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20 posts from July 2010

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July)

July 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. Connecting Your Organization's Past, Present & Future (Thaler Pekar)
  2. Diversity vs. Philanthropic Freedom? (Brad Smith)
  3. Values as Visuals (Thaler Pekar)
  4. Off the Pitch: African Philanthropy Comes Into Its Own (Michael Seltzer)
  5. A 'Flip' Chat With…Nancy Lublin of Do Something (Regina Mahone)
Use the comments section and let us know what you've been reading or recommend....

Investing in Meaningful Change: A Metaphor for Your Consideration

July 29, 2010

(Mitchell Sakofs is dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Central Connecticut State University. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

Skull_clip_th Even as predatory carnivorous dinosaurs terrorized their plant-eating kin on the Mesozoic plain, hiding in small caves and tunnels were mammals; diminutive creatures, always on guard and rarely bold, they went about their days guided by the simple reality that they were prey. To an observer, these nervous creatures would have appeared ill-equipped to survive and thus a poor bet for the future. But the future they were.

With the above in mind, how would a philanthropic organization review grant applications from these mammalian grant-seekers? I suspect after a review of their application for support to pursue various morphological and educational initiatives, they would have received the following letter:

Dear mammals:

Thank you for the grant application entitled "The Future Is Ours -- Changing to Meet the Demands of Tomorrow."

The board of directors of the Future Fund reviewed your grant request. Given our limited resources, I regret to inform you we cannot support your enterprise. While board members found your goals to grow and thrive ambitious, your small size and unconventional approach to life were seen as limiting factors to the success of your project.

With respect for your ambition and enterprise, and on behalf of the board, might we suggest you build on proven models of growth and adaptation -- and perhaps consider replacing hair with scales and start laying eggs.

We wish you every success.


T. Rex, Ph.D.

As many futurists point out, expressions of the dominant future exist in the present, though they are often hidden or small in size, while aspects of the present that appear as dominant structures will fade and/or disappear as they are replaced. In other words, while the conventional wisdom suggests that the most likely future is a continuation of the present, the bigger truth is this: while the future is tied to the past and present, change is inevitable and expressions of the future exist as small things, hidden on the landscape of activity, and these small expressions usually grow to dominate the future.

To illustrate the point, recall the change sequence for various media. For example, vinyl records to reel-to-reel tapes to 8-track and cassette tapes to CDs and, now, MP3s. Recall as well transitions in data storage technology: reel-to-reel analogue tape, small DAT tapes, 8-inch, 5¼-inch, 3½-inch floppies, CDs, DVDs, memory sticks, and "the cloud." In each case, as one technology dominated the landscape, the emergent technology started small and grew in acceptance until it (virtually) replaced the old. To be sure, these examples simply illustrate the thesis of change I'm proposing, though examples of things that have persisted over time (sharks, crocodiles, pens and pencils) exist and stand in contradiction. What's more, it is also clear that not all small expressions of innovation will have utilitarian durability or define the future. And therein lies the challenge for scholars who try to predict the future or philanthropists who look to nurture it. More often than not, we do not know what it will be.

The aforementioned metaphors and examples suggest, I hope, a new perspective with respect to philanthropic giving for school change efforts. More specifically, it suggests that forward-thinking philanthropies do two things: 1) look under rocks to find the ideas with the potential to transform the world; and 2) rethink the lens through which grants are evaluated so that small expressions of brilliance are not overshadowed by larger efforts and entities that are already successful. Metaphorically speaking, do the policies and practices of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top represent dinosaur or mammal?

While philanthropies must constantly work to ensure that their resources are invested wisely, if evolution teaches us anything, it teaches this: You never know what will succeed and what will not. That's why nature is forever "experimenting" with new designs. It knows that some will succeed and some will fail, that some will show promise but fade quickly while others get off to a fitful start, sputter and nearly flame out, but eventually rise from the ashes, phoenix-like, with vigor.

With these metaphors in mind, I end with this final thought: Invest in projects large and small; invest in things that appear familiar and in things you don't understand. Invest, knowing that some will fail -- and that that's the point. The process of breathing life into ideas always involves failure. Some ideas will fall by the wayside while others will survive, thrive, and, eventually, transform the world. That's nature's way.

-- Mitchell Sakofs

A 'Flip' Chat With...Ben Esner, Senior VP for Programs, Brooklyn Community Foundation

July 28, 2010

This is the fourth in our series of "Flip" chats with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can find others here (Ami Dar, Idealist), here (Nancy Lublin, Do Something) and here (Lucy Bernholz, Blueprint Research & Design).

One of the great things about working for an organization like the Foundation Center is being able to meet nonprofit and foundation leaders who participate in events at our New York City library. Most recently, I attended an event where five panelists -- Ben Esner of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Armanda Famiglietti of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Jonathan Goldberg of the Surdna Foundation, Rossana Martinez of the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, and Susanna Zwerling of Verizon -– discussed the pros and cons of online grant applications and reporting. (For more information about the event, be sure to read my colleague Tracy Kaufman's post at the Philanthropy Front and Center – New York blog.)

After the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Esner, senior vice president for programs at BCF, about the foundation's funding priorities. In the video, Esner also shares some background about the foundation, which began life as the Independence Community Foundation, an independent private foundation associated with the Independence Community Bank (since acquired by Sovereign Bank), became a public charity in October 2009, and announced its first round of grants earlier this month.

If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.

(Total running time: 9 minutes, 54 seconds)

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (July 24 - 25, 2010)

July 25, 2010

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


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks shares a few tips from the Talance blog on what it takes to design a "terrible nonprofit website."


Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns weighs in with a positive review of Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin's new book Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business. But in a different post he takes issue with the chapter on governance.


Guest blogging on the Equity Blog, Harlem Children's Zone president/CEO Geoffrey Canada calls the Brookings Institute report The Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education "a wrong-headed take" on the work of his organization. Writes Canada:

The report equates the Harlem Children’s Zone with our Promise Academy public charter school as if they were one and the same. This is inaccurate and misleading. Anyone who has even a basic understanding of our work would realize that the Harlem Children’s Zone is a comprehensive place-based strategy that has a goal of working with all children that reside in our Zone, whether they go to our public charter schools or traditional public schools....

Even while misunderstanding the basic premise of the Harlem Children's Zone, the Whitehurst and Croft analysis has several weaknesses. First, it looks at only one of our charter schools, Promise Academy I. If Whitehurst and Croft had decided to look instead at our other charter school, Promise Academy II, which started with children in kindergarten and first grade, they would have found that Promise Academy II was not in the middle of Bronx and Manhattan charter schools, but in the top quarter. The decision to exclude Promise II students, in our opinion, is a fatal flaw in their report....

Canada goes on to list several other "misrepresentations" in the Whitehurst/Croft report. The entire post is worth a read.

"The nonprofit marketplace doesn't need better disclosure, more transparency, more accountability," writes Sasha Dichter on his blog. "But we need a mental model of what we hope our sector will look like when we're successful if we're ever going to get there. And 'better than where we are now' isn't much of a rallying cry...."


In conjunction with the XVIII International AIDS Conference last week in Vienna, Bill Gates has issued a call for more effective HIV funding. "Even as we continue to advocate for more funding," writes Gates, "we need to make sure we're getting the most benefit from each dollar of funding and every ounce of effort...."

In a series of posts on the Intrepid Philanthropist blog, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations president/CEO Kathleen Enright shares "unsolicited advice to the Friends of Buffett and Gates (FOBGs) as they consider dipping their toes into the world of big-time philanthropy...."

On her blog, Networked Nonprofit co-author Allison Fine shares some highlights from the Monitor Institute's report What's Next for Philanthropy.

Social Entrepreneurship

Last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service announced the first grants awarded through its Social Innovation Fund. After reviewing the list, Nathaniel Whittemore took to his Social Entrepreneurship blog to ask whether a more appropriate name for the fund might not be the Social "Funding What Works" Fund.

In a related post, Tactical Philanthropy blogger Sean Stannard-Stockton commends CNCS for its choices, saying "the results read like my personal wish list for how I thought they should approach their decision."

Social Media

Frogloop blogger Allyson Kapin shares findings from the NTEN 2010 Nonprofit Benchmarks Report. According to the report, Facebook is the number-one social networking site used by nonprofits, while the number of Twitter users "following" nonprofits has grown more than 620 percent -- from an average of 286 in 2009 to an average of 1,800 in 2010.

Elsewhere, the Nonprofiteer criticizes Chase's Community Giving contest on Facebook for "turning [nonprofits] into marketing satellites of Chase Bank."

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

-- Regina Mahone

This Week in PubHub: Views of the United States’ Global Role

July 24, 2010

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

A few years ago, I heard a story about aid workers in Africa who were appalled by the U.S. government's decision to have the words "From the American People" stamped on all USAID-funded humanitarian aid supplies. A well-intended attempt to boost America's image abroad could backfire in certain contexts, they argued, exposing other aid workers and/or aid recipients to misdirected anger and resentment. So how does the world view the United States and its global impact in 2010? And how do Americans view their country's role in the world?

While the Pew Global Attitudes Project's 25-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey (2009) shows an improvement in favorability ratings for the U.S. since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, anti-U.S. sentiment remains strong in Turkey, Pakistan, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Support for American foreign policy was widespread, with the exception of sending more troops to Afghanistan, which a majority of those surveyed opposed.

U.S. and coalition engagement in Afghanistan post-9/11 is a key driver of America's image abroad, and the Open Society Institute and the Afghan nongovernmental organization The Liaison Office take a close look at the Afghan view of international forces operating in that country in Strangers at the Door: Night Raids by International Forces Lose Hearts and Minds of Afghans. Interviews with civilians in the southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost, for example, reveal how the ongoing practice of night-time search and seizure operations causes deep trauma within Afghan communities, alienating the very people whose trust and cooperation are essential to creating some semblance of stability in -- and the eventual withdrawal of troops from -- the country.

How do American elites and Americans themselves see their country's role as the world's sole superpower? In America's Place in the World 2009: An Investigation of Public and Leadership Opinion About International Affairs, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reports that only 32 percent of the American public thought that the number of troops in Afghanistan should be increased, whereas 50 percent of Council on Foreign Relations members did. When asked to name America's most important international problem, the public ranked Afghanistan and Iraq third and fifth, respectively, while CFR members ranked them first and ninth. And only 3 percent of the public said "AIDS/health problems" was the country's top foreign-policy priority (ranking it eighth), while for CFR members the issue did not rank among the country's top dozen foreign policy priorities.

Views on the U.S. Role in Global Health Update: Summary, a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, examined the American public's support for U.S. international aid at a time of economic uncertainty and found that 47 percent of respondents believe the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. At the same time, the percentage saying it is more important than ever for the U.S. to increase funding to improve health in developing countries rose from 23 percent (in March 2009) to 33 percent (in October 2009). Perhaps not surprisingly, those who think the U.S. is spending too little on global health are more likely to say that funding global health initiatives also helps protect Americans' health and that more funding will lead to meaningful progress in developing countries.

Where -- and how -- do you think international aid, foreign policy, and perceptions of America's role in the world intersect? And what role might foundations play in determining and/or shaping how the U.S. is viewed overseas? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. And be sure to visit PubHub regularly to check out new additions to the almost 350 reports on various aspects of international affairs/development already catalogued there.

-- Kyoko Uchida

A 'Flip' Chat With...Lucy Bernholz, Founder/President, Blueprint Research & Design

July 23, 2010

(This is the third in our series of "Flip" chats with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. In the first, we spoke with Ami Dar of Idealist.org, while Nancy Lublin, CEO at youth-volunteering organization Do Something, sat down with us for the second.)

Earlier this week, Blueprint Research + Design founder and philanthropy blogger Lucy Bernholz stopped by the Foundation Center's New York City office to talk to the center's board about her monograph Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, which she co-authored with Ed Skloot, former president of the Surdna Foundation and current director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society at Duke University, and Barry Varela, a staff member at CSPCS.

In exchange for a cappuccino, Bernholz agreed to share with PND her thoughts about data as a disruptive force and how philanthropy and social change work are being changed by digital technologies. Bernholz also addresses the question of whether the continued penetration of networked technologies into philanthropic practice poses any downsides for philanthropy and why donors need to embrace the networked future.

If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.

(Total running time: 5 minutes, 24 seconds)

-- Mitch Nauffts and Regina Mahone

Connecting Your Organization’s Past, Present & Future

July 19, 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. This post first appeared in Charity Channel's Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review. You can find other posts by Thaler here, here, and here.)

Pont-Terenez-Vue-Usager Are your board members reticent to change? Are they pushing back at adopting a new approach to program implementation, service delivery, or staffing? Are they hesitant to embrace, and become ambassadors for, new policies?

Most likely, your board members do not fully understand the proposed change -- or the connection of the new initiative to the "old way" of doing things. Information alone cannot foster acceptance and engagement. Offering explanations, data, and statistics does not necessarily convert information into true understanding.

Your board members can, however, be respectfully guided toward understanding and embracing what seems like change. Provide time and space for them to explore your organization's history and current achievements and they are more likely to forge a strong connection to the future and vision of your organization.

Encourage the sharing of memories among your board members. By revisiting and expanding their sense of the past, reflecting and building on the passion that currently connects them to your organization, and co-creating a strong image of the future, your board members are more likely to see a natural progression from the organization's past to its future.

Consider the following prompts for reflection:

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 17 - 18, 2010)

July 18, 2010

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


Getting Attention's Nancy Schwartz takes a closer look at why the YMCA got rid of three letters and downsized its name to the "Y."

Philanthrocapitalism co-authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green take a closer look at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's most recent grantee perception report -- a survey product developed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy to "get those receiving money from a foundation to disclose (confidentially at the individual level) what they think of a donor and its processes" -- and conclude that the "damning verdict certainly tallies with many negative comments we have heard about the way the Gates Foundation operates in its dealings with outsiders...."


On the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center - San Francisco blog, assistant librarian Natasha Isajlovic-Terry wonders whether the Gates Foundation's outsized giving in support of education reform -- almost $1 billion in 2009 alone -- gives the foundation too much say in that vitally important area.


In response to a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy chat in which Do Something CEO Nancy Lublin tells an MPA grad student to transfer to an MBA program, Heather Carpenter argues on her blog that that's bad advice.


On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Wendy Wehr, VP of Communications and Information Services at the Minnesota Council on Foundations, weighs in on this year's "Great American Think-Off," an amateur debate competition held annually in New York Mills, Minnesota, which this year took up the question of whether the wealthy are obligated to give to the poor.

On the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton shares an e-mail from Unitus board chair Joseph Grenny in which Grenny explains why the organization has decided to exit its microfinance business.

Social Media

The Case Foundation has published an assessment of the foundation's 2009 Giving Challenge, which raised more than $2.1 million from over 105,000 donors in just 30 days. On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen shares some highlights from the report, which was written by social media experts Beth Kanter and Allison Fine.

In a recent Fast Company article, Adam Penenberg explains that the brain reacts to connections on social networking sites in the same way that it reacts to face-to-face interactions. Responding to Penenberg's article, Rosetta Thurman writes on her blog that the finding is "even more incentive [for nonprofits] to become networked."

"For almost every organization, social media is an evolutionary process that not only organically builds it's community on the outside," writes Geoff Livingston on his eponymously named blog, "but also changes its culture over time."


Last but not least, Beth Kanter hosts a virtual book event for author/thinker Clay Shirky, whose new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in A Connected Age, will be published later this month.

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

-- Regina Mahone

The BP Oil Spill and Us

July 16, 2010

Melting_glaciers The loud sound you heard yesterday afternoon was the collective sigh escaping from millions of people on hearing that BP had sucessfully capped -- for the time being, at any rate -- the undersea well that has been blasting crude into the Gulf of Mexico for the last three months.

Earlier today, I spoke with Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare Conservation, an Arlington, Virginia-based conservation group that uses social marketing methods to change attitudes and behaviors at the local level, about the spill and its long-term impact on Gulf ecosystems. Jenks was understandably happy that the flow of oil had been stopped but bemoaned the damage that has already been done.

His biggest concern, however, is that we learned nothing from the spill. It was horrible as long as we could see the oil billowing into the freezing depths of the Gulf or washing up on pristine beaches. But even while it was happening, very few of us did anything to cut our consumption of oil or reduce our carbon footprint, and that's the real problem. The biggest environmental threat confronting us, climate change, isn't a phenomenon made for undersea webcams or the nightly news, said Jenks. It's a slowly unfolding catastrophe -- and as we pour ever-greater amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, it's growing worse by the day, week, year. But if something as terrible the BP oil spill can't get us to change our behavior, what will?

It's a good question. I live in a small Manhattan apartment, don't own a car, and am mindful of my carbon footprint. But I took a cab instead of the subway to work this morning because I was running late and, well, because I could. I'll go home to an air-conditioned apartment. And I'll spend the first half of August touring New England colleges in a car with my kids. Can't really say I've put myself on a carbon diet since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank at the end of April.

That's a problem. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that June's combined global land and ocean surface temperature made it the warmest June on record (going back to 1880) and helped make the April-June and January-June periods the warmest on record as well. Now, I can sign a petition calling on the U.S. Senate to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation, and so can you. But if we really want to slow the progress of global warming -- and spare our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids the worst of the consequences it will bring if left unchecked -- then each of us needs to change his or her behavior. Starting today.

So what are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint? And should foundations be doing more to address the climate change threat? Leave your comments below....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Questions for Lucy Bernholz

July 15, 2010

Network_plug Hard to believe, but our annual senior staff retreat is right around the corner. To help prepare for this year's gabfest/adventure (always more fun than you'd think...really), my Foundation Center colleagues and I will be hosting Blueprint Research + Design founder and über philanthropy blogger Lucy Bernholz for two days of brainstorming next week.

To get ready for Lucy's visit, I've been re-reading Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, the monograph she wrote with Ed Skloot, former president of the Surdna Foundation and current director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society at Duke University, and Barry Varela, a staff member at CSPCS. I won't summarize it here (others have already done a good job of that), except to say that it's a thought-provoking exploration of the way trends in technology and data production/collection/visualization are reshaping philanthropy and social change efforts.

The paper is packed with sharp observations, and throughout the authors give voice to questions suggested by their conclusions and predictions. Questions like:

  • How will better data sharing affect the way individuals donate? Will it grow the philanthropic pie? Will it lead to data, and analytic, overload?
  • Will individual donations become less focused on the local and more foucsed on the regional/national/international?
  • Will networked technologies create a generational split in philanthropy? How will they affect donations to religious groups?
  • What will new technologies bring to labor-intensive activities such as foster care, homeless shelters, mentoring programs, and arts and cultural production?
  • As philanthropy becomes ever-more networked, what new forms of accountability and governance will emerge?

Knowing Lucy will be on site -- and that I may have a chance to do a video chat with her -- I jotted down a few questions of my own as I was reading:

  • Is data an input, a platform, or both?
  • Does information want to be free?
  • Does the growing availability of data change the role of narrative in social change work?
  • What is the role of strategy in an era of disruptive change?
  • Are there any downsides for philanthropy in the continued penetration of networked technologies into philanthropic practice?
  • Do you see anything that could slow or reverse the continued penetration of networked technologies into philanthropic practice?
  • What's the most compelling reason for a funder or donor to embrace the networked future?

I'll probably have a few others by the time she gets to New York. And I bet some of you who have read the paper have a few of your own. I'd love to hear them -- or any other thoughts you might have about the paper's thesis and conclusions. Feel free to share 'em in the comments section....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Haiti @ Six Months: An Update

July 14, 2010

Haiti_tentcity In a post on the Philanthropy Front and Center - New York blog, our colleague Ines Sucre reminds us that the earthquake which rocked Haiti in January, flattening large swaths of Port-au-Prince and displacing an estimated 1.5 million people, is likely "the largest urban disaster in history."

The characterization isn't Sucre's; it's how UN and Haitian officials have described the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake and is mentioned in an eye-opening New York Times article by Deborah Sontag about the many obstacles to recovery in the impoverished Caribbean nation ("In Haiti, the Displaced Are Left Clinging to the Edge," July 2010).

Removal of rubble, for example, is a $500 million problem (or 40 percent of the $1.3 billion raised to date by nonprofits to help Haiti recover) and would take three to five years with 1,000 trucks working daily; at the moment, the Times reports there are fewer than 300 trucks hauling rubble.

Construction of transitional shelters is another problem. The Times, citing international experts, reports that Haiti will need 125,000 such shelters, but to date only 5,500 have been completed -- and most of those have been built in the countryside, where, Sontag writes, "land issues are simpler."

Ines includes a couple of excerpts from a Times op-ed ("Finishing Haiti's Unfinished Work") written by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who are co-chairing an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission established by the Haitian parliament. (According to the Times, the commission met for the first, and so far only time, in June.) She also provides a roundup of news items and related resources, to which we add here. (Thanks, Ines!)


Haiti: Six Months On
BBC Caribbean

"Haiti Earthquake: Six Months Later, Are Relief Efforts Dragging?
Christian Science Monitor

Haiti, Six Months Since the Earthquake (podcast; 30 min., 14 secs)

"In Haiti, the Displaced Are Left Clinging to the Edge"
New York Times

"Red Cross Announces New, Expanded Haiti Relief Programs"
Philanthropy News Digest

"Six Months On, Haiti Aid Push Falters
Wall Street Journal


"Six Months Later: The Haiti Earthquake"
About.com: Nonprofit Charitable Orgs (Joanne Fritz)

Haiti: How Can I Help? Models for Donors Seeking Long-Term Impact
Center for High-Impact Philanthropy, University of Pennsylvania

"How Charities Are Helping Haiti: How Much They Raised and Spent"
Chronicle of Philanthropy

Focus on: Haiti Earthquake Relief and Recovery
Foundation Center

Crisis in Haiti: Six Months On
International Rescue Committee

Haiti Earthquake: Six-Month Report

"Report Faults Haiti Aid Groups on Openness" (Dot Earth blog)
New York Times

Have a news item or resource you'd like to see included in this list? Feel free to share in the comments section.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Off the Pitch: African Philanthropy Comes Into Its Own

July 13, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the ascendancy of the global women's health movement.)

Phil-in-africa Never before have the eyes of the world been so focused on the continent of Africa. On Sunday, seven hundred million people viewed the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain from Soccer City in Johannesburg, while throughout a month's worth of earlier matches, millions more were introduced to the prowess of national teams from Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Algeria.

What viewers didn't get to see, however, are the first real signs of an emergent and vibrant civil society in many of Africa's fifty-three nations. That's a shame, because in my two trips to Africa this year, I've witnessed firsthand how nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic foundations are reshaping the continent's social and economic landscape.

In Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, a momentous event in the history of organized giving on the continent occurred in January when the TY Danjuma Foundation opened its doors. What made the occasion particularly noteworthy is the source of wealth behind the foundation.

Continue reading »

A Conversation With Ray Madoff, Author, 'Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead'

July 12, 2010

Ray Madoff is a professor at Boston College Law School, where she teaches trusts and estates, estate planning, and a seminar on immortality and the law. She is also the author of Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead (Yale University Press, 2010), which includes a lively account of the legal framework behind today’s charitable trusts and foundation. An op-ed by Madoff in today's New York Times explains how the growing use of so-called "dynasty" trusts is helping to create a monied aristocracy in America.

The following Q&A was conducted earlier this month by Laura Cronin, director of the New York City-based Toshiba America Foundation.

Madoff_2010 Laura Cronin: Let me begin by congratulating you on writing such an interesting, and often quite funny, book about the serious topics of death and taxes. In addition to being surprised by all the humor in a book on this subject, many readers of this blog might be startled to learn that much of what seems like long-standing tradition in the field of charitable trusts and foundations is relatively new. Can you start with a bit of history?

Ray Madoff: Thank you for your kind words.

This is one of the many surprising things I learned in my study of how the law treats interests of the dead. Private charitable trusts are so ubiquitous and many of them have been around for so long that I assumed this had always been the case.

However, it turns out that for much of this country's early history, while a person could give outright to an existing charitable entity, the law did not grant -- to quote a case of the time -- "every private citizen the right to create a perpetuity for such purposes as to him seem good."

The private charitable trust had been well established in English law and was brought to this country by English settlers. However, after the Revolutionary War, the new American states had to reconsider whether they were going to continue to follow the law of England or to create rules that better reflected the values of the new republic. As historian Lawrence Friedman has described it, the charitable trust, associated as it was with privilege, the "dead hand," and massive wealth held in perpetuity was viewed with particular suspicion.

"Dead hand," of course, refers to the phenomenon of people's wishes continuing to be honored after death. This issue was of great concern to the founders -- particularly Thomas Jefferson -- who felt strongly that worldly goods should be controlled by the living and not the dead.

For much of the nineteenth century courts regularly set aside bequests to establish new charitable purposes. In one of the most notorious cases, a New York court set aside a four-million-dollar bequest from Samuel Tilden, former governor of New York and almost-president of the United States, to establish the Tilden Trust to fund a public library in New York City. The New York courts refused to give effect to the bequest and instead awarded the money to Tilden's heirs. There was such a public outcry over the decision, however, that the New York legislature responded by enacting the Tilden Act in 1893 validating charitable trusts in New York.

It was not until the late nineteenth century when a confluence of events -- including the rise of a new class of wealthy industrialists and growing societal problems in need of resources -- caused people to rethink the value of perpetual private charitable trusts and they regained favor.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 10 - 11, 2010)

July 11, 2010

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


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen takes a close look at A Girl Story, "the world's first donation-based film series." While the story of the animated character Tarla is compelling, writes Andresen, the video may not work as a fundraising tool because it's not real.


"Analytics is where the future success of fundraisers will be found," writes Stephen Ferrando on the Donor Power Blog, "putting the most relevant and desired information in front of [donors] when they want to see it."


Guest blogging on the Donors Forum blog, Brinson Foundation president Jim Parsons tells nonprofit and foundation leaders not to be close-minded. "If I am going to help my organization stay relevant as...changes occur," writes Parsons, "I will need to leave my ego at home when I go to work."

Although a study of the Harlem Children's Zone revealed "impressive effects on test scores at its charter schools," Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell says we all need to think twice before we rush out to replicate HCZ-style in other cities.

In response to a blog post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in which Zuckerberg presents "another business-to-the-rescue argument," Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan writes that it's time to move "beyond the 'sector wars'. Neither business, government, nor the nonprofit sector can succeed without the other sectors playing their distinctive roles," adds Buchanan. "And none, today, is as effective as it needs to be."


"Nonprofits with access to flexible dollars and financial reserves are much better equipped to weather economic downturns and adapt successfully to other changes in the environment," writes Grantmakers for Effective Philanthropy CEO Kathleen Enright in an article on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Web site.

Responding to Enright, NCRP communications director Yna Moore wonders whether "general operating support will ever be as widely used and accepted as program grants are among foundations."

Social Media

In a series of posts on the Northern California Grantmakers blog, Marisela Orta examines the major social media services -- from Google Reader to Twitter -- and explains why and how grantmakers should use them.

Holding a tweetup -- "an in-person meeting of Twitter users" -- is a great way for nonprofits, especially performing arts groups, to bridge offline/online communications efforts, writes social media expert Beth Kanter. In her post, Kanter also offers before offering before, during, and after tips for your next offline event.


The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Peter Panepento shares a new video on the Social Philanthropy blog in which Marnie Webb, co-chief executive officer of TechSoup, discusses ways in which nonprofits can use the Internet to connect the communities they serve.

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

-- Regina Mahone

Whither the Social Contract?

July 10, 2010

A hot, smelly day in Manhattan. Instead of working, I decided to do some writing (for myself, for a change), but this is the best thing I've read today. (H/t FrancoisT and the Big Picture blog. Full post here.)

Americans are famous for admiring success. Americans do not begrudge successful people their success, no matter how they earned it: through hard work, natural intelligence, luck, or a combination thereof. We admire Horatio Alger stories of scrappy youngsters who clambered their way out of the urban backwater of Queens, New York (for example) up to the pinnacle of the most successful, admired, and feared investment bank on the planet. We admire, at least in an abstract way, the youthful community organizer from a broken home who clawed his way into the most powerful political office in the world, even if we can’t stand his politics. We admire talent, and brains, and hard work rewarded, because we instinctively know they are not enough. Good luck matters, too.

And, as long as we can believe that we have a chance, too — that luck has a chance to find us and reward our own faith and effort — Americans will pull contentedly at the grindstone while simultaneously ooh-ing and ah-ing over the social and financial success of our betters. But central to this implicit social contract is the idea of fairness: that the deck is not stacked against the little guy, and that he or she has just as much chance of becoming the next Warren Buffett, or Lloyd Blankfein, or Barack Obama as the next guy. It is not a belief in fairness of outcome, but rather one of fairness of opportunity. There is nothing that raises the cultural hackles of most Americans more than learning that the game is rigged, and that the guys at the top are gaming the system in their own favor.


That is one big reason why the ongoing scandals rocking the financial sector are creating such outrage and upset among the American polity. Citizens are discovering that a very large percentage of people whom they used to admire and envy for mouth-watering financial success earned a large portion of that success by cheating, by gaming the system, and by rigging the rules in their favor. What seems to outrage many Americans even more is that these very financiers do not seem to recognize that they have violated the implicit social norms almost everybody else seems to accept. They hide behind a defense of arrogance, superciliousness, and moral obliviousness which makes most Americans’ teeth grind in frustration.

This is a dangerous situation for the plutocracy. For, when you get right down to it, most Americans are not really interested in supporting a system that is designed to preserve the wealth and privileges of those who have already made it to the top. Instead, they want one that will give as many people as possible a reasonably fair shot at reaching the top themselves. That is a distinction which seems to elude many of the wealthy and powerful. They misperceive the struggle as one of capitalism versus socialism, when what it really is, is a struggle for the heart and soul of capitalism in this country. On one side is a new aristocracy of money, entrenched interests, and cronyism, and on the other is an ethos of equal opportunity for all....

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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