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24 posts from December 2009

Weekend Link Roundup (December 5 - 6, 2009)

December 06, 2009

Chain-links Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Appearing on NPR's "Marketplace" program, Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz talked with Kai Ryssdal about the top philanthropy-related buzzwords of 2009 (interview transcript here). On her Nonprofit Marketing blog, Network for Good's Katya Andresen adds a half dozen of her own to Lucy's three.

How can nonprofit organizations make the most of their taglines? Nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz provides a dozen tips on her Getting Attention blog.


Rosetta Thurman says that if nonprofit organizations care about having a more racially diverse workforce, they need to "implement strategies specifically designed to attract people of color."


Does board service automatically provide individual board members with enough capacity/experience to be an effective executive? Not necessarily, writes Mike Burns on his Nonprofit Board Crisis blog. "Board members have a special set of skills and experience," adds Burns, "that do not instantly apply to the fundamental management skills needed for operating a nonprofit, nor even managing a board for that matter...."


For some, the big news of the week was the press release issued by Guidestar, Charity Navigator, GreatNonprofits, Philanthropedia, and GiveWell. Titled "The Worst (and Best) Way to Pick A Charity This Year," the joint release says that "overhead ratios and executive salaries... [are] useless for evaluating a nonprofit's impact." On the Charity Navigator blog, CN president and CEO Ken Berger wrote:

[We do] not agree with everything that is stated in this press release (we think overhead does have a place in rating charities, yet agree it should not be primary or overly emphasized), but we do concur with the fundamental truth that the most critical dimension in evaluating a nonprofit has to do with achieving meaningful results (we call them outcomes)....

In the post, Berger explains how Charity Navigator, over the next year and a half, plans to improve its frequently criticized rating system to include indicators related to an organization's financial health, accountability, and outcomes.


On the Social Citizens blog, Kristin Ivie notes that while her fellow Millennials are an "idealistic generation, with very high standards for ourselves, our organizations, our colleagues and our politicians," they've struggled to come to terms with "disappointments in the organizations we have been involved with and our sector as a whole." What to do when reality falls short of expectations? Ivie has a few suggestions: volunteer for another organization, spend time with a mentor, express your concerns about the nonprofit in question, and/or do a "reality check."


Sean Stannard-Stockton weighs in on why the recently launched Social Impact Exchange is important and matters to philanthropy.

Social Entrepreneurship

On his Change.org blog, Nathaniel Whittemore shares three lessons social entrepreneurs can learn from World AIDS Day.

Social Media

On the What We Give blog, Larry Blumenthal, director of social media strategy for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, discussess steps taken by the Hewlett Foundation to be more transparent in its work with Hewlett communications director Eric Brown.

If an organization wants to successfully implement social media, "[it] needs to be part of everyone's job," writes Beth Kanter in a recent post.

On her Business of Giving blog, Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim takes a look at GlobalMojo, "a Web browser that channels money to nonprofits when its users search, shop, or book travel." But are services such as these "giving us the illusion we're doing community service," asks Heim, "when in fact we have no real connection to the cause and we're simply buying more stuff or getting lost in our gadgets?" And does it matter?

Google Wave -– an "online tool for real-time communication and collaboration" –- may just be another "shiny new object," but Idealist's Scott Stadum thinks it has a lot of potential for the sector and shares some ideas about how nonprofits can make the most of it.

According to About.com's Joanne Fritz, "generosity will get you everywhere in social media." To that end, Fritz shares some tips about building relationships online:

  • Listen and get to know the community you want to interact with;
  • Ask questions;
  • Invite comments on your blog and respond to the comments you receive;
  • Look for information about your subject that you can pass on to your readers;
  • Retweet others' tweets;
  • Say "thank you" and give compliments frequently;
  • Be present, responsive, and in it for the long haul.

On his With or Without You blog, Mitch Hurst looks at how the top 30 foundations are using Facebook and Twitter. Based on his informal survey, Hurst writes:

The most active foundations in the social media space are focusing their efforts on pushing dialogue about specific issues or on reaching out to specific audiences that are heavy social media participants. Foundations that fund interest areas that are currently in the news or are part of national policy discussions are also getting their perspectives out, particularly on Twitter. At an institutional level, foundations are drawing significant followings on Twitter by posting information about individual grants and linking back to additional information on their Web sites....

Adds Hurst, "As adoption by the general public of social media platforms increases, and the dialogue that takes place becomes more influential, foundations that stay on the sidelines will miss out on the substantive discussions about their issues that are taking place online." We agree.


Last but not least, Allison Fine wonders whether women can use blogs and social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook "to overcome the traditional barriers that exist within institutions of position, financial resources, and permission." And if not, can women use social media to create their own platforms for social change? 

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

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: John Doerr on the 'Green' Imperative

With the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) set to begin tomorrow, this seems like a good time to take another look at what may be at stake. In this emotional talk, legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr argues that there "is a time when panic is the appropriate response" -- and with catastrophic, irreversible climate change only decades away, that day is fast approaching. Fortunately, says, Doerr, he has learned four things about the climate change issue that give him hope: business can be part of the solution; individuals matter; smart policy matters; and the potential for radical innovation in the clean-energy field is almost limitless. As Doerr likes to say: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Let's get started. (Filmed: March 2007; Running time: 17:49)

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

The Trouble With Values

December 04, 2009

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her previous posts in this series can be found here, here, here, and here.)

Core-values03 For many years, I traveled around the world teaching people the importance of values-based communication. Values-based communication urges people to initiate their communication efforts by stating the values -- values such as opportunity, fairness, and equity -- underlying their issues and advocacy.

There's a problem with this approach. It doesn't go far enough. Values are utterly subjective and mean different things to different people. Heck, any given value can mean different things to the same person at different times in their lives or within different contexts.

Think of the value of community. To rural Americans, "community" means something much different than it does to city dwellers, who often associate the idea with their social, political, or religious affiliations.

The realization that this was the case (along with what I had learned about how the brain processes information) eventually led me to stories as one of the best ways to articulate stated or underlying values.

Annette Simmons, in Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, offers the following explanation:

Values are subjective. To one person, integrity means doing what her boss tells her to do. To someone else, integrity means saying no even if it costs her job. If you want to encourage a value or teach a value you have to provide a demonstration by telling a story that illustrates what that value means, behaviorally. Hypothetical situations sound hypocritical and preachy. Be specific.

Simmons also notes that "Values are meaningless without stories to bring them to life and engage us on a personal level." Not only do stories help us to establish meaning, they also help us talk about both values and facts at the same time.

Earlier this year, my husband, Tom, traveled to Senegal and worked on a documentary for Tostan, an organization that works to "empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights." Tostan means "breakthrough" in the West African Wolof language, and the organization was founded by an extraordinary American woman, Molly Melching. Tom returned from his travels with this story:

In 1997, Tostan was conducting educational workshops in Senegalese villages, helping women and men learn about their human rights to health and to be free from all forms of violence. The women in one village made the connection between female genital cutting, ongoing health problems, and even deaths among their young women. They realized that female genital cutting was a violation of their human rights and begged their village leader to put a stop to it. The old chief, Diawara, told Molly he couldn't do that, even if he wanted to. Molly asked him why that was, and he explained that people don't marry within their own village, so all the intra-marrying villages would have to agree before they could change a tradition like FGC. If they all agreed, they would make a public declaration of FGC abandonment so that it would stick. She asked him what it would take, and he said that if he had the bus fare, he would go and talk to the other village leaders. So Molly gave him the money, and he spent three months going from village to village. In the end, it resulted in the first-ever public declaration of FGC abandonment by the thirteen intra-marrying villages.

Today, Diawara has personally persuaded 174 villages to abandon the practice. And he has spoken before the United Nations and the British Parliament about the practice. Of the 5,000 Senegalese villages that have practiced female genital excision, 1,993 villages where Tostan has been working have abandoned it.

A powerful and clear illustration of the Tostan mission statement!

Another problem with values is that they are non-hierarchical. We like to think that our lives are neatly ordered, and that we, as emotionally intelligent adults, have formed clear moral frameworks that guide our decision-making. We will always value family over work, for instance, or community over autonomy. But even if we believe that some values exist on parallel tracks, complex situations can cause them to collide, requiring us to make decisions about which value or values should win out.

For example, how do we allocate a finite amount of charitable contributions in a world of unending need? How do we decide which of many, seemingly equally worthy charities should receive our support?

Katharine Q. Seelye, in the New York Times, recently examined just such a collision of values:

The abortion issue has put members of Congress who support abortion rights in a quandary over the health care legislation.

Do they stick to their long-standing principles and fiercely resist the legislative effort to limit access to insurance for abortions?

Or should they compromise on the issue and vote for legislation that in other ways could greatly improve health care for women?

...Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard, said the choice between trying to stop an erosion of abortion rights and trying to improve health for women pitted "what are described as two fundamental human rights -- the right to universal coverage and the right of access to reproductive services – against each other.

"They aren’t just policy trade-offs," he said. "And that's why this is so wrenching."

What's more, different constituencies may differ in the way in which they prioritize their values, so that, in terms of advocacy, leading a campaign with the same underlying value for all stakeholders may be shortsighted.

My colleagues at the Australian consulting firm Anecdote note yet another problem that arises when organizations focus on values, as well as a solution to the problem:

Most organizations we know have a set of stated values. You know what we mean, things like integrity, professionalism, respect for the individual. And in most cases they've been developed for the wrong reasons. And when developed for the right reasons, most employees don't understand what the values mean anyway. Let us explain.

Often the starting question for establishing a set of organizational values is, "Which values should we hold each and everyone accountable for so our organization thrives?" This gets translated to "What values do our stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers) expect us to hold?" The list is then drawn up and the result is a moribund list of words.

Shawn [Callahan, a partner at Anecdote] was reading a paper by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras and they suggest an alternative set of questions (in our words): "What values do we deeply hold that reflect the essence of our company?" and "Would we still hold these values if they created a disadvantage for us if things changed?" If you can answer these two questions in the positive then you've identified your core values.

Proclaiming one set of values while exhibiting another is certain to result in your listeners distrusting you. You will appear disingenuous, if not deceitful.

As a leader and communicator, you want to share the values that inform the issue on which you want your listener to take action. But don't simply state the value; be sure to demonstrate it every day through your actions and your listeners' experiences with you and your organization. Short of your listeners' ability to physically experience what you are talking about, a story that clearly articulates and demonstrates the power of your stated values is the next best thing.

-- Thaler Pekar

A Modest Proposal

December 03, 2009

Ben_brains As we noted last fall, fiscal 2009 promised to be -- and ended up being -- a terrible year for state budgets. And that's bad news for nonprofits that rely on state payments and contracts.

According to The Fiscal Survey of the States, an annual overview of fiscal conditions in all fifty states produced by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, states are

facing one of the worst, if not the worst, fiscal periods since the Great Depression. Fiscal conditions significantly deteriorated for states during fiscal 2009, with the trend expected to continue through fiscal 2010 and even into 2011 and 2012. The severe national recession drastically reduced tax revenues from every revenue source during fiscal 2009 and revenue collections are expected to continue their decline in fiscal 2010. As state revenue collections historically lag behind any national economic recovery, state revenues will remain depressed throughout fiscal 2010 and likely be sluggish into fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The "official" economic recession, which began in December 2007 and may have recently ended, has significantly affected state spending, as more than half the states decreased their general fund expenditures in fiscal 2009, and over two-thirds of states enacted fiscal budgets with general fund spending lower than the previous year....

Back in January, a coalition of nonprofit organizations led by Independent Sector called for immediate financial aid to state and local governments experiencing budget stress as well as a short-term $15 billion bridge loan program for nonprofit human service organizations that, if implemented properly, would help preserve vital services to 7.8 million Americans in need and preserve some 300,000 nonprofit sector jobs over the next two years.

Continue reading »

Readings (and Other Stuff) - Dec. 2, 2009

December 02, 2009

Here are some of the things we've been checking out today:

How about you?

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

If ever a picture/graphic was worth a thousand words...


(H/t Adam Singer/The Future Buzz)

-- Mitch Nauffts

Just Say No (to Reducing Value of Charitable Deduction)

That's the consensus view among charity fundraisers, according to the results of an online Quick Poll conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals from October 20 - November 30.

Under a proposal that has been advanced by the White House, individuals earning more than $250,000 annually would have the value of their charitable deduction reduced by as much as 20 percent.

The poll asked: Will the White House proposal to decrease the deduction for charitable giving to help pay for healthcare reform hurt your organization's fundraising?

The findings:

  • 66 percent of respondents said the proposal is a bad idea
  • 56 percent said a reduction in the amount donors could deduct would hurt their organization
  • 35 percent said their organization would be "hurt a lot"
  • 14 percent agree with the proposal
  • 11 percent said their organization would be unaffected
  • 18 percent were undecided

The AFP position on the proposal is unambiguous. AFP president and CEO Paulette Maehara: "While people give for many reasons, the fact is that incentives for giving -- such as the charitable deduction -- play an important role in how much people give, especially as the amount of the gift grows. It simply makes no sense to enact this proposal when charities are already facing difficulties in raising the money they need to provide critically needed programs and services."

What do you think? Would a reduction in the charitable deduction result in less giving by those affected? Does the current system reward "unfairly" reward high-net-worth individuals, large charities and tax-exempt institutions, and/or big capital campaign gifts? Would the proposal be more palatable if it kicked in at a higher annual income level (say, $500,000)? And what are the chances of anything like this being passed by Congress in 2010?

Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Mitch Nauffts

ANNOUNCEMENT: Annenberg Foundation Launches Leadership Development Program for L.A. Nonprofits

December 01, 2009

A good idea at the right time...

The Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation is now accepting applications from qualified nonprofits in Los Angeles County for a new leadership development program.

An expansion of the Annenberg Nonprofit Leadership Seminar, Alchemy, as the program is called, will be offered to executive directors and board chairs of L.A. nonprofits with operating budgets of $2 million or less. The program -- which will address issues such as governance, public accountability, and fundraising -- will be launched with sessions in January, February, and March 2010.

For more information, call (213) 403-3030, or e-mail info@annenbergalchemy.org.

Goldman's Image Make-Over?

In the clip below, Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, discusses Goldman Sachs' new $500 million initiative to help small businesses with Bloomberg TV's Erik Schatzker and Deirdre Bolton. (Disclosure: Berman serves on the board of the Foundation Center, which publishes Philanthropy News Digest and this blog.)

What do you think? Is the Goldman initiative a sincere effort to help right the U.S. economy? A cynical ploy to deflect attention from the $20 billion in bonuses that Goldman will be paying out in a few weeks? Or something in between?

-- 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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