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18 posts from April 2013

The Social Progress Index: Measuring What Counts?

April 30, 2013

Report-cover_SocialProgressIndexThe Washington, D.C.-based Social Progress Imperative made a splash at the Skoll World Forum earlier this month when it launched its Social Progress Index (SPI), an ambitious effort to inform and influence development policies around the globe.

Developed by Harvard Business School professor and competitiveness expert Michael E. Porter in collaboration with Scott Stern of MIT, the index is founded on the principle that "what we measure guides the choices we make." To that end, the index analyzes fifty-two outcome-based (as opposed to input-based) indicators in three dimensions of social progress: meeting basic human needs; establishing the foundations of well-being that enable individuals to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives; and creating opportunity for all to reach their full potential. (For a complete breakdown of indicators, click here.)

While the index and the report (154 pages, PDF) released in conjunction with the launch of the index includes only fifty countries, those countries represent three-quarters of the world's population. Here's a chart from the report that plots their aggregate SPI scores against GDP per capita (PPP):

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 27-28, 2013)

April 28, 2013

Kontiki2Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Our friends at the Communications Network have a nice Q&A with Lucas Held, director of communications at the Wallace Foundation, who, among other things, calls Diffusion of Innovations, a theory developed by the late Everett Rogers, "the most useful tool I have ever encountered for communications."


In a long, fascinating piece in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer Schoenberger look at the emergence of "big data" and how it's changing the world. "Using great volumes of information," they write,

requires three profound changes in how we approach data. The first is to collect and use a lot of data rather than settle for small amounts or samples, as statisticians have done for well over a century. The second is to shed our preference for highly curated and pristine data and instead accept messiness: in an increasing number of situations, a bit of inaccuracy can be tolerated, because the benefits of using vastly more data of variable quality outweigh the costs of using smaller amounts of very exact data. Third, in many instances, we will need to give up our quest to discover the cause of things, in return for accepting correlations. With big data, instead of trying to understand precisely why an engine breaks down or why a drug’s side effect disappears, researchers can instead collect and analyze massive quantities of information about such events and everything that is associated with them, looking for patterns that might help predict future occurrences. Big data helps answer what, not why, and often that's good enough....

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How RWJF Tackles the 'Social Media, So What?' Question

April 26, 2013

(Debra Joy Perez [@djoyperez] currently is serving as interim vice president of research and evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest healthcare philanthropy in the country. The following Q&A was conducted by our colleagues in the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and originally appeared on Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog.)

Headshot_debra-PerezLast year, after Steve Downs, chief technology and information office at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shared a post on Transparency Talk detailing the foundation's social media strategy, we conducted a series of interviews (here, here, and here) with RWJF staff members that explored how social media and, more broadly, the transparency and participation they offer was adding a new, critical dimension to their work.

The latest Q&A in the series, featuring Debra Joy Perez, the foundation's interim vice president of research and evaluation, explores how RWJF's use of social media, which has become essential to its communication efforts, can be measured to reflect the impact of that work in the context of achieving the foundation's larger social change goals.

TT: Give us a quick overview of your work at the foundation in light of these new technologies. Why are social media metrics important to RWJF?

DJP: RWJF has a forty-year history of developing evidence-based programming. We're known for our research and evaluation work nationally and internationally. But as efforts to advance our goals in health and health care have become more reliant on technology, we've struggled with measuring success and accountability.

Since 2009, RWJF has been incorporating Web 2.0 technology into our everyday work, and with the September launch of our redesigned Web site, we now have more social sharing facilitation tools on the site. We're also doing more on on Twitter and Facebook to invite conversation about how to advance health and health care and are producing content to serve the needs of various online communities.

All that activity allows us to clearly see the present and future value of social media, which we believe can help us create social change and build movements around the causes we care deeply about. And, guided by the principles of openness, participation, and decentralization, we have learned a number of important lessons from that work. They include:

  • Personal outreach matters;
  • Responsiveness to requests for engagement is important;
  • Criticism can lead to healthy dialogue;
  • Engagement needs to be easy and simple; and
  • Real engagement requires work and dedicated resources.

These takeaways underscore the importance of ongoing conversation about the policies and processes needed to achieve our goals. For instance, with each social media campaign, we have to be explicit about our expectations. Metrics are an essential part of that effort. Measurement allows us to see how we're doing against those expectations and to improve our use of social media to achieve our broader goals.

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Ten Ways to Make Your Grantwriter’s Time Count

April 25, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. A version of this post appears on her Web site.)

Alarm-clockThe decision to use a freelance grantwriter can be a smart investment for a nonprofit organization, especially if it knows how to use that freelancer effectively.

With that in mind, here are ten tips (plus a bonus tip) to help you make the most of your freelance grantwriter's time:

1. Get organized. Make sure your grantwriter has everything she needs to be as autonomous as possible. This is likely to require a substantial amount of time in the beginning, but it will also save you time in the end. Ask your grantwriter for a checklist of things she needs, as well as a wish list. The basics include audited financial statements and organizational budgets. Go a step further and provide her with project budgets for every program or capacity-building initiative that may be eligible for the grant. Also, be sure to provide letterhead, photographs, .jpegs of logos, and anything else she'll need to tell your organization's story.

2. Single point of contact. When working with a contractor, it's always best to have a single point of contact. Make sure the individual assigned to be that person is a decision maker who can delegate effectively to every department/function within the organization. Development directors of small organizations may be too busy with special events to give grant proposals the attention they require on a regular basis. Having the grantwriter report directly to the executive director is optimal, in that it will give him/her better access to the "big picture" and help ensure that the information he or she needs is produced in a timely fashion.

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Dispatch From Philanthropy’s Frontlines: Globalization in Chicago

April 23, 2013

(Michael Seltzer is a trustee of EMpower-the Emerging Markets Foundation and a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs of the City University of New York. To read his earlier dispatch from the Council on Foundations' annual conference, click here.)

Global_villageGlobal issues were front and center at the annual meeting of the Council on Foundations in Chicago earlier this month. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. While many U.S. nonprofits have long been active in the international arena, the transnational dimensions of a range of issues, from food security, to sex trafficking and violence against women, to global warming, have become ever more apparent and have helped fuel the growth of nongovernmental organizations globally.

At the same time, more and more U. S. corporations, especially in information technology, financial services, natural resources extraction, and pharmaceuticals, derive a larger percentage of their profits from overseas operations, while a handful of the nation's largest foundations continue to fund international efforts. In addition, newer players like Bloomberg Philanthropies regularly make connections between their work at home and global efforts.

On Sunday, the first day of the conference, Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, senior advisor to the U.S. secretary of state for civil society and emerging democracies, remarked on the growing importance of the nonprofit sector globally and State Department efforts to position the U.S. government as a leading supporter of the global philanthropic and NGO movements, elevate the role of civil society in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, engage multilateral organizations working to advance democracy and civil society around the globe, and promote the independence of civil society globally.

Other positive trends in this arena include the lowering of barriers that historically have discouraged U.S. foundations from funding efforts in other countries. John Harvey, managing director of the council's Global Philanthropy program, reported on recent efforts to modify and improve U.S. Treasury and IRS rules governing international grantmaking, including the launch of equivalency determination service NGOsource. Charities Aid Foundation America has announced that it is now providing 501(c)(3) equivalency services (something it has been doing for many years) at no cost to American donors. And public foundations like the International Youth Foundation and Tides Foundation have ramped up their international efforts. Tides now supports projects in more than seventy countries, while IYF is working with partners in more than eighty-six countries. More recently established organizations such as the African Women's Leadership Foundation-USA have joined the ranks of older organizations like the American India Foundation and Brazil Foundation in working to forge connections between diaspora communities in the U.S. and civil society efforts back home, while the International Center on Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) today serves government officials and the donor community in more than a hundred countries.

Another indicator of the growth of global philanthropy is the emergence of national philanthropic associations around the globe. Centro Mexicano para la Filantropía (CEMEFI) boasts more than twelve hundred members and is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Indeed, the philanthropic sector accounts for 1 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product, while more than eight hundred Mexican companies have signed corporate social responsibility pledges.

The conference closed on Tuesday with a plenary appearance by two of America's most important social sector thought leaders: feminist playwright Eve Ensler, whose latest project, V-Day, seeks to create a global movement to end violence against women and girls, and who spoke about the organization's work in the war-torn Congo; and Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, the award-winning global health organization, who spoke about PIH's work in impoverished Haiti, where PIH has long had a presence.

As technology and capital flows continue to shrink the globe and the need to address climate change, nuclear proliferation, and other borderless problems grows more urgent, we should expect that more and more people in more and more places will look to philanthropy for funding and answers. The sense that this is already happening was palpable in the halls and conference rooms of the Chicago Hilton, and I, for one, am confident that it is one of the trends we'll be hearing a lot about it in the years to come.

In the meantime, click here to catch up on highlights from the 2013 CoF meeting. And if you'd like to share your thoughts about what philanthropy can and should be doing to promote the "greater good" globally, we'd love to hear them. Use the comments section below...

-- Michael Seltzer

Weekend Link Roundup (April 20-21, 2013)

April 21, 2013

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


On her Getting Attention blog, Nancy Schwartz has some recommendations for nonprofit communications officers (here and here) on how to communicate during a time of crisis.

Current Affairs

In the wake of the horrific bombing at this year's Boston Marathon, Philanthropy 411's Kris Putnam-Walkerly has curated a list of resources for anyone interested in learning more about philanthropy's response to the tragedy. As of Friday, the One Fund Boston, which was created by Boston mayor Thomas Menino, had raised more than $10 million to help victims of the attack.

As if the marathon tragedy wasn't enough to rattle Americans, on Wednesday a fertilizer plant in the Texas town of West caught fire and exploded, killing at least fourteen people and injuring hundreds of others. According to ThinkProgress economic policy editor Bryce Covert, the plant hadn't been inspected in five years. Covert goes on to explain that the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "is chronically understaffed, which means that a given plant like West Fertilizer can only expect to get a state inspection once every 67 years on average." And what's more, OSHA is "slated to take a huge cut under the sequester...."

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Rising Risk and Rising Tides: Can We Catch the Wave?

April 19, 2013

(Rachel Leon is executive director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association.)

Headshot_rachel_leonSince its creation in 1970, Earth Day has helped bridge the gap between people and the planet, connecting us to the ground we stand on. For Extreme Weather Earth Day 2013, it is vital we reaffirm that connection as we confront global challenges and increasingly common extreme weather events in our own backyards.

At a recent conference, Gina McCarthy, the Obama administration's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, articulated two priorities for us as a nation and community: finding solutions to problems of climate change, and getting kids outside. These macro and micro pieces fit together and can help show the way to a more sustainable future.

My mother likes to tell the story of my first speech, which I gave when I was three and which included a plea for more parks in our community. I grew up in Schenectady, New York, in an inner-city neighborhood; our playground was a vacant lot full of metal pipes and glass, and that speech was the beginning of my personal activism and connection to the outdoors.

Ultimately, the community, with a huge contribution from my mom, succeeded in getting a new park built. And, thanks in part to that experience, I was drawn to issues of poverty and inequality as I got older. I really didn't reconnect with environmental issues, however, until I found myself working at a statewide anti-hunger organization. Our agenda included getting food stamps accepted at farmers markets so as to encourage fresh food choices for all families, regardless of income. At the time, I didn't identify as an environmentalist, and yet my work was absolutely connected to the environment. That perception, that people working for a better planet are somehow different from those working to address poverty, inequality, or other social issues, is all too common -- and one we absolutely need to address if we hope to build an engaged community that spans all interests and sectors.

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Boston Foundation Statement on Marathon Attack

April 16, 2013

The Boston Foundation issued the following statement this morning in reaction to the attack on the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon:

Yesterday at 2: 50 p.m., our community was torn apart by an act of unspeakable cowardice and evil. Today, we join our neighbors, our community, and friends across the nation and the world not only in grief, but in our determination to overcome this heinous crime. All of us at the Boston Foundation wish to express our sympathies and support to all those directly affected by the attack, and pledge to provide short- and long-term support to the community as we all seek to recover and heal.

We continue to be in touch with state and local officials as well as other members of the nonprofit and philanthropic community, as we develop our immediate and longer-term efforts to support our community in this time of need.

Throughout its history, the people of the City of Boston have demonstrated their resilience and strength in times of crisis -- and we have seen those acts of courage and heroism already in the past day. Boston is our home, and for nearly 100 years we have been honored to play a role in strengthening and supporting this community. Together, we can all take comfort in the knowledge that we can and will work together as a community to lift up the victims of this tragedy, ease their suffering and support each other in this challenging time.

The foundation is currently gathering information on scheduled events for the public in tribute to those harmed by the attack and is posting those on its Web site, tbf.org. It will issue more statements on its plans as they are finalized.

Philanthropy and Global Development: When Worlds Collide

(Jeff Falkenstein is vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center. In October, he wrote about the challenges of gathering foundation grants data in a timely fashion.)

Globe_africaEarlier this month I had the good fortune to join policy makers, academics, and leaders from civil society and the private sector in Paris at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development's (OECD) annual Global Forum on Development. (For those who haven't heard of it, the OECD works with governments, multilateral agencies, and bilateral agencies to better understand global trade and investment flows; the drivers of economic, social, and environmental change; and what can be done to address urgent global development problems. It then builds on that work to predict future trends in global trade and development.)

In the past, forum attendees typically discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by efforts to alleviate poverty around the globe. This year, however, the focus was on the progress made over the past decade in meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- and on jumpstarting a dialogue about new challenges in a post-2015 world.

It was clear from reports presented at the meeting that, two years from their original 2015 target date, the MDGs are already a success. Poverty rates have declined globally. Access to health care has improved. The number of deaths of children under the age of 5 has fallen, to 7 million in 2011, down from 12 million in 1990. The number of AIDS-related deaths also has fallen, to 1.7 million in 2011, down from 2.3 million in 2005. Thanks to the MDGs, well-designed and coordinated social programs are producing a wide range of positive outcomes, including improved nutrition and food security and higher rates of school enrollment.

Despite this progress, forum attendees made it clear that challenges remain. The income gap between the poorest and wealthiest individuals continues to widen, while acute poverty afflicts tens of millions of people around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, half the population still lives on less than $1.25 a day. Access to basic services remains a global challenge; close to 2.4 billion people around the world go without proper sanitation facilities, while 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Meanwhile, the economic growth of the last twenty years has not translated into job creation. The number of informal, poor-quality jobs remains high in many developing countries, with young people particularly affected. In Africa and the Middle East, young people comprise 60 percent of the unemployed.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 13-14, 2013)

April 14, 2013

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


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks says to forget about donor fatigue; what's really happening is fundraiser fatigue.


This might be "shaping up as the year of crowdfunding medical needs," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "These medical crowdfunding site are fascinating to me. In many ways, they are returning us to the time before national health services and social security, when turning to one's community for financial assistance with medical needs or college costs was the norm."


Over at Forbes, Jessica Joseph, associate director of innovation at the Rockefeller Foundation, explains how social impact bonds "went from concept to execution faster than any other social innovation [in years]."

That may be, writes Kyle McKay, a policy analyst with the Maryland General Assembly, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. But while SIBs are interesting as "endeavors in financial creativity," their risks for cash-strapped governments and nonprofits may outweigh their benefits.

The Social Progress Index launched this week, and Ben Baumberg, a lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent in the UK, has some really interesting thoughts about what the folks behind the index have done well -- and could do better.

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U.S. Should Follow California's Lead on Immigration

April 12, 2013

(Ira S. Hirschfield is president of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Robert K. Ross, MD, is president and chief executive officer of the California Endowment. And Timothy P. Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation.)

Statue_of_libertyEquality of opportunity is a fundamentally American value. Throughout our history, we have taken important steps to make our country more equal and to bring opportunity to groups that were denied it in the past.

Today, with national leaders debating plans to reform America's broken immigration system, we may soon be taking the next step in this continuing journey. Getting reform right means keeping our core values front and center, and Californians are showing the way forward.

First, more about the problem. More than 11 million immigrants in this country (including nearly three million in California alone) are living in the shadows. Their invisibility and fear of deportation makes them vulnerable to exploitation at work, reluctant to report crimes or to participate in their communities, and hesitant to get health care when they and their families need it.

This situation is not good for anyone. The American economy and our society are better and stronger when everyone has an opportunity to participate. Having a permanent underclass of aspiring Americans who do not have the same rights as everyone else, and who cannot speak up for their interests without putting themselves and their families at risk, demeans our democracy and diminishes our values.

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Digital Tools and Apps: A 'Flip' Chat With Harish Bhandari, Robin Hood Foundation

(The video below was recorded as part of our "Flip" chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with Anika Rahman, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.) 

If your organization thinks it doesn't have the time or money to invest in online tools like Twitter, it is "missing the boat," says Harish Bhandari, director of digital engagement and innovation at the Robin Hood Foundation. Robin Hood and Bhandari saw the benefits of digital media firsthand after Superstorm Sandy smashed into the Jersey shore in late October. After the storm, the New York City-based charity organized a benefit concert to raise funds for relief and recovery efforts in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut -- a concert that, thanks in part to the organization's use of social media to promote it, turned out to be the most successful benefit concert ever.

Indeed, says Bhandari, by not engaging with donors and other audiences online, nonprofits are missing out on connecting with a demographic that is passionate about social change and in a position to be "really loyal" over a long period of time. 

During a sit-down with PND, Bhandari, who spoke at a recent 501 Tech NYC event dedicated to "visual storytelling" (check out Noland Hoshino's recap here), discussed Robin Hood's efforts to engage potential supporters after Sandy, explained Robin Hood's approach to social networking, and shared some thoughts about newer mobile apps like Instagram and Vine.

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Protecting Nature Is the Smartest Investment We Can Make

April 10, 2013

(Mark Tercek is president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the book Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature).

Headshot_mark_tercekIn my work for the Nature Conservancy, I think a lot about how we can do more. How can we unlock new sources of capital, enlist more people to support our cause, and develop new alliances that will enable us to conserve nature at a scale never before achieved?

In my view, the answer is in putting ourselves in others' shoes -- whether those of a sugarcane grower in Colombia, a trawl fisher in California, or the executive of a global manufacturing company -- and focusing on why nature is important and valuable to them.

A simple but elegant solution to an environmental challenge in Colombia demonstrates this approach -- an approach that is leading to exciting new ways of structuring, funding, and discussing environmental nonprofit interventions.

The Project

In October 2011 I met with a group of sugarcane growers in Bogota, Colombia. They were warm and gracious hosts, affable dinner companions, and extremely proud of their beautiful lands and their booming business. They didn't see the world exactly the same way I do and they certainly didn't think of themselves as environmentalists. But they did agree with me on a simple point -- it makes great sense to invest in nature to protect water supplies.

Over the past decade, Colombia's sugarcane growers have become increasingly concerned about water supply in the Cauca Valley, situated near the country's Pacific coast and one of the richest cane-growing regions in the world. The farmers there need abundant water to irrigate their enormous fields.

The solution we arrived at together: protect the water supply by protecting the forested watersheds that feed the Cauca River.

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Dispatch From the Frontlines: Council on Foundations' 2013 Annual Conference

April 08, 2013

(Long-time PhilanTopic contributor Michael Seltzer is a trustee of EMpower-the Emerging Markets Foundation and a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs of the City University of New York. He filed this report earlier today from Chicago, site of the Council on Foundation's 2013 annual conference.)

COF- three-mayorsEach year, several thousand grantmakers from around the globe come together at the Council on Foundations' annual meeting to learn, discuss, and network. This week, more than 1,200 donors from 47 states and 17 countries have gathered here in Chicago. Reflective, perhaps, of a longer-term shift in wealth accumulation and the creation of new foundations, the states/regions with the greatest representation here are (host state) Illinois, California, New York, and Washington, D.C., while Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Great Britain top the list of countries represented at the conference. Another indicator of the changing composition of the field is evident in the large number of new faces. Take it from this philanthropy veteran, a new generation of grantmakers has arrived.

Paul Ylvisaker, the late Ford Foundation officer and a mentor to many veteran foundation leaders, once described foundations as "the passing lane" on the highway to a better world. Entrance ramps to that highway were quite evident in the opening sessions of this week's gathering.

On Saturday, at the annual gathering of the Association of Black Foundation Executives, Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion, focused her remarks on the opportunities available to philanthropy to support solutions to the challenges facing the soon-to-be "majority minority" population in America: people of color. Wiley highlighted examples of grassroots leaders across the country who are working to implement innovative public policies in their communities, cities, and states -- and, through a combination of vision, effective community organizing, and thought leadership, are succeeding in mitigating the structural barriers that for too long have denied access to equal opportunity for people of color, women, and others.

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Introducing the 'Open Places' Initiative

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post originally appeared on OSF's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanAcross the United States, local communities face an ever more challenging environment: dramatic shifts in federal and state funding, advances in technology, and large-scale demographic change. Each of these affects how low-income communities and communities of color are able to access political, economic, and civic opportunities. In response to these shifts, the Open Society Foundations is launching a new effort, the Open Places Initiative, to advance the ability of local communities to achieve equal opportunity and promote vibrant democratic practices.

As part of the initiative, planning grants of roughly $100,000 each have been awarded to eight sites. The awards will enable an assortment of nonprofits in each of these places to plan how to create sustainable change in areas such as effective and accountable government, civic engagement, criminal justice reform, and equal educational opportunity.

In late 2013, OSF will award up to five of these sites long-term implementation grants of up to $1 million a year, for a minimum of three years -- and, potentially, a full decade.

The eight sites selected to receive grants are Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Diego, California; and Puerto Rico. We are pleased with the geographic diversity of these sites as well as the diversity of communities represented.

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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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