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Weekend Link Roundup (July 13-14, 2013)

July 14, 2013

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

Civic Engagement

On the Knight Foundation blog, Scott Warren, co-founder and executive director of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement by educating students on how they can work with local leaders to solve community problems, explains how a grant from Knight -- the largest one-time grant ever awarded to Generation Citizen -- will enable the organization to evaluate what it does, demonstrate that action civics works, and make a difference in classrooms across the country.

Communications/Marketing

People are reading less, skimming more, and relying more on social media for their news -- all of which means you should craft shorter articles for your Web site, right? Not necessarily, writes Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Communications blog. Indeed, longer content, in the right place and context, can improve both conversions (people doing the thing you want them to do on a Web page) and SEO rankings. With that in mind, Miller offers the following common-sense recommendations:

  1. Use as many words as you need, but only as many as you need!
  2. Hire good writers who understand the difference.

"With 43 percent of all emails now being opened on a mobile device, nonprofits need to start thinking differently about the way they approach their email marketing," writes Ryan Pinkham on the Constant Contact Email Marketing blog. Pinkham goes on to share four nonprofit email newsletters that look great and work well on mobile: Pajama Program (single-column template); Alex's Lemonade Stand (a clear call-to-action); Strong Women, Strong Girls (clear and concise); and Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) (mobile-friendly links).

Education

Public pushback against Teach for America's efforts to place recent college graduates in low-performing schools isn't news, writes Zach Schonfeld on the Atlantic Wire. But the fact that the anti-TAF "movement is now largely originating from the organization's own alumni base" certainly is. Indeed, writes Schonfeld,

many of Teach for America's...opponents point out that the high turnover of trainees being dispatched to some of the country's most challenging school districts -- often without any long-term plans to be teachers -- is precisely the problem. Anthony Cody's experiences in Oakland corroborated this critique. In a typical cycle, the school would lose about half of its corps members after their second year. By the third year, half of those who had remained after the second year would be gone. The problem, Cody explained, is that many who join Teach for America don't actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone for policy work, law school, or business school....

Fundraising

On the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Nell Edgington, president of nonprofit consulting firm Social Velocity, weighs in with a "radical" fundraising idea: that every nonprofit board should be responsible for bringing in 10 percent of the organization's annual operating budget. And to get there, writes Edgington, boards need to do three things: take the time to understand the organization's "money engine"; share the financial burden; and tap into their unique assets.

Higher Education

Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jenna Cullinane, higher education policy lead at the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin, argues that in order to move the "elusive achievement needle...change at scale is what matters." Yet scaling innovation in higher education "is especially challenging because of decentralized decision-making, antiquated incentive systems, and increasingly unpredictable funding challenges." Indeed, writes Cullinane, one could argue that "the basic premise of 'scaling up' -- that one starts with small pilot projects, and then grows the numbers of colleges or individuals served -- is untenable. An alternative might be to work at scale" -- i.e., design for scale from the beginning by looking at the whole system and minimizing the cost of the transition; plant the seeds of scale at all target institutions from the outset while creating multiple levels of engagement; and seek permission to scale from all levels of the system.

Impact/Effectiveness

Our friends at the Social Impact Exchange have posted a nice roundup of blog posts from and about the 2013 Scaling Impact Conference, with contributions from the Philanthropy Roundtable's Ashley May, the John A. Hartford Foundation's Christopher Langston, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Andrea Ducas.

Journalism

Guest blogging on the Committee to Protect Journalists site, Alan Pearce, author of the e-book Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-Surveillance, Search, says that in light of Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's global monitoring of electronic communications, it's time for journalists to get smart about counter-surveillance tools and how to use them.

Philanthropy

In a series of short videos on Bridgespan's GiveSmart blog, Paul Brest shares three lessons he learned about strategic philanthropy during his twelve-year tenure as president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: 1) provide nonprofit overhead support; 2) take risks, but be clear about goals; and 3) promote learning by being open about failure.

Social Entrepreneurship

Writing on the HBR blog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cautions entrepreneurs to steer clear of "pop-up opportunities that look like short cuts to success" but turn out to be costly distractions. To help entrepreneurs avoid such distractions, Moss Kanter offers the following advice:

  • Establish clear principles by which opportunities are judged;
  • Prove the concept you want to prove;
  • Put the right words around the project and stick with them; and
  • Don't be insular.

Social Media

Texas state senator Wendy Davis's well-publicized filibuster of a draconian anti-abortion rights bill was a "singular feat of courage and stamina," writes Allison Fine in The American Prospect. But Davis's filibuster, adds Fine, "was the last piece of tile fitted into a much larger mosaic of people and actions that brought Texas progressives back to life" -- an effort whose success "hinged not just on the existence of outstanding grassroots organizing and social media activism, but on their integration" as well.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org. And have a good week!

--The Editors

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