Generation Donors

August 17, 2015

Money-treeFifteen years ago, as Charles Bronfman and his late wife Andy were ushering Birthright Israel into its toddler years, they inherently understood that next generations would have new ideas about Jewish life and new energy to contribute to it. One strategy they supported began in 2002, when Jeff Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), hired me to encourage next-generation donors to bring their own ideas and resources to bear on the Jewish world.

After spending a few months surveying the landscape and exploring best practices across the country, we set up a collaborative giving process for next-generation donors who wanted to give beyond tables at benefits by more directly funding critical issues in the Jewish world. With initial financial support from ACBP, the Samberg Family Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, I helped launch a next-generation giving circle, Natan, for Generation Xers, largely financial-types in New York, who wanted to support start-ups catalyzing new Jewish life in North America and Israel.

We then founded Grand Street, a network for Generation Yers inheriting opportunities to participate in their families' philanthropy. These men and women wanted to honor their parents' and grandparents' legacies and commitment to the Jewish community while also introducing their generation's ideas with respect to contemporary Jewish life.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 15-16, 2015)

August 16, 2015

Julian-bond-1940-2015Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


In the first Q&A for their new Community Insights series, the folks at Markets for Good speak with Andrew Means, co-founder of the Impact Lab and founder of Data Analysts for Social Good.


Good post by Beth Kanter on six fundraising platforms that have disrupted charitable giving forever.

In a review of Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther says that if "Effective Altruism catches on more widely – and that's a big if – it will disrupt traditional philanthropy, change the way individuals donate to charity and force nonprofits to get much better at measuring impact...."

Global Health

Think the world is getting worse? Max Roser and the folks at have a dozen or so charts and tables that suggest otherwise.

The continent of Africa recently celebrated a year without a single recorded case of polio. On Slate, the Gates Foundation's Jay Wenger explains why that is cause for optimism but not complacency.


In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sonya Campion, a trustee of the Seattle-based Campion Foundation, argues that advocacy is a basic responsibility of all nonprofit boards.


On the Social Velocity blog, the Packard Foundation's Kathy Reich, who usually doesn't agree with those who urge nonprofits to act more like for-profits, says there is one area where nonprofits lag their for-profit peers: talent assessment, development, and management.

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Criminal Justice: Letter to POTUS From Executives' Alliance

August 15, 2015

In a letter sent to the White House earlier this month, the presidents and CEOs of twenty-seven foundations called on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal agencies and contractors to treat job applicants with arrests or convictions fairly in the hiring process.

The letter was signed by members of the Executives' Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color, which works to reform the criminal justice system, and was issued as proponents of "fair chance" hiring reform have, in recent weeks, stepped up their campaign, including a rally at the White House in late July that drew hundreds from around the country.

The White House, for its part, appears to have arrived at a similar  conclusion and, as Alan Schwarz reports in today's New York Times, is taking steps to address some of the damage caused by over-incarceration and harsh sentences for minor drug offenses that became the norm after a war on drugs was declared in the 1980s.

With the alliance's permission, we've reprinted the letter in its entirety below....

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Change Management From the Inside Out

August 13, 2015

Change_button_195I have been thinking a lot about change lately.

It’s no secret that external change is often the enemy of an organization’s long-term impact. Think changes in public policy. Trends in fundraising. Challenges to mission. Shifts in consumer sentiment. And, frankly, philanthropic fads.

But internal change can be just as much or perhaps even more of a management challenge, and the implications of how we deal with that change — particularly at the leadership level — are critical.

Consider such internal challenges as:

  • Change in organizational leadership – the CEO, president, or executive director;
  • Change in board leadership due to term limits;
  • Change in volunteer leadership at the ground level as volunteers move from one volunteer opportunity to another;
  • Change in how volunteers themselves see their roles in the organization; and
  • The need to make changes in "the way we do things" to avoid institutional inertia and dry rot.

No one has written about "change" and "transition" more eloquently than the author, speaker, and organizational consultant William Bridges, who asserts that "it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions."

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5 Questions for...Robert G. Ottenhoff, President and CEO, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

August 11, 2015

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, killing more than eighteen hundred people, and displacing hundreds of thousands of others, important questions remain unanswered. Are we better prepared to help communities of all kinds respond to and rebuild from extreme weather events and natural disasters? Has greater media scrutiny of relief organizations improved the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts? If not, why not? And what can or should philanthropy do to improve its performance and responsiveness in the wake of a major disaster?

With the tenth anniversary of Katrina just weeks away, PND asked Robert G. Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy — an organization founded in the aftermath of the storm — how the philanthropic response to major disasters has evolved over the last decade and what his organization is doing to ensure that the philanthropic community is an integral and effective part of the response to major disasters in the future.

Robert_ottenhoff_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: You’ve written that Hurricane Katrina "forever changed the way our nation thinks, reacts, and plans for massive natural disasters." How so? And what were the key lessons learned by philanthropy in the aftermath of that disaster?

Robert G. Ottenhoff: Katrina was a traumatic experience for our nation and brought the realization that our conventional ways of responding to disasters were insufficient and unsustainable. We learned three big lessons: the need for comprehensive advance planning and preparation for disasters; the critical importance of building communities that are resilient to disaster and better able to respond and bounce back; and the need for funders to support disaster recovery needs before and after disaster strikes, as well as during the immediate humanitarian crisis.

Nonprofit organizations need a plan themselves, too. How will they respond when a disaster strikes? How will they handle an influx of donations or volunteers? If they are a service provider in a stricken city, how will they make sure any interruption of service is as limited as possible? How will their staffs continue to provide vital services?

CDP has been working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation on the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Forty communities that have experienced natural disasters are competing for $1 billion in funds to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters. Our staff contributed to Rockefeller's Resilience Academies in Chicago and Denver with jurisdiction finalists and are working with them to develop initiatives and outreach plans that will better prepare them for future disasters — and, we hope, lead to better partnerships with foundations and corporations.

CDP also is working to ensure that the philanthropic community understands the importance of supporting long- and mid-term recovery needs in disaster areas. This fall, we will begin the process of awarding grants from our Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fund to community organizations in Nepal. Now that much of the immediate crisis has passed, these funds, raised from more than two hundred and sixty institutional and individual donors, will focus on long-term recovery and rebuilding of devastated areas.

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Corporate Social Responsibility: Empowerment Is Key

August 10, 2015

Digicel_haiti_schoolMany businesses understand the importance of giving back to their communities; research has shown that in order to earn trust in the communities where we work, corporations should start by doing “good business” that has a positive societal impact. But there’s more we can and should do to ensure that our efforts have a lasting effect.

The role of corporate citizenship is of utmost importance in emerging economies where resources are scarce and extreme poverty has created an urgent need for initiatives and partnerships that can improve the well-being of local people. This need is even more pronounced in countries like Haiti that have suffered extreme devastation. The massive earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010 — a disaster that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless, and damaged or destroyed 4,000 schools — created both an urgent need for immediate foreign assistance and a recognition that the effort to rebuild devastated communities and the Haitian economy would take years. While much work remains to be done, I can report that significant progress has been made.

Paradis des Indiens, a Digicel Foundation Haiti grantee, is a small local organization whose efforts to improve education in Haiti’s Grande Anse region offer lessons for all corporate sustainability funders. Using a community-service model, the organization engages children in school improvement projects and volunteer work. Children are encouraged to play an integral role in these projects and, through their participation, develop both a deeper sense of pride in and a sense of responsibility for their communities, which, in turn, inspires a greater commitment among them to rebuilding Haiti itself. While this kind of involvement in community service isn’t typical in developing countries, the impressive ability of Paradis des Indiens to instill a sense of pride and ownership in children is a perfect illustration of how a focus on empowering community members can lead to successful and sustainable projects over the longer term.

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[Review] 'In Defense of a Liberal Education'

August 07, 2015

Book_in_defense_of_a_liberal_education_for_PhilanTopicToday the word liberal is encumbered by partisan connotation. Viewed through a broader lens, however, its meaning is more expansive. Derived from the Latin root liber, the word's etymology has been associated with freedom and liberty, whether political, economic, or social. In many ways it is a very American word, both in substance and style. In his classic Democracy in America, the French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville posited, "Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom." To which Fareed Zakaria might add, learning to exercise one's freedom in a responsible way is the raison d'être of "liberal" education.

In his latest book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, Indian-born Zakaria explores what this very American concept has meant in the past — and what it means in the increasingly globalized world of the twenty-first century. The book's main arguments were born out of Zakaria's 2014 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. In that address, Zakaria acknowledged that his deeply held views on the subject were grounded in his own journey — one that took him from a childhood in Mumbai to Yale University, to national acclaim as a columnist for Newsweek, a host for CNN, and a respected author. The result is both a summary of the ongoing and often contentious debate about the value of a liberal arts education in a world obsessed with technology and anxious about its consequences as well as a very personal meditation on the ways in which liberal education has shaped his life.

Zakaria begins the book with a brief history of liberal education, from the Greeks and Romans, through the Islamic Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to the development of the modern American university, itself a hybrid of the British collegiate and German research models. From the development of the "quadrivium" (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) and the "trivium" (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) in late antiquity and early Middle Ages, to the Yale Report of 1828 (a document written by Yale College faculty in defense of the classical curriculum), Cardinal John Henry Newman's publication of the Idea of a University in1852, and Charles Eliot's transformation of Harvard into America's premier research university in the early twentieth century, Zakaria provides a solid context for understanding the evolution of the liberal arts in America.

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August 06, 2015

Failure_stampAt three recent philanthropy gatherings*, I heard open discussions of failure in grantmaking strategy and execution. The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but I'm heartened by this mini-trend.

Still, why is it so hard to talk about failure in philanthropy?

There's no incentive. Under what circumstances is one encouraged to fail? Working out, playing sports, rehearsing for a performance – these are all activities where you're meant to try something new, see how it goes, fix what didn't work, and try again. You get immediate signals that tell you what's not working, and often someone is there to tell you what to do instead, or how to do better. What's crucial in those cases is that you're not alone – there is someone in the role of spotter, observing your performance with a frame of reference of how to do it better and giving you timely feedback on how to improve. And you can see the results. Signals about performance in philanthropy travel much more slowly, if at all, and the roles are not nearly as clear. As discussed in a prior post, most foundations are minimally staffed, so there's not a lot of space for an HR function. And most program staff are recruited for their content expertise, not because they're good managers. So you can't count on there being a spotter for you within your foundation. Don't get me wrong, people within the foundation do pay attention to what you're doing, and you are called to account if you don't follow the rules. But those rules aren't necessarily set up to support performance or performance improvement. Which brings up another point....

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Why Venture Philanthropy Is the Future of Giving

August 04, 2015

News_plant_giving_growth_200For decades, the formula has remained unchanged: donors give to charities, nonprofits, and other social purpose organizations — here in Canada, where LIFT Philanthropy Partners is based, more than $12 billion was donated last year — and organizations, in turn, use those donations to run their programs and offer services in their communities. Benefits are considered to be directly correlated to the size of the donation: more money = more programs and services; less money = fewer programs and services. The cycle simply repeats ad infinitum, without a real understanding of results, impact, or long-term value.

The chief executives of many of these nonprofits are so busy feeding the cycle so as to serve their vulnerable clients that they have little or no time left for the business planning or evaluation that would be the next steps in building organizational capacity. The result is real and systemic challenges that, year after year, aren’t addressed in any meaningful way. For example, despite $12 billion in donations, 42 percent of Canadians have low literacy skills, more than 20 percent of those over the age of 20 have not completed high school, and only 4.4 percent of youth get the recommended amount of physical activity.

How can we help nonprofits do more to tackle these problems? How can we ensure that every dollar of that $12 billion is being used to address the very real, very systemic challenges that are a reality for too many people? How can we get more results from hard-working organizations that are already stretched thin?

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 1-2, 2015)

August 02, 2015

Adirondacks-with-ocean-viewOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

While the decision of the Hewlett Foundation to amend its social investment policy to say it will "refrain from future investments in private partnerships primarily involved in oil and gas drilling" falls far short of divestment, it is significant nonetheless. Marc Gunther explains.

In the New Yorker, Katy Lederer explains how a new report from international consulting firm Mercer not only quantifies the investment impacts of various climate-change scenarios, it makes clear that as climate change "trashes" the economy, superfiduciaries— sovereign wealth and pension funds, foundations, and endowments — are not going to be able to meet their long-term obligations. 

Endowed institutions aren't the only ones waking up to the existential threat of unchecked climate change. Bloomberg Politics reports that executives of thirteen major U.S. corporations have announced at least $140 billion in new investments "to [reduce] their carbon footprints as part of a White House initiative to recruit private commitments ahead of a United Nations climate-change summit later this year in Paris."


The latest edition of the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Marketing Guide blog, is open for submissions. The topic of this month's roundup is how you share progress or communicate your accomplishments -- "not just with donors, but to program participants, and other supporters and influencers as well." The deadline for submissions (new or recent posts) is  Friday, August 28, and the roundup of all posts will be published on Monday, August 31. To submit a post, just email the URL and two- or three-sentence summary to

Corporate Social Responsibility

Large multinationals spent some $20 billion on corporate social responsibility programs in 2013. Good news, right? In The Atlantic, Gillian White explains why we shouldn't get too excited.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2015)

August 01, 2015

It was a typically hot and muggy July in most places, but here at PhilanTopic it was an especially cool month, with new posts from Sarah Gunther and Diana Samarasan related to the release of an updated Foundation Center report on funding for global human rights, three posts full of great fundraising and governance advice for nonprofit leaders, a new Q&A with Jean Case, and the latest installment in Matt Schwartz' Cause-Driven Design series topping the list of the most popular posts on the blog. What, you were on vacation? Don't sweat it. Here's your chance to catch up....

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at


Quote of the Week

  • "If you're asking me my opinion, [Edward Snowden's] going to die in Moscow. He's not coming home...."

    — Former NSA head Michael Hayden

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