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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....

Communications/Marketing

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."

Economy

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

Impact/Effectiveness

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.

Philanthropy

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?)"

Regulation/Oversight

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

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