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19 posts from January 2012

'Well-Being' and Philanthropy

January 30, 2012

(Michael Edwards is a leading expert on global civil society and the author of Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World. In a series of posts over the next two weeks, he'll be looking at different aspects of the Bellagio Initiative, an effort funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce a new framework for philanthropic and international development collaboration in pursuit of human well-being.)

"Understanding the different dimensions of well-being is crucial…because it reminds us that material and non-material assets, resources and experiences are equally important to the outcomes that people seek through the processes of development and social change...."

MikethirdsectorcroppedWhat can philanthropy learn from international development? Usually that question is asked and answered in reverse, leading to the export of community foundations, "philanthrocapitalism," and other models and ideas from the United States to developing countries. But despite the differences in context, I would say there's much we can learn from fifty years of development work -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My love/hate relationship with development stretches back to 1978, when I boarded a British Caledonian 707 in Manchester and arrived in Bogota twenty-four hours later via London, Madrid and San Juan, Puerto Rico (remember the joys of "refueling"?). I spent the first twenty years of my career with Oxfam, Save the Children, and other NGOs before joining the Ford Foundation in 1999, and the lack of cross-fertilization between philanthropy and development has always struck me as a missed opportunity for learning, at least outside the small number of U.S. foundations that make grants internationally.

And then along came the Bellagio Initiative, an effort funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and organized by the Institute of Development Studies in England to take a more systematic look at the links between these two different traditions. I was lucky enough to be asked to write one of the background papers for this process, and over the next two weeks I'll be highlighting some of the key points from that paper which I think are especially relevant to the state of philanthropy today. (Ed note: You can read the full paper -- quotations from which appear at the top of each blog post in the series -- here.)

One of the most important debates in "development" concerns the different meanings of the term itself. The implications of this debate are huge because everything flows from the outcomes we seek -- grantmaking strategies and priorities, metrics and measurement, and which types of funding are best-suited to the tasks at hand. Initially development was defined in terms of economic growth and assets, then poverty reduction and human welfare, but by the 1990s it was clear that these indicators said little about the values, systems, and institutions that underpin success. They were all too narrow and did not reflect the aspirations of those who were being "developed."

Faced by this situation, many observers, most famously the Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, argued that what really matters to development are "human capabilities" and the conditions (like effective governance and land reform) required to strengthen them throughout the population, with the ultimate goal of promoting "well-being" and fulfillment, instead of just material success. The deepest challenge of well-being is "to live well together," and that's a challenge of a different order than delivering new vaccines to reduce child mortality or raising incomes through microcredit loans. It's not that these things are unimportant -- far from it -- but thinking about the broader implications of well-being forces us to give equal weight to much deeper questions about things like sustainability, patriarchy, privilege, and quality of life.

Without broader indicators of success, you end up -- how can I say this politely -- like the U.S. today or China in perhaps twenty-five years, characterized by very little absolute poverty or starvation, considerable material success for some, and large-scale social and environmental failures, including rising inequality, declining social cohesion, political gridlock, and looming ecological disaster. Unlike our current focus on enabling more people to participate in systems already in place, a focus on well-being forces us to think more rigorously about these broader challenges and how to meet them by transforming the global economy and other aspects of how we live, work, and govern our societies.

That's a huge challenge for development and for philanthropy, which spends very little money on transformative work of this kind. Part of the reason is that most of us still operate within a narrow frame of outcomes. In the U.S., there's some interest in alternatives to GDP and other indicators of national progress, but the concept of well-being isn't really part of the conversation, and that's a shame. Maybe if we spent more time arguing about a broader range of outcomes and less time debating how to measure the small number we've already selected, philanthropy would be a more creative force in society.

That's tough, because as I'll explore in my next two posts, these broader outcomes are even more difficult to influence and measure. And that makes them especially challenging for the "new" philanthropy, with its emphasis on metrics and models. If we continue to ignore them, however, we'll all be the worse for it.

-- Michael Edwards

Weekend Link Roundup (January 28-29, 2012)

January 29, 2012

Thinkspeakcreate1Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Writing on the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president Albert Ruesga urges grantmakers to invest less money in white papers and candidates' forums this election season and more on "helping advocates introduce democracy to the United States." Writes Ruesga: "While foundations might not have the resources to shift the political discourse in this country [in] the coming year, they can at least help liberate us from the illusion of free and fair elections...."


In a post on the Communications Network blog, Commnetwork board chair Mitch Hurst suggests that grantmaking organizations need to do a better job of monitoring social networks, blogs, and the mainstream media if they hope to understand "how their issues are being influenced in online conversations."

Corporate Social Responsibility

In a post on the Harvard Business Review blog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues that great companies are about more than a single-minded focus on the bottom line. Truly great companies, writes Kanter,

believe that business is an intrinsic part of society, and they acknowledge that, like family, government, and religion, it has been one of society's pillars since the dawn of the industrial era. Great companies work to make money, of course, but in their choices of how to do so, they think about building enduring institutions. They invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society....


Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green argue against the idea, suggested last week by former British prime minister Gordon Brown, of a Global Fund for Education to help address education funding cuts and boost the number of young people globally who attend and graduate from high school. Unlike fighting malaria -- which, write Bishop and Green, is "a finite task that can be achieved even where governments are weak" -- "educating the children of the world will need sustained investment indefinitely...."


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks explains why it's important to "keep your eye on the ball" in fundraising -- and life in general.


The Nonprofit Quarterly has published a fascinating exchange between the Hudson Institute's William Schambra and Wallace Foundation president Will Miller on the use of metrics in "the development and dispersion of knowledge" as a driver of the foundation's grantmaking. A must read for anyone who works in the sector.


On the Impatient Optimists blog, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Deborah Jacobs considers how the surge in tablet and e-book reader ownership presents "huge opportunities in an increasingly digitized society where information access plays a critical role in building knowledge and skills," as well as a challenge, in that the trend threatens "to exacerbate the digital divide that is already perpetuated across the U.S."


On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Meyer Memorial Trust communications director Marie Deatherage discusses the foundation's "road to transparency," a decade-long journey that included the early and active embrace of the Web and other online communications channels.


Last but not least, CauseShift managing director Scott Henderson offers a few ideas for folks interested in changing the world one good deed at a time.

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

-- The Editors

This Week in PubHub: Protecting the Rights of People With Disabilities

January 27, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she wrote about trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of marginalized populations.)

Throughout the month of January, we're highlighting research on various aspects of the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights around the globe. This week, we're featuring four reports that address topics related to the rights of people with disabilities.

Among the most egregious examples of human rights violations involving the disabled is the forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities, as described in Sterilization of Women and Girls With Disabilities (4 pages, PDF), an issue brief from the Open Society Foundations in collaboration with Human Rights Watch, Women With Disabilities Australia, and the International Disability Alliance. The report points out that the practice is justified in many countries as being in the "best interests" of the women -- who are sterilized without their knowledge, despite refusing or not having the opportunity to consent, and/or after being encouraged to do so through misinformation, as a result of financial incentives, or by intimidation. In addition to being an act of violence, a form of social control, and a violation of numerous international human rights standards, forced sterilization, the paper notes, is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which promotes the right of all people with disabilities to start a family and, for women, to control their fertility on an equal basis with the non-disabled.

The right to live one's life with the same choices as others is at the core of A Community for All: Implementing Article 19 (39 pages, PDF), another publication from the Open Society Foundations. Based on Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that people with disabilities have the right to live independently and be counted as members of society with the same choices as others, the report calls for ending the institutionalization of people with disabilities and to create community-based alternatives and services for them that promote social inclusion. A separate checklist lists ten steps to achieving those ends, starting with "Commit to transforming the system from institutional services to community-based services" and ending with "Establish mechanisms for periodic review of the action plan and national strategy."

What is the nonprofit sector's role with respect to the issue? According to Renewing the Commitment: An ADA Compliance Guide for Nonprofits (139 pages; 15.49MB; PDF), a report from the Chicago Community Trust, about 54 million people in the United States -- nearly one in five -- have at least one disability, and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires most nonprofits to provide them with equal access to services. The guide provides a checklist, resource list, and advice on serving people with disabilities, encourages nonprofits to make sure that their facilities and communications meet the various needs of the disabled community, and highlights considerations for specific types of events, services, and programs. An action agenda in this area includes a call to collaborate with people with disabilities and the organizations that represent them in the planning and compliance process.

Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who return with severe injuries will require care and services, as well. Based on qualitative and quantitative assessments of services needed by Iraq/Afghanistan veterans and their families, the RAND Corporation report A Needs Assessment of New York State Veterans (102 pages, PDF) found, among other things, that veterans were frustrated with employment preference programs that do not prevent discrimination against those with disabilities, as promised. Funded by the New York State Health Foundation, the report concludes that responsibility for the health and well-being of veterans extend well beyond the VA to other clinical and social service delivery systems, and calls for better coordination of care, better outreach to veterans seeking assistance, and more accessible, sustainable, and higher-quality mental health care.

What do you think needs to be done to protect the rights of and enhance the lives of people with disabilities? Are there specific unmet needs that foundations and nonprofits should be addressing? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And be sure to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on topics related to civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida


January 26, 2012

(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 challenged the notion that more nonprofit organizations necessarily translates into greater social good.)

Rosenman_headshotAlthough the public and a few elected leaders increasingly are focused on growing economic inequality in America, the topic isn't receiving much attention from charities and nonprofits. This in spite of the fact that the sector itself is characterized by a similar inequality.

That silence is surprising for a couple of reasons. Today's yawning inequality exacerbates the problems many people face as well as their need to turn to charities for assistance. It also directly affects the help they're able to receive; as a general rule, the larger a nonprofit organization's budget, the less likely it is to provide the kind of assistance needed by low-income Americans and those falling toward poverty. Wealthier charities tend to cater to wealthier Americans, and as the rich get richer, inequality -- in society and the nonprofit world -- grows.

Let's look at some statistics about growing inequality in the country and then explore what it means for Americans and the nonprofit organizations that serve them. Since 1979, after-tax income for the top 1 percent has more than doubled, even as it fell for middle-class and lower-income Americans. The top 5 percent of households in the United States now hold more than 60 percent of the wealth. The imbalance is even greater in the nonprofit sector, where the top 2.5 percent of charities that report data to the IRS control more than 50 percent of the wealth and account for over 60 percent of annual revenues.

Three types of exempt organizations -- hospitals, primary healthcare facilities, and institutions of higher education -- make up the top tier of the sector. Compare their finances with those of human service groups, which comprise more than a third of all exempt organizations but account for only 13 percent of its annual revenues (including government funding, fees-for-service and other income, and donations) and 11 percent of its assets.

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Bill Gates' Fourth Annual Letter

January 25, 2012

Bill_gatesAs he has every year since 2009, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has put his thoughts about the scourge of extreme poverty and the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest, to improve the lives of millions around the globe into a letter and posted it to the foundation's Web site.

In addition to outlining the foundation's key priorities in 2012, this year's letter focuses on the need for continued investments in innovations -- agricultural and otherwise -- that are accelerating progress against poverty in the developing world. Or as Gates puts it in the letter's opening section:

The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don't, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.

My concern is not only about farming; it applies to all the areas of global development and global health in which we work. Using the latest tools -- seeds, vaccines, AIDS drugs, and contraceptives, for example -- we have made impressive progress. However, if we don't make these success stories widely known, we won’t generate the funding commitments needed to maintain progress and save lives. At stake are the future prospects of one billion human beings....

To read or download the letter (which is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, and Spanish), click here.

Non-Financial Capital and Social Change

(Paul Shoemaker is executive director of Social Venture Partners Seattle and recently was named one of the "Top 50 Most Influential People in the Non-Profit Sector" by The NonProfit Times.)

PShoemaker_headshotThe theme of this year's World Economic Forum gathering is The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models. A lot of people took a lot of time to write a convoluted description of what that really means. Let's boil it down to this: Because of the huge economic and social shifts taking place around the world, we don't have good models for understanding this "new norm" or for aligning stakeholders/citizens around a vision and inspiring institutions and individuals to realize those visions.

As some of you know, a few months ago I did the local TEDx about the power of human and social (not just or even primarily financial) capital to change our world in the years ahead. I think there are two parts of that message that might be relevant to WEF, and there's one I mentioned in the talk: our old ways of adding up the financial and institutional resources for community change flat out miss the power, potential, real, and often more enduring impact of human and social capital. (I give credit to SVP partner Bill Henningsgaard for articulating that.) This is starting to change, but we have to become much more intentional and specific about the role and value of non-financial capital in social change. That is a core part of our game at SVP.

This other one I didn't mention: another huge reason why human social capital is so critical is because the amount of money we can bring to bear on social issues is fixed, constrained, or even shrinking in many places. Whether we like it or not, that is not going to change anytime soon. Governments around the world are collectively tens of trillions (tr, not b) of dollars in debt. No matter your politics, that is a fact that unquestionably points to constrained public resources.

So the most plentiful, expandable assets we have are non-financial. Don't get me wrong -- money always matters. But if we want to increase the "supply" of assets for positive change, we're gonna have to do it in ways that are leveraged, creative, and expand human and social capital. How much difference can that make? I don't know for sure, but think about the "social value" that Facebook creates -- and the fact that it didn't even exist ten years ago.

What do you think? Given the challenges confronting us in 2012 and beyond, what does the social sector have to do to think -- and be thought of -- differently? How can we rapidly change the "equation for social good"?

-- Paul Shoemaker

Weekend Link Roundup (January 21-22, 2012)

January 22, 2012

Citizens-united-bigbucksOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Filming at the 20th anniversary INTRAC conference in Oxford, England, Nicetreefilms interviewed Demos senior fellow Michael Edwards, author of Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism (2008) and Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World (2010), about the role and future of civil society via-a-vis business and the public sector.

To mark the second anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that said corporations have the same right as people to spend money in elections, Demos has curated a dozen or so blog posts, articles, policy briefs, and multimedia presentations that highlight the anti-democracy implications of the decision.

Disaster Relief

On the heels of the two-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands in Haiti and left up to a million more homeless, the Adventure Project's Becky Straw spotlights a couple of social enterprises that are using technology to boost the Caribbean nation's economy.


On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz responds to Getting Attention blogger Nancy Schwartz' MLK Day-inspired call for nonprofit bloggers to write about their dreams for the sector by sharing her hopes for the charities she admires: that they do not become stuck in the past; that their fundraising appeals address the big social issues of our day; and that they work to create organizational cultures that value learning, adequately reward hard work, and treasure the people who engage with their causes.

And on her blog, Allison Fine, co-author (with Beth Kanter) of the Networked Nonprofit, says her dream "is for organizational leaders to switch from viewing the world through a lens of scarcity to one of abundance...."

Elsewhere, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar co-author Rosetta Thurman shares eleven tips guaranteed to make your search for a job in the nonprofit sector a successful one.


Writing on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Paul Beaudet, associate director of the Seattle-based Wilburforce Foundation, explains why funders need to stop asking nonprofits to "do more with less."


On his Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta criticizes New York governor Andrew Cuomo for launching a nonprofit "executive pay witch hunt." "Elected officials consistently conflate smart investments in the talent, organizational strength, and long-term planning necessary to address massive social problems with fraud," writes Pallotta. "Why? Because they lack a fundamental understanding of how long-term social problems get solved and because the humanitarian sector has been too terrified to stand up to them."

Social Media

And Social Media for Social Good author Heather Mansfield explains why Pinterest, a new invitation-only social networking site that allows users to create virtual "pinboards," is worth your nonprofit organization's time.

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

-- The Editors

Foundation Leadership for a New Era

January 21, 2012

LeadershipThe news that Peter Hutchinson had stepped down as president of the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation after four-plus years at its helm came as a surprise to many. Hired in 2007 to lead a strategic refocusing of the 55-year-old foundation's mission and grantmaking activities, Hutchinson impressed those who worked with him as a thoughtful, energetic leader, and his decision to move on left many scratching their heads.

Hutchinson himself was rather cryptic about his reasons for leaving. As he put it in a valedictory post on the foundation's blog:

[The "change"] part of this organization's journey is now complete. While I might like to believe that I can do all things well, I know that is not true. I am great at some things but only good at others. I believe there are others who will be better than me at leading the foundation through the next phase of its journey....

For some this will seem sudden. I don't believe in long good-byes. If new leadership is going to succeed, old leadership needs to get out of the way so that people in the organization and its partners can focus on the future and not the past...."

As we noted in our year-end wrap, Hutchinson is the latest in a series of foundation executives -- Greg Chaillé, Aryeh Neier, Gara LaMarche, Thomas Aschenbrener, Karen Davis, Lance Lindblom, and Gary Yates among them -- who over the last year have either stepped down or announced that they would be stepping down. With the oldest baby boomers now reaching retirement age, they'll be joined over the next decade by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of senior-level nonprofit and foundation executives.

This rolling wave of retirements presents the philanthropic sector with both a challenge and an opportunity -- a situation not lost on the leaders of nine progressive nonprofit organizations who earlier this month released an open letter to the trustees of the $7 billion William and Hewlett Foundation. As many of you know, the foundation's president, Paul Brest, has announced he'll be stepping down this summer to return to teaching, and the letter's authors wanted to share some thoughts with the Hewlett board. After noting that the board has "no more important role than selecting [a new] CEO," they offered four suggestions for the board to keep in mind as it conducts a search for Brest's replacement. The next president of the foundation, they wrote,

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Becoming a "Web 2.0 Philanthropy"

January 18, 2012

(Steve Downs is chief technology and information officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets blog.)

Steve_Downs_RWJFThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, like many philanthropies today, has embraced social media. We have a Facebook page, YouTube channels, blogs, and multiple official Twitter feeds. Our staff also participate directly: more than forty of my colleagues are regular Twitter users and many have contributed blog posts to popular sites within their fields. Our CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey (@risalavizzo), sets the tone with her regular activity on Twitter.

Like many philanthropies, we're still finding our way and doing our best to learn from our collective experiences and from the experiences of others. For RWJF, engagement in social media is rooted in a context -- a context about who we are as an organization and what we seek to become.

The first part of that context comes from our history with transparency. Since RWJF's beginnings, we have emphasized independent evaluation of our programs. As David Colby (@DavidCColby) and his colleagues have detailed, RWJF chose to make public the results of those evaluations so others could learn whether the interventions had (or had not) been effective. In addition, since 2007, we have made public an annual assessment that examines a number of dimensions of our organizational performance. (You can download the reports from our Web site.)

The second part starts in 2008, when RWJF underwent a strategic planning exercise where we began by looking at the world around us. We saw innovations in philanthropy coming from newer, smaller foundations like the Steve and Jean Case Foundation and Omidyar Network that were leveraging new technologies to cast a wider net, stimulate conversation, and engage people more widely. We saw new models for the sector such as Kiva and DonorsChoose -- platforms that enabled more direct connections between donors and their impact. And we also saw the amazing, disruptive accomplishments of services like Wikipedia and craigslist that were run by organizations employing only a few dozen staff but drawing their power from vast networks of engaged users. We came away from this effort with a sense -- still impressionistic -- that we should explore what it would mean for us to become a "Web 2.0 philanthropy."

"Web 2.0" is becoming an archaic term as it is supplanted by the term "social media," but for us the distinction has meaning. Where "social media" is often associated with services like Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, we see Web 2.0 as running deeper. It is the collection of tools that harness the collective creativity and knowledge of -- and promote interaction among -- the Web's many users. It is based on an "architecture of participation," which enables the users of a service to add value to that service. Beyond social media, it can be expressed in many ways, ranging from the user who improves on a cooking magazine's recipe by adding an unexpected spice to the protester during the Arab Spring posting a cell phone video of a beating on YouTube for the world to see. It is the seller-rating system of eBay, in which the experiences of hundreds of other buyers give a potential buyer confidence in the seller. It is about the blurring of the lines between producer and consumer, between expert and non-expert, and the aggregation of many small contributions into something of great value.

We knew that as a relatively large and middle-aged foundation (we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year) with traditions, habits and engrained practices, we would have to consciously push ourselves to evolve in this direction. We needed first to flesh out the vision, which we did through a combination of research (i.e., small "r" research like reading case studies and talking with folks at other organizations) and experiential learning. Those of us tasked with working on the vision felt we couldn't do so unless we were actively engaging in Web 2.0 experiences, so we started experimenting with Twitter and Facebook -- and experiencing their cultures and value to our day-to-day work. It wasn't long before we concluded that becoming a Web 2.0 philanthropy was not so much about adopting new social media than it was about embracing the underlying values of Web 2.0 and weaving them into our work. To that end, we homed in on three principal values:

  • Openness, at one level, implies transparency -- letting others see into the organization and how it works. But in Web 2.0, openness goes beyond organizational transparency and represents humility and a willingness to learn, to be surprised, and to hear and accept criticism.
  • Participation refers to a style of engagement in the professional communities of which we are a part. It requires asking questions, listening, responding, and contributing where we can add value -- whether expertise, research and other materials, or connections.
  • Decentralization is a natural consequence of distributed participation and inherently requires a ceding of some control. So much information is now created and shared collaboratively, and the path and shape that such information takes cannot be controlled by any one entity or group. A tremendous upside of the emergence of Web 2.0, however, is the potential for countless unseen contributors to augment and amplify one's own contributions.

Building on these values, the research and our early experiences, we sketched out a vision of how RWJF could embrace Web 2.0. The vision included a number of elements, ranging from using social media to be better informed about our fields and the work of our grantees, to cultivating networks of people and organizations who care about our issues, to crowdsourcing expertise, to seeking feedback and criticism, to using Web 2.0 principles to design programs that work at very large scale. The vision, along with a strategy to evolve toward it, gave the organization a context and a rationale for our embrace of social media.

One might be tempted to think that with all this Web 2.0 strategy development going on, we approached social media with a deliberate, carefully planned strategy, when in fact we took a much more organic approach. Previous to our Web 2.0 work, we had done some blogging and gotten over the usual jitters about all the things that could go wrong. Later, as a few intrepid staff began testing the waters at Twitter and Facebook, we consciously took a supportive stance. We came up with social media guidelines that, while putting up some guardrails to limit the likelihood of an unfortunate event, actually encouraged staff to experiment and to develop their own individual personalities online. We wanted them to explore how they could provide value, and we wanted to learn from their experiences. The context of our overall push to become a Web 2.0 philanthropy informed the development of our social media guidelines, provided a strong incentive for staff to participate, and, by connecting their participation to a set of values, also influenced how they participated.

We're a couple of years into our journey and we reap the benefits of being more open and engaged every day. Many staff feel as if they're better engaged in their fields, learning more, and expanding their networks. At the same time, this being a journey, it hasn't always been easy. Staff wrestle with where to find the time to engage meaningfully in social media, and being open and engaged often means having to expose what you don't know, which can be uncomfortable. We're also finding that there's a long way between having a vision of how to leverage Web 2.0 to change the world and having the world work like a Wikipedia or a craigslist. Just because you ask people's opinions doesn't mean you'll get them -- sometimes the crowd keeps its wisdom to itself. (My colleague Erin Kelly will speak to some of these challenges in a future post on our social media experience.)

As we continue on this journey, we still have lots to learn -- and we'd love to hear how others are finding success or overcoming obstacles to becoming more open, more participatory, and more decentralized. Has your organization ventured down a similar path and/or embraced social media tools to work in a different fashion? Are you using them to listen or become better informed? Build networks? Service a traditional organizational or "consumer" need in a new manner? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Steve Downs

Five Qs for...Mario Morino, Co-Founder/Chair, Venture Philanthropy Partners

January 17, 2012

Mario_Morino_headshotAfter a successful career as a software entrepreneur and business leader, Northeast Ohio native Mario Morino founded the Morino Institute in 1994 to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, promote a more effective philanthropy, and explore the impact of the Internet on society. Over the next few years, as the dot-com boom morphed into a bubble, Morino emerged as a forceful spokesperson for a more business-centric approach to philanthropy and in 2000 co-founded Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) as a vehicle to concentrate investments on improving the lives of children of low-income families in the National Capital Region.

That was also the year the dot-com boom went bust and the venture philanthropy meme lost its hold on the public imagination. Looking back on those years, Morino today says he regrets "the corporate-sounding jargon I bandied about. I spoke often of the value of being 'business-like' and the need for results. People who didn't know me saw me as a brash, arrogant interloper. I offended far too many wonderful nonprofit leaders who had dedicated their lives to making a difference for others."

In the decade that followed, VPP established itself as a leading practitioner of the "high-engagement" model of philanthropy, and Morino became more convinced than ever that nonprofits' ability to collect information about the impact of their work and use that information to drive continuous improvement in their programs and results -- what he calls "managing to outcomes" -- was a critical element in the social change equation. So convinced, in fact, that he wrote and (in 2011) published Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes In an Era of Scarcity, a monograph "intended for leaders...who know in their bones that they want and need better information in order to fulfill the mission that compelled them to dedicate their lives to serving others."

PND chatted with Morino recently about the book, performance measurement (and its costs) in a nonprofit context, and the importance of leadership in shaping a performance culture.

Philanthropy News Digest: The subtitle of your monograph is "Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity." In a world awash in information, data, processing power, and other blessings of the digital economy, what is it we don’t have enough of?

Mario Morino: That's a great question. My view is that even in a world awash in information, nonprofit leaders generally don't have the benefit of the right information. By the same token, most don't have the supporting culture or encouragement to put the right information to good use in managing their mission and operations.

To be sure, more public and private funders are demanding information from nonprofits, and nonprofits are dutifully complying. But in many cases, the data that funders demand are not all that useful to nonprofit executives for managing their performance and charting the strategic direction of their organizations. In fact, when you dig into the details of the information requirements, you see that too often the data are not even that valuable for the funders who request them, except for allowing these funders to check some "accountability" boxes.

As we said in the book, in the name of "accountability," we funders are foisting unfunded, often simplistic, self-serving mandates on our grantees -- rather than helping them define, create, and use the information they need to be disciplined managers. I strongly urge funders not to foist lots of unfunded "compliance" requirements on nonprofits. Instead, we want funders to help their grantees identify and collect the information that's most valuable for nonprofit leaders themselves for determining how well their organizations are doing and how they can keep getting better at meeting the needs of those they serve.

PND: What's driving the increased focus on outcomes measurement in the social sector? And what makes you sure the movement isn't a consultant-driven fad that will fade in popularity as the economy improves?

MM: I believe there are many forces that are distorting and, frankly, dumbing down the dialogue on outcomes. And, fortunately, there are emerging forces driving the dialogue on outcomes in positive directions. On the positive side, we're fortunate that a few foundations like Edna McConnell Clark are demonstrating that a focus on outcomes is key to achieving a real, lasting impact in their chosen issue areas. And there are some very good consultants and thought leaders in the mix, including Bridgespan, McKinsey, Monitor, Public/Private Ventures, and the Center for Effective Philanthropy. I also see some remarkable early-adopter nonprofit executives contributing in important ways to the dialogue by showing what's possible.

The increased focus on data and outcomes is not a fad. Based on my forty-plus years in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, I am absolutely convinced that organizations in any sector need good information to make good decisions. Leaders often have good intuition. But the top leaders in any sector want to augment their intentions and intuition with the best data they can get their hands on. They can't sleep at night when they don't know whether they're on course to achieve the results they seek. They're obsessed with finding ways to do better for those they serve.

Over time, the nonprofit leaders who do manage to get their hands on good data and integrate information-based inquiry into their cultures are going to achieve more for those they serve. We don't yet have data to prove this in the nonprofit sector. But there is a growing body of literature on the link between good information and good results in the for-profit sector. Eventually, I believe we'll have similar evidence for the nonprofit sector.

But there's no guarantee the adoption of outcomes-based management in the social sector will get to where it needs to be unless there is a sea change in the mindset of nonprofit leaders and the funders who support them. The shame is that if that sea change doesn't come to pass, those who will pay the price are those whom nonprofits exist to serve.

PND: You argue in the monograph that all organizations should strive to nurture a performance culture. How do you define that term, and does it mean different things depending on what sector one is talking about?

MM: My definition is really straightforward. I mean simply that the organization should have the mindset to do what it does as well as it possibly can and continually seek to do even better. And that definition is identical across sectors.

In the book, I shared a concrete example from my for-profit days that I hope is not too self-serving. Despite my shortcomings as a manager when I ran a software company, I worked very hard to nurture a performance culture. Factoring in that I might be engaging in slightly revisionist history, I believe that the people in the company really cared about what they did and how they did it. They cared about our customers and each other -- so much so that these relationships often grew into close friendships anchored in mutual respect. People worked hard not because I decreed they should but because they wanted to do their work very well; they wanted to experience the exhilaration of excellence. When we made mistakes, our openness allowed us to quickly admit and rectify them. It was inherent in the culture that we would respond this way.

I see these exact same hallmarks in several great nonprofits I have supported and visited over the past few years. In these organizations, people are highly motivated by their work. They have taken big risks and undertaken hard, painstaking work to build human and technology systems to help them get better at what they do. And they don't see "mission" and "metrics" as mutually exclusive!

PND: How important is individual leadership in the performance culture equation? And what are the most important qualities a nonprofit leader must possess in order to succeed in today's environment?

MM: It's essential! A performance culture never develops without leaders investing themselves deeply and taking big, bold risks.

In all the nonprofits that I regard as the top performers, leaders have taken on the challenge of nurturing a performance culture not because it's "important," not because it's a trend or a good marketing tool, and not because a funder or investor said they had to. They did it because they had an introspective moment when they realized that what they were doing wasn't working well enough and they needed to do more.

For example, in the early 1990s, Youth Villages CEO Pat Lawler kept hearing through the grapevine about young people who seemed to be on a good path after discharge from YV's residential treatment facilities and yet had ended up in prison or in other forms of crisis. This prompted him to start collecting more information to find out what was really happening to those kids. The results were disappointing.

Instead of hiding the bad news from stakeholders, Pat and his team openly acknowledged the shortcomings and then spent several tough years reengineering the entire program model. Today, data collection is part of the DNA of the entire organization. YV tracks its clients' outcomes six, twelve, and twenty-four months after discharge, feeding continual improvements into the program model. When you talk to Pat and his team, you see that they are not fixated on data and measurement per se. To them it's simply a precondition for knowing if their long hours are paying off for the young people they serve -- and for learning how they can keep getting better over time. Pat and his leadership team have built a true performance culture -- one that is the envy of nonprofit and for-profits alike!

As for the most important qualities leaders must possess in this environment, I would submit the following five: a passionate, unyielding desire to do the most you can for those you serve; the confidence to ask hard, even painful, questions about how your organization can do more and at a lower cost; the commitment, staying power, and talent to lead difficult change processes; the clarity and courage to get the "right people on the bus, in the right seats" -- even if that means making difficult personnel decisions; and a willingness to model -- that is, live -- the behavior you want others to practice.

PND: Who should bear the costs of an increased focus on outcomes measurement?

MM: Managing to outcomes should be a essential part of how nonprofits function and thus covered by their revenue sources, akin to how nonprofits fund their development functions or their budgetary/cost accounting.

But for this to happen, funders have to accept the necessity of providing resources to cover operational, not just project, expenses. Instead of just pushing nonprofits for "more information on results," funders should be willing to support what it takes for nonprofit leaders actually to produce those results. And that includes investing in outcomes management, a term I prefer over "outcomes measurement."

If funders really want their grantees to produce results, they must provide much more than project support and more than $5,000 or $10,000 "capacity-building" grants. Serious, results-oriented funders make multiyear investments so that nonprofit leaders can develop the talent, cultivate a performance culture, and build the human processes and technology systems for managing to outcomes. At a minimum, funders should support efforts to help nonprofits build the capacity and culture for tracking the outcomes of those served, undertake at least basic analysis of this information, and identify how they can use the information to improve their programs over time. For my money, these investments have a tremendous return on investment.

But let me also say that every nonprofit organization that has successfully made the "leap of reason" has put a lot of skin in the game. Nonprofit executives who have made the leap have invested a lot of human, relationship, and sometimes financial capital in the process. They often dip into reserves, raise special "innovation funds," and/or re-purpose existing dollars. They always invest a lot of their own time and effort. Organizational transformation like this cannot simply be outsourced or done on the cheap.

PND: What advice would you give executive directors and nonprofit board members who may have thought about adopting more of an outcome-focused mindset but just don't know how to get the ball rolling?

MM: I'm happy to answer the question, but I don't want anyone to think that managing to outcomes can be accomplished quickly with a simple, ten-step process. Managing to outcomes is a quantum leap for most organizations and involves significant culture change. It's not about implementing a cookie-cutter set of best practices.

That said, I would encourage people to look at the "Ideas Into Action" section of the book, which begins on page sixty-three and can be downloaded with the rest of the book at LeapofReason.org. That section provides a set of questions that boards and leadership teams should ask themselves to gauge their readiness and capacity for doing the hard work of making significant culture change.

In closing let me make an emphatic plea: You're not going to "get it" just by reading the book. We hope the book will give you some ideas. But, ultimately, you have to make the highly personal decision -- in some cases akin to a conversion -- that you want and need to do this. You have want to serve better, be better, and function better yourself and as an organization. Like the great leaders I've met who have done this, you have to want -- in a compelling way -- to make a more material, lasting difference for those you serve. It's a choice!

-- Mitch Nauffts

'Greed is Good' and Other Canards

January 14, 2012

Social-contractOp-ed columnist Charles Blow has a piece in today's New York Times about the "politics of envy," an already tired trope that likely Republican presidential nominee and leveraged-buyout specialist Mitt Romney has been trying out this primary season.

In the piece, Blow quotes Elizabeth Warren, who chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the Troubled Assets Relief Program and who is running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts that Romney unsuccessfully ran for in 1994, on the obligation we all have to "pay forward" our financial good fortune:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along....”

"Greed is good" is a great logline for a movie, but it's a terrible way to organize society. Gordon Gekko didn't "liberate" Teldar Paper, and the United States is not (as Paul Krugman reminds us) a "malfunctioning corporation"; it is, rather, an ongoing political and social experiment in which the interests of 300 million people sometimes compete but more often overlap; in which "equality of opportunity" is an ideal and not yet a reality; and in which the concept of "the public good" was, for much of the twentieth century, bound up with the equally important concept of social mobility.

Unfortunately, as new survey data from the Pew Research Center makes clear, more and more Americans believe the post-WW II social contract in the U.S. has been shredded and that tensions and conflicts between the haves and have-nots are growing.

That sense is one of the key drivers behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, it will be an important point of debate in this year's presidential contest, and it's something all of us who work in or cover philanthropy need to recognize and address.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (January 14-15, 2012)

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

Disaster Relief

On the two-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left over a million Haitians homeless, the Chronicle of Philanthropy has an updated look at how sixty aid groups spent the money they raised for relief and recovery efforts. (Requires subscription.)

And Sandra Miniutti advises those who donated to relief and recovery efforts to "check back" with the organization(s) to which they gave. "Find out what the charity been able to accomplish. If you like what you hear and the charity says it has ongoing needs, then consider making a follow-up donation to support those ongoing efforts."


A recent post on the Give2Asia blog profiles the Afghan Institute of Learning, a Give2Asia grantee, and its founding executive director, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi. Established surreptitiously during the early days of Taliban rule, AIL organized and operated a network of eighty underground schools that educated three thousand girls across the country. Today, Yacoobi's organization operates in the open and has touched more than 8 million Afghans through its network of schools, teacher and nurse training programs, and healthcare services.


Using findings from the Ford Foundation-sponsored report Transactions, Transformations, Translations: Metrics That Matter for Building, Scaling and Funding Social Movements, Beth Kanter considers the opportunities and challenges involved in measuring the impact of social change movements and networks.


The Bridgespan Group's Alison Powell reviews a recent Foundation Center report that examined the center's own grantseeking processes as a way to highlight some of the costs of capital that donors impose on all grantseekers.

On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Naomi Pesky, director of marketing and communications at Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, shares a recent video created by the organization as part of its ongoing efforts to make its grantmaking processes more transparent.

In a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz looks at at a handful of recent reports on giving, including one from the Pew Center for the Internet & American Life and Harvard's Berkman Center that looks at mobile giving in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. According to the report, the majority of people who used their cell phones to give to relief and recovery efforts made a spur-of-the-moment decision to do so and then told their family and friends to donate via text message as well. In her post, Bernholz wonders how this type of "tech-enabled" giving might change how and why philanthropic research is conducted.

About.com's Joanne Fritz shares a new infographic from Frugal Dad that highlights the impact of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates's philanthropic work.

Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan takes a close look at Oliver Zunz's new book Philanthropy in America and uncovers "seven examples of things [in philanthropy] that are often portrayed as new -- or not done -- despite the fact that this is not, historically, the case."

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Kevin Laskowski shares his new year’s resolution for philanthropy: increase funding for community organizing among lower-income communities and "Emerging Majority" communities. Writes Laskowski:

I’m sure you're shocked to hear this from someone here at NCRP. However, one thing we saw in 2011 and we will likely continue to see in 2012 is the robust participation of some philanthropists in important public policy debates. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and others have played a large role in shaping the discussions about education reform efforts. A number of conservative philanthropies, such as the Koch brothers and the Bradley Foundation, have had an outsized influence on national debates for some time. Some see this involvement as a pernicious force in our democracy, but my concern is not that the wealthy participate in politics. My concern is that they're increasingly the only ones who do or can....


And on the Credit Writedowns site, Rick Bookstaber looks at the role computers and technology are playing in the destruction of the middle class.

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

-- The Editors

This Week in PubHub: Funding for Social Justice

January 12, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examined specific grantmaking strategies and practices designed to maximize fundamental long-term social impact.)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, this week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of the rights of marginalized populations.

Foundation support is essential if advocacy and community organizing efforts to improve the lives of marginalized populations are to succeed, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues. Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in the Gulf/Midsouth Region (88 pages, PDF) found that between 2005 and 2009 twenty organizations in the Gulf/Midsouth region secured more than $4.7 billion -- $114 for every dollar invested -- in benefits for marginalized communities, trained more than 31,000 local residents in civic engagement techniques, and achieved significant policy changes in the areas of environmental justice and LGBTQ and immigrant rights, with foundations providing 78 percent of the funding for said activities. Funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the report urges grantmakers to invest more in building the region's advocacy and community organizing infrastructure, make flexible investments in groups working in rural areas, and support organizations with people of color in leadership positions.

Of course, foundations that fund social justice activities saw their endowments take a hit during the post-Lehman financial crisis, as described in the Foundation Center report Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy (35 pages, PDF). While the report found that giving for social justice as a percentage of total giving by foundations in the sample varied only slightly between 2005 and 2009, in 2009 it fell below 2007 levels, with small foundations experiencing the sharpest declines in the value of their assets. Funded by the Cricket Island, Edward W. Hazen, and Ford foundations in partnership with NCRP, the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, the report projects that unless the field sees five years of above-average investment returns, social justice grantmaking in 2015 will remain below 2008 levels.

The good news, according to Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), is that giving within and on behalf of communities of color is increasing. Commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the report found that, given the disproportionate need in communities of color, those communities typically have received a too-small percentage of mainstream philanthropic dollars -- a gap that was exacerbated by the Great Recession and cuts in public-sector funding. In response, the report argues, donors of color and others have begun to direct more resources to communities of color, with an eye to building advocacy skills in those communities and empowering local leaders and residents to lead short- and long-term change efforts. The report calls on mainstream funders to advance this kind of identity-based philanthropy by providing seed funding for grassroots efforts and forging stronger connections with local philanthropic leaders and other change agents.

What about trends in social justice work abroad? Mobilising for Social Justice: Migrant Rights Centre Ireland's Community Work Model (50 pages, PDF), a report from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland that was funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, offers case studies of MRCI's "community work practice" model on behalf of migrant workers' rights -- work that, among other things, encourages marginalized migrant groups to take part in decision-making structures through participation in discussion/action groups, empowers them through consciousness-raising and skills-building activities, and promotes advocacy and collective action.

What are your thoughts about the future of funding for social justice philanthropy? Are you aware of any new trends or developments that could energize the field or take it to the next level? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.

And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on the topic of civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

'Freedom Riders': Lessons for a New Generation

January 10, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In October, she spoke with Orlando Bagwell, director of the Ford Foundation's recently launched JustFilms initiative. She first blogged about Freedom Riders in February of 2010.)

FreedomRidersposter_72Writing from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival about the civil rights movement as captured in documentary films, I highlighted Freedom Riders, a documentary directed by Stanley Nelson that premiered at the festival. The film tells the story of the hundreds of courageous people, most of them young, who participated in the 1961 "freedom rides" that helped end segregation in the South.

Freedom Riders aired on PBS this past May; the film went on to earn three Emmy Awards and the New York Times, calling it "beautifully constructed," selected it as one of the ten best programs of the year. The broadcast was preceded by a ten-day reenactment of the original 1961 campaign that was organized by American Experience, the PBS program which had commissioned and broadcast the film. "Get on the Bus" brought together forty college students from around the country to reenact the rides -- from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans -- and interact along the way with some of the original freedom riders, various historians of the period, and community activists. As they made their way south, the kids shared their experience via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools.

"The re-creation campaign had high visibility and great partnerships with state humanities councils, colleges and universities, and museums around the country," says Sonya Childress, community engagement specialist at Firelight Media, the nonprofit partner of Firelight Films, Nelson's for-profit production company. The former organizes audience outreach programs -- a letter-writing campaign for Nelson's film The Murder of Emmett Till helped reopen a criminal investigation into that 1955 case -- and supports emerging documentarians through a producers' lab.

" 'Get on the Bus' was very successful," Childress adds, "but we at Firelight wanted to do something different. We saw our job as bringing the film to a different audience -- particularly youth, and including African-Americans, but people who weren't necessarily connected to the civil rights movement. In targeting youth groups, we immediately thought of the Dream Act, because the story of Freedom Riders is a story about multi-ethnic organizing. We wanted to reach people working on immigration reform who do not see the civil rights movement as part of their history or as relevant to their activism. And we wanted to help them use the film in their own campaigns."

Atlantic Philanthropies, the Open Society Foundations (through its Campaign for Black Male Achievement), and the National Black Programming Consortium were approached and ultimately funded the Firelight Media project.

"Many funders could have said the freedom ride reenactment was sufficient as an audience engagement component," notes Childress. "But these three organizations saw value in bringing the history to a new community. They understood that Firelight Films makes historical documentaries, but that we want to show that the lessons of the past can be dissected and discussed and applied to today. Also, the funders recognized that, being an independent entity, Firelight Media had the latitude to work with a wider variety of community groups than had been involved in 'Get on the Bus', and that was seen as a complement to the American Experience project."

Engaging foundations that are not "media" funders is a new strategy for many documentary filmmakers; the challenge is in helping private and corporate foundations see that film can further their grantmaking priorities, and that there are many points of entry for support beyond a film's production phase.

At the same time, as foundations become more engaged in distribution there is more concern around evaluation of the project's goals. In Social Justice Documentary: Designing for Impact, a new Ford Foundation-supported publication from the Center for Social Media, Jessica Clark and Barbara Abrash put it this way:

In an environment of information overload and polarized sparring, social issue documentaries provide quality content that can be used to engage members of the public as citizens rather than merely media consumers. As a result, they have gained in visibility, influence and number over the past decade.

But despite the box-office and critical success of high-profile examples such as An Inconvenient Truth or Supersize Me, the social impacts of such expensive, long- range projects have been hit-or-miss. As a result, investors and filmmakers are asking tough questions about how best to plan for and assess the impact of such films and related engagement strategies, and to create models and standards for a dynamic field....

The report proposes a systemic approach based on early and continuous community participation that combines quantitative and qualitative indicators and continuous feedback into the evaluation design. The best indicators measure "evidence of [the film's] quality, increased public awareness, meaningful partnerships, increased public engagement, and collective action."

Firelight Media's plan for Freedom Riders incorporated many of those elements, though as noted by the Center for Social Media report, each documentary project is distinct.

Firelight began by convening a small group of civic organizations to help develop ideas for a year-long project; by the time Freedom Riders was broadcast, the project was ready to go. (An agreement with American Experience required that the Firelight project not overlap with "Get on the Bus," which took place immediately before the film aired.)

Sixteen community-based organizations and student groups -- some national and some local -- were selected as formal partners. Seven of the smallest groups received stipends to carry out their activities. All agreed to screen the film and use an online guide, United in Courage (available on the Firelight Media site), to help plan events and facilitate discussions. Their experiences are being disseminated via an e-news broadcast to other partners, funders and filmmakers, and through Firelight Media’s newsletter; in effect, the partners provide ongoing feedback as a way to strengthen the project.

The groups include established organizations like the NAACP, which is bringing some of the original freedom riders to college campuses in the South for screenings and conversations. Puente Arizona has invited some of the freedom riders to discuss immigration reform strategies with members of the migrant communities with which it works. At a workshop on audience engagement earlier this fall in San Francisco, another partner, Bay Area-based Youth Speaks, described using the film at its annual Brave New Voices event, which brings young poets and youth development organizations together: five hundred spoken-word artists attended the screening and a subsequent conversation, later broadcast on Pacifica Radio, with two freedom riders. And New York City-based Brotherhood/Sister Sol showed the film in New York and Ghana and trained youth facilitators to lead post-screening talks. (A complete list of partners and their plans can be found on the "United in Courage" site.)

Recognizing that short films can be useful for community organizing and in educational settings, especially those involving children, Firelight Media produced a twenty-minute version of the film (available only to project partners) and also commissioned three ten-minute films on key issues in the current immigration policy debate. Immigration: Beyond the Headlines was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and can be viewed on the Firelight Media site. Though apprehensive at first that the films would be seen as standalone media, Firelight staff now consider them to be useful vehicles for driving interested viewers to the longer and more comprehensive film.

Today, halfway through the year-long audience engagement effort, Firelight's independent evaluator is tracking how the full-length documentary is being used and the kind of impact it is having through pre- and post-screening interviews with various partners. The partners also submit formal reports on how they are using the film to enhance their work, in the process creating a repository of "best practices."

"Community organizations have varying levels of comfort with documentary films that are not 'advocacy' films, that are not prescriptive in terms of what to do about a particular issue," says Childress. "Freedom Riders is not a 'call to action'; it's an occasion for reflection. We're interested in knowing how community groups navigate that, how they challenge themselves and how they incorporate films into their programs. We want to know how this particular story resonates, especially within the immigrant rights movement that's looking for stories and trying to build relationships with other movements. The big question for us is: Can historical documentaries move the meter; can this content help people understand the current world?"

The anecdotal evidence is encouraging. Last month, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, "Two Freedom Riders who risked their lives to integrate Montgomery's bus station 50 years ago are back in the Capital City with a new cause: repealing Alabama's immigration law. The Rev. C.T. Vivian and Catherine Burks-Brooks joined a rally on the Capitol steps and a children’s march to the governor's mansion."

Some of the Firelight project's results to date are posted on its Web site in the form of testimony from the partners. We'll check back at the end of the year to see what lessons were learned and how they can inform the marriage between documentary film and community activism.

-- Kathryn Pyle

Weekend Link Roundup (January 7-8, 2012)

January 08, 2012

Happy-new-year2012Happy New Year, everyone! This week's roundup includes two weeks' worth of noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Network for Good's Katya Andresen shares a recent Harvard Business Review blog post in which strategy consultant Dorie Clark offers a list of five things we should all stop doing in 2012.

Author, trainer, consultant, and blogger Kivi Leroux Miller has published her 2012 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report, which includes a look at the "Big 6" communication tools for nonprofits and the one thing that both excites and scares nonprofit communicators.


On his Inside Philanthropy blog, Todd Cohen picks up where Blue Avocado editor Jan Masaoka left off and takes a hard look at what Masaoka called the Philanthropic-Consultant Industrial Complex. "Nonprofits buy what mediocre consultants are selling," writes Cohen,

because, strained to the breaking point in our damaged economy, and struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising demand for services and of shrinking resources, they need help and want to believe the consultants can provide it.

The icing on the cake is that consultants are neither regulated nor accountable for whether their advice actually makes a difference.

The hard work of turning that advice into results remains with the nonprofits....

International Affairs/Development

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Amie Newman takes a look at what famine relief efforts could look like in 2012. Encouraged by President Obama's pledge of $113 million in emergency relief funds for the Horn of Africa and USAID head Rajiv Shah's recent emphasis on "resiliency," Newman suggests that short-term relief efforts in 2012 will be merged with long-term development assistance to create more sustainable solutions to chronic food insecurity and lagging agricultural development in the region.

Elsewhere on the blog, Joe Cerrell, the foundation's European office director, offers five reasons to be hopeful about international development in 2012. Cerrell notes that in the past ten years, the number of people receiving treatment for AIDS has soared, malaria deaths are down 25 percent, and child survival rates have climbed steadily. At the same time, technological advances have brought the global community closer to developing vaccines for several diseases, while China, Brazil, India, and South Korea have emerged as important players on the development scene. So even though negative stories tend to dominate international development headlines, writes Cerrell, it's important to remember that by most measures, things are getting better.


Calling it "a voice of reason amid the sound and fury of the mircofinance debate," the UK-based Guardian gives a thumbs up to Due Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry Into Microfinance, a new book by the Centre for Global Development's David Roodman.


The folks at the BlackGivesBack blog have released their fifth annual list of the top ten black celebrity philantropists. Heading the list is Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, who was honored for his $2.25 million donation to his alma mater, Fordham University, followed by entertainer Steve Harvey, recording artists John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Usher, and Alicia Keys, NBA stars Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, and hip hop stars Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter.

On The Philanthropic Initiative blog, TPI president and CEO Ellen Remmer looks at the development of the donor as stages in a continuum. The post is the second in a series of posts by Remmer on the topic of strategic philanthropy.

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green gaze into their "philanthrocrystal ball" and offer a list of ten predictions for philanthropy around the world in the new year. Among other things, the duo foresee a jump in giving from the estate of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, a "big year" for impact investing, and a tough year for many nonprofits.

Social Media

In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, PhilanthroMedia's Susan Herr writes about the difficulty all content producers face getting readers to engage via social media. Based on the network’s experiment with a “Gorilla Engagement” squad at its annual conference, Herr offers a number of lessons, including pursuing those already active in the social networking sphere, spotlighting new voices, and acknowledging guest bloggers and commenters early and often.

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

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