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22 posts from July 2008

New Link for Cohen Report

July 16, 2008

Rick Cohen, long-time executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and now national correspondent for the Nonprofit Quarterly, sent an e-mail the other day alerting me to the fact that the NPQ has created a new home for his "blog-like scribblings." We ran a nice Newsmaker interview with Rick a few years back, and I've enjoyed his hard-hitting work for the NPQ.

Rick is a thoughtful critic of philanthropy, and many of his concerns about its practice in the U.S. are captured in "Philanthropy and the Role of Social Justice," an essay in Giving Well, Doing Good, a new anthology of philanthropy-related readings edited by Amy Kass. (The essay was adapted from a piece Cohen wrote for Dialogues On Civic Philanthropy, a 2005 program sponsored by the Hudson's Institute Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal and the Council on Foundations.)

Here's the money quote:

Foundation grantmaking is a relatively small part of nonprofit finances compared to government funding and individual giving. Foundations typically cite their 10 percent slice of nonprofit revenues as a defense against too much scrutiny and criticism. But foundation resources are distinctively different, both as philanthropic rather than charitable dollars, and as funding ventures potentially more flexible and more risk-oriented than what a government agency will support or an individual donor will contemplate. A grantmaking regime based on principles of distributive justice should lead both grantmakers and nonprofits to formulations that do more than simply attach foundation dollars to attractive issues and "isms" deemed to benefit disadvantaged groups -- rather philanthropy must recommit itself to supporting the democratic instincts of community-based, community-responsive and constituency-led organizations, and provide them with the capital to bring community perspectives to the halls of powers. Without philanthropic support, community voices are drowned out in our current din of high-priced lobbying. Social justice philanthropy cannot be reasonably pursued if the groups representing socio-economically disadvantaged populations, due to a reluctance of funders to support their public policy advocacy, 'speak with a whisper that is lost on the ears of inattentive government officials, while the advantaged roar with a clarity and consistency that policy-makers readily hear and routinely follow.'"

That, I think, is the crux of the "diversity" conversation that has been unfolding in California and other parts of the country. While that conversation might seem, to some, to be narrowly focused on the skin color of the people in the room and at the table, it's about more than that.  PhilanTopic contributor Michael Seltzer put it well when he said the real issue was "the growing economic and social disparities affecting low-income and minority Americans, and the undercapitalized, community-based organizations that have been created in an attempt to make health care, education, and housing available and accessible to all Americans. Michael then wondered, What would happen if all U.S. foundations agreed to put poverty alleviation and the elimination of economic and social disparities based on racial, ethnic, gender, and other differences on their agenda and allocated a portion of their grant dollars toward that end?

It's an excellent question -- and one that more foundations should be asking themselves.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Change at the Washington Post

July 15, 2008

Peter Osnos' elegy for print journalism is this morning's must-read. Osnos, Senior Fellow for Media at the Century Foundation, writes:

What is happening to newspapers is a tragedy. The layoffs and cutbacks in staff and content are an incalculable loss to the core mission of journalism: keeping a beady eye on government, business, and society as a whole. The gutting (because that is what it is) of newspapers such as the Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant, with long and distinguished histories, means that Maryland and Connecticut will no longer get the coverage so essential to our public balance-of-powers. The same pattern with the same probable outcome is happening all over the country, in San Jose, Minneapolis, and Miami, among many other places. Trees will fall in the forest, as the old saying goes, and there won't be reporters around to record the consequences, and that, in itself, has consequences....

There are a few silver linings among the storm clouds, notably at the Washington Post, where Katherine Weymouth has become the fourth member of the Graham family (following her grandparents and uncle, Donald) to occupy the publisher's chair and Marcus Brauchli, recently ousted as managing editor of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, will help guide the paper through the treacherous shoals of multimedia journalism.

But theirs is not an easy challenge. As Osnos writes:

What is at stake in so many newspapers now is the survival of meaningful newsgathering. At the Washington Post [at the Post and every other national and regional daily], the challenge is to find the reserves of ingenuity and confidence to manage the transformation of a company in a time of changing technology and habits. This is the task memorably and successfully accomplished by Louis Gerstner at IBM in the 1990s and described in his book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change. The parallels between the computing behemoth and today's printed journalism may be inexact, but the proposition is the same: it will take leadership and vision to make the elephants dance....

There's a voguish phrase for what is happening in journalism (and music and dozens of other industries): Disruptive change. And those of us who labor in the vineyards of the nonprofit sector would be foolish not to think that those storm clouds are headed our way.

You can find past columns by Osnos here and/or sign up to receive new ones by e-mail (highly recommended!) here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Do Causes Have Shelf Lives?

July 11, 2008

(Rich Polt, president of Louder Than Words, a Boston-based PR firm serving foundations, nonprofits, and related businesses, is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. You can find his previous posts here, here and here.)

South_park Year after year, we struggle to ensure that our causes stay visible (and relevant) to supporters. It's not easy. The typical nonprofit contends with thousands of worthy organizations, all vying for a limited pool of resources distributed among a limited pool of potential volunteers and donors. But what happens when the very cause to which our organization is committed fades from public view? As a PR professional, this is an issue I think about frequently.

Last week, the issue was thrust in front of me again by the least likely of sources. Our intern Bryce, a senior at Boston College, told me about a South Park episode in which one of the characters contracts the HIV virus. Although the character is understandably upset, no one else in South Park seems to be concerned, saying, "AIDS is more the 80s/90s disease. It's all about cancer now." Like most South Park episodes, the scene is rather offensive, but the issues it raises are sobering and real. (If you're interest is piqued or you are a South Park fan, you can find the clip on the South Park Studios Web site. It's from Season 12 and the episode is called "Tonsil Trouble.")

In an age of short attention spans and causes du jour, how do nonprofits -- charged with fighting deeply systemic and persistent problems -- keep their causes fresh and visible? Do causes have shelf lives?

Staying with the AIDS example, most places in the world (with the exception of South Park, CO) know AIDS to be a devastating problem. It's a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of millions. Yet, from the mid-90s to several years ago, AIDS fundraising in the U.S. saw a steady decline. A 2001 article in Philadelphia Weekly reported that fundraising events like AIDS walks had stopped setting goals for themselves because they were continually falling short. "People seem to be burned out from HIV and AIDS. Attention goes in cycles from disease to disease, and AIDS is now not the most popular on the list," said Nurit Shein, executive director of Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives, in the article.

AIDS awareness has grown considerably since the Philadelphia Weekly article was published. Why? Is it the result of inherently cyclical attention patterns, as Nurit Shein asserts, or have other factors extended the shelf life of the AIDS cause? I think most people would say the latter. Here are three reasons why:

1. A jump in global philanthropy driven by new technologies: When I was growing up, my only link to global philanthropy was through those Sally Struthers TV spots. Today, we are empowered to fund efforts on other continents in ways we never could have imagined.

2. Massive philanthropic efforts from the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other pacesetters: These efforts help to set an international agenda for philanthropy. Like a celebrity that draws attention to a new style, when mega-philanthropists get behind causes it reinvigorates their shelf life. Sure other philanthropists and organizations have been fighting AIDS for a lot longer than Bill and Melinda, but those efforts may not have driven as much awareness.

3. The growth in AIDS awareness in this decade has been huge: Take the (RED) campaign, for example, which raises money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This collaboration between business, nonprofits, and star power has generated tremendous awareness for AIDS action (see this 6/30/08 article in the NY Times about RED's latest promotion and this press release about the success of the Global Fund).

Ultimately, I believe people give to causes that touch them -- either directly, as when a loved one is struck with a disease, or indirectly, as when the news media bombards us with images of cyclone victims in Myanmar.  And the degree to which we are touched by a particular cause has a proportionate relationship to the amount we are willing to give to support it. Do causes have shelf lives? Absolutely. When a population is no longer touched by a cause, that's when the cause is in danger of being pulled from the shelf.

-- Rich Polt

Quote of the (July 11, 2008)

July 10, 2008

Quotemarks"Let's be clear: each of these elements [charity and professionalization] has its own rationalizing logic. Each has made its own contribution to the evolving tradition of philanthropy. Without what they represent, charity could never have developed into the equilibrating and distinctive social force it has become. Charity could not have adapted to the social, economic, and political transformations that have taken place in modern society.

"But the change has produced an institution and profession with internal tensions, if not outright contradictions. Philanthropy has evolved, as Joseph Schumpeter once analyzed capitalism to have evolved, to produce a routinization of progress. Good works in our time have become routine, which partly explains the paradox of organized philanthropy routinely turning out worthy grants with gray-flannel-suit regularity and rhetoric -- just read all those foundation annual reports....

"Which of these two traditions -- the charitable or the more recent -- are we the custodians of? The answer is both. We are tested by how creatively we balance and resolve those contending logics and meld them into a concept and code of behavior that honor the imperatives of both traditions. This may seem, and partly is, just another version of the contemporary dilemma: how do we remain human in an institutional environment?"

-- Paul Ylvisaker, "The Spirit of Philanthropy and the Soul of Those Who Manage It" (1987), excerpted from Giving Well, Doing Good (Amy A. Kass, ed.)

GreenNote Launches Peer-to-Peer Student Loan Site

July 09, 2008

CollegediplomaI work for a nonprofit and have two kids in high school. So this announcement really caught my attention:

GreenNote today launched the GreenNote Network, which enables anyone to help students by lending them money for college as well as earning a good return on their investment.

Anyone -- individuals, institutions, and affiliation groups -- can participate in the GreenNote Network. Interested lenders use GreenNote's online tools to search for students based on a variety of criteria such as attendance, demographic information and/or area of study. They can provide a student with a loan that helps them lower their costs of going to college and, in return, receive a fixed return of 6.8 percent per annum on their loan....

Lenders can provide as little as $100 to the students they wish to support. GreenNote manages the entire process by formalizing the agreements for all its lenders into legally binding loans and handles all the details from loan documentation through repayment, making it simple and easy for lenders to loan money to students....

In other words, a Kiva for college-bound students with financial needs. Or, as GreenNote CEO and founder Akash Agarwal describes it: "Our vision is to enable social lending for education....[GreenNote] is designed to give people an opportunity to support and invest in the education of others."

Brilliant. If the site/platform (which is backed by Menlo Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm) gains traction, syndicating the cost of a college education for the deserving kid next door or down the street could be to the next decade what microfinance has been to this one.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Beyond AB 624: Reframing the Long View

July 03, 2008

1diversity_200411As we reported last week in PND and as Michael Seltzer noted in this post, ten of the largest foundations in California have agreed to make a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investment in minority and low-income communities in the state. In return, State Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose) has agreed to drop his sponsorship of AB 624 -- a bill that would have mandated the collection and posting by foundations of data about their grantmaking to communities of color -- effectively killing the bill.

(Image courtesy of the Council on Foundations and Foundation News & Commentary)

The ten signatories to the agreement -- the California Endowment and Ahmanson, California Wellness, Irvine, Annenberg, UniHealth, Hewlett, Parsons, Packard, and Weingart foundations,issued the following statement on June 24:

As leaders in the philanthropic community, we recognize that California's future depends on all of its communities enjoying meaningful opportunities to improve their quality of life. And, as one of the most diverse states in the nation, our future depends significantly on the success of the communities of color that together comprise a majority of our population.

Consistent with our institutions' particular missions, the intentions of our donors, our founding documents and any restrictions imposed by regulatory bodies, we reaffirm our continuing commitment to incorporating the values of effectiveness, diversity and inclusiveness into our all aspects of our work.

Nonprofit organizations throughout the state play a critical role in addressing the challenges facing minority and other predominantly low-income communities. Yet three systemic issues restrict the ability of these organizations to realize their full potential:

  • The lack of capacity of many minority-led organizations and other grassroots community-based organizations to compete for funding from large foundations.
  • The need for additional investment in capacity building and leadership development targeted at such organizations and leaders of color; and
  • The lack of access to larger foundations by many minority-led and other grassroots community-based nonprofits.

The [signatory] foundations, which represent some of California's largest philanthropic organizations, are committed to undertaking tangible actions to address these issues. In doing so, we shall build upon existing initiatives and will dedicate the resources necessary to carry out new ones. We expect that other foundations will join in these efforts.

By the end of 2008, we plan to announce a comprehensive set of grantmaking activities, which we expect to be overall in the multimillion dollar range and over several years, to begin in 2009 that will lead to increased funding for:

  1. Capacity-building support and technical assistance targeted to minority-led and grassroots, community-based organizations that primarily serve minority and low-income communities in California; and
  2. Support for leadership development activities that will bolster and train a diverse pipeline of executives, staff and board members for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

We believe the organizations receiving funding for these capacity building and leadership activities will be involved in a variety of programmatic activities, including but not limited to: youth development, healthy communities, civic engagement, environmental justice, financial literacy and policy advocacy.

We are confident that, over time, these measures will increase and improve the efficacy of our and other donors’ funding of programs and services that will benefit minority and low-income communities in California.

As part of these grantmaking activities, we intend to meet on a periodic basis with key community leaders to review progress against stated objectives and to benefit from the perspectives of those who understand these issues and can inform our work. We will also report publicly on an annual basis on the activities undertaken by the foundations as part of this collaborative effort.

Finally, to help focus our efforts, we plan to supplement ongoing research on foundation giving in California with an independent study of the nonprofit sector in California, including the communities it serves, and the number of minority-led, community-based nonprofits and their capacity needs.

And with that, what was shaping up to be a "a clash between well-intentioned but misdirected intervention by government and defensive reactions from the philanthropic sector," to borrow Gara LaMarche's phrase, seems to have been defused -- for the moment, at any rate.

Continue reading »

Did You Know...?

July 02, 2008

...that Philanthropy News Digest can help you keep abreast of opinion and commentary about and from the nonprofit/philanthropic sector. Here are some recent op-eds that have popped up on our radar:

Editorial: Bill Gates, Out to Change the World, Again (Philadelphia Inquirer 7/02/08)

Bill Gates, a man who already has changed the world twice, is looking for a threepeat. First, he led Microsoft for more than three decades, shaping and commandeering the world personal computer market. Today, one billion PCs are in use worldwide, with Microsoft Windows the champion operating system.

Next, in the mid-1990s, stung by criticism of his philanthropic record, he created first the William H. Gates Foundation, and then the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which since 2000 has given more than $29 billion to causes ranging from AIDS and malaria to minority scholarships....

Op-Ed: Friends of Barnes Keep Up the Good Fight (Philadelphia Inquirer 6/29/08)
To paraphrase the eminent metaphysician L.P. Berra, an event has not concluded until all activity associated with that event has ceased. By that measure, the 20-year struggle for the body and soul of the Barnes Foundation might still have wobbly legs, even if, legally, la guerre appears to be fini.

Although their last-gasp legal challenge to moving the fabulous Barnes collection to Philadelphia has been peremptorily swatted aside by Judge Stanley R. Ott, the Friends of the Barnes Foundation remain undaunted, at least for the record. "We have lost a battle, but we have not been defeated," said Walter Herman, a leader of the group....

Opinion: Do Nonprofits Have to Pay Big Bucks for CEOs? (Charlotte Observer 6/29/08)
Should nonprofit executives be paid as highly as their peers in the private sector? Some Charlotte-area nonprofit leaders and consultants say no.

That question was raised last week when Charlotte's United Way board chairman defended the pay package provided to the group's president, Gloria Pace King....

Commentary: Who'll Keep the Faith-Based Initiative? (Washington Post 6/28/08)
As President Bush noted Thursday at the national conference of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, his first executive order was to establish that office. The controversy over his initiative began then and continues. Liberals who measure compassion only by tax dollars spent say it hasn't gone far enough, while zealots about church-state separation say that it goes too far and should be shut down. But this program is transforming lives. And in an election campaign lacking for new ideas, this one is worth saving.

Thomas Boyd, a graduate of the faith-based Jericho Program in Baltimore, which helps former prisoners rebuild their lives, is an example of the transformative power of such initiatives. There are thousands like him across our country. They are the shining lights of an initiative that I saw work wonders during my four years as White House director of faith-based initiatives. The White House program has brought new programs, more charitable giving and improved relationships between the federal government and religious charities, all within the bounds of the Constitution....

For more opinion and commentary from and about the sector, visit our Commentary & Opinion page.

-- 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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