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32 posts from September 2008

Tips for NPOs Threatened by the Financial Crisis

September 22, 2008

Storm_clouds_2Back in February, we asked whether your organization was recession proof and, based on an analysis of more than 6,500 mid-size nonprofits conducted by the New York City-based Nonprofit Finance Fund, shared five things nonprofits could do to weather the next one.

Well, that recession, while not confirmed by government statistics, is upon us, and NFF is back with three recommendations for organizations threatened by the deepening financial crisis:

1. Review and optimize three critical aspects of financial assets: cash deposit risk, concentration of investment risk, and concentration of revenue risk.

2. If a reliable revenue source seems questionable, consider ways to diversify revenue sources. Avoid over-diversification (i.e., new and multiple lines of business). These give rise to "mission creep," may carry high entry costs, and frequently increase fixed costs, therefore increasing financial risk.

3. Make contingency plans for downsizing if you know or suspect you will lose funding. Nonprofits frequently use furloughs, small across-the-board salary reductions, and consulting arrangements to offset temporary revenue reductions. However, if it looks like funding has disappeared for good, consider partnering or merging with other complementary or similar organizations. Be wary of partnerships that could ultimately increase costs.

For more good advice, visit: http://www.nonprofitfinancefund.org/.

-- Mitch Nauffts

The Price of Greed

September 21, 2008

Piglipstick_2Try $2 trillion (that's trillion with a "t"), courtesy of you, the American taxpayer:

  • Bear Stearns bailout: $29 billion
  • Economic stimulus program: $200 million
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rescue: $200 million (conservative estimate)
  • Bridge loan to American International Group (AIG): $85 billion
  • TAFs and liquidity injections over the last twelve months: $600 billion
  • Guarantee principal in money market mutual funds: $50 billion
  • RTC-like entity to purchase Wall Street's toxic mortgage-backed securities: $700 million (and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you)

And we're not even halfway through the crisis. What else (beside bailing out Wall Street fat cats) could we do with $2 trillion?

  • Rebuild our public education system so that our kids and grandkids -- all of them -- have a chance to compete in a 21st century economy
  • Subsidize health care for the 45 million Americans who go to bed every night without coverage
  • Create a Manhattan-type alternative energy project to break our $700 million-a-year dependence on foreign oil
  • Rebuild our crumbling infrastructure

Philanthropy can't do those things by itself. Faith-based groups can't do those things. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November. Oh, and the next time someone tells you "Government isn't the solution, it's the problem," ask him when you can expect your bailout check.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (September 20, 2008)

September 20, 2008

Quotemarks"Innovations are like genetic mutations. Most of them are mistakes. Most fail. Old people tend to reject new ideas, new styles, and new things. What the oldsters know -- from experience -- is that the new tricks are probably not worth learning. What we have around us are only the innovations that succeeded. Companies, products, ideas, governments, clubs, styles -- all that we see are the successful ones. The unsuccessful innovations -- thousands and thousands of them -- all disappeared...."

-- Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggon, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis

ANNOUNCEMENT: Goldman Sachs Foundation Prizes for Excellence in International Education, 2008 Call for Applications

September 19, 2008

Gsf_globe_2The Goldman Sachs Foundation and Asia Society are seeking applications for the 2008 Goldman Sachs Foundation Prizes for Excellence in International Education. The prize program was created in 2003 to raise awareness of the growing importance of international knowledge and skills for U.S. students and annually awards prizes totaling $150,000 in five different categories.

Applications for the elementary/middle school, high school, district/state, and media/technology prizes are due Monday, December 1st, 2008.

The 2008 Prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

Elementary/Middle School ($25,000)
An elementary or middle school that engages all or most of its students in learning about other world regions, cultures, and languages.

High School ($25,000)
A secondary school that engages all or most of its students in learning about Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East, or about international affairs through its curriculum and through partnerships with other countries or local organizations.

District/State ($25,000)
A state or one of the 100 largest school districts that is actively promoting the development of international knowledge and skills on a wide scale through the creation of robust policies and specific programming initiatives.

Media/Technology ($25,000)
A program within a U.S.- based public or private for-profit or nonprofit organization that has developed outstanding programs that use media/technology to educate students or teachers about other world regions and cultures, or international issues.

Youth (Up to $10,000)
Five high school students who demonstrate an in-depth understanding of key issues in international affairs and the global economy.

* Please note that the 2008 Youth prize competition is now closed. Winners for the Youth prize will be announced in November 2008.

For more information and to access the online application form, visit: http://asiasociety.org/gsfprizes.

Hurricane Relief Efforts (#3)

September 18, 2008

Today's roundup of hurricane relief announcements....

Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, Astros players, front-office staff, and the Astros in Action Foundation have committed $1 million to Hurricane Ike relief efforts.

The Valero Energy Foundation will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief and recovery efforts.

Big-box retailer Kohl's has announced a $500,000 cash donation to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Ike relief efforts.

Nationwide, the country's sixth-largest property and casualty insurance company, has announced a $275,000 grant through the Nationwide Foundation to support Red Cross hurricane relief efforts. The announcement brings Nationwide's disaster relief donations in 2008 to a total of $1 million.

The General Mills Foundation has pledged a total of $200,000 to provide relief and assistance for the remainder of the 2008 hurricane season.

The Alcoa Foundation has announced a $100,000 grant to the American Red Cross of Southwest Louisiana to aid victims of widespread flooding caused by Hurricane Ike.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has established a fund to provide relief to individuals and families affected by serious mental illnesses in communities in Louisiana and Texas devastated by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Donations to the NAMI Hurricane Relief Fund can be made online at www.nami.org/HurricaneRelief. One hundred percent of the funds raised will go directly to individuals and families through local NAMI affiliates.

In addition, this is a great source of news and information about the government response to the recent hurricanes.

And let's not forget about storm-ravaged Haiti, which, in the last five weeks, has been battered by Tropical Storm Fay and hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike. "Something of this magnitude has never happened before. It is traumatic, dramatic and a dire situation," Jean Robert LaFortune, chairman of the Haitian American Grass Roots Coalition, told the Florida Courier. "More than one million are without shelter, sleeping in tents in the mud and heat. The storms came just as farmers were readying to harvest their crops."

Here's how you can help:

  • The Haitian American Grassroots Coalition has established a bank account at Bank of America. Donate at any bank branch. Contact Jean Robert LaFortune at hagc2020@yahoo.com.
  • Food for the Poor asks for donations to purchase additional building materials for repairs to homes. Online: www.FoodForThePoor.org (Gustav); call: 1-800-487-1158.
  • Catholic Charities of Miami provides monetary assistance. Make checks payable to Catholic Charities of Miami with a notation in the memo line designating the donation for either Tropical Storm Fay or Hurricane Gustav or both and mailed to: Catholic Charities, Storm Aid, 9401 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami Shores, FL 33138; online: www.ccadm.org.
  • Cross International, a Christian relief and development organization, is sending food. Call, 1-800-391-8545; online: www.crossinternational.org and click on the emergency hurricane support link.
  • Lambi Fund of Haiti is accepting donations to assist people who lost their crops and animals. Donate online: www.LambiFund.org; or mail a check to: Lambi Fund of Haiti, P.O. Box 18955, Washington, D.C., 20036.
  • The Pan American Development Foundation is accepting donations online at www.PanAmericanRelief.org.

-- Regina Mahone

Do Something.org Launches IPO

September 17, 2008

More proof (as if you needed any) that we live in interesting times....

Dosomething_logo_2Do Something, the New York City-based nonprofit that works to "inspire, empower and celebrate a generation of doers -- teenagers who recognize the need to do something, believe in their ability to get it done, and then take action," today launched an Initial Public Offering (IPO) that promises to deliver a "significant" Social Return on Investment (SROI) to investors rather than a profit. As my teenage sons might say, "Cool."

How does it work? The organization is offering 80 shares priced at $100,000 per share to "investors." By taking a share, investors -- foundations, for-profit businesses, individual donors, government agencies, others -- pledge to donate $100,000 over a six-month period. In pledging to raise $100,000, the investor becomes a Shareholder and is entitled to attend quarterly Shareholder calls and an annual Shareholder meeting. More importantly, they're helping to build the organization's capacity to engage U.S. teens and create self-sustaining programming.

"We run a business here -- but instead of selling cars or candy to kids, we're selling hope and leadership," said Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin. "Our business model is totally scalable. These funds aren't for a building or a fat endowment. We're spending on growth." (To read a PND Q&A with Lublin, click here.)

What do you think? Is Do Something's IPO a gimmick? Or is it a clever way for the organization to raise long-term general operating support from "investors" who, for the most part, are disinclined to provide that kind of support? We'd love to hear your thoughts....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Hurricane Relief Efforts (#2)

Following up on yesterday's post, here's more news from the hurricane relief front:

ConocoPhillips has announced that it will contribute $5 million to provide assistance to people and communities affected by Hurricane Ike. The funds will be directed to the American Red Cross, the United Way, the Salvation Army, and the Texas Disaster Relief Fund.

Chevron Corporation has announced a commitment of $3 million to support recovery efforts in communities affected by hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike.

Houston mayor Bill White has announced the formation of the Houston Ike Relief Fund to help those impacted by Hurricane Ike.

The Verizon Foundation has announced two $20,000 grants -- one to the Texas division of the Salvation Army, the other to the Greater Houston chapter of the American Red Cross -- to aide with disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

And one more (for now): Allied Veterans of the World, Inc. has announced a partnership with Winn-Dixie to assist relief efforts along the Texas Gulf Coast by sending 225,000 half-liter bottles of water to certain towns without functional water purification centers due to damage from Hurricane Ike.

We'll continue to track the philanthropic response to the recent hurricanes as donations are announced.

-- Regina Mahone

Turmoil on Wall Street: Q&A With Melissa Berman, President/CEO, Rockfeller Philanthropy Advisors

September 16, 2008

We've been tracking two fast-breaking stories since the weekend: the philanthropic response to Hurricane Ike and the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Earlier today, we spoke with Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, to get her views on how the current financial downturn is likely to affect nonprofits in New York City and beyond.

Mberman_smallPhilanthropy News Digest: I'm old enough to remember Black Monday, that scary day in October 1987 when stock markets around the world lost 20-25 percent of their value in a single session. That was an equity event whereas the current turmoil on Wall Street is credit driven. Is the difference between the two a cause for concern?

Melissa Berman: The crisis in 1987 was much more of a challenge for Wall Street and for people with significant stock portfolios. The current crisis, because it affects the entire credit environment, affects lots of people whether or not they have stock holdings; it makes it harder for people with good credit to get mortgages, for people to get small business loans, for people to add value to their homes through an addition or renovation. The credit crisis has much broader implications.

PND: This crisis began last July with the collapse of two hedge funds at Bear Stearns. Here we are fourteen months later, and things in the credit markets and on Wall Street seem to be getting worse. Are we nearing the end of the crisis? Or are we just getting close to the end of the beginning?

MB: I wish I knew. [Laughter.]

PND: No predictions as to how long the credit crisis might last?

MB: Nope. I'm a folklore and mythology major, and though I'm happy to make a prediction, it would be based on tea leaves or something. [Laughs.] I'm not the person to ask, sorry.

PND: Bear Stearns disappeared in a merger with JP Morgan Chase earlier this year. Yesterday, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, while Merrill Lynch agreed to be acquired by Bank of America. And by the end of the day we could see American Insurance Group, the largest insurance company in the world, declare bankruptcy. Philanthropically speaking, how important are those four firms?

MB: For New York City, in particular, most of them are very important; they're major corporate citizens that happen to be based here. Unfortunately, when two companies merge, the combined philanthropy of the merged entity is generally less than the sum of its constituent parts. That's part of the efficiencies that companies are looking for when they merge, especially when they find themselves in a difficult economic environment and are forced to downsize. In this case, the disappearance of Bear, Lehman, Merrill, and maybe AIG -- with who knows how many more to follow -- is going to have a big impact on philanthropy in New York City and the tri-state area.

PND: Do you think the impact will be worse for the nonprofit sector then what it experienced after the dot-com meltdown in 2000 and the recession that followed the attacks of September 11?

MB: During the dot-com meltdown many of the companies that crashed and burned were so new that they didn't have the internal resources to be serious about philanthropy. I think the current situation will have much more of an impact than the dot-com meltdown. We also seem to be looking at a much broader-based downturn than the one we experienced in 1987. It's just not clear yet how deeply the downturn will affect other parts of the economy that so far seem to be doing reasonably well.

In terms of New York City, the large number of people employed by these firms that have lost their jobs or will be losing them soon is also going to have an impact. Lehman, in particular, had a very generous corporate culture -- the management there really encouraged its employees to be generous. The challenge now, as was the case after the 9/11 attacks, is that the current meltdown is happening at the beginning of the most important giving season for nonprofits. November and December is when many nonprofits raise as much as half, if not more, of their annual income.

PND: So, is this a moment for individual donors and private foundations to step up and give more than they might in more normal circumstances?

MB: I think for many donors and foundations the smart thing to do is to wait a bit, say, a month or so, and see how things settle out. At that point, in what is likely to be a very difficult environment for a lot of people, they'll have more clarity and information to help them decide whether they want to do some allocations to things like basic human services.

PND: And that's what you're telling your clients?

MB: Yes.

PND: What can nonprofits here in New York City do to weather the storm?

MB: In times of turmoil and economic uncertainty it is especially important for nonprofits to be able to reassure donors that they are well positioned to make good, effective use of those resources. Donors have to make a lot of tough choices, and they want to be sure that when they give money, they're giving it to the right place.

PND: And what would you say to nonprofits looking for an all-clear, time-to-get-back in the water signal?

MB: Again, there's no crystal ball for a situation like the one we find ourselves in. The consensus forecast seems to be that things are going to continue to be difficult well into 2009. I think that, like everybody else, nonprofits should keep pay close attention to what the economists are saying and take it seriously.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Hurricane Ike Relief Efforts (#1)

Hurricane_ike_2Hurricane Ike battered Galveston and points east over the weekend, and as is often the case in disaster situations, corporations and ordinary Americans have been reaching into their pockets to contribute to relief and rebuilding efforts. Earlier today, ExxonMobil (headquartered in Irving, Texas) announced a $5 million donation for relief efforts to be split among the American Red Cross, the United Way, the Salvation Army, and the Texas Disaster Relief Fund. (The oil giant's donation comes just a week after it announced a $1.5 million donation for disaster relief assistance in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.)

Also earlier today, Lowe's and the Home Depot Foundation announced separate $1 million donations for recovery and rebuilding efforts, while Wal-Mart announced a $2.5 million contribution (in cash and merchandise donations) toward relief efforts.

These efforts are in addition to the Hurricane Ike Disaster Relief Campaign announced yesterday (and reported in PND here) by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation and its partners, including the Chicago Tribune, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Colorado Rockies, CW11 New York/WPIX-TV, the Denver Newspaper Agency, Fox 61 Hartford/WTIC-TV, KTLA-TV Los Angeles, Newsday, the North County Times, and WGN Radio.

The Office of Texas governor Rick Perry has added a hurricane recovery page to its site that is an excellent source of information for folks who have been affected by the storm as well as those in the media and around the country interested in tracking the recovery and rebuilding effort.

We'll continue to follow the story and would love to hear from you if you have breaking news about the philanthropic response to the disaster. Feel free to use the comments section to fill us in on the latest.


Update (Sept. 17, 2008, 11:45 a.m.)

As reported this morning in PND (and yesterday in the Wall Street Journal), Wal-Mart has announced a $2.5 million commitment (consisting of cash and merchandise) to Hurricane Ike and Gustav relief efforts, while the UPS Foundation has announced grants totaling more than $1 million to the American Red Cross, Aidmatrix, and CARE in support of their hurricane relief activities.

And oil giant BP has announced that it will donate more than $8 million through its foundation to community organizations in areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Ike and Gustav. The company also announced that it will match the contributions of its employees to disaster relief efforts.

We'll continue to track donations to hurricane relief efforts as they are announced.

-- Mitch Nauffts

ServiceNation Summit (Sept. 11-12, 2008)

September 15, 2008

Last week, ServiceNation, a campaign to establish national service as a universal American ethic, kicked off its first-ever summit at Columbia University. On Thursday night, in separate sessions, Richard Stengel, managing editor of TIME magazine, and Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, interviewed and then fielded questions from the audience for the major-party presidential nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama. The summit continued on Friday with a welcome speech from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and a keynote address by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earlier this year became the first governor in the nation to create a cabinet post dedicated to service and volunteering.

As Allison Fine writes on her blog:

There is an intersection of politics and volunteerism that is happening that I don't quite understand right now. Not nonprofit organizations interest in shaping public policy, that's been going on for a long time; think about the way education reform groups and health care organizations have been educating members and constituents and lobbying Congress for years. I mean that volunteerism and community service have become important elements in political campaigns and that means something, I'm just not sure what yet....

Click below to watch the Q&As with McCain and Obama.

-- Regina Mahone

And the Most Generous Celebrities Are...

September 10, 2008

This just in from PARADE magazine and the Giving Back Fund, which bills itself as "the premier philanthropic resource for the sports and entertainment communities." Now in its second year, the Giving Back 30 list ranks the most generous celebrities in America based on public donations to charity made in 2007. The envelope, please:

1. Oprah Winfrey -- $50.2 million (to the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and Oprah's Angel Network in support of education, health care, and advocacy for women and children worldwide).

2. Herb Alpert -- $13 million (to the Herb Alpert Foundation and the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music)

3. Barbra Streisand -- $11 million (to the Streisand Foundation, which supports projects related to the environment, women's issue, civil rights, and AIDS research and advocacy)

4. Paul Newman -- $10 million (scholarships at Kenyon College, his alma mater)

5. Mel Gibson -- $9.9 million (Holy Family Church)

6. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt -- $8.4 million (to the Jolie-Pitt Foundation for New Orleans reconstruction, refugee aid, cross-cultural understanding)

7. Michael Jordan (tie) -- $5 million (to Hales Franciscan High Scool, a historically black boys' school in Chicago)

7. Eric Lindros (tie) -- $5 million -- (to London Health Sciences Center, the Canadian hospital where the former hockey player was treated during his NHL career)

7. Lance Armstrong (tie) -- $5 million (for cancer research, education, and advocacy)

10. Rush Limbaugh -- $4.2 million (to provide financial assistance to the children of Marines and law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty)

I'm usually not one to fawn over celebrities or sports stars, but you know what I love about this list? Its diversity and eclecticism. You've got two African Americans, two Jewish Americans, an Hispanic American, a couple of social conservatives, and a hockey player! And look at the causes they're supporting. Education, civil rights, AIDS research, music education, aid for refugees, scholarships, a medical center, a parochial school, financial assistance to help the families of soldiers and law-enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty, a congregation. To paraphrase New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, "Only in America, kids, only in America." It's all good. E pluribus unum.

For the complete list, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

America's Selective 9/11 Memory

September 08, 2008

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. His last post, a Q&A with Jean Lobell, managing director, Community Resource Exchange, is here.)

Diversity_4Just five days after two jetliners were flown into the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that citizens of more than eighty nationalities had lost their lives as a result of the attacks and subsequent collapse of the towers. Ever since that day, pundits and politicians have endeavored to cast 9/11 as an exclusively American experience.

With the seventh anniversary of 9/11 looming, it may be useful to reflect on why Powell's words failed to make a difference in the narrative that was created around the events of September 11 as well as what lessons we should learn from the experience going forward.

Today, there are more linkages binding people around the globe in common cause than at any time in history. The huge diaspora migrations of the last two centuries have been replaced by communities with "feet in two worlds" -- worlds in which, for a growing number of immigrants, the bonds to one's nation of origin are regularly renewed. Every day, tens of millions of people around the globe connect across huge distances with friends and family back home via telephone, telegram, and e-mail. In 2007 alone, Mexican-Americans working in the United States remitted $24 billion to family members back home. Perhaps more importantly, the "other" has now become "we." Here in New York City, for example, close to two-thirds of my fellow residents are either immigrants or children of immigrants.

Those who make the case for assimilation choose to ignore the fact that America today is a "gorgeous mosaic," the term former New York City mayor David Dinkins used in his inauguration speech in 1990. Indeed, the Census Bureau projects that by 2042 the United States will be a "majority minority" nation.

Of course, in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, and Houston, as well as rural areas like southern Louisiana, this trend actually confirms what many nonprofit leaders already knew. As in previous waves of immigration, nonprofit settlement houses, health care facilities, and other frontline human services organizations are the first to witness and address the reality of America's changing demographics. More importantly, nonprofits are building and reinforcing the ties that bind new arrivals to their country of choice.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (September 6-7, 2008)

September 07, 2008

As Robert Thalhimer points out on PhilanthroMedia, Labor Day marks the beginning of a new year for most. "School is back in session. The pace at work [picks] up. Social engagements...abound." And on the philanthropic front, "charitable giving comes into center focus due to the upcoming end of the tax year." With the economy stumbling, the presidential contest heating up, and dangerous Hurricane Ike rumbling toward a landfall along the Gulf Coast later this week, we take a look at some of the best philanthropy-related posts from the week just passed.


A new report from the Census Bureau suggests that personal income rose while the number of people living in poverty fell in 2007, even as middle-income households struggled to make up ground lost in the last recession (2001-02). That's unprecedented by historical standards, writes Ruy Teixeria, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Indeed, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that large segments of the public reported having difficulty affording various essentials of daily life:

Thirty-eight percent said it was difficult or very difficult to afford food; 46 percent said it was difficult or very difficult to afford health care; 49 percent reported problems affording home heating and electric bills; and 68 percent said the same about affording gasoline….

Unfortunately, says Teixera, stats like those reveal the truth behind the Bush administration's attempt "to put a happy face on its dismal economic record...."

Writing in the New York Times ("Rich Man's Burden," Sept. 2, 2008), Dalton Conley, chairman of the sociology department at New York University, argues that we have arrived at "a stunning moment in economic history": For the first time since people have tracked such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Indeed, since 1980,

the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent....

Conley places some of the blame for the widening gap on what he calls an "economic red shift":

Like the shift in the light spectrum caused by the galaxies rushing away, those Americans who are in the top half of the income distribution experience a sensation that, while they may be pulling away from the bottom half, they are also being left further and further behind by those just above them.

And since inequality rises exponentially the higher you climb the economic ladder, the better off you are in absolute terms, the more relatively deprived you may feel. In fact, a poll of New Yorkers found that those who earned more than $200,000 a year were the most likely of any income group to agree that “seeing other people with money” makes them feel poor....

And so they work...and work...and work...


Noting that large urban school districts increasingly are trying out innovative policies and practices for which there is little or no pre-existing research support -- things like issuing school report cards, conducting school quality reviews, and offering incentives in the form of cash and cellphones to students in exchange for meeting academic performance targets --Skoolboy throws down the gauntlet on the Eduwonkette blog: "If we're serious about data-driven decision-making, we should put our money where our mouth is and demonstrate the relative effectiveness of class-size reduction and other policy initiatives...."

Then again, given that only seven in ten students successfully finish high school and that graduation rates are even lower in urban school districts and among racial and ethnic minorities and males, offering financial incentives to high school students as a way to keep them from dropping may not be such a bad idea. That's one of the conclusions of Cities in Crisis, a new report issued by the EPE Research Center, with support from America's Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Knowledge is power, the report notes, and if we are to provide every student in America with a high-quality education (and what could be more important?), it's essential that we not lose sight of the gaping disparities that exist within the nation's public education system.


Allison Fine has a good post on eBay's new global marketplace, WorldofGood.com. "The site creates a global marketplace for goods and foods that are certified as 'friendly' and 'green' according to a rating system called Trustology," she writes. "Is it too narrow-minded to think that American and European artists could also benefit from [such a] marketplace?" We think not.


Beth Kanter predicts that in the future "social media will become as ubiquitous to development offices as is the phone, direct mail, and email." Even with new tools being launched daily, this "will take many years," she adds, "but…fundraising with social media tools will not just be a niche source of income or novelty."


Donation Dashboard, a new site that uses a collaborative filtering algorithm to customize your online charitable giving, represents "a significant moment in the evolution of philanthropy markets," writes Lucy Bernolz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.


Like Ruy Teixeria (see above, Economy), Beverly Goldberg, senior fellow and editor-at-large at the Century Foundation, takes a close look on the Taking Note blog at the recently released Census Bureau report. In her post, Goldberg notes that the "ratio of earnings of women who worked full time, year-round was 78 percent of that for corresponding men." And that, she adds, has obvious implications for American families:

Women earning less than men…means they cannot save as much; if they contribute to pension plans at the same rate as men, they are contributing less because the pay their contributions are based on is less; they receive smaller Social Security checks because they earn less while they work and they often have to leave the workforce for periods of time to take care of dependents; and they live longer so what they manage to accumulate has to be spread over more years....

And Fortune Online has a nice post by guest contributor Jennifer Buffett, co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, which she and her husband, Peter Buffett (Warren's son), established in 2000. It wasn't until 2007, however, that the Buffetts had what she calls their "Aha! moment." The result? "We landed not on one or two interventions but on an entire demographic: a group that comprises 51% of the world's population and affects everyone — WOMEN AND GIRLS." She continues:

Women and girls are grossly under-funded…Women receive less than 10% of agricultural assistance, yet they produce nearly 80% of the world’s food. Adolescent girls in the developing world receive only half a penny of every development dollar. We came to realize that…[i]f we invested in girls and women specifically — to help them acquire marketable skills and education, maintain their health and delay marriage — their children would reap the benefits....

"Women," Buffett concludes "are the caring stewards of future generations. Through the NoVo foundation, we're investing with a passionate understanding of that truth." And we're thankful they are.

That's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with more.

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

Whose Philanthropy Is It Anyway?

September 05, 2008

(Mary McGrail is director of communications for the Brooklyn-based Independence Community Foundation, a private independent foundation that focuses on community development, education, arts and culture, and economic and workforce development issues in the New York metropolitan area. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Macon_library_2Mainstream media coverage of philanthropy often seems confined to eye-popping individual charitable donations, society gala events, "whimsical" bequests, or sponsor plugs on PBS.

Unfortunately, these public narratives don't offer a full picture of the complex, engaged, and ever-changing world of charitable giving. Which is a shame, because more in-depth media coverage of foundations -- and the nonprofit world -- could lead to greater transparency about the inner workings of our sector. It could also lead to greater awareness of what philanthropy routinely accomplishes and even spur more broad-based "grassroots" giving by individuals and communities to projects and organizations they care about. What's more, in this election year, a reasoned, wide-ranging dialogue about the role of philanthropy in generating new approaches to seemingly intractable problems would be a welcome addition to the civic debate. But how can a vigorous conversation occur if the all-too-infrequent philanthropy news story rarely ventures beyond the obvious or sensational?

I'm not saying philanthropy doesn't make headlines now and then. News of Leona Helmsley's bequest in memory of her dog, the aptly named Trouble, is a recent example: According to an article in the NY Times, "[Helmsley's] instructions, specified in a two-page 'mission statement', are that the entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs...."

Reaction was swift, and mostly negative. The "Maltese bequest" became a stand-in for all giving: Writing in the Times, Boston College law professor Ray Madoff explained how Helmsley's bequest "rubs our noses in the tax deduction for charitable gifts and its common vehicle, the perpetual private foundation. Together these provide a mechanism by which American taxpayers subsidize the whims of the rich and fulfill their fantasies of immortality."

But is that really the case? And what about other questions raised by Madoff's piece? Questions like, What should be funded publicly and what privately? When is enough too much? And who decides? More people need to weigh in on these and other issues. The role of philanthropy in society is an important -- even crucial -- topic for public debate, and I'd love to see the day when strongly held opinions about it are as common as opinions about the war in Iraq, sex education in the schools, climate change, or Paris Hilton.

But there are other stories, good stories, out there. My question is: Where is the press?

For example, Professor Madoff might have trouble (no pun intended) referring to the Buy a Book for Macon Library Campaign as something that serves "the whims of the rich." The idea for the innovative campaign was jointly hatched by Independence Community Foundation executive director Marilyn Gelber and Dionne Mack-Harvin, director of the Brooklyn Public Library.

The campaign began with a $50,000 challenge grant to the Macon branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in Bedford-Stuyvesant. ICF matched every dollar raised in the community to purchase the book collection for the century-old library's first African American History Center. Local donations quickly poured in, so Independence raised the "Buy a Book" challenge to $100,000. In all, more than 500 people from the neighborhood -– kids, store owners, writers, readers, church members, activists, parents, artists, and practically anybody who had ever dropped in to the library -- contributed. Over 80 percent of the donations were for less than $150. By the end of the campaign, the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant had raised over $100,000 for their library, for a total of $200,000, and the library was able to add 15,000 new volumes to its bookshelves. In this instance, at least, people doing good even made the news.

The question is, How do we get the mainstream media to pick up more stories like this? And how do we convince the media that, in these troubled times, man bites dog isn't the only story people care about?

Your thoughts?

-- Mary McGrail

Drip, Baby, Drip!

September 04, 2008

Ellesmereisland0902Okay, maybe not a slogan that'll bring a hall full of Republicans to their feet, but it does seem appropriate in light of the latest dramatic evidence of the warming under way in the Arctic.

According to the Associated Press, the 4,500-year-old, Manhattan-sized Markham Ice Shelf broke away from Ellesmere Island in Canada's northern Arctic in early August and is now adrift in the Artic Ocean.

"The Markham Ice Shelf was a big surprise because it suddenly disappeared," said Derek Mueller, an ice shelf specialist at Trent University. "We went under cloud for a bit during our research and when the weather cleared up, all of a sudden there was no more ice shelf. It was a shocking event that underscores the rapidity of [the] changes taking place in the Arctic."

(I recently blogged about some of those changes here.)

According to the AP, Mueller also said that two large sections of the Serson Ice Shelf had broken off, shrinking it by almost 60 percent, and that the 170-square-mile, 130-foot-thick Ward Hunt Ice Shelf continues to break up.

"These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for thousands of years are no longer present," said Mueller. "[Today] warmer temperatures and a changing climate mean there's no hope for regrowth. A scary scenario."

Unless you happen to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, where last night former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele coined a slogan -- Drill, baby, drill -- that would make a Roman emperor proud. Scary, indeed.

-- 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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