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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

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