« October 2011 | Main | December 2011 »

23 posts from November 2011

Yéle Haiti Responds to NY Post Allegations

November 30, 2011

Haiti_earthquake_10Yesterday, we posted a digested version of a November 27 New York Post article ("Questions Dog Wyclef's Haiti Fund") which suggested that earthquake-relief funds raised by Yéle Haiti, a charity co-founded by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean (who is Haitian), in the months after the quake had been used improperly. At the heart of the Post's allegations are P&A Construction, which is run by Warnel Pierre, the brother of Jean's wife, Claudinette, and two independent contractors, Miami-based Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. and Samosa SA, in Port-au-Prince.

That article generated the following response from Hugh Locke, a co-founder of Yéle Haiti who served initially as executive director of the charity's Haiti operation and then as president of the combined Haiti and U.S. operations (until this past February). In the interest of fairness (and the facts), we thought it was important to reprint Locke's comments in their entirety.

Feel free to weigh in on Locke's comments, the Post's reporting, and/or our version of the Post story in the comments section below.



My name is Hugh Locke and I was until earlier this year the president of Yéle Haiti. I would like to set the record straight regarding the NY Post article.

Bad journalism can be the result of sloppiness, incompetence, or a distortion of facts in order to serve a bias or editorial agenda. All three of these traits are on full and splendid display in the November 27, 2011, New York Post article "Questions Dog Wyclef's Haiti Fund" by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein. These two reporters have Wyclef Jean, co-founder of Yéle Haiti along with Jerry Duplessis and myself, in their sights in a no-holds-barred effort to sell papers, and no pesky truth is going to stand in their way.

The Yéle staff and our various partners who braved a chaotic and dangerous situation in order to deliver emergency relief to victims of the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti are true heroes in my book. Ms. Vincent and Ms. Klein cannot be allowed to discredit our collective efforts with falsehood and innuendo. What follows are the facts and figures to counter to each accusation in their Post article.

1. How much did Yéle receive in donations following the earthquake in Haiti and how much of that money was used for emergency relief?

NY Post: "In the months following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a charity run by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean spent a pittance of the money it took in on disaster relief and doled out millions in questionable contracts....Records show that Yele Haiti spent just $5.1 million for emergency relief efforts, including food and water delivery to makeshift survivor camps...."

HL Response: As reported in Yéle Haiti’s 2010 IRS 990 tax filing, the organization received $16 million in donations that year (figures quoted are rounded off). More than half of these donations were received in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. Over the course of 2010 we spent a total of $9.2 million -- $8.2 million for programs (most of that for emergency relief and a small portion for other Yéle programs) and $1 million (or roughly 11 percent) on administrative overhead. Yéle made a decision not to expend all the funds raised in 2010 during that same year because people in the tent camps continued to need support. Consequently $6.8 million was carried over to cover operations in 2011.

Clarifications about contracts, none of which were "questionable," are answered in the points that follow.

Yéle’s activities in 2010 were a combination of emergency relief and long-term rebuilding. Here is an overview of what we accomplished.

Emergency Relief: Yéle worked with non-elected community leaders and elders within a core group of 30 of the tent camps throughout Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas to identify needs and coordinate aid delivery. These targeted camps had a combined population of just under 80,000. Here is a summary of what was distributed by Yéle over the course of 2010:

  • 2,000 tents of various sizes
  • 873 tarp kits for building shelters
  • 4.2 million gallons of filtered water delivered in trucks (including to cholera areas)
  • 233,000 10-ounce pouches of water
  • 32,850 bottles of water in various sizes
  • 98,000 hot meals
  • 14,400 items of canned and packaged food
  • 270,310 nutrition bars
  • 4,425 individual care bags with personal toiletries and other items
  • 8,705 items of new and used clothing
  • 3,520 pairs of new and used shoes
  • 1,000 pairs of new boots
  • 14,300 pounds of medical supplies
  • 1,240 windup and/or solar flashlights
  • 2,500 windup and/or solar radios
  • 26 generators
  • 900 sheets and blankets

In response to the cholera outbreak in October of 2010, Yéle purchased 2 million water purification tablets and received a donation of 50,000 bars of soap and 100,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. These items were distributed by going tent to tent in the camps, noting that a portion of them were distributed in 2011.

Employment: There were very few jobs following the earthquake and even fewer for the 1.3 million people living in tent camps. Yéle began a program in 2010 that employed up to 2,000 people at a time to clean the streets of Port-au-Prince, paying them a respectable $7 a day. Towards the end of the year a vocational training program in carpentry, plumbing, and masonry was added to give youth marketable job skills.

Youth Development & Education: Yéle provided weekly support for two residential orphanages that were damaged in the earthquake. In additional to providing operational costs, one orphanage was completely rebuilt and more than doubled in size while the second was repaired and some additional facilities added. Yéle managed an onsite medical service for all the orphans as well.

Tree Planting & Agriculture: Haiti has less than 2 percent tree cover and imports roughly 70 percent of its food. Yele’s response in 2010 was to increase the capacity of local farmers, working with them to plant trees and introduce better farming practices that resulted in higher yields. A second Yéle program involved commissioning peasant farmers to grow vegetables that were delivered weekly to up to 2,000 orphans.

2. What was the role of Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?

NY Post: "A purported Miami business called Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. received a whopping $1,008,000 as a 'food distributor'. No trace of the company could be found last week in the Sunshine State, but records show the company’s head, Amsterly Pierre, bought three properties in Florida last year, including a condo in an upscale waterfront community.

"The firm incorporated in August 2008 but never filed any of the subsequent financial paperwork required to do business in Florida, according to the Florida Department of State.

"The address listed for the business is an auto-repair shop in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, where a worker said he had never heard of Pierre or Amisphere. Pierre did not return a call for comment...."

HL Response: Getting food to people who were in makeshift tent camps following the earthquake was a priority. It was particularly important to send in hot meals because people had limited capacity to cook in the camps. With this in mind we approached Amsterly Pierre, a businessman in Haiti who had experience in this field, and asked him to set up the operation on our behalf. For this purpose he used the bank account of a company he had registered in the US, Amisphere, because the banks were not yet functioning in Haiti.

In the midst of the chaos that characterized Port-au-Prince at that time, Mr. Pierre used his operation on the ground there to find a kitchen that, although damaged, could be made operational with a minimum of effort. He found sources of food, some of which had to be brought in by truck from the Dominican Republic, and assembled a staff that could cook and deliver thousands of meals at a time.

The hot meal program began on January 24 with the first distribution of hot meals to tent camps, with a particular focus on women and children living there. Over the next three months a total of 98,000 hot meals were served in the course of 15 distributions that ranged between 5,000 and 7,000 at a time.

While the primary emphasis was on the tent camps, during the early phase of the program we provided some of these meals to members of the national police force who were themselves living in tents, as the government was unable to give them any food or wages for the first month and a half following the earthquake. We also provided meals during that same time for a number of civil servants who were in a similar situation but who were determined to stay on the job to do what they could to restore services for the population.

In addition to the hot meals, we also contracted Mr. Pierre to develop a dry food ration kit. These were prepared in the Dominican Republic and brought in by truck and distributed in tent camps. Each kit had enough rations for an average family for one week. A total of 700 of these kits were distributed.

The term "whopping" should be applied to the impact Mr. Pierre had on Yéle’s behalf. Each hot meal fed an average of two people, and the ration kits fed five people for a week -- so through Mr. Pierre we were able to feed around 200,000 people at a cost of about $5 per person at a time when food was scarce, hot meals almost unheard of, and delivery of food into the tent camps was regularly causing riots.

3. What was the role of Samosa SA in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?

NY Post: "Yele Haiti also paid $577,185 to a company called Samosa SA, based in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, as a 'bulk water supplier'. But some of that money went to rent a house for Yele Haiti volunteers on Samosa’s property at the inflated price of $35,000 a month...."

HL Response: Samosa SA is a Haitian company that Yéle contracted to provide fresh water to those living in tent camps. Samosa utilized 14 of their 1,200-gallon tanker trucks to deliver an average of 34,000 gallons of water a day on a rotating schedule to 30 different tent camps. The water came from an aquifer on the Samosa property and they filtered the water on site using a reverse osmosis process. While Samosa provided the trucks and drivers, Yéle sent its own staff to accompany each delivery -- having made sure that each tent camp would be ready with volunteers to help manage the operation and residents lined up with pails ready to take the water.

Water distribution began on January 24 and over the course of the remainder of 2010 a total of 4.2 million gallons of purified water was distributed at a unit cost of 10¢ a gallon. The unit cost went up in October when half the water was diverted as Yéle contributed to fighting the outbreak of cholera in the rural areas north of Port-au-Prince. The increased cost was a combination of more fuel being required to drive outside the capital plus a bonus paid to the drivers because they were afraid to go into the midst of the cholera outbreak when it had just begun and the population was terrified and did not yet understand how it was spread.

There was a second and separate contract with Samosa SA for Yéle to rent a seven-acre walled property that included a house. The property and house were rented from May 1 onwards for $15,000 a month.

The house was used by Yéle as a center of our relief activities, serving as both headquarters and main office. Our U.S. staff and visiting volunteers also stayed there. The house had three bedrooms and by using mattresses and sleeping bags we were able to accommodate as many as 30 people at a time, depending on the scale of the distributions or other emergency relief programs that were being implemented.

The rest of the property was used as the site of a warehouse operation where relief items such as tents, tarps, blankets, food, clothing, shoes, medical supplies, windup flashlights, windup radios, and other items were stored, sorted, and loaded onto trucks for delivery to the 30 tent camps that we served on a regular basis.

The warehouse operation had two components -- we installed a large concrete slab on which we placed nine permanent 40-foot containers and had space for six more that shuffled between the property and the port. The second component involved a 44-foot diameter geodesic dome that we erected and which was used for both storage and sorting.

Lastly, we built a facility that was intended to serve the needs of amputees. Two geodesic domes were erected, but the facility was not completed when it was discovered that the initial government estimates amputees had been significantly overstated. The two domes were taken down and are currently in storage.

As the overall emergency relief needs in Haiti changed, Yéle subsequently moved out of the rented Samosa property in early 2011.

4. What was the role of P & A Construction in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?

NY Post: "Yele Haiti paid five contractors to accomplish its goals, including P&A Construction --- which received $353,983 and is run by Warnel Pierre, the brother of Jean’s wife, Claudinette...."

HL Response: Yéle contracted a company called P & A Construction to design and build several things, and in keeping with a policy of transparency we included the fact that the owner of the company is a relative of Wyclef Jean in our IRS 990 tax filing for 2010.

Finding a contractor who can build anything in Haiti on time and on budget is a rarity, and Warnel Pierre was that person. As we did with all contracts, estimates for projects were reviewed against standard costs per square foot or the relevant unit of comparison, depending on the project. In all cases we were satisfied that Mr. Pierre was providing a good service at a competitive rate.

Among the services provided by Mr. Pierre during 2010 were the following:

  • repair and complete rebuilding and expansion of the Jean et Marie Orphanage that had been damaged in the earthquake;
  • repair and the addition of a kitchen, bathrooms, and two new classrooms at the Bon Samaritan Orphanage that had been damaged in the earthquake;
  • installation of electrical power lines, septic and water storage tanks, and a well; re-surfacing with gravel and a drainage system, building of toilets and shower facility, and other upgrades to the Place Fierte tent camp in the Cité Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince;
  • installation of concrete slab and related ramps for container-based warehouse storage;
  • installation of concrete slab base, plumbing, bathrooms, and showers for the amputee facility, including assisting in the installation of two geodesic domes on the site; and
  • installation of concrete slab and surrounding gravel drainage area for geodesic dome used as part of the warehouse operation, including assisting in the installation of the dome.

5. What did Yéle do to ensure transparency of operation?

NY Post: " 'Given the fact that Yele Haiti was involved in a swirl of controversy after the earthquake in Haiti, it's all the more reason to be more transparent to ensure donors that their funds are going to help people,' said the Better Business Bureau’s Bennett Weiner...."

HL Response: Yéle hired the prestigious accounting firm of RSM McGladrey to improve its level of transparency and together we developed one of the most comprehensive and timely systems of disclosure of any NGO working in Haiti. Beginning in September 2010, Yéle regularly updated this financial information on its website.

6. Did Yéle lose $244,000 in 2009?

NY Post: "The group lost $244,000 in 2009...."

HL Response: This allegation is simply made up. Yéle began 2009 with $57,421 in cash on hand that was carried over from the previous year. To that was added donations in 2009 totaling $749,480, for a total of $806,901. We spent $994,344 in 2009, with the difference of $187,443 between what we spent and what we received being invoices that came in the latter part of 2009 and which were paid in 2010. There was no loss.


(Locke is currently writing a book about his six years of humanitarian service in Haiti.)

Wikipedia Goes to College

November 29, 2011

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she chatted with Karen Brown, vice president of programs at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, about the foundation's capacity-building efforts.)

Wikimedia_FdnSince 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation has been quietly going about the business of operating the fifth most visited site on the Internet without trumpeting its own story as one of the most successful volunteer organizations in the world.

With 20 million volunteer-authored articles in over 282 languages, the foundation has taken the old-fashioned volunteer effort online and achieved a scale for Wikipedia, its biggest and most successful project, that few people in traditional nonprofit circles would dare to imagine. For those in the sector focused on impact, the numbers are impressive. According to a Pew survey, 53 percent of adult American Internet users visit Wikipedia regularly, and the site boasts more than 400 million user visits a month (the strategic plan calls for topping one billion in 2012). Let's face it, is there any other nonprofit organization in the world that can help you find Lady Gaga's real name (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta ) or tell you how to properly categorize Pluto within seconds of firing up your smartphone?

While the Wikimedia Foundation has grown in recent years, it is still primarily a volunteer enterprise. Headquartered in San Francisco, the 501(c)(3) organization has only 73 full-time employees and, despite a very sophisticated technology infrastructure, an annual operating budget of under $30 million. To maintain and improve its financial position, the foundation has become more aggressive this year about raising additional funds. Like its volunteer efforts, these initial forays into the world of fundraising have been models of efficiency and innovation. Indeed, the foundation's first online fundraiser last year netted some $15 million in just fifty days.

Continue reading »

A Bifocal Lens: The Value of Investing in Both Networks and Organizations

November 28, 2011

(Paul Connolly is chief client services officer at the TCC Group, a consulting firm that provides strategy, evaluation, and capacity-building services to foundations, nonprofit organizations, and corporate community involvement programs. A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

BifocalsWhat do the Arab Spring uprisings, the Tea Party, al-Qaeda, and Occupy Wall Street have in common? They all stem from flexible networks of people and groups rather than just a single organization. And they all have powerfully influenced society lately. As technology has enabled more connection and coordination, networks are playing a greater role in tackling social and environmental problems, galvanizing change, and enhancing civil society. At the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference "Growing Social Impact in a Networked World" a few weeks ago, funders discussed how they are changing their perspectives and practices to support and participate in networks.

One foundation leader remarked that observing a network is like looking at a Monet painting: up close, the brushstrokes can be blurry and seem disconnected, but when you stand back the power of the full picture becomes clear. Another speaker advised that funders need to view networks with a different type of lens than what they use for organizations. Networks tend to have more distributed ownership and expertise, less linear decision-making processes, more fluid boundaries, and results that are harder to measure. Funders therefore need to tailor how they assist networks -- for example, by investing at multiple levels, providing for additional improvisation, relinquishing some control, and focusing less on causal attribution of outcomes.

Along these lines, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has provided funding to foster a network of activists across the nation working to reduce childhood obesity by improving eating habits and increasing physical activity. In doing so, the foundation has learned that shifting from a mostly one-way broadcast mode to a more robust and interactive dialogue with constituents who are connected to the coalition has required more effort, openness, and trust. At the same time, foundation staff members have strived to listen actively to network participants and create authentic feedback loops -- both online and in-person -- to help advance the effort.

Similarly, the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation has nurtured Reboot, a network of thought leaders and culturally influential Jewish people working to engage a younger generation in "rebooting" Jewish culture, rituals, and traditions. The foundation's strategy was to get the right mix of people in the right space and then allow for serendipity. With a bold overarching goal, the foundation backs the network's process and does not try to micromanage the specific means chosen by members or the content they produce.

The Packard Foundation studied their existing portfolio of grantees and realized they already had a broad spectrum of models, about a third being networks for wide-ranging causes with varying types of needs. As Packard program director Stephanie McAuliffe noted, "Our grantee the Ocean Conservancy did not want to strengthen their organization's brand, but the ocean's brand." The foundation has improved its own network approach through an online wiki, transparently sharing data about certain programs and engaging others in their strategy development and evaluation work. [Ed note: You can learn more about the Packard wiki at the Transparency Talk blog.]

Although networks have many distinctive features, they also share many of the same characteristics as organizations. In fact, many networks are actually collections of organizations, or at least are comprised of individuals who see their participation through a specific organizational perspective. So networks can be both capable in their own right, as well as reflect the performance of the particular organizations involved. TCC Group's research on nonprofits and coalitions have found that the highest-performing ones share such central characteristics as distributed leadership, inclusive mindsets and practices, cross-fertilized programs, learning cultures, and adaptability.

Specifically, we found that the strongest nonprofit organizations:

  • have a clear vision;
  • understand community needs and services well;
  • are deeply engaged and forge alliances with external stakeholders;
  • encourage reflective inquiry; and
  • amplify their impact by not only expanding their own programs, but also disseminating replicable practices and models and by influencing policies and systems.

Our study of coalitions for the California Endowment determined that the most successful ones:

  • have a lucid mutual purpose and value proposition;
  • collaborate and manage conflict well;
  • conduct ongoing assessment;
  • have transparent decision-making processes; and
  • are action-oriented.

Far-sighted grantmakers see that scaling social impact will not happen just by growing high-performing nonprofit organizations one at a time. Increasingly, strong networks will be needed, and their respective efforts will have to intersect more and more. Meanwhile, nonprofit organizations are still the predominant vehicle for achieving philanthropic support, and many networks involve sets of them. To see organizations and networks -- the individual brushstrokes as well as the full painting -- clearly rather than through two different sets of optics, funders need better bifocal lenses. Without them, they'll be hampered by fuzzy vision and blind spots, reducing their potential to magnify positive change.

There's much yet to discover about harnessing the combined potential of organizations and networks. What tools, frameworks, and training are needed to sharpen our collective bifocal vision? How can we learn more about organizational and network effectiveness and the places where they intersect -- and do a better job of applying what we already know? How can grantmakers support networks' efforts to build superior shared learning systems and performance measurement within particular fields? Share you thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.

-- Paul Connolly

Weekend Link Roundup (November 26 - 27, 2011)

November 27, 2011

Aurora-borealis-NWTOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Community Improvement/Development

On the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga issues a call to support community-based organizations, which, he says, "are just too good and too important to fail."

On the Knight Blog, Philadelphia program manager Donna Frisby-Greenwood announces the beta launch of Change By Us, a platform for Philly residents who want to share ideas, join or create projects, build teams, and find resources to advance their projects.


Did you find yourself fumbling for words when the dinner-table discussion turned to income inequality and the Occupy Wall Street movement this weekend? The next time that happens, you might want to mention this finding about the widening income gap, courtesy of the Weakonomist:

In 1967, the lowest fifth (called a quintile) of income earners earned 9 percent of what the top quintile earned. In 2010 that number was 6.5 percent. That means the gap between the top and bottom has widened.

But there's a problem with statistics like that. It's a measure of household income. Household income is the total income of anyone living at a particular address. Since 1967, the total number of households in the US has grown 95 percent, while the population has only grown 56 percent. How can that happen? When a household splits in half, you get two households. Say mom and dad get divorced and each make $30k a year. You go from having one household that makes $60k to two that make $30k. How does this get reflected in the data? It skews the low-income numbers down. In the lowest quintile household, on average, there are zero income earners. In the top, of course, there are two. If more households had two income earners, you'd see less of the widening gap....

International Affairs/Development

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green explain why the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness created by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2005 to manage development assistance has been disrupted "beyond repair" by the financial crisis.


GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff weighs in on organizational leadership, which happened to be the subject of Ashoka CEO and founder Bill Drayton's remarks upon accepting the John W. Gardner Leadership Award and is discussed at length in Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs' book Leadership Agility. During his remarks, Drayton urged nonprofits to trade in their hierarchical structures, which, he said, don't work anymore because they "are no longer able to respond quickly or sufficiently enough," for a team approach, while Joiner and Josephs argue that today's organizations need to "nimbly anticipate and respond to rapidly changing conditions," and that the team approach is one way to do that. "There's a lot to think about here," writes Ottenhoff. "In some ways, these observations seem to be stating the obvious. But if [it's] so simple, why aren’t we doing it?"

Public Policy

On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Niki Jagpal looks at at a new study from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life which found that there has been a "dramatic increase in the size and influence of the 'religious lobby.'" These findings, Jagpal writes, "are important for any foundation concerned with advancing our democracy or engaging in policy."


In and op-ed for the New York Times, Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff looks at the favorable tax treatment accorded donor-advised funds, many of which are affiliated with and managed by large financial institutions like Fidelity, Schwab, and Goldman Sachs, and calls on Congress to enact rules "that require donor-advised funds to distribute all of their assets to real public charities within seven years of their contribution."

Social Media

To kick off the holiday season, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz highlights a few campaigns that embrace a sense of fun, including a #GoodSpotting sweepstakes organized by the Case Foundation that invites Twitter users to share pictures of an individual or organization doing good using the hashtag #GoodSpotting; participants who enter the contest on the foundation's Facebook page can win up to $500 in holiday spending cash -- and up to $5,000 for the charity of their choice.

Guest blogging at Beth's Blog, Mary Trudel and Rory MacPherson of Trudel | MacPherson Arts Consulting share findings from a new national study that looked at social media use by arts organizations. Among other things, the study, How Strong Is Your Social Net?, found that 70 percent of the 1,600 arts groups surveyed feel that social media is delivering on its promise and hype.

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

-- Regina Mahone

The Donor Is Not Always Right

November 26, 2011

(The following post was written by Sofia Michelakis, director of philanthropy development at Social Venture Partners Seattle. Michelakis' post, which was written in response to a recent post by fundraising author and consultant Kivi Leroux Miller, touches on the need for donors and funders to keep their focus on organizational outcomes rather than the administrative shortcomings that are common in the nonprofit world.)

Empathy_handsRecently I attended a fundraising breakfast. The organization’s programs serve people who are homeless due to addiction and/or mental health issues. My friend is their executive director, but that's not why I support them. Their mission resonates with me on a personal level. My mother is mentally ill and I lost my brother to a drug overdose. Supporting them in many ways helps me. As I walk down the street in Seattle and encounter homeless people not so different from members of my immediate family, I feel as if I'm doing something to help.

The first year I attended the event, inspired by the visionary founder's words about taking care of people in our community, I took a breath and made a two-year pledge, my biggest gift to date. It felt good to sign up to be a big giver. The second year I agreed to be a half-table captain. What's a HALF-table captain, you ask? I teamed up with a friend to fill one table in a room packed with nearly a hundred tables. Well, that turned out to be not so hard. So this year my husband and I more than filled a table ourselves. We were becoming more involved.

You know those envelopes at nonprofit fundraisers that are passed out during the ask? I listened to a client-speaker share the story of her abusive home life, running away, her pregnancy, loss of her child to a sudden grave illness, and falling into despair and drug use to numb the pain -- all by the time she was seventeen. Having just had my first child, I found my eyes welling up and my throat dry with emotion as I clutched the envelopes in my hand before remembering I was supposed to pass them around. I'd brought my checkbook and still owed my gift for this year. I knew October was going to be a big expense month, so I put two checks in the envelope, one made out for that date and the other postdated to the end of November.

The next day I received a voice-mail from the organization's development director thanking me for renewing our pledge and soliciting feedback on the event. I returned her call and was put on hold for quite a long time. We never got connected, so instead I sent a short e-mail. I thanked her for her call, said I'd be happy to give feedback, and that our guests really enjoyed the event. As an aside, I referenced the postdated check, hoping they'd seen it. I asked her if she could call me back to set up a monthly auto-pay for our pledge for next year so we could get it out of the way early. I never heard back.

A few weeks later I was doing some online banking and noticed that two large checks for the same amount had cleared. I clicked to view the images and saw that the nonprofit had cashed both checks, including the postdated one. I got upset and started composing an e-mail in my head, one to which I would attach a PDF of the postdated check clearly showing the date. I also thought about CC'ing my friend, the development director's boss. I knew the e-mail would not be ignored.

But then I paused. I reflected on the fact that I'm a major donor to the organization, someone who introduces new donors as a table captain, who knows a lot of other givers and foundation officers -- and is a friend of the ED to boot. No matter what I said in that e-mail, or how unreasonable it might have been, I would have been told I was right. I thought further about the hundreds of people at the event, how many payments the organization must have processed that day, and how easy it would have been to not notice a date scribbled on a check, or for volunteers to not wonder why a donor would enclose two checks instead of one.

So instead, I wrote her an e-mail telling her I had made a mistake. I should not have put a postdated check in the envelope and waited two days to let her know. My bad. I did, however, ask that we get a monthly payment plan set up for next year. I didn't want to make the same mistake again.

The end of the year is often the most stressful for nonprofits. Most organizations I know are constantly recalculating their projections with respect to how much their fundraising events will yield. End-of-year donations will determine their balance sheet for the next year, and in some cases whether they're even able to make payroll.

I recently read a well-intentioned blog post by a fundraising consultant who, at the end of 2010, sent out ten gifts of $20 each to a range of national nonprofits to test how promptly they thanked her for the gift. Her startling finding was that only three out of ten sent a timely thank you. Scrolling through the comments to her post, I saw that someone pointed out that the online service she used to send the donations prints the donor's name but not a mailing address on the notifications it e-mails to recipients. In order to get the address of the donor, a nonprofit would have to go to the check payment Web site itself, something few people are aware of. Still, the author of the post was quick to judge the nonprofits rather than think there might be a good reason she didn't receive a timely thank you. (Besides, what's a reasonable expectation for a $20 gift?)

The lesson here is not that nonprofits shouldn't take customer service seriously. The fact is they have to -- or they're likely to go out of business. At the same time, it's incumbent on donors to empathize with the organizations we've decided to support -- indeed, to ask how we can make their lives a bit easier. Administrative mistakes will happen, but often because nonprofits have more important fish to fry, like making a difference for the individuals and communities they serve.

-- Sofia Michelakis

P.S. Wondering how the development director responded to my e-mail? She wrote me right away and thanked me for being so understanding.

Commentary: Famine in East Africa

November 25, 2011

(Don Golden is a church activist and vice president with World Relief in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-author with Rob Bell of Jesus Wants to Save Christians, a call for Christians to engage with the great causes of our day.)

Don_GoldenI recently traveled to the Turkana District of northern Kenya with Kenyan pastors, World Relief staff, and a media team to witness firsthand an underreported food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

During the twenty-five-hour trip along treacherous roads from Nairobi to the worst-affected areas of the district, I was mindful that World Relief had already lost one vehicle. But Turkana's remoteness may be the easiest barrier to overcome for any organization attempting to help the Turkana people.

In the United States, we cover Africa one story at a time, and lately the story has been neighboring Somalia. Having reached phase five on USAID's Famine Early Warning System, Somalia is ground zero for an ongoing catastrophe. For Somalis, famine has meant the total collapse of communities, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people, the deaths of tens of thousands of children, and the creation of refugee camps that inevitably foster disease, dependency, and disempowerment. When the occasional image of famine in Somalia reaches America, I ask myself: Does it have to get this bad before Turkana gets help? How long until this kind of crisis is a thing of the past? When will starvation be relegated to the history books?

Among the many dysfunctions revealed by the persistence of famine in the developing world are distrustful attitudes toward the institutions we create to prevent such tragedies. The U.S. government monitors global food shortages and the threat of famine. Experts warned that a food crisis was brewing in the Horn of Africa months before it arrived. Why do we repeat the mistakes of Rwanda and Srebrenica by ignoring the United Nations and other institutions entrusted with helping us prevent such tragedies?

In Turkana, a stronger dose of prevention could reduce the threat of famine and help turn the fortunes of a great indigenous people. Turkana is a place where the hope of preventing a tragedy should motivate us to act now, while there is a chance of making a difference. Outside of al Shabaab-controlled Somalia, some of the worst nutrition indicators recorded by the World Health Organization are from Turkana, where in many areas four out of ten children are malnourished and one in ten is severely malnourished. Indeed, most of Turkana is well above the 15 percent malnourishment rate WHO considers to be "crisis" level, and USAID has declared a phase four emergency in much of the region, which means rates of malnutrition are so high that people will die without food assistance.

But Turkana has not captured the attention of the world and funding has been hard to secure. As a result, more than 200,000 vulnerable people have a minimal level of food. Indeed, with its limited resources, the World Food Program can distribute food only once a month in the hardest hit areas of the region.

Additional challenges arise from the Turkana way of life. The Turkana are pastoralists, deeply committed to their livestock and traditions. For a Turkana to come down from the hills and give up his cows, camels, and goats is to effectively give up his reason for existence, to give up hope. But the Turkana's nomadic way of life is now threatened as the hope of food drives thousands to leave their traditional ways behind and settle in make-shift communities where they wait patiently for sporadic distributions of food.

One local pastor we met on our trip, David, epitomizes the resilient culture of the Turkana. He had been a street kid in the small town of Lokitaung and is now a 42-year-old widower with two children whose wife died earlier this year of malarial meningitis. Like so many, David and his family left their pasture in the hills and settled in a new community. Yet he refuses to give up on his people — or on the hope that a viable future is possible for them, a sentiment that runs deep with the Turkana.

As we drove the fifteen hours from Nairobi to Lodwar and encountered communities desperate for food and water, my awareness of the complexity of the situation grew. While food is desperately needed, the provision of food alone is likely to create more dependency, further disempowering the Turkana and making local participation in problem solving less likely. For the Turkana to flourish again, long-term aid is needed.

Driven by a mutual hope that is shared with the Turkana, World Relief is working with local churches and other community-based organizations to help cultivate long-term solutions to a desperate situation. As climate change leads to greater drought and claims more pastureland in the region, the world of the Turkana will continue to shrink. Prevailing water and food shortages require innovative local solutions and a more vigorous international response.

In conjunction with Kenyan churches, World Relief is distributing food and providing supplementary feeding for the severely malnourished in Lokitaung and Kerio. To address the critical water shortage in the region, World Relief will start community water committees and work with Living Water International to refurbish existing bore holes and dig new ones. But we need partners. Amid the arid, challenging terrain of Turkana a food emergency is unfolding and a quick response is key to avoiding the same fate that has befallen Somali. Stand with us for the Turkana at www.worldrelief.org/turkana.

-- Don Golden

Talking Philanthropy: Swanee Hunt, Founder and Chairman, Hunt Alternatives Fund

November 23, 2011

In the latest installment of their Talking Philanthropy podcast series, hosts Larry Blumenthal and Bill Silberg talk to Swanee Hunt, founder and chairman of the Hunt Alternatives Fund, about the fund's focus on advocacy and transparency. A former ambassador to Austria during the Clinton administration, Hunt also chairs the Institute for Inclusive Security, which works to integrate women into peace processes around the globe, and is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She is, in addition, the founder of the Women and Public Policy Program at KSG, on the faculty at the school's Center for Public Leadership, and a senior advisor to the working group on modern-day slavery at the Carr Center for Human Rights.


Running time: 00:23:33

(Right-click to download mp3)

Should foundations be doing more to address social issues through advocacy and community organizing? What else can or should they do to "move beyond just writing checks"? And do you agree with Hunt that the "process of social change can be as important as the product"?

Have a topic you'd like to hear Larry and Bill address? Let us know in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Do We Really Need Twelve Million New Nonprofits?

November 21, 2011

(Mark Rosenman, a nonprofit sector activist and scholar, directs Caring to Change, an effort in Washington that seeks to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good. In his last post, he wrote about commercialization of the public good. A version of this post appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on Friday.)

Rosenman_headshotWhen I learned recently via a Civic Ventures study that more than twelve million baby boomers "are interested in starting their own (social impact) business or nonprofit organization in the next five to ten years," I became alarmed.

Why do I find this aspiration so distressing? I worry that the addition of millions of new nonprofit and social enterprises -- on top of the million or so incorporated charities and foundations already registered with the IRS -- will make it more rather than less likely that we continue to view and treat critical societal issues as if they were fragmented and unrelated. And that means less effort to bring about the broad-based changes needed in our social, political, and economic institutions.

While I admire the commitment and spirit of these baby boomers -- and of the millions of others who make real contributions to improving conditions in this country and around the globe -- there is something truly incongruous in each person thinking he needs to start his own nonprofit.

And the dissonance isn't simply generational. While some entrepreneurs may want to do well by doing good and believe that is best achieved through the vehicle of her own enterprise, such individuation has contributed to the very problems that vex us.

With the number of Americans in need of help on the rise, shouldn't we be asking whether encouraging a thousand organizational flowers to bloom is the best way to respond to our current dilemma?

We know the middle class is in trouble -- and not because people are lazy or feckless. Most people have played by the rules, worked hard, and done what they thought was the right thing for themselves and their families. Yet they find themselves falling further and further behind.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 19 - 20, 2011)

November 20, 2011

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


Writing on the Communications Network blog, Rebecca Reyes, a communications associate at Everyday Democracy, shares an eight-step plan for measuring digital media.

Current Affairs

Have Fun Do Good blogger Britt Bravo, who is based in Oakland, explains why the Occupy Wall Street movement makes her "sad, and a bit tired." Writes Bravo:

The Occupy movement feels like the human race is screaming, "Help! Something is not right! Life is out of balance!" Thing is, there isn't anyone there to hear us, except us.

Only the 99% can help the 99%. Only we can help each other. How are we going to do it?...

In a brilliant post, The Atlantic's Alex Madrigal shares a few thoughts along those lines and, in the process, articulates what may be the best metaphor yet for the Occupy movement: social protest as API.


What does the American dream look like for the current generation of college students? On December 1 in Atlanta, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation will host a panel discussion on that topic featuring Bob Herbert, former columnist for the New York Times and now a senior fellow at nonprofit think tank Demos; Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation; and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow, who will moderate. Students from several area colleges and universities -- including Agnes Scott, Clark Atlanta, Emory, Georgia Tech, Morehouse, Oglethorpe, and Spelman -- are invited to participate. "The nation's future depends on the next generation gaining full access to the American dream," says Blank Foundation president Penelope McPhee. "A world-class education is the key that unlocks the American dream for millions of young people." The talk will be Webcast live starting at 6:00 p.m. EST.


On the FSG blog, FSG managing director Mark Kramer "suggests that while investing in small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) that provide a new solution to a social problem can indeed deliver social impact, "the high transaction costs, limited liquidity, and scarcity of good managers sets a ceiling on [the] ultimate scale of [that] impact." Instead, such investments should be augmented, Kramer argues, with new financial instruments like the $3.5 billion in vaccine bonds issued by the International Finance Facility for Immunisation or social impact bonds. "As the field matures," adds Kramer, "funders will realize that innovative financing structures, rather than individual social enterprises, offer the greatest chance for large-scale leverage."

On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Paul Connolly, chief client services officer at the TCC Group, suggests that foundations should not only support individual nonprofits but provide funding to foster the development of issue-focused networks.


Rosetta Thurman has some advice for young nonprofit professionals looking to grow their network "the old-fashioned way." For starters, says Thurman, join a professional association, which, among other benefits, will "provide you with a ready-made network as soon as you pay your membership fee."

Nonprofit Management

Kim Cook of the Nonprofit Finance Fund shares some notes from the Theatre Communications Group's fall conference, which was dedicated to issues of governance.


In a post on the Fast Company blog, Nathaniel James, founder of the Awesome Foundation's Seattle chapter, talks with "well-respected philanthropy wonk" Lucy Bernholz about the emergence of the "open philanthropy" movement, which Bernholz describes as a "little revolution" that aims to encourage foundations to embrace transparency and use the "vast repositories of information" at their disposal to help solve stubbornly persistent social problems.

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

On Oxfam's From Poverty to Power blog, WaterAid senior policy analyst Daniel Yeo wonders why more NGOs aren't working on water issues. While diarrhea is the biggest child killer in sub-Saharan Africa and preventable diarrhea associated with dirty water and poor sanitation "kills more children than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined," Yeo notes, WASH issues just aren't perceived as being "sexy" or a high priority in developed countries. And that, says Yeo, is a tragedy.

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

-- The Editors

World Toilet Day

November 19, 2011

Every year, November 19 is set aside to spotlight the global sanitation crisis and acknowledge the life-saving power of the toilet. Yes, I'm literally talking sh*t. And for a good reason. Consider these facts (source: UN Water):

  • Globally, diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
  • Roughly 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That's 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, treating diarrhoea consumes 12 percent of the health budget. On a typical day, more than half the hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from faecal-related disease.
  • While the percent of population with access to improved facilities has increased since 1990 in all regions, the number of people living without access also has increased due to slow progress and population growth. In 2008, 2.6 billion people had still no access to improved sanitation facilities.
  • The Millennium Development Goal drinking water and sanitation (WASH) target is to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Earlier this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $200 million to global WASH initiatives over the past five years, announced grants totaling $42 million as part of a new strategy to bring safe, clean sanitation services to millions of poor people in the developing world. As Sylvia Mathhews Burwell, head of the foundation's global development program, said at the time: "No innovation in the past two hundred years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet. But it...only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet...."

To learn more about the global sanitation crisis and what funders are doing to address it, visit WASHfunders.org, a new Web site developed by the Foundation Center, with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, that aims to facilitate better collaboration and more strategic decision-making among WASH funders.

-- Mitch Nauffts

A 'Flip' Chat With...Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO, the Annie E. Casey Foundation

November 18, 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 NYU Wagner School of Public Service senior fellow Gara LaMarche.)

Earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which for the past sixty-plus years has worked to "foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today's vulnerable children and families." A newly minted member of the Foundation Center’s board of trustees, McCarthy was in town for the November meeting. Before he headed back to Baltimore, we sat down to discuss the latest editon of the foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Book (88 pages, PDF), which reported, among other things, that the child poverty rate in the United States rose some 18 percent from 2000 to 2009 and that, in 2010, one out of every five kids in the U.S. was living in a household whose income was below the federal poverty level.

Research shows that poverty rates are highly correlated with negative outcomes for children. And a new study from Stanford University finds evidence of a widening opportunity gap in the United States. According to that report (33 pages, PDF), the share of Americans living in either the poorest or most affluent neighborhoods more than doubled over the last forty years, from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent in 2007, while the share of families in middle-income neighborhoods fell from 65 percent to 44 percent. The findings in both reports suggest a "worsening of trends that have been going on for some time," McCarthy noted during our chat.

As McCarthy suggests in the video below, much more needs to be done to address the root causes of poverty in the U.S., which last year reached the highest level since 1993. At the same time, we need to work towards getting "children on a path towards economic success and...building the kinds of technical skills and intellectual cognitive skills that they need to be successful tomorrow."

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

(Running time: 8 minutes, 3 seconds)

Do you agree with McCarthy's take on the Occupy Wall Street movement? And what advice would you give to funders seeking to address poverty in the United States? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

A Tale of Two Social Movements: The Giving Pledge and Occupy Wall Street

November 17, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about poverty and the marketization of philanthropy.)

Global_unrestMake no mistake: Occupy Wall Street, a "leaderless resistance movement" that claims to represent "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%," and the Giving Pledge, "an effort to invite the wealthiest families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy," are two sides of the same coin. Neither one is a formal organization like Planned Parenthood or the National Rifle Association. Rather, they are social movements, more or less spontaneous gatherings of individuals who have come together because they feel things need to change and are ready to do something about it. What makes them such strange bedfellows, of course, is that the Giving Pledge is a billionaire social movement ensconced firmly within the upper echelons of the 1 percent of the population that is the object of Occupy Wall Street's ire.

What does a head-to-head comparison of the two movements reveal? Here's my take:

Numbers. In a recession-racked economy, the "99%" represents a virtually unlimited source of dissatisfied, disenfranchised, and pissed-off people. Some will drop out, some will join the Tea Party, and some will swell the ranks of protesters at Zucotti Square -- or wherever the movement decides to make its next stand. Only a precious few will achieve mega-billionaire status.

Advantage: Occupy Wall Street

Money. While the folks behind the Giving Pledge campaign are out wining and dining the Forbes 400, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are scarfing down take-out pizzas. Both movements are about money -- one trying to figure out how to constructively use a surplus of it, the other with how to secure a fair share of the economic pie for its supporters. If the Giving Pledge is successful in its stated goal of getting everyone on the Forbes 400 to give away half their wealth, it will double the $600 billion already dedicated to organized philanthropy in America.

Advantage: Giving Pledge

Continue reading »

Why Measuring Impact Remains an Elusive Goal

November 15, 2011

(Larry McGill is vice president for research at the the Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on the Community page of our Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact portal.)

Apples-and-orangesWhere do you fall on the spectrum between skeptic and champion when it comes to assessing the impact of foundation work?

In an op-ed piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier this year, William Schambra asserted that "measurement is a futile way to approach grantmaking." He further argued that foundations' track record when it comes to outcome and impact measurement has been unimpressive over the years, and that the costs and burdens such measurement places on both foundations and nonprofit organizations heavily outweigh any benefits gained. And he pointed out that strategies for measuring impact keep changing, as unsuccessful methodologies are discarded in favor of new ones which he believes are doomed to fail as well.

I think Schambra makes some good points. And while I'm not as pessimistic as he is, I would add some others as well.

1. Many organizations do not yet grasp the all-important distinction between impact assessment and performance measurement. What foundations and nonprofits can reasonably hope to measure are programmatic outcomes among their direct clients. Social impact, on the other hand, takes place at a collective level that extends far beyond the reach of any one foundation or nonprofit organization. It takes a village to make (and measure) collective impact. (One of the best treatments of this critical distinction between impact assessment and performance measurement is Mark Friedman's Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough.)

2. Impact assessment is not the end goal of foundation and nonprofit work. Making desired change happen is the end goal. We assess "impact" only in order to see whether we have succeeded in making desired change happen and to learn what we need to adjust and improve. Formal impact assessment may not even be necessary in trying to figure out whether change has happened. Sometimes, "you can just tell." And if you can't, maybe impact assessment is trying to measure something too subtle to really matter all that much.

3. How far down the field do you set the goal posts? Over what time period should you measure change? More importantly, what if you've set your goal posts on the wrong field? Maybe change is happening in ways you didn't anticipate.

4. Social investment does not take place in a controlled laboratory setting. Political change is out of your control. Economic change is out of your control. Organization turnover is out of your control. Any of these can derail promising programs and undermine success. How do you assess impact under such conditions?

5. Measurement error creeps in everywhere. Theories of change may be inadequately specified; operationalizing concepts into measurable metrics always involves compromise; data collection is hampered by unclear procedures or insufficiently trained or motivated data collectors. It is entirely possible that the size of any impact to be measured may be smaller than the sum of all these measurement errors!

6. "Measurement" is a highly mediated form of communication (i.e., every measure is only a proxy). Information is always lost when qualitative "reality" is funneled into measurement categories, no matter how carefully defined. To really learn whether something is working or not, there is no substitute, at some level, for direct observation and face-to-face communication. Metrics are filters, and they may be filtering out what you really need to know.

7. Any specific situation is, at some level, irreducibly unique. The best measurement strategy will always be a home-grown methodology that is grounded in an experiential understanding of the present situation. There are over a hundred and fifty measurement tools and strategies in the TRASI database, a number that continues to grow. To what extent can they be applied in situations outside the ones in which they were developed? Are they, at best, only examples to learn from in designing new customized measurement strategies?

We need to have a thorough discussion about the measurement challenges in the field of philanthropy in order to be able to talk meaningfully about the possibility of "social impact assessment." I will be raising these points during a panel session this Friday (11/18) at the upcoming meeting of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and invite your thoughts on how we can steer the impact assessment conversation in fruitful directions.

-- Larry McGill


Funding for Capacity Building: 5Qs for Karen Brown, Fairfield County Community Foundation

November 14, 2011

(Karen Brown is vice president of programs at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, where she is responsible for overseeing grantmaking and providing philanthropic advisory services to donor-advised fundholders. Laura Cronin, a regular contributor to PhilanTopic, interviewed Brown recently.)

Karen_Brown Philanthropy News Digest: Nonprofit executives have been managing against a backdrop of economic turmoil for three years years now. What have the most successful Fairfield County groups been doing to keep it together during these difficult times?

Karen Brown: One key element of navigating this economic climate is transparency. Funders need information from grantees in order to make the case internally for all the grants in their portfolio. One exemplary executive director in our area has done something very simple and smart along these lines. After each of his board meetings, he sends a synopsis to us and to his other funders. It doesn't include every single detail of the meeting, but it gives a full picture of what transpired, and when I read it I feel as if I was there. It keeps me in the loop, and it's probably a document he needs to create anyway, so it's efficient. It's just an example of how communicating with funders and donors can be managed in a cost-effective way that gives them the information they need to make informed decisions.

PND: While great management is no substitute for a robust economy and a healthy fundraising environment, what kind of strategies should nonprofits pursue to ensure that they have the capacity to manage through tough times?

KB: We've been urging grantees to continue to invest in staff and professional development and not to look at those kinds of investments as frills. Employee morale and team building are crucial in a difficult economic climate. And funders need to consider supporting these programs in order to help organizations hold the line on their budgets without sacrificing effectiveness.

Other groups we fund are asking for support for short-term strategic planning -- looking two years out instead of the traditional five. This gives them something to focus on and a set of near-term goals that can keep them on track.

Funders can also be helpful by providing support for organizational assessments. We've assisted several grantees in hiring outside experts to come in and take a thorough look at all aspects of their operation, from leadership to fundraising to their business systems. That kind of thorough organizational assessment can help a grantee focus more attention on its key strengths and identify areas in need of improvement. The key is finding the right third-party help.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 12 - 13, 2011)

November 13, 2011

Veterans-dayOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On the Guardian's Global Development blog, Brookings Institution senior fellow Kevin Watkins criticizes Bill Gates for ignoring international education in his speech to world leaders at last week's G20 Summit. "Education in the world's poorest countries does not figure high on Bill Gates's list of development priorities," writes Watkins. "[And]...applying his market-based strategy in the poorest countries is a prescription for social inequality. At risk of over-generosity, we award him a C- on education, with the hope that he will come back next year and do better."


In a recent post on the Nonprofit Finance Fund's Social Currency blog, Andrew Schwalm argues that nonprofit orgnizations which are able to clearly and accurately articulate their financial story and resource needs are in "a better position to make a...case for support." To that end, Schwalm and his NFF colleagues have created a self-assessment worksheet to help nonprofits assess their stengths and weaknesses.


Harvard Business Review blogger Dan Pallotta argues that before an organization can think outside the box, it needs to figure out what kind of box it's in. "Zune was Microsoft trying to think outside the box, which they saw as the lack of a product to compete with the iPod," writes Pallotta. "The doomed MP3 player became a monument to the real box, which was Microsoft's inability to innovate. It was screaming so hard 'Look, we're innovative' that it never had a chance of being anything but the antithesis of innovation...."

In a wide-ranging interview, Forbes contributor Rahim Kanani spoke with Paul Carttar, director of the federal government's Social Innovation Fund, about the nature of the social innovation sector in the U.S., the fund's milestone achievements, its priorities moving forward, and the future of social innovation. You can read part one here; part two is here.

Social Velocity blogger Nell Edgington has an interview with Robert Egger, founder and president of DC Central Kitchen, the country's first "community kitchen," that touches on some of the things nonprofits need to do to demonstrate how they are actually driving change. The tireless Egger has just launched CForward, "a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization that champions the economic role of the nonprofit sector and supports candidates who include the sector in their plans to strengthen the economy."


On the Venture Philanthropy Partners site, VPP chairman Mario Morino poses six questions that "every nonprofit board and executive team must ask to prepare for rough financial straits ahead."


Earlier this week, Tactical Philanthropy blogger Sean Stannard-Stockton announced that, after five years, he and his widely read blog will be taking a sabbatical. "I have learned so much from the Tactical Philanthropy community," writes Stannard-Stockton, "and have become only more convinced that the field of philanthropy is rushing forward toward a Second Great Wave of philanthropic activity that is fundamentally different from the philanthropy of the last century." We've been admirers of Sean's work from the beginning and wish him great success in his future endeavors.

Poverty Alleviation

Deep Social Impact blogger Joanne Duhl wonders why Americans have accepted and become complacent about growing poverty in their country, and offers a few suggestions for funders working to improve the lives of those in need.

Social Entrepreneurship

In the Washington Post’s new On Giving section, "Social Entrepreneurship and the Next Generation of Giving" features interviews with Kiva.org's Premal Shah and Ashoka's Bill Drayton about the fundamentals, evolution, diversity, and challenges of social entrepreneurship, including the difficulties of applying universal effectiveness metrics to a diverse range of activities. "[Social entrepreneurs'] goal is to get the system to evolve in the fundamental pattern-change ways that will help the children, the parents, the society -- the whole thing," Drayton says. "They see a problem, and they can't imagine stopping and being happy in life until they've changed the pattern in the field."

Social Media

In conjunction with the launch of Google+ Pages, Social Media for Social Good author Heather Mansfield offers step-by-step instructions for nonprofits looking to establish a presence on the social networking platform.


And on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Meyer Memorial Trust communications director Marie Deatherage explains why her perception of "foundations as moated fortresses that operate by a secret rich-people code" was wrong.

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

-- The Editors

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

Subscribe to PhilanTopic


Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Filter posts