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33 posts from May 2008

Causes on Facebook/MySpace -- Here to Stay?

May 30, 2008

Michael Arrington, co-blogger-in-chief at TechCrunch, the popular weblog dedicated to "obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies," reports that the company behind Causes, the Facebook and MySpace application launched a year ago to promote viral donations of time and money to charity, has released usage and donation statistics for the application's first twelve months.

According to Arrington, Causes has registered 12 million users who are supporting (with time or money) more than 80,000 causes worldwide and has raised $2.5 million for more than 19,500 tax-exempt organizations in the U.S. -- roughly $125 per org., as one commenter points out, or .21 per registered user, as another notes.

There's an interesting semi-debate raging in the comments section that's worth checking out. On one side are those who argue that the modest amounts raised to date are not enough to justify all the time and money expended on the application's development -- or the attention it has received in the mainstream media; on the other are those who argue that the application is all about awareness and consciousness-raising. There's also an interesting generational slant to the discussion (i.e., social media really is a young person's game, and young people, who "get it," tend to be broke, etc.).

I'm old, haven't spent any time with the application, and am not sure what to think. How about you? Does Causes -- or social media, for that matter -- have potential as a fundraising platform? Or are there better ways to connect donors, whatever their age or income, with the causes they care about?

-- Mitch Nauffts

The 'Moral Equivalent of War'

May 29, 2008

President Jimmy Carter delivered the following speech to a national television audience on April 18, 1977. File under "The more things change..."

Oilrig"Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

"It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.

"We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

"We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

"Two days from now, I will present my energy proposals to the Congress. Its members will be my partners and they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many of these proposals will be unpopular. Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.

"The most important thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation.

"Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the "moral equivalent of war" -- except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy.

"I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gasoline lines are gone, and our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of winter. It is worse because more waste has occurred, and more time has passed by without our planning for the future. And it will get worse every day until we act.

"The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. Our nation's independence of economic and political action is becoming increasingly constrained. Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil that it can produce.

"The world now uses about 60 million barrels of oil a day and demand increases each year about 5 percent. This means that just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously, this cannot continue...."

Click here for the complete text of Carter's speech.

-- Mitch Nauffts

From Seeds to Saplings

(Kathryn Pyle was senior representative for Central America/Mexico at the Inter-American Foundation; executive director of the Samuel S. Fels Fund; and co-founder of Delaware Valley Grantmakers. Currently, she is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. In the post below, her first for PhilanTopic, she describes how a small donation expanded library services to Latinos in a rural Pennsylvania county.)

Children_with_books_3I spent several teenage summers in the 1960s picking fruit alongside migrant crews from Puerto Rico; my family lived in the fruit growing region north of Gettysburg, in Adams County, Pennsylvania. When the apple harvest was over in the fall, the Puerto Ricans left.

Around 1980, Mexican workers began to make up the crews, and the Mexicans stayed. The population of Adams County is now about five percent Latino; that’s 5,000 people, with several hundred migrant workers temporarily bumping up that number during fruit season.

The county economy is agriculture-based, with 20,000 acres of fruit orchards and several fruit processing plants providing seasonal and year round jobs. Most of the Latino laborers are Mexican; they tend to come from poor rural areas, and have few years of schooling.

I left Adams County many years ago but was aware of the changing demographics. As a grantmaker with experience in rural Mexico, I could imagine the needs in this new community and wondered how the county might assist their educational and cultural integration.

When my parents passed away, my family decided to honor their involvement with the Adams County Library by offering a $5,000 contribution, in 2002, as seed money to determine how the library could best serve the Latino community. The library had a small section of books in Spanish, but agreed they could be doing more. The staff was interested and now had a small pot for research and experimentation.

Continue reading »

Nonprofits in Legislators Eyes: Everything Old Is New Again

May 28, 2008

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. He filed his most recent post earlier this month from the Council on Foundation's Philanthropy Summit.)

On the front page of Monday’s New York Times, Stephanie Strom reported on a ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court that requires the Under the Rainbow Child Care Center, a small nonprofit daycare organization in Red Wing, to pay property taxes ("Tax Exemptions of Charities Face New Challenges," New York Times, May 26, 2008). The organization, whose mission is "to provide care for children away from their homes," has not demonstrated a profit in any year of its existence and receives 95 percent of its operating budget of $550,582 from fees for service paid by families or by the county and tribal governments.

This isn't a new occurrence. Whenever the economy slows and tax revenues decline, local municipalities begin to scramble for additional sources of revenues, often focusing on small, politically weak nonprofit organizations. In New York City in the early 1980s, for example, former Mayor Ed Koch made noises about stripping nonprofits that owned their buildings of their real estate tax exemption. The uproar that ensued led to the formation of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, which has endeavored ever since to make the public-benefit case for nonprofit organizations whenever local or state officials look to the sector as a source of revenue.

I understand the motivation of legislators and judges who want to subject the nonprofit sector, which has grown substantially in size since the 1960s, to greater scrutiny. The question for me, however, is, When is that scrutiny warranted?

In the case of the Minnesota daycare center, the court's argument is rather weak. The "essence of charity," the court said, is the "provision of services as a gift to the recipient." Minnesota law currently does not contain a clear definition of what does and does not qualify as a "purely public charity," and that has created a great deal of uncertainty for many nonprofit organizations. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and other organizations are encouraging the Minnesota legislature to pass legislation that will give board members, nonprofit executives, and volunteers clear guidance on this question and have asked for a moratorium on any changes in nonprofits' property tax exempt status that might result from the December 2007 decision in Under the Rainbow. On the last night of the 2008 Minnesota legislative session, the Omnibus Tax Bill passed with the House version of the moratorium language. It now goes to the governor.

Governor Pawlenty would be well-advised to sign the bill. If the Minnesota Supreme Court's ruling stands, Under the Rainbow Child Care Center will have no choice but to raise its fees to cover the additional burden of having to pay property tax. In a slowing economy, the working families who depend on the center would be the ones who suffer most.

My point is simple: In their efforts to define "purely public charity," local authorities may soon find themselves facing a set of decisions requiring the wisdom of Solomon -- and no textbook to guide them.

-- Michael Seltzer

Foundation Growth/Giving Estimates -- Current Outlook

May 27, 2008

From the center's Research Department....

"Foundation giving fared well in 2007, despite an increasingly uncertain economic climate in the latter half of the year. Giving by the nation's more than 72,000 grantmaking foundations increased by an estimated 10 percent, from $39 billion to a record $42.9 billion. The gain followed a single-digit rise in foundation giving in 2006. 

(Click for larger image.)


"Contributing to this growth was an 11.6 percent increase in foundation assets in 2006 -- the first double-digit increase recorded since 1999. Overall, foundation assets rose from $550.6 billion to $614.7 billion. (Adjusted for inflation, assets increased 8.6 percent.) Strong stock market gains and a record $36.6 billion in new gifts propelled this growth. The establishment of new foundations, while occurring at a slower rate than in the late 1990s and early 2000s, also helped to raise the levels of foundation assets and giving.

(Click for larger image.)


"Although the economic outlook has worsened in 2008, findings from the Foundation Center's "Foundation Giving Forecast Survey" suggest that foundation giving will continue to grow in the current year. Overall, more than half (54.3 percent) of respondents expect to increase their giving in 2008, with the biggest foundations -- those giving at least $10 million a year -- most likely to indicate increased giving (63.8 percent).

(Click for larger image.)


To download the complete report (20 pages, 1.43mb, PDF), click here.

Application Deadline for Youth Prizes for Excellence in International Education Approaching

from the press release...

Gsf_globe_2The Asia Society and Goldman Sachs Foundation are pleased to announce the 2008 Youth Prizes for Excellence in International Education. Up to five winners will be selected to receive up to $10,000 each as well as an all-expense paid trip to New York City in November 2008 to receive their prize.

Featuring the theme "It's a Big World, What Can We Learn From Each Other?" the 2008 competition asks students to create an in-depth written essay or multimedia feature examining a social or economic issue that has relevance to them in a global context. In the essay category, students will compare and contrast how the issue affects their community and a community abroad, as well as create recommendations for what lessons the two communities could learn from each other. In the multimedia category, students will explore how a global problem or challenge affects their life as an individual, as a member of their local community, and/or as a global citizen.

Please visit http://askasia.org/students/gsfprizes.html for eligibility criteria, guidelines and helpful hints, and submission instructions. Deadline for applications is Thursday, June 12, 2008.

Good luck to all applicants!

Sterling Speirn on Philanthropy and the Spirit of Our Times

May 23, 2008

Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, discusses how the foundation is changing to confront new challenges, particularly those affecting vulnerable children.

...We have to do more than just catch people when they're falling....All the things about promotion and prevention, you know, build a strong base. You build a strong base and then people will be resilient....I mean, if you wanted to propel vulnerable kids forward and create those conditions with[in] communities, you'd want to look at their cognitive, emotional, social, physical, cultural, spiritual development. Well, that would mean their health, their education, their food, and how engaged their communities are, whether they're in urban or rural places. So, it's nice that we have all those core competencies here at the foundation. And I think we need to take our core competencies and reconnect them and integrate them in ways that make us more adaptive to supporting children in the twenty-first century....

To learn more about the evolution of the Kellogg Foundation's grantmaking and its new program framework, visit the foundation's What's New mini-Web site. This promises to be a very interesting transition for one of the nation's most important foundations.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Dispatch From Burma

May 22, 2008

The following is excerpted from a special dispatch provided to the Asia Foundation by an on-the-ground contributor in Myanmar....

Rangoon, May 20 -- I am staying in a house without electricity, and at night I write by candlelight, the battery on my laptop dwindling, draining. In the mornings, I go to one of the city’s high-end hotels for the Internet connection. I want reliable information about the ravaged fishing villages and rice farming communities in the Delta. I seek people out for their stories -- executives, aid workers, doctors.

A businessman who has just returned from the worst-hit south-western part of the Delta in a private boat loaded with supplies, shows me film footage of villages that are nothing more than piles of water-logged timber. Shocked survivors huddle under make-shift shelters, with no access to relief supplies or medicine. Pointing to villages further south, in areas not yet reached by any aid two weeks after the storm, they say blankly into the camera, “Down there, it is even worse....”

Click here to read the complete dispatch -- and here to learn more about the Give2Asia Burma Cyclone Relief Fund.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Bradford K. Smith Named Foundation Center President

May 21, 2008

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Bsmith_2We are pleased to announce that the board of trustees of the Foundation Center has named Bradford K. Smith as the center's next president. Smith, who will join the center on October 1, succeeds Sara L. Engelhardt, who is retiring after seventeen years as president.

Smith currently is president of the Oak Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to taking that position, he developed and led the Peace and Social Justice Program at the Ford Foundation, providing hundreds of millions of dollars during his ten-year tenure to organizations in the U.S. and around the world working on issues of human rights, international cooperation, governance, and civil society.

"Brad is a respected leader with an outstanding record of achievement in connecting people and organizations to critical resources that strengthen their capacity to serve the public good," said M. Christine DeVita, chairman of the center's board of trustees and president of the Wallace Foundation. "His deep knowledge of both philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and of the complex issues that drive the field today are powerful assets that will serve the center well as the central knowledge hub for the field."

Click here for the story in PND and here for the press release.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Judith Rodin on the Infrastructure Challenges of the 21st Century

Judith Rodin, president of the New York City-based Rockefeller Foundation, addresses the America 2050 Forum, a gathering of political, business, philanthropic and planning leaders, on May 9 in Washington, D.C.:

...The point is that foundations are privileged because they can dare to be bold, they can dare and have the resources to take risks, to think and to urge others to think a quarter of a century down the road -- not just about quarterly earnings or about next year's election. But we are absolutely most useful when we can galvanize and leverage the action and resources of others to meet so many of these difficult challenges. And frankly, the challenges of this new century are difficult indeed....

Good stuff.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Will You Risk the Money?

(Rich Harwood is founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people imagine and act for the public good. He is also the author, most recently, of Make Hope Real. This post first appeared on Rich's blog.)

What if the more attention we paid to issues of equity and race, the more supporters and funders of "community causes" dried up? That's the question I posed at two events last week. For me, the issue is whether we are prepared to lose precious support by seeking to see and hear all people in our communities, or will we take the path of least resistance and follow the money?

Fork_road02 First, some context: The ease with which we can actively turn away from those we don't wish to see or hear makes it increasingly difficult to address issues of equity and race. For instance, we can pick and choose our own news on the Internet, screening out unwanted or undesirable stories. Meanwhile, many of us have retreated into close-knit circles of families and friends, essentially turning away from public life and those who are not like us. According to The Big Sort, a new book by Bill Bishop and Robert G. Cushing, more of us are moving into increasingly homogeneous areas. And many people report feeling "fatigued" by pictures and news from one tragic disaster and horrific war after another.

Against this backdrop I found myself face-to-face with these concerns last week. First, in a small conference room over delivered pizza, I met with a handful of incredible school and community change-agents in Baltimore. We talked about their efforts to re-engage parents, neighborhood leaders, businesspeople, and others in support of community-based schools. These change agents believe their current efforts give them a real chance to move beyond lip service in seeking to achieve their goals; but they know that if they are successful, they might just upend the ill-fated status quo in the city and the web of relationships that support it.

Traveling just a handful of blocks to the imposing Baltimore Convention Center, which for me was like entering a parallel universe, I moderated a discussion in a gigantic ballroom filled with nearly two thousand attendees at the United Way of America Community Leadership Conference. The topic: "Advancing the Common Good."

At the conference, Brian Gallagher, the visionary head of United Way of America, unveiled their new campaign and tagline: LIVE UNITED. It's a terrific approach (a topic I'll leave for another day). But my point is this: to "live united" means seeing and hearing one another; it means that the poor, minorities, people living in particular neighborhoods will not be pushed aside and made invisible; that the voices of such people will be heard and heeded; that people's concerns will be on the public agenda and actively addressed. If we were to live in a community united, people would not be seen as victims or wards of the state, somehow incapable of managing their own lives, but as individuals with crucial knowledge and passion and agency.

In both sessions I asked whether funders and donors supporting groups like local United Ways, community foundations, public broadcasting, local education and community groups would continue their support as we aggressively seek to "live united" -- that is, as we worked to see and hear everyone in communities. More to the point, would funders and supporters see their discomfort increase as they confronted issues and situations not easily solved, not amendable simply by giving handouts, that required genuine change -- even change in relationships and power? Would they balk and backtrack when they realize that to have true impact might mean shifting funding from their "favorite" groups to others whom they do not know and may have dismissed in the past? 

If we are serious about seeing and hearing all people -- if we wish to act on issues of equity and race -- then we must be prepared for some funders and supporters to say, "No, thank you"; we must be ready to see some of our money and support pulled. We also must know that our operations have to become more ruthlessly focused, and that we may lose support in some quarters before we marshal new support in others.

Of course, none of this is easy, and much of it is riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity. There are no guarantees that new money and support will follow, even as we pursue a path we know will make our communities stronger and healthier. And we know that in tackling issues of equity and race, progress can be slow and supporters can become impatient.

But there's a silver lining here. My good friend Paul Light, a thought leader on high-performing nonprofits, says his research shows that Americans will support groups that do good work and produce real impact. To produce impact means we must turn to our communities to understand and work with them; and we must develop new pathways for making progress. When we do, I believe, we will find new supporters and donors -- individuals who know we can do better and who themselves yearn to have an impact. But that may require us to let go of money now in our own grasp to reap the potential benefits of a clear-headed decision.

-- Richard Harwood

Quote of the Day (May 21, 2008)

Quotemarks"...While not unique per se, America's reliance on voluntary action certainly is distinctive; if philanthropy is a virtue, it could very well be America's most distinctive virtue. Americans turn to philanthropy to advance their vision of the public good more than other cultures do; we use philanthropy to try to do good things, which is why it is a virtue and not a vice. The point is that if you don't understand how the United States works as a three-sector society, as a society heavily reliant on philanthropic action in the third sector, you don't understand the United States...."

-- Robert L. Payton and Michael P. Moody, Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission

Snapshot: Key Facts on Community Foundations

May 20, 2008

More findings from the Foundation Center's Research Dept.:

Keyfactscomma_4 "Community foundations account for 1 percent of all U.S. grantmaking foundations but about 9 percent of giving. Since the start of the 1990s, the rate of growth in community foundation giving has surpassed that of U.S. foundations overall in all but two years. The latest year was no exception. Giving by community foundations jumped nearly 14 percent in 2007, to an estimated $4.1 billion. (Adjusted for inflation, giving rose 10.7 percent.) Contributing to the faster growth in community foundation giving has been strong asset growth, new gifts and bequests from donors, and exceptional disbursements from donor-advised funds.

"Looking ahead, close to two-thirds (64 percent) of community foundations responding to the Foundation Center's annual forecasting survey expected to increase their giving in 2008. About half of these funders anticipated giving increases in the 1 percent to 5 percent and 5 percent to 10 percent ranges. Yet this positive finding was tempered by the 25 percent of community foundation respondents that expected to reduce their giving in 2008."

Key Facts

  • $4.1 billion -- Est. giving by community foundations in 2007
  • 14 percent -- Est. increase in community foundation giving between 2006 and 2007
  • 717 -- Number of grantmaking community foundations in 2006
  • 42 percent -- Share of community foundations reporting more than $1 million in giving in 2006
  • 9 percent -- Community foundation giving as a share of all foundation giving in 2006


To download the fact sheet, "Key Facts on Community Foundations" (6 pages, PDF), click here.

Philanthropy's Awareness Deficit

May 19, 2008

Phil_awarenessThat's the title of a new report (10 pages, PDF) from the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, a project initiated and supported by the Packard, Gates, Hewlett, Irvine, and Robert Wood Johnson foundations.

Based on the results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, the report found that only 43 percent of what it calls "engaged Americans" -- defined as the 12 percent of the adult population who hold "a leadership, committee, or board-level role in an organization working on community or social issues" -- could name a foundation on the first try, while even fewer could cite an example of a foundation making an impact on their communities (15%) or on issues they care about (11%).

Mind you, these are the most connected, influential, and civically engaged members in their communities. Imagine what the picture would look like if Harris had surveyed average Americans....

As Joel Fleishman, author of The Foundation: A Great American Secret, puts it:

The survey speaks volumes about the invisibility of foundations and how they are not doing a good job of getting out the word to the public about what they are and do. It also suggests that the very organizations foundations support are remiss in their obligation to keep their own leaders, board members, and volunteers informed of the funding landscape in which they exist. Both [failings] combine to make foundations even more vulnerable to ill-informed actions by government....

What do you think? Despite all the media attention paid to and scrutiny of the charitable sector over the last ten years, are foundations -- and nonprofits -- still failing, on a fundamental level, to communicate their value, tell stories, demonstrate impact, make connections, and initiate vital conversations around issues that concern Americans? And if so, what can we do about it?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Foundations and Social Media

May 16, 2008

(Guest contributor Alison Byrne Fields leads the Issues & Advocacy practice for DDB, working with nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporations to create social and policy change by using a full range of communications solutions. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Social_circle Don't know whether you saw the recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about the growing number of foundations that have begun to use online media, including social media, as part of their communications strategies. One of the key points raised by the article was whether foundations should be making further investments in communications, as opposed to making those dollars available to well-deserving nonprofits.

Do I think foundations should be spending wads of cash to send out self-congratulatory press releases? Nope. Do I think it matters all that much if the average American can distinguish between the “brand values” of this or that foundation? Not really. But I do think foundations could and should be using social media in the same way that corporations are beginning to: to build relationships.

Another recent article, this one in AdWeek, examines how a growing number of companies are "building brands by building relationships," forgoing large advertising budgets in favor of better customer service and a focus on developing great products. Their reasoning? As trust in institutions (of all kinds) and the efficacy of top-down messaging continue to decline, the best marketing tool is excellent word of mouth.

So, how, specifically, can foundations use social media to build relationships and engage others? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Facilitate learning and community among grantees: Many grantees look at a funder's other grantees as competition, not as allies. Through grantee social networks, foundations can help their grantees come together to share resources, war stories, and lessons learned. These networks can be closed to the public or made transparent to generate greater interest in the funded work and opportunities for the public to get involved.

Amplify the conversation: There's already a conversation going on somewhere in the social media universe about the issues in which your foundation is investing. Count on it. That conversation is happening both on Web sites created by your grantees and other nonprofit organizations, and also among individuals whose ability to reach and engage an audience is changing the face of advocacy. As a foundation, you probably already serve as a convener, so why not "convene" a conversation online? And I don't mean starting a new conversation; I'm talking about aggregating conversations already happening around your activities into a central location and investing resources in driving others to become engaged in those conversations as well. One of the best current examples of that is the relatively new (and still-growing) Digital Media and Learning site created by the MacArthur Foundation.

There are other things foundations can and should be doing in the social media universe, and I'll be writing about some of those ideas and activities in future posts. In the meantime, you might want to take a closer look at how your foundation is using social media to build relationships. Does it have a social media strategy and/or goals and objectives? If not, why not? And how might you, as a staff member, help convince your colleagues that it's time to explore the brave new world of social media? We'd love to hear from you.

-- Alison Byrne Fields

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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