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Weekend Link Roundup (March 29-30, 2014)

March 30, 2014

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....


In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, the Barr Foundation's Stefan Lanfer shares some lessons he and his colleagues have learned about communicating in times of change. The first two are simple but powerful: know what you want to communicate, by word and by deed; and know what you don't want to communicate. Check out Lanfer's the post for three more things the foundation got right.

Education Reform

Public school advocate Diane Ravitch has posted a draft version of of remarks made at an education conference earlier this month by Dissent contributor Joanne Barkan on the topic of how to criticize the role of "big philanthropy" in education reform


In today's New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, lets readers in on a well-kept secret: Fundraising is fun. The "magic" of raising money for a cause or organization, writes Brooks,

goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere conviction. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with the financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society....

On the Relationship Science blog, Kathy Landau, executive director of the National Dance Institute in New York City, makes an impassioned case for seeing data and relationship building "as mutually beneficial rather than mutually exclusive."


In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Grant Coates, president and CEO of the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth, explains how a reevaluation of the foundation's grantee selection process helped him and his colleagues realize that leadership often is what separates a "good" grantee from a "great" grantee. "The presence of powerful leadership," Coates writes, "is almost tangible – it's a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that's measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process."


This was the week the bloom came off the Nate Silver rose. Silver, the data-crunching whiz kid who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 state races in the 2012 presidential election and parlayed his gift for writing and data analysis into a high-profile gig at ESPN, first caught some flack for publishing an article by Roger Peilke, a climate change skeptic, that questioned whether extreme-weather-related costs are rising because of climate change. Things came to a head on Wednesday when Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal pundit/icon Paul Krugman slammed the content on Silver's site as "sloppy and casual opining with a bit of data used...the way a drunkard uses a lamppost -- for support, not illumination." Krugman isn't the only person with a strong opinion about Silver and his new endeavor;  as he often does, Mark Coddington of the Neiman Journalism Lab links to and contextualizes many of the more interesting ones in his terrific week in review feature. Anyone interested in how technology is disrupting journalism should also read Alexander Howard's excellent piece on the backlash against data journalism.


On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Matthew Forti, manager of the performance measurement capability area at the Bridgespan Group, argues that a good theory of change should answer six questions:

  1. Who are you seeking to influence or benefit (target population)?
  2. What benefits are you seeking to achieve (results)?
  3. When will you achieve them (time period)?
  4. How will you and others make this happen (activities, strategies, resources, etc.)?
  5. Where and under what circumstances will you do your work (context)?
  6. Why do you believe your theory will bear out (assumptions)?

Forti then considers six "major pitfalls that, if avoided, can help nonprofits create actionable theories of change."

The Government Executive site reports that the Internal Revenue Service plans to reorganize the legal team in its Tax Exempt and Government Entities division, "the umbrella unit for the office at the center of the ongoing dispute over mishandling of applications by nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status."


In a post on the Rockefeller foundation blog, Judith Rodin, the foundation's president, argues that while institutional philanthropy has done much to resolve an identity crisis brought about by new players and forms entering the social good space, there are three areas "where we can do better and push ourselves further to maximize our impact in the years ahead": engaging more partners from other sectors; building the social sector's capacity to innovate; and making greater investments in our people.

Sign of the times? The Association of Small Foundations has changed its named to Exponent Philanthropy, and this item in the Chronicle of Philanthropy lays out the reasons for the change.

In the final installment of a ten-part series on the OpenDemocracy site, Michael Edwards (Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the WorldOxford Handbook of Civil Society) suggests that while money talks, it is not speaking the language of social change or transformation. Indeed, writes Edwards, "money has become a negative and divisive force for anyone who dreams of societies transformed, as opposed to lightly and slightly reformed." If that is to change, he further suggests, people around the world -- but especially in developed countries -- are going to have to adopt a worldview that celebrates "sharing more and owning less."

Writing on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, John Aldrich argues that scholarly research has long depended on private philanthropic support -- and that, "with the entry of politics, especially of the partisan sort, into the government's determination of science policy...foundations will and must continue to play critical roles in solving social concerns and advancing American prospects."

That said, New York Times editorial page blogger Teresa Tritch argues in a post on the paper of record's Taking Note blog that philanthropic support is no substitute for government funding of basic science research.


Google co-founder Larry Page's comment at a recent TED event that he would rather give his billions to serial entrepreneur Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X, Solar City) than to charity has generated a response, in the form of an open letter, from social entrepreneur Paul Polak, co-founder and CEO of Windhorse International and the author of two well-received books: Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Methods Fail and The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers. In his letter, Polak argues that the persistence of poverty, "despite hundreds of billions in nonprofit and NGO resources vaporized trying to 'solve' it, remains one of humanity’s greatest failures." He then presents Page and Google with "an audacious challenge": Select a region or a country with a population of, say, 100 million that has an endemic poverty rate — perhaps in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa — and bring Google’s resources to bear on a project to end poverty in that region in fifteen years. The result, adds Polak, would be a model for ending poverty planet-wide.

You might also want to check out Felix Salmon's post on why it makes sense for Page to donate his billions to Musk.

Social Media

And in the latest installment of her Social Good podcast, Allison Fine chats with AARP's Alejandra Owens about how nonprofits can use social media to connect with older voters.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

-- Mitch Nauffts

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