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20 posts from August 2010

Growing Wiser

August 11, 2010

(Tony Pipa is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he argued that it's time for stakeholders to revisit the question of a joint appeal for U.S.-based disaster relief efforts.)

Timepiece I fully intended to write a review of Mark Constantine's Wit and Wisdom: Unleashing the Philanthropic Imagination * (available for download here) when it was published by Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy over a year ago but never found the time amid the multiple projects I was juggling. The book's lessons, however, have proven so prescient in the intervening year that I want now to give it the attention it deserves.

Constantine's book contains a series of interviews with leading philanthropic practitioners who have spent their careers working to address social, racial, and economic justice in the American South. The emotional scars and real successes articulated in the reflections of these philanthropic veterans stand as a small but needed response to a yawning gap -- the lack of attention paid within the philanthropic community to the lessons of its past. The book is important for that reason alone.

It also has important things to say about many other issues at play within the field today. I was especially struck by the attention it pays to the subject of privilege in philanthropic practice.

Money, after all, bestows power. And as Gayle Williams of the Mary Babcock Reynolds Foundation notes, it is important for philanthropic leaders to recognize that this dynamic defines most of their relationships, and that the power they wield -- however well-intended its uses -- can do harm to the very organizations and people they are supporting.

In another interview, Jack Murrah of the Lyndhurst Foundation expresses frustration at many funders' conception of "empowerment":

My power and the foundation's power are not really transferable to others, and it seems arrogant to imagine that it is. Moreover, other people and organizations have forms of power that we don't have. For me the question is not how the foundation can empower someone else, but how we can bring various kinds of power together around a larger cause to produce results....

It's this vision of collective action that -- at least in these philanthropists' experiences -- provides the best prospects for effecting long-term change on big issues such as poverty, democratic representation, and racism. Time and again, in different ways, they talk about listening to, trusting in, and supporting an agenda for progress that is defined by communities themselves. As Williams puts it, it's a vision frequently at odds with the prevailing focus on "individual vision":

Philanthropists talk about their vision for change, without considering how to include the hopes, talents, and perspectives of diverse people in realizing a collective end that serves all people....

Such an approach requires humility, attention to a different kind of detail, and a leadership style that, as former COF president and ambassador Jim Joseph says, "is a way of being, not a set of competencies and skills." As Joseph, talking about Nelson Mandela, notes, "the question is not 'What to do?' but 'How to be?'"

I was reminded of these themes often when helping a national organization evaluate their program in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. It was clear to me that their investments in collective action and in representative local organizations did not always influence public resources and decisions to the extent they would have liked. Yet it was also clear that, in future years, their investments in these local leaders and organizations were likely to yield gains that they could not have forseen at the time.

And that's the wild card -- time. In fact, it is consistency of financial support, rather than quantity, that comes up again and again in these stories and is given the lion's share of the credit for stimulating the sort of durable, transformational social change that these leaders aspire to facilitate. Alas, it's a lesson all too easily forgotten in the debates about scaling up, metrics, and impact that preoccupy much of the field today.

Indeed, it makes me think we should be thinking about "scale" in terms of years, not amount of dollars or breadth of geography. As the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation's Sybil Hampton notes:

There is very little we have done...that I think will reap their full results in my lifetime; we are sowing seeds and preparing the ground for things in perpetuity....

Wit and Wisdom should be read by anyone who believes in the importance of patience, humility, and the power of hope to effect community change. Indeed, Constantine's book offers a recipe for change that does not lend itself to easy metrics but contains many of the key ingredients required to make it happen. Read it, then keep it on your nightstand and refer to it often. The communities you are working to support will be the better for it.

(*Disclaimer: Mark Constantine is a friend, and not only do I know those profiled in the book, I've had the pleasure of working closely with many of them and benefiting from their wisdom. Those profiled and/or contributing to the book include Ambassador James Joseph, Linetta Gilbert, Tom Wacaster, Gayle Williams, Sybil Jordan Hampton, Jack Murrah, Sherry Magill, Karl Stauber, Lynn Huntley, and Emmett Carson.)

--Tony Pipa

Don't touch that dial...

August 07, 2010


We'll be back soon with more food for thought.

This Week in PubHub: The State of the News Media

August 05, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at a group of reports detailing international views of the United States' global role.)

It's been a couple of years since the death of the newspaper industry was proclaimed. But even if newspapers are still part of the media landscape in most metropolitan areas, declining circulation and ad revenue numbers suggest that the print newspaper is headed the way of the dodo. This week, PubHub is featuring a group of reports that addresses the question: Whither the state of news?

The State of the News Media 2010, the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual survey of the journalism landscape, includes special features on consumer attitudes, online news, and community news sites. According to the report, six in ten Americans get their daily news online, while five of the top twenty news sites are produced by major metropolitan dailies (tied with online-only operations). The survey also found that the outlook for increasing revenues through pay walls and/or online display advertising isn't all that promising, given online consumers' reluctance to pay for content or click on ads, and that the average visitor spends just over three minutes (per session) on a typical news site.

Where do most people turn for news and what do they think of news sources in general? According to Public Evaluations of the News Media: 1985-2009, a new report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, television remains the dominant source of national and international news, followed by the Internet and newspapers (in that order). The same 2009 survey also found that a whopping 63 percent of respondents said news stories were often inaccurate, up from 53 percent in 2007 and 34 percent in 1985. Charges of media bias and lack of fairness and independence were also up across political affiliations.

The Pew report notes that partisan support for the "watchdog" role of the press with respect to elected officials varies depending on who's in the White House. And what of investigative journalism itself? What is its future in an ever-more fragmented media landscape? In Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media, the Open Society Institute examined the impact of the economic crisis on independent media, investigative reporting, and public debate in former Soviet bloc countries and concludes that as "cash-strapped media increasingly opt for stories with mass appeal, accountability journalism suffers." The solution? There may not be one, but at a minimum stakeholders need to increase their support for investigative reporting to ensure that government activities remain transparent.

U.S. news organizations are not immune to such pressures. "[W]hat should be done to shape this new landscape, to help assure that the essential elements of independent, original, and credible news reporting are preserved?" That's the question asked by longtime Washington Post editor Leonard Downie, Jr. and Michael Schudson of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in The Reconstruction of American Journalism. Among other things, Downie and Schudson suggest that independent news reporting is a "public good whose diminution requires urgent attention" and "an essential component of public information" that deserves philanthropic and government support.

What do you think? Is the news becoming more and more fragmented into niche outlets for the like-minded? Can -- and should -- independent journalism be saved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse the more than a hundred and twenty reports related to journalism and media.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Ethnic and Racial Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector

August 04, 2010

6a00e0099631d088330134817d07b8970c-800wi Last December, leadership development consultant Rosetta Thurman noted in a blog post that nonprofits have a difficult time recruiting people from ethnically or racially diverse backgrounds because they don't implement "strategies specifically designed to attract people of color."

Indeed, a study from the Bernard Hodes Group, which Thurman shares in her post, found that people of color look for job openings in different places than their white counterparts. "It's not enough to throw up a job announcement on Idealist.org and call it a day," writes Thurman. "The research suggests that you should also be posting your job openings on blogs that people of color read."

Great suggestion from Thurman. What are some other ways that nonprofits can recruit, hire, and retain people from diverse backgrounds? What other factors make it difficult for organizations? To explore these questions and others, Commongood Careers has issued a call for participants to take a brief survey.

Commongood hopes to identify through the survey trends about ethnic and racial diversity in the sector as well as best practices that orgs can adopt to recruit and retain talent from diverse backgrounds. It will publish the survey results later this year.

For more information about diversity in philanthropy, be sure to read our colleague Larry McGill's blog posts here and here.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (July 31 - August 1, 2010)

August 02, 2010

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


Back from the Conexion Colombia conference in Bogota, Katya Andresen has some advice for nonprofits seeking partnerships with large corporations on her Non-Profit Marketing blog.

A "Snickers Bar Hunger" ad in the latest issue of Rolling Stone leaves Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns wondering whether there "is [ever] a time when cause-related marketing isn't just selling out the nonprofit brand?"


On the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give and Take blog, Caroline Preston asks whether WikiLeaks -- a "stateless" Web platform that promotes "radical transparency" in the public and private sectors and recently published a cache of classified Pentagon documents related to the war in Afghanistan -- should be more transparent about its own sources, donors, and activities.


If Sokunthea Sa Chhabra is right and "do-gooding" has gone mainstream, what if, anything, are the downsides? "Although it's fantastic that this idea of doing good [has become] part of our nation's general culture and psyche," writes Chhabra on the Social Citizens blog, "does it mean that people will lose sight of real impact and will it be an excuse for people to feel like they don't need to do more?"

Referencing posts by Sean Stannard-Stockton and Nathaniel Whittemore that expressed contrasting views about the inaugural cohort of Social Innovation Fund grantees, nonprofit consultant Adin Miller offers his take on the fund's announcement. Writes Miller: "I side more with Nathaniel and wish the process had focused more on true innovati[on] and risk with the chance of creating true disruption instead of taking the safer route by funding what works." In his post, Miller goes on to examine the specifics of the announcement and shares a useful, exportable spreadsheet populated with information about the grantees.


After receiving a lot of comments on a recent blog post in which they asked whether it was okay "to profit from the poor," Philanthrocapitalism co-authors Michael Bishop and Matthew Green hosted a debate about the topic on Twitter. You can read a transcript of the conversation here.

Social Entrepreneurship

Philanthropy Action editor-in-chief Tim Ogden has posted a list of news stories about the SKS IPO and the decision by Seattle-based Unitus, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing innovative, market-based solutions to global poverty, to exit the microfinance space.

Social Media

On her Philanthropy 411 blog, Kris Putnam-Walkerly shares a useful list of twenty social media resources for nonprofits.

"While it is definitely true that [social networking] sites could be here today and gone tomorrow, your supporters will indeed migrate with you on to The Next Big Thing," writes Heather Mansfield on the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog. "The trick is to know when to begin to encourage your supporters to move on...."

Guest blogging on Beth's Blog, MomentFeed founder Rob Reed explains how geolocation technology will change the world by connecting individuals "in more meaningful ways to the people, organizations, events, information, and companies that matter most...namely, those within a physical proximity of where we live and where we are."


On a related note, PhilanthroMedia founder Susan Herr suggests on the Communications Network blog that if "the past fifteen years has been about disseminating content in new ways (think site design, search engine optimization and social networking), the next fifteen will force fundamental changes in how we produce what we produce." Adds Herr: "Central to this position -- advanced by Jeff Stanger in the most recent episode of the Communication Network's Diavlog Series -- is [the creation of] native digital content...."

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

-- Regina Mahone

Quote of the Week

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

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

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