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19 posts from June 2013

Weekend Link Roundup (June 29-30, 2013)

June 28, 2013

Hancock_150th_stampOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Responding to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder on Tuesday, a decision that found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional, Niki Jagpal of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy writes that the court, in so ruling, gutted "key provisions of the VRA that protected historically disenfranchised populations." Specifically, the decision undoes the "'preclearance' requirement in the original VRA," which compelled "local governments and states with a history of voting discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting procedures and laws." Although the court's decision doesn't nullify Section 4, its implementation now depends on Congress enacting "a new statute determining which states and individuals it applies to."

Jagpal continues,

The right to vote is the most fundamental way in which citizens have a voice in our democracy. In addition to Congress needing to reinstate the key provisions of the VRA, it is imperative that nonprofits working on voting rights issues be provided with the kinds of support they need to complement the hoped-for statue.

Philanthropy has an opportunity to contribute to the public good by helping to restore implementation of the now-gutted provisions. And grantmakers must consider that the Court’s ruling is likely an outcome of a sustained, well-funded movement among conservatives to roll back provisions of the VRA and the Civil Rights Movement....


Kivi Leroux Miller shares a slideshow from her webinar "21 Things Nonprofit Marketers Can Stop Doing!" -- a list that includes outreach campaigns designed with the general public in mind, rather than efforts focused on groups likely to support your cause; letting lawyers or accountants dictate marketing strategies; and paying for custom software instead of using commercial or open-source solutions that are more likely to be updated as technology and the market changes.

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More Disasters Mean Changes and Challenges for Foundations

June 26, 2013

(Robert G. Ottenhoff is president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which provides tools, expert analysis, and strategic guidance to maximize the impact of dollars given in support of disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery. Ottenhoff is the former president and CEO of GuideStar.)

Headshot_bob_ottenhoffThe year 2012 was a big year for weather and climate disaster events.

According to the National Climatic Data Center -- the nation's scorekeeper for natural disasters -- there were eleven weather and climate disaster events across the United States last year, each individual event resulting in excess of $1 billion in damage. These eleven disasters cumulatively caused more than $110 billion in damages and resulted in 377 deaths. That made 2012 the second costliest year on record, 2005 being the costliest since 1980, with $160 billion in damages due to four hurricanes that made landfall, including Katrina.

Some of these disasters affected millions of people and attracted major media attention. Superstorm Sandy -- the second biggest storm in American history -- caused more than $70 billion in damage as it raced up the East Coast. Large swaths of the New Jersey and New York coastline are only now being rebuilt. Earlier in the year, Hurricane Isaac followed a path eerily similar to the one Katrina took, creating much destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana. A mid-summer derecho roared through the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, felling thousands of trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power for days, including this writer. What about some of the other events? Unless you lived through them, it's unlikely you remember them, or are even aware they occurred. But they did, and each one caused more than a billion dollars in damage and resulted in the loss of lives.


Source: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/images/billion-dollar-disaster-map-2012.jpg

What can we learn from the report? How can we learn from the devastation left in the wake of 2012 and become better prepared for the future?

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Ants in the Kitchen: The Role of Data in Human Rights Funding

June 25, 2013

(Caitlin Stanton is the Director of Learning & Partnerships at the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_caitlin_stantonA professor at Vanderbilt University, Brooke Ackerly, once told me, "Numbers matter. If someone tells you there are ants in your kitchen, you'll want to know whether there are two ants in your kitchen or whether there are TWO MILLION ANTS IN YOUR KITCHEN." And if there are anywhere near two million ants in your kitchen, then your neighbors will also want to know about it. Transparently sharing quantitative data helps us understand the scope of a problem and decide how to gauge the scale of our response, while allowing others to learn from our efforts.

In Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funder's Group collect, analyze, and publicly share quantitative data that tell us about the scale of our response to human rights violations. The report finds that foundation grantmaking to address these issues occurs on a global scale and is a widespread practice, with 703 foundations giving a total of $1.2 billion in grants for human rights causes in 2010.

For many of us in the field of human rights grantmaking, and particularly for those of us within foundations working to advance the rights of women and girls, the startlingly low amount of funding going to address the issue of freedom from violence stands out as an important finding from the report.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 22-23, 2013)

June 23, 2013

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

Big Data

To get the most out of "big and open data," you need to know what the data is being used for and you need to be transparent, writes Abby Young-Powell, content coordinator for the Guardian's Voluntary Sector Network. In her post, Young-Powell shares data literacy advice from ten experts, including Mike Thompson, senior consultant at mySociety, who counsels nonprofits "to be clear about what question you're trying to answer before you set up your data collection and analysis activities," and James Noble, a professional social researcher at New Philanthropy Capital, who advises nonprofits not to "jump to their final outcome...without considering the intermediate steps that are vital to attribution and are often easier to measure."


On the GrantCraft blog, Greater NYC for Change president Naomi Rothwell reflects on the critical support Atlantic Philanthropies provided over the years to efforts to get the Affordable Care Act passed. The New York City-based foundation is in the process of spending down its assets, however, and Rothwell wonders which foundation or foundations will step up to fill the critical role Atlantic has played in the social justice arena. What do you think? Share your thoughts here or in the comments section below.

Human Rights

On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Caitlin Stanton, director of learning and partnerships at the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, highlights findings from a new report on human rights grantmaking issued by the International Human Rights Funders Group in partnership with the Foundation Center. Among other things, the report, Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, found that "foundation grantmaking to address these issues occurs on a global scale and is a widespread practice, with 703 foundations giving a total of $1.2 billion in grants for human rights causes in 2010." You can download the complete report (142 pages, PDF), free of charge, here.

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'Flip' Chat Series Turns Three

June 21, 2013

Three years ago this week, we published our first "Flip" chat, with Idealist.org founder and executive director Ami Dar. Since then, we've posted more than forty-five videos with thought leaders in the social sector. To celebrate that accomplishment -- as well as the fact that our excellent adventures in video blogging have outlasted the Flip cam itself (Cisco bought and then discontinued the product line a few years ago) -- here's a list of the ten most popular "Flip" chats posted here on PhilanTopic.  

Who would you like to see us interview for the series? Drop us a note in the comments section below. And be sure to check out other videos in the series here.

-- Regina Mahone

Now That We're 'Canon': 3 Ways to Advance Human Rights Philanthropy

June 19, 2013

(Daniel Jae-Won Lee is the executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, an independent private foundation that conveys the pioneering spirit and enduring values of Levi Strauss & Co.: originality, empathy, integrity and courage. He leads the foundation's international grantmaking in four areas: confronting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, advancing worker rights in the apparel industry, helping low-income people save and invest in their futures, and advancing social justice.)

Headshot_daniel_leeFor better or worse, the field of philanthropy is inundated with reports. My swelling "to-read" pile is the root cause of seemingly intractable clutter in my office.

Amid this cacophony, Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking warrants our attention. On its part, the International Human Rights Funders Group deserves kudos for culling rich insights from wide-ranging interviews with members from nine countries.

It's significant, as well, that the Foundation Center co-authored the report, its first-ever in-depth look at the topic of global human rights. As the go-to clearinghouse for information about philanthropy, the Foundation Center tracks trends and makes new knowledge visible, literally and figuratively putting grants data on the map. You might even say that funders look to the Foundation Center to discern what's "canon" in institutional philanthropic funding flows.

Human rights funders, rejoice -- we're on the map.

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Protect Charitable Deductions for Stronger Communities

June 18, 2013

(Jen Klaassens is vice president of programs at the Wasie Foundation, which supports scholarship programs for students of Polish ancestry at colleges and universities in Minnesota and make grants to nonprofit charitable organizations in a number of areas.)

Headshot_jen_klaassensCongress is threatening to eliminate the charitable deduction as we know it -- at the expense of millions of people in need. Specifically, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about imposing a cap or limit on the value of the charitable tax deduction as part of a bigger effort to raise additional revenue and/or "simplify" the tax code.

The charitable deduction is a unique element of the federal tax code that encourages Americans to selflessly invest in their communities. Capping or limiting the deduction is not the solution to current budget concerns.

Philanthropy spurs innovation, aids the most vulnerable, provides relief in crises, supports education and health, advances cures and scientific breakthroughs, enhances the arts, and makes investments that fuel economic growth. For every $1 a donor receives in tax relief, communities garner as much as $3 in benefits. It is highly unlikely government could find a more effective way to leverage private investment in vital community services.

The charitable deduction works. It encourages Americans to give a portion of their income to charitable causes without getting anything back, benefiting communities across the country as well as the larger economy. In many cases, donors also experience a sense of well-being from helping. Limiting or capping the deduction will reduce charitable giving, which will hurt Americans most in need. Nonprofits already struggling to balance increased demands for services with reduced income need more support, not less.

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After the Giving Pledge: Strategic Philanthropy Is More than Money

June 17, 2013

(Mary Glanville is Managing Director, Institute for Philanthropy UK. The London-based institute works to increase effective philanthropy in the United Kingdom and internationally by providing donor education, building donor networks, and raising the awareness and understanding of philanthropy.)

Headshot_mary_glanvilleIn February, the Gates Foundation announced that the Giving Pledge, founded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010, would for the first time extend its invitation to philanthropists outside the United States. The pledge, whose signatories propose to give at least half their wealth to charitable causes, welcomed twelve more people to its ranks, bringing the total number of those who have signed the pledge to a hundred and five.

It's a commitment that does not tally with the traditional media-held view of wealthy individuals and their families, a view that portrays the preservation of assets as the primary if not sole consideration. In order to understand what has prompted the apparent urgency and scale of this charitable giving, we asked twenty-two donors in our networks about the rate at which they intend to deploy their philanthropic capital. Their responses were revealing in several respects.

The donors came from many countries and regions -- from the UK, the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Lebanon, and Mexico -- and they or their foundations had philanthropic assets on average of $79,081,250, from which they gave an average of $2,168,050 each year. Half said they would give at least 25 percent of their wealth to charity.

Despite the regional differences, it was possible to discern a common theme in their areas of giving: none of the respondents gave money to the arts, as might be expected, but instead gave to address social issues that they considered among the world's most pressing problems. One donor was particularly forthright on this point, stating that "I generally believe in addressing the needs of underserved poor in the neediest parts of the world, where I have worked for much of my professional life, not the arts or environmental needs so popular among donors here at home, or SOBs (symphony, opera, ballet) -- as much as I love them personally."

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 15-16, 2013)

June 16, 2013

Fathers-day-2013Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civic Engagement

Guest blogging at Beth's Kanter's blog, Kate Wing, a program officer at the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, shares some of the exciting new developments in the civic engagement space she heard about at the 2013 Personal Democracy Forum conference.

Corporate Philanthropy

"Stop bending over backwards for corporate partners," Denise Lillya, a senior research at the Directory for Social Change in the UK, tells nonprofits. "[C]ompanies usually want to hear what they're going to get out of any giving; they are receptive to arguments that it is a saving, an opportunity, an investment," Lillya writes, but "it's clear that too many companies continue to regard philanthropy as a means by which they can benefit -- ironic as that is."


Christian Villum, community manager for Open Government Data at the Open Knowledge Foundation, announces the Global Open Data Initiative, a joint effort of the foundation, the Open Institute, Fundar, the Sunlight Foundation, the World Wide Web Foundation, and Open Knowledge to share principles and resources with governments and other stakeholders on how to harness opportunities created by opening government data.

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'Talking Good' With Joe Jones, President/CEO, Center for Urban Families

June 15, 2013

Just in time for Father's Day, our friend Rich Polt at Communicate Good has posted the inaugural on-camera interview in his Talking GOOD series, a regular feature spotlighting the good works of "citizen philanthropists" -- purpose-driven individuals whose commitment to a cause is a central aspect of their being.

In the video, Joe Jones, a former drug addict and repeat offender who had an epiphany in a Baltimore City courtroom, got himself off drugs, and went on to found the Center for Urban Families, talks about the first time he felt like a father.

In the accompanying transcript, Jones talks with Polt about his purpose in life, how his work with BRFP has changed him, and the burning question he would like to pose to his community. Enjoy.

And Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there!

-- Mitch Nauffts

Foundations and Climate Change: 5 Questions for…Robert Searle, Partner, Bridgespan Group

June 13, 2013

Headshot_robt_searleIn recent years, the debate over climate change has centered on greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked by scientists to rising global temperatures. But after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, underscoring the importance -- and vulnerability -- of critical infrastructure systems, many policy makers and environmentalists began to shift their attention to climate change adaptation strategies.

To help advance the debate, the Bridgespan Group has released a report, How Philanthropy Can Help Communities Advance Climate Change Adaptation (12 pages, PDF), that examines the funding environment for these strategies and offers a number of suggestions for foundations looking to support adaptation efforts in a post-Sandy context. Recently, PND spoke with Bob Searle, a partner in Bridgespan's Boston office and co-author of the report, about the impact of Sandy on the climate change debate, the tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation, and some of the things foundations can do to advance the debate.

Philanthropy News Digest: The climate effects of a warming planet had been predicted long before An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006. Why has it taken so long for the discussion about climate change to get serious?

Robert Searle: I think there are two primary reasons, and they are interconnected. The first is that all science involves an element of uncertainty, and climate science is no exception. There are elements of the climate situation that are quite certain. For example, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing, and that increase has led to a general warming of the planet. There are other aspects that are less certain and open to interpretation and judgment; for example, whether human activity is the major cause of these changes, and what the environmental and social impact of climate change will be.

And this is where the second reason comes in: The biggest source of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuel, and the global economy is based on fossil fuels. In other words, there are incredibly strong vested interests in not making the explicit connection between man-made greenhouse gases and the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Those vested interests will naturally seize on any element of uncertainty to argue against change that will threaten economic development, especially when the economy is already shaky.

One mistake that the environmental community has made is to allow itself to be painted as anti-people and anti-economic development on the climate issue. There was a great article in the Fall 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled "Climate Science as Culture War," by Andrew Hoffman, that speaks to some of these points.

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Foundations and Public Interest Media: A 'Flip' Chat With Vince Stehle, Executive Director, Media Impact Funders

June 12, 2013

(The video below was recorded as part of our "Flip" chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the social sector. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our recent chat with Mona Chun, deputy director of the International Human Rights Funders Group.)

"There's a saying: If paying for journalism is a down payment on democracy, it's a bargain," Vince Stehle, executive director of Media Impact Funders, told me during a recent chat. "The cost of corruption and a lack of transparency and accountability in government can really be a costly thing for society in many ways, so whatever we need to pay, whether it's through commercial media or through foundation and individual support for journalism, is a bargain."

The wisdom of Stehle's words has never been more apparent. And yet, with the economy stuck in neutral and cheap digital tools making it easy for anyone to be a publisher, traditional news and media outlets find themselves under increasing pressure to cut costs and "right-size" their operations -- or get out of the way.

Enter nonprofit news organizations. While the number of such organizations has increased over the last few years and the nonprofit model would seem to be more sustainable than the traditional ad-based model, a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests that nonprofit media outlets face considerable challenges of their own -- foremost among them inadequate and uncertain revenue streams. Indeed, the report (26 pages, PDF) found that while 61 percent of the nonprofit news outlets surveyed received a startup grant from a foundation, only 28 percent reported that the funder making the grant had agreed to renew it.

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Foundations and the 'New Normal': A Q&A With Bradford K. Smith, President, Foundation Center

June 10, 2013

(The following Q&A with Foundation Center president Bradford Smith appears as part of a special feature on "Philanthropy in a changing world economy" in the June 2013 issue of Alliance magazine. It is reprinted here, with minor revisions, courtesy of Caroline and her team.)

Headshot_brad-smith2Caroline Hartnell: To what extent are U.S. foundations changing in response to austerity?

Bradford K. Smith: I started this job two weeks after Lehman collapsed. On my first day in the office, we had a press call about what foundations were doing about the economic crisis. I put down the phone and walked down the hall to our research department and said, "Quick, I need a statistic," and they came up with a really good one. Foundation giving for the previous year, 2007, was around $45 billion -- about 6 per cent of the first stimulus package announced by the federal government. So one thing the crisis really showed up was the scale of foundation resources. When the economy gets into serious trouble, it takes government to try to keep it from collapsing. Foundation dollars alone aren't enough to solve problems. That made foundations think more about how they can leverage money from each other, how they can collaborate with other sectors rather than trying to do it themselves.

A second interesting thing is that foundation giving held up quite well during the recession. One reason is that U.S. foundations calculate their mandatory payout on a rolling three-year average of the value of their assets, which cushions them from big market swings. It also held up well because foundations actually went beyond the federally mandated payout rate of 5 percent.

CH: The recession has changed things for the foreseeable future. Do you think U.S. foundations see this as a "new normal" and are rethinking their role?

BKS: I think most of them are adjusting to the idea that long-term expectations for returns on investment need to be reduced. 2012 was a good year in the financial markets, but nobody really expects that it will go back to the boom years when, as one foundation investment manager put it, for a number of years "all we had to do was get out of bed in the morning and we could make a 20 percent return on our endowment."

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 8-9, 2013)

June 09, 2013

RNadal_2013FrenchOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


"The idea behind nonprofit mergers isn't cost savings -- in a high-touch world like ours, there is only so much excess you might be able to trim in a merger," writes Boston Foundation president/CEO Paul Grogan in PhilanTopic. "Rather, it's all about service. Organizations that merge and/or collaborate build capacity to do more of what they do best, and do it even better...."


On the Knight Foundation blog, Elizabeth Miller highlights conversations from the 2013 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference about how funders can better communicate what they learn:

Prioritize the audience. Know specifically whom you're trying to reach with your findings so that what you're learning is shared in the right circles.

Market determines method. Understanding who will benefit from these insights may determine the best way to deliver them. Different platforms or social media outlets may be your "friends" in distinct cases.

Enlist the evaluated. Work with grantees to help disseminate the findings.

Reflect and refine. Take time to measure the success of your efforts. Measurement is as important as the planning process in terms of understanding what works. Use specific analytics to determine whether dissemination methods were effective, whether you targeted the right audiences, and how you could improve on the overall strategy next time.

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To Innovate…Collaborate

June 06, 2013

(Paul Grogan is president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. His blog, City of Ideas, appears regularly on the Boston Foundation Web site.)

Headshot_paul_grogan"If we put our heads together, we might be able to figure this out."

It's a bit of folk wisdom that often rings true -- and for a number of years, the Boston Foundation has highlighted the opportunity for collaborations and mergers to tackle otherwise intractable problems.

In 2010, we co-founded the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits, a five-year, $1.925 million fund in partnership with local funders Boston LISC, the Hyams Foundation, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and the national Kresge Foundation. The idea behind nonprofit mergers isn't cost savings -- in a high-touch world like ours, there is only so much excess you might be able to trim in a merger. Rather, it's all about service. Organizations that merge and/or collaborate build capacity to do more of what they do best, and do it even better.

In Boston, the much-publicized merger of the Pine Street Inn for the homeless and hopeFound, a job training nonprofit serving the same client base, has proven a success, as demonstrated in a recent assessment of the Catalyst Fund's work and in a profile in the Boston Globe. The merger has allowed the two organizations to connect their respective job training programs and opportunities in a way they likely never would have as separate entities, and the results have been remarkable.

But to succeed, we also need to see the power of a more grassroots-level of collaboration. In that vein, we launched our first-ever Collaborate Boston competition this winter. The premise was simple: We'd pose a problem and then open the floodgates to proposed solutions, with one important restriction -- all the proposals had to bring together organizations in collaborative efforts to address the issue.

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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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