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19 posts from February 2012

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2012)

February 29, 2012

These were the five most popular posts on PhilanTopic in February:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to lately?

No Pain, No Gain

February 28, 2012

(Larry McGill is vice president for research at the the Foundation Center. A version of this post appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.)

FC_logoTransparency can be painful. Trust us, we know.

The Foundation Center is the primary data collection, analysis, and reporting agency for the field of U.S. institutional philanthropy. Each year, we analyze more than 150,000 grants awarded by about fifteen hundred of the country's largest and most influential foundations and load them into our master database, which now comprises more than three million grants awarded over the past twenty years.

Every year, our database is accessed by thousands of grant seekers looking for funding to do their work. It also underlies all the research reports written by the Foundation Center, tracking trends in the field over time.

But here's the thing -- our data aren't perfect. And we want you to know that.

Moreover, despite the limitations of our data, we fully intend to keep publishing reports documenting and explaining the work of U.S. foundations. Even if what we produce sometimes comes back to bite us.

Case in point: We have published a number of reports in recent years on issues related to diversity in philanthropy. Not everyone is satisfied with the findings we report, regardless of the caveats we issue about the limitations of the available information. But we issue the reports anyway, because there is growing demand for this type of information.

Why would we issue reports based on imperfect data? Because it is the only way the data will get better.

To build our grants database, we have relied for most of our 55-year existence on Forms 990 and 990-PF, which are publicly filed with the IRS by foundations and grantmaking public charities. We transcribe verbatim the information provided by foundations on these forms describing the purpose of each grant awarded during a given year. Sometimes this information is richly descriptive, sometimes it's sketchy, often it's nonexistent.

In recent years, we have developed a platform that allows foundations to send their grants information directly to the center through an electronic reporting system. With more than seven hundred foundations participating, this has significantly improved both the range and depth of information available for analysis. But the quality of information we receive still varies a great deal from foundation to foundation.

As we confront the limitations of the information available to us, we have to make a choice about how best to spend our resources as we continue to build a database that describes the work of U.S. foundations. We can accept the limitations of the existing information and try to collect data on the work of as many foundations as possible each year. Or we could drastically limit the total number of foundations and grants we analyze and focus instead on trying to obtain as much additional information as we can about each grant awarded by those foundations (e.g., about beneficiary populations, geographic area served, etc.). The former strategy, the one we've chosen, allows us to add more than 150,000 grants to our database each year. The latter would allow us to add only about one-tenth that number. We believe we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who use our grants database to make it as comprehensive as possible.

Adopting that strategy means we have to live with some data limitations when doing research based on the information we have. But what is not generally understood or appreciated is that this is simply a fact of life regarding all research, at all times, and in all places. Any research study that does not come with caveats or explicitly stated limitations is not an honest piece of research.

In our reports, we use colors, italics, boldface, boxes, sidebars, methodology sections, and other strategies to make people aware of both the findings and the limitations of our research. Of course, it's never enough. Findings still have a way of disconnecting themselves from the methodologies used to generate them.

But that's fine -- as long as it leads to good faith conversations about what we think we know, what we don't know, and what we need to know. As the primary data collection agency for the field, the Foundation Center is committed to doing the best it can to answer the questions that people are asking about institutional philanthropy. The need to know will not go away, and we -- all of us who care about philanthropy -- must do whatever we can to ensure we have the kinds of data that enable us to meet this need.

Do you have thoughts about how we can collectively improve the quality of data available to the field? Let us know. Like all fields of endeavor in the twenty-first century, philanthropy, to be effective, must operate from a solid base of knowledge that can only be built from reliable data on the issues and problems it seeks to address and the approaches it takes to make a difference.

-- Larry McGill

Weekend Link Roundup (February 25-26, 2012)

February 26, 2012

Oscar_statuette2012Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector...


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks explains why it might be time to think about retiring your nonprofit CEO as organizational spokesperson. According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, for-profit chief executives were trusted by only 50 percent of survey respondents in 2011, and that figure declined by 12 points to 38 percent in 2012. "I don't think nonprofit CEOs have done as much to squander their collective reputation as corporate CEOs have," writes Brooks. "But maybe some of the dirt has rubbed off on our leaders...."


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy blog, NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman announces the release of a new report, Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders (52 pages, PDF), which suggests that foundations "can be more effective and secure more environmental wins by investing heavily in grassroots communities that are disproportionately impacted by environment and climate harms...."


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a nice Q&A with veteran Major League Baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karin, whose Moyer Foundation works to help children and teens struggling with the death of someone close or who live with an addicted or co-dependent family member.

Nonprofit Management

In a piece for the Washington Post, Nonprofit Finance Fund CEO Antony Bugg-Levine argues that many nonprofits, particularly frontline agencies such as homeless service providers, health clinics, and domestic violence shelters that provide essential services to the most vulnerable communities, are facing an "existential crisis." And it's not a short-term crisis resulting from cyclical cuts. "Even if the economy recovers," writes Bugg-Levine,

structural demands on public coffers driven by inexorable demographic trends and the inevitable diversion of public resources to pay off deficits will reduce governments’ capacity to fund essential social services for the next few decades at least....

Once we accept this fact, the typical responses -- blaming the government for its stinginess or blaming service providers for their inefficiency -- will be revealed as increasingly inadequate explanations.

Instead of these default responses, we need to consider a fundamental question: "How will we secure a just and vibrant society now that our old models of sustaining essential organizations are disintegrating?"...

In the wake of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood debacle, Albert Ruesga offers some advice to charities on his White Courtesy Telephone blog. The "time for charities to do their soul-searching is now," writes Ruesga. "Once a campaign against your organization goes viral, it's time for you to step up to the microphones and tell the world who you are and where you stand. Faced with the question, What are you about?, in the wake of an unpopular decision, do you have a clear idea what you would say?"

To help nonprofits still waiting for economic recovery to knock on their door, Social Velocity president Nell Edgington offers a list of things nonprofit leaders can do to create a sustainable financial model.

Philanthropy Journal's Todd Cohen looks at how community foundations are adapting their business model to keep pace with the evolving needs of donors. For example, the recent merger of the Boston Foundation and the Philanthropic Initiative, writes Cohen, has created a hybrid model for community foundations that focuses on generating new funds and providing training and resources for donors. TPI president and CEO Ellen Remmer told Cohen that this type of structure "can help ease a natural tension [TPI] identified in the old model in a study ten years ago...."


After sharing findings from a recent Blackbaud report on online giving which found that "when large International Affairs organizations are removed from the analysis," online giving increased 13 percent in 2011, Allison Fine says the data confirms what many have known for years: "[O]nline giving is here to stay, most online giving happens when speed is important (year end and natural disasters), building relationships online (e.g. alumni) is a [key] to increasing giving."


On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Jacob Harold, philanthropy program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says that transparency, measurement of multiple bottom lines, proactive engagement with stakeholders, and collaboration "offer a framework for foundations to be more effective while avoiding unproductive government intervention. They are not simple boxes to be checked," adds Harold, "each is an attitude that must be embedded across foundation activities and constantly refreshed...."

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

-- The Editors

Geena Davis Institute Asks: Where Are the Good Roles for Women?

February 24, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Wikimedia Foundation's first Public Policy Initiative.)

Seejane_250As we get ready for the Academy Awards on Sunday, it's interesting to think about the relationship of pop and celebrity culture to social change.

The average foundation manager working to move the needle for a cause can only envy the ways in which celebrities are able to generate attention for their favorite issues. A short speech from a prominent figure on the red carpet is a surefire route to getting your cause trending on Twitter.

This year's Academy Award-nominated films are packed with issues that foundation and nonprofit people are concerned about: inequality, children and families, race, gender, sexual violence, politics. And I'm not just talking about documentaries.

Unfortunately, good roles for strong women are rare. That depressing fact turned Oscar (The Accidental Tourist) and Golden Globe (Commander in Chief) winner Geena Davis into an advocate. Watching television and movies with her young daughter a decade ago, Davis became concerned about the representation of women in most children's media. In 2004, the actress founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media and commissioned a study by Dr. Stacy Smith of the USC Annenberg School of Communications & Journalism which found a huge, 3:1 gender gap in roles for men and women. The study also concluded that even G-rated films transmit negative messages about girls -- messages which not only affect children in the U.S. but, given Hollywood's global reach, are exported to the rest of the world. The institute raises money for research, advocates for change, and develops educational materials that schools can use to help children think beyond stereotypes, including a recently piloted video learning series about gender and the workplace called Guess Who?

It also believes that pop culture is not just a mirror of our world but a driver of attitudes, and that positive gender portrayals break down stereotypes and broaden children's aspirations. According to the institute's executive director, Madeline Di Nonno, what children see on a screen truly matters. It shapes their emotional and social development and their beliefs. The more they see female characters who are hyper-sexualized, sidelined, or not present at all, the more boys and girls will think that's the way it's supposed to be.

So whether you stay up all night with Billy Crystal to see who gets to bring home a golden statue or turn in early, the Geena Davis Institute hopes you'll spend a few minutes thinking about how women and girls are portrayed on the silver screen.

-- Laura Cronin

This Week in PubHub: Minorities and Higher Education

February 23, 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 examine the role of racial/ethnic disparities in wealth, health, and educational attainment and how those factors are linked and reinforce one another.)

Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children (16 pages, PDF), a report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development included in my last post, cites 2007 data showing that 69 percent of Latino and 71 percent of African-American households are income-poor, while 40 percent (for both groups) are asset-poor. The report argues that without the financial resources to pay for high-quality early childhood education or college, children in these households face a future of limited opportunity. This week in PubHub, we're featuring four reports that focus on trends in college enrollment among students of color, as well as the role of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

According to Hispanic College Enrollment Spikes, Narrowing Gaps With Other Groups (30 pages, PDF), a report from the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of Latino students between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in two- or four-year colleges jumped 24 percent in 2010. That compares favorably with modest increases of 5.2 percent and 5.4 percent for African Americans and Asian Americans, and a decline of 4 percent (due in part to demographic trends) among white students. Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the report also found that 44 percent of Latino high school graduates attended college in 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all college students in that age group, and that while college enrollment among Latinos is up significantly in recent years, completion rates remain low, at 13 percent, among 25- to 29-year-olds.

Raising college completion rates among Latino students is the focus of Roadmap for Ensuring America's Future by Increasing Latino College Completion (20 pages, PDF), a report from Excelencia in Education. Given demographic trends, the report notes, Latinos will have to earn 5.5 million college degrees to close racial/ethnic gaps and meet the nation's degree attainment goal by 2020. To that end, the report's authors recommend that communities develop partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education to improve college readiness and participation rates; that colleges guarantee need-based aid for qualified students; and that states track data on equity and success in degree attainment. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation for Education, the report calls on the federal government to support capacity-building efforts at established and emerging Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to strengthen educational quality as a way to boost degree attainment.

According to the reports, college enrollment among African Americans and Latinos reached record highs in 2010, with just over half of Latino undergraduates enrolled at HSIs. Indeed, Students Speak! -- Understanding the Value of HBCUs From Student Perspectives (39 pages, PDF), a report from the UNCF Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, notes that while HBCUs account for only 4 percent of all four-year institutions in the U.S., they graduate 21 percent of all African Americans with a bachelor's degree. According to the report, the decision to attend an HBCU is influenced by many factors, including the perception that they provide a welcoming, supportive environment and a measure of cultural empowerment. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the report suggests that students who feel connected to and supported by their institutions, both academically and socially, are more likely to stay in school, and that student-faculty interaction is a key factor in raising retention and graduation rates.

The Lumina Foundation for Education has been working with HBCUs, HSIs, tribal colleges and universities, and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions to boost degree attainment. The Role of Minority-Serving Institutions in National College Completion Goals (9 pages, PDF), a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy, describes Lumina's MSI Models of Success program, which aims to build capacity for data collection and analysis, foster a collective advocacy voice on behalf of minority-serving institutions, strengthen policy and practice related to developmental education, and raise completion rates, especially among men of color.

How do you think we should be addressing racial/ethnic disparities in educational attainment? Do you know of any promising initiatives to raise retention rates among students of color at non-MSIs, or best practices for boosting college completion rates at the community level? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than two hundred and sixty reports on topics related to minorities.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Not All New Media Is ‘New’ Any More

February 22, 2012

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, an organization of people who work for or on behalf of the nation's grantmakers. A version of this post appears on the Commnetwork blog.)

Hello-my-name-is-new-mediaI'm pretty sure we didn't pop any champagne corks, do fist bumps, or high five each other, but I recall a feeling of exhilaration the first time -- probably in the 1990s -- I pressed the send button on e-mail with an attached PDF version of a report detailing findings from an initiative underwritten by a foundation where I worked. My colleagues and I -- freed from the labor and time-intensive process of distributing print publications -- thought we'd truly entered the digital age. In a blink of an eye, reports of any length could be on their way to key audiences in seconds.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and even though the PDF is still very much with us, that habit of turning reports, white papers, books, policy briefs, and the like into digital facsimiles and e-mailing and posting them online is on its way to being labeled an OLD new media practice.

In fact, just last week, the Center for Digital Information held a roundtable discussion with the title "Beyond the PDF" that showed off some impressive examples of how think tanks, foundations, and policy institutions are taking advantage of the best the new technology has to offer -- interactive graphics and visualizations, mapping tools, online databases, multimedia, and touch-interface smartphone and tablet applications -- to do what Jeff Stanger, the group's executive director, describes as more effectively "injecting” information into public policy debates and other social change discussions.

For anyone who cut his or her teeth in a world where print and print-like products were the gold standards of information dissemination, it takes a moment (sometimes longer) before you realize that a game can actually do a pretty good job of informing people about the challenges of trying to come up with a manageable federal budget or that a cartoon-like presentation can answer the question "How will the affordable health care act affect me?" at least as well, if not better, than traditional text presentations.

Those examples -- and others that detail the differing political beliefs Americans hold, the potential threat to developing countries from climate change, and how Americans cope with high energy costs -- demonstrate that by embracing the power of new digital technologies, we can turn static, often dry data into useful online engagements that hold great promise for thoughtfully informing and advancing public dialogue on topics such as health, education, the environment, the economy, national security, international affairs, and global development.

Another advantage that true digital publications offer is the ability to comprehensively measure the depth of user engagement -- from number of visitors to page views to which information garnered the most attention and interest. It’s far better knowing that people are paying attention to your materials than wondering if they're getting read at all. Still, that level of measurement is no substitute for the higher bar that any material disseminated to influence thinking or behavior must ultimately meet to be judged a success: Did anyone do any thing different as a result? Did they take action?

Ironically, whereas the now (in some quarters) scorned but still ubiquitous PDF offers great efficiency and obvious cost savings over its traditional print counterparts, these newer digitally native products come with both a higher price tag and greater time demands, not to mention the requirement for people with new skills to do the work. It's a fact that shouldn't dissuade us from turning more information products into digitally native forms.

Gabriella Fitz, co-director of IssueLab, a nonprofit that archives, distributes, and promotes the extensive and diverse body of research being produced by the nonprofit sector -- and someone who probably sees more traditional research reports than most people -- agrees that "more and more social cause research should be presented in interactive formats. The fact is that people don't have the time to read forty-page white papers."

But Fitz also worries that the research smaller foundations and nonprofits produce might get ignored "just because they don't have the budget to produce these kind of interactive pieces." And she acknowledges that "a lot of folks default to PDFs because they simply don't have the skills or creative encouragement to do it differently and don't have the money to hire those who do." Still, she's optimistic that "we can work on the skills and the creative encouragement." The money, on the other hand, will probably remain a hurdle too high for some.

On that point, Stanger says organizations doing the research need to take the lead in making the case that the cost of not embracing the new "threatens the vital informational role" of foundations, think tanks, and policy institutions. "In a society increasingly accustomed to information in digital form," he adds, "credibility, authority, and relevance are attributes that will be reserved for research organizations that successfully adopt new interactive forms that are native to digital media."

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

NPO Job Openings (January 2012)

February 20, 2012

The January job numbers seem to confirm the view of many that the U.S. economy, while still battling headwinds, is picking up steam. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 243,000 nonfarm payroll jobs were created in January, with large gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing.

The BLS also reported that the national unemployment rate dipped .2 percentage points, to 8.3%, the lowest level since February 2009.


(Chart courtesy CNNMoney)

Here at PND, the number of nonprofit jobs submitted to the PND job board -- our own, completely unscientific gauge of the economy's health -- seems to confirm that the economic recovery is on track and that nonprofits, in general, are feeling more confident about their situation.

Things were looking much less rosy in September, when we last checked. Back then, the federal government was smarting from the first-ever downgrade of its AAA credit rating, Congress and the White House, having danced the country to the brink of default, were elevating finger pointing to a new art form, and the debt crisis in the Eurozone was growing worse by the day. Investors responded by doing what they always do in times of uncertainty, fleeing stocks for the safety of U.S. treasuries.

Nonprofits, in contrast, took a look around and seemed to decide the situation was not as bad as the headlines would have it. On a year-over-year basis, job postings here at PND were flat in September and October, down in November, and up smartly in December and January. (And we're seeing a continuation of that trend in February.) For the year, job postings to the board were up 2 percent over 2010 and 36 percent over 2009 (though still well below the number posted in 2007).

Indeed, as we noted in a PND item last month, a recent study (18 pages, PDF) from the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University found that during the Great Recession (2007 to 2009), the nonprofit sector gained jobs at an average rate of 1.9 percent a year, while the private sector lost jobs at a rate of 3.7 percent. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that, after retail and manufacturing, the nonprofit sector in the U.S. now employs more workers than any other industry, with the vast majority of those jobs concentrated in health care (57 percent), education (15 percent), and social assistance (13 percent).

We’re not sure whether this is an entirely good thing -- that's a subject for another post -- but we are hopeful the Europeans will get their act together and that the economy here in the U.S. will continue to gain strength. We’ll check back in in a few months and let you know how things are going.

In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts and obesrvations with respect to the employment situation, both in and outside the nonprofit sector. How are things in your neck of the woods? Are nonprofits hiring? What about the private sector? And where do you think things will stand six months from now?

-- The Editors

Weekend Link Roundup (February 18-19, 2012)

February 19, 2012

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

African Americans

NCRP's Lisa Ranghelli points out that only 0.58 percent of grantmakers list "African Americans/Blacks" as a field of interest, even though African Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population and have a 27 percent poverty rate (compared to the overall rate of 15 percent). Many foundations give to benefit African Americans, of course, but too often one has to read between the lines to learn who they are. And when "we have to read between the lines," writes Ranghelli, do we risk perpetuating "the funding of solutions that are poorly targeted and not explicitly designed to serve those we seek to help most?"

BlackGiveBack’s Tracey Webb chats with Association of Black Foundation Executives president/CEO Susan Taylor Batten about the state of black philanthropy and what the ABFE is doing to boost the visibility of black giving circles.


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Network for Good's Katya Andresen explains why nonprofit communications and marketing staff should pay close attention to the colors they use when putting together promotional materials.


In a guest post on Joanne Fritz's About.com blog, Social Velocity president Nell Edgington discusses how philanthropic equity, "a one-time infusion of significant money that can be used to strengthen or grow a nonprofit organization," can be used to dramatically increase an organization's effectiveness.

Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan argues that if "we want to...inspire nonprofit leaders to use data more effectively to improve the impact of their work, we should look within the sector for examples."

In a new post on his Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta argues that fundraising is the "smart investment" of the twenty-first century. "If you want to maximize the social effects of your donation," writes Pallotta, "why would you buy...$100,000 worth of great educational programming for inner city kids when the same $100,000 directed toward fundraising could generate enough money to buy $1 million worth of it?..."


In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Paul Brest, who will be stepping down as president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation this summer, reflects on the growing importance of strategic philanthropy and its prospects for the future.

On the Transparency Talk blog, Foundation Center vice president for research Larry McGill discusses the rather painful process of analyzing imperfect data. "[D]espite the limitations of [the center's] data," writes McGill, "we fully intend to keep publishing reports documenting and explaining the work of U.S. foundations. Even if what we produce sometimes comes back to bite us...."

Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz shares the first two buzzwords of 2012: data and flash mob philanthropy.

Social Media

In a post on the Communications Network blog, PhilanthroMedia's Susan Herr chats with Nonprofit Technology Network executive director Holly Ross about the importance of strategy in social media use. In the video, Ross describes the evolution of NTEN's use of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn over the past three years and notes that having a good strategy isn't enough: an organization also needs a culture that supports and is comfortable with the give-and-take that comes with engaging people online.

Nonprofit Tech 2.0's Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good, offers a list of ten "must-follow" nonprofit organizations on Pinterest, a social networking site that allows users to create virtual "pinboards."

And Beth Kanter has some advice for organizations looking to engage more effectively with their fans on Facebook.

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

-- The Editors

Microfinance and the 'Smart Campaign'

February 17, 2012

After a tough year, the microfinance industry is looking to heal itself. As Elisabeth Rhyne, managing director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION, writes in PND:

It could be argued that, after two decades, microfinance was slow to develop a client protection consciousness. (One might say something even stronger about the mainstream financial sector in the U.S.) After all, a sector built with intent to improve the lives of the poor should have the best interests of its clients at heart. And I believe it does. But the microfinance community — and here I include myself — was naïve in thinking that its good intentions would always benefit clients. We assumed too readily that borrowers always benefited from our services and thus the more borrowers, the greater the benefit. The drive for growth caused some providers to cut corners, lose their focus on quality, or simply be blind to the possibility that some clients were experiencing substandard treatment.

It took several instances of rapid growth leading to client over-indebtedness -- particularly in Bosnia, India, Morocco, and Nicaragua -- to make it clear that a model geared toward reaching people as fast as possible needed adjustment. In addition to the Smart Campaign, the microfinance industry is working on initiatives such as Microfinance Transparency (which promotes the release of comprehensive pricing data), as well as efforts to increase credit information reporting to identify clients who may be over-indebted. In Bosnia, MFIs have worked together to create a debt counseling center.

As the Smart Campaign has delved into the actual practices of MFIs through on-site observation, we find that most MFIs implicitly have been practicing client protection, even if they have not made explicit reference to the principles. The Smart Campaign recently analyzed the results of on-site third-party assessments of more than three hundred and fifty MFIs. The overwhelming majority (88 percent) earned passing scores. This exercise was a first-ever assessment of practices, mostly by social investors carrying out pre-investment due diligence, and we expect such assessments to grow more rigorous in coming years. Meanwhile, on-site assessments of MFIs like these are helping organizations identify their weaknesses and take steps to correct them....

Read Rhyne's commentary and learn more about the Smart Campaign here....

5Qs for...Alandra Washington, Deputy Director, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

February 15, 2012

Alandra_washingtonIn January, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, released a report based on the work of its Cultures of Giving program, which since 2005 has supported identity-based funds that serve groups traditionally underserved by larger philanthropic institutions. Among other things, the report, Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), offers a glimpse into the strategies and lessons learned by the largest single funder of identity-based funds in the country and challenges other funders to develop new ways to collaborate with and advance identity-based philanthropy.

As the report suggests, philanthropy in the United States is becoming more diverse -- not only because there are more ways to give than ever before, but also because giving by communities of color is on the rise. And while those communities have supported leadership development and social change initiatives for decades, the growth in identity-based funds has boosted the visibility of such giving. "Communities of color are overflowing with practices of philanthropy and giving, and have been for a long time," says Alandra Washington, deputy director at the Kellogg Foundation. "But very few people in communities of color define their traditions of giving as 'philanthropy.'"

Washington, who joined the foundation in 2002 and oversees its Family Economic Security and Education and Learning programs, served for five years prior to that as CEO of the Greater East St. Louis Community Fund and before that led the New Spirit Organizing Office, also in St. Louis. PND recently spoke with her about the report.

Philanthropy News Digest: From your perspective, what has been the biggest change in philanthropy over the last twenty years?

Alandra Washington: As the report points out, how we define philanthropist and philanthropy have changed a lot over the last twenty years. Today, we're seeing members of communities that are most at-risk pool their resources to address problems in those communities. Small gifts, when combined, can be quite effective in addressing local issues. And, of course, the explosion of new technologies and platforms, things like mobile giving, has made it easier for individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum to give.

PND: How do you and your colleagues define identity-based philanthropy? What are some of the advantages of an identity-based approach for communities of color? And what are some of the challenges?

AW: At its most basic level, identity-based philanthropy is a collective investment in a community by members of that community focused on addressing problems -- across race, class, gender, or whatever else it might be -- affecting that community. One advantage of this type of giving is that it allows individuals who already are giving back to their communities to organize and pool not just their resources but also their knowledge, influence, energy, skills, and pride to build social capital.

At the same time, as with any group working to actualize social change and address specific injustices, our identity-based grantees have come up against a number of social, political, and economic challenges. Volatility in the stock market, for example, has been a challenge for identity-based funds. Even so, they have been able to work around the ongoing economic uncertainty and raise and distribute a record amount of money.

PND: Did the recession have an effect on identity-based philanthropy?

AW: The whole sector was affected by the recession. Unlike traditional donors, however, communities of color continued to give at increasing rates and levels. As the report shows, 63 percent of Latino households now make charitable donations, as do nearly two-thirds of African American households, to the tune of about $11 billion per year. While communities of color weren't immune to the economic downturn, a 2005 paper by John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish found that aggregate charitable giving by African Americans was increasing at a faster rate than either their aggregate income or wealth. In fact, identity-based funds now raise and distribute nearly $400 million annually, which, as our report notes, is roughly the same as what a foundation with $8 billion in assets would award in grants annually.

PND: The report examines not only what worked for the Cultures of Giving program at the Kellogg Foundation, but also what didn't and why. What was the biggest surprise for you in the report? And what does the foundation hope to gain by sharing this information with the public?

AW: I was most surprised by the resiliency of these organizations and how they learned from their challenges, learned from their failures, and were willing to go back to the drawing board to figure out innovative solutions when confronted with challenges.

By sharing this information with the public, the foundation hopes to show funders and donors alike that there are resources, networks, influencers, and change strategies happening across these communities. We're hoping that others seek out and partner with identity-based groups and leverage their resources. People should walk away from the report knowing that communities of color and identity-based groups have power, influence, and resources, and that they are a great go-to partner.

PND: What advice would you give to funders looking to support identity-based funds?

AW: I would tell them to approach communities of color with a listen-and-learn attitude. It is important for them to understand that this is an emerging field and that there is a lot to learn. Yes, they should also look for ways to partner and collaborate, but first they need to learn as much as they can about the communities they are looking to fund, what's most important to them, and what their approach is to giving. Finally, I would say that funders should try to identify opportunities to leverage the human resources of these communities. All grantmakers, not just those supporting communities of color as part of their mission, should know that there's a cadre of folks in these communities who are willing, able, and ready to partner with them.

-- Regina Mahone

A 'Flip' Chat With...Sarah Durham, Principal and Founder, Big Duck

February 13, 2012

(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 Annie E. Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.)

At a recent Foundation Center event, Big Duck founder Sarah Durham explained that her book Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications was written for small nonprofits that do not have the budget to hire an outside consulting group like her New York City-based communications firm.

Yes, the principles behind effective communications are pretty basic. But because most nonprofit leaders aren't well versed in marketing/communications strategy, they often have trouble following through on them, says Durham. For that reason, Brandraising seeks to show executive directors how to raise funds and increase the visibility of their organizations using approaches developed by some of the most successful fundraisers in the country.

Before the event got under way, I had a chance to chat with Durham about the different levels of "brandraising," the role young staff members can play in the strategic planning process, and how Big Duck measures its impact. On that last point, Durham said her colleagues set measurable goals at the start of each project and then, after implementation, sit down with the client to compare notes and see whether they were on target.

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


(Running time: 4 minutes, 1 second)

What do you think? Do you agree with Durham that mobile is "the next big thing"? Has your organization started collecting cell phone numbers? Feel free to share you brandraising success stories in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (February 11-12, 2012)

February 12, 2012

Abraham-lincolnOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector...


Charity Navigator's Sandra Miniutti has a few suggestions for people interested in participating in Generosity Day on Tuesday, February 14. A day-long event inspired by Sasha Dichter's month-long "generosity experiment," the social media-driven campaign aims to "make Valentine's Day about more than flowers, chocolates, and romantic dinners...."


In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, Chris Palmedo of the Northwest Health Foundation notes that his efforts "to seamlessly integrate communications with program work" goes beyond "making sure program staff 'loops us in' on their work....It's more like 'mutual challenge,' where program and communications push each other -- and the organization -- toward a common vision of social change." Communications and program staff and grantees challenge one another to write op-eds, blog entries, and letters to the editor, Palmedo writes, and to spend program dollars on videos and messaging. After all, he asks, "how can an organization be committed to social change without being fully committed to communications, media relations, and messaging your point of view everywhere it can?"

In a post on her blog, author and consultant Kivi Leroux Miller offers a few recommendations for the folks at Susan G. Komen for the Cure as the organization works to repair its badly damaged brand.


In the first of a planned series of six posts, GiveWell's Holden Karnofksy and Elie Hassenfeld review the progress the organization made in 2011 and some of its key metrics.


In a post here on PhilanTopic, Foundation Center president Brad Smith responds to recent concerns expressed by a number of foundation leaders about the data and methodology behind Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and Latin America, a new Foundation Center study commissioned by Hispanics in Philanthropy. The criticism, writes Smith, "speak[s] to the nature of philanthropy, its role in furthering the public good, and the growing challenge of transparency in a digital, data-driven age...."

"To my colleagues who toil in foundations across the country: There's still time for us, before the confusion and wonder of the spring, to understand, to broach the subject of inequality, to mediate, and, if we dare, to speak the truth as each of us sees it," writes GNOFpresident Albert Ruesga on the White Courtesy Telephone blog. "I know how unlikely this is to happen. But how reckless it will be for us to wait until the rage boils over and takes us past the point of honest and constructive deliberation...."

Social Entrepreneurship

Over at the Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington chats with Goodwill Industries International president and CEO Jim Gibbons about how the century-old organization continues to push the envelop and innovate in today's competitive marketplace. "At Goodwill," says Gibbons, "we don't think of innovation as the creation of the next iPhone, but rather as the next idea that allows us to serve the communities we’re a part of in the most meaningful and impactful way...."

Social Media

Allison Fine has announced the relaunch of her Social Good podcast series, which henceforth will focus on matching "great organizations with great coaches who can help them navigate" the fast-moving world of social media. In this week's installment, Fine chats with Get Storied founder Michael Margolis and InvisblePeople.tv founder Mark Horvath about the art of storytelling.

Although it's targeted to small business owners and for-profit social media marketers, Phil Mershon's take on Susan Etlinger’s recommendations for leveraging social media is a must read for any organization interested in getting more out of its social media efforts.

Last but not least, See3 Communications and YouTube are now accepting submissions for the 2012 DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards, which "recognize the creative and effective use of video to promote the work of the nonprofit sector in catalyzing social good."

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

-- The Editors

This Week in PubHub: Race, Place, and the Wealth Gap

February 10, 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 addressed the topic of protecting the rights of people with disabilities.)

Research shows that racial/ethnic disparities in a variety of areas, including wealth, health, and educational attainment, have worsened over the past two decades. This week in PubHub, we highlight four reports that examine the extent of these disparities, as well as how they are linked and reinforce one another.

According to the Pew Research Center report Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics (39 pages, PDF), the median net worth of white households in 2009 was twenty times that of African-American households and eighteen times that of Latino households -- a wealth gap, in both cases, nearly double what it was in 1984, thanks in part to the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble and the recession that followed. Indeed, since 2005 Latinos and African Americans -- many of whom live in states characterized by housing market volatility and/or who derive more than half of their net worth from home equity -- saw their median household wealth fall by 66 percent and 53 percent, respectively, compared to only 16 percent among whites.

What factors other than the housing boom and bust are driving disparities in household wealth and asset accumulation? The Urban Institute report Private Transfers, Race, and Wealth (36 pages, PDF) examines the role of financial support from extended family members and friends, large gifts, and inheritances in asset accumulation and finds that African Americans and Latinos are much less likely to receive large gifts and inheritances than whites -- a fact that contributes significantly to racial and ethnic wealth gaps. Funded by the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations, the report also found that large gifts and inheritances are a bigger factor in wealth accumulation among African Americans than among whites or Latinos, and that the disparity in private transfers of wealth accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the black-white wealth gap.

Does the wealth gap influence racial/ethnic disparities in child development, health, and economic mobility? And if so, how? According to Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children (16 pages, PDF), a report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development based on 2007 data, 32 percent of white households with young children were income-poor while 14.2 percent had no assets, compared to 69 percent of Latino and 71 percent of African-American households that were income-poor and 40 percent (for both groups) that had no assets. Lacking the financial resources to pay for high-quality early childhood education or college tuition, children in income- and asset-poor households face a future of limited economic opportunity, the report argues. Indeed, racial/ethnic disparities in child outcomes related to health status and skills development appear as early as the age of 2. The report also notes that while there is an inverse correlation between a mother's educational attainment, economic insecurity, and child outcomes, the wealth gap between households headed by white and African-American mothers with bachelor's degrees increased fivefold between 1994 and 2007. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research, and the National Institutes of Health, the report calls for helping economically vulnerable households of color build wealth and accumulate assets as a way to improve child well-being.

Would narrowing the wealth gap in and of itself eliminate disparities in health status and child outcomes? Any effort to mitigate the former must first address the links between location, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status as well as the physiological effects of bias and discrimination, Why Place & Race Matter (113 pages, PDF), a report from the California Endowment and PolicyLink, argues. According to the report, race/ethnicity is a greater determinant of health status than income, while structural racism continues to shape the economic, social, and physical environments of low-income communities of color -- which, in turn, affects the health status of residents of those communities. Among other things, the report argues that strategies for building healthy, thriving, sustainable communities must be race-conscious and focus on addressing both community conditions and individual interventions simultaneously.

To mitigate racial/ethnic wealth gaps, these reports suggest, policy makers and funders first need to address disparities in health, environmental justice, educational achievement, neighborhood safety, and other areas. Do you agree? And, if so, what strategies are working and deserve more attention and support? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than two hundred and sixty reports on topics related to minorities.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Building a Philanthropic Ecosystem

February 09, 2012

(Michael Edwards is a leading expert on global civil society and the author of Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World. This is the final installment in a series of four posts in which he looks 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. Click here for the first post, here for the second, and here for the third. To read/download the Bellagio paper on which these posts are based --and from which the quotation below is taken -- click here.)

"Different approaches to philanthropy are no more in competition with each other than hammers and screwdrivers in a toolkit, though we still need to know when and how to use these tools to best effect...."

MikethirdsectorcroppedIf there is one lesson from the post-war development experience that outweighs all others it's probably this: One size does not fit all. It is, of course, an admonition to avoid seeing development as a singular process or to impose the same set of policy prescriptions across radically different contexts.

The reality is that different countries pursue different paths to development, though those paths may share some elements in common. Following this logic, one of those elements has been the belief that foreign aid works best when it supports different approaches and interventions appropriate to the circumstances. Some donors have been happy to support the problem-solving capacities of local institutions, while others have focused on achieving pre-determined outcomes in areas like public health, distributing retroviral drugs to those with HIV, for example, as well as developing national systems that can deal with different heath needs as they arise.

Some of these things pay off quite quickly, while others require a generation or more to make their presence felt. Some can be easily measured, while others are too complex to capture in a set of numbers. Some are amenable to technology and market forces, while others are embedded in politics and social struggle. All of them are valuable, however, and each requires a particular kind of financial support. It makes little sense to fund social movements with investments that demand short-term measurable returns, for example, or to finance social enterprises with revenue streams that are subject to bureaucratic decision-making instead of market mechanisms of accountability.

This may sound like an obvious conclusion, but in philanthropy a great deal of energy is expended in futile attempts to prove that one of these approaches is more effective and/or strategic than the rest. Hence, the "new" philanthropy is better than the "old"; markets are more efficient in allocating resources for social change than governments or civil society institutions; and grants are less effective than investments in promoting sustainable success. To which I say, "It depends."

No doubt some will continue the struggle to prove the supremacy of their favorite approaches. For the rest of us, there's a more constructive alternative, and that is to build an ecosystem of complementary funding styles matched to the needs and issues at hand. In such an approach, the priority is not to prove that you are the smartest person in the room, but to identify the gaps and disconnects in the system that need to be addressed. By fostering a learning community around the costs and benefits of different approaches, it should be possible to create a "social science of philanthropy" from which everyone can gain.

If we have learned anything from sixty years of development work, it is that human progress is a journey, not a destination. While we can and should help each other along the way, it is not "our" money or ideas or influence that really makes a difference. That's good news. None of us is in a position to control progress or mold it in our own image, so let's relax and enjoy the ride together. By all means we should strive to be as useful as we can to those at the sharp end of transformation. But in the hurly-burly of rapid change, we can't replace their energy or accountability for failure or success. As the experience of developing countries from Brazil to Vietnam shows, it is not the resources of outsiders that underpin success.

It would be the ultimate irony if the quest for greater effectiveness were to lead to less impact on the drivers of social change. But as philanthropy becomes more focused on its own importance as expressed through a narrow range of approaches and techniques, that possibility becomes more likely. As I hope I have shown in my posts here on PhilanTopic, there is much we can learn from the world of international development -- and plenty of things we should try to avoid. Many of the latter have been grounded in a sense of hubris and overreach by donors who think they "know best." Let's not repeat the same mistakes in philanthropy.

-- Michael Edwards

Philanthropy’s Unanswerable Question(s)?

February 08, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about Occupy Wall Street and the Giving Pledge.)

Q: Exactly how much do America's foundations spend each year to benefit Hispanic and Latino populations?

A: We don't really know.

FC-HIP_ReportAs president of the Foundation Center, I should have a better answer, especially for an institution that just published a study entitled Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and Latin America. That study concluded that over the past decade U.S. foundation funding explicitly designated to benefit Latinos has remained relatively steady as a share of total foundation giving, averaging 1.3 percent. It also showed that foundations maintained those levels of support despite the 2008-09 recession during which their overall giving declined by 12 percent. These findings came with a strong disclaimer about the limitations of the data and the methodology: "However, these data do not capture all giving by sampled foundation that may benefit Hispanics/Latinos."

That study was commissioned by Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), a transnational network of more than six hundred grantmakers whose mission is "to strengthen Latino communities by increasing resources for the Latino and Latin American civil sector." The report's headlines are being used by advocates to encourage philanthropy to do more on behalf of Hispanic and Latino populations. That advocates advocate and tend to downplay the disclaimers should come as no surprise.

But a number of foundation leaders have expressed their concerns about the study, and their critiques speak to the nature of philanthropy, its role in furthering the public good, and the growing challenge of transparency in a digital, data-driven age. The study's foundation critics fall roughly into two camps. There are the friendly critics that strongly embrace diversity and explicitly communicate that their funding helps Hispanics/Latinos, African-Americans, and other ethnic or racial minorities. They want more credit for this than the study gave them and feel the Foundation Center did not capture all their giving.

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