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23 posts from September 2009

To Measure or Not to Measure

September 30, 2009

I don't know about you, but I'm confused. With Wall Street riding high and "Happy Days Are Here Again" the backdrop in economics faculty lounges across the country, you'd almost think it was 1999.

The story on Nonprofit Street is different, of course, as mandatory furloughs turn into involuntary layoffs and the prospects for 2010 and beyond (to paraphrase the Farrellys) look grim and grimmer. Indeed, common sense would seem to suggest that launching a performance measurement initiative in such a resource-constrained environment is about the last thing nonprofits should be thinking about.

Not so, says Andrew Wolk, the founder and CEO of Root Cause, in a new op-ed piece posted to PND. In these uncertain times, Wolk writes, the "pressure on nonprofits to prove their worth has never been greater. Doing good is no longer enough. [And today], there's a spotlight on better measurement...."

Fair enough. The problems confronting us are great, the resources needed to address them are enormous, and time, in many cases, is short. Institutions, organizations, and leaders in every sector of society need to step up and deliver the goods.

But performance measurement? Is that really something nonprofits can afford -- and philanthropic investors are willing to support -- with so many immediate needs demanding our attention and dollars?

Yes, says Wolk. In fact, it may be the key to your organization's future success, perhaps even it's survival. That's the good news. The better news, he adds, is that designing a solid performance measurement system is less daunting than it might seem. Here, says Wolk, are some key things to remember:

  • Review your mission. Make sure it's specific enough and that all your programs and services link to it.
  • Select measurement indicators tied to your organization's strategic plan and internal goals.
  • Include indicators not only for organizational health and program performance, but also for social and economic performance that give a real sense of your organization's outcomes and progress in meeting its vision.
  • Keep it simple; don't get overwhelmed (especially if your organization is new to performance measurement). Focus on what's most helpful to better understand your progress in carrying out your mission. You can refine later.
  • Employ a variety of measurement tools, including spreadsheets and intake forms, interviews, observations, and surveys.
  • Allow room for experimentation; that's the essence of innovation. Especially in the early years, you need to have some time and freedom to test what works.
  • Be prepared for some terrific learning opportunities. Your data will help you more clearly see opportunities for ongoing improvement and modifications in your programs, ultimately leading to more success and an impressive "report card" that will help you keep current donors and impress potential ones.

Sounds good on paper. But what about in the real world? Is this the right time for nonprofits to be thinking about impact measurement and organizational metrics? Can appeals to effectiveness trump funders' concerns about their battered endowments? And can anyone point to advice and/or resources beyond those offered by Wolk for nonprofits who want to take plunge?

Leave your comments below...

-- Mitch Nauffts

October Is Funding for Arts Month at the Foundation Center

September 29, 2009

(This entry was originally posted on the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center-San Francisco blog.)

Artsmonth_logo_lg In just a few days, the Foundation Center will launch its celebration of Funding for Arts Month with a full slate of events, classes, and resources designed to help artists and nonprofit arts organizations become better grantseekers and secure more funding. In anticipation of the month-long event, we wanted to share this ninety-minute video (opens in Windows Media Player) of a lively discussion presented by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation and Center for Cultural Innovation, with support from the James Irvine Foundation.

Earlier this year, over two hundred arts leaders gathered at the Jean Runyon Little Theater in Sacramento to hear Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and author of The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations, speak about what arts groups can do to weather the financial storm. (You can read PND's review of Kaiser's book here).

Drawing from his experience as the leader of several high-profiile arts organizations, Kaiser shared ten tips for reviving and sustaining financially distressed arts groups:

  1. Someone must lead.
  2. The leader must have a plan.
  3. You cannot "save" your way to health.
  4. Focus on today and tomorrow, not yesterday.
  5. Extend your programming planning calendar.
  6. Marketing is more than brochures and advertisements.
  7. There must be only one spokesman and the message must be positive.
  8. Fundraising must focus on the larger donor, but don't aim too high.
  9. The board must allow itself to be restructured.
  10. The organization must have the discipline to follow each of these rules.

To watch the full video, click here.

And for more information about all the free programs being held in the Center's Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, and San Francisco locations in October, visit the Focus on Funding for the Arts  page. 

-- Sara Jo Neubauer

Weekend Link Roundup (September 26 - 27, 2009)

September 27, 2009


Here's this week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

Over at the Createquity blog, Ian David Moss offers a detailed examination of Americans for the Arts' 2007 economic impact survey Arts & Economic Prosperity III and its finding that "the nonprofit arts sector is responsible for $166.2 billion in economic activity nationwide." His conclusion: "A&EP III is a serious study, one worthy of our attention and use for advocacy and research purposes. However, some of its potential impact is undermined by the hyperbolic language with which it is often presented to the press and politicians...." (Thanks for the tip, Ian).


In the fourth installment of his "Connecting" series, Philanthropy Journal publisher Todd Cohen argues that stories "capture the indispensable role that nonprofits and charitable giving play in our communities" and can also "teach, inspire and engage." But in order to do so, says Cohen, they need to be clear, authentic, and genuine.

As part of the Case Foundation's Gear Up for Giving initiative, a month-long series of social media tutorials, Marnie Webb, co-CEO of TechSoup Global, lists five ways that nonprofits can build stronger relationships with their supporters:

  1. Write them a note. For no reason at all.
  2. Show up at their party.
  3. Give your supporters something special.
  4. Give them something else to do.
  5. Ask for feedback and change because of it.


For the next three weeks, Rosetta Thurman will profile Hispanic-American nonprofit leaders on her blog in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Last week, Thurman posted the first and second installments in her series, highlighting the affinity group Hispanics in Philanthropy and posting an interview with Ian Bautista, president of United Neighborhood Centers of America.

On the Greater New Orleans Foundation's Second Line blog, guest contributor Martin Gutierrez, executive director of Neighborhood and Community Services, celebrates the contributions that Hispanics have made to the post-Katrina recovery of communities in the Greater New Orleans area.


"Isn't it time to ask how ideas from the non-profit world can improve business?" writes Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim on her Business of Giving blog. The economic crisis has proven that "the market is [not] the best judge of success or failure," adds Heim. How then can nonprofits help the business world reinvent itself? Matthew Bishop, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, offered a few ideas in a recent talk, which Heim includes in her post.


Can money buy happiness? According to a recent op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, it can. On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen connects the Morning News piece to charity and reminds fundraising professionals that they are not only in the business of doing good; they're in the business of making people feel great.

On a similar note, Gift Hub blogger Phil Cubeta admonishes fundraisers to rise above their own agendas and serve, rather than solicit, donors. Writes Cubeta:

If [fundraisers] want...a seat at the planning table where the big dollars are planned, they too will have to serve not solicit the donor. They do that by letting go of a personal agenda long enough to learn what motivates the donor, to recommend advisory work when needed, and to suggest a mission match and charitable tools when and only when they fit in the larger planning picture....

And on the Donor Power Blog, Jeff Brooks says that you shouldn't believe everything you hear about the imminent demise of direct mail.


On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation blog, Margaret Stanley, former executive director of the Puget Sound Health Alliance, suggests that they key to healthcare reform may involve forging bonds and achieving consensus among local organizations and stakeholders.

International Affairs/Development

Can microfinance institutions sustain their business models in a down economy? Perhaps, says John Liebhardt on the Global Voices Online blog, thanks to the emergence of social media technology. Writes Liebhardt:

The marriage of microlending and social media works two ways. First it allows a disparate group of people, perhaps the entrepreneurs, to communicate and become organized. Secondly, it allows them to reach out and relay their message with the larger world. Microlending organizations have latched on to this, leveraging technology to make sure potential lenders can put a face to recipients’ stories. Perhaps these personal bonds originate from the Grameen Bank, which began lending funds on the basis of trust and used peer pressure to insure the loans were repaid. Or, perhaps microlenders online use interpersonal connections as a bulwark against compassion fatigue....

"With all the technology supporting these sites, however," adds Liebhardt, one has to wonder "whether these schemes will pass the sustainability test that often separates good development projects from just good ideas....

(H/t: AFP blog)


On the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center–Atlanta blog, Asia Hadley shares what she saw on a recent visit to New Orleans and asks, Where did the money go? As Hadley notes, a new Foundation Center report, Giving in the Aftermath of the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes (2007-2009), attempts to answer that question and, in so doing, reveals "a shift in the focus of service providers and grantmakers from immediate relief to recovery and rebuilding." But as Hadley also notes, less affluent parts of the city still have a long way to go.


Writing on the eJewish Philanthropy blog, Steven Windmueller argues that "we are experiencing the greatest institutional crisis since the 1930s" and that "thinking outside the box" may not be enough to lead organizations through the current crisis as the "box" itself has become a moving target. In the "new normal," adds Windmueller, complexity is the name of the game, nothing is sacred, and values-driven leadership must be embraced as an essential feature of successful institutions.


"From the standpoint of foundation giving, more than half of the impact of the stock market crash has yet to be felt," writes Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog. Indeed, says Stannard-Stockton, the

full effect of the financial crises will not hit the foundation sector until next year. When it does, the thing that will matter most to the social sector will be whether the influence of the collective expertise of foundation employees is greatly diminished or whether foundations step up to the plate and find creative ways to get their knowledge into the hands of major donors....

Social Entrepreneurship

The MacArthur Foundation has announced its 2009 fellows. And among the many terms used to describe these talented people, "social entrepreneur" fits best, says Nathaniel Whitemore on the Change.org blog. "[The winners] share a capacity to think differently and look for creative solutions," writes Whittemore, and "an unwillingness to accept the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be." Sounds like a pretty good definition of a social entrepreneur to us.

Social Media

On the Social Edge site, publisher and CauseWired author Tom Watson explains how this year's meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative became "a virtual boombox empowering women" thanks in part to social media wielded by celebs, bloggers, and journalists from traditional media outlets.

We can all learn from the social messenger framework developed by David Lipscomb, founder and president of communications firm Redpen21, says social media expert Beth Kanter. The idea, writes Kanter, is that nonprofits should not only use social media to listen and engage, but also think about how engagement supports their overall communications goals.


The Huffington Post has launched a new technology portal. Kicking things off, Robin Caldwell, managing editor at BlackWeb20, weighs in with a post about the "missing faces in technology and innovation." Writes Caldwell:

As we inch closer to Web 3.0, the question of ownership will be directly tied to who has access to the necessary tools to build on the "land." And if memory serves me correctly, the one who owns the land is the one who holds the power.

So why is it that I see the same names and faces -- none of which look like mine -- positioned as thought leaders and innovators in Web 2.0? Why do I see the same faces as representative of the power in technology

I've been informed on more than one occasion that we're hard to find....

[But] we're here. Now you know. And once you know, you're accountable....

And in part two of her forward-looking "Decoding the Future" series, Lucy Bernholz argues that cloud technology and peer to peer networks are on the verge of changing expectations about philanthropic data and the behaviors associated with those expectations. These changes, says Bernholz, "coupled with changes in the public and private sectors, are pushing a transition to a 'social economy' made up of interdependent public, private and philanthropic capital and creators of social goods." Good stuff, as always.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Gen Y and the Recession

September 26, 2009


Over the past year, young nonprofit workers have watched friends in other industries -- from book publishing to finance -- lose good-paying jobs. Now, with evidence mounting that it's the nonprofit sector's turn in the cross-hairs, many young nonprofit workers are nervously wondering if they'll be next.

So it was a pleasant surprise to come across a recent article by Generation Y expert Amy Lynch in the Cookeville (TN) Times that paints a more optimistic picture of my generation's response to the downturn.

Few of today's 20-somethings, Lynch reminds us, escaped childhood free of financial worries. Also know as Millennials, the oldest members of Gen Y were toddlers during the great downsizing wave of the early 1980s, were in elementary and middle school during the recession of 1991, and graduated from college just in time for the dot-com bust, the Enron fiasco, and the recession that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11. Members of Gen Y "have never experienced a sustained period of financial prosperity," says Lynch, "and they have no memory of job security. They don't even expect Social Security to be there for them later on. In one study, young adults said they believed they were more likely to see an alien spacecraft than ever to receive a Social Security check."

What does that mean in the context of the current downturn? And what qualities do Gen Yers bring to business during tough times? "Try optimism and hard work," writes Lynch. "You'd expect a generation raised on insecurity to be cynical like the Generation Xers who preceded them," she adds,

but that's not so. Prodigious volunteers and politically active (look at the record numbers who voted in this election), 20-somethings tend to bring can-do confidence to big problems. If you think of this group as trust fund babies, think again. In 2006, 37% of Ys between the ages of 16 and 19 held jobs.

Lynch goes on to list four things employers can do to ensure that their young workers weather the financial storm:

  • Share information with them freely. Don't let them hear news about your business or your industry from anybody else first. Info is the air Millennials/Gen Yers breath. They respond to lots of info, even bad news, with trust. And trust creates loyalty.

  • Tell the young people in your organization that it's time to be entrepreneurial inside the organization. Ask them to show you how they can be useful and what extra projects they can take on. Expect them to rise to the challenge, and many of them will.

  • Be prepared to follow their lead. Because they're so heavily networked, Millennials/Gen Yers are the people most likely to scout out new trends, ideas, and markets first. Charge your Ys with finding solutions that will see your business through the crisis.

  • Last but not least, put your mentoring programs on steroids. Link Millennials with your most experienced baby boomers. Pairings with professionals who have seen hard times before will enhance loyalty among the Gen Y talent you want to retain at a time when you need it most.

Good advice. Do you know of an organization that has done something creative to take advantage of the talents of its Gen Y employees during this downturn? What other steps can nonprofit leaders take to put the experience of their employees, of all ages, to good use? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Regina Mahone

2009 CGI: Where Did Our Love Go?

September 24, 2009

CGIimage006Can't put my finger on it, but the mood at this year's Clinton Global Initiative is, well...different. I'm not saying the event has jumped the shark. But something -- okay, a lot -- has changed over the last year. In no particular order, here's a short list:

  • The Democratic Party has a new star, and his name is not Clinton.
  • The rich donors and donor countries that were supposed to save the world almost drove it off a cliff (and still might). The idea that nonprofits and NGOs have much to learn from Wall Street and Harvard MBAs has been opened to question, if not ridicule. People don't want to hear the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil, both of which pulled in record profits last year during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, talk about leverage or incremental approaches; they want to hear what resource-rich organizations are doing to address and fix problems now.
  • The financial crisis has drawn the curtain on the complex, interdependent systems that drive the global economy, causing many people to feel helpless and/or disempowered. Who can say that he or she is master of his or her own destiny anymore?
  • In the wake of the financial crisis, previously flush-feeling donors and foundations have cut back on funding, leaving many to anxiously wonder what philanthropy in the Reset Economy is going to look like.
  • The explosion of social networking and social media tools -- and the collapse of traditional media business models -- has put lots of people out of work and served as a reminder to the rest of us (as if we needed one) that all bets are off, there are no guarantees, and the only constant at this hinge moment in history is change itself.
  • The suffocating security in advance of President Obama's appearance at the opening plenary on Monday (and, for that matter, ever since) is a sobering reminder that extremism, foreign-bred as well as homegrown, is alive and well.

Or maybe it's just because since Sunday I've been battling what I hope is only a cold.

So as not to be a complete drag, I'll leave you with this thought from Alan Cohen, the popular speaker and best-selling author:

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power....

I hope so.

-- Mitch Nauffts

2009 CGI: Clinton Global Citizen Award Winners

September 23, 2009

Late this afternoon, the folks at CGI announced the third annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards. The award recognizes remarkable individuals for their leadership in improving the lives of people around the globe.

This year's honorees are:

Paul Kagame, President, Republic of Rwanda
Leadership in Public Service

Asha Hagi Elmi Amin, Chairperson, Save Somali Women and Children
Leadership in Civil Society

Peter Bakker, Chief Executive Officer, TNT
Leadership in the Corporate Sector

Dr. Rola Dashti, Parliament Member, State of Kuwait
Leadership in Public Service

Ruchira Gupta, President, Apne Aap Women Worldwide
Leadership in Civil Society

Quincy Jones, Founder, Quincy Jones Foundation
Leadership in Philanthropy

For more information about the winners, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Apocalypse Now?

Introducing Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd at the opening plenary of this year's CGI meeting, Bill Clinton suggested that Rudd's drought-stricken country, perhaps more than any other, is on the front lines of accelerating climate change.

What on earth could he have been talking about?


(Caption: Sidney Harbour Bridge, Sept, 23, after dust storm blankets the city. Courtesy: Getty Images)

-- Mitch Nauffts

2009 CGI: Commitments


If you're familiar with the Clinton Global Initiative, you know that Commitments to Action are the foundation on which much of its good work is built. The CGI site describes them as "new, specific, and measurable initiatives undertaken by CGI members. Varying in size and duration, commitments may focus on diverse concerns, regions, and types of activities."

The tradition at the annual CGI meeting is for President Clinton (or a leader of one of the conference tracks) to preface each plenary and the special sessions with an announcement of new commitments. A day into this year's meeting, new commitments include:

  • A commitment of $30 million from the Omidyar Network to help entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa and India;
  • A $2 million commitment from Peter and Jennifer Buffett's NoVo Foundation to three organizations -- the International Rescue Committee, V-Day, and Women for Women International -- aimed at ending violence against girls and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • A second commitment from NoVo to alleviate poverty and create sustainable livelihoods for women in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovnia, the DRC, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan;
  • A commitment by ExxonMobil, Ashoka's Changemakers, and the International Center for Research (ICRW) to help women in developing countries fulfill their economic potential through technology and innovation;
  • A three-year commitment from Plan USA to provide vocational skills and media training to no fewer than 140 adolescent girls in West Africa.

More will be announced over the next two days.

But after the applause has faded, here are a couple of questions we need to ask: How many of these commitments are completed? (According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Ian Wilhelm, the Clinton folks say one-quarter of the 1,400 commitments announced since 2005, the first year of CGI, have been completed.) And, perhaps more importantly, how many have clear and measurable goals attached to them that allow others to evaluate whether they succeeded in making an impact and changing lives.

The Clinton folks are sensitive to this issue and have taken steps to make the whole commitment process more transparent. (There's a dedicated section on the CGI site where you can search/browse previous commitments.)

And, of course, many commitment partners have embraced and are working on their own to be more transparent and accountable for results. For example, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), an international nonprofit that works to help leaders, health managers, and communities in developing nations build stronger health systems, circulated a press release on the first day of this year's event that details results from the first year of its four-year, $12.5 million commitment to introduce and expand performance-based financing (PBF) for millions of people in Rwanda and Haiti.

These are modest but important steps in the right direction, and we look forward to reporting on more such efforts over the coming days, weeks, and months.

Now we'd like to hear from you. What advice would you give the folks at CGI about evaluation and outcomes measurement? And what do you think they could or should do to infuse more accountability for results into the commitments mechanism? Use the comments section below...

-- Mitch Nauffts

2009 CGI Social Media Package

September 22, 2009

A few hours in and it's already evident this isn't your father's CGI. Watch live video feeds of plenaries and special sessions, tweet or submit questions via Twitter, share on Facebook -- all in one convenient location. Cool.

More to come.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Still Hurting

September 21, 2009


Financial armageddon has been averted. A second Great Depression is off the table and, thanks to the bold actions of central bankers and governments around the globe, the "Great Recession" is on its way to becoming an unpleasant memory. Or so policy makers and the financial press would have us believe.

Not surprisingly, the reality for folks on Nonprofit Street is a little different, as two new snapshots of economic conditions in the Midwest make clear.

Based on a survey of nearly four hundred nonprofits in the Milwaukee metro area, the 13th Annual Report Card on Charitable Giving from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation found that the economic downturn has caused a drop in giving, with 63 percent of the respondents saying the state of philanthropy in the region is getting worse. And of organizations providing direct services to clients, 62 percent said that demand for assistance is increasing.

Other findings from the report:

  • More than 80 percent of organizations have cut costs due to budget constraints, and one in four has laid off staff;
  • Only one in four organizations describe themselves as financially healthy and not currently vulnerable;
  • Over half of the organizations surveyed have six months or less operating reserve, while 31 percent say they are running an operating deficit in the current fiscal year;
  • Half the nonprofits responding to the survey have considered collaborating with another nonprofit within the past year, nearly one in three has explored merging with another nonprofit, and five have considered closing.

The news isn't much better in Chicagloand, where the most recent installment of Metro Chicago Vital Signs, a monthly report from the Chicago Community Trust, found continued distress in the metro area's economic health. To wit:

  • The region’s unemployment rate remains above the state and national averages at 10.5 percent;
  • While remaining steady in the second quarter, layoffs rose sharply in July to 25,119 -- well above the 7,674 at the same time last year;
  • Food security continues to be a problem for many in the region, with the number of households relying on food stamps reaching record highs, at more than 470,000, and the number of individuals relying on food pantries climbing back above 400,000;
  • Calls for homelessness prevention aid remained steady in August, at over 5,400;
  • A drop in foreclosures around the region in the second quarter, which many attribute to the Illinois Homeowner Protection act signed into law in April, may be short lived, with preliminary data for the third quarter revealing a sharp increase in foreclosures after the 90-day period in which homeowners are allowed extra time to deal with possible eviction.

As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has been pointing out for months now, the country is in the midst of an employment crisis. Indeed, in the current issue of TIME magazine, Joshua Cooper Ramo reports that the number of long-term unemployed (more than twenty-seven weeks) in August was the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the number in 1948, while the total number of nonfarm payroll jobs today -- roughly 133 million -- is about the same as it was in 1999.

"That is why," writes Ramo, "the problem of how America works needs to become the focus of an urgent national debate. The jobs crisis," he adds

offers an opportunity to think in profound ways about how and why we work, about what makes employment satisfying, about the jobs Americans can and should do best. But the ideas Washington has delivered so far are insufficient. They reflect a pre-9%-11% way of thinking as much as old defense policy reflected a pre-9/11 notion of who our enemies were. The funding for job creation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was based on an assumed 8.9% unemployment rate. Now 15% is a realistic possibility. And yet we're hearing few interesting ideas about how to enhance America's already groaning unemployment support system as millions of Americans sit idle. Tangled in the debate over health care -- and bleeding political capital -- the White House may find itself too weak and distracted to deal with the danger of joblessness....

That would be a tragedy.

Starting tomorrow, I'll be blogging from the 5th annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in midtown Manhattan. CGI is one of the premier gatherings of the movers, shakers, and thought leaders responsible for maintaining and improving the architecture of globalization. And globalization has been one of the most important factors -- if not the most important -- in the restructuring of the American labor market over the last thirty years. I'll be very interested to hear what the many panelists -- and former President Clinton himself, who voiced his concern at last year's CGI meeting about a populist backlash in this country against free trade and global money flows -- have to say about the issue.

In the meantime, you can vote on whether the recession is over in our current PND poll. Or weigh in below on the jobs crisis, the growing pressure on safety-net services, and/or the impact of globalization on American workers.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (September 19 - 20, 2009)

September 20, 2009


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


Marketing expert Seth Godin riled up a few people earlier this week by suggesting that the problem with nonprofits is that they tend to resist the very thing they profess to be about: change. Writes Godin:

When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there's that word again) that blew you away?

Please don't tell me it's about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don't have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you're not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.

If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change....

Writing on the CauseWired blog, Tom Watson, author of the book of the same name, says that just because the meme that "nonprofits are afraid of change" has been around for a while doesn't mean it's accurate. On the contrary, says Watson, many nonprofits "hate change less than vast swaths of the corporate world." Sure, Watson adds, control and bureaucracy can be big problems with nonprofits. But

does anyone now living believe that the most philanthropic nation in the history of the world should devolve its nonprofit and service sector into a crowd-sourced cyberlibertarian throw of the dice at utopia....

It's a great line, and Watson's rebuttal to Godin has sparked a great conversation (more than thirty comments and half a dozen follow-up posts by other bloggers), which you can follow here.

On the Have Fun Do Good blog, Britt Bravo reminds nonprofits about the ways they can use blogs to engage their audiences:

  1. Share your expertise
  2. Share breaking news within your field
  3. Share the story behind your brand
  4. Share your community's opinions
  5. Share notes and photos from events
  6. Share notes and photos from the field
  7. Share organizational news as it happens
  8. Use it as your website


Gen Y blogger Rosetta Thurman addresses a subject near and dear to her heart: the plight of young nonprofit professionals in an economy that no longer generates a sufficient number of jobs. Thurman cites the following stats from a recent AFL-CIO report:

  • More than half of young workers earn less than $30,000;
  • More than one in three young workers say they are currently living at home with their parents;
  • 31 percent of young workers do not have health insurance coverage;
  • One-third of young workers cannot pay the bills and seven in ten do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.

"There are so many opportunities for the younger generation of nonprofit workers to contribute to the success of organizations imperiled by the recession, but we’re clearly missing them," adds Thurman. "This is why if you are a young nonprofit professional, you must be prepared to be your own best advocate. No one is going to do it for you, especially in these difficult economic times.

Nonprofits aren't the only institutions struggling to keep their doors open. Public library systems all over the country have been curtailing their hours and services, and some are in danger of closing, writes Allison Jones on her Entry Level Living blog. And that's a tragedy, says Jones, not just because we're losing free access to books; "we also risk losing safe public spaces for community meetings...and most importantly, personal growth."


Technology has not only changed the way organizations communicate online but also the nature of "do-gooding" and how Americans take action in support of charitable causes, writes Cynthia Gibson. "Membership may be moving from check-writing to signing up for email lists," she adds, "but that

may reflect a new generation of young people who’ve grown up with technology and are using it to go around traditional institutions and make change in ways they believe are more cost-efficient and get results more quickly. Rather than writing checks to big institutions or taking to the streets in protest, young people who care about an issue can whip up a powerful protest movement [online]....

A new paper by the Monitor Institute, Working Wikily 2.0: Social Change with a Network Mindset, suggests nonprofits will have to begin working with a network mindset -- embracing principles like openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making, and distributed action -- and that doing so can help funders and activists increase their impact....


Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of GuideStar, takes a closer look at how nonprofit medical cooperatives might work.

International Affairs/Development

At the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofsky argues that "repayment rate" should not be the only metric used to evaluate the impact of microfinance institutions.


Wrriting on his blog, Geoff Dougherty, editor at the Chi-Town Daily News, explains why he and his colleagues are abandoning the site and their nonprofit businesses model to launch a new, for-profit local news venture. Jim Barnett, a copy editor at the Washington Post who blogs at the Nieman Journalism Lab site, thinks Dougherty et al are throwing in the towel too soon. Writes Barnett:

The hard truth...is that it takes more than four years to build a donor base and diversify sources of revenue to sustain a nonprofit. The fact that Dougherty got to $300,000 in just four years is a major accomplishment. Sure, it's easy to look at an outfit like ProPublica and wish that you too could find a benefactor willing to put up $10 million a year to pay for your newsroom. But that kind of one-stop shopping isn’t a business model; it's a lightning strike -- something that the people who run ProPublica know better than anybody....

I don't doubt that Dougherty and his team knocked on every door they thought possible before giving up on CTDN. But the great strength of the nonprofit model, I believe, is that it puts the needs of the newsroom ahead of all others. More importantly, it treats socially responsible journalism not as a product, but as a cause greater than any individual institution that serves it....

(H/t: Give and Take)


Writing on the Second Line blog, Albert Ruesga, president/CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, asks: What's the line between public and private responsibility when it comes to providing healthcare, education, and other services for the poor? And: Is it the proper role of foundations to plug the gaps created by retreating public funds?

Weighin in with another thought-provoking post, Lucy Bernholz argues that "data are the new platform for change" and "will continue to fundamentally alter how philanthropic capital flows."

Public Affairs

Alan Khazei, founder of Be the Change -- an organization that played a major role in securing passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act earlier this year -- has announced that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat occupied for forty-three years by Senator Kennedy. Does he have a chance? asks Nathaniel Whittemore, who concludes that "It's hard to say...."

Social Media

As part of the Case Foundation's Gear Up for Giving program, Katya Andresen lists six common mistakes nonprofit organizations make when getting involved in social marketing:

  1. We fear losing control
  2. We think social networking is a way to get our message out
  3. We see dollar signs
  4. We fail to set small, achievable goals
  5. We forget to set some ground rules
  6. We give up when we make mistakes.

Is Twitter a micro-blogging site? Allison Fine thinks it functions more like a social network, "where interesting ideas and exchanges are happening that we can participate in, or watch, just as we would at a neighborhood diner."

Last but not least, YouTube, the video-hosting site, has taken its nonprofit program to the next level and now allows nonprofits to annotate their videos with "Donate" or "Sign this Petition" links. Guest blogging on Beth Kanetr's blog, Michael Hoffman, CEO of See3 Communications provides additional background on the new feature, including this video.

What did we forget? Drop us a note at rnm@foundationcenter.org. Have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

From the Answer Desk: Contingency and Scenario Planning -- What's the Difference and How Do Nonprofits Get Started?

September 17, 2009

(This entry has been cross-posted on the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland blog.)


A: Both are structured ways for organizations to think about the future. In the context of planning, the terms "contingency" and "scenario" are sometimes used interchangeably. In simple terms, a contingency plan can be described as your organization’s "Plan B" or "worst case scenario" and is often tied to something specific, like a natural disaster. They are also sometimes called business continuity plans or disaster recovery plans. Scenario planning, on the other hand, is a “strategic planning method expressly developed to test the viability of alternative strategies," according to Mal Warwick in his book, Fundraising When Money is Tight. Warwick suggests six steps for creating an effective scenario plan, starting with exploring answers to the question, "What keeps you awake at night?," to draw out fundamental issues, and concluding with testing your strategic choices using "what-if" reasoning. Warwick describes scenario planning in detail and goes on to suggests Peter Schwartz’s classic 1991 book, The Art of the Long View, for further reading. (Listen to our February 2009 podcast with Mal Warwick here.)

In the July 2, 2009 Chronicle of Philanthropy article "Worst Case Scenarios," author Ben Gose advocates that forming a contingency plan can help a nonprofit navigate the recession more successfully. Offering tips ranging from setting priorities and identifying "trip wires" (actions to take when revenues drop, for example), Gose cautions that organizations must come to terms with the fact that "painful decisions will still have to be made." However, Mr. Gose goes on to note that during contingency planning "a charity may find that a program it considered cutting is in fact worth saving, and that finding can make a compelling story for donors."

Additional resources:

Financial Scenario Planning for an Uncertain Future
Slides from a presentation made by Emil Angelica at the June 2009 annual conference of Dance USA.

Nonprofits Assistance Fund Scenario Planning Worksheet
A "step by step guide to nonprofit contingency planning."

Open community on scenario thinking and scenario planning where you can publish scenarios, reflect on the planning processes and share online resources about scenario planning in a democratic and inclusive manner.

Do you have a question? Ask Us!

-- Rob Bruno

Wanted: Social Media Superstar

September 16, 2009

As the vice president of communications at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a leading funder of journalism and community engagement initiatives, Marc Fest knows a thing or two about the digital tools that are fundamentally reshaping the news industry. Indeed, Marc and his colleagues have been using many of those tools to help guide that transformation and inform their own work.

Now Marc is looking for someone to "supercharge" the foundation's social media efforts from Knight headquarters in Miami. That person will:

  • Play a key role in making Knight the first truly interactive foundation by creating genuine, two-way digital communication, thereby enriching the connectons with the thinkers and innovators the foundation seeks to invest in;
  • Be both an evangelist and player-coach who helps Knight staff and the foundation's community of grantees use social media for the greater good; and
  • Establish the foundation as the leading proponent of community engagement in the digital age and as a leader among its peers in the use of digital resources;

For more info, check out the short video below:

Online Community Manager opportunity at Knight Foundation from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Pretty cool, indeed.

Interested parties should send a resume and links to examples of their best work to Henry Scott at henry@intermediatorgroup.com.

-- Mitch Nauffts

2009 Clinton Global Intiative Annual Meeting

September 14, 2009

CGIimage006As I have for the past couple of years, I'll be blogging the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City next week. Billed as "the only venue where business, government, and civil-sector leaders work together to plan and launch specific projects to address global economic, environmental, and social challenges," this year's CGI meeting will overlap with the 64th session of the UN General Assembly and the G-20 summit (Sept.24-25) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, per usual, will feature a Who's Who of public-, private-, and third-sector leaders.

Here's the schedule:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Opening Plenary: A Call To Action
Time: 4:00 – 5:45 P.M.

The opening plenary will frame the agenda for the three days to follow. World leaders will identify critical areas for action and collaboration across a multitude of sectors, ranging from education, energy and climate change to global health and the reduction of poverty. Recognizing the stresses that stakeholders are feeling due to the economic downturn, CGI's four program areas will stress achievable ways to empower communities; harness innovation for development; strengthen infrastructure; develop human capital; finance a sustainable future; and invest in girls and women.

  • William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President, United States of America; Founding Chair, Clinton Global Initiative
  • Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile
  • The Honorable Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia
  • Mike Duke, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
  • Muhtar Kent, President and CEO, Coca-Cola Company

Special Session: The G20 and its Impact on Global Challenges
Time: 6:00 – 7:00 P.M.

With a focus on major modern challenges -- growing populations, natural resource scarcity, global warming, dynamic global and financial markets, strains on social systems, and incomplete economic opportunity for billions of people -- this session will enable G20 Heads of State who represent the largest economies in the world to preview their positions in advance of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Special Session: Approaches to Innovation
Time: 9:00 - 10:30 A.M.

At a time when the world finds itself on an unsustainable course, facing an increasing number of complex challenges for which traditional approaches are no longer sufficient, innovation -- the transformation of ideas into new strategies, products and practices -- stands as a key to addressing many of the issues confronting us today, from energy and education to healthcare and the environment. During this session, innovation experts will discuss the importance of innovation as a vehicle for building a sustainable future. Where does innovation begin? What should be the role of government in promoting and facilitating innovation? Which countries are leading the charge, and how do you best position yourself and your organization to take advantage? This panel will provide a broad introduction to innovation, various approaches to cultivate it, and implications for those who pursue it and those who don't.

  • John Kao, Chairman and Founder, Institute for Large Scale Innovation

Plenary: Investing in Girls and Women
Time: 10:45 - 12:15 P.M.

Even though women make up 50 percent of the world's population, girls and women continuously lack the same access as men to education, health care, jobs, and the political arena. Smart businesses appreciate that increased support for girls and women is integral to fostering successful markets for the future. Innovative programs are already producing remarkable results, and far-seeing countries and organizations are finding that reaching out to girls and women deepens confidence, creates opportunity, and raises profits. This panel will examine a few notable success stories.

  • Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank
  • Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO, Women for Women International
  • Diane Sawyer, Co-Anchor, Good Morning America, ABC Broadcasting
  • Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive Officer, ExxonMobil Corporation
  • Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues, U.S. State Department

Plenary Session: Harnessing Innovation for Development
Time: 1:00 - 2:15 P.M.

2008 will come to be recognized as the turning point, when a series of crises gripped the planet: the spike in oil prices, the world food shortage, and the global financial meltdown. Add these crises to the list of ongoing mega-problems and it becomes clear that innovation on a massive scale is required to move us toward a more sustainable world. This plenary will explore the innovation strategies needed to effectively address the planetary crisis we now face.

  • Matthew Bishop, New York bureau chief and American business editor, The Economist
  • Al Gore, Co-Founder and Chairman, Generation Investment Management
  • Jack Ma, Chairman and CEO, Alibaba Group,/li>
  • Judith Rodin, President, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Muhammad Yunus, Founder and Managing Director, Grameen Bank
  • Robert Zoellick, President, World Bank Group

Special Session: From CEO to NGO
Time: 5:00 – 6:00 P.M.

During this session, former executives will come together to discuss the importance of philanthropy and how their background in the private sector has allowed them to effectively run nonprofit organizations and foundations. Now that their main focus is on improving the global community not their bottom line, what advice do they have for the private sector? And what do they know from their current work that they wish they had known when they were running multi-million dollar enterprises?

  • Eli Broad, Founder, Broad Foundation
  • Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Managing Editor, Financial Times
  • Ted Turner, Chairman, Turner Enterprises, Inc.
  • Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks; Senior Advisor, Lee Equity Partners

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plenary Session: Strengthening Infrastructure
Time: 9:00 – 10:00 A.M.

Strong and vibrant infrastructure is central to solving pressing global challenges, from improving healthcare delivery and reducing poverty and hunger to fixing slums and responding to global warming. But today we are seriously under-investing in the world's physical and institutional infrastructure. Public works investments and new information technology can provide a foundation for recovery by facilitating job creation, unleashing private-sector investment, and promoting an equitable transition to a lower-carbon and more prosperous global economy. This plenary will explore how strategic public investment in smarter infrastructure can create opportunities for industry, address deep social needs, promote effective public-private collaboration, and jumpstart the world economy.

  • Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General, United Nations; Chairman, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
  • John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco
  • Carlos Ghosn, President and CEO, Renault Nissan
  • Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
  • Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent, The NewsHour

Plenary Session: Creating Good Jobs and Strong Communities
Time: 1:00 – 2:00 P.M.

Access to education, health care, and work is an essential foundation for a prosperous community. It is more important than ever in the face of the recession, which has cost 50 million jobs and pushed millions back into poverty. Yet some 180 million children work instead of attending school. Many in school fail to achieve their potential because of a lack of teachers. Even in developed countries, young people do not get the education they need to succeed in the high-tech knowledge economy that will determine future competitiveness. But there are inspiring examples of partnerships between companies, governments and civic leaders who are building opportunity in a way that makes sound business sense. This session will identify practical ways for more partners to act.

  • Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, Queen of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman and CEO, Carlson Companies
  • Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times; Co-Author, Half the Sky
  • Andrew Liveris, President, CEO and Chairman, Dow Chemical Company
  • Carlos Slim Helú, Chairman and CEO, Grupo Carso
  • Hilda Solis, United States Secretary of Labor

Friday, September 25, 2009

Plenary Session: Moving from Crisis to Opportunity – Financing an Equitable Future Time: 9:00 – 10:00 A.M.

The plenary will address how to move beyond the current economic and financial crisis to tap innovative sources of financing that can provide stable, ethical, and scalable funding for organizations addressing the world's most challenging problems.

  • Fazel Abed, Founder and Chairman, BRAC
  • Maria Bartiromo, Anchor, CNBC
  • James Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
  • Peter Sands, Chief Executive Officer, Standard Chartered PLC

Closing Plenary Session
Time: 1:00 – 2:00 P.M.

The closing plenary will highlight progress over the past five years, showcase the accomplishments of the 2009 Annual Meeting, and inspire attendees to continue their work via Commitments to Action in the year ahead with a keynote address from Hillary R. Clinton, United States Secretary of State, and closing remarks from President Clinton.


Should be an interesting three days. And the CGI team always does an excellent job with the live feed. Stay tuned for details.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (September 12-13, 2009)

September 13, 2009

Chain-links Communications/Marketing

Internet marketing guru Seth Godin argues that putting "free" on top of an existing business model is a sure recipe for failure. When "advertising goes away," writes Godin, "you need to make something else abundant in order to gain attention. Then, and only then, will you be able to sell something that's naturally scarce."


On the New Voices in Philanthropy blog, Trista Harris, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, reminds her readers that diversity is about age, not just gender and race, and that the presence of multiple generations on a foundation's board and staff invariably improves its grantmaking.

Higher Education

In the Washington Post, Zephyr Teachout, visiting assistant professor of law at Duke University, argues that, like newspapers, the majority of brick-and-mortar universities will be rendered obsolete by digital technologies over the next decade or two. And while that might benefit millions of college-age students for whom the cost of a college education increasingly is out of reach, the cost to society will be "a precious academic tradition that is not easily replaced."


Guest blogging on Beth Kanter's blog, Gale Berkowitz, director of evaulation at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, argues that continuous evaluation is integral to the success of any social change effort. And at Packard, evaluation is guided by three main principles:

  1. Success depends on a willingness to solicit feedback and take corrective action when necessary
  2. Improvement should be continuous, and organizations should learn from their mistakes
  3. Evaluation should be conducted in partnership with those who are doing the work in order to maximize learning and minimize the burden on grantees

Good advice for all of us.


On the Posterous blog, 3BL Media -- an organization working to "advance and promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability through effective communications" -- offers nonprofits this list of 50 things they can do to "foster a sustainable culture of innovation."

International Affairs/Development

In a lengthy critique in The Nation, Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Annie Shattuck examine the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to end hunger in Africa and conclude that, well meaning though it is, the foundation is making many of the same mistakes made in the 1960s by the architects of the original Green Revolution.

Writing on the UN Dispatch blog, Alanna Shaikh argues that the One Laptop Per Child project started by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte has been a failure. "The laptop," writes Shaikh

never came down to the hundred dollar price that was promised. The huge orders never materialized, and the project was very slow to allow sales to NGOs and charities instead of just governments. They abandoned the human-powered power source. They abandoned the special child-friendly OS. The laptop still didn’t sell to their target market in the developing world....

Once the laptop finally started arriving in the developing world, its impact was minimal. We think. No one is doing much research on their impact on education; discussions are largely theoretical. This we do know: OLPC didn’t provide tech support for the machines, or training in how to incorporate them into education. Teachers didn’t understand how to use the laptops in their lessons; some resented them. Kids like the laptops, but they don’t actually seem to help them learn.

That view is vigorously challenged by half a dozen people, including Negroponte, in the comments section following Shaikh's post. In a world where every organization is being asked to do more with less, it's an interesting and timely debate.


Recently, the German blogger elite launched an English adaptation of their Internet Manifesto, which details "how journalism works today." Blogging at TechCrunch, Markus Goebel notes that "the 17 articles run down from statements like 'the Internet is different' and 'the Internet improves journalism' [to swipes like] 'tradition is not a business model' and 'the web constitutes an infrastructure for social exchange superior to that of 20th century mass media.'" You can check out the entire manifesto (in fifteen different languages) here.

Social Enterpreneurship

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington, a panelist at the recent Social Capital Markets Conference 2009 in San Francisco, considers the emerging market for social capital and wonders how nonprofits, those organizations that have been creating 'social impact' since before it was cool, fit into that market? Writes Edgington:

Many would agree that the nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that funds it are dysfunctional, even broken. And I think most of us would agree the government sector is fairly broken as well.

But we cannot discount and dismiss either sector. In the true spirit of the social innovation space, we must recycle and reuse the nonprofit and government sectors, just as we are refashioning the private sector. We must reconfigure the assets of all three sectors to turn them into more effective, more productive, higher functioning sectors that can work with, not separate from, each other to create solutions....

Don't miss the thoughtful discussion in the comments following the post.

Speaking of SOCAP09, Andrew Wolk, founder and CEO of Root Cause, has put together a nice roundup of resources from and about the conference.

Do social entrepreneurs realize that the world has changed? That's the question raised by Matthew Bishop, New York bureau chief of The Economist and author, with Michael Green, of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, in the latest issue of UK-based Alliance magazine. The global economic paradigm that prevailed for a quarter-century has been revealed as "seriously, perhaps fatally, flawed," writes Bishop, and the battle to invent a new paradigm is under way. It's a time for "discontinuous thinking," not business as usual. "The challenge for philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and all those trying to solve the world’s most pressing problems," adds Bishop

is, first, to figure out what has changed and then to look at themselves and their organizations anew. In many cases, personal or organizational attributes that were taken for granted or even seen as weaknesses in the old world will be tremendous strengths in the new one, while former strengths may turn out to be less important, or even downright dangerous....

We couldn't agree more.


In a two-part series on SocialEarth, Mike Shoemaker at the Human Ventures blog, asks "If you were the non-profit god, what would you fix?" (Read part one here and part two here.) In the posts, Shoemaker discusses the problems nonprofit organizations face when using the three-party market model -- the ability to get a service for free on someone else’s dime -- and notes that for-profit organizations using the same models do not have the same problems as their not-for-profit counterparts.

And in a more recent post, Shoemaker reflects further on the subject and asks, "Are we arbitrary or fickle in how we give?" He then writes:

The big difference is that in most of the for-profit world cases, effectively serving your primary customer also directly and positively impacts your secondary customers/funders.

In the non-profit world, however, when an organization improves its ability to serve its target population…donors may receive more or better stories of good deeds and see more compelling impact numbers in the annual report, but they are still not likely to receive anything more tangible. That is, I think, the essence of what makes the non-profit model so much less sustainable.

Put a bit more conceptually (feel free to tune out here if you’re not interested in the academic speak), we do not seem hard-wired to use optimal-decision making methods when it comes to altruism. We seem to be content knowing that our money is going to a “good cause” (or that we’re getting a tax write-off), and few of us will take the time to look hard for better or “optimal” causes when it comes to how we invest our philanthropic dollars. So when it comes to giving, we’re somewhat arbitrary and especially fickle....

(H/t: Lucy B. @p2173)

That's it for this week. What did we forget? Drop us a note here. Have a great week!

-- 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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