Standing Out By Standing Together
With 323 nonprofits in Genesee County (2009 Urban Institute data), how can organizations stand out in the crowd?  We already know that leadership across the organization is important–have the right people on the bus, make sure everyone is sitting in the right seat, and,  make sure everyone knows where you are going.  But, what else? […]Team playing–is that leadership?
On Thursday, January 26 the BEST Project launched the first class of the BEST Leadership Institute (BLI) for individuals interested in leadership roles in the nonprofit sector.  There are currently 19 people in BLI.  The theme for the two-day Retreat was Team Playing.  Why is effective team playing important to leadership (in the nonprofit sector […]Fundraising for Nonprofits
Fundraising can be a daunting activity for nonprofit professionals, board members, volunteers, etc.  But there are many ways for individuals to help a nonprofit raise money for their mission.  And this notion that it is like “begging” or asking for a handout is just another excuse any of us can use not to take action. […]Public Policy Action Institute–How are we doing in the area of advocacy for our sector?
Thought leaders from throughout the country have gathered in Chicago to discuss the most pressing issues facing the nonprofit sector.  All agree on one thing, change is coming.  Some call it a tsunami others a perfect storm…….whatever you call it–it is going to be done to us as nonprofits rather than with us if we […]Do you follow policies that impact your organization? We all should.
In the midst of delivering programs, raising funds, meeting with partners, working with your board and the many “all other duties as assigned” it is difficult to stay tuned in to and informed about all of the trends and activities taking place in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector that have an impact on our work. […]Focusing on mission
This blog will focus on a variety of topics, subjects, issues and thoughts that are directly related to the mission of the BEST Project as well as nonprofits and funders.  BEST aims to build the capacity and sustainability of the Genesee County nonprofit sector.  This means providing a variety of education tools and programs for […]Headed to Alliance for Nonprofit Management Conference…Will you be there?
The Alliance for Nonprofit Management is an organization that brings capacity builders together to further our field.  This year, the event will focus on leadership, governance and evaluation.  All three of these topics are at the core of our work.  I look forward to sharing conversations, resources, links, etc. regarding these topics.  Stay tuned or […]Creating a culture of inquiry
Does your board welcome diverse perspectives?  Are individual board members given an opportunity to weigh in on important organizational decisions? Boards often aim for diverse membership but fail to engage the full board.  How does your organization cultivate a culture of inquiry–defined by thoughtful, mutually respectful debate and dialog about consequential questions and issues for […]Thank you for visiting All About Mission
founder's syndrome
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‘Hyperpartisanship’ Dominates Concerns of Nonprofit Leaders Charity Employees Feel Financially Prepared for Retirement, Survey Finds a Celebrity’s Bid to Help Eastern Congo
Redwood City, Calif. Plenty of examples exist of not-so-successful attempts by celebrities to engage in nonprofit work and advocacy. The Eastern Congo Initiative, started by the actor Ben Affleck, is winning some praise as an example of a smart approach. Last week Mr. Affleck spoke about the project here at the Global Philanthropy Forum, an annual meeting of donors. Mr. Affleck said he started thinking about getting involved in advocacy work when he was asked, like a lot of celebrities, to help raise awareness about the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. “I was sort of the 10th celebrity in line,” he joked. “They had George,” he said, referring to the actor George Clooney. But in reading about Darfur, Mr. Affleck started to learn about Eastern Congo, where millions of people have died in civil conflict since the late 1990s. That led to further reading, and then trips to the region, where he met with local groups that are trying to stop the violence and improve the lives of people there. With help from Williamsworks, a firm that provides advice to donors and nonprofits, Mr. Affleck shaped the Eastern Congo Initiative into a project that not only uses his celebrity to raise awareness about the Congo but also provides grants to community groups and supports advocacy efforts to get the United States government to pay more attention to the region. In a conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs, the wife of Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and a supporter of the Eastern Congo Initiative, Mr. Affleck said he wanted to give money to local groups both to help people in the Congo directly but also to back up his advocacy work with real insights. “We’ve all seen advocates who have a lot to say, but when I really drill down with them, I don’t have any kind of clear sense of where their opinions are coming from,” he said. “I wanted to have the integrity of doing that and I also wanted to make a tangible difference on the ground.” Mr. Affleck has assembled a team of supporters, including not only Ms. Jobs but also Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire financier Warren E. Buffett; Pam Omidyar, whose husband, Pierre Omidyar, founded eBay; and Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Senator John McCain. But Mr. Affleck said that the instability in the Congo has kept a lot of donors away: “The larger challenges of working in a failed state are real and daunting, and unfortunately they’ve kept away some really experienced, smart donors who might otherwise have made a big difference, or who could make a big difference going forward.” How a Donor Mixes Investments and Grants
Redwood City, Calif. Like a lot of wealthy people, Ron Cordes started a family foundation with some of the money he received when another company acquired the business he had helped to create. But unlike most of those people, he’s focused more of his attention on using the foundation’s investment portfolio to advance social causes than on making grants. Mr. Cordes talked about his experience during a session  at the Global Philanthropy Forum, a meeting of donors involved in international causes. He said that donors are missing a great opportunity by trying to influence social change only by awarding money to charities. “We’re trying to solve all the problems with about $300-billion a year,” the amount Americans donate to charitable causes, Mr. Cordes said. That’s dwarfed, he noted, by the dollars invested in the stock market, about $41-trillion. About a year and a half after Mr. Cordes started the Cordes Family Foundation in 2006, he and the foundation’s board set a goal of investing 20 percent of the fund’s assets in social enterprises and businesses that advance causes he cares about. The foundation has now reached the 29-percent mark—but Mr. Cordes said that its path hasn’t been easy. “The market is still new and fragmented,” he said. With his giving, Mr. Cordes is seeking to help overcome one barrier he sees: a lack of tools and knowledge on the part of financial advisers about how to invest in social enterprises and socially minded businesses. His foundation is working with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Calvert Foundation, and others to create Impact Assets, a group that will offer such tools, including an index of the 50 top financial managers who are committed to investing in businesses that advance social causes. Mr. Cordes said he often hears from people who say they aren’t meeting their fiduciary responsibilities if they don’t invest with the overriding goal of maximizing profits. He said people need to look at it differently—and perhaps the government needs to broaden the definition of “fiduciary responsibility.” “In my fund, I believe we’re not fulfilling our fiduciary responsibility if we’re not investing for impact,” he said. Read more about the index of financial managers in an article in the latest issue of The Chronicle and more about Mr. Cordes’s philanthropy and other donors like him. Candid Talk About the Struggles of Getting Rich People to Give
Redwood City, Calif. Three people who have  signed the Giving Pledge—a commitment to give away at least half of their fortunes—spoke on Thursday about why they think rich people should donate more and what they hope the pledge will achieve. John Morgridge, chairman emeritus of Cisco, and his wife, Tashia, were joined by Lorry Lokey, founder of Business Wire, for an evening conversation at the Global Philanthropy Forum, an annual meeting for donors. The Morgridges were among a small group who attended the very first dinner organized by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in May 2009, even before the pledge idea was fully baked. Mr. Morgridge said that people at the initial dinner floated the idea of doing videos and interviews to promote the pledge to others but instead decided that hosting more dinners would be the best way to try to recruit other wealthy people to join. After that first dinner, the Morgridges said they took a little time to think over whether they wanted to sign the pledge. Mr. Lokey said he agreed while on the phone with Mr. Buffett, who called him with the proposal. “I said yes right away, because the money was already gone,” joked Mr. Lokey, who has already given most of his fortune to education, medical research, and other causes. “When you pitch in and make it public, it encourages others.” He continued: “We’ve got all kinds of billionaires sitting on their rear ends and doing nothing. [Mr. Buffett] said he wanted me to be an example of how far beyond 50 percent you can go.” Mr. Morgridge said he also felt that many rich people were spending too much of their money on extravagances and could afford to donate much more. He and his wife started the Tosa Foundation, in Portola Valley, Calif., and are big supporters of education and other causes. “This valley has a lot of wealth, and, for my taste, a disproportionate amount of it is spent on homes that they live in for two weeks of a year,” he said. “We didn’t create all this wealth, we capitalized on an environment that permitted us to create it.” But persuading other people to publicly commit to give more of their money away hasn’t been all that easy, the donors said. Mr. Lokey said he was uncomfortable asking other people to donate. “I’d make a lousy development director.” The Morgridges hosted the third Giving Pledge dinner at their house, which they said resulted in only one additional person signing the agreement. Many people seemed to be held back by concerns about how to treat their children in their financial planning, the Morgridges said. Others just didn’t seem to be thinking much about a long-term approach to giving. Said Mr. Morgridge: “I was a little surprised at both dinners that there were a fair number of people who really had no philanthropic plan.” Another challenge has been convincing those people who give but who do so anonymously. The Morgridges started out in that camp, said Ms. Morgridge. Their first large gifts were anonymous. But, as time went on, “people found out about it anyway,” she said. “We finally realized it was kind of a sham that we were anonymous.” Asked about concerns surrounding the undemocratic nature of mega philanthropy, Mr. Morgridge pointed out that people use money to buy influence in all realms, not just through their charitable giving. “You’re not worried about the lobbyists in Washington, D.C., who influence how government money is spent? You’re not worried about the money that’s being spent to influence politics in this country?” he said. “To say we’re less trustworthy than the government or the lobbyists or the corporations—I don’t think you can prove that case.” All three donors emphasized how much they enjoy giving. “You can give $30-million for student aid and every spring the letters roll in thanking you,” said Mr. Lokey. “It’s a wonderful life.” Why It Matters That Donors Evaluate Their Work
Redwood City, Calif. Could a national effort to fight malnutrition, backed with significant money from the World Bank, have no impact? Yes, according to Howard White, executive director for the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, a nonprofit dedicated to determining what works in international antipoverty efforts. Mr. White was among more than two dozen speakers who participated in the opening day of the Global Philanthropy Forum, an annual meeting for donors. His speech underscored ... Continue readingCouncil on Foundations Puts Philanthropy on Trial
Philadelphia At the closing session of the Council on Foundations meeting on Tuesday, a majority of people voted to do away with the charitable deduction and other tax breaks that benefit foundations. OK, not really. It was all part of a mock trial the council put together—with philanthropy as the defendant—to debate whether foundations are fulfilling their mission of advancing the common good. The sentence for philanthropy, if found guilty of falling short on its mission: losing its tax-exempt status. Acting as prosecutor, Gara LaMarche, president of the Atlantic Philanthropies, argued that philanthropy has failed in three key ways. First, it too often acts in its own self-interest. One example: Foundation leaders’ opposition to President Obama’s proposal to cap the charitable deduction, which the president floated as a way to help pay for a health-care overhaul. Mr. LaMarche said that for foundation leaders to push back against a key way to pay for the health-care bill, which seeks to narrow the yawning gulf between rich and poor people, “seems to me to be plainly wrong.” Second, he said, philanthropy doesn’t take nearly enough risks and tends to shy away from the biggest issues of today, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. He added: “Even when we do take risks and stumble, we’re like Eddie Haskell job applicants, who, when pressed to name their weaknesses in job interviews, say they really ought to get more sleep and not spend 80 hours at the office.” Finally, Mr. LaMarche argued that foundations aren’t sufficiently committed to diversity within their organizations and that they don’t reflect the people they serve. Philanthropy’s ‘Greatest Hits’ Serving as philanthropy’s defense lawyer, Ralph Smith, executive vice president for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, sought to remind the crowd of what philanthropy has accomplished. The hospice system, the 911 emergency call system, white lines on highways, the Hubble telescope, “Sesame Street,” microfinance, disease research: All of those advances were enabled by philanthropic dollars, Mr. Smith said. The foundation world is likewise full of exceptional grant makers, people like Vartan Gregorian, Emmett Carson, and Sherece West, he said. Even if you abhor the causes that some donors choose to support, Mr. Smith said, society is better off because of philanthropy’s pluralism. “Ralph’s argument amounts to a greatest hits of philanthropy,” said Mr. LaMarche, when it was his turn for a rebuttal. Mr. Smith, in turn, conceded that philanthropy hasn’t made as much progress as he’d like on diversity and other issues but that its performance today is better than a decade ago. “Our job is to continue the progress, even if it’s incremental,” he said. Meanwhile, both men joked about how they were strong-armed into their roles as prosecutor and defender by Steve Gunderson, the council’s president, and acknowledged that their arguments were exaggerated. The trial resulted in a hung jury: Of the panel of twelve audience members, 10 voted that  philanthropy was guilty of falling short of its mission and two dissented. Perhaps grant makers will get to see a retrial at next year’s council meeting. But on Tuesday, they headed back to their hometowns, where many will continue to make the case for philanthropy’s privileged status to deficit-minded lawmakers. Changing How Congress Views Foundations
Philadelphia Foundations need to change their message to legislators, to focus on how philanthropy serves people and reduces the burden on government, said Steve Gunderson, president of the Council on Foundations, on the closing day of the council’s annual meeting. Philanthropy requires help increasing its resources so it can do more, not less, he said. “We have to make the case that philanthropy isn’t a special interest, but it’s an entity in American society that’s a partner in building our community,” he said. “Every item on our legislative agenda is designed in a way to increase our ability to serve.” Philanthropy also needs better research about how proposed changes to the charitable deduction and other tax policies would affect giving, said Carol S. Larson, president of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. “These aren’t going to be simple conversations, but we are going to need to have them,” Ms. Larson said. She added that both the council and Independent Sector, a coalition of charities and grant makers, are studying how various kinds of tax reforms would affect the nonprofit field. A Blueprint for Grant Making to Journalism Groups Aren’t Foundation Boards More Diverse?