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19 posts from September 2010

A 'Flip' Chat With...Allison Fine, Co-Author, 'The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change'

September 30, 2010

(This is the eighth in our series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can access other chats in the series here, including our conversation with Liz Dwyer, education ambassador for the Pepsi Refresh Project.)

In the blink of an eye, it seems, we have gone from "the Information Age to the Connected Age, from silent majorities to connected activism." So writes New York-based social entrepreneur Allison Fine in her first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, the 2007 winner of the Terry McAdam Book Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of Nonprofiit Managment.

That connectedness, argues Fine, is being driven by a set of digital tools -- e-mail, cell phones, blogs, wikis, and social networking sites
-- collectively known as "social media." And the interesting thing about these tools is not their whiz-banginess but their low cost and ubiquity, which makes interaction, and therefore social change, "massively scalable." But in order to succeed in the Connected Age, says Fine, each of us will have to leave behind our old ways of managing and controlling information and learn, in every aspect of our work, how and when to use these tools to achieve an end.

In her new book, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Social Change, co-written with Beth Kanter, author of the long-running and widely read Beth's Blog: How Networked Nonprofits Are Using Social Media to Power Change, Fine introduces the concept of the "networked nonprofit" -- organizations that are comfortable with the social media tool set and use those tools to encourage two-way conversations, simplify their work, and make themselves more transparent to stakeholders, constituents, and potential donors. The book is also a wonderful how-to guide for nonprofits thinking about testing the social media waters or looking to further leverage their social media efforts.

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UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, Part (2): Every Woman, Every Child

September 29, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about New York City's "neighborhood of conscience.")

MaternalhealthIndia The worst tragedies in history are often those that could have been avoided. Could untold numbers been saved from death at the hand of the Nazis if the Allies had bombed railroad lines used to transport them to concentration camps before and after D-Day? Could the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been avoided through more behind-the-scenes diplomacy? Answers to such difficult questions are not easy to divine.

In contrast, the course of action needed to avert a twenty-first-century tragedy was readily apparent at last week's UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, where UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon unveiled Every Woman, Every Child, the UN's global strategy for improving women's and children's health. As one of the speakers at Wednesday's event, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, pointed out, we know which strategies and interventions work, thanks in part to decades of work undertaken (and -written) by governments, foundations, NGOs, UN agencies, and other multilateral institutions. The issue now is finding the collective will -- and resources -- to implement them.

At the event, Graça Machel, the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, issued a three-part challenge: put women and children at the center of the political agenda; invest in fielding health professionals who can provide quality care; and make sure that women take responsibility for seeking needed healthcare services.

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Heart, Head & Hand: An Advanced Approach to Persuasive Communication

September 27, 2010

(Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support. For more on inviting your listener to be a part of your organization's solution, see her previous post, Everybody Wants to Be a Hero.)

Connect_emotions For the past year, I've been writing here at PhilanTopic about the use of story for knowledge sharing, board and staff development, and communication. Story is, in fact, an extremely effective persuasive communication tool -- and one that can be applied in a larger communication framework I call Heart, Head & Hand™.

Heart, Head & Hand is a fresh approach to a traditional concept of communication in which the order of the three steps is vitally important: 1) establish rapport and seek empathy with your listener (heart); 2) appeal to your listener's -- and your own -- desire for proof points by offering supportive evidence (head); and 3) remember to ask your listener to take action (hand).

As with all strategic communication, you start with an end goal in mind. There's a reason why you strive to impart information: you want the recipient of that information to do something with it. In most cases, you want your listener to take some kind of action. So start by focusing on what it is you want your listener(s) to do. Strive for specificity. The desired action could be anything from making a seven-figure donation, to calling his or her senator or representative, to a simple request to "Please consider our conversation."

Once you've formulated a clear understanding of the action you want your listener to take, think of how you can help him or her connect to the information you want to share. Neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive and behavioral psychology studies all have shown that new information can only be connected to things we already know. Meaning is created when your listener can associate the information you want to impart with things he or she already understands.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 25 - 26, 2010)

September 26, 2010

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


According to Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks, "January 1, 2011 is an important day for fundraisers" because it's the day the first of the baby boomers turn sixty-five. "While giving behavior typically starts to manifest meaningfully in the fifties," writes Brooks, "it really takes off around [that age]."


Last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the recession that began in December 2007 "officially" ended in June 2009. Responding to the news, Tim Kane, senior fellow in Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation, wonders how the media will digest the "news" and shares what he thinks the "five stages of grief" might be.


The week's biggest philanthropy-related story was Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark public school system. Zuckerberg did his well-intentioned best to explain the thinking behind his gift here and here. And Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton wrote a good post about why Zuckerberg's gift is a game-changer here.

In The New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer at the magazine, offers a different take on the "crisis" in American education. The world's first system of universal public education, writes Lemann, is

like democracy itself, loose, shaggy, and inefficient, full of redundancies and conflicting goals. It serves many constituencies and interest groups, each of which, in the manner of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, sees its purpose differently. But, by the fundamental test of attractiveness to students and their families, the system -- which is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and decentralized -- is, as a whole, succeeding. Enrollment in charter schools is growing rapidly, but so is enrollment in old-fashioned public schools, and enrollments are rising at all levels. Those who complete a higher education still do better economically. Measures of how much American students are learning -- compared to the past, and compared to students in other countries -- are holding steady, for the most part, even as more people are going to school....


On his new blog, Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets author Steve Goldberg explains (at some length) the thinking behind "CN 2.0" -- a planned online platform for intelligent giving "dedicated to the proposition that if donors become well-informed, good nonprofits will get more money."

International Development

Ending poverty, empowering women and girls in developing nations, and moving the global economy onto a more sustainable footing were just a few of the topics of discussion at last week's Millennium Development Summit and annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. In the New Republic, David Rieff, a contributor to the New York Times Magazine and author of eight books, including Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, slams President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, End of Poverty author Jeffery Sachs, Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates, and others for promoting "Pollyana-ish" development fantasies, while on the Aid Watch blog, Laura Freschi shares her experiences as a serial summit attendee.


On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz reviews Rachel Botsman's and Roo Rogers' new book What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption and adds the prefix "co-" to her 2010 list of philanthropy buzzwords.

Allison Fine shares key findings from the Case Foundation's recent evaluation on the Make It Your Own Awards program, a first-of-its-kind public grants program that "challenged people from all walks of life to discuss what matters most to them, decide what kind of community they want, and take action together."

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Cynthia Gibson wonders whether information being collected for donors to help them make more informed philanthropic decisions is something donors really want. Writes Gibson:

In an article by Bill Deitel and myself that appears at the Nonprofit Quarterly (and will be featured in the upcoming Fall issue), we take a closer look at that question and find that, while we wholly support more rigorous and evidence-based practice, we also worry that attention to this side of the philanthropic equation has skewed to the point where the other side -- one that's more amorphous and difficult to measure -- is being overlooked: the values, ethics, and personal beliefs of donors, all of which play a key role in the decisions [donors] make about giving....

And on the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Philanthropy Potluck blog, Susan Stehling offers up a few takeaways from the Monitor Institute report What’s Next for Philanthropy: Acting Bigger and Adapting Better in a Networked World.

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

CGI 2010 Highlights [Video]

It was a busy week here in New York, and I'm still trying to process the dozens of sessions that were webcast from (or in conjunction with) the UN Millennium Development Summit and the sixth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

For many, CGI and the MDG campaign epitomize everything that's wrong with international development as practiced by rich donor governments and their NGO partners: an addiction to grand schemes; an over-reliance on technocrats; and an unwillingness or inability to address some of the most important contributing factors (agricultural subsidies, resource exploitation, corruption) to global poverty.

I'm not an aid expert. But I found myself (as I have in the past) inspired by much of what I saw and heard this week in New York. Yes, the UN, which was established by charter in 1945, is showing its age. At the same time, one has to be impressed by a new generation of activist-geeks who want to open-up and energize the MDG campaign with social media. And sure, there are all sorts of agendas in play at a CGI meeting. But as Bill Clinton reminded those in attendance (and all of us watching on the Web), the folks making commitments, taking time out from busy schedules, and/or flying halfway around the globe to be part of a panel don't have to be there; they want to be there.

So without further adieu, here are three of my favorite sessions from this year's CGI meeting:

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UN Millennium Development Goals Summit (part 1)

September 22, 2010

2015_people Overwhelmed. That's how one feels if s/he is in New York City this week and trying to cover the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, the sixth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, or events at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge at the 92nd St Y. The sessions are non-stop, the traffic brutal, and security is tighter than a tick.

Fortunately, I've been able to attend multiple sessions at all three venues thanks to the Web and the miracle of streaming technology. Right now, for example, I'm watching a keynote session from the Y setting the stage for the announcement of "Every Woman, Every Child," the UN's new strategy to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 and improve the health of women and children around the world. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon will formally announce the strategy -- and $40 billion in commitments to support it -- at 2:30 EST. (You can watch a live stream of the speech here.) After Ban's speech, President Obama will address the general assembly and, among other things, will unveil a new U.S. development strategy for meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

That strategy, as described in Celebrate, Innovate & Sustain: Toward 2015 and Beyond (34 pages, PDF), "fully embraces the MDGs" and recognizes development as "a moral, strategic, and economc imperative." It will focus the U.S. government

on achieving sustainable development outcomes by making broad-based economic growth and democratic governance top priorities, investing in game-changing innovations that have the potential to solve long-standing development challenges, and building effective public sector capacity to provide basic services over the long term. The policy also puts a premium on selectivity, on leveraging the expertise and resources of others, on empowering governments, and on driving our investments with evidence of impact....

The multilateral approach to development exemplified by the MDGs has long had critics who decry its top-down nature and lack of accountability mechanisms. Just an hour ago, for instance, Oxfam, the UK-based humanitarian organization, blasted the UN's announcement of $40 billion in commitments for the three health-related MDGs (with a focus on women and children):

Looking at the numbers so far, it’s clear that rich countries are putting old promises with a seemingly big price tag in a new shiny UN wrapper, rather than announcing anything new for the world’s poorest people. Almost half of the cash has already been pledged elsewhere, including at the G8 Summit in Canada this year. At a crucial turning point for the MDGs, we can’t be distracted by a big figure, and we need details now on where countries are going to find this money and how they will spend it to save lives....

Debate is healthy, and we'd all like to see details -- now and as efforts to meet the MDGs by 2015 are ramped up. In that spirit, we'll try to dive a little deeper into some of these issues over the next day or two. Stay tuned.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (September 18 - 19, 2010)

September 19, 2010

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


At her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen shares three "incredibly important" rules to organizing information on your nonprofit's Web site.


All last week, philanthropic leaders attending the Council on Foundation's Fall Conference for Community Foundations shared their thoughts and perspectives on Kris Putnam-Walkerly's Philanthropy 411 blog. We especially liked the posts by Jillian Vukusich of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, who urged foundation leaders to be flexible when doing business; Nick Deychakiwsky of the Mott Foundation, who reflected on a plenary speech by CoF president/CEO Steve Gunderson in which Gunderson compared community foundations to auto dearlerships -- in both industries, reputation matters, quality matters, customer service needs to be 24/7, speed is important, and location matters; and China Brotsky of Tides, who shared a few takeaways from a session on racial and ethnic diversity in philanthropy.

On his Tactical Philanthropy blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that the times call for "deviant philanthropy," which he defines as action or behavior that challenge the philanthropic status quo.

On the Deep Social Impact blog, Ellen Remmer wonders why the list of wealthy individuals who have signed on to the Giving Pledge campaign includes so few women. Writes Remmer: "I get...that today's self-made billionaires are more likely to be men....But what bothers me is that here we have a huge statement about the powerful and moral act of giving; indeed a call to action, a challenge, and women look like the back-up act, extras in the drama."

And in a different post on the Deep Social Impact blog, Philanthropic Initiative senior fellows Paula Johnson and Mark Sidel call the data informing this year's World Giving Index "perplexing, and potentially harmful to our understanding of the rich, diverse, and complex ways that philanthropic giving is practiced around the world."

Social Media

On Beth's Blog, the tireless Beth Kanter identifies three options for nonprofits looking to delegate some of the social media work load (free, integrated, or staffed).

The Foundation Center has released the results of a new survey which found that about a third of foundation executives regularly read blogs and use Facebook, while only 6 percent use Twitter. Responding to the news, Allison Fine, co-author (with Beth Kanter) of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change, writes that if she had to choose, she would rather see a foundation use social media than fund it.

Looking ahead to the upcoming Social Media Summit, Mashable's Sarah Kessler compiles a list of five trends "that will shape the way we use social media for positive change in the future."

And on the Social Citizens blog, Kristin Ivie takes a look at some of the drawbacks to sharing crisis information on Twitter and wonders/asks whether "the potential risks [are] worth the access to the information?"

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

-- Regina Mahone

A 'Flip' Chat With...Liz Dwyer, Ambassador of Education, Pepsi Refresh Project

September 17, 2010

(This is the seventh in our series of "Flip" chats with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can find others here, including our last one, with The Economist's New York bureau chief Matthew Bishop.)

Since January, hundreds of nonprofit organizations and individuals have become agents of change in their communities with support from the Pepsi Refresh Project. Through the contest, which Pepsi is conducting in partnership with GOOD, Global Giving, and DoSomething.org, anyone can submit an idea in one of six categories: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods, and education. At the end of each month, the ideas with the most votes win a portion of $1.3 million.

While a number of questions have been raised about the Refresh project (How is Pepsi measuring the impact of the grants? Is the competition engineered to reward popularity over merit?), the project has succeeded in creating a great deal of buzz -- for Pepsi as well as around online giving contests in general -- and has provided much-needed financial support for a lot of worthy causes.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to sit down with Liz Dwyer, ambassador of education for the project, to talk about the project and how Pepsi is measuring its impact. With more than fifteen years of experience in the field of education, Dwyer also shared her thoughts about what we need to do to increase graduation rates and teacher effectiveness.

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

(Total running time: 6 minutes, 12 seconds)

Last week, Pepsi announced that it will expand the project in 2011 to Europe, Latin America, and Asia, as well as continue to fund it in the U.S. and Canada. What do you think about the Refresh project and the company's decision to expand it? Are there any problem's with the model that need to be addressed before it goes global? And is this a model that other multinational corporations should be emulating? Use the comments section below to share your thoughts.

-- Regina Mahone

Are Foundation Leaders Using Social Media?

September 16, 2010

It took a while, but foundations are starting to grasp the importance and utility of social media. As documented on Glasspockets.org, more than 700 foundations have jumped into the Web 2.0 waters, including 297 on Facebook, 222 on Twitter, 107 with blogs, and 93 with a YouTube channel.

But just how engaged are foundation leaders themselves with these new communications tools?

In July, the Foundation Center surveyed members of its Grantmaker Leadership Panel -- a regionally representative group of 228 independent and community foundation leaders -- to find out. Completed surveys were received from 73 of the 288 panel members (32 percent), and the responses seem to suggest that while use of social media by foundation leaders is catching on, it's not yet part of their regular routines.

Some key findings:

  • About one-third (33 percent) of foundation leaders use Facebook regularly, and a similar number (30 percent) regularly read blogs.
  • About one in 10 foundation CEOs listen to podcasts (11 percent) or watch YouTube (10 percent) videos.
  • Just 6 percent use Twitter regularly.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) read e-newsletters regularly, while about half (47 percent) use Listservs regularly.

Survey respondents also appeared to be cautiously optimistic about the potential of Web 2.0 to help further the work of philanthropy in general, but were uncertain how best to use social media to further their own work.

Perceived Usefulness of Social Media/Web 2.0 Services

Grantmaker Panel_Social Media_001 Grantmaker Panel_Social Media_002

At the same time, many respondents felt the full potential of social media for their foundations and philanthropy in general still lies ahead. "[T]he end has yet to be written on the social networking chapter in philanthropy," said Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. "I imagine a generation of foundation leadership -- myself included, even as one of the relatively younger CEOs -- will have to go away before it is embraced and tested fully."

(To download the four-page report, which includes brief profiles of two social media "power users," Emily Kessler and Albert Ruesga, click here.)

Is Karen right? Is the relatively low level of social media use among foundation leaders a generational thing? Should more foundation leaders be using Twitter, reading and commenting on blogs, and appearing in videos posted to YouTube? If so, should that be instead of, or in addition to, their current communications activities? Feel free to share your thoughts below....

-- Mitch Nauffts

This Week in PubHub: Mental Health and Juvenile Justice

September 14, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that examined different aspects of child well-being.)

The reports discussed in my last post explored the ways in which childhood poverty can affect educational, employment, and other outcomes later in life. This week, PubHub is featuring a group of reports highlighting the need to address the effects of childhood trauma on mental health and behavioral outcomes in a variety of settings, including schools, the juvenile justice system, and foster care.

There's a growing awareness of the need to identify and refer children suffering from developmental and mental health issues early on. State Case Studies of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Systems: Strategies for Change, a report from the Commonwealth Fund, describes efforts to establish early identification and intervention systems for children up to age five in Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The report also shares best practices in stakeholder engagement and planning, innovative interagency collaboration, and community-based early childhood health and development services that could serve as models for federal policies and programs.

According to the Justice Policy Institute report Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense, national surveys estimate that up to 34 percent of all children in the United States have experienced, directly or vicariously, at least one traumatic event, whether physical or sexual abuse, violence, maltreatment, the loss of a caregiver, or life-threatening injury, illness, or accident. The report also found that between 35 percent and 46 percent of adolescents report having witnessed an act of violence. Such childhood trauma can affect brain development, the authors argue, resulting in increased risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system. Indeed, between 75 percent and 93 percent of youth entering the juvenile justice system every year are thought to have experienced some form of trauma. Given that people of color are more likely to be victims of crime and violence, that incarceration itself can be traumatic, and that youth who spend time in juvenile facilities have poorer adult outcomes, addressing the effects of trauma before a child becomes involved in the justice system is critical to breaking this cycle. In addition to raising awareness of the issue, the authors call for better screening and assessment procedures for trauma victims; more and better evidence-based treatment programs; a greater emphasis on trauma-sensitive handling, sentencing, and placement within the justice system; and greater support for targeted prevention efforts, including counseling in schools.

The need for targeted intervention services within the juvenile justice system is also a theme of Pathways to Desistance, an initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The initiative's December 2009 update, Research on Pathways to Desistance, questions the efficacy of "locking up" juvenile offenders, given that researchers have found no benefit, in terms of recidivism, to placing offenders in institutional settings instead of on probation; in fact, among "low-level offenders," institutional placement slightly raised the level of recidivism.

Youth in foster care, who often experience multiple and complex trauma yet have limited access to mental health services, is the focus of the RAND Corporation's Toolkit for Adapting Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) or Supporting Students Exposed to Trauma (SSET) for Implementation With Youth in Foster Care. The report outlines recommendations for implementing school-based targeted prevention programs for youth in foster care -- those designed for school-based mental health professionals as well as those designed to train teachers and school counselors in cognitive behavoral intervention techniques. Both approaches teach youth how to deal with trauma, including methods for relaxation, cognitive restructuring, addressing their fears, social problem-solving, and reducing coping by avoidance.

With four million children and youth thought to have experienced at least one traumatic event, reducing the mental health and behavioral problems associated with trauma is an urgent issue for the well-being of our children and youth, public safety, and society in general. Do you know of other ways these issues are being addressed? Let us know in the comments box below.

And don't forget to check out PubHub for the latest reports on children and youth.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Weekend Link Roundup (September 11 - 12, 2010)

September 12, 2010

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

Current Affairs

Media coverage of the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan and the since-canceled Koran burning in Gainesville, Florida, "elevates a number of troubling issues that require urgent attention," writes the Buxton Initiative's J. Douglas Holladay on the Case Foundation blog. "Whether it be cable talk shows from both the left and the right or funders who demand ideological purity, [extreme thinking] is not good for America...."


On the NonProfit Times blog, Mark Hrywna looks at the pros and cons of the Bill Gates/Warren Buffett-inspired Giving Pledge campaign.

On his Wise Philanthropy blog, Richard Marker shares some praise for and concerns about Crowdrise, an online fundraising portal launched by actor Edward Norton.

On their Philanthrocapitalism blog, Michael Green and The Economist's Matthew Bishop weigh in on the debate, sparked by a recent New Yorker profile of the billionaire Koch brothers, over "the influence of philanthropy in politics."

Visiting Mumbai last week, where he was in "close proximity to extreme poverty," GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky wondered which was the better course of action: giving money to the children who chase after him, walking deep into the city's slums and hading out cash at random, or donating to a local nonprofit. "Would you take any of these options," asks Karnofsky, "or just save the money for [your] annual gift?"

Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton explains why his confidence in charity:water, a nonprofit that works to bring safe drinking water to people in developing nations, rose after the organization used social media to report on its failed attempt to drill a well in the village of Moale, in the Central African Republic.

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why she's adding charitywashing to her 2010 list of philanthropy buzzwords. In a subsequent post, Bernholz asks readers to describe what the ideal philanthropic funding enterprise would look like if it could be created from scratch with the forces reshaping the sector in mind.

Social Media

Guest blogging on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Social Philanthropy blog, John Haydon, a Boston-based consultant and founder of the Web site Corporatedollar.org, shares some great tips about how nonprofits can use Facebook's new Places feature.

And guest blogging at Beth's Blog, Diabetes Hands Foundation president Manny Hernandez offers some advice to nonprofits thinking about setting up a Wikipedia page.

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

(Photo credit: Mahbubur Rahman Photography)

-- Regina Mahone

9/11: Lest We Forget

September 11, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the Cordoba House controversy.)

9-11_memorial Nine years ago today, on a similarly gorgeous morning in the Northeast, almost three thousand individuals lost their lives in coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 43 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The horror of 9/11 will never be forgotten by the tens of thousands of people who lost loved ones or the hundreds of millions around the world who watched or listened to the terrible events of that day unfold on television, radio, or the Internet.

Nine years later, as we honor the innocent victims of the attacks and the hundreds of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to help others, let us also remember that the attacks were designed to strike at the core of what most sets America apart from every other nation in history: Its (sometimes fraught) embrace of pluralism, freedom of expression, and the right to worship in one's own fashion.

Nothing illustrates the unique nature of the American experiment better than the fact that individuals from 77 different countries lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Here's the list of countries, courtesy of the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Information Programs:

Antigua & Barbuda Ghana Panama
Argentina Greece Peru
Australia Guatemala Philippines
Austria Guyana Poland
Bahamas Haiti Portugal
Bangladesh Honduras Romania
Barbados Hong Kong Russia
Belgium India Slovakia
Belarus Indonesia South Africa
Belize Iran South Korea
Bolivia Ireland Spain
Brazil Israel Sri Lanka
Cambodia Italy St. Kitts & Nevis
Canada Jamaica St. Lucia
Chile Japan Sweden
China Jordan Switzerland
Colombia Kenya Taiwan
Costa Rica Lebanon Thailand
Czech Republic Luxembourg Trinidad & Tobago
Dominica Malaysia Turkey
Dominican Republic Mexico Ukraine
Ecuador Netherlands United Kingdom
Egypt New Zealand Uruguay
El Salvador Nicaragua United States
France Norway Uzbekistan
Germany Pakistan Zimbabwe

On this, the ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember and honor all those who lost their lives, celebrate our differences, and stand together for peace, tolerance, and international understanding.

-- Michael Seltzer

George Soros Takes a Risk

September 09, 2010

(Bradford Smith is president of the Foundation Center. He wrote about diversity and philanthropic freedom in his last post.)

Human-rights1 Philanthropy is innovative, invests in long-term solutions, and take risks, right? Isn't that what we always say when called on to explain why foundations should be independent, free from excessive regulation, and not told how to spend their money? On Tuesday, George Soros walked the talk with a $100 million grant to Human Rights Watch.

The fact that the Soros gift should seem remarkable is, in itself, remarkable. Despite claims to the contrary, philanthropy in general is quite risk averse. In 2008, the largest share of grant dollars went to Health (23 percent) and Education (22 percent). Within each of these areas, some risky grants were made. Any donor who has chosen to fund reproductive health is well aware of the political firestorm that can erupt around that issue. Likewise, the first donors who funded charter schools were roundly criticized for breaking with education reform orthodoxy. But much philanthropy in these areas goes to wealthy alma maters and major hospitals. That is to be applauded; the American system depends on the generosity of donors for these institutions to thrive, but it would be a stretch to say such grants are risky.

Human rights is definitely risky business. By picking Human Rights Watch, George Soros has opened himself to criticism that he is betting on an organization some have accused of having a double standard when it comes to reporting on Israel's role in Middle East conflicts. The AP story on the Soros gift talks about this and the readers' comments below hardly read like fan mail. Human rights, by definition, holds governments accountable for measuring up to the high standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human Rights organizations are a thorn in the side of governments everywhere, exposing illegal detention and torture, crimes against humanity, and political repression. Any donor that decides to support human rights can be guaranteed that somewhere in the world, including the U.S., somebody in power will be unhappy with the work their grantees are doing. In extreme cases, the lives of those they are supporting may be in danger.

Because human rights is risky business, it is particularly well-suited to philanthropy. We know who the big human rights funders are: George Soros' own Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the MacArthur Foundation, and European-based funders like the Oak Foundation and the Sigrid Rausing Trust. But how many foundations support human rights work, how much do they spend annually in doing so, and who gets the money? Together, the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funders Group plan to answer those questions. By coming up with better definitions of what constitutes human rights philanthropy, applying them to existing data, collecting new data, doing research, and designing interactive ways to visualize this information, we hope to help existing donors become more strategic and encourage new donors who might be considering human rights funding to take the plunge. And lest anyone think human rights is only for the big foundations, consider the High Stakes Foundation in Arlee, Montana, which gives about $750,000 annually and in 2008 used $30,000 of that for a grant to the Montana Human Rights Network.

Russell Leffingwell, former chair of the Carnegie Corporation, said it best in 1952 when testifying before Congress in response to allegations that foundations were supporting "un-American activities":

To my mind, it is not merely the money that the foundations give, but the stimulus and encouragement, the feeling that there is somebody that you can go to and say, "I know this a very difficult thing, and I am going to get into a lot of trouble and get you into a lot of trouble, probably. But here is something that ought to be tried. Those are the risks."

Soros himself reminded us of where philanthropists find the courage to take such risks when he told the New York Times that his gift to Human Rights Watch was "from the heart."

-- Brad Smith

Muslim Voices of Philadelphia

September 08, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about civil rights documentaries.)

"Muslim Americans feel so muted today, drowned out by the hysteria in the mainstream media," lamented Moein Khawaja, director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), at a special iftar, or meal breaking the Ramadan fast, last week. "We're only about six million people in the U.S., and for the past nine years we've been on the defensive. We have to be proactive and produce our own media that's more representative of our experiences: media that's more positive; that shows the multitude of Islamic voices."

New_africa_center Just such an opportunity has been created in Philadelphia, thanks in part to a planning grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and an intern secured through the Samuel S. Fels Fund's annual summer program linking graduate students with community groups. Muslim Voices of Philadelphia, launched at that recent iftar, is a collaborative media project hosted by the Scribe Video Center, a nonprofit organization that works with individuals and groups without know-how or means to tell their stories in video, radio, and new media. The project will produce ten videos over the next two years, with participants from local Muslim organizations shaping the aims and content, learning the necessary skills, and actually making the films.

While the Muslim Voices project may be its newest activity, Scribe boasts a 27-year history of building media capacity among minority communities. The center offers a roster of classes, open to everyone, and also works with selected projects proposed and implemented by community groups. In the latter case, Scribe provides the training, equipment, and advisors needed to shepherd the projects from idea to screening. Hundreds of videos have been created over the years, recording a variety of places and programs and, just as importantly, capturing the memories and spirit embodied in neighborhoods, buildings, and public spaces: from an animation-enhanced hip-hop music-ed short about a bicycle shop in West Philadelphia that teaches local kids how to repair bikes to more traditional documentaries about a cemetery, a community garden, a swim club, and everything in between. The aim is to help organizations produce media for their own archives, educational purposes, and/or for broadcast via public television, community cable channels, and public screenings at traditional venues and outdoor events.

Continue reading »

Nonprofits a Bright Spot in National Jobs Picture

September 06, 2010

Jobs_pic That's the conclusion of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, who found, based on data from twenty-one states representing every region of the country, that nonprofit employment grew by an average of 2.5 percent per year between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, compared to an average decline of 3.3 percent for for-profit employment.

Hopkins researchers also found that:

  • nonprofit job growth during the recession (2.5 percent) was stronger than it had been from 2001-07 (2.3 percent)
  • for-profit job growth during the earlier period lagged nonprofit job growth, increasing on average just 0.2 percent annually, a pattern that prevailed in almost every state studied
  • some fields fared worse than others; in the field of social assistance, for example, average annual job growth was only 1.4 percent in the 2007-09 period, and was actually negative in some states, including the District of Columbia (-4.5 percent), Maine (-1.5 percent), Indiana (-.9 percent), and Ohio (-0.8 percent)

(Click here for charts, table, and prelimnary analysis.)

"That nonprofit organizations have been able to increase employment in the face of the most severe recession since the Great Depression is a testament to the effectiveness of the federal stimulus program, which channeled assistance to many nonprofit organizations, and to the resilience and determination of nonprofit leaders and those who support them in the public and private sectors," said study author Lester M. Salamon. "But this accomplishment, impressive though it is, still leaves many needs unmet and many organizations and regions under severe strain."

The data do not directly support Salamon's assertion about the effectiveness of the federal stimulus program. And even if it eventually proves to be the case, I'm not sure it's cause for celebration. The flow of stimulus funds is slowing, and nonprofits that benefitted from those funds soon will be scrambling to replace them. More importantly, while American workers have been conditioned over the last thirty years to grab any job in a storm, what they really need on this Labor Day are good-paying jobs with good benefits. Nonprofit sector jobs rarely fit that description, and growth in the sector should not be viewed as a panacea for what ails the U.S. economy.

-- 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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