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24 posts from August 2009

Diversity in Grantmaking: A South Asian Perspective

August 10, 2009

(Archana Sridhar is associate director of the Hennick Centre for Business and Law at York University in Toronto and a regular contributor to the South Asian Philanthropy Project blog. This post was written for the "Overheard” column in the September issue of Thought > Action > Impact , an e-journal published by the Council on Foundations, and also appears, in slightly different form, on the SAPP blog.)

Diversity2 We often think of South Asians in the United States as newly wealthy, super-educated, and professional. While this is certainly the case for many South Asian Americans (and thus the focus of many of the SAPP's own efforts to encourage philanthropy), there are also pockets of need within the South Asian American community beyond what we normally think about the population. Our community faces issues of poverty, class, immigration status, language access, and gender inequality.

For a grantmaker then, diversity in grantmaking means -- most obviously -- increasing the flow of grants to beneficiaries in need within the South Asian American community. For this to happen, though, program officers themselves need to be more diverse and connected to the community -- intimately understanding its dynamics in relation to the overall health of the larger population. For example, the South Asian community faces some special needs for funding and services, such as immigration counseling, legal aid, certain types of health care and education (such as heart disease and diabetes), domestic violence care, and small business start up and education. On the flip side, diverse grantmaking would leverage special talents in diverse communities -- in our case, perhaps our strengths in the health care and computer technology fields, our strong connections abroad, and our commitment to education more generally.

But these are the obvious answers, right? Reframing the question a bit helps to see a bigger issue that I've mentioned before when blogging about the Greenlining Institute controversy: Rather than thinking about diversity in grantmaking only on the grantmaker side, what about thinking about diversity on the grantseeker side, too? There are many agencies that have a long history of successful foundation fundraising that need to examine their own practices when it comes to diversity -- here I'm thinking of established community organizations that are also large grant recipients, such as museums, orchestras, private schools. This may mean diversifying their boards and staffs, but also (more importantly in my opinion) diversifying their outreach to beneficiaries.

Grantmakers can play an important role in promoting diversity by advocating for it as a stakeholder with grantees. Grantmakers can ask applicants questions like:

  • Who benefits from your programs and services?
  • What is the breakdown of your beneficiaries by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.?
  • What steps are you taking to reach out to diverse communities in your programming and access to your services (such as language, board representation, location of activities, etc.)?

A final point. Our work at SAPP so far has shown that while there are tons of organizations serving the needs of South Asians abroad, there are not many focused on the South Asian population here in North America. And of those, most are focused on discrete, small-scale approaches -- so small-scale that grantmakers may not find them attractive. There aren't that many larger-scale organizations providing multi-layered services to South Asians nationally or even regionally -- SAALT being the main exception. Diversity in grantmaking may also mean that grantmakers targeting diverse communities need to prepare a different set of criteria for evaluation, consider awarding more seed funding grants, and provide advice to small nonprofits about scaling up and replicating their services.

-- Archana Sridhar

Weekend Link Roundup (August 8 - 9, 2009)

August 09, 2009

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

Climate Change

The American Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, has launched a virtual companion to their special exhibition Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future. Organized into five sections (Causes/Evidence, Impacts, Adaptations, New Directions, Solutions), the slideshow "explains the science of climate change and explores the future implications" of a warming planet.

The folks at the New York City-based Open Society Institute have posted a video of "The Adaptation Imperative: Food Security and Climate Change," an hour-long conversation featuring Ecoagriculture Partners founder Sara Scherr, OSI fellow Mark Hertsgaard, and author Ross Gelbspan (Boiling Point, The Heat Is On).


On the Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP) blog, Eduardo Arias explains how Google's grant program for nonprofits works.


The NonProfit Times has published its annual Power and Influence Top 50 list, which (as Mitch noted earlier in the week) "honor[s] nonprofit executives who are creating impact." Leaders are nominated by NPT staff, contributing editors, former nominees, and "a few elected, plugged-in people." Writing on her blog, Rosetta Thurman argues that "Whenever we hold up a mirror to our sector by creating one of these lists...we also assume the responsibility of reflecting our sector as best we can." But she's not convinced that this year's list passes that test.

Nathaniel Whittemore agrees, though for different reasons. On the Social Entrepreneurship blog, Whittemore writes that while this year's P&I Top 50 is "full of amazing people," the list does not include any bloggers or social media gurus. And that is an oversight, says Whittemore, because "it is no longer [just] the presidents of foundations who get to convene conversations and have a say in how the field is changing."


Guest blogging on Tactical Philanthropy, John MacIntosh of SeaChange Capital Partners rebuts Sean Stannard-Stockton's definition of "high performance" in a nonprofit context.

On the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Philanthropy Potluck blog, Lisa Johnson, MCF's manager of professional and e-learning, interviews Phil Buchanan, president at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, about CEP's research on foundation effectiveness.

Nonprofit Management

Earlier this summer, on the WSJ's Laid Off and Looking blog, Dawn Jordan, former operations VP at Bank of America, weighed the pros and cons of starting a nonprofit as a way to "move [past] a layoff." Blogging at Nonprofit Board Crisis, Mike Burns urges Jordan to think twice before taking the plunge. "[N]onprofit businesses are struggling just as much as for-profit businesses," writes Burns, "and while the entry costs may be relatively low...there are also many operational and long-range/sustainability questions that must be answered."

Charity Navigator has released its 5th annual CEO compensation survey, which finds that the top executives of the 5,448 charities in the CN database earned an average salary of $158,075 -- a year-over-year increase of 6.1 percent. Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, recently spoke with Fox Business News about the survey.

The NonProfit Times has launched Best NonProfits to Work for '10, a survey and recognition program dedicated to finding and recognizing the best employers in the nonprofit industry.


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen takes a closer look at Steven Goldberg's recent book Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets: Why Philanthropy Doesn't Advance Social Progress. In the book, Goldberg argues that "big donors should be more willing to concentrate massive resources in single approaches over the long haul to take promising programs to scale." Although Andresen agrees that donors should invest more in programs that work, Goldberg's call "for centralized giving goes too far and neglects...local groups." (Read a review of the book by William Schambra, director of the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, here.)

In a followup to his much-discussed high performance/high impact post, Sean Stannard-Stockton asks whether the argument in the book Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits is flawed because "the twelve organizations from which the six practices...[were] derived have not...achieved impact." Forces for Good co-author Heather McLeod Grant weighs in with her own thoughtful comment.

Social Change

Lucy Bernholz has compiled a terrific list of upcoming "conferences that matter" on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.

Social Media

This was a rough week for Twitter, which experienced a denial-of-service attack on Thursday that took the site down for half a day and continues to cause it problems. Teething pains aside, Twitter is the "great flattener," a "sledgehammer," writes consultant Mitch Hurst on his With or Without You blog, that threatens to subvert highly structured organizations and create challenges for foundation and nonprofit managers for years to come.

In a post and video on Beth's Blog, Jill Finlayson, marketing manager at the Skoll Foundation, explains how foundations can use social media to position themselves as thought leaders.

In "Crowded Roads Ahead for Charity 2.0," Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, suggests that social networkers may be getting "fed up" with the blizzard of requests for donations from charities and nonprofits on Facebook and Twitter. When the message a nonprofit spreads about their good work "starts to seem like spam," writes McCarthy, it may be time for the organization to reevaluate its social media strategy.

Responding to McCarthy’s article, Beth Kanter predicts that "movement building around causes/issues versus brands is going to be more and more important." Kanter also offers these reflections on cause fatigue and the issue of overcrowding on social networking sites:

  • It's important to be in the more "crowded" places so your social networking presence on your own site doesn't become an isolated silo. It gets beyond a unique presence into building deeper engagement and building relationships.
  • The issue of scaling. Nonprofits that are doing this work are involving the entire organization…. We need to get away from the idea that one organization has to do it all - that working in networks of organizations - focused on overall issue is part of the future. This involves simplifying and focusing on core strengths - networking the rest of the instrastructure.


In India to accept the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, Bill Gates suggested during a seminar that "Technology holds the key to solving many of India's health-care and education challenges." But on the Business of Giving blog, Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim argues that when it comes to philanthropy, "high-tech solutions don’t always work."

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

-- Regina Mahone

:44 of Insanity

No TED Talk this week. Instead, check out this short video of what just might be the craziest stunt you've ever seen (h/t Paul Kedrosky). Here's the setup:

"Remember the old “slip n slide” water slides from your childhood? The general idea was to add water to some treated plastic and you could slide...which looking back doesn’t sound all that exciting, but on a hot summers day it was a lot of fun.

"But what if you took that concept further, added a large hill, a ramp, a pool and some extremely well calculated mathematics? You’d get this video which shows the most insane water slide ever created." (Don't try this in you back yard.)

-- Mitch Nauffts

Lumina Knows Everyone Is Watching: That's Part of the [Strategic] Plan

August 06, 2009

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, a stand-alone 501(c) dedicated to helping advance, promote, and encourage the adoption of effective communications practices in philanthropy. In March, he blogged about the strategic value of funders viewing their work through a limited-life lens.)

Compass_pic It's probably not in the plans, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Lumina Foundation for Education renting a sign in New York City's Times Square to call attention to its strategic plan -- or at least to report on the progress it is making.

In recent weeks, Indianapolis-based Lumina has been as open and as visible as any foundation could possibly be in outlining what it calls its "big goal" and what has to happen to get there. Between now and 2025, the foundation wants to see the percentage of Americans with high-quality college degrees and credentials reach 60 percent. According to the foundation, only about 39 percent of American adults today hold a two- or four-year degree -- "a rate that has held remarkably steady for four decades." Reaching the higher number, say Lumina officials, will require the United States to graduate nearly 800,000 more students each year over the next sixteen years.

The foundation is anything but shy about its initiative. To get the word out, it has been emailing detailed descriptions of its strategy to a range of audiences, providing a comprehensive overview on its Web site of how it intends to achieve these goals, and featuring its president, Jamie Merisotis, in print and broadcast interviews.

And as eager as the foundation is for others to know its plans, it is similarly committed to keeping the public informed of its progress over the next sixteen years. In other words, it will be life in a fishbowl for quite some time at the foundation. Notes Dianna Boyce, communications associate, "We haven't yet come up with the equivalent of the United Way thermometer to report on progress. But we're working on that."

But there's another reason for the foundation's ultra-transparency, and which shows how it has wisely calculated the key role communications must play in its change strategy. According to Lumina officials, the foundation not only intends to hold itself accountable for what it hopes to achieve, it is serving notice on many others throughout American society that this work cannot succeed unless a lot of players pitch in. As Lumina states in its strategy documents, to push college completion rates 50 percent higher by 2025 "will require substantial change in just about every aspect of the American education system."

It goes on to say:

As the nation's largest private foundation focused exclusively on getting more Americans into and through higher education, Lumina has a unique leadership opportunity -- and responsibility -- to create a national sense of urgency so as to stimulate action in higher education and public policy to achieve the big goal. Lumina Foundation will be a catalyst in America's pursuit of the goal and the critical outcomes.

"Cleary communicating our direction helps drive our planning and gives others a window into where we are headed, incenting them to join us along the road," said Lumina's Merisotis.

Toward that end, Lumina also says:

The Big Goal by 2025 is possible if the nation directs attention to three critical outcomes:

  1. Students are prepared academically, financially, and socially for success in education beyond high school.
  2. Higher education completion rates are improved significantly.
  3. Higher education productivity is increased to expand capacity and serve more students.

In other words, lawmakers and policy makers at all levels, along with educators and many others, will likely share in the final grade this effort receives. Toward that end, the foundation, "in partnership with other stakeholders," says it will concentrate its energy and efforts on improving student preparedness, student success, and college productivity.

So how would you grade the foundation's work so far?

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

Social Innovation Fund - Resource List

August 05, 2009

(The summary below was pulled together by Stephen Sherman, a reference librarian at the Foundation Center's Atlanta office. What did we miss? Use the comments section to let us know.)

The Corporation for National and Community Service has recently published answers to frequently asked questions about the forthcoming Social Innovation Fund. Athorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the fund will award grants in the range of $1 to $10 million to existing grantmaking institutions (government agencies, private foundations, etc.) to provide subgrants to nonprofit community organizations to expand or replicate proven initiatives or to develop new initiatives for underserved populations. Although Congress has not yet approved funding for the plan, President Obama has requested that $50 million be appropriated for the Social Innovation Fund for FY 2010.

Besides providing much-needed capacity-building support for community nonprofits, the fund also wwill ork to maximize the impact of government funding by requiring grantmaking institutions to implement evidence-based practices in the funding decision process and to use measurable outcomes to assess the effectiveness of their subgrants. In addition, grantmaking institutions and nonprofit community organizations that are awarded grants will be required to provide matching funds, such that every $1 in government spending will ultimately result in $3 in funding for programs and services.

For more information on the Social Innovation Fund, read CNCS' Frequently Asked Questions on the Social Innovation Fund or see the following articles and online resources:What Exactly is the Social Innovation Fund?
Why the Social Innovation Fund Matters
Sean Stannard-Stockton - Tactical Philanthropy

Details on the Social Innovation Fund from the Serve America Act
America Forward

White House Seeks $50-Million for 'Social Innovation'
Chronicle of Philanthropy

$50 Million Social Innovation Fund To Target Education, Health, Economy
NonProfit Times

Mrs. Obama Announces New Fund to Aid Nonprofits
New York Times

What Is the Social Innovation Fund?
White House Blog

-- Stephen Sherman

Quote of the Day (August 4, 2009)

August 04, 2009

Quotemarks "The continuing existence of race in the United States indicates conspiracy and cover-up. An attempt to make more palatable to ourselves, and anyone watching, the not-so-secret dirty secret shared by all Americans that our country, in spite of public professions to the contrary, entertains a deeply internalized, segregated vision of itself. We look at ourselves and believe we see White Americans or Black Americans. We perceive our problems as Black or White problems. The urgent task of redressing the shameful neglect of American children gets postponed by hand-wringing and finger-pointing at feckless black fathers and the damage they're inflicting upon their black offspring. Or sidetracked just as effectively by blaming society and exempting blacks because race tells us blacks are permanent victims, not agents of change. The truth of too many black boys in prison, too many black babies dying, too many hungry young black youngsters being raised in dire poverty, too many terrible black schools -- these truths misrepresented by discourses perpetuating the myth of separate races don't spur us to action but become an occasion for shedding crocodile tears, washing our hands of personal as well as collective responsibility. More than half a century ago James Baldwin outed this kind of hiding from the consequences of radicalized thinking as willed innocence. At this late date, displays of surprise or ignorance about how bad things are for our children suggest dishonesty, signify complicity, conscious or unconscious, with the cover-up...."

-- John Edgar Wideman, "Fatheralong," Harper's Magazine (August 2009)

NPT Power & Influence 50, 2009 Edition

August 03, 2009

News_NPT50 As it does every year at this time, the NonProfit Times has published a new edition of its Power and Influence Top 50 -- its valiant/controversial/[fill in the blank] attempt to honor nonprofit executives who are creating impact and introducing innovations "to evolve the charitable sector."

This year's edition boasts the P&I debut of eighteen nonprofit leaders -- the largest turnover in the twelve-year history of the list. It also includes seven executives who were on last year's list, three executives who had fallen off the list for at least a year, and one exec -- William C. McGinly, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy -- who has made the list every year since its inception.

As NPT editors are quick to point out, selection to the list is not scientific. NPT solicits nominations -- more than 250 this year -- from its editorial staff, contributing editors, former nominees, and "a few elected, plugged-in people." The process, according to the publication, is also "intended to ensure that most disciplines within the sector have a representative....[T]his year the selections were weighted toward public service but the vital technology segment of the sector is also represented."

That may be, but a number of nonprofit practitioners and people who follow the sector on Twitter are questioning the list's claim to be "representative" of current trends and developments in the sector, citing, among other things, the conspicuous absence of influential bloggers and social media thought leaders and a less obvious but still noticeable lack of diversity on the list.

What do you think of this year's Power and Influence Top 50? Is it sufficiently representative of current trends and developments in the sector? Does it adequately reflect the diversity of the sector? And if not, who is missing? What say ye?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (August 1-2, 2009)

August 02, 2009

Chain-links Midummer special: Two weeks worth of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy....


Is your organization struggling to get control of its online messaging? Nancy Schwartz, who writes the Getting Attention blog, offers these tips for listening to the online conversation and building sustainable relationships based on that information.


On his blog, Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of Guidestar, argues that the “sector’s going to have to come up with new ways to cope with fewer resources and greater demand.” Ottenhoff, who recently joined Foundation Center president Brad Smith in a teleconference devoted to the nonprofit and foundation response to the economic downturn (download the podcast here; read our coverage here), suggests that “outsourcing, more meaningful collaborations, pooling resources, and bartering are just some of the options we need to consider.”


In "The Way We Write Is All Wrong: A Profile of and Prescription for Fixing the Broken Discourse of Fund Raising," Frank Dickerson, founder and president of High Tech Solutions and the man behind TheWrittenVoice.org, argues that fundraising copy produced by most nonprofit organizations lacks linguistic features that create an interpersonal, emotional connection with the reader. How to fix the problem? Fundraisers, more than most people, says Dickerson, need to "care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper."

Riffing on the same report, Jeff Brooks argues on his Donor Power Blog that most fundraising copy is "wooden, artificial, dull, and ineffective," and offers a theory as to why fundraising copy is the way it is: Committees. Jeff's post and Dickerson's report are both worth a look.

Today, more than ever, fundraisers need to think outside the box to inspire donors to give. On the Idealist blog, Joanna Eng tips her hat to two nonprofit organizations, the Salvation Army of Northern New England and the Queens Museum of Art, for creating "recession-friendly fundraising campaigns." Is your organization reinventing its fundraising pitch and materials to reflect the new normal?

Continue reading »

TED on Sunday: Bill Gates on the Importance of Being Optimistic

It should come as no surprise that the world's richest man and most visible philanthropist is a self-proclaimed optimist. But as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates argues in this TED talk, he has reason to be. The average human lifespan has doubled over the last hundred years. Infant mortality has fallen by a factor of two. Dreadful diseases such as smallpox and polio have been fully or almost fully eradicated. And, argues Gates, even greater victories lie ahead -- if we can muster the will and the resources to pursue them. (Posted: February 2009; Running time: 20:17)

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

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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