Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

Documentary Film and Gentrification (Part 2)

April 15, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Click here to read part one of this two-part series.)

Poster_holding_groundIn my previous post, I wrote about a handful of documentary films that explore the phenomenon of gentrification. In this post, I'll consider urban redevelopment in a broader sense – with the pressure coming not only from private developers but from city government and, in some cases, endowed institutions with agendas of their own.

Over the past decade, the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia has offered a variety of programs designed to build the media skills of community activists. Through its Precious Places project, for instance, Scribe has provided video production support to nearly seventy organizations looking to record the stories neighborhood residents have to tell about the buildings, public spaces, parks, landmarks, and other sites that define where they live. The series has been broadcast on WHYY and screened in film festivals and community settings around the country.

A number of Precious Places films focus on the eroding sense of community in urban neighborhoods. Two of those short films address the value of green space and community-based arts and, in the process, challenge public policy assumptions about "redevelopment."

Featuring sixty local gardeners and other residents. La Mott Community Garden (2011) tells the story of a two-acre community garden located just outside the city line adjacent to La Mott, the oldest historically black community in Pennsylvania. Part of a larger twelve-acre parcel deeded to Temple University in 1939, the garden has served the community for more than eighty years. At some point along the way, Temple built the Tyler School of Art on part of the property, leaving the garden intact. But when a new facility was constructed for Tyler on Temple's main campus in 2009, the entire parcel was put up for sale. With support from Cheltenham Township and the Conservancy of Montgomery County, the La Mott Community Garden Group is attempting to save the garden and has requested that Temple donate the garden to the community under a land trust agreement or set a fair market price for the property so it can be purchased by the community. Both options have been rejected by the university, and negotiations are at a standstill as gardening season approaches.

I Come From A Place (2007) captures the responses of Asian Arts Initiative staff to a city order to vacate their offices in the heart of Philadelphia's Chinatown district. Founded in 1993 to help diffuse racial tensions in schools attended by Asian youths, AAI became a creative center for the city's Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans, as well as the general public. In 2006, AAI got notice of the city's plan to raze the Gilbert Building, where it was renting space, in order to make way for an expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center – for many, an unsettling reminder of an early sixties proposal by the city to demolish the neighborhood to make way for the Vine Street Expressway. Back then, the community protested the plan and managed to preserve a six-square-block area. A number of subsequent redevelopment plans were halted or mitigated through similar negotiations. In the video, AAI staff pause to consider, as they pack up their things, who sets development priorities in the city.

Roko Kawai, a founding board member, puts it this way in the film: "How can you value someone coming in for a one time convention, with so little connection and chance to interact with a place, and they leave. How do you compare the value of that to generations and generations of immigrants and families who live here and work here."

Directed by Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean, My Brooklyn (2013) focuses on the Fulton Mall, a largely African-American and Caribbean business district in downtown Brooklyn that, despite being the third most profitable shopping area in the city, was shuttered by Brooklyn politicians in collusion with developers. With backing from community advocacy organizations, the film digs into those relationships and shows that what, at first blush, looked like the inevitable byproduct of Brooklyn’s new status as the “hot” borough was in fact a methodically constructed land grab to make way for a high-end mall.

The Precious Places' version of this increasingly familiar story is a video called The Taking of South Central...Philadelphia (2005), which looks at a neighborhood west of Broad Street along the South Street corridor where rising commercial rents have forced many long-established stores out of business and the neighborhood's changing demographics threaten the future of the neighborhood's annual African street festival, Odunde.

These films are representative of a much larger body of work by filmmakers and community groups across the country that are taking up cameras in defense of their neighborhoods and shared pasts. What's often missing, however, is the backstory – a chronology of how development plans get made and the process from idea to negotiation to implementation.

Holding Ground (1996), by Mark Lipman and Leah Mahan, is that kind of story. Filmed over a period of five years starting in 1990, and utilizing news footage and contemporary interviews with key players, the film tells what happened when an urban redevelopment plan for a low-income neighborhood in Boston was rejected by the community.

The story begins with the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation, which, in partnership with several local nonprofits, initiated a planning process in 1984 to redevelop the blighted Roxbury-Dorchester neighborhood. But the public meeting where the plan was presented to the community for its endorsement went off-course when someone in the audience asked who among the plan's designers actually lived in the neighborhood.

"We had misjudged: How could we put a neighborhood initiative together without including the residents?" Robert Holmes, Jr., a trustee of the Riley Foundation, says in the film. "It was a rather incredible mistake."

The planning process ground to a halt, and eventually leaders from the community’s African-American, Latino, Cape Verdean, and European-American populations got together and formed the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. To it’s credit, the Riley Foundation stayed involved, continuing to support DSNI over the following decades as it evolved. DSNI hired a strategic planning firm, and in 1987 a new development plan was completed and adopted by city government as the official blueprint for the neighborhood. DSNI pushed ahead with the plan and succeeded in reviving the area, in part by enforcing anti-dumping laws, creating affordable housing, and pioneering the community-based exercise of eminent domain – until then the exclusive tool of municipal government.

Holding Ground followed DSNI as it guided the process and created the kind of development the community wanted. And, with support from a number of foundations, the film itself became a wonderful example of how documentary film can be used as an audience engagement tool, not to mention a beacon for communities seeking more equitable models of change.

Leah Mahan, reflecting on the impact of the film, reports that outreach funding from a handful of supporters, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ford Foundation, Riley Foundation, LEF Foundation and Lotus Philanthropy Program, enabled the producers to devote more than a year to a national educational campaign prior to the public television broadcast in 1997. National press coverage; screenings for a multitude of government agencies, policy makers, and community organizations; recognition by then-President Clinton and other leaders; and wide dissemination of educational materials and use of social media continue to bring the film's message to many audiences and arenas.

The careful documentation of neighborhood-based development in Holding Ground; the Precious Places videos of viable neighborhoods struggling to preserve the things that make them a community; the first-hand accounts of the effects of gentrification – all these, in different ways, advocate for an approach to negotiating urban change that gives equal weight to the needs and priorities of neighborhoods and communities targeted for development, while exploring the fundamental question of who gets to decide how our neighborhoods are valued – and what we want our cities to be. As housing costs and commercial rents in many cities climb to dizzying heights, forcing longtime businesses and residents out, it's a story that needs to be told and shared as widely as possible.

-- Kathryn Smith Pyle

Weekend Link Roundup (April 12-13, 2014)

April 13, 2014

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

Civil Society

Writing in The Week, journalist Matt Bruenig takes a closer look at the one part of the charity versus social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Daniel Stid considers the implications of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission for the foundation's developing plans for grantmaking in the democracy area.

Data

"Big Data is suddenly everywhere," write New York University professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times. "But precisely because of its newfound popularity and growing use, we need to be levelheaded about what [it] can — and can't — do." Before we embrace big data as the answer to all our problems, they add, keep in mind that big data:

  • is very good at detecting correlations but never tells us which correlations are meaningful;
  • often works well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement;
  • can be gamed;
  • often generates results that are less robust under further scrutiny than initially thought;
  • is subject to what might be called the "echo-chamber effect";
  • can amplify errors of correlation;
  • is prone to giving scientific-sounding solutions to hopelessly imprecise questions; and
  • excels when applied to things that are common but often falls short when applied to things that are less common.

Environment

As part of Goldman Sachs' Focus On series, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, makes the business case for investing in nature (video; running time: 3:08).

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the the summary of its new report on climate impacts a few weeks ago, the word "transform" has been flying around in climate circles, writes Megan Rowling on the Thomson Reuters Foundation site. And if you listen closely to those conversations, adds Rowling, "the message is clear: the world has not yet changed radically enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, nor even to protect itself from the more extreme weather, gradual climate shifts and sea-level rise that are already hitting us. Instead we"ve been fiddling with adaptation while the planet burns."

Nonprofits

Using the results of the Nonprofit Finance Fund's sixth annual State of the Nonprofit Sector survey, Nell Edgington looks at the financial sustainability crisis in the nonprofit sector and argues that it stems "in large part from a lack of understanding among funders of the true costs of social change work."

Philanthropy

A nice new infographic from the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that volunteering continues to be an important part of the American identity.

Harold Simon, executive director, and Miriam Axel-Lute, associate director/editor ofShelterforce, the journal of affordable housing and community building, chat with Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, about the "important institutional conversations" taking place at Ford about how the foundation does its work and the extent to which it is "prepared to be disruptive in [its] own internal structures and practice to actually work in a way that reinforces the way work actually happens on the ground."

Ruminating on a recent article by Demos senior fellow Michael Edwards that examined the role of money in social change work, NPQ's Rick Cohen shares a not altogether flattering assessment of NGOs and their funders. "Admirable for his social justice ideals, Edwards' ideas go against the flow of today's NGOs and funders," writes Cohen.

Despite their rhetoric of social justice, they are devoted to business principles embedded in a structure of 'social enterprise.' Funders are increasingly top-down despite their language of bottom-up, increasingly refusing unsolicited proposals, and increasingly functioning like operating rather than grantmaking foundations. The experiments promoted by the nation's top foundations, like social impact bonds, increasingly aim to generate wealth for private investors (such as Goldman Sachs) at the expense of resources generated and paid by government. The idea of shared decision-making may be espoused by some grantmakers, but it is an anomaly in foundation practice, especially among those new foundations whose tiny boards of family members reflect the lack of democracy in modern philanthropy....

Women

And on the Glasspockets blog, Yinebon Iniya, manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center, reports on a recent roundtable discussion organized by Data 2X, a partnership between the United Nations Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that aims "to advance gender equality and women's empowerment and further global economic and social gains through improved data collection and analysis...."

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....

Financing Sustainable Development Around the World

April 11, 2014

(Tensie Whelan is president of the Rainforest Alliance, which works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.)

Headshot_tensie_whelanMore than two billion people around the world are dependent for their livelihoods on five hundred million smallholder farms. Yet these smallholder farmers, who typically have less than five acres under cultivation, operate far below their potential because they lack access to the technical assistance and credit they need to implement better farm management practices.

Global smallholder demand for credit is estimated at nearly $500 billion. While "social finance lenders" typically lend to smallholders who don't qualify for traditional or commercial loans, they currently meet only a tiny fraction of that demand — roughly $350 million. That leaves millions of smallholders unable to make needed investments in raising their workers' pay and improving worker safety, building waste management systems, and installing new water-conserving technology — all of which contribute to increases in yields and income.

Traditional aid programs aren't likely to alleviate the problem anytime soon, but urging lenders to change their practices could help. A 2013 study conducted by the Rainforest Alliance in conjunction with the Citi Foundation suggests that better data can dramatically improve smallholders’ access to credit. The study, which compared a hundred and ten Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee and cocoa farmers in Colombia and Peru with a non-certified control group, found that 90 percent of the certified producers in the survey tracked both revenue and expense metrics for their farms, while only about 30 percent of the non-certified producers did so. The study also found that the average dollar value of loans to certified producers was $5,562, while it was only $3,311 for non-certified producers — a finding which suggests that many smallholders rarely keep the kind of records, including production cost, income, and delivery history, that would enable potential lenders to assess their creditworthiness.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] 'Nonprofits Online: The 2014 M+R Benchmarks Study'

April 10, 2014

M+R, a D.C.-based consulting firm, in partnership with NTEN, have released the 2014 M+R Benchmarks Study. Now in its eighth year, the study of fifty-three of the country's leading nonprofits found that even though response rates for nonprofit email solicitations continued to slide in 2013, online giving was up and social media audiences and Web site traffic continued to climb.

The Benchmarks Study always offers an interesting snapshot of the sector, and judging from the infographic below, this year's edition is no exception:

Continue reading »

Thinking of Starting Your Own Nonprofit? Think Again.

April 09, 2014

(Susan Danish is executive director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. A founding member of 1,000 Women for Mentoring, she is a member of the board of the National Human Services Assembly and national representative for the U.S. for the International Association for Volunteer Effort.)

Headshot_susan_danishEvery year, Americans start thousands of nonprofit organizations. Some are dedicated to eradicating disease, others to addressing social issues such as poverty, homelessness, or gun violence. In fact, according to the Urban Institute, the number of registered nonprofits in the United States grew some 25 percent, to 1.57 million, between 2001 and 2011.

That's good, right? Not necessarily.

As someone who came to a second career in nonprofit management after working at some of the best-known consumer products companies in the world, I'd ask that we carefully consider whether there might simply be too many small nonprofits and charities in the United States for them all to be effective.

Yes, I'm aware that nonprofits sometimes close their doors and disappear. I also know that in 2011 the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of some 275,000 nonprofit groups for failing to file an annual information return or notice with the agency for three consecutive years.

But even such a dramatic house cleaning doesn't change the reality: a large number of organizations focused on achieving a single goal – however desirable that goal – makes achieving that goal more difficult. That's certainly the case in corporate management, where such an approach typically results in fragmented markets and reduced market share for an ever-larger number of market participants. Of course, in the for-profit world, there are any number of solutions to the problem of too many companies competing for the same customers. Companies, for a variety of reasons, fail all the time. And as part of that process, their investors and shareholders lose their investment and, in theory, become smarter about where and how to invest the next time.

Continue reading »

Documentary Film and Gentrification

April 07, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the promise and failure of humanitarian aid in Haiti.)

Urban_gentrificationThe phenomenon of gentrification – how it gets started, who benefits, and who loses – is a longstanding concern in cities across the country.

But the term describes only the most visible and disturbing face of urban change: the crowding out of lower-income residents from a suddenly "hot" neighborhood by more affluent newcomers. At a time of growing income inequality in the U.S., it's an image that has captured the attention of the media and, increasingly, is sparking public indignation.

Writing in the New York Times ("Cities Helping Residents Resist the New Gentry"), Timothy Williams observes that "the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas…is distinct from previous influxes over the past thirty years" because new arrivals tend to want to live in newer housing, and the condos and loft spaces built to satisfy that demand not only are too expensive for long-time residents but also add to the density of a neighborhood while reducing the ratio of older residents to new arrivals. Williams' article goes on to discuss measures that have been adopted by cities to mitigate the impact of gentrification on longtime homeowners, while a Times article ("Gentrifying Into the Shelters") by Ginia Bellafante notes that creating and maintaining affordable housing for low-income renters in gentrifying neighborhoods requires an altogether different set of measures.

The topic hasn't escaped the notice of documentary filmmakers. Told in different styles and about different places, films such as Gut Renovation (2012), Third Ward TX (2007), and We Will Not Be Moved (1980) identify common elements in the gentrification process -- foremost among them real estate speculation and private housing development, in many cases encouraged by tax breaks and rezoning policies.  

Su Friedrich's Gut Renovation is a very personal account of that process as it unfolded in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and how that process is displacing the local artist community – of which she is a member. It begins, in 2005, when Friedrich notices the first high-rise condo going up down the street and ends, five years later, with her own building's demolition to make way for the umpteenth luxe condo project in the neighborhood. Needless to say, the redevelopment of Williamsburg continues unabated, affecting the neighborhood’s long-term population of Poles, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans and irrevocably changing the very thing that attracted artists to the neighborhood in the first place.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] Charitable Giving in the U.S. vs the UK

April 05, 2014

"The UK should not aspire to a U.S. model of philanthropy and tax incentives -- it is not replicable and is a unique product of social, political and historical factors," a report released by the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation back in February argues.

The report, Give Me a Break (20 pages, PDF), argues that while there are things the UK can learn from the U.S. model of philanthropy, there are features of it that the UK, which has a well-organized welfare state, cannot and should not replicate. "For instance," the report notes, "the U.S. charitable deduction is inherently biased toward those [with] higher incomes....Similarly, donations in the U.S. go disproprtionately to religious causes and education (45 percent in total)."

A few other interesting facts from the report that are included in the infographic below:

  • The oldest surviving charity in the U.S. is the Scots' Charitable Society of Boston, which was founded in 1657 and incorporated in 1786; the oldest in the UK is the King's School, Canterbury, founded in 597.
  • The average deduction claimed for donations of clothes in the U.S. in 2004 was $1,400.
  • 2.6 percent of the UK workforce is employed by the voluntary sector, while the nonprofit sector accounts for 9.2 percent of wages and salaries in the U.S.
  • Evidence from the U.S. suggests that donations go up as tax rates rise.

Continue reading »

Is Your Philanthropy 'Autism Aware'?

April 02, 2014

(Peter Berns is chief executive officer of The Arc, the largest community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in the nation.)

Headshot_peter_bernsOver the last six years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its estimate on the number of kids in the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorder ("ASD" or "autism") from 1 in 125 in 2008, to 1 in 88 in 2012, to 1 in 68 today. That's a staggering increase.

Children, youth, and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, are part of the fabric of society. They attend the preschools and kindergartens that many of you are working to improve and can be found among the ranks of students striving to succeed in school and go to college. You'll find them among the unemployed struggling to find a job, among patients with chronic conditions searching for adequate care, and among the homeless. Many of them are active in the visual and performing arts or enriching society through their scholarship, activism, and community service. Their family members and friends are everywhere you look. They are not going away, nor should they.

Autism is part of the human condition; it permeates every aspect of our communities because it is a fact of life. Which is why, regardless of grantmaking priorities, foundations and philanthropists must be autism aware and do more to incorporate a "disability dimension" into their work.

Think about it. Is it really possible to affect the "school-to-prison pipeline" without taking into account what's happening in the special education system or statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which show that students with disabilities experience higher rates of discipline, suspension, and involvement with law enforcement than students without disabilities? Is it really possible to effectively address domestic and sexual violence if you don't know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience such violence at a much higher rate – three times as high for women with disabilities, and twice as high for men with disabilities – than the general population? Is it really possible to address chronic unemployment without considering that people with autism and other I/DD experience much higher rates of unemployment – as high as 80 percent – and need much more in the way of supports and interventions in order to secure gainful employment?

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2014)

April 01, 2014

March was another busy month here at PhilanTopic, as readers responded enthusiastically to Laura Callanan's four-part series on social sector leadership, our usual weekend offerings (including a great infographic about millennial myths), and new posts by Gabriel Kasper/Justin Marcoux, Dr. Anand Parekh, and others.

It looks like spring has finally sprung, and we've got lots of great content planned for the month ahead, so don't be a stranger. In the meantime, here's a chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

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

Weekend Link Roundup (March 29-30, 2014)

March 30, 2014

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

April_showersCommunications/Marketing

In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, the Barr Foundation's Stefan Lanfer shares some lessons he and his colleagues have learned about communicating in times of change. The first two are simple but powerful: know what you want to communicate, by word and by deed; and know what you don't want to communicate. Check out Lanfer's the post for three more things the foundation got right.

Education Reform

Public school advocate Diane Ravitch has posted a draft version of of remarks made at an education conference earlier this month by Dissent contributor Joanne Barkan on the topic of how to criticize the role of "big philanthropy" in education reform

Fundraising

In today's New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, lets readers in on a well-kept secret: Fundraising is fun. The "magic" of raising money for a cause or organization, writes Brooks,

goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere conviction. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with the financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society....

On the Relationship Science blog, Kathy Landau, executive director of the National Dance Institute in New York City, makes an impassioned case for seeing data and relationship building "as mutually beneficial rather than mutually exclusive."

Grantmaking

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Grant Coates, president and CEO of the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth, explains how a reevaluation of the foundation's grantee selection process helped him and his colleagues realize that leadership often is what separates a "good" grantee from a "great" grantee. "The presence of powerful leadership," Coates writes, "is almost tangible – it's a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that's measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process."

Continue reading »

[Infographic] 10 Years in Social Media

March 29, 2014

We had three good candidates to choose from for this week's infographic: one from the Kauffman Foundation that explores the reasons behind lower business startup rates among women and proposes actions that would help to realize the promise of female entrepreneurs; a second, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, that illustrates the critical role of forests to a healthy planet; and the one below.

We know what you're thinking -- the thought occurred to us, too. But, hey, bet you didn't know that, on the day he died, John D. Rockefeller -- who never tweeted or posted an update to Facebook -- was worth more than six times what Mark Zuckerberg is worth today.

Continue reading »

[Report] 'Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil'

March 27, 2014

BRIC reportOne of the most significant international developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has been the growing economic power of the so-called BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Dismissed in the 1970s by many as economic basket cases, the four countries, which account for over a quarter of the globe's land mass and more than 40 percent of its population, have, in the quarter-century since that momentous event, opened their economies to the world and emerged as dominant global suppliers of manufactured goods and services (China and India), and raw materials (Brazil and Russia).

The startling surge of economic activity in each of the four countries over the last twenty years has been accompanied by an explosion of wealth, which in turn has led to the emergence, in all four countries, of organized philanthropic activity and what those of us who cover philanthropy would call an infrastructure to support it.

Indeed, that activity is the subject of a new report just released by the Foundation Center, in collaboration with WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support), a global network of grantmaker associations and philanthropic support organizations. Authored by Joan E. Spero, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (and the first president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), the report, Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil identifies some of the cultural, economic, social, and political forces that are shaping giving in the BRICs and examines the growth and nature of foundations and the philanthropic sector in each of the four countries.

Because the charitable sector in each of the four countries is new and not well organized, the data on charitable activity in each country is limited and difficult to compare. Nevertheless, there are common characteristics and issues that emerge from a comparison of giving in these countries. For example, the report looks at the traditional cultural and religious origins of charity/philanthropy in the four countries, including the Jewish concept of "tzedakah" (or righteousness), which has influenced a small but important part of contemporary Russian philanthropy; the concept of "zakat," one of the five pillars of Islam, which has shaped giving in the Arab countries and on the Indian subcontinent; and the concept of "dana," which is embraced by Hindus and Buddhists and has also influenced the small but important Parsi or Zoroastrian community of India.

The report also examines the process of economic liberalization in the four countries (a process, as Spero writes, that "has been accompanied by the growth of the middle class and the accumulation of vast fortunes by a new, wealthy business class, often linked to the global economy"); considers the increasingly worrisome issue of inequality, which has increased in China, India, and Russia over the last twenty years and remains very high in Brazil, where it has always been a feature of the economic landscape; and looks at external influences, including philanthropic support from foundations like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, MacArthur, Mott, and Open Society in the U.S., the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, and the British Charities Aid Foundation.

Here are a few takeways from the report:

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO, Citizen Schools

March 26, 2014

Established in 1995, Citizen Schools works to help children, especially those from low-income backgrounds, discover and achieve their dreams. To that end, the Citizen Schools model is focused on partnering with middle schools to extend the traditional school day by a few hours and augmenting traditional classroom instruction with a combination of intensive academic support and a range of enrichment and youth development activities. Currently active in seven states, the organization also offers project-based courses led by volunteer "Citizen Teachers" who, outside of school, are scientists, engineers, artists, lawyers, and business leaders.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with the organization's co-founder and CEO, Eric Schwarz, about the Citizen Teacher concept and the scalability of the Citizens Schools model.

Headshot_eric_schwarzPhilanthropy News Digest: When and where did the "Citizen Teacher" concept emerge? Is it something you and your colleagues developed, or is it something you kind of grabbed hold of and made your own?

Eric Schwarz: Well, men­tor­ing and volunteering and apprenticeships have been around for thousands of years. If you think about law and medicine, it's how much of the training happens to this day: you get young professionals training under older professionals in a kind of apprentice­ship model.

The insight we came to almost twenty years ago was that for most low-income kids enrolled in a K-12 school in the United States, the school experience had become disconnected from the real world. Many of these kids had never met someone from a fast-growing profession like engin­eering, and so their chances of growing up and becoming an engineer was close to zero. So we developed a model that made it easier for engineers and lawyers and others to connect with kids directly and do hands-on experien­tial projects with them.

I'm happy to say, the results have been terrific. We've found that Citizen Schools narrows, in most cases eliminates, and sometimes even reverses the achievement gap between middle-income and low-income kids. We're also seeing significantly higher high school and college graduation rates, which means we’re putting kids on a path to success. That's very exciting.

We've also learned that we’re actually making a big difference in the lives of our volunteers. In fact, we commissioned a business school professor from the University of Vermont, David Jones, to do a study of the program's impact on volunteers. And what he found is that there's a significant impact in terms of volunteers feeling better about their companies. They’re happy their company has sponsored or approached them about taking some flex time to give back to the community, and they're usually delighted that they have a chance to build their dele­gation skills, teamwork skills, and coaching skills.

PND: Do you see citizen-teachers as filling a gap in public education, as complementing classroom instruc­tion, or doing a little of both?

ES: The Citizen Schools model is designed to support teachers and public schools by adding three hours to the learning day, every day of the week, all year long. It's a significant extension of the learning day from a six- or seven-hour day to a nine- to ten-hour day. And bringing real-world experiential activities to kids in school is an important complement to the learning that goes on. Think of it this way: if math instruction is limited to a teacher at a blackboard — these days, maybe it's a whiteboard — explaining and talking about concepts, but you, the student, don't have a sense of how those concepts connect to the real world, it's much more likely you're going to tune out and disengage from that class and maybe even from school. Citizen Schools gives kids a sense of how to actually use algebraic concepts in designing a video game, or how, when you're presenting the opening argument in a trial, you want to lead with a topic sentence and then back it up with specific examples. Those kinds of things reinforce what teachers teach, and at the same they tend to motivate students to care more about doing well. It's a terrific comple­ment to what already is happening in public schools across the country.

Continue reading »

Mapping DACA: New Tool Tracks Philanthropy’s Investments in Program for Immigrant Youth

March 25, 2014

(Felecia Bartow is associate director at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.)

Headshot_Felecia_BartowIn June 2012, the Obama administration announced a new policy directive that provided the opportunity for nearly two million immigrant youth and young adults across the country to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This temporary form of relief offers eligible immigrants a possible reprieve from the threat of deportation and has the potential to encourage immigrant students to continue and/or complete their education and enter the formal economy.

As word of this historic opportunity spread, foundations from California to New York and Oregon to North Carolina responded. Despite differences in grantmaking and geographic priorities, these funders seized the opportunity to meet the pressing needs of DACA-eligible immigrants in communities across the country by supporting a wide range of implementation activities, including expanding outreach efforts and eligibility screenings, and helping applicants meet educational requirements and cover the cost of the $465 application fee.

The Foundation Center and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees are pleased to announce the launch of the DACA Grants Map, which provides the first-ever comprehensive overview of related investments. This tool offers information on the geographic areas served by DACA-related grants and grant details such as dollar amount, duration, date issued, strategies
supported, and investment type.

Collectively, these investments have had a direct and measureable impact on the lives of the more than half a million immigrant youth and young adults living, working, and contributing in communities across the country. With support from the philanthropic sector, the vast majority of these young people applied for DACA successfully.

We also hope the map serves to emphasize that work remains to be done. There are a million and a half youth and young adults who have yet to apply for DACA, many of whom represent the "hard-to-reach." These individuals face a variety of obstacles: a significant number do not meet the program's educational requirements; others cannot afford the application fee or need help with documentation; those in rural communities may lack access to services; and some face community-based stigma around their undocumented status.

Scan the map and you will notice large swathes of the country with little or no philanthropic activity specific to DACA implementation. Take Florida, an immigrant stronghold and home to the country's fourth-largest DACA-eligible population. Only one DACA-related grant has been reported in the state versus eighteen in North Carolina, despite Florida having nearly three times as many eligible immigrants. In short, we need to "fill the map."

A quarter of the way into the New Year, the fate of comprehensive immigration reform efforts remains uncertain. Meanwhile, there are thousands of immigrant youth and young adults for whom a successful DACA application would take them a step closer to the American Dream. As we wait for action on the federal level, we must seize the available opportunities — and assure that we fulfill the promise of DACA.

— Felecia Bartow

For additional information and funding recommendations, visit GCIR's DACA resource page, or contact Michael Kavate, research and communications associate. And if you don’t see your organization’s grants listed, there is still time to submit them, as the map will be updated on a quarterly basis.

Sincere thanks are owed to all who helped this project, with special recognition to the tireless efforts of Walter Barrientos, GCIR project manager; Matthew Ross, manager of special data projects at the Foundation Center; and Nina Gantcheva, the center's manager of strategic philanthropy.

Women on the Front Lines of ACA Implementation

March 24, 2014

(Ellen Liu serves as director of women's health at the Ms. Foundation for Women.)

Headshot_ellen_liuWomen have a lot to celebrate this month. March is Women's History Month, and March 23 marks the fourth anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Over the past five years, the Ms. Foundation for Women has been funding outreach and advocacy efforts to ensure that women and women's health services are a central part of implementation of the ACA.

With nearly one in five women uninsured nationwide, the need for targeted outreach to women is undeniable. Low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women are uninsured at substantially higher rates than the national average for all women.

Our work on the ACA has focused on ensuring that all women have access to preventive care, treatment, and services. We know that access to health care improves the well-being of women, resulting in greater financial stability, peace of mind, and lower rates of depression.

Given the proven benefits of health insurance, it has been especially important for the Ms. Foundation to address health equity and to support those who have the least access to affordable quality care. Through our Women 4 Health Care program, we have focused on the intersection of gender, race, and class, both by funding advocacy for inclusive, comprehensive health coverage and by targeting outreach to underserved women.

In the process, we have learned some valuable lessons about successful advocacy and outreach strategies. First, we have learned that we must engage at multiple levels to ensure that women are not left out. Our grantee partners have been active on various levels, serving on governance and administrative committees for their state exchanges; monitoring legislation that pertains to women's health; providing technical assistance to state exchanges to ensure they prioritize women, as well as strategizing about how best to reach women through outreach campaigns; and leading community efforts to link women and families to resources that can help them through the enrollment process.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 22-23, 2014)

March 23, 2014

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

Advocacy

"[A]ctivist and advocacy organizations have increasingly come to look and act an awful lot like multinational corporations," and that's not a development we should applaud, write Genevieve LeBaron and Peter Dauvergne on openDemocracy's Transformation blog. It's not just the corporatization of NGOs and questions of money that make LeBaron and Dauvergne uneasy. "What’s more disturbing," they write,

is how corporatization is transforming what activists and NGOs now think is "realistic" and "possible" to change in the world.

Increasingly, NGOs are dividing advocacy into projects with concrete and easily-measurable outcomes in order to demonstrate "returns on donations." Needing to pay salaries, rent and electricity bills, NGOs have centralized their management structures and moved away from tactics that might threaten firms or governments or donors.

Advocacy for far-reaching change in world politics is increasingly off the table: radically-reorienting international organizations, redistributing global income, reining in multinational corporations beyond voluntary codes of conduct, reversing unfair terms-of-trade, protecting workers, and pushing for a different economic order that is based around sharing and an end to growth....

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Greta Knutzen chats with Lee Sherman, co-founder and chief content officer at Visual.ly, about data vizualization and its value to the social sector.

International Affairs/Development

Humansophere blogger Tom Paulson has a nice Q&A with development economist Willam Easterly, whose newest book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, argues that "the 'technocratic' and apolitical approach favored by the aid and development community (including the World Bank) has served to keep the poor oppressed because it ignores one of the primary drivers of poverty – the poor's lack of individual rights, of economic and political freedoms."

Are unconditional cash transfers to poor people in developing countries as effective as some claim? The team at GiveDirectly, a site that is pioneering the concept, responds to the Mulago Foundation's Kevin Starr and Laura Hattendorf, who recently suggested in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that such transfers may turn out to be "more of a 1-year reprieve from deprivation than a cost-effective, lasting 'solution to poverty'."

Continue reading »

On World Water Day, Let's 'Toast to Water'

March 22, 2014

Today is World Water Day, the culmination of a week-long series of events coordinated by the United Nations and others to raise awareness of the global water crisis and, this year, the linkage between water and energy generation. Of course, the burden of the crisis is most keenly keenly felt by the estimated 960 million people around the globe – many of them in Africa – who live on less than $2 a day.

To appreciate the full weight of that burden, consider the following statistical portrait, which was put together by the folks at the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), a six-year, $30 million initiative of the Coca-Cola Company that aims to improve access to clean water for 2 million people in Africa by 2015:

Water is a common thread between many of the most pressing challenges facing the world today, undermining development around the world.

Global water and sanitation burden

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene and Health

The water crisis is an everyday reality for millions of Africans.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the water crisis, yet they are the cornerstones of their communities.

Although the water crisis presents many challenges to global development now and in the future, water presents opportunities for global economic growth in the face of an emerging global middle class.

Leading companies are taking action in the water crisis.

Want to learn more? Join the Global Water Challenge, RAIN, the World Wildlife Fund, the McCann World Group, and others in a Toast to Water. And be sure to download this helpful list of water-saving tips.

5 Questions for...Olga Lech, Philanthropic Account Supervisor, Geller & Company

March 20, 2014

As globalization, technology, and financial innovation combine to create great wealth – and great inequality – individual donors and foundations are under increasing pressure to be more nimble, more strategic, and to take more risks. Even as philanthropy struggles to respond to these challenges, the role of the philanthropy professional is evolving. Business as usual is out; managing complexity is the order of the day.

Earlier this week, PND spoke with Olga Lech, a philanthropic advisor at Geller & Company, about some of the changes roiling the field.

Headshot_ olgalechPhilanthropy News Digest: We often hear that it's harder to give a large fortune away than it is to make one. Do you agree?

Olga Lech: I think they are equally difficult, but in different ways. The level of complexity changes – sometimes significantly – depending on what it is you are trying to achieve. If you simply want to be charitable and support good causes to make the world a better place, you may look to donate to a local charity such as a church or school in your community with a year-end gift that supports their operations and/or mission. If you are looking to be a philanthropist, however, your giving will most likely be focused on longer-term programs that seek to address bigger social issues, which would most likely cause you to look at other components such as sustainability, governance, and the recruitment of staff and volunteers.

The difference between charity and philanthropy is really where the complexity comes into play. Another dimension is impact. Philanthropy often strives for the highest impact in terms of results and outcomes, which in this global age can also require international cooperation and logistics. This often means you need to follow and measure the results of the projects you fund. That said, both charity and philanthropy are equally noble endeavors, and choosing which to pursue is a highly personal decision based on a variety of factors, not the least of which is complexity. 

PND: What are the most common mistakes made by high-net-worth donors? And what can a good philanthropic advisor do to help them avoid such mistakes?

OL: It all begins with the personal vision of the wealth owner and the degree to which an advisor can help translate that into an effective plan in line with other wealth management elements such as taxes, investments, and even succession issues. The advisor role is to not judge the endeavor, but to help strengthen it. For example, the John Templeton Foundation gave a grant to establish an institute for research on unlimited love. If the donor or client came to me with this idea, my role would be to research it, identify the most effective way to advance the cause, outline the risk factors, and find the best ways to mitigate those risks to protect the client's assets. The beauty of private philanthropy is that it allows donors to fund projects, programs, and initiatives that no federal, state, or local government would have the freedom to fund. And many of these initiatives lead to breakthrough discoveries with impacts that touch many lives.

Continue reading »

Catalyzing Impact Investments Through Coordinated Grantmaking

March 19, 2014

(The following post was adapted from "From Grants to Groundbreaking: Unlocking Impact Investments," an ImpactAssets issue brief by Amy Chung of Living Cities and Jed Emerson.)

Illustration_ImpInvPhilanthropy and the practice of grantmaking traditionally have been very separate from traditional investing in both culture and approach, but the emerging field of impact investing invites a productive collaboration between these two disciplines. Indeed, in an increasingly resource-constrained world, the ability to drive more impact investments into the communities and issues we care about is imperative. In the paragraphs that follow, we will explore how family foundations, philanthropic institutions, and public funders can use their grants strategically to unlock future impact investments in social businesses and socially driven business models that are either too risky or not ready for investors seeking financial returns.

In traditional capital markets, there are clear roles that different investors play in the sequence of financing for organizations as they move from seed stage to later stage. In the impact investing field, the role and needs of investors at different stages follows a similar though less clearly defined path. The relatively recent proliferation of socially driven business models makes it challenging for many to identify opportunities that are ready for investment or that have enough of a track record to provide confidence in their future returns. While such an environment provides investors with opportunities to be creative with financing, it also requires increased transparency and communi­cation from investees, funds, and intermediar­ies to accommodate different risk and impact profiles within the same deal or investment opportunity.

In many cases, the work of innovative socially driven business models may be accelerated by combining various types of impact invest­ment capital, in effect "stacking" capital that requires a financial return with capital that does not in order to "buy down risk" or otherwise make a deal happen that philanthropy or market rate investment alone would not be able to achieve. Because grants do not require repayment or a rate of financial return, they can be used more flexibly in certain transactions. For example, grants may be used to provide guarantees, fund a loan loss reserve, or serve as flexible lending capital, each of which may be needed in order to leverage or attract capital seeking a return. Coordinating grants with investment in this way may not only reduce the risk associated with particular transactions, but also can support socially driven financing models, thereby enabling impact investment opportunities that might otherwise not be possible.

Continue reading »

'Under Construction': La Plazita Institute - Albuquerque, New Mexico

March 18, 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.

As in the desert that surrounds this city, it seems almost all living happens at dusk. The sun throws rose-colored light on the Sandia Mountains, the pale houses empty, and the sidewalks fill. Above, the skies look brush-stroked and extravagant, and a breeze comes, as if it had been hiding, too. When you endure in the desert, this hour is your reward.

And if you are a boy here, this is the hour when someone will show you a crooked path to manhood. You'll follow an older brother or cousin down to the Rio Grande to receive an initiation of blows and beatings. There, under the Cottonwoods, you'll try not to cry when they say you need to go beat up that kid you used to play with. In just a little while they'll call you carnalito (little brother, little dude).

Like many of the Chicano and Native American youth in Albuquerque who take guidance from La Plazita Institute, Raymond Maestas was brought into gang life before he got out of middle school. He learned to go at life with a gun on his waist and to get away from it all by taking a hit. But one day when he was fifteen a man invited him to earn respect a different way, by talking about his feelings, by serving his neighborhood, and by beginning to honor a heritage he had never been taught. The man was Albino Garcia, and the place was called La Plazita. The other guys in the room, the ones he was supposed to open up to? They were the ones he'd been conditioned to hate.

"I was stuck in the life, gang style life, I grew up here in the South Valley, you know," Maestas remembers. (South Valley is a neighborhood in the city's Southeast District.) "The words of Albino made me think. I was fifteen and I had a son.

That was ten years ago, soon after La Plazita began trying to help one of the most underserved populations in the country with programs like organic gardening, ceramics, and screen printing, along with traditional Native American rituals like a sweat lodge and "Warrior Circles." Here Maestas, who is twenty-five now and is covered neck to waist in tattoos, will tell younger teens how he learned to talk about his feelings, and, perhaps for the first time, those mentees will know someone who has dared to walk a different path.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 15-16, 2014)

March 16, 2014

Gopher_I_LiedOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy....

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention blog, Julie Brown, program director at the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation in Ohio, shares the steps she and a colleague have taken over the last year to achieve "storytelling success" and boost donor engagement at the foundation.

Community Improvement/Development

On the Huffington Post's Black Voices blog, Ashley Wood, Detroit editor for the HuffPo, takes a closer look at the hipsters-are-taking-over-Detroit narrative and uncovers a fascinating (and more nuanced) conversation. As Meagan Elliott, an urban planner and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, says at the end of the piece: "I think everyone is open to change. That's what makes the conversation interesting. Everyone recognizes that things need to change here."

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fast Company, Stephanie Vozza explains why every company should pay its employees to volunteer.

Data

Writing on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Foundation Center president Brad Smith looks at the three types of data (transactional, contextual, impact) foundations need and suggests that "for strategic philanthropy to realize its true potential, foundations need to learn how to manage information (data) to produce and share knowledge. Doing so," adds Smith, "will depend on changing internal incentive systems, in which foundations employ static data primarily as means for approving strategies and monitoring grants."

Giving

Nice infographic on the npEngage site illustrating highlights of Blackbaud's 2013 Charitable Giving Report. Click here to download (registration required) a copy of the report, which includes overall giving data from 4,129 nonprofit organizations representing more than $12.5 billion in total fundraising and online giving data from 3,359 nonprofits representing $1.7 billion in online fundraising.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] The Myth of the Millennial

March 15, 2014

Millennials. Generation Y. Echo Boomers. Generation We. Generation Me. The Net Generation. 

There are almost as many names for the millions of Americans born between 1982 and 1995 (or 1980-2000, or 1983-2004 -- definitions vary) as there are stererotypes about them. And there are a lot of stereotypes. Here are a few things we do know about them:

  • At 86 million, millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history (7 percent larger than their parents' boomer generation);
  • They are, in many respects, the best educated generation in U.S. history -- and the most burdened with student loan debt;
  • As the first generation of "digital natives," they are comfortable with technology and use it at higher rates than older generations;
  • According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, they are the most cynical and distrusting generation ever.

Okay, this kind of generational sterotyping, as conservative Jonah Goldberg calls it, can get old in a hurry. But it can also force us to examine our assumptions and biases. This week's infographic, which was put together by the folks at Onlinempadegrees.com and the UNC School of Government, is full of stats about the generation of young people we call millennials -- some of them surprising and others not so much. Take a look. And then use the comments section below to debunk some of your favorite millennial sterotypes. 

Continue reading »

PND Talk: Founder's Dilemma

March 14, 2014

In the fourth installment of our PND Talk series (you can find the others herehere and here), Anonymous outlines a situation with which too many nonprofit executive directors are familiar: the founder who can't or won't relinquish the reins of an organization or agency that has outgrown his or her capacity to manage it.

Fortunately for Anonymous, our late, good friend (and all-around wise person) Carl Richardson was on hand to help and responded with some practical advice that surely must have helped. But see what you think. And then use the comments section at the bottom to share your thoughts and advice....

Founders_dilemmaHELP. I'm working with a great organization that is experiencing a huge growth spurt -- and approaching a total budget of nearly $1 million. But the founder is still "running the show" as if it were a tiny volunteer-driven operation. He inserts himself into everything, from giving staff directives, to changing information on the Web site, to starting new programs without consulting with anyone. Basically, he is an extremely impulsive person and is unable or unwilling to hand the agency over to a professional staff (though he claims otherwise).

A few months ago I stepped in as ED with a twelve-month contract. But despite the fact that we've made some amazing progress, I am not sure I can "save" the organization -- and am beginning to believe I helped create a monster.

We have plenty of board members who are willing to roll up their sleeves, and new blood willing to help. But through his actions, the organization's founder makes it clear that he is in charge, and after a while people get discouraged and become unwilling to engage.

This founder was the sole support of the agency for nearly a decade, and I understand and appreciate his commitment and compassion. Yet the agency has grown beyond his capacity to run - and not just because he has a business to operate as well.

I have dealt with difficult founders before, and I hate to walk away. But I fear for its future -- and my reputation!

_______

Continue reading »

The Smartest Investment We Could Make: The Future of Girls

March 13, 2014

(Dr. Anand K. Parekh is an adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. His family manages the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation.)

Girls_in_classroomAs the father of two young girls, there is no greater joy for me than to see them smile and thrive. This is why I often remember former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s words: "There is no policy for progress more effective than the empowerment of women and girls. A nation that neglects its children, especially girls, is a nation that neglects its future and development." Given this truth, the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation has initiated a focus on two areas particularly important to girls: water and sanitation, and primary school education.

We could have chosen many areas of need to focus on, so why girls, why water and sanitation, and why education?

To begin with, we were struck by the numbers: globally, 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation, while 768 million people lack access to safe water. Every day, 2,000 children die from water-related diseases. And each year, 60 million children are born into homes without access to safe water and sanitation. It's estimated that improvements in these areas alone could vastly improve health outcomes, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs – while increasing a country's gross domestic product (GDP) by anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent. Girls are disproportionately affected by the water and sanitation crisis, given that they frequently miss school or drop out altogether because of a lack of a private toilet in school. Tens of thousands of other girls and women spend hours at a time walking for miles while carrying water on their heads that can weigh up to forty pounds. Simply put, access to water, sanitation, and hygiene enables women and girls to take control of their lives.

The numbers around education are equally alarming: 793 million people worldwide are illiterate. Once again, girls and women are disproportionately affected and account for two-thirds of all illiterate persons. In the developing world, an estimated 42 percent of girls are not enrolled in school, while more than 60 million primary school-aged children of both genders do not have access to education and likely will never learn to read or write. The numbers are confounding, not least because we know that even a few years of basic education empowers women and girls to take control of their lives. Educated women are healthier (an extra year of  education for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 percent to 10 percent) and earn more (an extra year of education boosts future wages by 20 percent). If every child were to receive an education, an estimated  171 million individuals would be lifted out of poverty.

Continue reading »

Keep the Old, Try the New – A Bucket-Balancing Act for Fundraising Pros

March 11, 2014

(Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he asked whether professional design matters when it comes to your fundraising materials.)

Feldmann_headshotThis is an especially challenging time for nonprofit fundraising professionals.

On one hand, you have board members, bloggers, marketing "experts," and creative types all calling on you to be more "innovative" with your fundraising tactics. You've probably heard statements like:

"You have to embrace social media if you want to stand out!"

"I know an organization that had great success with an online giving platform; why don't we do things like that?"

"Why are we still wasting our time on direct mail letters? They're boring, and no one reads them."

As new fundraising tools and practices emerge, there's some validity to these arguments. For example, email solicitations have a pretty good track record. And digital fundraising campaigns, online donation pages, and crowdsourcing, despite their risks, all have been known to raise significant revenue for certain types of organizations.

On the other hand, you probably feel pressure from older stakeholders who expect you to stick with tried-and-true fundraising methods. Meanwhile, it's almost impossible to convince even open-minded executives and board members that raising money almost always requires spending money. And the tension between traditional tactics and more experimental methods only makes your job more difficult and stressful.

So, what do you do when your head reminds you that the majority of your loyal donors still respond to traditional forms of fundraising while your gut tells you it's time to take a few risks?

Simple. Pay less attention to what others are telling you to do and more attention to what your competitors are actually doing. Don't be afraid to experiment a little, and always remember that the ultimate goal is to do what is best for your organization.

I know, we all answer to somebody. Indeed, most development professionals have scores of individuals and groups they have to answer to. Which is why many of my clients and colleagues in professional development have asked me for advice as to how to justify risks and explain new fundraising tools and tactics to stakeholders who think the old ways are always the best ways. Here's what I tell them. Start by looking at your fundraising strategies – both what you've been doing and what you want to do – and put them into three "buckets":

Continue reading »

Weeeknd Link Roundup (March 8-9, 2014)

March 09, 2014

We forgot to set our clocks forward, but we didn't forget our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy....

Daylight_savings_timeCommunications/Marketing

On her Nonprofit Communications blog, Kivi Leroux Miller shares the checklist she uses when evaluating clients' email newsletters.

Data

In a post on the Markets for Good blog, Beth Kanter shares three of her favorite DIY data vizualization tools. (Hint: You probably have two of them on your computer.)

Education Reform

In his Straight Up blog on the Education Week site, Rick Hess, an Education "policy maven" at the American Enterprise Institute, shares some suggestions for the Measures of Effective Teaching team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from blogger and award-winning teacher John Thompson.

Impact/Effectiveness

On Friday, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced the names of four finalists for the next round of the state's "Pay for Success" program, which aims to connect private and philanthropic investors with nonprofit organizations that provide direct services for vulnerable New Yorkers in the child welfare and early childhood, healthcare, and public safety sectors. For more information on the program and the finalists, click here.

As impact investment continues to gain traction — and favorable press coverage — an important piece of the story is being neglected: the role of government, Indeed, write Ben Thornley, Cathy Clark and Jed Emerson on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, "impact investing would barely exist — certainly not at its modest, current scale — but for the support and partnership of government."

If foundation leaders really want to "make a difference" — for their missions, their grantees, and the individuals and communities they serve — they would be wise, writes Tim Delaney, president an CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, in the Nonprofit Quarterly, to focus their efforts at the state level. With so little being accomplished at the federal level these days, "the arc of history is being written in the states....[And unless] more attention is devoted to the state policy level, the stealth shift of burdens onto nonprofits and foundations will reach a disastrous tipping point."

Continue reading »

[Data Viz] How Does Foreign Aid Work?

March 08, 2014

Today's infographic isn't one, per se; it's a Web-based "visual explainer" created by Newsbound, a San Francisco-based design and software company, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that "debunks several prominent myths about foreign aid, including the argument that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars." Part photo essay, part data vizualization, the "stack" (which was included in the foundation's 2014 annual letter) comprises twenty slides easily navigated with a mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard.

(Click here to view)

Foreignaid_explainer

What do you think? Is the less than 1 percent of the federal budget spent on foreign aid a waste of taxpayer dollars? Does foreign aid work? Or, as some argue, does it do more harm than good? And on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the Newsbound approach to a complex issue like foreign aid? Share your thoughts in the comments section below...

Venture Philanthropy and Development

March 06, 2014

(Heather Grady most recently was vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and currently is serving as an advisor to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. As a member of the Rockefeller Foundation executive team, she provided vision, leadership, and direction to help the foundation achieve its goals of building resilience and promoting equitable growth and also managed a diverse group of professionals in the U.S., Asia, and Africa working in a a range of areas, from climate change, agriculture, and health to transportation, impact investing, and employment. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Heather_grady1Venture Philanthropy in Development (90 pages, PDF), a new report from the OECD's NetFWD, charts the directions that many foundations and individual philanthropists are taking to tackle today's social, environmental, and economic challenges. While the term venture philanthropy has been around for almost half a century (credited in the report to John D. Rockefeller III, who said it was "the imaginative pursuit of less conventional charitable purposes"), it is seen as an emergent field, and there is little enough agreement on the term itself that the originators of the report gave scant attention to precisely defining it.

At a panel I moderated on the occasion of the report's launch, common dimensions of venture philanthropy were easily identified: high engagement with the grantees supported within any particular portfolio; provision of non-financial as well as financial support with a targeted group of grantees (e.g., convenings); an entrepreneurial start-up approach; a blending or even blurring of the lines between grant contributions and investments for financial return; working at a systems level to influence a combination of practice, policy, markets and even public opinion; and focusing on a positive enabling environment to achieve success.

The report is based on research from which the authors conclude that those sharing in depth their venture philanthropy experiences (the Rockefeller, Lundin, Shell, and Emirates foundations) were on a transformational journey, one that was not a "from-to" path but a much more inclusive and – as I read it – meandering one. As an integrative approach, it provides new opportunities for foundations to work with their grantees differently, and also for coalitions of foundations, civil society organizations, governments, and businesses to enter differently into shared ventures, not unlike the collective impact approach.

I learned a new term when one of the main researchers, Alexandra Stubbings, told us that the approach may force foundations to do a "drain-up" review. While that sounds fairly unpleasant, philanthropic institutions do need a good shaking out now and again.

Continue reading »

The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation

March 04, 2014

(Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux are part of the Monitor Institute, a consultancy and think tank focused on philanthropy and social change that operates as part of Deloitte Consulting LLP.*)

As philanthropy has gotten more strategic over the last decade, many foundations have begun to lose their appetite for risk and experimentation. But a small number of funders have begun to intentionally seek out and support high-risk, high-reward innovations with the potential to truly transform our most intractable social challenges.

In our recent article, "The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation," we explore the processes and practices used by these “innovation funders” and look at how funding breakthrough innovation differs from more traditional grantmaking approaches. The article is the cover story for the just-released Spring issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and can be found here on their site.

In the article, we share a process for intentionally injecting two interrelated innovation principles — transformation and experimentation — into philanthropic processes and systems in order to bring a greater degree of risk-taking, openness, and flexibility into funders’ work.

Although these approaches often take a different shape within each institution, innovation can typically be introduced at five different stages of the funding process: sourcing, selecting, supporting, measuring, and scaling. The article shares a series of stories illustrating what these activities look like in practice.

Illustration_stages_of_funding

While a formal innovation strategy requires thoughtful choices around structures, processes, networks, culture, and many other considerations, there are some simple ways that funders can begin to embed innovation principles in their work. Here are a few steps that a foundation could take to get started:

1. Make deliberate out-of-strategy grants. Dedicate 10 percent of your grantmaking budget to support projects that seem promising but don’t fit neatly into your strategy. Each quarter, hold a meeting to discuss what has been learned from this "out-of-strategy" grantmaking and how it could influence the rest of your work.

2. Ask your grantees. Grant recipients bring a perspective on the field very different from foundation staff's. Solicit ideas from your grantees about emerging ideas and who is doing work that is pushing the envelope.

Continue reading »

Trust and Corruption

March 03, 2014

(Mark Rosenman is emeritus professor at Union Institute & University and a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. He lives in Washington, D.C., from where he drew many of the examples of the national problems cited below.)

Rosenman_headshotSelf-serving and dishonest actions in both the public and private sectors are severely testing the trust and confidence of Americans. That's a problem for government, for courts and the criminal justice system, for corporations and business leaders, and, yes, for the nonprofit sector.

It's a much more significant problem, however, for the larger society. Are we destined to slide further toward the pernicious levels of corruption so prevalent in other parts of the world? Can the already strained fabric of American society hold as growing numbers of public, private, and charity officials scramble to profit, legally and otherwise, from their positions? What happens when the fundamental American belief in fairness is undermined by declining confidence in the institutions we all rely on?

Make no mistake, confidence in our institutions is declining. Since the early 1970s, those of us who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in our institutions, including banks, newspapers, and the medical establishment, has fallen dramatically – in some cases by more than 50 percent. Confidence in religion, the Supreme Court, schools, organized labor, and the presidency has fallen by 25 percent or more, while fewer than 25 percent of us have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in big business.

Charitable organizations don't fare so well, either. Following a precipitous drop more than ten years ago, a recent survey found that over a third of Americans have "not too much" or no confidence in nonprofits. Meanwhile, Congress's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 10 percent.

Interestingly, the few institutions that have shown gains in public confidence include the military and the police and criminal justice system. But while the military is the most respected of American institutions, a series of recent incidents is beginning to take a toll. They include a scandal involving two Navy officers and a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and a series of misconduct charges leveled at senior military officers for abusing their positions and accepting illegal gifts. His confidence shaken, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has demanded a broader investigation.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "Simplification is by far the most effective way to manage complexity...."

    Felix Salmon

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