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Weekend Link Roundup (November 22 - 23, 2008)

November 23, 2008

Our weekly roundup of noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector...


As Rosetta Thurman points out in a recent post, in times like these it's up to each and every nonprofit to develop a sense of urgency about the work it is doing. And it's the most efficient organizations, Thurman reminds us, that tend to generate the best results and are most likely to weather the current storm.

Robert Thalheimer, an associate director at the Community Foundation Serving Richmond & Central Virginia (TCF) and a guest contributor to the PhilanthroMedia blog, expects 2009 to be a tough year for nonprofits and charities. To help local agencies meet the growing demand for their services, Thalheimer and his colleagues have created a Safety Net Fund and seeded it with $1 million so that "the rising tide of basic need in our community...does not grow into a civic tsunami." Tom Byer, chairman of the foundation's distribution committee, explains how the fund will work:

Anyone may give to this fund, from which 100% of the dollars will be used strategically to help our region's nonprofits meet basic human needs in our community such as emergency financial assistance, housing, food, employment and health care.

Part of this cash infusion will be deployed as TCF collaborates with the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence (created by TCF two years ago) to help nonprofits identify innovative solutions to meet payroll, reduce overhead, improve budgeting practices and maintain core services. Nonprofit managers and their boards should evaluate whether their long-term survival may require consolidation or other fundamental changes....

Sounds like something other community foundations around the country might want to consider. 


Those skeptical about the potential of peer-to-peer giving are still scratching their heads over the huge amounts of money Barack Obama raised online during the homestretch of his presidential campaign. As Lucy Bernholz notes on Philanthropy 2173,

Having unleashed $660 million in support from three million individual givers (as well as tens of millions of votes from tens of millions of voters), the campaign clearly demonstrated its ability to mobilize. Its podcasts, Flickr tools, Facebook pages, organizing tools for house parties, text messages, 30-minute TV shows, twitter feeds, and daily email feeds set a standard that will be required of campaigns to come...

On the Social Actions blog, Peter Deitz predicts that "a shifting communications environment and changing donor demographics" could render traditional fundraising best practices "ineffective at best, and obsolete at worst, as early as 2012." Says Dietz:

Raising money in 2012 will require creativity and foresight. Micro-philanthropy -- that ambiguous term that refers to all things socially networked, small-scale, and charitable -- will have matured.

Donors of all ages will be looking for meaningful points of engagement with your organization. They'll want to set the programmatic agenda, select the beneficiaries and target areas, communicate the organization's message, and, in real-time, evaluate feedback as it comes in.

Notice something strange about those tasks? None of them involve passive check-writing on behalf of your organization. In 2012, individuals will come to your organization with the expectation of being full partners in your work, not just dollar wells to be tapped when cash is needed. Donations will be a consequence of meaningful engagement, not a measurement of it.

Over the next four years, innovative organizations will use technology to transfer to individuals the reins on everything from program work and evaluation to fundraising and communications. Raising money in a micro-philanthropic environment will come naturally to these groups.

Is your organization ready?

Nonprofits and Social Media

The Monitor Institute has launched a new blog, Working Wikily, that will explore how "the social sector is adopting the new tools, strategies, and practices of networking -- from collaborative Web 2.0 software, to network mapping, to forming coalitions, to engaging and mobilizing people." This is one to keep an eye on.

FORGE -- a nonprofit in Santa Rosa, California, that works to empower refugees in camps in Zambia and Botswana -- has been much in the news of late, and not for the usual reasons. After the organization ran into financial difficulties earlier this fall, its founder and executive director, Kjerstin Erickson, began to blog about its problems on the Social Edge site. Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton picked up the story from there, praising Erickson for her gutsy decision to embrace "radical transparency." But, asks Mike Burns at Nonprofit Board Crisis, "when is crying the blues radical transparency?" Writes Burns:

Speaking the truth is just that and nonprofits actually have an obligation, at least internally, of understanding missteps and taking corrective action.  At the same time I remember one foundation exec calling me over one day and saying: "Mike, no one reallys wants to hear your sad story -- they want to hear what you are doing right -- they want to hear how you are fixing what is broken."

I didn't really take away solutions from this FORGE story, only a sad story. And one of the big credits given to social entrepreneurs is that they are by definition, solution-focused. Telling a sad story just isn't enough for me. But you know, if it works, it's good....

There are lessons to be learned from the FORGE story; we're just not sure what they are.


The Council on Foundations has unveiled two new social media projects: Economic Xchange, a collaborative blog that will examine how the "current economy impacts philanthropy"; and Thought > Action > Impact, a new "e-journal of philanthropic ideas" featuring contributions from council members and other thought leaders.

Paul Brest, co-author of the recently published Money Well Spent: A Strategic Guide to Smart Philanthropy (click here for a PND Q&A with Brest), was invited by Stannard-Stockton to debate Bill Somerville, co-author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker, at a recent Tactical Philanthropy Forum in San Francisco. Because time constraints made it impossible to answer all the questions from the audience, Sean is posting some of them on his blog, including this one, for Somerville.

Joining the discussion, Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, posted his opening remarks at the event on his blog, Keeping a Close Eye:

I actually agree with about 80 or 90 percent of Brest's book. When foundations are NOT strategic, they waste some of the precious resources with which they have been entrusted.…But here's where I differ with Paul Brest.…When taken to its extreme, strategic philanthropy becomes overwhelmingly controlling. It's as if the foundation is a puppet master, pulling the strings of nonprofits in order to produce a desired result. In the extreme, strategic philanthropy reduces nonprofits to being contractors working to achieve the vision put forward by the foundation. This type of control, I believe, leads to less impact from philanthropy, not greater impact....

I just finished Brest's book, and nowhere in it does he argue for strategic philanthropy as a one-size-fits-all solution; in fact, the framework he lays out in the book is quite flexible (or so it seemed to me). But Dorfman's point is a valid one, and this is a conversation leaders in the field need to have.

That's it for now. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Edward Vielmetti  |   November 24, 2008 at 09:16 AM

It's always good to read a well-written roundup of current activity, thanks for putting this together.

Posted by Meghan  |   November 25, 2008 at 04:48 PM

Thanks for another good round up. To your point that more community foundations should launch response funds in light of sharp increases in need. I thought I'd let you know that we recently launched one in Massachusetts. The Community Support Fund(http://supportunitedway.org/csf ). 18 United Ways across the state have come together in a singular drive to address the need. 100% of the funds we receive will go directly to local families in financial crisis. I believe they are launching a similar effort in the San Fransisco Bay area and at other United Ways across the country.

Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   November 25, 2008 at 10:11 PM

Thanks for reading, Ed. We'll try to keep it going.

Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   November 25, 2008 at 10:16 PM

Thanks, Meghan, glad you found it to be useful. The Foundation Center is beginning to gather information about emergency grants/loans/etc in response to the deepening crisis. That info will be mapped to our new Focus on the Economic Crisis page (http://foundationcenter.org/focus/economy/maps.html). Please give us a shout if you hear of any other developments.

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