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Diversity at the California Endowment: Important Enough to Measure

December 10, 2015

About seven years ago, our board of directors engaged in a conversation about the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion at our institution. While we re-affirmed our allegiance to these values, which were present at the inception of the California Endowment, we concluded that we needed to ratchet up the seriousness of our resolve. The issues that arose included: Are we, as a foundation, committed enough to this issue to measure and track improvement? And while we have metrics for a range of equity indicators in our healthy communities work, Sons and Brothers program, overall strategic plan, etc., why don't we have them with respect to diversity in our operations and structure as a foundation?

Diversity Audit 2013 coverSo, off we went. We resolved to create a tool to assess our progress, now known as the Diversity Audit (44 pages, PDF). In it, we committed to expressing the value of, and a commitment to, diversity across a range of parameters: on our board, at the management level, among our staff and grantees, as well as among our contractors, consultants, and even investment managers. We wanted to be able to express our commitment to diversity/equity/inclusion regardless of how one might engage with the foundation.

The process of creating and then institutionalizing the Diversity Audit required the support and engagement of our board, management, and staff. There's a saying, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Today, we pay particular attention to recruiting new board members and senior management who value diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we look to them to ensure that our commitment to diversity "lives" beyond any one individual or position and becomes ingrained in the DNA of the California Endowment. While turnover in any organization is inevitable, we do not ever take this commitment lightly.

We also required the support of a savvy, thoughtful partner to hold our organizational hand throughout the process, so we procured the services of SPR Associates. SPR worked with our staff to develop the right kind of data collection practices and reporting platform; we needed our human resources, grants administration, contracts administration, program and learning staff, and investments team to all be in the boat. And, obviously, it required us to embark on the business of asking grantees, contractors, and consultants for their diversity information – in the right way. As a result, we now pose the diversity question almost every time we engage in a financial or business transaction.

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[Review] No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy

December 09, 2015

In No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, Linsey McGoey, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex, excoriates what she sees as the historical illiteracy of many of today's philanthropists. Armed with good intentions, wealth, and (as they would have you believe) inerrant business acumen, the new breed of "philanthrocapitalist" applies terms like impact, theory of change, and social entrepreneurship to their philanthropic activities and are intently concerned with generating "shared value." In reality, however, these "TED heads" (as McGoey calls them) are simply following in the footsteps of their philanthropic predecessors.

Book_no-such_thing_as_a_free_gift_for_PhilanTopicIndeed, the main difference between the new breed of philanthropist and their robber-baron forerunners is rhetoric, argues McGoey. Like their modern progeny, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford each earned their fortunes through anti-competitive practices, aggressive lobbying for favorable legal treatment, and risky financial engineering; each used his philanthropic benevolence as public cover for the ethically dubious (and often illegal) means used to amass his wealth; and each claimed his business acumen made him a better custodian of the public good than government or traditional charity. Or, as Carnegie famously put it: "[T]he millionaire will be a trustee of the poor, intrusted [sic] for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself."

McGoey will have none of it. The billionaire-knows-best style of philanthropy is as paternalistic as it is ineffective, she argues, and the simple truth of that observation is as lost on today's philanthropists as it was on Carnegie and Rockefeller. The typical philanthrocapitalist insists, for example, that philanthropy has, until now, been ineffectual — a claim made without any acknowledgment of the difficulty inherent in measuring social impact, or that the actual influence of any one foundation’s grantmaking on a social problem is nearly impossible to isolate. One case is particularly instructive for McGoey: former President Bill Clinton has said in the past that microfinance is responsible for lifting more than a hundred million people out of poverty. But while it's true that more than a hundred million people have received a microcredit loan, she writes, most studies indicate that even for "successful" microfinance programs, insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate a link between their activities and poverty alleviation. Moreover, the few studies that were able to demonstrate a statistically significant link showed only very modest increases in the income of loan recipients, while several studies have found that the high interest rates attached to such loans — and favored by microfinance investors — often exacerbate rather than alleviate poverty among loan recipients. Investors, on the other hand, have seen consistently positive returns on their investments; little surprise, then, that microfinance advocates are adamant in their opposition to interest-rate caps and other regulations that would stifle the “success” of microlending.

McGoey herself further argues that today's TED heads are different from their more modest progenitors in the way they shamelessly leverage their charitable donations to advance private economic interests. Whether it's a wealthy mining magnate using a generous donation to the Clinton Global Initiative to earn himself an introduction to the foreign minister of a resource-rich developing nation, or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supporting agricultural initiatives in Africa and South America to increase the economic influence of U.S. agribusinesses, she details how modern philanthrocapitalists consistently blur the line between charity and business. While there may be nothing legally wrong with using charitable largess to reap financial rewards, for McGoey such practices raise important ethical questions about the use of philanthropy to advance a corporation's (or nation's) economic interests.

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The 5 Dysfunctions of Philanthropy

December 07, 2015

Trust-culturesIn 2002, Patrick Lencioni wrote a book titled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In it, Lencioni explores the interpersonal aspects of teambuilding in a professional setting and explains how they undermine success. And while Lencioni's team operates in a fictional company, his lessons are entirely relevant to grantmakers.

Here's my take on how Lencioni's five dysfunctions can manifest themselves in philanthropy.

Dysfunction #1 — Absence of trust. Lencioni describes this as the unwillingness of team members to share their weaknesses with the rest of the group. This is completely understandable and a deeply rooted aspect of human nature. It's hard to admit weakness to your teammates when everyone is so invested in achieving success. But grantmakers take this dysfunction to a new level when it comes to dealing with grantees. The organizations we fund are just as important to our success as we are probably more so, in fact  yet how many funders are willing to admit any weakness to their grantees or confess that they don't always know the best way forward? And, as a result, how many of us can truly say we have a deep and mutually trusting relationship with the organizations and people we fund?

Dysfunction #2 — Fear of conflict. Few of us relish the idea of arguing with our colleagues, but we often are so afraid of conflict that we shy away from healthy and enlightening debate or discussion. The truth is that talking through any point of contention in a respectful way — whether it's something operational like grantmaking procedure or deeply cultural like equity and inclusion — ultimately serves to pull a team together and make it stronger in the end. Conversely, avoiding debates, even passionate ones, for the sake of maintaining harmony almost always does more harm than good. That said, grantmakers instill a fear of conflict in the hearts of grantees almost by default. After all, what organization wants to engage in conflict with the hand that feeds it? Imagine how much we'd learn, however, if our grantees trusted us enough to debate important issues.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 5-6, 2015)

December 06, 2015

Rockefeller-center-christmas-tree-statueOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement has released the inaugural Black Male Achievement Index, a "first-of-its-kind report to track and communicate how cities' efforts across the country are advancing black male achievement."

Climate Change

The University of Massachusetts has joined the growing list of educational institutions that have announced they will divest themselves of investments in coal companies. WBUR's Zeninjor Enwemeka reports.

Can so-called green bonds be a game-changer in the fight against global warming. Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin thinks so and explains in the Guardian how the foundation's Zero Gap work is helping to show the way forward.

On the Barr Foundation blog, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations, and public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability issues, looks at some of the companies that are stepping up to address the climate change threat

One major American company, Google, has announced that it will nearly double the amount of renewable energy it uses to power its data centers, with six different wind and solar power projects scheduled to come online within the next two years in the U.S., Chile, and Sweden. Michael Liedtke reports for the Washington Post.

Fundraising

The San Diego chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has joined the New York chapter in splitting from the national federation, setting itself up as a purely locally operated organization. The San Diego Tribune's Bradley J. Fikes reports.

Giving

Is donor-driven charity dying? After noting on the Huffington Post's Impact blog that the latest numbers released by the World Giving Index show that while total giving is up, the number of individuals making those gifts is down by 5 percent, George McGraw, founder and executive director of digdeep.org, argues that nonprofits need to start developing new revenue models and offers a few suggestions.

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A Journey Toward Social Change Funding Starts With a Simple Step

December 04, 2015

When I came to Surdna Foundation in 2007, I spent several months just talking with people about the foundation and what they knew of it. Thanks in large measure to the extraordinary family and executive leadership up to that point, Surdna had a stellar reputation for creative, impactful grantmaking. But as I dug deeper, I realized that Surdna staff and board didn't have the language to explain why we funded the things we were funding. We couldn't articulate why some things felt right, while others simply didn't make the grade. I helped us get started on a process to carefully examine what we'd been doing for the previous twenty years — and to think together about what it was that was the glue that held that work together. Most of us could feel it and even identify which grants were bull's eyes, and which weren't.

Families_Funding_ChangeSeveral concepts emerged from that examination, concepts that formed the basis of our new mission statement: family, community, sustainability, and social justice. These core concepts felt both broadly consistent with the values that had been set forth by our founder, John E. Andrus, nearly one hundred years ago, and relevant to the work we wanted to do going forward.

Our story suggests that sometimes it only takes the simple step of naming what it is that you care about to begin the journey toward more effective, responsive philanthropy. Since adopting our new mission statement, social justice has become the key to understanding who we are as a family foundation and what work we want to do to help communities thrive across the United States. We're proud to have this process featured in a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy: Families Funding Change: How Social Justice Giving Honors Our Roots and Empowers Communities (16 pages, PDF).

We share with NCRP the view that empowering communities to solve the problems of poverty, injustice, and inequity should become more prominent in the work of foundations, especially family foundations. We have long supported the work of NCRP and the principles they stand for. We have done so even as we have been on our own journey as a funder working towards those principles. We have always believed that learning is a key part of who we are and, really, core to what makes good philanthropy. I encourage you to read the Families Funding Change report and consider how Surdna's experience with social justice philanthropy, and the experiences of other featured funders, can inform your own work.

By choosing to frame our mission as one "grounded in principles of social justice," the board made explicit their understanding that equity and social justice must be a frame of reference for all of our work. Indeed, this framework reflects the values of the family today. Of course, a mission statement is merely words on a page unless it is put at the center of the work. And with our board's leadership, we have kept that mission in mind as we have built grantmaking programs and revamped the foundation strategies and staff. It has been a remarkable thing to see how our explicit naming of social justice has shaped the foundation from the bottom to the top.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2015)

December 03, 2015

Recent events are a sobering reminder that life is short and the future a mystery. But as Gandhi tells us, throughout history, the way of truth and love always has won out in the end. In that spirit, here are links to half a dozen or so of the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in November....

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that made you feel hopeful? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Beyond Money: Foundations Can Create Change by Building Communities

December 01, 2015

In the opening words of a famous political science textbook from decades ago, democracy is about "who gets what, when and why." We can apply the same question to the work of foundations and the nonprofits, universities, and agencies that together work to strengthen American democracy: Who gets what? Foundation Center's mapping of funding for democracy in the U.S. is one innovative way to answer that question.

The world of foundations and the work they fund has for too long been shrouded in obscurity. While many foundations boast a commitment to transparency and release lists of their own grants, it has been far too difficult to see who funds an entire field, or understand how a foundation-backed policy idea made it onto the agenda. Given that foundations can be at least as influential as big political donors, driving policy initiatives such as charter schools and health reform, there should be resources that open up the sector to journalists and activists, as well as grantseekers interested in understanding the often mysterious question of who got what.

But that's only part of the question. Even the most complete list of grantees and grant dollar amounts tells us only so much about the work and the vision: What does restoring American democracy mean, in practice? Can this mapping resource help answer that question?

Foundations do more than just give money to worthy projects. At their best, they make at least two other vital contributions: They help build a community — that is, the whole network of sustainable, adaptive organizations, from research projects to grassroots activists, that can further a cause — and they create connections, across issues and communities, in order to make each one stronger and more vibrant. So in looking at the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool, I wanted to ask those questions: Where have foundations built strong communities around democracy issues? And have they created the kinds of connections — between, for example, nonprofit journalism and efforts to reduce the role of money in politics — that strengthen these communities and the cause?

Schmitt_blog_image

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This Giving Season, Make Sure You Stand Out

November 30, 2015

Pencil_standing-outDo you feel like you’ve been on the receiving end of the same marketing advice for years? Or that the outdated marketing tactics promoted by fundraising blogs, websites, and experts isn't relevant to your fundraising strategy – and might actually be killing your results?

Here's one I hear pretty often: "If you show them the logo three times, they’ll remember it."

Whenever someone offers advice like this, my first impulse is to ask: "Do you have a study you can point me to that offers evidence in support of that claim?" As you might imagine, the conversation usually turns pretty quickly to other subjects.

So what does it really take for your organization's brand to resonate and be remembered by donors at this time of year?

Here are five things that will help:

1. Stand for something. In general, donors care more about the cause or issue you represent than your organization. Which means you need to boldly promote what it is your organization stands for and then empower your audiences to support that mission. Your messaging should use emotion, clever wordcraft, and compelling images to separate your organization from all the other organizations out there. And remember: You can't be everything to everyone. Or, as my dad used to say, If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

2. Communicate with your donors throughout the process, not just at the end. Through our research, we've discovered that donors want to know what organizations are doing with the resources donated to them. In other words, it's imperative that you help individual donors understand how you're using their donations – and that you don't wait twelve months to tell them. As soon as you receive a donation, tell the donor about the person or project his or her gift will benefit, and then make an effort to communicate on a regular basis the change his or her support for your organization is helping to create.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 28-29, 2015)

November 29, 2015

Fall Leaves Oak Frost  11 05 09  019 - Edit-2 - Edit-SOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The CEOs from 78 companies and 20 economic sectors have issued an open letter on the World Economic Forum site calling upon "governments to take bold action at the Paris climate conference (COP 21) in December 2015 to secure a more prosperous world for all of us."

Giving

On the Giving in LA blog, John Kobara, executive vice president and COO of the California Community Foundation, citing the latest findings from neuroscience, notes that our brains have a philanthropic center, powered by oxytocin, that requires regular exercise. "The more we test our biases, certainties and assumptions by directly experiencing our feelings and expressing our compassion," writes Kobara, "the more we energize our philanthropic brains. Our philanthropy gets humanized and embodies the definition of philanthropy — our love for one another...." 

On Giving Tuesday, crowdfunding platform Crowdrise will launch its second-annual Giving Tower campaign, the centerpiece of which will be a virtual tower made up of bricks that represent donations made to participating charities. Megan Ranney reports for Mashable.

And a nice reminder from Money magazine's Kerri Anne Renzulli that there are ways to give to charity this holiday season other than giving cash.

Higher Education

"Low-income high school graduates were far less likely to enroll in higher education in 2013 than in 2008, a downward trend that came at the same time the Obama administration was pushing to boost college access and completion," a new analysis of Census Bureau data finds. The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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How Foundations Are Supporting Voting Rights

November 24, 2015

The last five years have seen a tug-of-war over the future of our democracy. At odds are forces that want to restrict access to political participation and others who seek to open it in hopes of increasing the number of Americans who cast ballots. After the 2010 election, the war on voting rights intensified with the adoption of laws that curbed participation through voter ID laws in a number of states and cutbacks on early voting opportunities in others. The Supreme Court further complicated the picture by putting money over people in its Citizens United decision and dealing a blow to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which made it easier for states to engage in voter suppression tactics impacting voters of color. At the same time, while some states were rolling back the clock on voting rights and democracy, others were pushing through reforms such as online and same-day voter registration aimed at modernizing their voting systems.

As the battle rages on, nonprofits, think tanks, and universities have received substantial funding from foundations in support of their efforts to advance democracy in America. Foundation Center's new tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, indicates that foundations made grants of almost $299 million between 2011 and 2014 in the campaigns, elections, and voting category, which includes support for implementation, research, reform, and/or mobilizations efforts related to campaign finance, election administration, redistricting, voting access, as well as voter registration, education, and turnout. More than half those grant dollars went for voter registration, education, and turnout initiatives, and, as one might expect, the annual total spiked in 2012, a presidential election year, as did funding for voting rights efforts.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 21-22, 2015)

November 22, 2015

Rick-CohenOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Tax documents posted on Monday show that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation "has significantly scaled back its holdings in some of the world's biggest oil, coal and gas companies." The Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton has the story.

Giving

Forbes contributor Beth Braverman has some useful advice for your end-of-year giving. And you'll find more good year-end giving advice from Network for Good's Liz Ragland on NFG's Nonprofit Marketing Blog.

Governance

The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has announced that it has amended its tax returns for the last four years "to more accurately account for revenue received from government sources." The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman reports.

Homelessness

According to new figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in the U.S. has declined some 2 percent on a year-over-year basis. The Department of Education disagrees. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

Journalism/Media

On the Knight Foundation blog, Neha Singh Gohil, a senior media fellow at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, shares four lessons the foundation learned from the Knight-funded  Informed Communities Education Reporting Fellowship, a nine-month project to support ethnic media outlets in their education reporting.

Nonprofits

On the Giving in LA blog, John E. Kobara, executive vice president & COO of the California Community Foundation, reports on a resolution approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that will strengthen the county’s nonprofit sector through the implementation of "new federal rules that remove the long-held arbitrary 'ceiling' or limit on allowable overhead costs for nonprofits." 

After reminding her readers that the theme of November's Nonprofit Blog Carnival is how nonprofits can move from a scarcity mindset to a a mindset of abundance, Beth Kanter applies the same lens to the topic of self-care, or lack thereof, in the nonprofit sector.

Philanthropy

To mark its seventy-fifth anniversary (1940-2015), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has posted a nifty interactive timeline of its activities and work.

On the HistPhil blog, Ben Soskis checks in with a good synopsis of a recent Hudson Institute event featuring Linsey McGoey, author of the recently released No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy.

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5 Questions for...Heather Nesle, President, New York Life Foundation

November 20, 2015

The New York Life Foundation is one of a handful of grantmakers that support childhood bereavement programs for children who have lost a loved one. This year, on Children's Grief Awareness Day, November 19, the foundation launched the Shared Grief Project, a website that seeks to "open up" the dialogue around childhood grief by featuring role models whose "grief journeys" can offer inspiration and guidance to grieving children.

PND asked New York Life Foundation president Heather Nesle about the foundation's grantmaking in the childhood bereavement area, its accomplishments to date, and its hopes for the future.

Headshot-heather-neslePhilanthropy News Digest: Through its Nurturing the Children initiative, the New York Life Foundation has awarded grants to childhood bereavement programs since 2007. How did the foundation come to focus on support for children who have lost a family member or friend?

Heather Nesle: Our dedication to the issue of childhood bereavement began with our support of Comfort Zone Camp, the nation's largest childhood grief camp. Through that relationship, we quickly learned that supporting grieving children was something our employees and agents were particularly passionate about — as well as an issue in urgent need of increased attention and investment.

Like many of our corporate foundation peers, we've looked to integrate our philanthropic strategy with the company's overarching mission and values. Part of New York Life's mission is to provide peace of mind for our policy holders, and we see providing comfort and assistance to children in their time of greatest need as a direct, natural extension of that. We also saw an exciting opportunity to get involved with the issue from the ground up by engaging our extensive agent network.

PND: What kinds of programs and services for grieving children and their families does the foundation fund? And what have you learned about the kinds of support that are most effective in helping children cope with the loss of a loved one?

HN: Our key partners/programs include the National Alliance of Grieving Children, a national network of grief stakeholders whose reach we have helped expand considerably over the past few years; Grief Reach, our program for delivering direct support to childhood bereavement centers and programs across the country through community expansion and capacity-building grants; the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a group of leading K-12 professional organizations that we convened to produce new educator-specific grief resources and training materials; Camp Erin/Moyer Foundation and Comfort Zone Camp, networks of free bereavement camps; the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one who served in our armed forces; and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We also recently sponsored the HBO documentary "One Last Hug," an intimate portrayal of the Camp Erin program that premiered in 2014 and won an Emmy for Best Children's Programming.

We fund a diverse range of programs and organizations, but they all share two basic convictions: that grieving children need to feel they're not alone, and that they need to have outlets to express their grief. Every child is different, so we try to help educate people to better recognize and understand the variety of forms grief can take.

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Serving the Public Good (by Invitiation Only)

November 18, 2015

Private_party_inviteAmerica's foundations are not particularly interested in receiving your proposal. Earlier this year I did a quick search on Foundation Directory Online (FDO) of the 96,042 independent, company-sponsored, and community foundations based in the U.S. The results were pretty shocking: only 26,663 are willing to accept unsolicited proposals. That's right, 28 percent. True, many of these are the larger, staffed foundations that hold the bulk of the sector's assets. So I took a look at the 967 foundations that have $100 million in more in assets and account for close to half of all foundation giving by U.S. foundations. The results are more encouraging, but only somewhat — 568 (58 percent) of them accept unsolicited proposals.

I find this troubling, on two counts. The first is because of the grand public policy bargain that makes institutionalized philanthropy possible in America: wealthy donors are given significant tax incentives to create and maintain foundations in exchange for providing a demonstrable, long-term contribution to the public good. As much as I understand how small foundations (especially) might not want to spend their resources on creating a bureaucracy whose primary task is to turn down the overwhelming majority of proposals they receive each year, it still bothers me. Somewhere in my heart I believe that, when it comes to foundations, the public good is best served when the public (in the form of social sector organizations) can freely apply for support. I can understand how a foundation may want to have a program or two that does not accept open applications, but to shut out the public entirely from any unsolicited inquiries is something I have trouble accepting.

Moreover, this can further isolate foundations, institutions that are already insulated from the kinds of market, electoral, and fundraising pressures that lead to standardization, transparency, and accountability in other sectors. This is also the source of foundations' most precious asset — the philanthropic freedom that allows them to take risks, stick with difficult issues over the long-term, and make leaps of faith that can spark whole new ways of solving the world's most pressing problems. To the extent that foundations put more emphasis on creating elaborately designed strategies while shutting themselves off from unsolicited proposals, their work can become a kind of endowed activism.

So, what can foundations do?

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Taking Civic Engagement to the Next Level

November 17, 2015

Several years ago, a colleague applied for a position at a large foundation that had just launched a democracy program. Ten minutes into the interview, he was told that because of his lack of experience in campaign finance reform and voter participation, he wasn't qualified. Mystified, he replied that he had more than two decades of democracy experience that was about as direct you could get: working with thousands of people in communities to address the same kinds of issues being debated in the halls of Congress.

Luckily he got the job. Still, it underscores how the millions of dollars many foundations have poured into get-out-the vote and electoral reform efforts are often seen as a proxy for democracy. Today, this work is still a top priority for foundations, with almost $300 million going to 738 organizations over the last few years that fall under the “campaigns, elections, and voting” category in Foundation Center's new Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool.

That makes sense. Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. It's a concrete action that people can take to civically engage, and it's measurable.

But what happens after the votes are counted? There's mountains of evidence showing that Americans continue to opt out of the political system; in 2014 alone, voter turnout for the midterm elections was the lowest it has been in any election cycle since World War II.

It's easy to wag a finger at the disengaged and call them "cynical." What's harder is accepting the idea that this "cynicism" represents legitimate frustration over what many Americans see as a broken system that hasn't invited them to participate in meaningful ways. And even when they do engage, many people feel their voice counts for little. As a result, more and more Americans are turning away from traditional political systems and embracing activities where they think they can make at least a small difference such as volunteering, "clicktivism," and charitable giving.

The good news is that foundations appear to be increasing their support for broader civic participation, seeing it as important as elections and voting in defining what constitutes a robust democracy. Indeed, according to the center's database, civic participation receives the majority of democracy-related funding, with more than $853 million in grants made since 2011.

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How Nonprofit Branding Strengthens Impact: Part 3

November 16, 2015

Brand_under_constructionYou probably noticed that it's been a while since the last Cause-Driven Design® article. My apologies! While it is my goal to have a new article for this column every six to eight weeks, in July I decided to rebrand our firm to coincide with its sponsorship of an annual nonprofit conference. Going from a blank slate to a new website in three months meant that, unfortunately, along with my social life, the column had to be put temporarily on hold.

So, after fifteen years, Matthew Schwartz Design Studio is no more. Today, we are Constructive. And the experience of rebranding my own firm has only served to increase my focus on what we do, who we do it for, and why we do it — increased clarity that I hope to put to good use here in our Cause-Driven Design conversations.

Picking up where we left off in July on how branding can help your organization strengthen its social impact, let's now examine how branding theory and process are made tangible.

Improving Nonprofit Brand Alignment

As I noted in an earlier article, maximizing a brand's potential requires "a strategic framework for thinking about, creating, and managing the different ways the brand is understood and expressed." This starts with an organization having a strong understanding of itself and its relationship to the individuals, organizations, and networks that comprise its ecosystem.

Nonprofits typically understand and define themselves through a mission statement and theory of change, using both as a foundation for organizational strategy. Branding is the way this understanding is reinforced and communicated. It both informs and articulates this foundation by establishing conceptual clarity and by creating greater intentionality in the experiences the brand delivers — whether online, in print, or in person.

At Constructive, it's our mission to bridge the gap between branding theory and practice by aligning an organization's ideas, actions, and culture with its use of design, messaging, and technology. We help translate concepts and dynamics into a clear narrative and engaging experiences that reinforce a nonprofit's value. And, like much of the work nonprofits do, this process calls for a systems-based approach.

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

In order to create engaging brand experiences, designers, copy writers, and technologists must apply their skills to the difficult job of translating a complex issue and an organization's efforts to address it into something that resonates with a public that, in most cases, has only a passing knowledge of the issue. To accomplish this, we apply synthetic thinking, uniting the conceptual and tangible elements of a nonprofit's brand to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts — and whose individual parts also function effectively on their own, in any context.

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