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29 posts from November 2007

Quote of the Day (Nov. 30, 2007)

November 30, 2007

Quotemarks "This is a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is the Red Cross board acted deliberately and transparently to address a governance problem. The bad news is that, once again, the Red Cross is in the spotlight with a negative story, which will continue to erode the public’s trust in major philanthropic organizations.”

-- John Graham IV, CAE, president & CEO, ASAE (as quoted in The NonProfit Times)

Google Looks to Renewable Energy as Next Market Opp

November 28, 2007

WindfarmsOnline search giant Google yesterday announced a new strategic initiative, RE <C (Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal), to develop electricity from renewable sources of energy.

The company, which, in the words of the New York Times, has a seemingly inexhaustible source of revenue -- and mounting energy costs -- will focus initially "on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems, and other potential breakthrough technologies." Eventually, the company anticipates investing "hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns."

It's worth noting that a portion of those dollars will be funneled through the company's philanthropic arm, Google.org, which has generated a lot of hype and not much else since it was launched at the end of 2005. "[Our hope]," said Google.org executive director Dr. Larry Brilliant (no kidding!),

is that by funding research on promising technologies, investing in promising new companies, and doing a lot of R&D ourselves, we may help spark a green electricity revolution that will deliver breakthrough technologies priced lower than coal.

Apparently, they may have to do it without the help of Wall Street. According to the Times, the most relevant question for some analysts on the Street "is not whether Google can save the world, but whether the company's idealism may ultimately distract it from its core businesses of organizing the world's information and selling online ads." Said one analyst at RBC Capital Markets:

My first reaction when I read about this was, 'Is this a joke?' I've written off Google's competition as a threat to Google's long-term market share gains. But I haven't written off Google's own ability to stretch too far and try to do too much. Ultimately, that is the biggest risk in the Google story.

You almost have to feel sorry for the guy.

Okay, putting aside the perfectly understandable inclination to ignore anything said by anyone who works on Wall Street these days, does the guy have reason to be concerned? Should Google stick to its knitting and use its dominance in online search to end (or render obsolete) Microsoft's desktop monopoly and drive Yahoo! out of business (or into the arms of a deep-pocketed suitor)? Or do Google and Google.org have the resources (human and capital) to succeed in an area, creating viable markets for renewable energy technologies, where so many others have failed?

I don't have the answer to those questions, but I'm reasonably certain that Bill Clinton and his CGI crew will be seeing a lot more of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin over the coming months.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (Nov. 28, 2007)

Quotemarks "...In our democracy and its institutions -- including libraries, universities, public education, centers of science and research, the free press and the justice system -- Andrew Carnegie saw a form of government that provided equality before the law, freedom from authoritarian restriction, equal representation and, hopefully, equal opportunity. In education and the diffusion of knowledge, he saw the means to provide everyone with a chance to succeed and the pathway by which nations might come to resolve their conflicts peacefully. Education was not only a basic instrument for the creation of new knowledge, but a major force for democracy and a means for enlightenment and self-improvement of individual citizens from every walk of life -- both those who were born in the United States or, like himself, came here as immigrants...."

-- Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York

2008’s Most Important Causes

November 27, 2007

(Michael Seltzer, author of the award-winning Securing Your Organization’s Future, has served as president of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, and as chair of the Nonprofit Management Program of the New School's Robert J. Milano School of Management and Urban Policy. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

The season of giving is officially underway, and the drum roll for 2008 has begun. Our world is a better and more just place through the work of millions of nongovernmental actors operating in most of the countries of the world. As the New Year approaches, let's both celebrate and promote the work of these efforts. We can start by building a cumulative list of the most important causes that warrant our support and spreading the word about their work.

To start the ball rolling, here's my list:

American Friends Service Committee, which each year earns anew the Nobel Peace Prize it won sixty years ago for its ongoing global social justice work.

American Jewish World Service and other members of the Save Darfur Coalition for galvanizing a community of conscience in response to the horrific slaughter raging in the Sudan.

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, for its social, racial, and economic justice work in the United States and internationally.

Funding Exchange and its member funds for their support of grassroots organizations that are working to ensure a more just and equitable future.

One Laptop Per Child, which puts XO laptop computers in the hands of children in the global south through its Give One Get One program.

Operation Crossroads, which for fifty years has been sending college students to sub-Saharan countries to engage in development efforts.

Southern Mutual Help Association, based in Iberia, Louisiana, for helping residents of the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives and homes.

The Innocence Project, for assisting prisoners in the United States who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 208 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by such testing.

VDAY-A Global Movement To End Violence Against Women and Girls, for raising funds and awareness through benefit productions of playwright/founder Eve Ensler's award-winning play The Vagina Monologues.

The We Are America Alliance, for uniting grassroots immigrant rights organizations and unions in twenty states to deliver the message, "Today, we march, tomorrow, we vote."

The Women Moving Millions Campaign, for its efforts to raise substantial new resources for women's organizations across the globe.

Don't hesitate to add you own organizations to this list, and share it with your colleagues, loved ones, and neighbors. Better yet, ask the young people in your life to nominate their favorite causes and organizations. And most importantly, commit yourself to supporting these organizations and causes in 2008 with your time, energy, and dollars.

Let's get the word out about 2008's Most Important Causes!

-- Michael Seltzer

Global Geneva's 'Wise Givers' List

November 26, 2007

Barron's, the business and financial weekly published by Dow Jones, has jumped on the philanthropy bandwagon with a "special report" in its current issue (available in print and, online, to subscribers only).

The centerpiece of the package is a 560-word article highlighting the work of ten philanthropists "who epitomize thoughtful and effective giving." Compiled for Barron's by Geneva Global, a leading international philanthropic advisory firm that works with donors to turn their investments into "Life Change" -- sustainable, long-term social change -- it's an eclectic list that includes Eugene Lang, the 88-year-old entrepreneur who started the "I Have A Dream" Foundation; Lynn Fritz, who used proceeds from the sale of his global logistics firm to start the Fritz Institute; and Microsoft millionaire Mike Murray, who started Unitus, "a global microfinance accelerator."

Does philanthropy need another top ten list? Not if its based on dollar amount given, writes Global Geneva CEO Steve Beck in the firm's blog, Beyond Philanthropy. "Ranking philanthropists based on dollars given," he adds,

is akin to ranking the world’s great investors by the amount of stock they bought rather than their returns; it celebrates the input without regard for the impact. We need deeper reflection on what philanthropy is really about. Rankings can spur healthy competition. But let’s spur each other on to what really matters.   

To that end, Beck and his colleagues offer "a few simple rules" that any serious donor would do well to consider:

  1. Start with a goal that engages your passions and leverages your own experience;
  2. Create a plan to achieve that goal;
  3. Thoughtfully measure progress, even if the metrics are imperfect;
  4. Learn from success and failure; and
  5. Be willing to change what you’re doing based on that learning.

It's a good, if unsurprising, list. And frankly, I'm more interested in how Beck and his colleagues assembled their list of "effective" philanthropists -- and whether the methodology they used could be adapted to the foundation world. I'll have more to say about that another day, but in the meantime feel free to read Tim Ogden's description of how they did it and draw your own conclusions.

-- Mitch Nauffts

One-Post Challenge (Week #4 Update)

November 25, 2007

Tactical Philanthropy's One-Post Challenge is in the homestretch, and while it's been apparent for some time who the eventual "winner" would be, the real winner has been all of us. The quality of the posts (nineteen and counting) has been consistently high, and the dozens of comments submitted in response have been uniformly thoughtful and thought-provoking.

But don't take my word for it. Spend an hour with Sean and company and see for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Jump In, the Water's Fine!

November 21, 2007

Dear reader:

Swimming_poolcounty_park_5On the off chance you missed it, I'm re-posting our call for contributors. In the last week, we've welcomed three new voices: Rich Polt, president of Louder Than Words, a Boston-based PR firm; Dennis Whittle, CEO of GlobalGiving; and Philippe Bradley, a postdoc in molecular biology at Oxford. But we want you. As I wrote a few weeks ago:

It's been two months since we launched our blog, and things are go swimmingly: Traffic is up, the hat tips are streaming in, and plans are being made to kick things up a notch.

The only thing missing is you. That's right. We'd like to broaden and deepen the conversation about philanthropy we've begun here, and to do that we need you. And you. And you.

We're not looking for much: A post every other week (to become a contributor) or on occasion (to become a guest contributor). And here's the beauty part: Because we're a broad-minded group, interested in pretty much anything having to do with philanthropy (in all its guises and permutations), the playing field (swimming pool?) is wide open.

Interested? To get started, drop me a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Quote of the Day (Nov. 20, 2007)

November 20, 2007

Quotemarks "One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it. In a period of upheavals, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm. To be sure, it is painful and risky, and above all it requires a great deal of very hard work. But unless it is seen as the task of the organization to lead change, the organization will not survive. In a period of rapid structural change, the only ones who survive are the change leaders. A change leader sees change as an opportunity. A change leader looks for change, knows how to find the right changes, and knows how to make them effective both outside the organization and inside it. To make the future is highly risky. It is less risky, however, than not to try to make it. A goodly proportion of those attempting to will surely not succeed. But predictably, no one else will."

-- Peter Drucker, Management Challenges for the 21st Century

Social Networks, Blank Canvases, and the Long Tail: The Future of Online Philanthropy?

(Philippe Bradley, 21, is currently completing an MSc in Molecular Biochemistry at Oxford University. He spends his hours in the lab dreaming of Silicon Valley and a peer-driven revolution in philanthropy. An avid reader and snowboarder, he is currently looking to get his startup, CivSpark.com, off the ground. This is his first post to PhilanTopic.)

One of the most striking online developments of the last few years has been the emergence of the so-called Long Tail effect -- the thesis, made popular by Wired editor Chris Anderson, that individuals are offered greater choice in systems and networks, like the Internet, where the cost of storage and distribution is low.

Little wonder, then, that sites at the cutting edge of online philanthropy are bringing the concept to giving and social activism. This, in turn, is bringing revolutionary change to an industry that has remained largely unchanged for the better part of a century.

Users of Kiva.org, for example, found and united around Olajumoke Adeoye's appeal, an archetypal microfinance project, on the Kiva site. Users of the site pooled their resources to provide Adeoye with a loan of $1,175 (to be spent on her new business), repayable over eight months. What's especially interesting is the role played by the site and its field partner and how it compares to traditional philanthropy. Other than providing just enough details to reassure donors/lenders that their money will be used for legitimate purposes, the field partner -- in this case LAPO, part of the Grameen network -- is largely invisible. Kiva itself plays the role of silent mediator, letting donors find the projects they're interested in and managing the financial transaction.

This largely "agnostic" role stands in stark contrast to traditional charities, which typically launch appeals and reach out to potential donors as actively as time and resources allow. But because its audience is so large and diverse, Kiva can display a huge range of projects, then sit back and let groups form organically around each one. As users recommend the project to their friends via e-mail or newer platforms like Facebook and MySpace, the cause spreads virally across social networks, rapidly increasing in power and impact.

The link between the Long Tail and Web 2.0 is well established (elegantly described by Anderson himself). As noted above, one result has been the creation of online "mission-driven intermediaries" which, in effect, offer a "blank canvas" to individual groups with similar missions and/or causes. This highly tractable approach can be seen on Change.org or within the Facebook Causes application -- both of which are even more agnostic than Kiva.

The movement toward blank canvas approaches, influenced by the wider embrace of Web 2.0 tools and platforms, is becoming more pronounced. Even so, intermediaries are still necessary, if for no other reason than to vet possible recipients of the funds raised by crowds.

The really interesting question is whether these trends will eventually result in even the vetting being left to the crowd, much like Wikipedia users add and vet content on that site. We're already seeing that sort of feature on Donorschoose.org. But what would a truly blank canvas approach to philanthropy look like? And what would be the consequences of a world where peer-driven, "niche" philanthropy is king?

From where I sit, it sure looks like we're moving toward a brave new world of philanthropy. What about you? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

-- Phil Bradley

Quote of the Day (Nov. 18, 2007)

November 18, 2007


"Arts and cultural organizations open our eyes to new and different ways of viewing ourselves and our world. Through their creative acts, they stoke creative thinking in all of us — thinking that leads to innovation, invention, and works of balance and beauty. Creative thinking built [the metro Detroit] region, and we believe creative thinking will sustain it. The health and vitality of our artists and arts and cultural organizations play a critical role in the strength of our economy and the quality of our community life."

-- Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson

SVP Seattle Reflects on Its First Ten Years

It hardly seems possible, but SVP Seattle is celebrating its tenth anniversary. SVP was the inspiration of former Aldus Corporation President Paul Brainerd, who, in 1997, with the help of Seattle business leaders Scott Oki, Ida Cole, Bill Neukom, and Doug and Maggie Walker

founded a new type of philanthropic organization, calling it Social Venture Partners. Through collaboration they believed they could make a bigger impact. The donors –- Partners -– would not only contribute financially, but would offer their time and expertise to build long-term partnerships with nonprofit organizations -– Investees.

Today, according to the SVP Seattle site, "more than 420 Partners contribute their resources and passion to over twenty King County organizations. Learning from each other and the groups they support, Partners have provided over 75,000 hours of volunteer consulting and have granted in excess of $10 million to advance promising nonprofits." Their accomplishments have inspired others to do the same, and there are now twenty-four SVP affiliates in the U.S., Canada, and Japan.

SVP Seattle has always been the hub of the network, and under the leadership of Paul Shoemaker the organization has worked hard to disseminate lessons from its capacity-building work to the broader philanthropic community. In that spirit, Paul and his colleagues have distilled those lessons in a strategic planning document, Past & Future: Reflection's on SVP Seattle's Past Ten Years and Vision for the Future (62 pages, 6.2 mb, PDF). The eight lessons, all of which are fleshed out in greater detail in the report (along with six key principles underlying SVP's work), are:

  1. Knowing what good looks like and how to get there.
  2. Financial management is more than an audit.
  3. People with pocketbooks don't necessarily make good boards.
  4. Good leaders lead. They don't walk away and leave.
  5. Program evaluation is hard if you do not have the capacity to measure results.
  6. Give general operating (or unrestricted) support.
  7. Flexibility is crucial.
  8. Share best practices and wisdom.

In conjunction with the release of the report, Paul has also started a series, "Ten Things We'd Like to Tell Every New Philanthropist," at the SVP blog. As Paul writes in his initial post, "Every mistake articulated here has been made by all of us. The intent is not to preach a one-size-fits-all formula or to be arrogant in our viewpoints. Our sincere hope is that it will encourage reflection and stimulate feedback, criticism, and conversation."

We wish Paul and his colleagues continued success and encourage you to read/download the report and to visit the blog.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (Nov. 17, 2007)

November 17, 2007

Quotemarks "America risks jeopardizing its prosperity, security, and indeed its very way of life if we do not improve the math and science literacy of our students. Mathematics is a critical gateway subject for college success and business and technical careers at all levels. The sciences provide both a method of approach to problem solving and basic knowledge needed in our complex society. It should be unacceptable to each of us that we spend more per pupil than nearly any other nation, yet the performance of American students in math and science continues to compare poorly relative to their peers overseas."

Carnegie Corporation of New York president Vartan Gregorian

Guaranteed. Period.

November 16, 2007

Global_giving(Dennis Whittle is the CEO of GlobalGiving, a unique collaboration between the GlobalGiving Foundation, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and ManyFutures, Inc., a social enterprise. This post, his first for PhilanTopic, has also been posted to Dennis's blog and GlobalGiving's new blog.)

If I buy shoes from Zappos.com and they don't fit, I can send them back for a full refund -- no questions asked. They even refund shipping costs! If I buy a coat from Nordstrom's and my wife doesn't like it, I can take it back to the store -- no questions asked.

But what would happen if you asked your favorite nonprofit or charity group for a refund? Margaret Su, one of our colleagues here at GlobalGiving, asked this question earlier this year. "We claim that GlobalGiving is a 'whole new way to give.' We place a premium on showing donors exactly where their money goes -– and the impact it makes. Why shouldn't we provide a refund if a donor is not happy?"

I told Margaret, as gently as I could, that she was naive: "That is crazy, Margaret. Philanthropy doesn’t work that way. We can't do that." I had a thousand reasons to blow her off.

But her idea nagged at me, and I couldn't shake it. I brought it up at the management team and then at the board. The response was always the same: "That's crazy, we can't do it, it's impossible, etc. etc."

Over time, though, we started to think that the idea might be not only possible -– but critical. And not just to donors, but also to the organization. A guarantee could compel us to put front and center questions of how to amplify the impact of our work, hold ourselves accountable to our partners, and ensure donor trust. Each and every day.

Today we’re putting our money where our mouth is with the announcement of GlobalGiving Guaranteed. Starting today, if a donor is not happy for any reason with his or her experience on GlobalGiving, he or she can get a refund. The refund comes in the form of a voucher the donor can use to give to any other project he or she wishes. (If the IRS allowed it, we would even refund donor's money in cash.) The guarantee will cover up to $10,000 per donor, per year, at the beginning, but we may increase this ceiling if it makes sense in the future.

We see GlobalGiving Guaranteed as a new way to demonstrate the confidence we have in our project leaders, who are good people making a big difference with a relatively small amount of funding. But the guarantee also brings direct market discipline to bear on us. We make promises about the speed at which donors' money will get to the field, and we promise donors that they will get regular updates from the field from project leaders. Starting now, the guarantee creates a feedback loop with teeth.

We also believe that donors deserve to be treated at least as well as consumers. After all, they are trying to help improve the world with their dollars. They have the right to know how their money is being used -- and to redirect that money to a different purpose if they are not satisfied.

You may be thinking this is a real financial risk for a small organization to be taking -- and you are correct. But we believe that ultimately the benefits far outweigh the risks. Study after study has shown that the positives outweigh the drawbacks for providers of guarantees.

Does the guarantee mean that all projects listed on GlobalGiving will succeed in terms of their objectives? Of course not. Most projects on GlobalGiving succeed in improving hundreds or even thousands of lives. But, like anything else in life and business, sometimes development initiatives fall short, for all kinds of reasons. We will, however, guarantee that from here on out, donors can play an active role in the conversation.

Months ago, I told Margaret that a donation guarantee was a crazy idea. That isn’t how philanthropy works, I said. But today, I believe that it is. What do you think?

-- Dennis Whittle

'Second Life', What About Our First Life?!

November 15, 2007

(With this post, guest contributor Rich Polt makes his PhilanTopic debut. Polt is president of Louder Than Words, a Boston-based PR agency serving foundations, nonprofits, and related businesses.)

I am incredibly conflicted about Second Life.Secondlife_1

On the off chance you aren’t in the know, Second Life is an Internet-based virtual world that enables its residents to explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and trade goods and services. Second Life even has its own economy and a currency referred to as Linden Dollars (L$), which is exchangeable for US dollars or other currencies on market-based currency exchanges. Enterprising folk can become rich on Second Life (see this story from BusinessWeek), and charitable folk can generate some serious dollars for causes (the American Cancer Society recently raised over $128,000 through its annual Second Life Relay for Life).

A few weeks ago, I attended a great conference in Miami that was sponsored by the Communications Network. The theme of the event was "What We Know (Or Should Know) About Effective Communications" in the philanthropic sector. As one would expect, much of the conference was dedicated to Generation Next and Web 2.0 strategies. The penultimate plenary session included a presentation from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, describing how they are using Second Life to build communities of interest (virtual and real) related to their grantmaking. This comes on the heels of a recent $550,000 grant to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy to examine the role online communities can play in fostering real-world activism.

So why am I conflicted?

Part of me thinks this is very cool stuff! Foundations are learning that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are spending time in virtual worlds, and they are using this knowledge to leverage awareness of the sector and to harness real world generosity. Plus, the PR value for doing things on Second Life is still huge. As MacArthur is learning, there is tremendous opportunity and potential to be explored through this medium.

Another part of me is appalled in general by the virtual reality boom. It’s escapism to the nth degree and experts say it’s only going to become more sophisticated and pervasive. To quote from the movie Dazed and Confused: "Everybody in this car needs some good ol' worthwhile visceral experience." There are 193 results that appear when you type in "sedentary lifestyle" on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Web site. That’s because it is a leading cause of childhood obesity, which RWJF is dedicated to reversing. In other words, let’s go outside, let’s exercise, let’s interact with real people, let’s work on our first life before we get lost in a second one.

No doubt I will struggle with these opposing views as I try to inspire my son to "play outside" as he grows older and, at the same time, come to see the value that virtual worlds offer the philanthropic sector. In the meantime, here is some unsolicited PR advice for RWJF. Stage a childhood obesity symposium in Second Life (or even a passive demonstration) advocating for people to log-off, get outside, and lead less sedentary lifestyles. That would be great!

-- Rich Polt

Quick Hits (Nov. 14, 2007)

November 14, 2007

"How can we hope to have a vibrant, effective nonprofit sector when we...continue to enforce penury on nonprofit leaders? How can we hope to retain, or recruit, high-quality leaders for our sector when funders perpetuate the notion that nonprofit means poor?" Philos Anthropos thinks the "debate" over nonprofit executive compensation is ridiculous.

Lucy Bernholz ("Remixing private action for public good") looks at what we know about work, resources, and change and offers a few suggestions about how to build a better grantmaking entity for the 21st century.

White Courtesy Telephone's Albert Ruesga argues that most grantmaking foundations are far less strategic than they think they are.

Rosetta Thurman reminds boomers that they need not fear generational change.

Holden Karnofsky and crew announce the launch of GiveWell.net, "an information resource by donors, for donors."

And the brilliant Eduwonkette continues her dissection of New York City's new school report card system.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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