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21 posts from October 2016

Linking Challenge to Opportunity to Strategy

October 07, 2016

Link-Building-IconMost of us dread the annual strategic planning process. It's a daunting task to have to stop and think about the future when your days are already super busy with the work you do for your organization's clients and beneficiaries.

Then there's the fact that the plan itself can be a document that inspires and creates a visionary context for an organization, or, as I've seen lately, a series of work plans detailing what the organization is going to do over the next few years and how it's going to do it.

Regardless of which approach your organization takes, here are a few things to think about as you and your colleagues sit down to develop your next strategic plan:

  • Your supporters really don't care how the ship runs; they care about what your organization is doing to help people and advance its cause.
  • Your supporters don't want to know about how you're going to boost the reach and impact of your communications. From their perspective, you should be doing that anyway. They do care about what lies ahead for the organization, and what they can do to help make change happen.
  • Your supporters want to believe your plan will get more people like them to support your cause or issue. They want to be assured you have a handle on your overall strategy and the tactics needed to implement it. And they want to be reminded why they are important to your organization's success.

The points above underscore the important role individual supporters play in the change process. I hope they also convey a sense of the linkage that is often missing from strategic plans: challenge begets opportunity begets strategy.

Creating a "Challenge" Narrative for Supporters

It is crucial that supporters feel compelled to act by your challenge narrative. And the hardest part of that is making sure it conveys enough urgency to cause potential supporters to say, "Wow, I need to step up and do something." Your narrative should do two things:

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How the Lack of Market Feedback Puts Foundations at Risk and What Some Funders Are Doing About It

October 06, 2016

FeedbackQuick: What's the difference between a private foundation and a public charity? To answer, you could consult the Internal Revenue Code, or you might just as easily say: "One has money and the other needs it."

This simple truth carries profound consequences for foundation decision-making and culture, through the impact of market feedback — or the lack thereof. A private foundation (generally an independent, endowed grantmaking entity) has a fundamentally different and weaker market feedback loop than either a for-profit business or a public charity (generally an operating nonprofit). Even the smallest business receives regular feedback from its market in the form of changes in sales. In order to maintain its tax status, a public charity must constantly attract public resources to put toward its mission — and the response to these efforts is a very real, ongoing, and often painful example of market feedback. A nonprofit unable to attract sufficient funds faces an existential crisis. Negative market feedback in the form of inadequate resources presents the organization with an imperative: either change in ways that will attract the necessary resources, or risk economic failure.

In a striking contrast, no such feedback loop exists for a private foundation. Because its resources were provided by a donor in an endowment at the outset of its existence, there is never a question of economic failure. Put more simply: to survive, a private foundation need not operate successful programs or make effective grants; it need not manage its staff well, engage its board in generative thinking, or meaningfully participate in larger conversations about its work. So long as it achieves the low bar set by the law (meeting payout requirements, paying excise tax, etc.), it has nothing to fear. The only external measure of its success is whether it remains in good standing with the IRS and the state in which it is incorporated. Beyond that, accountability begins and ends with itself.

This unique situation is a source of jealousy, impatience, and frustration among nonprofit leaders, who find it hard to imagine a world not dominated by their continuous need to fundraise. For the foundation, however, this insularity removes one of the most valuable inputs for any organization: frequent, timely, and accurate market feedback.

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The Cost of Caring for Survivors of Domestic Human Trafficking

October 04, 2016

Sex_traffickingThe problem of human trafficking in the United States is a relatively new issue. The Federal Strategic Action Plan was released in 2013 and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of the Office on Trafficking in Persons in 2015. Almost daily, however — particularly in major metropolitan areas — we are presented with news stories about the latest sex trafficking sting or labor trafficking violations involving manufacturing supply chains. Polaris Project has been reporting on legislative progress within the states for the past several years, and while there has been progress on the awareness-raising and legislative fronts, the landscape of victim services, and residential programs specifically, has been harder to quantify. Everyone seems to point to the growing number of victims and the need for "beds," but few understand what providing those beds entails.

In July 2016, through a grant from an anonymous donor, The Samaritan Women of Maryland, PATH of Arkansas, and Gracehaven of Ohio convened a group of almost two dozen service agencies with at least two years' experience serving victims of trafficking and more than twenty individuals representing start-up efforts on the campus of Wheaton College in Chicago. At that four-day summit, the above-mentioned agencies committed themselves to working together to improve information exchange, research, peer mentoring, and survivor referral through a modern-day "underground railroad." One of the things the group did was to establish a shared lexicon so as to better categorize each type of agency and the scope of services provided. Speaking the same language is the first step to improving the quality of survivor referrals.

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Advancing Women's Economic Security

October 03, 2016

WFN_DSP_discoverIn Tennessee, the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis is working to reduce poverty by 5 percent over five years in a zip code, 38126, where 62 percent of adults and 76 percent of children live at or below the poverty line.

In Chicago, 460,000 workers now have paid sick leave thanks to the work of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a coalition of community, faith-based, women's advocacy, and labor organizations.

In Massachusetts, the Women's Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts piloted a support program that helped Jamielee, a mother of two young children, get a car — and on the path to a college degree and employment, along with 76 percent of the program's participants.

These are just a few of the things that women's foundations across the United States are doing to advance women's economic security.

In September, the Women's Funding Network unveiled a new Economic Security Digital Storytelling Platform to highlight the important work our members are doing for women and girls around the world. The site allows visitors to explore economic security data and grantmaking strategies, as well as powerful stories of the women, programs, and organizations that are driving and creating positive change for women.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 1-2, 2016)

October 02, 2016

Ears-up2Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

Every year, B Lab, a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good, puts together a list of "the best companies for the world." Business Insider's Ariel Schwartz has the details.

First Amendment

In an article on the Knight Foundation site, Sam Gill, the foundation's vice president for learning and impact, shares key takeaways from a survey of university students in which they were asked to weigh in on First Amendment issues and freedoms. Very interesting.

Global Health

In a guest post on the Humanopshere blog, Sean McKee, a policy translation specialist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, reports that mother and child death rates are improving dramatically in most parts of the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to commit $3 billion to cure, manage, and end disease by the end of the century. How should they spend the money? Devex's Catherine Cheney shares some thoughts.

Higher Education

The Steve Fund has launched a free online resource center that aims to connect college students of color with mental health information and support. Claudia Lamberty reports for the Campus News.

Although they're often overlooked, community colleges are a key driver of rural economic development and opportunity. Science Foundation Arizona's Caroline VanIngen-Dunn reports.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

As we enter the homestretch of another year that has flown by, we have good news and bad news. First the bad: There are still thirty-seven days left in this election cycle. On the good-news front, you all dug into the PhilanTopic archive and surfaced a couple of wonderful items from the past, including a terrific post by Small Change author Michael Edwards (one of three in an excellent series Michael wrote for us) and a sharp review of Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education by Michael Weston-Murphy. You also liked Stephen Pratt's sensible advice vis-à-vis metrics and measurement, Kris Putnam-Walkerly's exhortation to grantmakers, and Matt's Q&A with Markle Foundation president Zoë Baird. As for that pesky thing called time, I like (but don't always follow) the great Satchel Paige's advice: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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