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Weekend Link Roundup (June 27-28, 2015)

June 28, 2015

Supreme_court Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at@pndblog....

Economy

"For young and old alike," a new poll suggests, "debt now looms as a major factor in setting their life course. An identical 38 percent of both young and older respondents said that in making decisions such as when to get married, buy a home, or have children, debt had affected their choices 'a great deal'. Nancy Cook, a correspondent for National Journal, reports for The Atlantic.

Fundraising

On the Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Jennifer Chandler, vice president and director of network support and knowledge sharing at the National Council of Nonprofits, shares some thoughts on how new rules issued by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could "make life less stressful for nonprofit fundraising professionals and development directors."

In a post on the Software Advice blog, Janna Finch, a market research associate at the firm, shares key findings from a report based on a recent survey of nonprofit event planners.

Giving

Is charitable giving really at a record high? On the CNBC website, Kelley Holland takes a closer look at the numbers.

Higher Education

Meredith Kolodner, a staff writer for the Hechinger Report, checks in with a deeply researched look at merit-based scholarship programs, which, studies show, "disproportionately benefit middle- and upper-income students and have little impact on college graduation rates.

Philanthropy

Are women underrepresented among the ranks of foundation CEOs? The Center for Effective Philanthropy's Phil Buchanan and Jen Cole look at the numbers?

Writing on the Council on Foundation's blog, Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, a global foundation dedicated to "the idea that people can live in harmony with one another and the natural world," argues that aside from a dedicated handful of foundations established by gay individuals, "organized philanthropy pretty much sat out one of the greatest social justice battles of our time" — i.e., the long struggle for marriage equality. Why? "Too often," Jennings writes, "foundations play it safe and don't jump in when they're most needed: when victory looks unlikely, if not impossible. Far too often we wait until the bandwagon has momentum before we make the commitment...."

Stanley Katz, director of Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University (and a co-founder and editor of the HistPhil blog) tells Chronicle of Philanthropy contributor Pablo Eisenberg that foundations have never been good at taking on big problems. And if current efforts by foundations to address inequality are to be any different, a skeptical Eisenberg writes, the foundations involved in that work will need to demonstrate "a taste for activism and action...and stay focused for the long haul" in a way that is not exactly typical of the sector.

As part of the New York Times' "deepening focus on economic inequality," the Times' executive editor, Dean Bacquet announced earlier in the week that its longtime television critic, Alessandra Stanley, has been given a new beat covering the "top 1 percent of the 1 percent" — a decision that left many Times readers scratching their heads.

Noting that fully 20 percent of all Americans have a disability and 70 percent of those people are out of the workforce, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the president of RespectAbilityUSA, argues on the D5 blog that any effort by foundations and others to address inequality must include a disability lens.

And speaking of the HistPhil blog,  it's off to an impressive start, with terrific contributions from David C. Hammack (here and here), Peter C. Weber (here), blog co-founders Ben Soskis (here) and Maribel Mourey (here), and Katz himself (here), among others. Based on its first couple of weeks, we're pretty sure you'll want to add it to your short list of must-read philanthropy blogs

Social Good

On the Transparency Talk blog, Maggie Lee, a specialist on the Foundation Center's IssueLab team, shares highlights from a recent workshop in Boston convened as part of the center's work to increase foundation effectiveness through open knowledge sharing. By the end of the session, Lee reports, the group had drafted a starter list of principles that included the following:

  • Social sector knowledge resources are produced with funds in the public trust, which gives organizations producing those resources a unique responsibility to share them as a public good.
  • The social sector's credibility relies on honesty and transparency.
  • New knowledge is built on existing knowledge and should be placed in context and attributed.
  • Do no harm. Do not waste scarce resources. Do not replicate mistakes. 

Why aren't Americans doing more to protest inequality? In the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall, suggests it might have  lot to do with a process called "individualization." Americans who "in the past saw co-workers as colleagues and allies," writes Edsall (quoting Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist who died earlier this year), "now face competitive pressures such that when 'a shared background still exists, community is dissolved in the acid bath of competition.' The result is "the isolation of individuals within homogeneous social groups," where, released "from traditional class ties and family supports," they must rely on "their own resources to determine their 'fate in the labor market, with all its attendant risks, opportunities and contradictions'."

Social Media

What does the future of social look like? In a post on her blog, Beth Kanter shares what she learned froma lineup of speakers at the recent Future of Social conference in London.

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

[Infographic] Impact Investing Opportunities

June 27, 2015

Impact investing is an activity "that aims to generate a specific social or environmental benefit in addition to financial gain." Previously the domain of institutional investors, over the last five years it has begun to attract the attention of foundations and high-net-worth individuals and, according to the team at Getting Smart, has powered a revolution in ed tech. In addition to outlining basic considerations for donors thinking about making an impact investment and listing ten education investment categories, our infographic of the week (courtesy of Getting Smart) includes a link to a paper (38 pages, PDF) that identifies twenty-five impact investment opportunities in K-12 education.

Impact-Investing-Infographic-Final

PND has been tracking the impact investing field since 2011 and will continue to report on developments as they unfold. And we're always on the lookout for impact investing resources we can share with our readers. Have one you'd like to share? Use the comments section below....

[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

In the area of education reform, for example, Toyama notes that despite the popularity of Khan Academy, MOOCs, and other online innovations, studies show that while technology has the potential to open vast new worlds to millions of young learners, it also amplifies their tendency to choose entertainment over education. What's more, absent qualified, motivated teachers trained to give each student "caring, knowledgeable, adult attention," as well as an environment that fosters good learning habits — two things struggling schools typically lack — technology alone will never help children learn better. Followers of the Cult of Technology know this, Toyama adds, pointing to "Silicon Valley executives who evangelize cutting-edge technologies at work but send their children to Waldorf schools that ban electronics." Nor is he under any illusion that efforts to bridge the digital divide will reduce inequality; the rich always will be able to afford more of the latest and best technology, he writes, and even if equal distribution of high-tech devices were possible, literacy, Internet skills, social networks, and other factors have more to do with what any individual can hope to accomplish with those tools.

Indeed, Toyama is deeply suspicious of such "packaged interventions," which he defines as "any technology, idea, policy, or other easily replicable partial solution," any one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local contexts and individual capacities. In the book, microcredit programs come in for special scrutiny, and he devotes entire chapters to debunking "geek myths" and criticizing a "technocratic orthodoxy" that fetishizes measurement.

But if his Law of Amplification isn't exactly new, neither is the idea that effective interventions require capacity building efforts focused on humans. Toyama takes that idea a step further by arguing that technology is most effective when used to support existing trends moving in the right direction and is implemented by experienced partners. And he cites Digital Green, a project his outfit supported in India, to outline the three qualities — "heart, mind, and will" — of a good partner.

By way of demonstration, Toyama, a fellow at the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, shares stories about students, parents, educators, computer engineers, nonprofit practitioners, and social entrepreneurs who have succeeded as a result of what he calls "intrinsic growth" in their aspirations, knowledge, and perseverance. Girls in developing countries who are given access to a quality education, for instance, tend to earn higher wages, have fewer babies, lower rates of HIV infection, and are less likely to be abused and more likely to participate in civic life. At the same time, their children are less likely to be malnourished and more likely to go to school, while their villages are more likely to adopt more productive farming methods — all because, according to Toyama, the girls not only gain knowledge (mind) but also develop an aspirational outlook (heart) and learn to value effort and perseverance (will) over luck.

While an argument for creating "long-term change in society through growth in individual character" may strike some readers as condescending, Toyama emphasizes that those who design, implement, and fund development projects must also tend to their own "heart, mind, and will" if they hope to achieve lasting results that are truly sustainable. "What's missing in today's main paradigms of social change," he writes, is "a framework of internal human betterment" that fosters intrinsic growth in the rich and powerful as well as the poor and marginalized — and which strengthens and is reinforced by "societal intrinsic development."

The framework he has in mind is mentorship. In the case of Digital Green, he notes that Pradan, one of the partners in the project, focused on building mentor-mentee relationships based on trust — some of which was driven by Pradan's embrace of self-help groups. In the Pradan model, instead of providing food, equipment, infrastructure, and/or technology without consultation, a mentor helps the group assess and articulate its aspirations, then brings in experts to "foster knowledge, skills, social networks, and other forms of individual and communal wisdom" designed to increase community capacity and self-sufficiency. That is not to say that packaged interventions have no place in Toyama's vision; as Toyama himself puts it, "anytime there's an intention to provide a packaged intervention, there's an opportunity to mentor." But whereas a technological solution might involve teaching a man to fish with a "turbo-charged, heat-seeking, robotic fishing pole," mentors push "instructors to teach fishing, encourage entrepreneurs to manufacture fishing equipment, promote...well-regulated fish markets...cheer nations toward sustainable fishing, and on and on."

As evidenced by his contention that "we should see social situations less as problems to be solved and more as people and institutions to be nurtured," Toyama likes to re-cast existing concepts — the Law of Amplification, Maslov's hierarchy of aspirations, the importance of human capacity development — for his own purposes. But he is careful to give credit where it's due and to admit the limitations of his arguments. And if he has a tendency to take what appears to be a radical position and undermine it, as when he suggests that fostering intrinsic growth in individuals and society will give rise, on a global scale, to a "compassionate class" and a more "compassionate world" before dismissing it as "a dream worth believing in" — well, so be it.

Because, in the final analysis, Geek Heresy is aspirational. Sprinkled with anecdotes from Toyama's own experiences and told, rather than written, in an endearingly geeky voice, it combines a healthy dose of much-needed skepticism about the real value of technological interventions in development work with an inspired idealism that puts humanity first and challenges all of us to bring out the best in each other. Some might even say that's exactly the kind of heretical thinking we could use a little more of.

Kyoko Uchida is PND's features editor.

Restoring Eyesight: Leveraging Tech to Empower People

June 24, 2015

Wasty_steinberg_maguire_phillips_200.2Jadi Begum Bi lives in a small mud house near Sargodha, Pakistan. She may never meet Shakil Khan, a member of a displaced community near Syedpur, Bangladesh, or Raju Sharma, a laborer in Patna, India. They all have one thing in common, though: they had been blind for years, until their eyesight was restored and their lives transformed as part of RS Foundation's ocular procedures program.

A Canadian nonprofit organization, the RS Foundation has facilitated more than fourteen thousand procedures for men, women, and children over the past six years by funding local and international partners such as OBAT Helpers USA, Sightsavers in the UK, and the Seva Canada Society. Other organizations engaged in this work in a significant way include 20/20/20 (U.S.), the Fred Hollows Foundation (Australia), the Aravind Eye Care System (India), LRBT (Pakistan) and Unite for Sight, whose eye clinics have benefited 1.9 million patients in Ghana, Honduras, and India.

According to the World Health Organization, 60 percent of the estimated half a million children who go blind every year in developing countries will die in childhood. WHO further notes that restoring sight is the single most cost-effective health intervention in reducing global poverty. For the cost of dinner at an inexpensive restaurant, a poor, visually impaired individual can have their sight restored, regain the ability to work and provide for their family, and recover their lost dignity. Indeed, studies have found that eye surgery interventions in developing Asian and African countries "significantly increase personal consumption expenditure (PCE) among operated cases" and raise "productivity among vulnerable groups, in particular females, [the] elderly and those with the [least] economic opportunity."

Leveraging innovation and new technologies is essential to the success of global health interventions. Remote defibrillators, text-message campaigns that raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and using social media to track Ebola cases are just a few recent examples. Combining mobile applications with routine ocular procedures has similar potential to streamline these efforts and significantly enhance their impact. For example, RS Foundation has provided funding to Peek Vision in support of its efforts to develop a mobile adapter that enables health workers equipped with low-cost smartphones to screen displaced populations or individuals in rural communities, eliminating the need for a hospital team from a distant location to be transported, at great expense, to conduct on-site pre-screenings. Local mobile-equipped health workers also can be tasked with creating and maintaining a database of cases and share that information with doctors and surgeons elsewhere, making it easier to track outcomes in real time.

Such an approach is markedly more efficient than more conventional interventions. Just as important, however, "participative" interventions of this kind not only reduce waiting times for, and the cost of, desperately needed procedures, they also equip local communities with tools that enable them to take charge of their own health. Indeed, if deployed effectively, mobile health workers could guide the planning and implementation of interventions so as to deliver scarce resources where they are most needed. This kind of user-driven approach also makes it more likely that female members of the community are involved in health interventions, which, in turn, would raise their profile in the community and contribute to greater cooperation among all members of the community. Best of all, these and other long-term benefits can be achieved for the cost of a few inexpensive smartphones and the time required to train members of local communities in their use.

To that end, HelpMeSee, a U.S.-based global campaign to eliminate cataract blindness, has developed, in partnership with Canadian-based technology development firm Clarity, a mobile app that will enable community health workers to better locate patients, map the incidence of cataract blindness, and connect patients with specialists who can provide care. HelpMeSee also has developed a virtual reality simulator to train cataract specialists.

Innovative products like this are becoming available at ever-lower cost, creating opportunities for more targeted health interventions in more places. Restoring the eyesight of poor people who have lost their ability to see is one way to reduce poverty and improve the economic prospects of communities that have been mired in despair and stagnation. As highlighted through our research, "the gift of sight enables access to education and socioeconomic opportunity through an intervention that is immediate and tangible, yet [whose] impact is generational." We believe the global health community is on the threshold of a tech-driven revolution and look to NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and philanthropic organizations to continue their support for innovations and technologies that can deliver benefits to millions of people around the world.

Shujaat Wasty, a practitioner in the international affairs and development field, is a member of the Leadership Council at the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University, fellow with the Royal Society of Arts, RS Foundation board member, and vice president of OBAT Helpers. Shirley R. Steinberg is research professor of youth studies at the University of Calgary, founder of the International Institute for Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership and Freireproject.org and an RS Foundation board member. Kate Maguire is a senior lecturer at Middlesex University in London and a Beacon Award winner for services to the voluntary sector. And Jennie Phillips is a doctoral fellow with the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

5 Questions for...Vic De Luca, President, Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation

June 23, 2015

The Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation was established in 1947 by Charles Noyes, a real estate developer in Manhattan, in honor of his wife, Jessie Smith, herself a women's suffrage and civil rights activist. Initially, Noyes set up the foundation to provide scholarships, with half earmarked for non-white students. In the 1990s, the family decided to change course and began to provide funding more directly to organizations working on issues in which they had an interest. Today, most of its support goes to grassroots organizations and movements in the United States working "to change environmental, social, economic, and political conditions to bring about a more just, equitable, and sustainable world."

Recently, PND chatted with Vic De Luca, who joined the foundation in 1991 and has been its president since 2000, about its donor-advised campaign, a new initiative aimed at convincing donors to make more timely allocations from their donor-advised funds.

Headshot_vic-de-lucaPhilanthropy News Digest: The Noyes Foundation recently launched a campaign around the timely distribution of monies from donor-advised funds. Why is the distribution of funds from DAFs suddenly an issue?

Vic De Luca: Donor-advised funds have been around a long time, administered in many cases by community foundations, but they started to become really popular among donors in the 1990s after mutual fund companies like Fidelity and Vanguard began to offer them, and by the early 2000s their popularity was off the charts. One of the reasons for their popularity is that contributions to a donor-advised fund qualify for an immediate tax deduction, while donors have complete say over how those tax-advantaged dollars are allocated. In other words, you're allowed to transfer funds from your own personal account at Fidelity or Vanguard to a public charity, and then at some point in the future you get to "advise" that public charity as to where those dollars should go. It's a simple process. You just contact the fund-holder, answer some questions, and make a contribution; it can be a one-time contribution, or you can choose to contribute on a regular basis. And you can make disbursements from the fund at any time, or not at all.

PND: What part of that equation does your campaign address?

VDL: We're not saying donor-advised funds are good or bad; we're saying the current system is broken, in that it allows an individual donor to take an immed­iate tax deduction but does not insist on a corresponding responsibility to put those dollars to work for public benefit in a timely fashion, which is something we'd like to see. We think donors should be encouraged to give, and what we're trying to do is to say to individuals who have donor-advised funds, "Look, you've made your contribution to this public charity, you've gotten your tax deduction, don't let that money sit there, let's put it to good use." We think the money sitting in donor-advised funds is an untapped resource that could and should be used to deal with some of the pressing problems of the day. And we can help donors who share our social justice concerns do that.

PND: There are people who would push back against the characterization of donor-advised funds as "dead money," people who would argue that in many cases donor-advised funds pay out their assets at a higher rate than private foundations, and that, generally speak­ing, they are serving to democratize philanthropic giving. What is your response to those folks?

VDL: I would say, "Let's not argue." We're not saying donor-advised funds shouldn't be allowed to exist. In fact, I think they're a positive, in that they make it easy for individuals to increase their charitable giving. Any time you can create incentives for people to give more, that's a good thing. What I would say, however, is that the fastest-growing instrument for giving in America today is the donor-advised fund. There are almost two hundred and twenty-two thousand of them, compared to something like eighty thousand foundations. So, clearly, they are popular. But let's not ignore the fact that there is something like $50 billion in tax-advantaged dollars in those donor-advised funds, and we think there can and should be more of an emphasis on getting those dollars out the door. We're not advocating for an end to the system; we're saying we need to make a course correction and get those dollars out the door faster.

PND: Would you support federally mandated payout rules for donor-advised funds to help get those dollars out the door faster?

VDL: Private foundations are subject to a five percent payout requirement – that's something we all understand and have gotten used to. I'm not sure we need to have a similar requirement for donor-advised funds at this point, although I do think the donor-advised fund community creates a problem for itself when it refuses to recognize that there are concerns floating around about payout. The idea that the folks who administer donor-advised funds can just put their head in the sand or, even worse, draw a line in the sand and say, "You can't touch our donor-advised funds,"  is not something we should be encouraging. Ultimately, that approach will lead to greater regulation, in my view. But, as I said, at this point I don't think donor-advised funds need to be more tightly regulated. I just think we need to develop a more coordinated approach to getting the money spent in a timely fashion.

PND: Have you and your colleagues created any measures of success for the campaign?

VDL: Well, this is all about partner­ship, so we're looking for dance partners – that will be one measure of our success. In fact, by 2020, we hope to be working with partners who, collectively, are making disbursements totaling a million dollars a year.

Let me be clear about one thing: This is not a way to boost the assets of the Noyes Foundation. Donor-advised funds are not permitted to go to a foundation, because those funds have already qualified for a deduction; they can only be disbursed to charitable organizations. What we're trying to do is very simple. If you're one of our partners, you would give us a dollar amount as to how much you'd like to contribute, and then we would recommend a certain number of organizations to you. If you’re concerned about sustainable food and farming issues, for example, and had a particular interest in a certain region of the country or a particular aspect of the food system, we would work with you to identify organizations we think are doing critical work in that region or on that issue, and then it would be up to you to go back to your donor-advised fund administrator and make the grant. The only thing we would ask is that you identify the grant as being made in partnership with the Noyes Foundation. So I wouldn't say we have a target or maximum number of partners in mind. We can handle the million dollars, growing it a few hundred thousand dollars a year, which would probably mean adding four or five partners a year.

At the end of the day, we want donors to take advantage of our knowledge, our experience, our collective skill set to make better contributions from their donor-advised funds. We see ourselves as a resource, and our ultimate goal is to help steer more money into social justice work and to help people who need help. Letting $50 billion sit around not doing much of anything is not the way to do that. If we can help get that money into circulation, to nonprofits that are making a difference – and we know who some of those groups are – well, the world will be a better place for it.

– Mitch Nauffts

How to Identify Prospects in a Small Shop

June 19, 2015

Prospect_research_HiResWhen it comes to identifying prospects, many otherwise intelligent people enter the world of the Sugar Plum Fairy. They figure that all they have to do is research individuals with a high net worth, determine an appropriate six-figure "ask," find out where these individuals live, and then track them down and request a gift. The Sugar Plum Fairy part is that these individuals will be delighted to have been stalked in this way and will make the gift. 

In fact, effective prospect research has to start with people to whom you have access: your own friends and family, your board members and their networks, your organization's current donors, and your donors' friends and family members. Many famous people might, in fact, be interested in your organization. But getting your message in front of them requires a messenger: someone you know has to know them. 

So, we start with who we know. Then we must determine: of the people we know, who gives money to charitable causes? In a typical year, about 70 percent of the adult population will make a donation to a nonprofit organization, so there's a better-than-average chance that the people we have access to are givers. That said, there is no point in asking someone for money who never gives. Once you've eliminated the people who never give, you have a list of prospects to research. And if you hang out with high-net-worth individuals who also happen to be generous donors, then you'll want to do more research on them and maybe eventually ask them if they'd be interested in supporting your organization.

When thinking about prospect research, keep the following in mind:

1. Wealth has little relationship to generosity. Many wealthy people give very generously, and many more give relatively little compared to their resources and capacity to give. The same can be said for most middle class, working class, and poor people. Don't confuse having with an ability or willingness to give.

2. You are not the first person to think of asking high-net-worth individuals for money. These people are offered endless opportunities to give and support a good cause, and like most people they are more likely to give to an organization where they know someone than to an organization where they don't.

3. A person's ability to give changes over time. People advance in their careers or inherit money from a long-lost relative or realize a nice return on a savvy investment. Someone who starts out as a $35 donor may, five years from now, be in a position to be your biggest donor. But that person will never be your biggest donor if you don't respect the gift, however modest, he or she gives today. The same is true for your biggest donors: markets crash, houses lose value, Ponzi schemes trap the unwitting -- just a few of the many reasons why a major donor may stop giving.

By definition, prospect research involves a significant degree of networking, and working your networks is what will lead you to more donors -- and to donors who can make large gifts.

Headshot_kim_kleinWant to learn more? Join me in my upcoming Foundation Center-hosted webinar, Prospect Research for Small Development Shops, July 1, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. PT.

Hope to see you there!

Kim Klein, an internationally known speaker recognized for her ability to deliver information in a practical and humorous way, has more than thirty-five years of fundraising experience as a volunteer, staff, and board member. She is the author of five books, including Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times and Fundraising for Social Change, and is a lecturer at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley.

[Review] 'The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations'

June 18, 2015

In his poem "i thank You God for most this amazing," e.e. cummings wrote that "now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened." It is precisely this sense of clarity that comes to mind when reading The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by David Grant, former president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Cover_the_social_nonprofit_handbookAs Grant notes, the world of the twenty-first century increasingly is defined by metrics and data. The social sector is no exception, and calls for better and more timely measurement of its activities have become a feature of the landscape. Gone are the days when funders were content to let intuition and anecdotal evidence guide their funding choices. Donors today — both institutional and individual — are keen to move the needle on large, seemingly intractable societal and environmental challenges, and in attempting to do so they have become ever-more interested in data that can demonstrate the impact of the programs and organizations in which they have invested. As a long-time admirer and teacher of poetry and literature, Grant relishes the complexity of this brave new world and applies his nuanced perspective toward a keen assessment of what it means for the field. "Social profit," he writes, "is about desired social benefits, and so it has to be defined locally depending on what a community of people values and what they need. It will never have a fixed or standard measure, and efforts to create one will get bogged down in endless quibbles and conflict about measurement itself."

According to Grant, efforts to measure social impact are fraught with challenges with which the for-profit world does not have to contend. Trying to balance multiple bottom lines, for example, is necessarily more complex than having to worry about a single one, he notes, especially given the fact there is no single agreed-upon unit of "social profit." Rather than focus on quantitative measures, therefore, Grant emphasizes qualitative "formative assessment." While not ignoring quantitative performance measures, he favors "soft measurements" and argues that a true assessment of social profit demands "a combination of pertinent metrics and a qualitative description...that can only be created by the people who are providing and receiving it."

Continue reading »

Climate Action: A Catalyst for Change

June 17, 2015

Take_action-580x386The coming months promise to be the most hopeful yet in our long fight against global climate change.

President Obama is moving forward with a plan to clean up dirty power plants. The Clean Power Plan will do more to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving climate chaos than any single step ever taken, and it will also spur tremendous innovation and create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs.

Elsewhere, Pope Francis is poised to issue a papal encyclical on our collective moral obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change. And more than a hundred and ninety world leaders will gather in Paris later this year with the goal of taking concerted action to confront the climate crisis. In doing so, they will also be creating a more equitable, just, and sustainable future for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And yet, powerful forces, most notably the fossil fuel industry and its political allies, are prepared to do everything they can to derail this progress. Theirs is a simple agenda: put fossil fuel profits first — even if it puts the rest of us at risk.

In the two-year run-up to the midterm elections last November, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million to support its agenda and its allies in Congress. They seem to be getting their money's worth. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been pushing legislation meant to block the Clean Power Plan, while offering no alternative of their own to address climate change.

We can't let them get away with it.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy’s Difficult Dance With Inequality

June 16, 2015

Inequality-304America's foundations do not easily use the word "inequality." This may seem surprising in the wake of the Ford Foundation's recent announcement that it will refocus 100 percent of its grantmaking on "inequality in all its forms," but perhaps it shouldn't. Out of close to four million grants made by American foundations and recorded by Foundation Center since 2004, only 251 use the word "inequality" in describing their purpose. Moreover, the geographic focus of many of those grants is countries such as El Salvador, Nigeria and Malaysia -- or it's simply "global," which in the parlance of most foundations means the rest of the world. More common are terms like "opportunity" and "poverty," which can certainly be viewed as related to "inequality" but hardly are synonyms for it.

Nevertheless, inequality is an inescapable fact of our world: while extreme poverty in many regions of the globe may be declining, recent research suggests that the gap between rich and poor is fast becoming a growing threat to peace, economic prosperity, the environment, public health, democracy and just about any other major challenge you can name. Indeed, one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals developed by seventy nations (with the direct participation of 7.5 million people around the world) is to "reduce inequality within and among nations." So, why don't more foundations embrace the term?

Inequality is controversial. In most camps, the word "inequality" is not neutral. It is a concept that implies a search for causes rather than the treatment of symptoms. It requires the kind of work that Carnegie Corporation board chair Russell Leffingwell so eloquently described in his McCarthy-era testimony to Congress: "I think [foundations] are entering into the most difficult of all fields....They are going right straight ahead, knowing that their fingers will be burned again, because in these fields you cannot be sure of your results, and you cannot be sure that you will avoid risk." It is also difficult for a single foundation, or even a coalition of foundations, to know where to begin. Oxfam reports that eighty-five ultra-high-net-worth individuals hold as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. How do you tackle such a challenge? Besides, this simply isn’t the kind of work that most foundations do. More than 60 percent of the giving by U.S. foundations goes to mainstream causes in the fields of health, education, and the arts.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 13-14, 2015)

June 14, 2015

Bigstock-graduation-cap-diplomaOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Criminal Justice

On the BMAfunders.org site, Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, argues that mass incarceration of young men and boys of color "is a symptom of a larger disease that is prevalent both before and after arrest and imprisonment occur." 

Fundraising

A new report from Crain’s New York Business, in partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, finds that 57 percent of respondents to a spring 2014 survey said they expected to raise more in 2014 than in 2013, while a majority — 52 percent (compared to 29 percent in 2013) — said their organizations planned to hire development staff in 2015 to take advantage of the more generous giving climate.

"Generation Z, the heirs to the digital empire built by Generation X and expanded by Millennials, is made up of people who don’t just spend time online — they live there," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "And despite their youth... kids in Generation Z are regularly rocking social media for social good. Well-informed, constantly connected, and more tech-confident than your aunt Jan, they're taking on the world's problems, one online fundraiser at a time.

Governance

Where do nonprofit boards fall short? The Nonprofit Law Blog's Erin Bradrick shares some thoughts.

Impact/Effectiveness

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington chats with Mary Winkler, senior research associate with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, about measurement as a "necessary practice" for nonprofit organizations, the difference between measurement and evaluation, and the challenge inherent in finding funding for measurement work. 

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[Infographic] CECP - Giving in Numbers 2015

June 13, 2015

After a short hiatus, we're back with a new infographic, courtesy of CECP, a coalition of one hundred and fifty CEOs "united in the belief that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance," and the Conference Board, a global business membership and research association. Based on an annual survey, it provides a nice snapshot of "social engagement" at 271 multi-billion-dollar companies, including 67 of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500.

GIN_8x11_HighRes (1)

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5 Questions for...Michael I. Sovern, Board President, Shubert Foundation

June 11, 2015

The state of the nonprofit arts sector in the United States has ignited passionate debate in recent years. PND asked Michael I. Sovern, board president of the Shubert Foundation, which recently awarded grants totaling $24 million to nearly five hundred arts nonprofits, about the role of philanthropy — and, specifically, general operating support — for performing arts organizations. Sovern is Chancellor Kent Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and former president of Columbia University (1980-93), and has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, WNET/13, and the American Academy in Rome.

Michael_sovern_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: The Shubert Foundation describes itself as "the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to unrestricted funding of not-for-profit theaters, dance companies, professional theater training programs, and related service agencies." When did the foundation adopt a policy of providing unrestricted funding to performing arts groups? And why do you believe it's important for the foundation to give its grantees maximum flexibility with respect to the way they use their grant income?

Michael I. Sovern: Our policy of providing unrestricted funding was already in place when I joined the foundation's board over thirty years ago. Although the foundation was established in 1947, its formal funding priorities and guidelines were created in the 1970s, which is when the focus on unrestricted funding for professional theater companies — with a secondary focus on professional dance companies — began.

We have reviewed the policy from time to time but always have come up with the same answer. Each of the many performing arts organizations we support is wrestling with issues specific to its own location and circumstances while also facing challenges that are common across the industry. We believe that the administrators, artists, and boards of our grantees know best where the funds we provide should be directed. Our confidence is buttressed by our multi-faceted approach to the evaluation of each company — one that considers the artistic, fiscal, and administrative aspects of the organization. This careful annual review helps us to feel comfortable with awarding unrestricted grants.

PND: Why do you think so many arts funders are reluctant to provide general operating support?

MS: Some donors want to see the specific impact of their contributions immediately. Some enjoy exercising control. Fresh initiatives are more exciting than paying the electric bills. But the quest for earmarked support can draw an organization's attention away from its central mission. Time and energy that could be spent strengthening the company may be diverted, possibly to the detriment of the overall health of the organization. A search for replacement funds to continue the projects or programs can drain resources while often yielding minimal results. The impact on the bottom line of the organization and the toll on the company itself may well prove that the pursuit of these funds was a mistake.

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The Future of 'Community' for Community Foundations

June 09, 2015

Headshot_emmett_carson_hi-resCommunity foundations have existed for more than a hundred years by adhering to a simple proposition: they exist to serve their local communities. Today, this proposition is being challenged by an increasingly global, twenty-first century mindset and amazing new technologies that strengthen connections even as they weaken the importance of place. As a result, the definition of "community" is changing, and community foundations must ask themselves: Will we change with it?

More and more, Americans see themselves as global citizens – both influencing and being influenced by international events. The ubiquitous nature of smartphones and social media apps means that almost everyone is only a click away from staying in touch with any person they've ever met or from learning about a new development affecting any cause they've ever cared about. At the same time, Americans are more willing than ever to relocate to different communities in pursuit of a job or a different lifestyle.

The fact is, we are all part of multiple communities based on professional and personal interests that do not necessarily stem from or exist within a defined geography. Some of these communities exist only in cyberspace. And yet people have – and will always have – a direct connection to the place where they currently live. This presents a significant challenge – and a huge opportunity – for community foundations, which increasingly must figure out how to respond to locally based donors who support causes and organizations outside a foundation's stated geographical boundaries.

Put simply, community foundations that can address both the local and global philanthropic interests of their donors are the ones most likely to grow over the coming decades. At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we are committed to embracing this responsibility and believe that community foundations that cannot or choose not to do so will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage over time. 

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President Obama’s Eulogy for Beau Biden

June 08, 2015

Below is the full text of the extraordinary eulogy for Beau Biden that Barack Obama delivered on June 6, 2015, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden, the vice president's eldest son and a former attorney general of Delaware and Iraq War veteran, died on May 30 from brain cancer. We were out of pocket over the weekend and only learned of the president's remarks through Dave Pell's not-to-be-missed enewsletter, Next Draft. On Medium, Pell wrote he felt obliged to share the president's remarks because, in addition to being "one of the most amazing and thoughtful remembrances I've ever [heard]," they "seriously make [me] want to be better." We couldn't agree more.

___________

"A man," wrote an Irish poet, "is original when he speaks the truth that has always been known to all good men." Beau Biden was an original. He was a good man. A man of character. A man who loved deeply, and was loved in return.

Your Eminences, your Excellencies, General Odierno, distinguished guests; to Hallie, Natalie and Hunter; to Hunter, Kathleen, Ashley, Howard; the rest of Beau's beautiful family, friends, colleagues; to Jill and to Joe  —  we are here to grieve with you, but more importantly, we are here because we love you.

Without love, life can be cold and it can be cruel. Sometimes cruelty is deliberate —  the action of bullies or bigots, or the inaction of those indifferent to another's pain. But often, cruelty is simply born of life, a matter of fate or God's will, beyond our mortal powers to comprehend. To suffer such faceless, seemingly random cruelty can harden the softest hearts, or shrink the sturdiest. It can make one mean, or bitter, or full of self-pity. Or, to paraphrase an old proverb, it can make you beg for a lighter burden.

But if you're strong enough, it can also make you ask God for broader shoulders; shoulders broad enough to bear not only your own burdens, but the burdens of others; shoulders broad enough to shield those who need shelter the most.

To know Beau Biden is to know which choice he made in his life. To know Joe and the rest of the Biden family is to understand why Beau lived the life he did. For Beau, a cruel twist of fate came early —  the car accident that took his mom and his sister, and confined Beau and Hunter, then still toddlers, to hospital beds at Christmastime.

But Beau was a Biden. And he learned early the Biden family rule: If you have to ask for help, it's too late. It meant you were never alone; you don't even have to ask, because someone is always there for you when you need them.

And so, after the accident, Aunt Valerie rushed in to care for the boys, and remained to help raise them. Joe continued public service, but shunned the parlor games of Washington, choosing instead the daily commute home, maintained for decades, that would let him meet his most cherished duty —  to see his kids off to school, to kiss them at night, to let them know that the world was stable and that there was firm ground under their feet.

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The Clinton Foundation Reveals Its Donors: Should You?

June 04, 2015

News_bill_hillary_chelsea_clintonA fundraising foundation has two world-famous founders, a global network of generous donors, and a track record of grantmaking success. One of the founders plans to run for higher office, and the foundation makes the decision to be highly transparent about its donor base to ensure that there can be no suspicion of undue influence on the potential candidate. End of story.

Unless your founders happen to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Over the past several weeks, Foundation Center has been approached by numerous reporters asking — in some cases literally — "There's smoke, right? What about a fire?" Our response has been an immediate "No," followed by an explanation as to why the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation in fact represents a model of transparency when compared to other grantmaking public charities. (Unlike private foundations endowed by a single donor or donor family — think Ford Foundation — grantmaking public charities like the Clinton Foundation sustain their work by raising funds from a variety of donors.)

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[Review] 'The Chocolate Trust: Deception, Indenture and Secrets at the $12 Billion Milton Hershey School'

June 02, 2015

Cover_the_chocolate_trustWould you be concerned if you knew there was a charity that served only a couple of thousand children each year even though its asset base was  the same size as the Ford Foundation's? Would you wonder what that charity, three times the size of the largest U.S. community foundation, did with the money it accumulates and doesn't spend each year? Would you wonder who benefits from it? 

Bob Fernandez, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wondered all that and more about the $12 billion Hershey School and decided to do some digging. The result is The Chocolate Trust (Camino Books, 256 pages; $24.95/paper, $9.99/ebook).

The book is important not simply for what it reveals about the trust, about those who have profited from its sometimes questionable practices over decades, and about the kids who have been neglected as a result of those practices. The Chocolate Trust also is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks nonprofits can self-regulate or rely on local and state government authorities who too often are ethically compromised and politically constrained to keep them on the straight and narrow. 

First, a little history. In 1909, Milton Hershey, who had started a chocolate company and set out to build a town for its workers, established the nonprofit Hershey Industrial School, a residential facility to serve young, fatherless, white boys. In 1918, a few years after Hershey's wife, Kitty, died – they never had children and had no heirs – Hershey transferred his land and other assets to his "orphanage," making it a very wealthy entity indeed.

Hershey stipulated that those assets were to be managed by the Hershey Trust, part of a for-profit bank, and he retained a significant measure of control over the school's operations by reserving to the bank the right to appoint its board members. In simple terms, the bank controlled the school's assets and operations, and Hershey owned the bank – the reverse of standard operating procedure in the charity world, where donated assets typically are controlled by the charity to which they have been donated. 

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2015)

June 01, 2015

A sharp commentary on the transformative power of "open" board policies, an impassioned plea for more funding for basic research, a persuasive discussion of the relationship between brand and impact, and great posts on engaging and managing donors — the things people were reading on PhilanTopic in May were as varied and compelling as the weather here in NYC. We think Samuel Clemens would approve...

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

Weekend Link Roundup (May 30-31, 2015)

May 31, 2015

Seppblatter_lipssealedAfter a hiatus for college graduations on consecutive weekends, the weekend crew is back with its roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Anne Whatley, a consultant with Network Impact, shares key takeaways from a new guide that provides metrics and methods for measuring the success of your civic tech initiatives.

Climate Change

"The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It's real and it's relentless." writes Michael Grunwald in Politico. Driven by a team of nearly two hundred litigators and organizers, deep-pocketed donors like Michael Bloomberg, and "unlikely allies from the business world," the Beyond Coal campaign over the past five years "has killed a coal-fired power plant every ten days...[and] quietly transformed the U.S. electric grid and the global climate debate."

Community Improvement/Development

In remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce last week, Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson outlined six areas where Kresge is likely to make future investments in Detroit.

Diversity 

On the Markets for Good blog, Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition, argues that philanthropy can lean learn lessons from the business sector about the link between diversity and success.

Fundraising

Telling your nonprofit's story so it resonates with donors and other stakeholders is easier than you might think, Network for Good's Iris Sutcliffe writes, if you keep the five Cs in mind.

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Becoming a Profitable Nonprofit While Staying Mission-Focused

May 29, 2015

CuppaTypically when we think about the "business" of nonprofits, we think about volunteers donating their time and donors giving money. That may have been yesterday's model, but today many forward-thinking nonprofits are diversifying their revenue streams and asserting greater control over their bottom lines. While private support and government funding will always be critical to nonprofit organizations, it is essential that nonprofits create their own opportunities for revenue, relying less on the generosity of others and more on good business strategies to support their missions.

But how do you create new and innovative revenue streams while maintaining your charitable status and staying true to your mission? The answer may not be simple, but it is straightforward: Accept that market principles apply to everyone, nonprofits and for-profits alike. Identify organizational assets that are valuable in your local market. And partner wisely with other organizations (especially for-profit companies) whenever there's a synergistic value proposition (i.e., look for the mutual win).

At The New York Foundling, we've had great success using our real estate to advance our mission and increase revenue. In 2008, we sold six floors of our Chelsea headquarters to the New York City School Construction Authority, enabling it to open an elementary school (P.S. 340). We used the proceeds from that sale for two important mission-driven projects: a charter school in the South Bronx called Mott Haven Academy, the first school of its kind tailored to children in foster care and the child welfare system; and a medical clinic that serves not only the children in our care but other disadvantaged youth as well.

And this year we again leveraged our real estate to our advantage by partnering with for-profit coffee company COFFEED. COFFEED's business model is based on partnering with local nonprofits at each of their locations. Because we have street-level space on a busy block, we were able to offer them an extremely reduced rent, enabling them to open their first location in Manhattan, where rent and overhead costs would otherwise have been prohibitive. Up to ten percent of COFFEED's gross revenue at that location goes directly to The Foundling to support our programs and services. But it doesn't stop there; they also have provided us with marketing space within their cafe that we use to highlight issues affecting underserved youth. COFFEED has also committed to hiring our clients — teens in foster care and individuals with developmental disabilities. In fact, they've employed three of our kids already. And, of course, local residents have a new cafe where they not only have access to great food and gourmet coffee, they also get to feel good about "giving back" through the simple act of ordering a cappuccino. In other words, win-win-win.

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[Review] Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America

May 28, 2015

The arts — as we know it — are doomed. The broad cultural and economic consensus of the last century that placed paramount value on the arts, arts education, and art institutions has been lost like the voice of Yeats' falconer in the widening gyre. Tomorrow we will have less art, and we will be the poorer for it.

Cover_Curtains_the_future_of_the_Arts_in_AmericaLike an Old Testament prophet, Michael M. Kaiser, the former president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, warns of a fundamental crisis in the arts: the way they are created, managed, and marketed in America is simply not sustainable. Ironically, as recently as 2013, Kaiser, in The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations, was somewhat optimistic that such a worst-case scenario could be averted, and he outlined a series of steps arts organizations could take to fortify themselves for the tough times ahead.

Not so much in 2015. In his new book, Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2015), Kaiser paints a dark picture of the future, both explaining how things came to pass and what arts organizations, especially mid-sized ones, might do to (maybe) save themselves from oblivion.

His argument goes like this: In economic terms, the arts are playing a losing hand; in almost every other industry, the costs of production are reduced over time, allowing for more goods to be sold at a lower price point. Innovation and commodification contribute to this process, enabling goods to be produced ever-more cheaply and distributed on a vast scale, which in turn allows for the increasing segmentation of consumer markets and real-time adaptation to changing tastes and expectations. Alas, almost none of this is true for the arts.

The performing arts in particular, writes Kaiser, are a labor-intensive endeavor in which every unit (i.e., performance) is numbingly expensive to produce — a cost that is passed on to members of the audience in the form of ever-rising ticket prices. Moreover, when every performance must support a portion of the salaries and pensions of hundreds of performers, managers, and back-office staff, as well as theater maintenance and the marketing of the production and institution itself, it's little wonder that arts professionals look to the future with pessimism and deep anxiety.

It wasn't always this way. A half-century ago, with the U.S. economy booming, government coffers bursting, and the costs of sustaining arts institutions much less daunting, the arts in America entered a sort of golden age. Arts education increasingly was viewed as a social good to be sustained with taxpayer dollars, and children, as they grew older, followed their parents' lead and became arts consumers and patrons in their own right. While twentieth-century forms of entertainment such as movies, television, and pop music all competed with live performances of more traditional art forms for audience dollars and attention, they served, more than anything else, to fuel Americans' interest in and a broader engagement with the arts. In particular, visionary investments like those made by the Ford Foundation in developing networks of regional theaters enabled the performing arts to flourish in cities large and small, while Lucille Lortel made Off-Broadway a household name.

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Investing in Fundamental Science: A Grantmaker's Perspective

May 26, 2015

Harvey_v_fineberg_for_PhilanTopicA half-century ago, Gordon Moore wrote a paper in which he projected that progress in the density and speed of silicon chips would increase exponentially. In his paper, Moore envisioned how this would enable technologies ranging from the personal computer, to the smart phone, to the self-driving car. His prediction became known as Moore's Law, and it has held remarkably true for fifty years. At a recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal paper, Moore talked about the impact of his insight on modern technology and the crucial role of basic scientific research in making it come true.

Moore, a founder of Intel and chairman of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, noted that the technological progress we have enjoyed over the last half-century was enabled by science education and basic research. While the opportunities for discovery have never been greater, commitment to and funding for science — from government, industry, and philanthropy — fall far short of what is needed today to accelerate progress into the future.

In 1965, when Moore enunciated his insights into the development of the microchip, the U.S. government invested about 10 percent of its budget in basic research and development. Today, federal funding for basic research has fallen below 4 percent. 

"I'm disappointed that the federal government seems to be decreasing its support of basic research. That's really where these ideas get started," said Moore. "Our position in the world of fundamental science has deteriorated pretty badly. There are several other countries that are spending a significantly higher percentage of their GNP than we are on basic science or on science, and ours is becoming less and less basic."

Once a hallmark of an innovation-focused American society, corporate labs are almost non-existent today. Coupled with cuts in government funding, the United States is in jeopardy of losing its lead in super-computing, cybersecurity, space exploration, energy, and health care, a recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds.

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Narrowing the Excellence Gap Requires a Multifaceted Approach

May 22, 2015

Natalie_jansorn_for_PhilanTopicAs globalization continues at breakneck speed, the United States needs to increase the number of talented individuals — tomorrow's innovators and leaders — in the workforce in order to remain economically vibrant and competitive.

Changing demographics means we will be able to tap the most diverse workforce in the history of the world to fill many of these critical positions. However, we continue to overlook one of our most promising talent pools: high-achieving, low-income students.

In part, that's because many public education reformers over the past few decades have been fixated on the "achievement gap" and have advocated for significant resources to be dedicated to helping as many low-income students as possible reach minimum academic standards. While that effort has met with some success and is certainly worthwhile, we believe it has come at the expense of the highest achievers among the population of low-income students, resulting in an "excellence gap" — the disparity in the percentage of lower-income students who reach an advanced level of academic achievement compared with those from higher-income households.

The reasons for this gap are many. While there are gifted students from poor backgrounds who pave their own road to success, they tend to be the exception; for every low-income student who forges his or her own way forward, there are dozens with comparable abilities who don't get the attention they need. In fact, a recent study found that more than one million school-age children who qualify for free or reduced lunch rank in the 25th percentile academically; that's about eighty thousand very smart but poor students per grade nationwide.

Fewer than half of these students take at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) course (compared with 71 percent of their wealthier peers), while only 22 percent apply to college, even though their academic abilities and achievements more than meet the admissions requirements at many schools, including highly selective ones.

What's more, this gap appears in elementary school and persists as students move through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. This makes closing the gap doubly challenging. There is no "silver bullet" solution to the problem; instead, it needs to be tackled from many different angles. With that in mind, our team at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation would like to share the following key strategies and recommendations:

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Scanning the Skyline: Lessons From Thirty Years of Capital Grantmaking

May 20, 2015

Headshot_chuck_feeneyBuildings have a special allure for philanthropy — their mass, their unambiguous reality, their durability, their promise of sheltering great transformative enterprise — that few other achievements can match. They also conjure a cloud of distinctive risks: the possibility of inadequate maintenance, financial drain, premature obsolescence, the danger that the activities they house may not end up being all that transformative.

For a certain kind of donor — the philanthropist as creator, whose passion is to summon new things into being — the appeal of a building, if well planned and managed, more than compensates for the risks. It can transform the physical landscape, concentrate attention and resources on important lines of work, galvanize public will, raise standards of effort and performance, perhaps make a striking architectural statement. Yet even from this vantage point, the goal is rarely the thing in itself but the activity it makes possible: superior learning and discovery, more effective human services, accelerated scientific or technological innovation, improved medical care, or intensified creative energy, will, and collaboration.

In other words, if done properly, philanthropic support for a building is not the purchase of a product. It's an investment in enterprise, a long- term underwriting of whatever goes on inside. As Chuck Feeney summed it up in 2010, capital philanthropy creates "good buildings for good minds" that in time "can make the difference in the lives of a lot of people." Partly for that reason, it is especially popular among entrepreneurial givers, for whom building a business and building a cause are related undertakings.

Admittedly, for another kind of donor — let's say, the philanthropist as reformer, whose aim is to change policies and systems, to alter ideas and practices, to improve the way societies and economies function — buildings can trigger more aversion than fascination. Their scale and finality may seem, to some, too costly and irreversible, too inflexible a bet on one thing in one place.

Among institutional funders especially, this aversion to buildings is fairly common. Unlike individual donors, institutions may not derive much satisfaction from placing their names on a structure; many also fear a latent stream of future requests to keep funding maintenance and improvements long after a building is finished. For whatever reason, as South Africa's Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs puts it, "Anyone connected with philanthropy could have told us that we would be wasting our time trying to get funding for physical infrastructure. Money could go for equipment, salaries, transport and conferences, but never, ever for buildings." An exception to that rule, Justice Sachs discovered, was The Atlantic Philanthropies.

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[Review] 'Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund'

May 15, 2015

Book_staying_the_courseWilliam S. Moody joined the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1968, and for the next four decades he helped shape the fund's grantmaking programs in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe. In Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Moody recounts with unflagging enthusiasm — and, at times, in great detail — his distinguished career, the credit for which he is more than happy to share with colleagues, collaborators, grantees, and members of the Rockefeller family and RBF board.

Staying the Course explores how RBF's grantmaking programs tried, "over time, to enlarge people's understanding of, and ability to address, sustainable development challenges; to protect human rights and promote international understanding; and to strengthen important dimensions of civil society and democratic practice in transforming societies." A tall order, to be sure, and one that, in Moody's view, the fund for the most part delivered on, thanks to what he describes as its "responsive and proactive, serendipitous and systematic" approach to "helping people help themselves."

Moody traces the evolution of that approach from the fund's establishment in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The operation was still very much a family affair, he writes, when he came on board in the late 1960s, but the Rockefeller family philosophy of being "in it for the long haul, articulating ambitious goals knowing full well that those goals could not be reached quickly," and being "willing to make long-term commitments to effective organizations and institutions — a decade or two or more, long enough 'to make a difference', as Andrew Carnegie said" — was already deeply embedded in the fund's grantmaking practice.

As a program officer at a relatively small foundation, Moody was focused on allocating the limited resources available to him to maximum effect. In the late 1960s, for example, RBF's annual budget for international programs was a modest $10 million to $15 million — although at a time when only 5 percent of total U.S. foundation grantmaking was directed overseas, the fund was considered an important player in the international arena. More importantly, its efforts in that arena, Moody argues, demonstrate that small investments can create significant impact. In fact, the approach to grantmaking he developed back then, he writes, is quite similar to what today we call "venture philanthropy," characterized as it was "by a high level of involvement with grant recipients; a willingness to experiment and try new approaches; and a focus on capacity building for sustainability" — while avoiding any expectation of a quick pay-off.

Early on, Moody's efforts were focused on two areas: the thoughtful use of natural and cultural resources, or what is now called "sustainable development," in the developing world, and strengthening civic engagement and the nonprofit/voluntary sector globally. From 1968 through the mid-1980s, for instance, RBF supported rural development in sub-Saharan Africa and anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa, where the young program officer learned the importance of collaboration — as well as the need for flexibility, patience, and good partners. When making grants in six Central and South American countries, for example, he made it a point to invest in individuals, people like conservation expert Kenton Miller, a pioneer of sustainable resource management models and a key facilitator of RBF's productive partnership with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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How Nonprofit Branding Strengthens Impact: Part 1

May 13, 2015

Brand-PowerIt used to be that nonprofits shied away from prioritizing their brands. After fifteen years of running MSDS, however, I've noticed that nonprofits are becoming more aware of the link between a brand's strategic value and organizational impact.

One reason for this shift, I suspect, is that competition — for funding, people's attention, human capital — has gotten stiffer. And nowhere is that more apparent than online. When a nonprofit's website is underwhelming, it is not only out there for the world to see, it also sends the wrong message and undercuts the organization's mission.

That said, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what brands and branding are. In this article and the one that follows, I'd like to provide some context regarding what a brand is and how it is experienced, then offer insights into how to think more strategically about the brand experiences your organization creates.

What Is a Brand?

Branding expert Marty Neumeier famously defines brand as "Who you are, what you do, and why you matter." For nonprofits, this translates to your brand being a combination of your mission, values, strategy, relationships, impact — and their value to the world. It's a gut feeling about the promises you make and your reputation for keeping (or breaking) them.

As Neumeier says: "It's not what you say you are, it's what they say you are."

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What Is Donor-Centered Moves Management?

May 11, 2015

Yes-no_seesawWhat is donor-centered moves management? It's a donor cultivation approach that combines LOVE with a great MANAGEMENT SYSTEM to help you plan, make, and keep track of all the "moves" or "touches" per year targeting your major gift prospects.

Each "move" is thoughtfully designed to move your prospect along a relationship continuum — from awareness...to interest...to involvement...to investment — depending on where he or she currently is on that continuum.

When sufficient moves have been made and your prospect is feeling really good about your nonprofit — devoted to it, in fact — the final move is a request for a gift (or gift increase). One person, designated the Moves Manager, assures that all moves are coordinated and the solicitation occurs at the appropriate time.

You want (and need) to get your donor prospects to the point of active commitment. That's the point where they are able to answer "true" to the following questions:

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 9-10, 2015)

May 10, 2015

TulipsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the battle against climate change is likely to be won or lost in Asia's expanding megacities, which are poised to contribute more than half the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next twenty years.

In a Q&A with the Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek, Jerry Taylor, of the Niskanen Center, makes the conservative case for a tax on carbon tax. 

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Tech Crunch site, Kim-Mai Cutler reports on Salesforce Foundation head Suzanne DiBianca's efforts to spread the San Francisco-based cloud-based computing company's "1-1-1" philanthropic model" -- in which 1 percent of the company’s equity is set aside for philanthropic donations, 1 percent of employee time is earmarked for volunteering, and 1 percent of its products and services are donated to nonprofits -- to the tech startup scene in New York City.

Data Visualization

On the Fast.co Design site, Mark Wilson, founder of Philanthroper.com, reports  that the days of the truly creative infographic are over, killed -- like so much else -- by the smartphone, which now accounts for roughly 50 percent of the traffic on the World Wide Web.

Disaster Relief

Be sure to check out the report in The New Yorker by Prasant Jha, an associate editor at the Hindustan Times and a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, on the scale of the devastation in and around Kathmandu, the sprawling capital city of Nepal, which was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Elsewhere, the Asian Philanthropy Forum shares some helpful advice and a list of NGOs currently on the ground in Nepal, which will be dealing with the consequences of the disaster for weeks, months, and years to come.

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True Board Engagement: How Openness and Access to Board Conversations Has Changed 'Creating the Future'

May 06, 2015

Wilding_pollock_150x350It's a widely held maxim that sunlight, read as transparency and openness for the purpose of this post, is the best disinfectant. While true, we feel this view has an unfortunate undertone of emphasizing the negative: greater transparency is needed in order to prevent and/or catch wrongdoing. It focuses attention on what we hope to avoid rather than what we hope is possible.

At Creating the Future, rather than thinking of sunlight as that thing that disinfects, we embrace the photosynthetic view that letting the light in allows for growth and transformation. We recognize our role in supporting thriving communities and believe that the community should have a role in creating our success at all levels of the organization. Though Creating the Future is not a grantmaking foundation, we believe that all organizations, including foundations, gain by opening up to and actively engaging the communities we are passionate about and that we profess to serve.

In a conversation about boards and governance recently, someone remarked to one of us that "transparency can be transformational," and it's this sort of thinking that powers Creating the Future's approach to leadership, trusteeship, and governance. Beyond just being transparent – allowing people to see us and see that we are "open" – people can actually interact with us and influence our growth in real time. This approach to governance is open not just in the sense of visibility, but open to challenge, praise, and, since board members livestream from various places around the world, the occasional ribbing for the state of our living rooms and barking dogs. (How much more "real life" can it get than that?)

All well and good in theory. But what does this really look like in practice and what does it make possible for us as trustees and anyone else interested in the work of the organization we serve?

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Communicating the Lia Fund’s Sunset Plans to Grantees

May 04, 2015

Sunset_13Randy Lia Weil believed in beauty, fairness, the human heart, and the wisdom of nature in all things. She was a dancer, teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, and artistic spirit. Gracious, graceful, and exceedingly generous, she was the catalyst for many people to create new possibilities for their lives and their dreams.

Prior to her passing in 2006, she created a trust and named a number of friends and colleagues from diverse disciplines with experience in nonprofit organizations to act as advisors to help identify potential grantees. This group created a small private foundation, The Lia Fund, to carry on her values and help realize them in the world.

The Lia Fund made its first set of grants in 2008, and for six years made grants to social change organizations in the areas of climate solutions, community arts, and holistic health and healing that promoted a holistic view of the world informed by the wisdom of nature. In recognition of the great need for resources to support grassroots organizations, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the foundation decided to spend down its assets, making its last grants in 2014.

The foundation was thoughtful in its decision to spend down, and used that decision to drive transparency in awarding grants and communicating clearly with grantees. Because of the early nature of its decision, the $5 million in grants awarded to a hundred and seven organizations were progressive, purposeful, and appropriately communicated so as to make an impact during the foundation's lifespan.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2015)

May 02, 2015

PhilanTopic hosted lots of great content in April, including opinion pieces by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation in Detroit; and Peter Sloane, chairman and CEO of the New York City-based Heckscher Foundation for Children; Q&As with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org; Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina; and Judith Shapiro, president of the New York City-based Teagle Foundation; a terrific book review from the formidable Joanne Barkan; thought-provoking posts from regular contributors Mark Rosenman and Derrick Feldmann; and a great Storify assembled by our own Lauren Brathwaite. But don't take our word for it...

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

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