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20 posts from January 2013

The Power of Sharing: Why VNA Foundation Joined the Reporting Commitment

January 30, 2013

(Rob DiLeonardi is executive director of the Chicago-based VNA Foundation and co-founder and former chair of the Association of Small Foundations, a national organization of grantmaking foundations holding over $60 billion in assets. In addition to his responsibilities as a grantmaker, DiLeonardi has a longstanding interest in foundation transparency and outcome sharing; VNA's Web site and annual reports have received eight Wilmer Shields Rich Awards for Excellence in Communications from the Council on Foundations. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_rob_dileonardiDuring the two decades I've worked for and with small grantmaking foundations, I've addressed problems ranging from healthcare access to domestic violence to homelessness. One of the most vexing problems I've faced over the years, however, relates not to the subject matter of my grantmaking, but rather to the results of it. Time and again, I've helped develop a grantmaking program to address a particular problem, only to find out after the fact that another foundation was funding the identical issue, often with a remarkably similar approach, in the same or a nearby area. We were addressing the same need, often via the same method, but doing so in blissful isolation. In short, we were reinventing the wheel, sometimes only a few miles apart.

Similarly, our foundation's board and staff have often wondered about latest funding trends. With only a limited number of dollars in our coffers, we want to spend them in the most effective possible way. It would be helpful for us to know exactly where other philanthropic dollars were being directed, both geographically and programmatically, as this knowledge would aid us in filling a gap or funding a complimentary niche -- a favorite strategy to maximize the impact of our grantmaking.

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The Benefits of Multiyear Grantmaking: A Funder's Perspective

January 29, 2013

(Sandy Edwards is associate director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States.)

Headshot_sandyedwardsCultivating a collaborative funder-grantee relationship built on trust, transparency, and shared knowledge requires a concerted effort on the part of both parties. In twenty-five years of grantmaking, I've also seen how multiyear grantmaking serves as a catalyst in cultivating this type of relationship, which in turn can be a key element in helping a funder achieve its strategic priorities and in helping grantees achieve success.

When it was founded in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation made a deliberate decision to focus on multiyear grants. Now, there is no right or wrong way to do grantmaking, but for the foundation multiyear grantmaking seemed like the most effective way to achieve our strategic goals. It encourages a relational approach to philanthropy that defines our foundation and, we believe, is critical to our ability to leverage our financial and human capital. Today, as the foundation approaches its seventh anniversary, we can begin to assess the effectiveness of that strategy beyond anecdotal outcomes.

First, a few statistics: 92 percent of the $270 million in grants awarded by the Jim Joseph Foundation since its creation have been multiyear grants; 84 percent were awarded for a period of three years or more. Moreover, our own experience with the positive outcomes of this approach has been supported by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which in 2006 conducted a survey that documented the impact of such a strategy. Among other things, the report based on the survey suggested

that foundations ought to provide operating support grants that are larger and longer term than the vast majority of foundation grants today. Moreover, these grants must be provided by foundations -- and individual program officers -- [so as to align with] the dimensions most valued by grantees: high-quality interactions; clear communications of goals and strategy; and demonstrated expertise and external orientation.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 26-27, 2013)

January 27, 2013

Mosby-cold-snapOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On the Tides Foundation's What's Possible blog, Toby Thompkins asks some thought-provoking questions about African Americans and U.S. history to remind us that "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not just a day for or about black Americans; it is a day for and about all Americans."


On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington shares five questions to get your board "moving." They include: Why do you serve? What do you bring to our organization? And what do you want to contribute financially?


Are we on the threshold of a new economic movement "that will result in all investors -- individual and institutional -- committing at least some portion of their investable assets to social impact"? Lisa Hall, president and CEO of the Calvert Foundation, believes we are, and in an essay in GreenMoney she explains how impact investing is driving that paradigm shift.

In a guest post on the Forbes blog, Kayleigh O'Keefe, associate director at the Corporate Executive Board, shares a "three-step method for "converting passive support into lasting partners":

  1. For each of your key stakeholder groups, define a specific desired behavior.
  2. If a certain stakeholder group is not doing what you’d like them to, determine why.
  3. Focus your efforts o n removing the barrier to the desired behavior change.

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[Infographic] WINGS Network Profile 2012

January 26, 2013

This week's infographic provides some basic facts about the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support, better known as WINGS, a network of 147 organizations in 53 countries working to encourage and strengthen philanthropy and a culture of giving globally.

The graphic, which is based on responses from fifty-two WINGS member organizations (and was produced in partnership with the Foundation Center), shows, among other things, that the growth in organizations supporting philanthropy globally is accelerating and that the longer an organization has been around, the more likely it is to participate in advocacy and research activities related to philanthropy.

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U.S. Foundation Archives: An Endangered Species (Part 2)

January 24, 2013

(John E. Craig, Jr. is executive vice president and COO of the Commonwealth Fund. Read the first post in this two-part series here.)

In an earlier post, I reported on the findings of a December 2012 survey by the Commonwealth Fund of foundations' current archiving practices. It is of considerable concern that no more than 20 percent of even large foundations (those with assets of $240 million or more) maintain archives, given the importance of historical records to researchers and helping to assure accountability and good management in the sector.

A review of the literature, the survey findings, and conversations with leading archivists and foundation officers suggest ways in which the state of archiving in the foundation sector could be improved. Here are a dozen for your consideration:

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The Archives of U.S. Foundations: An Endangered Species (Part 1)

January 23, 2013

(John E. Craig, Jr. is executive vice president and COO of the New York City-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that works to "promote a high performing health care system." A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog).

A foundation's archives preserve records of the programs, activities, products, governance, people, and history of the organization that may have enduring cultural, historical, research, or institutional value. Yet despite the important role archives play in a field that focuses on investing in ideas, a recently released survey about foundation record management practices reveals that only a small minority maintain foundation archives. Clearly, there is a need to make a case for why foundations should devote resources to archive development and management. And there are at least six compelling reasons for why foundations should give their inactive files and historical records serious attention.

1. Historical Research on Social and Economic Developments and Influential Institutions and Individuals.
The late Paul Ylvisaker described philanthropy as "America's passing gear," and foundations serve this purpose in numerous ways: by helping to launch movements (such as civil rights, environmental protection, or health care reform); by developing new institutions and strengthening existing ones; by making society more inclusive through support of programs to improve the lot of vulnerable populations; by building up the knowledge base for social improvements and scientific advancement and, through the support of individual researchers, contributing to the nation’s intellectual capital; and by strengthening the social fabric and physical capital of the communities in which foundations operate. In the hands of good researchers, the records of foundations can provide guidance for future generations in tackling new and continuing social problems. For example, no history of the civil rights movement would be complete without access to the permanent records of the Ford Foundation; no history of the development of the "miracle" rice strains that sparked the Green Revolution, which helped transform Southeast Asian societies in the 1960s and 1970s, would be complete without the records of the Rockefeller and Ford foundations; and no history of the healthcare reform legislation of 2010 would be complete without the records of the Commonwealth Fund, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other national and regional healthcare philanthropies.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 19-20, 2013)

January 20, 2013

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


MLK_2013Writing on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Government and Politics Watch blog, Cody Switzer shares a video in which the NAACP's Benjamin Jealous explains how his century-old organization engages young activists: "Listen to them first, find out what they are really angry about, and then say, 'This is how we turn it outward, and we actually overcome that issue.'"


On the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Katya Andresen shares an infographic from the Georgetown Center for Social Impact Communication that illustrates four different categories of potential cause influencers: Mainstreeter, Minimalist, Moderate, and Maximizer.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, CEP president Phil Buchanan suggests that nonprofits have a "dependency" problem -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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[Infographic] Gender and Salary Inequity in the Nonprofit Sector

January 19, 2013

This week's infographic, courtesy of the TCC Group, looks at the troubling disparity in pay for men and women in the nonprofit sector.

Based on an analysis of data from a thousand nonprofits in a combined Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) and 990 dataset, the infographic shows that women in the sector make .75 for every $1 made by men; that women leaders tend to be more effective than their male counterparts; and that, in order to be paid equally, women have to perform better than men in a range of areas, including problem solving, creating organizational culture, and supporting the professional development of staff.

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Here Today, Not Gone Tomorrow

January 18, 2013

(Lisa Brooks is a co-founder of IssueLab and director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about the importance of archiving old research.)

Sorry_closedAbout a month ago, IssueLab received an e-mail from a man in Jackson, Michigan, who runs an organization focused on mentoring high-risk youth. He found a report on the IssueLab site he wanted to share at a meeting he was about to host, and he wanted to know how he could obtain twenty-five hard copies. The report, The Promise and Challenge of Mentoring High-Risk Youth: Findings From the National Faith-Based Initiative, was published in 2004 by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV). The fact that the report was published nine years ago by P/PV made his e-mail especially interesting.

As many of you know, P/PV, after thirty-five years in operation, closed its doors in the summer of 2012. About six months later, the Public Education Network (PEN), which had been doing good work for twenty-years, closed its doors. One of the last tasks both organizations completed was to partner with IssueLab to preserve their respective publications. So while neither organization is around today, anyone can browse P/PV's research reports, case studies, and evaluations or PEN's white papers, case studies, testimonies, opinion polls, and survey results through the special P/PV and PEN collections on the IssueLab site. And that's a good thing, because as our friend from Michigan can attest, these publications continue to provide data, insights, and case studies that can inform the efforts of those working in the fields of education and children, youth and families.

What would have happened to P/PV or PEN's publications had they decided not to turn over stewardship of their published collections to IssueLab?

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Foundations and the Freedom Not to Forget

January 15, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote about Lucy Bernholz's annual look at trends in the social economy in his last post.)

Agent_orange_sprayedRecently I had a front-row seat for two profoundly moving presentations that highlighted philanthropic freedom in action. Both involved groups of forgotten people -- the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam and rural Americans without Internet access -- and one foundation, the Ford Foundation.

First, Charles Bailey, the former representative of the Ford Foundation in Vietnam, spoke to staff here at the Foundation Center about the "Make Agent Orange History" campaign. During the Vietnam War, the United States dumped 12 million gallons of a herbicide known as Agent Orange on South Vietnam, exposing in the process some 4.5 million Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands soldiers from America and other nations. Agent Orange contains the chemical dioxin, which remains toxic to living things for hundreds of years and is concentrated in contaminated soil, or "hot spots," throughout the Vietnamese countryside. The Ford Foundation quietly began working on the issue of dioxin remediation at a time when there was no official dialogue between the American and Vietnamese governments and none of the sixteen corporations that had produced Agent Orange would accept any liability for its devastating side effects.

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Let's Think Smarter About the Charitable Tax Deduction

January 14, 2013

Jan Masaoka is CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits), publisher of Blue Avocado, and author of The Best of the Board Café, Nonprofit Sustainability (with Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman) and The Nonprofit's Guide to Human Resources.

Jan_masaoka_headshotOn New Year's Day, lawmakers in Washington finally agreed to disagree and passed a bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. But with the federal government looking at another trillion-dollar deficit and record levels of debt, no idea for balancing federal expenditures and revenue will be off the table for long.

For many nonprofits, keeping the charitable tax deduction off the table is the issue. But while the issue itself may seem straightfoward, there are more nuances and choices to it than meet the eye. There are many ways, for example, to increase taxes that would not have a directly negative impact on nonprofits -- which, after all, are a huge part of the safety net for the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, and many others.

The deal made to avoid the fiscal cliff left the charitable tax deduction untouched for the most part -- and for the time being. To be clear: neither eliminating the deduction nor reducing the deductibility rate was discussed; the administration's proposal would have lowered the current cap on the deductibility of charitable gifts from 35 percent to 28 percent of one's income. The one tiny change passed was the reinstatement of the Clinton-era Pease Amendment, which will raise taxes on some of the wealthiest donors by perhaps $2,000 each.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 13-14, 2013)

January 13, 2013

Haiti-earthquake-anniversaryOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Disaster Relief/Recovery

It's been three years since Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. In the weeks and months following the disaster, individuals and the international donor community stepped up with more than $5 billion in cash and commitments for relief and recovery efforts. So where do things stand today? Mark Leon Goldberg, managing editor of UN Dispatch, provides some basic facts and figures.


Marie Deatherage, director of communications and learning at the Meyer Memorial Trust, curates a nice list of 2013 predictions for nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and the social economy. Her list includes Lucy Bernholz's Philanthropy and the New Social Economy: Blueprint 2013, which is available as a free download from the Foundation Center's GrantCraft site; Pantheon president Mark Tobias ((@PanthTech) on "Ten Technology Trends to Watch in 2013"; and Nonprofit Revolution Now's "missing" predictions.


Writing in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Nick Penniman and Ian Simmons take philanthropy to task for its "chronic" underinvestment in political reform at a time when the "special interests that finance and influence the political process have amassed unprecedented power." What would be an appropriate amount? ask Penniman and Simmons. Their answer? One percent, or as they write:

Some $300 billion is donated annually to charitable causes. So, $3 billion for reform. Yes, $3 billion sounds like a lot of money. But 1 percent of philanthropy is not excessive -- especially not for a purpose as important as maintaining a government of, by, and for the people. We spend magnitudes more than that funding the arts and humanities, fighting infectious diseases, providing the poor and needy with the services they need, and trying to improve our educational institutions. Committing a sliver of philanthropy to making sure Washington and the state capitals are free of corruption -- both legal and illegal -- seems like a smart investment. Doing so should not be seen as merely advancing an abstract concept of “good government,” but as a concrete and necessary step in advancing solutions to the great challenges of our time -- solutions that the philanthropic sector often invests in but never sees actualized....

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO and president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest healthcare philanthropy, is named one of New Jersey's most fascinating people and is profiled in depth by the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

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[Infographic] The Importance of Donor Retention

January 12, 2013

This week's infographic was put together by Jay Love and his team at Bloomerang, developers of a CRM product focused on donor retention and management, and was featured in a good post on Katya Andresen's Non-Profit Marketing Blog.

According to Love, nonprofits do a poor job of retaining donors compared to organizations in the for-profit sector -- in part, because they tend not to have clearly defined donor-retention goals or devote adequate resources to tracking donor retention rates. (Note: The 94 percent customer retention rate mentioned in the top left square of the infographic was derived from 10K filings for "large publicly held tech companies" -- think Apple, Amazon, Google, and so on -- and is probably not representive of the for-profit economy as a whole.)

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Better Ways to Bring Social Programs to Scale

January 11, 2013

(Chris Walker is director of research and assessment for the Local Initiative Support Corporation. A longer version of this post was published online in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in December.)

Walker_chris_headshotIncreased demand for social programs that are simultaneously threatened with budget cuts creates a need to not only ramp up proven innovations, but also to be smarter and more effective in doing so. In 2011, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national community development intermediary dedicated to the comprehensive revitalization of low-income neighborhoods, leveraged an investment from the Social Innovation Fund to further expand its Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) program. LISC recently undertook a thorough study of its expansion of the FOC model to identify which elements and strategies made it work, and how they might help similar organizations.

Financial Opportunity Centers help low-income families by offering a suite of counseling services, including financial coaching to support basic budgeting and credit repair; advice about how to get and keep a good job; and assistance in identifying and applying for public benefits. Early results have been promising -- the program has gone from four original sites in Chicago to sixty-six centers nationwide.

The study revealed some important takeaways.

First, successful scaling of the program requires a certain amount of standardization. While granting some flexibility, LISC works hard to maintain the integrity of the core FOC model.

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Hey, Nonprofits, 'Usability' Is More Than a Tech Term

January 08, 2013

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based creative fundraising agency. In his last post, he urged nonprofit development professionals to join the donor revolution.)

Usability_5componentsMy mother isn't a techie. And because I'm a so-called "digital native," I tend to serve as her tech support, troubleshooting problems with her iPhone and laptop. Let me put this as politely as possible: serving as Mom's tech support requires a certain level of patience.

Recently, over the Thanksgiving holiday, she asked me to go online with her to look at some Christmas gifts she was thinking about buying for my wife. After watching her inch the cursor across the screen and type a Web address into the browser that led us to a "page not found" message, I jumped in and suggested it might be faster if we used Google. So we went to the Google home page, typed "cute personalized Mac travel case" into the search box, clicked on the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, and voila! -- link after link to sites offering cute personalized Mac travel cases.

Good comparison shoppers that we are, we decided to click on a link accompanied by a great short description and the promise of a steep discount. When we clicked on the link, however, it took us to a site that looked about ten years old. As I scanned the page, Mom said, "Derrick, we aren't going to buy it from here, are we?" I had already decided we weren't, but I wanted to hear her reasoning. When I asked her, she said, "Well, it looks like it's a scam. I mean, we should buy from a site that looks like the people behind it have been in business a while, right?"

Then I asked her to explain something that led me to write this article: "Tell me specifically what you don't like about this site." To which Mom replied, "Other sites just look nicer. They have easy-to-click buttons, and I feel like I can trust them with my credit card."

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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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