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Weekend Link Roundup (January 31 - February 1, 2009)

February 01, 2009

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


In the latest installment of the Cohen Report, Rick Cohen outlines what the nonprofit sector can expect from the economic stimulus package (a/k/a the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) making its way through Congress.

Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, takes a closer look at giving patterns during economic downturns and notes that "during distress a hierarchy of giving for most people...follows the pattern -- Spiritual first, Everything Else second...."

Addressing unemployed financial types and sector-switchers from other battered industries in a recent Fast Company article, Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something.org -- a nonprofit that supports and celebrates the next generation of do-gooders -- writes: "Please stop thinking 'we'd be lucky to have you' when you have no experience in our world." Says Lublin:

Working in the not-for-profit sector is a career. It isn't a sabbatical from your "real" job. We have skills. We require training. (There are master's-degree programs dedicated to this work.) We know how to scrimp, land barter deals, and cut waste. Plus, we're used to being paid less than we're worth....

"The real story in this economy?" she adds. "Consider yourselves lucky if you're able to nab a not-for-profit executive for your for-profit business."


In a recent Inside Philanthropy post, Todd Cohen urges the "giving sector" to "take a hard look at how it operates and fix what is wrong" before it attempts to save the world. Writes Cohen:

Nonprofits need to strengthen their operations, build their capacity so they can secure and absorb more giving, and raise their voice on important policy issues.

Foundations need to pay out more, give more to support nonprofit operations, be more open about what they do, and speak up on social change.

And government needs to do a better job policing the giving sector and making sure it operates fairly and in the light of day....

How does the Obama administration fit into all this? There have been plenty of suggestions on that score, writes Cynthia Gibson, who is blogging again after taking a well-deserved break. And though most are well-intentioned, she adds, they tend to be overly narrow in their scope and ambition. "Where's the parallel desire to pull together some of the best thinkers and 'doers'...to devise an agenda that covers all nonprofits, especially small- to mid-sized groups that comprise nearly three-quarters of the entire sector?" asks Gibson. "If these groups -- and all organizations in the sector -- could use anything, it's a plan for supporting their capacity to provide the kinds of services and products that no else is stepping up to offer, especially for under-served constituencies."


In a NY Times op-ed that got a lot of attention, David Swensen, Yale's chief investment officer, and Michael Schmidt, a financial analyst, argue that newspapers struggling to survive the collapse of their buiness model should seriously consider turning themselves into endowed not-for-profit institutions.

Not so fast, says Allison Fine. Swensen and Schmidt assume that "nonprofit status is intended for companies that don't have a viable business model," and that "raising billions of dollars in endowment funds is doable, particularly in today’s economy." Instead, argues Fine, newspapers need to "reinvent themselves as part of their communities, as a focal point for conversations about issues that are important to their readers (or more accurately, their users)." And while they're at it, they should "form partnerships with local bloggers who can supplement their reporting rather than disdaining [those] efforts."

Nonprofits and Social Media

"Should we [continue] using an industrial measurement model" -- return on investment, or ROI -- "in a digital age?" asks Beth Kanter. As nonprofit organizations try to determine whether and how much they should spend on social media initiatives, what is the best metric for evaluating results? As always, Kanter has a few ideas and has gathered a lot of great resources to inform and stimulate your thinking.

Over at the Getting Attention blog, Nancy Schwartz offers three resources for nonprofits ready to take the podcasting plunge.

"I blame Twitter for my infrequent blogging over the past few weeks," writes Rosetta Thurman on her eponymously named blog. Thurman has only been using the microblogging platform for a few months, but it has already had a dramatic impact on her blogging routine. And as more and more bloggers discover the joys of Twitter, Thurman wonders whether blogging itself will be the next victim of the rapidly changing media landscape.

Speaking of Twitter, check out this great post by Dom Sagolla (@Dom) about how the microblogging service came into being.


PhilanTopic reader Nathaniel Whittemore responds to Bill Gates' first annual philanthropy letter on the Social Entrepreneurship blog and offers three things he'd like to see the Gates Foundation do: create a social investment venture fund; adopt a more aggressive focus on policy as a mechanism for scaling solutions to the problems it is working on; and develop a bottom-up feedback loop.


Taking another look at Bernie Madoff and a number of "mini-Madoff" scandals that have come to light since the New York financier was revealed as a fraud in December, Lucy Bernholz wonders what it all "adds up to -- not just in terms of dollars, organizations, and good work lost, but in other important ways." As always, she provides plenty of food for thought.

And that's it for now. Have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

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