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17 posts from July 2009

Highlights of 'Foundation Yearbook', 2009 Edition

July 31, 2009

Every year at this time, the Foundation Center publishes a new edition of its Foundation Yearbook documenting changes in the actual number, giving, and assets of all U.S. private and community foundations.

This year's edition reports that giving by the country's more than 75,000 grantmaking foundations rose by an estimated 2.8 percent in 2008 to a record $45.6 billion (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars). The chart below illustrates the effect of inflation on U.S. foundation giving over the last decade:

FY_Highlights09 fig1

At the same time, the center estimates that foundation assets dropped a record 21.9 percent in 2008 -- and that foundation giving in 2009 will decline by 8 percent to 13 percent. According to center researchers, several factors may help to lessen the impact on giving of this record decline in assets, including short-term increases in payout rates at some foundations, the practice among many foundations of determining their grants budgets based on a rolling multiyear average of their assets, and commitments made to directly address dislocations caused by the current downturn.

FY_Highlights09 fig2

Other highlights from the report (the numbers are for 2007 -- i.e., pre-financial crisis):

  • Actual number of foundations increased by 2,710 -- compared to a peak annual gain of nearly 6,400 in 2000
  • Assets for the 25 largest foundations increased 11.7 percent
  • Giving by the 25 largest funders jumped over 25 percent, to $8.9 billion
  • Gifts into foundations totaled $46.8 billion, up 28.1 percent from the prior year (2006)
  • Number of foundations receiving gifts and bequests of at least $5 million increased from 1,016 to 1,234

You can download a .pdf version of this year's highlights from the Research area of the center's Web site. Before wrapping up, though, I thought I'd leave you with one more graphic -- this one illustrating the fairly dramatic growth of grantmaking foundations nationally since the mid-1970s. What it shows shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as it mirrors well-documented trends in population growth and distribution over the same thirty-year period. Interesting, all the same.

FY_Highlights09 fig3

-- Mitch Nauffts


July 30, 2009

PubHub, the Foundation Center's catalog of annotated links to foundation-sponsored reports, now has a widget. You can get it here or via the "Get the widget" link under the search/browse box in the PubHub application.

The widget displays the cover images of the three reports most recently added to PubHub, which is updated daily. You can scroll between reports by clicking on the arrows and mouse over a cover image to see the report's title and publisher. Clicking on a cover will take you to the report's page in PubHub, which also lists the report's author(s), publication date and type, funder(s), and subject area(s), along with a short description of the contents. From that page, you can also link to the full report on the publisher's Web site ("PubHub link") and, in a growing number of instances, to a copy in FOLIO, a permanent digital repository created by the IUPUI University Library for the long-term preservation of foundation-funded publications. (You can learn more about FOLIO here.)

The widget includes a keyword search function that enables you to search the full text of over 3,900 reports. You can also click on "PubHub" at the top of the widget to see a weekly selection of Featured Topic reports; browse reports by organization, subject, publication date and/or type; or view the ten, twenty-five, or fifty most recently cataloged reports.

Want to share a link to a report with your colleagues? Each report's PubHub page provides a variety of tools for that purpose, including e-mail, delicious, Digg, Google bookmarks, Reddit, and StumbleUpon.

The PubHub widget is another way for nonprofit and foundation staff, researchers, and the intellectually curious to share knowledge. By adding it to your blog or Web site, you can help nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic community share case studies, best practices, lessons learned, and other insights. Let us know what you think.

-- Kyoko Uchida

'Envisioning Our Future': Let the Conversation Begin

July 29, 2009

Conversations As Michael Seltzer noted in a post yesterday, Independent Sector is kicking off its "Envisioning Our Future" initiative this week with a three-day "StrategyLab" event in Colorado Springs. The invitation-only event brings together some seventy-five nonprofit and philanthropic leaders -- presumably to discuss how they can turn IS's vision of "a national conversation about the challenges and possibilities that will shape the ability of nonprofits and foundations to improve lives for years to come" into reality.

Gen Y blogger Rosetta Thurman wrote a nice post about the initiative last week in which she expressed her concern (shared by others) that the effort, as conceived, will turn into a series of conversation involving "the same old leaders" talking about the same old topics. In a press release announcing this week's event, IS tackles that concern head on, noting (among other things) that the initiative will employ "an iterative process for problem solving using a number of highly participatory activities that encourage interaction among those with different perspectives"; and that it will work to "encourage participation from people associated with organizations of all sizes, mission areas, and locations, as well as from thought leaders throughout society."

Sounds reasonable to me, and I'm looking forward to seeing the initiative unfold over the next few months.

Not everyone is as patient as I am, however. In an "open letter" posted on his blog earlier today, Bill Huddleston, of the Huddleston Consulting Group, offers a list of seven nonprofit issues deserving of participants' "consideration, discussion, and action." Here's the Cliff Notes version:

Continue reading »

'Envisioning Our Future': A Bold Initiative Comes to Nonprofit Street

July 28, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the case for sustainable funding.)

Crowd_in_motion Reinventing organizations under the best of circumstances is not easy, so imagine how difficult it is to promote organizational change and innovation in tough economic times. Yet, at the invitation of Independent Sector, that's exactly what seventy-five nonprofit leaders hope to do this week. With the support of the El Pomar Foundation, they will be gathering for the next three days in Colorado Springs to launch IS’ Envisioning Our Future initiative.

The goals of the gathering could not be more timely: to elicit new thinking and strategies that nonprofit managers can use to stave off the financial wolves at their doors while also examining how government, business, foundations, and nonprofits can work in concert to strengthen the social and civic fabric at the local, national, and global levels.

In announcing the effort last week, IS president Diana Aviv was quick to point out that the gathering is meant to kick off a rich conversation that will culminate with a series of "labs" at Independent Sector’s annual meeting in Detroit this fall. Stephen Heinz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Marguerite W. Kondracke, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, are co-chairing the campaign.

Of course, I couldn't help but notice that the name IS chose for the initiative -- Envisioning Our Future -- is reminiscent of the title of my own book, Securing Your Organization’s Future, the idea for which was "birthed" almost thirty years ago as the Reagan Revolution was gathering steam and responsibility for the public's welfare was being "devolved" from the public to the private sector.

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Economic Crisis Update: The Foundation and Nonprofit Response

July 27, 2009

Econ_crisis Many of you dialed in to last week's Turning Crisis Into Opportunity teleconference featuring Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center, and Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of GuideStar. Moderated by Katherina Rosqueta of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, the almost hour-long discussion ranged widely over topics related to the economic downturn and its impact on foundations and nonprofits. Some of the highlights:

The true impact of the crisis has not yet been felt by either sector. Smith provided historical perspective, noting that philanthropy had grown enormously over the last decade. "Philanthropy was a train hurtling down the tracks," he said, "and then someone hit the brakes." According to Foundation Center projections, foundation giving in 2009 will decline by 9 percent to 13 percent and is likely to stay at those levels in 2010. For his part, Ottenhoff expressed surprise that, according to a recent GuideStar survey, fully two-thirds of respondents said they had increased or kept their budgets flat this year, while only a third had actually cut their budgets.

Grantmakers and nonprofits are beginning to change their behavior. For foundations, this may mean becoming more transparent about their work and communicating more effectively with stakeholders; finding more creative ways to use assets and rethinking their investment strategies; and becoming more nimble. Nonprofits can expect more pressure to demonstrate impact, improve their operational efficiency, and engage in creative, cross-sectoral partnerships.

Crisis-related funding is growing. According to new data from the Foundation Center, the value of crisis-related grants ($322 million) and program-related investments ($177 million) awarded by foundations has nearly tripled since January, while the number of corporations and foundations providing crisis-related funding has grown from 50 to 139.

To listen to or download the complete podcast, click here

-- Mitch Nauffts

What's Keeping You Up at Night?

July 23, 2009

Insomnia That's the question Kathleen Enright, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, raises in a recent e-mail circulated to GEO members.

If you know me, you know I need two hands to count all the things that keep me awake at night, including the very real possibility that the "green shoots" of spring are a mirage and that the economy will "double dip" back into recession by the fourth quarter.

Kathleen's worry is more immediate and, in some ways, more troubling, in that it concerns a source of funding for nonprofits, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, that most people see as an unalloyed good. The economic stimlus package "is about to open a valve that will unleash serious dollars into communities," writes Enright, but those dollars will come with strings attached and may make recipient organization weaker as a result. Here's how:

  • Government agencies almost universally under-reimburse for the services provided by nonprofit organizations. It’s the nonprofit equivalent of losing money on every person served and attempting to make it up on volume.
  • Nonprofits are ill-equipped to float the costs of services until reimbursement arrives up to nine months later, exacerbating already serious cash flow challenges. At the same time, nonprofits aren’t attractive borrowers for traditional lenders because they are so undercapitalized.
  • Unlike their corporate counterparts, nonprofits typically are required to return unused funds at the end of the contract period, hamstringing their ability to build a healthy reserve.
  • Antiquated application and reporting processes eat into organizational capacity before the work begins.

"As a grantmaking community committed to the health and vitality of the nonprofits we support, it's in our best interest to advocate for governmental procurement practices and grantmaking systems that are fair and equitable," Enright adds. To that end, she offers half a dozen concrete steps that funders can take to "demonstrate leadership [and] broaden the capacity of the organizations we all rely on":

  • Convene grantees that are likely recipients of new government dollars to hear their thoughts on the current system and what reforms would benefit them most. Share what you hear with your colleagues in the donor community.
  • Make sure that your organization consistently pays the full cost of services when giving project grants. Possibly consider providing general operating support to help key grantees absorb the unreimbursed portion of government contracts until the situation can be corrected.
  • Help grantees understand the full costs of delivering programs by providing them with access to financial capacity building and also help them understand the financial and programmatic consequences of accepting funds that do not cover the full costs of providing services.
  • Support the work of local conveners such as state associations of nonprofits that are advocating for changes beneficial to nonprofits.
  • Talk with local and state agencies about what, if any, reforms might be possible.
  • Help educate other public officials and policy makers about the unintended consequences of current practices.

Sensible advice for tough times. Other suggestions? And how about you: What's keeping you up at night?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Philanthropy In/Sight: Mapping the Future

July 22, 2009

(Rick Schoff is senior vice president for information resources and publishing at the Foundation Center. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

It's been gratifying for us here at the Foundation Center to see the interest generated by the launch of our Philanthropy In/Sight GIS mapping application. For those who haven't seen or heard of it, In/Sight plots access points to information on 90,000 foundations, 150,000 grantee organizations, and 1.6 milliion grants made during 2003-2009, including U.S. foundation grants made internationally. Grants can be plotted against a variety of thematic data (e.g., demographic information) and at a number of geographic levels (e.g., congressional district). We also had the opportunity to include the Human Development Index information created by Measure of America.

What's really great, though, is seeing the beginning of a "wish list" for In/Sight functionality. From the get-go, we've been counting on getting lots of suggestions for enhancements to the application. One such suggestion is to be able to map "funding impact" in addition to grantee location. That's very much our goal for In/Sight. We also want to help demonstrate potential need and make it easy for funders to find out what other organizations are doing in their areas of interest.

I've been working at the intersection of data and new publishing technologies for years now, and from where I sit suggestions about mapping impact underscore an important point: Being able to do so has more to do with data than with technology. To that end, we're working with a number of foundations that are eager to put their best foot forward, information-wise (you know who you are, so thanks!) -- and are hopeful that many others will follow suit.

This is new territory -- for the center and the field -- and your input and feedback about In/Sight and data mapping are important to us. So let's have a conversation about how you think they should evolve!

-- Rick Schoff

ANNOUNCEMENT: Independent Sector Press Briefing (July 23, 2009)

July 21, 2009

From the IS press release...

The pace of change in today’s society presents an important opportunity for the nonprofit community to convene a conversation about the trajectory and impact of key trends that will shape the future of the nonprofit sector in the next ten years.

Join Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, and Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and co-chair of the Ad Hoc Group on IS Strategic Planning, for a dial-in press briefing on Thursday, July 23 from 11:00–11:30 a.m. EST to learn more about Envisioning Our Future, an exciting new initiative that uses a combination of research and innovative engagement methodologies to:

  • Deepen our collective understanding of the trends that will affect the nonprofit sector;
  • Generate new insights and ideas about how nonprofits and foundations can best address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead; and
  • Develop a cohort of leaders involved in thinking critically about this work for the sake of their own organizations and the sector at large.

RSVP to Matthew Briggs at matthewb@independentsector.org or (202-467-6134) for call-in details. (Update: Call is limited to members of the press only.)


July 20, 1969

July 20, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar.)

Aldrin_Apollo_11 Summer of '69, hitchhiking around Europe with a boyfriend. We'd just spent a quiet week drifting down the Loire River Valley in France, one cheap (and charming) hotel at a time, and found ourselves in a busy Barcelona packed with young American tourists like us. We located the ticket office for the boats that went to the Balearic Islands off Spain's Mediterranean coast and asked which one nobody went to. "Menorca," they said. "Nobody goes to Menorca."

The steerage section of the overnight ferry to Menorca was crowded with families, soldiers, and chickens, so we passed the time on the deck. A Spanish man our age approached us shyly and asked if we'd speak English with him. Sharing the post-midnight stillness (such as it was on that old ferry), we gradually learned about life under Franco, and by our dawn arrival in Mahon, the island's capital, we'd found out the real reason he wanted to talk: he was hungry for news of the world, something forbidden under Franco. The Spanish media was tightly controlled; our new friend had seen us reading magazines we'd brought from the States or bought in our travels. Would we give them to him?

Of course.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 18 - 19, 2009)

July 19, 2009

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


On his Donor Power Blog, Jeff Brooks agrees with author and blogger Dan Pallotta that charity watchdogs place too much emphasis on administrative costs. But instead of whining about the issue, says Brooks, charities falling into the high-overhead category should spend more time talking about their work to donors and should do more to persuade watchdog organizations to broaden their evaluation criteria.

Is this the best presentation deck of the year for nonprofit fundraisers and marketing professionals? Robin Hood Marketing guru Katya Andresen thinks so.


Taking a closer look at social impact data on the Change.org blog, Steve Wright, director of innovation at the Salesforce.com Foundation, suggests we need a system of measurement that allows us to "crowdsource insight and facilitate unpredictable explications and fresh perspectives."


Last week, eighty would-be entrepreneurs and sixteen lenders participated in a call-in conference held by Kiva, the popular microfinance site that recently expanded its platform to include small business owners in the United States. While some callers criticized the intent of the expansion, others were quick to defend the move. Here are a few comments from the discussion:

  • Lenders should have choice; Kiva is merely a conduit between lenders and borrowers.
  • While the definition of "working poor" may vary by country and region, working poor is still working poor.
  • Loans, of any kind, to developed nations will not end poverty in those countries.
  • The assumption that entrepreneurs in the U.S. cannot benefit from small loans is flawed.
  • It is a mistake to believe that only small entrepreneurs in developing countries are in a position to put microloans to good use.

The folks at Kiva plan to post a response to comments like those above sometime this week. In the meantime, you can listen to a recording of the call here.

Social Entrepreneurship

In this video, marketing guru Seth Godin encourages students attending a seminar hosted by the Acumen Fund to embrace risk. "The most interesting point [Godin] makes [in the video]," writes Nathaniel Whittemore on his blog, "is that the Acumen Fund's job with these students is to produce competition that can breed ecosystems." Indeed, at a time when social innovators are struggling to secure funding, adds Whittemore, these ecosystems are the best bet to "provide the capital that is truly needed to support entrepreneurs."

Guest blogging on Beth Kanter's blog, Peter Dietz urges the nonprofit technology community to adopt open standards that "help us all become more effective at what we urgently need to do: raise money, recruit and coordinate volunteers, promote events, create profiles on social networks, generate reports for grant-makers, and the list goes on."

Social Media

In a recent opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Pfeifle "nominates" Twitter for this year's Nobel Peace Prize because it was the "megaphone" that delivered the "pictures, videos, sound bites, and blogs" that really showed what was going on in Iran earlier this month. On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz argues that "achieving huge social goals such as peace...[requires] contributions from all sectors and groups." Change, adds Bernholz, can "come from anywhere." Amen to that.

All summer long (through August 28), social media guide Mashable is playing host to the Summer of Social Good campaign, an online-only effort to raise funds for the Humane Society, Livestrong, Oxfam America, and the World Wildlife Fund. In collaboration with the campaign and MaxGladwell.com's "10 Ways" series, Josh Catone offers ten social media-related things that anyone can do to support their favorite charity:

  1. Write a blog post
  2. Share a charity-related story with friends
  3. Follow your favorite charities on social network sites
  4. Support a cause on an "awareness hub"
  5. Volunteer
  6. Embed a charity widget on your site
  7. Organize a "Tweetup"
  8. Express your passion for a cause by making a video
  9. Sign or start a petition
  10. Organize an online event

What are you waiting for?

Social Justice

Thanks to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, "the poor are no longer invisible," writes Bill Shore, executive director of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization working to end hunger, on his Huffington Post blog. With "instant access to information about virtually everything," people are not only hearing...[about] the latest celebrity scandal, but also from communities that are "hurting, left out, left behind, and why." Writes Shore:

One no longer needs to travel to the Mississippi Delta to find hunger as Bobby Kennedy did, or hold Congressional hearings to reveal it like Senator George McGovern. Internet technology brings more to our fingertips than downloadable music and sophisticated video games. It brings the opportunity to learn and know how other people live across town and across the world. With that comes a responsibility to engage as a citizen, locally and globally, in new and more powerful ways. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing about journalistic responsibility and Iran, reminded us that social media is not as powerful as personally bearing witness. "To bear witness means being there -- and that's not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream." But search engines and social media can strip away the invisibility of the poor that 40 years ago was a plausible excuse for inaction. If the poor are invisible to us now, they are invisible by our choice, our lack of curiosity, our lack of civic engagement and commitment.

Social media can't ensure social justice. But it can affect the invisibility that is the first barrier to achieving it....

What did we miss? Use the comments section to tell us about your favorite recent posts. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: Behind the Scenes

We've been "curating" Ted Talks here on PhilanTopic for a few months (see the list below). But the folks at TED have been posting and making their talks available free to the world for three years now.

To mark the occasion, earlier this week the TEDdies posted a six-minute "behind the scenes" look at how the talks are produced. Cool. (Posted: July 15, 2009; Running time: 6:31)


Intrigued? Check out one of these:

And for those who can't get enough of TED, check out Jim Simpson's post about a cool hidden feature of most TED Talks.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Annals of Accountability: Kresge Foundation

July 17, 2009

Rapson_new One of my favorite philanthropic "reads" over the last year or so has been Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Michigan. Starting shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September -- an event that both signaled and helped kick off a new and more serious phase of the global economic crisis -- Rapson has penned a series of "open letters" (here, here, and here) to the philanthropic and nonprofit communities about Kresge's response to the deepening crisis.

In his latest missive, Rapson notes that

since February, the economic pressures facing families and nonprofit organizations have intensified. The number of indidivuals out of work and families displaced from their homes continue to mount at staggering rates. Nonprofits continue their struggles to balance mounting costs, escalating demand, and diminishing revenues.

These pressures have made clear that providing greater flexibility to our existing capital challenge grantees is a necessary, but not sufficient, response. We have accordingly developed a number of new funding opportunities....

He then outlines six steps the foundation has or will be taking in order "to provide maximum traction" for its grantees:

  1. Provide modest operating support grants to capital challenge grantees that provide "lifeline" human services
  2. Make support for community-based organizations that offer food, shelter, and other forms of lifeline assistance a high priority
  3. Establish a Community Relief Fund to provide zero-interest program-related investment loans of up to $500,000 to emergency-service agencies
  4. Create two new grant opportunities (to be announced at the end of the month): a Health Clinic Opportunity Fund and a Safety-Net Enhancement Initiative
  5. Launch, in St. Lous and Baltimore (followed by Detroit), a $600,000 community arts and engagement project
  6. Take additional actions in each of its fields of interest -- education, community development, arts and culture, health, human services, and the environment -- "to help alleviate some measure of pain wrought by the economic collapse"

As Rapson notes in closing, no single foundation can "right this out-of-kilter economy." But, he adds, quoting Kresge board chair Elaine D. Rosen, "If ever there was a time for us to step up and lead, it is now."

-- Mitch Nauffts

Annals of Accountability: Robert Lappin

July 16, 2009

Lappin_globe For a lot of people, accountablity is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Robert Lappin isn't one of them.

As today's Boston Globe reports, Lappin, the founder of Salem-based Shetland Properties and the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, has made good on his $5 million promise to restore the retirement savings of sixty employees at his company and foundation who lost their nest eggs to convicted financial scammer Bernard L. Madoff.

(Photo courtesy of Boston Herald)

Lappin, a part-time resident of Palm Springs -- one of Bernie Madoff's haunts before he was sent away to serve a 150-year sentence for his crimes -- lost a good chunk of his personal fortune and $8 million of the foundation's endowment to what may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history. The foundation, until recently the largest Jewish philanthropy in the metro Boston region, was forced to close for a time after Madoff's scam was revealed in December. But the 87-year-old Lappin vowed to keep it going, and, as the Salem News reported in June, he turned to the community for help.

What happened next "was a crash course in fundraising," said Deborah Coltin, the foundation's executive director. One anonymous donor sent in a gift of $100,000 for the foundation's Youth to Israel program. Other gifts, ranging from a single dollar to $20,000, soon followed. The foundation recently launched a $500,000 fundraising drive, and five of its seven staff members are back on the job, if only part-time.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 11 - 12, 2009)

July 13, 2009

Chain-links Our latest roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


According to the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100, the "first public ranking in the United States to value nonprofit organizations by more than financial standing alone," a solid brand identity helps an organization tell its story, gain attention, foster relationships, and ensure its long-term survival. And one of the the best ways to build a solid brand, writes Fast Company blogger Alice Korngold, is to build a strong board with the right organizational leadership (CEO and board chair), the right board composition, clear roles and responsibilities, and a highly focused agenda. (Thanks for the tip, Alice.)

In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued that "toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than the life-saving work of aid groups." Allison Fine disagrees. "The problem isn't that [nonprofits] don't sell causes like toothpaste," writes Fine, "the problem is that we too often DO sell them like toothpaste." Instead of acting like tone-deaf Tropicana, which spent millions not listening to customers and repackaging a brand in a way that was universally panned, says Fine, "Cause organizations...[should focus] on building strong, trusting relationships and really connecting with...regular folks."


As the "green shoots" of spring turn yellow and calls for a third stimulus package mount, the Century Foundation's Thomas Smyth weighs in with his ideas of what it should include:

  • An extension of unemployment benefits
  • More money to hire -- or re-hire -- teachers
  • Big prizes for better batteries; cheap, clean electricity; and other clean energy innovations
  • A payroll tax holiday
  • Political stimulus to lay the groundwork for public acceptance of an additional economic one


According to a new study on nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure issued by The Nonprofit Quarterly,

the current financing system for nonprofit infrastructure -- including foundation funding -- favors organizations that support and represent the larger nonprofits of the sector (which make up a small fraction of nonprofits overall) while networks and infrastructure organizations that serve tens of thousands of small to midsize nonprofits have been consistently under-funded....

Which leads Rosetta Thurman to suggest on her blog that while "current financial models seem to be 'working' for some nonprofit infrastructure organizations, they are certainly not working to address the overall capacity building needs for the majority of the nonprofit sector." Yes, a number of infrastructure groups have begun to offer free or discounted training programs, adds Thurman, but is that enough? 

Nonprofit Management

Heading a nonprofit for the first time? On the Nonprofit Leadership 601 blog, Heather Carpenter offers an "overabundance" of resources for everything from planning to building governance to financial and accounting tips.


In late June, Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff was sentenced to a hundred and fifty years years in prison for his crimes. On the Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, Mike Burns wonders "What good is Mr. Madoff's imprisonment to the foundations and nonprofits [that] must now proceed without the levels of support previously afforded them?" Since Madoff isn't likely to serve all 150 years -- maybe not even 10, adds Burns, wouldn't it be smarter to let him "use his obviously special skills to earn these foundations and nonprofits some of their money back?" Hmm...

On the New York Times' DealBook blog, Steven Davidoff offers a different take on the degree to which some foundations and nonprofits were "victims" of Madoff. "It is now being alleged that certain charitable foundations and individuals on the whole reaped profits in the millions, if not billions of dollars, from Mr. Madoff’s misdeeds," writes Davidoff. "And much of this money may have been subsequently donated to innocent charities. This situation raises some of the most troubling questions about Bernie's legacy. First, did charities on the whole benefit from Mr. Madoff's crime? And second, do these innocent charities have a moral or legal obligation to return the money?"

Are foundation assets public or private funds? Writing on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give and Take blog, Ian Wilhelm notes that a new report from the Philanthropy Roundtable, How Public is Private Philanthropy: Separating Myth from Reality, argues that "the 'public-money' claim is not well founded in legal authority...[and] threatens the independence of philanthropy, which is key to its success." In a press release, Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, disagrees with that conclusion and argues that foundation assets are in part public money and that "taxpayers should have a partial say in how [grant dollars] are spent." As debates go, it's a hardy perennial -- but one that has assumed new urgency in light of the funk in which the economy is mired. 

Recently, Facebook Causes surpassed the $10 million mark in funds raised for good causes. Causes co-founder Joe Green explains on the Causes Exchange blog why "this is only the beginning" for the application.

Guest blogging on Sean Stannard-Stockton's Tactical Philanthropy blog, Katherine Lorenz of the London-based Institute for Philanthropy announces a new program called Next Generation Philanthropy that will focus on young people (ages 18-30) who have inherited waelth and are looking to make change through their philanthropy.

And on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz suggests that the most important question any strategist, funder, program officer, or board member can ask is, "What we are we not doing? (And why?)"


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy blog, Gary Snyder, managing director of the Nonprofit Imperative in West Bloomfield, Michigan, challenges the rating systems of charity watchdog organizations such as Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance). Writes Snyder:

Because of different criteria, the rating agencies recommendations often conflict. One even sells its seal of approval on a sliding scale. Moreover, all fail to address in any substantive manner many of the issues that have gotten the nonprofit sector in trouble -- scandals and inadequate governance....

In the future, adds Snyder, maybe watchdogs should measure "objective data that support board members and staff dedication and diligence to do good governance." (Thanks for the tip, Gary.)

Social Innovation

In an excellent post on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, the tireless Sean Stannard-Stockton explains the significance of the Social Innovation Fund launched by the White House last week and why it is needed.

Social Media

Social media guru Beth Kanter has taken a short break from blogging to move her family to California. (And it sounds like everyone -- and everything -- made it safely!) In her abscence, a number of well-known bloggers (Allison Fine, Hildy Gottlieb, and Kari Dunn Saratovsky, to name a few) have been keeping the social media conversation going.

More good news. The first statistaclly significant longitudinal study of social media usage by large U.S. charities finds that they "are still outpacing the business world and academia" in their use of these tools.

Social Justice

Last but not least, Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, offers some additional thoughts on his blog about social justice philanthropy. "I'm convinced that one of the first steps toward effectiveness as a grantmaker," writes Ruesga, "is conceptual clarity, beginning with clarity about what it is we mean by 'social justice' and, by extension, 'social justice philanthropy.' " He goes on to offer "nine different frameworks for thinking about social justice and, by extension, [how we engage] in social justice grantmaking." Good stuff.

What did we miss? Use the comments section to let us know about your favorite recent posts. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: Clay Shirky on the Transformed Media Landscape

July 12, 2009

There have been four transformations of the media landscape significant enough to qualify as revolutions, argues Clay Shirky in this penetrating, fast-paced talk. The complex of innovations known as the printing press, which turned Europe upside down in the fifteenth century; the invention of telegraphy (and later telephony), which engendered real-time two-way conversation over distances; the invention of photography and the phonograph, which sparked a revolution in recorded media; and the harnessing of the electromagnetic spectrum, which led to radio and television and the broadcasting of sound and images through the air.

Today, thanks to the Internet, says Shirky, we are living through a fifth media revolution that will make the others seem trivial by comparision. And that's because the Internet is both the first medium to combine one-to-many with many-to-many patterns of communication as well as a platform for all other media. What that means in practical terms is that members of your audience are now talking to each other and have become producers of media as well as consumers of it. The old communications paradigm -- professionals broadcasting one message to many -- is dead. And the challenge of the new paradigm is clear: How to work with members of your audience to craft different messages for different audiences. You can't control this tectonic shift, says Shirky. You can only hope to harness it. Let the games innovation begin. (Filmed: June 2009; Running time: 17:03)

Liked this talk? Try one of these:

-- 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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