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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2013)

October 06, 2013

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

Arts and Culture

In recent years, school districts across the country have had to restructure their arts curriculums to meet the growing emphasis on standards and the Common Core, while trying to manage with shrinking resources and support for arts education. To celebrate Funding for Arts Month here at the Foundation Center, our colleagues at IssueLab have pulled together a unique collection of reports, case studies, evaluations and white papers focused on the potential benefits of arts education for students and communities alike, complete with examples of the creative ways school districts are dealing with their funding constraints and challenges.


Guest blogging from the Communications Network 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans earlier this week, Liz Wainger, president of the Wainger Group, reminds readers of Kris Putnam-Walkerly's Philanthropy411 blog that while "data is an essential part of storytelling,...without a narrative you simply have data -- no passion, no call to action, no inspiration. And without data, you have raw emotion hanging in the wind."

For more great coverage of the Commnetwork conference, check out these guest posts by Liz Banse, vice president at Resource Media; Norris West, director of strategic communications at the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Elizabeth Miller, communications associate at the Knight Foundation; and Avalee Weir, communications manager at the Ian Potter Foundation in Australia.


To mark the one-year anniversary of the Markets for Good Campaign, Eric Henderson, the campaign's conversation curator, has a nice post recapping the campaign's progress to date as well as some of the key themes that have emerged over the past year. They include:

  • Technology alone is not enough to ensure productive information use in the social sector.
  • The social sector is still working out how to best acquire quality data and use it consistently and productively.
  • Once you get beyond the hype, it's "small" and "medium" data that has the most potential for use in foundations and nonprofits. An important first step is to start with the data you have.
  • Data alone isn't enough; the social sector must match complex problems with collaborative, long-term strategies and approaches.
  • Information alone does not drive donors' giving decisions.


In the latest installment in his Dialogues on the Environment series, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek talks with Steve McCormick, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (and Tercek's predecessor as CEO at the Nature Conservancy), about the mounting global threats to biodiversity, the state of the enviromental movement, and the Moore Foundation's efforts to encourage and fund collective impact.


While the "Overhead Myth" campaign launched by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar earlier this year is a welcome development, it doesn't go far enough, says Julie Brandt, executive director of the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation (@CSODFoundation), on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. "Under the assumption that minimal administrative and fundraising costs mean a more effective nonprofit, donors frequently seek out organizations that spend the bulk of their funding on program expenses and only a small amount on overhead," writes Brandt.

But here's the issue: We can't separate a program from the people who develop and deliver it. To ensure that a program can achieve maximum impact, we must actively invest in the staff who are supporting the program and make sure we have the best people on the job....


Here on PhilanTopic, Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, writes that the federal government shutdown is more than just a symbol of political dysfunction; it's quickly becoming a disaster for nonprofits and social service providers.


Do mega-foundations undermine civil society and democracy? Yes, says Joanne Barkan, writing in Dissent. "When a foundation project fails -- when, say, high-yield seeds end up forcing farmers off the land or privately operated charter schools displace and then underperform traditional public schools," writes Barkan, "the subjects of the experiment suffer, as does the general public. Yet the do-gooders can simply move on to their next project." Moreover,

The roles of grantor and grantee have also changed. Once upon a time, the mega-foundations established a goal and sought experts to do independent research on how to achieve it. Today many donors and program officers have preconceived notions about social problems and solutions. They fund researchers who are likely to design studies that will support their ideas. Instead of reviewing proposals from outside the foundation, they hire existing nonprofits or set up new ones to implement projects they've designed themselves. The mode of operation is top-down; grantees serve their funders....

The power relationship between grantor and grantee has always been one-sided in favor of the grantor....As a result, foundation executives and trustees almost never receive critical feedback. They are treated like royalty, which breeds hubris -- the occupational disorder of philanthro-barons. By taking over the roles of project originator and designer, by exercising top-down control over implementation, today's mega-foundations increasingly stifle creativity and autonomy in other organizations. This weakens civil society. Some mega-foundations even mobilize to defeat grassroots opposition to their projects. When they do, their vast resources can easily overwhelm local groups. This, too, weakens civil society....

And on our sister GrantCraft blog, Jackie Fishman, the program officer at the New York City-based Natan Fund, considers the potential of giving circles -- groups of people who come together to pool their contributions and decide together how to distribute their aggregated funds -- to engage impact-focused next-gen donors in meaningful ways.

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

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