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'Under Construction': Alaska Native Heritage Center Anchorage

January 29, 2015

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

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

Anchorage, Alaska, is surrounded by natural splendor. Snow-topped mountains soar into clinquant skies, a majestic backdrop for the meeting of two worlds — the monumental grandeur of Alaska's ancient natural environment and the contemporary bustle of the state's largest city.

Straddling both are Alaska's Native people — in particular the tween and teen boys coming of age who are expected to contribute to their communities and provide for their families. That, by historic definition, is what makes a man.

Connected by blood to cultures as vibrant as the land itself, these boys and teens are also living the experience of American millennials. Some come from households steeped in traditional Native values and customs. Some grow up in homes where those norms aren't norms at all. For many, the bridge between their dual identities is the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Heritage_annette-evans-smithThe center is a place for Native youth to just be — to be understood, to be celebrated, to be connected. "Alaska Natives have survived in this state and this environment for more than ten thousand years, and there's a lot of truth and brilliance and knowledge and tradition in what we know," says Heritage Center president and CEO Annette Evans Smith, who works closely with her small staff to guide the development of culturally enriching activities. "It's our job to instill those values and that knowledge into our young people so that we can create future Elders and tradition-bearers to carry our cultures another ten thousand years."

Since opening in 1999, the center has been a house of knowledge for and about the state's major cultural groups: the Sugpiaq, the Yup'ik, the Athabascan. The Inupiaq, Cup’ik, and Eyak. The Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. The Unungax and St. Lawrence Island Yupik. Interactive collections, workshops, and demonstrations feed the interests of more than a hundred thousand tourists each year, educating the public about these Native peoples. Youth programming employs art, expression, and athletics rooted in Native culture to solidify their knowledge of who they are.

Upstaging Other People's Baggage

For boys between the ages of 15–19, the internal journey to full self-awareness and cultural pride can be complicated by external judgments. Native people comprise 15 percent of the state's population — with half, some 350,000, living in Anchorage — but public perceptions of the state's Native people are disproportionately informed by ugly stereotypes. They're drunk. They're transient. They're lazy. They're not as smart.

None of that is true, of course, not only because stereotypes in general are dangerously baseless, but because no people is just one kind of way. Too often, such stereotypes are born of their perpetrators' fear and laziness. But the targets of such stereotypes are unfairly burdened with the responsibility of disproving them, even as non-Natives inadvertently or intentionally teach their children to believe them, and those kids bring that ignorance to school, where it infects the learning environment with prejudicial, hand-me-down poison.

For some young men, American but not assimilated, it's just easier to distance themselves from or flat out deny their Native heritage than to further complicate the adolescent experience with someone else's racist baggage.

Heritage_stephen-alvarez"A lot of times, Alaska Native students don’t want to claim that they're Native because there's a stigma. They think, 'If other students know, they're going to think less of me'," explains Steven Alvarez, director of arts and education at the Heritage Center. "If they come from a village and English is the second language, they're not able to comprehend what an urban kid would just take for granted. It's kind of like, 'What are you, stupid?' They hide their heritage because it's easier."

Loren Anderson can relate. He's the cultural programs manager now, but once upon a time he was a student himself. "I didn't tell the kids in school that I was Native. People would ask, 'Loren, what are you?’'and I’d say, 'What do you think I am?' If I could pass for something else, I felt that somehow I succeeded. For a long time, I felt guilty or ashamed that I did that. But today," he says, "I realize why I did it, and now I teach the kids."

There's plenty to share with adults, too, and what he and his team hope to do is thwart the need to feel — or make anybody else feel — shame about being Native. "You can cure ignorance. That's our mission. There will always be people who say, 'Natives get free medical care' or 'Natives get free money'. I wish. That'd be awesome," Anderson jokes. "We love people who are like, 'I used the word Eskimo. Is that okay?’ We get to teach them. Then we teach the kids, and then they teach anybody they can. That's a great thing."

The Importance of Feeling Feelings

Alaska Native culture is shaped by a set of 10 shared values that de-emphasizes self and makes paramount the welfare of the entire community. It's evident in principles like:

You are a reflection of your family.

See connections in all things because all things are related.

Honor your Elders; they are the ones who will teach you what you need to know.

Share what you have. Wealth is based on what you give away, not what you accumulate.

What you do affects the next generation.

That beautifully altruistic belief system has sustained Alaska Natives for millennia, but as their population increases — it's doubled over twenty-five years as people move from insulated rural communities to Anchorage — so do critical concerns that require more personalized attention.

The graduation rate for Native youth is just 54 percent — and is lower for boys than for girls. That's in a good year. And, like so many other communities of color, young men are over-represented in the criminal justice system and in terms of drug and alcohol abuse. Most tragically, the suicide rate for Native youth is twelve times the national average, exceeding epidemic proportions.

The root of these problems seems to lie in the stoicism that helps to define manhood in Native culture. "It's not that these boys who commit suicide or are thinking about suicide don't feel anything," Anderson explains. "It's that they're so used to being told not to feel or not to show their feelings. Stoicism is a coping mechanism. In order to get through hard times, men stopped showing their feelings. But how can you not actually feel?"

To help break the cycle, the Heritage Center allocates grant funding to bring in trained counselors who provide vocational and educational counseling services for the young men as needed. It also has developed partnerships with substance abuse organizations to extend the availability of resources and address issues that are internalized and ultimately lead to boys and teens acting out.

Enabling these young men to talk about their emotions frees them in many other ways, too. Maybe they'll find peace outside of alcohol or won't vent their unchecked anger on loved ones at home. Maybe suicide won't enter their minds. And maybe, in time, their concept of masculinity will be tied more closely to the ability to express their feelings rather than the determination not to.

The opportunity to open up at the Heritage Center, where they won't be judged or condemned, is literally life-saving. The challenges are clear, but the strategy to meet those challenges has proven effective. In the fourteen years the program has been operating, the graduation rate for participating students has climbed to 80 percent.

Making Culture Appealing to Youth

Heritage_isaiah-mckenzieSeated in an exhibition hall, surrounded by living artifacts that visually tell the stories of Natives statewide, 15-year-old Isaiah McKenzie has a confidence and articulateness that belies his age. He's not new to the activities offered at the center. He's been attending since middle school, has performed as a drummer and dancer, and this past summer worked on-site in a paid internship position. But it's his first year in the afterschool program that serves high school students, and so far he's enjoying himself.

"It's really awesome to learn who your people are and where you’re from. It's a privilege," he says, nodding in agreement with his own thoughts. "I think the most powerful thing I've learned is respecting and providing for others. It's something we needed to do a long time ago and something we need to practice a lot more today. I’ll carry it with me as I grow up."

Any adult who has ever tried to introduce any information to any teenager in any capacity can appreciate the magnitude of his statement and the enthusiasm with which it is delivered.

The Heritage Center buses students from high schools in the Anchorage School District to participate in programming every Tuesday through Friday and transports them home at the end of each day. Those young men have any number of extracurricular activity options in their respective schools and communities, but they look forward to the activity choices at the center, which offers Native art and dance, arctic athletic games, discussions, and homework assistance.

Middle-schoolers participate in the Walking in Two Worlds program, which is designed to reverse the downward spiral of at-risk students dropping out because of difficulty adjusting, absenteeism, and other behavioral problems. The goal is to get them back on track academically, but staff members trained to work specifically with young Native men also dig into the work of strengthening their social and emotional skills.

Inside the center's main hall, just steps from the area where Isaiah and his fellow dance group mates will welcome Native students visiting from Hawaii, another band of teenagers has commandeered the floor to practice traditional Native games that test their strength, balance, endurance, and stamina — attributes that historically have been prized as much for reasons of survival as they are for demonstrating sporting prowess. Those who do well can compete in the Anchorage Native Youth Olympic Preliminaries, with the possibility of advancing to state-level games and, if they're really good, the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.

Heritage_high-kickOn this day, a young man in bright yellow shorts demonstrates the tenacity that lives in every champion. He's attempting the one-foot high-kick, a traditional Native event that requires the participant to scissor jump and touch a ball hanging above his head with one foot. On this afternoon, no trophies or accolades are on the line. He's just determined to do it for his own personal sense of achievement.

He gets a running start, cheered on by the applause of his friends, scissors his leg up, and misses the ball. He regroups, tries again, and misses again. And again. And again. By the time the kids call it a day, he hasn't hit his target, but his refusal to give up has made him a success in the eyes of everyone there. The support and encouragement he gets from the other young people around him, who have invested themselves in his accomplishment as much as they their own, is telling. Community is alive here.

Celebrating the Makings of Manhood

The rite-of-passage ceremony is a culmination of experiences, the crowning achievement earned after a boy demonstrates the personal qualities that signify his readiness to be introduced to his village and community as an adult. Anderson gives an example: when a boy shoots his first moose as part of the traditional series of events leading up to the declaration of manhood, he isn't allowed to keep it; he's expected to share it with others. It's an exhibition of generosity, selflessness, and responsibility to others that, says Anderson, overlaps with another principle: Children only think of themselves; adults are supposed to think of others.

Proving one's worthiness to be called a man gives those preparing for the journey a chance to grow personally and, at the same time, connect with their Elders. The rite-of-passage experience is an intergenerational one, and its value isn't lost on the young people seeking wholeness in their Native identity.

"A couple of years ago in our high school program," Evans Smith remembers, "we conducted a survey and asked our students, who are fourteen to eighteen, 'What do you need from the Heritage Center?’ They told us, 'Number one, we need time with the Elders, and number two, we need language'. Our youth are hungry for this connection, to know who they are and where they come from. And we firmly believe that when they do, they will do better in life."

It's been ninety years since Raphael Jimmy was a boy. A lifelong resident of one of the rural villages that surround the city he moved to four years ago to be closer to healthcare providers, he's proud of his mentor role at the center. When he was coming of age, he learned what it means to be a man from his father — a tradition in itself — and now, in his later years, he's eager to pass along nine decades' worth of wisdom to young men who are looking to him to help them better understand their Native culture. There's a bonus: In the process, he's learned from them, too.

"I was working with young people, teaching them simple Yup'ik words and phrases like 'hello' and 'How are you', and addressing them by their traditional names. But at the same time," says Jimmy in his Native language, translated by an interpreter, "because I don't have Western education, I learned how to speak some English from them." It's always been the role of Elders to help young people, but the pairing of young and old also gives young people the chance to return the favor.

On the day of the rite-of-passage ceremony, two boys preparing to become men are dressed in brown kuspuks, a traditional garment worn for the occasion. Each sits timidly on the stage of the Heritage Center's main hall. After brief comments by Jimmy, who is visibly joyful about the day's events, they perform a dance with beautifully feathered fans created by Jimmy and his wife who, at 88, is also dancing in the ceremony.

The boys start off timidly at first, but as the drumming intensifies and their initial jitters fade away, they get into it, even smile. It's a big day for them, and hopefully a preview of the accomplishment to come for the many other young men who are expected to follow in their footsteps. In the miracle and masterpiece that is Alaska itself, that pride in continuing the circle of tradition, love, and community for the state's most resilient population is part of the Heritage Center's handiwork.

— Janelle Harris

Nonprofits Are Not Doing Enough to Help Young Men of Color

January 27, 2015

Headshot_lowell_perryWith the recent grand-jury decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, protests over the racial profiling of youth of color and the excessive use of force by individual members of police forces across the country have made the national news. Many of the demonstrations have been led by young people, of every color and stripe.

Meanwhile, the White House, which last year launched the My Brother's Keeper initiative to address the fact that too many young men of color are failing to reach their full potential, continues to work with concerned leaders to develop a comprehensive solution to the problem.

More can and must be done.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration's decision to provide funding for fifty thousand body cameras as well as additional training for police officers, at an estimated cost of more than $250 million, is not the kind of "solution" we need. In a world in which public-sector money to address social problems is scarce, do we really want to spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars on equipment to record interactions — the vast majority of them uneventful — between police officers and the public they are hired to serve and protect? Wouldn't that money be better spent on interventions designed to help boys and young men of color long before they come to the attention of local law enforcement?

Consider: An investment of only $18 million, or $1,200 per participant, is enough for a well-known national youth-serving organization to match fifteen thousand boys of color with an experienced mentor. Without that kind of investment, many of those boys will end up in the criminal justice system, either as perpetrators or victims of crime, costing taxpayers and society far more over the long run than a modest investment in a good mentorship program. Even the most obdurate conservative in Congress should see the value in such an investment.

Given the sad fiscal reality of so many of our states and the federal government, where might the money for such an investment come from? Yes, there are the usual sources, which, in addition to government, include corporations, foundations, and individual donors. But there may be another source we are overlooking: institutions of higher education. A handful of elite colleges and universities, including my alma mater, Yale, boast multi-billion-dollar endowments. Surely there is a way for them and other wealthy institutions to invest in our kids through existing programs that achieve positive results. Imagine the good that just 1 percent of the income from a multi-billion portfolio could do to improve the prospects of low-income and at-risk kids — not to mention the broader impact such an investment would have on society.

And it's not only about money. What about nonprofit board opportunities? How many graduates of elite colleges and universities are lending their talents and skills to nonprofits working to ensure that fewer young men of color enter the prison pipeline? I would wager that if college and university administrators did more to develop strong nonprofit leadership programs on their campuses, governance at such nonprofits — at all nonprofits — would improve fairly quickly and dramatically.

What's more, if nonprofits hope to attract the resources necessary to scale their programs and effect true social change, the mindset at the board level must evolve. History teaches that major shifts in society do not happen without the participation of committed leaders. Boards and executive leadership must recognize and keep pace with the demand for change — or risk seeing their organizations become irrelevant.

At the operational level, nonprofits working to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color must do more to diversify their boards and C suites. Recent statistics suggest that many nonprofits are way behind in terms of embracing a true culture of diversity and inclusion, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. Striving to be culturally competent is not just the right thing to do; it also leads to a better understanding of one's constituents. What, for example, was the national youth-serving nonprofit with fifteen thousand boys of color on its waiting list thinking when it recently eliminated its entire diversity department — a department that, in addition to raising money, was the organization's primary link to the communities it served?

There is no shortage of people of color who possess the talent, passion, influence, and resources to serve on the board of either a local or national organization dedicated to serving youth. The problem is that too many nonprofits either don't know where to look for these individuals or lack the cultural competence to actively engage them.

The good news is that as communities of color are given more of a voice in the direction and operation of youth-serving agencies, change will be realized. And that change will benefit the entire country. A long-term broad-based investment in the future of disadvantaged children and families may not be politically expedient, but it's the smart thing to do — and, as all caring, clear-thinking Americans understand, the right thing to do. If current policy discussions are to have any chance of yielding solutions that actually lead to results, youth-serving nonprofits need more resources, both financial and human, and they need to be held to a higher standard of diversity and inclusiveness. Because if we don't invest in our youth now, we will pay a much higher price down the road.

Lowell Perry is the former CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee and a national youth advocate.

Weekend Link Roundup (January 24-25, 2015)

January 25, 2015

DeflatedFootball1Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

How concerned are global CEOs about climate change? Apparently, not much. According to an article in The Guardian, an annual survey of global CEOs by professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers didn't include a single question about climate change,  after only 10 percent of CEOs registered concern about the issue in the previous year's survey. 

Communications/Marketing

On her Getting Attention! blog, Nancy Schwartz shares a four-step process designed to close the marketing-fundraising divide in your organization.

Data

In Philanthropy Daily, Georgetown University graduate student Alexander Podkul updates readers on a U.S. District Court hearing earlier this month regarding access to public data contained in the annual tax form nonprofits file with the IRS. "The issue up for debate," writes Podkul, "is that [Public.Resource.Org founder Carl] Malamud has requested Form 990 data in a modernized electronic file (or other machine-readable format) but has only received the raw data in image format....Although th[e] issue appears to be...specific to Malamud and his organization," adds Podkul,

a ruling in favor of Public.Resource would greatly affect many who participate in and study the nonprofit sector. In September 2013, for example, the Aspen Institute's Philanthropy & Social Innovation released the second edition of their report "Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data," which focused exclusively on the importance of this very issue. Their argument in favor of opening electronic data, i.e., making it "truly open," is threefold: open data would 1) make it easier for authorities to detect fraud, 2) "spur innovation in the nonprofit sector," and 3) help make more sense of 990 data....

Global Health

Nice post by Ned Breslin detailing some of the ways mobile apps are being used to combat the Ebola virus.

International Development

Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter earlier this week, and Humanosphere blogger Tom Paulson suggests the Gateses' belief in technology "as the primary means for reducing global poverty and inequity" is misplaced. Indeed, argues Paulson, "[t]here’s plenty of evidence...to suggest that technologies are better viewed as potentially powerful but inert tools for change that will only succeed if supported by more fundamental political, economic, cultural and social advances...."

Nonprofits

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, CEP president Phil Buchanan responds to critics who argue that nonprofits should be run like a business or start-up — "advice," writes Buchanan, that "is as ubiquitous as it is nonsensical." 

Maybe the debate about overhead and overhead ratios is missing the point, writes Brady Josephson on the Huffington Post's Impact blog. The fact of the matter, says Jospephson,  is that donors "care more about how they feel when they give than how organizations spend their money. Or put another way, they care more about how impactful THEIR donation is as opposed to how impactful THE organization is." 

And in a post on her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington argues that while the debate about overhead ratios is long overdue, it's unlikely to lead to meaningful change so long as nonprofit leaders are unwilling to fund the full costs of their programs.

Social Innovation

On Arabella Advisor's Greater Good blog, Gwen Walden and Lauren Marra highlight four approaches that are helping to redefine the way philanthropy is practiced. 

And on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Heather Grady, senior fellow for global philanthropy at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, reports on a recent gathering of foundation leaders, policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and experts who met to discuss the development of the "fourth sector"— for-benefit organizations that primarily pursue social or environmental aims while raising a substantial proportion of their revenue through earned income or commercial activities. 

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

[Infographic] 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report

January 24, 2015

Our first infographic of the year was created by Kivi Leroux Miller and includes highlights from her 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report, the fifth such report Miller has published since 2011. This year's report is based on an online survey of 1,535 nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada and includes responses to such questions as:

  • What is your #1 priority for 2015?
  • Which types of content do you expect to spend most of your time producing?
  • What are your biggest communications challenges?
  • What are your top five goals (by job title)?
  • How much time do you spend on various communications channels?

Infographic_nonprofit_communications_trend_report

You can download the complete report (58 pages, PDF) here. (Registration required.)

Beyond the Kitchen Table: The Board’s Evolving Role

January 22, 2015

Many organizations begin as "kitchen table" groups: a bunch of neighbors sitting around somebody's kitchen, trying to solve a common problem or meet a community need. These folks share a passion for the cause and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work.

They're seldom skilled in nonprofit governance, and, frankly, they don't even think about that stuff. They just want to fix what needs to be fixed.

Sometimes these informal groups continue for years or decades without growing or changing significantly, and their familiar leadership structure continues to serve them well. For example, I belong to an all-volunteer organization that has had no staff for most of the past seventy-five years – and yet the work gets done.

Taking "The Leap"

In other cases, these groups want to expand their impact, so they decide to hire employees and open an office. My colleagues at the Institute for Conservation Leadership call this stage "the leap," and it's filled with peril. Organizations hiring staff for the first time must address issues such as:

  • Now that we have an employee(s), how does our role as a board change?
  • How do we provide supervision without micro-managing?
  • How will we ensure that our staff has adequate resources to do the job well?
  • How do we evaluate our programs, our staff, and each other?

At this stage, other problems may surface. Board members who originally got involved with the organization because they care about the issue or cause are suddenly responsible for personnel policies, staff supervision, a more detailed level of planning, and greater responsibility for fundraising.

Illus_board_schematic
"Four Stages of Organizational Development" adapted, with permission, from the Institute for Conservation Leadership.

The visionary leader(s) who founded the organization may be unwilling to share power with the staff, which can lead to conflict, confusion about roles, and employee turnover. Or maybe the board breathes a collective sigh of relief, backs away, and abandons its responsibilities, assuming the employee(s) will do everything.

As you can see, the skills needed to start a group are not the same ones needed to take it to the next level of effectiveness.

The Sweet Spot: Moving to Shared Governance

As a nonprofit continues to grow, expand its programs, and hires more staff, the board's role continues to change. Because organizations become more complex, board governance also becomes more complicated.

In the next phase, sometimes called "shared governance," board and staff share power and responsibility, are clear about their respective roles, and have systems in place to create orderly transitions as people leave and new ones come in.

At this stage, the board has explicit written agreements that define what is expected of each trustee and what he or she can expect in return. These groups have a culture of accountability and mutual respect; they also have fun together and celebrate their shared accomplishments.

Clearly, board requirements and behavior must evolve as organizations develop and change. The board you need when starting something is not necessarily the same board you'll need to grow it to maturity.

So if somebody tries to convince you there is only one correct model of board governance, beware! No single "right way" will be relevant to all nonprofits, or even to a specific organization at different stages in its life.

Headshot_andy_robinsonTo learn more about how to develop and maintain an effective board at every stage of your organization’s life cycle, join me on Thursday, January 29, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. for the Foundation Center webinar Building a Board That Works. I'll share tips for recruiting the right mix of board members for your nonprofit, ensuring that they fundraise successfully, and keeping them motivated and accountable.

Andy Robinson, a consultant and trainer based in Vermont, is the author of six books, including Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. This post originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-New York blog and is adapted from Great Boards for Small Groups (Medfield, MA: Emerson & Church).

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2015

A Resolution You Should Keep: Engage Your Donors Differently in 2015

January 13, 2015

New_years_resolutions2Eat better and drink less… Travel to new places… Spend more time on that hobby… Read more and work smarter… We've all got our New Year’s resolutions, and two weeks into 2015 many of us are still full of bright-eyed optimism that we'll stick to 'em!

Have you made any resolutions for your nonprofit? January is a great time to rethink how you work, especially how you communicate with your supporters. Many of you are still feeling the joy of wildly successful year-end fundraising campaigns and a productive #GivingTuesday. Before you dig into your next set of appeals, use these few weeks to take stock and consider what you can do differently in the new year to engage your donors.

Here are three reasons why you should resolve to treat your donors better in 2015:

  1. Communicating with people who already know and support you is less expensive than reaching new prospects and convincing them to donate to your organization. Read more about why donor retention matters.
  2. Doubling your donor retention rate can lead to a six-fold increase in the number of people who give and the amount you raise. Read more about the relationship between gift frequency and donations.
  3. Saying thank you, reporting back, and giving your donors actions they can take beyond making a gift will more deeply connect them to your mission. Read more about ways to show your donors some love.

Headshot_farra_trompeterWant to learn more about how to build better relationships with your donors? Join me on Thursday, January 22, for an interactive Foundation Center webinar in which we’ll talk about how your nonprofit organization can move "From Year-End Fundraising to Year-Round Engagement."

Farra Trompeter is vice president of Big Duck, a Brooklyn-based communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.

Weekend Link Roundup (January 10-11, 2015)

January 11, 2015

Nfl-footballOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector..

Fundraising

Good post on the GrantSpace blog by Carrie Miller, regional training specialist at Foundation Center-Cleveland, on the importance of communicating your impact to donors.

Higher Education

On The Hill's Congress Blog, Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, argues that higher education has been slow to catch up to the changing demographics of America's college-going population. By shifting the way we deliver college to help meet the needs of people for whom higher education had been out of reach, Merisotis writes, "we can create a higher education system that works better for everyone – students, educators and employers – and create a populace that is better poised for future success. [And that] is especially important, given that an estimated 65 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020, and today less than 40 percent of Americans hold two- or four-year degrees...."

In a review for The Nation, the Century Foundation's Rich Kahlenberg finds much to admire in Lani Guinier's latest book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America for The Nation. In the book, Guinier, a Yale Law School classmate of Bill Clinton's who had her fifteen minutes in the national spotlight after then-President Clinton nominated her to head the Justice Department's civil rights decision – only to withdraw the nomination under conservative pressure – argues that "the heavy reliance on standardized test scores in college admissions is deeply problematic on many levels." Kahlenberg deftly walks the reader through Guinier's many criticisms of the reigning "testocracy" and seems to agree that "by 'admitting a small opening for a select few students of color', affirmative action policies actually help buttress the larger unfair apparatus...."  A good review of a timely book.

Continue reading »

The Power of Crowdfunding to Fight Ebola

January 10, 2015

Globalgiving_ebolaIn December, TIME magazine named Ebola Fighters — doctors, nurses, caregivers, scientists, and medical directors "who answered the call," often putting their own lives on the line — as its "Person of the Year." We couldn't agree more: local West Africans and long-time residents like our friend and partner Katie Meyler and her colleague Iris are courageous, vital, and worthy of support.

While much of the emergency funding from private donors and companies has been channeled to U.S. government partnerships and programs, we've been focused on helping donors reach the "last mile" with their donations. Aaron Debah is familiar with that last mile. Aaron, a Liberian nurse, has rallied his neighbors to go house-to-house to combat rumors and misinformation in a culturally relevant way. He's also producing a local radio show about Ebola to spread the message more widely in the community. Through Internews, GlobalGiving donors are funding motorbikes for community activists, a scanner/copier/printer, and mobile phones, among other items. Through their actions, people like Aaron are making an enormous difference in the fight against the virus at a hyper-local level.

$3 Million and Counting for Locally Driven Ebola Solutions

At the end of 2014, we announced that we had helped raise more than $3 million for Ebola relief from donors in sixty-eight countries through the GlobalGiving community. We're currently crowdfunding for twenty-nine community organizations that are preventing and fighting the spread of the virus in West Africa. By giving to local nonprofits that are deeply rooted in the affected areas, donors are supporting organizations that were creating change in their own communities long before this Ebola outbreak — and will be there to drive the recovery of the region over the long term.

More than 3,800 individuals have given to over thirty Ebola relief projects on GlobalGiving.org and GlobalGiving.co.uk, including GlobalGiving's Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. In November, a $200 donation to the fund came from a community of concerned people in Mozambique: "Though it may not seem like much, this is equivalent to two months minimum wage here. Thank you for connecting our hearts with fellow Africans who are suffering!" said Brian, the man whose family collected and sent the donations to GlobalGiving.

Continue reading »

[Review] 'The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession'

January 07, 2015

Bookcover_The_Teacher_WarsConventional wisdom has it that America's once first-rate public education system is a shadow of its former self, today surpassed in both quality and cost-effectiveness by the educational systems of any number of European and Asian countries and with little hope of improvement.

Although some of this decline has been blamed on larger societal problems such as poverty and racism, the teaching profession itself has come in for a large share of criticism. In this view, "bad" teachers — those seen to be undereducated, coddled by their unions, and/or unmotivated and uncaring — are virtually untouchable, while good teachers are forced out of the profession by poor pay and lack of respect.

According to Dana Goldstein, there's nothing new about the conventional wisdom. Indeed, throughout U.S. history, she writes in The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession, teachers have been unfairly blamed for the state of American public education even though a host of larger "villains" — misguided reform movements, an unhealthy obsession with standardized tests, ideological crusading, political meddling — are more rightly to blame.

Goldstein characterizes the regular attacks on public school teachers as the product of "moral panics," a term used by sociologists to identify an all-too-common feature of American society in which "policy makers and the media focus on a single class of people . . . as emblems of a large, complex social problem." She identifies at least a dozen such panics, and in each one she finds that blame for the failings of the American educational system, real or imagined, was assigned to one easily vilified group or another: intemperate male teachers, undereducated female teachers, black intellectuals, unionized teachers, unpatriotic teachers, alternative-program recruits, and teachers protected by seniority, to name a few.

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Social Sector Still Lags Far Behind the Future of Big Data

January 06, 2015

Blueprint 2015, Lucy Bernholz's sixth annual publication predicting future trends in philanthropy, announces a new focus:

From now on, we'll be looking at the structures of the social economy in the context of pervasive digitization. This is not about gadgets; it's about complicated (and fundamental) ideas like free association, expression, and privacy in the world of digital data and infrastructure. (p. 5)

Lucy goes on to pose some thought-provoking conceptions of civil society ("the place where we use private resources for public benefit"), digital civil society, and what she sees as three core purposes of civil society: expression, protest, and distribution.

That is, we organize to express ourselves artistically, culturally or as members of a particular group; to protest or advocate on behalf of issues or populations; and to provide and distribute services or products that the market or state are not providing. (p. 6)

In essence, civil society, and in many cases nonprofits, are where people come to put their values into action.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 3-4, 2015)

January 04, 2015

2015_desk_calendar_pcWelcome back! Hope you all got a chance to grab a little R&R over the holidays and are looking forward to the new year. Let's get it started with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

African Americans

The Washington Post's Jeff Guo reports on an examination of the health disparities between white and black Americans over the last century by the economists Leah Boustan and Robert Margo, who found that while those gaps have narrowed considerably, we're still pretty much "in the dark" as to how and why it happened.

Education

As they do every year at this time, the editors at Education Week have compiled a list of the publication's most-read articles from the preceding twelve months.

The continued rollout of the Common Core was one of the big education stories of 2014, and according to the one hundred articles  gathered by the folks at Educators for Higher Standards (two from each state), teachers were some of the loudest voices in support of the standards-based initiative.

Impact/Effectiveness

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution (and co-author of Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy), argues that Congress must reject efforts by some Republicans to eliminate "the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs."

Leadership

As Robert Egger reminds us, ten thousand baby boomers will turn 69 tomorrow -- and the day after tomorrow, and every day in 2015. And that means a lot of nonprofit CEOs and EDs will be retiring this year (and next year, and the year after that), to be replaced, in many cases, by a millennial -- i.e., someone born after 1980. What does that mean for boards and staff? Eugene Fram explains.

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Nine Bullsh*t Habits to Avoid at Work in 2015

January 03, 2015

Stop_bad_habitsThe start of a new year is an excellent time to think about work habits that irritate your co-workers and make you less effective.

"Achieving success requires more than just doing the right thing," says blogger and Inc.com columnist Geoffrey James. "Success also means changing the behaviors that are holding you back."

Here are nine workplace habits that, according to James, most of us would do well to eliminate in 2015:

1. Doing the bare minimum. If you accept a task, you owe it to yourself and to others to make your best effort. If you don't want to do something, have the courage to say so. Doing a half-*ssed job is just being passive-aggressive.

2. Telling half-truths. Honesty is the best policy. If you're afraid to speak the truth, don't tell a half-truth that's designed to mislead but leaves you in a position of "plausible deniability." Either tell the whole truth or tell a real lie — and accept the consequences if you're found out.

3. Finger-pointing. Few behaviors are as pointless as assigning blame. In most endeavors, who's at fault when something goes wrong is irrelevant. What's important is figuring how to avoid making the same mistake a second time.

4. Bucking accountability. Finger-pointing is as common as it is because too many people are unwilling to admit their mistakes. If you're going to take credit for your accomplishments, you should also own up to your failures. The two go hand-in-hand.

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Best of PhilanTopic: 2014 Edition

December 31, 2014

Hard to believe another year has come and gone. It certainly was an eventful one -- and a busy one here at PhilanTopic, in terms of both the number of items posted and pageviews (the most since we launched the blog in the fall of 2007). Below are the ten posts that proved to be especially popular. Hope you find them to be as interesting as we did!

Have a must-read/-watch/-listen from 2014 you'd care to share with our readers? Use the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 27-28, 2014)

December 28, 2014

2015 New Year's Eve_December 2014 Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector...

African Americans

In a post on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at OSF, salutes the achievements of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement as it prepares, under the continued leadership of Shawn Dove and Rashid Shabazz, to become a standalone organization.

Were the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the widespread protests that spread across the country in the aftermath of grand-jury decisions finding no negligence on the part of police a "movement moment"? It sure looks that way, writes Alfonso Wenker, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. For grantmakers who are wondering what they can do to help close racial achievement gaps and support the movement for racial equity in the United States, Wenker shares a list of helpful tools and resources.

Communications/Marketing

In a  post on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Sean King, director of marketing and communications for Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!), shares some takeways from a fundraising campaign that saw seven nonprofit arts organizations in Allentown, Pennsylvania, join forces on #GivingTuesday to create some buzz and raise some money in support of their efforts.

Data

The most popular post on the Markets for Good site in 2014 was this contribution from Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity: water, who used it to explain why the organization's goal of helping 100 million people get access to clean and safe drinking water by 2022 would be impossible without data.

Looking for a good read or two to close out the year? Beth Kanter shares five book recommendations for "the nonprofit networking and data nerd in your life."

Fundraising

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), a joint initiative of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, has released the 2014 edition of its Fundraising Survey Effectiveness Report (30 pages, PDF). The report, which summarizes data from 3,576 survey respondents covering year-to-year fundraising results for 2012-13, found that gains of $1.334 million in gifts from new, upgraded current, and previously lapsed donors were offset by losses of $1.228 million through reduced gifts and lapsed donors — in other words, 92 percent of gains in giving were offset by losses in giving. The report also found that while the median donor retention rate increased from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2013 and the gift or dollar retention rate increased from 40 percent to 46 percent, over the last nine years, donor and gift or dollar retention rates have consistently been weak — averaging below 50 percent.

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Help Fight Hunger This Holiday Season

December 19, 2014

Aiken+sullivanFor a majority of Americans, the holiday season is a time of celebration, feasting, and thankfulness. In the midst of our merriment, however, it's important to remember that while many of us are planning our holiday meals, millions of Americans will be wondering where they are going to get their next meal.
Feeding America recently revealed the results of its quadrennial study, Hunger in America 2014 (176 pages, PDF) — the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind. The study concluded that, in the most recent calendar year, one in seven Americans — or more than 46 million people — sought food assistance from the Feeding America network.

On the surface, people relying on foodbanks may not appear to be "hungry." They may have a home and a job. Yet all too often, they struggle to get enough to eat for themselves and, in many cases, their families. Many qualify as working poor — they work long hours but are paid such meager wages that they are forced to choose between paying the heating bill and buying food. And for a person living paycheck to paycheck, one car problem or unforeseen illness can have devastating consequences. Despite their hard work, food-insecure people often find financial stability out of reach.

Foodbanks are a lifeline for millions of people and families in need. In every county across America, they provide food for people struggling to get by. Yet while these services are critical, the provision of food alone will not solve the problem of hunger. As the plight of the working poor demonstrates, food insecurity does not exist in isolation. It intersects with other basic needs such as housing, access to health care, and employment. To truly solve the problem, we have to meet the needs of low-income families holistically and help them build a pathway out of poverty.

Recognizing this, some foodbanks have begun to partner with job training organizations, healthcare workers, financial firms, and others to help the people they serve access resources that enable them to meet other priority needs. Bank of America, for example, has committed to working with Feeding America to provide families facing hunger with access to the benefits and financial tools they need to begin building a financial safety net and, ultimately, a path to economic stability. Partnerships such as these enable food-insecure families to reach goals they once thought unimaginable, including saving for college, buying a house, and achieving financial stability.

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Philanthropy in India: Dasra’s First Forum in the U.S.

December 17, 2014

The enthusiasm on display at the Dasra Philanthropy Forum on November 10 could have fueled a week-long conference. Hosted by the Ford Foundation, the day-long event brought together more than thirty speakers, five panels, and a crowd of over a hundred philanthropy, nonprofit, and social business leaders to discuss philanthropy in India, with a special focus on empowering the country's 113 million adolescent girls.

Dasra_forum_panel

Based in Mumbai, Dasra (which means "enlightened giving" in Sanskrit) works to bring about sustainable, long-term social change in the world's second-most populous country. For the past five years, the organization has convened key stakeholders for an annual week-long conference to discuss, explore, and evaluate the challenges the country is facing, as well as how the private and public sectors  can work together to create greater impact. The event at Ford marked the organization's debut in the U.S., and the opening plenary remarks delivered by Tarun Jotwani, the organization's chair, charged the room with energy and anticipation of the conversations to follow.

The brainchild of Deval Sanghavi and Neera Nundy, Dasra was founded in 1999 to help transform the practice of philanthropy in India. In the years since, its staff has grown from eight to nearly eighty. Their efforts, in turn, have affected some 730,000 lives across India, of whom 325,000 have been women and children. In 2013, the organization created the Dasra Girl Alliance, a public-private partnership with USAID and the UK-based Kiawah Trust — subsequently joined by the Piramal Foundation — to ensure that every woman in India feels safe and empowered and that every girl receives an education. Indeed, it is the organization's belief that "Girls are essential agents of change in breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation." To give girls in India the tools they need to realize that vision, Dasra aims to raise $30 million for health- and education-related initiatives, of which $9 million has already been raised, and to have changed the lives of over a million women and girls by 2018.

In the meantime, there's lots of work to be done. According to the World Bank, while India's GDP grew from $834 million in 2005 to more than $1.8 trillion in 2013, less than 10 percent of the country's population earns enough to pay income tax. As Deval Sanghavi noted, "Macroeconomics is not going to solve this problem; we need private philanthropy to complement government and business efforts."

Back at the Ford Foundation, the conference's format balanced well-attended panel discussions with smaller sessions offered concurrently. Many of the former featured Indian philanthropists who shared personal stories of their efforts to rally Indians around the idea of change, while others focused on the importance of partnerships and how investments in girls must connect to the broader themes of economic prosperity and stronger communities. Parallel sessions included discussions focused on the country's new Corporate Social Responsibility Law (which requires corporations to spend 2 percent of their net profits on charitable causes) and how it could affect the country's economy; the role of foundations in India; and how Mann Deshi, the largest microfinance bank in Maharashtra, with more than 165,000 clients, is improving the economic well-being of women from low-income communities.

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How to Improve Your Mediocre Fundraising Copy

December 16, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannFor most of us, the month of December generally means two things: fundraising letters and holiday parties.

Okay, maybe that's just me.

Still, end-of-year gifts and donations account for a substantial amount of the money raised by nonprofit organizations, which, in an effort to capture every bit of potential support before January 1, typically kick off the end-of-year fundraising season with a series of direct-mail appeals and then move on to email solicitations.  

I'm sure you can relate, but at this point in the year, both my mailbox and my email inbox are stuffed with solicitations from nonprofits. But here is where I'm different from most of you: I actually read every letter I get so as to better understand why I should pay attention and why I should (or shouldn't) give to an organization. In other words, the fundraising nerd in me comes alive!

That said, a funny thing happened to me recently: As I was reading through a stack of direct-mail pitches, I began to feel grumpy, agitated, a little Scrooge-like.

I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me and then it hit me: I've grown impatient with much of the fundraising copy I read. Some of that impatience has to do with all the numbers and statistics I'm asked to process. A few of the letters include language I haven't heard since my high school economics class. I've also noted a growing trend of organizations tossing my name around as if it were a magic incantation. (One solicitation I received included at least ten "Derricks" in the body of the text.) And then there was the solicitation signed by the CEO of the organization which insinuated that only a gift to his organization would make a difference this year and that no organization, anywhere, has the kind of "impact" his does. 

As I was reflecting on the effectiveness of these different approaches, I had an epiphany: there is an alarming amount of bad fundraising copy being written these days. And what's worse, I suspect the people responsible for that copy, and the people in leadership positions who sign off on it, think it's pretty good. 

Why do so many fundraising and development pros write bad copy? And why are so many executives content to let it out into the world? I don't really have answers to either of those questions, but I do have some thoughts about why so many of the fundraising solicitations we receive are just plain bad.

You assume I read your last solicitation. I hate to say it, but there's a good chance I never finished (or even glanced at) your previous solicitation. Fundraising copy writers often make the mistake of assuming that their target audience has read every word they've ever written. As you sit down to finalize your next fundraising appeal, remind yourself that most of the people on your mailing list probably haven't read your previous solicitations, and be sure to remove from your copy any phrase like:

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Agriculture

On the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation blog, David Festa, vice president for ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, suggests that if "we're going to meet growing needs for food and water,...[b]usiness as usual just isn’t going to cut it." But, adds Festa, there are reasons for optimism, as retailers, food companies, agribusinesses, farmers, and ranchers all rethink their roles in the food supply chain to do more with less while improving the ecosystems on which they, and all of us, depend.

Civil Rights

Interesting look by the New York Times  at police shootings in New York City in 2013, the last year of the Blo0mberg administration. According to an annual NYPD report released early in the week, shooting by officers, "whether unintentional or in the course of confrontations with suspects," fell to 40, from 45 in 2012, and were down from an eleven-year high of 61 in 2003.

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention! blog, Allison Fine, author of the recently released Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, suggests that the secret to succeess in today's social media-driven world is to communicate with people instead of at them.

Speaking of a "world gone social," what are the attributes of CEOs who "get" social media? Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt have the answers in the Harvard Business Review.

Data

On the Markets for Good site, Beth Kanter shares ten ideas about how to find to data-nerd types to help enhance your organization's data collection and analysis capabilities.

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Philanthropy's Paradigm Shift

December 13, 2014

The following was sent to us by George McCully, creator of the Massachusetts Catalogue for Philanthropy, which was launched in 1997 as a collaborative project of about twenty leading foundations, corporations, and individual donors in the state and distributed annually through 2007, and the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory, in 2011.

(Click on chart for larger version)

Paradigm Shift-Final-GMcCully-12-10-14 copy

Lots of ideas, trends, and concepts to chew on here. Which ones do you agree with? Disagree? What would you add? How will this historic shift affect your organization/institution and practice? Share your thoughts below...

Can Data Help Save Lives and Protect Vulnerable Populations?

December 12, 2014

Headshot_regine_websterThe use of data to drive philanthropic decisions has been discussed at great length within the philanthropic sector over the past few years, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has been captivated by all the energy around the topic. One of our founding principles is to transform the field of disaster philanthropy, and we have achieved some traction toward that goal. But over the past two years, we gradually realized that a key element was lacking in our tool kit.

That key element was funder data. More specifically, which disasters are funded, by whom, for what purpose, and with what goals in mind?

The beginning of an answer lies in our newly-released report, Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2014: Data to Drive Decisions (52 pages, PDF).

The report, the result of a partnership between CDP and Foundation Center, is the most comprehensive analysis of disaster philanthropy to date. As stated in the key findings section, the report "provides a snapshot of funding for disasters by the largest U.S. foundations." Based on 2012 data, it is also designed to establish a baseline and serve as the foundation for a longer-term effort to collect and aggregate data from the philanthropic community. Subsequent reports will provide insights into more current and comprehensive trends on disaster giving.

Key findings from the report include the following:

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Tackling Poverty in Place

December 10, 2014

Headshot_margery_turnerInitiatives that focus on our country's most distressed neighborhoods have been the subject of lively and insightful debate lately. Three big themes animate my own thinking about this work, highlighted in a talk I gave last week at a forum organized by the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC.

  1. Place matters. If we care about poverty, we can't ignore neighborhoods.
  2. The strategies we employ should be "place conscious," not myopically "place based."
  3. Race matters. As we tackle poverty and place, we can't ignore the central role of racial inequality and injustice.

Place matters. Neighborhoods play a huge role in shaping the well-being of families and kids. They're the locus for essential public and private services — schools being perhaps the most significant. Neighbors and neighborhood institutions help transmit the norms and values that influence behavior and teach children what's expected of them as they grow up. And where we live determines our exposure to crime, disorder, and violence, which profoundly affects our physical and emotional well-being long-term.

Research shows that conditions in severely distressed neighborhoods undermine both the quality of daily life and the long-term life chances of parents and children. In fact, Pat Sharkey's research shows that living in a high-poverty neighborhood undermines some outcomes across generations.

It goes without saying that tackling poverty — especially inter-generational poverty— requires sustained interventions at many levels. Nationwide efforts to expand employment opportunities, boost wages, strengthen work support systems, and bolster the social safety net are all necessary. But I'm convinced they're insufficient for families living in severely distressed neighborhood environments. Interventions that explicitly target the neighborhood conditions most damaging to family well-being and children's healthy development have to be part of our anti-poverty policy portfolio.

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Urgently Needed: People, Supplies, and Money for Ebola Response

December 09, 2014

Headshot_rebecca_milnerThe current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is one of the great public health challenges of the still-young twenty-first century. In a few short months, Ebola has infected more than fifteen thousand people and claimed over fifty-five hundred lives, with the vast majority of fatalities in just three countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Despite the toll Ebola has already taken and the broader threat it poses to populations everywhere, the global healthcare community has been painfully slow to respond. As of mid-November, International Medical Corps remained one of only a handful of foreign humanitarian relief organizations treating Ebola patients in the region.

To be sure, operating an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) safely and effectively in rural West Africa is no easy task. Any organization taking on the challenge must be experienced in working in remote, difficult conditions. An arduous four-hour journey is required to reach our seventy-bed ETU located on the grounds of a former leprosy colony in Bong County, Liberia, a hundred and twenty miles north of Monrovia. We opened a similar-sized ETU in neighboring Margibi County at the end of November and expect to have a pair of fifty-bed ETUs operational in Sierra Leone by year's end.

Maintaining an ETU of that size requires three critical components: people, supplies, and money. While the majority of our staff are local Liberian nationals, it is a constant challenge to keep a sufficient and steady flow of skilled international medical and technical personnel willing to give up a two-month chunk of their lives to work in a potentially dangerous environment, then risk being ostracized — or even quarantined — upon returning home. To treat Ebola patients effectively, each ETU requires a staff of around two hundred and seventy. At present about 90 percent of the staff are Liberian nationals. We follow a medical staffing ratio of three expatriate and four local physicians, along with eight expatriate and twenty-four local nurses for every fifty patients. Additional staff are required to provide water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and other needs. Ambulance crews pick up suspected cases to isolate them as quickly as possible, then return those who test negative for the virus or who have been successfully treated to their homes. Trained crews also disinfect, protect, and bury the remains of those who succumb to the disease.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

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'Under Construction': Growing Kings

December 05, 2014

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

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

There's an old saying that goes, A boy is born, a man is trained.

In the hodge-podge of races, cultures, ethnicities, and all their companion traditions that is America, there's no formalized, hard-and-fast entrée into manhood. Sans a singular rite of passage, it just kind of happens from family to family, community to community. Getting a driver's license, losing one's virginity, graduating from high school or college and joining the workforce, turning 18 or 21 (depending on whom you ask) — all have been pointed to as touchstones in the shaping of masculinity. Fathering a child is perhaps the most significant of all, but the consensus view holds that, the mechanics of biology aside, the ability to procreate does not make a male a father — nor make him a man.

The absence of active dads in black and Latino communities has been well-documented as the by-product of systemic social factors and poor personal decisions. Whatever the reasons, the result is boys growing up without real-life role models and male figures unable or unwilling to offer their time, wisdom, and emotional maturity to boys looking for the way forward. Mentorship doesn't necessarily substitute for the absence of a biological parent, but it often does provide boys and young men with support and encouragement from older guys who can relate to them because, not too long ago, they were them.

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How Much Do Foundations Really Give to Detroit?

December 03, 2014

Spirit_of_Detroit-2560x1600It is no secret that the once-great city of Detroit has fallen on hard times. In response, philanthropic foundations, while wisely insisting that they can never replace government, have stepped up their levels of giving in the city in an effort to save its key institutions and civic infrastructure from collapse. So it seems perfectly logical to ask, as the Detroit News did recently, "How much are funders giving to Detroit?"

In turns out there are at least three answers to that question, depending on how one interprets "give to Detroit" and how the numbers are crunched. According to the Detroit News, eleven top funders "awarded Detroit $512 million in grants from 2008-2012." That number is based on Foundation Center data and is a solid one, but it only tells part of the story.

To understand why, let's look at one of the eleven funders — the Ford Foundation — mentioned in the Detroit News story. The News reports that the foundation provided $27.8 million in grants to Detroit from 2008-12. That's true, with two important clarifications. First of all, though not made explicit in the story, the News was only interested in grants to organizations located in "Detroit proper," as opposed to the Detroit metropolitan area. The second clarification is that the Ford Foundation number intentionally omitted a series of grants totaling $13.7 million to the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan. Large, national foundations like Ford frequently make the equivalent of block grants to community foundations, which have the on-the-ground presence, networks, and expertise to re-grant those funds effectively to community-based organizations. Foundation Center researchers took that $13.7 million out of the Ford totals and counted whatever portion had been re-granted as part of the "grants awarded Detroit" by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. This was to avoid something called "double counting"; still, it would not be inaccurate to say the Ford Foundation provided $41.5 million ($27.8 million + $13.7 million) in grants to organizations in "Detroit proper" from 2008-12.

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Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2014)

December 01, 2014

PhilanTopic had a lot to be thankful for in November. In fact, thanks to a lot of great content, it was our busiest month, traffic wise, since we launched the blog back in 2007. Here's a recap of the posts that proved to be especially popular.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 29-30, 2014)

November 30, 2014

Advent_wreath2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz asks some important questions about the purpose of civil society -- that peculiar space which "stands alongside, interdependent with the private and public sectors" -- in a democracy, and provides some answers of her own.

Fundraising

The December Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Joe Garecht at the Fundraising Authority, is open for submissions. This month's roundup is dedicated to getting nonprofits (and the people who run and govern them) to think bigger about fundraising. To have your post considered for inclusion, it must be submitted by the end of the day on December 29. Good luck to all!

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, argues (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that social media "has democratized fundraising so that deep pockets are no longer required. Anyone with five dollars and a smartphone can be a philanthropist."

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it may be too late to take advantage of the fundraising advice Hilary Doe, a vice president at NationBuilder, shares on the Huffington Post, but, as she makes clear in her post, truly effective fundraising is all about year-round engagement with your supporters.

International Affairs/Development

How much of the money pledged by donor governments for Ebola relief efforts has been delivered to date? The answer, according to a report by Abby Haglage on The Daily Beast, is "not much."

A text message about a commercial jetliner hitting a water buffalo on takeoff is the point of departure for Zia Khan, vice president for strategy and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, to reflect on India's past, present, and future.

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[Infographic] A Simple Guide to Great Giving

November 29, 2014

'Tis the season to give. But as the infographic below reminds us, there's giving — and there is Great Giving. With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, here are some questions you should ask  when selecting a charity to support are:

  • How much can I afford to give?
  • How will my donation be used?
  • Is my charity currently financially sound?
  • Am I donating through a middleman or giving platform?
  • Is the charity I support a registered non-profit?
  • Is the administrative compensation for my charity reasonable?

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Quote of the Week

  • " I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear...."

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

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