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10 posts from February 2008

Quote of the Day (Feb. 28, 2008)

February 28, 2008

Quotemarks"But driving the rebellion against authoritative images is a hatred of any kind of cultural authority, whether it is a hollow, pumped-up star or a talented actor who has worked hard at his craft. And driving the gospel of popularity is an appeal to each one of us to replace the inflated icons with an inflated sense of ourselves -- whether we have talent or discipline or not. Web culture's hatred of the famous figure often comes down to an indiscriminate mania for access to what other people have and we don't. It's not the gaseous star we dislike; it's the fact that he possesses a status and authority that we feel we deserve. In this sense, the cult of popularity, which celebrates 'you', is instilling in everyone an impulsive impatience with anyone and anything that is not you...."

-- Lee Siegel
Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob

California Legislation Requiring Foundations to Report on Diversity, Part 1

February 27, 2008

PhilanTopic contributor Michael Seltzer has been a member of the Association of Black Foundation Executives, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, the Disability Funders Network, Hispanics in Philanthropy, the National Network of Grantmakers, and Women and Philanthropy. In addition, he was a founder of what is now Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues.

In February 2007, at the urging of the Greenlining Institute, a public policy organization based in Berkeley, Assemblyman Joe Coto of San Jose introduced legislation (AB 624) to require private foundations with assets over $250 million to annually collect and publicly disclose the race, gender, and ethnicity of their board members, staff, and grant recipients. AB 624 also requires private foundations to report the amount and percentage of grants to organizations where 50 percent or more of the board and staff belong to an ethnic or racial minority.

Subsequently, California Assembly Bill 624 was amended to require that foundations include the number of grants and percentage of grant dollars "awarded to predominantly low-income communities." (The legislation does not define "predominately low-income" or explain how it should be measured.) Foundations also would have to report the number of grants and percentage of grant dollars awarded to organizations serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) individuals, as well as organizations where at least 50 percent of the board and 50 percent of the staff is comprised of LGBT individuals.

On January 29, 2008, almost a year after the bill’s introduction, the California State Assembly passed, by a vote of 45 to 29, an amended version of the bill. The amended bill has been jointly referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee in the California State Senate. There is no set timeline, however, for the Senate to take up the legislation.

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Is Your Organization Recession-Proof?

February 25, 2008

Nff_logo_2Shaky credit markets, the housing slump, and soaring commodity prices have many worried that the economy is headed for a downturn; in fact, as regular contributor Michael Seltzer notes, some states (California, Florida, Michigan) and industries (auto manufacturing) are already in recession.

That's worrisome news for nonprofits, which often suffer a double hit in challenging economic times as individual donors, foundations, and government look to trim budgets and preserve principal. An analysis of new data from over 6,500 mid-sized nonprofits released earlier this month by the New York City-based Nonprofit Finance Fund reveals that it took years for many nonprofits to recover from the economic downturn in the U.S. that started in 2001 (and was exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks). According to NFF, the

number of all nonprofits in the sample that suffered deficits grew by 20 percent in fiscal year 2001 and had not returned to 2000 levels by 2005. Over 40 percent of the nonprofits reported a deficit in 2001, as well as in the two years immediately thereafter. From 2001-2003, nonprofit expenses in general grew at a faster pace than revenue, suggesting that organizations were providing more services than they could afford in response to increased need from their constituencies. It was not until 2004 that expense growth rates among nonprofits reflected a full adjustment to the lower revenue growth rates....

What can nonprofits learn from the last recession that might help them weather the next one? According to NFF, they should:

  1. Avoid "strong, silent behavior" and sustained spending, which has been a hallmark of the industry for more than a decade.
  2. Engage with board members and funders in contingency planning on what is likely to happen to clients during a recession.
  3. Avoid large investments in fixed assets and infrastructure.
  4. Get a firm handle -- today, not tomorrow -- on your revenue streams/patterns.
  5. Approach government funders more aggressively, especially if you're in the service-delivery business.

"What nonprofits do now," says NFF president and CEO Clara Miller, "will have consequences that resonate far beyond [their] bottom lines....With fewer dollars flowing into the sector, nonprofits face the possibility of being forced to cut services at a time of increased need. Philanthropists, government, and nonprofit organizations will need to work together much more closely to ensure ongoing services for at-risk populations."

Click here to listen to a podcast of the press event at which Miller outlined NFF's recommendations.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (Feb. 23, 2008)

February 23, 2008

"Mob mentality is an amazing thing. Because it makes us feel good to follow along, even when it's into disaster. It is not so much bad luck we want to avoid as being on our own. Being able to say along with several others, 'I lost a lot on this or that stock, too!' is comforting. Why it is that a recession should be less painful if we are all suffering the ill-effects isn't clear. But mankind is first of all a herd animal and fears nothing more than not being part of the herd — win or lose."

-- Lila Rajiva, author, Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets

2007 Giving Challenges -- The Results Are In

February 22, 2008

The final results of America's Giving Challenge and the Causes Giving Challenge have been announced and the postmortems have begun. The twin competitions, which were sponsored by the Case Foundation in partnership with Causes on Facebook, Parade magazine, Network for Good, and GlobalGiving, were designed "to inspire Americans to support their favorite causes and charities by informing them about new technologies that make online giving more productive, meaningful, and fun."

It appears to have done just that. In the fifty days the competitions were open, 80,000 people went online and made donations totaling more than $1.7 million to some 3,000 causes and charities. In addition to the funds raised for individual causes/nonprofits, winners and runners-up in three different categories received cash awards ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. (For a complete list of winners, click here.)

One of those winners, the Sharing Foundation (whose mission is "to help meet the physical, emotional, educational and medical needs of orphaned and seriously disadvantaged children in Cambodia") benefitted mightly from the efforts of Michele Martin, author of the Bamboo Project blog, and Beth Kanter, nonprofit-cum-technology blogger extraordinaire. Beth blogged regularly and insightfully about the process/experience and has collected her posts here.

As usual, Sean Stannard-Stockton had what was probably the best take on all of this:

"[If you work at a foundation, you might have noticed that nonprofits are way ahead of grantmakers in learning how to leverage social media tools. They’re generally way ahead of for-profit companies as well. So if you’re a grantmaker, check out Beth and Michele as well. Maybe you can talk them into helping you out."

-- Mitch Nauffts

Is PBS Still Necessary?

February 19, 2008

That's the question asked by Charles McGrath in the Arts & Leisure section of Sunday's New York Times ("Is PBS Still Necessary?", Feb. 17, 2008). I read the article on Sunday morning and remember thinking, "That's going to upset some people." But Sunday was my birthday, and I quickly forgot about it.

So I was surprised earlier this evening to hear Jim Lehrer, at the end of The NewsHour broadcast, mention the lively conversation about PBS unfolding in the comments section attached to McGrath's article at the Times Web site. I know. PBS "got" the Web years ago and has done an admirable job of integrating its on- and offline content offerings. But this was Lehrer, the grand old man (sorry, Jim!) of public television news, urging viewers, in his understated way, to check out the user-generated content on the Web site of a rival news outlet. How Web 2.0 of him!

Anyway, as of an hour ago there were more than eight hundred comments in the thread and the pro-PBS side was winning by a landslide. Obviously, McGrath (intentionally, I suspect) hit a nerve. But what are the larger lessons here? What, if anything, does the overwhelming support for PBS expressed by Times readers say about the viability of traditional media in a Web 2.0 world? What's the secret to getting the average Jane or Joe to engage with Web-based content? And how is the role of traditional journalistic gatekeepers like the Times and PBS changing in this brave new media world?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quick Hits (Feb. 17, 2008)

February 17, 2008

Alison Fine asks some interesting questions about the blurring of lines between for-profit and social benefit activities on Facebook.

Newly minted as a columnist for The Nonprofit Times, the anonymous author of the Don't Tell the Donor blog urges nonprofits to get on the Web 2.0/social network train -- before it leaves the station without 'em.

Excellent Q&A with Oxford economist Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, on the Beyond Philanthropy blog. In his book, Collier argues that almost a billion of the world's poorest people live in dysfunctional countries caught in one (or more) of four traps -– the conflict trap, the resource trap, the trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors, and the bad governance trap. His solution: More policies that promote growth.

Nice graphic representation at the Eduwonkette blog of the interlocking relationships at sixteen education policy think tanks and advocacy organizations.

The Nonprofiteer questions the wisdom of a fund created by Chicago foundations to assure that neighborhoods affected by nthe city's 2016 Olympiuc bid benefit from the plans.

Nice two-parter by Caroline Heine in Philanthromedia about the impact of factory farming/industrial-produced meat on the environment and what we, as consumers, can do to mitigate the damage.

Last but not least, Sean (Tactical Philanthropy) Stannard-Stockton and Phil (Gift Hub) Cubeta go to war -- sort of. Enjoy.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Letter From Sudan

February 15, 2008

Driven in part by the activities of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, private support for public health and development initiatives in poor and developing countries has become big news.

Predictably, as media coverage of those efforts has grown, so too have questions about their effectiveness. In November, I wrote about an online "conversation" hosted by the John Templeton Foundation on the topic of whether money will solve Africa's development problems. And last month we noted Bill Gates's call for a kinder, gentler capitalism at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Microsoft chairman's remarks were widely discussed in the blogosphere and mainstream media and were also the subject of a fascinating lunchtime panel discussion at the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal on January 30.

Most of the discussions of this topic that I come across are substantive and well meaning. At the same time, there's often something academic and bloodless about them. A week or so ago, my brother-in-law Dave Reed, an upstate ER doc, traveled to southern Sudan to spend a month in a medical exchange program. Dave's a great guy and a wonderful letter writer, and I thought it would be interesting to share his on-the-ground experiences in a typical rural African village with you. I've cleaned up the typos and fixed some of his punctuation, but otherwise the words and observations are his.

Dave writes:

Duk Payuel -- 12 February, 2008

I want to pick up from my last letter and focus, from a medical perspective, on what I see in Duk Payuel. There are so many new experiences and sights that I am finding it hard to articulate it well in writing. 

First a reminder about what the setting of this clinic is: we flew out of Nairobi in a small plane and for hours traversed dry barren wilderness scarred by dried riverbeds, creeks, and salt sink holes which illustrate the brutal divide between the wet and dry season in Sudan. The locals know with confidence that there will not be any rain for several months because it is the hot season and currently 105 F in the shade. But we are fortunate to have a brisk wind blowing, even though it makes it feel a bit like a blast furnace; I would prefer not to consider the alternative.

I am sitting in my tent over the lunch break -- it's too hot for anyone to work -- with goats and cows lying on the ground around me. The animals run freely and always seem to know where they are going, except for the goat that was roasted yesterday in our honor. Remarkably, we are quite comfortable in our tents despite the lack of electricity (except for when we run the generator to pump water from the well -- that's when I charge the computer battery and can fire off a quick email on the donated Internet satellite dish).

There is no running water, and of the three wells in the community there is only one nearby, so the women and children all come with two-liter bottles or big gerry cans to try and get some water when we are pumping. How do you say no to a pregnant mother or a small kid who has been holding a place in line just for the chance of getting two liters of well water?

There is a wedding in the village today that has been the talk of the town, and we just learned that they settled on 35 cows and about $1,300 for a dowry, so the wedding will proceed over the next couple days; should be interesting, especially as it is a union between members of two different tribes.

Perspectives on the Medical Experience So Far:

I woke at 4:00 a.m. this morning thinking about how we take immunizations for granted in the United States, a reality that has profoundly reduced mortality of diseases that we now only see in medical text books. In this part of the world there are NO immunizations. Contributing causes include lack of electricity and refrigerators to store the vaccines, lack of trained staff, and lack of money to fund these efforts. It is frustrating for me that these are all achievable but lacking. As a result, young children here die of measles, pertussis, pneumococcal pneumonia, and meningitis. Last year, an estimated 7,000 children died of meningococcal meningitis. No one is immunized against tetanus.

We have a lab tech, a pharmacist, a nurse-midwife, one Kenyan doctor, and a nurse working together. Our patients sit stoically in the sun, waiting for a chance to be seen (part of the reason we stop our activities in the middle of the day). As I said, diseases that are routine here are things we only read about in textbooks during medical school. Between today and yesterday, we have seen the following:

Five patients with trachoma, a very treatable water infection that affected many members of the community during the height of the wet season last year. Initially signaled by a defect of the eyelid, trachoma rapidly progresses to scarring of the eye which will continue to injure the cornea until blindness is complete; one of the greatest gifts an ophthalmologist can offer these people is cataract repair, which in the course of a day literally restores sight to the blind.

I saw a man with a gunshot wound to the upper arm that had occurred two weeks ago, but he had just come in from the bush. Unfortunately, he has a radial nerve injury that will permanently cripple him.

Malaria is common, and the local people can't imagine that the average doctor in the United States will never see or treat a single case.

Giardia and other water-borne intestinal infections are very common, and it becomes obvious why that is so as we watch people forage for water wherever they can find it, putting it into whatever container they can get their hands on. Fortunately, we are able to diagnose these kinds of infections quickly with a microscope.

A seven-year-old boy came in after badly injuring his hand when a grenade exploded. I suspect he found it and was playing with it.

Syphilis is prevalent here, and we are fortunate to be able to diagnose it with an inexpensive lab test. I saw three patients with syphilis today. Exacerbated by polygamy and the lack of regular screening, STDs have a significant impact on the local women, who don't have access to the kind of care we take for granted in the U.S.

Today I was asked to evaluate three women who were brought in by their husbands to determine whether they were infertile. Generally, the male speaks for himself and his wife and typically will express concern that the new wife he had invested so much in financially is not able to bear him children. One of the cases involved a new eighteen-year-old wife (one of four) who was a married to a man of sixty or so. I raised the possibility that men, as they get older, can become less fertile, too. In addition, we have seen several children with Down's syndrome, and a theory held by the local staff is that this is related to the advanced age of many of the men fathering children with young brides.

There are no ambulances, referral centers, or even a hospital within a reasonable distance -- unless a person has the kind of wealth that would allow him to charter a medivac flight to a large city. Of course, no one here has that kind of money. At least there's a clinic here thanks to a returning "Lost Boy of Sudan" and the generosity of committed supporters of the American Care for Sudan Foundation.

Allow me to end on a philosophical note: It is remarkable to me that people here seem to find more joy in life than those who live in relative wealth in the United States; they laugh, sing, and dance, go to bed soon after the sun sets, and start their days early to beat the midday heat. They smile despite being the survivors of a civil war in which their village was burned to the ground and as residents of an environment so tough and challenging that two out every five children are likely to die before the age of five. You can't help but be inspired.

-- Dave

I hope Dave keeps e-mailing us about his experiences in Sudan, and if he does I'll be sure to pass them along.

-- Mitch Nauffts

'The Foundation Review' -- Call for Papers

February 13, 2008

After a very long and sad two weeks, it's time to get back to blogging....

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has announced the launch of a new peer-reviewed quarterly dedicated to philanthropy. According to the Johnson Center, the target audience for The Foundation Review is "foundation professionals involved in grantmaking and others who are interested in learning the results of foundation-funded program." Each year the journal will emphasize an overall theme, with each issue in the volume focusing on a particular topic within that theme.

The theme for 2009 is "Community Change," and the first issue, to be published later this year, will focus on Comprehensive Community Initiatives (CCI). Tentative topics for subsequent issues in the first volume are civic engagement, advocacy, and communications.

Review editor Teri Behrens has issued a call for papers for the inaugural issue and the following timeline:

  • March 1, 2008: Abstracts of up to 250 words submitted to behrenst@gvsu.edu.
  • March 15: Notification of invitation for full paper or decline
  • May 30: Full paper due
  • July 15: Feedback from reviewers sent to authors
  • Sept. 1: Revised paper due
  • Oct. 1: Final comments back to authors
  • Nov. 1: Final papers due

We wish Teri and her colleagues success in their new endeavor.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Don't touch that dial...

February 05, 2008

Please forgive my recent "silence." I've been out of town, attending to family matters. More food for thought will be appearing soon!

-- 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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