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Weekend Link Roundup (February 28-March 1, 2015)

March 01, 2015

Leonard-nimoy-spockOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...


On Medium, Dan Gillmor, the long-time technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News, argues that governments and powerful tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are creating "choke points" on the Internet and "using those choke points to destroy our privacy, limit our freedom of expression, and lock down culture and commerce. Too often," Gillmor adds, "we give them our permission — trading liberty for convenience — but a lot of this is being done without our knowledge, much less permission...."


In an op-ed for the Minn Post, progressive activist and education blogger Lynnell Mickelsen suggests that Minneapolis  could change its schools to work better for kids of color, but it "would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children." Be sure to check out the comments thread.


Pamela Yip, a business columnist for the Dallas Morning News, reports on a recent presentation by Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, a New York consulting firm, in which Goldseker touched on several factors that distinguish younger donors from their parents and grandparents.

Global Health

In a podcast on the Humanosphere blog, Gilles van Cutsem, a physician and medical director for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, says the Ebola crisis in West Africa is far from over.

Higher Education

As this well-thought-out data visualization from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows, America’s postsecondary student population is more diverse than ever.


Idealware, a nonprofit that works to help other nonprofits make smart technology decisions, in partnership with the Markets for Good team, has launched an effort to identify social sector initiatives that collect and share their program results data, a term that includes "any measurement of a program, including outcomes, outputs, impact, evaluation, performance management, or other similar terms."

The Leap of Reason team at Venture Philanthropy Partners has announced the launch of The Performance Imperative campaign with a downloadable document of the same name that lays out the "seven habits of highly effective organizations." Beth Kanter shares more of the details in a post on her blog.


On the GiveWell site, Holden Karnofsky takes a closer look at the Sandler Foundation, which was established in 1991 by Herb and Marion Sandler, the former co-CEOs of Golden West Financial Corp. According to Karnofsky, the foundation "appears to have a strong track record despite not following the traditional 'program officer' model" and is "something of a proof of concept [for GiveWell itself] that high-impact grants can come from opportunistic generalists." The foundation also was the subject of an admiring piece by Inside Philanthropy's David Callahan in January that, like Karnofsky's post, made no mention of the questionable lending practices of World Savings Bank, an Oakland-based mortgage lender operated by the Sandlers that was bought by Wachovia Corporation before that bank collapsed in the 2008 financial crisis.

In Alliance magazine, Katelyn Cioffi, a principal at Aleron, a London-based consulting firm, suggests that there are two areas in which greater rigor could improve philanthropic decision-making: deciding which cause to support, and deciding how best to tackle the problem.

Social Media

How much time should your organization expect to spend on its social media fundraising efforts? Nonprofit Tech for Good's Heather Mansfield breaks it down for you.

In a letter to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sunlight Foundation president Chris Gates and Matt Leighninger, executive director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, argue that contrary to recent research from Independent Sector which suggests that all online engagement is "thin," "'thick' forms of engagement — situations in which large numbers of people work intensively to learn, decide, and act together — are also increasing." The default, they add, may still be set "to a traditional, and we would say paternalistic, way of working," but

new institutions are being born every day, and others are adapting quickly to the new realities of activism, participation, and engagement. These are the institutions that will prosper in this new era by providing a range of ways, both online and in person, for people to engage with one another to affect the changes they desire....


And in an op-ed in the Chronicle, Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business, holds up Burning Man, the nonprofit behind the annual bohemian gathering/art happening in the Nevada desert, as an "exemplar of financial transparency."

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at or via the comments box below...

Shifting the Discourse Around Black Men and Boys

February 24, 2015

"It is my hope that this report will motivate other philanthropists and foundations to invest in efforts to improve achievement by African-American boys and men and reverse the serious damage inflicted over many years of systemic injustice. This is a generational problem. It demands a long-term commitment."

— George Soros, Where Do We Go From Here: Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys

CBMA_homepageIn February 2015, the Open Society Foundations officially spun off the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) with a five-year seed grant aimed at making real the vision Soros described above a long-term commitment to addressing a multi-generational problem. Soros and his foundation's commitment to black men and boys is similar to many of his legacy efforts, including his investment in empowering the Roma of Europe.

While at OSF, I traveled to Budapest and visited with colleagues working to improve the conditions of Roma youth. After the trip, I wrote that "[f]or Roma and black male youth, changing negative perceptions and stereotypes could be one great leap forward to ensure their ultimate success and inclusion into the broader society."

In many ways, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's success emerged from the power of projects and programs committed to telling compelling stories and narratives that build a sense of empathy for black men and boys and in turn challenge negative perceptions. Since its launch in 2008, the story of CBMA has been one of evolution: in just seven years it has grown from a three-year campaign to the largest effort in the history of philanthropy focused on improving life outcomes for black men and boys.

The road to this game-changing moment involved many years of toil. In the mid- to late 1990s, efforts like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's African American Boys and Men Initiative, led by Dr. Bobby Austin, established the groundwork for what would become the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Like CBMA, the power of using stories to build empathy for black men and boys was — and remains — at the heart of Dr. Austin's effort.

Since then, support for black men and boys has ebbed and flowed. Most investments have been episodic in nature, with resources typically committed in three-year intervals — or until the focus of grantmakers shifted to a new issue or concern. Something changed, however, in 2006, when an article by Erik Eckholm ("Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn") in the New York Times sparked a conversation within the philanthropic sector about the need to once again address the unique challenges and systemic barriers resulting in the continued disenfranchisement of black men and boys. Although many in the African-American community were well aware of the problem and had been speaking out about it for years, Eckholm's piece served to refocus America's attention on the fact that black men and boys were falling further behind on every measure of well-being and success, from employment to incarceration.

More recently, social media has served to highlight, on a regular basis, instances of injustice involving black men and women. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and Michael Brown were stories that might have gone unnoticed by traditional media had it not been for community members and ordinary citizens' embrace of social media to tell, with power and authenticity, their own stories and explain the reality of their lives.

To keep the challenges, and opportunities, facing black men and boys at the center of the philanthropic and public policy conversation, CBMA worked from the very beginning to build the "brand" of black male achievement. We wanted to ensure that there would be more accurate and diverse depictions of black men and boys in the media as a way to change hearts and minds. Some of the organizations, people, and efforts engaged in that strategy included Color of Change, BMe Community, and Opportunity Agenda; outreach for the films American Promise and Beyond the Bricks; and Alexis McGill Johnson and the Perception Institute, which helped launch the Black Male: Re-Imagined campaign.

In  a 2013 Newsweek/Daily Beast article ("The Fight for Black Men") Joshua DuBois, CEO of Value Partnerships and former director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, again elevated the national conversation that had been sparked seven years earlier by Eckholm's piece in the Times. Rather than focusing on statistics and barriers, DuBois asked thirty leaders about their work to improve life outcomes for black men and boys. The resulting article shone a spotlight on the work of people like Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow; Geoffrey Canada, former CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Joe Jones, CEO of the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore. The article also highlighted a number of key philanthropic leaders, including Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, and Casey Family Programs CEO William Bell, as well as Shawn Dove, who at the time was manager of OSF's Campaign for Black Male Achievement and now serves as president of CBMA.

Over the next several years, CBMA's success will be measured in terms of goals aimed at strengthening the field of black male achievement and supporting organizations and leaders working to address the systemic, multi-generational barriers that have prevented black men and boys from full inclusion in American society. Success in this next phase of our evolution as an independent and standalone organization will only be achieved, however, if we move from simply keeping black men and boys at the center of the philanthropic and public policy discourse to actually shifting that discourse in the direction of empathy for black men and boys.

Headshot_rashid_shabazzAs DuBois put it at the conclusion of his piece, society's efforts on behalf of black men and boys must be motivated by a "'there but for the grace of God go I' mentality." Anything less will leave us as a nation and democracy harmed in our failure to demonstrate once and for all that indeed all lives matter, regardless of race, color, or gender.

Rashid Shabazz is vice president of communications at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. He previously served as program officer for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement and is featured in the new book "Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading, and Succeeding." 

Foundation Strategy...the Enemy of Collaboration?

February 19, 2015

Chrysalis_imageIn today's world, it is almost obligatory for any self-respecting foundation to describe its work as "strategic." At the same time, a growing number of foundations are coming to the realization that, if they hope to scale their work and achieve lasting impact, they need to collaborate with each other and across sectors. I fear, however, that the way many foundations approach strategy is erecting barriers rather than building bridges to collaboration. This post is my attempt to explain why that is and to offer some practical solutions to the problem.

My thoughts on this matter were sparked by remarks originally made by Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation, and elaborated on by Heather Grady in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. For the record, I believe that foundation strategy is a critical element in achieving impact, but like so many things it is best practiced in moderation.

The fetishism of strategy

It used to be that people made a point of saying they practiced philanthropy rather than charity. That distinction gradually fell by the wayside as younger generations of philanthropists began to introduce ideas and practices from the business world related to impact and metrics, liberally peppering their discourse with phrases like "social return on investment." In their eyes, the way many practiced philanthropy was not much of an improvement over charity, which they saw as dealing largely with symptoms and driven by donors and staff who valued heart over head and had no clear way to articulate hoped-for outcomes — let alone measure them. The more the term philanthropy became devalued, the more it came to be modified by adjectives of choice. Suddenly, if your philanthropy wasn't tactical, effective, catalytic, high-impact, or, at a minimum, strategic, it wouldn't be taken seriously.

Many foundations, particularly the larger staffed ones, responded to this change by immersing themselves in protracted strategic review processes, frequently under the guidance of prestigious consulting firms. Often triggered by a change in foundation leadership, these exercises tend to follow a pattern, one aspect of which is well-known to nonprofits frustrated by the all-too-familiar refrain of program officers who cite "our deep internal review process" as the reason that "no new requests for funding can be entertained at this time" and who encourage you to get back in touch "when our new priorities have been defined."

As frustrating as this kind of strategic lock-down can be to those on the outside, the process viewed from within foundations is far more challenging than it may seem. Strategy reviews usually are precipitated by a donor or new leader who wants to shake things up, and the process often starts with a question: How can we make a difference? Or, how can we use our resources to do something others are not? That, in turn, typically triggers some kind of scan to see how other resources are being utilized. The exercise often involves trying to identify big trends and future scenarios, which can be daunting and seem impossibly large and intractable when compared to the resources available to even the largest foundations.

The less high-minded aspect of the foundation strategy process is the inevitable internal editing that occurs. Foundations rarely operate with a blank slate; instead, they have a legacy of existing program priorities and grantee relationships that somehow must be reconciled with whatever new strategic priorities emerge from the process. Yet the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of all this is the internal consensus building: when it comes to unveiling a new strategy, foundations have to get everyone on board — from grants administrators, to program officers, to directors and trustees — and that takes time, finesse, and compromise.

At the end of the process, foundations emerge from their state of chrysalis with a series of announcements about new strategic directions, programmatic priorities, and initiatives. Grantseekers, previously put on hold and frustrated, now are faced with more practical challenges like figuring out where the work of their organizations fits within the new strategic framework and who their program officer might be. Some foundations do a superb job of providing their grantee partners with a roadmap, while others leave them to figure it out on their own.

Raising the transaction costs of collaboration

The difficulties of collaboration, particularly its time-consuming nature and the challenges of collective action when several foundations try to implement something together, are well known. I am worried, however, that the strategy review process described above may be driving those transaction costs of collaboration even higher.

There are two reasons for my concern. First, foundations, as endowed, tax-advantaged institutions, are blissfully free from the daily pressures that drive short-term behavior in other sectors: they don't need to raise money, they don't need to sell products in a competitive marketplace, and they don't need to chase votes. They are expected to contribute to the public good in exchange for their favorable tax status, and ideally that requires being out on the street, understanding how people live and institutions work. Yet these protracted strategic review processes are intensely introspective affairs. The outside information and opinions that manage to penetrate the walls of the foundation more often than not are filtered by those who do the interviewing, write the studies, and describe the trends, sometimes complemented by a discussion or two with hand-picked experts. This highly controlled approach is partly a response to the fact that endowed foundations are like islands of money surrounded by people who desperately want some of it: they can't turn to their current and potential grantees for advice without getting endless variations on the "fund us" theme. Whatever the reasons, I would argue that it is not healthy for already insulated institutions to close themselves off even more from the outside world for any length of time.

The second reason that this fixation on strategy impedes collaboration is because of the internal consensus building process I referred to above. After a staffed foundation has gone through months (in some cases, as much as a year) of introspection and internal consensus building, there is a tremendous degree of investment in the final product. With its carefully-crafted goals, program areas, initiatives, and cross-cutting themes, all crafted to be unique and cutting-edge, the strategy becomes practically non-negotiable. Thus, when two or more foundations try to find a way to collaborate and scale their efforts, the over-investment in their individual strategies makes it difficult to find common ground and reach compromise. More often than not, to make it work, somebody has to blink, be flexible, and give up a bit of sovereignty. Doing so can feel like abandoning one's own strategy or, at the very least, betraying one's focus — something no foundation wants to risk in an impact-driven world.

That this is not an ideal situation doesn't mean it can't be addressed. Based on my long experience working inside foundations and observing the entire field from my present-day vantage point as president of Foundation Center, here are a couple of ideas.

Solution #1 – Start strategy with a different question

Foundations have no obligation to be unique, so rather than starting the strategy review process with the question, How can we be different?, they should ask themselves, How can we be more alike? That's right, foundations would be well served by finding a cause or geography that resonates with their mission, seeing what kinds of resources other foundations already are allocating, and then adding their own resources to the mix. Being a joiner rather than a loner has tremendous strategic impact when it comes to leveraging resources and scaling one's efforts. Discovering who is funding what and where and knowing more about what other foundations know should be the beginning of any strategy review process. And it's easier than you think because of the deep data and knowledge resources our field possesses today, as well as the technology available to explore them. Foundation Center has excellent tools like Foundation Maps and IssueLab for doing so.

Solution #2 – Ease up on the legacy thing

There may not be much we can do to change the inclination of living donors to leave a legacy; after all, it's their hard work, ambition, and good fortune that makes foundations possible in the first place. But why do foundation boards and presidents need to be so concerned about their own legacies? The kind of competitive drive that fuels egos and success in business and politics is not essential to philanthropy. Foundation leaders are free to be learners, joiners, enablers, facilitators, and collaborators. America's great foundations are remembered, and continue to be praised, not so much for their current strategic priority or latest initiative as for their patience and willingness to stick with ambitious causes — eradicating disease, combating racism, educating the poor and disadvantaged, nurturing documentary film — over long spans of time that, more often than not, transcend the tenure of a single president, program officer, or group of trustees. Easing up on the concern for one's legacy, or perhaps re-defining legacy to be about joining and collaborating with others, could help make the strategy review process in foundations a much simpler and faster process. It might also correct for the strategic over-steer that produces the zigs and zags that undermine the stability so valued by foundations' grantees and partners.

America has nearly 90,000 independent endowed foundations, the vast majority of which have little or no staff to worry about the things I've touched on above. In many, many cases, they support causes close to home and are immensely valuable to the nonprofits that undergird our civil society. But the thousand or so foundations that each have over $100 million in assets account for more than half of all foundation giving and rightfully care about strategy. They could be far more efficient and achieve greater impact if they collaborated more with each other and with other sectors. One way for them to do that may be to try a little less hard to be so strategic.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center.

Weekend Link Roundup (February 14-15, 2015)

February 15, 2015

No-snow-signOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...


Foundations and philanthropists need to find new ways to advocate in the post-Citizens United world, write Shelley Whelpton and Andrew Schultz on the Arabella Advisors blog, "or risk ceding influence over national policy to those who are willing and eager to play by the new rules."

Arts and Culture

Nice post on the Dodge Foundation blog by ArtPride's Ann Marie Miller, who curates recent research and opinions on what she terms the "shifting paradigms" in the arts field. 


The American Enterprise Institute's Jenn Hatfield shares three takeaways from a series of papers released last week at an AEI-hosted conference on education philanthropy:

  1. Education philanthropies have shifted their focus from trying to influence school systems to trying to influence policy.
  2. Education philanthropy is getting more attention, and a lot more criticism.
  3. Education philanthropies are evolving, and maybe even learning.


In a heartfelt post that serves as a compelling counterpoint to a recent op-ed by Jennifer and Peter Buffett in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jed Emerson argues that, yes, "metrics matter." And while "too many of those in the impact investing community view an effective metrics reporting system as 'nice to have' as opposed to 'critical to our practice in advancing impact'...

the myth persists that we can attain our goal of effective and relevant metrics assessment and reporting. One must ask, after all the frustration and challenges, why do we bother? I submit we persist in our pursuit because we know at a deeply visceral level our goal of integrating meaningful metrics into the core of our efforts to create a changed world has value and is central to who we are....

International Development

Are insecticide-treated bed nets the most effective intervention against malaria in the global development toolkit? Maybe not, writes Robert Fortner in a special report on the Humanosphere site.

Continue reading »

Retaining an Engaged Staff to the End

February 12, 2015

Logo_atlanticAs with other limited-life foundations, management at the Atlantic Philanthropies has had few outside resources to turn to for guidance in planning the foundation's final trajectory. There have been many programmatic and operational issues to resolve, of course, but chief among our concerns have been issues related to our hard-working and capable staff.

Since joining the foundation, all Atlantic staff have known, at least in an abstract way, that at some point each of us would be moving on and the foundation itself would cease to exist. Still, as we entered our final phase – most staff will depart by the end of 2016, and we're set to conclude most operations by 2020 – this quickly became a more tangible realization, and one with the understandable potential for distraction.

Going into this final phase, we knew there was critical monitoring, evaluation, and dissemination work to do in order to maximize the influence of the foundation before its closure, and that fact raised an important question: How could we retain staff members who know they face limited tenure? More importantly, how could we keep them focused on their work, engaged and productive, while supporting them through what is certain to be a significant professional transition?

We soon realized that reducing distraction would require providing staff with as much clarity as possible around their own individual employment trajectories. So in 2013, we undertook an organization-wide staffing analysis to attempt to map out the staff structure that would be needed to accomplish our programmatic and communications goals through our final phase. Managers held individual consultations with their team members with the ultimate goal of trying to provide "as much clarity as possible to as many employees as possible." We tried to base the ultimate staffing decisions on organizational need while incorporating, where possible, personal staff preferences. The resultant staffing "roadmap" provided each employee with a projected end date: either a fixed date where proposed tenure was relatively certain, or in cases where it was too early to project specific functional needs, a provisional date subject to extension. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 7-8, 2015)

February 08, 2015

Winter-wonderland-tumblr-3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

The Guardian's Damian Carrington reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets totaling more than $850 billion, dumped 32 coal-mining companies from its portfolio in 2014. "Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term," said Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for GPFG, which had had $40 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. "Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand."


In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, argues that, in the age of the Internet, "communications is not just an opportunity for nonprofits; it's a necessity. Whether we're fundraising or trying to influence policy," he continues,

how we reach the right person with the right message has changed profoundly. Now it can take far more to figure out who the right people are, what channels to reach or influence them through, and how to hear them. It’s one thing to land a grant to open a new art space; it’s another to convince city hall that the community wants it, and still another to build a community to support it....


It is troubling and a very big deal, writes Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, that a majority of U.S. public school children today live in poverty and are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. 


On the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog, Jessica Bearman (aka "Dr. Streamline) shares six things foundations can do to improve the diversity and inclusion of their grantmaking.


In a LinkedIn post, Peter York, founder and CEO at Algorhythm, a Philadelphia-based software company that is working to "democratize" impact measurement, asks: Who really has access to the power of impact measurement? And is there more we can do to make it available to everyone, including the beneficiary?

Continue reading »

Doing Good Is About to Get Better

February 05, 2015

Get On The MapAs the president of a regional association, I regularly need to know what funders in my region are supporting and where they are working. Usually, to get that information, my colleagues and I need to make a series of calls, send out emails and surveys, schedule meetings, and do some real sleuthing. And what we continue to end up with is representative of only a small portion of what is really happening around us. Sound familiar?

This lack of data to inform our work is even more problematic when coupled with all the questions and challenges raised by organizations that want to force their interpretation and agendas on that work. Unfortunately, we can't adequately respond because we don't really know who our collective dollars are serving and whether our grantees mirror the communities we are trying to serve. Because we don't have the data that supports the story we want to tell, others continue to write our story for us.

This is particularly important as we struggle with conversations around equity and justice in our communities and as we prepare for a looming conversation around charitable regulation. Philanthropy needs to be able to demonstrate its commitment to the public good by showing that its investments in community development, civic engagement, and social innovation reach across demographic and economic barriers. Given our special status as a tax-advantaged sector, we need to demonstrate that we are accountable and serve the public good.

In an earlier post, you heard from Joyce White, president of Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington, who shared details of her journey to collect more complete and meaningful data from funders in her region. When the Forum for Regional Associations of Grantmakers and Foundation Center formed a strategic alliance to improve the quality and effectiveness of grantmaking nationwide via data, research, and tools, the successful pilot in Oregon and southwest Washington served as a model for the rest of the country. The first focus of that partnership is a joint campaign to "Get on the Map."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (January 31-February 1, 2015)

February 01, 2015

Winter_precipOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Children and Youth 

In an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, urges legislators in New Mexico, which ranks 48th nationally in child poverty, to expand the state's investment in prenatal and early childhood services. "The path to a healthy and successful future for our kids starts in the earliest years of their lives," writes Tabron. "Research has shown that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, which tells us that a child’s learning begins well before he or she ever sets foot in a kindergarten classroom."

The Economist agrees. In an article from the January 24 issue, the magazine argues that the solution to growing inequality is not "to discourage rich people from investing in their children, but to do a lot more to help clever kids who failed to pick posh parents. The moment to start is in early childhood, when the brain is most malleable and the right kind of stimulation has the largest effect."


Who are the "stakeholders" in social change communications? Andy Burness offers his thoughts on the Frank blog.

Community Development

On the Living Cities blog, Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, shares three lessons from Detroit's recent emergence from bankruptcy.


Investments in online fundraising technology and strategies made by "early adopter" nonprofits are starting to pay off, as these fifteen stats from Nonprofit Tech for Good show.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (January 10-11, 2015)

January 11, 2015

Nfl-footballOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector..


Good post on the GrantSpace blog by Carrie Miller, regional training specialist at Foundation Center-Cleveland, on the importance of communicating your impact to donors.

Higher Education

On The Hill's Congress Blog, Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, argues that higher education has been slow to catch up to the changing demographics of America's college-going population. By shifting the way we deliver college to help meet the needs of people for whom higher education had been out of reach, Merisotis writes, "we can create a higher education system that works better for everyone – students, educators and employers – and create a populace that is better poised for future success. [And that] is especially important, given that an estimated 65 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020, and today less than 40 percent of Americans hold two- or four-year degrees...."

In a review for The Nation, the Century Foundation's Rich Kahlenberg finds much to admire in Lani Guinier's latest book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America for The Nation. In the book, Guinier, a Yale Law School classmate of Bill Clinton's who had her fifteen minutes in the national spotlight after then-President Clinton nominated her to head the Justice Department's civil rights decision – only to withdraw the nomination under conservative pressure – argues that "the heavy reliance on standardized test scores in college admissions is deeply problematic on many levels." Kahlenberg deftly walks the reader through Guinier's many criticisms of the reigning "testocracy" and seems to agree that "by 'admitting a small opening for a select few students of color', affirmative action policies actually help buttress the larger unfair apparatus...."  A good review of a timely book.

Continue reading »

Social Sector Still Lags Far Behind the Future of Big Data

January 06, 2015

Blueprint 2015, Lucy Bernholz's sixth annual publication predicting future trends in philanthropy, announces a new focus:

From now on, we'll be looking at the structures of the social economy in the context of pervasive digitization. This is not about gadgets; it's about complicated (and fundamental) ideas like free association, expression, and privacy in the world of digital data and infrastructure. (p. 5)

Lucy goes on to pose some thought-provoking conceptions of civil society ("the place where we use private resources for public benefit"), digital civil society, and what she sees as three core purposes of civil society: expression, protest, and distribution.

That is, we organize to express ourselves artistically, culturally or as members of a particular group; to protest or advocate on behalf of issues or populations; and to provide and distribute services or products that the market or state are not providing. (p. 6)

In essence, civil society, and in many cases nonprofits, are where people come to put their values into action.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 3-4, 2015)

January 04, 2015

2015_desk_calendar_pcWelcome back! Hope you all got a chance to grab a little R&R over the holidays and are looking forward to the new year. Let's get it started with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

African Americans

The Washington Post's Jeff Guo reports on an examination of the health disparities between white and black Americans over the last century by the economists Leah Boustan and Robert Margo, who found that while those gaps have narrowed considerably, we're still pretty much "in the dark" as to how and why it happened.


As they do every year at this time, the editors at Education Week have compiled a list of the publication's most-read articles from the preceding twelve months.

The continued rollout of the Common Core was one of the big education stories of 2014, and according to the one hundred articles  gathered by the folks at Educators for Higher Standards (two from each state), teachers were some of the loudest voices in support of the standards-based initiative.


In an op-ed in the New York Times, Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution (and co-author of Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy), argues that Congress must reject efforts by some Republicans to eliminate "the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs."


As Robert Egger reminds us, ten thousand baby boomers will turn 69 tomorrow -- and the day after tomorrow, and every day in 2015. And that means a lot of nonprofit CEOs and EDs will be retiring this year (and next year, and the year after that), to be replaced, in many cases, by a millennial -- i.e., someone born after 1980. What does that mean for boards and staff? Eugene Fram explains.

Continue reading »

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

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.


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.


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."


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.


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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