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14 posts from August 2008

Weekend Link Roundup (August 30-31, 2008)

August 31, 2008

This week's recap of blogworthy news includes fresh analysis of the slowing economy and a new plan to address global warming:


On the CharityFocus blog, Nipun Mehta discusses Michael Heller's new book The Gridlock Economy:

Heller points out that...gridlock is the root of many of our problems — 25 new runways would eliminate air travel delays in America but we can't build them; 50 patent owners are blocking a major drug maker from creating a cancer cure, but they won't get out of the way; 90 percent of our broadcast spectrum sits idle in America, but we can't come to utilize it. When too many people own pieces of one thing, whether physical or intellectual, cooperation breaks down, wealth disappears and everybody loses....


In response to global warming and our nation's growing dependence on foreign oil, T. Boone Pickens has devised a plan that calls for building new wind generation facilities that can produce 20 percent of our nation's electricity, substitutes natural gas for gasoline as a transportation fuel, and creates a new domestic alternative energy industry. On Yale Environment 360, Vaclav Smil calls Pickens' plan more plausible than Al Gore's "utterly unrealistic plan" to overcome our oil addiction, but says it is not without flaws. For starters, legions of lawyers will be need to be hired to handle federal and state compliance issues; detailed simulations providing a realistic ratio of wind-generated electricity to electricity generated by gas- or coal-fired plants will be needed to determine the actual number of wind turbines required; and more realistic cost overruns will have to be factored into the final cost. Unfortunately, writes Smil,

nothing — and certainly not the Pickens Plan — offers an effective technical fix in just a decade [to America's dependence on foreign oil]. America's per capita energy consumption remains twice as high as the European Union's and Japan's. The era of Americans driving two SUVs to 5,000-square-foot houses 50 miles from city centers may be over. But for the U.S., even more radical, protracted and very painful adjustments will be needed to cure the nation's...incapacitating [oil] addiction....


On the Chronicle of Philanthropy's site, Steve Meyerson, a Washington-based fundraising consultant, offers these tips for fundraising in tough economic times.

And don't look for things to get better any time soon, says George Espy, president of the Ohio Grantmakers Forum. Foundation giving is likely to decline next year as the slowing economy negatively impacts foundations' investments. "At the same time," says Espy, "there will be an increase in the number of [grant] requests because nonprofits are hurting. It's a perfect storm — as foundation assets go down, requests are increasing, which makes for difficult decisions."


In a three-part post on PhilanthroMedia (here, here, and here), Susan Herr (with help from Chad Callaghan) discusses the rise of PhilanthroSourcing -- innovative efforts to use social networks and "crowdsourcing" to harness breakthrough ideas for social change. Recent examples of the trend include the Grand Challenges in Global Health sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the X Prizes sponsored by the X Prize Foundation, and InnoCentive, which "connects companies, academic institutions, public sector and nonprofit organizations, all hungry for breakthrough innovation, with a global network of more than 160,000 of the world's brightest minds on the world's first Open Innovation Marketplace."

While we shouldn't expect PhilanthroSourcing to replace traditional grantmaking any time soon, writes Herr, it will have an impact on the field. Even in its nascent stages, she adds, these and other efforts highlight "the value of expanding conversation beyond the preferred experts, beyond grantees with whom foundations already have a relationship, and beyond those who claim nonprofit tax status."

Social Entrepreneurship

The still-thin ranks of foundations with a blog of their own has increased by one: The Skoll Foundation has launched a blog that "will include information about the latest and greatest from Skoll social entrepreneur organizations, news from the broader social entrepreneurial ecosystem, and updates on developments at the foundation itself." Our best wishes for success to all involved.

Last but not least, Sara Olsen and Brett Galimidi, partners at Social Venture Technology Group, have launched a new blog, SVT on Impact, over at Social Edge, the Skoll-funded online community where social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit practitioners connect to network, learn, inspire, and share resources. Twice a month, Olsen and Grimaldi will discuss the latest trends, approaches, and examples from the world of social and environmental impact management. We're looking forward to it!

That's it for now. Have a great Labor Day weekend!

-- Regina Mahone

Gulf Coast Recovery Three Years After Katrina

August 30, 2008

It's hard to believe three years have passed since Hurricane Katrina delivered widespread devastation to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region -- or that another hurricane, Gustav, now a category 4 storm, has drawn a bead on southeastern Louisiana and could make landfall as early as Monday.

Still, anniversaries are a good time to look back and ask, How are we doing? In the case of Katrina, the answer depends on whom you ask.

(Chart: New York Times; click for larger image)

Katrinanyt_chart_large_2According to the third anniversary edition of the New Orleans Index, a collaboration between the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, "Greater New Orleans approaches the end of its third year of recovery from a position of strength, with the vast majority of its pre-storm population and jobs." At the same time

...many recovery trends have slowed or stagnated in the past year as tens of thousands of blighted properties, lack of affordable housing for essential service and construction workers, and thin public services continue to plague the city and region....

Compiled by MPP deputy director Amy Liu and colleagues, the third edition examines more than fifty indicators of recovery, with an emphasis on changes in the past year. Interestingly, it also examines recovery indicators across the thirteen planning districts that make up greater New Orleans to reveal trends -- in population, job creation, new residential construction, vacant residential addresses, and risk of future flooding -- by neighborhood that might otherwise be masked by citywide figures.

On balance, it's a pretty upbeat assessment which suggests that the recovery of the city, while far from complete, is on track.

That's quite a different picture than the one provided by New Orleans Three Years After the Storm (78 pages, PDF), the second of at least three planned surveys of the New Orleans area commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Conducted earlier this spring, the survey, which focused on Orleans Parish, found that four out of ten residents of the city who lived through the storm said their lives were or still are very or somewhat disrupted -- only marginally better than the share who reported that level of disruption in the fall of 2006 at the time of the first survey.

Other findings:

  • A narrow majority of New Orleans residents (56 percent) say that the rebuilding and recovery process is going in the right direction, but fully half of those living in the parish say they are either dissatisfied (41 percent) or angry (11 percent) with the amount of progress that has been made.
  • More than half of New Orleans residents (56 percent) say it's a bad time for children to be growing up in New Orleans, while almost two in three (61 percent) rate the city as "not so good" or "poor" when it comes to career opportunities for young people.
  • Six in ten (60 percent) say they do not think the rebuilding of New Orleans is a priority for Congress and the president, and even more (65 percent) say they think "most Americans have forgotten about the challenges facing New Orleans."
  • On a more upbeat note, three in four (74 percent) say they are optimistic about the area's future, a level of confidence that has remained more or less constant over the past eighteen months.

The bleakest assessment of the region's recovery is offered by Oxfam America, the U.S. affiliate of the well-known international relief and development organization. Its report, Mirror on America: How the State of Gulf Coast Recovery Reflects on Us All (28 pages, 1.1 MB, PDF), is sharply critical of the slow pace of "getting back to normal" in the region and declares the recovery effort a "national embarrassment."

In particular, the report deplores the "double injustice" of workers in the region not being able to afford the rising cost of rents, housing, insurance, and utilities that followed in the storm's wake or workers being able to find the kinds of jobs they need to offset those expenses. According to the report, only 12 percent of African Americans who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of whites. "It was," said Tracie L. Washington, president and CEO of the Louisiana Justice Institute, "the perfect storm of worker exploitation and wage suppression."

"Although the force of the storms [Katrina and Rita] was an act of nature," said Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser, "the failures of the recovery are an act of our government. If we refuse to address this as a nation, it will go down in history not only as a failure of leadership, but also as a failure to hold our government accountable."

A lot to chew on, but we'd like to hear from you. Is the region's recovery on track? If not, who is responsible? And what role can philanthropy play at this point to ensure that the educational, economic, and health inequities exposed by Katrina are ameliorated? Use the comments to share your thoughts....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (August 29, 2008)

August 29, 2008

Quotemarks"James Carville once said that the goal in choosing a running mate is to make the opposing campaign manager want to vomit. I ...suspect that Obama's campaign manager is kneeling in front of a toilet right about now...."

-- comment on the Christian Science Monitor's 'Vote' blog

Foundation Center Launches Gulf Coast Giving Feature

August 28, 2008

Katrina01_2To mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating assault on the Gulf Coast, the Foundation Center has launched a special Web feature that puts private institutional giving for Gulf Coast recovery into sharper focus.

Powered by data collected on thousands of grants made from 2005 through 2008, the interactive feature allows visitors to map more than $800 million of the over $1 billion donated to relief and recovery efforts by institutional grantmakers. The feature also provides links to related PND news stories and Foundation Center research reports.

The feature is the first in what is expected to be a series of free, accessible, data-driven features tied to special topics and current events as they relate to philanthropy.

To learn more, visit: http://fconline.foundationcenter.org/maps/katrina/

But don't stop there. What do you think of our new mapping and charting tools? How can we make them better? How would you like to see them applied in the future? To share your thoughts, use the comments thread attached to this post.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Climate Change: The Arctic Is Melting

August 27, 2008

Greenland_breakup1You'll have a tough time convincing global warming skeptics, but recent news on the climate change front seems to confirm what many have been saying for a while now: The Arctic is melting. Last week, media outlets around the country reported that the Petermann glacier in northern Greenland lost 29 square kilometers of ice
-- an area about half the size of Manhattan -- between July 10 and July 24. And the Nature blog notes that the massive Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland has lost at least 10 square kilometers since the end of the last melt season.

(Image: Petermann glacier, Greenland; Byrd Polar Research Center)

More bad news: Earlier today, the AP reported that sea ice in the Arctic is at its second lowest level since satellite measurements of the ice began in 1979. The lowest point, 1.65 million square miles, was recorded last September. With three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year's melt could break that record. As statisticians like to say, any single data point is an outlier; two closely correlated data points are the beginning of a trend.

"We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point," said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now."

Within "five to less than ten years," the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally. "It also means that climate warming is coming larger and faster than the models are predicting and nobody's really taken into account that change yet."

It can't be said enough: Climate change is real, it's happening now, and it will impact all of us -- especially those lacking the resources to mitigate its worst effects.

What can foundations do in response to what many are calling the greatest challenge of the twenty-first century? We addressed that in part in this post from May. And recently the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that exists to strengthen and expand funders’ abilities to support organizations working to improve communities through better development decisions and growth policies, weighed in on the issue with this list of ten things community foundations can do:

1. Provide leadership, partnership, and support for a range of local actions, whether in a proactive or supportive role.

2. Support and disseminate research that will assist local organizations and individuals to understand what measures are appropriate to: a) help prevent greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation); and b) reduce the worst impacts of climate change that are the result of past emissions and to enable communities to recover from those impacts (adaptation).

3. Bring various interested organizations and residents together to discuss and debate global climate change, set shared priorities, and make informed choices, especially with respect to land use and transportation plans.

4. Consider a media awareness campaign that helps local media develop and disseminate information about global climate change and actions to address it.

5. Use investment assets, including program-related investments, loan guarantees, revolving loan pools, and other steps, to leverage funds available for local action.

6. Support other nonprofit organizations, regardless of their individual missions and activities, to discover and deploy their own actions to address climate change.

7. Partner with local governments to develop climate plans for their communities and to assess their effectiveness over time.

8. Develop and support positive local economic strategies and programs that assists low-income communities and individuals to manage the negative economic impacts of climate change and implement positive economic opportunities in response to it.

9. Engage in policy discussions to help guide state and national policy on global climate change.

10. Advise donors, and recruit new donors, to contribute to climate action solutions.

To learn more, visit the Funders' Network Web site.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (August 24, 2008)

August 24, 2008

Quotemarks"We are at the end of an age: but how few people know this!

"The sense of this has begun to appear in the hearts of many; but it has not yet swum up to the surface of their consciousness.

"This will happen, even though there exist many obstacles to it -- among them, enormous but corroding institutions. As these lines are being written, something is happening in the United States that has had no precedent. A great division among the American people has begun -- gradually, slowly -- to take shape: not between Republicans and Democrats, and not between 'conservatives' and 'liberals', but between people who are still unthinking believers in technology and in economic determinism and people who are not. The non-believers may or may not be be conscious or convinced traditionalists: but they are men and women who have begun not only to question but, here and there, to oppose publicly the increasing pouring of cement over the land, the increasing inflation of automobile traffic of every kind, the increasing acceptance of noisome machinery ruling their lives. Compared with this division the present 'debates' about taxes and rates and political campaigns are nothing but ephemeral froth blowing here and there on little waves atop the great oceanic tides of history...."

-- John Lukacs, At the End of an Age (2002)

'Traces of the Trade' and Philanthropy, Part 2

August 20, 2008

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This post picks up where her previous post, below, left off. )

Tot"The Traces of the Trade event was certainly outside our normal film program," says Alyce Myatt. "But the legacy of slavery and the need for dialogue around race, class, and privilege is so important. How can the philanthropic community address the issue? One way is through media, and this film is unique in terms of the issue and the funding it received. By showcasing it, GFEM can support and advance funders' policy goals."

The film chronicles the journey of the ten family members, beginning in Bristol, Rhode Island, as they examine evidence of their slave-trader ancestors; then on to the west coast of Africa as they follow the route of the slave ships, stopping at one of the most notorious forts that held captives for resale and visiting one of the family's plantations in Cuba; and finally back to Bristol as they struggle with what to do next. Some descendents become involved in the broadly based reparations movement. Others engage in an Episcopal Church project to research how the church benefitted from the trade and what to do about it. The film's final message is a challenge to "bring all the stories out in the open," and to engage in dialogue with African Americans about our shared past.

As the film illustrates, the history of the slave trade, and of slavery in the U.S., is still being uncovered. The great surge of interest in that history during the 1960s and 1970s produced black studies programs, networks of academics and lay scholars; conferences, articles, books, films, radio, and other media projects; family reunions and popular genealogy; and museum exhibitions and historical society programs.

Continue reading »

'Traces of the Trade' and Philanthropy, Part 1

August 19, 2008

(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. Her first post for PhilanTopic described how a small donation expanded library services to Latinos in a rural Pennsylvania county.)

Tot Five hundred people filled an auditorium at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., this spring to accompany an extraordinary family on an extraordinary journey. The event was a special screening of Traces of the Trade, a feature-length documentary since shown on PBS’ POV program that is now making the rounds of film festivals and community centers. The documentary records ten descendants of a New England slave trader as they discover the details of the trade, confront what the legacy means for them personally, and take steps to make things right. Their moral dilemma, of course, is the dilemma of our nation, as we consider the great task still remaining before us.

The event was part of the Council on Foundations' annual gathering and was a council first in terms of public profile: the film was followed by a panel discussion hosted by Judy Woodruff, the PBS Newshour journalist, and Charles Olgletree of Harvard Law School. Former council president and ambassador to South Africa James Joseph was joined by several other panel members, all experts in related fields, for comments, and the audience of funders and invited community representatives continued a conversation with the panel and the filmmakers.

But the screening was only the most public of a long-standing program that has brought funders to media and media to funders. The council's annual Film and Video Festival (F&VF) showcases works supported by the council's own members -– private and corporate foundations. With financing from more than thirty private foundations, religious groups, public broadcasting and government arts agencies, plus many individuals, Traces of the Trade was an apt choice for this special event. It also put the festival itself, and the organizations behind it, in the spotlight.

Continue reading »

Did You Know...? | Shift Happens

August 13, 2008

I'm on vacation this week and next and won't be posting all that frequently. And some of those posts -- like this one -- will be recycled from earlier in the year and last fall. But with the Olympics under way in Beijing and a rising China taking its turn in the global spotlight, I thought it was a good post to revisit.

What follows is a transcription of a Powerpoint presentation created by someone named Karl Fisch that was posted to You Tube a few years back. It's kind of geeky and not exactly related to philanthropy. But if you care about globalization, education reform, the impact of accelerating technological change, and America's place in the world, you should find it of interest. Enjoy.


Did You Know?

Sometimes size does matter.

If you're one in a million in China...there are 1,300 people just like you.

In India, there are 1,100 people just like you.

The 25 percent of the population in China with the highest IQs...is greater than the total population of North America.

In India, it's the top 28 percent.

Translation for teachers: They have more honors kids than we have kids.

Did you know?

China will soon become the number-one English-speaking country in the world.

If you took every single job in the U.S. today and shipped it to China...China would still have a labor surplus.

While you are reading this:

  • 60 babies will be born in the U.S.
  • 224 babies will be born in China
  • 351 babies will be born in India

The U.S. Dept. of Labor estimates that today's learner will have 10 to 14 jobs...by age 38.

According to the U.S. Dept . of Labor, 1 out of 4 workers today is working for a company for whom they have been employed less than 1 year.

More than 1 out of 2 are working for a company for whom they have worked less than 5 years.

According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn't exist in 2004.

We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist...using technologies that haven't yet been invented...in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

Name this country --

  • Richest in the world
  • Largest military
  • Center of world business and finance
  • Strongest education system
  • World center of innovation and invention
  • Currency the world standard of value
  • Highest standard of living

Answer: England...in 1900.

Did you know?

The U.S. is 20th in the world in broadband Internet penetration (Luxembourg just passed us).

Nintendo invested more than $140 million in research and development in 2002.

The U.S. federal government spent less than half as much on research and innovation in education.

1 of every 8 couples married in the U.S. in 2005 met online.

There are over 106 million registered users of MySpace (as of Sept. 2006)

If MySpace were a country, it would be the 11th-largest in the world (between Japan and Mexico).

The average MySpace page is visited 30 times a day.

Did you know?

We are living in exponential times.

There are over 2.7 billion searches performed on Google each month. (To whom were these questions addressed B.G. -- before Google?)

The number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet.

There are about 540,000 words in the English language...about 5 times as many as during Shakespeare's time.

More than 3,000 new books are published...daily.

It is estimated that a week's worth of the New York Times...contains more info than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.

It is estimated that 1.5 exabytes (1.5 x 1018 ) of unique new information will be generated worldwide this year.

That's estimated to be more than in the previous 5,000 years.

The amount of new technical information is doubling every 2 years.

For students starting a four-year technical or college degree, this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.

It is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2010.

Third-generation fiber optic has recently been tested by both NEC and Alcatel that pushes 10 trillion bits per second down one strand of fiber.

That's 1,900 CDs or 150 million simultaneous phone calls, every second.

It's currently tripling about every 6 months and is expected to do so for at least the next 20 years.

The fiber is already there. They're just improving the switches on the ends, which means the marginal cost of these improvements is effectively $0.

Predictions are that e-paper will be cheaper than real paper.

47 million laptops were shipped worldwide last year.

The $100 laptop project is expecting to ship between 50 million and 100 million laptops a year to children in poor and developing countries.

Predictions are that by 2013 a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capability of the human brain.

By 2023, when 1st-graders will be just 23 years old and beginning their first careers...it will only take a $1,000 computer to exceed the capabilities of the human brain.

And while technical predictions farther out than about 15 years are hard to make...predictions are that by 2049 a $1,000 computer will exceed the computational capabilities of the human race.

What does it all mean?

Shift happens.


Here's the link to the original.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (August 8, 2008)

August 08, 2008

Quotemarks "The fog you see is based on the basis of humidity and heat. It can be pollution, but the fog doesn't mean necessarily that it is pollution. Of course, we prefer clean skies, but the most important thing is the health of the athletes being protected."

-- Jacques Rogge, president, International Olympic Committee (New York Times, "Air Quality Is Praised, but Doubts Are Swirling," Aug. 8, 2008)

Free Will: The Grow-the-Economy Fan Club

August 07, 2008

Bloggingheads.tv was started in 2005 by Robert Wright, uber-blogger Mickey Kaus, and Greg Dingle, "a Canadian tech-guy" who had collaborated with Wright to build the Meaningoflife.tv site. It was Dingle who came up with a cost-effective system for creating split-screen streaming videos featuring two people in remote locations, and, as the guys say on the site -- voila! -- the "diavlog" was born.

The site has grown steadily in popularity and has attracted venture capital from Bob Rosencrans, a cable TV pioneer, and the New York Times. But in some ways, as the guys write, it's still very much

a classic expression of the Internet: the ever-dropping cost of information-processing allows people to interact in new ways, and a whole new tribe -- the Bloggingheads tribe -- is formed. But we hope to be in one sense an unusual expression of the Internet. Almost all blogs have a dominant ideology and a fairly homogenous comments section to  match. We pride ourselves on having a diversity of views in our diavlogs and an accordingly diverse comments section, where thoughtful disagreement is expressed in civil terms. (OK, usually thoughtful, and usually civil.)...

In that spirit, we present a diavlog posted to the site on August 3 featuring Will Wilkinson, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, and Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, author (with Tim Kane) of the Growthology blog, and co-author (with William Baumol and Carl Schramm) of Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism (click here for the PND review).

Interesting stuff, with a libertarian twist...

(Click for video)

00:00 Introduction
01:00 The Growth Solution and Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism
03:49 Growth and Why We Want it So Much
06:33 Increasing Growth with Capital Goods and Investments
08:29 Transition from a Managerial to an Entrepreneurial Economy
11:40 New Institutional School
15:04 Stability and Open Economy
17:15 Instability and Innovation Incentives
20:46 Health Insurance Problems Discourage Innovation
23:33 Lack of Health Care Market
27:54 Initiatives to Increase Growth: Immigration and Education
36:15 Creating an Education Market
38:01 Public School Inequalities
40:44 Incentives to Motivate Teachers and Students
45:22 Intellectual Property System Reform
52:56 Game of Tax Reform
58:39 Revenue as a Percentage of GDP
59:48 Concluding Thoughts

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

'NonProfit Times' Announces Sector’s Top 50 for 2008

August 05, 2008

Nptblack_logo_2The NonProfit Times, a leading business publication covering the nonprofit sector, has released its eleventh annual Power and Influence Top 50 list. No real surprises, except for the large number of first-timers on the list. Makes perfect sense, actually, given that the sector is in the early innings of what promises to be an unprecedented leadership transition from the baby boom generation to Generations X and Y.

New to the list this year are Lewis M. Feldstein, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; Sara K. Gould, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women; Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Marguerite Kondrake, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance; Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America; Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies; Kathryn E. Merchant, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation; Steven T. Miller, commissioner of the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division; William L. (Larry) Minnix, Jr., president and CEO of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging; Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States; Fr. Larry Snyder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Vincent Stehle, program director for nonprofit sector support at the New York City-based Surdna Foundation; Dorothy Stoneman, founder and president of YouthBuild USA; and Marnie Webb, co-CEO of CompuMentor. (What, no bloggers?!)

To view or download the complete list, visit the NPT Web site. And feel free to use the comments section to suggest other sector leaders who belong on the list and/or are up-and-comers who deserve wider recognition.

--Mitch Nauffts

ANNOUNCEMENT: July 29 Bush Foundation Webcast Now Available

August 04, 2008

Bushfdn_logoA week or so ago we wrote about the new goals and change in strategic direction announced by the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation ("Strategic Philanthropy and the Bush Foundation"), and used the occasion to praise the foundation for its transparency and willingness to consult with stakeholders and the public to boost its impact in its three-state service area (Minnesota and North and South Dakota). The foundation followed that announcement with a live Webcast a week ago featuring foundation president Peter Hutchinson and board chair Kathy Tunheim answering questions about the foundation's new direction and goals.

The Webcast (to which nearly six hundred people logged in) and related materials are now available for all to view on the Bush Foundation Web site. We applaud Hutchinson, Tunheim, and their colleagues at the foundation for the cutting-edge communications technologies and transparent process they have embraced, and hope more foundations follow their lead.

To learn more about the foundation's new goals, changes to its current programs, and/or to access slides from the July 29 presentation, click here. To view the Webcast, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

What's So Great About an MBA?

August 01, 2008

Leadership_2(Tracy Kaufman is a library assistant in the Foundation Center's New York library. She recently reviewed Charles Halpern's memoir Making Waves and Riding Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom for PND. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Plenty, I suppose, if you're trying to start or build a business. But this week the Financial Times ran an article about the growing number of nonprofit employees seeking advanced business degrees. It's understandable why the FT would be upbeat about the trend, but should the rest of us?

Bill Drayton, the much-admired head of Ashoka, the pioneering social entrepreneurship nonprofit, sums up the sector's bad old days thusly: "Salaries were pathetic, smart people would avoid it, it was disorganized. That's all gone. We've been catching up and once you go from non-competitive to competitive, organizations have to join in the party or they’ll be eaten alive."

It's true that many nonprofits are operating more efficiently than they used to, but Drayton sure doesn't sound like he's giving the sector much credit if he's saying that in order to be "better," nonprofits must act more like for-profit businesses. (And that "smart people" line? Ouch!)

While the Financial Times suggests that a not-for-profit boasting a few MBAs has a distinct advantage over peer organizations without MBAs on staff, a 2007 study from Community Resource Exchange and Performance Programs, Inc. found that nonprofit leaders actually outperformed for-profit leaders in 14 out of 17 leadership practices, including things like participation, persuasiveness, openness to feedback, and demonstration of effectiveness. Could it be the typical nonprofit is every bit as well led as the typical for-profit, even without MBAs? (Click here to read a Q&A with Jean Lobell, the author of the study.)

The nonprofit and for-profit worlds serve very different purposes, so it's not a leap to suggest that they require different types of employees characterized by different modes of thinking, much in the way that psychology distinguishes between left-brained and right-brained people. In the for-profit sector, regardless of one's chosen profession, at the end of the day it all boils down to a single concern: profit. As long as the business is turning a profit, an employee really doesn't need to worry about much else.

In the nonprofit world, in contrast, that concern is all-but eliminated. As a result, nonprofits tend to be more welcoming to flexible, creative, out-of-the box thinking. A formal education in business may be vital for one sector, but whether it's really the best thing for the other is open to debate.

Don't get me wrong, higher salaries and increased professionalism in the nonprofit sector aren't bad things. But to suggest that what nonprofits really need to be effective is a couple of MBAs and more business discipline strikes this nonprofit employee as, well...beside the point.

What do the rest of you think? Do nonprofits need to think and operate more like business? Is there an MBA in your future?

-- Tracy Kaufman

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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