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23 posts from October 2012

[Commentary] Grantmaking for a Broader Definition of Arts Engagement

October 11, 2012

Sharon DeMark is a program officer for the arts at Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, a network of foundations, funds and organizations that share knowledge and services to achieve the greatest possible impact through charitable giving. Learn more at mnpartners.org.

Sharon_demark_headshotIn the nearly three decades during which the National Endowment for the Arts has surveyed Americans about their participation in the arts -- typically defined as attending events such as jazz or classical concerts, operas, plays, or ballets, or visiting art museums or galleries -- participation has shown double-digit rates of decline, with only 35.6 percent of adults having attended an arts event in 2008. And yet the same 2008 NEA data also show that when the definition is broadened to include engagement in the arts via broadcasts or recordings, some 74 percent of American adults -- more than double the number who reported attending an arts event -- participated in an arts activity.

What's driving this shift in how Americans experience the arts? Clearly, technological innovation is one major driver of change. High-definition films of live Metropolitan Opera performances are selling out at movie theaters across the country, while local opera companies -- which must charge far higher ticket prices than the local movie theater -- struggle to expand their audiences. The creation and distribution of media arts has become so affordable and accessible that anyone can make a film or record an album that can be seen and heard by millions. Indeed, YouTube reports that every minute, seventy-two hours of video are uploaded to its site.

Lower levels of exposure to the arts at a young age is another factor in the decline in arts attendance. Given funding cuts in recent years, millions of children and young adults have had little to no access to arts education in their schools. An NEA report shows that adults who took classes in at least one art form in childhood were about 50 percent more likely to attend an arts event, compared with adults who took no arts classes as a child.

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Walking the Talk: Philanthropy 'Does' Big Data

October 09, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he took a closer look at the China Foundation Center's new Foundation Transparency Index.)

Africa_Reporting_CommitmentWith the modestly labeled "Reporting Commitment," fifteen of America's largest foundations are transforming the practice of philanthropy. From today on, information about their grants will be made available on a near-real-time basis, as entirely open data and coded to a common geographical standard, making it easy to see the communities, regions, and countries that benefit from those grants. The initiative's simple name should not deceive: this is big. The participants -- Annenberg, Carnegie, Gates, Getty, Hewlett, Packard, MacArthur, Mott, Robert Wood Johnson, and six others -- provide nearly 12 percent of the $46 billion in grants made by American foundations each year. To see the Reporting Commitment in action, take a quick look at Glasspockets, the transparency Web site of the Foundation Center, then read on.

What makes the Reporting Commitment so transformative? Let's break it down.

A Bold Idea -- Real-Time Reporting
The fifteen participating foundations have committed to electronically report their current grants data to the Foundation Center on at least a quarterly basis. As pragmatic as this may sound, it's a dramatic departure from the norm for the field. All the 76,000 private foundations in America file 990-PF tax returns in which they provide information on their grants. They have up to a year after the close of their fiscal year to file these returns, the Foundation Center eventually gets them from the IRS as image files and converts them into a more usable format, cleans and codes the data, and insures public access through databases and research reports. In a world where value is being created exponentially by analyzing enormous real-time data sets generated through search logs, consumer purchases, and Facebook "likes," philanthropy remains an industry with $640 billion in assets that relies on two-year old data to understand its own grant trends.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 6-7, 2012)

October 07, 2012

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


With the airing of the PBS documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide earlier this week, Mashable reporter Zoe Fox was moved to wonder whether the documentary, which is based on the book of the same name written by New York Times reporter Nick Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, can "be a wake up call for [women's] issues" in the same way that nonprofit Invisible Children's thirty-minute Kony 2012 Internet video brought widespread attention in March to the depredations of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.


In a post on her Getting Attention blog, Nancy Schwartz offers nine lessons that nonprofit communicators can learn from the first presidential debate of 2012. They include:

  • Focus on the concrete, not the abstract.
  • Communicate with confidence.
  • Stay positive.
  • Take off the gloves, when required.

What's the difference between good writing and great writing? Chris Howard, the president of Hampden-Sydney College, and Elizabeth J. Deis and Lowell T. Frye, Hampden-Sydney professors of rhetoric and humanities, explain all in this short but sweet piece on The Atlantic Web site.

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What Winning Looks Like: Impact & Innovation Forum for Black Male Achievement

October 05, 2012

(Grace Sato is a research assistant at the Foundation Center. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Innovation-impact-forumWhat do New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist George Soros, and Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada have in common? They're all passionate about black male achievement. And they all shared the stage at the inaugural Impact & Innovation Forum, hosted by the Open Society Foundations, earlier this week.

At the event, more than two hundred leaders from every sector -- philanthropy, government, finance, media, education, nonprofit, faith -- gathered to hear about efforts taking place across the nation to improve the lives of black men and boys. And while acknowledging the many challenges black men and boys face, forum participants focused on celebrating victories, spotlighting innovative strategies, and building on growing momentum in the field.

Here are some of my takeaways from the event:

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Jeff Raikes on the 'Innovation Pile Up'

October 04, 2012

(Jeff Raikes is chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The following post originally appeared on the foundation's Impatient Optimists blog and is reposted here with the permission of the foundation.)

Jeff_raikes_headshotWelcome to my new blog series, where I'll be sharing my thoughts on the Gates Foundation and philanthropy. Every six weeks I'll be posting a new blog discussing a pressing issue at the foundation or addressing some of the challenges and opportunities facing the philanthropic community. More than anything else, this is a space for a conversation. So please submit your questions, share your feedback, and let me know if there are any topics you would like to hear about.

For my first post, I want to discuss a challenge at the foundation that's been on my mind lately. It's called the "innovation pile up." Let me explain.

At the Gates Foundation, we believe in the power of innovation to improve lives. That's why over the last decade we've invested in one of the fattest pipelines of lifesaving technologies the health and development world has ever seen. A new, rapid diagnostic test for tuberculosis that will help reduce transmission of the disease. Better tools to enable women to plan their families. Even improved toilets that provide clean sanitation for the world's poorest people. In all, the foundation and its partners have developed more than a hundred new innovations that are available today or scheduled to be introduced by the end of the decade.

That's the good news.

Here's the bad news: None of these innovations will make a difference if they can't reach the people we aim to serve.

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Using Social Media to Expand Networks: A Q&A with Susan Promislo, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

October 02, 2012

The following Q&A with Susan Promislo, senior communications officer for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog. The post is the fourth in a series featuring RWJF staff talking about the foundation's social media efforts. In January, Steve Downs helped launch Transparency Talk with a great overview of RWJF's social media strategy. That was followed by Q&As with Jane Lowe, senior program officer and team director for RWJF's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, and Mike Painter, senior program officer on the foundation's Quality/Equality Team.

Susan_promislo_headshotTransparency Talk: Let's start with a glimpse into a day in the life of a communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. How has Web 2.0 changed your job? And how is it changing your relationship with grantees and the wider community?

Susan Promislo: As the former communications officer for the Pioneer Portfolio, I think I was the first staff member at the foundation to manage a blog and one of the first to use Twitter. In part, it was because of our involvement in conferences like TED and communities like Health 2.0 that are further out in front with technology and social networking. But we also knew that a broadcast strategy was not going to work for Pioneer, which focused on finding transformative ideas from within and outside of health and health care. We had to pursue a networking strategy, had to be learning, had to be open to ideas from all avenues.

It helps affirm that we're connecting beyond our usual suspects, and that social media has empowered us to build stronger, more diverse networks. It has helped program staff raise their profiles and gain greater presence in new fields, paving the way to build relationships with key thinkers and actors that they might not otherwise have developed.

So I learned by jumping in and feeling my way, listening to what was going on, and learning from others. And social media became not only another way to promote RWJF and our grantees and engage others in our work, but also a way for me to deepen my learning on key issues and make valuable connections.

Twitter, in particular, has been really instructive. As I began to follow more people and have more people follow me, and see those networks blossom, I became more comfortable as a voice on the issues we care about and as a connector who could share information that others might find valuable.

As far as our grantees, we provide resources to help them be more effective in their use of social media. But we also leverage RWJF's platforms, voice, and reach to lend further power to their work.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2012)

October 01, 2012

It's the first day of a new month, which means it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in September:

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

Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement at the Open Society Foundations. This post is adapted from the foreword to Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, released on Monday by the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center.)

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

Shawn_dove_headshotDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned these words in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, the last book he published before his assassination in 1968. More than forty years after Dr. King asked "where do we go from here," American society is still grappling with the same sobering question.

In 2006, a front-page New York Times headline warned that "The Plight of Black Men Deepens." The story below the headline presented alarming data describing how, even though economic prosperity had steadily risen in America over the previous decade, the collective physical, political, educational, and economic health of black males lagged far behind that of their counterparts from other races.

The article ignited a conversation at OSF about how or whether it should respond to the increasing marginalization of black men and boys. While there was ample internal debate over whether the foundation should initiate a grantmaking strategy explicitly focusing on black males, many leaders and organizations and the communities they serve across the country are grateful today that it launched the Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008.

A former Open Society Programs board member, Lani Guinier, championed the campaign and has long argued that black males are America's "canaries in the mine," meaning that the conditions black men and boys face are a barometer of what Americans as a nation are facing. We do not want a future America where families, regardless of race, suffer high rates of incarceration, homicide, high school drop-out, and unemployment. This is why philanthropic investments in strategies to address the myriad challenges confronting black males will help in turn "to lift all boats" for underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized people and will ensure a brighter, stronger, and more equal and open society for us all.

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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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