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26 posts from May 2010

Beyond Infrastructure

May 12, 2010

(Bradford Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about philanthropy's digital divide.)

Npq_mosaic Entering a slow and uncertain recovery after a brutal recession, we find ourselves once again in a period where America's foundations are struggling with how to continue to pay for the
so-called "philanthropic infrastructure." I have no idea when the term "infrastructure" began to be used to describe the myriad membership, data, research, training, and networking organizations that exist today. I always associated infrastructure with roads and bridges, but Wikipedia gives a broader definition: "infrastructure provides organizing structure and support for the system or organization it serves, whether it is a city, a nation, a corporation, or a collection of people with common interests. Examples: IT infrastructure, research infrastructure, terrorist infrastructure, tourism infrastructure."

So technically I guess we might be able to speak of the "philanthropic infrastructure," though I wonder whether we are doing ourselves a disservice by lumping so many different organizations and services into one basket. Here's why.

(Illustration credit: The Nonprofit Quarterly)

Philanthropy is an archipelago

Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, has 17,000 islands; American philanthropy has 97,000 grantmaking foundations and public charities. The vast majority are independent foundations -- endowed "island" institutions with their own forms of evolution, language, and ways of doing things. Many of these foundations were formed by fierce-minded donors bent on being as successful in philanthropy as they had been in business and determined to be different than the rest. The famous phrase "Once you've seen one foundation, you've seen one foundation" is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. With no exposure to consumer markets or campaign pressures, foundations are free to experiment as they wish -- that is their true comparative advantage -- but few face external pressures to prioritize, strategize, and collaborate. Building and maintaining "infrastructure" is challenging and costly; it takes a lot of bridges, ferry boats, airports, and undersea cable to link the islands in an archipelago.

Philanthropy keeps growing and changing

In 1980 there were 22,088 active private and community foundations. By 2008 that number had grown to 75,595. Foundation assets reached a peak of $682 billion in 2007 before falling to $565 billion in the recession of 2008. Philanthropy's obituary has been written recession after recession, but wealth accumulation keeps roaring back and each year more new foundations are created than go out of business. And as philanthropy grows, so does the support network of councils, associations, centers, groups, advisors, initiatives, and other organizational forms so brilliantly mapped in 2008 by the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Moreover, philanthropy has changed significantly since 1911 when Andrew Carnegie set up the Carnegie Corporation. Fueled by new donors who became wealthy relatively early in life, the business of grantmaking has expanded to include concepts like "venture philanthropy," "social investing," and "social innovation." These new donors bring with them a desire for outcomes, results, and the metrics required to prove impact and effectiveness. The Heron Foundation's mission-related investing, Omidyar Network's "flexible capital," and the potential of citizen philanthropy through platforms like Global Giving are taking philanthropy beyond foundation grantmaking. But the need for philanthropy to be professionally represented before federal, state, and local government remains unchanged as does the need, even in the digital age, for the decidedly retro activities of meeting and networking in person. And new needs and services have arisen, including social impact assessment; collecting, cleaning, and visualizing ever growing volumes of data; Web design; training; and using social media. It is safe to say that in the next ten years needs will arise for services that we can’t even imagine today.

Making false distinctions

The history of philanthropy is filled with people extolling the virtues of spending money to help others instead of oneself. Most foundations tend to articulate their missions in terms of directly benefiting underserved populations. They have mixed feelings about covering overhead costs. Some will admit that to truly improve the lives of the underserved they may have to fund research or even policy advocacy. But "infrastructure" can be a hard sell since it is even more difficult to explain how it helps those in need.

Struggling to make such distinctions is not new. The 18th century economist/philosopher Adam Smith wrote: "There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed; there is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labour." But even Smith could not draw the line that sharply and added, "...the labour of the latter, however, has its value, and deserves its reward as well."

Though it is often considered less essential than the "real" work of helping people, the "infrastructure" has its value. You can't be a philanthropist without philanthropy.

Getting beyond infrastructure

Banning the phrase "philanthropic infrastructure" from our vocabulary will not solve the challenge poised in the first sentence of this post -- how to support it -- but it might free our thinking. A colleague of mine rightly points out that no other field or sector would lump such diverse organizations together and call them all "infrastructure." Terminology matters and how one describes and frames a problem can often make the difference been solving it and chasing one's tail.

In large part the market will sort things out. Organizations that in one way or another support the $43 billion industry that is philanthropy in this country are painfully aware of the relationship between their relevance, the demand for their services, and their survival. They have four basic sources of revenue -- membership dues, conference fees, foundation grants, and earned income. Pursuing any one of these pulls an organization in different directions and, like an investment portfolio, diversifying across these various revenue streams is the best guarantee of long-term institutional stability. My guess is that earned income probably has the most potential, though the increased demand from new audiences as philanthropy grows and changes will increasingly be at odds with the push for everything online to be "open and free."

Foundation giving will continue to play a crucial role, but getting foundation grants, from the perspective of those that seek them, is also a kind of market-based activity. We know that foundations will always be willing to pay for what they feel they truly need. Some of the so-called infrastructure organizations were created by foundations themselves in order to meet new demands. But at least a portion of their spending seems to be moving toward projects that specifically benefit the work of single foundations or of funder collaboratives and their grantees. This has been accompanied by the rise of prestigious consulting groups not usually thought of as part of the "infrastructure" that have become major players in philanthropy. Bridgespan alone received some $50 million in foundation grants between 2003 and 2008, with smaller amounts going to groups such as Monitor, McKinsey, TPI, and the Foundation Strategy Group. Whether this trend is additive or will serve to crowd out general support, memberships, and fees remains to be seen.

I have lived this debate from all sides. For many years I worked in a foundation that felt a strong obligation to build and strengthen the field of philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world. I have also known living donors with little interest in "infrastructure" who saw it largely as a waste of their money and staff time. More recently I crossed over to the other side to head up the Foundation Center and have seen firsthand the hard work and dedication of the professionals who try to make philanthropy and the nonprofit sector work smarter and better.

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, acquisitions, alliances, and maybe even a few dogfights. I don't know whether there are too many of us, too few, or whether we are all always doing what is most needed, but I am convinced that philanthropy will never get close to realizing its potential without us. So let's get beyond yesterday's infrastructure debate and embrace tomorrow's challenge of making the world a more just, environmentally sustainable, hopeful, and beautiful place. There's plenty of room for us all in that endeavor and none of us alone have the answers.

-- Brad Smith

Text Message Fundraising: A Reader's Response

May 11, 2010

Cellphone A few days ago, I asked readers on the PND Talk message board to share their mobile giving campaign stories. Responding to my post, nonprofit consultant and expert fundraiser Tony Poderis shared some advice based on his experience in the field.

"I am approaching this whole new area of fundraising with keen interest -- and with caution, much as I did years ago with the advent of direct mail, telefunding campaigns, multi-level-marketing, cause-related schemes, and other 'new' ways to raise money," writes Poderis. "To many, who found out otherwise -- and who often neglected or even abandoned the tried and true traditional methods -- money did not roll in when they relied far too much on those methods. Those campaigns worked for some, to varying degrees, but they did not work for all. And they still do not."

For those attempting this new fundraising method, Poderis suggests they ask themselves these questions (paraphrased):

  1. How do we position text messaging donations in the fundraising mix of methods we employ? Can we come up with very real and practical expectations of these new methods, considering our limited reach?
  2. How do we promote text message fundraising without diverting too much of our attention away from the traditional methods?
  3. Do we understand and accept the fact that there will be a time lag to receive donations from third parties using this donation method? (As Sheryl Kaplan notes in a different response to the same posting, it could take up to three months.)

Important questions, indeed. What others would you recommend? And if you haven't launched a mobile giving campaign, what questions or concerns do you have? Share your thoughts below.

-- Regina Mahone

Story Knows No Gender

May 10, 2010

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

Gender_differences At both my recent communication and story seminar in New York City and at the Smithsonian Institution Conference on Organizational Storytelling, my partner Svend-Erik Engh and I were asked the question, "Should you tell a story differently based on whether your listener is a woman or man?"

Svend-Erik believes that women like more detail in their stories. In support of his claim, a participant said she "flowers it up" when speaking with women. And a thoroughly unscientific poll of friends and colleagues seems to indicate that women share more stories, especially personal stories, with other women. (The most frequently cited reason for women refraining from sharing personal stories with men was a fear of appearing to be sexually flirtatious.)

There are many books and articles on gender differences in communication styles and they tend to focus on the different ways in which women and men deliver information. Most of these observed differences can be attributed to societal and cultural influences, as well as stereotypical expectations. Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics and author of the seminal book on gender communication differences You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, boils down the observed differences to "hierarchy and connection": men seek status in conversation while women seek acceptance.

There are also a number of books and articles on the differences in cognition between women and men, many of which cite research showing slight differences in the brain structure of women and men. At the same time, scientific findings on gender differences in the way adults process language are disparate and inconsistent.

I’m not that interested in behavioral patterns; I’m interested in whether stories, in order to be effective (as in eliciting a desired emotion and action in your listener), should be told differently to men and women. In other words, do women and men process the same verbal communication in different ways, resulting in different outcomes?

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 8 - 9, 2010)

May 09, 2010

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


On the Kaufmann Foundation's Growthology blog, Tim Kane shares new research and charts on the state of the U.S. economy, including this neat infograph:


With all eyes focused on the worsening eco-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Alex Kolker of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium writes that "If there is a silver lining in this event, I hope it will be redoubled focus, at the state and national levels, on restoring coastal Louisiana...."


In a post at his newly redesigned Tactical Philanthropy site, Sean Stannard-Stockton discusses the new Grantmakers for Effective Organizations project Scaling What Works.

On the Case Foundation's blog, Jean Case details what happened last fall when the foundation learned that its PlayPumps initiative, which was designed to leverage the PlayPumps technology to bring clean drinking water to rural African villages, was coming up short. Writes Case:

Of course, there really is only one appropriate response when things aren't humming along as planned, and it is the same response Bill Gates offered, "So, what do we do next?" Because just like in business ventures, personal undertakings and public sector initiatives, things often go wrong. The unexpected happens. Reality doesn't always play out like the business plan calls for. Look at any great business today and chances are their road to success was fraught with potholes -- low moments that required fresh, new thinking and important course corrections. As a nation, I think we've learned that progress comes through trial and error, and much of what we enjoy today is because somebody somewhere was willing to blaze new ground....

In response to Case's post, World Affairs Council president Jane Wales offers a post of her own in which she commends Case for highlighting the fact that "mistakes matter."

The MacArthur Foundation recently announced grants totaling $5.6 million to ten universities in eight countries to establish new Master's in Development practice programs. Responding to the news, Laura Freschi, on the Aid Watch blog, asks what if, instead of "more development practitioners who can understand the 'languages' and practices of many specialties, and who can work fluidly and flexibly across intellectual and professional disciplines and geographic regions," the world really needs "more of something else?"

Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship blogger Nathaniel Whittemore takes issue with a recent post by social venture capitalist Josh Cohen and Taproot Foundation founder Aaron Hurst. In their post, Cohen and Hurst "advance the argument that the framework of social entrepreneurship is inadequate" and will not help Millienials -- the generation born between 1982 and 2000 -- attain meaningful careers. While Whittemore agrees with many of their points, he also lists five reasons why their argument is flawed.

Social Media

On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Amy Sample Ward examines "how some of the most popular [social networking] tools...for 'community building' online are actually not community-centric tools at all."


On the Huffington Post, Rahim Kanani, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, cites examples from this year's Global Philanthropy Forum to support his contention that philanthropy is "harnessing mobile and internet technology for change, social impact, and accountability...."


Guest blogging at the Case Foundation blog, Evan Hochberg of global accounting firm Deloitte looks at a new Volunteer IMPACT study which found "that more than eight in ten companies (84 percent) believe that volunteerism can help nonprofits accomplish long-term social goals." While that's good news, writes Hochberg, "I am concerned that the reported widespread lack of planning, accountability and measurement will limit the full potential of volunteerism...."

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

-- Regina Mahone

Philanthropic Response to the Gulf Oil Spill

May 07, 2010

(The following post was written by Stephen Sherman, reference librarian at the Foundation Center-Atlanta, and originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center - Atlanta blog.)

NOAA_rig_on_fire_540x405 The environmental disaster resulting from the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the subsequent sinking of the offshore oil rig will have long-lasting effects for marine life and communities in the Gulf states. As with other natural and man-made disasters, nonprofits and foundations stand to play a large part in the region's short- and long-term recovery. How are funders responding to the crisis so far? (Last updated: Thursday, June 3.)

The Southeastern Council of Foundations has created a resource page with links to information on how foundations in the Southeast are responding to the disaster.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation has created the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund to make emergency grants to nonprofit organizations helping the victims of the spill and to address the long-term economic, environmental, and cultural effects of the disaster. The foundation also provides links to spill-related resources and news coverage. Marco Cocito-Monoc, director of Regional Initiatives at GNOF, offers his thoughts on philanthropy's response to the crisis at the Council on Foundations RE:Philanthropy blog here.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County in Florida has activated its Disaster Relief Fund to provide future support for nonprofits engaged in first-response work and help communities affected by the oil spill.

The Greater Escambia Community Foundation has formed the Pensacola Environmental Relief Fund to support nonprofit organizations engaged in response and cleanup efforts in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida. The fund will support efforts to assess, protect, and clean fragile coastal habitats and save wildlife in harm's way.

The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health (GCF), a project managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, is currently providing emergency grants to organizations participating in first-responder efforts and will work to coordinate communication among coastal organizations, government agencies, and affected communities. Read this Chronicle of Philanthropy article on the Gulf Coast Fund's response to the oil spill.

The Florida Philanthropic Network is tracking the response of funders and nonprofit organizations in that state. The Network's Gulf Oil Spill Crisis Relief & Response page lists regional grantmakers that have opened funds for disaster response, nonprofit organizations that are accepting donations or providing immediate assistance in the wake of the spill, and links to government resources.

The Environmental Grantmakers Association and many partners are organizing a series of webinars about the role and response of philanthropy to the disaster. The first of these was presented yesterday, May 6, but other sessions will be held in the near future. Further information can be found at the COF blog. Please note that these programs are geared toward foundation trustees and staff and are not intended to provide funding information for grantseekers.

Information on the federal response to the disaster, along with links to state resources and volunteer information, can be found at http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.

Lenny Kravitz headlined a benefit concert, called Gulf Aid, to raise funds for wetland recovery efforts and for Louisiana fishermen who were affected by the disaster. The event took place Sunday, May 16, in New Orleans, and featured a range of artists, including Ani DiFranco, Mos Def, John Legend, and Allen Toussaint. The concert is reported to have raised over $300,000 for relief efforts in the region. Further details on the event can be found here.

As reported by the Chronicle, BP America recently made a $1 million contribution to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. These funds will go towards emergency food assistance and financial counseling for local fishermen and their families who have been directly impacted by the disaster.

Additional resources:

Know of other resources not included here? Use the comments section below and we'll add them to the list.

(Photo credit: CNET News)

-- Stephen Sherman

5 Questions for...Tamara Copeland, President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

May 06, 2010

Tamaracopeland2 Tamara Lucas Copeland was named president of Washington Grantmakers in September 2006 after having served in a variety of leadership positions in the nonprofit and public sectors. Recently, PND spoke with her about Beyond Dollars: Investing in BIG Change (How Washington Area Grantmakers Are Creating Lasting Impact), a new report from Washington Grantmakers that looks at how D.C.-area grantmakers are driving change by attacking problems at their core, capitalizing on timing and momentum, leveraging resources, and building true partnerships.

Philanthropy News Digest: What was the sample range for the case studies referenced in the Beyond Dollars report — that is, how many organizations were surveyed and over what period of time?

Tamara Copeland: With Beyond Dollars, we are actually trying to focus attention on the critical grantmaker practices that are not easily quantified. So we didn't survey our members, exactly, but we did reach out to the entire membership asking for stories. How has your philanthropy led to systemic reform? How has it had significant impact on a broad audience? As we sifted through these stories, we noticed some common themes: the importance of timing and momentum along with the value of partnerships, leverage, and voice. We shaped the report around those elements that seemed to be examples of BIG change.

PND: The report's first recommendation is to "capitalize on timing and momentum" with respect to national initiatives. How can local funders learn out about national initiatives that coincide with their grantmaking priorities?

TC: I think most grantmakers do keep up with national initiatives. With this recommendation we're basically saying to funders, "Avoid swimming upstream." As a broad matter you may fund "Health," but if, for example, the first lady announces an ambitious program to end childhood obesity, maybe you should see if you can align or frame your efforts to build on that momentum. National campaigns, scandals in the news, a disaster, a pop culture development — we're competing with all of that when we work toward social change. The point of "timing and momentum" is that we should acknowledge new realities and build on them. It's not enough to be aware of these trends — you'll have a bigger impact if they inform your grantmaking strategy.

PND: What kinds of partnerships do you envision being created as a result of the report, and how should these partnerships be structured to ensure maximum engagement over the course of the collaboration?

TC: First, we're hoping to see more cross-sector partnerships, because no one sector can solve an entrenched problem. Philanthropy is a neutral convener. We are typically viewed as having no vested interest other than what is for the good of the community. So, when philanthropy calls the meeting, our reputation and our resources can attract the diverse partners and unlikely bedfellows that can produce change.

We're also hoping that more grantmakers will realize their dollars simply go further when they collaborate with their colleagues. Don't waste money duplicating a study that someone else is about to release; do tell your colleagues why you stopped funding a certain nonprofit and started funding another. Share that information! In the long run, your knowledge can be more valuable than your dollars. If the culture of your organization is not to put a premium on partnerships, then you likely aren't maximizing your resources.

As for the structure, various approaches could work — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some partnerships will be simple information sharing among funders and some will work through formal channels such as working groups, multi-sector committees, and funding collaboratives. The best approach is to be networked both in your sector and beyond: know your colleagues and which of them are doing good work.

PND: As the economy improves, what, if anything, is likely to keep foundations from adopting a more "go-it-alone" approach with respect to their giving? And what might encourage them to continue to look for ways of achieving impact beyond cash grants?

TC: Interesting question. I believe there really is a "new normal," a term that has gained great popularity over the last year. As I listen to foundation leaders, I hear them discussing ways to maximize their investments, approaches for collaborating with other funders, and an openness to considering new ways of grantmaking. We're learning so much that it's difficult for me to believe that we'll "unlearn" it when the economy improves. Take, for example, the Defeat Poverty DC coalition that formed when funders convened representatives from across all sectors — those new relationships and friendships will persist. Grantmakers are practical. If they find that an approach is working, they will stick with it.

PND: What are some ways that grantmakers can engage other funders, particularly smaller family foundations that may not have much contact with peer institutions, in these kinds of undertakings?

TC: I'm really glad you asked that, because one of the primary roles of a regional association like Washington Grantmakers is to bring peers together. In Beyond Dollars, we included a short profile of the Strauch Foundation. They don't have a huge endowment, but as part of one of our funding collaboratives, their dollars and voice are leading to big change.

If you're not already engaged with the grantmaker association in your region, you can get in touch via the forum's Web site. Because it's good to stay connected; from the largest private foundation to the smallest family foundation, everyone has something to share and something to learn.

Emily Robbins

Readings and Other Stuff (May 5, 2010)

May 05, 2010

A beautiful day here in NYC. Here are a few items that caught our attention:

What are you reading?

This Week in PubHub: Education: Teacher Effectiveness and Leadership

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

May is Funding for Education Month at the Foundation Center, and PubHub is highlighting various aspects of education reform. This week's featured reports address teacher effectiveness and school leadership development.

In 2009, Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed 40,000 teachers in all grades about the challenges they face and the best ways to improve student achievement and preparedness. According to Primary Sources: America's Teachers on America's Schools, the solutions include establishing clear, common academic standards across states; using multiple measures to evaluate student performance; engaging students with differentiated assignments and new technologies; accurately measuring teacher performance and offering non-monetary rewards to retain effective teachers; and bridging the gap between school and home.

Empowering Effective Teachers: Strategies for Implementing Reforms (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), a new issue brief from the Gates Foundation, describes the promising efforts of nine school districts and a coalition of charter management organizations to implement strategies designed to improve teacher effectiveness. They include the adoption of meaningful, multi-dimensional measures of effectiveness; evaluation tools and processes that inform professional development; a more rigorous tenure process; differentiated compensation and career pathways; and incentives for placing effective teachers where they are needed most.

The Mott-funded Rethinking the Teacher Pipeline for an Urban Public School System (Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University) looks at the problem of high turnover among teachers and finds a possible solution in community-based organizing. As this case study of a statewide "grow your own" teacher pipeline strategy shows, community groups working with district officials, school principals, teacher unions, and others can create successful teacher-preparation programs for paraprofessionals and community residents, while enhancing equity and expanding parents' and the community's role in improving teacher quality.

The need for collaborative efforts aimed at improving performance applies to principals as well as teachers. The Wallace Foundation's theory is that coordinating the development of leadership standards, high-quality training, and the conditions that affect principals' work (such as access to data and sufficient resources) will lead to improvements in school leadership and teacher quality. Improving School Leadership: The Promise of Cohesive Leadership Systems (RAND Corporation) documents promising efforts by the foundation's grantees to work together to create a "cohesive leadership system" involving state authorities, local districts, and principal preparation programs. Successful strategies for building cohesive systems include building trust, creating formal and informal networks, fostering communications, exerting pressure and influence, promoting improved leadership policies and initiatives, building capacity for the work, identifying individuals with political and social capital to lead the work, and connecting to other reform efforts.

There are, of course, many other approaches to improving instructional effectiveness, not to mention the many other components of school reform. Over the next three weeks, PubHub will feature reports on performance management and data sharing, college readiness, and education philanthropy. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, and other readings in the comments section. And let us know what your priorities for educational reform would be.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Deepwater Horizon Disaster

May 04, 2010

A busy start to the week here, but I've kept an eye glued to my feeds for news about the eco-disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. (I noticed that the Murdoch-owned New York Post pushed its coverage of the mega-spill to page 19 -- after items about one of Tiger Woods's bimbos, a fashion gala here in New York, and a Bernie Madoff settlement story.)

How big is the mess and what's it going to cost to clean it up? This infographic courtesy of the GOOD blog puts it into some perspective (h/t @wilderness).


And that may be understating things. This post by Noah Kunin on the Sunlight Foundation blog suggests the 5,000-barrels-a-day number widely cited as the amount of oil the busted well is discharging into the Gulf "is not even in the ballpark of the actual figure." Kunin bases his charge on a comparison of the spreading BP slick with the 741,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf from offshore drilling platforms as a result of Hurricane Katrina -- and backs it up with some pretty impressive charts and maps.

Of course, trying to cap a blown-out well 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf is a monumental challenge, which means this disaster could get a lot worse before it's "over." And even then, the environmental and economic impacts caused by the spill could be with us for years, if not generations, to come. To help capture some of those impacts, the folks at ESRI, the GIS software giant, have created this Gulf Oil Spill Map that allows users to add points on the map linked to online photos, Web sites, and YouTube videos. Check it out -- and spread the word.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Philanthropy's Digital Divide

May 03, 2010

(Bradford Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In two previous posts -- here and here -- he introduced the center's Glasspockets initiative and made the case for why foundations need to be more transparent.)

Digital_divide The digital divide is fast becoming a thing of the past in the world, but it's still alive and well in philanthropy. American school kids, Sao Paulo subway riders, and Mumbai street vendors are part of a global army of
4.8 billion mobile device subscribers. Smartphones, netbooks, and Kindles are fast becoming the must-have appendages of modern life. Meanwhile, in a Foundation Center survey of 11,000 U.S. foundations, only 29 percent reported having a Web site.

Why are so many foundations -- tax-advantaged institutions that use private wealth to promote the public good -- so invisible when it comes to online transparency? It certainly isn't a question of importance. Collectively, America's foundations manage
$580 billion in assets and make some $43 billion in grants every year. Anyway you look at it, that is real money being spent on things people care about a great deal -- health, education, the arts, environment, and social justice among them. The reasons lay elsewhere and no one explanation applies to all foundations.

"We're too small to have a Web site."

America has an extremely diverse foundation sector. While the top 1,000 U.S. foundations account for close to two-thirds of annual giving, there are another 74,000 foundations making grants every year. In the same Foundation Center survey mentioned above,
76 percent of foundations said they had fewer than four staff. Among these are a large number of foundations that are essentially a husband, a wife, and a checkbook. We should expect the Ford Foundation, which spends more than $500 million a year in grants, to have a pretty good Web site, and it does. But what would be the value to grantees or others if more small foundations put themsleves online?

In fact, there can be real value. Take the example of the KDK Harman Foundation in Austin, Texas. They have a great Web site that includes their theory of change and logic model, a searchable grants database, evaluations of individual projects, and a wealth of resources on other topics such as how to start a foundation. All this from a family foundation with a handful of staff and an annual grants budget of $1 million.

"We want to help people, not spend money on ourselves."

No one who is wealthy is obligated to create a foundation. They do so out of compassion, indignation, faith, and/or a desire to give something back to a world that helped make them successful. Understandably, donors want to see as much of their money as possible go to people who need it and not to rent, salaries, fancy publications, and Web sites. If they stick with their philanthropy, however, these attitudes may change as donors realize that achieving impact may call for more infrastructure than they originally anticipated and that finding partners who can leverage their giving requires greater visibility.

"If we create a Web site we will be flooded with proposals."

For every grant approved by a foundation, an average of ten to twelve are rejected. While it may be too much to expect sympathy from nonprofits, by far the most difficult part of a funder's job is saying "No" to them. Everyone wants to be liked and saying "No" doesn't help very much in that category. Sitting in judgment of other's hopes and dreams is uncomfortable. And the sheer workload of sifting through all those proposals and trying to construct a rationale to approve a few and decline the vast majority is considerable.

There are two schools of thought on this. One is that clearly stating program goals, decision-making criteria, and application procedures will guarantee that a foundation receives more well-targeted proposals and fewer extraneous ones. And in today's digital world, a Web site is the best means for communicating such information. For the Foundation Directory Online, the Foundation Center combs more than twenty different sources of information (including Web sites, where they exist) to clearly convey the interests, priorities, and procedures of foundations. Nonprofits tell us that this helps them find the foundations most likely to be interested in their work rather than waste time on those that are not.

On the other hand, many believe that the greater the visibility, the more a foundation will be overwhelmed by grant proposals. They will be required to spend good money that could be used for grants on processing large quantities of requests they ultimately won't support. A Web site would only make matters worse. Or, if they decide to put up a Web site, they often include a statement to the effect that "The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals." But hope springs eternal in the heart of a nonprofit, and some do still send proposals. However, foundations have a simple and straightforward reason for not responding or rejecting them out of hand.

To my mind, any foundation that receives a tax exemption on its investment income in exchange for contributing to the public good should allow the public (in the form of nonprofits) to freely apply for grants. This goes against the grain of some current thought about strategic philanthropy, but that is a topic for another blog piece. Even highly strategic foundations can balance their desire for impact with their public purpose by maintaining at least one program that accepts open applications. Alternatively, they can adopt the slightly less foreboding language that seems to be cropping up on a number of foundation Web sites: "The foundation does not encourage unsolicited proposals."

"We want to protect our privacy."

Few of us who work in foundations or write about philanthropy in blogs like this one have any idea of what it is like to be truly rich. Yet many small foundations, and a number of very large ones, are directly linked to wealthy donors or their heirs. For them, the foundation is much more family office than institution. It is motivated by personal passion to do good in the world and educate successive generations in the responsible use of wealth.

By choosing to create a foundation, families risk a very precious commodity -- their privacy. They have legitimate concerns, ranging from being constantly harassed by people who want their money to the safety of their children and grandchildren. The concerns and fears of individuals who live at the very top of the economic ladder are as difficult for most of us to understand as those of people who live at the very bottom.

Putting one's foundation online is a major decision for most families and not taken lightly. But it is becoming more inevitable. The availability of public records and massive amounts of journalism, analysis, and opinion online is making it virtually impossible to remain invisible. Increasingly, families are faced with the dilemma of proactively telling the story of their philanthropy online or leaving a digital tower of Babel to tell it for them.

"We believe in maintaining a low profile."

There is a long tradition in American philanthropy of maintaining a low profile -- even to the extent of remaining anonymous -- and letting one's good works speak for themselves. This has religious and moral roots that go back to the earliest of the country's great philanthropists and continues through today. As Andrew Carnegie put it: "Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community." Paul Allen said it another way: "When it comes to helping out, I don't believe in doing it for the media attention. My goal is to support the organizations that need help."

For some, the whole idea of having Web sites and using social media is tantamount to blabbing about yourself all over the Internet. Philanthropy is supposed to be about the people and organizations one supports and the difference they make in the world. Many wealthy donors do name their foundations after themselves as well as theaters, research institutes, and hospital wings, but this is often about leaving a legacy and inspiring others to follow their example of charity and philanthropy.

"We don't understand all this new technology."

Some donors simply find the Internet, Twitter, streaming video, Web apps, and the like to be tremendously intimidating. They don't know where to begin and let the mountain of their own learning curve serve as an impediment to ever getting started. Going online seems to require an enormous amount of time and resources, neither of which they feel they can afford.

In part, this is generational. I remember once asking someone in a family foundation if they could give the Foundation Center their grants data in an Excel spreadsheet, and she laughingly and lovingly replied: "We won't be using those kinds of things until Mom retires!" To be fair, the technology is a bit intimidating and evolving at a dizzying pace. When you see the picture of two adorable twins brandishing their iPhones in the April edition of Fast Company, it is easy to feel hopelessly left behind. But the truth is, it is a global minority of cyber geniuses that truly understand all the latest stuff. It would take a lot to put foundations on the cutting edge of digital technology but very little for more of them to get on the playing field.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 1 - 2, 2010)

May 02, 2010

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


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen looks at a new eBenchmark study which found that nonprofits with smaller e-mailing lists (under 100,000 e-mail addresses) had better success than those with bigger lists (over 500,000 addresses). "Small groups are getting greater ROI from their online outreach," notes Andresen, because "[a] higher percentage of their lists are people who came to them, signed up on their website, or otherwise signaled interest in the organization."


On the Social Philanthropy blog, Chronicle of Philanthropy reporter Peter Panepento shares findings from a recent Chronicle survey which concluded "that the nation's largest charities aren't yet [realizing] big rewards from" their social networking efforts.


Allison Fine shares some thoughts offered by Harwood Institute founder Rich Harwood on the connection between relevance and accountability and explains how "the next few years will be dangerous...for organizations that refuse to...[make the connection] between how authentic and effective they are and how relevant they are in their ecosystem...."

Nonprofit Management

Jeff Brooks, this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival host, offers a selection of posts "that show the lighter (maybe even wacko) side of our profession...."

On the Social Entrepreneurship blog, Social Velocity founder Nell Edgington explains how bad decisions can cost nonprofits money, time, and staff resources.


BlackGivesBack blogger Tracey Webb lists the top ten black celebrity philanthropists, including a few to keep your eye on.

Social Citizens blogger Kari Dunn Saratovsky wonders whether philanthropy needs to be re-branded as something more than "a bunch of rich people writing checks." Writes Saratovsky, "After all, the power of micro-donations is making each of us philanthropists -- and individual donors typically account for three-fourths of charitable giving each year. Yet...very few of us consider ourselves to be such –- we don't like that word or we don't think it applies to what we're doing...."

All last week, philanthropic leaders attending the Council on Foundations conference shared their thoughts and perspectives on Kris Putnam-Walkerly's Philanthropy 411 blog. We especially liked the posts by Mary Galeti of the Tecovas Foundation, who wondered what happens when "the personal brand collides with the institutional brand"; Rebecca Arno of the Denver Foundation, who recapped a session on "the myth of a post-racial society"; Kristin Ivie of the Case Foundation, who explored the "freedom" and "responsibility" of foundations; and Crystal Hayling, former president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation and winner of the 2010 James A Joseph Award from the Association of Black Foundation Executives, who reminded us of Five Things We Know, But Keep Forgetting.

Also on the Philanthropy 411 blog, Lee Draper of the Draper Consulting Group makes the case for artists who weren't invited to contribute to COF conference topics, including social innovation, social change, and social justice. "Let us embrace the arts as more than expendable entertainment or a program area that some grantmakers focus on," writes Draper. "I am not talking about having a children's choir sing over breakfast. I am suggesting that we integrate...professional [artists] into the core of the annual conference agenda...."

Social Media

Beth Kanter explains how collecting and analyzing social media data is like trying to improve one's physical condition: "It [is] much easier to collect, analyze, and take action with your data when you do a little bit each month or every other week."


Citing the remarks by Crystal Hayling mentioned above, Lucy Bernholz reminds us that while "technology is just a tool...it's a power tool. From the Silk Road to interstate highways, from radio to television, from the Internet to smart phones, technology changes how we connect and with whom....And, in doing so, it changes who is inside and who is outside...."

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

-- Regina Mahone

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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