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29 posts from September 2011

[Video] Funder Collaboratives: A Conversation With Tade Akin Aina, Program Director, Carnegie Corporation of New York

September 30, 2011

(Susan Herr, a longtime advocate for social change, founded PhilanthroMedia, Inc. in 2007 to "celebrate the end of philanthropy as usual and advance the perspectives of those leading the charge." This is the second of four interviews she conducted for PhilanTopic on the topic of funder collaboration. Click here to view the first, with Patricia Swann, a senior program officer at the New York Community Trust. And be sure to check back next week for the other two chats in the series -- with Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust and Mai Kiang of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.)

As Pat Swann noted in the first of our conversations with veteran grantmakers on the art of funder collaboratives, collaboration is a valuable and important strategy for grantmakers looking to leverage their resources and maximize their impact.

And as Tade Aina, director of the Higher Education and Libraries program at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, makes clear below, funders who come to complex social challenges with predetermined answers would probably do well to go it alone.

Maybe I'm a sucker for a good metaphor, but I was moved by Tade's grasp of the "zenlike" approach that foundation program officers need to adopt when trying to advance a collaborative effort. For Tade, grantmakers shouldn't be gatekeepers; they should be "platforms" for the sharing and dissemination of knowledge, ideas, and values. Inherent in that assessment is a profound respect for differences in organizational culture and a frank acknowledgment of the deeply entrenched nature of so many of the social challenges that confront us today.

Tade has led collaborative efforts at both Carnegie and the Ford Foundation, and for him the most effective program officers are those who either know or can find the most knowledgeable experts about a given problem. The job of the program officer, in effect, is to gather the right pieces and set them in motion within a clear framework.

No one is born knowing how to do that; it comes through hard-won experience. But in our increasingly networked world, voices like Tade's remind us that individual differences still matter and, when harmonized in service of a larger collective goal, can be the difference between success and failure.

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

(Running time: 8 minutes, 39 seconds)

What would you add to Tade's observations? Do you have an example of a collaboration that succeeded because of the differences that various partners brought to the table? And what's the most important thing you've learned about collaboration in the nonprofit sector? Use the comments section below....

-- Susan Herr

This Week in PubHub: Children and Youth: Juvenile Justice

(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 how well the rapidly evolving news business is serving local communities.)

After nearly twenty years of widespread "zero tolerance" school discipline policies, questions are being raised not only about their effectiveness but about their fairness and long-term effects. This week in PubHub, we are featuring four reports that explore how school discipline policies affect students' academic performance and involvement with the juvenile justice system, as well as efforts to reform that system.

According to Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (124 pages, PDF), a report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, suspending or expelling students for disciplinary reasons increases the likelihood of their failing academically and/or becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations, the report found that 54 percent of students in the state were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and twelfth grade, with students of color and those with specific educational disabilities disproportionately at higher risk. The report also found that students who had been suspended or expelled were nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system during the subsequent academic year, that 31 percent of those who were disciplined repeatedly were held back a grade, and that 10 percent of those who were disciplined repeatedly dropped out.

Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis (25 pages, PDF), a 2010 report from the Civil Rights Project, also argues that frequent suspensions and expulsions do not contribute to better school safety or student behavior but instead reduce opportunities for academic success and increase the risk of incarceration. The report examines the widening race and gender "discipline gaps," finding that while K-12 suspension rates for all students nearly doubled, from 3.7 percent to 6.9 percent, between 1973 and 2006, the 2006 suspension rate for African-American middle school boys was 28.3 percent. Indeed, with such policies resulting in minority students being separated from opportunities to learn at a disproportionately higher rate and facing greater risk of incarceration than their white peers, the issue is as serious a problem as low test scores and high dropout rates, the authors argue. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, the report offers a number of recommendations, including better data collection and analysis, providing alternative strategies and technical assistance to schools with high suspension rates, and taking measures to address unlawful discrimination in the use of suspensions and expulsions.

When students do get into trouble with the law, they often are tried as adults -- with negative consequences for the community (not to mention the students themselves) in terms of both public safety and economic prosperity. The Campaign for Youth Justice report State Trends: Legislative Victories From 2005 to 2010 Removing Youth From the Adult Criminal Justice System (52 pages, PDF) examines the unfairness of trying teenagers in the adult criminal justice system (where they are often housed in adult jails and prisons) given their still-developing brains and the (usually) minor nature of their offenses; the grave consequences (including higher recidivism rates and lifelong barriers to employment); and the social implications of a disproportionately high rate of minority youth being tried as adults. The authors also highlight encouraging trends at the state and local level, including raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, changing transfer laws, and revising youth sentencing laws. The report was funded by the Casey, Eckerd Family, Meyer, Falk, Ford, JEHT, MacArthur, Public Welfare, Tow, and Open Society foundations; Atlantic Philanthropies; the  California Endowment; the Fund for Nonviolence; the Moriah, Rockit, and Chasdrew funds; the Carter & Melissa Cafritz Trust; Covington and Burling LLP; DHO Consulting, Gladys Jensen; and Julie Jensen.

The JustPartners report Bridges to Manhood: A Multifaceted Probation Strategy That Incorporates Fatherhood Development (28 pages, PDF) addresses a different issue: how to help young men complete their probation while learning to become responsible fathers and family members. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report argues that because many young men who go through the juvenile justice system have either no relationship or a damaged relationship with their fathers, helping them become better fathers can help prevent recidivism and may contribute to breaking the negative intergenerational cycle of father absence.

What do you think? Are school disciplinary actions counterproductive? Are racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions and juvenile justice involvement indicative of a larger problem? Do you know of any programs that have been effective in addressing those disparities? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

And be sure to check out PubHub, where where you can browse more than 765 reports on topics related to children and youth.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Investing for Impact: Innovations in Measurement and Evaluation

September 28, 2011

(Ashley Allen is a partner in the Endeavor Group, a strategy and legal consultancy based in Washington, D.C. You can find more Investing for Impact articles by Allen here, here, and here.)

Measure_tape The philanthropic sector has a compelling opportunity to advance the base of evidence of social change interventions that generate measurable impact. An evolving field of practice, measurement and evaluation (M&E) has the potential to uncover critical information about the efficacy of various social change strategies and to catalyze the expansion and replication of organizations and initiatives with proven social benefit.

The Corporation for National and Community Service's Social Innovation Fund ("SIF") embodies a pioneering national policy agenda focused on expanding the practice of M&E. This unique public-private partnership places the philanthropic sector at the center of the national effort to develop new evidence-based systems to help guide social change investment. The SIF initiative defines four levels of evidence:

Strong Impact. Strong impact is impact with a substantial likelihood of yielding a major change in life outcomes for individuals or improvements in community standards of living. The definition varies with context. For example, a mentoring program that cuts youth crime by 2 percent over a given period would not have "strong" impact, but a program that cuts such crime by 20 percent might. A program that increases an individual's earnings by $50 per week for a month and then fades out would not have strong impact. A program that increases earnings by that amount for a period of years would.

Continue reading »

[Video]: Funder Collaboratives: A Conversation With Patricia Swann, Senior Program Officer, New York Community Trust

September 27, 2011

(Susan Herr, a longtime advocate for social change, founded PhilanthroMedia, Inc. in 2007 to "celebrate the end of philanthropy as usual and advance the perspectives of those leading the charge." This is the first of four interviews she conducted for PhilanTopic on the topic of collaboration. We'll be posting the other chats in the series -- with Omotade Akin Aina of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust, and Mai Kiang of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice -- over the next week.)

Funder collaboration isn't new. Having spent the past twenty years on both sides of the giving equation, I've watched the approach ebb and flow in popularity. Theoretically, it makes perfect sense. Convene a bunch of like-minded foundations that, together, can bring more dollars and resources to bear on a problem than each could alone. Identify grantees whose cumulative experience broadens the scope of possibilities and improves the chances of success. Build shared vision, execute passionately, and presto: life is better for everyone.

Of course, if you've ever been part of a funder collaborative, you know the reality is far more complicated. From 1996-2000, I directed the final four years of the Children, Youth and Families Initiative, a ten-year, $30 million effort spearheaded by the Chicago Community Trust to improve outcomes in seven low-income Chicago neighborhoods. The need was great, the vision ambitious. But as Patricia Swann, senior program officer at the New York Community Trust, ruefully told me when I spoke to her in August, "Sometimes it's hard working with people."

While I came away from my experience in Chicago with a more realistic sense of the challenges of collaboration, I also came away very much in agreement with Swann's assessment that collaboration, when done well, offers all partners the opportunity to "magnify and amplify the impact of their work."

Swann, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, has provided leadership on a wide range of issues in New York City. In the video chat below, she offers her perspective on the hallmarks, challenges, and rewards of collaboration, as well as often-overlooked elements of the "process" needed to advance a truly shared vision.

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


(Running time: 4 minutes, 37 seconds)

If you're a grantee currently engaged in a funder collaborative, feel free to share this post with the powers that be. And if you're a funder, take heed. Collaboration is the road less traveled for a reason. But as the veteran grantmakers we'll be featuring in this series make clear, it is a path that often leads to truly meaningful social change.

What would you add to Swann's caveats? What's the most important thing you've learned about collaboration in the nonprofit sector? Use the comments section below....

-- Susan Herr

What Would a Double-Dip Recession Mean for Foundation Giving?

September 26, 2011

(Steven Lawrence is director of research at the Foundation Center.)

The future looked brighter back in April when the Foundation Center estimated that giving by the nation's private and community foundations would grow modestly this year and again in 2012. Of course, that prediction was made before the release of two big summer thrillers, European Debt Crisis: The Saga Continues and Congress Goes to the Brink. Investors also learned that a roller coaster isn't just a ride at an amusement park.

Is the economy on the brink of, or in, a double-dip recession? Only economic historians will be able to answer that question, and not in a timeframe that is especially useful for planning. But given that none of us working today have lived through such a prolonged period of economic malaise, it's fair to say that the events of the last few years have us all a bit bewildered.

How then to assess the prospects for foundation giving?

All we have to go on is history and recent experience, which both suggest a less gloomy future than might be expected under these difficult circumstances. In the double-dip recession of 1980 and 1981-82, foundation giving grew modestly in both years -- even after adjusting for inflation. Not a bad outcome, especially coming on the heels of the stagflation that marked much of the 1970s. But let's be honest, in the current context that feels like ancient history.


It may be more useful to consider how foundation giving fared during what ultimately may be considered "part 1" of the Great Recession. According to our April report Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates, foundation giving declined in 2009 before leveling off in 2010. Yet the 2.1 percent overall reduction in giving recorded was just a fraction of the 17 percent decline in foundation assets registered the year before.

Yes, many foundations cut back on their giving -- some dramatically. But there were also many foundations that held their giving steady despite steep losses in their endowments, as well as donors who put substantial resources into their existing foundations or established new ones.

The sky didn't fall in 2009-10 -- at least as far as foundation giving is concerned. And there's nothing in the past or on the horizon to suggest that things will be different this time around, even if we are in, or are about to experience, a double-dip recession.

-- Steven Lawrence

Weekend Link Roundup (September 24 - 25, 2011)

September 25, 2011

Autumn-leaves Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Susan Stehling shares findings from a new Minnesota Council on Foundations report which found that giving to the arts in the region fell 10 percent in 2009 and was down 19 percent from 2004 levels.


While attending the Communications Network conference in Boston, Katya Andresen looked at three different ways to measure social media on her Non-Profit Marketing blog.


Center for Effective Philanthropy vice president for research Ellie Buteau shares key findings from a new report that "looks at strategy at community foundations and concludes that, just as is the case at private foundations, there is a gulf between rhetoric and reality...."

Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, announces the relaunch of the nonprofit rating site. Three years in the making, the new CN 2.0 "evaluates [transparency and accountability] practices that have been researched, advocated for and recommended for years by many, many nonprofit experts."


National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy research and policy associate Kevin Laskowski explains why technological advances and shifts in the industry could spell the end for many community foundations.

Social Entrepreneurship

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green recap the Startups for Good Challenge, which was held on the final day of the 2011 Social Good Summit in New York City last week.

Social Media

On the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Melinda Gates announces that she has joined Twitter and explains why. Writes Gates:

Most people associate philanthropy with great wealth. In my mind, philanthropy is not about the money. It’s about using whatever resources you have at your fingertips and applying them to improving the world. If you are passionate about helping humanity, then you can get creative about the ways to do so.

Twitter is an example of this -- it is the type of vehicle that allows you to share stories of impact in an instant. I'll be using Twitter to pass along stories that inspire me....

Last but not least, Beth Kanter looks at the "new dramatic, life altering changes in the Facebook Platform," including Timeline and Open Graph, and teases out some of the implications for nonprofits.

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

-- Regina Mahone 

No Time to Sit Around and Hope for the Best

September 24, 2011

(Terence Cook, manager of the FMA Institute, the technical training arm for Fiscal Management Associates, LLC, has spent more than twenty-five years working in and with nonprofits. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

Mergers_consolidation For nonprofit organizations, the past few years must seem like a blur. As the economy has lurched from one crisis to the next, nonprofits have had to deal with a litany of problems. Crashing reserves, falling donations, and unreliable funders, combined with a rise in demand for services, have all pushed executive management and staff to creatively adapt to a new fiscal reality.

Having already been swamped by one financial maelstrom, nonprofits are warily keeping an eye on ominous signs portending a new downturn. While the economy is still at something of a crossroads, economic data signaling stagnating growth and stubbornly high unemployment have created a "déjà vu all over again" moment for nonprofit leaders. As Olivier Blanchard of the International Monetary Fund recently noted: "The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase. The recovery has weakened considerably, and downside risks have increased sharply."

What can nonprofit leaders do if the recovery falters and the economy falls into another recession? While each organization will face its own decisions, one thing is certain: No organization, no matter where it is in its life cycle, can afford to sit around and hope for the best. Only through smart planning and effective decision making will nonprofits find a viable path forward. And while those paths can take many forms, one of them leads to consolidation.

But what does that mean?

1. Prepare for consolidation. For organizations with weak internal controls, poor reporting, and limited resources, a merger can be a nightmare. Whether the possibility seems far off or even unlikely, by strengthening their internal operations nonprofits can ensure that they are well prepared to leverage some of the benefits that consolidation brings (reduced costs, increased scope, expanded geographic presence). Poor reporting and a disorganized back office are warning signs to a potential partner and should be identified and resolved before the merger conversation even begins.

2. Embrace consolidation. Consolidation should never be seen as a
last-minute emergency step to save an organization in crisis; rather, it is an opportunity for two or more organizations with relative and complementary strengths to join forces and create a whole greater than the sum of their parts. While some consolidations may seem more urgent or make more sense than others, all consolidations should be driven by a desire to broaden revenue sources while lowering cost barriers for the merged entity. If you are a nonprofit leader, it is imperative that you not view consolidation as a sign of weakness or failure; rather, in ways too many to count, it is a sign of commitment to your organization's mission -- and to your skills as a leader.

3. Pursue consolidation. It takes two to tango, but you always need someone you can ask. Nonprofit leaders can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and wonder what might happen if they got up to dance. Just initiating a conversation with the understanding that consolidation is a possibility is a great teaching moment for you and others in your nonprofit ecosystem. There are many types of joint venture, and most nonprofits will know which one is right for them. To get there, however, you need to rise above any perceived stigma attached to consolidation and openly and honestly initiate a conversation with your board and other stakeholders.

As with all things in life, there is no certainty as to where the economy is headed or how future events may affect the nonprofit sector. While it always seems as if someone is predicting an impending wave of consolidations in the sector, maybe what keeps us from embracing that reality -- and what may be our biggest barrier going forward -- is the misperception that we can outrun the wave rather than get on top of it. Consolidation is coming, but if you want to position your organization to succeed, you, as a leader, have to embrace, start to plan, and actively pursue it.

-- Terence Cook

Poverty and the Marketization of Philanthropy

September 23, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the Jumo/GOOD merger, philanthropy, and social enterprise.)

End-wall-st-bull-collapsed-slide "Philanthropy is distorting markets for the poor!" exclaimed a prominent NGO leader at one of the many breakfasts held around Manhattan last week in connection with the Clinton Global Initiative. It was a statement intended to provoke, and it swirled around the table in a cloud of other market-friendly phrases ("impact investing," "social investment," "base of the pyramid," "shared value"). Finally someone said, "It's really confusing when everyone who makes grants, subsidized loans, or equity investments describes themselves as an investor." Which made me reflect on just how far the marketization of philanthropy has progressed. I mean, some days it seems like the last thing anybody wants to admit to being is a grantmaker!

To be fair, the intent of the provocation was to underscore the point that, today, there is a far wider range of market-based solutions available to address the needs of the poor than many of us might imagine. Yet beneath this whole discussion is an almost Rousseau-like view of "the poor" that informed an earlier generation of anti-poverty efforts. Then, foundations and governments poured significant amounts of money into "community development" abroad and "community building" at home while the kind of idealized communities they sought to promote were being buffeted by the politics of race, civil strife, immigration and, yes, markets, in the form of globalization.

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2011 Social Good Summit 'Storified'

September 22, 2011

SGSv5On Tuesday, in a packed auditorium of young professionals, nonprofit and business leaders, and social entrepreneurs, I sat listening to Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore and Elie Wiesel of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity kick off the second day of the 2011 Social Good Summit, which again this year is being presented by Mashable, the 92nd Street Y, and the UN Foundation, in conjunction with United Nations week in New York City.

According to the SGS site, the summit (watch the Livestream here) brings together a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss how innovative thinking and technology can solve our greatest challenges.

Wiesel -- who founded the New York City-based foundation with his wife, Marion, after he won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Peace -- is not an actual user of social media. In fact, he mentioned that his favorite "machine" is the pen.  But he is an expert on justice and reconciliation, and he had a lot to say about how technology can both benefit society (as it did in the early stages of the Arab Spring revolutions) and be used to bully, intimidate, and abuse. When asked what people should do when they have the ability to influence millions via social media, Wiesel said that even if you have "the most perfect machine," it's imperative that you pay attention to the words and language you use and always respect those who are listening.

During the first two days of the summit, audience members and those watching via Livestream heard from Ted Turner, Charity: Water founder and CEO Scott Harrison, Idealist.org founder and executive director Ami Dar, Do Something CEO & "chief old person" Nancy Lublin, Howard Buffett (Warren's grandson), USAID administrator Raj Shah, and many others. For a full recap of the event, check out the Mashable site (here and here).

A final note: As a Generation Y attendee, even I was awed by the social media response to the summit. When, for example, Geena Davis, Serena Williams, and Lance Armstrong took the stage to discuss their respective social change efforts, the response was so immediate and overwhelming that their names quickly became trending topics on Twitter.

To help you navigate the first two days of the summit, I've "storified" a few of the most noteworthy tweets here: http://storify.com/pndblog/social-good-summit.

Did you attend the summit or watch via Livestream? What tools did you use to manage the flood of information? And what big ideas or initiatives were the stickiest? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

Foundations and the State Budget Crisis

September 21, 2011

States across the nation have been staggered by falling home prices and the residual effects of the financial crisis. From Rhode Island to Michigan to California, declining tax revenues and rising healthcare costs have put the squeeze on state budgets, forcing tough choices on governors and state legislatures. To balance their budgets, states are being forced to cut social services, lay off public-sector employees, and rethink their role in providing a social safety net for the poor, the sick, and the elderly.

Nonprofit organizations that count on state government for some or most of their funding find themselves caught between the rock of declining revenue and the hard place of increased demand for their services. To determine the extent to which foundations see their nonprofit grantees being affected by state budget cuts, the Foundation Center conducted a March 2011 survey of its Grantmaker Leadership Panel. Of the seventy-five foundation leaders who completed the survey, the vast majority (95 percent) indicated that at least some of their grantees had been affected by cuts, while more than half (58 percent) said "all" or "most" of their grantees had. Among the areas that respondents identified as being most vulnerable to cuts were human services and education, followed by health, the arts, and environmental protection.


More surprising was the relatively pessimistic view of the economic recovery shared by foundation leaders, with four out of five respondents (81 percent) saying they expected the budget challenges facing many states to continue through 2013 or beyond.

Many foundations have stepped up to help. Indeed, almost half (47 percent) the foundation leaders responding to the survey said their foundations had awarded grants or provided other kinds of assistance in direct response to funding cuts at the state level, while one-third (33 percent) reported that fiscal problems at the state level had influenced how their 2011 grants budget was set and/or how funding was allocated.


One of the most vocal of the respondents to the survey was Doug Bauer, executive director of the New York City-based Clark Foundation. In a one-page addendum to the survey findings, Bauer underscored four key needs that emerged in the findings and offered the following thoughts:

1. More general operating support. In a time of seriously constrained resources, our grantees need as much flexibility as possible to manage their programs and finances. The dollars that help the most and go the farthest in this environment are general operating support funds.

2. More capacity building support. In the aftermath of reduced public support, nonprofits need to rethink, reassess, and restructure their business models. Underwriting capacity building, which tends to be relatively low-cost, can yield high returns. Having access to resources for capacity building can provide nonprofits with the ability to succeed in the "new normal."

3. More working capital. Reduced public support means nonprofit cash flow will be squeezed and operating margins thin. Banks are leery of extending bridge loans or lines of credit when government contracts become unreliable. Foundations need to increase the ability of community development finance institutions (CDFIs) to provide short-term financing to nonprofits. CDFIs, such as the Nonprofit Finance Fund, understand the operating models of nonprofits and have more patience around delayed government contracts or grants. But CDFIs need capital to do this. For their part, foundations can use program-related investments (PRIs) to provide the needed capital without affecting their grants budgets.

4. More advocacy. Sadly, the budget battles of 2011 are not the last ones we will see at the federal, state, and local levels. In some states, the coming years will bring even larger budget gaps. The sector must develop a stronger advocacy effort to ensure that critical initiatives and the most vulnerable do not suffer disproportionately. The rules and regulations on advocacy are clear; we know exactly what we can and cannot do. But our support for advocacy must become broader and deeper, both internally and financially. The staff time, research, dissemination, and related work needed to mount successful advocacy campaigns cost money.

"We are in the nascent stages of a profoundly new era for most of the nonprofit sector," Bauer added. "Old and/or current operational models will not likely work. Having foundations seriously address these four needs will help our grantees begin to cope with, and better understand, the new era. The big question, however, is will foundations step up?"

That is the question. What do you think about the needs identified by Bauer above? Would you add anything to his list? Is the nonprofit sector in the early stages of a "profoundly new era," or is this just a re-run of the 1980s? And what do nonprofit organizations themselves need to do to ensure that the "new normal" doesn't turn into a nightmare?

5 Qs for... Barbara Ibrahim, Director, Gerhart Center for Philanthropy at the American University in Cairo

September 20, 2011

Barbara_ibrahim (Shortly after the government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was toppled earlier this year, we asked What Lies Ahead for the Egyptian Philanthropic Sector? Seven months later, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is still serving as de facto head of state as various factions attempt to shape the oft-delayed transition to a democratically elected government. While the form and composition of the next government remains uncertain, few people are better positioned to assess the situation in Egypt than Barbara Ibrahim, director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy & Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo and co-editor of From Charity to Social Change: Trends in Arab Philanthropy. We recently had the opportunity to ask Ibrahim about the role of philanthropy in shaping the future of the country, what Western foundations can do to support democratic transitions in the Middle East, and why she is optimistic about the future of Libya.)

Philanthropy News Digest: The first chapter of your book From Charity to Social Change is titled "Arab Philanthropy in Transition." Now that we're seeing one authoritarian Arab government after another crumble, one has to wonder whether the political changes sweeping the region will accelerate the changes already taking place in Arab philanthropy.

Barbara Ibrahim: There is no doubt that the pace of change will be faster and deeper now in the countries experiencing political uprisings -- and perhaps also in neighboring countries trying to avoid a popular uprising. However, the direction and pace will very much depend on specific historical and socioeconomic conditions in individual countries.

Philanthropy in the Arab world had been growing fairly rapidly until the global economic recession, driven partly by the recognition that governments could no longer provide quality welfare services for their populations. Some of that philanthropy was too closely allied with ruling families and not transparent in its mode of operation. Now there will be a necessary period of "resetting."

PND: The Egyptian people have taken an amazing step toward self-determination, but longstanding social issues and economic problems in Egypt clearly won't be solved by the ouster of Mubarak alone. While the new government, whatever form it takes, will have the primary responsibility for addressing these problems, philanthropy seems poised to shoulder some of the burden -- especially in the human services sphere. Is philanthropy in Egypt developed enough to meet the challenge? And what are some key areas where philanthropic resources could do the most good?

BI: This is a moment of tremendous potential for philanthropy in Egypt. Always a country of great individual generosity, now we are seeing an unleashing of interest in more collective means of problem solving. When the police withdrew from protecting citizens in January, thousands of neighborhood watch groups sprang up spontaneously across the country. Many of those are hoping to evolve into more sustainable community development organizations -- the classic motivation for a community foundation. I also anticipate that middle class and professional Egyptians will become more engaged in giving through new institutional forms. Social media like Twitter and Facebook are already being utilized to inform and mobilize citizen funding for good causes.

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A 'Flip' Chat With...Gara LaMarche, Senior Fellow, NYU Wagner School of Public Service

September 19, 2011

(This video was recorded as part of our 'Flip' chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with NextGen:Charity co-founder Jonah Halper.)

In conjunction with the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I attended a Philanthropy New York event last week titled "Balancing Civil Rights & National Security: A Debate Led by Gara LaMarche."

During the event, LaMarche, now a senior fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and until this summer the president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies -- a New York City-based foundation that endeavours "to make lasting changes for people who are disadvantaged by their economic situation, race, nationality, gender, age, disabilities, immigration status, sexual orientation, political affiliation or religion" -- moderated a discussion on how the Bush administration's efforts to protect Americans after 9/11 led to an increase in civil rights violations around the country.  LaMarche also invited the panelists -- American Civil Liberties Union board president Susan Herman, author of Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy; Eric Ward, program executive for the human rights and reconciliation initiative at Atlantic Philanthropies; Rosa Brooks, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center; and Karen J. Greenberg, visiting fellow and director of Fordham Law School's Center on National Security -- to weigh in on what future administrations (and the current one) could do to protect and extend civil liberties while keeping the country safe from terrorist attack.

After the session, I had a chance to chat with LaMarche about the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the successes and failures of the "war on terrror," the philanthropic response to 9/11, and some of the big challenges confronting the United States today.

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


(Running time: 12 minutes, 46 seconds)

What do you think? Has the "war on terror" outlived its usefulness as a metaphor? To what extent does "national security" involve more than just physical attacks on the homeland? And, in an increasingly interdependent world, what should organized philanthropy be doing to help defuse the many threats to security confronting the U.S.? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (September 17 - 18, 2011)

September 18, 2011

Full-harvest-moon Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


The New York Times' Stephanie Strom profiles San Francisco hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who with his brother, Jim, is funding the Center for the Next Generation, a nonprofit organization that aims to be a progressive voice in major public policy debates.


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen has a few tips for nonprofit marketers looking to better manage their time while engaging audiences on social media channels.


Responding to the news that Hilary Pennington, Mark David Millron, and Tom Dawson are leaving the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Postsecondary Success program "to get closer to work on the ground," the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Kevin Laskowski challenges the idea that program officers aren't "in the field" when working at a foundation. Writes Laskowski:

Grantmakers of any size and impact should have a tough time pretending that they're not players in their chosen fields of interest. If you're doing work that's at all relevant, you're "in the field," making important decisions that will affect other people's lives. And, in a democratic society, that discretion is accompanied by appropriate scrutiny and accountability. It may be messy and uncomfortable at times, but it comes with the territory. That's the game we signed up to play....


The Tactical Philanthropy community weighs in with a list of potential successors to Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest, who recently announced his planned retirement from the foundation, effective nex summer.

Social Media

In the latest installment of her Chronicle of Philanthropy Social Good podcast series, Allison Fine chats with Suphatra Laviolette of the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Case Foundation's Michael Smith about how foundations "are using social media to support movement building."

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz shares a list of social media resources for grantmakers. Is there anything you'd add to her list? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

And Beth Kanter has a few suggestions for nonprofits interested in prolonging the shelf life of their online content.

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

-- Regina Mahone

Foundation Center 2020: Core Assumptions

September 17, 2011

Strategic-planning Still catching up with e-mail after spending the better part of three days at our annual senior+ staff retreat. In the roughly ten years I've been a member of the group, we've typically used the retreat to engage in high-level strategy discussions and develop short-term action plans (with more time spent on the latter). This year was different. In January, the center unveiled an ambitious strategic plan designed to take the organization through the year 2020 -- a decade certain to be marked by sweeping economic, political, and technological change. Organizations -- not-for-profit, for-profit, and hybrid alike -- will be challenged to adapt, continuously, to a rapidly changing landscape. Those without a clear idea of where they want to go and how to get there will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

The center's 2020 plan lays out six strategic priorities -- connect nonprofits to the resources they need to thrive; empower donors with knowledge tools they need to be more strategic; build the global data platform for philanthropy; communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world; encourage greater foundation transparency; ensure that our technology provides a strong foundation for the center's work -- that are based on a dozen core assumptions. The assumptions are really interesting and, in my opinion, offer lots of food for thought (and not just for those of us who work at the Foundation Center).

Here they are, in no particular order:

Organized philanthropy (foundations) will continue to grow in the U.S. in terms of assets and giving.

U.S. philanthropy will become an increasingly segmented industry with a relatively small (but growing) number of richly endowed, well-staffed, and sophisticated foundations; a growing number with global ambitions; and a very large number of much smaller foundations, some with little or no staff at all, whose giving is primarily local.

Outside the U.S., philanthropy will continue to grow at a rapid pace, particularly in those countries and regions taking on greater importance in the global economy.

As philanthropy and the fortunes that fuel it grow, governments, the media, and online communities will demand to know more about philanthropy and philanthropists.

The tool kit of organized philanthropy increasingly will be a continuum ranging from grants at one end to market rate, mission-related investments at the other, with a broader array of operating programs and direct charitable activities in between.

New forms of social investment will continue to evolve such that foundations will share the landscape with online giving/volunteering platforms, for-profit social enterprises, and new forms that we have yet to see.

Organizations seeking funding will need to employ a wider variety of strategies, including nonprofit restructuring and collaboration, multi-sector partnerships, social enterprise funding, and increased orientation toward bottom-line results and social impact.

Philanthropy increasingly will be data- and knowledge-driven as donors strive for more impact on a larger scale and finding the right information quickly becomes paramount.

Working at scale will require collaboration with other foundations, government, the private sector, and nonprofits -- often across the globe.

Philanthropy and social investment will expand in such a way that no one organization can cover all its needs and possibilities.

Radical changes in the information industry will continue to challenge business models and traditional roles of producers and consumers of information.

Technology wil make it possible to do things with data, its delivery, and its visualization that we can't begin to imagine today.

What we'd like to know from you is: Which of these assumptions is the most -- and least --likely to pan out? Which is the most interesting from your perspective, and why? What have we gotten right, what have we gotten wrong, and what we have completely overlooked? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

-- Mitch Nauffts


Mission-Related Investing: A Cautionary Tale

September 12, 2011

(David Jacobs is director of foundation information management at the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about journalism, objectivity, and foundation funding.)

Roof-solar-panel Always eager to find ways to leverage their assets while advancing their organizational mission, foundations increasingly are turning to a new tool in the grantmaking toolbox: mission-related investments (MRIs) -- i.e., investing a portion of their assets to achieve both financial and social gains.

Such investments are still relatively new territory for many foundations. And as with anything new, we've see some early missteps that provide valuable learning opportunities for the field. Case in point is the bankruptcy of Solyndra LLC, a presidentially-hyped solar energy equipment manufacturer that received significant investments from the George Kaiser Family Foundation (among others), as well as more than half a billion in government loan guarantees.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Solyndra offered a unique solar-panel technology and the promise of four thousand "green" jobs. But the design proved to be too expensive to compete in the marketplace. The foundation attributed the loss of its investment in Solyndra to "the company's inability to overcome serious challenges in the marketplace, especially the drastic decline in solar panel prices during the past two years caused in part by subsidies provided by the government of China to Chinese solar panel manufacturers."

While the fallout from the bankruptcy may not be apparent for some time, it's not too early for those engaged in or considering MRIs to focus on some key takeaways that have presented themselves in the wake of the company's demise:

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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