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16 posts from May 2012

Why LISC? It Starts With a Cold Call

May 30, 2012

(Michele Sullivan is vice president of the Caterpillar Foundation. A version of this post appears on the LISC Web site.)

Peoria_skylineNot unlike most cities in the U.S., Peoria, Illinois, and its surrounding communities have areas where existing businesses have left and economic development has ceased, housing is crumbling, crime and unemployment are high, and public transportation is inadequate or nonexistent. Yet, the residents of these areas have the same desires as everyone else. They want a safe place to live and raise their children, a job they like, local neighborhood businesses to shop in, and a neighborhood they can be proud of.

Peoria is blessed to have a strong base of nonprofit organizations to help families in blighted neighborhoods that are struggling with the problems mentioned above. While the Caterpillar Foundation supports many of these organizations, we recently found ourselves asking, Why aren't these neighborhoods thriving?

As we thought about that question, it became evident that nonprofits and stakeholders in the community were treating symptoms, not causes, and that the greater Peoria area needed an organization to help redevelop blighted neighborhoods and address challenges such as affordable housing and high crime rates. What's more, those efforts were needed not just within Peoria proper; poverty and high unemployment extend beyond the city limits. Which got us wondering: Does such an organization exist?

Be honest. Everyone rolls their eyes when a cold call comes in. Steve Sagner, head of development for LISC, came calling in February 2011. LISC was fundraising and wanted an investment from the Caterpillar Foundation. Doubt turned to curiosity. As the conversation turned to what LISC had to offer, my team and I began to think this was just what Peoria needed. With a thirty-year track record of revitalizing communities in need, LISC would take the lead in mobilizing all available resources for job training, business development, affordable housing, child care, and more. By the end of the call, LISC agreed to do an assessment of Peoria for a possible future office.

The assessment was soon completed and the news got better. LISC agreed that Peoria fit its organizational model. And while it admitted it had not worked in a metro area which required a rural and urban strategy, it was confident it could deliver results. To be honest, we weren't sure. But the day LISC program VP Anika Goss-Foster took us to visit the Auburn Gresham neighborhood in Chicago was the day all the dots got connected. When we saw that thriving neighborhood, the 'Net center full of people on computers working on resumes and reading USA Today, the new Walgreen's, the financial office for residents, and, most importantly, the pride of local residents, we knew that making an investment in bringing LISC to Peoria was the right idea at the right time.

Caterpillar, Inc. -- and by extension the Caterpillar Foundation -- promotes the health, welfare, and economic stability of communities around the world where its employees work and live. One such community is Peoria, Illinois, our hometown and global headquarters. LISC's expertise and experience, coupled with Peoria's strong nonprofit base and support from the city and county, has convinced us that the residents of the greater Peoria area have a much brighter future to look forward to.

Has your view about cold calls changed? Ours sure has.

-- Michele Sullivan

(Long) Weekend Link Roundup (May 26-27, 2012)

May 28, 2012

Memorial_day 2012Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


According to Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks, the real reason Invisible Children's "Covering the Night" event in support of its KONY 2012 campaign "fizzled" is because young people have short attention spans. "Fizzling is a hazard of anything you do that's aimed at people under 30," writes Brooks. "Actually, it's more than a hazard. It's a virtual certainty." Do you agree?


Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good and the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog, shares a list of "must-read" reports on the state of nonprofit communications and marketing, online fundraising, and technology.

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Knight Blog, the Knight Foundation’s Elizabeth Miller introduces the Civic 100, a "new national initiative to survey, rank, and recognize corporations that demonstrate leadership and investment in civic engagement." The initiative, writes Miller, is "taking a scientific approach to measuring and evaluating corporate civic engagement" based on companies' leadership commitments, ability to leverage partnerships, and employee engagement efforts. The first "Civic 100" will be issued in November.


In an interview with global health nonprofit PSI's Abel Irena, Saul Morris, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation discusses the progress made to date in global child health and the next steps toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Higher Education

Now that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg officially is a billionaire, Brazen Careerist columnist Danny Rubin says it's time for the founder of the world's largest social networking site to give back to the young professionals who, through their participation and crucial feedback, kept "the site rolling in its ...formative stages." Zuckerberg could do that, writes Rubin, by designing, "with his old pals...an online program that helps [recent college grads] pay down [their] student debt in constructive ways." Actually, we think he might be on to something.


In the second of what is projected to be a series of six blog posts, Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan argues that what the world needs today is "a clarifying -- not a blurring -- of what differentiates the sectors." Writes Buchanan:

While it may be the case that some "hybrid" organizations will do tremendous social good, and while it is a historical fact that many companies have had very positive social impact, the rush to embrace boundary-blurring denies the reality that many crucial objectives cannot be accomplished while generating a financial return.


[Indeed,] the laudable push for companies to do more to create positive impact on tough social problems while also pursuing profit should not obscure the need for a strong, independent sector of organizations that are required to think about only mission, not profit. Same caveat, too, with learning across sectors. There is much to learn, in both directions -- nonprofits from companies, companies from nonprofits. But that does not mean we should seek to erase the boundaries or deny the differences in context that require our attention if we are to be effective....

On the Bolder Advocacy blog, Sue Hoechstetter commends the almost ninety individuals who have signed the Giving Pledge but urges mega-wealthy donors and major private foundations to do more to solicit input from the public. "Foundations are wonderful institutions, but like others, have their own individual needs and interests," writes Hoechstetter. "Incorporating more public input into decisions will help foundations be more collaborative and thoughtful in their grantmaking. This is especially true for...foundations [that] will benefit from the infusion of billions and billions of new dollars thanks to the Giving Pledge."

There are a number of "givens" when working in professional philanthropy, writes Bill Somerville, executive director of the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. They include:

  • Be willing to venture, to take risks, but don't gamble.
  • If something fails, it is a learning experience.
  • Get out of the office, do on-site visits.
  • Hunt for and find outstanding people and fund them.
  • Take the initiative, don't wait; make things happen.
  • Exercise modesty in your work.
  • Build trust by being transparent about what you do and how you do it.

For the complete list, visit NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog.

Social Media

Last but not least, CAMFED USA's Kate Kilbourne, in a guest post on Beth's blog, says that after testing a couple of campaigns on the social image-pinning" site Pininterest, she has decided "the platform, at least at this stage, is a better tool for raising awareness than funds."

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

-- The Editors

NPO Job Openings (April 2012)

May 25, 2012

After surprising on the upside in January and February, the job numbers for March and April came in below expectations, reviving fears that, without further Fed easing, the economic recovery could stall.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls grew by 154,000 in March and only 115,000 in April, while the number of unemployed in April fell to 12.5 million from 12.8 million and the unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 8.1 percent (the lowest level since February 2009). BLS also revised upward the February (from +240,000 to +259,000) and March (+120,000 to +154,000) payroll numbers.


(Chart courtesy CNNMoney)

Here at PND, our own completely unscientific gauge of the economy's health -- i.e., submissions to the PND job board -- tells a slightly different story, with monthly job postings in April down on a consecutive and year-over-year basis, though not enough to set off alarms. Indeed, for the first four months of the year, the number of jobs posted to the job board eclipsed, by almost 5 percent, the number posted over the same four-month period in 2011, suggesting that the nonprofit sector, like the economy in general, is recovering (albeit slowly) from the disaster of 2008-09.

Unsurprisingly, given the tough funding climate, demand for nonprofit development and fundraising professionals remains strong. And we're also seeing a lot of postings in the finance category -- up 8 percent on a year-over-year basis -- perhaps because of increased merger and restructuring activity in the sector.

It might be overstating things to say the optimism we felt in January has faded. But with Greece on the ropes and the seventeen-country Eurozone at risk of falling into "severe recession" -- or worse -- the next couple of weeks will be crucial. And then there are the elections in November, with control of all three branches of government at stake, and, looking a little farther down the road, the dreaded "fiscal cliff" our elected officials in Washington seem determined to explore. How it all shakes out, and what that might mean for the nonprofit sector, is anyone's guess (though we're betting against a Thelma and Louise-style finale). In the meantime, we'll be keeping our eye on the May job numbers, to be released June 1, for clues.

-- Lauren Brathwaite

[Infographic] Playgrounds That Build Communities

May 23, 2012

Nice infographic from the folks at KaBoom!, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating great playspaces with the participation of community members, and the Knight Foundation, which today announced that it is providing $1.5 million to the organization for the construction of nine additional playspaces in Akron, Ohio, Miami, and Detroit.


The grant announcement coincides with the release of a report, KaBOOM!: Playgrounds That Build Communities (exec summary, 10 pages, PDF), that provides lessons for groups seeking to engage volunteers in community change efforts. Based on a Public/Private Ventures evaluation of Knight-funded KaBoom! projects in five states and the District of Columbia, the report found that:

  • The majority of KaBoom! project planning committee members believed they had developed or improved in a variety of skills related to organizing, leading, and executing large-scale change efforts.
  • Most of the respondents to the survey reported positive changes across a variety of skills, abilities, and attitudes related to their community.
  • All the community partners showed increases in their organizing and leadership skills, and many went on to apply these skills to other efforts post-playground build.
  • Much of the effort involved in building a KaBoom! playspace is mutually reinforcing: Planning committee members and community partners become more skilled and confident through the effort, which enables the participating organization to employ participants' skills in other and more ambitious tasks.
  • After participating in a KaBOOM! project, planning committee members expressed a greater sense of hopefulness that they can improve their communities by working with others.

To download the full report (58 pages, PDF), click here.


Weekend Link Roundup (May 19-20, 2012)

May 20, 2012

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


On NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Lisa Ranghelli gives a shout out to the Alliance for Justice's new site, Bolder Advocacy, noting that the "'A' in advocacy used to be akin to the adultery committed in Hawthorne's novel,...a symbol of failure to adhere to the mores of the community, a sign of risky behavior, even law-breaking."


There's an opportunity for nonprofits to improve their organizational stories with data beyond presenting the information in a simple chart, writes Susan Stehling at the Minnesota Council on Foundations's Philanthropy Potluck blog. Indeed, software like Microsoft Excel has made it too easy for organizations to create bad graphs and charts. To avoid such a fate, Stehling suggests that nonprofits follow in the steps of Cole Nussbaumer, people analytics manager at Google, who advises them to "step back and answer some basic questions" before creating their next chart.


On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz wonders whether "the next ten years [will] see the creation of hybrid foundations -- a capital investing form structured specifically to allow greater flexibility in how funds are used for social good?" Few of today's "institutions...look as much like their forebears as do philanthropic foundations," writes Bernholz. "It's illogical that this century's wealth creators are going to be content with last century's philanthropic forms...." Interesting discussion in the comments section, as well.

Responding to news that a second closed-door meeting of Giving Pledge signatories was held earlier this month in Santa Barbara, Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green ask why the billionaires are being "bashful" about sharing their giving stories, successes and failures, with the general public. "The importance of failure as a way to learn is now well understood in the world of business," write Bishop and Green.

In Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs wear their first disastrous start-up or two as a badge of honour. Philanthropy, by contrast, has long missed out on the feedback loop from failure that is so valuable to business, and so often ends up frittering away scarce resources on projects that someone else has already found wanting. Thus it is excellent news that in Santa Barbara the leaders of America's new generation of philanthropists started to take their failed efforts at giving seriously enough to learn from them. Nonetheless, how much better if at next year's gathering they open up and let the rest of us learn those lessons from failure too....

As if anticipating Bishop and Green's concern, James Irvine Foundation president Jim Canales and Kevin Rafter, the foundation's manager of research and evaluation, describe the Irvine Foundation’s approach to performance assessment and discuss three lessons the foundation has learned over the past six years in an article the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

In the first in a series of six blog posts, Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan suggests that "the nonprofit sector may be losing the public battle to define itself" to those who espouse a "business-as-savior perpesctive." Yes, writes Buchanan, we must "push harder to maximize the effectiveness of foundations and other nonprofit organizations....But we need to do our work

in a way that is rooted in a deep understanding of the particular role and context of nonprofit organizations, rather than in a way that assumes that “business thinking” and market approaches represent the secret formula for nonprofit success. We must be clear that the advocacy of those pushing market-based solutions for all of our social problems, which sometimes takes on a cultish feel, is misguided. It won’t work, and it threatens to undermine the public’s understanding and appreciation of the vital role of the nonprofit sector as distinct from business and government....

Social Entrepreneurship

On the Social Velocity site, Nell Edgington reviews Billy Parish and Dev Aujla's Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World, "a career guide for the generation that finds themselves on the precipice of some pretty monumental global challenges."

Social Media

In a guest post on Beth's Blog, Geri Stengel, founder and president of Ventureneer.com, explains the benefits of LinkedIn groups for nonprofit professionals and asks readers to weigh in on a discussion about the ethics of accepting "tainted" money.


On the Growthology blog, Dane Stangler, shares findings and a great map from a recent study published by the Center for an Urban Future, a Kauffman Foundation grantee, which found that technology startups have boomed in New York City over the past few years.

Although the semantic Web envisioned by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee "might be able to reduce donor 'friction' -- the many steps and processes that interpose themselves between a donor's initial desire to give and her consummation of a gift," it may be years before it becomes a reality, writes Greater New Orleans Foundation president Albert Ruesga on the White Courtesy Telephone blog. In the meantime, there are things nonprofits can do to "maximize their online success," including putting "Give Now" buttons on multiple pages of their Web sites.


And in a post on her blog, Allison Fine commends the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its effort to "go beyond the busy-ness of social media to get to the 'so what' of it for social change."

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

-- The Editors

Social Media and the Law: 5 Questions For… Andrew J. Hollander, Of Counsel, K&L Gates

May 17, 2012

Hollander_Andrew_headshotIn an age when an individual can improve or harm an organization's brand in 140 characters or less, having a clear understanding of the social media law of the land has never been more important.

"It's understood by employers that employees are going to use social media," Eric B. Meyer, an employment lawyer based in Philadelphia, recently told the Wall Street Journal, "but hopefully they won't run afoul of their company's rules and potentially harm the employer." That's exactly what happened recently at the fashion retailer Francesca's Holdings. The Houston-based company's CFO, Gene Morphis, was fired after "improperly communicat[ing] company information through social media." Apparently, loose lips do sink ships.

But what about other sticky situations in which an employer might find him/herself that are not covered by existing law? For example, can someone who managed an organization's Twitter account take the account's thousands of followers with her when she leaves? And who really "owns" the passwords to a company's blog and social media accounts?

Situations like those may not be covered by law, but there are things an organization can do to protect itself in the still-evolving world of social media. For starters, explained Andrew J. Hollander, of counsel at K&L Gates, during a recent 501 Tech NYC event hosted by the Foundation Center, an organization can have a social media policy or clause attached to its broader company guidelines that outlines who owns what.

After the event, PND had a chance to chat with Hollander about copyright infringement, the simple things nonprofits can do to protect their brands online, and a few good social media clauses worth embracing.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Library of Congress has begun archiving public tweets. Who "owns" an individual's or organization's tweets?

Andrew Hollander: There's an argument made that public tweets are just that -- public -- and for that reason they can be re-used for different purposes. Some people may have privacy concerns about how that publicly available data gets used. But are the tweets at the Library of Congress easier to re-tweet than those published to your or your organization's public Twitter feed? Yes. That's just one of many issues that need to be addressed, but like many things in social media law there may not be a clear answer right now.

PND: What is the single biggest intellectual property concern for nonprofits that rely on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter?

AH: Copyright is always a concern when it comes to the Internet. It's sometimes easy, too easy, to make a copy of a copyrighted work and put it in a different place. What organizations should do before hitting "Ctrl+C" is ask, Do I have the right to take this copyrighted work and put it on my Web site or platform? There are fair-use issues that can be raised, but as a general rule one should be careful not to over-rely on fair use as a defense.

But the broader answer is that there are things nonprofits can do to enhance the protection of their rights, and one of those things is to have understandings with their employees and third-party partners in which it's clearly stated -- and documented -- who will own what IP rights that might arise during the course of employment or a contractual relationship. I always recommend that clients be mindful of these things at the start of a new relationship, and to hammer out an understanding to the extent that they can to avoid problems later on.

PND: What are some simple things a nonprofit can do to protect its brand online?

AH: One is to have a terms-of-use license giving conditions whereby third parties are able to use the nonprofit's brand or trademark. Nonprofits also can see whether there are third parties using their brand as a username online through Web sites like KnowEm.com. Another way to monitor their brand online is by using a site like socialmention.com, which is a search engine for mentions on social media platforms in the way that Google is for the Web as a whole.

PND: What are some examples of good social media clauses?

AH: There are many, but a few come to mind. IBM has a clause that essentially says, "Here are our social media guidelines, but note that these guidelines are part of our overall business conduct guidelines for employees." Basically, they're saying that just because you comply with their social media guidelines or understand them doesn't mean that they replace the broader company guidelines. Intel also has a good clause which sets up a nice framework that essentially says, "Disclose but protect." Disclose who you are, your role and what youre doing, and be honest about it; but protect your company's intellectual property, protect confidential information, and use common sense. I think that's a neat way to package things. Ford, the automaker, also has, to my mind, a nice set of social media guidelines. They give five core principles that live within an even broader set of Ford guidelines, but they're presented to employees in a visually appealing way.

PND: What are some of the pitfalls organizations should try to steer clear of?

AH: One has to do with employment and labor law. The National Labor Relations Board has said to certain employers who have terminated employees based on their social media activities that they couldn't. And the reason they couldn't is because the employees were engaging in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act. As a result, some of these so-called Facebook firings have been found to be improper, and some of the social media policy clauses that these employees were terminated under were found to be too broad. For example, a clause may say you shall not disparage anybody in any way. But the National Labor Relations Board would say that's a little too broad, because you have to enable an employee to exercise his or her rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

-- Regina Mahone

A Strategy for Nonprofit Hospitals

May 16, 2012

Piggy-bank-maskOver the last few years, eight- and nine-figure gifts like those received by New York University's Langone Medical Center and Sandford Health have obscured the fact that not-for-profit hospital revenue is growing at its slowest rate in two decades.

Indeed, a new report from Wilmington Trust suggests that one of the drivers of revenue growth in the sector, however modest, has been high-net-worth families -- households with a net worth of over $1 million or net income of $200,000. In 2009, for example, 70 percent of high-net-worth families gave to healthcare organizations, compared to 23 percent of the families in the general population.

In response to this trend, a growing number of not-for-profit hospitals and healthcare organizations are establishing standalone foundations to lead their development efforts. According to the report, the benefits of such an arrangement include increased leadership and volunteer opportunities for trustees; clearer lines between the fundraising/administrative functions of the hospital and its core operations; a more focused marketing and branding strategy; and the flexibility and security that comes with having a separate endowment.

The report includes results from Wilmington Trust's own research, which found, among other things, that 70 percent of the healthcare organizations it surveyed in the mid-Atlantic region had foundations, as well as a short profile of one medium-sized nonprofit hospital, Ellis Medicine in Schenectady, New York, that has raised $12.1 million over the past five years and even managed to boost its fundraising revenue in 2009, thanks largely to the efforts of its foundation.

To download the report (8 pages, PDF), visit the Wilmington Trust site.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Movement Building and System Change

May 14, 2012

Movement_buildingThe bad old days of the '70s and '80s are a distant memory for many, but New York City in 2012 isn't without problems. The list includes a public education system that fails too many kids, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, immigrant populations that lack basic protections, and rising income inequality.

The city is home, however, to roughly ten thousand nonprofit organizations, some 70 percent of which provide direct services to constituents. A sizable percentage of these groups work at the grassroots level and many have a social justice orientation, working in and with communities and populations that are marginalized and underresourced.

How the good work of these groups can be leveraged more effectively to drive social change was the topic of an interesting panel discussion hosted by Philanthropy New York I was fortunate to attend earlier this spring.

Moderated by the Foundation Center's Lisa Philp and featuring Hugh Hogan, executive director of the North Star Fund, Ana Oliveira, president and CEO of the New York Women's Foundation, and young leaders from four grassroots nonprofit organizations, the discussion focused on strategies that funders and donors can pursue to help community-based nonprofits create a more fair, just, and compassionate New York.

Early in their respective careers, both Hogan and Oliveira realized that social justice -- a concern "for those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially" -- would shape and inform their life's work. Hogan's "a-ha" moment came in Senegal and Namibia, where he spent nearly a decade working to reverse a legacy of colonialism and apartheid. That experience eventually led him to the Open Space Equity Campaign for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which he served as director from 1999 to 2003. Back then, Hogan told us, eight out of ten communities affected by environmental problems in NYC were communities of color; today, seven out of ten are immigrant communities.

Oliveira worked in the health and human services field for over twenty years, developing programs for vulnerable populations in New York, and then served as the first woman and Latina director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, one of the oldest and largest AIDS service organizations in the country, before joining NYWF in 2006. The organization, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, was established, Oliveira noted, around what many people at the time thought was "a crazy idea": that women from all walks of life and with different interests could come together to address the root causes of economic injustice. But come together they did, and the organization flourished. Today, NYWF funds women leaders and women-led organizations seeking to create positive change in the lives of women, girls, and communities in the metro New York region and works closely with its grantee partners to incorporate their "front-line" expertise into its grantmaking strategies. Or, as Oliveira put it, the organization is "intentional [about] following its grantee partners and leading its donor partners."

As impressive as Hogan and Oliveira were (and are), the real stars of the afternoon were the four young nonprofit leaders who had been invited to talk about their work: Jaron Benjamin, an organizer at VOCAL-NY, which works to organize low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use, and incarceration; Priscilla Gonzalez, executive director of Domestic Workers United, an organization of nannies, housekeepers, and elder caregivers that led the six-year campaign for the nation's first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights; Daniel Gross, co-founder and executive director of Brandworkers International NY, a nonprofit that works to protect and advance the rights of retail and food employees in the city; and Kris Hayashi, co-director of the Audre Lorde Project, an LGBTQ center for community organizing.

All had compelling personal stories to share and all were poised beyond their years. They also were quick to give at least partial credit for their effectiveness as advocates to the coaching they received through North Star's Movement Leadership Program. Launched in 2010, the program was created in response to requests for technical assistance that the fund was getting from grassroots groups. The goal in creating the program, said Hogan, was to free up the leaders of these groups to think more strategically about how to run their organizations, to give them an opportunity to learn from their peers, and to get them thinking more in terms of a movement-building framework.

In its first year, the program awarded two-year grants of $50,000 (the fund's largest grant previously had been $15,000) to five organizations: New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Brandworkers International, Families for Freedom, VOCAL-NY, and DWU. Each organization also was invited to send a three-member team (the executive director, a leader from the board, and a member leader) to a series of workshops and trainings focused on the building blocks of community organizing: base building, leadership development, campaign strategy, and strategic communications.

While movement building as a strategy in these distracted times might strike some as quixotic, it was obvious to anyone in the room on this particular afternoon that the program had succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. And indeed, earlier this year North Star decided to fund a second group of grantees through the program that includes the Child Welfare Organizing Project, which works to transform the quality of services provided to New York City families through the city's child welfare system; DAMAYAN, a grassroots group that advocates for the rights of migrant workers; FIERCE, an LGBQT youth organization; VAMOS Unidos, a Bronx-based social justice organization founded by Latina/o and immigrant street vendors; and Picture the Homeless, a grassroots advocacy organization founded and led by homeless people. All are "in the process of expanding their organizations and work to a broader scale," says North Star program officer Walter Barrientos, and that's good news for the poor, the dispossessed, and the disenfranchised in New York City.

But it's a drop in the bucket. As Hogan noted toward the end of the event: "If someone comes into a room with a bad cut on his leg, most people will say, 'We've got to get you to a doctor and get that taken care of'. But if a dozen people, each with a bad cut on his or her leg, walk into the room, sooner or later you have to ask, 'What the hell is causing all those cuts?'"

Social justice work is hard and not for the faint of heart. We've made progress as a country on a lot of fronts in the fifty-plus years I've been around. But there's more to do. It's heartening to know that passionate, talented leaders like Jaron Benjamin, Priscilla Gonzalez, Daniel Gross, and Kris Hayashi are working hard every day to make ours a more just and compassionate society, and that organizations like the North Star Fund and the New York Women's Foundation are willing to try new things and take risks to help leverage their efforts.

To learn more, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (May 12-13, 2012)

May 13, 2012

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


On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz says nonprofit communicators don't always "make it easy for people like me to share their information" via social media. If they really want to get their message out, adds Fritz, organizations should blog frequently, add images to their posts, use video when possible, encourage retweets on Twitter, and add RSS feeds to their online platforms.


On the AFP blog, Reed Stockton shares findings from a recent study which found that nearly $1.5 billion was raised through some 350 crowdfunding platforms globally in 2011.

On the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Philanthropy Potluck blog, Anne Bauers looks at the Nonprofit Finance Fund's recently released State of the Sector survey, which found, among other things, that many nonprofits are "feeling distant from their funders."

Maybe, as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Sean Dobson notes, that's because the percentage of foundation grant dollars awarded for general operating support remained stuck at 22 percent in 2009 and 2010. It's a shame, writes Dobson, because in an uncertain economy, general operating support is "an endowment-friendly way [for foundations] to build stronger... grantees." 


Ellen Remmer, president and CEO of the Philanthropic Initiative, explains why a growing number of community foundations are making investments designed to "produce a social (including environmental) and financial return." Writes Remmer:

They believe they can have a deeper and more sustained impact in their communities by adding this tool to the toolbox, particularly for some issue areas such as housing, sustainable economic development, healthy lifestyles (think local food), etc. They are compelled by the opportunity to "recycle" philanthropic dollars and augment the amount of capital committed to social change. And they believe that a broader group of social investors will be attracted to this approach for community improvement than their traditional cadre of donors.

Could community foundations become standard bearers for impact investing? Could they play an educational, brokering or even leadership role for donor investors and the recipient organizations? There are plenty of barriers to realizing the full potential of this evolving form of social investment; but my bet is that community foundations could -- if they choose -- play a key role....

Poverty Alleviation

Over at the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Maurice Lim Miller, founder and CEO of the Family Independence Initiative, reminds us that charity can be a double-edged sword. "The ability to make choices, determine our plan of action, and be in control are essential to achieving mobility and stability in our society," writes Miller. But while

everyone faces problems and needs help at some point, the programs and services for low-income people treat them as unable to make their own choices -- as charity cases. A charity case isn't simply someone who needs resources; the term carries pathos. "Charity case" does not breed confidence, self-respect, or affirm any sense of self-determination. If we really want people who are low-income to have the opportunity to get ahead, we need a new model....

Social Media

Last but not least, Allison Fine suggests in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog that what it means to be "professional" in the workplace has changed. "For most people over forty," writes Fine,

it means wearing a uniform of some kind, talking in a certain language, carrying a briefcase (or more recently a Blackberry or iPhone), and perhaps, most important, keeping one's private life private. Gen Y, or Millennials -- late teens to thirty year-olds -- have a vastly different notion of what it means to present oneself to the world wearing their business hat (so to speak). The huge organizational chasm between Gen Y and Gen X and Boomers is less a technological problem than a psychological one, and it manifests itself in the use of social media....

Is she right? Do older professionals view social media as a threat to professional behavior? Is it changing what it means to be "professional"? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

And drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org if we missed something. Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

-- The Editors

A 'Flip' Chat With Helena Monteiro, Executive Director, Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support

May 11, 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 Courtney O’Malley, vice president of the Starr Foundation.)

Founded in 2000 by a group of philanthropy support organizations, Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support, or WINGS, today comprises a hundred and fifty philanthropic "infrastructure" organizations representing fifty-four countries that work to strengthen philanthropy and a culture of giving through mutual learning and support, knowledge sharing, and professional development. Among other things, the network, which is headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, hosts a global peer-learning event every four years and provides its member organizations with an online community where they can connect and share resources, including research reports, news, and capacity development opportunities.

In partnership with the Foundation Center, WINGS also is working to build a global data platform that provides a comprehensive view of:

  • the size, scope, and characteristics of the infrastructure for philanthropy;
  • global trends in institutional philanthropic giving; and
  • how data can be used to support global philanthropy.

Last week, PND sat down with WINGS executive director Helena Monteiro to discuss the Global Philanthropy Data Project, the challenges associated with developing a standardized global data collection system, and the importance of supporting philanthropic infrastructure.

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

(Running time: 6 minutes, 19 seconds)

Have a thought or comment you'd like to share? Use the comments section below....

-- Regina Mahone

Pride & Prejudice: (What) Can Nonprofits Learn From the For-Profit World?

May 09, 2012

(Richard Dare is managing director and CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and an entrepreneur. The article below, which appears here with permission of the author, originally was published on the Huffington Post's Culture blog.)

No one, least of all I, would argue nonprofits do anything less than important work.

In addition to providing vital art, theater, and music experiences, as Senator Bradley once noted, nonprofits have done everything from creating the polio vaccine to building the Sesame Workshop to inventing the nationwide 911 system we all benefit from. They've protected endangered species, played a crucial role in bringing down apartheid, helped rebuild civil society in Eastern Europe, de-mined war zones, cared for aged patients, fed and sheltered the homeless, and continue to provide help for schools nearly every day of the year. About half our nation's hospitals, colleges, and universities are nonprofits. And yes, nonprofits even play music.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's stipulate that nonprofits do some pretty amazing things, and we'd all like to do them properly, without compromising our integrity one iota. We can talk about what the good things are and why they matter later, perhaps, in a future article.

But for now, because I identified a structural fissure in the underlying nonprofit business model the last time I wrote, let's focus on some fundamental steps nonprofits might take if they are to follow their financially more perspicacious siblings in the for-profit sector toward a brighter financial future.

And lest we forget the reality of our situation, consider the 2012 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey released by the Nonprofit Finance Fund last month. That report surveyed 4,500 U.S. nonprofits, including arts, education, and human service organizations. Taken as a whole, the survey found that 85 percent of all nonprofits experienced an increase in demand for their services in 2011 (and 88 percent are expected to experience an increase in demand again in 2012), while only 57 percent of all nonprofits have enough cash on hand to last them three months. No business in the for-profit sector would tolerate this state of affairs on an ongoing basis. It is certainly more than a bit precarious if sustainability really is one of our goals.

Like everyone else in the business world, we nonprofits need money to operate, folks, and lots of it.

But suggesting to the nonprofit sector that it might learn something by studying the habits of their for-profit brethren is a bit like suggesting a priest could learn something from a rock-and-roll promoter. It upsets people. But who knows? Maybe the priest should take a gander at the fellow in the next auditorium. I'm not suggesting nonprofits give up pursuing donations. There's a value to the giver, too. It's clear, however, we need to supplement our old strategies with newer ones if we're going to accomplish the goals society needs us to accomplish because the numbers show that the old methods are not working. So to prime the conversation, here are a few ideas, set within three broad strategic categories.

Strategy One: Side Ventures 

The most obvious way nonprofits already earn unrestricted revenue is through operating side businesses -- gift shops, cafeterias, renting out performance space, parking garages, and the like. For the most part, this is pretty mundane stuff, not worth rehashing here, but a category nonetheless.

For a somewhat more sophisticated example of a successful side venture, consider the 56-story condominium Museum Tower atop the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which was conceived as a revenue-producing business meant to support the museum's operations. The details are a bit complicated to go into in a short discussion like this, but the innovative bond the city developed to finance the effort and the tax structure it operates under both seem like wins to me.

To provide a significantly simpler, street-level example, consider this idea from the for-profit world. A friend of mine in San Francisco bought a restaurant after selling a successful business. He thought it would be a good retirement project, but in retrospect it was a vanity purchase -- and one he soon regretted, after the restaurant only made $300,000 in revenues its first year and operated at a loss. By the end of the first year, he was at his wit's end.

One day when I met him at his place to console him, I noticed that the restaurant was situated on a corner next to a fairly quaint alley. I asked him why he didn't try closing off the alley and having some sort of block party there. "What would it hurt?" he must have thought. "I'm almost broke as it is." So on the weekend before Valentine's Day, my friend roped off the adjacent alley and went online to advertise a party for sweethearts -- mostly cocktails, not much food.

He sold $80,000 worth of booze on Saturday. And another $80,000 on Sunday. ("All cash," he told me later.)

Now he throws five two-day festivals in his alley every year -- on Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day, and Columbus Day -- and makes about $800,000 from those parties, in addition to the $300,000 his restaurant brings in.

Okay, so my friend isn't a nonprofit. But he may have something to teach those of us who work in the nonprofit sector about being flexible. My friend wanted to sell food and drink, and now he does. He wanted a restaurant, and now he can afford to operate one. How can we do the same in the nonprofit world?

I understand, by the way, that consultants generally advise nonprofits not to become distracted by side ventures for fear they'll stray from their core missions. My own view, however, is that losing focus is more a function of weak leadership than of structure.

Strategy Two: Grown-Up Partnerships

Jason Saul tells an interesting story about a nonprofit foodbank that struggled to make ends meet doing things the old-fashioned way: begging for money from government agencies, foundations, and individual donors. It would then spend the funds it received on food for the hungry -- not a bad plan, so long as you don't need to scale in any meaningful way.

But the organization had a problem (one familiar to most nonprofits): because of the relentlessly growing demand for its services, it was never able to fulfill its mission of feeding everyone in the region who was hungry. Clearly, the organization needed a better business plan.

Its goal was, of course, to feed people. But under its existing business model, it was only able to feed some of its constituents a single meal a day. How could the organization get to three squares a day and still have money to keep up with growing demand?

Then the organization had a new idea based on the fact that many people paid for the other two meals they needed with food stamps and the biggest percentage of food stamps in America is spent at Wal-Mart stores. So the foodbank approached Wal-Mart and proposed the following:

What if we took every person we feed and registered them for food stamps (which would help to solve the problem of finding an extra two meals a day for them). In the process, we would give every person who signed up a discount coupon and a letter inviting them to shop at their local Wal-Mart. Assuming we fed roughly 100,000 people a year and were able to sign them all up, and assuming that the average food stamp benefit is about $133 a month, the program could generate as much as $13 million a year in new sales for local Wal-Marts. In other words, real money.

The foodbank then asked Wal-Mart if they would contribute roughly 7 percent of their marketing budget (as opposed to the company's much smaller philanthropic budget), or about $1 million, to help the foodbank grow and expand its business. Long story short? Today, the foodbank is doing fine.

I have no idea whether this story is accurate, but that's not the point.

Setting aside your personal feelings about food stamps or big-box retailers, there is a fundamental lesson for nonprofits in this story: the foodbank in question identified a for-profit partner that could help it change its business model from asking others for money to selling its impact in a commercially viable way that did not compromise its core mission (to feed the hungry), but instead improved its capacity to achieve that mission.

What about an orchestra, or any other nonprofit, for that matter? We plead for money then ladle out music and education, much like the foodbank in the story doled out food. Once the performance is served up, it's gone, even though we know people will be hungry for another serving in no time. How can we apply the lesson learned by the foodbank to our own efforts to achieve a similarly effective result?

Look around. There are a wide variety of these sorts of partnerships, with both for-profit companies and government agencies -- partnerships that produce value for both sides and not just one. I'm reminded of TerraCycle, an impressive company that teaches kids to recycle things like Capri Sun drink pouches. Through the partnership, the kids learn about recycling, the school makes a little extra spending money, and TerraCycle uses the waste items to make nifty handbags, purses, and other consumer items. A virtuous cycle, if there ever was one.

On the government side, New Yorkers are quite fortunate to have a Department of Cultural Affairs that is positively brilliant at helping arts organizations develop effective partnerships with government agencies, for-profit companies, and other nonprofits in order to stimulate a robust arts ecosystem in the city. Agencies like these are well worth approaching as you begin to brainstorm your ideas for beneficial partnerships.

Strategy Three: New Money from Your Core Business

A few years ago, I owned a clothing business in Asia, and my experience there might have some lessons for nonprofits. Here's the gist of it:

It was a large company that sold casual clothing with the names and logos of various rock and roll, hip-hop, and pop bands printed on each garment. The company made a lot of money because people liked the clothes. Indeed, selling clothing was the core business of the company in much the same way that cultivating donors is the primary business activity for many nonprofits.

But there was a part to the clothing company story most people overlooked -- one that accounted for an awful lot of additional revenue at the end of the day. And that extra revenue allowed us to do more of what we really wanted to do, which was to make our stores cooler, invent new things, and connect with new audiences -- all things that a lot of arts organizations want to do, too. What was the little secret hidden inside our business plan?

Well, it had to do with the way we picked the clothing we chose to sell. There was a big open stage in the middle of the company's headquarters, and every week we would invite a new indie or hip-hop band to perform during lunch hour. The performances gave employees a pretty good look at the items we were selling as well as good insights into the popular music scene.

Then each quarter, the company would pick a few of the bands that had performed and would offer to hook them up with concert gigs, help get their songs into iTunes, and so on. As a result, the bands got some exposure and grew their audiences, while the company secured exclusive rights to make and sell T-shirts, pins, and hats with the bands' names and logos, as well as partial ownership of the songs it was sponsoring.

If a band succeeded in selling a million downloads of a song, the company would sell its share of the mechanical and recording rights of the song to a major record label and sell its share of the distribution rights to a large retailer or distributor like Wal-Mart or Target. It was a win-win: the band had developed a huge following and was free to do its own thing, while we made a ton of money selling the rights. Hardly anyone knew what we were doing, or that that our parent company was responsible for generating more platinum singles than any record studio in America. Wild, right?

The for-profit business world is full of complex strategies like this, which is part of the reason so many for-profit companies are able to weather stormy economic downturns better than the nonprofit that are most needed during such downturns. And somewhere in this little tale may be the kernel of an idea for a new business model for a nonprofit that is able to look beyond the complexity and deconstruct what it has to teach us.

Making These Ideas Useful

Some readers, of course, will object to the three strategies I've described. Remember, they're intended to be a starting point for discussion, not a how-to manual. So play with them. Adapt them. See which ones might align with your activities and work. Improvise and experiment with your business model, just as you do with your art.

When I say existing nonprofit business models are not working anymore, I'm not trying to be provocative. I'm just saying the ceaseless pleading for funds infects everything we do. At the most fundamental level, it means the only way we can do what we believe is right is to wait for someone to give us money to do it. It means we can't grow as fast as successful organizations in the for-profit sector because we are forever relegated to working in the beneficent shadow of our supporters. It means we must tread lightly with and around those supporters because we depend on them for our existence. We are forced to oblige the person who funds us rather than trade value equally with those we are really trying to reach with our work. It is a paradigm that ultimately dead-ends in a master-servant relationship. Its effectiveness is waning. And we should be looking to change it. Starting now.

I'm confident the nonprofit sector can resolve this fundamental structural problem -- but only if it gets over the conceit that the laws of economics do not apply to nonprofits because our work is so meaningful and important. Instead, we must face the reality of our situation with the same vision and gusto we deploy in pursuit of our core missions.

Can we nonprofit leaders make the change? Or will our pride and prejudices consign us to a future as zombies?

-- Richard Dare

'The Art of Being Unreasonable' Launches in New York City

May 07, 2012

Eli_BroadI had the pleasure Sunday evening of attending "A Conversation With Eli Broad" at the 92nd Street Y, an hour-long event marking the launch of Broad's memoir The Art of Being Unreasonable. At the event, Broad chatted with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose about his long and successful career (highlights of which are shared in the book's appendix). Broad, who turns 79 this summer, has helped build two Fortune 500 companies, KB Home and SunAmerica, and created with his wife, Edythe, the Broad Foundations, which focus on public education reform, scientific and medical research, art and culture, and civic projects in Los Angeles.

Rose began his interview by asking Broad for thoughts on the state of the economy, which Broad said will not recover until the housing market improves (in 2013?), before shifting gears to focus on the book.

While Broad doesn't consider himself to be unreasonable -- as he told the audience, "I don't think I'm unreasonable; other people think I'm unreasonable" -- he writes in his memoir that he believes "being unreasonable has been the key to my success." Throughout his career, he took chances that many said he was foolish for taking -- building homes without basements at a time when such a thing was unheard of, for example -- and succeeded because he and his partners did their homework and found a "niche where we could flourish."

During the Q&A portion of the event, one of my colleagues asked Broad -- who was instrumental in creating the first biomedical research institute in the world devoted to genomics, launching the largest urban education prize in the country, and has done much to nurture the burgeoning contemporary art scene in Los Angeles -- to share some of the ways in which his foundations assist nonprofit organizations and social causes other than through grants or philanthropic investments. "Foundations have to be innovative," said Broad, especially during tough economic times. The Broad Foundations, for example, offer their grantees lots of advice and counsel and, through the Broad Superintendents Academy program, provide business leaders with the training needed to make a successful transition to leadership positions in urban school districts.

That said, the one constant in Eli Broad's long career, which has spanned five decades and four industries, is a paperweight he received from his wife inscribed with this quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

And sometimes that means asking "Why not?" instead of accepting "no" for an answer.

Were you at the event? What did you take away from the conversation? And what do you think foundations should be doing, beyond awarding grants, to address the many social, political, and economic challenges we face? Use the comments section to share your thoughts...

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (May 5-6, 2012)

May 06, 2012

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


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Lisa Ranghelli offers a positive review of Learn Foundation Law, a new online training tool for foundation program officers that was developed by the Gates, Packard, Moore, and Hewlett foundations.

Arts and Culture

On the Minnesota Council on Foundation's Philanthropy Potluck blog, Anne Bauers explains why it's critical for arts organizations to focus on audience-building efforts. Writes Bauers, "The [uncertain economy] challenges arts organizations to make smart and cost-effective decisions about strategies to attract and retain audiences, sustaining practices that work, and modifying or dropping those that don't. It also challenges organizations to change themselves in ways that encourage risk-taking, innovation and learning...."


NTEN's Holly Ross discusses how the organization improved its e-mail open rates by sending mobile-friendly versions of its newsletter to subscribers, many of whom manage their e-mail on smartphones.


Something of a skeptic when it comes to social media as a fundraising tool, Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks looks at a recently published Nonprofit Social Network Report which found that the average cost of a Facebook "like" is $3.50, while the average value of a Facebook "like" over the twelve months following acquisition is $214.81. Among other things, writes Brooks, fundraisers should consider the following questions as they examine their organization's data to determine whether a robust social networking presence is worth the time and effort:

  • Does giving increase after a current donor becomes a Facebook follower?
  • Does donor retention improve among those who "like"?
  • Is the increase in value, if any, enough to make the $3.50 cost a good investment?
  • What types of Facebook engagement creates the best return?

Hosting April's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, the folks at the Rad Campaign share a selection of posts that explore the ins and outs of social fundraising.


Writing on the Huffington Post, Alice Korngold says that given the significant strategic and financial challenges and opportunities confronting nonprofits, nonprofit boards need to rethink the way they function. That process should start with a conversation about the organization's goals over the next several years, followed by a discussion about its revenue model. After that, the board should dive deeper into the expectations of individual board members and develop a system of accountability; determine the proper size and structure of the board; develop a plan for board composition based on board members' expertise, experience, background, and networks; and adopt best practices with respect to leadership succession.

International Affairs/Development

In a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Gerry Power of InterMedia highlights a report that looks at "how we can communicate about aid in a way that people understand and are encouraged to act upon." Key takeways from the report include:

  • Instill a deep understanding and appreciation for the objectives of international development when people are young and where values are nurtured;
  • Do not underestimate the challenge of leveraging public opinion as a means to influence policy; and
  • Facilitate more effective information and data gathering and sharing strategies for government decision makers.


Writing on the Council on Foundations' blog, Michael Moody, the Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, suggests that "a theory about philanthropy as essential because of the failure of the other sectors is not so useful. What we need is a theory about philanthropy as essential to the other sectors."

On the Philanthropy 411 blog, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy executive director Rusty Stahl announces the launch of Generating Change, a new initiative that aims to "create deep discussion about the challenges and opportunities for nonprofit talent and leadership development; illuminate new ways funders can address this critical need at all levels; and increase investment in talent and leadership development at the individual, organization, movement, and sector levels."

Social Media

Last but not least, Rosetta Thurman shares a list of things every nonprofit leader should know about social media.

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

-- The Editors

The L.A. Riots, Twenty Years Later: A PubHub Reading List

May 05, 2012

Last Sunday, April 29, was the twentieth anniversary of the start of what became known as the Los Angeles Riots -- four days of civil unrest and violence sparked by the acquittal of white LAPD officers who had been captured on video in March 1991 brutally beating Rodney King after a high-speed car chase through the San Fernando Valley. In the days that followed the verdict, Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, and a Guatemalan immigrant were brutally beaten by a mob in the South Central neighborhood, home to many of the city's low-income African Americans; buildings were torched; stores were looted; and more than fifty people lost their lives. The prevailing view at the time, as captured by New York Times reporter Don Terry, was that "the acquittal...was only a spark put to a tinderbox of anger constructed from years of deep poverty, governmental neglect, racism, charges of police abuse and high unemployment."

Twenty years later, how much has -- and has not -- changed?

Rand_reparableharmAccording to Reparable Harm: Assessing and Addressing Disparities Faced by Boys and Men of Color in California (126 pages, PDF), a report from the RAND Corporation, African-American and Latino men and boys continue to be negatively affected by structural racism and a variety of socioeconomic, health, and education disparities. Young African-American and Latino boys are more than three times as likely, for example, to live in poverty as their white counterparts; almost seven and more than three times as likely to have HIV/AIDS; more than five and almost three times as likely to end up in prison; more than sixteen and five times as likely to be a victim of homicide; and nearly twice and almost seven times as likely to drop out of high school. Funded by the California Endowment, the report calls for a range of targeted interventions, including more effective foster care and prisoner-reentry policies; community-based zoning laws that address the social determinants of health; and mentoring and school-based programs for children traumatized by violence. The California Endowment itself has funded the National League of Cities Institute's Gang Prevention Network and the Healthy Returns Initiative.

Aecf_puenteOne nonprofit that has worked with disadvantaged and at-risk youth in Los Angeles since before the riots is the PUENTE (People United to Enrich the Neighborhood Through Education) Learning Center, which offers preschool, kindergarten, tutorial, and college preparation programs as well as job and computer skills training, English as a second language, and literacy programs for adults. Of, By, and For the Community: The Story of PUENTE Learning Center (21 pages, PDF), a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, describes how the family-focused organization -- which had a thriving center in the Boyle Heights neighborhood -- was offered the site of a burned-out ARCO station by the ARCO Foundation in the wake of the riots. "The embers were still warm, and the total damage had not been tallied," recalled former ARCO Foundation president Russell Sakaguchi. "We wanted somebody to provide hope and relief to that very visible corner. We wanted an organization that wasn't going to flounder, that was sensitive to the shock in that community [and] had faith in its ability to deliver."

Starting with two trailers, PUENTE eventually built a state-of-the-art facility with ten classrooms serving a thousand students of all ages, one-third of whom are African-American and two-thirds Latino. (As of 2005, the population of South Central was 45 percent African-American, 47 percent Latino.) One of the organization's keys to success, the report notes, is its sharp focus on its educational mission, which enables it to address issues even more fundamental than racial disparities or cultural differences. "Our mission," says PUENTE vice president Luis Marquez, "is not about any particular ethnic group; it's about people. It goes way beyond ethnicity and race. It's about humanity."

Csii_alltogethernowAmong other things, the riots highlighted the serious racial/ethnic tensions that existed between long-established African-American communities in Los Angeles and the more recently arrived Korean and Latino communities. The influx of immigrants into historically African-American neighborhoods has continued in the two decades since, and racial/ethnic tensions have become more pronounced as unemployment rates have climbed. All Together Now? African Americans, Immigrants, and California's Future (66 pages; 7.15MB; PDF), a report from the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, examines the potential of inter-ethnic alliances to address tensions created by demographic and economic changes. But bringing the various communities together first requires a forward-looking agenda. To that end, the report notes,

  • A number of community-based organizations have developed new mechanisms to both manage tensions and build toward a common ground. Leadership development is key, but the first step is creating the space for new and honest dialogue about what is shared and what is different.
  • Seemingly specific issues can be effectively connected to both populations. The criminalization of black (and Latino) youth has its parallel in the excessive enforcement of a broken immigration system; the racial profiling embodied in Arizona's 2010 immigration law echoes an experience all too familiar to African Americans. If [minority groups] pursue economic opportunity and fair treatment for all residents, the [focus on] difference[s] can give way to a concert of common interest.
  • A common and unifying agenda should be based on a vision of everyday social justice. "Everyday" means three things: address[ing] daily needs around education, the economy, and the social and physical environment; ensur[ing] that dialogues go beyond a more comfortable middle-class and multi-ethnic elite and reach grassroots participants; and realiz[ing] that this will require effort every day and over the long haul.

Funded by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, James Irvine Foundation, and John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the report calls for an approach which recognizes that "African Americans have laid the groundwork for America's commitment to equality and fairness" and "that immigrant rights will be insecure as long as African Americans remain vulnerable to racial profiling and economic despair."

Ncrp_strengtheningAll three reports suggest that twenty years after the L.A. riots and almost fifty years after the Watts riots, the City of Los Angeles, the state of California, and the nation still have a long way to go in addressing the racial and socioeconomic disparities that made South Central such a tinderbox on the eve of the Rodney King verdict. At the same time, all three reports suggest that we have only begun to tap the potential of civic engagement, advocacy, and community organizing efforts to bring communities together and advance the cause of social justice. And, of course, funders have a role to play here. Funded by the California Endowment and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the NCRP report Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles notes that for every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement efforts of fifteen Los Angeles County nonprofits between 2004 and 2008, $91 in benefits were generated for marginalized communities.

To learn more about the factors contributing to enduring socioeconomic, health, and education disparities in Los Angeles (and across the country), the demographic shifts that sometimes exacerbate racial/ethnic tensions, and efforts to address these and other problems, see also:

Why Place & Race Matter
PolicyLink; California Endowment

State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation Brookings Institution

Critical Condition: Examining the Scope of Medical Services in South Los Angeles
California Endowment

Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America's Older Industrial Cities
Brookings Institution

Shared Prosperity, Stronger Regions: An Agenda for Rebuilding America's Older Core Cities

What do you think? Have we made as much progress, as a country, as we should have in the twenty years since the L.A. riots? And if not, what is holding us back? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Kyoko Uchida

If You Say You’re Innovative, You’re Probably Not

May 03, 2012

(Derrick Feldmann is the CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm that works with nonprofits. A version of this post originally appeared on the Achieve blog, and it is reprinted here with permission.)

InnovationsOne of the best parts of my job, beyond working with some great clients, is traveling to speak about the latest trends in fundraising and millennial engagement. After most presentations, individuals will come up to personally ask for advice. I love this one-on-one time with folks willing to wait in line just to get one burning question answered.

Many of these conversations start with an all too familiar opening: "My organization is innovative because..." Usually, the individual will go on to describe why the services offered by his or her organization are unique and unlike other nonprofits'. Indeed, this claim of innovation is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, while some nonprofits truly do have unique program models and service delivery approaches, most do not.

For example, I just did a quick online search and found three nonprofits with the following statements on their Web sites:

"We are an innovative organization pairing youth with adult mentors throughout the city."

"We are an innovative organization designed to help people achieve self-sufficiency."

"We are an innovative nonprofit working in an economically disadvantaged community to help people come together to solve social problems."

Alas, the more I explored each organization's site, the more I found there that wasn't unique or different. So maybe it's time we had a discussion about what truly makes an organization innovative.

When I look at innovative nonprofits, several traits come to mind:

They find creative solutions. Innovative nonprofits are driven by leaders willing to take risks and be at the forefront of new ideas and change in their communities. Innovation doesn't mean you create a process and come back to it five years later to see how things went. Truly innovative nonprofits constantly evaluate their processes and work to make their service delivery better every single day. They are never satisfied with the answer "it is what it is."

They are not afraid to fail. Innovative nonprofits are not afraid to test new concepts -- or to see them fail. They approach research and development in the spirit of discovery and are willing to push the envelope in the interest of improvement. Truly innovative fundraisers say, "We will test text-to-give platforms and learn from our mistakes and successes." They never say, "I wish we would've..."

They know when to pivot. Innovative nonprofits don't wait till next month's board meeting to address a project or program that has gone off the rails. Instead, they pivot when change is necessary and are not afraid to make a move in order to achieve a desired result. Innovative nonprofits understand how fluid the current environment is and know that today's complex problems demand maximum efficiency and effectiveness from every organization and sector. They never say, "We need to hold that idea till next month."

At the end of the day, innovation is more about people letting their networks know about an innovative organization they've discovered, rather than about an organization endlessly promoting itself as innovative. If your nonprofit is truly innovative, it doesn't need to tell the world. Its actions speak for themselves, and we'll know it's innovative because we haven't seen anything else like it.

For more on the DNA of innovation, check out this Fast Company article.

What do you think? Is innovation something you "walk" instead of "talk"? Or, in an ever-more crowded media environment, is it better -- indeed, essential -- to tout your organization's innovativeness at every opportunity. Use the comments section below to share your thoughts...

-- Derrick Feldmann

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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