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'Under Construction': Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

July 28, 2014

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit that showcases 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.

Grassroots

Jesse Esparza stands tall as he squints into the afternoon sun.
He doesn't quite fill the dark suit that hangs from his shoulders, and his hands, clasped together before his waist, only half-emerge from their sleeves.

Under-construction-bmoc-jesseBehind him stretches Stockton's Southside, the most distressed section of the most violent city in California. Jesse tells the story of the white ribbon tied at the base of a small oak tree in McKinley Park. It's a tragic story — the senseless murder of a friend's cousin, a teenager caught up in a cycle of retaliation — and his telling is both somber and matter-of-fact. But where the trauma gets particular, he generalizes, describing the way news like this travels on seismic waves through his community. "You're in shock," he explains. "You're in denial, you don't want it to be true. You're hoping it's someone else." Only 18 years old, Jesse has already been through this set of emotions more times than would be fair in a full lifespan. One might say he possesses a wisdom beyond his years, though its acquisition is troubling.

In a quiet moment of reflection, Jesse's eyes search the blades of grass as if for answers. His skin is smooth, almond colored, his face open and strong. He seems to play an image in his mind for a few moments before looking up again, lifting his eyebrows. He reaches for words to fill the silence and lights on a stock phrase. "It's pretty crazy," he says. He repeats this again and again over the next hour, the only words he can find to move past each newly risen memory as a casual drive through his old neighborhood transforms without notice into an impromptu ghost tour. The points of interest form a web of violence, dozens of vague memorials to those friends who will never have a chance, as Jesse has, to break through.

Boys & Men

The day has been a long one. All morning Jesse has been talking change politics with some of the most engaged men and women in the state. It's the Fourth Annual Stockton Summit of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a decentralized coalition of organizations working at all levels of civic engagement for policy changes that will improve the lives of young Californians. In one report after another, data show young men of color face more systemic barriers than their white peers, making them much more likely to drop out of high school, serve time in prison (or juvenile hall), be unemployed, and ultimately die young. The situation, according to those involved, is dire.

The alliance is the first of its kind — a statewide network connecting young men like Jesse Esparza to a chain of influence that includes everyone from the grassroots to the upper echelons of policy and philanthropy — uniting scores of diverse organizations under a single political banner. In its first three years, it has grown with startling momentum.

Under-construction-bmoc-sammyJesse is connected through Fathers & Families of San Joaquín, a Stockton-based nonprofit and one of the local partners in the alliance. Like most of the partners statewide, Fathers & Families began its work years before the alliance was formed. Executive Director Sammy Nuñez founded the organization just over a decade ago after recognizing in himself a cross-section of the needs of his community, needs that were not met for him until it was almost too late. Nuñez is an animated man with an infectious smile who greets both old friends and new acquaintances with a warm embrace of his left arm. He keeps his right hand in the pocket of his neatly pressed trousers. 

"Lead poisoning," he explains. "Shotgun shells are bad for your health."

It's a sly reference to a near-death experience he had as younger man. He is a quick study of character and moves constantly throughout the day, playing activist matchmaker for strangers in whom he sees common interests. By lunch, his energy and compassion have reached nearly everyone at the summit.

Nuñez speaks with candor about his time cycling in and out of incarceration as a youth, and his enthusiasm builds as he talks about the group of mentors who showed him a more healthful path forward.

"It was through this process I met many of my current guides and teachers that are grounded in what we call La Cultura Cura — culture cures." Nuñez says these men seemed strange at first, unfamiliar. "They didn't gather with a joint or with a beer, they gathered and talked about real important issues. And so I found myself getting drawn to this."

At 39, he now finds himself a serious agent of change, both a political actor and a personal mentor, introducing young men like Jesse Esparza into the kind of positive cycle that can lead to transformational healing. A year after meeting Nuñez, Jesse now works as the youth organizer for Fathers & Families, a role that has brought him to today's summit to testify before members of the state assembly. As Jesse speaks to the overflowing room about programs that forever changed the course of his life, programs started by Fathers & Families and supported by the work of the alliance, the legislators hang rapt on his every word.

A Future in Color

The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color targets four key issues: workforce development, equity in education, fairness in the criminal justice system, and improved health and well-being. These are the issues that link Fathers & Families with other groups across the state — organizations like the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland or the Building Healthy Communities Hub in Fresno. The alliance began in 2011 and is still going strong in its three original cities: Los Angeles, Fresno, and Oakland. But within the last year, it also has grown in places like Stockton, Sacramento, Salinas, Santa Ana, and Coachella. While the alliance can seem abstract — comprised of myriad local partners, convened by a handful of state partners, controlled by no single entity, responsible to no one agenda beyond the broad goal of improving the lives of boys and men of color — the work being done in its name is deeply concrete.

"The state partners have an accountability to the local campaign work, to support it as needed," says Rubén Lizardo, senior director at Oakland-based PolicyLink, one of the alliance's state-level. "The people who get credit for actually engaging youth and reclaiming them, whether it's about healing, or helping them to become activists, those are the base-building groups at the local level."

As Lizardo talks about the strategies of the alliance, he switches seamlessly between a rendering of a kind of architectural diagram and citing details from the recent youth-led legislative actions that give it flesh. Throughout, he is emphatic about one thing: the youth must hold the center. "In California, for many years, young men of color were seen as public enemy number one. Our mission is to get people to see young men of color as actually the answer to California's problems — youth as protagonist for the policy work."

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Last year, thirteen of the alliance's priority bills were signed into law. Another three were passed through both houses and then vetoed by the governor. As for targeted issues like school discipline reform (which is part of the strategy to improve education equity but also lies at the intersection of criminal justice, health, and workforce development), alliance partners have supported seven related bills in three years. Five of these were signed into law, including the groundbreaking AB 2537, which returns discipline discretion to local schools in certain cases where former statewide "zero tolerance" policies would have mandated expulsion. All these bills directly involved the work of a few key lawmakers in the state assembly who sit on its bipartisan Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California.

"One of the more powerful partnerships we've developed in the past few years is the partnership we have with the California legislature," says Ray Colmenar, senior program officer at the California Endowment. TCE is one of the main funding partners of the alliance, and a leading advocate of health issues for communities of color across the state. "California's future is in color," Colmenar says. "We think America's future is going to be in color. And so we have to support everybody."

To foster the collaboration, the select committee, in partnership with the alliance, holds hearings like the one in Stockton, where local and regional leaders, including youth, have a chance to speak directly to its members. Recalling last year's round of hearings, Colmenar says, "[They] ultimately culminated in a set of policy recommendations that the select committee is now trying to advance in the state legislature. One of the key outcomes of that work has been the engagement of thousands of residents and leaders throughout California."

This seems to be key in the success of the alliance: partner at all levels, preserve the identity of the groups involved, ask youth to lead, and communicate a unified message. Engagement and communication feed back into the cultivation and expansion of the partnerships, so that the result is policy and system change carried out in a community of practice.

Self-Determination

Under-construction-bmoc-3The select committee is currently chaired by Assemblymember Steven Bradford. It is Bradford, an African-American man of middle age, who speaks up after the applause following Jesse Esparza's testimony subsides. "That's going to be a hard act to follow," he says. Jesse smiles humbly and looks to the next speaker, San Joaquín County's assistant chief probation officer Carla Contente, who thanks Jesse effusively.

If there is tension on the streets between black and brown, between Latino and Asian, it is not felt among these leaders. Partners at all levels in the alliance agree that a strong sense of identity is crucial for stakeholders to maintain an authentic voice within the greater coalition. But it is the coalition itself that enables the kind of broad changes needed to improve outcomes in those same communities. California, with its rapidly shifting demographics, seems uniquely positioned for this kind of coalition. At least for now. As the demographics of the U.S. continue to shift, however, California's alliance could become a model for local-state partnerships, especially as federal programs like My Brother's Keeper are rolled out across the nation.

During the rest of the hearing, Jesse's name becomes a stand-in for all those young men of color whom the movement has yet to reach. Another slate of bills has been prepared for 2014. Plans are in the works for more local alliance campaigns in Hollister, San Bernadino, and Riverside. Meanwhile folks in L.A., Fresno, and Oakland are rallying for major actions in the coming year, like an initiative on the November ballot that could retroactively reduce some drug possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, thus mitigating part of the legacy of the draconian "three strikes" law.

The alliance is not just passing meaningful legislation; it's helping to build a movement that reframes race politics and places boys and men of color at the heart of the narrative — young men like Jesse Esparza, who might never have worn a suit outside of a courtroom if not for his participation in the alliance.

"I always wanted to leave a legacy," he says. "And I thought that legacy was in the streets, being respected, being the hardest person out there, being known [as someone] not to mess around with. But I actually want to leave a legacy that's bigger than that. Someone who's actually known in this world for something else."

The alliance creates a framework in which Jesse is integrated into the political process and helps to disrupt, rather than feed, the school-to-prison pipeline. If that framework holds, the substance of Jesse's legacy may finally be his to choose.

 

 

Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

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

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

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Doubling Down: When a Foundation Renews or Expands a Grant

July 25, 2014

Headshot_sandy_edwardsAs a new foundation in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation outlined a strategy of awarding large multiyear grants. Through a careful planning process, we determined that multiyear grants would give grantees the time needed to successfully implement and evaluate bold initiatives — and that longer-term investments likely would be needed for  the foundation's grantmaking to achieve substantive goals. As of June 2014, 82 percent of the foundation's grants had at least a three-year term, and a full 67 percent were for four years or more. As a result, only in the last few years have we begun to consider the renewal or expansion of grants to key grantees.

There are many factors in this process. At its core, an opportunity for renewal or expansion of a grant initiative is a result both of positive outcomes demonstrated by a grant evaluation and/or a deep relationship that has developed between the foundation and the grantee. Both of these critical factors — one tangible and the other more abstract — evolve over the lifetime of a grant period.

During the grant development stage, foundation staff work closely with future grantees to determine the strategy alignment of a potential grant, with a particular focus on the extent to which it addresses the core priorities of an organization's work. Once a grant is awarded, the relationship between the foundation and grantee is hopefully strengthened through open and honest dialogue. Major grant awards include an independent evaluation to determine whether project goals are being achieved (in ways that advance both the foundation's and grantee's missions), key learnings are being disseminated, and to help guide the continued efforts of the grantee. Fortunately, there are many grant renewal success stories we can highlight, each one unique and with important insights to offer.

In 2007, the Jim Joseph Foundation funded the Foundation for Jewish Camp's Specialty Camp Incubator, which resulted in the opening of five new camps (92Y Passport NYC, Adamah Adventures, Eden Village Camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventures, and URJ 6 Points Academy) in the summer of 2010. In addition to significant enrollment growth at each camp, an independent evaluation (31 pages, PDF) conducted by Informing Change reported that campers, as a result of their camp experience, had improved their specialty skills, become more self-confident, knew more about being Jewish, felt more positive and enthusiastic about being Jewish, made more decisions based on the camps' Jewish values, and felt closer to Jewish kids their age. As a foundation committed to creating more and better Jewish learning opportunities, we welcome the opportunity to build on a successful grant and, based on the successful outcomes generated by the incubator effort, we decided to fund a second incubator and the launch of four more camps in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. This grant will broaden FJC's sources of funding and enable it to continue to enhance and strengthen the Jewish summer camp experience with a proven model that increases the number of exciting camp options.

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Films Are Films: Measuring the Social Impact of Documentary Films

July 23, 2014

Movie-filmEarlier this year, the firm I founded – Aggregate – partnered with the organizers of the True/False Film Fest to conduct a survey of the filmmakers whose films screened at the festival in 2014. True/False is well-regarded among filmmakers, who often talk about how well the festival organizers treat them and the obvious regard the organizers have for the art of storytelling.

The goal of our survey was to understand how these filmmakers felt about their films' potential contribution to social change, any ambitions they had to capitalize on that potential, and their views with respect to measuring the social impact of their films. While True/False isn't specifically a social change film festival, 72 percent of the filmmakers who responded to the survey believed the film they screened at the 2014 Fest could contribute to social change.

As we were getting ready to share the outcomes of the survey, the New York Times reported on the efforts of Participant Media, the film and television production company started by Jeff Skoll, to establish an index that would enable it – and others who invest in social change films – to determine which films "spur activism" and which do not. Based on my reading of the article, the Participant Index measures the ability of a film to inspire "emotional involvement" and "provoke action." So, while a film may generate an intense emotional response, if it does not also lead people who have seen it to take action, it would receive a lower score and, perhaps, not be as well received by potential funders interested in that particular issue.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the filmmakers we surveyed expressed concern about anyone measuring the social impact of their films; indeed, two-thirds (66 percent) said they opposed the idea of using metrics to gauge the impact of their films. While I believe strongly in the value of measurement and metrics, I share some of their concerns. If, for instance, filmmakers and funders begin to weigh the "effectiveness" of films solely in terms of the actions taken in the short term by the audiences for those films, it could lead to the bankrolling of more didactic narratives about issues that lend themselves to relatively straightforward solutions. And that would be a blow to good storytelling.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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...."

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[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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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."

 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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'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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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