Monthly Archives: November 2007

Philanthropy Is Not Just A Word

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Wendy Bay Lewis. Wendy is a former lawyer, fundraiser, and nonprofit executive who is working on a book of essays about the lexicon shared by civic-minded, service-oriented, and philanthropically-inclined individuals.  Her blog, which shares the title of her book, The CivicMinded Companion, is a work space for comments about the words we share and how we use them.

By Wendy Bay Lewis

Philanthropy is not just a word

Over the past several months, I have collected about 200 words, names, and phrases for a lexicon that I think knits together civic, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities. Terms include everything and everyone from Bono, the rocker fighting poverty, to Yunus, the Nobel Laureate who created micro-lending. Now that I’m in the process of drafting definitions, I realize that words like philanthropy have an emotional power that exceeds what a simple definition can convey. Two examples landed on my desktop last week.

The Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran compelling stories on November 15 about the intersection of philanthropy, higher education, and economically disadvantaged students. The WSJ profiled a “nonprofit start-up in Palo Alto” called QuestBridge and several other organizations that help low-income students attend prestigious colleges (Matching Top Colleges, Low-Income Students).

USA Today ran a front-page story on The Fund for Veterans’ Education and similar programs modeled after the GI Bill to assist Iraq-war veterans with college tuition (College-bound GIs get extra help).

In both of these articles, individual funders were an integral part of the story because they were rich and well-intentioned. The new chief executive of QwestBridge, employed without pay, is “one of the multimillionaires” who left Yahoo; the founder of The Fund for Veterans’ Education is a “billionaire financier” who made an initial gift of $4 million; and a substantial donor to veterans’ scholarships is the “son of billionaire George Soros.” The emphasis on their monetary donations seems simplistic. True, they are philanthropists. But more than that, as these stories demonstrated, they want to remedy deep educational and economic inequities that nag at their social consciences. I would call them social justice philanthropists.

WSJ reporter Jim Carlton quoted the founder of QuestBridge, physician Michael McCullough, as follows: “We hope that in 10 years we’ll have added a new generation of talented and thoughtful minds to American leadership, drawn from the lowest economic spectrum.” In addition, as the article pointed out, universities benefit from admitting QuestBridge students by “increasing the diversity of their student bodies without relying solely on race.”

Reporting for USA Today, Mary Beth Marklein quoted Jonathan Soros about why his support reaches beyond scholarship recipients: “Veterans benefit from a liberal arts education, and the community benefits by learning from people of different backgrounds and confronting realities they wouldn’t otherwise directly encounter.”

Philanthropy is not one size fits all. Phrases like “venture philanthropy” and “engaged philanthropy” have come into usage to describe strategies where donors take an active role in the organizations they fund. Perhaps “social justice philanthropist” might be used to describe donors, whether traditional or engaged, whose focus is economic, social, and environmental justice. Isn’t philanthropy a tool for social change?

Don’t Be Evil 2.0

This entry from the One Post Challenge comes from an anonymous writer who is a serial high-tech entrepreneur and startup investor and now focuses on angle investing and the nonprofit world.

By Anonymous

Don’t Be Evil 2.0 – The Fight for “Good” between Non-Profits, Social Enterprises and Responsible For-Profits

I’m in my early 30’s and am new to the non-profit world.  As a serial high-tech entrepreneur and startup investor, I always look for macro trends and try to find opportunities.  When I joined my first non-profit board, I was trying to understand their social good role in society and also trying to understand how my business sense could help them.  In my opinion, things are changing quickly for non-profits and there are going to be bigger changes coming sooner.

I think in the past non-profits had a clear cause-driven goal in areas where the government wouldn’t enter.  The interesting part of being on non-profit boards in San Francisco is that I see government doing less and less and non-profits are picking up the slack.  The non-profits, I feel, are becoming a layer between government and the community.  They are doing more basic tasks as time has gone on like planting trees, handling mediation and child services.  The non-profits do it more efficiently by having staff that are more dedicated, not having government overhead and having volunteers’ lower costs.  Most importantly, people would rather donate than pay higher taxes.  I think it creates a marketplace for community services while lowering our taxes.  For example, many non-profits used to get most of their money from government funding, now many are happy getting 1/3 of their funding from the government/city.  They have to raise the remaining two-thirds from you(the taxpayer), foundations and corporations.  The non-profits compete, government shrinks and everyone has lower taxes.

This seems like a good change.  If people feel like the city isn’t green enough, they’ll donate money to “greening” non-profits. But other trends I see happening are really going to change the non-profit landscape totally.  The first big change is that major for-profits are branding themselves as “good” and responsible.  For example, MTV just launched MTV-Think, a way for non-profits to tap into the youth of America and for youths to find causes they like.  Youths trust MTV to be cool and learn about teen issues like drugs, pregnancy, etc.  Now, they can trust MTV to tell them good things to do such as take action against discrimination by joining the group “No More Discrimination”.  I encourage non-profits to register on MTV and engage young people.  But remember, MTV (Viacom, being the parent) also broadcast reality shows like “Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” where a bisexual woman decides her next mate between 16 men and women after they go through certain “interesting” tests.  Isn’t it ironic, MTV, if not shaping, is at least branding itself into socially responsible company?  Many big companies are also doing the same thing like GE where every division went green for a week with NBC broadcasting green theme shows then.

So far for-profits are chipping away at the brand image that non-profits are the only ones that do good.  They have the resources to brand their image and are starting to do more good things for society in part by the badgering of non-profits.  Non-profits may not be afraid of big for-profit companies and may want to partner with these companies. But now they have to adjust with small Social Enterprises that are for-profit and are sometimes competing in their space as well as being socially good.  Social Enterprises are well funded, usually have more business acumen and are saying the same social good message as non-profits.  Now missionary non-profits are having a tough time to differentiate and our getting beat in a business they have been working hard in for many years.  As a tougher thing to swallow, someone else is getting rich on their hard work and may not be as radical ethical as them.  Some suggest that Social Enterprises may just be a natural evolution in society where profit isn’t the only reason for a business to exist.

I assume these macro changes are even harder for foundations and donors to understand.  I don’t have all the answers to this and that is why I wrote this blog entry.  I want to encourage debate and discussion on where non-profits need to go.  I want to understand whether it is it good that for-profit businesses are doing social good?  I think that non-profits should be glad when social enterprises enter the space.  It justifies the space.  Like a startup that gets a big company to release a competing product; it makes the market size larger.  I think that social enterprises maybe more efficient than non-profits and maybe better long term partners as certain social causes enter the mainstream.  I think non-profits need to change their mission when this happens and take on more of an advocacy/oversight role.  What are your thoughts? Is it good and can a non-profit change itself to more of an advocate?  I don’t know the answer to this one.  But I would love to see examples of non-profit “industries” that have transformed like this.

I hope I encourage some debate and thought about these macro trends.  I would love to get some insights into this for my own long term direction in philanthropy and business.  Please understand I may take awhile to respond because I am a busy person.  But based on Sean’s email I decided to see what reaction I get and then decide if I start a blog.


Don’t Be Evil 2.0

If everyone is good, who is evil?

I’m Moving to Erie PA!

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Dorian Adams. Dorian is the Publisher of Just Cause and the founder of Benefit Magazine.

By Dorian Adams

I’m Moving to Erie PA!

For the last four years I’ve channeled my publishing background in creating media about philanthropy, making a difference, giving back, volunteering, social entrepreneurs, corporate social responsibility, socially responsible investing, etc. The result has been Benefit, the Bay Area magazine about the philanthropic lifestyle and, just recently, Just Cause, ( the social-networking website dedicated to the greater good. It’s been a great ride so far and I’m inspired daily by the good news that people make in their chosen fields—be it the environment, education, the arts, health, civic causes or international affairs—and the opportunity to bring these stories to light.

Reader interest is undeniable. But media coverage about the passionate people who give time and money to good causes is limited. Sure the media-at-large will cover Bill Gates and Warren Buffett whenever they make news with their largesse.  But most individual stories go unnoticed. That’s why I was bucked up by the one-off story about the $100 million mystery donation to the town of Erie, PA. What a grand gesture. And how intriguing that the donor insists on anonymity!

Happily, the mysterious donor of $100 million to the Erie Community Foundation has caught the attention of major media outlets. “There has been amazing interest across the world,” foundation President Mike Batchelor said Tuesday. “I’ve been contacted by lots of national and international press. They are interested in this story, from the BBC to San Antonio to Buffalo, Boston, Cleveland.” (reported on the Go Erie website)

The Associated Press picked up the story, which first appeared in the Erie Times-News on Oct. 6, and Batchelor started getting calls on Monday from news organizations wanting to know more about the donation. Batchelor was on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and has been contacted by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. “The bottom line, it’s a great story, and people are looking for great stories,” Batchelor said. “They’re happy to see success and charities benefiting.”

Here is the original AP story as reported by Jennifer C. Yates:  “Mike Batchelor invited the heads of 46 charities into his downtown office for one-on-one meetings to personally deliver the news. Nearby, on a small table, sat a box of tissues. And then he proceeded: A donor had given a staggering $100 million to the Erie Community Foundation, and all of the charities would receive a share. That was when the tears began to flow—and the mystery began—in this struggling old industrial city of 102,000 on Lake Erie, where the donor is known only as “Anonymous Friend.”  Continue reading Mystery $100M Donation Lifts Pa. City

Two Related Topics:

What does the future of Philanthropy Media look like?  Since the 2000 election, the public sector has failed to provide the social resources and the support that America needs. This has spurred the civic sector, private individuals and corporations to expand their support for nonprofits across the board.  The business sector has found that corporate social responsibility resonates with consumers—CSR has grown dramatically and will continue to do so.  In turn, this has created the need to communicate this goodwill to the public.  Corporate advertising, whose message is “we are good citizens,” has increased both on television and in print.  This is most evident around the subject of the environment, but I predict that editorial coverage about philanthropy, CSR, and giving back will grow apace.  Most magazines will continue to have their April Green Issues (Earth Day is April 22nd) but coverage of health, education and international issues will grow as well.  Additionally, visionary entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in the last decade recognize the power of the media to act as a catalyst for change.  They are the impetus behind the new magazines and websites dedicated to the greater good like Benefit, Contribute and Good magazines.  Moreover, social entrepreneurs like Jeff Skoll are bankrolling movies and documentaries aimed at raising public awareness about the environment, health issues and global concerns.  Skoll’s Participant Productions is behind An Inconvenient Truth, Darfur Now, Fast Food Nation, Jimmy Carter A Man from Plains, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Luna, and American Gun among others.

Anonymity: What are the pros and cons?  The Mystery Donor of Erie PA is a wonderful story, but without names on museum wings and university buildings, modern philanthropy would suffer.  What’s your opinion?

links for 2007-11-28

Are We Killing Our Grantees?

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Suzanne Walsh. Suzanne is a program director at the Lumina Foundation for Education. She previously worked as a program officer at The Heinz Endowments. Says Suzanne, “Before joining the world of philanthropy I was on the “other side”, working in non-profits where my job entailed writing grants and working on a large capital campaign. I have also served as the fundraising chair for boards on which I have served and have had to make those dreaded calls to prospective donors so I have seen this issue from all sides. I was even a telemarketer for an opera company!” Suzanne’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Lumina Foundation for Education.

By Suzanne Walsh

Are we killing our grantees?

Is there such a thing as too much money? Here is what has been bothering me lately: we give and we give and we give…to the same organizations. Is there ever a moment when we have given too much? Yes, you heard me, too much.

What happens when every local foundation discovers the hot new leader? We all want to invest in her and her organization for anything and everything. And then we wonder a year later why she is overextended and drowning and why she can’t do the core things she used to do. [I want to now pause to apologize for trying to kill my grantees, I didn’t mean it. It was out of admiration for your talent.]

What happens when national foundations discover hot intermediary organizations to help them make grants and run programs? The same thing, every foundation invests in those few for all their work and then those organizations become overextended and start to drown not able to do the basics well any more.

Sometimes there is an executive director who says no thanks to the money but it’s not easy to say no to millions when you aren’t sure if by saying no now, you have ruined your chances forever with that foundation.  The dating game between foundations and non-profits is awkward at best. It’s nice to be courted by the rich suitor and hard to say no when that large grant means the ability to hire new staff, pay the bills without worrying about writing more proposals for a while, becoming one of the “chosen” of an important foundation, and being able to take your work to scale.

That all sounds great but what I am still trying to figure out is can an organization maintain the same level of excellence if it is working with not just one foundation but if every foundation brings its large projects to bear on a single organization. Because now, there are the idiosyncrasies  of each foundation to contend with: funding cycles differ, reports are due at different times, the kinds of data needed by each foundation are different, the way each foundation wants to be treated is completely different…And if you thought that is only in instances where each foundation is funding a different project, think again. Even when foundations come together to fund projects, each foundation may still have its own requirements. So, yes, an organization may have more staff but it must also spend a lot of time killing itself responding to the various needs of the various foundations. When and how can any work get done?

Maybe it is time for foundations to do what we have asked of our grantees. Maybe we should start to work together so that we can give but make it OK non-profits to say no when they have reached capacity. Maybe we can work together to have common reporting requirements, at least when we jointly fund projects. Otherwise, I do think we are going to kill our grantees and we need them perhaps more than they need us.

The Necessity of Measurement

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Phil Deely. Phil is a nonprofit consultant at Deely & White and write the blog Strategic Governance, Philanthropy, and Planning.

By Phil Deely

The Necessity of Measurement, or, pour compendre il faut computer. [“To understand something we better start counting!”]

I first ran into the debate over quantification and social policy decades before I became a development consultant while a graduate student in European History and was first presented with an approach to history that was analytical and not just hortatory or a synthesis of others opinions. Historian Marc Bloch of pour comprendre fame was required reading and we were expected to search out  and analyze primary data. Of course, it wasn’t possible to rely solely on quantification—I was looking at generational conflict between conservative older intellectuals and the revolting students of the 1960’s—but, I began to see that real psychometric data such as opinion polls, numbers of citations in the popular press, and the like, enabled one to go beyond “flashes of intuition.”

Going forward a decade I left the leafy realm of academic research and was faced with developing and then implementing a system for the assessment of ‘good teaching’ in an independent/private school setting. The greatest resistance to the entire process came from faculty members who felt any reliance on standardized tests or other quantifiable data smacked of ‘public school’ and that these techniques inevitably missed the ‘ineffable essence’ of good teaching.

As I am in my third [and, I hope, final] career phase there is a lot of resonance in the current dialogue over the tendency of ‘performance measurement’ to undercut social change.  Of course, if the Apostles had commissioned a feasibility study in 34 AD, the objective data would have been disheartening to Christians, unless the researcher was able to get behind the façade of Roman invulnerability.  I am not, and have never been, an advocate for sole reliance  on numeric measures and I find that federal requirements in particular are often overly bureaucratic whether No Child Left Behind metrics or in social purpose grants.  However, given increasing donor expectations for accountability, an ongoing decline in public confidence and the tendency for some to substitute inspiration and instinct for the dismal science of measurement I believe our role is to embrace and improve most powerful tool in our repertoire-objective,  quantifiable assessment.

Creating a Generation of Digital Natives

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Daniel Ben-Horin. Daniel is the founder of CompuMentor/TechSoup, which puts on the NetSquared conference. Daniel has been named to the Nonprofit Times Power and Influence Top 50 a number of times.

By Daniel Ben-Horin

The bone I am gnawing on is about connecting these dots:

* There is something intrinsic in ‘knowing technology’ that makes the person with knowledge want to pass it on. So there is an almost infinite pool of ‘desire to help’ in the technological world (and I do mean ‘world’)

* The technologies associated with Web 2 make it easier and easier for communities to self-organize (although it is still by no means a slam dunk to do so, even with the new tools;  some level of external catalyzation and some level of structure are essential to successful, sustainable efforts, viz the relationship between Jimmy Wales and his staff and the larger Wikipedia community.)

* Financial resources are available for big web-based projects invoking large communities; the chance to be associated with the next Wikipedia or to be perceived as a leader in the climate change arena is very attractive to corporate sponsors. Likewise, some foundations see the potential.

* Absent a coherent effort to link the three dots above, there will be insufficient technological intellectual capital to train and support on new technologies in the developing world. This is an absolutely classic and pervasive issue. The digital divide has been ‘traditionally’ considered a matter of hardware and software, but it is as much or more a matter of training and support.  Projects like the xo (formerly ‘hundred dollar laptop’;  this is a good piece on that issue) offer a lot of promise for abetting a generation of digital natives (in the techie not colonialist sense of the word!) but in the short term, and in the longer as well, it is essential to create a way for these digital natives to get assistance along their learning curve, and also to create a way for the full demographic spectrum to learn to use these tools. And to do it soon.

Wiserearth seem to have a piece of this puzzle. The Impact Alliance might have an interesting piece or,Techfinder, a project CompuMentor and NTEN developed has a piece (but only a piece).

I remember once hearing Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices talk about human rights bloggers, who often operate clandestinely, which it makes it all the harder for them to secure technology assistance. I think about Bill Lester, of Engender Health, telling me about an internet outage in South Africa and the very specific skills it takes to just understand how to talk to the ISP there. I think about ngos around the world working against extreme odds with the barest-boned of patchwork IT structures and so little access to help.

And I think about all the people who can help, want to help and, with current tools, can help remotely.

A project to build a largely self-organizing database of technology experts/helpers/mentors and to enable those people to create beneficial interactions with organizations that need help would need project planning and development resources would need, I think, at least two skilled staff for the first year– one a very technically savvy Web 2 savant who could figure out how to create the necessary interfaces among existing resources and build new ones as needed; the second a more development oriented person who could articulate the social possibilities and build the relationships.

What do you think?

links for 2007-11-27

How to make your giving more effective

My most recent On Philanthropy column for the Financial Times is below. You can find the archive of all my past columns here.

Originally Published: November 24, 2007 in the Financial Times

Thanksgiving is a time to “give thanks”, but giving thanks well is harder than you think. We are in the middle of Giving Season, that time of year when many Americans donate time or money to their favourite non-profit. Most people give reactively to a variety of causes that catch their attention for one reason or another. There is a better way to celebrate the Giving Season.

This year, when you are making your holiday gift list, consider one of these excellent books that will show you and your family how to “give thanks” well and find a deeper meaning to financial success.

Tracy Gary is a philanthropist and donor adviser extraordinaire. Born into a very wealthy family, Gary decided at the age of 25 to give away all of her money. Now in her 50s, she lives on $45,000 a year. She spends her time teaching donors how to give well and recently published a new edition of her book Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy.

Inspired Philanthropy is about how to move from reactive giving, giving to the charities that ask, to pro-active giving, giving to the non-profits whose missions match your values and beliefs. It is full of practical suggestions, and simple worksheets, and even includes a CD-ROM full of tools to make you a better philanthropist. Unlike a tax or estate planning book targeting the very wealthy, Inspired Philanthropy gives relevant advice for people who volunteer their time, donate $100 a year or $1m.

In addition to covering such nuts and bolts territory as creating a mission statement, how much to give and where to give, Inspired Philanthropy covers advanced areas that even experienced philanthropists will find instructive. Sections covering concepts such as engaging effectively with the non-profits you support, networking with other big donors and planning for your heirs will help big donors ramp up their impact to a higher level.

There are hundreds of books explaining how to spend, save and invest money well, but only a few that teach how to give effectively. Inspired Philanthropy was first published 10 years ago, and the newest edition is updated and is still the best book on the subject. Personal financial planning expert Suze Orman wrote the introduction and a new section on legacy planning was written with financial and philanthropic adviser Phil Cubeta.

There are only four things that money can be used for: spending, saving, paying taxes or giving away. I believe the tools and strategies employed to address these objectives should not be viewed in isolation. In the book Beyond Success: Building a Personal, Financial, and Philanthropic Legacy, author Randall Ottinger makes exactly this case.

A successful high-tech executive from a wealthy family, Ottinger interviewed a who’s who of successful Americans for Beyond Success. Through relating these conversations and presenting short stories of people who have moved beyond financial success to create a meaningful intersection of wealth, family and philanthropy, Ottinger leads the reader to a broader understanding of success.

Ottinger weaves together the various stories he tells to provide a road map for crossing a terrain he sees as made up of metaphysical mountains and valleys, where people get lost in their search for significance, leadership and success. Eight common practices of people who complete the journey are described at length as well.

Research shows that amazing benefits result from teaching children about philanthropy at a young age. Philanthropy provides an ideal venue through which children can be engaged on subjects such as investing, responsibility and family values. There is probably no better book for young givers than A Kid’s Guide to Giving by Freddi Zeiler. Zeiler was just 14 when she wrote this book to help other kids learn about charitable giving. With many tips and tricks for leveraging donations (from throwing a bake sale for charity to getting a local business to sponsor a matching gift), this accessible book is a great introduction to philanthropy. It is so well written that many parents will find themselves reading it when their kids are done.

This holiday season, give the gift of giving well. The books above will delight the budding or experienced philanthropist on your list. By helping them give well, you’ll be “paying it forward”, as your gift turns into an investment in a better world.

The writer is a principal and director of tactical philanthropy at Ensemble Capital Management and author of the blog

One Post Challenge: Mo’ Money, No Problems

(Read to the bottom to catch the new “side bet” with prize money available to more contestants. I need your help to figure out how to award it.)

Wow. If you haven’t left a comment on one of the One Post Challenge entries, one of the last two entries (here and here) will definitely give you something to write about!

We now have 22 published entries and I’ll have to publish two or three posts a day to get everything out by the November 30 deadline. I’m still accepting new entries, so get those fingers flying on your keyboard and send me something juicy!

The One Post Challenge momentum has continued to build with entries from high profile contestants, lots of comments and another mention in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Today I have more cash to add to the prize pool.

First, Jeff Tuller, president and chairman of socialmarkets and author of the One Post Challenge entry, “Sleeping With The Enemy” is adding $250 to the winning prize. Jeff’s gift is in addition to my $250 and the $250 offered by Network for Good. The $750 prize goes to the post with the most comments from unique individuals (ie. The number of people posting comments, not the number of comments). The prize will be awarded as a Good Card, the new gift card from Network for Good that lets the receiver donate to the nonprofit of their choice.

Now not everyone has been happy with the way this contest is being judged. Early on, regular reader Bruce Trachtenberg wrote in a comment:

Maybe “volume” is overrated–and you need to find some way of assessing the quality and long-term value of guest posts. If your goal is simply to generate a lot of comments, you can always invite people to say or write something outrageous. But there also has to be a place for thoughtful, illuminating commentary that people respond to in other ways–like acting on what they’re hearing rather than tossing off a knee-jerk response.

More debate on this issue occurred in this post and comment thread.

I agree that the metric I chose for the contest is not perfect. I chose it because it is objective and transparent (anyone can verify the results and all contestants know exactly what they’re shooting for). How else could the contest have been judged? Well, now we have a chance to find out. Another $250 in prize money is being offered by TisBest. TisBest was founded this year and is offering their own charity gift card (read here for details). So here’s the deal. How do you think this $250 in gift cards from TisBest should be awarded? I’ll read the comments to this post and try and “read” the overall response and go with what the community wants. The only limitation is that the $250 cannot be spread out over more than 25 cards. Otherwise, anything is game.