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28 posts from October 2014

How the Charitable Sector Keeps Us All Afloat

October 14, 2014

Rosenman_headshotAs social and environmental problems grow worse and the resources to address them are stretched thinner, nonprofit organizations and foundations have to make hard strategic choices about where best to intervene. In effect, they need to think about their distinctive societal role when considering their options. While experienced staff, veteran board members, and expert consultants struggle with those decisions, there's an apocryphal tale that many at a recent Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits meeting found useful in terms of framing the problem.

But first, what is the distinctive role of the charitable sector in American society? That question has become more complicated with the emergence of for-profit conversions, social-benefit corporations, social impact bonds, and other types of hybrid organizational structures and market finance schemes that blur the lines between the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Based on years of personal polling from the back seat of taxicabs, I have come to realize that the American public thinks charitable organizations are all about voluntarism, sacrifice, and donated income in service to those in need. Clearly, that's not true these days for large swaths of the charitable sector. What, for instance, makes a nonprofit daycare center different from a for-profit one just across the street?

When I ask them the question, nonprofit leaders most often say their organizations provide services to those who can't afford to buy them. But when you consider the increasing prevalence of third-party payers, subsidies to service users, and contracts and grants to service providers and the preferential tax treatment they often receive, along with the fact that fees-for-service generate the lion’s share of charities' income, this "market failure" rationale doesn't hold up very well.

The nonprofit leaders I've spoken to also say their organizations, as distinct from businesses, do much to improve civil society in the U.S., though they rarely provide specific examples of how their organizations do this. Similarly, nonprofits claim a distinction between sectors with regard to a strengthening of democracy, though few can point to related activities beyond their own governance.

A final distinction seems more significant: nonprofit leaders often point out that for-profit businesses are all about increasing the market for their products, while nonprofits typically work to reduce and eliminate societal need — although, again, most aren't able to say how their organizations actually do this. Still, it points to a compelling difference between the two sectors, especially when linked to nonprofit efforts to strengthen democracy and civil society.

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Profiles in Compassion: Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe

October 13, 2014

Headshot_sister-rosemary-nyirumbeRecently, I attended a screening of the documentary "Sewing Hope," an hour-long film about the efforts of Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe, a Catholic nun living in Uganda, to help girls and young women abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia led by Joseph Kony that was the subject of the viral "Invisible Children" campaign in 2012.

Narrated by the actor Forrest Whitaker, the film grabs you from the first frame. In harrowing detail, it describes how girls from rural villages were abducted from their homes and forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence against their own family members in order to prove their loyalty to the LRA. Many of the girls were raped and tortured, with Kony himself responsible for dozens if not hundreds of rapes, and many became pregnant and ended up bearing children. Girls that were able to escape often found themselves ostracized by family members and friends who viewed them as damaged goods.

Hearing about these girls, Sister Rosemary, the director since 2001 of the Saint Monica's Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, and one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People for 2014, realized she had to do something. Before long, she had opened doors of the center to as many of these girls as she could find and set about teaching them how to sew and make dresses, handbags, and other goods, imparting skills that can help them provide for themselves and secure a desperately needed measure of independence. Displaced children were placed in school and given a new lease on life, away from the horrors of Kony's atrocities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 11-12, 2014)

October 12, 2014

Flock-of-migrating-cranesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Kauffman Founders School blog, Neil Patel explains why email marketing  trumps social media.

Although he's primarily talking about news, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, explains how social media has become the new press release, with lessons for all of us.

Giving Pledge

According to this short Bloomberg TV segment, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, the second richest man in the world, will not be signing the Giving Pledge anytime soon.

Impact/Effectiveness

In the second installment of a two-part series on the Markets for Good site, Peter York, the founder/CEO of Algorhythm, an "impact science organization that combines social science, outcome measurement, next generation analytics and technology to place highly accurate and actionable insights into the hands of social change agents,"argues that it's "time for the social sector to try out the method that medicine, psychology, business, economics and ecology have been using for a long time: the observational cohort study (OCS)."

Crain's Chicago Business has a good article about a group of investors led by Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker that plans to invest $16.9 million in "an innovative financing scheme that allows Chicago to expand pre-kindergarten programs for more than 2,000 low-income children over the next four years." According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is the fifth social impact bond to be announced in the U.S.

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How Community-Based Fundraising Can Relieve the Financial Burden of a Health Crisis

October 11, 2014

Headshot_david_bakelmanEven for people who have health insurance, a health crisis often can turn into a financial crisis. Traumatic injury or illness can lead to transplants, extensive rehabilitation, and/or a lifetime of expensive medications. Uninsured expenses add up over the long term and place a significant financial burden on families who are already facing tremendous challenges.

Many people don't realize how severe this financial burden can be. But, in point of fact, it's a major problem affecting thousands of Americans and their families every year. Annual costs for a C-6 quadriplegic, for example, can range up to $111,000. Transplant patients regularly have to cover $600-$1,000 per month in out-of-pocket medication co-pays. Many patients who find themselves paralyzed after a catastrophic injury may be unable to continue working and may need to make renovations to their homes or find new transportation options. Others may need lengthy stays at specialized treatment centers or to relocate for an extended period of time.

For many patients and their families it can be uncomfortable to ask relatives and friends for financial support. That's understandable. But members of the patient's local community are often eager to help and welcome guidance on the best ways to do so. Professional organizations like HelpHOPELive provide the support necessary to help community fundraising volunteers launch and sustain successful fundraising campaigns that can help patients and their families over many months or years as they face long-term challenges with uncovered medical expenses.

With that in mind, here are a few steps for organizing a successful community-based fundraising campaign to help meet the uninsured medical expenses of someone who has experienced a catastrophic illness or injury:

Identify a support network. A support network includes a patient's family members and friends, of course, but it should also include co-workers, neighbors, and members of local clubs, schools or community faith-based organizations. For example, HelpHOPELive held a transplant fundraiser in honor of Allen West ("Wes") Edgar at his church in Alabama. More than three hundred people came together for a benefit concert and silent auction that helped raised $15,000. The funds raised helped Wes get listed for a transplant, and he received a kidney in March 2013.

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5 Questions for...Bekeme Masade, Executive Director, CSR-in-Action

October 10, 2014

As part of a new International Data Relations series that engages with executives, leaders, and country experts on philanthropy and the social sector from around the globe, Sue Rissberger, liaison for Africa and Asia in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center, spoke with Bekeme Masade, executive director of CSR-in-Action in Nigeria. In the Q&A that follows, Masade shares her perspective on the philanthropic sector in Nigeria and explains how CSR-in-Action, a social business networking platform and advisory enterprise in Lagos, is helping to drive collective social action in the country -- and Africa more generally.

Foundation Center began working in Nigeria in 2013, and Bekeme has played a pivotal role in providing local expertise to inform the center's initiatives. One of those initiatives is a new Web portal, set to launch this fall, designed to highlight the efforts of philanthropy in Nigeria and provide resources for those interested in helping to build the capacity of the country's social sector.

Headshot_bekeme_masadeSue Rissberger: How is the philanthropic and nonprofit sector defined in Nigeria?

Bekeme Masada: The philanthropic sector in Nigeria is broadly comprised of actors who give and receive goodwill. Organizations who receive goodwill include orphanages and institutions that support the physically and mentally challenged and, more recently, the "empowerment" of vulnerable groups. These actors are often supported by corporate organizations as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. Religious organizations in Nigeria, such as churches and mosques, are an example of actors distributing goodwill by channeling their resources and efforts to support social causes, including the refurbishment of schools and the provision of potable water by donating bore holes to their host communities.

The nonprofit sector in Nigeria, on the other hand, is mostly defined by foundations and nongovernmental organizations, with the latter often supported by businesses as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. It is common practice for businesses in Nigeria to support a specific cause by financially supporting an NGO, or sometimes a public institution like a school. More often than not, though, there is no clear distinction between NGOs and foundations, as smaller foundations often engage in the same kinds of activities as NGOs. In fact, only a handful of Nigerian foundations are engaged in grantmaking activities – primarily those owned by wealthy individuals and a few that are directly owned by a for-profit business.

SR: There are now five Funding Information Network partners located in four cities in Nigeria: Abuja, Lagos, Kano, and Port Harcourt. What is your vision for how these Funding Information Network partners can service civil society organizations in Nigeria?

BM: These partners will serve as primary sources of information on philanthropy for Nigerian civil society organizations within their respective geopolitical zones. We envisage a system where CSOs use the Funding Information partners to identify grantmaking organizations, develop their proposal writing techniques, and apply for international or local grants. A primary challenge to the effective usage of these partners, though, is publicity. The degree to which partners in the network are utilized will depend on the amount of publicity they receive.

We believe there is an information gap with respect to available grant opportunities in the teaching/thought leadership space. Knowing this, Funding Information Network partners could be of service to actors beyond the stratum in which civil society organizations traditionally operate.

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Charting New Terrain With Foundation Maps

October 08, 2014

Headshot_Dara_MajorAll the buzz around "big data" seems to have ratcheted up the social sector's expectations for data… and awareness of the gaps in our data infrastructure. But what most of us are looking for is "good data" – data that enables us to reflect, to ask new and different questions, to make better decisions. "Good data" challenges our assumptions and helps us see something we hadn't seen before.

The social sector has long struggled to collect, make sense of, and share data in ways big and small – internally, within and among foundations and nonprofits, as well as externally.

The data collection part has been particularly challenging, given the lack of resources, data standards, and taxonomies that facilitate not only smart data gathering from individual organizations but that pave the way to using data in comparative settings and across multiple organizations.

The sense-making part has been just as challenging in the absence of shared frameworks for understanding that data. Bespoke efforts by a single funder or group of funders may serve to advance their efforts in the short run but often fail in the long run to create accessible, field-level insights.

With the launch of Foundation Maps, however, Foundation Center is showing us how all these challenges are connected – as well as the enormous value to be gained if we are more intentional about building solutions to problems collectively.

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What a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Can Tell Us About Our Stewardship of the Planet

October 07, 2014

Audobon_passenger_pigeonOn my morning walk the other day, I happened on a small bird in obvious distress lying on the sidewalk. Apparently, it had flown into a building and injured itself – or that's what staff at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education said when I called them to see what I could do to help the poor thing. Rick Schubert, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the center, said the bird was probably migrating south, since it didn't sound, from my description, like a bird that was native to the area. Schubert went on to say that migrating species of birds established their migratory routes long before cities were a feature of the landscape and that they are not particularly good at navigating around tall buildings.

Soon enough, the bird died, and I was overcome by grief – not just for the little voyager that never made it to its destination, but for the precarious state of all our birds. As I learned from the Audubon Society's Audubon Birds and Climate Report, which was issued last month, half of all North American birds are severely threatened by climate change.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of the phenomenon can be seen near my home in Philadelphia. The rufa red knot, a bird smaller than a robin, migrates more than nine thousand miles every spring from the tip of Patagonia to the Canadian arctic, and makes the return journey every fall. The birds time their three-month trip north to arrive at the southern Jersey shore for the horseshoe crab spawning season; the abundance of food enables them to double their weight in preparation for the remainder of the journey north. Sadly, horseshoe crabs were overfished for bait in the 1990s, and that has resulted in a 70 percent drop in the rufa red knot population. Better crab harvest management since then has stabilized the declining bird population, but according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the red knot is "particularly vulnerable to climate change."

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E-What?

October 06, 2014

Headshot_joyce_whiteIt wasn't so long ago that I first heard the term "big data." At the time, I didn't give it much thought. After all, I'm the executive director of a regional association of grantmakers – there are lots of research facilities, academic centers, affinity groups, and data geeks out there collecting and analyzing data in our field. What could I possibly add to the conversation?

Now I know – and not only do I want you to know, I want you to join me in spreading the word about Foundation Center's eReporting Program. Simply put, regional associations of grantmakers can play a critical role in building the information infrastructure that supports a more vibrant and effective nonprofit sector. We can help to harness the grants data of nearly six thousand funders and centralize it in a way that makes it more readily available to inform every aspect of our work – from collaborations, to research, to due diligence, to strategic investments. And we can help fill in the picture of what is currently happening in our sector – still a surprising need in 2014, given our expectations for the availability of real-time information in just about every other aspect of our lives.

For me, the light bulb started to glow with a research project on giving to communities of color by Oregon funders. Working with Foundation Center and a group of local funders who were interested in understanding how – or whether – their funding reflected the demographic changes happening in our region, we produced a report, Grantmaking to Communities of Color in Oregon. In the process, we realized we didn't have the inputs needed to create great outputs. Working primarily with two-year-old tax forms that had grant descriptions like "For the library project," we soon realized that while the report marked an important step based on the data we had, it didn't necessarily provide a complete picture. And because many funders weren't coding their grants, other entities were drawing their own conclusions about where funding was being directed and deciding, as best they could, who was benefiting from the grant. Not exactly a best practice.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2014)

October 05, 2014

Harvest2008Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Current Affairs

The New York Times has an excellent Q&A, complete with timelines, maps, and links to other resources, on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- and the chances of the virus gaining a toehold and spreading in the U.S. 

And the Washington Post has a disturbing, deeply reported story about the failure of the world's health organizations to respond to the outbreak in a timely and effective fashion.

Environment

According to an item in Al Jazeera America, a new report finds that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. Based on the World Wildlife Fund's bi-annual "Living Planet" survey, the report also found that earth has crossed three (out of nine) "planetary boundaries" — biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels, and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers — beyond which lie "potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it."

Innovation

Nell Edgington has a nice roundup of social innovation reads from September, including posts by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund's Ira Hirschfield, the Hewlett Foundation's Daniel Stid, and Carly Pippin of Measuring Success.

Nonprofits

In a post on the GuideStar blog, Jacob Harold, the organization's president/CEO, revisits the Lake Washington Declaration, a set of principles that informs an emerging movement aimed at building "a data-driven information infrastructure that provides all actors in the social sector with the insight they need to inform their decisions."

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some excellent tips for boards looking to onboard a new chief executive.

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Boards and Fundraising: 3 Things Everyone Can Do

October 04, 2014

Headshot_andy_robinsonIf you ask fundraising professionals to describe their deepest and most enduring fantasy, the answer would sound something like this: "Give me a wealthy board filled with wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money."

Sure, those boards exist, but they are very rare. Unless you work with a legacy institution like a university, hospital, or major cultural organization, you are unlikely to have that board. Ever.

Fantasies can be fun, but they distract us from what we can realistically achieve. The good news: your board, wealthy or not, can still raise money. To help them succeed, you need to set clear, simple expectations and give them the tools and training to do the work.

#1: Give Money

Everyone on your board needs to make a gift based on their financial ability. This is essential because:

  • There's karma in fundraising, and you can't ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
  • It's a litmus test. If people are unwilling to invest in your organization, do they deserve to lead it?
  • Many grantmakers and major donors will ask, "Do you have 100 percent board participation? Is everyone on the board giving?" You really want to be able to answer, "Yes!"

To be clear, I don't believe in giving quotas that require board members to contribute a specified amount. Your board must represent the diversity of the community you serve, and you don't want to price people out of board service. But I strongly believe that everyone can give something, regardless of their financial circumstances.

My recommended language for your board agreement: "We expect to be one of your top three charitable commitments while you serve on the board."

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'Under Construction': Phoenix Indian Center – College and Career Readiness

October 03, 2014

Under_construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions nd was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

The Hohokam Indians made their mark nearly two millennia ago. In the hot desert region that is home to Phoenix today, the Hohokam developed agriculture based on a sophisticated irrigation system. Using only hand tools, they fashioned a canal network stretching more than five hundred miles through the Gila and Salt River valleys.

This summer, Augustine Newman, 16, heard of these amazing feats of engineering for the first time. This wasn't just historical fodder; the pre-industrial technology of the Hohokam fueled a deep pride in Augustine, an aspiring scientist who is half-Apache and affiliated with the San Carlos Tribe. "We Natives had our own system," he explains. "We were able to be self-sufficient."

PIC_augustine_newmanAugustine was among sixty young men who heard about the Hohokam canal system during a tour of the offices of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a diversion system that carries water from the Colorado River to municipalities and reservations in central Arizona. The visit was part of a summer career exploration program within a larger College and Career Readiness initiative organized by the Phoenix Indian Center. Katosha Nakai, former chair of the center's board of directors and CAP's tribal affairs and policy development manager, led the tour through the many CAP departments — accounting, legal, engineering, water operations. The tour largely served to show the young men the kinds of jobs available with the right training and education.

The trip to CAP was one of many eye-opening moments during the first phase of a program serving young American Indian men in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Over two short weeks, the guys connected with each other, explored their roots, and considered different college and career options. It was a time for surveying the world beyond their home base in Phoenix or on one of the nearby Indian reservations.

It's quite possible that the Hohokam irrigation canals are not featured in local school textbooks. One of the program’s participants, Nathaniel Talamantez, who is Akimel-O'Otham and a member of the Gila River Tribal Community, says that at his school "maybe they'll do two pages [of Indian history] in the book and that's it."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2014)

October 02, 2014

The leaves are turning, days are getting shorter, winter's closing in. Still plenty of time, though, to catch up with the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in September. Have a post you'd like to share with our readers? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Eleanor Roosevelt and Data Post-2015

October 01, 2014

Headshote_angela_haricheTwo weeks ago, I was down with the flu AND jetlagged, so all I could manage to do in the evenings was get under a blanket and watch all fourteen hours of "The Roosevelts" on PBS. I thought it was riveting and the timing was perfect. It has been a particularly busy time for us at Foundation Center and there have been an inordinate amount of meetings and conferences around the annual meeting of the UN general assembly. Happily, most of the people sharing a table with me at these events had also been watching "The Roosevelts." We all admitted it was nice for once to discuss something else other than the grind during the lunches and coffee breaks!

So, it was no surprise when Kathy Calvin, president of the United Nations Foundation, said at a recent Ford Foundation event, "Channel your inner Eleanor Roosevelt post-2015." I think that was my best tweet all week. But what does it mean? Well, Eleanor certainly was a force. In fact, she was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was able to move the needle on things in the face of incredible resistance. And "post-2015" is about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals effort comes to an end next year.

The event brought together leaders from philanthropy, the UN, business, and civil society to talk about philanthropy and the role of the sector in the coming years. Brad Smith, president of Foundation Center, and Helena Monteiro from WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support) convened a session that focused on the data and knowledge needed to a) get a better grip on what we know and don’t know about funding for global development goals; b) how to get an accurate picture of development progress; c) how to build standards and trust so working together isn't so hard; d) how to climb the mountain of definitions when so many cultures (both organizational and geographic) name things differently; and e) how to remember that we are talking about people's lives here. It was noted during the session that ten years ago nobody would have wanted to attend a session on data!

So what came out of it?

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