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27 posts from July 2011

Weekend Link Roundup (July 30 - 31, 2011)

July 31, 2011

Dog-days Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Keeping a Close Eye blog, Aaron Dorfman looks at the largest grants awarded in recent years for advocacy and organizing efforts and wonders whether (and how) we should be keeping score.

Corporate Philanthropy

Writing on Forbes's CSR Blog, James Epstein-Reeves explains the difference between corporate social responsibility and philanthropy. "You see, CSR is much broader than philanthropy," writes Epstein-Reeves. "CSR looks to change business operations in a way that maximizes a company's benefits to society and minimizes the risks and costs to society -- all while keeping the company focused on creating business and brand value. The idea that a company can be socially responsible while only and exclusively focusing on philanthropy is as old-fashioned as my grandmother serving me Ovaltine while we huddle around waiting for the latest news from the telegraph...."


On her Good Intentions Are Not Enough blog, Saudra Schimmelpfennig has some advice for donors interested in supporting microfinance projects.

Nonprofit Management

Hosting this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, Britt Bravo shares a selection of blog posts chock-full of time-management tips.


In a recent post on the Deep Social Impact blog, Ellen Remmer makes a case for why passion "can play a critical role in achieving deep social impact" in philanthropy.

Sean Stannard-Stockton argues in a Tactical Philanthropy blog post that foundations should "subject themselves to external accountability as a tactic to achieve better results." Writes Stannard-Stockton:

I think foundations should be free to run their programs in any way they like within the bounds of the law. But for foundations that strive to be effective in their giving, some sort of "pre-registration" of new programs could be very helpful in keeping them focused and motivated.

Self-discipline is critical for success in every domain of human endeavors. But self-discipline is hard. One savvy way to stay on track towards the results you seek is to voluntarily create systems that maintain pressure on you to perform. We all face moments when we're tired and can’t keep up. Or moments of judgment when we need to grade ourselves but go too easy and choose not to face hard facts. Creating a system of external accountability can help us accomplish our goals, whether those goals are getting in shape or running effective philanthropic programs.


On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz wonders how "the choices we make organizationally reflect our view of who is a stakeholder in an issue? And how is this changing with technology?"

"Technology makes it possible for a charity of any size to deliver a far better experience at very little cost," writes Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing blog. "We have no excuse not to do better, and it's dangerous not to improve our engagement drastically...."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July)

As is our custom on the last day of the month, here's a short list of the most visited PhilanTopic posts in July. Enjoy.

What's the best thing you've read/watched/heard this month?

Message to New Nonprofit Fellows: Tips and Reflections

July 29, 2011

(Today is the last day of Reilly Kiernan's year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she looked at how Millennials are changing the face of philanthropy.)

Good_luck It's hard to believe a year has passed and my fellowship at the Foundation Center is at an end. Over the past twelve months I've learned a tremendous amount about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. But before I embark on the next stage of my career in public service, I'd like to share a few tips with new nonprofit fellows looking to get as much as possible out of their fellowship experience:

1. Recognize that you have a lot to learn. As a fellow, you're probably just starting out in a field where your experience is relatively limited. Don't be afraid to ask questions and acknowledge the limitations of your experience. When I started my fellowship at the Foundation Center, I knew very little about the world of organized philanthropy. I was eager, however, to soak up as much knowledge as I could, and I knew that being honest about my own ignorance would pay off in the end. I was also lucky to be assigned to the Educational Services unit here. By being involved in the events and classes the center offers, I was exposed to and absorbed much of the content we teach to grantseekers. What's more, the lessons I learned weren't restricted to course content. I also gained experience working in a large, established nonprofit and grew to appreciate some of the dynamics of that kind of environment.

2. Recognize what you have to offer. Even though you may be new to an organization and unfamiliar with its work and culture, you still have plenty to offer. Indeed, your insights can be invaluable -- especially if you approach the work with fresh eyes. Don't be afraid to speak up, share your opinions, and engage with co-workers. I know my colleagues here at the center will attest to the fact I had few reservations about speaking up during meetings. Thankfully, I quickly learned that the organization welcomed my opinions and ideas. For instance, I was more social media-savvy than many of my colleagues, and so it made sense for me to assume responsibility for coordinating the social media efforts of the center's New York library.

3. Do whatever you're asked to do...with gusto. In the early days and weeks of your fellowship, you probably won't be given the most interesting tasks. It's hard, at any organization, to find work for a new employee that doesn't require certain specialized skills and experience. That doesn't mean your initial contributions won't be valuable or appreciated. If you're asked to populate a spreadsheet, proofread a letter, or even stuff envelopes, do so enthusiastically. Recognize that until you get your feet under you and are fully up to speed with the organization's work and culture, it takes work for your supervisor to provide you with work. And even if you're eager and prepared to help in more substantial ways, he/she simply may not have the time to train you on specific tasks right away. Jumping up and volunteering to take on any task is a great way to demonstrate that you care about the organization and are serious about its mission and your ability to contribute to that mission.

4. Don't be afraid to show initiative. Although it's important to do whatever you're asked to do -- however mundane it may be -- it's also important to to show initiative and find projects for yourself that are both worthwhile and fulfilling. I know, this can be a challenge. But having an honest discussion with your supervisor is a great first step in making sure you get assigned to tasks that are challenging, take advantage of your particular skill set, and allow you to contribute in truly meaningful ways to the broader work of the organization. My job over the past twelve months has involved a nice mix of recurring tasks (like helping out with classes and events), short-term tasks (proofreading materials, writing blog posts, editing video), and longer-term projects (planning my own event to introduce the "next generation" to the Foundation Center, coming up with a social media strategy for the NYC office, working with a colleague to develop a series of videos featuring user testimonials and class content). By making sure to balance my various responsibilities, I was able to stay busy and, more importantly, take ownership of my daily and weekly schedules.

5. Don't forget about the future. Time flies so quickly that if you don't take the time to think about the work you're doing, the things you're learning, and how your future plans are materializing, it's quite possible that twelve months will pass before you've had a chance to take stock of your fellowship experience. I've been fortunate to have been embedded within the center's professional development infrastructure, which facilitates this kind of reflection on an ongoing basis. For one thing, I've been able to contribute to this blog! I've also had regular structured meetings and performance evaluations with my supervisor, was assigned an unofficial "mentor" who shared great advice and served as a supportive sounding board for ideas, and was able to participate in the center's professional development group, which brings together entry- and mid-level employees from across the organization to talk about their work and hear senior managers speak about their own career paths. I'm incredibly grateful the center provided these avenues for me, and appreciate more than ever how valuable this kind of reflection can be.

It's been a pleasure to contribute to PhilanTopic, and I'll continue to follow it as I forge a career in public service. Until we meet again, thanks for reading.

-- Reilly Kiernan

Sustainability: It Requires More Than Money (Pt. 2)

July 28, 2011

(This is the second of three posts on organizational sustainability by Kevin Monroe, founder and managing partner of X Factor Consulting LLC and FC Atlanta's Expert in Residence for July. In his previous post, he wrote about the importance of producing, documenting, packaging, and promoting program results.)

Kevin_Monroe_medium Sustainability is intentional, not accidental. Program sustainability is an outcome of strategic leadership, planning, and action occurring within an organization rather than mere chance and happenstance. In my previous post, I focused on the necessity of producing, documenting, packaging, and promoting program results as sustainability imperatives, because when people appreciate your efforts, they invest in your impact (results). This post explores relationships as a fundamental aspect of program sustainability, while the third post in the series will take a closer look at resources as the final element.

Relationships Are Organizational Assets

Relationships are primary, all else is derivative. Think about it: How has your organization and its programs benefited from relationships? If you're willing, invest a few moments now and grab a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the middle (or open a two-column document) and in the first column list some of your organization's most significant accomplishments (funding obtained, partnerships established, key staff hired, influential board members recruited, etc.). Now, in the second column, list the relationships that were either directly or indirectly involved in making those accomplishments a reality. I bet you have relationships correlated to every good thing that has happened. And that confirms something my father used to tell me: "It's not what you know, but who you know that counts." Countless times in my youth, I attempted to argue with him. Funny, isn't it, how our perspective changes as we grow older.

Your organization already has a network of relationships. The size may vary based on a number of factors -- how long your organization has existed, how many board members you have or have had through the years, the number of volunteers, community stakeholders, investors (funders and donors), staff, and partners connected to your organization. But intentionally developing new and maintaining existing relationships is a key to sustainability.

Let's explore three key concepts that illustrate the power of your relational network.

Concept 1: Dunbar's Number

The first comes from Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford and author of The Human Story. Dunbar has determined that there's a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. That number has come to be known as Dunbar's number, and he puts it at between 100 and 230, with a common value of 150. Hold that thought for a moment and let's explore the second concept, the law of attraction.

Concept 2: The Law of Attraction

Simply put, the law of attraction is the notion that like attracts like, or as my mother used to say, "Birds of a feather" -- you know the rest -- "flock together."

By combining the law of attraction with Dunbar's number, we can hypothesize that many of the people who are currently involved with our organization know other people that would also be drawn to our organization. Even if we take an extremely conservative approach to the numbers, I would suggest that everyone who is currently involved with your organization could identity ten, fifteen, even twenty other people who might have interest in your work. Think about the potential expansion of your relational network.

Concept 3: Six Degrees of Separation

If we interject a third key relational concept, things really get interesting. "Six degrees of separation" refers to the relational connectedness of our social networks -- i.e., that no one is more than six steps removed from anyone else in the world. If you combine the six degrees concept with the two other concepts, you begin to get an appreciation for the power of your existing relational network.

You don't know everyone you need to know. But everyone you know knows someone you need to know. So how do you leverage your relational network to enhance your sustainability? By being intentional. We see four key ingredients to a robust relationship strategy: identify, connect, nurture, and engage.


Invest time in identifying your organization's existing relational network. There are several ways to approach this. Here are two simple things you can do to begin mining and mapping your relational network:

1) Mine all of your existing databases (consider yourself fortunate if you have all of this in a single database) to identify all past or present relationships. Develop lists of volunteers, investors (individuals or institutions that have provided funding), past board members, partners, and (in some cases) clients.

2) Engage your board (you can also do this with staff and key volunteers) in relationship mapping for your organization. Identify the key sectors in your community that are pertinent to your organization (business, health care, faith, law enforcement, education, civic organizations, philanthropy, government, media, etc.). Use flip charts and make one page for each sector. Then develop lists of the key contacts each board member has in each of these sectors.

There are dozens of other ways to identify people for your network (just think about your social media outlets). It's easily conceivable that any organization can readily identify at least a hundred (perhaps several hundred) individuals or institutions that might be interested in its results and work. Once you've identified them, look for meaningful ways to connect.


Develop multiple avenues for creatively connecting with individuals and institutions. This can occur in very natural, organic ways that include people you know setting appointments and making introductions to people you don't but should know. In many organizations, board members (or others) set an appointment for a breakfast or lunch meeting, coffee or tea, or a round of golf. These are wonderful opportunities to initiate relationships with others who might ultimately invest their time, talent, treasure, or "touch" in your organization. But remember: the first meeting is just an opportunity for you to get to know one another and begin to develop a relationship. (It's not the time to ask for money!)

Other groups are comfortable with a more formal but still intimate approach to the initial connection and will host small informational meetings (breakfast, "lunch and learns," site visits). Regardless of the format (one-on-one, small group), the purpose is the same -- to connect with people who might want to get involved. Your organization needs to find the right mix of opportunities to connect. Once you do, it's time to nurture the relationship.


Nurturing is an important aspect of all relationships and takes myriad forms. Handwritten thank-you notes are still incredibly valuable and make a great impact. We encourage leaders to load all their key contacts in their phones and when they find a few spare moments in a day -- stuck in traffic, waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting, during a long commute -- to reach out and touch someone with a personal call or voicemail message. Keep it short and succinct. If they're a current investor, thank them for their support and share a short success story.

Make it a point to make the most of your limited time and find ways to naturally and continually nurture relationships. Think about Dunbar's number; you may have upwards of two hundred-plus people with whom you want and need to nurture relationships, so find meaningful ways to do so regularly.


Finally, you want to engage (and continue to engage) those with whom you have relationships. Along the way you'll discover the ways in which they most want to engage with and serve your organization. But whether they decide to invest their time, talent, treasure, or touch (or, better yet, all of these) -- and when the time is right -- you'll need to be ready to provide them with the opportunity to get involved. For some, the initial involvement may be as a volunteer (time); for others it may be a financial investment (treasure), while for others it may be an in-kind offer of a specific service (talent) or an offer to be an advocate or networker (touch).

Of course, all of these are elements in a virtuous cycle, and you will continually find new ways to connect, nurture, and engage people who, hopefully, because of the law of attraction ("If I like you and what you do, I will..."), are willing to introduce you to others in their sphere of influence (six degrees).

Relationships are primary and everything else derives from them. From a program sustainability perspective, your goal is to identify as many individuals and institutions as possible that value your results (outcomes) and discover ways to connect and nurture relationships with them so as to engage them as partners who will provide resources that allow you to continue producing outstanding results.

Good luck!

-- Kevin Monroe

Sustainability: It Requires More Than Money (Pt. 1)

July 26, 2011

(Editor's note: this is the first of three posts from Kevin Monroe, founder and managing partner of X Factor Consulting LLC, and FC Atlanta's Expert in Residence for July.)

Kevin_Monroe_medium What's needed to sustain programs and/or services launched or expanded with grant funding?

For many, the first answer that comes to mind is money. Yet most of us know, from both our personal and professional lives, that money alone is not the ultimate solution to our problems. Ironically, for many organizations, too much money too early (or at the wrong time) weakens, rather than strengthens, the organization. Indeed, misunderstanding about sustainable funding abounds in the leadership ranks of many social benefit (nonprofit) organizations. I've watched organizations whose board members equated the announcement of a large grant award to winning the lottery and somehow thought the whole amount was available for discretionary spending and now their financial woes were ended. Some have regrettably slacked off, or worse, discontinued other fund development activities after receiving large grants.

If program sustainability does not hinge on money, then on what does it hang? We live in an age where people long for instant answers and silver-bullet solutions, and while providing a sure-fire sustainability silver-bullet solution would be beneficial to my bank account, I don't have one. However, what I do have to offer is an approach that is available and scalable to every organization -- not just those with an elite board and large endowment fund (though both of those are enviable assets).

Our approach to program sustainability focuses on three fundamentals that apply broadly to all organizations and programs. We call them the 3-Rs. And just as the 3-Rs of education don't include everything a student needs to know to master every subject, they are the foundational elements of a good education. Our 3-Rs are the fundamental elements essential to program sustainability. They include: results, relationships, and resources.

For existing programs, our first focus is results, and we see four key elements involved: produce, document, package, and promote.

1. Produce

What results does your program produce? (NOTE: if your program does not produce results, sustainability is a moot point as well as an exercise in futility.) Addressing program sustainability requires organizations to produce meaningful and measurable results. Results is the synonym we use for outcomes. We believe we live in a time where outcomes have overshadowed outputs. Therefore, investors in the common community good (whether individuals or institutions) want to know what's different about your clients or communities as a result of your program. It's great to have the count of how many people were served, but to what end?

2. Document

It's not enough to produce good results or outcomes. Organizations must have a system for documenting their outcomes. Unless you have a system for documenting your results, it's as though they didn't happen. (This stems from the social service maxim, If it's not documented, it didn't happen.) Program sustainability is enhanced when your documentation addresses your outcomes, not just your outputs. While it's great that you know how many service encounters were provided (outputs) under the grant, the real value, at least as it relates to sustainability, comes from documenting what's different for your clients or communities as a result of your program (outcomes). For example, an output of a job-readiness program may be the number of participants who completed the training program (acquired employable job skills along with interviewing and interpersonal skills). A short-term outcome would be the number of participants who obtain jobs and are working full-time and receiving a living wage.

In my experience consulting with government-funded human service projects, I've noticed that many grantees produced excellent results under the program and may have done great work documenting those results, but still those programs failed to be sustained. Their failures weren't program failures as much as they were shortcomings in marketing, communications, and community engagement (sustainability planning and implementation). The final two elements related to results are, arguably, the most critical in terms of sustainability: packaging and promoting your results.

3. Package

Data in and of itself is essentially useless. However, data is absolutely essential to information and knowledge. What do I mean? You can't provide funders reams of reports and expect them to sort through volumes of data looking for information about your programs or knowledge about your outcomes. Furthermore, it's important to realize that not all outcomes are equal, which makes it important to learn what outcomes are most valuable to the funder in question.

Package your results (outcomes) to showcase program impact. Many organizations have mounds of data but haven't taken the time to mine their data to find the jewels whose sparkle catches the gaze of current or potential funders and attracts both their attention and investment (initial or subsequent).

Several avenues exist for packing your results; here are a few. Focus on a change in status for your clients or communities. Perhaps your program helped move people from being homeless to housed, unemployed (even unemployable) to employed, dependent to self-sufficient. These are examples of high-impact outcomes. Another option for packaging your results to garner funder interest and investment is focusing on the return on investment (ROI) of your program. Perhaps you've leveraged massive amounts of volunteer hours or in-kind support and therefore can document significant ROI for your program. Your program may be an extremely cost-effective alternative, especially when juxtaposed with the currently funded options. For example, according to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, it costs South Carolina $300 a day to incarcerate a juvenile offender compared to $9.90 per day for intensive community-based case management and afterschool centers. For obvious reasons, the department has increased their investments in community-based corrections.

Mining your program data and extracting high-impact outcomes are ways to package your program to promote sustainability. There is one final piece, and that is to promote your results to those you know are (or may be) interested.

4. Promote

Our fourth and final element in terms of sustainability strategies is promoting your results. Hopefully you have a mix of both objective and subjective data to share consisting of reports and success stories. You see, some people are motivated by the data while others are moved by the story. I see value in having both -- the hard data which shows that your results are not an accident or a fluke but are replicable. However, real-life success stories have a way of making the data come alive rather than remaining a column of statistics.

This is strategic messaging at its best. Strategic messaging is the art of getting to know your target audience well enough to understand its motivations, interests, and desires. This allows you to skillfully promote your results in a way that best connects with your audience so they see your program intersects with their desires and advances their interests. It's important to note that you are not changing who you are or what you do, but promoting your program (or those aspects of your program) that are most appealing to the investor (funder).

It's also important to know the medium or media that your audiences prefer and, to the best of your abilities, use those media to promote your message to your audiences. Additionally, we encourage organizations to think broadly about other individuals or institutions that may, or should, care about your results if they were appropriately packaged and promoted. We’ll explore that more in next week's blog post when we examine the other two Rs -- resources and relationships.

Parting Thoughts

As you think about your results, I encourage you to remember that people appreciate your efforts but invest in your impact. While it's nice to be appreciated, you need investment to sustain your program. In your dialogue with current or prospective investors (funders), focus on the impact or outcomes of your program rather than its structure and activities. And invest some time to reflect on your current practices regarding your results and what steps you can take to better produce, document, package, and promote your results to enhance the sustainability of your programs.

-- Kevin Monroe

Pro-Voice and Pro-Chaos

July 25, 2011

(Regular contributor Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. In her last post, she shared seven tips for finding stories in your organization.)

Journey_goddesses Typically, stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are set in place and time. They feature characters who struggle with choices and consequences. They hinge on conflict and its resolution. The listener/viewer/reader can hear/see/comprehend that something has happened to someone.

One of the most ubiquitous storylines is the hero's journey. This is the mono-myth found in every culture: an individual sets out on a journey, encounters a challenge, and returns changed. The hero's journey is a story of personal or community transformation. It is the story of Jesus and Luke Skywalker, of Rosa Parks and César Chávez.

It is also the story with which philanthropy and advocacy is most familiar. In the quest to secure funding and other types of support, the stories we use are usually chosen for their effectiveness in illustrating a preferred solution to a defined problem.

Exhale, a community-based organization working to transform the way in which abortion is discussed, abstains from pre-selecting a single version of a hero's journey. The organization isn't interested in sharing a piece of reality; it wants to share the chaotic, muddled mess that is reality.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 23-24, 2011)

July 24, 2011

Us-heat-DOME Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Writing on the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president Albert Ruesga urges readers to consider the ur-question in philanthropy: What should my goals be, and why? In other words, "How do independent foundations, which have almost complete freedom in the choice of what they can fund, rationalize their choice of grantmaking goals?"


On his Light on Leadership blog in the Washington Post, NYU Wagner School professor Paul Light suggests that nonprofits, "having been pushed to behave more like businesses for years...are now being treated as such by federal courts." Indeed, a federal appeals court judge recently decided "to allow states to regulate the Girl Scout cookie business the way they would a commercial business." Writes Light:

Given the court decisions challenging commercial activity, the downturn in giving, and continued government negligence, nonprofit leaders need to think harder about transformation. They must attack the duplication and overlap through consolidation with their competitors; flatten their bloated hierarchies and confusing management structures; invest in the frontline workforce that is straining under rising case loads; and harvest these savings for basic investments in information technologies, training and modest compensation increases needed to assure high performance.

Nonprofit leaders also have to get much better at measuring the value they produce. They have relied too long on the public's empathy for their revenues, when survey after survey shows that givers want measurable value for their dollars. Americans understand that there is great need out there, but they are often confused about the impact of their dollars. They continue to believe that nonprofits have the right priorities but waste too much money. They want greater efficiency, not more pictures of needy children.

If a nonprofit cannot explain how every dollar given generates more than a dollar in results, it should close its doors....

Is he right? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. (H/t Phil Cubeta.)

Continue reading »

Briefly Noted: 'The Idea of America'

July 23, 2011

From the July 25 issue of The New Yorker:

"The Americans revolted [against the British] not out of actual suffering but out of reasoned principle," [Gordon S.] Wood argues in a set of probing essays which explore how the principles of these revolutionaries became distorted by events outside of their control. Many of the Founders imagined republicanism as an antidote to the private pursuit of wealth, and hoped that America's politicians would be disinterested guardians of the public good, drawn from a self-sacrificing elite. When the emergence of rampant commercialism and partisan politics undermined such hopes, Federalists used the Constitution to introduce into our democracy a monarchical element, which has become increasingly pronounced. Such contradictions, Wood says, help explain our perpetual grapple with the Founders' ideas, "our despairing effort to make them one with us, to close that terrifying gap that always seems to exist between them and us."

As Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia Intensifies, U.S. Relaxes Aid Policy

July 21, 2011

(Nick Scott is assistant to the publisher at PND. In his last post, he wrote about the implications of the Patriot Act on U.S. disaster relief efforts in the Horn of Africa.)

HornofAfricaFamine_illus In a post last week, I criticized the Patriot Act's "material support" clause for rigidly preventing U.S. development agencies and NGOs from distributing food aid directly to the parts of southern Somalia under the control of Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab. Since then, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa has intensified, the United Nations has declared a famine in parts of Somalia, and many have accused developed countries of not doing enough to help.

In a significant policy shift, our own government has pledged an additional $28 million for the region and indicated that the money could be used in parts of southern Somalia under the control of al-Shabaab if assurances are provided by the World Food Programme and other aid recipients that al-Shabaab will not benefit from the aid.

Realistically, it may be impossible for the UN or NGOs to provide such guarantees, but USAID deputy administrator Donald Steinberg told the BBC that the agency's goal was

not to play a game of "gotcha" with a UN agency or any other group that is brave enough to go in and provide that assistance. What we need is assurances from the World Food Programme and from other agencies, the United Nations or other agencies, both public and in the non-governmental sector, who are willing to go into Somalia who will tell us affirmatively that they are not being taxed by al-Shabaab, they are not being subjected to bribes from al-Shabaab, that they can operate unfettered.

This new flexibility in the face of an urgent humanitarian crisis is to be welcomed, and may even signal a policy shift with implications beyond the current situation in the Horn of Africa. For now though, the situation remains critical and more aid is badly needed. Here are some ways you can help:

We'll keep you apprised of developments in the region as we learn of them.

(Chart: Reuters)

-- Nick Scott

Q&A With Bobbi Silten, President, Gap Foundation

July 19, 2011

(Aaron Hurst is founding president of the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit organization that makes business talent available to organizations working to improve society. As part of an ongoing series of interviews with the heads of corporate foundations, Hurst recently spoke with Bobbi Silten, president of the Gap Foundation and senior vice president of global responsibility for Gap Inc., about her career, her passion for service, and how her background in business is key to running a successful foundation. A member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, Silten is a driving force behind Reimagining Service, a multi-sector coalition dedicated to exploring the challenges and opportunities of increasing social impact through volunteer engagement. This Q&A& originally appeared in the Huffington Post. To watch our "Flip chat" with Hurst, click here.)

Gap_Bobbi_Silten Aaron Hurst: Each generation seems to have such a different outlook on life and social change. What generation do you identify with and why?

Bobbi Silten: I'm technically a boomer, but I'm on the tail end of the boom, so I haven't felt as connected to this generation. I don't feel like I'm in that life stage, so it's different. I'm very curious about Gen Y and how optimistic they are, how much they are open to sharing their beliefs and possibilities. They're very much a generation that believes in innovation and technology solving a lot of things, and I like that hopefulness. In a lot of ways, they have that same kind of boomer optimism that it's a world of possibility.

AH: Definitely. I ask because one of the things I like about my generation, Gen X, which I see in you is the desire to leverage business for good.

BS: I think about the business side of things: creating a vision and strategy, converting that into an operating plan, setting goals, holding people accountable -- it's the same process. I don't lead any differently than I led in business. I think the biggest difference is when you're on the commercial side, it is inherently competitive. What's funny is that I never thought I was going to be in business. I thought I would run a nonprofit.

AH: What ever happened to that? What changed your mind?

BS: When I finished school, I ended up going into business with the social goal in mind. I wanted to change the way we marketed to women, and that's why I went into advertising. My senior thesis was on mass media's relationship to the onset of anorexia.

AH: One thing led to another, then you were selling khakis, and then...

BS: I almost quit in my late 20s. But it was actually Peter, my husband -- he defends people on death row -- who convinced me to stay in business. He told me businesses can do a lot to change the world, and he said if you can move up and influence business to do that, you can make a big impact. He's a wise, wise man.

AH: You are at the top of your game and at the height of your career. I wonder if most CEOs would ever even consider that someone with your background would want to run a foundation -- that it can attract that kind of talent.

BS: I tell my team all the time that my vision for the work we do is that, one day, it's going to be a deeper part of the business. It's not going to be a department anymore. I want to make sure all of my players keep their business skills sharp because one day they're going to go back [to the business side]. I understand how value gets created on the business side. I often think, How do I help the business leaders understand how this work creates value for everyone, and that this is an investment worth making -- not as a charitable cause, but truly as an investment to raise things for everyone?

I think what has happened to HR in the last thirty years is a great parallel. HR has moved from being a department to really being a way of thinking about talent management and development, and most corporations have experts at the center who are staying on top of the latest ideas and innovations in the field.

AH: How has the work of the Gap Foundation changed in the last few years?

BS: A little over five years ago, we identified our people and their talent as our greatest strengths. Being a company that has a lot of employees, we said we have to leverage this group beyond just their time. While time is valuable, we think that talent is a multiplier. Now, 100 percent of our youth-serving grants all have what's called "link and leverage," which is they're linking to a company asset beyond cash. We also leverage internal talent pro bono to get our work done as a foundation. From strategic planning to surveys to Web site redesign, employees from different areas of the company volunteer to help us meet our goals.

It's been hugely transformative for our foundation to integrate skilled volunteering into our work. We couldn't have the kind of community impact we are having if we only relied on our cash.

AH: How do you know whether the strategy is working?

BS: I had a nonprofit leader call me last week to tell me how much she's grown as a leader because of the Gap Leadership Initiative, a program that helps nonprofit leaders become even more effective by leveraging the talents of our Human Resources team and some of our company's best practices on developing leaders. It's not because of all the money we were giving them. It's a small organization, but she has essentially doubled her revenue in the last four years. She told me, "I have grown so much because of your volunteers and what you've been teaching me as part of the Leadership Initiative." It wasn't about "thank you" for the cash we gave them, which I think is really cool.

AH: What does it take to get CEOs to see the business value of philanthropy?

BS: Part of it is showing them the multiple levels of value it creates. I don't think there's just one door you open that appeals to everyone. Some people are more wired to be more community-minded. I'm a big believer in creating a sustainable cycle, and in order to do that, you have to think about all the stakeholders that are involved in your community investment and what they are getting out of it.

AH: Between Reimagining Service and the White House, you are doing a lot of coalition work. Why have you taken this approach to social change?

BS: Coalition work is important because it fosters diverse thinking. It needs to have its little collisions before it rests in a place where the most important things have surfaced, and it's not just a diluted or a lowest common denominator. With Reimagining Service, the different pieces that have been brought to the table have created a more compelling solution, and it's not a solution where you have to do every piece and part in order for it to work.

AH: Why did you decide to take part in Reimagining Service?

BS: There was an a-ha moment of "Whoa, there's going to be a lot of people volunteering, and are we ready? And are these good intentions going to turn into impact that means something of value to the community?" All of us who are involved in Reimagining Service were in violent agreement that there was a need to address this opportunity.

AH: When I started Taproot and started working in the volunteering and service fields, I was pretty shocked by the amount of territoriality and politics I encountered.

BS: I think that was a reaction to change. The things Taproot has done in the ten years you've been doing this work have been game-changing. I think change is scary, but when you look at [the past], it's those who change and embrace change, as scary as that can be, who ultimately succeed. As Don Fisher [co-founder of Gap Inc.] liked to say, "Change or fail."

-- Aaron Hurst

The Holstee Manifesto

July 18, 2011

Via Maria Popova (aka @brainpicker) and @acumenfund:


Training for Nonprofits That Sticks? Yes, It’s Possible!

(Susan Misra is associate director of Program and Grants Management and Capacity Building at TCC Group, a national management consulting firm that provides strategy, evaluation, and capacity-building services to funders, nonprofits, and corporate citizenship programs. This post originally appeared on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.)

Go_sign Trainings are hardly a new (or exciting) topic when it comes to capacity building for nonprofits. But sometimes they still hold the power to surprise.

A prime example came up recently in a major capacity-building initiative that my colleagues and I managed in which our data revealed that one-time trainings brought some of the best results. According to conventional wisdom, this shouldn't have been the case. Typically trainings are regarded as an unlikely path to lasting change; the thinking is that whatever learning they produce doesn't stick. For this reason, we decided to try out some new ideas when we helped design the Strengthening Organizations to Mobilize Californians initiative (click here to read the just-released "lessons learned" report).

Funded by the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the initiative involved twenty-seven community organizing nonprofits in California, including the Alliance for a Better Community, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Focused on improving organizational capacity, the initiative ultimately sought to meet the funders' broader goal of supporting democracy through more inclusive decision-making.

Trainings were one item on a broad menu of learning community activities provided over two years, from 2008 to 2010. All told, the initiative offered twelve trainings, eighteen peer-exchange sessions, and two convenings. We were eager for the opportunity to compare these different elements. And one of our biggest questions was whether the trainings would succeed, and if so, which ingredients would lead to that success.

Our team found through an evaluation process that trainings generated some of the initiative's biggest gains. Those who attended the sessions on communication, for instance, noted marked improvement in their ability to articulate their organization's vision, develop a communications plan, implement that plan, and manage change over time.

We were pleased -- but we weren't completely surprised. The findings supported ideas about capacity building that our firm, TCC Group, has been exploring for years and increasingly putting into practice. Indeed, our evaluations of more than fifty capacity-building projects over the past decade have shown us that the reason many organizations fail to achieve change is that they focus on preparing leaders, rather than actual implementation. We use the parlance of "Ready, Set, Go." Skills-building, reports, and plans (i.e., "Ready" and "Set"), we have found, will only take people so far. In the end, they need to be able to take action (i.e., "Go").

Our idea was to make sure that "Go" happened during the training. Discussions focused on practices that work. As one participant put it, the dialogue "allowed us to compare our strengths and weaknesses with other peers and learn from their experiences." The trainings also featured hands-on worksheets, role plays, and action planning. Last but not least, they focused on concrete takeaways to guide immediate improvements.

Three other characteristics set the trainings apart. First, they were tailored to small organizations that were struggling to make change with limited resources. The practices presented, for instance, required a reallocation of these limited resources -- not additional time or money. Second, whole teams were encouraged to attend, again underscoring a focus on forging action plans and following through. Third, organizations volunteered to participate. Those that came, as a result, were highly motivated regarding the training topic in question.

"Go" is all about the time and space to think not just about big ideas but the details that really matter in implementing change. Preparing, of course, is important, but execution takes something more -- practice, feedback, realistic expectations, and insights from talking with others about their experiences. "Go" is about rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work, and for our team and many participants it managed to make trainings feel exciting and relevant.

What has your experience with organizational effectiveness training for nonprofits been? Have you been able to make it more action-oriented and "sticky"? What are your suggestions for how funders can go beyond support for assessment and planning ("Ready" and "Set") activities and provide better support for implementation ("Go") work through training, clinics, peer exchange, and coaching? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Susan Misra

Weekend Link Roundup (July 16 - 17, 2011)

July 17, 2011

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

Capacity Building

At Beth's Blog, Paul Connolly of the TCC Group argues that "fortifying nonprofits' fundraising capability" is not a "no-brainer." In fact, new research conducted by the TCC Group on the Packard Foundation's nonprofit capacity-building efforts suggests that while "fundraising capacity is essential...it needs to happen in conjunction with solid leadership and organizational learning."


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Nathan Henderson-James, online director at the Leadership Center for the Common Good, commends the Freedom from Fear Award program for its use of social media tools like Twitter to crowd-source nominations for the award. "Not only does this approach have the ability to help expand the potential grant pool beyond those with the most 'insider' knowledge," writes Henderson-James, "[but] it also has the ability to reach potentially deserving grantees from traditionally underserved communities, because those communities tend to be among the most voracious users of social media."


"Never accept a gift that costs your nonprofit more than it's worth," writes Stephen L. Goldstein on the Fundraising Guru blog. "A gift of a collection of ancient coins to a historical museum may be interesting, but impractical to receive because of prohibitive insurance costs. Sometimes, you must say 'No.'"

On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz shares findings from the most recent installment of Blackbaud's Index of Charitable Giving, which found that "charitable organizations experienced an uptick in donations in May to the tune of 11.3 percent."


On his Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, Mike Burns shares a few thoughts about effective nonprofit board governance.

Amy Ellsworth and Lisa Spalding of the Philanthropic Initiative wonder what a new foundation board member is to do when he/she observes "a number of bad behaviors that have become normalized." "How do you approach a difficult subject? How do you determine the best people to talk to?" ask Ellsworth and Spalding. Have you ever been around a situation like the one they describe? What's your advice? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Guest blogging on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation reflects on the challenges and opportunities facing program officers, many of whom are well positioned to facilitate collaboration among nonprofits working to address the same problem.

In a three-part series on the Philanthropy Potluck blog, the Minnesota Council on Foundation's Chris Murakami Noonan shares insights from program officers at MCF member organizations, including some of their pet peeves with respect to the grant application process, tips on how to get on a PO's good side, and general advice for development officers.

On Kris Putnam-Walkerley's Philanthropy 411 blog, Richard Woo of the Russell Family Foundation explains why it's important for foundations to frame their "grants, programs, and initiatives" around "the relevance of those offerings and the nature of our relationship with the community." Writes Woo:

What if we offered a grant and no one wanted it?

We must emphasize our relationships even as we deliver grants, programs, and initiatives. When we pay as much attention to authentic relationship development as we do to program development -- there is a greater chance of becoming relevant. Relationships are boundless, programs are finite.


On the Idealist.org blog, Jeremy MacKechnie lists a number of new Web sites that have adopted the Groupon model to promote social good.

While tools like Visual.ly make it easy for organizations to "show" their data, "You still need to know what kind of data representation (picture) helps make what kind of point," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "No doubt about it, a picture is worth 1000 words. Especially if it shows us something we can't see in the raw numbers or raw words, shows relationships we wouldn't otherwise find, or sparks new questions. If not, it's just a cool picture."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Business, Poverty, and a New Value Equation

July 16, 2011

(Barbara Dyer is president & CEO of The Hitachi Foundation,  an independent nonprofit philanthropic organization established by Hitachi, Ltd. in 1985 whose mission is to forge an authentic integration of business actions and societal well-being in North America.)

Abrightidea In many communities, economic recovery feels very far away. Millions of Americans see little hope of joining, or rejoining, the economic mainstream. Part of the solution to their predicament requires a reformulation of how businesses define value -- an understanding that there are business practices that can boost both profit as well as the prospects of low-wealth residents in communities across the country. Entrepreneurs, big and small, are putting this value equation to work and proving the difference it can make for companies and communities alike.

While policy makers and businesses work to find a solution to lagging employment, it's clear the tried-and-true approaches of the past must be revamped to match present and future challenges. A new value must be added to the equation -- one that not only factors in the change but also prioritizes those who have been left behind.

Companies are finding ways to increase their profitability, for example, by investing in low-income workers. Even more interestingly, there are entrepreneurs starting businesses with the clear intention of creating viable enterprises aimed at helping to ameliorate poverty. These creative catalysts for change are banking on and profiting from a quality that motivates people in these communities to persevere and provide for their families.

Indeed, entrepreneurship has the potential to generate powerful solutions for many who are struggling to climb out of poverty. And it reinforces one of the core principles that Americans have passed down over generations: the belief that all of us, regardless of our background, can birth a concept that sets change in motion.

Entrepreneurs can and will use the tools of business to create innovative solutions that address persistent poverty. But while the concept of enterprise as a poverty-fighting strategy isn't new, in recent years we seem to have focused on the efforts of entrepreneurs to combat poverty overseas rather than here in the United States.

We launched The Hitachi Foundation's Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program in 2010 to focus on this gap, and today we have six vibrant examples of entrepreneurs -- all of whom were under the age of 30 when they started their businesses -- committed to making a difference while making a living. One entrepreneur is helping low-wealth agricultural and forestry communities across the United States through "cleantech" and soil enhancement. Two others operate a kitchen incubator for low-wealth immigrant food entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Recently, we completed the semifinal review of the applications for the 2011 program, and this October we will announce the selection of a new group of young entrepreneurs. But the most important thing to remember is that young entrepreneurs are working constantly to improve life in the United States, to develop profitable enterprises that tap into the potential of low-income communities, and to engage low-wealth individuals in the process. In communities across the country, they are putting a new value equation to work -- and, given recent economic indicators and the lackluster results generated by more traditional approaches, they merit our celebration and support.

-- Barbara Dyer

The Patriot Act and Aid: Focus on Somalia

July 15, 2011

(Nick Scott is assistant to the publisher at PND. In his last post, he wrote about the role of philanthropy in the Arab world's transition to democracy.)

Somalia_Food_Crisis With a severe drought once again visiting misery on the Horn of Africa, international NGOs and aid agencies are pouring into southern Somalia to provide food aid and other assistance in an attempt to blunt the looming humanitarian crisis. Due to a provision in the Patriot Act banning all "material support" for designated terrorist groups, organizations from the United States will not be among them.

Southern Somalia is controlled by al-Shabaab, an Islamist insurgent group classified as a terrorist organization by many Western countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Until last week, the group did not allow foreign aid organizations to operate in areas under its control, and it has a long history of committing violence against foreign relief workers and locals who partner with them. There's no questioning the group's grisly record of terrorism.

Still, after nearly twenty years of bloody civil war, Somalia is one of the most neglected and war-torn countries in the world, and its people desperately need outside help. It speaks volumes about the severity of the situation that refugees seeking food aid are leaving rural areas in droves for Mogadishu -- quite possibly the most dangerous city on earth. Since October, the U.S. has contributed $368 million in emergency relief to other countries in the region, so our inaction is not a result of indifference. It should also be acknowledged that Americans give generously to organizations like UNICEF, which recently resumed operations in southern Somalia.

Continue reading »

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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