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24 posts from August 2009

Katrina: Looking Back Four Years Later

August 31, 2009

(Lauren Kelley is a staff writer for Philanthropy News Digest. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Katrina_2008_10_06..splande There's been a lot of talk the last few days about the recovery effort in New Orleans -- the benchmarks that have been met and how much work there is to be done. While the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a natural opportunity to take stock of those efforts and to look ahead, I can't help but remember the immediate aftermath of the storm, which I experienced secondhand through my parents’ dispatches from the flooded city.

When Katrina first formed and began to pick up strength in late August 2005, my parents had lived in New Orleans a couple of years, having moved there from my hometown of Dallas. My mom, a native Floridian, was no stranger to hurricanes. When she was growing up in Miami, her family and friends would have "hurricane parties" -- they’d board up the windows, play cards by candlelight, run outside during the eye of the storm, and then go back in until the storm had passed.

But of course Katrina was no ordinary hurricane. When the storm’s size and strength became evident and the orders to evacuate (finally) came down, they knew that riding out the storm in their house was not an option.

At the time, my stepfather was the restaurant manager for a luxury hotel in downtown New Orleans, and because the hotel sat on relatively high ground, it was fully booked with New Orleanians and tourists who, for whatever reason, had not evacuated. Needing hands to keep the operation running, the hotel management offered rooms to any employee and his family who agreed to stay. Thinking the hotel would be a pretty safe place to be, my parents took the hotel up on its offer, packed a few days’ worth of clothes, and left their house without so much as taking the milk out of the refrigerator.

As it turned out, the hotel was a good place to be, as the edge of the storm passed over the city. It was an incredibly strong hurricane -- a few times, my mom belly-crawled from the bathroom to look out the hotel room window and, as she later told me, was treated to a scene right out of the Wizard of Oz, with random parts of buildings and houses flying by. But they were safe, they had an electric generator, a nice hotel room, and, amazingly, landline phone service. All things considered, they were pretty comfortable.

Then, of course, the levees were breached and everything changed. The events that unfolded over the next few days are well documented, so I won't rehash them here except to say that my parents, who couldn't watch TV, were more calm than I was. As the hours passed, I called them, increasingly panicked, to tell them about the mayhem Anderson Cooper was reporting about -- people airlifted off rooftops, old ladies and children just down the street at the Superdome with no water, food, or working toilets.

On August 31, my parents saw the water making its way up Canal Street toward the hotel, and that's when they knew it was time to go. And so they left, making it out on the one un-flooded highway headed for Dallas.

They weren't able to stop by their house before they left; their neighborhood, Gentilly, had been closed due to the breach of the nearby London Avenue Canal. So for days they sat in Dallas watching the devastation unfold, having no idea whether they would have a house to go back to. And even if they did, what kind of city they would be returning to.

When they were finally given the okay to return, six weeks after the storm made landfall, it was an occasion for both relief and sadness. On the one hand, their house was one of only two on the block that hadn't been flooded. A few minor repairs and the house itself was livable. On the other hand, their neighborhood was in shambles -- and other areas of the city were every bit as bad, if not worse. A house down the street, where an older woman had lived by herself, had flooded to the rafters. They didn't know whether the woman evacuated or not, but they never saw her again. In fact, most of Gentilly was empty and quiet. There were no streetlights. They had to use a generator for electricity. Hardest on my mom were the constant reminders of how much worse the outcome had been for others -- the marks on front doors left by rescue workers looking for bodies, the overpass near their house with SAVE US spray painted on the side.

Despite all the aid and money that subsequently poured into the city, redevelopment efforts in my parents' neighborhood moved at a glacial pace, and before long they decided they could no longer wait for things to get better. So they sold their home (an un-flooded house in post-Katrina New Orleans turned out to be something of a commodity) and went back to Dallas to pick up the pieces and make a new life. It was hard, to be sure, but their network of friends and family helped make it possible.

It's impossible to say how many of their neighbors were as lucky. Who knows what stories they have to tell, or how many of them will ever return to live in New Orleans. My parents returned, once, after that. They hung out in the French Quarter, ate beignets at Café du Monde, and visited friends. But they didn't go back to Gentilly. Instead, they chose to dwell on their pre-Katrina memories of the city, and the diversity, great food, and special joie de vivre that makes New Orleans New Orleans and which Katrina could never wash away.

(Photo courtesy of Greg Wesson's Esoteric Globe)

-- Lauren Kelley

(For more about the post-Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans and the Gulf region, check out the Foundation Center's newly updated Focus on the Gulf Coast Hurricane Relief page, read our Newsmaker interview with Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga, and weigh in on what PhilanTopic contributor Tony Pipa has to say about the foundation response to Katrina.)


Ted on Sunday: Remembering Ted Kennedy

August 30, 2009

And so it ends.

Large_kennedys With yesterday's sad, meticulously scripted, and moving sendoff to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the decades-long fascination that many of us had with the Kennedys of Massachusetts has been laid to rest. For as long as the American experiment remains viable, other families will rise to political power and prominence, joining the likes of the Adamses, Roosevelts, Tafts, and Bushes. The family name might be Martinez or Kim or Cohen, for that is part of the genius of America, as the Kennedys themselves so ably demonstrated. But just as we're unlikely to see a phenomenon like the Beatles again, or the kind of cinematic excellence that illuminated American movie theaters in the late '60s and early '70s, the Kennedy story and its grip on the American imagination will remain unrivaled.

I was born in Massachusetts and am old enough to remember where I was (sitting in a kindergarten classroom) the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. My memory of that day, and the days that followed, are as vivid as any I have. By the time Robert Kennedy was murdered five years later, my family was living in northeast Ohio, Taft country, and, after the initial shock wore off, our thoughts turned to Ted, the sole surviving Kennedy brother. His eulogy for RFK at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in June 1968, a soaring piece of rhetoric that has lost none of its power to inspire, signaled another passing of the torch. And we knew, in our bleeding liberal hearts, that it made Ted a marked man.

He knew it, too. As he repeatedly told reporters in Alaska after learning his brother had been killed: "They're going to shoot my a** off the way they shot Bobby's." Still, as Garry Wills writes in his 1986 book The Kennedy Imprisonment:

He rarely showed fear...; seemed, indeed, too jaunty to some -- with the effort that heaves several lives' weight into the air again. After Robert was killed, he told his aide Dun Gifford: "I can't let go. We have a job to do. If I let go, Ethel will let go. And my mother will let go, and all my sisters...."

He didn't let go; he soldiered on, persevered in the great liberal program staked out by his brother John and championed so compellingly by his brother Bobby in the hundred days of his 1968 presidential primary run. The psychic toll must have been unbearable. Wills again:

Once brother drew on brother for fresh strength; now brother drains brother, all the dead inhabiting the one that has lived on. Edward has managed to outlast three brothers without ever catching up to one of them. Just as he seems to overtake them, their glory either recedes from him, or fades in the public's eyes. It was pretty evanescent stuff to begin with, the glory; but one can hardly look to him for that perception. To show ingratitude toward the ghosts would just make them harder to shake off. Meanwhile, he inherits all their children, while his own partly slip away from him, victims of his own victimhood, and of his wife's....

Chappaquidick. His oldest son Teddy's bone cancer, which cost young Ted a leg at the age of twelve. The failed presidential primary run against Jimmy Carter in 1980, a campaign that featured an unprepared and, at times, seemingly uninterested Kennedy, but one that put some of his ghosts to rest. The carousing and drinking and end of his marriage to Joan. Redemption, in the form of second wife Vicki, a renewed interest in and commitment to his Senate work, ever-deeper bonds with his surviving sisters, his children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren. A final passing of the torch to a young, eloquent senator from Illinois, a grim cancer diagnosis, and a last year filled with moments, big and small, of grace and humanity.

It was an extraordinary life, a life that touched thousands -- as anyone could see who tuned in to the funeral service in Boston, watched the stately procession through the streets of Washington of the hearse bearing the senator's body or the emotional scene on the steps of the Capitol, where friends, colleagues, and staff, past and present, gathered in oppressive heat to say a final farewell. He touched millions more through the legislation he crafted and championed over the course of a 47-year career in the Senate.

I'll leave it to the senator's conservative critics to enumerate Ted Kennedy's -- indeed, the Kennedy family's -- failings. It's easy to mock and criticize, and there will be no shortage of such critiques over the coming weeks.

But on this day, four years after the levees broke in New Orleans and put a human face on levels of poverty and inequality that most of us thought had been eradicated decades ago, I'll honor Ted Kennedy's memory -- and the memory of his brothers and his sister Eunice and the entire Kennedy family, a family to whom much was given and which has given much back in return -- because of what he, and they, believed in and continue to fight for: fairness and compassion for the most vulnerable in society and equal opportunity for all.

Rest in peace, Senator. You did good.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (August 29 - 30, 2009)

August 29, 2009

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


Mick Koster, senior consultant at Strategic Partners, suggests that development officers apply a right-brained approach when "selling" their organization to donors. Writes Koster, "Rather than listing 'ingredients,' uncover the emotional connection your donors and donor prospects have to your organization." (Thanks for the tip, Judy.)

Disaster Relief

To mark the fourth anniversary of the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, the Foundation Center has launched a Focus on Gulf Coast Hurricane Relief page complete with maps, podcasts, news, and research related to ongoing recovery efforts.


In the lead up to International Literacy Day on September 8, the Digital Philanthropy blog will highlight a number of education-focused nonprofits that are working to improve literacy around the world.


Nonprofit bloggers have been paying homage to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ever since the 77-year-old "lion of the Senate" passed away on August 25. (The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give and Take blog has a roundup of posts.) One of those bloggers, Tim Foley, suggests on Change.org that the best way to honor Kennedy’s legacy is to finish what he started by "finally passing universal health care." Writes Foley:

Every time since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid that we have sought to expand health care coverage for our citizens, Ted was on the front lines. He bargained with the Nixon White House and nearly crafted a bipartisan compromise in the early 1970s. He feuded with Carter on health care, and launched his own run for the presidency in part to achieve that goal. When Bill Clinton's plan was moved in the Senate, Ted was sponsor and lead advocate. And, of course, his still-untimely death comes at a moment when his last great work -- one last bill to make good on the promise of his career, making quality, affordable health care a guaranteed right for every American, not a privilege based on income, or employment, or race, or class -- stands at the crossroads in the United States Senate.

As we take on the task of completing his unfinished work, we have ringing in our ears his final statement on what has truly been the cause of his career, delivered in writing to celebrate that bill passing out of committee....


A recent article on the UK-based Third Sector site notes that the English Charity Commission has accused two schools -- St Anselm's School Trust and Highfield Priory School -- of "offering too few scholarships and bursaries" to justify their nonprofit status. On the New Philanthropy Capital blog, John Copps argues that it is time for UK charities to "reclaim the debate on public benefit." But on this side of the pond, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, co-authors of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, suggest that "the debate has generated more heat than light." Write Bishop and Green:

In the end, we get the charity sector we deserve. If donors don't ask tough questions about real impact and put their money where it achieves the most, weak charities will muddle along and the growth of good charities will be stunted. That is why we think that impact-focused philanthrocapitalists, along with philanthropic intermediaries like NPC, Kiva.org, and GlobalGiving, have the potential to do more to drive a step-change in the effectiveness of charities than regulation....

In case you missed the debate about "slacktivism" -- "the act of doing something that requires very little effort and has only the perceived effect of impact" -- Ali Cherry, guest blogging on Beth Kanter's blog provides seven perspectives on the issue.

The recently released Civic Health Index found that 72 percent of those surveyed had cut back on civic engagement activities. But on the Social Citizens blog, Kristin Ivie notes that "social engagement through social networking sites, as well as through church and friends, can have a significant impact...." Writes Ivie:

This [would seem] to refute the arguments that social media is just encouraging slacktivism by allowing people to edit their avatar or join a Facebook group without really having engaged. The Civic Health Index shows that with each type of offline engagement -- from giving food or money to someone in need to volunteering to joining a public meeting to discuss an issue -- those who used social media for civic purposes were always more involved that those who did not....

Kate Barr, executive director of the Nonprofits Assistance Fund, argues on the Balancing the Mission Checkbook blog that donors should (and do) care more about the effectiveness of an organization, rather than the amount of money spent on overhead. Writes Barr:

I'm convinced that the reason that people care about the overhead ratio of charities is because we keep telling them that it’s important. I have an announcement to make: I am a donor to quite a few nonprofits, and I don't care what percentage of their budget is spent for overhead. I think that a lot of donors would agree....

I care that they are effective nonprofits that can tell donors what they do and why it matters. Why would a donor rather examine overhead? Before someone jumps on this point, I agree that 90% on fundraising is completely unreasonable, but that kind of organization can’t demonstrate real results anyway. So can we stop using overhead as the primary criteria for donors -- please?...


On her blog, Rosetta Thurman offers nonprofit leaders some timely advice on how to cultivate resilience when "there's no more business as usual." Here are a few of her recommendations:

  • Learn from new experiences
  • Develop a spiritual practice
  • Fail upward
  • Take a vacation

Nonprofit Management

On the Foundation Center-Atlanta blog, library director Pattie Johnson offers some good advice to anyone thinking about starting a nonprofit.


The Wall Street Journal talks to Eli Broad, founder of two Fortune 500 companies as well as the foundation that bears his name, about education reform, the democratization of the arts, and the "venture philanthropy business." (h/t Bruce Trachtenberg)

While people in general may be cutting back on their volunteering in this recession, a recent survey sponsored by the Hartford Financial Services Group found that individuals over the age of 50 are ramping up their volunteering and charitable giving. On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Chris Murakami Noonan, communications associate at the Minnesota Council on Foundations, pulls out these key findings from the report:

  • 53 percent of consumers age 50+ participate in volunteer work, compared to 45 percent for those aged 49 and younger;
  • Of those who volunteer, almost 14 percent of AARP members volunteer one day per week as compared to 7.5 percent of non-AARP members;
  • 76 percent of those over 50 give monetary donations to causes they support. This compares to 83 percent of AARP members over age 50, and 60 percent of those under age 49;
  • The causes most favored by the 50+ group include Alzheimer’s disease, social services, the environment and military support.

On the Give and Take blog, Ian Wilhelm predicts that The Foundation, a new Canadian comedy show that "viciously" satirizes philanthropy, is likely to leave foundation executives already unhappy about NBC's summer-replacement series The Philanthropist "speechless."

In a review of the newly published Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back, blogger Diane Bennett writes that the book "fails to provide enough guidance for idiots (or anyone else, for that matter) to truly evaluate the effectiveness of a charity."

On Foundations + Footings, blogger Julie White suggests that grantmakers consider providing "experimental grants" to produce more innovation in the sector. "I am not referring to the graduated grants we are used to, which start small but are intended to evolve into a larger grant," writes White. "But rather, small, focused curiosity-driven grants for the elusive 'good idea.'" (H/t: Tactical Philanthropy)


Citing a recent news item about a nonprofit that turned down a donation from a donor who wanted his money to go towards the nonprofit's annual golf fundraiser rather than the organization's clients, Donor Power blogger Jeff Brooks argues that nonprofit organizations cannot turn away donors whose money may be "tainted." Writes Brooks:

We are in no position to cut ourselves off from [donors]....In fact, by giving them the opportunity to give, we help them toward redemption and enlightenment. Even if they're seeking neither....


Last but not least, Lucy Bernholz takes a closer look on her Philanthropy 2173 blog at how technology might change philanthropy. Some things like "mutual aid, human kindness, and altruism are not technologically bound," writes Bernholz, while "organizational charts, job titles, and professional roles in philanthropy will see a great deal of re-structuring in the next phase of innovation." In a comment on the post, Foundation Center president Brad Smith suggests that, in addition to "How did we get here?" and "Where are we going?", we should be asking a third question: "Where do we want to be going?" The resulting exchange between Bernholz and Smith is fascinating. Be sure to check it out.

And that's it. Have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

New Orleans: Moving from Muddle to Model

August 27, 2009

(Tony Pipa is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he reviewed Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa.)

Katrina01 The fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the levees in New Orleans will occur in just a few short days. Certainly the recovery of this iconic American city is far from complete and has been fraught with challenges. Halting and inadequate leadership at all levels of government has been too much on display, beginning with the flooding itself, a direct result of corners cut by the Army Corps of Engineers (with an assist from local management boards) when building and managing the levee system.* 

And yet where government has struggled, citizens have demonstrated resilience, creativity, and good old-fashioned guts. I truly believe that New Orleans has the highest level of civic engagement of any city in the United States right now. Residents keep up with what is happening in their neighborhoods, they voice their concerns, they try to come up with solutions. New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and almost every neighborhood has a vibrant, active grassroots group guiding its renewal. Organizations like Neighborhoods Partnership Network link them together and ensure shared support and vision.

Take Central City. A troubled neighborhood pre-Katrina, two of its public housing complexes are slated to be redeveloped with mixed-use housing, schools, and recreational facilities; an architecturally significant school, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, is being repurposed into a community resource center with cutting-edge early childhood development programs and integrated social services; and the business corridor along O.C. Haley Boulevard is being revitalized with streetscape improvements, loans leveraged from the city, and the possible use of land trusts to drive more locally-owned commercial development.

As someone who was on the ground almost immediately after the storm and frustrated, especially in the first year, by what I perceived to be an uncertain and overly conventional response from the foundation world, I have to admit that the recovery has also provided several instances of philanthropy at its best:

Philanthropy has taken risks. The Rockefeller Foundation and Greater New Orleans Foundation walked right into the middle of a hornet's nest when they provided the backing, both financial and political, for the United New Orleans Plan, a process that successfully involved many residents and put an end to the endless planning processes that kept springing up as the city tried to get off the mat. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of school reform, the philanthropic sector has played an important role in the effort to use charter schools to turn around and redefine what was arguably the country's worst public school system.

Philanthropy has focused on building capacity. The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health has been advised by a committee of local grassroots leaders and has focused on supporting emerging activists and initiatives. In addition to strengthening the local nonprofit sector, foundations have even experimented with building the capacity of the public sector. The Ford Foundation, working in partnership with the Foundation for the Mid South and leveraging help from the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed a loaned executive program to expand the pool of skilled professionals in city government.

Philanthropy has collaborated. Central City's renaissance has been catalyzed in part by a group of almost twenty foundations and corporations that have been intentional in integrating their approaches and communicating regularly about their work.

Philanthropy has been an advocate. The policy advocacy capacity of the Louisiana nonprofit sector was weak prior to the storm, and foundations both local and national have made significant investments to strengthen it and give it real voice at the federal, state, and local levels. In particular, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, formed in the aftermath of the storm, has made public policy advocacy a real focus and incubated the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, a multi-state, multi-issue coalition of grassroots leaders advocating at the federal level.**

"Social innovation" has become an overused buzz phrase, but it's genuinely happening in myriad ways along the Gulf Coast. By the same token, the recovery has demonstrated the limitation of private action for the public good. After the largest charitable response in the nation's history, the work of thousands of volunteers from outside the area, and the tireless efforts of tens of thousands of residents, the challenges remain daunting. An estimated 65,000 properties in the city are blighted, the healthcare safety net is frayed (mental health services are a particular concern), and affordable housing is in short supply.

As the city shifts from a recovery mindset to a future-oriented vision, not quite halfway through what most residents consider to be a ten-year process, an improved governmental response will be critical to its success. Given the strong philanthropic and nonprofit presence, I think the opportunity exists for the Obama administration to make practical the new sort of relationship it has proposed between government and the social/philanthropic sector. New Orleans is starting to emerge as a model, with lessons for all of us, for all the right reasons. Too much hangs in the balance to walk away now.

-- Tony Pipa

* It is past infuriating how most media focus on "the storm" when describing what happened in New Orleans. New Orleans, in contrast to the towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, withstood Katrina's fury. Most people forget the sigh of relief the city breathed once the hurricane passed -- and before it became apparent that water was pouring through the cracks. What befell New Orleans was a man-made disaster, not a natural one.

** Disclaimer: I am a founder of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and continue to consult with it and other foundations and NGOs working in the region.

Katrina: A Forgotten Crisis?

August 26, 2009

Katrina-category-5 Well, yes, according to a recent study of print media coverage of post-Katrina poverty since 2005. The study by D.C.-based Freedman Consulting found that:

  • Coverage of the relationship between Gulf Coast poverty and the effects of Katrina on residents of the region in U.S. newspapers and wires has declined steadily, reaching its lowest point in recent months;
  • Coverage of Katrina in general, while also declining, has been relatively high; coverage of the relationship between poverty and Katrina has made up a very small portion of Katrina coverage;
  • Coverage has declined not only in regional newspapers outside the Gulf Coast region, but also in twenty-five of the most read national and regional newspapers;
  • Coverage in Gulf Coast newspapers has declined far less rapidly than it has in outside newspapers;
  • Coverage of major celebrities and Gulf Coast sports teams has exceeded and in most cases dwarfed coverage of the relationship between povery and Katrina.

True, the Katrina story has had to compete with a number of other big stories, including the surge in Iraq and subsequent deterioration of what had been an improved security situation in that country; an historic presidential election; and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Not to mention the comings and goings of all the Britneys, Lindseys, and housewives of god knows where.

But the Katrina-Gulf Coast poverty story is huge, and, as the Freedman study makes clear, the fact that it's fading from media coverage is cause for concern.

We're not a major national media outlet (yet), but as we were looking ahead earlier this month to the fourth anniversary of Katrina, we decided to reach out to one of the smartest people we know, Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, for a local perspective on Katrina, the persistent poverty in the region, and what foundations and the rest of us can do about it.

Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

Philanthropy News Digest: How are residents of the city and region feeling about the recovery effort? Are people optimistic? Tired? Do they feel abandoned or forgotten?

Albert Ruesga: There's an abiding anger over the city, state, and federal responses, but the folks I work with in the nonprofit sector, in business, and in government are very upbeat and hopeful. The region has come a long way these past four years. Long-time New Orleanians love their city deeply and their love has sustained the region for many generations. Newcomers like myself share their passion and want to contribute to the region's recovery. We've been warmly welcomed.

There's an organization called 504ward dedicated to helping younger newcomers establish themselves in the city. "Five-oh-four" by the way, is the area code for the City of New Orleans. The organization was founded by one of our local heroes, Leslie Jacobs, who also played a key role in saving and reforming the Orleans Parish schools in the aftermath of the storms.

PND: What have been the chief obstacles to a speedier recovery -- in New Orleans and region-wide?

AR: Our region was poor before the storms. The city suffered from so-called white flight in the '70s and '80s, and the region as a whole, being largely rural, suffered from years of public underinvestment. The failure of the levees during Katrina put 80 percent of the city under water and devastated tens of thousands of homes and other structures. We lost two thousand souls to the storm. You don't snap back from that in just a few years.

We have no lack of volunteers willing to come from across the country to help us rebuild. We're deeply grateful for their generosity. I don't want to sound crass, but what we need most is money. Our nonprofit leaders are the smartest and most committed you'll find anywhere. After the failure of the levees, they didn't wait for government -- local, state, or federal -- to save them and their neighborhoods. They took action. But they can't survive on air. They need resources to invest in their programs and in themselves. Our local philanthropic institutions are stretched to the limits. We support many functions that are properly the domain of government. Our public institutions also need support as much as they need to be challenged to speed our recovery.

PND: Based on stories you've heard since you've been at GNOF, which organizations and agencies were especially effective in responding to the disaster and its aftermath? Which ones could have performed better? And which ones are still delivering the goods?

AR: Stories of heroism abound. In the aftermath of Katrina, many neighborhood associations sprung up whose acts of courage and generosity are legend. I think of organizations like the Broadmoor Improvement Association and the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Association, Mary Queen of Viet Nam, and many others. They're still doing our region a world of good. There were many individual heroes and heroines acting without the support of private or public institutions as well.

Don't get me started on FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers.

PND: Has the Obama administration been responsive to the plight of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

AR: We've had quite a few visits from members of the administration, and what we've seen during those visits is not only incredible sensitivity to the plight of the region, but also a very deep background in the kind of work the civil sector does. That's been refreshing. At the same time, one of the traps we have to be careful of not falling into is expecting that it's up to the Obama administration, it's up to a black president, to care for black people. It's not. It's the responsibility of every president and every legislator at every level....

PND: Katrina exposed some painful truths about New Orleans that had been hiding in plain sight -- entrenched poverty, an abysmal public school system, high levels of unemployment and crime, public sector corruption, a glaring divide between the region's haves and have-nots. That that was the reality for tens of thousands of the city's residents came as a shock to many Americans. Were you shocked by the racial and class disparities revealed by the storm and its aftermath?

AR: Not in the least. These disparities are endemic to every major city in the United States. It's consistently a tale of two cities in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles -- wherever you go that has a significant minority population. I've had some of the most honest and fruitful conversations about race here in New Orleans, not in the cities of the East Coast. What was appalling to me, rather than shocking, was the lack of reflection and analysis in media coverage of the storm and its aftermath.

Its soul and its beauty aside, New Orleans is in many ways Every City....

To read the complete interview, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

We're All in This Together...Right?

August 24, 2009

Multigenerational-family We ran an item over the weekend about a new report issued by Generations United, a national membership organization that works to improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies.

The report documents key areas of intergenerational "policy convergence" (health care, family and medical leave, education and community engagement, family economic success,the environment) where the interests of youth, families, and older adults converge and encourages funders to adopt an intergenerational approach to their work based on a handful of concepts/principles:

  • a clear definition of intergenerational solidarity that extends beyond the nuclear and extended family;
  • a commitment to using an intergenerational lens when developing or influencing policy;
  • a call to include the "missing middle" -- both middle-aged people and those of middle income -- in all relevant policy developments and reviews;
  • a promise to explore solutions which, when possible, avoid means testing and stigmitization while involving and providing benefits to all incomes and ages;
  • a commitment to promote "economies of scope" -- a single intervention that helps or positively affects multiple issues/populations;
  • a social contract with children, similar to the one in place for older adults; and
  • a demonstrated connection between the social contract with children and the contract with older adults.

As a fifty-something father of two who derives a ton of satisfaction from his other roles -- son, brother, uncle, nephew, volunteer coach, good neighbor -- the report resonated with me. But what are the chances that funders and nonprofits will adopt such an approach? Pretty slim, says a person who left a comment on our site earlier this afternoon, for the following reasons:

First, nonprofit organizations aren't on board. The move from age-focused service delivery to need-focused service delivery not only threatens jobs but organizational identify and survival. It's also a major shift towards serving individuals and families with the greatest unmet needs; a shift that demands greater accountability and has greater costs associated with it. Many organizations, most notably those serving older persons, are reluctant to trade comfortable missions and institutional programs for the daunting task of serving the common good.

Second, grantmaking organizations aren't on board. Board Members and Trustees are worthy and successful community stewards with expertise, wealth and influence; but they're not always the most progressive, global or visionary thinkers or leaders. There are thousands of exceptions of course, but I contend that the vast majority are unwilling or incapable of embracing the social and economic needs of society as a whole, nor should they be. Their work is admirable and the challenges of change are overwhelming and virtually unapproachable.

Finally, in the hierarchical world of nonprofit organizations, the pecking order has to be maintained for better or worse. Those at the top protect their 'industry' from harm or the erosion of brand, position or funding. We need only to look at the 'aging enterprise' to see that universal change is slow if present at all....

The anonymous commenter acknowledges, in closing, that the report's core principles "are worthy and demand our calling -- not as institutions but as individuals that question and challenge policy and practices that have outlived their usefulness or can no longer be defended." And then s/he urges us to "move beyond the language of 'intergenerational' and the baggage that accompanies it towards something more relevant and fundamental to our lives and the world today -- serving the common and collective good."

Strong stuff.

What do you think? Recognizing that there are thousands of exceptions, are most nonprofits too complacent, turf-conscious, or set in their ways to shift from an age-focused delivery model to a needs-focused model? Does the "language of intergenerational" come with baggage that hampers the sector's ability to serve the common good? And, when it comes to the collective good, are most nonprofits too focused on the trees to be able to see the forest?

Use the comments section below to leave a comment, or leave a comment here, where the above remark was posted.

-- Mitch Nauffts

TED on Sunday: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

August 23, 2009

In this funny and inspirational talk, writer Elizabeth Gilbert (The Last American Man, Eat, Pray Love) considers the creative act and wonders why it is logical or okay "that anyone should be afraid to do the work they were put on this earth to do?" Ranging widely from ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance to hipster songwriter/performer Tom Waits stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles freeway, Gilbert argues convincingly that the secret to creativity is showing up to do your job and accepting the idea that the extraordinary nature of your best work didn't come from you; it was given to you. (Filmed: February 2009; Running time: 19:29)

Liked this talk? Try 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

Weekend Link Roundup (August 22 - 23, 2009)

August 22, 2009

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


On Monday, August 24, Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions at Blackbaud, will launch NetWits Summer Camp, a series of five Webinars covering "what every nonprofit professional needs to know about Web sites, e-mail marketing, online fundraising, social media, and related metrics." On his Connections blog, MacLaughlin offers a list of five common mistakes made by nonprofits.

Okay, you've used social media to "listen" to what people are saying about your organization. What next? Nonprofit marketing expert Kivi Leroux Miller has put togther a nice list of concrete actions you can take.


According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, men prefer to give to organizations/causes closer to home ("in-group"), while women are more likely to donate to causes in the developing world ("out-group"). While "the new study does not attempt to explain the choices of super-rich philanthrocapitalists," note Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, co-authors of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, one factor alluded to in the paper

may be an influence on super-rich as well as ordinary donors: that the sense of an 'in-group' (Katrina victims) and an 'out-group' (tsunami victims) is not fixed but is shaped by our connection to those people. So, as we learn more about another group of people, we may come to see them as part of our 'in-group' rather than our 'out-group'.

As we point out in the book, successful entrepreneurs in a global economy are more likely to be well traveled than, well, your average congressman. As a result, they are probably more likely to see the needs of people overseas [than] those of their 'in-group'....

So-called embedded giving was all the rage last holiday season. But in this podcast, National Public Radio's Amanda Dyer explains that charities which have integrated embedded giving into their fundraising efforts may be losing out on an opportunity to connect with bigger dollars. (H/t: Lucy Bernholz)

On the GiftHub blog, Phil Cubeta wonders "what is lost when we recode a gesture (giving) that predates not only money, but articulate speech, in terms drawn wholly from Wharton or Harvard Biz school?" Indeed.


On his Free the Nonprofits blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta argues that the best way to foster social change and innovation is to change the tax code to give consumers a tax deduction on "products and services [purchased] from for-profit companies whose work [involves] embedded social good." Such a change would affect the nonprofit community in a number of positive ways, argues Pallotta:

[It] would break the 501(c)3 monopoly on "charity" and allow a host of financially incentivized for-profit players to enter the game. It would also give 501(c)3s the freedom to change their tax status and break the bonds of their restrictive operating rules. Most important, it would open the door to social change to the most powerful economic force known to humanity: the entrepreneurial spirit -- a spirit which is effectively eradicated in any nonprofit setting by

  1. The obstructing power of Boards of Directors, which are notoriously risk-averse
  2. The inability to offer stock options to attract a kick-ass team
  3. The inability for entrepreneurs to own any of their creation themselves
  4. The inability to hire without interference from an outdated moral code on compensation

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz argues that the time has come "to invite nonprofit and philanthropy professionals, social entrepreneurs, social capital market makers, data wonks, think tanks and others to reimagine the regulatory and policy structures that guide and inform philanthropy. What policies or regulations would improve philanthropy? asks Bernholz, who then offers a short list of some of the ideas being debated around "Internet watercoolers":

Social Entrepreneurship

As recently noted on the TechCrunch blog, the venture firm Y Combinator has started issuing "Requests for Startups" as a way to encourage young entrepreneurs to tackle opportunities that may be "missing in the market." Up first? The future of journalism -- specifically, what will online content sites look like when print publications are gone? Note: Groups applying to work on this idea

should include at least one person who can write well and rapidly about any topic, one or more programmers who are good at statistics, data mining, and making sites scale, and someone who's reasonably competent at graphic design. These functions can of course be combined, and in fact it's even better if they are. Ex-Googlers would be particularly well suited to this project.

Social Media

Responding to a Beth Kanter blog post that analyzed a list of some ninety foundations that tweet, Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton suggests that the foundations which infuse their brand on Twitter with the personality of a real person/employee are inherently more interesting than those that don't. Adds Stannard-Stockton, "As we strive to build a more effective philanthropy, to share knowledge and support what works, let’s not become disconnected from the human element that drives philanthropy."

On her blog, Kanter has a list of things she learned about Causes on Facebook from a recent NTEN-hosted "Ask an Expert" chat with Causes co-founder Joe Green:

  • Nonprofits can integrate Causes by adding a tab on their Fan Page;
  • Nonprofits should be proactive and work with volunteers who set up a Cause for their organization;
  • The audience reached through Causes is typically younger and are often first-time donors;
  • Brand equity is less important on Causes; what's most important is how organizations communicate what they do; and
  • New and improved analytics data are coming soon.

Puget Sound Off, a Web-based project that aims to be "a catalyst for increasing youth involvement and engagement within the community while encouraging expression of one's beliefs, respect for others, and commitment to public service," has added instructional videos to the How-To area of the site. "And since the videos were developed largely by young people," writes Allison Fine on her blog, "it's a great example of reverse mentoring!"

Guest blogging on the Community Organizer 2.0 blog, Brenna Holmes, an online account executive at Adams Hussey & Associates, documents how she helped the California State Parks Foundation increase the number of fans on their Facebook Page from 517 to over 45,000 fans in just three months.


The PanelPicker voting interface for the 2010 SXSW Interactive Festival next March in Austin, Texas, has been opened to the online community. To help inform your choices, Social Edge has compiled a list of programming proposals of interest to social entrepreneurs, while SocialBrite has put together its own list of "awesome" nonprofit panels. Check out all the program proposals on the SXSW Web site, and don't forget to vote.

That's it for this week. What did we miss? Use the comments section to send us your suggestions, or e-mail me at rnm@foundationcenter.org.

-- Regina Mahone

Newsmaker: Richard Barth, CEO, KIPP Foundation

August 21, 2009

KIPP_logo (The Obama administration has thrown down the gauntlet to educators and legislators to fix an education system that used to be "the best in the world, and no longer is." Of the approximately $100 billion earmarked for education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more than $10 billion in grant money will be made available to the states and school districts that are driving reform. The centerpiece of that effort, the Race to the Top Fund, will make available $4.35 billion to identify and replicate effective education reform strategies and classroom innovations, including charter schools.

One of the most highly regarded charter school systems in the country, KIPP has grown in fifteen years from two schools, one in Houston and the other in New York City, to a network of eighty-two open-enrollment public schools. Earlier this summer, PND's Alice Garrard spoke with Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation, about the success of the KIPP network, the national crisis in education, and why Barth is optimistic about the future of education in the United States.)

Philanthropy News Digest: What is KIPP and why was it created?

Richard Barth: KIPP is a national network of open-enrollment public schools that prepares children for success in college and in life. It was created in 1994 by two teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who launched a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston after completing their Teach For America commitment. The following year, Feinberg remained in Houston to lead KIPP Academy Middle School, and Levin returned home to New York City to establish KIPP Academy in the South Bronx.

The KIPP program is based on a core set of five principles or "pillars": high expectations, choice and commitment on the part of both the students and their parents, more time to learn, a profound belief in the school leader's power to lead, and a focus on results. We believe that if principals are to be held accountable for creating a great school, they need to have the freedom to control as much of their budget as possible, build their own team, and make core decisions about curriculum. We also operate on the belief that if you're going to prepare children to succeed in college and life — particularly kids coming from some of the most underresourced communities in the country — trying to do so in an 8:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. school day makes no sense. KIPP has had a 7:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. school day from the very beginning, and we've been able to deliver for our kids by getting off the agrarian calendar. Finally, we believe in developing the whole child — that character growth matters as much as academic growth, maybe even more, and it reinforces academic growth.

In this country today, three facts are true: A college degree has never mattered more and its impact on lifetime earnings is enormous; if you're poor, the odds are less than one in ten you'll make it through college; and the American public doesn't believe schools can really be part of the solution to leveling the playing field or should be held accountable. There is a huge belief that poor kids' parents don't care if they succeed in school and, given their circumstances, how could we expect something better? So beyond the children we serve directly, we are working to capture the imagination of the American people by showing them that something very different is possible. For our country, with the resources and the aspirations we have, to accept what we have today is unfathomable.

PND: What is the role of the KIPP Foundation?

RB: The KIPP Foundation was created in 2001 when Gap co-founders Doris and Donald Fisher gave Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin $15 million to replicate the success of the first two KIPP schools in cities and communities across the country. The foundation has three core roles: growth, quality assurance, and, increasingly, the sharing of best practices. While we make sure the schools are living up to our mission, we also want to help them connect with and learn from each other so that as we get bigger, we can get even better.

The foundation focuses on recruiting, training, and supporting outstanding leaders to open new, locally run KIPP schools in high-need communities. We don't manage the schools — each one is run independently by the school leader and a local board of directors; rather, we are responsible for supporting and monitoring quality across the network.

When I came on board in January 2007, KIPP had just opened its forty-fifth school; this summer, we opened our eighty-second school. We have a five-year plan to grow to ninety-seven schools by 2010, and by next summer we will have reached or surpassed that goal thanks in part to the Walton Family Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, which all came in behind the Fishers to make that happen. Four years ago, Richard Rainwater and his foundation decided to be our primary sponsor for growing elementary schools nationally, and they have provided unbelievable support toward our expansion.

PND: One of the foundation's goals is to replicate the success of the two original KIPP schools, yet you've said that every KIPP school is different, in that it is shaped by the vision of its leader. So what exactly is the foundation replicating?

RB: We have a core belief in leadership, so the way we replicate is not through a manual or a prescribed program but in finding fantastic people and preparing them through a year-long fellowship to open a new KIPP school. In our organization, the major decisions are made by those closest to understanding the issues, so if we get the leadership piece right, most everything else will work out. The foundation decides which region should grow, when it grows, and how it grows. Today, KIPP has eighteen regional support organizations sharing a single services center, a common board, and an executive director. Schools within a region take advantage of economies of scale in securing talent and other resources. The shared services center supports their operations so they can focus on instruction. In a given region, KIPP begins with one school and scales up to five or ten schools....

To read the complete interview and/or leave a comment, click here.

The Case for Optimism

August 20, 2009

Optimism_yellow Anyone who knows me knows that I'm one of the last people they'd expect to make a bullish case for a quick or V-shaped economic recovery. And that's not what I'm going to do here.

But a short essay ("The Case for Optimism") in the August 24/31 issue of BusinessWeek is a nice reminder that even the darkest cloud has a silver lining. Or, as George Harrison might have put it, all things must pass, and this recession is no exception.

How does BusinessWeek make the case for "rational optimism" in the current economic environment? Well, their case has two components:

First, recessions such as this one, painful as they may be, can set the stage for future growth. As economist Joseph A. Schumpeter wrote in 1942, "creative destruction" shakes loose people from old, dying businesses and forces them to figure out new ways to be useful. Second, ingenuity is additive. Equipping one or two billion more of the world's people with higher education and better technology over the past couple of decades has increased humanity's ability to solve hard problems. The next world-changing breakthrough may come from China, or India, or Eastern Europe....

True, these are broad macroeconomic arguments and not entirely germane to what is happening on Nonprofit Street. But there's enough of a correlation between conditions in the nonprofit sector and the broader economy to allow one to argue that the sector will come out of this downturn stronger and better positioned to effect change than it was before it all hit the fan:

  • A lot of nonprofits will be forced to shut their doors, but those that survive will be stronger for it. This is the "arbitrary winnowing" scenario laid out in Paul Light's "Four Futures" paper. "In this scenario," writes Light, "some nonprofits will fold, while others will prosper as contributions flow to the most visible and largest organizations as well as to those most connected and influential with their donors." I'm not as pessimistic as some, in that I don't believe the "winnowing" will be that arbitrary. In this environment, weak and ineffective organizations are more likely to fail than stronger organizations able to demonstrate their effectiveness.
  • Ingenuity IS additive. And, thanks to the Internet and inexpensive (and free) communications tools, it has never been easier for nonprofits to collaborate, share best practices, and access creative, innovative thinking in any field or discipline.
  • Expectations have been reset. In the Reset Economy, the nonprofit or foundation job-for-life is an artifact of the past. And that means a lot of incredible nonprofit talent is going to be available for a very reasonable price.
  • Gen Y and the Millennials are here. Remember, once upon a time, before any of us knew what a 401(k) was, how we dreamed about changing the world? Well, that's what Gen Y and the Millennials dream about. Let's give 'em the tools and encouragement they need to make those dreams happen. I expect we'll be pleasantly surprised.

I know, this is a quick gloss on a serious topic, but I hope some of you will join me in discussing it further. In the meantime, let me just repeat a bit of advice from the BusinessWeek article offered by Paul J.H. Shoemaker, founder of a consultancy that advises companies and organizations on their decision-making strategies: Avoid the tendency to assume you fully grasp future risks and opportunities. Ask people not just what they know, but what they don't know and what they're not sure about. And, if you want to know what's coming down the pike, learn how to look everywhere at once.

Your thoughts? Use the comments section below....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Q&A With X PRIZE Foundation's Peter Diamandis

August 18, 2009

(Philanthropic prizes are back in the news with the announcement that PATH, a Seattle-based nonprofit that leverages innovative technologies and public- and private-sector resources to improve the health of individuals around the world, will receive the 2009 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. In this Q&A, PND's Matt Sinclair talks with Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, about his organization's approach to prize philanthropy.)

Diamandis Philanthropy News Digest: When Charles Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize in 1927 by flying his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, non-stop across the Atlantic, he did it without benefit of new technologies. Instead, he combined technologies that already existed with an innovative approach to his goal. Is today's prize philanthropy analogous to Lindbergh's solution to the challenge of transatlantic flight? Is there anything new here other than the approach?

Peter Diamandis: One of the most critical things a prize can do is change the public perception of what is possible via a physical demonstration. The world is filled with great technology that has never been applied to a concrete goal. Prize philanthropy -- and incentive prizes in particular -- are a mechanism for driving breakthroughs both in technology and in public perception. What we're doing at the X PRIZE Foundation is providing structure and a methodology that helps foundations and philanthropists to achieve their goals.

With respect to approach, there are three key attributes of a really effective incentive prize. First, the prize should be highly leveraged. If the prize is properly designed -- and not all prizes are -- you can drive ten to fifty times the amount of the prize purse to the achievement of your objective. Second, the prize should be efficient. That is, you only pay the winner; you don't pay someone with a good idea or someone who tries really hard but fails to deliver the goods, and you only pay on delivery. Third, and perhaps most important, the prize should give birth to a multitude of ideas, a multitude of solutions, rather than a single solution. That way, a new industry is born and can continue to compete and drive innovation after the prize goal has been achieved.

PND: Some might argue that the second and third attributes are contradictory.

PD: I see them as directly aligned. There are a lot of bad prizes out there, a lot of poorly designed prizes, and a lot of prizes that are just about selling. Creating an incentive prize that works is not easy. It's not a matter of putting up a bunch of money and coming up with a set of rules. When we design an X PRIZE, we're very concerned that there's a back-end business model related to the goal, so that when a prize is claimed it's not just another piece of technology to hang in a museum. Winning an X PRIZE is only the beginning. It's also about launching new industries that attract capital, that get the public excited, that create new markets. To quote a member of one of teams competing for the Ansari X PRIZE: "The first best thing could be that we win the Ansari X PRIZE. The second best thing is that someone else wins it."

You mentioned Lindbergh. After Lindbergh's non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic, the number of people who bought airplane tickets in the United States went from about 6,000 to 180,000 in eighteen months. That's a thirty-fold increase. And after the Ansari X PRIZE was won by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen, we saw more than $1 billion invested in the sub-orbital market. Though there has yet to be a commercial flight into space, hundreds of private customers have bought tickets for sub-orbital flights.

PND: Experimentation and failure go hand in hand. How important is failure to X PRIZE competitions -- and to philanthropy in general?

PD: The most important question for any philanthropist is, "What is your goal?" If your goal is to support an existing infrastructure, an existing methodology, then innovation prizes are not for you. If your goal is to help drive a breakthrough and fundamental change, then you need to be cognizant of the fact that the day before something is truly recognized as a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea. And if it was never viewed as a crazy idea, then you're probably not looking at something that will create fundamental change. A new supercomputer that's twice as fast as the fastest computer out there is not a breakthrough. Using silicon wafers to replace vacuum tubes, that's a breakthrough.

But think about it. Where in our society, in large companies, in government, in philanthropy do we build in real incentives for change? Where do we allow crazy ideas to bubble up and encourage real breakthrough thinking? It's rare. Government agencies are concerned about not failing in ways that might lead to a congressional investigation. Large corporations are worried about failures that can cause a decline in the price of their stock. Philanthropy is worried about protecting the corpus. Incentive prizes harness our innate competitive spirit and encourage teams of innovators to take risks, to try things that are going to fail, until one team succeeds.

PND: You mentioned that there are a lot of bad prizes out there. Is it important to the growth of prize philanthropy to have bad prizes out there so that the flaws in them can be identified and avoided in the future?

PD: That's a good question. I think it's fair to say that there already is a lot of information and knowledge out there about what makes a prize work. At the X PRIZE Foundation we have, as a staff, more than two hundred years of experience in prize philanthropy. I've studied every prize out there. That said, there have been new experiments, and I'm sure people will continue to come up with new ideas, which is great. Experimentation is welcome.

PND: Since the Ansari X PRIZE was claimed by Rutan and Allen's team in 2004, you've launched several new competitions with partners such as Google and Progressive Insurance. How does your organization decide which competitions and partnerships to enter into?

PD: It involves a couple of different things. First, we rely on our board of trustees and major benefactors, whom we call our Vision Circle members and who essentially are our principal shareholders. We plan to limit that group to twenty and have eleven so far. Vision Circle members agree to donate at least $2.5 million to support the foundation's operations. They are also invited to debate and deliberate at least twice a year about where they see opportunities for an X PRIZE, potential players in the market, the roles they might play, and so on. After Vision Circle members identify an area of specific interest, we take that to the board and start looking for a benefactor interested in helping us develop a prize model.

It typically takes us about eight months to a year to develop a prize. It starts with a group of ideas -- not just a single prize goal -- maybe a half dozen to a dozen ideas that we then narrow down. We determine which are likely to attract the most teams, which are likely to create the most public excitement, which are likely to create the most benefit. Then we sit down to develop a set of rules for the competition that can survive for six to eight years, a good guestimate for the length of most competitions, and we create a marketing/PR plan. There's a lot of work involved in properly designing a $1 million prize. But if you have a prize that has been thought through and fleshed out, a good business plan has the potential to attract tens of millions of dollars in prize money and additional funding. Ideally, that purse will drive $100 million in key expenditures collectively among the competitors. And if you do your job right, that $100 million can launch an industry worth billions.

-- Matt Sinclair

TED on Sunday: Hans Rosling on the Global HIV Pandemic

August 16, 2009

Data viz whiz Hans Rosling and his time-lapse "bubble" charts were the stars of one of our first "TED on Sunday" talks. In this fast-paced talk, the ever-energetic Rosling returns with another time-lapse presentation and some good news about the global HIV pandemic: after twenty-five years, the number of people worldwide living with HIV has stabilized at about 1 percent of the global adult population. After you've watched the talk, be sure to visit Rosling's Gapminder site, where you can view/download static and animated versions of the chart featured in the video below. (Posted: May 2009; Running time: 10:03)

Liked this talk? Try 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

Weekend Link Roundup (August 15 - 16, 2009)

August 15, 2009

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


Nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz is currently reviewing 1,700 taglines submitted to this year's Nonprofit Taglines Award competition and has this advice for organizations guilty of wasting "message real estate":

  1. Avoid repeating your organization's name in your tagline; and
  2. Feature your founding date only when it adds value.

What does it take to build a "great" Web site? Using the Children's National Medical Center's site as a model, Katya Andresen shares these tips.

Corporate Philanthropy

According to TCC Group vice president Thomas Knowlton, corporate foundations and giving programs have an added challenge in this economic climate that private foundations do not face: Their stakeholders also include internal executive management, boards, and far-flung employees. On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Chris Murakami Noonan, communications associate at the Minnesota Council on Foundations, offers some great questions for nonprofits looking to "build a business case for continued corporate giving" in tough times.


On the Nonprofit and Foundation Advocacy blog, Melissa Mikesell offers advice and counsel to California nonprofits and safety-net providers blind-sided by a second round of budget cuts announced earlier this month.


In a Washington Post op-ed, Sarah Fine, a former teacher, department chair and instructional coach at a Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy in Washington, D.C., explains why she decided to leave the teaching profession after four years. One of her reasons? "[T]he American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession," writes Fine, "and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it...." A must read.

Writing on Change.org's Social Entrepreneurship blog, Nathaniel Whittemore appreciates the irony of Fine's situation. Writes Whittemore:

We expect failure from students who grow up around drugs and without strong parental and community support. We expect failure from the teachers who would try to give them a different path forward.

In so doing, we cue society to look at our education system, and by extension the people in it, as broken; worthy of pity and perhaps even sad admiration, but fundamentally fighting an unwinnable battle and as such, naive.

And while our media machine holds up the Finding Forrester examples of unexpected success, the focus on exceptional individuals in the stories we tell ends up reinforcing the hopelessness of the system as a whole....


Earlier this summer, Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, noted on his personal blog that the watchdog organization was beginning to overhaul its oft-criticized evaluation system "to include two additional dimensions (beyond financial health) -- accountability (including transparency) and outcomes." Since then, Charity Navigator has initiated a series of "open forums" to surface "the most important topics facing the nonprofit and philanthropic worlds today." (You can read a transcript of the first forum here.) In a followup post, Berger discusses the value of measuring outcomes with David Bonbright, co-founder of Keystone Accountability.


On the Growthology blog, Dane Stangler, senior analyst at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, asks whether we really need daily doses of news. Writes Stangler:

There is little room for reflection in the daily news, notwithstanding the superficial weekly attempt in the Sunday editions to reflect on the prior week's event and what they might mean for the future. The daily news is, by and large, superficial. This doesn't mean journalists are superficial -- it's the nature of the subject matter, not the interlocutors. And there are exceptions, of course: in-depth stories, long features, etc, are all more helpful and more interesting than the daily news.

A democracy doesn't depend on constant, up-to-the-minute news any more than it depends on 100 percent voter participation. But don't we need newspapers to hold our elected officials accountable? If that's the primary raison d'etre of newspapers, then it's (a) a thin reed, and (b) they've done a pretty poor job of it during the Bush and Obama (so far) administrations. But what would we talk about at cocktail parties and conferences if not for newspapers? Maybe the demise of newspapers will prevent people from thinking they're smart simply because they read that day's Times or Journal. In fact, they might be smarter for having ignored them. And look, if something really big happens, you'll find about it....


In a world of uncertainty, writes Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, nonprofits that stick to strategic plans designed for a world of certainty are likely to underperform, if not fail. Instead, most organizations would be "better served by [embracing] adaptive planning," which involves things like continuous planning, planned redundancy, and decentralized decision making.

On the Business of Giving blog, Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim looks at the Ripple Effect, a new Washington State University initiative that "gives [individuals] a chance to engage in philanthropy at a level they can afford" by purchasing concrete items such as trees, goats, stoves, treadle pumps, or crop seeds for rural communities in the developing world.

Social Media

Community Philanthropy 2.0, a new study authored by Beth Kanter, Qui Diaz, and Geoff Livingston, finds that "High dollar donors use the social web, but have yet to be engaged by strong, trustworthy philanthropic organizations." Some other key findings from the report:

  • The online world of charitable activity is highly social, but also fragmented.
  • Online conversations rarely evolve into meaningful discussions about how nonprofits are achieving their missions and impacting society. Donors don't advise other donors, and generally, philanthropic experts from foundations do not participate in these discussions.
  • 80 percent of Internet-savvy respondents aged 30-49 reported that they would participate in social media with nonprofits if the information was highly credible and of strong quality, and 77 percent said they would participate if it came from a trusted source.
  • Online community-oriented social media is a preferred tool over most other forms of online conversation.

Click here to download the executive summary.

Taking a "break" from other discussions she's leading or is involved in, Kanter looks at patterns related to content shared by foundations on Twitter.

While those of us in the developed world struggle to organize and keep up with with the flood of information available on blogs, Twitter, and traditional news sites, communities in the developing are struggling to gain access to "potentially life-saving information," notes Adrienne Villani on the Future Leaders in Philanthropy blog. Adds Villani: "[W]hen I think about those who lack access -- access to education, access to employment, access to a better life -- the common denominator being access to information -- I thank my lucky stars....

Last but not least, earlier this month the V Foundation for Cancer Research and ExperienceProject.com launched TwitCause, a "national marketing program designed to raise awareness [about]...social causes and aid in fundraising efforts utilizing the Twitter platform." Twitter users following TwitCause are encouraged to re-tweet the site's charity pick of the week and "spread the word and...[about] good causes via personal tweets."

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend!

-- Regina Mahone

What Did Leona Want?

August 12, 2009

Trust_instrument Word that three prominent animal welfare organizations have petitioned Manhattan Surrogate Court to intervene in the matter of Leona Helmsley's $5 billion estate shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the story in PND or here on PhilanTopic.

According to the suit, a two-page "mission statement" drawn up by the hotel heiress before her death in 2007 expressly stated that her trust be used for the care of dogs and general charitable purposes. She also left $12 million for the care of Trouble, her beloved Maltese.

After her death, the five trustees -- Helmsley's brother, two grandsons, her lawyer, and a longtime friend -- and the New York attorney general's office filed separate motions in Surrogate's Court arguing that the so-called mission statement did not limit the trust to the purposes stipulated by Mrs. Helmsley. Earlier this year, Judge Troy K. Webber agreed, ruling that the trustees could "apply trust funds for such charitable purposes and in such amounts as they may, in their sole discretion, determine."

And that's what they did. In April, the trustees announced the first round of grants from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust -- $136 million to a variety of tax-exempt institutions and nonprofits, including $40 million to support the creation of a digestive diseases center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center; $15 million to various healthcare systems in South Dakota; $6.6 million to Joint Aid Management USA to support construction of a food factory and warehouse to help provide food aid to local communities in southern Africa; $2 million to the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration to create a Helmsley Scholarship; $750,000 to the National Geographic Society to help create a conservation fund for the Galapagos Islands; and $350,000 to the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School. The trustees also awarded a total of $1 million to ten dog-related organizations -- $900,000 of it to groups that work with seeing-eye dogs.

Animal welfare groups cried foul. "Mrs. Helmsley's Trust Agreement and Mission Statement were clear: Help dogs. And the trustees have not done this, and instead pursued their own agendas with Mrs. Helmsley's money," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, one of the groups (along with Maddie's Fund and the ASPCA) filing the suit.

In other words, the suit is about donor intent. Okay, it's about money, too. But more importantly, it's about whether "the courts are willing to enforce donor intent," especially when it involves dogs and their welfare. Or, as Rich Avanzino, president of Maddie's Fund, the nation's largest animal welfare organization, put it in the same statement: "Literally hundreds of millions of dollars that have been willed by people nationally who cared about dogs have not gone to provide for dogs as was intended. The ignoring of donor intent in this country has become an unspoken national shame."

I'm sympathetic to that argument -- even if it's weakened by the fact that the three animal welfare groups involved in the suit are at pains to distance themselves from the eight-figure bequest to little Trouble. That's a totally separate issue, said Pacelle in a press conference yesterday to announce the legal challenge, leaving unsaid what many people no doubt think: Directing $5 billion to animal welfare groups -- or even a "significant" portion of that amount, say, $2.5 billion -- might be as irresponsible as leaving $12 million to a single dog. (In June, it was revealed that Manhattan surrogate court judge Renee Roth, with support from the New York AG's office, had knocked $10 million off the $12 million award to Trouble.)

Not surprisingly, the trustees of the Helmsley Trust agree that it all boils down to donor intent; they just don't agree on the petitioners' interpretation of Mrs. Helmsley's intent. Indeed, a statement on the trust's Web site goes to some length to make that point:

Did Leona Helmsley intend for this charitable trust to focus on the care and help of dogs, rather than people? Absolutely not. Have the trustees of this vast fortune acted improperly and ignored Mrs. Helmsley's instructions? Again, absolutely not....

Then, after seven paragraphs detailing evidence and arguments in support of this assertion, the statement closes thusly:

One final thought. Mrs. Helmsley was not known for reticence. Here, her actions spoke as clearly as the words of the Trust documents. In the eight years between the formation of the Trust and her death, Mrs. Helmsley contributed (as the sole trustee of this Trust and otherwise) over $55 million to charitable causes; of that amount, she made only one gift to a dog-related charity, for one thousand dollars.

Even more telling is this: The claim that the Trust was established for dog-related purposes relies on a document entitled "Mission Statement" signed by Mrs. Helmsley in 2004. Between her signing that document and her death -- during which time she alone controlled the Trust -- Mrs. Helmsley and the Trust gave over $29 million to charities; of that, the amount she and the Trust gave to dog-related charities was exactly zero.

Okay, so these kinds of disagreements are not unusual when large fortunes are at stake. And Pacelle and Avanzino raise an important point when they argue, as they did in their press conference, that judges, lawyers, and trustees -- most of them men -- are often quick to ignore the wishes of wealthy heiresses, especially when those wishes involve large amounts of tax-advantaged dollars being directed to the care and succor of animals.

But this particular situation is not casting any of the parties involved in a particularly flattering light. It's time for the New York AG's office, the Helmsley trustees, and the animal rights groups that filed suit to sit down and work out a compromise.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Jobs and the Recovery

August 11, 2009

Anyone who thinks the "green shoots" of spring signal an imminent and/or robust economic recovery should consider these facts from Bob Herbert's op-ed column in ("A Scary Reality") today's New York Times:

Only 65 of every 100 men aged 20 through 24 years old were working on any given day in the first six months of this year. In the age group 25 through 34 years old, traditionally a prime age range for getting married and starting a family, just 81 of 100 men were employed.

For male teenagers, the numbers were disastrous: only 28 of every 100 males were employed in the 16- through 19-year-old age group. For minority teenagers, forget about it. The numbers are beyond scary; they're catastrophic.

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn't just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder....

The official jobless rate is now...9.4 percent....It ticked down by 0.1 percent last month not because more people found jobs, but because 450,000 people withdrew from the labor market. They stopped looking, so they weren't counted as unemployed.

A truer picture of the employment crisis emerges when you combine the number of people who are officially counted as jobless with those who are working part time because they can't find full-time work and those in the so-called labor market reserve -- people who are not actively looking for work...but would take a job if one became available.

The tally from those three categories is a mind-boggling 30 million Americans -- 19 percent of the overall work force....

And that, says Herbert, is by far the nation's biggest problem and should be its number-one priority. Hard to argue with that.

-- 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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