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23 posts from March 2013

Philanthropy? I’m Going Fishing!

March 31, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the linguistic creativity of funders who award general operating support.)

April 1 is the most important day of the year on my calendar, and not because it's April Fools' Day. No, April 1 is the opening day of trout fishing season here in New York State -- and if it's like past opening days, it will be icily cold, wet, and unproductive, with my chances of actually catching one of those wily trout almost zero. Still, I'll be out there -- early -- because trout fishing is my form of meditation, the one thing I do that takes my thoughts as far away from work as possible, to nowhere.

Given that my work is the business of philanthropy, I thought I'd share a list of the things I will NOT be thinking about while I am, as author John Gierach puts it, "standing in a river waving a stick." Here goes:

Is philanthropy effective?
Is philanthropy efficient?
Is philanthropy strategic?
Is philanthropy catalytic?
Is philanthropy innovative?
Is philanthropy transparent enough?
Is philanthropy too transparent?
Does the Foundation Center's data capture the uniqueness of each foundation?
Will the foundation world ever agree on data standards?
What is the difference between an outcome and an output?
Is there too little collaboration among philanthropy "infrastructure" groups?
Is there too little collaboration among foundations?
Is limiting the lifespan of a foundation better than establishing a foundation in perpetuity?
Is perpetuity better than limiting the lifespan of a foundation?
Who will be the next president of the Kellogg Foundation?
Who will be the next president of the Ford Foundation?
Who will be the next president of the (fill in the blank) Foundation?
Is there a viable business model for open source, open data, open anything?
Can philanthropy keep up with technological change?

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 30-31, 2013)

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

Black Male Achievement

Here on PhilanTopic, the Open Society Foundation's Shawn Dove, whom we spoke with back in December, announces the launch of BMAfunders.org, a Web portal designed to "facilitate engagement, collaboration, and strategic decision making among funders, nonprofits, and policy makers working to promote positive outcomes for black men and boys in America."


In a guest post on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Jen Charney, communication manager at the Save the Redwoods League, explains how the organization redesigned its Web site to attract more "uniques" and increase online donations and e-mail subscribers.


Environmental "cause days" such as Earth Day are great, but what about the other 360+ days of the year, asks Geoff Livingston, author of Welcome to the Fifth Estate, in a recent post on his blog.  "If our culture intends to adapt to climate change," writes Livingston, "our efforts need to increase. First of all, let's not poo-poo the small acts taken. Instead, let's build upon them...."

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[Infographic] 2013 eNonprofits Benchmark Study

March 30, 2013

Here in the Northeast, spring has sort of arrived, and that means it's time to share a new infographic from M+R Strategic Services and NTEN highlighting key findings from their annual eNonprofits Benchmark Study.

Now in its seventh year, the study examines trends in nonprofit online fundraising and advocacy, in sectors ranging from human rights to environmental issues. Based on data gathered from 55 nonprofits, this year's report analyzed 1.6 billion e-mail messages sent to 45 million list subscribers, 7.3 million advocacy actions, and more than $438 million in online donations from over 6.5 million online gifts.

As impressive as that is, the picture painted by the report is...well...mixed.

For instance, the study reported a 21 percent year-over-year increase in online revenue, with only International groups seeing a decline in online giving. But it also found a sharp decline in certain key e-mail metrics, including a 14 percent decline in click-through rates for advocacy messages and a 27 percent decline in click-thru rates for fundraising messages overall.


The report also found that:

●     Online monthly giving grew by 43 percent -- more than twice as fast as one-time giving.

●     E-mail list sizes continued to grow for all sectors and sizes, up some 15 percent overall in 2012.

●     Growth of social media audiences outpaced e-mail list growth, up an average of 46 percent on Facebook and 264 percent on Twitter.

There's a lot more in the report, which is available as a free download (registration required) here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

PNP Salary Survey Report: 'The Year of the Program'

March 29, 2013

(Robert F. Duvall, Ph.D., is director of special projects at Professionals for NonProfits (PNP), a full-service staffing firm exclusively serving the nonprofit sector.)

Program-deliveryProfessionals for NonProfits has just released its annual Salary Survey Report. With a focus on salary ranges, practices, and trends in the nonprofit sector in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, the survey has gained widespread credibility over the last three years and always generates considerable interest.

A look at the Survey Report for 2012 reveals some intriguing developments. While there is great variety among organizations -- in terms of budget size, area of service, location, and scope of activity -- one theme appears to stand out: More than 80 percent of the 6,500 nonprofits surveyed reported a new or renewed focus on the effective development of programs and services.

"In many ways, 2012 could be called 'The Year of Program'. Nonprofits of all sizes and types are taking a serious and fresh look at what they offer and how they serve the public through their programs," said Gayle A. Brandel, president and CEO of Professionals for NonProfits. Moreover, the renewed focus on programs and services is expressed in four inter-related areas: development, delivery, evaluation, and efficiency.

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A New Way to Sustain the Campaign: Foundation Center and Open Society Foundations Launch BMAFunders.org

March 28, 2013

(Shawn Dove is the campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The original version of this post appears on Philanthropy New York's Smart Assets blog.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_This June will mark the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which was launched in 2008 to address the economic, political, social, and educational exclusion of black men and boys from American society. When I consider the upcoming five-year milestone I can't help but think that the campaign was originally slated to be just a three-year "initiative." But thanks to the determined and focused work of our partners in philanthropy, government, the not-for-profit community, and the private sector, our board extended the campaign's term limit and provided CBMA staff with much-needed breathing room, increased funding, and an opportunity to exhibit bold leadership on behalf of the emerging field of black male achievement.

During the past five years, the work of the campaign, along with the efforts of an evolving group of philanthropic partners and leaders from the policy, advocacy, practitioner, and research sectors, has expanded on the earlier work of funders like the Ford Foundation and the 21st Century Foundation to tackle a seemingly intractable problem. It has been fueled by a broad and diverse sector of organizations that combine a direct services and policy change approach. From the time we launched the CBMA, my daily mantra has been "sustain the campaign" in the belief that the philanthropic sector could not remedy a generational problem facing black men and boys with a short-term grant-cycle mindset.

In partnership with the Foundation Center, we have launched the Web portal BMAfunders.org to facilitate engagement, collaboration, and strategic decision making among funders, nonprofits, and policy makers working to promote positive outcomes for black men and boys in America. It could very well be the pivotal investment that enables this work to gain the sustained philanthropic commitment necessary to overcome the structural and systemic barriers that prevent too many black men and boys from realizing their full potential.

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More to Do: A 'Flip' Chat With Anika Rahman, President/CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

March 27, 2013

While the topics du jour in the women's movement seem to be Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and New York magazine's take on "feminist housewives," there are deeper, more persistent problems in need of attention, from access to health and child care, to low wages and a shortage of quality jobs, to continued assaults on women's reproductive rights and services.

Indeed, as the Ms. Foundation for Women says on its Web site, "It's true that women have come a long way since the 1970s, but for every woman who has reached the 'top' (and who still face discrimination, by the way), there are millions of women struggling to earn a living wage, gain access to basic health care, secure affordable child care, and participate in the opportunities that should be available to every person in the U.S."

On a rainy day earlier this month, I spoke with Anika Rahman, the organization's president and CEO, about the many inequities confronting women, especially low-income women and women of color, as well as the organization's new report, More to Do: The Road to Equality for Women in the United States (58 pages, PDF).

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Networked Activism: Women's Causes Online

March 25, 2013

(Regina Mahone is a staff writer at PND. In her last post, she shared some takeaways from a new report that looks at homeownership and the racial wealth gap.)

Women-circleEarlier this month, I attended a Philanthropy 3.0 event hosted by the George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University featuring Allison Fine, co-author of the Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change and host of the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Social Good podcast series; Jennifer James, founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good; Nancy Schwartzman, director of the award-winning film The Line and founder of The Line Campaign, a movement committed to empowering young leaders to create a world without sexual violence; and Vanessa Valenti, co-founder of the blog Feministing and a partner in the consulting firm Valenti Martin Media. Moderated by Tom Watson, president and founder of consulting firm CauseWired, the event covered a range of topics, including the sustainability of online activism in support of women's causes.

As Valenti noted, online activism in support of women's causes has been around for years, but it's tended to be reactive and not pursued with a long-term strategy in mind. Her consulting firm was created to assist activists in developing infrastructure to support their online efforts.

In contrast, the Mom Bloggers network has always had the infrastructure needed to carry out and promote its work. As James pointed out, however, the network hasn't always focused its efforts on social change. To help women engage with nonprofits the way they do with everyday brands, James launched Mom Bloggers for Social Good, which today boasts more than a thousand mothers in thirty-three countries working to spread "the good news about the amazing work nonprofit organizations and NGOs are doing around the world."

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 23-24, 2013)

March 24, 2013

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

Black Male Achievement

On the GuideStar blog, Zeina Fayyaz, manager of the Social Innovation Forum and Social Innovation Accelerator at Root Cause, announces a call for applications to the 2013-14 Black Male Achievement Social Innovation Accelerator. Modeled after the Social Innovation Forum, the accelerator program will provide, over twelve months, capacity-building and coaching support totaling more than $150,000 to five BMA Innovators, along with opportunities to network with funders and the chance to become a national leader in the field of black male achievement.

Higher Education

Is student debt the new subprime? Writing on the Demos blog, Thomas Hedges thinks it may be. "Education itself, which many considered a right thirty years ago, has become a market product," writes Hedges. "University presidents are, in the end, fundraisers, soliciting large donations and encouraging students to take out loans that will take decades to pay back. The costs of tuition, which are cleverly obscured for low-income students, slam students years after they graduate, once they realize what paying off, say, $30,000 in student debt means." As one 30-year-old woman with $120,000 in student loans tells Hedges: "The grim truth is that universities and student loans are no longer creating the American dream, they are destroying it, one wide-eyed dreamer at a time.”


On the Arabella Advisors blog, Cynthia Muller, director of the firm's impact investing practice, is encouraged by signs that the strategy is gaining traction.

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Read of the Week: 'US Giving for Japan Disaster Exceeds $710 Million'

March 23, 2013

Jcie_earthquakeOn March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that devastated more than four hundred miles of Japanese coastline, swamped (and permanently disabled) the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power complex, and left more than eighteen thousand people dead and half a million displaced from their homes. According to a new report from the Japan Center for International Exchange, Americans have donated a total of $712.6 million for relief and recovery efforts in Japan in the two years since the disaster -- the most ever given by Americans in response to a disaster in a developed nation and the fifth-largest giving total ever for a disaster.

The report, US Giving for Japan Disaster Exceeds $710 Million (5 pages, HTML), notes that initial disaster relief tallies underestimated the giving of tens of thousands of Americans who, instead of donating to the usual suspects, organized their own fundraisers, as well as off-the-radar groups with connections to Japan that launched fundraising campaigns of their own. Indeed, the report argues that whereas the outpouring of charitable donations following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was magnified by the well-documented poverty of the most of the victims and survivors, the American response to the disaster in much wealthier Japan seems to have been motivated in many cases by personal and/or corporate ties -- despite the fact that more than a few disaster-relief experts and media outlets suggested that Americans' donations would be more usefully applied to "everyday disasters" in poorer developing countries than in infrastructure-rich Japan.

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'How Do I General Support Thee, Let Me Count the Ways!'

March 22, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the globalization of the Giving Pledge.)

Headshot_brad-smith2With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could not resist paraphrasing her famous poem for an appeal to foundations to stop trying to be so unique. But I promise you, this will be the shortest blog post I've ever written because the data speak far louder than words.

America's more than 80,000 foundations have invented at least 251 different ways to utter the phrase grantseekers most long to hear -- "general operating support." They range from the terse ("for general use") to the turgid ("for unrestricted funds for operational development"), from the honorific ("for honorary grant for general support") to the positivistic ("for general operations advancement"), from the vague ("for general") to the didactic ("for general operating support, core support for agency").

So even answering a seemingly simple question like the one posed not too long ago by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy -- "What is the state of general operating support?" -- can be devilishly difficult. It takes people willing to penetrate the linguistic creativity of donors, develop standards, write code, and crunch data -- people like my colleagues at the Foundation Center. And it takes foundations like those which have already banded together to form the Reporting Commitment to be more transparent and consistent about the way they report their grants data.

End of post. Any and all thoughts welcome!

-- Brad Smith

Expanding Our View of Pathways to Grow Impact

March 21, 2013

(Kathleen P. Enright is president and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, a community of more than four hundred funders committed to improving their own practices in ways that are critical to nonprofit success. GEO does this by facilitating connections between its members so that they can learn from each other and make more progress more quickly.)

Headshot_kathleen_enrightOnly a few short decades ago, smoking was both widespread and socially acceptable. To those who grew up in the 1990s, a show like Mad Men, where characters smoke in every imaginable context, might seem more like fantasy than a portrayal of a time gone by. It's a visible reminder of how effective advocates have been in challenging social norms and changing the public’s perception of smoking.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is one of those advocates. Recognizing that 90 percent of adult smokers picked up the habit as teenagers, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation set out to counter the harmful impact of the tobacco industry's promotion of its products to teens. In 1996, RWJF launched the campaign to educate teens and the public about the health risks and social downsides of tobacco and promote policies designed to keep kids from smoking.

The campaign employed a variety of strategies, and its online resource center quickly became a hub for sharing information and ideas, including news about tobacco-related policies and reports and opportunities to get involved. Through its work, the campaign connected with other organizations that shared the same mission in order to spread the idea that smoking wasn't cool and supported policy reforms that reduced the appeal of smoking and made it harder for teens to pick up the habit.

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Reducing Gun Violence: A Q&A With David Bohnett, Chairman, David Bohnett Foundation

March 18, 2013

Headshot_david_bohnett"Now more than ever, we need to provide support for the advocacy organizations that are working to establish a formidable counterweight to the gun lobby, which is well financed, well organized, and will stop at nothing to protect the interests of the firearms industry and obstruct sensible legislation that will help save lives."

So argues David Bohnett in an opinion piece he co-authored with Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad in February. For Bohnett, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded the pioneering community site GeoCities back in 1994, gun safety has long been an interest of his and a focus area of the David Bohnett Foundation. Indeed, as Bohnett told PND, reducing gun violence is consistent with the foundation's mission "to improve society through social activism."

Earlier this month, PND spoke to Bohnett via e-mail about his and Broad's efforts to reduce gun violence in America, his view of recent legislative proposals in Congress to address the issue, and what he thinks other foundations and philanthropists should be doing to advance solutions to the problem. (For more on the issue, check out the special collection on gun violence in Issue Lab.)

Philanthropy News Digest: The Bohnett Foundation supports organizations working in a range of areas. When and why was gun violence added to the foundation's grantmaking portfolio?

David Bohnett: Supporting responsible gun legislation and working on gun safety has been one of our primary focus areas since the foundation began in 1999. Reducing gun violence is consistent with our mission to improve society through social activism. The issue is one of the cornerstones of building healthy and vibrant communities where people feel safe to walk the streets and conduct productive and meaningful lives.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 16-17, 2013)

March 17, 2013

Egg-on-endOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Over at Katya Andresen's Non-Profit Marketing blog, Kari Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann, co-authors of the recently published Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement, explain how developing a platform to engage Millennials can better position an organization for success.


"[M]ost social good organizations...[are] focus[ed] on reproducing the institution, not reusing...data," writes self-described data wonk Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "This needs to change in two ways," adds Bernholz. "First, nonprofits should be using their data for social purposes only....[And, second] when it comes to enterprise level data, the default should be to share all the data you can."

On Arabella Advisor's Greater Good blog, Katrina Briddell and Lauren Marra share five keys to effective donor collaboration.

The Inter-American Development Bank's Lina Salazar Ortegón shares five things investors need to know about impact investing metrics:

  1. Reporting requirements should be simple and in line with the client companies’ operations.
  2. It's necessary to involve both investment officers and investee companies in the measuring and tracking process, training them on the importance of metrics and reporting.
  3. To the extent it contributes to everyone speaking the same language and using the same type of indicators, tracking performance contributes to better communications with stakeholders.
  4. Investments aren't the only thing that need to be tracked. Grant-funded projects with potential to become profitable and sustainable business models also need to be monitored from the start.
  5. Metrics must be negotiated during the due diligence process and be formally included in the loan agreements.

Ortegón invites readers to learn more about the challenges the bank faced, the improvements it made, and the lessons it learned by reading the OMJ IRIS User Case, which was published earlier this year by the Global Impact Investing Network.

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Welcome to the New World of Fundraising

March 15, 2013

(Dave Boyce is the chief experience officer at Fundly, a widely adopted crowdfunding platform for social good that to date has enabled more than thirty thousand nonprofit organizations, volunteer groups, and individual fundraisers to raise over $300 million.)

Headshot_david_boyceMeet NaaLamiley, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina who describes herself as a "sea nerd and a shark geek, pretty much more at home on the water than on land."

When NaaLamiley learned she was accepted to the prestigious Class Afloat program, which  exposes academically gifted high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen to a rigorous, one-year curriculum at sea, she was both exhilarated and disheartened. Exhilarated, because this was a dream opportunity to advance her future career in ocean conservation. Disheartened, because she knew that even though she had made it through the rigorous selection process, neither she nor her family could afford the $50,000 tuition.

But NaaLamiley is a member of a new generation -- one that simultaneously distrusts traditional institutions and places great value in social networks. No scholarship agency was going to swoop in and hand her a check for $50,000. She couldn't depend on her public high school, a federal grant program, or any other institutional source of support. Without sufficient family resources, she was left to her own devices.

Enter crowdfunding.

NaaLamiley was so proud of being accepted to the program, she was ready to shout it from the rooftops. And when teenagers shout, they use social media. NaaLamiley knew that if she told enough people about her incredible opportunity, they would rally to her side. So she set up a crowdfunding campaign, worked diligently for several months to promote it, and successfully raised the $50,000 she needed to set sail with Class Afloat.

Why did it work?

Continue reading »

Leveraging Momentum in the Movement to End Violence Against Girls and Women

March 14, 2013

(Jennifer Buffett is the president and co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, an organization that seeks to empower girls and women worldwide and to end the violence and exploitation against them. )

Headshot_jennifer_buffettWhen girls are empowered, they can transform communities and the world. But for too many girls, domestic and sexual violence stands in their way.

Countless advocates have worked tirelessly for decades to end violence against girls and women. Thanks to their work, we have made progress: Attitudes have shifted. Resources have been allocated. Systems have started to change. And yet, rates of violence remain staggeringly high -- violence that makes the headlines, like the gang rapes in India and Steubenville, Ohio, as well as everyday rapes and beatings that are so commonplace in our culture they are not even considered news.

What will it take to create lasting change -- to create a world where women and girls are safe and respected and can reach their amazing potential? We believe it will take bold action. And change is certainly afoot.

There has been incredible momentum building over the last two months around ending violence against girls and women. On February 14, One Billion Rising (an initiative led by V-Day) mobilized millions of women and men around the world in the largest global action in history to end violence against girls and women. On former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's penultimate day in the office, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum that institutionalizes an ambassador-at-large to run the Office of Global Women's Issues, ensuring that girls and women have a place on our national agenda.

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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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