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Weekend Link Roundup (March 29-30, 2008)

March 31, 2008

Better late than never...

Current Events

Nancy Schwartz has a nice post on the ongoing effort by WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, a public radio and New York City institution, to "crowd-source" research on 11,000 recently released pages of Hillary Clinton's schedule as First Lady.

Education

Oops, They Did It Again. Citing a just-released Chronicle of Higher Education survey, the New York Times reports that "Congress set aside a record $2.3 billion in pet projects for colleges and universities last year for research on subjects like berries and reducing odors from swine and poultry..."

The sum, notes the Times, was $300 million more (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars) than the last time the Chronicle conducted its survey, in 2003. (Interesting footnote: The first time the Chronicle analyzed education earmarks, in 1990, the total was $270 billion. So, in real-dollar terms, the total, though large, appears to be trending lower.)

The Times also noted that "Mississippi State University got the most money over all, $43 million for more than 30 projects [while the] University of Mississippi received $37 million from 27 earmarks." Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Speaking of the Chronicle of Higher Education, be sure to check out Eduwonkette's posts -- here, here, here, and here -- from last week's American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference.

Environment

At Beyond Philanthropy, Tim Ogden adds a relatively new phenomenon called "white nose syndrome" that is causing major die-offs in bat colonies to his list of high-impact philanthropic opportunities.

Fundraising

The Donor Power Blog's Jeff Brooks has some advice for nonprofits with blogs: "Stop talking about yourself. It's boring. Talk about the world your donors live in. That's interesting. That's how you inspire donors to support you."

Journalism/Media

The Life and Death of the American Newspaper. News junkies will want to check out Eric Alterman's piece ("Out of Print") in the March 31 issue of The New Yorker. Though he's made a nice career for himself as an ink-stained wretch, Alterman is pessimistic about the long-term prospects for the newspaper business:

Few believe that newspapers in their current printed form will survive. Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and, in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been barely imaginable just four years ago. Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, said recently in a speech in London, “At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?,’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.”

Keller has reason to be worried. An AP item in this morning's Times says that newspaper ad revenue fell 7.9 percent in 2007 -- the second-worst year in more than half a century. And revenue from ads in printed newspapers took an even bigger hit, dropping some 9.4 percent for the year, the biggest drop in any year since 1950.

None of this is good news for democracy, writes Alterman -- a view seconded by Tom Belford over at The Agitator. Citing an article in the Times about the news habits of young Americans (30 and under), Belford concludes:

Voices of authority -- in the sense of informed, seasoned media intermediaries who help us discovery what of importance is going on in the world ... and its context -- are fast disappearing. Or at least becoming totally irrelevant to younger citizens....

As much as some of us would like to see these trends reverse themselves, Belford is not hopeful:

Maybe it isn't just a phase. Because for most [young people], political engagement just isn't that important in the scheme of things. Current events are of casual interest. There's no civics test anyone needs to pass. There's no need to be "right" or even correct. There's no need to master complicated issues....

The implications of this for advocacy-oriented nonprofits, notes Belford, are profound. "For at bottom, what do cause groups do other than interpret current events and package and spin that information to mobilize supporters around the threats and opportunities represented by those events?"

Philanthropy

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers has just published Philanthropy's New Passing Gear: Mission-Related Investing (134 pages, PDF), which it bills as "a comprehensive, practical guide that translates the concepts, ideas, and philosophy of Mission-Realted Investing (MRI) into useable policies and practices for foundation trustees."

Lucy Bernholz comments on a joint effort by Yahoo! Google, and MySpace to create an OpenSocial Foundation, which would work to further open up OpenSocial intellectual property (IP) to the public, making it easier for everyone to use and create social applications.

What does that mean for philanthropy? Two things, says Lucy:

  1. Intellectual property is the key asset of these organizations. This embodies the trend I've been writing about since 2000 -- knowledge is the base of the new philanthropy and will be at the core of emerging philanthropic capital markets -- how they work, how they set value, how people use them, etc.
  2. Each of these organizations is a blend of tech money and products, commercial interests, and nonprofit structures. They embody the hybrid structural organizations and priorities that we will see become ever more common.

Lucy has more to say in her post.

Over at the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofksy weighs in on the metrics debate and, in the process, offers this mea culpa:

Bottom line, both the metrics we used and the ways we used them (particularly the weight of metrics vs. intuition) ended up depending, pretty much entirely, on exactly what decision we were trying to make. We took one approach when all we knew was our general areas of focus; we modified our approach when we had more info about our options; we frankly got nothing out of the completely abstract discussions of whether metrics should be used “in general.” There are as many metrics as there are charities, and there are as many necessary debates about metrics as there are giving decisions....

And White Courtesy Telephone's Albert Ruesga -- who seems to have returned (?) from his blogging hiatus -- shares his thoughts on the drive for more evaluation and metrics in philanthropy, or what he calls the Impact Revolution:

...from the perspective of many people working in community-based organizations, this so-called revolution has brought with it new sources of irritation, new ways of adding meaningless make-work to already overburdened nonprofit staff members.

It has not been a people’s revolution, in other words, but rather one championed by elites --- like myself, I’m afraid -- unable to see far enough beyond our own measuring sticks to understand the limitations of formal evaluation techniques, and the trade-offs in staff time and other resources that these formal techniques require....

Welcome back, Albert.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by DJ  |   April 01, 2008 at 10:02 AM

"None of this is good news for democracy....Voices of authority -- in the sense of informed, seasoned media intermediaries who help us discovery what of importance is going on in the world ... and its context -- are fast disappearing. Or at least becoming totally irrelevant to younger citizens...."

I actually think that development is fantastic for democracy. Buried in that quote above seems to be a deep contempt for the people, that we're either not intelligent enough, sufficiently informed, nor properly motivated enough to "discover what of importance is going on in the world". That's just wrong, but it is the voice of the dinosaur not understanding that extinction is well under way. Or maybe it is closer to the buggy-whip maker asking what people will do without horse-drawn carriges.

And in general, saying that Americans relying less on "voices of authority" is bad for democracy is pretty creepy.

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