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26 posts from May 2010

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May)

May 31, 2010

As we did last last month, we thought we'd share the five most popular PhilanTopic posts over the last thirty days. Enjoy!

  1. Philanthropy's Digital Divide (Brad Smith)
  2. Beyond Infrastructure (Brad Smith)
  3. Finance and Budgeting Tips for Young Nonprofit Workers (Regina Mahone)
  4. Philanthropic Response to the Gulf Oil Spill (Stephen Sherman)
  5. Event: 'Disrupting Philanthropy: Changing the Rules' (Emily Robbins)
Feel free to use the comments section to let us know what you read and liked in May. And have a great Memorial Day!

Weekend Link Roundup (May 29 - 30, 2010)

Memorialday_bunting Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


As the Deepwater Horizon disaster drags on, Geoff Livingston names BP the "worst corporate citizen of the year," adding that "it will be hard for anyone to beat them in the year's remaining seven months (much less the decade)."

In response to a Washington Post article that examined the Nature Conservancy's ties to BP, Katya Andresen asks on her Non-Profit Marketing blog, "If you were head of PR for [a green charity] happily accepting grants from BP these past years, what would you do now?" Getting Attention's Nancy Schwartz responds with a few "guidelines for guarding [your] brand and developing the right partnerships."


On the Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks suggests that fundraisers should think about creating direct mail that generates controversy because it is more likely to "bring home the bacon" than messaging that avoids the unpopular or controversial. Writes Brooks, "Our job as fundraisers is not to create a restful, tasteful, vaguely pleasant experience. It's to make a noise that startles donors to action."


On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Cary Lenore Walski examines a new survey from the John Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies which found that two-thirds of the nonprofits surveyed have been unable to launch an innovative program or service over the last two years due to a lack of resources.

"In both sectors," writes Kristin Ivie at the Social Citizens blog, "the organizations that are having significant impact, and that have employees and constituents that are thrilled to be a part of what they're doing, are the ones that maintain a balance between pragmatism and idealism...."

International Affairs/Development

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green take a look at the final DATA report from the One Campaign,the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 frontman Bono. While the report is generally upbeat about what the major donor countries have done, in terms of international aid, since the G8 Gleneagles summit five years ago, it warns that "a new debt crisis" could derail progress on a range of issues. "The public debt...has spiraled during the current economic crisis," write Bishop and Green, "and with taxpayers on a fiscal crash diet it's hard to see even current levels of generosity to the needy abroad being sustained." Add Bishop and Green:

The tragic irony, of course, is that evidence is filtering through that the aid splurge of the past five years may have started to achieve something. Like it or not, we have to find new ways of making the aid money go further and find new ways of financing development that do not depend on the political will of a few rich countries. Philanthrocapitalism, by tapping the expertise, creativity, money and other resources of the private sector, has to be central to a new development strategy. First, to pilot and test ideas to make aid smarter and more effective. Second, to leverage more private capital -- full for-profit, ethical investment and donations -- to fill the gap....


In response to the harsh new immigration law recently passed by the state of Arizona, Julia Craig, research associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, issues a call for national funders "to step up to the plate and support their nonprofit partners in [advocating for repeal]."


On her Philanthropy 411 blog, Kris Putnam-Walkerly lists ten attributes shared by many grantmaking initiatives.

Social Media

Last but not least, social media expert Beth Kanter suggests that nonprofits use Twitter "to see what other...nonprofits are doing in social media spaces and [to] get new ideas."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org and enjoy the long weekend!

-- Regina Mahone

5 Questions for…Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

May 28, 2010

Donohue The Nellie Mae Education Foundation was founded in 1998 to ensure that public school students in New England have access to higher quality educational opportunities that facilitate their success in life. Today, NMEF is one of the largest grantmakers in the region, and the largest focused on education.

Nick Donohue became the second president and CEO of NMEF in 2006, succeeding Blenda Wilson, after a long career in public education that included stints as director of district and school services at Learning Innovations, as New Hampshire commissioner of education, and as special master at Hope High School in Providence, Rhode Island, where he oversaw implementation of that state’s decision to reconstitute the school.

Recently, PND spoke to Donohue about NMEF’s new strategic plan, his view of the Obama administration’s education reform efforts, and the future of public education in the United States.

Philanthropy News Digest: Earlier this year, NMEF announced a new strategic focus that emphasizes student-centered approaches to learning. What is student-centered learning and why have you decided to focus on it?

Nick Donohue: Our focus has been, and remains, to make sure all learners -- especially those who are underserved -- are prepared for success. A few years ago, the Nellie Mae board asked us to think about the next stage of our work. We began looking at research which suggests that, in order for the United States to be economically successful moving forward, we will need more learners achieving at much higher levels. The emerging economic reality reveals that students will need to develop a broad range of complex skills in order to achieve their goals and contribute to society.

We also looked at how the region we serve, New England, is changing. The region -- the nation as a whole, actually -- is going to see an increase in the number of learners who traditionally have not been served well by our education system. Our region has experienced a slight growth in our population, thanks to increases in immigrant populations and young people of color. Latino learners, in particular, will make up a huge portion of the net population increase in New England over the next ten to twenty years.

We currently support groups working to improve the preparation of teachers in the classrooms, working to raise standards, working to renovate curricular approaches to the teaching of math and language arts, so we asked ourselves: How can we help a much broader range of learners achieve more? The answer is that we need to focus on being a voice for a more fundamental shift in education. From our perspective, public education in this country still looks a lot like an assembly line on which learners are more or less batch-processed through to a marginally relevant degree, if they're lucky. Indeed, if public education in the United States were a house, we'd be way beyond the point where it needs a fresh coat of paint or new appliances. It needs an entire renovation.

Our research on best practices eventually led us to a set of principles that define student progress in terms of proficiency -- students should move forward when they've achieved a set of competencies, not as a result of their age or because they finished nine months of schooling in a calendar year. When you organize the system around achievement requirements rather than seat-time requirements, you're forced to be attentive to the different needs and styles of the students you are trying to serve. For instance, learners from affluent families typically have a lot of supports that make their movement through the system a foregone conclusion, while learners who have access to fewer resources often need to receive a variety of supports systems in order to keep advancing.

What's more, if you're pursuing a proficiency-centered approach to education, it matters less where, when, and with whom students learn. If someone shows progress and meets a standard, then they should get credit for that, regardless of whether or not their progress was achieved in a traditional classroom setting. We should recognize and encourage learning that is imparted by the wide variety of adults with whom learners come into contact with on a daily or almost daily basis. Indeed, the current system makes learning the variable -- depending on who you are and where you are -- while the "where, when, and with whom" are the constants. This notion ought to be flipped on its head. We should focus on making learning a constant and the "where, when, and with whom" the variables to allow room for creativity.

In some ways, things are already headed in this direction, at least in better-advantaged communities. Across the country, students from more affluent families typically are provided with a range of opportunities, both in and out of school, that contribute to their learning. Our goal is to make those opportunities available to everyone and to make student-centered learning a core element of how education is defined, not just an alternative. We are working to advance that goal by pursuing comprehensive model development and policy changes through community leadership and advocacy.

Continue reading »

Readings and Other Stuff (May 27, 2010)

May 27, 2010

Here are a few things that caught our attention today:

What have you been reading?

Collaboration Unbound

(Cynthia Bailie is the director of the Foundation Center-Cleveland and blogs regularly at the Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland blog. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Collaboration_gearsShow of hands please: Who thinks that nonprofit collaboration (the dreaded "c" word) is difficult and the "m" word (as in "merger") is best left unspoken? When I asked my Magic 8-Ball whether nonprofits could continue the all-too-typical avoidance of these important strategies, it replied, "Don't count on it." So I asked, "Is it true that joint programming, alliances, mergers, and other forms of collaboration are becoming more important than ever?" And it said: "All signs point to yes." Amazing. Even in the real world of nonprofits, all signs are pointing to an increased interest in this thing called collaboration -- and the need for nonprofits to get smarter about it.

That being the case, last year I decided to enroll myself in a class on mergers and acquisitions at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, hoping to pick up some best practices from the corporate world that might be transferable to the nonprofit world. What did I learn? Well, as Lois Savage, president of the Phoenix-based Lodestar Foundation, wrote in a PhilanTopic post back in 2008, I learned that "while there is a wealth of information about collaboration in the business world, including case studies, models and how-to books, there is very little information about the unique realities of nonprofit collaboration."

Here are some other things I learned.

For-profit mergers, acquisitions, and alliances are not driven by a desire to rescue the asset-depleted and financially endangered. And that kind of rationale shouldn't apply in the nonprofit world either, where mergers and other types of nonprofit restructurings tend to be the option of last resort. Why would a financially sound, healthy organization want to assume the liabilities of a sinking organization? Instead, what if we adjusted our thinking on this issue and gave ourselves permission to look for partnerships with the potential to make our organizations stronger, better, more responsive to the needs of those we exist to serve and therefore more relevant? What if we gave ourselves permission to reach out to and enter into partnerships with our peer organizations and, yes, our "competitors" even before our funders suggested (or demanded) it? What would our sector look like if mergers, acquisitions, alliances, consolidations, and partnerships were the norm?

For much of the last fifty years, value creation in the nonprofit sector has been seen through the lens of organic growth -- that is, if we start a new nonprofit and begin offering needed services to our community, we've created value and are contributing to the quality of life for community members. That's true, but it's also true that there are likely to be many other nonprofits operating in the same programmatic space. With each going after the same donor dollars, potential employees, volunteers, and community resources, the infrastructure to support them is stretched thinner, even as the low barriers to becoming a nonprofit encourage the establishment of ever more nonprofits.

All of which begs the question: Would our communities be better served by a nonprofit sector that strengthens itself through a systematic, field-tested mergers-and-acquisitions/alliances program? And could the sector benefit from some rigorous thinking and research on best practices in this area? I believe it could, though I'm less sure about who should spearhead that process and who might create a toolkit enabling all nonprofits to participate.

Here's a starting place: the Lodestar Foundation's 2011 Collaboration Prize was recently launched by the AIM Alliance, the Foundation Center, La Piana Consulting, and other foundation and nonprofit leaders.

As a partner, the Foundation Center is pleased to be the new home of the Nonprofit Collaboration Database, which was developed as part of the 2009 Collaboration Prize competition. Providing real-life models and best practices for anyone seeking information about how nonprofit organizations are working together, the database contains fully-searchable, detailed information about more than 250 collaborations nominated for the prize. Future iterations will include new examples from the 2011 Collaboration Prize competition, as well as other enhancements such as giving any nonprofit the ability to comment or submit its own collaboration materials. In addition, the center has developed a new information portal, Nonprofit Collaboration Resources, that offers podcasts, videos, reports, and links to case studies, initiatives, and other sites with information about how nonprofits are collaborating for the greater good.

The collaboration database and information portal are just two of the tools the center has developed or is offering to help level the playing field for all nonprofits, especially those that are underresourced or struggling to battle through the economic recession. We're confident these new resources will contribute to the development of stronger and more strategic nonprofits while increasing their impact. And we remain committed to providing the data infrastructure and information assets that nonprofits everywhere have come to rely on.

So, if you have been avoiding the subject of nonprofit collaboration but are ready to take the plunge, we invite you to dive in, get informed, and free yourself up to think about the "c" and "m" words as additional tools your organization can use to strengthen its programs and expand its reach. As Foundation Center president Brad Smith recently commented in a post on PhilanTopic, "The way forward for all our organizations is through collaboration, competition, and 'coopetition'. We will need to get much better at not doing what is already being done by someone else and foundations will have to be more careful about encouraging (and supporting) unnecessary duplication. Along the way there will be mergers, alliances, and maybe even a few dogfights."

Is your organization considering a merger, acquisition, or alliance? Are you bracing your organization for some dogfights?! We'd love to hear about it -- and so would our readers. Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

-- Cynthia Bailie

Pressing the Point About Philanthropy

May 26, 2010

(Michael Hamill Remaley is a communications consultant and also director of Public Policy Communicators NYC. This post first appeared on the Communications Network blog and appears here with permission of the network.)

Commuication_def I just read an interesting case study about how to engender more substantial media coverage of foundation activities and it helped me think more deeply about both the challenges and potential for helping reporters see that there is a story that goes beyond "x foundation gave x dollars to do x."

The case study was written by Theodora Lurie for the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, as part of its ongoing work with foundations and philanthropy associations to improve communications and outreach to influential Americans. In the first of what PAI calls its "Moving Beyond the Money" series, Lurie presents an example of a successful foundation effort to garner news coverage that "conveys a broader vision of how foundations make a difference -- and identif[ies] the strategies that brought such coverage about."

It is a short, engaging read that highlights the communications efforts of the Ford Foundation around the announcement of its $50 million program-related investment (PRI) in the National Community Stabilization Trust. The large low-interest loan to the trust will be used to acquire and renovate houses, which will then be sold to moderate and low-income buyers.

The large dollar amount of the Ford investment was probably enough to get the attention of many journalists. But Ford took advantage of the opportunity to use the attention-grabbing announcement -- in May 2009, when the U.S. real estate market was still spiraling downward and the problem of empty houses adding to blight in neighborhoods had many Americans worried -- to go beyond the dollars and speak more broadly about Ford’s long-term work in this program area, the potential societal impact of the investment and the nimble, experimental role foundations can play in solving complex problems.

Halfway through reading the case study it occurred to me that only two stories in outlets that have a particularly sophisticated audience (the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio) might seem like not a particularly stellar achievement if the idea is to communicate the role of foundations to a broader swath of influential Americans. But the amount of coverage (which may be more extensive than the two pieces discussed in the case study) and the composition of the two outlets’ target audience aren’t really the point of the case study. The point is about how foundations should take more responsibility for -- and can find success in -- getting more substance into media reports on philanthropy. The case study provides details on how Ford Foundation staff pursued its communications strategy for the PRI announcement and how its well-crafted messages resulted in stories that, though brief, effectively illustrated the foundation’s role as a creative, knowledgeable, and influential shaper of societal change -- not just a "grant maker."

The case study makes clear that "there are opportunities to help shape coverage if you prepare well, crystallize your key message points, and train staff who will be speaking with reporters to stay on message. It also helps to get a credible outside endorsement of the value of a grant or project."

This wise counsel reminded me of a July 2006 opinion piece by Grant Oliphant and Bruce Trachtenberg in the Chronicle of Philanthropy titled "Let's Not Focus Simply on Size of Buffett's Gift." In that piece, the authors, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation and Communications Network executive director, respectively, advised: "when foundations announce that they are supporting new efforts, their news releases should routinely be more explicit about the goals, expected achievements, what success will look like, and when they will be able to demonstrate whether that effort is working (or not). By doing that, reporters might be encouraged to focus more on the potential results of a grant, rather than the fact (or size) of the award itself to the exclusion of all else."

It also occurred to me that the starting point of the case study is that foundations need journalists to make the case for our relevance on our behalf. With all of the many new methods for connecting directly with audiences -- social media, producing our own messages and distributing them online and other venues -- is it possible we could simply bypass the traditional media that has neglected us for so long? Of course we know traditional media still has great influence. And since the PAI case study focuses on the need to reach people who don't know much about foundations and make them more aware of our work, they're a much more challenging audience to reach with direct-to-audience communications. Let’s face it, the press still matters, and the PAI case offers some good thinking on the "how to" of elusive coverage that's worth it's weight in gold.

I am quite interested to read the next in the "Moving Beyond the Money" series. This first one got me thinking about the actual process of harvesting more substantial coverage of foundation impact. Of course, for foundations to really do this, they need to seed the field with clear statements on medium- and long-term objectives of the projects they support and take some risks in saying specifically how success will be judged.

-- Michael Hamill Remaley

'To BP or Not to BP' - Live Chat with the Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek and Glenn Prickett

May 25, 2010

Alg_oil_rig In the days after the Deepwater Horizon rig capsized and sank, causing a well blowout that, a month later, has spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Nature Conservancy scrambled to mount an effective response. TNC scientists were sent to coastal Louisiana to survey the damage, funds for cleanup efforts were mobilized, and the organization, which in recent years has been working to protect fragile coastal habitats and restore shellfish breeding grounds in the Gulf region, began to sound the alarm through various social media channels.

But executives at the conservancy and the TNC board also faced a tough decision. BP, the rig's operator, was a member of the organization's International Leadership Council and, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, had donated $10 million in cash and land to support conservancy efforts over the years. And that was bound to become news, sooner or later. For TNC execs, the question was, Do we try to preempt the inevitable controversy by revealing our ties to BP before the media does, or do we sit tight?

You probably know the answer. Sadly, the decision has come back to haunt the conservation group. The fact that TNC execs waited until after the WaPo forced their hand is all the more puzzling given a similar controversy over corporate ties that swirled around the organization in 2003. It has even led some marketing experts, including our former colleague Nancy Schwartz, to call it a sign of "organizational values gone missing or soft."

Schwartz's advice for the organization? Get out there broadly and openly, and communicate -- honestly. Train and prep key spokespeople, program staff (not the CEO, board members, or PR folks) to respond. Show and state appreciation of your supporters focus and passion for the cause they’re dedicated to. And acknowledge that you have made a mistake in taking BP funding and in not acknowledging that funding up front in your initial responses to the spill.

I'm not sure I agree with all of that, but I do think the conservancy -- and other environmental groups with potentially problemmatic corporate ties -- should pay attention to Nancy's recommendations. To its credit, the conservancy, led by CEO Mark Tercek, has been quick to explain its position with respect to BP since the WaPo article appeared. In fact, earlier today, Tercek, TNC chief external affairs officer Glenn Prickett, and Keith Ouchley, the director of the conservancy’s Louisiana program, conducted a live chat that had been widely promoted via Twitter and the TNC blog. (Full disclosure: Mark has been a close friend of mine since we attended high school together in the '70s.) I've included a (lightly edited) transcript of that chat below the jump. But before you read it, you might want to keep these questions in mind:

  • How have TNC's longstanding ties with BP advanced its conservation goals? And will any such gains be mooted by the enormous damage to the Gulf ecosystem caused by the spill?
  • What, if anything, has TNC been able to do to get BP to change its practices?
  • Is continued engagement with BP as the latter pursues drilling in increasingly vulnerable and/or volatile regions worth the risk of another catastrophic failure like the Deepwater blowout?
  • Should TNC sever all ties with companies in the resource-extraction business?
  • Has TNC been transparent enough about its relation with BP (and other resource-extraction companies)?
  • In terms of transparency, what should TNC do next?

Share your thoughts and comments below the jump.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 22 - 23, 2010)

May 23, 2010

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


When it comes to taglines, less is more, writes nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz. "Take the time," adds Schwartz, "to develop a single, clear tagline [that] conveys the essence of your organization's value."

Help+wanted Diversity

On her Leading Edge blog, Rosetta Thurman takes issue with a statement the Brooking Institution includes at the end of its job listings. "The language makes it sound as if women and minorities are not usually qualified," writes Thurman, which makes it an example of "how not to do diversity."


On her Nonprofit Leadership 601 blog, Heather Carpenter responds to key findings from a new report on employment trends in the sector. While "nonprofits are planning to hire new staff in the latter part of 2010 into 2011," writes Carpenter, many are hiring from outside their organizations, which is "especially disconcerting for emerging leaders."

"The next time you're pressured to keep overhead low when you know it will compromise effectiveness, explain that doing so is a violation of your conscience, your ethics and yourself," writes Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta on his Free the Nonprofits blog. "Declare that you will not sacrifice mission on the altar of public relations, or put your duty to create social change in conflict with anyone's preoccupation with the seamy game of appearances."

Last week, the Panera Bread Company announced it will open a nonprofit restaurant in Clayton, Missouri. While Kristin Ivie commends the company for its efforts, she also wonders "what the point of this 'nonprofit' is, other than literally not making any profits."

Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns also questions why the restaurant is a nonprofit. Asks Burns, "Is it because the business model clearly means that there [are] no profits to be made? Is it because the 'profits', whatever they will be, will be distributed for good works? Or is it because these stores are social ventures of a nonprofit foundation and the trustees will not be personally profiting?...."


In a post on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton names the "Piano Stairs" video submitted by the Ford Foundation's Kyle Reis the winner of TP's "fantastic video competition." The video has been kicking around YouTube for some time now, but if you haven't seen be sure to take a look. It's great.

In a nice post on the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Cary Lenore Walski takes a close look at the final version of the Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector report, co-authored by philanthropy consultant Lucy Bernholz, Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society director Ed Skloot, and CSPCS staff member Barry Varela.

In a new post on the GiveWell blog, Elie Hassenfeld examines how two big-name orgs, the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, spend their money.

Social Entrepreneurship

Deborah Fleischer of the Triple Pundit blog shares six trends in social entrepreneurship, courtesy of the Skoll Foundation.

Social Media

In a post on her newly redesigned blog, Beth Kanter shares tips nonprofits can use to build their social media strategy. They include:

  • Integrate social media with your Internet communications or program strategy;
  • Use listening techniques to develop a deeper understanding of your audience;
  • Use conversation starters to engage your audience;
  • Identify "influencers" in social media spaces -- individuals who have influence within a targeted audience -- and cultivate them;
  • Make sure your content has a "social life";
  • Use social media to close the loop between online and offline action;
  • Allocate enough staff time and expertise to implement an effective social media strategy;
  • Launch small pilots and reiterate using the right metrics to understand what is and isn't working; and
  • Identify organizational culture issues that may prevent adoption.

On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen offers a list of things your organization should have before launching a Facebook page, including a well-branded Web site that's capable of processing online donations and seamless integration between your on- and offline fundraising efforts.


Last but not least, Lucy Bernholz explains why "we need good data to help us tell stories."

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

-- Regina Mahone

  • 2010 Fenton NPO Leadership and Effectiveness Survey

    May 21, 2010

    Just got a press release from the folks at Fenton and thought I'd share some of the findings from the survey -- along with a word of caution. First the findings:

    • 80 percent of respondents rate the performance of nonprofits as either "good" or "excellent"
    • 64 percent report that they will either keep their donations to charity the same as last year or cut back on their donations
    • 56 percent of those who say they will cut back on their charitable donations will do so by more than 25 percent
    • Top issues people look to nonprofits to address include poverty/hunger reduction, homelessness, finding cures for disease/illness, domestic violence prevention
    • Traditional outlets such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines continue to rank highest as credible sources of information
    • Social networking sites rank at the bottom for credibility (though respondents rank Facebook as among the most popular ways to share opinions on issues that matter to them)
    • The three most important attributes in judging a nonprofit's performance are: 1) whether it is a good steward of donated funds; 2) whether it provides trustworthy, objective, and fact-based information; 3) whether it provides valuable services for people that government cannot

    The report based on the survey suggests that the funding situation for nonprofits "will likely get worse before it gets better" and that nonprofits "will be scrutinized like never before to show donations are used to provide effective programs and services to communities."

    The survey was conducted in March 2010, as the major stock indices were nearing their post-crisis highs. The markets are down 10 percent since then, and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe looks as if it could push the global economy into a second down leg. At the risk of indulging my negativity bias, I'd suggest that now is not the time for nonprofits to raise the "all-clear" flag. Just sayin'.

    -- Mitch Nauffts

    This Week in PubHub: Education - College Readiness

    May 20, 2010

    (Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she wrote about teacher effectiveness and leadership.)

    When you think about it, much of the debate over education reform comes down to a single question: How can we best prepare all kids to become happy and productive citizens in a fast-paced world -- in other words, how do we prepare all kids for college and careers in a global economy?

    As Public Agenda notes in Can I Get a Little Advice Here?: How an Overstretched High School Guidance System Is Undermining Students' College Aspirations, students clearly need more in-depth, practical advice than the college guidance system currently provides. The good news is that many students continue to find teachers and coaches who are helpful in motivating them to continue their education. The report also suggests that "perhaps higher education, business and local civic and community groups could provide trained volunteers who could help high school graduates better understand the higher education choices open to them."

    Policies Paved the Way: Early College Innovation in North Carolina, a new report from Jobs for the Future, describes a collaboration success story: joint programs involving school boards and community colleges, nonprofit support, and start-up grants to raise high school graduation and college-readiness rates. These "early college" high schools are designed to allow students -- especially those with traditionally low rates of high school and college success -- to graduate with an associate degree or up to two years of transferrable college credit. The key to the effort's success seems to be how state leaders took the initiative in partnering with philanthropies and businesses to spur educational innovation, which in turn suggests that policy makers may be able to remove the remaining barriers to streamlining high school and college curricula such as poorly aligned state-mandated end-of-course exams.

    Another innovative approach to helping students graduate from high school ready for college and careers is Linked Learning (formerly known in California as Multiple Pathways), a college-prep curriculum that organizes and integrates challenging academics, technical skills and knowledge, work-based learning, and support services around specific industries. The James Irvine Foundation’s 2009 report Making Progress Through California Multiple Pathways: Findings From the ConnectEd Network of Schools Evaluation 2007-2008 found that the initiative resulted in higher graduation rates, more university requirements met, better test performance, and higher levels of student engagement compared with state averages.

    One disadvantaged group often overlooked is rural students. The importance of rural schools to education reform, however, is not just an issue of equity. The Alliance for Excellent Education points out in Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers that "establishing and evaluating successful practices in rural schools can lead to quick replication in more populous areas." To that end, the report lays out the challenges facing rural high schools and calls on federal policy makers to ensure equitable and adequate funding for rural school systems, improve accountability, expand student supports and options, recruit and retain effective teachers, and set high expectations for college and career success.

    What other promising approaches to getting students ready for college and careers should education reform efforts focus on? Let us know in the comments section. And don't forget to check out the many education-related reports in PubHub.

    -- Kyoko Uchida

    Cognitive Biases and Philanthropy

    May 19, 2010

    Cognitive_bias1 In a short post on Monday, Barry Ritholz of Big Picture blog fame, tipped his readers to the publication of a new "field guide" to cognitive biases by something (or somebody) called the Royal Society of Account Planning.

    The guide defines "cognitive bias" as a psycholgical tendency "that causes the human brain to draw incorrect conclusions. Such biases

    are thought to be a form of "cognitive shortcut," often based upon rules of thumb, and include errors in statistical judgment, social attribution, and memory. These biases are a common outcome of human thought and often drastically skew the reliability of anecdotal and legal evidence....

    The guide offers brief descriptions of nineteen social biases, eight memory biases, forty-two decision-making biases, and thirty-six probability/belief biases. Here are a few:

    • False consensus effect (the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them)
    • Projection bias (the tendency to unconsciously assume that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions)
    • Interloper effect/consultation paradox (the tendency to value third-party consultation as objective, confirming, and without motive)
    • Illusion of control (the tendency for humans to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they clearly cannot)
    • Framing (using an approach or description of the situation or issue that is too narrow)
    • Not invented here (the tendency to ignore that a product or solution already exists)
    • Confirmation bias (the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions)
    • Overconfidence effect (excessive confidence in one's own answers to questions)
    • Selection bias (the distortion of evidence or data that arises from the way that the data are collected)
    • Availability cascade (a self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse)
    • Bias blind spot (the tendency not to compensate for one's own cognitive biases)

    And my personal favorites:

    • Negativity bias (the phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive experiences or other kinds of information)
    • Planning fallacy (the tendency to underestimate task-completion times)
    • Last illusion (the belief that someone must know what is going on)

    As Ritholtz says, fascinating stuff. And it got me thinking: What are some of the cognitive biases that inform foundation work specifically and philanthropy more generally? So I asked around a bit and came up with the following:

    • Copernican effect (the tendency to believe that philanthropy in and of itself can ameliorate social problems)
    • Adam Smith effect (the tendency to believe that people are rational economic actors and always do what is in their self-interest)
    • Foundation exceptionalism bias (the belief within a foundation that its own programs are unique)
    • Perpetuity paradox (the tendency to believe that a dollar spent on social goods today is less valuable than a dollar spent on something else in the future)
    • Project support bias (the tendency of foundations to favor support for individual projects over general operating support) 

    Okay, maybe not the most inspired list in the world. But I bet if I opened it up to all of you, we could generate a pretty interesting "guide" of our own. So what do you say? What are some of the cognitive biases you've encountered in the world of foundations and philanthropy? Don't be shy...

    -- Mitch Nauffts

    Readings and Other Stuff (May 18, 2010)

    May 18, 2010

    Here are a few things that caught our attention today:

    What have you been reading/watching?

    Event: 'Disrupting Philanthropy: Changing the Rules'

    May 17, 2010

    (Emily Robbins is the managing editor of Philanthropy News Digest. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

    Chess_pieces Nothing, not even rain and rush-hour crowds, could dampen the enthusiasm of the capacity crowd that turned out Thursday evening for the "Disrupting Philanthropy" panel discussion hosted by the Council of the Americas and the Stanford Alumni Association at the council's Park Avenue headquarters.

    It hardly seemed possible that a year had passed since I'd been in the same room to hear Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors CEO Melissa Berman, and Stanford professors Debra Myerson and Rob Reich discuss the potential and pitfalls of strategic philanthropy. That night, with the U.S. economy in freefall, it was impossible to ignore the tension and anxiety in the room.

    This year's event, in contrast, was marked by a palpable sense of excitement and possibilities, on both sides of the funder/grantee divide. Indeed, at times it felt as if we had all arrived at a transformative movement together. The panelists -- Council on Foundations president Steve Gunderson, Independent Sector president/CEO Diana Aviv, consultant Lucy Bernholz, and Stanford's Reich -- seemed to agree that the philanthropic sector had reached an inflection point, and that while the forces shaping its future were still diffuse, they were beginning to come into focus. The spirit of the evening was captured best when Gunderson asked: "Are we really disrupting philanthropy, or are we just modernizing it? Is the main role of philanthropy to provide funds? What if, instead, we provided leadership for social change? What if we acted more as partners and provocateurs?" Scary? A little. But also inspiring.

    Reich likened the changes roiling society to nothing less than a rewriting of the social contract, with the traditional roles of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors suddenly open to reinterpretation. He noted that philanthropy is changing much more quickly than the public-sector regulations to which it is subject and argued that as business discipline and techniques increasingly are applied to social benefit work, nonprofit practitioners need to make sure the sector doesn't sacrifice its soul in the pursuit of greater impact and efficiency. He also urged those in attendance to remember that the vibrancy of the sector is dependent on its freedom to innovate and that foundations and nonprofits should not be afraid to embrace the "permission" they are given to do that as a result of rapid and disruptive changes in society.

    Bernholz, the founder of consulting firm Blueprint Research & Design and the brains behind the influential Philanthropy 2173 blog, was fired up by the idea that the traditional role of 501(c)(3) nonprofits was being challenged by the emergence of entities with a "triple bottom line" -- e.g., low-profit limited liability companies, otherwise known as LC3s, and so-called beneficial corporations, aka "B corps," which recently were recognized as legal entities by the state of Maryland. She noted that Americans need to develop a better understanding of the laws, here and abroad, that shape and determine global philanthropic giving. And she suggested that while nonprofits' use of social media is advancing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced most recently by the success of various mobile text campaigns for Haiti earthquake relief, we are still in the early stages of understanding the multiple possibilities for these tools in terms of how they can help us better organize and finance our social change efforts.

    Aviv pointed out that the evening's conversation was not one you were likely to hear in the hallways of large grantmaking organizations even though it was "exactly the kind of cutting-edge discussion we need to have." She asked those in attendance to imagine the good foundations could do if they looked beyond the 5 percent they are legally mandated to pay out and found ways to harness the other 95 percent in the service of social change. And she noted that the new paradigm of interconnected global markets -- for capital, labor, information -- means that, now more than ever, the philanthropic sector needs leaders who favor change over the status quo and are committed to innovation and taking risks.

    As to what kinds of organizations will thrive in this new environment, Aviv answered by paraphrasing Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them." Between the opportunities created by the sector's adoption of social media and the possibility of new policy decisions with the potential to affect the availability of resources on which the sector has long relied, philanthropy finds itself at a critical crossroads. "A good chess player thinks a couple of moves ahead," Aviv reminded the crowd. "The great ones think ten, twenty moves ahead."

    The overarching message was clear: If philanthropy is indeed like chess, you might want to pull up a seat. The next few years are likely to be characterized by lots of unexpected moves.

    -- Emily Robbins

    Weekend Link Roundup (May 15 - 16, 2010)

    May 16, 2010

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


    "The biggest thing that needs to change this year is how we think about our donors," writes Katya Andresen in a post on her Non-Profit Marketing blog. "We are in the midst of an enormous generational shift that has major implications for our work. Younger donors expect engagement and involvement. They are anything but passive. Think of it this way," adds Andresen. "Just as in marketing we have left the broadcast era where consumers passively take in promotional messages, we have left the low-expectation donor era. This generation is going to keep us on our toes...."

    Corporate Philanthropy

    Back from a blogging hiatus, Jessica Stannard-Friel of the Reimagining CSR blog shares a recent Q&A she did with Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. In it, Coady discusses the challenges facing CSR professionals and opportunities for the field.


    Looking to get the most out of your use of video for fundraising purposes? On the Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks suggests that nonprofits stick to videos that are "compelling for the slice of people who are or could be your supporters," rather than creating videos with the hope/expectation they will go viral.


    On the Its Your World blog, World Affairs Council of Northern California president Jane Wales shares the story of a woman from Taiwan who lives on $3 a day and uses the rest of her income to support orphans and support a library in her school and then asks, "How many of us with much larger earnings could be just a bit more frugal so as to put our funds to a larger purpose?"

    Cary Lenore Walski explains on the Philanthropy Potluck blog why mapping a grant in real time could help grantmakers to "identify gaps where communities are underserved and use that data to make more informed decisions about their work...."

    On the Actually Giving blog, Brigid Slipka considers the pros and cons of nonprofit staffers giving to their own organizations. Is it something donors pay attention to when choosing which organizations to fund, asks Slipka? And isn't it enough that nonprofit employees already give a lot to their organizations with their time and effort? What do you think? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

    Social Media

    In the latest installment of the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Social Good podcast series, Allison Fine chats with the National Wildlife Federation's Danielle Brigida about nonprofit organization's use of mobile geolocation features and capabilities.

    On the Mashable site, Geoff Livingston, co-founder of Zoetica, a cause-related consulting firm, explains how nonprofits can use social media to turn "slacktivists" -- folks who do good "without having to do much at all" -- into activists.

    A couple of weeks ago, the Case Foundation co-hosted a public-private strategy session with the White House on the topic of "driving innovation and civic dialogue through the use of prizes, challenges, and open grantmaking." On the foundation's blog, Sokunthea Sa Chhabra shares footage of the event, including an interview with X Prize Foundation chair and CEO Peter Diamandis and Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. (You can read a PND Q&A with Diamandis here.)


    The release of the iPad has many in the nonprofit world talking about the potential of the new device to transform the sector. Don't worry, advises social media guru Beth Kanter. The new tablet computer from Apple is a pretty nifty gadget, but "we're still in the early stages and there's no compelling rush to get seduced by shiny object syndrome."

    On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why it's important to "actively learn from and listen to people about what they need [and] what they want to do with [technology]," when building new tools. "It is about getting those apps, games, and data into existing community initiatives -- from health to environmental justice to neighborhood safety to worker safety and environmental protection -- and find[ing] out what those folks need and can contribute...."


    Last but certainly not least, DC Central Kitchen president Robert Egger unveils the organization's new Volunteer Bill of Rights. "Some of these rights are, of course, pretty obvious," writes Egger, "but by publicly committing to these standards, we hope that volunteers will...ask us hard questions and push harder still for details, which we are, to a team member, double down ready to provide...."

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

    -- Regina Mahone

    5 Questions for...Mark Rosenman, Director, Caring to Change

    May 14, 2010

    (A few weeks ago, I blogged about Foundations for the Common Good, a new report issued by the Caring to Change project, whose director, Mark Rosenman, was until recently Distinguished Professor of Public Service at the Union Institute in Cincinnati. Earlier this week, I caught up with Rosenman and asked him a few questions about the report and the Caring to Change project.)

    Philanthropy News Digest: The report you and your colleagues released is based on the notion that foundations' principal grantmaking strategy has been to support innovation in relatively narrow program areas. Is that a recent development? Or is it intrinsic to the foundation form and foundation culture?

    Rosenman_headshot Mark Rosenman: Following the advent of "scientific philanthropy" about a century ago, the foundation trend line has been to define problems more narrowly and be more specific in programs to remediate them. I think that process builds its own self-reinforcing imperative and that its influence over foundation grantmaking has grown in recent decades. While that process certainly can advance expertise, when faced with the limited impact of past and current efforts, foundations look for better, more innovative program ideas. Too often, the search for those ideas does not begin with a re-examination of fundamental purposes and assumptions, nor does it include values.

    PND: The report argues that foundations, as agents of change, would be more effective if their grantmaking was informed by a "vision of the Common Good." How do you define that term? And how does your rubric of the Common Good differ from traditional notions of social good and/or public benefit?

    MR: Foundations for the Common Good contains an entire essay on what is meant by that term. Suffice it to say here that it means benefit to the broadest swath of people in ways which advance society's "most choiceworthy" ways to live. Benefitting the broadest swath means that we need to better understand how problems fit together and how disparate types of programs can be more effective when better connected to one another. Realizing the "choiceworthy" part requires that our full diversity be equitably engaged in continuing conversation about the values which undergird our work in service to the Common Good. I know all of that sounds pretty lofty, but it's generally not too difficult to approach even "mission-restricted" grantmaking creatively to better move toward that broader goal.

    The Common Good, as we use the term, differs from "social good and/or public benefit" by holding that organized philanthropy's -- foundations' -- fundamental role needs to be more than simply aggregating the production of separate, discrete goods and benefits.

    Continue reading »

    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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