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25 posts from July 2013

5 Questions for...Sheena Wright, President and CEO, United Way of New York City

July 11, 2013

The six-month anniversary of Superstorm Sandy was accompanied by the requisite progress reports, assessments of what worked and what didn't, and general impatience with the slow pace of recovery. Some criticized the American Red Cross for not spending more of the funds it raised on short-term relief efforts, while others praised the organization for holding funds back for longer-term recovery projects.

Within days of Sandy making landfall, United Way Worldwide had created a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund to collect donations for use by local United Way chapters. Of the $10.3 million raised by the fund to date, some $5.7 million was awarded by March, with another $3.3 million to be disbursed by mid-July. The remaining $1 million or so will be distributed by September 2014.

Recently, PND spoke with Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City, about her organization’s strategy in responding to Sandy, some of the lessons it learned, and what philanthropy can do to help nonprofits prepare for the next disaster.

Headshot_sheena_wrightPhilanthropy News Digest: You joined UWNYC as president and CEO just as Sandy was about to make landfall. What was the first order of business your first day in the office?

Sheena Wright: My first official day of work was supposed to be Monday, October 29, which was the day the storm made landfall, but the office, which is on Park Avenue between 32nd and 33rd streets, was closed that day. As things turned out, it remained closed for another week because the storm knocked power out below 34th Street. But that didn't prevent me from working. The first order of business was to make sure staff was okay. Then, on Tuesday, I received two phone calls. One was from the head of the United Way, who asked us to take the lead in raising a fund for relief and recovery efforts and to administer the fund on behalf of all United Ways in the region. The other call was from Mayor Bloomberg's office, which wanted us and five other large nonprofits in the city to play a lead role in emergency relief efforts. They knew we had ties in many of the neighborhoods and communities affected by the storm and that we would be able to help other organizations mobilize and connect people to resources. As a result of that call, we agreed to assume responsibility for the emergency relief efforts in Coney Island, and we also did a fair amount of work in the Rockaways. So in those early days -- those first few weeks, really -- my focus was on getting the fund up and running and activating and coordinating thousands of volunteers to help deliver food, water, medicine, and other kinds of emergency relief to residents of Coney Island.

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Top 10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Community Change

July 10, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, M.D. is president and CEO of the California Endowment. In part one of this two-part series, Ross shared three "aha" moments from the first two years of the the endowment's Building Healthy Communities initiative. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_robert_rossAt times I step back and look at the BHC initiative and wonder, Could we have made it more complicated? Fourteen sites. Multiple grantees in each site. A core set of inter-linked health issues. Multiple state-level grantees. And the expectation that the parts will add up to something greater than the whole and catalyze a convergence that builds power at the community level and leads to greater impact.

But then supporting an agenda for social and community change requires multiple strategies operating in alignment; good data, message framing, and storytelling; influential messengers and convening and facilitating champions; innovative models; "grassroots and treetops" coordination; and meaningful community engagement.

Our Top Ten Lessons for Philanthropy

As we engaged in the BHC planning process, we tried in earnest to stick by a key aphorism, one I learned from colleague and mentor Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: Make new mistakes. With that in mind, I want to share some lessons regarding planning and implementing a community-change initiative.

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Silence Isn’t Golden

July 09, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directs Caring to Change, an initiative that seeks to improve how foundations serve the public. In his last post, he urged PhilanTopic readers to assess how they value the things they value.)

Rosenman_headshotConfronted by headlines about truly questionable practices at a few dozen charities, the response of too many nonprofit leaders has been to bury their heads in the sand and try to pull the hole in after them. What these leaders fail to appreciate is that silence in response to scandalous behavior is neither golden nor in their best interests.

By now, most of you have seen the carefully researched list compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times and CNN, of "America's 50 worst charities" -- tax-exempt organizations that "channel most of the money they raise to professional solicitors, mimic other charities' names, deceive donors on telemarketing calls, divert money and contracts to people with ties to their organizations, and use accounting tricks to inflate the amount they report spending on their missions."

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of self-dealing by these groups and their closely associated entities, key leadership organizations in the sector, including Independent Sector, have responded to requests for comment from the press by declaring that they didn't have enough information to make a judgment, while others have defended outrageous fundraising percentages diverted to what the California Association of Nonprofits' Jan Masaoka labels the "philanthropic-consultant industrial complex."

When it comes to nonprofits, these kinds of abuses are nothing new, and neither is the timidity of nonprofit leaders in condemning them. Their silence in the past has greeted media coverage of huge salaries paid to charity officials, outlandish benefits, self-dealing within boards, tax gimmicks for donors, and malfeasance in program operations. Unfortunately, the cost of that silence is something we all bear.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 6-7, 2013)

July 07, 2013

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

Corporate Philanthropy

Triple Pundit's Andrea Newell chats with Michelle Crozier Yates of Adobe about the company's sustainability program, which focuses on green building. Over the last ten years, says Yates, Adobe has "implemented more than 100 sustainability projects across our real estate portfolio,...from conservation strategies, [to] renewable energy investments...[and] carbon reduction projects, [to] employee education and engagement programs...."

Writing on Google's blog, Zanoon Nissar recaps the search giant's 2013 GoogleServe program, which saw 8,500 employees from more than 75 Google offices participate in some 500 community projects. "Over the past six years, GoogleServe has transformed from a single week of service into a week of celebration and inspiration for ongoing giving," writes Nissar. "Googlers also give back year-round through our GooglersGive programs, which include 20 hours of work time annually to volunteer with an approved charitable organization."


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks shares a list of e-mail copy mistakes to avoid, including forgetting to make your case and writing like a robot.

Nonprofit Management

With lots of people still talking about The Overhead Myth, an initiative launched by GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to get people to move beyond "overhead" -- the percentage of its budget that any charity spends on administrative costs -- as the most important measure of organizational performance, the Nonprofits Assistance Fund's Kate Barr argues that the real issue isn't overhead at all -- "it’s about stewardship." And good stewards "invest appropriately in [their] organizations....Maybe," Barr adds, "we need...new terminology to bust the 'overhead' term along with the myth.

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Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities, Part 1

July 05, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_robert_rossWe are now two-plus years into the implementation of the California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities initiative, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health.

This is the first of a series of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities -- BHC for short -- is a ten-year commitment by our board of directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have "dropped anchor" in fourteen distressed California communities, working in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change by funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications related to our key health issues. 

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another -- and for the moving parts to come together and spark a powerful synergy. At the local level, BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we're looking for ways to scale the ideas through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. By acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only by supporting advocacy at the state level. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it's appropriate to think of BHC as a "place-based plus" community change campaign.

In the spirit of the kind of knowledge sharing that is a central aspect of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will highlight three "aha" moments we've had to date, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

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After a Gay-Rights Victory, a New Challenge for Grantmakers

July 04, 2013

(Michael Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs at the City University of New York and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. A version of this commentary was published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier in the week.)

Supreme_Court-Gay_MarriageTwo days before the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which occurred on the streets of my neighborhood, Greenwich Village, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution and that states have the right to pass same-sex marriage laws.

While the decision came on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that dealt an unconscionable blow to voting rights, the court's decision on same-sex marriage will go down as one of the most significant and historic civil-rights victories in our lifetimes.

It also is a moment for philanthropy to reflect on its power to further social justice. Nonprofits, with the support of foundations, paved the way for the decision. But individual donors and foundations have more work to do to help ensure full equality for all Americans, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

It was Stonewall, after all, that led to the birth of hundreds of grassroots nonprofit organizations dedicated to working on behalf of gay people victimized by flagrant discrimination and outright hostility.

In Philadelphia, where I lived in the 1970s, the first LGBT organizations to open their doors included the Eromin Center (an acronym for "erotic minorities"), which provided mental-health services; CALM (Custody Action for Lesbian Mothers), which assisted lesbian mothers caught in legal battles over custody of their children; and the Gay Activists Alliance.

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On the Fourth, Stand by the Fourth (Amendment)

With Egyptians by the millions having declared their independence from authoritarianism and political Islam, our own national holiday of independence seems like a good time to remind each other that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed and that the "great task" laid at the feet of all Americans by our greatest president is to ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth

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Spice It Up!

July 03, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Puget Sound region. In her last article, she shared some tips to help grantwriters build their organizations' capacity.)

Help_keyboardDoes it feel like the grant proposals you're writing are getting old and tired? Maybe you've been working for the same organization for a number of years and writing proposals for the same programs month after month. If you can recite from memory the first three paragraphs of the last grant proposal you wrote, it's time to spice things up! Here are some tips for freshening up your writing and reinvigorating your passion for your organization's mission.

1. Tell a story. Rather than starting with the mission statement or leading with a litany of dry statistics, tell the story of your organization as if it were a novel. Put the funder into the shoes of the clients served by your organization. Show him or her the world through the eyes of the people whose lives are changed. If it's an arts organization, put the funder in the front row as the curtain comes up, the music swells, and the show begins. If it's an environmental organization, make your reader see the colors, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the habitat your organization is committed to protecting. Spark your reader's imagination first, then hit them with facts and figures.

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Hola! Olá! Merhaba! Ciao! Bonjour!

July 02, 2013

(Jen Bokoff is the director of GrantCraft, a project of the Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre. Get the latest from GrantCraft on Twitter at twitter.com/grantcraft.)

Global_language_puzzleGrantCraft has provided funders with more than forty resources in the last ten years. Since the Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre joined forces to grow GrantCraft's reach and services, we have taken a more global approach. Recently, we've released Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian, and French translations of several GrantCraft materials. Courtesy of Fundación Once and the Asociación Española de Fundaciones, the Spanish translation of the GrantCraft guide Foundations in Europe Working Together has already been downloaded and shared by many users. We also partnered with GIFE to produce Portuguese translations of the GrantCraft guides Working with Government and Communicating for Impact and worked with TUSEV to write a brief case study on a Turkish foundation to accompany a Turkish translation of our Funding for Inclusion infographic. Thanks to the linguistic expertise of European Foundation Centre staff (who represent more than fifteen nationalities), we produced a version of the infographic in Italian, as well as versions of our Working Together infographic in French and Spanish. These build off previous translations, including our thirty-one Chinese resources, and have paved the way for translations of other materials into other languages in the future.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2013)

July 01, 2013

It's the first day of July, which means it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in June:

What are you reading/watching/listening to? Share your favorite finds in the comments section below....

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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