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Weekend Link Roundup (January 24 - 25, 2009)

January 25, 2009

Here's this week's roundup of noteworthy posts and articles from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil/Human Rights

A day after the election of the country's first African-American president, Rick Cohen, national correspondent for the Nonprofit Quarterly, interviewed Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, about the relevance of that venerable organization at this pivotal moment in history. "Despite his long experience in the social justice shortcomings of foundation grantmaking," Cohen writes,

Jealous doesn't appear to be asking the NAACP to join the burgeoning call of some for changing the structure of charitable and foundation giving to prioritize the needs of the poor and minorities. "Our focus right now is on three big things," Jealous said, "Getting a bailout not just for Main Street, but for 'Back Street', ensuring that each child in this country receives a quality education, and ending mass incarceration."

Both Ben Jealous and the new occupant of the White House face the most challenging economic circumstances in the U.S. since the...Depression.... According to Jealous, "the hard part with [Obama] on the inside as opposed to a leader of an insurgent campaign is going to be [that] the power of his operation could potentially backfire, it could insulate him from the sorts of pressure and critique that would ultimately create the space for him to do the right thing. The challenge for us who lead mass membership organizations," Jealous added, "is to both embrace this president who inspired us as a candidate and keep the pressure on him at the same time....What you bring is high expectations...; we're all willing to compromise, but we’re not willing to compromise too much...."

Click here to read the complete interview.

Education

Inspired by the inauguration of our first African-American president, eduwonkette and her blogging partner skoolboy are almost finished presenting five wishes for education policy under the new administration. In reverse order, they are:

#5: Education Policy Based on Averages, Not Outliers -- "Please, dear policymakers, don't craft your policies -– or your expectations about the effects of policies -– based on outlier schools or teachers...."

#4: Better Alignment of Accountability Systems to School Outcomes -- "[I]'s...critically important for U.S. children and youth to prepare to assume the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy that depends on a tacit social contract which binds us together, and we count on schools to do this and much more. Our wish is for accountability systems in education that are designed to measure and promote genuine growth and development in children and youth...."

#3: Asking More "Why?" Questions -- "Our wish...is for asking 'why?' more loudly, and earlier in the lifecycle of a policy or program. Why might achievement be higher in charter schools? Why do children learn more in smaller classes? Why are some teachers more successful in teaching low-achieving students than high-achieving students? Why don't school expenditures have a stronger association with student outcomes...?"

#2: The End of Proficiency Only Accountability Systems -- " 'No excuses' is great rhetoric, but in the end it's just that. So...wish #2 is that we move past this bravado in the next four years and develop a more reasonable and effective way of identifying and supporting low-performing schools in getting better...."

The series concludes on Monday.

Fundraising

In response to a "desperate" nonprofit executive director who's getting more turn-downs, the always-fiesty Nonprofiteer advises said ED to "get the chip off your shoulder," take a day or two off, and "come back ready to rumble with the problem rather than with people who constitute the solution...."

The eJewish Philanthropy blog has a nice list enumerating the ROI of online giving. Among other things, says eJP, an online presence delivers immediate assistance, extends your reach globally, and is eco-friendly. (H/T: AFP Blog)

Journalism

With the newspaper industry's decades-old economic model crumbling before our eyes, the time has come for government to step in and lend a hand, write Geneva Overholser, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC, and Geoffrey Cowan, the school's emeritus dean. Mike Burns, who blogs at Nonprofit Board Crisis, thinks the solution to the industry's plight is obvious: Newspapers should convert themselves into not-for-profits. "Yes, there are logistical challenges," writes Burns, "but being nonprofit in some form makes the most sense." Do you agree?

Nonprofits and Social Media

Geoff Livingston, who has his own communications firm in Washington, D.C., and blogs at the Buzz Bin, casts a gimlet eye on the sudden influx of "Government 2.0" gurus and argues that most social media evangelists in the public sector overlook the key to Web 2.0 success: First, listen. Says Livingston:

In a media environment where people talk back, and expect to be listened to, simply talking won't work. It won't. Social media is relational, it's two-way! If donors, volunteers and tax payers want messages, they'll read your brochure, watch your educational video, etc. Not here. We want to talk. That's why we've forsaken our roles as simple consumers of media and engaged in this vibrant online world, a veritable bazaar of ideas, conversations and yes, even products....

Nonprofit and government communicators may object and say, "Well, we are cause based, we are the essence of heart in life. We are bettering society." But are you? Or do you just want to increase donations? Or "educate" the masses? Perhaps garner votes for your platform? Or even spread the word about your cause, movement or political reform?

Mass communications vehicles have lost a great deal of their strength and trust. Here on the social web those things live again. But to achieve them we must listen. That's why so many organizational blogs fail. They talk first, and may never listen or let other voices be heard. In reality, it should be the other way around....

Good stuff.

Beth Kanter has posted a list of the most influential women in nonprofit technology. And while you're at it, be sure to check out Kanter's excellent guide to developing a social media strategy and integrating it into your organization's communications planning.

The Nashville-based Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has won a YouTube video contest sponsored by Renew America Together, the Obama administration's new community-service initiative. The winning video, "Yes, We're Cans," follows a can of chili from its purchase at a Kroger’s supermarket to being donated to a local foodbank, where it is distributed to a needy family. (H/T: Give and Take)

Philanthropy

The folks on the Philanthrocapitalism blog argue that "there is no better time than now for a bit of audacious hope." One of their hopes? "[T]hat [the government] will see the potential for scaling up what they learned about social innovation whilst working with non-profits, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and that the result will be smarter, more effective government."

On Wise Philanthropy, Richard Marker offers a few thoughts on how the "Obama moment" may affect the way people do their philanthropy. Among other things, Marker thinks we'll see greater emphasis placed on accountability and transparency, collaboration, commitment to voluntary service, and the linkage between domestic and worldwide need.

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof offers an even-handed assessment of the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the eve of the publication of Bill Gates's first "annual letter" to stakeholders. Writes Kristof:

Look, I'm a cynical journalist, and I don't want to sound too infatuated. I think the Gates Foundation has missed the chance to leverage the revolution in social entrepreneurship, hasn't been as effective in advocacy as it has been in research, and has missed an opportunity to ignite a broad social movement behind its issues.

But if Mr. Gates manages to accomplish as much in the world of vaccines, health and food production as he thinks he can, then the consequences will be staggering. Squared. In that case, the first few paragraphs of Mr. Gates's obituary will be all about overcoming diseases and poverty, barely mentioning his earlier career in the software industry....

The letter will be available on the Gates Foundation Web site starting Monday.

Regulation

Somwhat incredulously, the Nonprofiteer notes that "the IRS now requires every [nonprofit] organization to include in its bylaws a series of statements pledging to abide by the law....Apparently the concern is that, without these statements, 501(c)(3)s would organize themselves for non-charitable purposes, distribute profits to their Board members, engage in electoral politics, conduct forbidden activities and fail to distribute their assets to other charities on dissolution...."

That's it for now.

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

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