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20 posts from August 2010

Everyone Wants to Be a Hero

August 31, 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.)

Hero_journey2 Much of my work is focused on helping smart leaders and organizations find and develop stories to share with their audiences. To that end, I'd like to share two anecdotes that may help you achieve greater clarity in your communications.

Everybody wants to be a hero. Smart leaders and organizations know that. You also know it's natural for people to align themselves with solutions rather than to associate themselves with problems. You want the audiences for your stories to relate as much as possible to the protagonists in the stories you choose to share and to empathize with the protagonist’s heroic journey.

Here's an example from the private sector, in which the target audience -- the potential customer -- was cast as the hero. Recently, I helped North America's largest provider of emergency response software share the story of a county emergency services director. Wanting to provide more value to the residents of her community -- and convinced the software would save lives -- the director took a risk by going before her budget-constrained county supervisors and advocating for a state-of-the-art emergency response system. In preparing to share this story, the inclination of my client, the company that designed the software, was to focus on the battered woman whose life was saved because she was able to text emergency services from the closet in which she was hiding from her abusive husband. Certainly, a compelling story. My client's customers, however, are public-sector employees in a position to purchase my client's software. And because these public sector customers wish to see themselves as making smart and effective decisions, I urged my client to focus the story on the emergency services director who fought for and secured the purchase of the life-saving software. Again, this story is not simply about one saved life, but is instead about one person who fought to save many lives -- a protagonist to whom the customers can relate.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August)

As we did last last month, we've pulled together a list of the most popular PhilanTopic posts over the last thirty days. Enjoy.

  1. Connecting Your Organization's Past, Present & Future (Thaler Pekar)
  2. 15 Ways to Improve Grantee Communication at Your Foundation (Kris Putnam-Walkerly)
  3. A 'Flip' Chat With...Matthew Bishop, 'Economist' Bureau Chief and 'Philanthrocapitalism' Author (Mitch Nauffts)
  4. NYC's 'Neighborhood of Conscience' (Michael Seltzer)
  5. The 'Giving Pledge' and Social Change (Mitch Nauffts)

Use the comments section below and let us know what you've been reading or would recommend....

Weekend Link Roundup (August 28 - 29, 2010)

August 29, 2010

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


Network for Good's Katya Andresen shares a few takeaways from Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta's keynote speech at the Direct Marketing Association's 2010 New York Nonprofit Conference.

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Jim Coutré weighs in on Inc. magazine's guide to developing a corporate philanthropy campaign, which he says overlooks two critical elements.

Disaster Relief

GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff urges people who are donating to Pakistan flood relief efforts to make sure their donations are unrestricted. Writes Ottenhoff: "Over and over in the past we've seen disaster-relief organizations hampered because gifts have been restricted to a specific disaster or location...."

GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky also has some advice for those thinking about donating to flood-relief efforts in Pakistan and asks all of us to consider that disaster relief might not be the best use of our charitable dollars. "Preliminarily, it appears that the Pakistan effort has been much less well-funded than the Haiti effort," writes Karnofsky, "but it's worth keeping an eye on the numbers, and it's always worth considering giving to an outstanding organization that is helping people in need on a day-to-day basis...."


On the Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, Mike Burns wonders why there's been "little 'real news'" about the sector lately and suggests, in answer to his own question, that "nonprofits must not be doing that great of a job giving...reporters an opportunity to focus on outcomes...."


On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Stephanie Jacobs looks at Do Nothing About Me Without Me, a guide for grantmakers that outlines ways they can increase stakeholder engagement.

Social Entrepreneurship

In a post on the Social Entrepreneurship blog, Social Velocity founder Nell Edgington explains why it's vitally important for nonprofits to have a "social value proposition." Writes Edgington: "In the past, nonprofits could exist without a value proposition....But as we move further down the road of social innovation, the assumption that money will automatically follow good works is no longer valid...."

Last but not least, as the debate around the Social Innovation Fund was heating up last week, Philanthrocapitalism co-authors Michael Bishop (@mattbish) and Matthew Green (@shepleygreen) hosted a debate on Twitter in which participants debated the fund's "alleged lack of transparency" and offered recommendations about how it could do better in its next funding cycle. You can download a transcript of the lively (if compressed) conversation here.

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

-- Regina Mahone

Philanthropy News Digest Has Gone Mobile

August 27, 2010

Pnd_iphone With mobile phone usage on the rise, organizations are rethinking the way they deliver content to their Web site visitors. A few months back, we created a task force to evaluate our own mobile presence and decided it was time to design a site that would deliver PND's most popular features -- news, jobs, and RFPs -- to readers on the go. Voila! Say hello to PND Mobile.

To access the site from your smart phone, visit: http://m.foundationcenter.org/pnd/.

We'd love to hear your suggestions about how we can improve PND, mobile or otherwise. Use the comments section below or send us an e-mail.

-- Regina Mahone

A 'Flip' Chat With...Matthew Bishop, 'Economist' Bureau Chief and 'Philanthrocapitalism' Author

August 26, 2010

I remember a time, not that long ago, when August meant lazy vacations by the shore, big fat beach reads, and a growing pile of unread New York Times in the corner of whatever cottage we happened to be renting. Because most New York-based reporters and editors were also on vacation, the odds of missing a big story were pretty slim -- and if you did, you knew you could catch up, along with everyone else, when you got back to the office at the end of the month.

Those days are long gone. In today's hyper-connected mediascape, the news never sleeps -- and neither does Matt Bishop. Earlier this week, I sat down with The Economist's New York bureau chief to chat about two of the biggest philanthropy-related stories of the month: the news that forty families and individuals had signed on to the Giving Pledge, a campaign launched earlier this summer by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the nation's billionaires to pledge at least half their fortunes to charity; and, more recently, the kerfuffle (Bishop's Steve Goldberg's word) over accusations of favoritism and conflicts of interest at the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a private-public partnership administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service that last month announced grants totaling almost $50 million to eleven intermediary organizations, including New Profit, Inc., a Boston-based venture philanthropy fund with ties to SIF's current executive director.

(To learn more about SIF and the process it used to select its first chort of grantees, see this great roundup of articles/blog posts by Adin Miller.)

In part one of our chat, Bishop, who's probably best known to philanthropy practitioners as the author (with Michael Green) of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, talks about the spirit behind the Giving Pledge campaign and offers some thoughts as to whether it will be judged a success:

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'Emerging Adulthood': Life Stage or Fad?

August 25, 2010

20_somethings A recent New York Times Magazine article by Robin Marantz Henig seems to have struck a chord with twenty-somethings in the non- and for-profit sectors. In the article, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?", Henig asks whether the large number of 18- to 29-year-olds who are not following the traditional path to adulthood -- leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having children -- represents the "dawning of a new life stage" or "just a temporary aberration caused by passing social mores and economic gloom."

According to Clark University psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, twenty-somethings who are not committed to a relationship or a job are "simply acting their age." And the characteristics of that time of life, which Arnett labels "emerging adulthood," include entity exploration, economic instability, a focus on oneself, and feeling "in-between." Those who disagree with Arnett insist that the behavior of today's twenty-somethings does not represent a new life stage because it is neither universal nor essential.

While the debate has been mostly confined to academia, "its resolution has broader implications." Indeed, if the idea of "emerging adulthood" was to gain traction, as the concept of "adolescence" did in the early 1900s, many of our existing social institutions would be forced to adapt. Moreover, the outcome of the debate would directly impact the nonprofit sector. Writes Henig:

The Network on Transitions to Adulthood has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? There aren't institutions set up to serve people in this specific age range; social services from a developmental perspective tend to disappear after adolescence. But it's possible to envision some that might address the restlessness and mobility that Arnett says are typical at this stage and that might make the experimentation of "emerging adulthood" available to more young people.

[For example], how about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year's worth of travel, education or volunteer work....

Whether you agree with Arnett’s argument or not, it's clear that more services are needed for twenty-somethings who are struggling to gain their footing in a post-meltdown economy.

In a recent post on her blog, leadership development consultant Rosetta Thurman writes:

I disagree with the idea of an "emerging adulthood" for twenty-somethings. Instead, I believe we're entering into a different kind of adulthood, one that's different from our parents' and one that we do, in fact, get to define (and redefine) for ourselves....

What do you think? What, if any, programs or services do you think the nonprofit sector should be providing for Generation Y -- my generation? And how, if at all, is your organization working to accommodate the Millennials it will depend on in the not-too-distant future? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

-- Regina Mahone

Meet Reilly Kiernan, Princeton University Project 55 Fellow

August 24, 2010


Hello! My name is Reilly Kiernan and two months ago I graduated from Princeton University. I am now embarking on a new adventure, through the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship program -- an arm of Princeton AlumniCorps -- at the Foundation Center's New York office.

AlumniCorps seeks to engage Princeton alumni in civic service. One of its most robust programs is the Project55 fellowship, which places recent graduates in year-long fellowships at nonprofits around the country. Each fellow is paired with a mentor in the nonprofit sector and participates in professional development as well as educational and social events in select cities. Over the next twelve months, I plan to share my experiences as a newcomer to the sector on PhilanTopic.

This is my fourth week at the Foundation Center -- the "leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide." When I describe the organization to people working outside the sector, I sometimes call it a meta nonprofit or a macro-level nonprofit, because it serves the needs of the whole sector. The organization has so many moving pieces it's hard to keep track!

Some people become interested in the nonprofit sector because they want to be a crusader for a specific cause. Maybe they're passionate about education reform, or international human rights, or protecting the environment. That's great, but, for better or worse, it can also mean their experience of philanthropy and civic service is circumscribed by a single issue.

I care about all those things. But what I'm really interested in is the 30,000-foot perspective of the nonprofit sector and all the questions such a perspective suggests. Questions like, What changes do we need to make at the sectoral level to more effectively leverage the work of all the passionate crusaders out there? How can we improve the capacity and infrastructure of the sector so as to more efficiently move resources from the people who have them to the people who need them? How can the sector as a whole be organized to respond to market failures and address issues that the private sector chooses to ignore? What is required to establish metrics for assessing and tracking the work of nonprofits?

At Princeton, where I studied Sociology (and minored in Urban Studies and American Studies), I read and learned a lot about social inequality in the United States. I also took a number of courses on social entrepreneurship and got really excited about the prospect of combining my passion for social change with the latest innovations in business thinking and practice. I was also a committed participant in the civic engagement culture on campus. In fact, I like to think I had a hand in shaping that culture in my role as co-chair of the Pace Council for Civic Values -- a group of student leaders who served as community organizers and troubleshooters for public interest activities on campus. Among other things, we helped plan events, got groups and clubs up and running, allocated funds for public service projects, and planned special trips over the different school-year breaks.

Now it's time to see -- and think about -- how the strategies and challenges facing nonprofits operating in the "real world" correspond to and differ from those of students working in a university setting. To that end, here are a few of my goals for this series:

  1. As a newcomer to the world of philanthropy, I plan to view and record with fresh (and, at times, critical) eyes the work of the Foundation Center. I hope my observations will be of some benefit to the organization.
  2. I also hope my experiences over the next year will provide me with some insight into the challenges and rewards of a career in the nonprofit sector -- and maybe even help my colleagues at the center create a guide and/or resources for young people starting out in the sector.
  3. Last but not least, I plan to learn as much as I possibly can about, well, everything -- and to share what I've learned with as many people as possible. Obviously, having a physical (or virtual, as the case may be) space like PhilanTopic to record my musings and reflect on the learning process is a great thing for me. But I hope it will also be fun, and informative, for you.

So stay tuned! And if you have anything you'd like to share as a young person in the nonprofit sector, feel free to share in the comments section below.

-- Reilly Kiernan

Pakistan: Mobile Giving Campaigns

August 23, 2010

The situation in Pakistan continues to worsen. Even as flooding subsides in the northern part of the country, the more populous south is being inundated. As one reporter on the ground put it -- and the CNN video below makes clear -- the country is experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe of "unparalleled proportions."

Three weeks after the Indus River began to overflow its banks, however, donations to help those affected by the flooding -- latest estimates put that number at 20 million -- are running well behind the rate seen after recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Caroline Preston reported this morning, 22 U.S. aid groups have raised a total of $9.8 million to assist Pakistanis affected by the floods, whereas two-and-a-half weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 40 aid groups had brought in a total of $560 million.

According to some observers, it will take Pakistan, already a poor country, fifteen years to recover from this month's floods. A desperately poor and weakened Pakistan is in no one's best interest -- least of all the Pakistani people. Any of the organizations listed below will be happy to put your small donation to good use.

In the U.S.:

  • For Central Asia Institute, text the word CAI to 50555 to donate $10. Central Asia Institute provides community-based education opportunities in Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • For CHF International, text the word PAKISTAN to 50555 to donate $5. CHF International will provide transitional shelter, work to restore livelihoods, and ultimately re-build Pakistan's economic and social foundations.
  • For Islamic Society of North America, text the word RELIEF to 27722 to donate $10. The Islamic Society of North America contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large.
  • For UNICEF, text the word FLOODS to 864233 to donate $10.
  • For UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), text the word SWAT to 50555 to donate $10. UNHCR emergency response teams are distributing tents, relief supplies, and humanitarian assistance to people displaced by the flooding.
  • For U.S. Department of State, text the word FLOOD to 27722 to donate $10. Created by the U.S. government, the Pakistan Relief Fund will serve as a mechanism for the public to contribute money to the ongoing efforts in Pakistan.
  • For the World Food Programme, text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10. WFP will use helicopters to transport food to people in isolated communities across the Swat Valley.
  • For World Emergency Relief, text the word RESCUE to 50555 to donate $10. Based in San Diego County, the Rescue Task Force responds to natural and man-made disasters worldwide.
  • For Zakat Foundation of America, text the work ZAKATUS to 50555 to donate $10. The Zakat Foundation has begun to address the immediate needs of flood survivors by providing food and clothing in four key Pakistani districts.

In Canada:

  • Text the word REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $10 to the Canadian Red Cross.
  • Text the word GIVE in English or DON in French to 45678 to donate $5 to UNICEF.
  • Text the word WORLD to 45678 to donate $5 to World Vision Canada.


  1. mGive Mobile Donation Campaigns Established to Assist Flood Victims in Pakistan (PRNewswire 8/6/10)
  2. Donate to the Pakistan Relief Fund
  3. Mobile Giving "Text-to-Donate" Campaigns for Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Launched by the Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF and World Vision Canada (8/22/10)

-- Mitch Nauffts and Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (August 21 - 22, 2010)

August 22, 2010

Magnifying-glass1 Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Corporate Philanthropy

According to a survey by USA Today and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Walmart was the nation's biggest corporate donor in 2009. "But at what cost to...the communities where all the Walmart products are made?" asks Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns in a recent post.

Disaster Relief

On the Foreign Policy Web site, Pakistani journalist Mosharraf Zaidi asks, Why doesn't the world care about Pakistan?

As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the Greater New Orleans Foundation shares the stories of five nonprofit leaders who have "marshaled armies of volunteers to help rebuild the fabric of [the] city."


In response to a Fox 5 News segment about Generation Y, Rosetta Thurman, who was interviewed for the clip along with Mobilize.org's Maya Enista, highlights some of the problems with the too-common media tactic of pitting older generations against Millennials.

On the Black Gives Back blog, Tracey Webb announces the launch of Nonprofit Insider, a new blog sponsored by the BlackEnterpise.com site that's "geared towards those who work for, donate to, and run nonprofit organizations." In the first post, Webb shares four tips for starting a nonprofit.


In a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta urges his readers to "rethink what it means to work and to be productive."

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Phil Buchanan defends the use of the term "nonprofit" to describe the work of our sector. Buchanan further suggests that people "spend less time debating semantics and more time focusing on making the organizations in our sector -- whatever we call them -- as effective as they can be."

Social Innovation

It hasn't been a good couple of weeks for the Corporation for National and Community Service's Social Innovation Fund (SIF). A week or so after the fund announced one- and two-year grants totaling $49.2 million to eleven intermediaries working to "address urgent needs in three key issue areas -- economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development and school support," the Nonprofit Quarterly published a lengthy editorial questioning certain transparency practices at the fund. Then, in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Paul Light, a professor of public service at NYU Wagner who helped review applications to SIF during its initial funding round, weighed in with his own concerns. Light's op-ed prompted a pointed response from fellow reviewer and Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets author Steve Goldberg (in the comments and, in much greater detail, here). In the last day or so, New Profit Inc., one of the intermediaries to receive a grant and the subject of some sharp questioning owing to the fact that one of its former executives, Paul Carttar, is now executive director of SIF, posted its unredacted application to the fund on the Web; and the New York Times' Stephanie Strom reported that the fund had agreed to release the ratings of its review panels. Is the controversy over transparency at SIF a tempest in a teapot or symptomatic of deeper problems at what Tactical Philanthropy blogger Sean Stannard-Stockton calls "one of the most important experiments in building a functioning philanthropic capital market" this country has seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


On the Case Foundation blog, Joshua Tabb, a project coordinator at the foundation, identifies three practices that helped catalyze the Web 2.0 revolution in hopes that the tenets behind the "techvolution" in information sharing and communications can be translated from the online world to ossified offline industries.

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

-- Regina Mahone and Mitch Nauffts

NYC's 'Neighborhood of Conscience'

August 20, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about African philanthropy.)

Cordoba_house Lower Manhattan is many things to many people: hub of global finance, a mosaic of ethnic enclaves, funky residential neighborhood with breath-taking views of New York harbor, and, of course, backdrop for the most devastating of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But thanks to a series of unrelated real estate transactions over the years, it has also emerged as the world's first "neighborhood of conscience." That term was coined in the 1990s after the Rockefeller Foundation invited a seemingly disparate group of nonprofit visionaries to its conference center in Bellagio, Italy -- a group that included the leadership of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, Russia's Gulag Museum, and the District 6 Museum in South Africa, among others.

At that meeting, these nonprofits found common cause: a shared commitment to relating the past to the present, building "lasting cultures of human rights," and engaging "ordinary people in dialogue on social issues...through the establishment of sites [of conscience]."

In recognition of its importance, the sites of conscience movement has attracted the support of a number of foundations and philanthropies over the years, including the Compton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Oak Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

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Pakistan: Organizations Offering Assistance

August 19, 2010

(The following incorporates material from a blog post written last week by Katrina Brown, reference librarian at the Foundation Center-Washington, D.C.)

Flood_pakistan Indus River flooding on a scale not seen in generations has inundated a swath of Pakistan roughly the size of Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium, creating what many experts are calling the worst humanitarian disaster in decades. The United Nations, which is urging donor governments, international aid organizations, and foundations to provide $460 million for flood relief efforts, estimates that 1,600 people have died, 300,000 homes have been destroyed, 200,000 cattle have perished, and 2.6 million acres of crop land are underwater. While the overwhelmed government of Pakistan estimates that 20 million people -- one in nine Pakistanis -- have been affected and are in need of immediate assistance, efforts to bring relief to those in need have been hampered by continuing rains and widespread damage to roads and bridges.

After visiting the flood-ravaged country last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had this to say:

I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this. The scale of the disaster is so large -- so many people, in so many places, in so much need. These unprecedented floods demand unprecedented assistance. The flood waves must be matched by waves of global support....

Governments and organizations that have stepped up with support for the millions displaced by the flooding include the United States ($150 million), Saudi Arabia ($100 million), the European Union ($90 million), the United Kingdom ($48.5 million), Canada ($32 million), Australia ($21.6 million), Japan ($13.2 million), Denmark ($10.5 million), Turkey ($10 million), the Islamic Development Bank ($11.2 million), the Open Society Foundations ($5 million), the American Red Cross ($1 million), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($700,000).

Still, support from the international donor community and individuals in developed countries has been tepid, leading Joanne Fritz, on her Nonprofits Blog, to speculate about the reasons why.

I have my own thoughts about why individual donors in developed countries -- Americans, espcially -- are finding it hard to dig into their pockets for Pakistan, but I'll save them for another post. I do think a humanitarian disaster of the magnitude we are seeing in Pakistan demands something more than expressions of sympathy, and I plan to make a donation to flood-relief efforts there when I get home. In the meantime, if you'd like to donate, here's a list of humanitarian organizations and multilateral agencies with people on the ground.

  • CARE is supporting health teams, mobile clinics, and the distribution of emergency supplies.
  • CHF International is focusing its efforts on repairing roads and irrigation systems and helping to reduce the extensive damage done by the massive silting of agricultural land in the floods. Text PAKISTAN to 50555 to donate $5.
  • Direct Relief International is sending medical aid to support the emergency response to the extensive flooding.
  • Doctors Without Borders has sent tons of water and sanitation equipment, drugs, and medical materials into Pakistan.
  • International Rescue Committee is offering assistance to victims in areas affected by the worst of the flooding.
  • Islamic Relief USA workers are helping in the evacuation effort, administering aid, and helping serve thousands of flood victims.
  • Oxfam staff are on the ground in Pakistan, providing rescue services and emergency water purification.
  • Pakistan Red Crescent Society is working with the International Federation of Red Cross to provide some 35,000 affected households with food, drinking water, health care, and other non-food relief items.
  • UNICEF is providing desperately needed food, clean water, and health supplies to assist the six million children affected by the floods.
  • United Nations Refugee Agency is providing flood victims with shelter and emergency supplies. Text "SWAT" to 50555 to donate $10.
  • World Food Programme is working to provide food aid to two million flood victims by August 20, around a third of the total number of people estimated to require emergency food assistance. Text AID to 27722 to donate $10.

A list of other organizations assisting with relief efforts is available from InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations working to help the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

(Photo credit: New York Daily News)

-- Mitch Nauffts (with contributions from Katrina Brown and Regina Mahone)

This Week in PubHub: Funding the News

August 18, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center’s online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports which examine the state of the news media.)

Two weeks ago, in my post on the state of the news media, I asked: "Can -- and should -- independent journalism be saved?" This week, PubHub is featuring several reports on the pros and cons of alternative sources of funding for news operations.

Philanthropic Foundations: Growing Funders of the News, a 2009 report from the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, highlights evolving trends in foundation support for a wide range of news operations -- from nonprofit investigative reporting outfits and public broadcasting, to topical journalism in areas such as health, to community news Web sites. Foundations may have the wherewithal to support regional public media outlets and fund experiments in content generation and dissemination, but can foundation funding ever be more than a stop-gap measure for an industry in distress?And could a more substantial funding role for foundations do more harm than good by compromising the efforts of a new generation of journalism innovators and entrepreneurs? Time will tell.

The role of geographically focused foundations in addressing "information and media as a core need in communities" is the focus of The State of Funding in Information and Media Among Community and Place-Based Foundations, a report from FSG Social Impact Advisors and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. A survey of such foundations (including Knight Community Information Challenge applicants) found that half the respondents had made grants for information or media projects in the past year, with the bulk of those funds going to support information and media content ($64.5 million out of $165 million) and information and media infrastructure ($52.2 million), followed by media literacy and information and media policy. In addition, fully a third of respondents said that their funding in this area had increased as a proportion of overall grantmaking over the last three years, while another third expected it to increase in the future.

The question remains, however: Are online nonprofit news experiments -- as essential as they are to informed communities and local information ecosystems -- sustainable? The Knight Foundation's Seeking Sustainability: A Nonprofit News Roundtable Summary and Report looks at Web-based, local nonprofit news initiatives and their ability to secure diverse revenue streams and make a lasting impact. Among its findings, the report suggest that financial, organizational, and technological sustainability requires a "start-up mentality" -- that is, a willingness to be "entrepreneurial, adaptable, nimble, and collaborative." A case study included in the report cites limited but encouraging success with a variety of revenue models, including memberships, corporate sponsorships, and paid content. The report also found that community engagement with these experiments has proven elusive. One suggestion made by the report's authors is for nonprofit news organizations to expand their community focus by emphasizing civic journalism, which has the potential to increase their value to local residents beyond the news.

Finally, if well-informed citizens are vital for democracy, what role might public policy play in making high-quality reporting an economically sustainable proposition? In Public Policy and Funding the News (USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy), Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal argue for bolstering indirect, content-neutral government support for journalism and investment in technology. While noting the increase in foundation funding for nonprofit news sites and the optimism that infuses parts of the "new news" ecosystem, the authors warn against the dangers of not having "a good contingency plan."

What role, if any, do you think philanthropy should play in securing the future of independent journalism? What is the proper mix of foundation, public-, and private-sector funding? Do you know of any local nonprofit news Web sites that are successfully fostering civic engagement in their communities? Let us know in the comment box below. And don't forget to visit PubHub to browse the latest foundation-sponsored reports on the changing world of journalism and media.

-- Kyoko Uchida

15 Ways to Improve Grantee Communication at Your Foundation

August 16, 2010

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly is founder and president of Putnam Community Investment Consulting, Inc. Her blog, Philanthropy 411, and Twitter feed are widely followed by practitioners and thought leaders in the sector. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Effective_communication02 The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2009. Though its ratings with respect to both consistency and clarity of communication were statistically similar to or higher than those of other foundations, comments and suggestions from grantees indicated room for improvement in communication between staff and grantees. CHCF decided to retain Putnam Community Investment Consulting to identify ways to improve its communications with grantees. Our focus, in turn, was to analyze the results of CHCF's Grantee Perception Report and to conduct further research that included assessing the grantee communications practices of CHCF program staff and other foundations, as well as examining the presentation of grantee resources on its Web site.

Why? Because clear communication with grantees matters. According to CEP:

Grantees are typically a foundation's chosen agents of change, selected for their ability to create impact. The better a foundation can communicate its goals and strategies to grantees, the more effective these partnerships will be -- and the more likely grantees will be to perform in ways that are consistent with the foundation’s goals....

Effective communication with grantees is not just the job of program staff, but of staff at all levels of the foundation -- from administrative assistants, to human resources, communications, evaluation, and executive staff. CHCF certainly subscribed to this idea when it embarked on a review of its grantee communications practices. Below are fifteen recommendations for improving grantee communications that resulted from that effort (the full report, Improving Communication Between Foundation Staff and Grantees, is available for download):

1. Consistently communicate your foundation's goals and strategies through both written and verbal communication with applicants and grantees.

2. Regularly discuss grantee communications challenges, best practices, and grantseeker feedback survey results at program team and staff meetings. You can also encourage regular meetings of program officer/program assistant teams to discuss the status of proposals, grants, and grantees, and even organize formal discussions for program assistants to share their strategies for successful grantee communications and to troubleshoot communications problems.

3. Ensure program staff has adequate time and resources for consistent grantee communications and for building strong relationships with grantees.

4. Incorporate grantee communications into staff performance appraisals.

5. Conduct regular grantee satisfaction surveys to keep grantee experiences at the forefront and to track progress in making improvements.

6. Pay special attention to communications measures identified by CEP that support grantee satisfaction and effective communication. These measures include the quality of interactions with foundation staff, clarity of communication of a foundation's goals and strategy, foundation expertise in its chosen field(s), consistency among communications resources, and selection and reporting processes that are helpful to grantees.

7. Make sure program staff consistently direct grantseekers to grant guidelines, templates, and other resources designed to help them.

8. Spend time talking with grantseekers about: (1) your selection process and timeline; and (2) the foundation's and applicant's expectations (e.g., for final deliverables, reporting, communication during the grant period) before a grant proposal is finalized.

9. If multiple foundation staff will be working with the same grantee, be sure they coordinate their communication and expectations and represent a "single voice" emanating from your foundation.

10. Develop a grantee communication checklist for program staff. We created one for CHCF that you can download and modify to meet your foundation's needs.

11. Compare your funding guidelines against the common characteristics of highly successful funding guidelines developed by CEP. Make adjustments to your guidelines as appropriate.

12. Consider conducting/organizing a communications audit and/or Web site usability focus group.

13. Solicit grantee feedback when making improvements to funding guidelines and/or your Web site.

14. Ensure that funding guidelines and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) make a clear connection between the funding opportunity and your foundation's goals and strategies.

15. Make sure it's easy for grantseekers to find information on your Web site about how to apply for a grant.

You can learn more about the California HealthCare Foundation's efforts to improve its grantee communications and assess impact here.

Has your foundation made efforts to improve its communications with grantees? If so, what worked? If you work for a nonprofit, what foundation communication strategies work best for you? And what would you like to see foundations do differently? Use the comments section to share your thoughts and ideas!

-- Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Weekend Link Roundup (August 14 - 15, 2010)

August 15, 2010

Pakistan_Flooding This edition of the roundup features two weeks' worth of noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy!


Susan G. Komen for the Cure recently announced that it will challenge in court "kite fliers, kayakers and dozens of other themed fund-raisers" using its trademarked "for the cure" phrase. Responding to the announcement, Stanford Social Innovation Review's Loreal Lynch writes, "Komen is being seen as a bully. But in my opinion, they are just being business-minded. A perfectly fine quality; one that more nonprofits should embrace...."

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Jim Coutré takes a closer look at a survey of the nation's largest companies which found that most businesses expect their charitable giving to remain flat in 2010.

Disaster Relief

On her Nonprofit Blog at About.com, Joanne Fritz looks at why some disasters generate more donations for relief and recovery efforts than others. In the case of the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster, Fritz shares a MSNBC article which cites "fury at BP and a belief that the company should be paying for everything" as one of the reasons Americans haven't donated more to charities working to help residents of the Gulf states get back on their feet.

Guest blogging on Katya's Non-Profit Marketing blog, Kate Olsen of Network for Good shares a list of questions organization can use to "decide if, when, and how to respond when [man-made] catastrophes emerge."


After examining the salaries of nonprofit executives at some of New York City's largest cultural institutions, Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns argues that while certain salaries are indeed "jaw-dropping," they're also reasonable in today's market.


Sandra Miniutti shares a short clip on the Charity Navigator blog from the soon-to-be released Saving Philanthropy documentary, which promises to explore strategies associated with effective philanthropy and high-performing organizations.

On the Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz adds "curator" to her list of this year's philanthropy buzzwords.

With the recent announcement that forty families and/or individuals have signed on to the so-called Giving Pledge, the campaign launched by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the nation's billionaires to give at least half of their fortunes to charity, Philanthrocapitalism co-authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green wonder on their blog who will be next.

In a related post, Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton says that if "Larry Ellison can sign the pledge, maybe [my] hopes for a Second Great Wave of Philanthropy aren't so far fetched...."

On the same subject, Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell has a few recommendations for the pledge-takers.

Social Entrepreneurship

Commenting on the fact that Grameen Bank's Muhammad Yunus will be appearing on an upcoming episode of the long-running animated Simpsons TV series, Jeff Trexler suggests on the Social Entrepreneurship blog that the "real news here is not that microfinance is getting validated by Hollywood....Instead, the greater significance lies in social entrepreneurship's growing awareness of the power of comics and cartoons."

Social Media

On the Social Citizens blog, Kari Dunn Saratovsky wonders whether the ease of "showing our compassion to others through the click of a button...[is] disconnect[ing] us from the process of relationship making."

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

(Photo credit: New York Post)

-- Regina Mahone

A 'Flip' Chat With...Terry Lawler, Executive Director, New York Women in Film & Television

August 13, 2010

(This is the fifth in our series of "Flip" chats with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can find others here, including the previous one with Ben Esner of the Brooklyn Community Foundation.)

Last week a sold-out audience filled the Foundation Center's training annex to hear Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film & Television, lead a panel discussion on the subject of raising money for independent films. Lawler was joined on the panel by Randall Dottin, film director and faculty at New York Film Academy; Matthew Seig, media specialist with the New York Foundation for the Arts; and Angela Tucker, director of production at Arts Engine. (For more information about the event, check out my colleague Susan Shiroma's post at the Philanthropy Front and Center – New York blog.)

Before the event, I had a chance to chat with Lawler about the state of independent filmmaking in the U.S. Because my knowledge of independent film is limited to old home movies shot by my grandfather, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how independent filmmakers today are working to link their messages with the programs and interests of various foundations. Lawler also pointed out that social media increasingly is both a proving ground and fundraising tool for independent filmmakers. And she ended our chat by reminding PND readers that independent film, as a career, is no picnic. As Lawler puts it, you've got to be someone who can take "no" for an answer and yet not take "no" for an answer!

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

(Total running time: 5 minutes, 9 seconds)

-- Emily Robbins

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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