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8 posts from September 2020

How to achieve brand consistency for your nonprofit

September 29, 2020

Digital_marketing_table_GettyImagesYou've got a dynamite logo, a compelling tagline, and great messaging, but most of the time your staff goes about its business as if it none of that existed. What to do?

Consistent application of a unified visual identity and messaging is critical to building brand recognition. Over the years, I've found that nonprofits often struggle to achieve that kind of consistency. Because communications and marketing staff often are stretched, they may not be able to respond to every design or communication request and non-marketing people will end up creating the needed collateral. The result?

  • a social media manager posts updates with your old logo
  • a program manager sends out an event flyer using non-brand fonts or colors
  • an office manager creates a listing for a local magazine and doesn't include approved brand messaging
  • a member of the development staff creates an email using a template with an image and colors that have no relationship to your brand
  • staff, anxious to support a program or appeal with collateral, end up creating materials that are less than professional

These may seem like little things, but such actions can undo a lot of the work that goes into designing and building a strong brand. The best way to avoid such headaches is to create a culture that understands and respects the organization's brand. Here are a few things you can do to get you started.

1. Ensure that everyone understands the importance of a strong brand. It starts at the top. Leadership has to prioritize branding and lead by communicating the importance of a strong brand to everyone in the organization. It can do this by describing how a strong brand helps accomplish the organization's goals — from improving its reputation and visibility, to attracting more funders and participants, to expanding its programs or service area. Brand discussions at the board level should happen at least once a year, should focus on how the organization is living up to its brand promise, and should include a review of the organization's own position vis-à-vis its competitors.

Another way to elevate the importance of the brand is to appoint a brand manager and have that person report directly to the executive director, with whom he or she should have regular (at least quarterly) meetings to discuss how the brand is being positioned and maintained, and what kind of resources are needed to support the brand and branding efforts on an ongoing basis.

Another way to signal that the brand is an integral part of the organization is to make brand maintenance a part of everyone's job description. You should also look for regular opportunities to underscore the fact that the brand is a priority (e.g., at staff meetings and in memos).

2. Have clear brand guidelines. Having a brand style guide is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your brand. The guide can be distributed in print or digital format, posted to a website, or delivered as a slide deck or video. The key thing, however, is that it is delivered in a format that's appropriate for the intended audience. Typically, this might be a formal set of guidelines for marketing and communications staff tasked with creating materials and a more general brand booklet or video for staff and others who need to understand the essence of the brand.

In creating brand guidelines, be sure that the people tasked with using and enforcing them understand them. Avoid technical jargon and assumptions about end users' knowledge of design, typography, color palettes, and print and digital production issues.

3. Provide effective training. Just because you have brand guidelines doesn't mean that people will follow them. That's where brand training comes in. And when developing brand training for staff, be sure to accommodate differences in learning styles. For example, some staff members may be more auditory than visual in the way they relate to the world and may not be as quick to see the difference in how the logo, typefaces, or design elements are treated or realize when something is off. Communicate your brand guidelines in ways everyone can understand, and be sure to include vivid examples of do's and don'ts.

The onboarding process for new staff is a perfect time to introduce the brand and expectations for how it should be expressed. Don't just hand new employees (or volunteers) a manual and expect them to get it. Instead, make sure they know that communicating the brand, and paying attention to brand consistency, is an important part of their job, and encourage them to ask questions if they're unsure about anything.

4. Put systems in place to support the proper use of the brand. People can't use your logo, photos, or other brand assets if they can't access them, so make sure everyone on staff has access to the materials they need. A cloud-based server is an excellent way to ensure such access, but whether they're in the cloud, on your intranet, or posted to dedicated brand website, make sure your brand elements are organized in a way so that they are easy to find. Larger organizations may even benefit from a digital asset management (DAM) system.

Another way to support your brand is to have a person tasked with answering questions as they arise and someone else who is responsible for ensuring that the brand assets are maintained.

5. Showcase examples of good practices. Reward good behavior. Collect and share examples of staff using the brand effectively and be sure to explain why a specific use case helps the organization.

6. Encourage peer-to-peer support. Have those staff members who do a good job of following your brand guidelines and promoting your brand show others how it's done. In most cases, staff will be more inclined to listen to or learn from a peer than from management — particularly in cases where a regional or satellite office is involved.

7. Impose consequences if guidelines are not followed. If carrots don't work, you may have to use a stick. The penalty for non-compliance with organizational brand guidelines can range from a rebuke to a note on an employee's performance review. Before you go down that road, however, make sure everyone is aware of the expectations around the brand, has been trained in proper brand usage, and has access to the resources they need to comply with your brand guidelines.

Of course, there's always Plan B: outsource your brand and communications work to an agency or hire a freelancer. Doing so will eliminate the need for ongoing training and constant oversight of staff outreach efforts. It also will lighten the load on staff, who may be grateful to have more time they can use to help constituents.

Whether you outsource brand management or do it in-house, make a conscious plan and follow it.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is president of the Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

[Review] Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City

September 23, 2020

Cover_five_daysFive years ago, antipoverty activist and nonprofit CEO Wes Moore found himself in Baltimore for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young man from the "wrong side" of the city who had made eye contact with a Baltimore police officer on a bicycle and decided to run. The officer gave chase and, with two other officers, eventually caught Gray, searched him, and found a pocketknife in one of his pockets. The officers arrested Gray and, as Moore writes in the Prologue to his new book, Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, "when he couldn't, or wouldn't walk, to their transport van, they dragged him along the sidewalk. What happened next was a matter of dispute, but when Freddie Gray died a week later, from a severed spine, much of Baltimore believed the police had killed him."

The day of Gray's funeral, thousands of people converged on New Shiloh Baptist Church, which Moore had attended while he was a student at Johns Hopkins University. Filing into pews in T-shirts and mourning black were men and women, rich and poor, young and old, and a who's who of Baltimore's political class. But the funeral of Freddie Gray was no celebratory homecoming for Moore, who couldn’t shake the feeling as he sat among the mourners that but for a few lucky breaks and a mother who wouldn’t take no for an answer, his road through life could’ve been much like the one traveled by Gray: born addicted to heroin, exposed to harmful concentrations of lead in public housing as a child, and, before his last encounter, involved in multiple altercations with the police. Reflecting on that day later, Moore was overwhelmed by frustration and a feeling of "intolerance for the system that had ended a young man's life."

Established in opposition to unaccountable authority, the United States is a country with protest and dissent embedded in its DNA. From the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement, Americans have been a people willing to fight for their rights — and to extend those rights beyond just white men of property. And yet progress toward a more perfect union often has been elusive and insufficient. There is no formula for how to create real social change, no model for how to mobilize the support needed to cause people to sit up and pay attention. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked protests and outrage around the globe — and caught many by surprise. There are many theories as to why Floyd's death was such a catalyst: the slow economic recovery from the Great Recession and the growing wealth inequality it spawned, the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on BIPOC individuals more likely to work in high-risk jobs deemed essential, and, thanks to COVID-related shelter-in-place orders, a global community on pause from the day-to-day noise of life and more willing to pay attention to suffering and injustice. Although not written in response to COVID-19 or the killing of Floyd, Moore’s timely account asks us to consider as well the burdens that systemic racism and income inequality place on people of color and goes a step further, asking the reader to think about how we are all connected to each other.

Written with New York Times journalist Erica L. Green, Five Days is structured as a series of vignettes based on the lived reality of eight Baltimoreans in April 2015. Three, of them — Tawanda, Anthony, and Greg — are African American and found themselves on the front lines of the civil unrest that followed Gray’s death. John Angelos, executive vice president of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles franchise, was pulled into Gray's story in a way that forced him to face his own white privilege and power. And the others — Nick, Jenny, Marc, and Billy — function as representatives of a system forced to answer for the death, under questionable circumstances, of another young Black man. Moore himself, a native of Baltimore who was raised by his mother and grandparents and later graduated from Yale, personifies the struggle to rise above the systemic racism that traps so many people in lives of desperation, even as he makes a point of not minimizing the experiences lived by his book's Black protagonists, writing that the "sound of a siren strikes a different pitch depending on which neighborhood hears it." To read Five Days is to begin to know their stories — and, without necessarily becoming familiar with the specifics, to understand how a collective tragedy can bring people together. And yet… In the weeks and months after Gray's death, all the people whose stories Moore recounts did what they could to prevent what happened to Freddie Gray from happening elsewhere — with decidedly mixed results.

Beyond the stories of the eight individuals Moore and Green recount, Five Days is a conversation about how American society treats its economically vulnerable. When poverty is treated as something that Americans raised on the myth of "equal opportunity for all" fall into because of their own missteps and/or not trying hard enough, the conversation becomes about who deserves, or doesn't, assistance, rather than what can be done to create mechanisms and opportunities that actually lift people out of poverty. But with the 2019 Poverty and Inequality Report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality suggesting that millennials could be the first American generation to experience as much downward as upward mobility, fully 49 percent of Americans born in the late 1980s ending up in a lower-paying job than those held by their parents, and poverty itself becoming all-too easy to correlate with ZIP code, race, and educational level, America has a problem; indeed, that is the core message of the book.

The kaleidoscopic structure of Five Days interlaces stories of loss and humanity with anecdotes from the social sector and a conversation about the limits of philanthropy. Moore, the CEO of Robin Hood, a New York City-based anti-poverty nonprofit that works with more than two hundred and fifty nonprofit partners to provide food, housing, education, legal, and workforce development programs and services to New Yorkers living in poverty, notes that nearly $700 billion is given to charitable and philanthropic causes every year. Take out endowment and capital gifts to private foundations, hospitals, and institutions of higher education, and about $175 billion is left to address every social (and environmental) issue under the sun. Philanthropy can be a powerful vehicle for driving change and doing good, and we should not underestimate its potential to do so. But if we fail to acknowledge the performative nature of much of the philanthropy one sees in the United States and the fact that philanthropy, both individual and institutional, all too often perpetuates negative power dynamics that impede rather than advance well-intentioned efforts, we will never see the kind of systemic change America needs.

In closing, Moore tries to give voice to a protagonist we never hear from in the book: Freddie Gray. "Loving your country means fighting for the institutionalization of its core goodness," he writes. "Loving your country does not mean lying about its past." For this reader, Moore's narrative demands we not lie about its present, either. Wealth inequality and lack of opportunity are not an abstractions; wealth inequality and lack of opportunity are five days in Baltimore where the frenetic actions of protestors, police, and politicians were galvanized by the death of a young man whose tragic end was inextricably linked to his ZIP code and our collective acquiescence in vilifying those deemed to be "undeserving" of help.

Headshot_Emilia CharnoEmilia Charno, a former intern with the Global Partnerships team at Candid, is studying for a BA in International Relations and Spanish at Tufts University.    

Mexican president targets U.S. philanthropy, but it’s Mexican civil society that could take the hit

September 22, 2020

Tren-Maya-Map-07On Friday August 28, 2020, four days before I officially became the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy at the Johnson Center, I knew what the topic of my inaugural blog for this platform would be.

That day, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, as he is known, shared the results of what he termed an "investigation" into the funding of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who have opposed his principal infrastructure project, the Mayan Train (Tren Maya) (Presidency of the Republic, 2020a). AMLO claimed that the organizations had clandestinely received almost $14 million in grants specifically to oppose this project from five U.S. foundations, including Ford, Rockefeller, the National Endowment for Democracy, ClimateWorks, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It is important to state upfront that all the recipient organizations vehemently deny the allegations.

Given that my chair was endowed jointly by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kellogg Company 25-Year Employees' Fund, and that I have worked over the last two decades to both research and strengthen international and domestic philanthropy in Mexico, I feel a special obligation to address the accusations and innuendos made by the Mexican president.

Another motivating factor for me is that this attack is not an isolated incident. It occurs against a backdrop of increasingly hostile rhetoric and policy actions directed against Mexican civil society from the Mexican government, as well as increasing violence against environmental and human rights activists in that country, as captured by Mexico's declining score in the Freedom House Index (Freedom House, 2020). Tragically, this trend is global — in many countries, civil society is under attack (International Center for Not-for-Profit Law [ICNL], 2016).

AMLO and Tren Maya

To understand the significance of the Mayan Train and AMLO's frustration with its opponents' success, we need to go back to his election in 2018 and his campaign slogan, "For the good of all, first the poor" (Por el bien de todos, primero los pobres). He promised to lead Mexico through what he calls the Fourth Transformation, upending the corrupt, neo-liberal political and economic system that for decades has favored the rich and powerful — the "cabals of the powerful" — at the expense of the poor.

Tren Maya was to be his signature infrastructure project. The plan was to lay a thousand miles of rail around the perimeter of the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting key destinations and igniting economic prosperity by facilitating tourism and transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. The government of Mexico estimates the cost at $6.5 billion USD and predicts it will create half a million jobs during construction and have a multiplier effect on the region's economy (Government of Mexico, 2020).

Opposition to the Mayan Train

From the start, the project has met with stiff resistance from an assortment of local, national, and international groups that believe the mega-project will bring disruption and environmental degradation. The rail line will pass through five states that hold some of the nation's most important archaeological sites and biodiverse habitats.

Soon after AMLO announced a plan for public consultation, hundreds of Mexican environmentalists, scientists, and human rights advocates published an appeal to postpone it, arguing, "High biodiversity sites must be preserved according to the most stringent international standards, taking into account the indigenous peoples who have been the guarantors of their territories and custodians of the natural and cultural wealth of our country" (Lichtinger & Aridjis 2018). Nevertheless, the consultation proceeded.

During the month-long consultation at the end of 2019, the government claimed high levels of participation and approval in both a popular referendum and assemblies aimed at indigenous groups. Local organizations cried foul. After observing the process, the Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement that said in part, "The information presented to indigenous communities only outlined the potential benefits of the project and not the negative impacts it may cause" (United Nations, 2019). It also found that the process did not comply with "culturally appropriate" standards designed to encourage free participation and that the participation of indigenous women was especially inadequate.

Local organizations began to collaborate with larger NGOs based in Mexico City with expertise in environmental law and public policy, and it is these nine NGOs that AMLO identified in his August statement. Together, the groups launched successful court challenges and public protests, calling into question the legality of the consultation process, as well as the project's forecasted benefits and compliance with environmental regulations. At present, two of the seven sections of the project have been halted by court orders, while construction proceeds on others (Vanguardia 2020), raising the question of how the train can function if its circuit is left incomplete.

Benefactores y Opositores (Benefactors and Opponents)

AMLO claimed that these NGOs had hidden their sources of funding because they were acting on behalf of foreign interests, including multinational corporations and the U.S. State Department. He declared his role was to expose the fact that organizations were "disguised" as advocates for the environment and human rights when in fact they were acting on behalf of what he termed "cabals of the powerful" (Presidency of the Republic, 2020). He put his case succinctly on September 4:

What was wrong is that they worked in anonymity, clandestinely, without transparency, supposedly as independent non-governmental associations, so maybe they are independent, but from the people, not from the cabals of the powerful....

Thus, his criticism of the NGOs has two prongs:

  1. that their work and their funding was clandestine and opaque; and
  2. that these groups are not accountable to the Mexican people, but rather to the corporate and political interests behind their donors and therefore are illegitimate.

Let's examine each claim.

Transparency Defended

The investigation shared by the president states that the organizations' activities include filing lawsuits to stop construction of sections of the Mayan Train or the project as a whole, filing a complaint before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, investigating and documenting irregularities of the project, and disseminating the findings of such research (Cuevas, 2020). Given that these acts are essentially public, or need to be made public in order to have an impact, it is difficult to understand how they can be conducted clandestinely.

In a series of individual and collective statements, the named organizations have defended their work, contending that the funding they received from U.S. philanthropy was both legal under Mexican and international law and transparent, and that the grants identified were not made to them for the purpose of opposing the project (Animal Politico, 2020).

The organizations pointed out that in the table provided by the president, seven of the nine grants started well before his election in 2018, contradicting his claim that the funds were intended to defeat the project. Similarly, more than once AMLO and his spokesperson stated that some of this information was public. AMLO's administration also said the investigation was conducted by a "private foundation," but they did not identify the researcher nor the source of their information. Using publicly available data from the tax authority's transparency portal for nonprofits, a Mexican think tank called Alternativas y Capacidades found that five of the NGOs listed were charitable organizations, and of those three received the bulk of their resources from sources within Mexico (Alternativas y Capacidades, 2020).

Legitimacy Defended

This leaves the second prong of the critique: does the receipt of foreign grants delegitimize the work of an NGO?

While AMLO has leveled a rhetorical attack, many other governments have placed regulatory restrictions or outright bans on organizations receiving foreign funds (ICNL, 2016). Such restrictions often represent a government's attempt to assert its sovereignty against both foreign governments and domestic actors, denying resources to groups they perceive as "political rivals" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 618-619). The assumptions underlying such restrictions are that "internationally funded NGOs are not well rooted in the local community," and that they "are more responsive to donors' concerns than those of the communities they serve" (Dupuy & Prakash, 2020, p. 621).

This argument does not do justice to the mechanisms for community accountability that NGOs practice and that international donors typically look for as part of their due diligence (Brechenmacher & Carothers, 2018). These mechanisms include board composition, consultation and representation, and compliance with governmental regulations and ethical standards. While there are cases of heavy-handed international funders seeking to influence and even dictate outcomes for communities and public policy, most — and particularly those foundations named by AMLO — make it their policy to respect local autonomy and support community-led development. Still, funding from foreign donors opens a potential line of attack for critics.

Why accept cross-border philanthropy?

Given that cross-border donations can present a point of vulnerability for NGOs, why do they accept them?

NGOs turn to foreign funders because local sources of funding are often quite scarce, especially for issues that risk the ire of the government — like the defense of human rights and environmental justice. Additionally, outside of the world's wealthiest nations, there are few philanthropic foundations (Johnson, 2018). While all nations have their unique expressions of generosity and vibrant traditions of mutual self-help, few exhibit a strong propensity to support formal nonprofit organizations.

Mexico's formal nonprofit sector is relatively under-developed and is heavily reliant on earned income (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017). Foreign donors do not play a large role in supporting the sector as a whole, with about 10 percent of donations coming from abroad (Layton et al., 2017). This challenging context has been further complicated by actions taken by AMLO's administration:

  • It has moved to eliminate Mexican federal funding of nonprofit organizations (Technical Advisory Council 2020), which was already low compared to other nations (Salamon, Sokolowski, & Haddock, 2017).
  • The tax authority has stepped up its audits of charitable organizations and its revocations of their charitable status: in the three years prior to AMLO's presidency, there was one revocation a month. Now there is one every other working day (Tax Administration Service, 2020). One high-profile case involved the revocation of the charitable status of Mexico's largest community foundation, the Foundation of Chihuahuan Businesspersons (FECHAC), widely respected for its professionalism (González Sierra, 2020).
  • The tax authority has also imposed an income tax on earned revenue (unrelated to mission) that exceeds 10 percent of total organizational income (Council on Foundations, 2019).

These policies weaken the three major sources of domestic funding: government support, private grants, and earned revenue. With his attacks on foreign grants, AMLO and his administration are undermining all avenues of financial sustainability for Mexico's nonprofit sector.

Why cultivate domestic — especially community — philanthropy?

These actions on the part of the current Mexican administration present an important challenge to Mexican civil society. There is a growing consensus among civic leaders and international donors that the long-term sustainability and credibility of NGOs depends on a more favorable enabling environment for civil society, especially the growth of domestic philanthropy.

Many donors have sought to encourage the emergence of domestic philanthropy in developing nations (C.S. Mott Foundation, 2013; Regelbrugge, 2006). My own research has sought to provide empirical data to better understand the nature of this challenge, and my consulting work has supported efforts to encourage the development of Mexican civil society and its philanthropic sector, particularly the institutions of community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy in Mexico has shown great promise in addressing the key challenge of cultivating a culture of giving and promoting the use of institutional channels for generosity (Olvera et al., 2020). At their best, community foundations work with a broad range of stakeholders at the intersection of donors, nonprofits, business, and government, and they enjoy a unique ability to support community-led development. Their work demonstrates that, far from being independent of a community's people, they are directly engaged with and accountable to them.

(Image credit: Mayan Train Route image from Dialogo Chino.)

Headshot_Michael_LaytonMichael Layton, PhD, joined the Johnson Center in September 2020 as the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair, the nation's first endowed chair focused on community philanthropy. This post originally was created for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy's blog and was published there on September 16, 2020.

 

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References

Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C. 2020. Analysis of Data from Fondos a la Vista. Data retrieved from https://fondosalavista.mx/

Animal Politico. 2020. Gobierno de AMLO acusa a Animal Político y a OSC de recibir recursos para atacar al Tren Maya. Animal Politico. Retrieved from https://www.animalpolitico.com/2020/08/gobierno-amlo-animal-politico-recursos-atacar-tren-maya/

Brechenmacher, S. & Carothers, T. (2018). The legitimacy menu.Examine Civil Society Legitimacy. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved from https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/05/02/examining-civil-society-legitimacy-pub-76211

C.S. Mott Foundation. (2013). 2012 Annual Report, Community foundations: Rooted locally, Growing globally. Retrieved from https://www.mott.org/news/publications/2012-annual-report-community-foundations-rooted-locally-growing-globally/

Council on Foundations. (2019). Nonprofit Law in Mexico. Global Grantmaking Country Notes. Retrieved from https://www.cof.org/content/nonprofit-law-mexico

Cuevas J. R. [JesusRCuevas]. (2020, August 28). Hoy se dio a conocer una investigación sobre el financiamiento de fundaciones extranjeras a organizaciones no gubernamentales y a un medio que se oponen a la construcción del Tren Maya. [Tweet]. Retrieved from
https://twitter.com/JesusRCuevas/status/1299368891525804032

Dupuy, K. & Prakash, A. (2020). Global backlash against foreign funding to domestic non-governmental organizations. In Powell, W. W., & Bromley, P. (Eds.). (2020). The Nonprofit sector: A research handbook. Stanford University Press.

Freedom House. (2020). Freedom in the World: Mexico. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/country/mexico/freedom-world/2020

González Sierra, E. (2020, January 22). FECHAC’s Charitable Status Revoked. El Heraldo de Chihuahua. Retrieved from https://www.elheraldodechihuahua.com.mx/local/desautorizan-a-la-fechac-para-recibir-donativos-noticias-de-chihuahua-4732080.html

Government of Mexico. (2020). Mayan Train: Multiplier Effect. Retrieved from https://www.trenmaya.gob.mx/efecto-multiplicador/

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. (2016). Survey of Trends Affecting Civic Space: 2015-16. Global trends in NGO law 7(4). Retrieved from https://mk0rofifiqa2w3u89nud.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/global-ngo-law_trends7-4.pdf?_ga=2.245940356.162911111.1599646423-2060145790.1598725786

Johnson, P. D. (2018). Global philanthropy report: Perspectives on the global foundation sector. Harvard Kennedy School, the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Center for Public Leadership. Retrieved from https://cpl.hks.harvard.edu/files/cpl/files/global_philanthropy_report_final_april_2018.pdf

Layton, M. D. (2017). Regulation and self-regulation in the Mexican nonprofit sector. Chapter in Dunn, A., Breen,O., & Sidel, M. (Eds.). Regulatory waves: Comparative perspectives on state regulation and self-regulation policies in the nonprofit sector. London: Cambridge University Press.

Layton, M.D., Rosales, M.A. (2017). Financiamiento de las donatarias autorizadas. Chapter in Butcher García-Colín, J. (Ed.), Generosidad en México II: Fuentes, cauces y destinos. Mexico City: Editorial Porrúa, Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.

Layton, M. D., & Mossel, V. (2015). Giving in Mexico: Generosity, Distrust and Informality. Chapter in Wiepking, P. & Handy, F. (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy (pp. 64–87). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Lichtinger, V. & Aridjis, H. 2020. The Mayan trainwreck. Opinion. Washington Post. Dec. 4, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/12/04/amlo/

Mexican Center for Environmental Law. (2020). The defense of human rights and the environment strengthens democracy and should not be criminalized. Retrieved from https://www.cemda.org.mx/la-defensa-de-los-derechos-humanos-y-de-la-naturaleza-fortalece-la-democracia-y-no-debe-criminalizarse/

Olvera Ortega, M., Layton, M., Graterol Acevedo, G. & Bolaños Martínez, L. (2020). Community Foundations in Mexico: A Comprehensive Profile 2009–2016 – Report Summary. Mexico City: Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C., Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and Inter-American Foundation. https://alternativasycapacidades.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FundComunitarias_ENG.pdf

Presidency of the Republic. (2020a). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on August 28, 2020, Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/es/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-28-de-agosto-del-2020?idiom=es

Presidency of the Republic. (2020b). Transcript of press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on September 4, 2020, Mexico City, Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.gob.mx/presidencia/articulos/version-estenografica-conferencia-de-prensa-del-presidente-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador-del-4-de-septiembre-de-2020?idiom=es

Regelbrugge, L. (2006). Funding Foundations: Report on Ford Foundation support of grantmaking institutions, 1975 to 2001. Ford Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.fordfoundation.org/work/learning/research-reports/funding-foundations-report-on-ford-foundation-support-of-grantmaking-institutions-1975-to-2001/

Salamon, L. M., Sokolowski, S. W., & Haddock, M. A. (2017). Explaining civil society development: A social origins approach. JHU Press.

Tax Administration Service. (2020). Charitable Organizations Published in the DOF (Diario Oficial Federal). Retrieved from https://www.sat.gob.mx/consultas/27717/conoce-el-directorio-de-donatarias-autorizadas

Technical Advisory Council. (2020, September 02). Pronouncement of the technical advisory council of the federal law on promotion of the activities of the civil society organizations (CSOs), regarding the declarations of the President of the Republic Lic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador on CSOs. Retrieved from https://consejotecnicoconsultivo.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CARTA-DEL-CTC-CON-RELACION-A-LOS-PRONUNCIAMIENTOS-DEL-PRESIDENTE-AMLO.pdf

United Nations. (2019). The indigenous consultation process on the Mayan Train has not complied with all international human rights standards on the matter: UN-DH. Retrieved from https://www.onu.org.mx/el-proceso-de-consulta-indigena-sobre-el-tren-maya-no-ha-cumplido-con-todos-los-estandares-internacionales-de-derechos- humans-in-matter-onu-dh/

[Review] The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future

September 16, 2020

23499-The-Uninhabitable-Earth_David-Wallace-Wells-1Published in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic and national protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd grabbed the world's attention, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells provides an utterly disturbing picture of the many ways in which global warming will transform every aspect of life on the planet — changes, according to Wallace-Wells, likely to lead to untold human suffering and quite possibly the extinction of our species. As he frames what follows in the first line of the book, "it is worse, much worse, than you think."

A deputy editor at New York, Wallace-Wells first came to the attention of the public three years ago with an article in that publication about the perils of climate change. In it, he outlined some of the repercussions we are likely to face if we fail to take meaningful action to slow global warming, and his book expands on that warning. Or, as he puts it, the book is not "about the science of warming; it is about what warming means to the way we live on this planet."

The many examples he marshals in support of that statement are grim and left this reader with a sinking feeling that has been hard to shake. As Wallace-Wells writes, efforts to hold the average global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels already seem doomed, and for every half degree of warming societies will experience a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict. By 2050, the global production of fossil fuel-based plastic is expected to triple, and it is possible there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. With a 2.5°C increase in warming, the planet may experience a global food deficit. In the American West, wildfires will consume sixteen times more acreage than they do today. With a 4°C increase, hundreds of cities will be inundated by sea-level rise, and in many others venturing out of doors will be life-threatening. An additional 200 million people will become climate refugees.

But Wallace-Wells doesn't confine himself to the familiar dangers of rising sea levels, ocean acidification, or furnace-like temperatures rendering mega-cities uninhabitable. As an environmental studies major, I have read about the likelihood of an increase in interpersonal conflict and domestic violence due to increasing temperatures, but I hadn't heard about the unpredictable ways in which gut microbiota may react to a warming planet. Wallace-Wells describes unknowns like these as "elements of chaos," and warns that no single one, but rather many in combination, are what is likely to bring about our demise.

There is little to take comfort from in the book, and that's intentional. Just four years ago, the Paris climate agreement committed the global community to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. (The United States pulled out of the agreement after Donald Trump's election.) Tragically, the former worst-case scenario now looks like an improbable best-case outcome, with some climate experts predicting four degrees of warming by 2100. Because such numbers are small and an abstraction for most people, we tend to seek reassurance and comfort by trivializing the difference between them. But as noted above, Wallace-Wells makes sure his readers comprehend how catastrophic the consequences of one extra degree of warming are likely to be. And when we start to contemplate the now worst-case outcome of six to eight degrees of warming, the level of uncertainty — and catastrophe — can barely be comprehended.

If there's a silver lining in the book it is that Wallace-Wells does not want to shock his readers into paralysis: "I am optimistic," he writes. "I know there are horrors to come….But those horrors are not yet scripted." In other words, the future is editable, and it's up to each of us to decide how much worse — or better — it will be. Indeed, dozens of solutions to global warming have been proposed and the technologies to implement them exist. So why hasn't the global community been able to come together and move them forward?

From normalization of the risks (think frog in a pot of water) to fear of the unknown, Wallace-Wells outlines many possible reasons as to why we have settled into uneasy complacency. And yet, he remains optimistic, writing in closing, "if there is to be any chance of preserving even the hope for that happier future…[c]all me crazy, or better yet naive, but I still think we can."

Though the sentiment is meant to leave the reader feeling she can make a difference, it doesn't do much to erase the existential dread that permeates the book. Yes, we want to be optimistic, but that dread keeps tugging at us, sapping our energy and resolve. Wallace-Wells implores us to snap out of it. As yet another record-setting wildfire season in the American West makes all too clear, we need to lean into that dread and ramp up our sense of urgency, not to mention agency, with respect to global warming. Educating ourselves about the challenge is a great way to start and sharing what we learn with others is a critical next step. Climate change is everyone's problem, in that almost everyone will be impacted. As he writes, "there is no single way to best tell the story of climate change….Any story that sticks is a good one."

Wallace-Wells has written a pretty powerful one.

Headshot_issy_nesciIzzy Nesci, a former intern in the Insights department at Candid, is an environmental studies major at Bucknell University.   

Remote Onboarding: Set Up New Hires for Success

September 11, 2020

Remote_onboardingWhat was once unthinkable — hiring someone over Zoom without ever interviewing him or her in person – is, like so much else in our lives in 2020, becoming the norm. At Koya Leadership Partners, we noticed in April and May that many of our clients were uncomfortable with video-only interviewing processes but by June and July were plowing ahead, fully aware that there really wasn't any other option.

We've also heard from hiring managers who've developed safe ways to meet candidates in person as the (video) interview process enters its final stages. One CEO I know set up a series of socially-distanced one-on-one meetings in a public park. Another decided to take Zoom to the next level and have "Zoom coffees" with finalist candidates in an attempt to recreate the less-formal meetings they might have had pre-pandemic.

But what happens after you've negotiated all the challenges of hiring a new employee through a video-interview process and that person is about to start her new role remotely? In a COVID world, how do you successfully onboard a new hire and set her up for success in her role while also familiarizing her with your organizational culture?

Here are a few tips for remote onboarding that you may find useful during these unusual — and unusually challenging — times:

Begin the onboarding process before a new employee's first day. Your new hire won't have the benefit of coming into an office environment, being able to ask questions of those around him, and spontaneously striking up new work-based relationships. You can help jump-start all this by strategically setting the stage for onboarding before an employee's first day. Send the employee a welcome package with an assortment of gifts or swag (anything with the organization's logo that can be displayed on a desktop is a good idea) and any HR documents that need to be signed. A hand-written note from the hiring manager and the employee's future teammates is an especially nice gesture. You should also share the employee's onboarding schedule as soon as it's available so that he knows what to expect and which tech tools and platforms he'll be using.

Speaking of tech, you want to focus on it as soon as a hire has been finalized. Communications platforms are critical during the remote period leading up to a new employee's first day on the job. Make sure new hires are familiar with all the platforms and software they'll be expected to use and that their home-office setups are integrated with your systems and fully functioning. New hires will feel particularly adrift if it takes a while to get up to speed with what's happening at their new place of work.

Consider culture. It's particularly hard for new team members to acclimate to an organizational culture when everyone is working remotely. But many organizations have figured out and are using communications platforms to build and strengthen culture. You can, too. Are there unofficial Slack channels about cooking or movies or other topics that a new hire might be interested in? Be sure to highlight those. It's also a good idea to be intentional about video meetings. Be sure to hold regularly scheduled virtual town halls or team meetings that give employees an opportunity to come together in one (virtual) place to learn together and get to know one another.

Proactively facilitate connections. Pair the new team member with a mentor and a peer who can show them the ropes, answer their questions, and serve as guides to the culture. Task the mentor or "buddy" with setting up regular virtual lunches or coffees with the new hire until they are fully acclimated, and proactively schedule virtual "meet and greets" with other team members (rather than assuming they'll happen on their own).

Set expectations. Carve out some time to talk to your new hire specifically about communications norms and practices. How and when do teams communicate? When do folks send an email or make a phone call instead of using Slack? Are there norms around response time? Are there places or methods for sharing wins or celebrating birthdays? Also be sure to talk about work hours and schedules and to let your new team member know what the expectations are around her online presence and activity (e.g., does the organization support flex hours/schedules? Are employees expected to check emails early in the day? late in the day? all day? Are they expected to be available on weekends?).

Maintain structured communications with your new employee longer than you might in a more normal situation. New hires should have a weekly (at least) check-in with their manager and, ideally, twice a week for the first few weeks. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to reach out if they need additional support beyond regularly scheduled check-in calls. This kind of ongoing communication — both scheduled and impromptu — is key for successfully onboarding new employees in a work-from-home situation where they are unable to walk over to a colleague's desk to ask a question.

Remote onboarding isn't ideal. But with planning and the right kind of follow-through, it is possible to do it well and set a new hire up for long-term success. Good luck!

Headshot_molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

To help communities survive crises, trust and invest in their leadership

September 08, 2020

Kresge_fresh_lo_initiative_2Amid multiple ongoing crises, foundations are struggling with how best to support the nonprofit sector — in particular, community-based organizations working to address a raging pandemic, police violence, and systemic racism.

Led by people with a wealth of lived experience, community-based groups have long been a critical source of support for under-resourced neighborhoods struggling to rise above interconnected challenges, including insufficient access to fresh and affordable food, clean air, and safe, healthy housing.

By listening to and investing in local organizations, philanthropy has helped accelerate resident-centered collaborative approaches that have made it possible for such groups to pivot to meet immediate COVID-related needs and maintain their financial footing during an economic downturn that has forced many nonprofits to shut their doors.

One such group, the Memphis-based Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC), which works to promote people-first property development, support affordable home ownership, and train new food entrepreneurs in English, Spanish, and Arabic, hasn't missed a beat since COVID emerged as a public health crisis earlier this spring. Although the virus forced the organization to pause its regular programming to ensure proper social distancing, it is still hard at work making sure the small food businesses it supports have the resources they need to navigate these uncertain times and sustain themselves in a post-pandemic world. Recently, for example, it secured a catering deal for one local entrepreneur to prepare food for emergency medical staff, helping that small business owner earn the income needed to survive while supporting critical frontline workers.

And BDC isn't alone. Montbello Organizing Committee, a group of community organizers and developers based in Denver’s multiracial Montbello neighborhood, responded to the pandemic by immediately organizing emergency food distribution and working with partners to distribute meals to more than eight hundred people a day. In New Brunswick, New Jersey, resident-led nonprofit Elijah's Promise has provided twice-daily meals to locals out of its community soup kitchen and is serving more than three times as many meals today as it did before the virus became a concern. And through its Corner Store Witness initiative, the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and its community partners recently held a virtual convening to discuss the challenges immigrant-owned corner stores in inner-city neighborhoods are facing and what can be done to provide a path forward to long-term healing and the building of real community power. All these organizations are working locally to meet the needs of the communities in which they are embedded and are examples of the idea that in times of crisis, hyper-local investment is essential for community survival.

About five years ago, the Kresge Foundation developed a grant program, Fresh Local & Equitable (FreshLo), to support resident-led approaches to community challenges that prioritizes cultural expression and food as a social determent of health. A joint initiative of Kresge's Health and Arts & Culture programs, FreshLo intentionally integrates food, art, and creative approaches to community building to drive neighborhood revitalization equitably.

One of our top priorities is raising up resident-centered, collective action that includes the voices of those who live and work in the community. During the grantmaking process, we intentionally looked for neighborhoods that have lacked access to foundation funding — especially those in the South and Midwest. We knew that groups on the ground were already doing important community-driven work and we hoped the funding we could provide would help seed new networks, bring resident-led projects to life, and develop infrastructure that could support their neighborhoods over time.

The twenty-three community-based groups we selected were already doing the work needed to drive long-term neighborhood change — the type of work Kresge has been exploring for nearly a decade through its Creative Placemaking efforts, which are based on the idea that progress depends on a more nuanced understanding of urban inequality and how arts, culture, and community-engaged design intersect with strategies to expand opportunities for residents in low-income communities.

It was the social cohesion and vision shared by residents in these neighborhoods that excited us and created, in our view, the essential pre-conditions for long-term change. That vision also served as a vital ground wire for the collective action needed to mitigate some of the impacts related to the pandemic and structural racism.

Over the past six months, we've seen these organizations evolve their programs and services to meet emerging needs of their communities. We had a hunch that investing in resident-driven collective action and cultural solutions would help strengthen communities that had been neglected for decades; the pandemic has proven that hunch right. The results of our grantees' efforts show that place-based, culture-first investing is critical in times of crisis.

In Minnesota, Native-led community organization and FreshLo grantee Dream of Wild Health has tripled its farmland with support from Kresge. During a pandemic — when food sovereignty is paramount — the organization's sustainable farming practices, informed by Indigenous knowledge and traditions, have proven key to meeting the growing food needs of its community. Not only is the group cultivating its land to yield more fresh produce for current and future generations, it's also delivering food to elders who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus and supporting other members of the community impacted by COVID and ongoing protests against racial injustice.

Similarly, In Oakland, FreshLo grantee Planting Justice has spent decades mobilizing people impacted by mass incarceration to work toward neighborhood revitalization and food sovereignty. Since the pandemic began, the organization has shifted work at its plant nursery to provide critical produce and smoothie distribution to more than a thousand neighbors a week. As its community faces job loss and economic challenges, it also has taken on forty paid interns, creating new opportunities for professional development and routing money to local families, supported by additional COVID-response funding from Kresge.

Like Montbello, Elijah's Promise, and IMAN, the organization's ability to quickly pivot and use resources where they are most needed is a testament to the trust it has built up and its commitment to its neighbors. Investments in social infrastructure and the leadership of groups like Dream of Wild Health and Planting Justice can only strengthen their work.

For historically underresourced and marginalized neighborhoods, and the people who live in them, responding to crises is nothing new. But they are more likely to survive a crisis when strong community connections already exist and they receive the support needed to take neighborhood-level action. The lessons from the FreshLo initiative suggest that investments in social cohesion, local leadership, and community enterprises can yield huge dividends.

The crises we are grappling with today — and those to follow — require that we lean on our neighbors. The strongest safety nets are constructed out of local knowledge, relationships, and community action, and philanthropy should do what it can to support them.

(Photo credit: Kresge Foundation Fresh Local & Equitable Initiative)

Stacey_Barbas_Regina_R_Smith_PhilanTopic

Stacey Barbas is a senior program officer in the Health program and Regina R. Smith is managing director of the Arts & Culture program at the Kresge Foundation.

5 ways to use your donor data for #GivingTuesday

September 04, 2020

Donate-now#GivingTuesday is a global day of generosity that usually takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In 2019, $1.97 billion was raised on that Tuesday alone. And this year, nonprofits have an opportunity to build on that success and generate even more support for their programs and mission.

As you and your colleagues begin to prepare for this year's event and start to brainstorm strategies to maximize your organization's success, consider how donor data can help. From conducting prospect research before the big day to analyzing the data afterwards, there are many ways that donor data can be used to elevate your #GivingTuesday results specifically and overall fundraising results more generally.

Below, we consider in more detail some of the most effective ways to utilize donor data, including:

  1. keeping your data clean
  2. identifying your best prospects
  3. segmenting your donors
  4. optimizing future outreach
  5. looking for opportunities to match gifts

Let's take a closer look at each of our recommendations for putting donor data to good use this #GivingTuesday.

1. Keep your donor data clean. We've found that it's easier to use donor data when that data is clean. Strategizing and designing a #GivingTuesday campaign with incorrect data can negatively impact relationships with donors you've spent so much effort cultivating. If you're looking for an in-depth explanation about the importance of data hygiene, check out this article from AccuData.

The easiest way to create and maintain clean data is to use a CRM (constituent relationship management) database. A CRM compiles information about each of your constituents in individual profiles, enabling you to easily access any donor's giving history, communications activity, and relationship status.

With a CRM, you can also do the following to clean your data:

  • remove duplicate profiles
  • verify that a donor's contact information is up-to-date
  • remove the profiles of donors who haven't given in many years (although you should send a final appeal to them before removing their profiles from the system)
  • search for donors who have passed away since your last communication
  • egment your donors into relevant groupings

Once you've cleaned the data, analyze it for insights that can help you craft an effective outreach strategy. #GivingTuesday only comes around once a year, so make sure your planning for it is based on the best data you can get your hands on.

2. Identify new prospects. After you've cleaned your donor data, take the time to analyze it. Part of that process is what we call prospect research. Simply put, prospect research is the process of researching your would-be supporters to see which of them is most able and willing to donate to your organization. Some of the prospects you identify through the process will become regular supporters of your organization and a few of them could even have a significant impact by contributing a major gift.

Major donors should always be a priority for your organization. Some fundraising professionals even go so far as to say that 89 percent of a nonprofit's fundraising revenue should come from just 14 percent of its donors. That's why it's important to start cultivating these relationships as soon as you can — major donors tend to give their biggest gifts to organizations that consistently and authentically engage with them.

Determining which of your supporters is most likely to be a major donor before #GivingTuesday gives you the chance to approach them ahead of time and see where they stand.

To conduct prospect research efficiently, start by filtering your donor data using wealth and charitable indicators:

  • Wealth indicators. Things like real estate ownership, stock holdings, business affiliations, and so on will give you an idea of an individual's capacity to give.
  • Charitable indicators. A donor's past giving patterns, his or her relationship to your cause, his or her political contributions history, and so on will give you an idea of his or her willingness to give.

While you can conduct prospect research manually, your best bet is to invest in a tool built for the purpose. To learn more about how all these factors can be brought together to create useful profiles of your donors, check out our Essentials for Prospect Research guide.

3. Segment your donors. You can also use donor data to segment your donors. This is a great marketing strategy and is something you should do both before and after #GivingTuesday. Why?

Donor segmentation helps you better communicate and reach out to supporters in ways that are most likely to catch their attention and encourage their engagement.

You already know that donor data is key to beginning and sustaining valuable relationships. And, as we've noted, a good CRM will store and organize all your data for effective management.

Once your data is organized in your CRM, you can start grouping supporters. Segment your database into different lists based on key metrics and then formulate different communication strategies for each one. You can, for instance, segment donors by:

  • donation frequency
  • preferred method of giving
  • engagement preference or history
  • location
  • age
  • business affiliations
  • volunteer history

All of these factors (and more) should influence how you reach out to supporters before #GivingTuesday (and afterwards). For example, you might find that younger people in your audience prefer to be communicated with via social media, whereas older folks prefer email or even direct mail.

4. Optimize future outreach. One of the best ways to increase response rates, build deeper connections, and improve donor retention is to personalize your outreach. Simply sending a thank-you email with a donor's name and the size of her gift size will help her remember you the next time she decides to make a donation.

And after #GivingTuesday is over, you're likely have a whole batch of new donors, as well as data about them that will come in handy for your future fundraising and stewardship efforts.

You can use that data to retain some of these new supporters and broaden your donor base in the long run by doing the following:

  • sending personal, targeted appeals asking for a specific contribution amount based on your donor analytics;
  • automating personalized gift receipts and acknowledgments, which can be done by using a mail-merge tool in your CRM;
  • using templated donor letters to explain to supporters how their gifts have advanced your mission and how their future gifts will continue to make an impact.

These and other ideas can help you close out the giving season on a positive note and set up additional donor-cultivation efforts in the new year.

5. Look for opportunities to match gifts. The relationship between nonprofits and for-profit businesses is changing as corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies are adopted by more and more corporations and companies step up to match donations that their employees make to nonprofits.

Unfortunately, many gifts go unmatched simply because donors are unaware that their gifts are match-eligible.

It's estimated that the nonprofit sector misses out on $4 billion to $7 billion in matching funds every year.

This #GivingTuesday, don't leave money on the table. The best ways to incorporate matching gifts into your strategy and ensure you leverage your donors' support to the maximum include:

  • embedding a matching gift database on your donation page that allows donors to look up their company and access any information it may have provided about its matching-gift policies.
  • using software that allows you to automatically look up email address domains provided by donors. If an email address is associated with a company that matches gifts, the donor will be notified of his or her eligibility.

Read more about corporate matching-gift programs and learn how you can maximize your fundraising potential by reviewing Double the Donation's corporate matching gift guide.

There are many ways to analyze and use your donor data. Whether that means identifying prospective donors, segmenting donor profiles, or just keeping your data clean, everything you do with the information you collect will have an impact on your fundraising efforts going forward. But don't take our word for it. Maximize your donation revenue this #GivingTuesday by trying out some or all of these techniques!

Sarah Tedesco_DonorSearch_PhilanTopicSarah Tedesco is executive vice president of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company.

Leading and succeeding during a crisis

September 02, 2020

Diversity_business_people_hands_pxfuelIn the summer of 1999, Michigan State University launched the Campaign for MSU with the aim of raising $1.12 billion, the most audacious fundraising campaign in its history. A few months in, I was recruited to lead fundraising efforts for the university's Libraries, Computing, and Technology department.

I had been working in Los Angeles for several years in various development roles at the California State University system and saw the position at MSU as a logical next step, one that afforded a number of career development opportunities. As I began to get comfortable in my new role, it became clear that the traditional fundraising playbook was no longer as relevant as it had once been. The department needed an approach that combined equal parts creativity, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and a willingness to experiment. After all, we were competing with other departments and professional schools at the university, each commanding a unique loyalty and importance in the eyes of their alumni. So during football season, we capitalized on our prime location within earshot of Spartan Stadium by inviting alumni and established donors and prospects to a tailgate party. Librarians from the university would be on hand to answer questions, marketing materials and campaign flyers would be distributed, and relationships with new and sustaining donors would be forged and strengthened.

And then September 11 happened. Until then I had never been in a position to lead others during a crisis. It's one thing to come up with a creative campaign and see it through from start to finish, accepting the risks and owning the results. But what had been a competition of sorts with other university departments for scarce dollars changed abruptly after the attacks.

As I worked alongside colleagues in other departments in the days that followed, my mindset shifted from competition to collaboration. Regardless of the task at hand, the question I kept asking myself was: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

One of the keys to success in higher education development work is traveling around the country to meet donors in person and earn their trust. But in the weeks and months after 9/11 some at the university were understandably reluctant to get on a plane.

Our solution to the problem was to pursue an approach that emphasized fundraising for the university as a whole, as opposed to fundraising for individual departments. And what quickly became apparent in my in-person visits and phone calls with high-net-worth alumni was their deep, unabashed appreciation for the fact that departments that sometimes competed with each other for precious resources were now collaborating. We were a single team with a single mission: strengthen the university we worked for and loved.

Learning to collaborate during a crisis was a key building block in my leadership development. And taking collective action to achieve a unifying goal while keeping the best interests of one's colleagues in mind has never been more important than it is today.

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, where I serve as chief operating officer, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt our business model to ensure continuity in our mission — serving the nation's military, veterans, first-responders, and their families. In coordination with the marketing and communications department, we launched a dedicated campaign called Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. Donations made to the campaign have bolstered our First Responders Outreach program and enabled us to increase the number of grants we award to underfunded fire and police departments. Since we launched the campaign on April 1, we've raised and distributed more than $1.43 million, enabling sixty-one first-responder departments to purchase 5,650 pieces of personal protective equipment and gear. Financial assistance, grocery gift cards, and other forms of support have reached countless individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

We've also expanded our Serving Heroes initiative, delivering thousands of additional free meals to healthcare workers at hospitals across the country as well as service members and their families at military bases in the U.S. and overseas.

The ongoing success of the campaign is largely attributable to our employees making a seamless transition to working remotely. We decided at the outset of the pandemic to shift staff and resources to departments in need; for example, our events team was called on to support the outreach department, which fields dozens of calls a day and supports an untold number of veterans, Gold Star families, and others seeking various forms of assistance.

In the months since COVID-19 upended our routines, many of our employees, empowered by leadership, their peers, and their own initiative, have developed new skills, revealing unknown talents and interests that benefit not only the organization but their future careers.

As the public health emergency continues to impact communities across the United States, nonprofit organizations are dealing with multiple crises affecting not only their day-to-day operations but their internal and external stakeholders as well.

Although the economy is slowly recovering, millions of Americans remain unemployed and Americans' mental health and well-being remains precarious. And with recent protests reawakening the nation's conscience, some kind of tipping point seems to be near.

Working to address these crises at both the individual and organizational levels has forced me to evolve as a leader — one who grounds her actions in empathy — and has reinforced for me the values of collaboration and personal empowerment. As was the case some twenty years ago, the question I continue to ask myself is: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

(Photo credit: pxfuel)

Elizabeth_Fields_PhilanTopic

Elizabeth Fields is COO and Brandon Black is  senior communications writer at the Gary Sinise Foundation.

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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