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Best of PhilanTopic: 2014 Edition

December 31, 2014

Hard to believe another year has come and gone. It certainly was an eventful one -- and a busy one here at PhilanTopic, in terms of both the number of items posted and pageviews (the most since we launched the blog in the fall of 2007). Below are the ten posts that proved to be especially popular. Hope you find them to be as interesting as we did!

Have a must-read/-watch/-listen from 2014 you'd care to share with our readers? Use the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 27-28, 2014)

December 28, 2014

2015 New Year's Eve_December 2014 Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector...

African Americans

In a post on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at OSF, salutes the achievements of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement as it prepares, under the continued leadership of Shawn Dove and Rashid Shabazz, to become a standalone organization.

Were the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the widespread protests that spread across the country in the aftermath of grand-jury decisions finding no negligence on the part of police a "movement moment"? It sure looks that way, writes Alfonso Wenker, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. For grantmakers who are wondering what they can do to help close racial achievement gaps and support the movement for racial equity in the United States, Wenker shares a list of helpful tools and resources.

Communications/Marketing

In a  post on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Sean King, director of marketing and communications for Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!), shares some takeways from a fundraising campaign that saw seven nonprofit arts organizations in Allentown, Pennsylvania, join forces on #GivingTuesday to create some buzz and raise some money in support of their efforts.

Data

The most popular post on the Markets for Good site in 2014 was this contribution from Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity: water, who used it to explain why the organization's goal of helping 100 million people get access to clean and safe drinking water by 2022 would be impossible without data.

Looking for a good read or two to close out the year? Beth Kanter shares five book recommendations for "the nonprofit networking and data nerd in your life."

Fundraising

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), a joint initiative of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, has released the 2014 edition of its Fundraising Survey Effectiveness Report (30 pages, PDF). The report, which summarizes data from 3,576 survey respondents covering year-to-year fundraising results for 2012-13, found that gains of $1.334 million in gifts from new, upgraded current, and previously lapsed donors were offset by losses of $1.228 million through reduced gifts and lapsed donors — in other words, 92 percent of gains in giving were offset by losses in giving. The report also found that while the median donor retention rate increased from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2013 and the gift or dollar retention rate increased from 40 percent to 46 percent, over the last nine years, donor and gift or dollar retention rates have consistently been weak — averaging below 50 percent.

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Help Fight Hunger This Holiday Season

December 19, 2014

Aiken+sullivanFor a majority of Americans, the holiday season is a time of celebration, feasting, and thankfulness. In the midst of our merriment, however, it's important to remember that while many of us are planning our holiday meals, millions of Americans will be wondering where they are going to get their next meal.
Feeding America recently revealed the results of its quadrennial study, Hunger in America 2014 (176 pages, PDF) — the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind. The study concluded that, in the most recent calendar year, one in seven Americans — or more than 46 million people — sought food assistance from the Feeding America network.

On the surface, people relying on foodbanks may not appear to be "hungry." They may have a home and a job. Yet all too often, they struggle to get enough to eat for themselves and, in many cases, their families. Many qualify as working poor — they work long hours but are paid such meager wages that they are forced to choose between paying the heating bill and buying food. And for a person living paycheck to paycheck, one car problem or unforeseen illness can have devastating consequences. Despite their hard work, food-insecure people often find financial stability out of reach.

Foodbanks are a lifeline for millions of people and families in need. In every county across America, they provide food for people struggling to get by. Yet while these services are critical, the provision of food alone will not solve the problem of hunger. As the plight of the working poor demonstrates, food insecurity does not exist in isolation. It intersects with other basic needs such as housing, access to health care, and employment. To truly solve the problem, we have to meet the needs of low-income families holistically and help them build a pathway out of poverty.

Recognizing this, some foodbanks have begun to partner with job training organizations, healthcare workers, financial firms, and others to help the people they serve access resources that enable them to meet other priority needs. Bank of America, for example, has committed to working with Feeding America to provide families facing hunger with access to the benefits and financial tools they need to begin building a financial safety net and, ultimately, a path to economic stability. Partnerships such as these enable food-insecure families to reach goals they once thought unimaginable, including saving for college, buying a house, and achieving financial stability.

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Philanthropy in India: Dasra’s First Forum in the U.S.

December 17, 2014

The enthusiasm on display at the Dasra Philanthropy Forum on November 10 could have fueled a week-long conference. Hosted by the Ford Foundation, the day-long event brought together more than thirty speakers, five panels, and a crowd of over a hundred philanthropy, nonprofit, and social business leaders to discuss philanthropy in India, with a special focus on empowering the country's 113 million adolescent girls.

Dasra_forum_panel

Based in Mumbai, Dasra (which means "enlightened giving" in Sanskrit) works to bring about sustainable, long-term social change in the world's second-most populous country. For the past five years, the organization has convened key stakeholders for an annual week-long conference to discuss, explore, and evaluate the challenges the country is facing, as well as how the private and public sectors  can work together to create greater impact. The event at Ford marked the organization's debut in the U.S., and the opening plenary remarks delivered by Tarun Jotwani, the organization's chair, charged the room with energy and anticipation of the conversations to follow.

The brainchild of Deval Sanghavi and Neera Nundy, Dasra was founded in 1999 to help transform the practice of philanthropy in India. In the years since, its staff has grown from eight to nearly eighty. Their efforts, in turn, have affected some 730,000 lives across India, of whom 325,000 have been women and children. In 2013, the organization created the Dasra Girl Alliance, a public-private partnership with USAID and the UK-based Kiawah Trust — subsequently joined by the Piramal Foundation — to ensure that every woman in India feels safe and empowered and that every girl receives an education. Indeed, it is the organization's belief that "Girls are essential agents of change in breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation." To give girls in India the tools they need to realize that vision, Dasra aims to raise $30 million for health- and education-related initiatives, of which $9 million has already been raised, and to have changed the lives of over a million women and girls by 2018.

In the meantime, there's lots of work to be done. According to the World Bank, while India's GDP grew from $834 million in 2005 to more than $1.8 trillion in 2013, less than 10 percent of the country's population earns enough to pay income tax. As Deval Sanghavi noted, "Macroeconomics is not going to solve this problem; we need private philanthropy to complement government and business efforts."

Back at the Ford Foundation, the conference's format balanced well-attended panel discussions with smaller sessions offered concurrently. Many of the former featured Indian philanthropists who shared personal stories of their efforts to rally Indians around the idea of change, while others focused on the importance of partnerships and how investments in girls must connect to the broader themes of economic prosperity and stronger communities. Parallel sessions included discussions focused on the country's new Corporate Social Responsibility Law (which requires corporations to spend 2 percent of their net profits on charitable causes) and how it could affect the country's economy; the role of foundations in India; and how Mann Deshi, the largest microfinance bank in Maharashtra, with more than 165,000 clients, is improving the economic well-being of women from low-income communities.

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How to Improve Your Mediocre Fundraising Copy

December 16, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannFor most of us, the month of December generally means two things: fundraising letters and holiday parties.

Okay, maybe that's just me.

Still, end-of-year gifts and donations account for a substantial amount of the money raised by nonprofit organizations, which, in an effort to capture every bit of potential support before January 1, typically kick off the end-of-year fundraising season with a series of direct-mail appeals and then move on to email solicitations.  

I'm sure you can relate, but at this point in the year, both my mailbox and my email inbox are stuffed with solicitations from nonprofits. But here is where I'm different from most of you: I actually read every letter I get so as to better understand why I should pay attention and why I should (or shouldn't) give to an organization. In other words, the fundraising nerd in me comes alive!

That said, a funny thing happened to me recently: As I was reading through a stack of direct-mail pitches, I began to feel grumpy, agitated, a little Scrooge-like.

I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me and then it hit me: I've grown impatient with much of the fundraising copy I read. Some of that impatience has to do with all the numbers and statistics I'm asked to process. A few of the letters include language I haven't heard since my high school economics class. I've also noted a growing trend of organizations tossing my name around as if it were a magic incantation. (One solicitation I received included at least ten "Derricks" in the body of the text.) And then there was the solicitation signed by the CEO of the organization which insinuated that only a gift to his organization would make a difference this year and that no organization, anywhere, has the kind of "impact" his does. 

As I was reflecting on the effectiveness of these different approaches, I had an epiphany: there is an alarming amount of bad fundraising copy being written these days. And what's worse, I suspect the people responsible for that copy, and the people in leadership positions who sign off on it, think it's pretty good. 

Why do so many fundraising and development pros write bad copy? And why are so many executives content to let it out into the world? I don't really have answers to either of those questions, but I do have some thoughts about why so many of the fundraising solicitations we receive are just plain bad.

You assume I read your last solicitation. I hate to say it, but there's a good chance I never finished (or even glanced at) your previous solicitation. Fundraising copy writers often make the mistake of assuming that their target audience has read every word they've ever written. As you sit down to finalize your next fundraising appeal, remind yourself that most of the people on your mailing list probably haven't read your previous solicitations, and be sure to remove from your copy any phrase like:

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Agriculture

On the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation blog, David Festa, vice president for ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, suggests that if "we're going to meet growing needs for food and water,...[b]usiness as usual just isn’t going to cut it." But, adds Festa, there are reasons for optimism, as retailers, food companies, agribusinesses, farmers, and ranchers all rethink their roles in the food supply chain to do more with less while improving the ecosystems on which they, and all of us, depend.

Civil Rights

Interesting look by the New York Times  at police shootings in New York City in 2013, the last year of the Blo0mberg administration. According to an annual NYPD report released early in the week, shooting by officers, "whether unintentional or in the course of confrontations with suspects," fell to 40, from 45 in 2012, and were down from an eleven-year high of 61 in 2003.

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention! blog, Allison Fine, author of the recently released Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, suggests that the secret to succeess in today's social media-driven world is to communicate with people instead of at them.

Speaking of a "world gone social," what are the attributes of CEOs who "get" social media? Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt have the answers in the Harvard Business Review.

Data

On the Markets for Good site, Beth Kanter shares ten ideas about how to find to data-nerd types to help enhance your organization's data collection and analysis capabilities.

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Philanthropy's Paradigm Shift

December 13, 2014

The following was sent to us by George McCully, creator of the Massachusetts Catalogue for Philanthropy, which was launched in 1997 as a collaborative project of about twenty leading foundations, corporations, and individual donors in the state and distributed annually through 2007, and the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory, in 2011.

(Click on chart for larger version)

Paradigm Shift-Final-GMcCully-12-10-14 copy

Lots of ideas, trends, and concepts to chew on here. Which ones do you agree with? Disagree? What would you add? How will this historic shift affect your organization/institution and practice? Share your thoughts below...

Can Data Help Save Lives and Protect Vulnerable Populations?

December 12, 2014

Headshot_regine_websterThe use of data to drive philanthropic decisions has been discussed at great length within the philanthropic sector over the past few years, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has been captivated by all the energy around the topic. One of our founding principles is to transform the field of disaster philanthropy, and we have achieved some traction toward that goal. But over the past two years, we gradually realized that a key element was lacking in our tool kit.

That key element was funder data. More specifically, which disasters are funded, by whom, for what purpose, and with what goals in mind?

The beginning of an answer lies in our newly-released report, Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2014: Data to Drive Decisions (52 pages, PDF).

The report, the result of a partnership between CDP and Foundation Center, is the most comprehensive analysis of disaster philanthropy to date. As stated in the key findings section, the report "provides a snapshot of funding for disasters by the largest U.S. foundations." Based on 2012 data, it is also designed to establish a baseline and serve as the foundation for a longer-term effort to collect and aggregate data from the philanthropic community. Subsequent reports will provide insights into more current and comprehensive trends on disaster giving.

Key findings from the report include the following:

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Tackling Poverty in Place

December 10, 2014

Headshot_margery_turnerInitiatives that focus on our country's most distressed neighborhoods have been the subject of lively and insightful debate lately. Three big themes animate my own thinking about this work, highlighted in a talk I gave last week at a forum organized by the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC.

  1. Place matters. If we care about poverty, we can't ignore neighborhoods.
  2. The strategies we employ should be "place conscious," not myopically "place based."
  3. Race matters. As we tackle poverty and place, we can't ignore the central role of racial inequality and injustice.

Place matters. Neighborhoods play a huge role in shaping the well-being of families and kids. They're the locus for essential public and private services — schools being perhaps the most significant. Neighbors and neighborhood institutions help transmit the norms and values that influence behavior and teach children what's expected of them as they grow up. And where we live determines our exposure to crime, disorder, and violence, which profoundly affects our physical and emotional well-being long-term.

Research shows that conditions in severely distressed neighborhoods undermine both the quality of daily life and the long-term life chances of parents and children. In fact, Pat Sharkey's research shows that living in a high-poverty neighborhood undermines some outcomes across generations.

It goes without saying that tackling poverty — especially inter-generational poverty— requires sustained interventions at many levels. Nationwide efforts to expand employment opportunities, boost wages, strengthen work support systems, and bolster the social safety net are all necessary. But I'm convinced they're insufficient for families living in severely distressed neighborhood environments. Interventions that explicitly target the neighborhood conditions most damaging to family well-being and children's healthy development have to be part of our anti-poverty policy portfolio.

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Urgently Needed: People, Supplies, and Money for Ebola Response

December 09, 2014

Headshot_rebecca_milnerThe current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is one of the great public health challenges of the still-young twenty-first century. In a few short months, Ebola has infected more than fifteen thousand people and claimed over fifty-five hundred lives, with the vast majority of fatalities in just three countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Despite the toll Ebola has already taken and the broader threat it poses to populations everywhere, the global healthcare community has been painfully slow to respond. As of mid-November, International Medical Corps remained one of only a handful of foreign humanitarian relief organizations treating Ebola patients in the region.

To be sure, operating an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) safely and effectively in rural West Africa is no easy task. Any organization taking on the challenge must be experienced in working in remote, difficult conditions. An arduous four-hour journey is required to reach our seventy-bed ETU located on the grounds of a former leprosy colony in Bong County, Liberia, a hundred and twenty miles north of Monrovia. We opened a similar-sized ETU in neighboring Margibi County at the end of November and expect to have a pair of fifty-bed ETUs operational in Sierra Leone by year's end.

Maintaining an ETU of that size requires three critical components: people, supplies, and money. While the majority of our staff are local Liberian nationals, it is a constant challenge to keep a sufficient and steady flow of skilled international medical and technical personnel willing to give up a two-month chunk of their lives to work in a potentially dangerous environment, then risk being ostracized — or even quarantined — upon returning home. To treat Ebola patients effectively, each ETU requires a staff of around two hundred and seventy. At present about 90 percent of the staff are Liberian nationals. We follow a medical staffing ratio of three expatriate and four local physicians, along with eight expatriate and twenty-four local nurses for every fifty patients. Additional staff are required to provide water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and other needs. Ambulance crews pick up suspected cases to isolate them as quickly as possible, then return those who test negative for the virus or who have been successfully treated to their homes. Trained crews also disinfect, protect, and bury the remains of those who succumb to the disease.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

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'Under Construction': Growing Kings

December 05, 2014

Under_Construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

There's an old saying that goes, A boy is born, a man is trained.

In the hodge-podge of races, cultures, ethnicities, and all their companion traditions that is America, there's no formalized, hard-and-fast entrée into manhood. Sans a singular rite of passage, it just kind of happens from family to family, community to community. Getting a driver's license, losing one's virginity, graduating from high school or college and joining the workforce, turning 18 or 21 (depending on whom you ask) — all have been pointed to as touchstones in the shaping of masculinity. Fathering a child is perhaps the most significant of all, but the consensus view holds that, the mechanics of biology aside, the ability to procreate does not make a male a father — nor make him a man.

The absence of active dads in black and Latino communities has been well-documented as the by-product of systemic social factors and poor personal decisions. Whatever the reasons, the result is boys growing up without real-life role models and male figures unable or unwilling to offer their time, wisdom, and emotional maturity to boys looking for the way forward. Mentorship doesn't necessarily substitute for the absence of a biological parent, but it often does provide boys and young men with support and encouragement from older guys who can relate to them because, not too long ago, they were them.

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How Much Do Foundations Really Give to Detroit?

December 03, 2014

Spirit_of_Detroit-2560x1600It is no secret that the once-great city of Detroit has fallen on hard times. In response, philanthropic foundations, while wisely insisting that they can never replace government, have stepped up their levels of giving in the city in an effort to save its key institutions and civic infrastructure from collapse. So it seems perfectly logical to ask, as the Detroit News did recently, "How much are funders giving to Detroit?"

In turns out there are at least three answers to that question, depending on how one interprets "give to Detroit" and how the numbers are crunched. According to the Detroit News, eleven top funders "awarded Detroit $512 million in grants from 2008-2012." That number is based on Foundation Center data and is a solid one, but it only tells part of the story.

To understand why, let's look at one of the eleven funders — the Ford Foundation — mentioned in the Detroit News story. The News reports that the foundation provided $27.8 million in grants to Detroit from 2008-12. That's true, with two important clarifications. First of all, though not made explicit in the story, the News was only interested in grants to organizations located in "Detroit proper," as opposed to the Detroit metropolitan area. The second clarification is that the Ford Foundation number intentionally omitted a series of grants totaling $13.7 million to the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan. Large, national foundations like Ford frequently make the equivalent of block grants to community foundations, which have the on-the-ground presence, networks, and expertise to re-grant those funds effectively to community-based organizations. Foundation Center researchers took that $13.7 million out of the Ford totals and counted whatever portion had been re-granted as part of the "grants awarded Detroit" by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. This was to avoid something called "double counting"; still, it would not be inaccurate to say the Ford Foundation provided $41.5 million ($27.8 million + $13.7 million) in grants to organizations in "Detroit proper" from 2008-12.

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Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2014)

December 01, 2014

PhilanTopic had a lot to be thankful for in November. In fact, thanks to a lot of great content, it was our busiest month, traffic wise, since we launched the blog back in 2007. Here's a recap of the posts that proved to be especially popular.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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    Martin Luther King, Jr.

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