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[Infographic] A Simple Guide to Great Giving

November 29, 2014

'Tis the season to give. But as the infographic below reminds us, there's giving — and there is Great Giving. With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, here are some questions you should ask  when selecting a charity to support are:

  • How much can I afford to give?
  • How will my donation be used?
  • Is my charity currently financially sound?
  • Am I donating through a middleman or giving platform?
  • Is the charity I support a registered non-profit?
  • Is the administrative compensation for my charity reasonable?

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Allison Fine, Author, 'Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media'

November 28, 2014

The last time we chatted with social media expert Allison Fine, in 2010, her second book, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Social Change (co-authored with Beth Kanter), had just been published. In that book, Fine and Kanter exhorted nonprofits to become comfortable with the social media tool set and to use those tools to encourage two-way conversations, simplify their work, and make themselves more transparent to stakeholders, constituents, and potential donors. A valuable follow-up to Fine's first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (which won the 2007 Terry McAdams National Nonprofit Book Award), The Networked Nonprofit helped shift the conversation around nonprofit adoption of social technologies and cemented its authors' reputations as thought leaders in the field.

Earlier this week we caught up with Fine as she was preparing to launch her latest book, Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, and found her to be as funny and passionate about the power of social technologies as ever.

Headshot_allison_finePhilanthropy News Digest: Your new book argues that we're living in a time of tremendous change and disruption, and that one result of all this change is a shift in power from institutions to individuals. If this is the age of the empowered individual, why do so many people feel so overwhelmed by forces outside their control?

Allison Fine: We are moving from a world ordered by institutions to a more chaotic one where any person can use the social media toolkit to, say, start a newspaper or a business on their computer, share their artistry online, or organize a protest. This kind of disaggregation is freeing but also noisy and a little bit frightening. What do you pay attention to when unfiltered information is flying every which way? That's why I wrote the book. Everybody can have a voice, but it is up to organizations, particularly cause-driven organizations, to ensure that smart and reasonable voices are heard.

PND: "Matterness" is a multi-layered concept. How would you explain it to someone who isn't tech savvy and whose idea of giving back is to write a couple of checks to her favorite charities at the end of the year?

AF: I don't think of "Matterness" as a tech idea, I think of it as a fundamentally human notion: every person deserves to matter, but we need organizations to sustain any kind of change effort. Rather than embrace that idea, however, organizations continue to work hard to distance themselves from their own constituents in order to sustain the illusion of control. In a disaggregated world, a world that has gone from three TV channels to thousands on cable and online, only organizations that treat their constituents like real people with their own unique talents are going to survive.

Hurrah and thank you to anyone who wants to write a check to their favorite cause! But here is an experience a lot of people can relate to: a friend of mine wrote to her college and said she didn't have any money to give but she could mentor some aspiring undergraduate female scientists. The college wrote back and said, "We'd rather have a check." This unresponsiveness has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the default settings embedded in organizations, settings that assume people on the inside are smarter than the people on the outside and that if everyone just did what they were told, everything would go fine. There are a huge number of people who want to bring their talents, intelligence, networks, and good will to causes who are being locked out right now because the organizations behind those causes are in the habit of only asking for donations. Reordering the relationship between people and organizations is the core of what needs to change.

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Ferguson and Foundations: Are We Doing Enough?

November 25, 2014

Blackmalestudent_301X400Like many Americans, I was glued to my television set last night as I watched the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, erupt in violence. This is not a post about the merits of a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Rather, it is my attempt to make sense of a very complicated situation and to ask whether philanthropy is doing enough to address the fact that there are too many Michael Browns in America, too many angry and frustrated communities like Ferguson, too much real and perceived injustice in our society, and too much polarization in the way these difficult issues are covered and discussed.

You don't need me to tell you that nearly every major indicator of social and physical well-being underscores the fact that black men and boys in the United States do not have access to the structural supports and educational and economic opportunities they need to thrive. More than a quarter of black men and boys live in poverty. Black fathers are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to live apart from their children. Young black males have the highest teen death rate, at 94 deaths per 100,000, and 40 percent of those deaths are homicides. Black males between the ages of 25 and 39 are more likely to be incarcerated than any other demographic group, leading author and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander to note that "More African American adults are under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

Is philanthropy doing enough to address this appalling state of affairs? In a word, "no" — though in some ways that should not be surprising. Foundations are endowed, private institutions required to serve the public good in a way approved as "charitable" by the Internal Revenue Service and in accordance with their donors' intent. They are fiercely independent, idiosyncratic, and, at times, risk averse and short-sighted. A foundation executive once told me he and his colleagues had given up on access to safe water as a program area because "it was too complicated and we couldn't have any impact." Yet foundations have the choice to be different, not least because they represent one of the few remaining sources of un-earmarked capital in the economy. It is precisely this independence and autonomy that gives them the freedom to take risks and work on long-term solutions.

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Seven Measures of Financial Health

November 24, 2014

Headshot_john_hooverThe Internal Revenue Service is requiring more public disclosure from charities. The industry has data aggregators – GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the Urban Institute, to name a few – that aid in this process. But a comprehensive analysis of an organization’s finances is the only way to really understand its overall health and viability. And while a verdict of weak or declining health is never welcome, it can be seen as an opportunity to move forward with new strategies, partnerships, collaborations, or even a merger.

Before you can determine your organization's financial health, however, you need to ensure that you are looking at the right measures:

Step 1: Determine what you want to measure. Identify your top measures. Focusing on a handful of top measures makes it easier to take a deeper dive into the data, while too much analysis can compromise stakeholders' ability to focus on the bigger picture.

Step 2: Establish benchmarks and targets. Each area of the social sector is different. To determine a reasonable target range for each of your measures, you need to have a good understanding of your peers and competitors. For example, universities often have significant operating surpluses that they then redirect to their endowment, scholarship, and/or capital funds. Once you've determined the appropriate ranges, establish targets in the top quartile for each measure, and use the bottom quartile as an early warning "time-to-right-the-ship" system.

Step 3: Determine your units of measure. Choosing the right unit – whether it's percentage, a ratio, or time – for each measure will help you tell a story that brings additional donors and stakeholders to the table.

Step 4: Use a consistent period of time. A rolling five-year period is a good length of time for establishing organizational trends. For instance, if four of the last five years resulted in operating deficits and there is no action plan to achieve a surplus, it's likely the deficits will persist. On the other hand, revenues can change significantly from one year to the next. A charity may record revenue in year one but not spend it until year two or three. Looking at year one – or year two or three – in isolation could skew the picture and lead to unwarranted optimism or concerns. Looking at all three years or, even better, a rolling five-year period, will give you a more accurate picture.

Below are some commonly used measures of financial health:

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Taking Stock of Your Nonprofit’s Revenue Potential

November 21, 2014

Headshot_nancy_osgoodIf you've ever worked in retail, you're familiar with the taking-inventory drill:  The store closes early and the employees hunker down and count the merchandise.

Taking inventory is the process of counting and valuing what a store has in stock. Although time-consuming, it has many benefits:

  • It flags issues before they become larger problems.
  • It provides an explanation for bottom-line results.
  • It creates a benchmark.
  • And it helps management decide whether or not to invest in additional stock before expending resources to buy more.

So what do retail practices have to do with nonprofit leadership and revenue?

As nonprofit leaders and trustees, we need to "take stock" of our organization’s revenue on a regular basis. Doing so in a thoughtful, deliberate way allows us to avoid the risk of "buying more"― that is, pursuing new opportunities ― before we've "sold" what we already have.

Several years ago, I developed a tool for doing just that. Imagine a tool that allows you to look at the trends in performance of all your revenue streams at once over a five-year period. The Revenue Inventory™ allows you to see and understand both missed opportunities and growth opportunities through the lens of past performance. 

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Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter?: An Update

November 20, 2014

Headshot_j_mccrayOver the past fifteen years, research by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has demonstrated that certain grantmaking practices support nonprofits' capacity to achieve results. To track how these practices are changing, GEO conducts a national survey of staffed grantmaking organizations every three years. As we prepared to release the results of our most recent survey, I wondered: How would experts in nonprofit management interpret the results? To find out, I asked CompassPoint CEO Jeanne Bell, co-author of the reports Daring to Lead and Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, and Don Crocker, executive director and CEO of the Support Center, which advises nonprofits and foundations in the areas of leadership and executive transitions, board performance, and nonprofit/foundation effectiveness, to share their thoughts on our key findings as well as how funders can best support nonprofits to achieve more impact.

Long-term grants are inspirational. Multiyear support (grants of two years or longer without the need to reapply) is returning to pre-recession levels. Most funders now give at least some multiyear support. "Multiyear grants are powerful," says Bell. "If the foundation and the nonprofit are in sync around core programming, multiyear grants give you sustainability and predictability." Crocker agrees, adding, "Even if you look at small businesses and social entrepreneurs, they'll tell you it takes four or five years for the rubber to meet the road and for really good results to start emerging. I think multiyear grants are inspirational, in that they allow the nonprofit to have a greater sense of security."

Unrestricted support enables creativity and responsiveness. After being flat for many years, the average share of annual grantmaking budgets devoted to unrestricted support showed a small but meaningful increase (from 20 percent to 25 percent). Why is this important? As Crocker says, "General operating support opens the door to much more creative thinking, allowing nonprofits to be more nimble and a lot more responsive to things that have changed in their community and the needs of their clients."

Boosting leadership capacity requires a collective approach. More than a quarter of the funders surveyed reported an increase in the dollar total of their grants for capacity-building efforts, which include leadership development, governance, and evaluation capacity. "Nonprofits are collections of leaders, including development directors and program directors and policy directors — it's not just executives," says Bell. "The foundations that do it well not only pay for leadership development, they also act as ambassadors and champions for individual leaders as well as networks. That’s something special that foundations can do but typically government and major donors can't."

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Tips for End-of-Year Foundation Fundraising

November 18, 2014

End_of_year_fundraisingThis is the time of year when every nonprofit CEO sinks or swims. Either you secure the last of the grants needed to balance your organization's budget or risk running a deficit and ruining its balance sheet. But while you might think it's too late to save 2014, the last six weeks of the year are actually an excellent time to pursue foundation grants. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

Foundations are like people. At the end of the day, whether it's a small family foundation or a large independent foundation,
it takes people to make a grant, and, when it comes to deadlines, most people procrastinate. In other words, an awful lot of grants get made in the last quarter of the year, and a surprising number of those grants are made in December.

Meeting the payout requirement is trickier than you think. Foundations are required by law to spend 5 percent of their assets annually for charitable purposes. This can include a portion of their own operating costs, but most of it tends to be paid out in grants. Many foundations base this 5 percent minimum on a rolling three-year average of the value of their investments. With the fairly constant oscillations of the stock market, you can imagine this is something of a moving target for most foundations. Add to that the fact that grants sometimes don't materialize, organizations implode, and stuff happens, and foundations often have to scramble to make last-minute grants to achieve their mandated 5 percent payout.

The stock market is on a tear. Though 2014 has been a bit bumpy, the markets are up and have been very good to foundations over the past three years. This means that foundations will be calculating their 5 percent payout on an asset base that is larger than at any time since before the Great Recession. It's the reason why U.S. foundations will pay out nearly $60 billion in grants in 2014.

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5 Questions for…Ian Clark Devine, Board Member, Bellosguardo Foundation

November 17, 2014

In the last years of her long life, heiress Huguette Clark became one of New York society's most-whispered-about curiosities. Born in Paris in 1906 to 67-year-old William Andrews Clark, a wealthy Guilded Age businessman, and Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, Clark's second wife, young Huguette grew up in splendid luxury in Manhattan and counted among her friends and contemporaries some of her father's grandchildren, including Devine's grandmother. After her father died in 1925, the young heiress and her mother moved from his Upper East Side mansion to a nearby apartment on Fifth Avenue, where Huguette lived for much of the rest of her life. After a short-lived marriage ended in 1930, she turned to art and art collecting, kept up her French and Spanish, and developed a passion for dolls, dollhouses, and Japanese culture. As she grew older, she also became increasingly withdrawn and reclusive — so much so, that when she passed away in 2011 just two weeks shy of her 105th birthday, only a handful of people could say they had seen her in the last twenty years.

Clark's death sparked a flurry of interest in her long, mysterious life — and in the disposition of her will, which almost immediately was challenged in court by members of her extended family. After two years, the case was settled in the family's favor, with the bulk of her fortune, including Bellosguardo, her coastal estate in Santa Barbara, California, going to charity. Earlier this month, PND exchanged emails with Ian Devine about the case and the creation of the Bellosguardo Foundation, which will oversee the Santa Barbara property, including its furnishings, artwork, and Clark's extensive doll collection.

Headshot_ian_clark_devinePhilanthropy News Digest: At the time of her death, your great-grand-aunt's estate was estimated to be worth around $400 million and included expensive real estate in Manhattan, Connecticut, and California; paintings by the likes of Cezanne, Renoir, and Sargent; and, famously, her antique doll collection. The disposition of her estate was challenged soon after her death by twenty of her grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews, and great-grandnieces, including you. Why did the family feel it necessary to challenge the will, and what, in your view, were the issues at stake?

Ian Clarke Devine: The Clark family worried that Huguette's advisors were taking advantage of her. There were signs of financial exploitation, family access was denied, one of her advisors was a convicted sex offender. The plight of Brooke Astor was very much in our minds. Family members filed a guardianship petition in 2009 seeking an independent firm to manage her finances and an independent evaluator to investigate her care. Despite indications of improper fiduciary management, the petition was denied.

When Huguette died in 2011, two radically different wills emerged, written only six weeks apart — after she had refused to create a will for more than fifty years! There were irregularities with both wills and several ethically dubious provisions. Taxes hadn't been paid in years. Challenging the will was the only way to uncover the truth. In fact, subsequent depositions under oath produced evidence of actions and behavior even more shocking than we had imagined. To boil it all down, the professionals closest to our aunt took advantage of her emotional vulnerabilities for personal and institutional gain. The doctors failed to assess her mental health. The Clark family believed that the professionals involved had to be held accountable.

PND: The dispute recently was brought to a close with the help of the New York Attorney General's office and the New York Public Administrator's office. In broad outline, tell us about the terms of the settlement.

ICD: The probate litigation and the settlement confirmed the family's belief that Huguette was the victim of emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her advisors and caregivers. It vindicated our decision to challenge the will. Though it took an excruciatingly long time, the settlement was quite sophisticated and honored Huguette's wishes as best as they could be discerned. The family was strongly in favor of the outcome.

The most welcome result was that the Bellosguardo Foundation, which otherwise might have become a vehicle for the enrichment of certain advisors, now holds tremendous potential to benefit the Santa Barbara community and the art world at large. Bellosguardo will be a place of pride. Credit is due to the New York State Attorney General's office and its Charities Bureau for outlining the steps to make Bellosguardo a viable foundation and a vital new force in the arts. And the settlement's structure will allow other charitable organizations to benefit in the future. All good outcomes!

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 15-16, 2014)

November 16, 2014

Ice-ballsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education 

On the NPR-Ed site, Emily Hanford has a piece (the first in a four-part series) about how Common Core is changing the way reading is taught to kids. (The piece originally appeared as part of American RadioWorks' "Greater Expectations: The Challenge of the Common Core.")

Environment

On Friday, the Sierra Club released a statement from its executive director, Michael Brune, in response to an announcement, expected this week, that the United States will contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF),  a new multilateral fund created "to help developing countries reduce climate pollution and address their vulnerabilities to the most dangerous effects of climate disruption."

Here on PhilanTopic, Gabi Fitz, director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center, shares the results of a collaboration between IssueLab and the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation to capture and share knowledge  about sustainable coastal fisheries management.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a post on Forbes, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, argues that pay-for-success models, although not a silver bullet, "hold the potential to illuminate what works and what doesn’t, and to optimize both delivery of service and tax dollars."

International Development

The mainstream media tends to focus on the bad news, but Africa is changing -- largely for the better, as this slide deck from Our World in Data shows.

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Growing the Field of Youth Philanthropy: A Funder’s Perspective

November 14, 2014

While working with young members of the Lumpkin Family Foundation as a program officer a few years back, I quickly realized I had two needs:

  1. age-appropriate resources to support younger members of the family (ages 16-21) in developing their own grantmaking process based on best practices in the field; and
  2. to connect these younger family members with other young people involved in their own family's foundation.

Youth_philanthropy_screenshotThrough the foundation's national membership association connections, I was able to connect with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation (FCF), and the young family members at FCF graciously agreed to meet up with the younger Lumpkin family members to share their experiences. That meeting served as a catalyst for a significant shift in the programmatic and grantmaking focus of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation to youth philanthropy. In 2012, I moved from the Lumpkin Family Foundation to FCF to help lead that effort, which today is known as Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led initiative for young people between the ages of 8 and 21 who want to get involved in philanthropy work, with a focus on grantmaking.

Soon after I arrived, FCF began more broadly to reach out to other foundations that were actively engaging younger family members in their grantmaking, and we quickly developed a lengthy and diverse list of organizations that were active in this space. Through our outreach efforts, we learned that the heads of family foundations increasingly are engaging younger generations for succession planning and wealth transfer purposes; community foundations are engaging youth in grantmaking activities as a way to build the philanthropic capacity of the community; and private and public schools are incorporating community change efforts and grantmaking activities into their classrooms and afterschool programs.

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Traveling Toward Greater Impact

November 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_broomeAnyone who has ever traveled with me – even just across town – knows that I get lost easily. North becomes south, left becomes right. As such, I’ve developed a heavy reliance on maps to tell me where I am and to help me figure out where I'm going. Otherwise, I'll spend a lot of time confidently headed in the wrong direction. That's exactly the value I see in the maps and analysis of human rights grantmaking created by the International Human Rights Funders Group and Foundation Center. They, too, can help those of us in the field of human rights philanthropy establish where we are and think critically about where we are going.

Where are we now?

First, in comparing the maps on the Advancing Human Rights website, it appears that human rights funding increased from $1.2 billion in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2011. However, an important factor in that increase is that an additional forty-plus funders began submitting their data to the project in 2011. When comparing "like with like" (only including the funders that submitted data for both years), we can see that funding for human rights increased by almost 8 percent.

The geographic distribution of the grants awarded also is interesting. In 2011, human rights funding in support of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia increased by 28 percent, while funding for the Middle East and North Africa increased by 33 percent. This increase may have been influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011. The initial benchmark research set means that, for the first time, we will be able to track philanthropy's response to the Arab Spring, as well as funding trends with respect to other regions, issues, and populations. This is an exciting development for our field.

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Delusional Altruism

November 12, 2014

Money_down_the_drainFoundations pride themselves on the good they do for others; that's the very nature and culture of philanthropy. However, in my fifteen years as a consultant who advises foundations, I've found that most foundations suffer from delusional altruism.

Delusional altruism is when you are genuinely trying to help people – but paying absolutely no attention to the operational inefficiency and waste that drains grantseekers or your own foundation of the human and financial capital necessary to accomplish your goals.

Let me give you three examples:

1. A foundation gives itself five weeks to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) that it has already written, but gives grantseekers only three weeks to apply. Five different departments within a large national foundation each had a week to modify – or simply sign off on – an RFP. By contrast, each applicant had to decide whether to apply, decide whether to do so jointly with other invited applicants, develop the proposal concept (possibly in collaboration), write the proposal, and get written commitments of matching funding – all within three weeks.

2. A foundation evaluation director sends an RFP to 50 evaluators to conduct a $40,000 evaluation. The evaluation director had prequalified a “mere” 50 evaluators and therefore received an overwhelming volume of proposals that he had to sort through and vet. Then he had to determine finalists and interview them, all before he could make a decision and actually hire someone.This left him exhausted, overwhelmed, and behind on other projects. It probably took him six months, whereas the evaluation itself could have been done in that time. He and his associate likely spent half of the $40,000 project fee just in their own staff time.

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A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 8-9, 2014)

November 08, 2014

GOP_waveOur (slightly abbreviated) weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Pooja Gupta, a writer at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, reviews the findings of a 2014 study published in Psychological Science which found that Americans' trust in each other and their institutions (the military excepted) has hit all-time lows in recent years. According to the authors of the study, "Trust in others and confidence in institutions [are] key indicators of social capital," but that kind of "capital"

was lower in recent years than during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s; the Iran hostage crisis and "national malaise" of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the height of the crime wave in the early 1990s; the Clinton impeachment of the late 1990s; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the financial crisis and recession of the late 2000s....

Climate Change

Not that the new Congress will have any interest, but here are ten facts about climate change from the UN's new climate report that should give everyone pause.

Fundraising

The host of this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, fundraising consultant Pamela Grow, has issued a call for submissions. As has been the case for the past few years, this month's roundup is looking for submissions that detail how nonprofit organizations around the world are creating an "attitude of gratitude" (i.e., celebrate the donors who make their work possible). Here's how to submit:

  1. Write a blog post, or choose a recent post that fits the theme.
  2. Submit the post via email to: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com – be sure to include your name, your blog's name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage).
  3. Get your post in by the end of day on Sunday, November 23. You can check back on Monday, November 24, to see if your post made the cut!

Global Health

The hysteria around Ebola in the U.S. may be fading, but the ignorance and misconceptions that fueled it in the first place are still very much with us, Angélique Kidjo, a singer and songwriter from Benin, reminds us in in an op-ed in the New York Times.

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Funding to Strengthen Democracy Is Critical to Long-Term Foundation Success

Ruth_holton_hodson_for_PhilanTopicMany in the progressive foundation community are wondering how the results of the midterm elections will affect their funding areas, be it health, education, the environment, income inequality, or civil rights. What will become of our hard work to move a progressive agenda forward? How far will that agenda be set back? Let me suggest one area that has an impact on every one of the issues progressives hold dear, an area that could sorely use some funding — the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy.

Contrary to what many have said, the midterm elections weren't determined by the vast sums spent (mostly) on negative campaign ads (though, of course, money played a role in the outcome). They were determined by people who made their way to a polling place and cast a ballot — the most sacred act in the democratic canon. It's simple. Who votes determines what government looks like, the policies it pursues, which programs are funded or are cut, which regulations are written or are dropped. Who votes is a critical factor in determining who is appointed to the Supreme Court and who heads the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services. In other words, who votes determines whether our elected officials will or won't champion a progressive agenda. What does that mean for foundations with missions focused on social justice, health and welfare, and education? It means that they are unlikely to realize their long-term goals of a better and more just society without also supporting efforts to strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy.

Take a moment and reflect on whether your foundation has ever considered supporting organizations working to ensure that young people, low-income people, people of color — people in society who are marginalized and stand to benefit the most from implementation of a progressive agenda — vote. I'd wager that more than a few foundations don't or won't because, as the saying goes, "That's not our issue." That's like a homeowner who decides to paint over serious cracks in her ceilings and walls without bothering to fix the problem in the basement that's causing the cracks. Our democratic infrastructure is in serious need of fixing, and the more it deteriorates, the harder it will be for progressive-minded foundations to achieve their agendas and the more money they will end up spending on short-term fixes.

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