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1192 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

[Excerpt] 'When the Past Is Never Gone'

September 03, 2015

Guard_superdome_katrinaAs people around the country mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it's entirely appropriate that many should feel the need to pause and reflect on what the storm and its aftermath reveal about our troubled racial past. The images broadcast to the world from a flooded New Orleans — of panicked families stranded on rooftops, of National Guardsmen ignoring pleas for assistance from the mostly African-American crowds gathered at the squalid Superdome, of armed sheriffs denying safe passage to New Orleanians trying to flee the city on foot — were a reminder in 2005, as they are today, that the past is always with us.

That suggestion, as Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, notes, has been advanced many times, by many people. In an essay accompanying the foundation's most recent annual report, Lewis, paraphrasing Edward Ball, the author of Slaves in the Family, writes: "[T]he policing of black bodies, and the legislated use of extralegal actions, has its roots in an earlier America, where every black person was assumed to be some white person's property and many whites presumed themselves deputized to reconnect property and owner." It is an observation that lays bare the immorality of America's "peculiar institution" — and one that many would argue has no relevance to our own "post-racial" century. Lewis, a noted social historian and Foundation Center board member, isn't one of them. Like an "apparition out of time," he writes, "slavery's ghost — and the specter of race and difference — never seem to leave us."

One way to make sense of "slavery’s lingering presence," Lewis suggests, is to ask and try to answer questions about the institution through the scholarship of the humanities and the arts. For half a century, the Mellon Foundation has been one of the important private sponsors of such inquiry. Indeed, under Lewis's leadership, it has reaffirmed its commitment to scholarship and the humanities. Why? Because, in a world characterized by rapid change, the humanities matter — maybe more than ever. Foundation Center, for its part, collects and analyzes data related to how foundations like Mellon address social challenges deeply rooted in the past, from black male achievement to education reform to diversity in philanthropy. Philanthropy, by itself, can't solve these problems, any more than it can erase the legacy of slavery. But without a solid grasp of what it has done to address racial inequities in the past — and is trying to do in the present — it cannot expect to achieve its aims in the future.

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"When the Past Is Never Gone"

In his novel Requiem for a Nun William Faulkner observed, "The past is never dead. It is not even past."  That short, sweet phrase forces us to confront our own notions — or wishes — about how far we have left behind the earlier periods in our history. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times ("Slavery's Enduring Resonance," March 15, 2015), writer and social observer Edward Ball tells us that the spasmodic racial eruptions that seem to grab and throttle us occur because the ghosts of slavery have not been exorcised. Ball, a descendant of one of the wealthiest slave-owning families in South Carolina and author of the highly acclaimed Slaves in the Family, a story of his family and the black people they enslaved, argues that the policing of black bodies, and the legislated use of extralegal actions, has its roots in an earlier America, where every black person was assumed to be some white person's property and many whites presumed themselves deputized to reconnect property and owner.

Many would disagree with Ball, arguing that slavery's luminance is faint, hinting that its evocation is somehow archaic and out of place. For many, slavery seems the ultimate example of a bygone era.  More than once in my 30-year career as a university professor I had a student say, "Slavery, that was about then, and this is about now." Or, "my ancestors came in the 20th century; they had nothing to do with slavery. Don't blame me." My lectures about human cargoes, crop rotations, reciprocal relations, economic benefit, cultural adaptation, and nearly 250 years of forced labor seemed incongruous to some of those young people, who were growing up in a world in which everyone was encouraged to be like Mike — the late 20th century's global icon, Michael Jordan.

Our distance from slavery has ostensibly increased significantly in recent years, in spite of the four-year remembrance of the Civil War in many regions. This is the digital age and the age of the human genome, when information flows fluidly and quickly. A "generation" is 18 months, the time it takes to introduce a new technological innovation. This alteration of time and knowledge forces us to ask: What is our continuing link to slavery? Is it simply understood as the grandparent of segregation —that is, slavery gave birth to emancipation, emancipation gave way to segregation, with segregation finally producing desegregation? Perhaps more pointedly, is slavery no more than a museum piece, represented in static form through scholarship, at historical sites and in museums?

Most important, how do we make sense of slavery's lingering presence in our contemporary lives?  Is Ball correct that slavery haunts this post-industrial age, because like any apparition out of time, it won't willingly leave until it knows its time and place have come and gone? Or does it linger because we don't want it gone, not really? We conjure it back into existence through our veneration of the Civil War, in our cultural productions and reproductions, in family names and histories, in monuments, memorials, and reenactments, and in the ways we mark difference. Is this why slavery's ghost — and the specter of race and difference — never seem to leave us?

One means of answering these and other questions is through the scholarship of the humanities and the arts, since we cannot exorcise the past without confronting it fully. Take, for example, historian David Eltis's digital project, Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which documents the movement of millions of humans from the interior of the African continent to its western coasts, and then on to Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. With a historian's eye for detail, aided by the computer's ability to store and sort vast amounts of information for almost immediate retrieval and analysis, Eltis helps us see the transatlantic slave trade for what it was: a global affair predicated on the exchange of humans, goods, and commodities for the enrichment of a complex network of actors over several centuries. Along the way African names, birthplaces, words, and kinship ties were pushed deeper and deeper into the creases of human memory. In their place, over the course of several centuries, ideologies surfaced to justify slavery, religion was invoked to maintain slavery, laws evolved to regulate slavery, practices matured to sustain slavery, opponents appeared who questioned slavery, individuals were born who fled slavery, and states did battle to perpetuate slavery. And in our own time, we, descendants of that earlier period, work hard to forget slavery, only to find ourselves stunned when the past refuses to stay gone….

The above is excerpted from an essay by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation president Earl Lewis in the foundation's 2014 annual report.

 

3 Things to Know About Donor Behavior

September 02, 2015

Donor_brainWhen I first got into fundraising, I executed campaigns without worrying too much about donors or spending a lot of time thinking about why or how they responded to particular strategies or appeals.

Eventually, I realized that if development professionals really want to make a difference in their organization's ability to raise money, they not only need to think about their donors, they need to understand how the donor brain works. Let's face it: the brain is an economic weighing machine that makes hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunity-cost calculations a day. Rather than choosing the most difficult thing, it tends to nudge us down the path of least resistance.

What does that mean for the fundraising professional? It's simple. Donors are drawn to actions that, psychologically speaking, are low cost but yield a satisfying result. We need to build that recognition into our appeals and the way we communicate about our organizations.

The 'Me-Too' Effect

Imagine walking into a museum and at the entrance coming across three buckets. Bucket #1 has a sign asking you to donate the change in your pocket. You notice the bucket is almost full of coins. Bucket #2 has a sign asking you to donate $5 and is maybe half full of one- and five-dollar bills. The last bucket, bucket #3, has a sign asking you to donate $50 and has a few bills crumpled at the bottom.

Which approach is likely to raise the most money?

According to research, a bucket filled with loose change will actually generate more money than a bucket only partially full of larger-denomination bills. Why? Because donors want to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. A bucket full of change suggests that lots of other people support the cause and momentum is building. Most people will see that and want to be part of it. Besides, it's easier to fish the loose change out of your pocket than it is to pull out a wallet and find the right number of bills in the right denominations.

It Feels Good to Give

You may have asked yourself, does altruism really exist? Altruism — the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others — is what we hope to appeal to in our donors. But we all know there is an element of selfishness and ego in most charitable giving. It's what some call the “warm glow effect.” When you ask someone why he or she signed a petition or responded to an appeal with a donation, they invariably open with an “I” statement: “I wanted to show my support for the organization/cause,” or “I did it because it's important to me.” Our brain, meanwhile, is telling us that it feels good to help others.

When you ask someone to give, it's important to help them understand why their donation mattersand how it relates to their life. The two work together to increase the empathy a donor feels for the intended beneficiaries of his or her donation and ultimately leads to the donor having a keener interest in helping others.

Peer Influence

Let's return to the bucket scenario. An individual is much more likely to throw some change or a bill or two into a bucket if at least a few of the people he is with are willing to do the same. He's also more likely to put money in the same bucket that his friends have put money in. Why? Because humans are social animals. In fact, research shows that people tend to feel safer and more secure when they are holding hands with a friend or family member. When we see a person or people we care about donating money to a cause, our warm feelings toward that person (or persons) are transferred to the cause, while any skeptical feelings we may have are likely to be put aside.

How can you apply this observation to your own fundraising appeals? It goes without saying that peer influence is one of the most important tools in a fundraiser's arsenal. You can ask a donor for a contribution from your first day on the job until your last and hope that this time she'll respond — or, if she's given in the past, won't change her mind. But if you can empower her peers to give money to your organization (through a series of well-executed peer fundraising tactics), you'll be leveraging your efforts with their efforts and greatly increasing your chances in the long run of adding to your donor base and raising more funds.

Remember, the key to successful fundraising is to take donors on a journey from initial contact to ever-deeper levels of engagement. Keeping these aspects of donor behavior in mind as you create a roadmap for your next fundraising campaign will ensure you reach your destination sooner — and with fewer wrong turns. Your goal, always, is to nudge donors past what they think they can do to successively higher levels of interest and action.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_newDerrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency that works with nonprofits to increase their impact. He also leads the national research team for the Millennial Impact Project, the premier study dedicated to millennials and how they engage with cause work, and is co-author of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2015)

September 01, 2015

With the markets sliding and the heat and humidity rising, it seems like a good time to take a step back and revisit some of the great content published here on PhilanTopic in August. Learning to embrace change and failure, tips for your next group interview, and the return of venture philanthropy and old-fashioned liberal education -- it was a month to remember, if not one to take to the bank....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that made you think? Feel free to it share with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Katrina 10: Recovery, Resilience, and a City Back From the Dead

August 29, 2015

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

A considerable amount of attention and resources were given to New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm, with local and national philanthropic leadership playing an important role in the city's recovery efforts. Philanthropy alone, however, cannot solve problems created by centuries of deeply-entrenched racism and oppression. Instead, its role should be to seed and test innovative ideas and help implement community led solutions that can reduce poverty, increase equity, and quantify hope.

Yet even that kind of philanthropic input is not enough. Innovative ideas and solutions require reliable, sustained, and adequate support from both the public and private sectors. Without significant cross-sector investments in quality social, educational and economic programs, grassroots organizations that are committed to positive social change are forced to rely on — and compete for — limited philanthropic dollars. It is a model that is neither sustainable nor likely to lead to systemic change.

Since Katrina, community-based organizations such as the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) have led the push for solutions to the social and economic ills that have long plagued New Orleans. Established in 2004 following passage of Act 1225, the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003, YEP now provides educational, mentoring, and employment readiness services to more than a thousand vulnerable youth in the city each year, 98 percent of whom are African American. YEP's founders witnessed firsthand many young lives lost to violence and the prison system, and they recognized that the lack of services available to, and investment in, the state's most underserved population was in part to blame for this tragedy.

Despite having only been established a little more than a year before Katrina, YEP was able to provide emergency support and services to young people and their families who were displaced and scattered across the country by the storm. It was one of the few youth organizations in New Orleans that managed to function in the chaos that followed, monitoring and assisting its clients – some of whom had been separated from family and friends and were living alone in shelters or on the streets. Maintaining YEP's core staff and infrastructure in the storm's aftermath, as well as its connections with other key organizations and agencies, set the stage for the organization's rapid growth over the next decade. YEP's story is, in part, a successful case study of how, given adequate resources and support, community-based groups can work collaboratively with leadership across the board to create meaningful impact.

That said, there's a much deeper and complex challenge confronting local leadership in struggling cities like New Orleans: America's unwillingness to invest in solutions that address poverty. The lack of public-sector investment speaks volumes about the nation's current value system in terms of what and, most importantly, who it truly values. It is clear that the urgent issues and challenges we face will not be resolved without targeted, meaningful action by government, business, and philanthropic leaders.

Headshot_melissa_sawyer_YEPIn post-Katrina and post-Ferguson America, national leadership must collectively commit to working with, and investing in, strategies designed to help black communities realize their full potential. Doing so will require a strong, long-term commitment from communities, public agencies, and the private sector to allocate resources to the kind of social infrastructure that supports sustainable change. It's the only path forward if we truly hope to create a prosperous, caring, and equitable society.

(Photo credit: The Guardian)

Melissa Sawyer is a co-founder and executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project in New Orleans.

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

August 24, 2015

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

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

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

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Cultivating Programs for Next-Generation Donors

August 17, 2015

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 15-16, 2015)

August 16, 2015

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

Data

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

Giving

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

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

Global Health

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

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

Governance

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

Nonprofits

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

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Criminal Justice: Letter to POTUS From Executives' Alliance

August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

August 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PND: The American Red Cross was widely criticized for its response to Katrina, as well as for its efforts in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake in that country and for its response to Superstorm Sandy. Do you think the Red Cross has been unfairly singled out by the media for its response to those and other recent natural disasters? And what should the organization do to improve its response to disasters in the future?

RGO: The reports of Red Cross activities in Haiti and other disaster areas have been disappointing and disturbing. For those of us working in disaster philanthropy, the news coverage underscores several critical issues — including gaps and flaws in our current system — that deserve consideration and national attention. If properly addressed, we could see more effective disaster response in the future.

First, our country needs a structure for responding to the humanitarian needs caused by natural disasters that is both well funded and well organized. The current system of relying on voluntary contributions in support of multiple voluntary organizations does not adequately address the needs of either the survivors or the organizations providing support.

Second, the public needs to better understand the arc of disasters and why the rush to respond immediately tends to create future problems. On one hand, the immediate outpouring of donations in the days after disaster often puts the Red Cross and other service organizations in the awkward position of receiving too much money for some activities and not enough for others. In addition, the outsized nature of the immediate response makes it harder to raise needed funds later on for recovery and rebuilding efforts that can take years. We suggest consideration be given to finding national solutions that result in better coordination and balance in disaster giving and that reflect the full cycle of disasters.

Third, we urge the American Red Cross to use these reports as an opportunity to reassess its strategies and priorities. Its world-class brand has long been known for its work in immediate relief following disasters, and during this time of reflection it can use that asset as a touchstone for an examination of its future.

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#FailEpic

August 06, 2015

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

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

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

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Why Venture Philanthropy Is the Future of Giving

August 04, 2015

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 1-2, 2015)

August 02, 2015

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

Climate Change

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

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

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

Communications/Marketing

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

Corporate Social Responsibility

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

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The Parting Glass

July 30, 2015

Jane_Schwartz_Paul RapoportIn 2009, when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then worked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant proposals, and help grantees develop viable exit strategies once our final multiyear grants had concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and our grantmaking was at an end. After twenty-seven years of supporting all the major organizations in New York's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities — providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period — the actual closing date was upon us.

Throughout the preceding decades the foundation's board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out phase. When they realized our closing was imminent, all of them — either formally or informally — reached out and urged us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff but for our grantees as well. So while we had had the idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, holding a final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the sad realities of closing.

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[Review] How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World

July 29, 2015

Book_how_to_be_great_at_doing_good_for_PhilanTopicThere are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and in 2013 over 62 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours to charitable causes. Given these statistics, you might think we were well on our way to a world in which caring people are significantly improving the lives of people in need. According to the World Bank, however, more than a billion people globally live in extreme poverty, and each year over 2.6 million children die of hunger-related causes. It's enough to make one wonder whether charity does any good.

In How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World, animal rights activist Nick Cooney offers an antidote to such cynicism in the form of a "complacency-shattering guidebook for anyone who wants to actually change the world, whether as a donor, a volunteer, or a nonprofit staffer." 

In the book, Cooney addresses the misconceptions that persistently prevent donors and volunteers from "succeeding" in their charitable endeavors. He tells us, for example, that most people see charity as

a warm, fuzzy thing and that as long as our intentions are good we should be applauded. We are not taught to think rigorously about our approach. We are not taught how to succeed at doing good, or even that success is what matters. So we aren't in the habit of making calculated decisions when it comes to doing good....

But what do we mean by "success"? "The measure of success for charities," Cooney writes, is not an "up or down vote on whether they are making the world a better place." The question is, or should be, how much good can a charity accomplish. It's not a revolutionary — or even new — idea, but if pursued to its logical conclusion, it requires donors, volunteers, and nonprofit practitioners to make some tough decisions. If we really want to change the world and include as many individuals as possible in that change, we need to completely rethink the way we do our work.

For nonprofits to become more efficient, Cooney argues, they first need to establish a "bottom line" that reflects their "cost per good done." It could be something like the "cost per HIV infection prevented," or "the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions prevented." Not that establishing such metrics is easy. A study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that "even among the largest foundations...only 8 percent had any data whatsoever that showed how successful they'd been at achieving a defined goal." 

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