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25 posts from September 2012

Readings: 9/11 – Eleven Years Later

September 11, 2012

Sept-11-2012anniversaryLast year, to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, PND interviewed a handful of thought leaders from philanthropy and the civil society space about the philanthropic response to the events of that day. Today, eleven years after that fateful morning, we encourage you to revisit some (or all) of those Q&As and reflect on our collective efforts to make sense of the events of 9/11. What have we learned? What have we maybe forgotten? And what remains to be done? Share your thoughts in the comments section below....

 -- The Editors

Social Impact Documentaries: 'Reportero'

September 10, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she returned to the subject of her very first post, the Adams County Library system in a rural part of south-central Pennsylvania, to check on its progress in improving services for the growing Latino population in the area.)

Reportero_posterAs the audience for social issue documentary films grows, the intersection between a film and its impact is of increasing concern to media funders, media organizations, and filmmakers themselves. There is general agreement that documentary films are an important source of information and opinion in our corporate-dominated media landscape and that they often provide the in-depth analysis of complex issues lacking in most mainstream media coverage. But how one measures the impact of individual films or the field as a whole is still very much a work in progress. As in other spheres, grantmakers are interested not just in the quality of the project (the film, in this case) but also in the results it leads to. And nongovernmental organizations, most of which are still learning how to best use the documentary format, are looking for models.

Two sessions at the annual "Funders Conversation" hosted by Media Impact Funders earlier this summer addressed these concerns. Indeed, the recent rebranding of the organization, which had been known since its inception as Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media (GFEM), is testament to the trend.

"Very few of our members define themselves as film funders," explained MIF executive director Vince Stehle in a conversation at the affinity group's new office in Philadelphia. "Documentary film will continue to be as important, if not more so, than it's ever been. But it's only one feature of the media landscape, along with journalism, public media, community media, social media, and technology. MIF reflects all those communitiess as they work to achieve positive social impact. And we support the growing interest in measuring impact and understanding engagement."

One session, on "Documentary Film Impact and Outreach," focused on partnerships between filmmakers and Facing History and Ourselves, an international organization founded in 1976 that uses film to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudice. In partnership with Skylight Pictures (also a presenter at the session), the organization developed three video models and a study guide (available online) based on the Skylight film The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court.

Another session, "Measuring Media and Philanthropy," reported on a new initiative led by the Foundation Center's GrantCraft project and GuideStar to track and map funding for media. The session also described an inquiry into measures of engagement with, and the impact of, grantmaker-funded media projects headed by Jessica Clark of AIRmedia.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 8-9, 2012)

September 09, 2012

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


On his Harvard Business Review blog, Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable and the just released Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself, makes the case for "an Apollo program for American philanthropy and the nonprofit sector." In the book, Pallotta outlines plans for a "national Charity Defense Council" that would provide "five vital grassroots organizing functions" for the sector, including an anti-defamation mechanism and a legal defense fund.


When it comes to nonprofit Web sites, presentation matters. Indeed, writes Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing Blog, charities "with a branded donation page -- a page that shows off the organization's personality and makes giving tangible for donors -- can see up to seven times more in donation dollars than a nonprofit with a generic, e-commerce page for donations." For more stats about the state of online philanthropy, check out the Q2 update of Network for Good's Digital Giving Index.


At the Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks announces the release of his new book, The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications. As Brooks explains, the book "zeroes in on the hard stuff, the surprising, counterintuitive things that most often trip up fundraisers. You won't find wild-eyed, speculative theories in this book. Just the solid, experiential practices."

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[Infographic] Grandparents in the United States

September 08, 2012

Ahead of Grandparents Day 2012 on September 9, Generations United, a national membership organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies, has released the infographic below.

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Facebook as Catalyst for Collaboration: A Q&A with Mike Painter, Robert Wood John Foundation

September 07, 2012

(Mike Painter is senior program officer on the Quality/Equality Team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog. For more about the Robert Wood Johnson's Foundation's social media strategy and how it has evolved over the last two years, click here and here.)

Mike_Painter_headshotFoundation Center: Let's start with a glimpse into a day in the life of a senior program officer at a major foundation. How is Web 2.0 changing your job and your relationships with grantees and the broader community you serve?

Mike Painter: I'm Mike Painter, and I'm an avid social media user -- although I don't think I need a twelve-step program quite yet. Don't get me wrong, I certainly like and use e-mail, telephone, and video-conferencing a great deal. In my work at RWJF, though, social media, including tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, add an important and rich layer of capabilities and collaboration power to my tool set. Before I came to the foundation, I was an RWJF Health Policy Fellow for a year on Capitol Hill. While in that position, I soon realized that there were interesting things happening in our office that I wanted to share with others. We didn't have social media tools at the time to power that sharing, so instead I manually put together e-mail distribution lists to help keep people informed. That experience demonstrated to me the power of collaboration technology -- even something as simple as an e-mail distribution list. To me, social media is an obvious logarithmic enhancement of that rudimentary sharing and collaboration capability -- one that dramatically increases the reach and magnitude of my old distribution-list efforts.

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Campaign Finance and Charities

September 06, 2012

(Mark Rosenman, a Washington-based scholar-activist and director of Caring to Change, a D.C.-based effort to promote foundation grantmaking for the common good, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he looked at the potential impact of the Romney/Ryan platform on nonprofits.)

Rosenman_headshotCharities depend on people's trust and on the public's support for their existence. Unfortunately, much of that goodwill is being eroded by the behavior of some nonprofit organizations in the 2012 presidential race.

First, it's important to understand that there are lots of different kinds of organizations that are granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. They range from industry associations and what are called "social welfare organizations" to the charitable and faith-based groups we usually think of when we hear the term "nonprofit." Only donors to the latter, however, receive a tax deduction for their charitable donations.

For years, most social welfare organizations operated in service to a particular charitable concern and the broader community. The main difference between these organizations and charities is that the former are granted extensive powers to lobby government -- although those activities may not include "direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." As my grandmother used to say, that's all gone to hell in a handbasket since the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 -- and that hurts charities.

A lot has been written about the partisan political abuses perpetrated by what are known as (c)4 groups (that's the IRS designation for social welfare groups; charities are classified as [c]3s). Indeed, in this election cycle, (c)4s are using the secrecy afforded them by law -- (c)4s do not need to make public the names of those who fund them -- as never before to pour millions of dollars into vitriolic presidential ad campaigns intended to influence voters.

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The Grantseekers Guide to Foundation Transitions

September 05, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about philanthropy's data dilemma.)

Foundation_transitionsThings are going just great for your nonprofit. You've painstakingly constructed a stable group of foundations that is providing a steady stream of grants to your organization, program officers like you and invite you to their convenings, and you've achieved that much-desired goal of having a diversified funding base.

Then comes the press release: "Mary Doe, president of the Acme Foundation in Anywhere, USA, has announced that she will retire after twenty years of service. The foundation’s board has contracted the services of Russell Reynolds/Spencer Stuart/Heidrich & Struggles/Issacson Miller to conduct a national search." The Acme Foundation is your main funder and the future is in doubt. The headhunters call you to inquire about what qualities the foundation should be looking for in their next leader, and you have to stifle the urge to scream, "Just find somebody who won't feel s/he needs to change everything and screw it up!"

Then the first symptoms appear. Big-name consulting firms start lining up at the foundation's door. Foundation communiqués include phrases like "no new commitments will be considered while the foundation undergoes a strategic review." Your program officer is unable to commit to your proposal. It's difficult to get a meeting with someone at the foundation who can tell you what's going on. After a year or more, a letter from the president explaining how the foundation's new priorities will further its mission appears on the foundation’s Web site. Eventually, you learn that the "urban poverty" program under which you've been funded is being phased out in favor of a new "innovation economy" initiative.

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Prepare Your Team for Pro Bono

September 04, 2012

(Aaron Hurst is president of the Taproot Foundation. The following post was adapted from Powered by Pro Bono: The Nonprofits Step-by-Step Guide to Scoping, Securing, Managing, and Scaling Pro Bono Resources, to be published later this month by Jossey-Bass. To read the previous post in Aaron's series, click here.)

Pro_bono_poweredYou just returned from a meeting with one of your largest corporate partners. In the meeting, you explored the possibility of your corporate partner doing a critical pro bono project for you in a few months. They seemed like they were pretty into it. Heading back to the office, you're fired up but want to make sure your staff is ready.

Here are three tips to prepare your team to be a great client for the pro bono engagement:

  1. Clearly define the connection of the project to your strategic plan and goals. Make sure you can make the case that it's a critical project for your organization.
  2. Identify who will be on your internal team and tasked with working with your corporate partner. Clearly define team members' roles and think about how you will recognize their work on the project, including the skills it will help them develop.
  3. Have your internal team meet and do a pre-mortem before the project kicks off.  Pre-mortems are a great way to expose team members' hopes and fears.

Much of the success of a pro bono project lies in how you prepare staff for the engagement. As with most things in life, what you get out of it is directly correlated to what you put into it.

Of course, companies also play an important role in getting their nonprofit partners ready for a pro bono engagement. If you’re a company looking for ways to get involved, check out our upcoming webinar on Nonprofit Readiness.

-- Aaron Hurst

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2012)

September 03, 2012

These were the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in August:

What have you been reading/watching lately? Use the comments section to share...

Weekend Link Roundup (September 1-2, 2012)

September 02, 2012

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


Network for Good's Katya Andresen shares a letter from one of her blog readers, who urges development directors to "make sure your donors are really getting the prompt thanks they deserve."

International Development

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Ari Katz describes how public libraries are bolstering development efforts in impoverished communities. Among other things, Katz writes, libraries empower women, expand awareness of and solutions to public health problems, and help to bridge the education gap in many developing countries.

Nonprofit Management

On her blog, Beth Kanter announces the forthcoming publication of her second book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, which she co-authored with KD Paine. Among other things, the book presents "a framework called 'Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly' to help nonprofits figure out what...steps they need to take to get to the next level of networked nonprofit practice. It is designed to help them understand and measure the nature of the change process as they move through it." We're looking forward to reading the book and learning more.

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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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