Archive - 2008

Case Foundation Launches "Change Begins With Me" Campaign
Top Ten Activist Videos of 2008: A. Fine Video Awards!
The Quagmire of the Evaluation Silver Bullet
Qui Diaz is Getting Her Give On
Working Differently in a Crisis
Ideas for America Update
How to Ask This Giving Season
Bernholz on Marketplace

Case Foundation Launches "Change Begins With Me" Campaign

The Case Foundation just launched their “Change Beings With Me” campaign to coincide with the new year and new administration in Washington, DC.

Tell the Case folks how you’re going to help change the world in 2009 (in 250 characters or less, think of it as a muscular Tweet!) and a few lucky winners will get:

n Inauguration trip for two and a unique opportunity to serve on MLK day! Package includes:

  • two tickets to the Inaugural Ceremony & the Hawaii Inaugural Ball
  • three-nights hotel stay
  • airfare for you and a guest to the Nation’s Capitol
  • a Flip video camera

Here are a few of the commitments already up on the site:

Dorothee R: leveraging the power of social media to mobilize volunteers in my community. I plan to use online networks to gather crowds for short and fun volunteer flash mobs to benefit homeless shelters, food banks and local parks.    
Keyoka N: Volunteering more, I just recently volunteered helping high school sophmores and I had a blast, I realized how much I enjoy helping kids and young adults make decisions today that will ultimately decide their future.    
Josephine T: Making my neighbourhood cleaner and safer. I also plan to make more people aware of the FREE assistance programs that are available to those who are in need of mortgage modifications.

The Quagmire of the Evaluation Silver Bullet

Once again, I am sucked into the discussion of the one right way to evaluate nonprofit organizations.  Every few years another bright shiny silver bullet is paraded around the fairgrounds for all to see with the promise that we will, at long last!, have the answer to the thorny issue of whether and how causes make a difference.  The Wall Street Journal, much to my surprise, has a lucid column on the limitations of financial data as used by groups like Charity Navigator to determine “good” from ‘bad” nonprofits.  The presumption of these efforts is that there is one right way to judge how much overhead is needed or how much programs should cost.  Naturally, Robert Egger, the founder and president of DC Central Kitchen and a constant voice of reason and sanity, nails the problem on the head with this quote, “The low-administrative-overhead standard is an intellectual albatross around our necks.”

Into the breach where many have come before is Social Solutions and its Social Investment Ratings Tool.  As described in the Chronicle, Social Solutions has gathered up a group of luminaries, including Egger, as well as Diana Aviv of Independent Sector, Brian Gallagher of United Way of America, and Paul Brest of the Hewlett Foundation among others to vet the tool.  The goal is to provide information and comfort to donors that their money is being well spent.  Again, according to the Chronicle article, “A majority of wealthy individuals (58 percent) said they would give more if they could determine the impact of their donations, according to a 2006 survey by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.” What we need, says this group, is a common process for measuring results.

Unfortunately the link to the actual tool from the Chronicle article isn’t working, so I don’t have all of the information I’d like to make an assessment of this effort.  However, it isn’t going to stop me from having an opinion and making the following observations:

1.  There is a fundamental difference between nonprofits learning about their efforts first and foremost to improve them and then to communicate with donors, as opposed to the other way around. This effort seems almost entirely driven by the need to satisfy donors, which is both disempowering for nonprofits and leads to disingenous efforts.

2. The answer isn’t a new set of measures; it is a new process of transparency and learning.  It is unsettling to see a national effort that includes so many groups that have been heavy handed in their approach to evaluation in the past leading this effort.  Learning doesn’t come from new requirements or forms; it comes from a natural desire to improve. Nonprofits can either numbly fill out forms to make the grade and satisfy donors.  Or they can become fully transparent (as can their foundations) make their 990s and audit report (including, dare I say, even the management letters!) available online, post their learning questions and how they will try to answer these questions for discussions using a wiki, engage their donors, clients, board, volunteers, anyone who wants to really, on a journey of discovery and learning. Foundations and donors ought to support sincere efforts to learn and improve, rather than punish nonprofits for failures to meet their learning goals.  Once burned for being honest, many nonprofits will just go back to answering the questions the way they think donors want them to.

3.  Knowing how to learn is vitally important to nonprofit effectiveness.  Nonprofit groups, both staff and boards, and their donors, would benefit enormously from intensive educational efforts to teach  how to learn about their effectiveness.

We need processes that recognize and honor the fact that there is nothing harder to do in this world than try to change people and communities.  No one, not a software company or a large national organization should presume that they know how to do that.  I have reviewed and evaluated literally thousands of nonprofit programs over the past fifteen years and never once have the intended outcomes been the same – even for programs doing what appears to be the same thing to an outside observer.  How an afterschool group or food bank or mentoring program or environmental advocacy effort goes about its work is wonderfully unique to that particular organization in that particular community, literally as unique as the people they are serving, and this should be celebrated not cookie-cuttered away.   We should embrace learning and stay away from checklists.

[Disclosure: I write this, hopefully with some insights, having founded and run a nonprofit organization, Innovation Network, for over a decade, that has the purpose of helping nonprofits and foundations measure their results.  In other words, been there, done that for more years than I’d like to admit.]


Qui Diaz is Getting Her Give On


A fantastic post from Qui Diaz on 50+ ways to give to causes for the holidays.  A few of my favorites:

  • Feed A Need with Reddit – Add your qualifications to Reddit’s “Database of Awesome” and be ready to give 2 hours of your time to one of the project’s partnering charities.
  • SocialVibe – Select your charity (e.g., One Laptop Per Child), your sponsor (e.g., Apple), grab and display your badge on your social profiles, and earn points for donations to your charity.
  • Instant Message for Good – The more messages you send, the more ad revenue Microsoft Live Messenger kicks to the charity of your choice (American Red Cross, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and more).
  • Just Be a Geek Who Gives – This Slideshare presentation from Beth Kanter – a leading voice for nonprofit tech/social media – will illuminate and steer your online influence in new ways.

And, of course, the GiveList!  Thanks, Qui, for the great list!


Working Differently in a Crisis

As awful as the economic crisis is (and just ask any nonprofit or foundation who lost money because of the Madoff disaster) there are stirrings in the nonprofit sector to work differently to survive.

The Nonprofit Roundtable in DC created a new social network on NING called Nonprofit 911 that has a big vision of “redefining the way the nonprofit sector operates.”  The site shares resources, ideas, organize events.  Hopefully the site will spur real conversations between funders and activists.

Maybe the crisis can help us to move away from cannibalistic fundraising habits towards collaborative fundraising as described in the Chronicle.


Ideas for America Update


Two weeks into a grand experiment of crowd sourcing ideas for the incoming Obama administration, has received 3,659 ideas to date in almost thirty different categories.  They also have a huge and growing list of partner nonprofit groups including Campus Progress, People for the American Way, Oxfam, well, and well, go and see here .  Some hot topics are:

Build a US Service Academy

National Election Day Registration

National Strategy for Sustainable Development

Keeping Toxic Toys off Shelves

So, get in there, make your voice heard and vote your top priorities!


How to Ask This Giving Season

I’ve been so focused on the giving side of things lately that I haven’t spent as much time on the asking side.  Nonprofits are hurting.  Estimates are that giving was down 30% in October alone – I can’t imagine what November and December are going to look like.  Stories like this one about Goodwill Industries are becoming typical; basically donations are down and demand for services are up.

However, ironically, maybe even paradoxically, the Chronicle reports that while gift buying is down people still intend to give to their favorite caues this holiday season.

So, what gives — or maybe, more accurately, who gives?  I’m guessing (and really it’s just a guess) that people in their heart of hearst want to report that they will causes they feel passionately about, even when their wallots say they shouldn’t and when nonprofit spreadsheets say they aren’t. So, the real question isn’t whether donations are up or down, but how can we activate a lot of people who want to give to each donate a little this holiday season?

Part of what we have to overcome is the oversolicitation of donors who are turned of by being treated like ATM machines.  Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy’s new report (this is only a summary, the full report is due out in early 2009) on why donors stop giving puts it more politely as, “no longer feeling connected to the organization.”

Connectedness trumps wizardy.  This is  always true but particularly relevant now when belts are being tightened.  It is the only way to make donors big and small feel welcome, appreciated and needed.  Katya Andreson reports on a presentation that the fundraising guress Kim Klein at Network for Good this week.  Kim’s suggestions for raising money in tough economic times were:

1. Encourage your donors to give the gift of charity.  It’s the holidays.  People are buying gifts.  Have them make that the gift of charity.

2. Call all your major donors.  She says, “The tendency right now is to think, “Oh, these poor people. They lost so much money.” So you don’t call them. What you actually wind up saying to them, even though you don’t mean to, you wind up saying to them, “All we cared about was your money. Now that you don’t have so much money, I can’t be bothered to call you.” And that is really,

really, really not a message you want to give.  You want to welcome them. You want to write to them and use a follow-up phone call to say something like, “We thank you for all you’ve done for us over the years. We are determined to hang in there and continue to do our work as best we can. We hope you will support us at whatever level feels acceptable to you.” Focus on the donor, not the donation!

3. Tell 70+ donors how to save on taxes!  She says, “You can transfer up to $100,000 in any given year directly from their IRA to a charitable organization and they pay no income tax on that. Normally if you withdraw money from your IRA you pay a tax, whatever tax bracket you’re in that year. And of course if you donate it, you claim that tax donation.  This is a very nice provision that allows you to avoid taxation and still claim the donation, so it’s kind of a double tax advantage.”

4. For smaller organizations especially, share a wish list!  She says, “Tell people, this is the stuff we need. We need four ergonomic chairs. We need 10 printer toner cartridges. We need 75 reams of paper. We need new filing cabinets.” And you just kind of list all the stuff, everything in your budget.”


Bernholz on Marketplace

Lucy Bernholz, the author of the amazing blog Philanthropy 2173 (go there to find out what it means) was on the NPR show Marketplace giving her unparalleled, big picture views of the field of philanthropy.

There are some people who follow philanthropy, but there are only a few, led I think by Lucy, who understand it well enough, from top to bottom, online and on land, to tell us what it all means.  You can see her philanthropy buzzwords here and her predicted philanthropic trends here — and listen to her on Marketplace here.


Copyright © 2019 Allison Fine