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23 posts from September 2009

Quote of the Day (September 12, 2009)

September 12, 2009

Quotemarks "[W]hile the more egregious examples of incivility and intolerance, magnified by the mass media and mass markets, may give us a momentary sense of despair, the same developments in technology and mass communications offer ample opportunity -- if we seize them with energetic creativity and imagination -- to balance the incivility with a more dialogical and useful discourse. The accumulating changes of two centuries of urbanization, exploration, economic expansion, social and political development, technological invention, and explosive growth in knowledge and professional expertise are bearing fruit. From within the dominant paradigm of mass-market democratic capitalism, now almost global in acceptance, these forces are creating a world of enormous risk -- but also enormous potential...."

-- Stephen P. Steinberg, Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century (ed. Judith Rodin, Stephen P. Steinberg)

Stories Are a Vital Source of Knowledge

September 11, 2009

(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive message development, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Storytelling Imagine asking every one of your staff members: "Tell me about the time you felt most connected to the mission of our organization." Ask your program officers, your CFO, your facilities staff. Imagine the range of responses. Imagine the passion you will unleash, and the information you will glean.

Most of the stories you hear in response to that question will not be "diamonds," perfectly encapsulating the mission and brand of your organization. The stories and anecdotes you hear will be more like pebbles and sea glass -- small, colorful glimpses into the meaning of your organization and its work in the daily lives of the people it affects. They will teach you much about the depth and breadth of your organization's impact.

Yet most efforts to find and collect stories for mission-driven organizations myopically focus on using stories for marketing and fundraising purposes. The stories that are collected and sometimes publicized are usually about the direct impact of the organization, or about the unmet need the organization seeks to address. In most organizations, too few people understand that the value of stories extends far beyond marketing and fundraising.

There is much to be gained by creating a true culture of story sharing within our organizations, especially those that function as hubs of entrepreneurship and innovation, and especially at this uncertain moment. Now is the time, says Steven Denning, the leadership and knowledge management expert, to emphasize "connection over collection."

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ANNOUNCEMENT: 74th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Winners

September 10, 2009

Anisfield_wolf_medal I'm a fan of recognition award programs -- especially when they honor great writing and have been around as long as the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Now in its seventy-fourth year, the program was created by Edith Anisfield Wolf, a poet and civic activist who became passionately committed to social justice as a young girl growing up in Cleveland, and is the only juried American literary competition devoted to recognizing books that have made an important contribution to society's understanding of racism and the diversity of human cultures. The competition has been administered by the Cleveland Foundation since the death of Anisfield Wolf in 1963.

This year's Anisfield-Wolf winners are:

Congratulations to the winners! To learn more about the Anisfield-Wolf awards, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Philanthropy's Leadership Moment?

September 09, 2009

Leadership It's been a year since Lehman Brothers, the New York City investment bank, declared bankruptcy, turning what had been a somewhat mysterious credit crunch into a full-fledged global financial panic.

Much has happened in the intervening twelve months. The country elected a new president, the first African American chief executive in its 233-year history. Housing prices and the stock market tanked, erasing trillions of dollars of homeowner and investor equity. Private endowments, and the smart people who manage them, suffered right along with Main Street. Employers followed the markets' lead and cut jobs with a vengeance. By summer, the "official" unemploment rate was approaching 10 percent and poised to go higher. Meanwhile, on Nonprofit Street, demand for services was up and donations and grant revenue were down, sometimes dramatically so. And on Wall Street, the deck chairs were rearranged, gaping holes on bank balance sheets were plugged (with taxpayer dollars), and the good ship Business As Usual was sent on its jolly way.

If you detect a note of disbelief in that last sentence, well, forgive me; it's been that kind of year. And what about foundations? Have they risen to the occasion over the last year, as Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundation, argues in a recent Washington Post op-ed (Philanthropy's Leadership Moment")?

In his piece, Gunderson points out that, in October, as some really serious stuff was hitting the fan, he and CoF board chair Ralph Smith sent an open letter to the field encouraging foundations "to rise and face the new economic realities."

In the letter, Gunderson and Smith asked CoF members and philanthropic leaders to do three things:

  1. Reach out to their nonprofit partners and find ways to maintain service amidst the economic crisis;
  2. Use philanthropy's convening power to help communities and regions develop appropriate strategies to meet their respective needs; and
  3. Pay special attention to those circumstances where philanthropic mergers, consolidations, and outright evaporation of resources resulted in the immediate loss of support for local nonprofit services.

In PND, we've tracked and published dozens of stories about foundations, large and small, that have stepped up to the plate in this difficult time. And our Foundation Center colleagues have gathered additional information on the response to the crisis by the hundred largest foundations.

Now we want to hear from you. How would you rate the foundation response to the crisis? How have foundations done in terms of the three criteria laid out by Gunderson and Smith above? And, keeping in mind the old adage "If you've seen one foundation, you've seen one foundation," what more could or should foundations be doing to mitigate the pernicious effects of this downturn? Use the comments section below...

--Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (September 5 - 6, 2009)

September 06, 2009

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


In a pair of posts on the Inside Philanthropy blog, Todd Cohen argues that nonnprofits too often overlook the importance of storytelling. In the first post, Cohen advises nonprofits to use new media tools to tell their stories, while in the followup post he advises nonprofit leaders to listen and tell stories that "create common ground with the organization's board and staff, and with people outside the organization...."

Communications consultant Steve Cebalt disagrees with Cohen, arguing on his blog that the term "storytelling" is meaningless and "a load of bull." Instead, says Cebalt, nonprofits should focus on finding the "device" that "will provide a structure that actually moves people to action."

After reviewing more than 1,700 taglines in thirteen categories, nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz has culled the list to sixty and is asking readers of her blog to vote for the best in each category. Voting closes at midnight, September 30.

Disaster Relief

On the Second Line blog, Albert Ruesga, president/CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a paean to small, community-based nonprofit organizations. Writes Ruesga:

I believe we very much underestimate the roles these small, gritty, frontline organizations play in our communities. After a natural or man-made disaster, it's often these small, community-based agencies that do the lion's share of the work in helping families get back on their feet. For years since the advent of the levee failures, these organizations have been helping people return to their homes, acquire new job skills, and find healing.

They've been lovingly tending the flame of our social conscience.

There's a tendency in nonprofit work to be a little too uncritical of the concepts we import from the business world. We sometimes get fetishistic about matters of "scale" and "replicability." But there’s a kind of nonprofit beauty that doesn’t scale well. And there are people whose extraordinary vision and passion we'll never be able to replicate....

(Click here to read a recent PND interview with Ruesga.)


On the Small Change blog, Jason Dick, host of this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, rounds up a selection of posts on the topic, A Day in the Life of a Fundraiser. (H/t: Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog)

In the weeks leading up to the second edition of America's Giving Challenge, the Case Foundation will offer a series of live streamed events. In preparation, the Case Foundation's Kari Dunn Saratovsky wants to know: "What are some of the most pressing problems you have incorporating social media into your nonprofit?" PhilanTopic readers are encouraged to submit their responses to that question (and others) here.


Tactical Philanthropy blogger Sean Stannard-Stockton has launched a new company, Tactical Philanthropy Advisors, that will work directly with high-net-worth donors to increase the social impact created by their philanthropic investments. At the same time, Stannard-Stockton will continue to chronicle what he calls the "second great wave of philanthropy" on his blog. You can learn more about his new endeavor here.

“Will Sean's model work at the expense of community foundations,” asks Phil Cubeta on the Gift Hub blog. Stannard-Stockton says no, but Cubeta argues that it's likely "unless community foundations evolve as rapidly as have the financial services firms."

Social Media

On his Buzz Bin blog, Geoff Livingston identifies five organizational silos that prohibit effective social media engagement. The list includes:

  1. CxO Suite -- Without executive buy-in, cross-departmental issues tend to get stymied and executives fail to act quickly enough (if at all) to change policies and encourage departments to work together in a more fluid manner. By its very nature, writes Livingston, social media will challenge organizations to collaborate in unthought of ways in rapid fashion.
  2. PR/Public Affairs -- Obsessed with message control, PR practitioners, writes Livingston, represent the greatest barrier to effective social media use. And unlearning and untraining PR folks to give up some of that control is difficult because it undermines the retainer model at the heart of the customer-client relationship.
  3. IT -- The IT world is changing rapidly -- so rapidly, in fact, that many IT types find it easier to hide behind policy and just say "No."
  4. Sales and Marketing/Donor Development -- In their zeal to quantify ROI, many sales and marketing managers lose patience with social media engagement, forgetting that it's a relationship-driven, not a numbers-driven, medium.
  5. Legal -- While many attorneys get that it's in an organization’s best interests to use social media, their ability to create policies and disclaimers that protect the organization while freeing it to participate is compromised the more organized and regulated the business.

And on Beth's Blog, Carie Lewis, Internet marketing manager at the Humane Society of the United States, offers this list of social media anger management tips.

That's it for now. What did we forget? Use the comments section below...

-- Regina Mahone

An Ode to the T-Shirt

September 04, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about Independent Sector's "Envisioning Our Future" initiative.)

Girl_effect It's Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer. Like many of you, I'll be spending it in jeans and a comfortable T-shirt, relaxing with friends and recharging my batteries.

Those who know me, know I love T-shirts. Not the $250 Brioni kind recently written up in the New York Times. No, I'm talking about tees associated with organizations and causes that throughout the years have shaped my life and life’s work. I don't know what it is, but a T-shirt with an eye-catching design or clever slogan creates an instant connection between the wearer and others, even in unfamiliar surroundings. In 1966, for example, I was traveling across southern Cameroon and came across a boy on a bike sporting the logo of Slippery Rock State University. That shirt was a long way from home, but somehow it helped bridge the gap between us.

As you might imagine, after more than four decades of social activism, my closets are stuffed with T-shirts that mean something to me. My collection is so extensive, in fact, that out of necessity we’ve had to adopt a household rule: Every time I buy a new T-shirt, I have to dispose of an older one. Rules were made to be broken, and I periodically flaunt that one. I mean, how could I ever part with my "Kaapu for Mayor" T-shirt (circa 1969), even though it hasn't fit me for...oh, twenty years. It doesn't matter. It just makes make me happy to remember all those times I wore it and, in so doing, gave a "shout out" to the first native Hawai’ian to run for mayor of Honolulu.

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Sign of the Times

September 03, 2009

(The following letter was sent to Jacksonville City Council vice president Jack Webb on July 22. The letter was signed by eighteen Florida philanthropies, including the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the Community Foundation in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, and United Way of Northeast Florida....)

Dear Councilman Webb:

According to published reports, if the mayor's proposed budget is not passed, nonprofit-related programs and entities in Jacksonville will experience cuts amounting to $15 million.

Many in Jacksonville believe that private funders will contribute money to make up for these cuts.

This is a myth.

The reality is this:

Jacksonville's major private funders have lost, on average, 25% of their assets during the recession. To make up for the $15 million in budget cuts, these funders would have to increase their grantmaking 27% over pre-recession levels. That is not realistic.

Moreover, individual giving dropped 6.3% during 2008 (Giving USA) and there are no signs it is rebounding.

In addition, a recent survey conducted by the Conference Board indicates that 45% of businesses surveyed have already reduced their 2009 corporate giving budgets and an additional 16% were considering cuts in their 2009 philanthropy budgets as well.

There simply is no safety net of private funding available to replace government dollars for these nonprofit programs and entities.


-- Mitch Nauffts

ANNOUNCEMENT: Greater New Orleans Foundation Launches Community IMPACT Program

September 02, 2009

We've had a great response to the Newsmaker interview we did with Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. So before interest in post-recovery Katrina efforts begins to fade, we'd like to take a moment to publicize a new program just announced by the foundation.

The Community IMPACT Program will award $1 million in grants in six areas -- arts and culture, children and youth, civic engagement and nonprofit support, education, health, and human and social services -- to nonprofit organizations serving the thirteen-parish Greater New Orleans metro region. According a press release issued by the foundation, the ultimate goal of the program is "to create a resilient, sustainable, vibrant, and equitable region in which individuals and families flourish and in which the special character of the New Orleans region and its people is preserved, celebrated, and given the means to develop."

More from the release:

Who can apply?
Nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that serve the Greater New Orleans region. Organizations that are not tax-exempt but have a fiscal agent relationship with a 501(c)(3) organization are also eligible.

How to apply?

  1. Submit a two- to three-page Letter of Intent by September 22, 2009. To review what the Letter of Intent should include, click here. Hard copies of the information can also be picked up at the Greater New Orleans Foundation offices, 1055 St. Charles Avenue, Suite 100. GNOF will review all Letters of Intent and will notify organizations invited to complete a full application by October 12, 2009.
  2. Those invited to submit a full application will be asked to submit their proposals by November 2, 2009. Awards will be announced by December 11, 2009.

Obviously, this is good news for the region and for nonprofits working to serve those who live there. But as Tony Pipa, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, reminded me in a comment he made in an earlier thread, there's a lot left to do. Writes Tony:

[W]hile I think there have been particular instances of philanthropy performing admirably, I think there is also much room for improvement in that response overall, and I hope that the sector takes an unvarnished look at its response and learns from the lessons. In regards to federal involvement, it's not so much whether there will continue to be support, but how that support is deployed and whether it gets to the people, businesses, and communities that really need it.

In answer to your question, many foundations (even some of the ones you mention) are wrapping up their commitments in the Gulf Coast, figuring that they've "done their part" for the recovery. If they take a second look at the Gulf Coast, though, I think they'd recognize that with the amount of creative community-problem solving going on, there are many lessons for them to learn by investing there that they could apply in other places. It requires looking at New Orleans and the Coast with new eyes, not as a region still trying to recover from crisis but as one looking to the future with energy and innovation....

We all know that foundations and individual donors were hit hard by the financial crisis. And while portfolios have recovered some of their losses and the economy may be bottoming, the future is uncertain. As Tony suggests, however, it is way too early to declare "Mission accomplished" in the Gulf. "Full recovery," still years away, should be our starting point, not a final goal. The "region was poor before the storms," Ruesga told me when I spoke to him. "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."

I don't know about you, but I believe the affluent and well-to-do have done just fine over the last thirty years. It's time we turned our attention and really invested -- in thoughtful, creative, and sustainable ways -- in the poor and most vulnerable among us.

--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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