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24 posts from June 2010

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June)

June 30, 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. Program Evaluation and Narrative (Thaler Pekar)
  2. Philanthropic Response to the Gulf Oil Spill (Stephen Sherman)
  3. Collaboration Unbound (Cynthia Bailie)
  4. How to Be an Effective Philanthropist in Eight Easy Steps (Larry Blumenthal)
  5. Diversity vs. Philanthropic Freedom? (Brad Smith) 
Use the comments section to let us know what you've been reading and would recommend....

Values as Visuals

June 29, 2010

(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive communication, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support. You can find other posts by Thaler here, here, and here.)

Picture-your-legacy-zoom Last year, I participated in a wonderful workshop at the Golden Fleece conference titled "How Pictures Can Promote, Provoke and Prolong Communication." The workshop promised I would "leave with practical methods, simple exercises, and exciting tools for helping yourself and others to find the stories in their lives."

It was designed around Dialoogle® -- a blended word combining "dialog" and "Google" and meaning "a search for a dialogue." I was enthralled! The high-quality cards, each featuring an exquisite photograph, were scattered throughout the room, and participants were directed to choose three cards and "tell the story of three turning points in your professional life." The results were profound, yet seemingly effortless. We worked in small groups, and all the members of my group, including me, instinctively shared one story about their past, one about their current professional life, and one about their vision of the future.

Madelyn Blair, Ph.D, who facilitated the workshop with Pernille Stockfleth, a partner with Dialoogle, blogged shortly afterward, "If I ever thought that it was hard to help people find their stories, I realize now that this small tool acts like a match to a fire. You better stand back and let the stories burst into the room."

I purchased a set of the cards, and immediately upon returning home, shared them with my husband, Tom, who works as an audio engineer on documentary films. I asked him to choose an image that represented why he does what he does professionally, and to tell me why he chose that card. Tom chose the image of a man operating an old but working bellows camera and shared an earnest and heartfelt explanation of his work. He talked about the allure of "human interaction with a machine" and how the camera is a "practical, working device -- and is really beautiful." He then explained his desire to combine his attraction to visual imagery, his desire to work with his hands, and his respect for contributing something practical and tangible to the world. Tom is not someone prone to self-reflective conversation, and both he and I were surprised at the depth of the emotion behind the explanation of his choice.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 26 - 27, 2010)

June 27, 2010

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


On her Getting Attention blog, Nancy Schwartz announces the launch of the 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards competition.


On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Minnesota Council on Foundations fellow Tawanna Black asks if difference is everywhere, "what difference does difference make?" Writes Black: "Years ago, in our efforts to create a color-blind, gender-blind society, we worked to erase difference....Today, we're starting to realize that difference can make a positive difference, if we allow it to."

After learning that the Associated Grant Makers Diversity Fellowship and the ABFE Connecting Leaders Fellowship Program are ending, Rosetta Thurman wonders on her Leading Edge blog whether this is the beginning of a decline in leadership development opportunities for nonprofit professionals of color.


Although BP will be required to create a $20 billion fund to help compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill, the Greater New Orleans Foundation argues that donations to its Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund are still needed.

Sandra Miniutti shares a new video on the Charity Navigator blog in which Steve Weisman, author of The Truth About Avoiding Scams, shares tips on how to avoid oil spill charity scams.


In conjunction with the 2010 World Cup tournament, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has launched a Beyond the Games blog as a vehicle for its South African grantees to reflect on "the nation's past, present and future."

Foundation Center president Brad Smith, who currently is a featured "changemaker" at Ashoka's Web site, responds to questions related to giving during the recession in a new podcast on YouTube.

Poverty Alleviation

On the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofsky takes a close look at a USAID report which found that it's "rare and unrealistic" for microfinance institutions in the developing world to "focus on [supporting] people under the "extreme poverty line."

Social Media

"Social media and philanthropy share this," writes Daniel Ben Horin, CEO of TechSoup Global, in a guest post on the Tactical Philanthropy blog. "They are, at the core, about people."

In a recent post, Allison Fine, co-author (with Beth Kanter) of the new book The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, shares some of the "stickiest" ideas from the book.

In a related post, Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz offers a positive review of Fine and Kanter's book after explaining why the word "'Network' is a long overdue buzzword."

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

-- Regina Mahone

Diversity vs. Philanthropic Freedom?

June 25, 2010

(Bradford Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he argued that it's time for philanthropy to move beyond the "infrastructure debate.")

1diversity_200411 I'm not buying. The Florida legislature passes AB 998 to prohibit state and local government agencies from requiring foundations to disclose information about the "special characteristics" of their board, staff, or the organizations they support. Emmett Carson fires back in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, blogger Rosetta Thurman joins the fray, and the Alliance for Charitable Reform claims a victory for philanthropic freedom. So where do those of us who care about philanthropic freedom and diversity fit in an increasingly polarized debate that tries to impose a false choice between the two?

Let's start with philanthropic freedom. Philanthropy is the use of private wealth to serve the public good. No one forces the wealthy to use their money in this fashion; they do so primarily out of a sense of moral obligation, indignation, compassion, or charity. Government provides incentives for them to do so in the form of tax exemptions, but the overriding impulse is voluntary. The private and voluntary nature of philanthropy is the wellspring of its independence and, in principle, its innovation and ability to take risks.

Because philanthropy is supposed to serve the public good does not mean, as is sometimes argued, that its resources are public. Anyone working in a foundation has experienced the shock of trying to leverage government funds for a pet program strategy only to have civil servants turn around and request a grant. Public funds are immersed in a web of accountability, oversight, and bureaucracy that are essential to functioning democracies but tend to stifle agility, creativity, and innovation. Philanthropic dollars, though far more scarce, are valued precisely because their private nature makes them so flexible. For foundations and lawmakers, striking exactly the right balance between enough regulation to guard against fraud and abuse without stifling flexibility and innovation is the perpetual challenge.

What about diversity? America is becoming more diverse by the day and a trip to the shopping mall, visiting a corporate headquarters, or simply channel surfing will drive home the point. For those who require hard evidence, just wait until the 2010 census results come in. The armed forces and the private sector long ago embraced diversity because they saw it as both inevitable and strategic. Many foundations, especially those whose values lead them to work predominately with the poor and disenfranchised, already see diversity -- both internal and external -- as an asset if not a precondition for their work. And their ranks will continue to grow, largely because serving the public good in an increasingly diverse nation (and world) will demand it.

The Foundation Center does not take stands on policy matters regarding the operation of foundations. But as a knowledge resource for the field, we believe that more information is better than less, and that greater transparency is the best defense of philanthropic freedom. We provided data to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which concluded that one-third of all grant dollars benefit "marginalized populations," as well as to the Philanthropic Collaborative, which found that two-thirds of all grant dollars for health go to "underserved populations." This kind of research highlights the need for better data, and the open debate it provokes can only help philanthropy fulfill its promise.

In creating Glasspockets, a portal devoted to transparency in philanthropy, the Foundation Center noticed the growing number of foundations voluntarily posting diversity policies on their Web sites. Some, like the Packard and Kellogg foundations, choose to go further and openly communicate the diversity profile of their staff and boards. These examples inspired us to develop a diversity policy as well and post the Foundation Center's diversity profile on our own Web site. Frankly, it didn't look all that great at first, but it is slowly changing and more than one job candidate has told me how seeing that kind of information online made them want to work at the Foundation Center.

With the movement of money, people, and ideas that globalization brings, the world is growing more diverse before our eyes. But it is also a world in which there is too much poverty, violence, and pollution and not enough justice, beauty, and opportunity. Philanthropy, with its freedom to innovate, must strive to change that. So when it comes to diversity vs. philanthropic freedom, I'm not buying. We've got too much work to do.

-- Brad Smith

Will BP Oil Spill Affect Charitable Giving?

June 24, 2010

Large_spill It's clear to those who have been following events closely (and who hasn't?) that the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill will devastate significant portions of the Gulf ecosystem -- and cost tens of thousands of people their livelihoods -- for years, if not generations, to come. The 165 million gallons of crude that have already poured from the wellhead are a fraction of the total that will have spilled by the time one of the relief wells currently being drilled is able to intercept the damaged well and stop the flow of oil. (And many experts only give the relief-well operation a 60 percent chance of success.)

Given the potential loss of fauna, marine and coastal habitat, and economic activity from what is already the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, one can understand why the spill's impact on charitable giving isn't top of mind for most people. But the folks at Philanthromax, a small nonprofit management company with a roster of products that "provide analysis, evaluation, program design, and accountability-based management," think otherwise.

Based on a new forecasting tool it has developed, the company estimates that nonprofits in the U.S. received charitable contributions of $133.82 billion between January and May 2010 -- an increase of 9.2 percent over the same period in 2009. That's the good news.

Continue reading »

Readings and Other Stuff (June 23, 2010)

June 23, 2010

Ten items that caught out attention today:

And hats off to Team USA for an inspired World Cup win and finishing on top of its qualifying group!

"It’s Our Time": The Ascendancy of the Global Women’s Health Movement

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the war on the poor.)

Pakistan_Eid When do you know a cause has "arrived"?

Pinpointing the exact moment is no easy task. We know that social movements usually coalesce as a result of scores, if not hundreds, of disconnected local efforts. But an international conference, like the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, is a pretty good sign that a cause's moment has come. Indeed, in addition to the networking and peer-exchange opportunities they provide, such gatherings often create the "lift" any movement needs to become a global cause célèbre.

For me, the recent Women Deliver gathering in Washington, D.C., where more than 3,500 delegates from over 146 countries came together to discuss a shared agenda focused on the reduction of mortality rates among women, newborns, and infants, signaled beyond any doubt that the global women's health movement has arrived.

During the three-day event, attendees were treated to six plenaries, a hundred and twenty breakout sessions, and more than eight hundred speeches and presentations. And one didn't have to look far to find a shocking statistic. For me, the one that best summed up the challenge we face was this: Every minute of every day, a woman somewhere on the planet dies and thirty other women suffer long-lasting injury or illness from preventable pregnancy-related causes and complications.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 19 - 20, 2010)

June 20, 2010

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

Arts and Culture

Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, explains in a Huffington Post entry why size doesn't matter in the arts. "If [small orgs] take the time to plan large, exciting programs four or five years in advance," writes Kaiser, "they would be far more likely to find the resources they require to mount these programs."

Capacity Building

On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, the Monitor Institute's Heather McLeod Grant discusses how the organization KaBOOM! used online tools to scale its offline program model.


"There's nothing dainty or secretive about a nonprofit arts organization's need for money," writes the Nonprofiteer in a new post, "so the more directly and entertainingly and memorably you state it, the better your chance of actually receiving the money."

On the Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks explains why the best fundraising copy is written at a sixth-grade "reading ease" level.


On the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that "smart funders who want to invest in the growth of outstanding [nonprofits will have] to restructure their process[es] so that the thrust of their work revolves around proactively locating great philanthropic opportunities rather than passively wading through grant applications."

Aaron Dorman and Niki Jagpal of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy offer three reasons why a new Florida law that keeps grantmaking institutions from having to disclose demographic information about their staff and board is problematic.

Social Media

Beth Kanter explains why you need to use social network analysis "to better understand your network." To ignore such analysis, writes Kanter, "[is] like a weatherman trying to predict a snowstorm without seeing a whole weather map."

On the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog, Heather Mansfield wonders whether Facebook will authenticate her Nonprofit Organizations Facebook Page, which has over 10,000 fans, or shut it down, as it has with other unofficial cause pages.


On the Social Citizens blog, Kari Dunn Saratovsky outlines what every nonprofit should know about engaging the next generation of volunteers.

"It's obviously essential that people work for the common good through service and volunteerism," writes Zach Maurin on the Case Foundation's blog, "but we can't solve our most pressing social challenges if our citizenry only does that...."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And Happy Father's Day to all the great dads out there. Have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

This Week in PubHub: Health Care and Language Services

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

Navigating the healthcare system -- with its Kafkaesque insurance rules, unfamiliar medical terms, and often-difficult decisions -- is complicated enough when you speak the language. How much more confusing would it be if one had only limited proficiency in English? How might problematic patient-provider communication affect access to care, the quality of care received, and health outcomes? This week's Featured Topic reports highlight the importance of language services in achieving more equitable outcomes in health care.

Using Professionally Trained Interpreters to Increase Patient/Provider Satisfaction: Does It Work?, (Mathematica Policy Research) illustrates how patients, doctors, and nurses are all better served when trained medical interpreters are available. Among other things, the study found that using professional interpreter services in emergency rooms "dramatically increased satisfaction" compared with telephone language services or ad hoc services.

According to Talking With Patients: How Hospitals Use Bilingual Clinicians and Staff to Care for Patients With Language Needs, a 2009 report from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, only three out of ten hospitals surveyed have paid staff interpreters. Indeed, half use volunteers, with only one in four of those requiring interpreter training or a course on medical interpreting.

The Safety Net Institute report Improving Care for Individuals With Limited English Proficiency: Facilitators and Barriers to Providing Language Services in California Public Hospitals evaluates efforts by twelve California public hospitals to provide better language services by putting organizational policies and procedures in place, providing staff training, and collecting patients' primary language data, among other steps. Remaining barriers include the inability to ensure systematic data collection, communicate patients' language needs across departments, or provide interpreter services at each point of contact and at all hours.

Nor is it only in hospital settings that interpreter services are critically needed. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report "No One Asked Me": Latinos' Experiences With Massachusetts Health Care Reform notes, the experience since 2006 of low-income Latinos with healthcare reform in that state underscores the importance of community-based programs in helping disadvantaged populations obtain health insurance. Similarly, provisions in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will not expand coverage as much might be the case without efforts to assist those who face language barriers.

What more should be done to improve healthcare access and quality for all patients? Let us know in the comments section below. In the meantime, don’t forget to visit PubHub and browse annotated links to the almost 1,500 health-related reports there.

-- Kyoko Uchida

A 'Flip' Chat With…Ami Dar of Idealist.org

June 18, 2010

This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series of video "chats." This one's a little rough around the edges (fuzzy image, lots of background noise), but we thought it captured some of the personal qualities that, over the last fifteen years or so, have helped make Ami Dar such an inspiring nonprofit leader. Do you have any Flip tips to share? Anyone you'd like to see featured in future installments of our "Flip" series? Leave us a comment below or drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org.

Last week, my colleague Alison Alford and I had the pleasure of attending the third event in the Meet the Change -- What Happens Next Is Up to You! series hosted by Pursue -– a partnership between American Jewish World Service and AVODAH: the Jewish Service Corps. Held at Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side, the event featured Ami Dar, founder and executive director of Action Without Borders/Idealist.org.

For many of the young New York City "changemakers" in the audience, Dar is something of a celebrity, and we were looking forward to hearing how he launched Idealist in 1996 with just $3,500 and a dream.

According to Dar, he never planned for Idealist to become a "job site" -- it just turned out to be a great way to generate a steady income while achieving the organization's mission "to connect people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives."

Before the event was in full swing, Alison and I sat down with Dar and asked him about his career at Idealist and the state of the nonprofit sector.

(Total running time: 2 minutes, 12 seconds)

For more information about the event, be sure to read Jonathan Horowitz's post at the Pursue blog here.

-- Regina Mahone

The 'Giving Pledge' and Social Change

June 17, 2010

Giving_pledge Yesterday's announcement that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett are joining forces to encourage the nation's billionaires to give significantly more of their wealth to charity is a bit of welcome news in an otherwise soggy and somber June.

As first revealed in Fortune magazine, the Gateses and Buffett are the driving forces behind something called the Giving Pledge, an effort "to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations either during their lifetime or after their death" (emphasis added).

According to the Web site set up to support the effort, each person who chooses to pledge will make a public statement to that effect and will publicly explain his or her decision to pledge. Pledges will be non-binding -- "moral commitments" rather than legal contracts -- and once a year those who have taken the pledge will meet "to share ideas and learn from each other." The idea is to catalyze a movement of high-net-worth individuals initially -- and others, eventually -- who see philanthropy as a dynamic platform for addressing society's most pressing problems.

What might this mean, in dollar terms, if the idea gains traction? According to Carol Loomis's article in Fortune, the net worth in 2009 of the Forbes 400 -- the effort's initial target audience -- was $1.2 trillion. If everyone on the list gave away 50 percent of their net worth during their lifetimes or at death, that would be $600 billion -- or roughly twice the amount that individuals and private foundations give to charity in a single year. Some of that wealth -- maybe even most -- would end up in private foundations and be paid out at roughly 5 percent to 6 percent annually, meaning the short-term impact of the "captured" funds might be less than a number like $600 billion would suggest. But it's still a big number.

The likelihood that some of the pledged funds would end up in endowments established in perpetuity surely was on the minds of the Gateses and Buffett when they first started to discuss the idea with each other in the spring of 2009. Bill and Melinda had already announced that they had a plan to "spend down" their foundation -- the largest in the world -- within fifty years of their deaths. And from the day in 2006 when he announced he was leaving 99 percent of his wealth to five philanthropies (the Gates Foundation being the largest of those) during his lifetime, Buffett had become perhaps the most visible proponent of the idea of "giving while living." Indeed, he has reiterated publicly that the proceeds from his Berkshire Hathaway shares "will be expended for philanthropic purposes by ten years after my estate is settled" and that "nothing will go to endowments." Clearly, the Gateses and Buffett -- like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller a hundred years ago -- hope to inspire others, by their example, to give generously, thoughtfully, and while still alive.

Regardless of your position on the issue, most would agree that yesterday's announcement was a good thing. Less is often more, but in the case of giving -- of any kind -- more is always more. As Matthew Bishop, U.S. bureau chief for The Economist and co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, noted in a blog post, only 15 percent "of the wealthy who could be giving away substantial amounts of money are doing so, though [Bill Gates] believes that this [could] eventually rise to around 70 percent." Indeed, Bishop, an unabashed supporter of the idea that "high-profile business leaders and entrepreneurs, the wealth creators, becoming philanthropists and then applying their head for business to their charitable giving" will be the most important drivers of social change over the next decade, hailed yesterday's announcement as marking "philanthrocapitalism's coming of age as a movement, with the Gateses and Buffett as its activist leaders." I'm not so sure, for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

Others, like Assetmap founder and Change.org blogger Nathaniel Whittemore, were more skeptical. In a thought-provoking post, Whittemore hailed the Gateses and Buffett for stepping up and providing leadership to their peers. As he put it: "Getting every person of the [Forbes 400] to not only think about philanthropy but have very distinct examples of leaders who are, literally, putting their money where their mouth is, could mark a huge shift in the philanthropy of the rich."

Then, after a nod to the importance of directing the influx of new dollars "to high impact problems and organizations that can leverage their wealth, connections, and ideas," Whittemore urged his readers not to confuse philanthropy (or philanthrocapitalism) with social entrepreneurship (his passion). Indeed, Whittemore confessed to being concerned that the high-profile announcement by the Gateses and Buffett would serve to focus the conversations of those of us who work in or cover philanthropy on "giving back" rather than on the conversation Whittemore thinks we should be having -- i.e., about the very nature of wealth creation and social change.

It's a fair point, and I share his concerns. Because at the end of the day, whether foundations and individual Americans are giving $300 billion a year to charitable causes and organizations, $400 billion, or even $600 billion, progress -- real progress -- on the vexing social and environmental problems that confront us will only occur if the impetus for change comes from below as well as above. If nothing else, that's the lesson we should have learned from the last sixty years of social change movements.

So I applaud Bill and Melinda and Warren for continuing to "walk the talk." And I hope they inspire many others -- rich and not-so-rich -- to follow in their footsteps.

For the rest of us, thanks to the Internet, the steady devolution of power away from long-entrenched gatekeepers, and a profound democratizing bias in American society, we have never been more empowered to work for the changes in society we'd like to see.

What are we waiting for?

-- Mitch Nauffts

Readings and Other Stuff (June 16, 2010)

June 16, 2010

Here are a few items that caught our attention today:

What have you been reading?

How to Be an Effective Philanthropist in Eight Easy Steps

June 15, 2010

(Larry Blumenthal helps foundations, nonprofits, and other organizations use the Web and social media effectively through his consulting firm Open Road Advisors. He's also a frequent op-ed contributor to PND, which is where this gem originally was posted. Larry blogs and tweets regularly about social media and philanthropy.)

Abc_chalkboard "I think I could be a philanthropist. A kick ass philanthropist! I would have all this money and people would love me. Then they would come to me and beg! And if I felt like it, I would help them out and then they would owe me big time! The first thing I'm going to need is a driver."

-- George Costanza, Seinfeld

My first month at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I asked Frank Karel to interview a candidate for our Web team. Frank, who was winding down his years as vice president of communications, invented the field of foundation communications and was a walking, breathing legend. The candidate had just graduated from college and was looking for her first full-time position.

Even though the interview was scheduled for casual Friday, Frank made the effort to wear a suit. When I asked him why, he said he knew the candidate would dress formally and he didn't want her to feel uncomfortable. He dressed for her.

Humility. Empathy. Respect for others. Some early lessons for me in philanthropy done well. I was lucky enough to learn from a long list of amazing people during my nearly nine years at RWJF. Now that I am on the outside peering back through the glass, it is my turn to pass on some of those lessons. Consider this one man's primer on how to be an effective philanthropist, learned the hard way. (Full disclosure: I was in communications, overseeing Web and social media strategy, not officially on the program side. But, of course, that doesn't stop me from having opinions about the program side as well.)

Forget about the glory. Harry Truman said, "It is amazing how much you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." Let it go. The foundation staff member is rarely the hero of the story. Yes, we contribute much more than is recognized -- providing vision, facilitating conversations, offering assistance and knowledge. But it is the grantees who are on the front lines every day. They are the heroes. Find ways to help them do their work. Help them on their journey. Don't make their life unnecessarily difficult. Show them, and everyone you work with, your respect and admiration. They are helping you achieve your mission.

Simplify. After I accepted the job at RWJF, I took some abuse from friends and colleagues. "Oh, giving away someone else's money all day. That sounds real hard." I learned quickly that it is not as easy as it looks. Not if you want to do it in a way that makes a difference. On the other hand, it doesn't have to be as hard as we make it. So many advisory boards and committees. So many layers of decision-making. Hurdle after hurdle for potential grantees to jump over. Endless bureaucracy. Lost in all of that is the sheer joy of contributing to a good cause, seeing a human being or two benefit at the end of the day. Isn't that the reason we all were drawn to this in the first place? Maybe a few of those energy-sapping steps aren't all that necessary. We all know they often represent a chance to cover your backside or justify someone's job. Here's my advice: Simplify when you can. Skip a step now and then. Trust your gut. Making a difference on the issues is what counts. Helping people is what counts. The rest gets in the way, so keep it to a minimum.

Maintain a sense of urgency. The first time I met with Frank Karel after being hired, he offered some advice. It wasn't consciously planned, but I had spent most of my career at start-ups. New ventures. When you are fighting for survival, you learn to thrive under serious deadlines. "Don't ever lose that sense of urgency," Frank said across the table in his office. "Don't slip into 'foundation time.'" I was used to thinking in terms of weeks or months. Foundations often are looking out over years. In philanthropy, most deadlines are self-imposed. It is easy to say, "Let's spend more time thinking that through." Don't. Move ahead now. Keep pushing. You are trying to make a difference in the world. There is no more urgent work. Get to it.

Tell stories. And think like a storyteller. Stories help people understand and empathize. Working at a foundation, you are surrounded by great narratives. The grantmaking process is all about one powerful story after another. Think about it: every grantee is on a journey. He or she wants to alleviate someone's suffering and has many obstacles to overcome to get there. It is the essence of any great story. If you think about grantmaking as creating narratives, it helps clarify your thinking. Sharing those stories also will pull people toward your mission. It will humanize your work. It will make you feel part of something real. Put aside the bullet points at your next meeting or presentation and tell one good story.

Be up-front. We all know foundations that make it difficult to find their tax return (Form 990) online. Or bury the salaries of top officials -- the only reason anyone outside of the IRS is looking at a 990 to begin with -- in the middle of hundreds of other pages. Stop. If you are embarrassed by the salaries, then deal with it. Don't hide it. Same goes for surveys of your grantees that may not shine the best light on you. Or evaluations that uncover flaws. Or negative comments in letters or on your Web site or foundation blog. Or the big and small failures when grants don't turn out as they were intended. Come clean. Learn from it. Share those lessons with the world. Demand of yourself the same openness you expect from grantees and colleagues. Admitting you are human and being honest in your dealings will lead to stronger relationships and more effective programs. Covering up just leads to resentment and mistrust.

Take some risks, and share when you fail. Foundations talk all the time about how they need to take more risks. They do extensive research and surveys that uncover a need to take more risks. They put together panels at conferences to discuss risk taking. So much talk, so little risk taking. I struggled to understand this for a long time. What was going on? I think there is a simple answer. As happens at a lot of organizations, foundation staffers have little incentive to take chances. It is exhausting enough to battle the bureaucracy and run the gauntlet of decision makers and feel you are making a difference at the end of the day. There is no simple solution except for senior staff to find ways to encourage and reward risk taking. Celebrate it. Share big honking failures with the whole staff and say, "Look at what we learned. Isn't that great." Talk is cheap. Take some risks. Praise others with enthusiasm when they do.

Let the world in. The typical foundation funding process is a closed and formal affair with a predictable outcome. Social media has made it possible to throw open the doors and invite feedback inside for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Open your processes. Broaden your network. Get out and join the conversation. Comment on other people's blogs. Follow your topic on Twitter to hear the latest chatter. Offer a guest post to someone's blog that isn't about you pontificating on your expertise, but rather asking for the thoughts of others. Pose questions to the field and listen to the answers. Ask for help. It is amazingly freeing to admit that you don't have all the answers. Let go of the standard process every once in awhile and try a different path. Idea competitions, prizes, crowdsourcing. Give them a whirl. Beats sitting in meetings all day talking to the same people over and over again.

Lighten up. I was interviewing a candidate to join the Web team at RWJF several years back, and he asked me a question I didn't get from anyone else: "Do you have fun here?"

I had to think about that for a minute.

My answer? "We want to."

We wanted to; we just weren't very good at it. For God's sake stop taking this work so seriously. Yes, it is important work. Yes, we want to make a difference. That doesn't mean we have to walk around looking like toothless, wrinkled Aunt Hattie after she sniffed month-old cottage cheese. Check out this video made by the Case Foundation at Christmas last year. Just because we are doing good work doesn't mean we can't laugh and joke a little while we are doing it and take some time to celebrate. If this work doesn't make you smile sometimes, you have some soul searching to do.

At the end of the day, any foundation is just trying to make a difference, to have some impact on the issues. If you keep your eye on that specific prize, eliminate what gets in the way, and remain open to new approaches you can make some progress every day. And that's a pretty good goal.

What about you? Any lessons to share for others toiling under the hot sun in the philanthropic fields?

-- Larry Blumenthal

Weekend Link Roundup (June 12 - 13, 2010)

June 14, 2010

Worldcup_poster Better late than never: Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog, Joanne Fritz rounds up a list of organizations that are working in the Gulf of Mexico region "to make the oil spill...a little bit less awful."


The release last week of Giving USA 2010 confirmed what most people had been expecting: charitable giving in 2009 fell for a second consecutive year, down 3.6 percent from 2008. Not great, writes Ryann Miller on the Fundraising Action blog, but not as bad as it could have been. Still, with barriers to online fundraising and outreach getting lower and lower, says Miller, now is not the time for fundraisers to "assume a 'head-in-the-sand' position."


On the Its Your World blog, Jane Wales points to a new report from the Philanthropic Collaborative that paints a fairly rosy picture of foundation giving in response to the economic crisis. While the report "may be a case of being too sanguine at a time when society is just emerging from recession," writes Wales, "it does contain useful examples of important work undertaken in times of economic stress. And, from that we may draw lessons."

According to new research from YouGov, a British research and consulting firm, 68 percent of donors "think that an independent rating system would not affect their giving decisions." In a post titled "Do Donors Care Whether Nonprofits Are Any Good?" Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that "the results of the survey show how critical it is for people who care about improving philanthropy to understand how ideas spread."

In response to Stannard-Stockton's post, Nathaniel Whittemore offers his take on the reason why donors give. Writes Whittemore:

I believe that the further the apparatus of giving is from the person whose money is being used, the more likely to be interested in impact metrics a certain class of money will be. What I mean is that a group like the Ford Foundation has a mandate to address a particular set of issues. For them, their raison d'etre is their impact.

For your average personal donor, it's something much different. Most people give because they feel a longing to be a part of something bigger than themselves....

The Acumen Fund's Sasha Dichter responds to both Stannard-Stockton and Whittemore on his blog. Writes Dichter:

There's a lot of good stuff in both Sean's and Nathanial's posts, especially Sean's point that we need to put as much effort into spreading ideas as we put into assessing impact. But I also think we have to be careful. I don't think we advance the field of philanthropy and champion the cause of effective philanthropy by making and tearing down caricatures of philanthropists, and I think the blog post titles do just this....

Social Entrepreneurship

Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta wonders where kids, who no longer are expected to mow lawns or deliver newspapers, "will get the kind of hands-on entrepreneurial training [that he] did growing up?"

Social Media

On the Mashable site, Geoff Livingston, co-founder of Zoetica, a cause-related consulting firm, weighs the pros and cons of crowd-sourced social media contests.


The Case Foundation's Joshua Tabb shares a few predictions about how the iPad is likely to impact a range of nonprofit activities, from donation gathering to story telling.

Last but not least, Amy Sample Ward looks at the debate over Apple's decision to bar nonprofits from putting language or links related to donations in iPhone/iPad apps. "In order for organizations to cultivate community, thank donors and supporters, and encourage deeper engagement," writes Ward, "they need to be able to say thank you directly, provide opportunities to donate directly, and capture information, registration or other sign-ups directly. The key here is that the platform (the phone) and the provider (Apple) do not represent hurdles that make that 'direct' connection and action impossible."

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

-- Regina Mahone

Readings and Other Stuff (June 8, 2010)

June 08, 2010

Here are a few things that caught our attention today:

Anything catch your attention?

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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