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18 posts from November 2012

Off the Shelf: 'The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change'

November 30, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. In October, she reviewed Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations, by Timothy J. Mohin.)

Last_Hunger_coverLeonida Wanyama sat at her living room table in her mud-and-sticks house at the base of the Lugulu Hills in western Kenya contemplating her assets. Her fifteen-year-old son Gideon had been sent home from boarding school because she couldn't pay the latest tuition bill. Her four-year-old daughter Dorcas was begging for more food, even though the cupboard was bare. Her husband Peter, weak from malaria, a condition worsened by malnutrition, did what he could to feed his family, but the planting season was just beginning and the maize crop wouldn't be ready to harvest for months. Leonida decided to sell her last goat for a thousand shillings -- enough to convince Gideon's principal to take him back as she struggled to come up with the remaining tuition. Food would have to wait.

Welcome to the wanjala, the word for famine in Leonida's Lutacho Valley farming community and one of the most common surnames for boys in a culture where parents name their children for the season in which they were born. Girls who are born during the long months between the last of the prior harvest's food has been consumed and the new harvest is brought in are named Nanjala. Leonida's village is called Malaria; so is the stream that provides the family with water for drinking and washing -- and serves as a breeding ground for the mosquito-borne illness that always grows worse in the wafula, or rainy season.

As he makes clear in his new book, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, Roger Thurow believes the one to eight months each year that the people of western Kenya live with "chronic, gnawing emptiness in their bellies" is both morally unacceptable and avoidable. And to make the point, he focuses much of his book on the One Acre Fund, a young nongovernmental organization that works with smallholder farmers -- those with less than two acres of arable land -- in East Africa to double and triple their yields. For a forty-five hundred shilling credit (about $50) that is paid back over the course of the year, the organization, which operates out of Bungoma, a town in Kenya's Western Province, provides fertilizer, modern seeds, and weekly trainings to smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi.

The demand for One Acre's services is clearly evident in Thurow's narrative, which depicts the relentless cycle of relative feast and famine in the region and how it dramatically affects the quality of life for the smallholder farmers who comprise the bulk of the food-producing population in Kenya's agriculture-dependent economy. Indeed, the country's Public Health and Sanitation ministry reported that during the wanjala which is the subject of Thurow's book, malnutrition was the underlying cause of more than half the deaths of children under the age of five. In the community of Malaria, unconnected electrical wires hang from the church ceiling because the congregation cannot afford to pay for electricity. Children study at home by the light of kerosene lamps that emit noxious fumes and are a constant fire hazard, and the fee-based high school Gideon attends lacks basic chemistry supplies, audio-visual equipment, even blackboards. The local health practitioner, Janet, has no blood pressure gauge or microscope to help confirm her diagnoses. Villagers get around by foot and bicycle, and families often live for a decade or more in homes that were intended to be temporary structures.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2012)

It's the last day of the month, which means it's time for one last look at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in November:

What are you reading/watching/listening to that our readers should know about? Use the comments sections below to share your finds....

'Latin Side of the Docs' in Mexico City

November 27, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she wrote about Reportero, a new documentary by Bernardo Ruiz about embattled investigative journalists assigned to cover the drug wars in Mexico.)

LSD-MexicoCityLatin Side of the Docs, an annual marketplace and producers forum for documentary filmmakers, came to Mexico City earlier this month, attracting more than two hundred and fifty filmmakers and fifty industry representatives.

Filmmakers, broadcasters, and film distributors, most of them from Latin America, converged on the Spanish Cultural Center in the historic center of the city for the event. The center, which offers a variety of programs in a modern light-filled building, is located just behind the colonial-era Metropolitan Cathedral and ruins of Aztec pyramids bordering the Zócalo, the huge open plaza at the heart of the old city built by the Spaniards.

The three-day event was organized by DocsDF, a documentary film festival founded seven years ago in Mexico City, in collaboration with Sunny Side of the Docs, a longstanding international event/forum that matches documentary filmmakers seeking funds with broadcasters and distributors seeking good films. The organizers of Sunny Side now help stage similar events in Asia and, for the past four years, in Latin America -- the first three in Buenos Aires and now this year in Mexico City. Inti Cordera, a founder and the executive director of DocsDF, and Yves Jeanneau, a French filmmaker who created Sunny Side of the Docs, share a commitment. As Cordera put it, "We believe that documentary film is important and necessary, not just in terms of cinematic quality but also for the messages delivered."

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Nonprofits and Disaster Response: 5 Questions for Gary Bagley, Executive Director, New York Cares

November 26, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Recently, she asked Gary Bagley, executive director of New York Cares, the city's largest volunteer organization, about the organization's work with local nonprofit partners in response to Superstorm Sandy.)

Gary_bagley-headshotLaura Cronin: City workers -- first responders, firefighters, transit workers, sanitation workers -- labored around the clock to restore critical systems in New York City that were overwhelmed by the storm surge created by Sandy. Alongside them were thousands of residents who provided volunteer support to victims of the storm and chipped in to clean up affected areas. Creative responses such as Occupy Sandy's  online registry and local groups like the Red Hook Initiative were part of a rapid, largely decentralized nonprofit response to the storm. Your organization has a long history of rallying volunteers and partnering with the leading nonprofits in the city, in ordinary times as well as in times of crisis. What did your Sandy response look like?

Gary Bagley: New York Cares has a Memorandum of Understanding with the New York City Office of Emergency Management through which we are responsible for mobilizing volunteers in response to disasters. So beyond the eight thousand volunteers who signed up to help, we had three full-time staff members stationed at the OEM as well as other staff fielding calls and e-mails from organizations and individuals that needed assistance. But because many nonprofits, schools, and faith-based organizations were as hard hit as residents of low-lying areas, we had to go beyond our traditional collaborative program delivery model. In the hardest-hit locations in Staten Island and Queens, we had teams of New York Cares staffers assessing -- on foot and by car -- local needs. At the same time, our volunteers canvassed neighborhoods, distributed food, and started on the debris cleanup. Now, a few weeks into the recovery, we see that much of the work will be about providing social services, from reading programs at libraries to adult education programs, in the most heavily impacted areas. Helping neighborhoods thrive again will be about much more than cleanup efforts.

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Collaborative Relationships Between Nonprofits and Educators

November 23, 2012

(Erin Palmer, a writer and editor for University Alliance, writes about nonprofit and public sector topics covered by master of public administration degree programs. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Some of the most stunning inhabitants of the natural world -- the sea anemone, the hummingbird, the orchid -- owe their intricate and variegated beauty, at least in part, to a basic biological process: symbiosis. When human beings and the institutions we shape interact in this manner, we call it "collaboration."

Of course, no living creature exists independent of its environment, and nonprofit organizations are no different. Just as the most beautiful orchids will not bloom without pollination from an outside source, nonprofits must also cultivate collaborative relationships with community leaders, including educators, in order to achieve their full potential.

Getting Started

The first step is recognizing that an educational institution, whether a local K-12, a large research university, or a private liberal arts college, is more than just a place of learning for enrolled students; it is also the locus of a wide variety of community resources.

Perhaps the most valuable of these resources is the students themselves. Regardless of the amount of time they spend sitting in a classroom, learners, whether age 6 or 60, function as whole human beings and not as just repositories of information. Each possesses singular talents, abilities, ambitions, and skills -- all of which can benefit a nonprofit, and vice versa, once a collaborative relationship is formed.

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Stemming the Droput Crisis: A Q&A With AT&T's Beth Adcock Shiroishi

November 20, 2012

Beth_shiroishi_headshotBeth Adcock Shiroishi, vice president for sustainability and philanthropy at AT&T and president of the AT&T Foundation, leads AT&T Aspire, one of the nation's largest corporate commitments focused on helping more students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. The telecommunications giant launched the $100 million initiative in 2008 and expanded it earlier this year with an additional commitment of $250 million over five years, bringing its total investment in the program to $350 million.

After a rigorous and competitive process, AT&T recently selected forty-seven schools and nonprofits from among thousands nationwide to share in nearly $10 million in funding through the Aspire Local Impact request for proposal. Applicants were evaluated based on their alignment with evidence-based approaches, their accomplishments in serving students at risk of dropping out of high school, and their ability to use data to demonstrate the effectiveness of their work.

PND spoke with Shiroishi earlier this month about the initiative.

Philanthropy News Digest: Give us a sense of the scope of the dropout crisis in America?

Beth Adcock Shiroishi: One in four students -- more than one million each year -- fails to graduate with their class. And the picture is even bleaker for minority students, with the graduation rate among Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students nearly 25 percent lower than the rate for their white and Asian American peers. Obviously, this has huge implications for our future job force, the economy as a whole, and our nation's global competiveness. But while it's a serious and urgent problem, there are signs of progress. Nationally, high school graduation rates are increasing, and we've seen huge gains in certain states and with certain programs that give us hope.

PND: AT&T launched the Aspire program in 2008. What were the goals of the program when it was launched, and have they been met?

BAS: Our original goal was to commit $100 million to fund proven programs aimed at raising the graduation rate, create one hundred thousand job shadow opportunities for students, and support one hundred community dropout summits. Thanks to the tireless work of our employees and nonprofit allies, we achieved these goals. At the same time, we impacted more than one million students in all fifty states and worked with more than one thousand community and national organizations that, like us, understand how important it is to improve graduation rates.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 17-18, 2012)

November 18, 2012

Pumpkin-thanksgiving-wreathOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


With the critical holiday fundraising season right around the corner, new reports from Charity Dynamics/NTEN and Blackbaud remind us that "Establishing emotional connections with donors remains paramount," writes Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing blog.

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Big Duck's Meghan Teich has some advice for nonprofit communications pros in the aftermath of a crisis or major natural disaster:

  • Make sure your staff is kept up to date on your communications plan and that they have a clear understanding of your messaging.
  • Strike while the iron's hot, but not so soon that it looks like you're capitalizing on the crisis.
  • Don't use the crisis as an opportunity to do general fundraising for your organization (unless you have a particularly relevant mission). Instead, create a specific fund or give donors a tangible item or event to which they can donate.
  • Reach out to other nonprofits, even those you view as "competitors," to explore how you might work together.
  • Keep your supporters and donors updated on the progress you're making in real time via e-mail and social media.

"I urge you to take the steps necessary to make sure you are engaging the right people in the right ways to reach your marketing goals," writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention blog. "And to start today." Sounds like good advice to us.

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For Impact’s Sake: The Need for Transparency on Diversity & Equity in Philanthropy

November 15, 2012

(Kelly Brown is director of the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Kelly_brown_headshotPhilanthropy exists for the common good, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion helps us live up to that value. In particular, thinking about equity in our grantmaking helps ensure that we are having the greatest impact on the issues identified in our unique missions -- by targeting resources to the people in our constituencies with the greatest need.

But to really maximize our impact and hold ourselves accountable to our values, our constituencies, and each other, we also have to track who benefits from our grantmaking and be transparent about the results. If we can do that successfully, we can: 1) better understand who we are reaching and who we are missing -- and adjust strategies accordingly; 2) leverage public policy and public dollars to fill gaps or create synergy; and 3) connect our work to the work of other foundations that focus on common issues or constituencies.

As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity.

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Time to Join the Donor Revolution

November 14, 2012

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based creative fundraising agency. In his last post, he wrote about eight trends that will shape fundraising.)

Feldmann_headshotEvery $100 in fundraising revenue gained in 2011 was offset by $100 in losses. Every 100 donors gained in 2011 was offset by the loss of 107 other donors. The donor retention rate for the sector in 2011 was 27 percent.

Why are these statistics from a recent survey conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals so, well, disappointing? Before I answer that question, let me tell you about an encounter I had with a chief development officer at a national healthcare organization.

I met Mark two years ago at a conference where I was speaking about trends in fundraising. He sat in on my session and approached me after it was over with a question about whether and how fundraising is evolving in response to generational shifts. We stayed in touch over the years, trading ideas and strategies related to multichannel approaches to raising support.

Several months ago, we had a chance to catch up over breakfast in Washington, D.C. After a brief conversation about fundraising performance and how things were going compared to last year, we started talking about his organization's efforts to acquire new donors. Eventually, he asked me whether I knew of any "tricks" to increase donor headcount. After what seemed like a fruitful forty-five minutes, I changed the topic to donor stewardship. As I started to talk, Mark slumped back in his chair and his facial expression settled into a blank stare. It was clear he wasn't interested.

Eventually, I stopped and said, "I take it your thing is acquiring new donors?"

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Old Reports Are New Again

November 12, 2012

(Lisa Brooks is a co-founder of IssueLab and director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center.)

Old is the new NewOften when talking with folks who contribute content to IssueLab, we encourage -- indeed, urge -- them to share all their publications regardless of date published. More often than not, we get a response along the lines of "that report is so old we don't want to include it. It's not relevant anymore."

Well, reading the New York Times on a recent weekend, I came across an editorial titled "The Struggle to Cast a Vote: Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders." A timely article, given that the 2012 elections were at that point only two days away. So, I started to read and what did I notice? A 2005 study by the Sentencing Project, an IssueLab contributing organization, was cited. I repeat: the editorial cited a 2005 study. Total word count of the piece? Four hundred and sixty-seven -- and more than a quarter of them were dedicated to a seven-year-old study. How's that for legs?

In that same issue of the Times, another editorial, "How Romney Would Treat Women," also zeroed in on a key issue in the election and mentioned a fact sheet published in August 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, another IssueLab contributor. While that publication was of more recent vintage than the Sentencing Project report, I couldn't help but wonder whether it would still be available to the public a few years from now. Yes, the Times will archive its editorial in perpetuity. But will the link to the institute's fact sheet still be live in, say, 2019?

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 10-11, 2012)

November 11, 2012

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


In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, Philanthropy New York's Michael Hamill Remaley shares five lessons he learned from Superstorm Sandy about communications during and after a disaster:

  1. A little bit of forethought and planning can make a big difference to your organization's ability to keep communicating during a disaster, and once your team has been through a disaster like Sandy, it'll have a much better idea of what to expect next time.
  2. After disaster hits, be prepared to improvise. After the power grid for lower Manhattan went down, Remaley just started walking north from his apartment on the Lower East Side and kept walking until he was able to get a cell phone signal thirty-five blocks later.
  3. Make sure you have personal e-mail addresses for all staff and that they are cloud-based like Gmail addresses.
  4. To be an effective communicator during a crisis, you have to already have a loyal audience that follows you on a number of channels -- blogs, Web sites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  5. When you have a great team of people who are determined to stay connected, you can find mechanisms to make it work. There are so many channels for communicating now that, unless there is absolutely no cell service at all, you can find ways of establishing two-way communication with your key audiences even amidst significant system disruptions.

Disaster Relief

On Blackbaud's new NPEngage blog, Steve MacLaughlin looks at how fundraising in support of Superstorm Sandy relief efforts compares to that of other recent natural disasters, from the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011. MacLaughlin says there are at least two aspects of Sandy giving to watch, including a rise in multi-screen fundraising and the long tail. "Giving to this and other disasters is going to continue for some time," writes MacLaughlin. "And very soon it will be important for organizations to start showing the impact these donations have had on those hit hardest by the storm."

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[Infographic] Women's Wealth and the Future of the Nonprofit Sector

November 10, 2012

After Tuesday, it's pretty clear that American women are not interested in giving up the reproductive rights they won in the 1970s and 1980s. Which is one reason why, as in 2008, a solid majority of them (55 percent) cast their votes for Barack Obama.

Tuesday also saw a historic number of women, twenty, elected or re-elected to the U.S. Senate. We may not have had a female president yet, but from higher ed to the economy to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, women in growing numbers are exercising power and making their voices heard.

This week's infographic comes courtesy of the folks at ChangingOurWorld.com, an international consulting firm with expertise in fundraising, corporate social engagement, digital, and research and analytics. Enjoy.

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The Stars Come Out for Sandy Relief and Recovery

November 09, 2012

Sandy_coasterSuperstorm Sandy's devastating impact on the East Coast resulted in the loss of more than a hundred lives, thousands being displaced from their homes, power outages that affected millions, and crippling disruptions of the region’s mass transit systems. The estimated financial cost of the storm may exceed $50 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

In the aftermath of a disaster like Sandy, it's not unusual to see celebrities donating their time and money to relief and recovery efforts, and this disaster is no different. According to the most recent edition of the Foundation Center's Celebrity Foundation Directory, total giving by celebrity foundations exceeds $15 billion. As the center continues to track the response to Sandy, we're again seeing celebrities step up to donate their money and talents to help those affected by the storm. Here are a few examples:

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From Open Data to Open Knowledge: Foundations, Nonprofits, and the Production of Ideas

November 08, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he looked at what philanthropy can do to help underresourced communities in tough economic times.)

IssueLabIf you think foundations are only ATM machines and nonprofits just service providers, think again. With the launch of IssueLab, there is one place you can go to find more than eleven thousand knowledge products published, funded, produced, and/or generated by foundations and nonprofits in the U.S. and around the globe.

Last month, the Foundation Center announced the Reporting Commitment, an effort by fifteen of America's largest philanthropic foundations to make their grants data -- who they give money to, how much, where, and for what purpose -- available in an open, machine-readable format. Starting today, through IssueLab, the social sector can also access what it knows as a result of that funding. A service of the Foundation Center, IssueLab gathers, indexes, and shares the sector's collective intelligence on a free, open, and searchable platform, and encourages users to share, copy, distribute, and even adapt the work. It's a big step for philanthropy and "open knowledge."

What's in it for you? Read on.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 3-4, 2012)

November 04, 2012

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

Civil Society

On the NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Niki Jagpal discusses a recent article from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council about the "unsettling statistics on the status of voting rights in our country." According to PRRAC, voter identification laws, early voting restrictions, purging of "legitimate registered voters because of baseless suspicion of their citizenship status," and felon disenfranchisement continue to marginalize low-income individuals, communities of color, younger voters, and the elderly.

Disaster Relief

In the days following the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy near Cape May, New Jersey, nonprofit bloggers were busy sharing resources for those interested in contributing to relief and recovery efforts. On her Have Fun, Do Good blog, Britt Bravo has compiled a list of articles and Web sites that suggest ways to donate and volunteer; Idealist's Allison Jones has a few additional suggestions for New Yorkers looking to get involved in relief and recovery efforts; and longtime New Jersey resident Nancy Schwartz suggests three organizations on the ground in that state -- the NYC Rescue Mission, the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey -- that are "providing services right now and need your help to keep it up."

Looking at the response to the storm through a tech/data lens, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz tracks, in a series of posts, the many ways in which organizations and individuals used information communication technologies during and after the storm, while the Weakonomist looks at how Sandy might affect the economy.

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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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