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Weekend Link Roundup (February 7 - 8, 2009)

February 08, 2009

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

Arts and Culture

Introduced by Steve Case, this short animated film from cutting-edge studio BLU was the hit of last week's TED conference. Fantastico!

Economy

After acknowledging on its new blog that the current economic downturn "feels different" than past downturns, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation cuts right to the chase:

No matter what, the nonprofit sector must prepare for an era of fewer funds. Less funds means fewer services as most organizations run pretty lean programs already. And since the vast majority of their operating costs involve staff, fewer funds also means layoffs. It is somewhat ironic that national attention has focused on the preservation of jobs in the automobile industry without any attention to the nonprofit sector when the number of jobs in that sector is larger than the auto and steel industries combined. In Hawai’i, it is estimated that there are more than 65,000 nonprofit jobs representing more than 10 percent of the non-agricultural workforce and accounting for roughly 9 percent of our gross state product. Cuts in the nonprofit sector are a double whammy: loss of jobs with attendant economic decline and loss of vital services to the community....

In this new era, adds HCF, nonprofits must focus "not on preserving what [they] have but using this moment of crisis to forge a different construct on how [their] values are reflected in how [they] work." We're looking forward to future posts from the foundation.

The layoff theme looms large in the current issue of Blue Avocado, a bi-weekly e-magazine for community-based nonprofits. "Every day there is news of more big layoffs: Starbucks, IBM, Target, CBS...the list goes on and on," writes editor Jan Masaoka. "[B]ut these news stories seldom describe the experiences of nonprofit people." Among other things, Masaoka suggests that, rather than indicating organizational weakness, layoffs "may actually reflect strength in the organization's ability to make decisions proactively, to respond to changing conditions, and to take strong management steps when necessary." (H/T Gift Hub)

Nonprofits hoping to weather the economic storm need to focus on mission and margins, writes Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator. The margin side of the ledger includes contingency budgets, capital ratios, mergers and acquisitions, and keeping a close eye on revenues and expenses. On the mission side of things, Berger recommends that nonprofit leaders take a close look at best practices outlined in the award-winning Forces for Good: Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

As further evidence that crowd-sourcing is here to stay, Martin Kearns, founder of an environmental advocacy group, has started a wiki to help other advocacy groups figure out how to "rationally deal with the reductions in overall capacity while also capitalizing on the opportunities that these disruptions produce." (H/T: Give and Take)

Education

Philanthropy News Digest recently interviewed Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp about the success of her organization, which places recent college graduates in underserved public schools for two-year teaching stints. Jim Horn, an associate professor of education at Cambridge College who writes the Schools Matter blog, has a more jaundiced view of the organization and criticizes TFA and the widely praised Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) for leaving its "primarily white, middle-class recruits...to their own devices in providing poor, minority students with what these recruits quickly find out they do not have." Writes Horn:

The TFA/KIPP phenomenon, of course, would not be possible without the deep pockets of corporate contributors such as the Broad Foundation that pump billions into a number of ventures aimed at replacing urban public education with a corporate welfare model that is, of course, tax supported....

The fact remains, of course, that until poverty and the segregation that accompanies poverty are dealt with, urban schools will continue to fall prey to “bold reformers” who unfailingly hide behind the fig leaf of “educational equity” to pursue their own political agendas that leave children behind once more and that leave our society more vulnerable to a virulent brand of anti-democratic corporate socialism....

Click here for parts one and two of Horn's critique.

Fundraising/Marketing

If Donor Power blogger Jeff Brooks has a pet peeve, it's stupid advertising. And few nonprofit ad campaigns in recent memory, says Brooks, were as stupid as the one mounted by One Laptop Per Child, an organization that works to supply sturdy inexpensive laptops to students in the developing world. The campaign, which features a digitally recreated John Lennon as spokesperson, resulted (directly or otherwise) in a 93 percent year-over-year drop in unit sales and revenues, writes Brooks. The lesson for other nonprofits: "If an award-winning ad agency approaches you offering to do award-winning work for [free], run as fast as you can the other way...."

Nonprofit consultant and AFP member Gail Perry reminds us that every period of confusion and doubt contains the seeds of opportunity. And while things look rather bleak at the moment, Perry lists seven reasons to be optimistic in 2009.

On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen says the keys to surviving this econmic "nosedive" are to give donors what they want: to feel good, to hear from people they know, tangibility, flexiblity, and a personalized pitch.

Journalism

Newspapers' crumbling business model continues to be the talk of the blogosphere. In response to a reader suggestion that the newspaper industry adopt a not-for-profit model, Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, wrote:

In my view, we should give serious study to anything that holds promise, but there are serious downsides to a not-for-profit model. For one thing, charity, however well intentioned, can come with strings attached. For another, endowments are no insulation against economic hard times. (Just ask universities.) And competition is, mostly, good for journalism. True, the scramble for readers' attention may contribute to tabloid sensationalism and press-pack feeding frenzies. But it also serves as a goad to aggressive reporting -— and a check on the accuracy of our facts and analysis....

We'll buy that. However, our favorite solution to the Times' dilemma comes from Peter Osnos, a senior media fellow at the Century Foundation: Make Google share revenue with creators of content. Writes Osnos:

This is obviously not a solution to the whole problem, but every penny counts, and there are a lot of them out there that are not being shared. Recently Google shut down its small project to help newspapers sell ads online, saying that it wasn’t working. But company spokesmen, especially CEO Eric Schmidt, have repeatedly said they would like to help newspapers, if only they could figure out how. Well, how about sitting down with representatives of the floundering news gatherers and devising a system that would pay royalties for click-throughs supported by advertising

History shows that monopolies, like empires, eventually get into trouble. Google has insisted from the outset that it is a different kind of company, and its record of innovation has been extraordinary. Delivering the news is a great service that Google does exceptionally well. Now they should devise ways to pay for it....

Philanthropy

On his Life & Wealth Balance blog, Richard Krasney looks at the results of a new survey from the Council on Foundations which showed a 28 percent decline in assets last year among 147 respondents and argues that the subsequent flurry of pink slips handed out to investment managers is a sign that many foundations are in "panic mode."

Social Media

If you've created profiles on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter for your organization and are wondering "Now what?", Beth Kanter suggests a strategy of "listen, learn, and adapt." To prepare your nonprofit organization for listening, Kanter offers a few steps.

The third installment of the Social Good podcast series hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and presented by Allison Fine features Katrin Verclas, co-founder and editor of MobileActive, and Chuck Scofield, chief development officer of Share Our Strength, discussing best practices for a text message campaign.

And that's it for this week. Happy Birthday, Abe!

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

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