54 posts categorized "author-Michael Seltzer"

UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, Part (2): Every Woman, Every Child

September 29, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about New York City's "neighborhood of conscience.")

MaternalhealthIndia The worst tragedies in history are often those that could have been avoided. Could untold numbers been saved from death at the hand of the Nazis if the Allies had bombed railroad lines used to transport them to concentration camps before and after D-Day? Could the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been avoided through more behind-the-scenes diplomacy? Answers to such difficult questions are not easy to divine.

In contrast, the course of action needed to avert a twenty-first-century tragedy was readily apparent at last week's UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, where UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon unveiled Every Woman, Every Child, the UN's global strategy for improving women's and children's health. As one of the speakers at Wednesday's event, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, pointed out, we know which strategies and interventions work, thanks in part to decades of work undertaken (and -written) by governments, foundations, NGOs, UN agencies, and other multilateral institutions. The issue now is finding the collective will -- and resources -- to implement them.

At the event, Graça Machel, the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, issued a three-part challenge: put women and children at the center of the political agenda; invest in fielding health professionals who can provide quality care; and make sure that women take responsibility for seeking needed healthcare services.

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9/11: Lest We Forget

September 11, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the Cordoba House controversy.)

9-11_memorial Nine years ago today, on a similarly gorgeous morning in the Northeast, almost three thousand individuals lost their lives in coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 43 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The horror of 9/11 will never be forgotten by the tens of thousands of people who lost loved ones or the hundreds of millions around the world who watched or listened to the terrible events of that day unfold on television, radio, or the Internet.

Nine years later, as we honor the innocent victims of the attacks and the hundreds of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to help others, let us also remember that the attacks were designed to strike at the core of what most sets America apart from every other nation in history: Its (sometimes fraught) embrace of pluralism, freedom of expression, and the right to worship in one's own fashion.

Nothing illustrates the unique nature of the American experiment better than the fact that individuals from 77 different countries lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Here's the list of countries, courtesy of the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Information Programs:

Antigua & Barbuda Ghana Panama
Argentina Greece Peru
Australia Guatemala Philippines
Austria Guyana Poland
Bahamas Haiti Portugal
Bangladesh Honduras Romania
Barbados Hong Kong Russia
Belgium India Slovakia
Belarus Indonesia South Africa
Belize Iran South Korea
Bolivia Ireland Spain
Brazil Israel Sri Lanka
Cambodia Italy St. Kitts & Nevis
Canada Jamaica St. Lucia
Chile Japan Sweden
China Jordan Switzerland
Colombia Kenya Taiwan
Costa Rica Lebanon Thailand
Czech Republic Luxembourg Trinidad & Tobago
Dominica Malaysia Turkey
Dominican Republic Mexico Ukraine
Ecuador Netherlands United Kingdom
Egypt New Zealand Uruguay
El Salvador Nicaragua United States
France Norway Uzbekistan
Germany Pakistan Zimbabwe

On this, the ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember and honor all those who lost their lives, celebrate our differences, and stand together for peace, tolerance, and international understanding.

-- Michael Seltzer

NYC's 'Neighborhood of Conscience'

August 20, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about African philanthropy.)

Cordoba_house Lower Manhattan is many things to many people: hub of global finance, a mosaic of ethnic enclaves, funky residential neighborhood with breath-taking views of New York harbor, and, of course, backdrop for the most devastating of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But thanks to a series of unrelated real estate transactions over the years, it has also emerged as the world's first "neighborhood of conscience." That term was coined in the 1990s after the Rockefeller Foundation invited a seemingly disparate group of nonprofit visionaries to its conference center in Bellagio, Italy -- a group that included the leadership of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, Russia's Gulag Museum, and the District 6 Museum in South Africa, among others.

At that meeting, these nonprofits found common cause: a shared commitment to relating the past to the present, building "lasting cultures of human rights," and engaging "ordinary people in dialogue on social issues...through the establishment of sites [of conscience]."

In recognition of its importance, the sites of conscience movement has attracted the support of a number of foundations and philanthropies over the years, including the Compton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Oak Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

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Off the Pitch: African Philanthropy Comes Into Its Own

July 13, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the ascendancy of the global women's health movement.)

Phil-in-africa Never before have the eyes of the world been so focused on the continent of Africa. On Sunday, seven hundred million people viewed the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain from Soccer City in Johannesburg, while throughout a month's worth of earlier matches, millions more were introduced to the prowess of national teams from Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Algeria.

What viewers didn't get to see, however, are the first real signs of an emergent and vibrant civil society in many of Africa's fifty-three nations. That's a shame, because in my two trips to Africa this year, I've witnessed firsthand how nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic foundations are reshaping the continent's social and economic landscape.

In Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, a momentous event in the history of organized giving on the continent occurred in January when the TY Danjuma Foundation opened its doors. What made the occasion particularly noteworthy is the source of wealth behind the foundation.

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"It’s Our Time": The Ascendancy of the Global Women’s Health Movement

June 23, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the war on the poor.)

Pakistan_Eid When do you know a cause has "arrived"?

Pinpointing the exact moment is no easy task. We know that social movements usually coalesce as a result of scores, if not hundreds, of disconnected local efforts. But an international conference, like the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, is a pretty good sign that a cause's moment has come. Indeed, in addition to the networking and peer-exchange opportunities they provide, such gatherings often create the "lift" any movement needs to become a global cause célèbre.

For me, the recent Women Deliver gathering in Washington, D.C., where more than 3,500 delegates from over 146 countries came together to discuss a shared agenda focused on the reduction of mortality rates among women, newborns, and infants, signaled beyond any doubt that the global women's health movement has arrived.

During the three-day event, attendees were treated to six plenaries, a hundred and twenty breakout sessions, and more than eight hundred speeches and presentations. And one didn't have to look far to find a shocking statistic. For me, the one that best summed up the challenge we face was this: Every minute of every day, a woman somewhere on the planet dies and thirty other women suffer long-lasting injury or illness from preventable pregnancy-related causes and complications.

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The War on the Poor

April 21, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he spoke with Gloria Steinem about the economic downturn and its impact on women and nonprofit organizations that serve and support women and girls.)

Keep_your_coins_i_want_change In the midst of a recession that has seen millions join the ranks of the poor (the "new poor," as Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem’s Children Zone, calls them), one might expect to encounter more empathy for low-income Americans.

One group, however, isn't that sympathetic -- Tea Party members and conservative radio and television commentators. Indeed, to hear them tell it, concern for the poor, whether they struggle to make ends meet in the hollows of Appalachia or the barrios of South-Central Los Angeles, leads to one thing and one thing only: Big Government. And Big Government, as any Tea Partier will tell you, is the cause of our economic and political woes.

In an eye-opening front-page article ("Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated," April 14, 2010), New York Times reporters Kate Zernike and Megan Thee-Brenan shared some fascinating Tea Party data. According to a Times poll, a majority of self-identified Tea Party rank-and-filers said the policies of the Obama administration favor the poor, while 25 percent felt the administration favors blacks over whites (compared with 11 percent of the general public).

Such views are buttressed by the rantings of a small but vocal segment of the chattering class. The right-wing radio commentator Glenn Beck, for example, recently launched a campaign to vilify well-respected political scientist and City University of New York professor Frances Fox Piven for her work on behalf of the nation's poor.

Piven's crime?

As Peter Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich explain in an article in the Nation ("What Really Happened to Welfare," April 12, 2010), Piven and her late husband, Richard Cloward, hatched a "plot" some forty-five years ago in the pages of the Nation to get civil rights groups, social service agencies, and others to enroll large numbers of the eligible poor in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. The idea, says Beck, was to impose large spending obligations on the public sector, thus "breaking the system."

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A Chat with Gloria Steinem

February 15, 2010

(Regular contributor Michael Seltzer spoke with Gloria Steinem last week about the economic downturn and its impact on women and nonprofit organizations that serve and support women and girls. In his last post, Seltzer shared his thoughts about what donors to Haiti relief efforts can learn from past disasters.)

Steinem Michael Seltzer: There has been a lot of discussion among nonprofit leaders about the fact that nonprofits have become the nation's de facto safety net for those most affected by the economic downturn. Do you agree? And what do you think the Obama administration should be doing to address the situation?

Gloria Steinem: Americans need more than a safety net. They really need a trampoline to get back on their feet. The New Deal provided that by creating jobs at the bottom, where they were needed most. In this recession, in contrast, all we've seen are "trickle down" approaches to the problem. Money has not been injected at the bottom, but instead has gone mostly to the big financial institutions and banks at the top of the heap.

MS: Some journalists have used the term "mancession" to describe this downturn. To what extent do the unemployment numbers support that characterization?

GS: The public is pretty aware that industrial manufacturing and construction have been especially hard hit in this recession, which means we've lost proportionately more of the blue-collar, higher-salary, good-benefit jobs where men tend to be employed than the lower-paid, lower-benefit jobs in the pink-collar ghetto that are disproportionately held by women and people of color.

Those jobs have been in a recession for a long time, but economists and journalists seem to take it more seriously when white males lose jobs or suffer income loss. Job loss is even used to excuse male violence, but never female violence. This shouldn't be a competition for sympathy. A growing number of women find themselves in the position of having to support their families on less money than might have been the case a few years ago, whether it's because they're the sole breadwinner for the family or because their male partners are now out of work. In any case, most women are working at two jobs, with one being inside the home. In fact, one of the positive things that could come out of this recession is if more men become equal partners and parents at home.

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What Donors Can Learn From Past Disasters

January 21, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he wrote about the late Brooke Astor's many contributions to and generous support for neighborhood development efforts in New York City.)

By a twist of fate, I was president of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers (now Philanthropy New York) during both the Indian Ocean tsunami and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The New York City area has the greatest concentration of international donors in the world. Major international foundations such as the Atlantic Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, and Rockefeller Foundation, and multinational corporations such as Citigroup, American Express, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, among others, are all based in the metropolitan area.

As a result of their presence, it was clear to us at NYRAG that we had an important role to play in galvanizing a philanthropic response to disasters outside our area. At the same time, the efforts of NYRAG members after 9/11 had resulted in a number of important lessons for donors that could be applied to other disasters.

By the time the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated communities from Thailand to Kenya, private donors had recognized that traditional governmental mechanisms and "first-line" responders such as the Red Cross were no longer enough to respond effectively to a major international disaster. Individual donors, foundations, and corporate donors were all needed to ensure that affected communities had the resources at their disposal to rebuild. Indeed, much can be gleaned from the experiences of grantmakers that responded to those two disasters -- experiences that can serve as guideposts for the massive charitable effort under way to help the people and nation of Haiti.

Key lessons:

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Brooke Astor, the People's Philanthropist: Neighborhood Development

January 08, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he wrote about the late Brooke Astor's many contributions to and generous support for public spaces in New York City.)

BrookeAstor_deskBrooke Russell Astor became president of the Vincent Astor Foundation on January 27, 1960, almost a year to the day after her third and last husband, Vincent Astor, the great-great-grandson of America's first multi-millionaire, John Jacob Astor, died of a heart attack at the age of 67. It was the beginning of what would turn out to be a tumultuous decade for America and the world, and the 59-year-old Mrs. Astor would use her position and fortune over the course of the decades that followed to become one of the most prominent and respected philanthropists in the country.

Along the way, she became an early proponent of a new form of urban development driven by community activists rather than all-powerful city planners (e.g., Robert Moses). Those activists rejected massive public housing projects as the answer to urban America's problems and sought to restore the economic and social vitality of New York City's four hundred-plus neighborhoods through genuine grassroots efforts.

The Astor Foundation's entry point into that work was its interest in youth. Although Vincent Astor himself never had children, he had a strong interest in what was then referred to as "disadvantaged youth." After his death, his wife honored that interest through an array of grants to youth development organizations in the city, including Project Broad Jump, Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, and Harlem Prep. In 1961 the foundation made its biggest grant up to that point, an award of $1.25 million, to United Neighborhood Houses in support of the latter's efforts to provide pre-teen programs at settlement houses throughout the city.

Grants like that were the catalyst for Mrs. Astor's increasingly frequent forays into the city's diverse neighborhoods. And as she traveled about, she witnessed firsthand the destruction inflicted on once-vibrant communities through ill-considered "urban redevelopment" schemes and came to learn how terribly misguided the then-favored approach to poverty amelioration was. Coney Island, where hundreds of one- and two-family homes were bulldozed to make way for multi-story apartment buildings, was, in her mind, the most egregious example of these wrong-headed policies. As she said on more than one occasion, "High rise, high crime."

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Brooke Astor, the People’s Philanthropist - Part One: Public Spaces

November 11, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. His last post was an ode to the T-shirt.)

Astor_scan On December 8, Anthony Marshall, the 85-year-old son of Brooke Astor, will be sentenced in a Manhattan courtroom for knowingly taking financial advantage of his mother in her declining years. For those of us with some connection to Mrs. Astor, the end of a trial that lasted five months and produced thousands of pages of recorded transcript will go down as one of the saddest epilogues ever attached to a beloved public figure's life.

Fortunately, for the hundreds of nonprofit organizations in New York City that received support from the Vincent Astor Foundation over the years, Mrs. Astor will be remembered in a far different light. Indeed, few foundations in my lifetime have been so positively associated with a single individual -- or admired so widely.

While some have tried to portray her as a twentieth-century Lady Bountiful, the characterization has never gained traction. Mrs. Astor took her philanthropy quite seriously, as evidenced by the twenty or so site visits she made each year. And while the New York Times' Bill Cunningham would regularly photograph her at swanky after-dark fundraisers, few managed to capture her image as she traveled to Harlem, Morrisania, Chinatown, and scores of other neighborhoods in the city’s five boroughs. Even in the two reports produced by the Astor Foundation over a forty-year period, she made sure the photographs were of the people she visited and not of herself.

Indeed, while other individuals with her social standing limited their philanthropic support to the city's museums, performing arts organizations, and other high-profile institutions, Mrs. Astor chose to reach into communities served by organizations that were rarely the beneficiaries of the New York elite and was never afraid to trust her instincts.

A closer examination of the Vincent Astor Foundation's achievements reveals her wisdom -- and gives us a picture of an individual distinguished by bold, insightful, and impressive talent.

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An Ode to the T-Shirt

September 04, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about Independent Sector's "Envisioning Our Future" initiative.)

Girl_effect It's Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer. Like many of you, I'll be spending it in jeans and a comfortable T-shirt, relaxing with friends and recharging my batteries.

Those who know me, know I love T-shirts. Not the $250 Brioni kind recently written up in the New York Times. No, I'm talking about tees associated with organizations and causes that throughout the years have shaped my life and life’s work. I don't know what it is, but a T-shirt with an eye-catching design or clever slogan creates an instant connection between the wearer and others, even in unfamiliar surroundings. In 1966, for example, I was traveling across southern Cameroon and came across a boy on a bike sporting the logo of Slippery Rock State University. That shirt was a long way from home, but somehow it helped bridge the gap between us.

As you might imagine, after more than four decades of social activism, my closets are stuffed with T-shirts that mean something to me. My collection is so extensive, in fact, that out of necessity we’ve had to adopt a household rule: Every time I buy a new T-shirt, I have to dispose of an older one. Rules were made to be broken, and I periodically flaunt that one. I mean, how could I ever part with my "Kaapu for Mayor" T-shirt (circa 1969), even though it hasn't fit me for...oh, twenty years. It doesn't matter. It just makes make me happy to remember all those times I wore it and, in so doing, gave a "shout out" to the first native Hawai’ian to run for mayor of Honolulu.

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'Envisioning Our Future': A Bold Initiative Comes to Nonprofit Street

July 28, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about the case for sustainable funding.)

Crowd_in_motion Reinventing organizations under the best of circumstances is not easy, so imagine how difficult it is to promote organizational change and innovation in tough economic times. Yet, at the invitation of Independent Sector, that's exactly what seventy-five nonprofit leaders hope to do this week. With the support of the El Pomar Foundation, they will be gathering for the next three days in Colorado Springs to launch IS’ Envisioning Our Future initiative.

The goals of the gathering could not be more timely: to elicit new thinking and strategies that nonprofit managers can use to stave off the financial wolves at their doors while also examining how government, business, foundations, and nonprofits can work in concert to strengthen the social and civic fabric at the local, national, and global levels.

In announcing the effort last week, IS president Diana Aviv was quick to point out that the gathering is meant to kick off a rich conversation that will culminate with a series of "labs" at Independent Sector’s annual meeting in Detroit this fall. Stephen Heinz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Marguerite W. Kondracke, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, are co-chairing the campaign.

Of course, I couldn't help but notice that the name IS chose for the initiative -- Envisioning Our Future -- is reminiscent of the title of my own book, Securing Your Organization’s Future, the idea for which was "birthed" almost thirty years ago as the Reagan Revolution was gathering steam and responsibility for the public's welfare was being "devolved" from the public to the private sector.

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Strategies for Hard Times: The Case for Sustainable Funding

June 11, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he answered some frequently asked questions about how nonprofits stand to gain from the economic stimulus package.)

Green_shoots2 The news from the nonprofit sector is not good. Despite a year-to-date return of more than 5 percent in the S&P 500 that may have brightened the mood for some on Wall Street, there has been little to cheer on Nonprofit Street, where funding and donations are down, demand for services is up, and the future is uncertain. Indeed, a recent article in Crain's New York Business ("Nonprofits Gird for Long Battle," Miriam Souccar, June 7) underscores just how deep and long-lasting the impact of this economic downturn on nonprofits is likely to be.

The release earlier this week of the Giving USA Foundation’s annual survey of charitable giving further confirmed what nonprofit leaders already knew. Overall charitable giving in 2008 dropped 5.7 percent (in inflation-adjusted terms) -- the first decline in overall giving since 1987 and only the second since Giving USA began publishing annual reports in 1956. Given current giving trends and the real prospect they could persist into 2010 and beyond, what steps can and should grantmakers take to help their grantees -- past, present, and prospective -- survive and thrive in these very tough times?

One idea that has begun to gain traction among donors is to think beyond the historic constructs -- project/program, general support, unrestricted, capital, etc. -- that we, as a field, have used to conceptualize our grants.

Instead, a growing number of foundations are beginning to think of themselves as "builders" rather than "buyers." At the risk of oversimplifying the distinction, buyers award grants with an eye to achieving specific programmatic outcomes, while builders, always mindful of outcomes, seek to help grantees strengthen their organizational capacity so as to achieve greater impact in the future. To the extent that "buying" is limited to a relatively short-term transaction rather than a longer-term interest in the organizational well-being of the grantee, it is not an especially productive activity. Which leads me to ask: What foundation would want to be a buyer rather than a builder in today's environment?

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Council on Foundations 60th Annual Meeting -- Down, But Not Out

May 06, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. He reported on the Women's Funding Network's 15th Annual Meeting in his previous post.)

Green_shoots As a veteran of more than thirty Council on Foundations annual meetings, I must confess that each year I experience some trepidation in advance of another gathering.

Flying to Atlanta last Friday, I was concerned that the almost 30 percent drop in the value of foundation endowments would dampen the resolve of funders to tackle many of the seemingly intractable problems on our doorstep -- problems that have been exacerbated by the global economic downturn. Or that many foundations would not seize this moment as an opportunity to break out of old ways of doing business.

But in session after session at this year's conference, with speakers ranging from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to Distinguished Grantmaker of the Year Award winner Robert Hohler, executive director of the Melville Charitable Trust, attendees were urged to think boldly, innovate, and step up to the plate in "audacious" ways.

Much to my relief, the foundation and corporate grantmakers in attendance here are not lacking in resolve or appetite for a challenge –- whether it's the need for fundamental change in the nation's healthcare system, accelerating our conversion to a more sustainable economy, addressing surging homelessness, speaking out against the erosion of human rights in other countries, or countering anti-immigrant sentiment at home.

Here's a short list of some of the other noteworthy developments at this year's meeting:

  • the strong presence and engagement of "Next Gen" leaders, propelled in part by the work of Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy
  • the embrace and growing importance of blogs, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 tools
  • new issues on the table, including sex slavery/trafficking and class and inequality
  • the release of a number of valuable reports and tools, including Smarter Grantmaking in Challenging Economic Times (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations), Catalytic Change: Lessons Learned from the Racial Justice Grantmaking Assessment (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity in partnership with the Applied Research Center), and Foundation Diversity Policies and Practices Toolkit (California Endowment)
  • renewed calls for more flexible, unrestricted, multiyear, and, yes, sustainable support from both grantees and grantmakers
  • more examples of groundbreaking public policy and advocacy work
  • greater evidence of funders working in concert with their peers rather than in isolation

When Gayle Williams, executive director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, announces that her board has decided to keep giving at pre-recession levels for the next three years or the leader of a family foundation and a nonprofit partner huddle on how to effectively support key organizations in Zimbabwe, one can't help but feel admiration and respect for the work of organized philanthropy. I, for one, am thankful to be a member of the choir.

-- Michael Seltzer

Women in the Spotlight: Women's Funding Network 15th Anniversary Annual Meeting

May 04, 2009

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he answered a number of frequently asked questions about economic stimulus package funding for nonprofits.)

Women_hands Every year, grantmakers from across the nation and many corners of the globe gather to network, listen to subject experts, and explore collaborative opportunities with their peers at the Council on Foundation's annual conference.

This week, close to 1,400 funders -- down from 2,000 in past years -- have descended on Atlanta for four-plus days of panels, plenaries, and schmoozing. As in the past, the field's other infrastructure organizations find space before and during the crowded CoF schedule to convene as well.

I arrived on Friday to attend the 25th annual gathering of the Women's Funding Network (WFN), which attracted representatives of women's foundations from countries as different as Nepal, South Africa, Liberia, Australia, Canada, and the United States hoping to better understand how women around the world are being affected by the economic "tsunami" and the measures women's funds and their partner organizations are taking in response.

The messages those of us in attendance heard were both sobering and inspiring.

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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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