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20 posts from August 2011

Christopher Doyle, Former Colleague and Friend (1982-2011)

August 07, 2011

Chris Doyle Like many, I was shocked to hear last week that a former Foundation Center employee, Christopher Doyle, had been involved in a fatal bicycling accident in New York City.

I first met Chris at an office holiday party in 2007. At the time, he was working in our Web Services department, helping to redesign or create from scratch various Foundation Center Web pages, blogs (including this one), and portals, including the 2010 Global Philanthropy Forum annual conference site. Although he eventually moved on to freelance full-time for a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, before settling down at the New School eight months ago, Chris stayed in close contact with his former colleagues, many of whom he frequently bumped into near Union Square Park or in the lobby/elevator at 79 Fifth Avenue.  

A talented musician, Chris spent much of his free time playing and recording music with friends. The few who had a chance to see him perform at Zebulon in Brooklyn will remember his barefoot drum playing; his free-spirited ways charmed many who knew him. 

There were so many things to love about Chris. But I'll especially remember how much he loved language, whether written and sung. From Bolaño to Mingus, he had an appreciation for artistic expression that was deeply felt and absolutely infectious.

Not having the right words to honor our dear friend, I turn to Charlie Daniels, who wrote this for his friend Ronnie Van Zant (of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd) in 1977:

A brief candle; both ends burning
An endless mile; a bus wheel turning
A friend to share the lonesome times
A handshake and a sip of wine
So say it loud and let it ring
We are all a part of everything
The future, present and the past
Fly on proud bird
You're free at last.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Chris' family during this very difficult time.

(Photo credit: Sarah Foley)

-- Regina Mahone

This Week in PubHub: Journalism/Media: The State of the News Media

August 04, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examine the challenges of implementing human rights protections and rights-based interventions.)

With ad revenues and circulation numbers falling, newsroom headcounts shrinking, and social media and the blogosphere commanding a growing share of reader eyeballs, news executives are doing a lot of hand-wringing and soul-searching these days. So where do things stand midway through 2011? This week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that look at the recent past and future prospects of journalism and the news media.

According to The State of the News Media 2011 (525 pages, HTML), the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual assessment of industry trends, all major sectors of the news media except newspapers saw revenues begin to recover in 2010. Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the report also points out that online advertising revenue in 2010 is expected to surpass print advertising revenue for the first time, and that 47 percent of Americans now use a mobile device to consume news. As new platforms are introduced, however, the greatest challenge for news providers, the report suggests, may lie in the layers of technological complexity created between content providers and the public -- and the lack of control over audience data.

Is the future of serious journalism necessarily a not-for-profit proposition? Or can good journalism still be good business in the twenty-first century? Those are some of the questions raised in A Way Forward: Solving the Challenges of the News Frontier (39 pages, PDF), a report based on a February 2010 conference sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Paley Center for Media at which faculty and students from twelve leading journalism schools discussed the impact of efforts such as the Carnegie-Knight Initiative as well as examples of enterprising nonprofit operations like Politico. The good news (according to the report)? By developing their multimedia skills, honing their entrepreneurial instincts, and building their personal brands, the journalistic stars of tomorrow can indeed connect to audiences and tap into revenue streams that will support their efforts.

Taking the Temperature: The Future of Global Health Journalism (32 pages, PDF), a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, considers how recent financial constraints on the news media, advocacy groups' use of social media, and other trends have affected global health news coverage. Among other things, the report argues that while mainstream media tend not to focus on policy-angle coverage of global health issues, specialized publications such as online-only news outlets and journals are becoming a major source of global health journalism. Even as outside funding makes possible continued coverage of global health issues in the mainstream, specialized, and public media, however, questions of sustainability and journalistic independence loom large.

What about government funding for public broadcasting? With such funding frequently held hostage to political debate, the U.S. public media system increasingly is underfunded compared with systems in other developed democracies, a recent report from the Free Press argues. The report, Public Media and Political Independence: Lessons for the Future of Journalism From Around the World (88 pages, PDF), describes efforts in fourteen countries to protect the autonomy of public media through multiyear funding, oversight organizations linked to audiences, and "buffer" agencies or boards designed to limit the influence of politics on the system. Funded by the Foundation to Promote Open Society, the report also highlights the viability and vitality of the public service model in the digital age and hints at ways the model can be strengthened in the U.S.

How has your relationship to news and the news media changed? Do you still subscribe to a print newspaper? Are you getting more of your news online or via mobile platforms? Has your news consumption become more ecumenical or more parochial? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports about journalism and media.

-- Kyoko Uchida

America in 1961

Barack Obama turns fifty today. To mark the occasion, Tech Ticker's Aaron Task chatted with Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, about a new AEI report (10 pages, PDF) that looks (among other things) at Gallup Poll results from fifty years ago to see what Americans cared about when the president was born in 1961.

The report found that the majority of Americans:

  • thought President Kennedy should navigate a political course "halfway" between the right and the left
  • approved of an increase in the Social Security payroll tax to pay for "old-age medical insurance"
  • opposed buying or selling products to Cuba "so long as Castro was in power"
  • were opposed to women wearing shorts in public but were okay with them wearing slacks
  • were against of increasing the price of a stamp to 5 cents

As Bowman tells Task, "[Americans] were worried about prices but they felt pretty good about government as a whole. Interestingly, at that point, we were much more worried about big labor. Big labor was seen as the biggest threat to the country followed by big business and hardly anyone thought big government would be a threat."

She also notes that as the baby boomers age, they are becoming more conservative -- and that's likely to be an important factor in the next two or three election cycles.

Fascinating stuff.

Sustainability: It Requires More Than Money (Pt. 3)

August 02, 2011

(This is the last in a series of three posts by Kevin Monroe, founder and managing partner of X Factor Consulting LLC and the Foundation Center-Atlanta's Expert in Residence for July. Before you dive in, catch up on Part 1 and Part 2. Both are excellent.)

Kevin_Monroe_medium I hope it's evident to those who have read my two previous posts why sustainability takes more than money. We began this conversation by focusing on the results that stem from your programs as the foundation for sustainability planning and then proceeded to explore relationships as valuable assets for your organization. In my third and final post, we finally focus on resources. However, even in this post we're looking at more than money.

Think with me for a moment. For those willing to invest the time in an exercise, get a sheet of paper or open a fresh document, select one of the programs your organization provides, and list all the resources needed to deliver that program. (If you're starting up a new program or organization this is a great planning exercise; if you have an existing logic model for your program, this will be a great help, as well.) Now, as you look at the list, what types of resources made your list? You probably included items like:

  • staff (paid or volunteer) -- this includes program staff directly involved in service delivery as well as support staff (the folks who keep everything running), executive staff, and board members;
  • facilities (whether it's your building or a space that's donated or shared) and all the maintenance and upkeep, including utilities;
  • transportation (if you own the vehicles then you also have maintenance, upkeep, and insurance, etc.);
  • computer hardware and software (both for your staff and clients, if that's part of your programming -- and, of course, those also require maintenance, updates, and technical support);
  • office equipment (telephones, copiers, printers, fax machines, etc.);
  • program content or curriculum, and, of course;
  • funding.

The list is far from complete, but it's a start. If you already have many of these items, then (good news) you have assets and resources. If, on the other hand, you're in the early stages of starting up a program (or organization), then you probably have a wish list. Wherever you are in your journey, let's explore four possible strategies you might want to consider with respect to resources. These include: protect, conserve, leverage, and diversify (or develop). The first three strategies apply primarily to those with existing resources.

Protect

If you have resources -- especially funding (whether it comes from individuals or institutions) -- you want to do everything in your power to protect those resources. Here are a few approaches that sustainable organizations practice:

Produce excellent results for your investors. Remember people appreciate your work; they invest in your results. Make sure you know the deliverables associated with all grants and do your best to achieve them. If you know you're going to have trouble to meet agreed-upon targets, engage the funder in a discussion and see what options exist for restructuring the grant (e.g., no cost extension).

Provide timely, accurate, and comprehensive reports. Be a funder's best grantee or partner by providing them with the information they need, when they need it. Don't be afraid to go above and beyond the requirements and provide them with supplemental information (but be careful not to inundate them with e-mails).

Engage funders in media and PR (where appropriate). Learn what your funders' preferences are in terms of media exposure (and whether they want to be included in press release mailings and other media events).

Build public support for programs. This is especially important for those with government funding. Collect success stories and testimonials and engage your constituents and supporters as advocates for your organization. Make sure state and local legislators and (where appropriate) your representative know about the great results (there's that word again) your organization is producing.

In turbulent economic times like these, it's almost a given that you'll be unable to secure or hold on to certain resources, which is why it is imperative to conserve and leverage the resources you do control.

Conserve

Many organizations have become prudent to the point of being overly aggressive with their resource conservation measures. Before you start slashing away, consider these options:

Cross train staff and volunteers. Many organizations have found great opportunities to conserve resources and even save jobs by cross-training employees so that they are able to assume multiple job functions for the organization.

Audit the utilization of your facilities, programs, and staff. Make sure you are making wise use of your resources. Perhaps you can save money through creative scheduling of events or employees to reduce energy costs. One of our partners realized they could combine some programs during the summer months and not even run the air conditioning in one of their buildings on certain days.

Wisely reduce expenses wherever possible. Explore options for reducing expenses like service contracts or janitorial services. One of our clients enclosed a note with all their bill payments stating that revenues were down and asking whether vendors were willing to charge them a reduced rate. They were quite pleased by the results. (A note of caution: Think of marketing as an investment rather an expense and be careful about drastic cuts to marketing programs that may diminish the flow of funds to your organization.)

Maximize volunteer service. Explore all options for engaging volunteers in tasks that you might otherwise have to pay to have done. When unemployment is high, there are usually folks looking to fill some of their discretionary time and what may be gaps in their resumes.

Leverage

In addition to conserving resources, look for opportunities to leverage existing resources and assets that have the potential to produce revenue for your organization.

Share facilities and assets. If your organization has surplus office or meeting space explore options for renting it out or sub-leasing it to other nonprofits. Perhaps you have surplus vehicles and would consider selling them or subcontracting transportation services to other organizations. (If you do, please be sure to address all liability issues to prevent exposing your organization to risks.)

Participate in a buying coop. Combine your buying power with other local nonprofits to take advantage of cost savings. Your statewide nonprofit association (if there is one) is a great place to begin your search for coop partners.

Consolidate administrative functions with/for other organizations. Some organizations have been extremely resourceful in their approach to consolidating administrative functions through partnerships or managed service organizations (MSO). The latter build on the premise that not every nonprofit must have its own HR, finance, or facilities management department but rather can share these functions to create cost savings (and better service delivery). The Foundation Center site has a great case study documenting the creative approach two museums in Chattanooga, Tennessee, undertook and how it was a win for both. Read it here.

Explore the possibility of strategic restructuring. Joining forces with another organization may become a necessity for your organization. David LaPiana is a leading expert in this area and is featured in a podcast on the center's site that is an excellent resource for organizations interested in exploring the restructuring option.

Diversify/Develop

Finally, there are always opportunities to diversify existing assets or develop new resources for your organization or program. From my perspective, I see three (and only three) primary sources (or buckets) of funding for nonprofit organizations. Money comes from individuals, institutions, or innovative entrepreneurial efforts. Now, within these three buckets there are literally thousands of possibilities, and it's up to your organization to find the intersection of potential and capacity for fundraising success. That will differ for every organization, because so much depends on and organization's relational assets and capital. If this is your first venture into fund development beyond your current funding strategy, start by identifying opportunities where you are likely to have short-term success (low-hanging fruit). Immediate successes (even if they are small) will build confidence, enthusiasm, and momentum for the longer haul.

Here are a few questions to help identify your low-hanging fruit:

  • Which individuals or institutions can you readily approach through your organization's existing relationship network?
  • What area of your program outcomes best intersects their needs, wants, and desires and would encourage them to invest?
  • How can you mobilize board members (or other key contacts) to dedicate time to identify high-potential opportunities?
  • Can you mobilize board members to host small gatherings (house parties, informal luncheons, etc.) of their friends and associates to introduce them to your organization?
  • Can you mobilize your board to create a matching gift fund? Could you use such a fund to encourage new investment from potential donors?

My recommendation is to identify the two or three areas your organization can address that will make the greatest impact on its sustainability. Develop a detailed action plan, and be intentional about its implementation. Document and share your successes and watch the excitement and enthusiasm grow.

On the topic of resources, the Foundation Center has a wealth of information (books, classes, databases, reports, podcasts, chats, etc.) that can assist you. Whether it's online communities, libraries, databases, reports, or staff, all are excellent sources of knowledge as you seek to diversify or develop resources.

We began this series by exploring results. We then turned our attention to relationships and identifying those individuals or institutions that value your results to the point of investing resources in your organization so it can continue to produce results. This, too, is a virtuous cycle. As you tend to all aspects of the cycle, you will grow your network of supporters and enhance the sustainability of your programs and organization.

This concludes my three-part series on program sustainability. I trust the posts have, in some way, stimulated your thinking in regards to program sustainability. Even more, I hope you will use the ideas and concepts in them, as well as some of the other excellent resources I've pointed you to, as jumping-off points for discussion with your staff, board, and funders. Until next time, keep your eyes on the prize.

-- Kevin Monroe

Philanthropy and the 'Filter Bubble'

August 01, 2011

(Helen Brunner is director of the Media Democracy Fund, which partners with funders to make grants that protect and promote the public's rights in the digital age. In March, she answered five questions for PND.)

Filterbubble _wordcloud We all understand that the Internet and technology are changing the world and impacting how we -- and our grantees -- work. Like the printing press, television, or other past leaps forward in information and communications technology, this advance is bringing with it new opportunities and new problems. One of those new problems is that algorithms are making decisions about what you see online -- and those algorithms are deciding to show you only what you "want" to see.

It's a problem recently brought to light by Eli Pariser in his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You. Eli joined me, and several dozen funders, earlier this month for an MDF Talk to discuss the wide-ranging implications of the "filter bubble" for philanthropy.

The Filter Bubble details how the Internet isn't living up to its potential to expand our access to a diversity of views. Instead, we are increasingly relying on filters to help answer our questions and point us to things we're interested in. Using algorithms, these filters -- Google, Facebook, and others -- are personalized to show us the information they determine we "want" to see based on our past searches and page views. As a result, the information we see is constricting into a smaller and more limited world, short circuiting the potential of the Web to add to knowledge and build bridges between disparate viewpoints.

Almost every current Web site and service is already personalizing our information through algorithms. Personalization is one way to help us wade through the mountains of information available online -- and it makes a lot of sense for advertising and selling products. But such filtering has deeply concerning repercussions for democracy and civil society.

The Filter Bubble has been getting a lot of well-deserved press, and I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand how communications is evolving.

But the book raises even broader questions for funders.

Many funders recognize that there are decisions being made about the structure and protections of the Internet. We understand that these decisions will have a major impact on issues as diverse as education, health, civic participation, and international human rights.

But even the most plugged-in among us would be forgiven for thinking that these important decisions were being made only by regulators or elected officials. Today, as The Filter Bubble makes clear, we need to recognize that companies, engineers, and coders are a major factor in those decisions.

These are big decisions. Important public services and utilities, including the library, public television, telephony, and the postal service are moving or have moved online, while new developments in education and social networking seem to spring up every day. Things like the filtered Web experience can have an enormous impact on the success or failure -- indeed, the very framing -- of issues that funders most care about.

It's a new world. As funders, we need to recognize and address the challenges it presents and support decisions which ensure that information and communication in the digital age remain open and fair.

(Illustration credit: Nicholas Scalice)

-- Helen Brunner

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