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Weekend Link Roundup (October 26-27, 2013)

October 27, 2013

Bats-On-HalloweenOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Nice recap by Beth Kanter of a recent brainstorming meeting at a foundation that was looking to develop a strategy for its digital platforms. Facilitated by Peter Maher, founder and CEO of the Luma Institute, the session spent a fair amount of time on some of the human-centered design techniques shared in the institute's Innovating for People design guide. After describing the process in some detail, Kanter generously shares what she learned from the session in a sixteen-slide deck at the end of the post.


The 2013 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows (Kate Crawford, Gustavo Faleiros, Amy Luers, Patrick Meier, Claudia Perlich, and Jer Thorp) have issued a white paper, Big Data, Communities and Ethical Resilience: A Framework for Action, that considers the potential contributions of data science and technology in creating more resilient communities in the face of a range of stresses -- environmental, political, social and economic.

The Nonprofit Quarterly's Rick Cohen looks at the "medium data" partnership recently announced by GuideStar and the Foundation Center -- and finds much to applaud.

The Global Open Data Initiative has released a draft Declaration on Open Data and invites your comments and feedback on its contents.

Disaster Relief

The AP (via the Wall Street Journal) reports that the American Red Cross is planning "to make changes in the way it solicits donations after major disasters to avoid potential confusion over how that aid money is likely to be spent." As part of an agreement with the New York attorney general's office, the Red Cross has agreed to

omit any reference to a specific disaster on its donation page and instead offer people the option of clicking buttons to donate either to their local Red Cross chapter, or to people "affected by disasters big and small," or to simply send their money "where it is needed most."

People who want to earmark their gift for a specific crisis will be directed to a mail-in form and will have to send in a check. Those new guidelines won't affect people who give over the phone or by text.."

The Red Cross also agreed that when it is involved in fundraising drives after future big disasters, it will let the public know when the organization believes it has raised enough money for its response. That effort will include ceasing all references to the disaster in solicitations, and letting other groups know the Red Cross has all the money it needs...."

These are practices that many people over the years have urged the Red Cross to adopt. It will be interesting to see whether other humanitarian and disaster relief organizations follow suit.


Noting that charter schools in Boston have built a "track record of success," Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan argues that if "we truly want to focus on improving schools for all children,...charters and districts need to cooperate....They need to share resources and ideas. But they also need to share a student population."


Following up on an NPR story about his organization's new Results Reporting methodology, Charity Navigator's Ken Berger argues that "it is critically important that [nonprofits] move past [tired] excuses and get serious about determining which programs, services and charities are making a real and lasting difference in the world." That's well and good, says longtime sector veteran Tiziana Dearing in the Huffington Post, and "nonprofits are, indeed, beginning to develop fantastic metrics." But, adds Dearing, "What you can't do is boil that down to a simple rating, ratio or number that communicates effectively on a web site. You often can't show changes in it year over year. Indeed, you might not be able to show change at all for a decade or a generation in some cases." What's more, good evaluation takes money,

which is next to impossible in a low-overhead environment where donors want all their dollars to go straight into programs. Need client feedback for the measurement? Sometimes you can't get it, or at least not easily in cases of trauma, or where clients quickly disperse and can't be followed, or where there is need for anonymity in order to deliver quality supports, to name a few.

This is not a quarterly, or even yearly, earnings report. If we try to make it such, only those organizations delivering short-term results in fields with simple interventions will get the money. The gnarly problems will go on undisturbed....


With dysfunction in the nation's capital on hiatus for the next month or so, the Washington Post has turned its attention to that perennial favorite: bad behavior in the nonprofit sector. A just released Post analysis of tax filings from 2008-12 found more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations that had checked a box on their returns indicating "they had discovered a 'significant diversion' of assets, disclosing losses attributed to theft, investment fraud, embezzlement and other unauthorized uses of funds...." As part of the project, the Post has assembled the first public searchable database of nonprofits that have disclosed diversions over that period.


In his latest piece for The Economist, Matthew Bishop considers the charitable activities of venture philanthropist par excellence Pierre Omidyar and sees "a case study with lessons for other entrepreneurs seeking to become benefactors."

On the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog, Emily Kessler, a consultant for Emerging Parctitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), announces the launch of Doing Good in the 21st Century, a joint exploration with La Piana Consulting that asked a group of emerging and established leaders in philanthropy the question: “How must the social sector adapt to succeed in meeting 21st century challenges and opportunities?”

That's it for now. Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org if we missed something....

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