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22 posts from June 2009

Targeting Grant Dollars by Population Group: The Debate Continues

June 29, 2009

(Larry McGill is the Foundation Center’s senior vice president for research. In a previous post, he wrote about the state of research on diversity in philanthropy.)


Ah, dueling research studies! Each making use of data from the same source -- the Foundation Center -- and each drawing different, yet not incompatible, conclusions. How can that be?

Published earlier this year, the NCRP report Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best analyzed available grants data coded by the Foundation Center as having benefited "marginalized populations" (as defined by NCRP using existing Foundation Center population group categories). The report noted carefully that it only counted grants explicitly targeted to serve such populations.

More recently, the Philanthropic Collaborative's Broad Benefits: Health-Related Giving by Private and Community Foundations analyzed both available grants data coded by the Foundation Center as well as a random sample of two hundred additional grants without population group coding. This allowed Phill Swagel, the report's author, to estimate the total benefit to marginalized populations of foundation giving in the field of health, whether or not these populations were explicitly targeted by grantmakers.

Both analyses make important points. If foundations aren't explicit about the intended beneficiaries of their grantmaking, then we can't know for sure that specific population groups have in fact been strategically targeted. NCRP argues that such strategic targeting is important.

On the other hand, even if foundations don't strategically target specific population groups, such groups may still benefit from their grantmaking. This is what TPC demonstrated in its report.

The third possibility, of course, is that foundations may not be telling us as much as they could about the population groups that benefit from their grantmaking. And that is surely true, as well.

And, by the way, let's remember that not all grantmaking should or even can be targeted to benefit specific population groups. NCRP's report recommends that grantmakers try to allocate at least 50 percent of their grantmaking to benefit marginalized populations, not all of it. That's an implicit acknowledgement that grantmaking cannot be reduced to simplistic equations such as “Grantmaking to Specific Population Groups = Good; “Grantmaking Not to Specific Population Groups = Bad.”

Fortunately, neither NCRP nor the Philanthropic Collaborative reduce the issue to such absurdities. My hat is off to both NCRP's Aaron Dorfman and Phill Swagel for the ways they have so effectively marshaled available data in the service of their respective causes. This is exactly the kind of conversation the Center's data on beneficiary populations should be generating.

-- Larry McGill

Weekend Link Roundup (June 27 - 28, 2009)

June 28, 2009

Chain-links This week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, explains why the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed earlier this week by the House of Representatives, is an important milestone for conservation and climate change efforts in the U.S.


Nonprofits and foundations are invited to enter the 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards competition. Submit your organization's tagline here.


The mortgage crisis left a large number of homes vacant in cities across the nation. The Weakonomist wonders why Habitat for Humanity -- a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build homes for people in need -- has not adapted its tactics to account for this reality. "The continuation of the program in [its] current form," writes the Weakonomist, "is a bit insensitive to the times." The head of HFH Los Angeles responded via Twitter, ensuring all that the organization has programs in place to address the needs of people who have lost homes in the economic downturn.

So-called innovation prizes like the X Prize were a big trend in 2008. This year, in contrast, writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, we're seeing a lot more "charity challenges" that involve some form of matching grant. Surely another sign of these uncertain economic times.

Nonprofit Management

A recent National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report concludes that many of the foundations which lost money in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme had fewer than five trustees on their boards. "Small [board] size or not," writes Mike Burns on his Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, "this failure by foundations was about systems and policies and due diligence -- none of which appear to have been in place enough to prevent this very ugly and sad outcome for all."

Social Innovation

On IssueLab's new Footnotes blog, Gabriela Fitz asks how social innovation will be funded over the next couple of years if budget-constrained foundations and philanthropists only support their existing grantees, and what sorts of innovative projects will simply disappear because they don't have the necessary funds to continue their work? Excellent questions, Gabriela.

Social Media

On the Buzz Machine, Jeff Jarvis offers his always sharp take on what the confluence of events in Iran and Michael Jackson's death tells us about media, social media, and the future of journalism.

The Case Foundation has published an assessment of the foundation's first-ever Giving Challenge. Allison Fine, co-author of the report (along with Beth Kanter) offers her take on the fifty-day event, which raised $1.8 million from more than 71,000 donors and benefited thousands of causes.


Does All for Good, an aggregation platform for volunteer opportunities in the U.S. built with support from the Craigslist Foundation and Google, compete with existing Web sites such as Social Actions? That's a question many people are debating on the Social Edge site, where Social Actions founder Peter Deitz is hosting a discussion about competition and collaboration in the social sector. It's an important conversation, and dozens of people have weighed in with comments.

The Obama administration's enthusiasm for community service has inched the country closer to embracing a culture of service, writes Rachel Chong, social entrepreneur, on the Huffington Post. However, there's more work to be done. Writes Chong:

We are still far from a world where every nonprofit can access pro bono services or where every professional can easily give his or her skills. Through the Web, we've brought volunteers and nonprofits together, but now we must figure how to get them work together in ways that consistently result in positive outcomes. The cultural gap between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds is vast. We need a scalable solution that helps nonprofit managers and for-profit professionals communicate effectively so that both parties get the most out of their volunteer experiences together. When we've accomplished this, not only will service be part of the fabric of American lives, but nonprofit and for-profit professionals will be finally speaking the same language....


In a recent PhilanTopic post, Christine Gumm, president and CEO of the Women's Funding Network, offered her take on a new report issued by the Foundation Center (in partnership with WFN)which spotlights the growing trend of giving by and for women. Gumm points out that women's funds have developed a democratic model of giving, "with donors and grantees sharing grantmaking decisions." On her Nonprofit Leadership 601 blog, Heather Carpenter says that's all well and good, but then asks, "Why is it that only women's philanthropy strives for mutuality?" Adds Carpenter, "If we are truly trying to change the world, wouldn't it be best if all of philanthropy strives for collaboration and mutuality?"

What did we miss? Use the comments section below to submit your favorite recent posts.

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: Katherine Fulton on the Future of Philanthropy

What comes to mind when you think about philanthropy? Chances are, says Katherine Fulton, president of the San Francisco-based Monitor Institute, you'd end up with a list that includes words like closed, small, slow, fragmented, and short. But it doesn't have to be that way. As Fulton explains in this short, powerful talk, the same disruptive technologies that have upended industry after industry are beginning to transform philanthropy in profound ways. And while we don't yet have a language to adequately describe this transformation, we can recognize some of the innovations that are driving it, including mass collaboration, online marketplaces, aggregated giving, innovation competitions, and social investing. Where is it all leading? We can't be sure, says Fulton -- in part because we are acting our way into a new way of thinking, rather than thinking our way into a new way of acting. But we should take comfort from and be inspired by the fact that each of us has more power to make a difference and create a better, safer, more just world than at any time in human history. Are we are up to the challenge? Time will tell. (Filmed: March 2007; Running time: 12:34)

Liked this talk? Try one of these:

-- Mitch Nauffts

Robert Flaherty Film Seminar

June 26, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media's new Media Database.)

Flaherty_seminar Documentary filmmakers, teachers, librarians, students, film critics, and festival programmers from around the globe are participating in the 55th annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, thanks in part to fellowships provided by the New England-based Lef Foundation and the Philadelphia Foundation. The weeklong marathon of documentaries brings the films’ makers (this year from the U.S., Russia, Iraq, India, Israel, Syria, Colombia, Finland, Mali, and Poland) together with other film professionals to see and discuss a range of films. More than forty short or feature-length film or video works will be presented this year.

Founded in 1954 by Frances Flaherty, the widow of pioneering documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North), the seminar began as a small group of friends discussing Flaherty's works. Now with an office in New York City, the organization's main program remains the seminar, held this year at Colgate University in upstate New York and programmed by independent curator Irina Leimbacher. Ten presenting filmmakers and another 160 participants have been watching six or more hours of film/video each day and engaging in vigorous debate about documentary structure, intent, look, sound, and impact -- all off it somehow related to the theme "Witnesses, Monuments, Ruins."

"Flaherty is unique," said program director Mary Kerr. "It's an opportunity to see incredible work and exchange ideas, but without the marketplace element of film festivals."

Continue reading »

Animating the Newspaper Business, or 'Z-Philanthra', Journalism Superhero!

June 25, 2009

(Susan Herr is the founder of PhilanthroMedia, a New York City-based new media company working to promote dialogue for discerning donors and advance ideas that matter. Her op-ed piece "It's Time to Reassess Venture Philanthropy 2.0" appeared in PND in February 2007. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Zphilanthra_KimPossible Hollywood and Marvel Comics are missing a bet if they don't pick up where the final season of HBO's The Wire left off by tapping the drama inherent in the decimation of America's newspaper industry.

Consider the cast of characters. An Evil Publisher -- like the Los Angeles Times’ David Hiller, who gutted his award-winning newsroom to save the once-enormous profits it generated. A Valiant Chief Editor -- like James O'Shea who got the boot from Hiller for standing up for his scrappy reporters. A Deluded Entrepreneur -- like real estate tycoon Sam Zell, whose leveraged buyout of both the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times proved he thinks he can hold back the ocean. Add to the mix a motley assortment of Nefarious Punks, including DailyKos founder Markos "Kos" Moulitsas and Dastardly Diva Ariana Huffington, who is old enough to know better but is still ruining everything! Bang! Pow! Ratta-tat-tat!

Our blockbuster formula even has sex appeal, with SuperDonors like Herb and Marion Sandler, who are quietly spending millions to advance nonprofit journalistic innovations such as ProPublica. In that spirit, our Heroine could be a bombshell named Z-Philanthra who couples uncanny understanding of philanthropic strategy with deep pockets sewn into a costume that would make the AvengersEmma Peel pea-green with envy.

Any big-time producer smart enough to know how HUGE this idea is would have booked the red-eye (or driven a hybrid?) to NYC last month to attend a panel discussion hosted by Philanthropy New York entitled "Internet to Newspapers: Drop Dead." Since I didn't see anyone wearing all black, I'll provide a recap of the philanthropic approaches discussed there that could form the basis for Z-Philanthra's efforts. And, for any producers who might be interested, I’ll provide an assessment (on a scale of one to four "lasers") of how our heroine might view their plausibility:

Option #1 -- Foundations Should Invest Big to Save Journalism! Who can blame Nicholas Lemann, dean of and Henry R. Luce Professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, for offering this option to a roomful of funders? Lemann described newsgathering as an expensive, ongoing function, and confirmed the obvious: foundations usually prefer project-based support. But since Lemann is a creative guy, he suggested that "covering the city of Baltimore forever" could be the project.

(1 Laser) Z-Philanthra isn't the only one who has been around long enough to know that massive, multiyear general operating support grants aren't going to happen in this economy -- or any other. (And altering that reality surely is a job for another superhero!)

Option #2 -- Switch the Bottom Line! If owners can't make massive profits from newspapers anymore, how about promoting "savvy restructuring and philanthropic capital that can recreate a different kind of newspaper, one that truly serves the public good"? That was the approach offered by Vince Stehle, program officer at the Surdna Foundation, in a Chronicle of Philanthropy piece, "It's Time for Newspapers to Become Nonprofit Organizations." Stehle pointed to the St. Petersburg Times and the London-based Guardian, both nonprofits, to demonstrate the viability of this approach.

(3 Lasers) As Vince knows, and the Nonprofit Fund's Clara Miller sagely noted, "nonprofit status is not a business plan." That's why Z-Philanthra could wield her dollars and charm (in that order) to pool philanthropic capital and collaboratively advance savvy restructuring. It won't work for every newspaper, but it certainly makes good sense in key markets.

Option #3 -- Government Should Pay! Victor Pickard, senior research fellow at the media reform organization Free Press, described a "national journalism strategy" that endorses the idea of alternative operating structures such as nonprofits and L3Cs. Other short-term components of the strategy include tax incentives for failing newspapers to divest their holdings to owners committed to public service, and a call to fold a journalism jobs program into the AmeriCorps program. Long-term strategies mentioned by Pickard include the establishment of a government-funded R&D pool and support for a substantially expanded public media system.

(3 Lasers) The Free Press report offers a credible menu of "pick and choose" options for even the most project-oriented foundations, but each would also require intensive advocacy -- another tactic foundations are usually reticent to support. That doesn't make several of the solutions Victor provided any less right-on.

Option #4 -- Let the Lab Rats Run Free! While most foundation presidents only attend panel discussions to be on the panel, Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, actually attended as a participant! In that role, he described the Knight News Challenge, a competition designed to identify technologies and digital platforms that bring news and information to communities in new ways. Also on the panel was the Berks County (PA) Community Foundation's Heidi Williamson, who described how Knight support, coupled with a major bequest, is advancing a Web-based community "hub" in the region that will include in-depth reports on key quality-of-life issues by independent investigative reporters, video uploads from "citizen" journalists, and live community-focused cable tv shows.

(4+ Lasers) Knight is advancing a crowdsourcing (I call it "philanthrosourcing") approach that encourages a thousand innovative flowers to bloom. The approach is supported by an online "garage" Knight has set up to connect fifty "coaches" (past Knight News Challenge jurors and winners) with innovative thinkers developing new ideas and models designed to move journalism into the twenty-first century. In other words, out of the ivory tower and into the nooks and crannies where American ingenuity lives and flourishes. I do believe our heroine is ready for her first kiss!

-- Susan Herr

Women Are Bright Spot Amid Economic Gloom

June 23, 2009

(Christine Gumm is president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, a global movement of 145 women’s foundations on six continents with a shared commitment to creating lasting social change by unleashing the power and potential of women and girls. In her previous post for PhilanTopic, she wrote about some of the women who are changing the face of philanthropy.)

WFN_conference2009_logo It came as no surprise to learn via the latest report from Giving USA that philanthropic giving in 2008 fell by the largest percentage in five decades. All around, news of philanthropy's retreat after one of the worst market declines in living memory weighs on us. But already there are signs of a re-emergent philanthropy, a "New Philanthropy" that is more democratic, more robust, and right-sized for the new millennium.

And women are leading the way. A growing number of philanthropic institutions are realizing that investing in women and girls serves to lift up entire communities -- something that women's funds have known and practiced for thirty years.

A new report produced by the Foundation Center in partnership with the Women's Funding Network validates this trend. The report, Accelerating Change for Women and Girls: The Role of Women's Funds, found that giving by and for women is growing more rapidly than overall giving. Funders -- including innovators like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Jennifer and Peter Buffett's NoVo Foundation -- are increasingly tuning into the potential for accelerating social change by using a gender lens in making funding decisions. They realize that social investments placed in the hands of women mean that the children of those women will be educated, their families will be more stable, and their communities will be strengthened. We're not talking about making a difference for half the world's population; we're talking about all of it.

The report holds up this new, more democratic model of philanthropy as a beacon for all, re-imagining philanthropy as a horizontal collaboration of trusted equals. Too often over the years, philanthropy was dispensed top-down and vertically, and was not informed by the wisdom of solutions cultivated at the grassroots. Women's funds, like no other area of philanthropy, have for three decades pioneered and developed a democratic model of giving, with donors and grantees sharing grantmaking decisions. Most of those grants, the Foundation Center report finds, are focused on economic justice and sustainability.

But grantmaking is not all this new model entails. As the report makes clear, women's funds assert their leadership beyond funding by promoting the wisdom of collaboration in larger contexts -- whether at the community, national, or international level. They also recognize that their work is further strengthened by advocacy and by thought leadership that inspires ever greater scale in advancing solutions to create social change.

Part of what is energizing funding for women is the growing phenomenon of women's financial independence and financial power. And women's funds are leading the way in fostering and directing that power by developing and imparting deep expertise on the subject of women and money. Donors to women's funds and leaders of those funds realized decades ago the connection between money and solving the critical challenges facing women.

Despite much progress made by women's funds, however, many critical challenges still remain. For example:

  • Women comprise 70 percent of the 1.5 billion people living on less than $1 a day.
  • Women grow half the world's food, but own just one percent of the world's farm land.
  • The gender-wage ratio in the United States has not improved significantly for nearly two decades. Women are still paid only 77.8 cents for every dollar a man makes for full-time work. The disparity is even greater for women of color: African-American women make 63 cents and Latinas make only 52 cents for every dollar that a white male earns.

Women's funds spotlight glaring inequalities like these by funneling money and other resources -- knowledge, best practices, and connections to peers, allies and advocates -- to women-led organizations on the ground that have the ideas and solutions to improve their communities. As women's funds have grown, they have gained reputations as financially savvy innovators that know how to utilize money for the greater social good.

We have only begun to see what is possible as women at all levels of giving come to see themselves as philanthropists in partnership with women's funds. The most dynamic recent example of this is Women Moving Millions, a campaign led by the Women's Funding Network in partnership with Helen LaKelly Hunt and her sister Swanee Hunt that focused on raising gifts of $1 million and more from high-net-worth women for women's funds around the world.

Even amid the current economic crisis, the campaign exceeded its $150 million goal earlier this year, raising a total of $180 million from individual women donors. In Dallas alone, the Dallas Women's Foundation grew its number of million-dollar-and-up gifts from one to an astonishing eighteen. Such an achievement suggests enormous dynamism among high-net-worth women. And yet it is but part of a larger picture in which women at all levels of society and means recognize and embrace the importance and power of funding positive social change.

Women's funds have a rich history of redefining philanthropy and expanding the ranks of those participating in it as well as benefiting from it. Today, they and the larger philanthropic community are poised to translate this leadership into real impact through greater investments in women and girls. In a troubled time for philanthropy, it is women's leadership that is shining a bright light on creative solutions to inequity and a path to justice.

-- Christine Gumm

Social Networks and Getting People to Act

June 22, 2009

Bullseye Last week, my pal Bruce Trachtenberg, executive director of the Communications Network, wrote a terrific post about social networking in which he asked, How is it making us better (if it is)? And how is it helping us do a better job of communicating (if it is)? Bruce flattered me by including a few of my thoughts on the subject in his post. My main point: Social media, while labor intensive ("high touch"), is powerful precisely because it fosters extended networks based on one-to-one relationships.

But later, after reading the post, I began to wonder. In what ways are the relationships forged through social media different than the relationships we establish in the offline world? Are the friends and acquaintances I make through social media more likely to be persuaded by something I say or write than members of my extended family or my college buddies? And at what point does the law of diminishing returns kick in? A hundred? A hundred and twenty (the optimal size, according to anthropologists, for primitive social groups throughout human history)? More? Fewer?

I was getting confused, so I decided to check back in with Bruce. It all depends on your reasons for seeking out those connections in the first place, he said. Low levels of network engagement may be perfectly fine for some things; for others -- persuading friends or supporters to sign a petition, to contact their elected representatives, to donate to your cause -- the level of engagement may have to be higher. The most important thing to remember, however, is that it's not about how many people you know; it's about who you know.

That point is underscored by a terrific 2006 report Bruce pointed me to. Written and researched by the Communications Leadership Institute and Spitfire Strategies, the report, Discovering the Activation Point: Smart Strategies to Make People Act, argues that the number of people needed to make a difference is usually smaller than you think and is rarely "as many as possible." The key to creating change, the authors write, is in persuading the right people at the right time to take a specific action.

Who are the "right" people (i.e., your target audience)? They're the folks you actually have a chance of persuading -- either those who already support your cause or those willing to give you a fair hearing. And, for obvious reasons, you're likely to find and connect with more of them through your social networks than through other channels.

The report is full of strategies, tips, and good questions to help you get to the "activation point":

  • What do you need to persuade people to do?
  • What is the smallest number of people you can activate to get what you want?
  • What does your target audience already know (or think it knows) about your issue?
  • Does your audience need more information or more reason to care or act?
  • How can you phrase your ask so it sounds like a suggestion rather than a command?
  • Do your messages show you respect your audience?
  • How can you acknowledge that your audience is pressed for time and/or resources?
  • What would make your efforts more timely?
  • How can you showcase the benefits of your audience taking action?
  • When you follow up, how can you make it personal?

You can download a free copy of the report here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (June 20 - 21, 2009)

June 21, 2009

Chain-links This week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Joe Waters, director of cause marketing for a Boston-based nonprofit, defends his profession in this thoughtful post. (Be sure to check out the forty-two -- and counting -- comments. Good stuff.)


As he explains in this post, everything Donor Power Blogger Jeff Brooks knows about fundraising he learned from the Beatles.

Nonprofit Management

On the Creation in Common blog, Carlo Cuesta says that telling nonprofits to act more like for-profits merely reinforces negative stereotypes. The statement, writes Cuesta, "furthers the perception that if you do not operate with a profit motive you do not understand business. It says: 'for-profit expertise trumps nonprofit expertise.' It is one of the greatest barriers to deep collaboration among board and staff members, pitting the knowledgeable business leader against the knowledgeable community worker, money vs. mission...." (H/t: Allison Fine)

Guest blogging on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Eric Kessler, founder of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors, argues nonprofit mergers and alliances are more likely to work when "forward-thinking organizations put mission first and think strategically about how they can most effectively work together to achieve shared goals."


On the Nonprofit and Foundation Advocacy blog, Sue Hoechstetter argues that the most interesting news out of a recent Bradley Center discussion about the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best wasn't the discussion of the benchmarks themselves but the fact that "sector leaders across the political spectrum seem to agree that increasing multiyear, general support and increasing giving to marginalized populations are priority values that should guide grantmaking." Adds Hoechstetter:

For example, with much of the nonprofit sector experiencing economic crises and general support funding on the decrease, the Philanthropy Roundtable and Council on Foundations could together develop a strategic campaign to increase their members' general support grantmaking. If a joint project is not feasible, the groups could initiate separate campaigns encouraging increases and learn from each other's efforts. It would be refreshing and productive if the next round of seminars on Criteria could be devoted to "how" to immediately facilitate increased funding to the marginalized, rather than to whether or not foundations should be directed to do so.....

Social Entrepreneurship

Echoing Green, a New York-based nonprofit that provides seed funding to entrepreneurs with bold ideas for social change, has announced its 2009 class of fellows.

The creators of the Firefox Web browser, in partnership with Idealist, Social Actions, and many other organizations, have announced Mozilla Service Week, September 14-21, an initiative designed to encourage individuals to step up and use the World Wide Web to better their community.

For her innovative work as the co-head of the world's wealthiest foundation, Melinda French Gates has been named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business (#2) by Fast Company magazine. (H/T: Charity Navigator blog)

In conjunction with World Refugee Day, Britt Bravo interviews Kjerstin Erickson, founder of FORGE (Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment), a California-based nonprofit that works to empower refugees in Zambia and Botswana.

Social Media

As Nathaniel Whittemore (and others) have noted, Twitter has played a major role in disseminating news about the contested presidential election and subsequent mass protests in Iran. Indeed, the "Twitter Revolution" in Iran, says Tim Kane on the Kauffman Foundation's Growthology blog, is the first ever "geek-led revolution." Which should surprise no one, adds Kane, given that Iran boasts more bloggers per capita than any country in the world. Cool.

Communications Network executive director Bruce Trachtenberg shares what he has learned about social networks and networking in this post. (Love the accompanying graphic.)

And on the Harvard Business Review blog, Alexandra Samuel says that businesses can learn a lot from nonprofits and NGOs about how to use social media to deepen customer relationships, share knowledge, and strengthen teams.

That's it for now. Happy Father's Day!

-- Regina Mahone

GFEM Launches Media Database

June 17, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. In her last post, she wrote about funding for documentary film and new media. )

GFEM_logo_140 Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media rolled out their new Media Database on Monday at the annual SILVERDOCS conference/film festival in Silver Spring, Maryland.

At the event, GFEM executive director Alyce Myatt exhorted the audience of about fifty filmmakers to think beyond "cinema" to how they engage their audiences, the social impact their films can have, and how they can partner with organizations that use their films as part of a broader advocacy or service campaign. At the same time, Myatt lamented the decline in cinematic qualities among U.S. documentary films. "They’ve lost their aesthetic sense," she told those in attendance. "A good story about a critical issue should still be told artfully."

GFEM, which works to advance the field of media arts and public interest media funding, launched its Media Database at the Council on Foundations conference earlier this spring, but the effort is still in its early stages, with about 150 projects in the database at this point and another hundred in development. "As an organization, we serve funders," said project director Pamela Harris. "But the database is a bridge to film and video makers, radio and media advocacy projects." Grantseekers and grantmakers access the database through separate portals on the GFEM Web site, with profiles of the former behind one door and funders (or anyone else) able to search media projects by topic behind the other.

The how-to session at SILVERDOCS walked session attendees through the Media Database interface, starting with tagging. Selecting the right tag from a list that includes civil rights, disability, gender, and so on is essential to piquing funders' interest -- although the site is also being used as a resource by broadcasters and social issue organizations and shows up in Google searches.

Continue reading »

PND Job Board Statistics

June 16, 2009

A couple of people have asked for a graphical treatment of the trends mentioned in Alice Itty's Friday post, Job Boards vs. 'People Searching,' so here you go:

Jobcounts_Jan2007 thru June 2009

(The June '09 number is a projection based on actual activity over the first fifteen days of the month.)

As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts....

-- Regina Mahone

Why Grantmaking on Media Policy Still Matters

June 15, 2009

(Becky Lentz, an assistant professor of media and public policy at McGill University in Montreal, was program officer for electronic media policy at the Ford Foundation from 2001-2007. An initial version of this article was commissioned by Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media.)

Finger_frame Noteworthy U.S. journalist and media reform advocate Bill Moyers has said that "speech is the oxygen of democracy." Assuming he's right, then by analogy our communications infrastructure serves as its vital respiratory system. Yet, too few realize the importance of the media policies that govern how speech flows into and out of our democratic body politic in relation to how our democracy functions.

Media policy advocates for the public interest have won many significant victories in the past several years:

But what do these victories mean to John and Jane Q. Public and the well-being of our democracy?

Like environmental protection laws and regulations, media policy involves safeguarding our broadcasting and telecommunications environment. It guarantees non-discriminatory and affordable access to the means to speak and be heard. In today's increasingly globalized media and communications environment, keeping democracy's respiratory system for speech accessible requires diligent attention to how media policy issues are addressed -- by corporations, the Office of the President, Congress, the FCC and other regulatory agencies, as well as the courts. This is necessary because, increasingly, electronic communication networks form the backbone of many other essential public and private services such as education, health care, trade, economic development, national security, and finance. Yet, despite its significance, the dynamic field of public interest-oriented individuals and organizations involved in media policy work in the United States continues to receive less public and funder attention than its counterparts in these equally important issue sectors.

Media policy is no less important than, say, environmental policy. Unlike environmentalism, however, media policy issues are difficult to describe in ways that instantly engage hearts, minds, and imaginations. Consider asking a friend or family member what environmentalists do and you're likely to get a straightforward answer regardless of whether that person agrees with environmental activists' tactics or priorities: environmentalists work to protect scarce, essential, and therefore valuable public resources; the quality of our air, water, and land depend on it. Pose the same question about media policy advocates, and the question will probably inspire a puzzled response -- if you get one at all.

Unlike environmental and food or drug industry regulation, it is more difficult to "see" the impact of good or bad media policy. We "get," visually and viscerally, how poor regulation results in polluted water or air, contaminated food, and dangerous medicines. However, the impacts of a deregulated media environment can be harder to see, much like it has been difficult to see until recently the effects of lax regulation in the financial services industry.

Due in part to the challenges of communicating about media policy, much of the communication about its issues -- including media diversity, digital TV, electronic privacy, concentrated media ownership, copyright law, Internet governance, and broadband access -- has too often lacked a compelling, cohesive, and engaging narrative that sparks political passions. As a high-level representative from a prominent private foundation once suggested, media policy is a "second bounce" issue: something subordinate to more frontline concerns. Established policy areas such as education, health care, the environment, economic development, and human rights occupy a policy foreground, whereas media policy concerns operate in the background -- except when their effects come to light in controversies around news, public affairs, or entertainment content.

Take for example the January 2002 chemical spill in Minot, North Dakota, that ignited national outrage about radio industry consolidation. According to Eric Klinenberg, author of Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media, "a train derailed...leaking thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the air. One person died and hundreds were treated for immediate health problems. The city's six non-religious commercial radio stations -- all owned by Clear Channel -- never aired warnings for local residents." (Quoted from Democracy Now’s January 2007 piece "EXCLUSIVE...911 Calls in North Dakota Town Reveal Dangers of Media Consolidation.")

Unfortunately, this type of controversy rouses the public's interest in media regulation only momentarily, in the same way that an episodic salmonella outbreak might stir consumers to take note for a week or so. Add to this the fact that consumer protection in the U.S. focuses primarily on products, not services like broadcasting. Consumer concerns about obscenity or indecency in the media, perceived bias in news coverage, contested children's programming, or the filtering of online content by Internet service providers cannot be addressed by simply recalling a product from vendors' store shelves.

Even so, I would suggest that all these issues are merely symptoms of underlying structural concerns regarding the respiratory system for the oxygen of democracy: speech. Addressing them requires legislating, regulating, or adjudicating the structure of our media and communications system, as opposed to controlling the content flowing through it. This is because media policy in the U.S. is situated within the legal framework of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To be sure, there is a lively ongoing debate in this country about the role of government in our society, including the benefits and drawbacks of regulation itself. Despite this, I suspect few would dispute that there is a valuable regulatory role for government. The food and drug industries are telling examples.

With the regulation of speech itself prohibited, the focus moves to the structure of the industries that produce, distribute, exhibit, and facilitate the exchange of information using electronic communication resources -- the public airwaves, in the case of radio and television broadcasting, along with cable and telephone networks.

Thus, funders interested in helping to sustain a democratic infrastructure for speech, information, and knowledge exchange should consider supporting that which contributes to keeping industry, elected officials, and media regulators on their toes: a healthy sector of organizations that can advocate for the public's interests on a variety of media policy issues.

By "healthy sector," I mean the following:

  • A robust number of enduring, diverse, and collaborating organizations with the collective capacity to move hearts, minds, and imaginations about media policy issues;
  • Sustainable forms of financial support for these organizations' activities;
  • The ability of these organizations to attract and retain high-quality organizational leaders, skilled staff, board members, and volunteers;
  • A diverse number of committed, prominent, and respected spokespersons for the sector; and
  • Public recognition of their achievements, which includes press coverage and even scholarly attention.

As already discussed, media policy work includes attention to a variety of interrelated concerns that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Decision-making about communications via radio and television broadcasting, cable and satellite TV, telephones, and the Internet;
  • Laws affecting electronic access to content -- copyright, patents, and trademarks -- known as "intellectual property"; and
  • Access to government information laws, and privacy rights.

Some funders have chosen to focus on media content concerns such as media representations of minorities, documentary filmmaking, or protecting children from dangerous online content. Others support efforts that target industry structure and behavior with the aim of reducing media ownership concentration. Still others invest in specific issues such as electronic privacy or focus on improving the professional feeder system for journalists going into industry jobs and their expertise in media policy issues. (One of the largest investors in journalism education is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2007 it made a $2.5 million grant to Yale Law School to start the Knight Law and Media Policy Program.)

In addition, "sector-oriented" funders have identified dynamics within the policy advocacy sector itself to increase its capacity for collective action over the long term. This has required deliberate attention to strategies such as linking grassroots organizations with national advocacy campaigns, investing in leadership development, communications and fundraising training, and even nonprofit management assistance.

Given the increasingly scarce resources available during these uncertain financial times, funders will be looking for sharper focus for their investments in the coming months and years. There is renewed attention to projects addressing the future of journalism. Should funders also be concentrating their limited resources on building and sustaining a system of "independent" content producers and distributors, with the aim of shoring up what is referred to as "public service media"? (One of the most ambitious efforts in this area is Ford’s $50 million investment to strengthen and promote public media.)

GFEM members should congratulate themselves for the contributions they have already made to this dynamic field of policy work. They are pioneers guiding others toward the crucial intersection of technology, politics, economics, and culture. At stake is the well-being and future of the respiratory system for the oxygen of democracy -- with enormous political and economic implications for U.S. society and our increasingly interconnected world.

-- Becky Lentz

Documentary Film and New Media

June 14, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. In her last post, she wrote about the "green trees" movement in Washington, D.C. )

Film_strip New media wasn't the only topic on the agenda at the "Fundraising and Financing for Documentaries" event this weekend at Hunter College in New York City. But it was certainly the elephant in the room -- in this case, an auditorium filled to overflowing with aspiring documentary filmmakers seeking advice and an opportunity to pitch their projects to a star roster of funders and broadcasters.

Presented by Women Make Movies and New York Women in Film & Television, the program featured representatives from HBO, the Sundance Channel, A&E, the public TV series POV and Independent Lens, as well as funders such as Cinereach, Chicken & Egg, the National Black Programming Consortium, and Independent Television Service (ITVS). Those in attendance were rewarded with lots of advice on presenting proposals to funders (summary: "read the guidelines") and making award-winning films. Character development, artful storytelling, stunning visuals, and compelling social issues are still what broadcasters and audiences want, and filmmakers were encouraged to share their passion when approaching distributors; passion can tilt the balance and convince a distributor to pick up a film, especially if it happens to be a film by a first-time director -- the astonishing Trouble the Waters being an example.

Later in the day, a panel of independent doc-makers described their use of Twitter, MySpace, and other social networks for fundraising. The examples ranged from simple, self-managed email solicitations sent to friends and acquaintances to the use of commercial online fundraising sites that post worthwhile projects and a time-limited fundraising goal for each project -- sort of a cross between a Jerry Lewis telethon and eBay. The panelists also focused on the ways they use their own Web sites, blogs, and Facebook pages to build an audience and create "buzz" for their films through the posting of actual clips, regular updates on the film's progress, and links to partner organizations.

Continue reading »

Job Boards vs. 'People Searching'

June 12, 2009

(Alice Itty manages the PND job board. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Up-trend-arrow I came across a blog post by Dan Schawbel recently that resonated with me. Schwabel, a Gen Y marketing professional and author of the Brazen Careerist blog, takes a dim view of the usefulness of online job boards. Instead, he favors an unplugged approach he calls "people searching." A "people searcher" methodically identifies the top companies or organizations she wants to work for, finds people who are employed at those companies, and networks like crazy until she gets a job offer. Schawbel's post spells out the ten steps a jobseeker should take to get the process rolling.

Okay, I'll admit it, after reading the post I was a little nervous. I've spent the last eight years of my professional life posting jobs (among other responsibilities) to the PND job board, and from where I sit there's still a place for a service like ours.

Sure, if you want to stand out from the crowd -- especially in these recessionary times -- you have to schmooze and network and, like Blanche DuBois, rely on the kindness of friends and acquaintances, if not strangers. But for the newly unemployed, many of whom are overwhelmed by the prospect of having to find another job, online boards are a convenient and comfortable place to start their search.

They're also a handy, if completely unscientific, barometer of what's going on in the economy. I've been tracking the number of submissions to the PND job board for almost eight years and while I hesitate to call our board a proxy for the nonprofit economy, I do think the numbers have an interesting story to tell. Submissions had grown steadily over the last few years, with 2007 being a banner year for the board, with just over 6,200 jobs jobs submitted. But submissions started to tail off in December of 2007, just as the mainstream media was suggesting the economy had slipped into recession. The number of submissions continued to decline in the first half of 2008, and then, coincident with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September, things fell off the table, with the number of jobs submitted during the last three months of the year down 25 percent, 50 percent, and 44 percent, respectively, compared to the previous year.

I'm not going to say the worst is behind us, but the number of jobs submitted to the board has been trending slightly higher since March and suggests that the "green shoots" everyone is talking about may not be a mirage. Who knows, maybe the nonprofit sector -- which, as a recent report suggests, has become the largest private employer in New York City, adding more than 50,000 jobs to the local economy between 2000 and 2007 while the rest of the city’s private economy lost jobs -- may lead us out of the funk we've been in. Not likely, but given massive spending by the government, the growing needs of so many people, and the generosity of Americans, I wouldn't say it's impossible.

In the meantime, if you work at a nonprofit with a job to fill, the PND job board is a great place to start. Postings, which stay on the site for two months (unless you instruct us otherwise), are free for all domestic nonprofit and educational organizations, and will even feature your logo if you ask.

-- Alice Itty

Strategies for Hard Times: The Case for Sustainable Funding

June 11, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he answered some frequently asked questions about how nonprofits stand to gain from the economic stimulus package.)

Green_shoots2 The news from the nonprofit sector is not good. Despite a year-to-date return of more than 5 percent in the S&P 500 that may have brightened the mood for some on Wall Street, there has been little to cheer on Nonprofit Street, where funding and donations are down, demand for services is up, and the future is uncertain. Indeed, a recent article in Crain's New York Business ("Nonprofits Gird for Long Battle," Miriam Souccar, June 7) underscores just how deep and long-lasting the impact of this economic downturn on nonprofits is likely to be.

The release earlier this week of the Giving USA Foundation’s annual survey of charitable giving further confirmed what nonprofit leaders already knew. Overall charitable giving in 2008 dropped 5.7 percent (in inflation-adjusted terms) -- the first decline in overall giving since 1987 and only the second since Giving USA began publishing annual reports in 1956. Given current giving trends and the real prospect they could persist into 2010 and beyond, what steps can and should grantmakers take to help their grantees -- past, present, and prospective -- survive and thrive in these very tough times?

One idea that has begun to gain traction among donors is to think beyond the historic constructs -- project/program, general support, unrestricted, capital, etc. -- that we, as a field, have used to conceptualize our grants.

Instead, a growing number of foundations are beginning to think of themselves as "builders" rather than "buyers." At the risk of oversimplifying the distinction, buyers award grants with an eye to achieving specific programmatic outcomes, while builders, always mindful of outcomes, seek to help grantees strengthen their organizational capacity so as to achieve greater impact in the future. To the extent that "buying" is limited to a relatively short-term transaction rather than a longer-term interest in the organizational well-being of the grantee, it is not an especially productive activity. Which leads me to ask: What foundation would want to be a buyer rather than a builder in today's environment?

Continue reading »

A Victory for Justice

June 10, 2009

Saro-wiwa The announcement that Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed against it by the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured right), a Nigerian environmental activist who, along with eight others, was executed in 1995 by the military regime that ruled Nigeria at the time, should be applauded by anyone who cares about justice, the environment, and the right of nonprofits to advocate on behalf of the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

The bare outlines of the story are as follows (h/t LA Times).

Shell began operating in the Niger Delta, home to more than thirty million people from dozens of ethnic groups, in the late 1950s. As demand for oil, particularly the low-sulfur light crude found in the delta basin, grew over the next thirty years, the company came under attack from local activists for its low-cost production practices and disregard for the environment. The New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and whose attorneys helped initiate the lawsuit, takes it from there:

In the early 1990s, the Ogoni, led by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, began organized, non-violent protests against Shell's practices. Shell grew increasingly concerned with the heightened international prominence of the Ogoni movement and made payments to security forces that they knew to be engaging in human rights violations against the local communities. The military government violently repressed the demonstrations, arrested Ogoni activists, and falsely accused nine Ogoni activists of murder and bribed witnessess to give fake testimony. The nine, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were denied a fair trial and then hanged on November 10, 1995....

While the human rights and environmental justice communities have applauded the settlement, they note that it only applies to the ten individual plaintiffs and "does not resolve outstanding issues between Shell and the Ogoni people." According to the London-based Independent, at least one other trial featuring Shell as a defendent is pending in New York courts. Stay tuned.

For documentation of the legal briefs involved in the case and additional background information, check out the Web sites of CCR and EarthRights International.

-- 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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