Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

Weekend Link Roundup (July 19-20, 2014)

July 20, 2014

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

Education

In The Atlantic, Meredith Broussard, an assistant professor at Temple University, notes that asking poor school districts to give standardized tests inextricably tied to specific sets of books they can't afford to purchase is unfair to teachers, administrators, and students.

host of NPR's "Here & Now" program, Melinda Gates admitted that implementation of the Common Core, the national education guidelines in math and reading which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have strongly supported is the "tricky" part. "Let's be honest," Gates told Hobson.

The implementation of this is going to take some time. It has to be done carefully, it has to be done with teachers on board and they need to get some time before they can actually teach appropriately in the classroom. So you've got to make sure that the assessments and the consequences for teachers and students don’t happen immediately at the same time. And I think we got those two pieces overlapped and that’s why you got so much controversy....

Food Insecurity

A troubling article by Tracie McMillan in National Geographic finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2006 decision to track "food insecurity" instead of "hunger" -- "shifting the focus from whether people [are] literally starving to whether staying fed [is] a problem" -- has led to a startling new picture of America in which 1 in 6 Americans -- some 49 million people -- "can't count on not being hungry."

Giving

Is the primary role of charity to fight poverty? That's the question raised by Meredith Jones, president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, in a thought-provoking post on the MaineCF blog.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the "America Gives More Act" (H.R. 4719). As The Nonprofit Times reports, the package of five measures is designed to increase charitable giving by boosting the deductible limit of food donations from 10 percent to 15 percent and guaranteeing fair market value regardless of demand; allowing individuals age 70.5 or older to make gifts from their IRAs without incurring withdrawal penalties; allowing a deduction to be taken for a conservation land easement; allowing gifts made until the individual tax filing deadline (April 15) to be deducted from the prior year's taxes; and reducing the excise tax on the investments of large private foundations from a rate of 2 percent to 1 percent; the latter provision is not scheduled to take effect until 2015. No word as yet as to when the Senate plans to take up the bill.

Forbes reports that Warren Buffett had broken his personal giving record -- set last year -- with gifts of Berkshire Hathaway class B stock totaling $2.8 billion. The recipients of Buffett's generosity include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (16.59 million shares worth $2.1 billion), the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (shares worth $215 million), and the Howard G. Buffett, Sherwood, and NoVo foundations — run by his children Howard, Susan and Peter, respectively — each of which received shares of BH stock worth $150 million.

Immigration

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen looks at the latest immigration crisis and concludes that while the "list of of nonprofits stepping up to the plate is long and admirable," what "the 52,000 or so unaccompanied children already here and the 140,000 more expected in the next fiscal year [really need is] comprehensive immigration reform — nothing more, nothing less."

International Development

In the Huffington Post, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reports on a public-private initiative to help USAID better evaluate the outcomes of its programs and save the lives of more women and children around the globe.

Philanthropy

Newly installed as president of the Boston-based Barr Foundation, Jim Canales argues in an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that it's time for the field to rethink four of its stickiest "default settings" -- widely held assumptions that may be hindering its ability to make progress on key issues and problems:

  1. Obsessing over the new (and neglecting the tried and true);
  2. Too rigid a reliance on models and metrics;
  3. Going it alone; and
  4. Focusing inward.

In a post on the Rasmuson Foundation blog, Jeff Baird, a senior program associate at the foundation, explains why board giving matters.

Racial Equity

Amy Schiller argues in The Weekly Wonk that the current mania for "solutionism" -- Evgeny Morozov's term for the "intellectual pathology that recognizes problems based on just one criterion: whether they are 'solvable' with a nice and clean technological solution" -- ignores the most troubling aspects of the approach: its subversion of democracy and our collective responsibility for entrenched social problems.

Women/Girls

And on the Fast Company site, Lydia Dishman looks at seven women who have become better leaders as they have gotten older.

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....

NGO-Run Schools: Three Ways to Increase Value

July 18, 2014

Headshot_bourassa_wastyIt's no secret that international development work has more than its share of challenges, especially when it involves a project that espouses a long-term goal such as improving access to or the quality of education. While some schools run by nongovernmental organizations fare better than others, most experience varied levels of success, depending on a range of factors. While many of these factors lie beyond the control of NGOs, others can be addressed at the local level. Based on our observations in the field, the following tactics have proved to be effective in boosting the success of NGO-run schools:

Create a Stimulating Environment

The squalid conditions in most refugee camps, communities of displaced people, and urban slums not only have negative physical effects on children but also psychological ones. Accordingly, a fresh school setting can be a refuge for children in otherwise less-than-desirable situations. Displaying bright, colorful drawings, paintings, and other artwork by students on classroom walls is one way to create a healthy, positive environment — an environment that sends a positive message, supports brain stimulation and learning, and helps combat absenteeism.

Libraries that offer not only textbooks but also picture books, short story collections, and graphic novels also have great appeal for students of all ages and can be an excellent way to get kids hooked on reading. And kids who are hooked on reading often will become ambassadors of education in their local communities, eagerly sharing their love of learning with their parents, siblings, and neighbors. Making the community more aware of the importance of literacy and education and getting buy-in through such methods can yield significant long-term benefits.

Active Learning and Group Work

We've noticed in our travels that when English-speaking visitors interact with students at NGO schools where English is taught as a second language, teachers are often quick to intervene and mediate without allowing time for either students or the visitors to negotiate a channel of communication. Having teachers constantly translate for students in such situations isn't helpful, however, as it denies kids the opportunity to work out what a visitor is trying to communicate or to make themselves understood on their own.

According to the late American psychiatrist William Glasser, we "learn" 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we say and do. Thus, a better strategy would be to employ active learning methods — for example, letting foreign visitors in a classroom setting interact with students in English only. When students are encouraged to communicate through a combination of hand gestures and pictures or words on a blackboard in addition to the few English words or phrases they may possess, they almost always will learn more than if they simply relied on a teacher to translate for them.

Similarly, having students work in groups can be a great way to boost the socializing elements of classroom instruction and build students' confidence. A student who has a fear of speaking in front of others might be encouraged to focus on a different aspect of the team assignment, for instance, while another member of the group is assigned the task of speaking on behalf of the team. Knowing that their contribution was a valuable part of the group effort can be a powerful motivator for students who in more individualized settings might be too shy to assert themselves. It's also a good way for teachers to identify the weaknesses of individual students without highlighting those weaknesses to the rest of the class, and to pair "slow" and "fast" learners, thereby ensuring that no student is "left behind" while helping to cultivate empathy in stronger students.

Sociocultural sensitivities notwithstanding, pairing boys with girls also can encourage better learning. Boys and girls think differently and analyze problems differently. Asking boys and girls to work together as part of a team encourages them to see each other as equals, to learn and appreciate some of the differences in the way they approach problems, and to learn from those differences.

Link Schooling to Employability

The conceptual link between schooling and employment often is not fully developed in NGO-run schools, while the idea of market saturation is almost totally absent. At schools in Bangladesh, for instance, we regularly come across students whose stated ambition is limited to the field of business administration, teaching, or engineering. While these professions may have been in demand a few years ago and continue to have "cachet" in Bangladeshi society, they are oversubscribed and perhaps not the best option for a young Bangladeshi starting out today.

One way to address this issue is to encourage NGOs to work more closely with individuals who can provide information about local workforce needs. In addition to benefiting students, this kind of information would help NGOs better focus their efforts and resources on teaching marketable skills that directly address the needs of the broader society. In the case of Bangladesh, for example, the country could benefit from a more diversified engineering workforce that has been trained locally.

In terms of the long-term outlook, working to address market needs would go a long way toward mitigating the unwanted effects of ethnic, religious, and gender discrimination in a country like Bangladesh by creating more interactions between different segments of society through the basic laws of supply and demand.

While we are certainly aware that not all NGO-run schools have the appropriate resources to address all the issues mentioned above, we firmly believe that given the pressure most NGOs are under to "do more with less," even partially implementing some of our recommendations would increase the value proposition of these schools and position the NGOs running them as more desirable partners for any future efforts in the educational arena. Changes may not always seem significant or be easy to implement, yet their effects can be long-lasting, even generational.

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 in Montreal. Maude Bourassa has a master's degree from the Université Laval in international relations, is a research fellow at the RS Foundation, and currently works at the Polytechnique Montréal.

Artists as Social Entrepreneurs – 3 Exemplary Leaders

July 17, 2014

As defined by Ashoka, social entrepreneurs are individuals with an innovative solution to a pressing social problem. They are ambitious and persistent in tackling the issues they target and in offering new ideas for wide-scale social change.

I gave a keynote at the SoCap13 conference titled "The Surprise Social Entrepreneur." My talk explores the five defining characteristics of the social entrepreneur as set out by the late Greg Dees, who helped define the field of social entrepreneurship as a professor at Duke University:

  • Socially driven – Social entrepreneurs are committed to advancing a mission that creates and sustains social value (not just private wealth).
  • Growth oriented – They recognize and relentlessly pursue new opportunities to serve that mission.
  • Innovative – They engage in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning.
  • Resourceful – They act boldly despite the often-limited resources they have in hand.
  • Accountable – They exhibit heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

I then look at the case of a single entrepreneur, ticking off, point by point, how this person and the organization he started fully meet the five criteria. While some details are given – "prioritizes access for all; sets price point for services to be affordable" (socially driven) and "negotiated ten-year, $10 million bridge loan to finance new production facility" (resourceful) — it is not until the second half of the presentation that the name of the person I am talking about is revealed.

He is James Houghton, the founder of the 22-year-old Signature Theatre Company in New York City. The talk finishes with a quick look at four other artist-social entrepreneurs to prove there is a critical mass of folks linking creative expression with pressing social problems. The larger point: It shouldn't be a surprise that artists also often are social entrepreneurs.

Over the past ten years, the social sector has been spotlighting, celebrating, rewarding, and investing in new leaders. But our role models have come from fields like education, health, and microfinance. Funders, the media, and other "kingmakers" are preoccupied with change agents who can improve math scores, lower the rate of Type-2 diabetes, raise the incomes of the poor, or catalyze a civil movement. All good things to be sure. But even though the arts can contribute to those types of objectives, they are largely ignored. I question why, and at what cost.

Artists in the U.S. are addressing topics like the sustainability of the food supply, the criminal justice system, and obesity. Artists in India are addressing issues as different as caste and recycling. Mexican artists are exploring topics of migration and gun violence. These are the same kinds of critical issues that other social entrepreneurs are tackling.

The artist-in-residence programs at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Center for American Progress highlight the unique contributions artists can make in a range of disciplines. Artists are envisioning the future through the lens of the economy, the environment, and youth. Communities seeking to become more sustainable recognize that artists can contribute to the solution.

The arts are sometimes dismissed as a rich people's indulgence that have nothing to contribute to important discussions about social change. Neither is true, both are a mistake, and such a perspective puts the entire sector at a disadvantage.

Arts organizations reach more than a third of American adults at least once a year[1]. I call that delivering innovation at scale. Arts organizations combine earned and contributed income streams to achieve sustainability and fulfill a mission. Hybrid funding model, anyone? Groups like Creative Capital, Oberlin College, and Harvard University are working with arts groups to build their skills in budgeting, marketing, and strategic planning, helping them to be more effective social enterprises.

Along with Professor Jane Wei-Skillern, I am currently researching and writing three MBA case studies featuring artist-social entrepreneurs. The subjects are Signature Theatre's James Houghton; Theaster Gates, an artist and urban planner who is helping to revitalize Chicago's South Side; and Deborah Cullinan, longtime champion of arts at the community level and new executive director of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Artists are essential to every conversation about social innovation. Check out the three artists above to see why.

This post was written by Laura Callanan, Haas Scholar in Residence at the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, where she is leading research into the trends in social sector leadership. A version of this post originally appeared on the blog of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the Haas School of Business.

_____________

[1] National Endowment for the Arts, 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.

Philanthropy, Diversity, and Equity

July 15, 2014

Headshot_susan_battenIn May, the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), in partnership with the Black Philanthropic Network, released the report The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions (21 pages, PDF). The report highlights the need for leadership pipelines, development programs, and effective retention strategies targeting African-American professionals in philanthropy and was prompted by the sense here at ABFE that too many African Americans were leaving the field. Indeed, data from the Council on Foundations — though not provided in a way that enabled us to analyze trends over time — seems to support our assumption.

We've received a lot of feedback on the report, ranging from approval and a sense of deep resonance, to frustration that nothing seems to be changing, to recommendations about what should be done. Clearly, there was demand for such an analysis. 

In June, two months after we released the report, the Joint Affinity Groups celebrated its twentieth anniversary by holding a Unity Summit where six identity-based organizations — ABFE, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the Women's Funding Network, and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy — joined forces to talk about how we might work together to advance racial equity. The idea was that the field can and should do more to ensure that every individual in the United States has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. To that end, we developed a proposed definition of equity — we will have achieved equity "when one can no longer predict advantage or disadvantage based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender identity, or ability" — and further proposed that we should be able to see progress toward that goal and be able to measure reductions in disparities in well-being based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender orientation, and ability. For JAG, equity is about results, and philanthropy must play a role in shaping social and economic policy and practice to advance an equity agenda.

Continue reading »

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Play a Leading Role?

July 14, 2014

Feldmann-headshotIs our organization relevant?

If you work for a nonprofit, you've probably asked yourself that question more than once. Concerns about relevancy stem from the most challenging aspect of organizational sustainability. Unfortunately, even when your cause is viewed as "relevant," your organization may not be viewed in the same way. And while the activist in you may feel that relevancy is overrated and that you didn't dedicate your life to a cause so that you could spend your days worrying about who's "hot" – and who’s not – the fact of the matter is that organizations perceived as "relevant" typically are the ones that receive the most attention, the most financial support, and the most acclaim.

Relevancy, by definition, means being closely associated with a topical cause or issue. A relevant nonprofit is a nonprofit that can speak to an issue with authority and has its thumb on the pulse of activities around that issue.

In other words, an organization is relevant if:

  1. it is a leading voice in the ongoing conversation/debate around its issue or cause
  2. it is recognized as a connector/convener with respect to its issue or cause.

I often tell my clients to think about their particular issue or cause as if it were a play, complete with actors in lead roles and a supporting cast. If an organization wants to be relevant, it needs to do whatever it can to ensure that it has a lead role in the play.

Playing the Lead

There's no shortage of nonprofit organizations or causes worth donating to in the world – a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the fierce competition that exists among organizations in the social sector.

With so many organizations vying for dollars and attention, it's to be expected that a few will emerge from the crowd and be recognized as the leading voice on their respective issue or cause. How do you know who they are? When funders convene, those organizations are usually in the room and/or a part of the conversation. They're the ones new donors are most likely to be familiar with and trust. They're the ones other organizations look to for their cues and people expect to be persuaded and moved to action by. They lead and others follow.

And if an organization has the chops to play the leading role, it usually has at least two or three people in roles that are critical to projecting its competence and capacity:

Continue reading »

World Cup Soccer, World-Class Philanthropy

July 11, 2014

2014-world-cup-logoAnn Coulter may hate soccer, but America's philanthropic foundations love it. For those who missed it, a recent nativist diatribe by Coulter claims that only immigrants care about the sport and that "No American whose great grandfather was born here is watching soccer." Foundations don't seem to have paid any attention to her critique, much less that of the Russian priest who, citing the brightly colored shoes worn by many soccer players, labeled the World Cup competition "a homosexual abomination."

A quick search of Foundation Directory Online found that some 80 foundations have made 2,000 soccer-related grants, the vast majority to U.S. organizations. They include a large grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation to support construction of a soccer stadium at Texas Tech. A smaller grant of $20,000 was awarded by the Philadelphia Foundation to the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy for the Army Men's Soccer Endowment. Many of the grants have a social purpose, like the Oregon Community Foundation's support for Adelante Mujeres, which uses soccer to improve the health and self-esteem of Latino girls in its programs, while here in the Northeast the Anderson Foundation made a $1.5 million program-related investment (a kind of low-cost loan) to the Players Development Academy in New Jersey for youth soccer promotion activities.

Some grants have been directly related to the World Cup itself. The Nike Foundation funded GlobalGirl Media to train South African girls to report on the 2010 World Cup in their country. And more recently, a Ford Foundation grant to a Brazilian organization supported in-depth reporting on the impact of stadium construction projects on the urban poor in advance of the 2014 World Cup.

Philanthropy is a global phenomenon with deep roots in the norms, values, and political culture of the United States.  America's foundations fund a wide range of issues, from the arts to zoology research and everything in between. Soccer is of interest to many foundations on account of its ability to attract national and global attention, spur economic development, provide opportunities for youth, and imbue in young people the values of tolerance and teamwork. And, as the Ford Foundation grant above demonstrates, foundations are not afraid to support critics of a mega-event like the World Cup when the business of global sport clashes with the rights of the poor.

Through the generosity of foundations, the lives of countless Americans have been touched by the sport known as soccer.  For two hours this Sunday, many of them will join a global community of some 600 million people that will be glued to their televisions for the World Cup final.  Philanthropy has helped make that possible.

– Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about soccer, democracy, and philanthropy.

Charities and the ‘Compassion Gap’

July 09, 2014

Rosenman_headshotAny traces of the "compassionate conservatism" championed by George W. Bush in the early days of his administration has long since evaporated under the heat of Republican extremism. Today, more than three-quarters of American conservatives think the poor "have it easy," while fewer than 10 percent believe the "poor have hard lives" and receive inadequate assistance.

What's more, many conservatives believe the poor have easy lives because "they get government benefits without doing anything," ignoring not only the limits of public aid, but also the obstacles that must be overcome to obtain food stamps, Medicaid, day care, public housing, and other kinds of government assistance. In fact, more than 80 percent of conservatives also say that the government programs on which the poor so desperately depend do more harm than good.

Can four out of five conservatives really be so hard-hearted that they cannot imagine how profoundly difficult life is for people without enough money to feed their children, to fill an essential prescription for an ill parent, or to access a safe place to leave an infant while they try to find a part-time, no-benefits, minimum-wage job that gives them no hope of escaping what in many cases are slum- and crime-ridden neighborhoods? "Have it easy?" Really?

These findings are consistent in that more than half of conservatives believe that people are poor because of "lack of effort," while fewer than 30 percent of conservatives believe poverty results from "circumstances beyond [an individual's] control." Despite all we have learned over the years about the causes of poverty and related ills, conservatives seem bound and determined to reduce the issue to the simple fact of people making bad decisions and doing bad things.

That kind of thinking ought to be greeted with dismay by most charities, even if their missions address problems other than poverty. Blaming the victim does not make the work of nonprofits any easier, does not incline people to support well-meaning interventions, and, at the end of the day, is the opposite of charitable. Indeed, with respect to most problems of concern to nonprofits, there is no path forward if people are seen as the sole source of their own troubles.

Continue reading »

9 Reasons to Become Powered by Pro Bono Services

July 08, 2014

Headshot_aaron_hurstWhat would your nonprofit do with an additional 20 percent in its budget? What if you could achieve that by securing professional support from marketing, information technology, human resources, finance, and strategy professionals? Still not convinced pro bono service is the rocket fuel you need to achieve your mission? While there are many ways in which pro bono can positively impact your organization, here are nine reasons guaranteed to change your mind.

1. You need a strong voice. In an increasingly noisy world, it's imperative nonprofits make themselves heard. Pro bono resources can help your organization create key messages and visual identities, brand strategies, attractive and user-friendly websites, compelling print collateral, and more -- all of which are critical if it hopes to develop a clear and powerful voice that engages a broad range of stakeholders and reaches across organizations to create impact.

2. The best nonprofits are doing it. Some will tell you pro bono is only for failing nonprofits that can't afford to pay for services. Gerald Chertavian, founder of Year Up, would say that such people "suffer from a severe lack of imagination." Year Up, as it happens, is one of the most successful nonprofits in the U.S. They've worked with more than six thousand young people nationwide and have sites in eleven cities. They produce very successful outcomes (84 percent of program graduates are in school or working full-time within four months of graduation). They operate with a staff of more than three hundred people and an annual budget of over $40 million and have twice been voted one of the top fifteen nonprofits in the U.S. to work for. And they've been pro bono believers since the beginning. Pro bono support from Alta Communications helped kick off the initial Year Up venture, and over the years Gerald has successfully locked in pro bono support from countless sources, including New Profit Inc. and Monitor Deloitte, whose advice with respect to strategic planning helped shape the organization into the powerhouse it is today.

3. It helps foster talent and leadership. The nonprofit sector is the people sector. Nonprofits succeed when they have great people and great leadership. And that requires investment. You need systems, training, and infrastructure to get board members, employees, and volunteers into the right roles. Pro bono projects can help nonprofits build the necessary structures for talent retention and development, as well as for setting appropriate goals and performance management processes that lead to strategically aligned growth and staff development.

4. It generates significant corporate support. Many companies are much more likely to become large donors if they have employees deeply engaged in your mission. Companies like Deloitte hugely favor their pro bono partners over other grantees when it comes to providing significant financial support.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 5-6, 2014)

July 06, 2014

Iced tea_arrangementWe were out of pocket last week, so we've included a few items we missed in this week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Black Male Achievement

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter argues in a post on the HuffPo's Black Voices blog that three myths are hurting young black men and boys:

  1. Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
  2. Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
  3. Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Front and Center - Cleveland blog, guest blogger Brian Sooy, president of design and communications firm Aespire, considers four dimensions of communications that have the potential for strengthening the culture of any mission-driven organization.

Data

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice HuffPo piece on the transformative power of data.

Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.

Economy

Very good post by John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, in response to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker article dismissing Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. It's a bit of a long read, but Hagel's main thesis is that two forces – economic liberalization and exponentially improving technology –are "systematically and substantially" reducing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale while causing businesses and institutions to "fundamentally re-think" their models and arrangements. "Bottom line," writes Hagel, "[these two forces] are catalyzing more opportunity for players to adopt new approaches that can be highly disruptive...[and] increasing both the motivation and ability of players to pursue these disruptive
approaches...."

Continue reading »

[Infographic] The Million-Dollar Philanthropist at a Glance

July 05, 2014

It's a glorious day here in NYC, the kind of day when anything, even a transformative million-dollar gift, seems possible. Certainly, as our coverage here at PND makes abundantly clear, there have been a lot of them made over the last decade or so. But as this infographic from the folks at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI shows, the vast majority of individuals who give at this level give only once. Food for thought as you head off to your next holiday weekend cookout....

Inforgraphic_million_dollar philanthropist

Whither Education? A Q&A With Michael McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation

July 03, 2014

Differing opinions about how best to educate children have been a feature of polite (and not-so-polite) conversation since the time of Plato, so it’s not surprising that such concerns continue to boil. Indeed, in recent decades it has become common for critics and reports to link the troubled state of public education in America with the decline of the republic and to insist that only a complete overhaul of the system, with a focus on those growing up in disadvantaged situations, can save us.

One of the earliest of those reports, 1983's A Nation at Risk, famously claimed that American schools were failing and called for dramatic action to remedy the situation, including the introduction of a seven-hour school day, a longer school year, and teachers' salaries that were "professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance-based." More than thirty years after its publication, however, few of the report's recommendations have been adopted, and the public education system in the U.S. remains an archipelago of local school districts that, some would argue, have little in common with each other.

Established in 1962, the Spencer Foundation received the majority of its endowment after the death in 1968 of its founder Lyle M. Spencer, who made his fortune from Science Research Associates, an educational publishing firm. In the years since its establishment, the foundation has continued to champion education research and today is led by Michael McPherson, a nationally known economist who became the foundation's fifth president in 2003 after serving as president of Macalester College in Minnesota for seven years and in a variety of roles at Williams College in Massachusetts for twenty-two years.

PND recently spoke with McPherson about the state of public education in the United States, the Common Core and its critics, and where the U.S. educational system is headed.

Headshot_michael_mcphersonPhilanthropy News Digest: As a college student in the 1980s, I minored in education, and one of the things we discussed a lot was A Nation At Risk, the 1983 report issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. More than thirty years after publication of that report, many people would say nothing has changed, that the education system in the United States continues to fail millions of children. What does the latest research tell us about what works and what doesn't in public education?

Michael McPherson: Well, it's impor­tant to supply some context. It's certainly true that there are large, important, and disturbing problems in American education, especially for students from low-income families or facing other forms of disadvantage. At the same time, our public schools perform better, on average, than they did thirty years ago. High school grad­uation rates are up over that period of time and test scores are higher, though not as high as people would like. I think some of the criticism is grounded in what I call Golden Age thinking. The fact is that people who are complaining about the performance of our public schools are complaining about schools that are producing kids who, on average, score better on tests than they and their peers did, which is rather ironic. It helps when discussing these things to keep a little perspective.

That said, a bigger problem is the fact that we haven't exhibited any persistence or consistency in our reform efforts, which have been sporadic and characterized by a sort of magic-bullet approach. People try things, give up on them, and go on to something else. Nor have we invested in a consistent fashion in the preparation and quality of teachers. It's as if we're hoping for better schools rather than actually coming up with a long-term plan to create better schools.

PND: When you say "long-term," how long do you mean?

MM: It depends on your goals. So far, nobody's been able to avoid the fact that it takes eighteen years or so for a child to become an adult. We haven't managed to speed up the human development process, and so if we want all children to be successful in school, we have to expose them to quality early childhood education by the age of three. The ultimate effects of such a policy, whether you're talking about high school graduation rates or college readiness, aren't going to be noticed for another fifteen years or so. But we should be able to make some judgments about whether a particular reform is working or not. Take Success for All, which is one of the most successful whole-school reform strategies to be introduced in the United States in decades. The program was introduced back in the 1990s, and today there are roughly a thousand Success for All schools in the U.S. These days, the organization attracts a lot of federal money, but it took them well over a decade to establish their bona fides. The point is, Americans are a pretty impatient people, and that doesn't always work to our advantage.

PND: What is the most important element in student success? Is it teachers? Parents? Something else?

MM: In many ways, the most important factor in student success is the consistency of attention paid to the development of the individual student. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that an exceptionally good teacher can produce a jump in test scores in his or her students but that that effect invariably fades after three or four years. That's not to say that every student needs at least one great teacher in every grade. But being able to provide kids with consistently good teachers throughout their school-age years is a lot better than an alternating pattern of spectacular and terrible teachers. Consistency is important, and that applies as well to what parents do and what happens early in kids' lives.

Let me also say that it's one thing to ask how important a factor is and another to ask how much we can influence that factor. It's one thing, for example, for a child to have "chosen" the right parents in terms of their interest in his or her schooling and development as a person, and to appreciate the importance of that "choice" in the bigger scheme of things. But there's not much evidence to suggest that public policy can have much of an effect on who your parents are. Your parents are your parents, and we have yet to identify or develop programs that change that basic equation in a consistent or reliable way. I don't mean to be negative or to dismiss the possibility of success for every child, regardless of circumstance, but I do think it's important, in terms of a policy framework, to ask both what matters and what can we affect?

PND: Well, are we asking the right questions about what works and what doesn't in public education?

MM: I think we spend too much time asking whether something does or doesn't work and not enough time asking how things work and why things work and for whom things work. The "what works" framework is a little binary in its way of operating. We all know from our personal lives that something that works well for one person, whether you're talking about their tennis game or their personal work style, doesn't necessarily work well for another person. Why should we assume that education is so simple that the same thing works for everybody?

You can see the same kind of problem in other areas of life. The pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of time and money on the trial-and-error discovery and development of different compounds, and then they go through a long experimental clinical trial phase to determine whether the compound works as intended and what its negative side effects might be. Increasingly, however, because of advances in our understanding of the human genome, we are developing better ex­plan­ations for how drugs work. And that is opening up the possibility we'll be able to design drugs that work for particular conditions and diseases, instead of marching around the jungle looking for exotic plants that might yield a new compound or two. In other words, trying out stuff with the aim of determining whether it works is not a particularly sophisticated research strategy.

PND: What else should we be questioning about our current approach to education reform?

MM: We should be worrying about the quality of our success measures. By that I mean we have allowed ourselves to slide, somewhat unreflectively, into equating test scores with academic achievement or educational success. But even within the realm of academic achievement, there are a lot of things these tests don't capture very well. The ability to write a good essay, for example, which is difficult to assess through standardized tests; it's not impossible, but it's almost impossible to do it cheaply and at scale. There's also a lot of evidence to suggest that factors ostensibly influenced by one's schooling include things we don't usually think of as "academic," such as perseverance, resilience, conscientiousness, the ability to handle disappointment, et cetera. All these things seem to matter quite a bit, but they tend to disappear from view when the focus is on test performance.

Finally, I'd say we need to spend more time thinking about measures in general and what we're really trying to achieve with the schooling we provide our children. Presumably test scores are a means to an end, right? Well, what is the end? We're not having that conversation, which is too bad, because I believe thinking more about the ends would be a con­structive thing to do.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy in Brazil: An Insider’s View

July 02, 2014

Headshot_paula_fabianiThe Brazilian philanthropic landscape presents great challenges but also interesting opportunities that could result in Brazil becoming a leading force among the BRIC countries in terms of social investment.

Fueled in part by French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, wealth creation accompanied by gaping inequality has dominated the global conversation in recent months. And Brazil, which has improved on inequality measures over the last few years (one of the few countries in the world able to make that claim!), continues to be one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. That reality requires not only government but other sectors in Brazil to come up with creative solutions and structural changes that will reduce inequality. Indeed, it is why I see great opportunities for philanthropy in Brazil, both in terms of taking risks and in contributing to a more sustainable development path for the country.

In 2013, Forbes magazine identified 124 Brazilian billionaires. Most of those fortunes were concentrated among families that owned or controlled the largest companies in the country. Nevertheless, Brazil is ranked  91st (out of 135 countries) in the World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation – evidence that philanthropy has not kept pace with wealth creation over the last few years.

At the same time, the world's view of Brazil has changed, and international giving to the country has fallen fairly dramatically. According to a 2006 McKinsey report, the total amount of dollars sent from U.S. donors to Brazilian civil society organizations fell some 70 percent between 2002 and 2006. That, in turn, has led to a changed landscape for many Brazilian CSOs. According to the Associação Brasileira de Organizações Não Governamentais (ABONG) – the Brazilian association of NGOs – international funding for human rights NGOs has been replaced by funding from government and/or state-owned companies, which could pose a threat to the long-term independence of those NGOs. Moreover, as noted by Joan Spero in her report Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India and Brazil, the weakness of civil society in Brazil may inhibit giving domestically and is one of the important challenges Brazilians must address over the next decade.

Spero also notes in her report that religion and family values have played a central role in the development of charitable giving in the country. But the emergence of new trends such as individual giving (as distinct from family giving) and a growing interest in impact investing on the part of young and high-net-worth (HNW) individuals is helping to create a new dynamic that seems likely to result in new opportunities for civil society organizations and philanthropists alike.

I see myself as part of these new trends. I worked for years in the financial markets and spent many hours in conversation with brilliant people who use spreadsheets and complex formulas to create money from money. I also got married and started a family. By the time I was pregnant with my third child, I realized I wanted to focus on creating a better world for my kids – and other kids. So, with the full support of my husband, I decided to switch from the corporate world to the nonprofit world and apply the expertise in dealing with capital I had developed to employing capital to address the social and economic disparities in my country.

Continue reading »

Shaking Up Our Assumptions With an 'Un-Survey'

July 01, 2014

Headshot_bob_pullinWe're all inundated with information in today's super-saturated media environment, so as we begin the redesign of the Ford Foundation website we have to ask ourselves: "Why would the social changemakers we want to reach spend time on our site to begin with?"

To answer that question, we decided to turn the traditional online survey model on its head and let our audiences ask us questions instead of the other way around. We called it the Un-Survey.

The Un-Survey is an experiment that we hoped could help us:

  • Unearth the kinds of information our audiences would find valuable.
  • Deliver on our commitment to transparency in a way that is genuinely useful to others. (Transparency can't be limited to only what we want to share — we have to share what our audiences want to know.)
  • Foster a creative environment that helps break down the boundaries between those inside and outside the foundation.

Since we launched the Un-Survey six weeks ago, visitors have submitted over a hundred and twenty questions, and those questions have changed the way we think about our audiences' interests and needs and inspired us to pursue new ideas about our website's content and functionality.

What's been especially great is the fact that the questions are astute and address specific details about Ford's approach to social change and the practice of philanthropy. (They are also remarkably on topic, which is not always the case when a foundation opens itself to a broad community.) We've shared the higher-level questions with our leadership team, and they've found them to be illuminating as well.

Blogging about the launch of the Un-Survey, Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center's San Francisco office, summed up our intention well: "We are all being invited to be thought partners of the Ford Foundation." We knew we were crowdsourcing input from a very smart audience, but the quality of that thought partnership has exceeded our expectations, with some questions building on earlier ones and making the sum greater than the parts. And because the questions are available for any other interested foundations to read, we can all tap into the creative and diverse thinking of the social changemakers who participated.

What We've Learned

The Un-Survey helped us deepen our empathy for our audience. We can now put ourselves more fully into our website visitors' shoes, and — even more exciting — we now have a clearer sense of their aspirations for us:

  • They would like to see greater collaboration within the funder and grantee communities around shared goals, with Ford helping to facilitate.
  • Our community is asking us to more fully explain how we conceive of and execute our role as a philanthropic institution.
  • They are eager for us to share more about our progress — not only about our successes but also about what is not working.

We hope our social change audiences see the Un-Survey as an opportunity to have a meaningful influence on the next version of our website. And we know what the real measure of this experiment will be: whether we deliver on what our audiences asked for. That's our next big challenge —and it's one we're excited to take on.

Bob Pullin is chief of digital engagement at the Ford Foundation, where he is focused on using digital technology to help build relationships with the foundation's key audiences. This post originally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2014)

June 30, 2014

Summer -- and the World Cup -- are heating up. Before you head out for that well-deserved vacation, here's another chance to catch up on some of the great content we posted in June....

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Different Kind of Support for Domestic Violence Victims

June 29, 2014

Marla_mogulAfter leaving a successful corporate career to start my own business, losing my husband to lymphoma, and raising our children on my own, I was looking for a place to put my energy and a way to connect with my Chicago community. After trying a number of things, I realized what I really wanted to do was to help other people.

Fortunately, I had a long-time friend, Alan Weintraub, who was a social worker and had helped develop a number of programs for populations in need. In one of our conversations, Alan shared with me the difficulties endured by victims of domestic violence. Listening to him, I knew what I needed to do next.

After researching the needs of domestic violence victims and the services currently available to them in Chicago, I learned that many agencies provide crisis intervention, counseling, and shelter services — intense, serious, and challenging work — and that many also do great work as advocates on behalf of domestic violence victims. But as far as I could tell, the one thing many of these women — and an overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women — didn’t have was an opportunity, however brief, to escape from the daily struggle to rebuild their lives. I decided I wanted to do something about that. And so, in 2012 Alan and I co-founded A Night Out, a nonprofit that treats women in domestic violence shelters to an evening at a concert, comedy show, or some other outing.

Each Night Out is designed to offer hope and a much-needed respite from the daily fear, strife, and hardship that victims of domestic violence typically experience. The women who agree to join us often do so with some hesitation, feeling they don’t deserve to be pampered. But they almost always come away with a sense of empowerment, gratitude, and a strong desire to push forward to overcome their pasts and create a better future for themselves.

Continue reading »

Bulletproof Your Resume: Four Mistakes Nonprofit Execs Make and How to Fix Them

June 25, 2014

Nonprofit_resume_mistakesCrafting a compelling resume tends to get more difficult the further along you are in your career. There's a much larger body of work to consider and frame once you've reached the executive level, and for most executives finding the time to build a high-impact resume isn’t easy. But it’s time well spent, since your resume is still an important way to communicate your unique value proposition and helps prospective employers and others get a quick sense of your personal brand.

Below are four mistakes nonprofit executives often make with their resumes, and how to fix them.

1. Leading with an objective statement or random assortment of characteristics and adjectives.The real estate at the top of your resume is critical. This is your first and best chance to demonstrate your value proposition to a prospective employer. If you don't hook them here, most readers will lose interest before they get to the middle of the page. The old standby objective statement (e.g., "Seasoned manager seeking leadership opportunity in mission-driven social service organization") doesn't give the reader anything other than a vague picture of the kind of job you are looking for — and frankly, she doesn't care about that. Prospective hiring managers, recruiters, and HR executives need and want to know what you can offer them.

The fix: Develop a powerful summary that outlines your career achievements and value. Make it easy to read, use bullets, and be sure it demonstrates your skills in a way that convinces the hiring manager you are worth more than thirty seconds of his or her time. Focus on the quantifiable results of your projects and roles, as well as what you have to offer a potential employer. For example:

  • Managed department of 60 with $35M budget;
  • Oversaw organization-wide data migration project;
  • Secured $19M in funding.

2. Missing the mark on format and length. As an executive recruiter, I see hundreds of resumes every week, and the two most common mistakes I see are resumes that are too long and/or resumes that have overly fussy formatting.

The fix: As a seasoned executive, you have much more experience than you could possibly fit onto a single page. That doesn't mean, however, that you should take six pages to spell it all out; keep it to no more than two to three pages and indicate that you're happy to fill in your additional experience upon request.

When it comes to formatting, simplicity and readability should be your guiding principles. Stick to a maximum of two fonts, and don't over-engineer. Also, don't forget that many people, especially those with whom you'll be networking, will be looking at your resume on a mobile device, so be sure to look at the finished product on a smartphone and tablet before you circulate it.

Finally, don't forget about the basics: if you don't have the time to proofread your resume for typos and grammatical errors, find someone who does.

Continue reading »

How Millennials Are Changing the Workplace — for Good

June 23, 2014

Headshot_emily_yuWhat's the secret to keeping millennials engaged and satisfied with their jobs? Create and provide meaningful opportunities for them as employees to do good — whether it's through a donation match, volunteer days, or even service-oriented sabbaticals.

While opportunities for service may not seem like the most pressing challenge for companies, the organizations that successfully meet the needs of millennials will be better positioned to not only attract but also retain this dynamic workforce. Within the next ten years more than 50 percent of the workforce will be represented by those born between 1979 and 1999. The next generation of employees is entrepreneurial, well educated, tech savvy, and driven by their passion to do good, and these tendencies and preferences are already influencing the policies and workplace structures of many companies.

A new survey of more than fifteen hundred millennials conducted by Achieve and sponsored by the Case Foundation affirmed this generation's strong commitment to workplace giving through activities such as volunteering, service projects, and pro bono work. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report showed that a company's involvement with cause-related opportunities influenced all stages of employment — from a millennial's decision whether or not to accept a job (more than 55 percent said they were persuaded to say yes after cause work was discussed during an interview), to whether or not they planned to stay at a job (20 percent said belief in the company's mission and purpose would be the most important reason for staying).

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 21-22, 2014)

June 22, 2014

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

Climate Change

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury secretary (2006-09)  Henry Paulson argues that in order to meet "the challenge of our time" (i.e., climate change), the U.S. needs to "plac[e] a tax on carbon dioxide emissions," phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and renewable energy ("Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for"), and work hand-in-hand with China to transition to a global economy powered by clean energy.

Giving

The 2014 edition of the Giving USA report was released on Tuesday, and as usual, writes the AP's David Crary, "Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors."

Higher Education

Affirmative action as we know it is doomed, writes David Leonhardt on the New York Times' Upshot blog. "Five of the Supreme Court's nine justices have never voted in favor of a race-based affirmative action program," he notes, while "eight states have already banned race-based affirmative action, and four additional ones, including Ohio and Missouri, may consider bans soon." But maybe a system based on income and/or high school class rank rather than income is a better solution at this moment in history. "Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court, has signaled some openness to letting institutions consider race," Leonhardt writes,

so long as race doesn't dominate their decisions. And in today's version of affirmative action, race dominates. The standard way that colleges judge any potential alternative is to ask whether it results in precisely the same amount of racial diversity, rather than acknowledging that other forms of diversity also matter.

"An affirmative action based mostly on class, and using race in narrowly tailored ways, is one much more likely to win approval from Justice Kennedy when the issue inevitably returns to the court.

"The next move belongs to those who believe in affirmative action. They can continue to hope against hope that the status quo will somehow hold. Or they can begin to experiment — and maybe end up with a fairer system than the current one."

 

Continue reading »

Flaherty Film Seminar Celebrates Its 60th

June 20, 2014

Flaherty_seminar_60The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary with a week-long program at Colgate University featuring forty-five short and feature-length films and video installations created by filmmakers from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Many address the conflicting needs for security and transparency in the modern age.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will be showing eleven films from the program over the next week, plus two films by D.A. Pennebaker and his wife and collaborator Chris Hegedus in an opening-night event on Saturday, June 21. The films were selected by MoMA assistant curator Sally Berger and this year's Flaherty Film Seminar curators, Caspar Stacke and Gabriela Monroy. 

The MoMA series includes films by Shaina Anand, from Collaboration Around Micro Politics (CAMP) in Mumbai,India; moving-image artist Duncan Campbell, who is based in Glasgow, Scotland; and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, a member of the Raqs Media Collective in New Delhi. All are artists who explore "new aesthetic idioms" in documentary filmmaking while focusing on possibilities for democratic renewal in the contemporary global economy. The three filmmakers will show clips and discuss their works on Monday evening, June 23, as part of the series.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1972, Duncan Campbell represented Scotland at the 2013 Venice Biennale  with his film It For Others, "a social and historical examination of cultural imperialism and commodity" that will be shown at MoMA on Sunday, June 29, and has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, which recognizes new directions in contemporary art and is organized by the Tate Gallery in London.

Earlier this week, I talked with Campbell about his filmmaking process and some of his central artistic concerns.

Continue reading »

Social Innovation With Our Eyes Wide Open

June 19, 2014

Headshot_laura_callananDon’t get me wrong: I love social innovation.

I was a consultant in McKinsey's Social Innovation Practice. I have spilled ink over some of the most popular social innovation topics of the day: impact assessment, sustainable capitalism, and – that current sweetheart – social impact bonds.

But it's my up-close-and-personal encounter with SIBs that has shown me there is way too much hype when it comes to social innovation. Consider some of these claims:

  • SIBs help diversify your investment portfolio because they are entirely uncorrelated with the market. (So is a trip to Atlantic City.)
  • SIBs are great for government because they shift all the risk of new programs to private investors. (Ask the investors if that's a deal they want to take.)
  • SIBs can be used to finance pilots and start-ups. (Ask the same investors how they feel about being paid only if there are results on something with no track record.)
  • SIBs can be used to fund every kind of program – from seeds and fertilizer for small holder farmers in Africa to restoration of blighted neighborhoods in the U.S. (SIBs are pretty expensive and complicated, so if there are other ways to channel aid, harness markets, and use existing community development tools and tax credits, don't use a SIB just because it sounds cool.)

This is not to say that SIBs lack the potential to do a lot of good. I believe they can be a valuable tool for scaling proven programs and supporting government performance transformation. But SIBs are a tool, not a silver bullet.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy in Russia: An Insider’s View

June 18, 2014

Headshot_maria_chertokCharitable giving and philanthropy in Russia is slightly more than twenty years old. It all started in early 1990 with a number of newly established companies that gave to all sorts of issues on an ad hoc basis. A few years later, in 1997, CAF Russia helped Rosbank establish the first corporate giving program in the country. In the years since, Russian-based companies have become a lot more thoughtful and strategic in their philanthropy, adopting corporate sustainability ideas from the West and developing longer-term approaches to their social investments.

The second wave of philanthropic institutions to appear in Russia were community foundations, the first of which was founded in 1998 in Togliatti. Today, there are something like forty-five community foundations across the country, and a report issued by CAF Russia found that over the last ten years they had invested more than $16.5 million in their communities [1]

The third stage of philanthropy's development in Russia involved the appearance of private and family foundations. In her recent report on philanthropy in the BRIC countries, Joan Spero lists the most prominent of them, including the Potanin Foundation and Dmitri Zimin's Dynasty Foundation, both of which were founded about a dozen years ago.

Not to be overlooked, all of this institutional philanthropy is augmented by middle class giving and volunteering, which in Russia is growing fairly rapidly.

So, there's no question that, over the  past two decades, philanthropy in Russia has come a long way. Nevertheless, asset and giving totals are still relatively modest. You won't find many figures in Spero's report because, as she correctly notes, very little data on assets and giving is available – and even less is available in English. In terms of individual giving, both the CAF World Giving Index [2] and domestic researchers agree that only around 5 percent to 7 percent of the population in Russia gives to nongovernmental or civil society organizations on a regular basis, which is quite low compared with Brazil (23 percent in 2013), India (28 percent) and even China (10 percent). And as far as organized philanthropy is concerned, the seventy Russian foundations that shared their data for a report recently published by the Russian Donors Forum [3], including the largest private and corporate foundations in the country, had an average annual budget in 2012 of 180 million rubles (equivalent to $6 million) – hardly an impressive figure compared to foundation grantmaking budgets in other large countries. 

Continue reading »

'Under Construction': System of Care – Clayton County, Georgia

June 17, 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.

The doors closed behind Oscar Mayes, stopping him in his tracks. Everything came to a halt and he was alone with his thoughts. He tracked back to the awful mistake that landed him in a detention center in Clayton County, Georgia.

SOC_Oscar MayesThe Mayes of today looks back on that chapter in his life. "You live for a moment, but you never think about your future and how it can come back to haunt you," he says. "Your past can come back to haunt you."

For the 15-year-old Mayes, it didn’t matter whether he looked backward or forward. He was haunted as much by the future as by the past. When was his court appointment? Where would he be transferred next? When would he see his family again? Life's certainties hung by a thread. The prospect of hard prison time loomed in his mind, knocking off future milestones one by one.

Before Clayton County introduced the System of Care and its alternative to youth incarceration, this was a typical scenario for young offenders.

At that point, Mayes's life had been turned upside down. And over the last two decades, Clayton County, located just south of Atlanta, has faced its own upheaval. Atlanta's selection as host city for the 1996 Summer Olympics ushered in a phase of redevelopment and transformation that sent ripples across the metro area. Inner-city housing projects were razed to pave the way for new stadiums and gentrification. Many of the city's displaced headed to the suburbs.

Droves of the county's middle- and upper-income residents responded to the changes by moving. Subsequently, many shops and stores were shuttered. Then the county was rezoned for subsidized housing. Crime rates went up. The community eventually faced a new reality as the poorest county in metro Atlanta with the highest foreclosure rates and the highest rates of free and reduced lunches.

Before the System of Care, the young residents of Jonesboro, Forest Park, and towns across Clayton County could easily get caught up in the juvenile justice system. Georgia's legal code was exceptionally rigid: by committing any one of thirty-plus crimes, an offender became a "designated felon" regardless of whether he was 53 or 13.

Continue reading »

An Organizational Structure That Works for Change

June 16, 2014

Headshot_thomas_somodiMany, if not most, people would argue that the capacity of a nonprofit organization to change is critical to its survival over the long term. To that end, the nonprofit literature is full of theories, methodologies, recommendations, and analyses with respect to how nonprofits should be structured and operated in order to maximize their ability to thrive and drive change.

Yet, even with all the guidance at their disposal, too many nonprofits fail to make an impact or achieve the desired change.

The reality is that if we want to see progress in this area, nonprofit organizations need to rethink their relationship to the dynamics of organizational change, and the best place to start is with the concepts found in Change Science.

Step One – Develop and Communicate a Proper Perspective of Change in the Organization

One of the first things Change Science tells us is that change is continuously occurring all around us. Every time an event is held, a donor is contacted, a donation is processed, a program is launched or altered, something in the organization's calculus has changed. It is critical that everyone in an organization, from the board of directors on down to individuals in frontline staff positions, understands that basic fact.

Step one, then, is for everyone to stop thinking of change as something that happens "out there" and to recognize that the organization already is dealing with a continuous stream of change at every level.

Step Two – Develop an Organization-Wide Understanding of Change-Related Responsibility

So how does an organization manage continuously occurring change? The answer is simple: delegation of responsibility. From the person responsible for reserving event space and inviting potential donors, to individual program managers, to the executive or executives tasked with setting and implementing the organization's strategic direction, responsibility for managing change has to be delegated.

Delegating responsibility for change carries an added benefit: employees who are given responsibility for managing some aspect of change are automatically empowered, and an empowered employee is an engaged and more effective employee. Indeed, what is often lacking in nonprofit organizations is a top-to-bottom recognition of the fact that not only is there a significant amount of change continuously occurring in and around the organization, but that through the delegation of responsibility, individuals within the organization already are managing that change.

Continue reading »

NGO Aid Map: See More. Do Better.

June 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_montgomeryThere are certain moments in your life that you never forget. Some of mine include graduating from college, buying a home, and having a baby. The same thing happens in one's career, and for me, Wednesday was one of those moments.

For the past six years, InterAction has been using online maps to help tell our members’ story. Wednesday was important because we launched a new global map on InterAction's NGO Aid Map, one that will allow us to tell this story as it applies to all countries and all sectors.

As the world of development actors continues to grow and expand, it is more important than ever to make aid smarter. One way to help improve aid is through data sharing, but in the midst of a data revolution, how does one make sense of it all?

It may sound simple, but gathering up-to-date, standardized data from NGOs is no small feat, even for InterAction — an alliance made up of more than one hundred and eighty individual organizations working to advance human dignity and fight poverty around the world.

Collecting data is one thing, but ensuring that it stays relevant, useful, and accessible is a massive undertaking. That is why we built the NGO Aid Map, an online platform that demonstrates, using maps and other data visualizations, where our members work and what they do around the world. Through data, we can help determine whether we are on the right track to fighting poverty.

Screenshot_NGO_AidMap

Now that you know why Wednesday mattered to me, I'd like to share five reasons why NGO Aid Map should matter to you:

Continue reading »

Game-Changing Philanthropy Through Funder Collaboration

June 12, 2014

Headshot_bossiere_corvingtonPhilanthropy has spent decades focused on achieving good outcomes with not enough to show when it comes to population-level impact on intergenerational poverty. It's clear that to achieve better results, we need to change the way we do our work.

As we ask nonprofits to collaborate to ensure better alignment and more secure hand-offs between and among programs, we funders have got to be prepared to do the same.

Fortunately, there are a number of foundations that have already figured this out. In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation asked a dozen fellow funders — banks, insurance companies, family foundations, and the local United Way — to align their grantmaking with the goal of ensuring that every child in the community enters fourth grade reading at grade level. Thanks to those efforts, the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success has supported a variety of tutoring, afterschool, and summer learning programs.

In Iowa, the ten foundations in the Education Funders Network have agreed to jointly fund an early reading initiative, starting with a summer learning push that is being rolled out this month in communities across the state. In Arizona, the state's leading philanthropic organizations have joined with public agencies and more than five dozen community nonprofits to create Read On Arizona, an effort aimed at improving language and literacy outcomes for children from birth through age 8.

These efforts give lie to the social-sector adage that "collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults." Together, these foundations are pushing through the discomfort that comes with yielding control of the agenda and are diving into the messy work of shared accountability and elevated expectations.

What's more, they're directing their energy toward one of the biggest problems our nation faces: the fact that four-fifths of children from low-income families have not learned to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade.

This is a problem with grave consequences. Third grade marks the point where the curriculum shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who don't reach that critical milestone often struggle in the later grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. Too often, even in good schools with effective teachers, these are the children least likely to succeed, because they are too far behind when they start, miss too many days of school, and lose too much ground over the summer.

Continue reading »

Football (Soccer), Democracy, and Philanthropy

June 10, 2014

World cup clothingEarlier this month I was in Brazil, a country preparing itself to host the biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup. The sport is what we call soccer, but the rest of the world knows it as football and nobody plays it better than Brazil. The U.S. made it through the grueling two-year process to qualify, but no one expects the team to get very far in the competition. When you see how obsessed Brazilians are with football, you can understand why they're so good at it. One small indicator: my sister-in-law bought very stylish Brazilian football outfits so her six-month-old twin granddaughters will be ready for June 12 when Brazil opens the tournament against Croatia. If Brazil wins its sixth World Cup, the celebration will be on a scale that's unimaginable for most of us — it will make the Super Bowl look like a Sunday school retreat.

If you've been following World Cup news, you are undoubtedly aware that Brazil's plan to showcase to the world its culture, growing economic power, and social progress has not exactly gone as planned. Demonstrations, some of them violent, protesting the expenditure of billions of dollars for luxurious new stadiums and the accompanying forced removal of slum dwellers have filled the streets. Meanwhile, the country continues to be plagued by poor health care, inadequate infrastructure, and urban violence. The phenomenon of its football-obsessed citizenry protesting Brazil's hosting of the World Cup took the government by surprise and has caused a political crisis: there is growing criticism of endemic corruption, and the country's president, once a shoe-in for reelection, now faces a tough race. The crisis goes even deeper, however, as growing dissatisfaction with politicians and government institutions morphs into a kind of repudiation of politics and business as usual.

As painful as this is for Brazil and Brazilians, it shows how far democracy in the country has come. In 1970, Brazil's then-military government cynically promoted the Brazilian football team's march to its third World Cup championship (Mexico was the host country) to distract attention from a wave of internal repression. Years later, as the dictatorship was losing its grip on power, the tactic was exposed in a banned Brazilian film (though no one dared criticize the dictatorship at the time). Today, as a democratic Brazil prepares to host the Cup for a second time (the first was in 1950), people are protesting in the streets, the media is filled with exposés, political parties are battling it out in the media and Congress, and a young Brazilian has made a YouTube video entitled “No, I’m not Going to the World Cup” that has been downloaded more than 4.2 million times.

Continue reading »

Have Foundations Recovered From the Great Recession?

June 09, 2014

The answer seems straightforward. According to a preview of the forthcoming edition of Key Facts on U.S. Foundations, estimated foundation giving reached nearly $55 billion last year, a record. That was close to $8 billion more than in 2008 — the peak year for foundation giving before the economic downturn. Even after adjusting for inflation, the country's independent, corporate, community, and operating foundations gave $3.5 billion more in 2013 than they did in 2008. All good, right?

Well, mostly. But helping to boost the overall giving figure were close to 11,000 more foundations — some of them quite large — than we tracked in 2008, as well as approximately $2.8 billion more in product giving by about a dozen operating and corporate foundations created by pharmaceutical manufacturers to distribute medications. What's more, 35 percent of the independent and family foundations that responded to our recent "Foundation Giving Forecast Survey" indicated that they reduced their giving in 2013. In similar years past, a typical figure was 25 percent or less.

FC_KFUSFDNs_page2

 

With a gravity-defying stock market, why hasn't foundation giving recovered faster? In part, because foundation giving didn't tank after the 2008 economic meltdown. The 17 percent drop in foundation assets in 2008 was followed by a roughly 2 percent decline in giving the following year. Looking to provide a secure source of support for struggling grantees, a number of foundations held their giving steady or reduced their giving by far less than the decline in their assets. As the assets of these foundations have  recovered, their payout rates have also returned to more typical levels. The takeaway: foundations are an important source of stability during challenging and volatile economic times.

And the picture for 2014 looks even brighter. Foundation Center projects that independent and family foundations, which account for roughly nine out of 10 U.S. foundations, will increase their giving by 7 percent this year. And while we're forecasting a smaller increase for corporate and community foundations, overall giving in 2014 undoubtedly will outpace inflation.

Have foundations recovered from the Great Recession? As of today, we're willing to say "pretty much." And we're confident they'll be there for grantees when the next one comes.

Steven Lawrence is director of research at Foundation Center and author of the annual Key Facts on U.S. Foundations report. Looking for more data? Check out Foundation Stats, the most comprehensive resource available for generating tables and charts on the size, scope, and giving priorities of the U.S. foundation community.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 7-8, 2014)

June 08, 2014

World Cup_logoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

On the Bloomberg View site, Cass Sunstein, the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard University, provides three rebuttals to the so-called Sophisticated Objection of the fossil fuel lobby and its supporters, an argument which acknowledges that while climate change is a serious problem, unilateral action by any country will impose significant costs without producing significant benefits.

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Lucy Bernholz suggests it's time we started thinking more seriously about how to "collect, organize, govern, store, share, and destroy digital data for public benefit" – and offers a couple of "deliberately half-baked" ideas to get us started.

"Good data practice is not just about the technical skills," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "There is a human side [as well].  It is found between the dashboard and the chair. It includes organizational culture and its influence on decision-making – from consensus building on indicators, agility in responding to data with action, and sense-making. It is the human side that helps nonprofits use  their data for learning and continuous improvement." 

Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, L.S. Hall weighs in with a surprisingly generous consideration of the education philanthropy of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Evaluation

Nancy Roob, president and CEO of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, argues in a post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog that while fears of rigorous evaluation are "justifiable," a broader perspective on the purposes of evaluation can help allay them.

Continue reading »

Talk Your Way to the Top: Why Old-School Communication Skills Are the Competitive Edge New Grads Need

June 07, 2014

Millennial_commsYou've just graduated from college and are (justifiably) proud of your accomplishment. But as you head into the workforce, don't expect your new credentials or your great GPA to do the heavy lifting for you. Geoffrey Tumlin warns they don't matter nearly as much as your ability to articulate, influence, persuade, and connect. These days, innovation and collaboration rule, and without the skills you need to do both, even the most prestigious degree is just a piece of paper.

"What stands out to hiring managers are great communication skills," says Tumlin, author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life. "Can you pitch an idea to a supervisor? Can you build a consensus among group members? Can you build rapport with a client

"Gen Yers will need much more than 'just an education to get the attention of hiring managers and bosses," he adds. "Any new grad who struggles with communication will need to boost those skills in order to get ahead."

Below, Tumlin shares eight communication lessons from the book that will give you the competitive edge you need, now and throughout your career:

Continue reading »

Philanthropy as If Democracy Really Mattered

June 05, 2014

Philanthropy could have far greater impact if government worked better. That's the conclusion of a recent survey of more than two hundred foundation leaders by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. According to the report based on the survey, "Foundation CEOs believe the greatest barriers to their foundations' ability to make more progress are issues external to foundations — particularly the current government policy environment and economic climate."

The more than 86,000 independent foundations in the United States make some $54 billion in grants every year in a wide range of areas, including education, health, environment, and the arts. Though rightfully proud of their accomplishments, the leaders of those foundations are far from satisfied. With a mandate to serve the public good, they want their foundations to have greater impact, and that requires the kinds of policies and government action needed to scale the many worthy programs piloted with philanthropic dollars.

Fortunately, foundation leaders are doing something about their frustration. Since 2011, more than one thousand American foundations have granted nearly $1.4 billion to organizations working to help American democracy live up to its promise. These data are displayed in Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a new interactive data platform developed by Foundation Center with support from eight of America's leading funders: the Rita Allen Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Omidyar Network's Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The platform defines what "democracy funding" means for philanthropy, establishes a baseline for such funding, and allows users to quickly grasp, in terms of both major trends and detail, who is funding what and where, across the nation.

Screenshot_democracy_tool

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "Just because something is statistically significant does not mean it is meaningfully significant...."

    Ashley Merryman, author, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs