How one donor achieved impact beyond check-writing

“Philanthropy is neither a solitary effort by the donor nor even a dialectical effort between the donor and the grantee. Social change involves many different players from all sectors of society. It is through the engagement and alignment of these multiple players that catalytic donors achieve their impact.”

A best practice worth repeating

I recently taught a philanthropy class where we discussed the merits of this sentiment published in Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer’s book, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World. While this book has been widely discussed since it was published in 2011, revisiting it with my class reminded me that the principles are as relevant today as they were four years ago. I have a renewed appreciation for some of the case stories that illustrate what it means to be a catalytic donor so I’d like to return to one of the authors’ great profiles about a donor by the name of Emily Jackson Tow.

Jackson Tow is an example of what the authors call an adaptive leader or someone who fully evaluates the issue and hand and determines how she can facilitate transformative change beyond funding. These adaptive donors “are not content to merely give a man a fish, or even teach him to fish; these entrepreneurs won’t stop until they’ve revolutionized the entire fishing industry,” says Ashoka founder Bill Drayton. In this particular case, Jackson Tow demonstrates the first of the six highlighted best practices in the book: advocate for change.

How Emily Jackson Tow advocated for change

The authors highlight the Tow Foundation’s advocacy efforts to demonstrate the power of a donor’s influence beyond financial impact. The Tow Foundation maintains a portfolio approach to giving, but its greatest impact comes from its nonfinancial contributions, such as sweat equity, knowledge of best practices, national and local networks, relationships and perseverance to reform the state’s juvenile justice system.

Emily Tow Jackson became aware of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of adolescents who were jailed for minor offenses, such as graffiti, in the same facility as serious offenders and confined to small, poorly ventilated cells for up to 21-hour stretches with two inmates and no toilet. Beyond the horrible conditions, the larger issue was Connecticut’s escalating youth imprisonment rates. Many of the juvenile offenders did not require high-security prison facilities; rather they needed counseling, safe and stable homes, and other basics.

Tow Jackson immediately set to work by enlisting three nonprofit organizations to establish the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance with a start-up grant of $25,000. Additionally, the foundation engaged in advocacy activities that included the following:

–        funding and participating in collaborations,

–        educating legislators with forums at the state capitol,

–        participating on local and state government committees,

–        raising public awareness through media,

–        and giving general operating support to nonprofits focused on this issue.

By 2009, referrals to juvenile court dropped by more than one third and the number of youth convictions dropped by almost two thirds. At the time the Do More Than Give was published, Connecticut was recognized nationally as an innovative leader in handling juvenile cases, rather than as a leading incarcerator of minors.

Nuances of advocacy

The authors explain an important piece about this best practice: Some funders avoid lobbying because of a fear or misunderstanding of how much lobbying is allowed, so the authors define advocacy and related terms as:

–       Advocacy refers to activism around an issue such as climate change, free trade or youth justice. Examples of activities range from educating and mobilizing voters to pitching media stories and raising awareness to directly influencing public officials.

–       Policy advocacy (a.k.a. lobbying) refers to specific efforts to change public policy or obtain government funding for a social program.

–       Lobbying versus advocacy: Most of the confusion lies with advocacy. Lobbying is prohibited by foundations in the U.S. and advocacy is an all-encompassing term for a whole range of activities.

Private foundations, which include most family foundations, cannot fund or engage in direct lobbying, but they can make general operating grants to nonprofits that lobby. Large private foundations have a long political history because they generally have a larger staff of trained professionals who have a deep understanding of the issues and social sector.

Conversely, public foundations, such as community foundations are allowed both to engage in lobbying themselves and to fund nonprofits that lobby. Because community foundations find themselves at the center of many different stakeholders, most shy away from lobbying. However, the authors explore a case study about The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and how it successfully positioned its lobbying activities so its constituents would embrace them.

–       Corporate foundation lobbying: Good corporate foundations reconcile lobbying activities that benefit their company with those that lend strength to the social causes they support for a win-win. Corporations can leverage vast brand recognition and marketing channels to broadcast policy messages and they can mobilize entire industries. In contrast, some companies still support legislation that directly contradicts their socially responsible images. For example, Toyota, maker of the eco-friendly Prius, lobbied with other carmakers against tougher fuel economy standards.

Working together for maximum impact

To create systemic change, nonprofits today need catalytic donors in their court to leverage the full participation of every sector in society. According to the authors, the number of billionaires has tripled since 2000 and nearly half of the 75,000 private foundations established in the U.S. were created in the last decade. We’re also seeing growth in private enterprise where new corporate entities are created to blend profit with social purpose, as well as in government’s willingness to partner in nonconventional ways.

Within the context of these societal trends, there is no question that donors are positioned like never before to help orchestrate an integrated approach to problems and embrace catalytic philanthropy. Visit the Do More Than Give website for more stories about donors who create catalytic change in their communities.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

Image credits: ask.com, towfoundation.org, stlucianewsonline.com, parksandrecreation.com

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An unvarnished look at our nonprofit sector’s challenges and opportunities

More than $1.5 trillion flow through more than one million charities, employing 13 million people in the United States. The charitable sector is one of the pillars of American quality of life, yet remarkably, we don’t think much about causes.

Even more surprising is in our results-driven world, the general public rarely presses nonprofits for accountability to results and measures.

Former National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern has written a book to tell the story of charitable failures, misguided incentives and ineffective market structures. With Charity for All is a call to action for the social sector to look at its framework and identify ways in which it can make corrective measures one person, one nonprofit at a time.

Some of the problems Stern challenges us to face include:

Tolerance of low- or no-impact outcomes like water charities that build wells but fail to maintain them or programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that actually stimulated drug use.

Acceptance of the government’s 99.5 percent approval of all charitable applications: The IRS’ low requirement threshold for nonprofit status further crowds the social sector with charities that don’t always meet two important criteria: 1) charitable tax exemption to “relieve the government of having to provide and pay for certain services” and 2) public benefit: “the charity cannot operate for private benefit; its value must be felt broadly within the community.”

Lack of sector scrutiny: “Ineffective supervision, unclear legal standards, and enormous consumer confusion all create a situation where it is astonishingly easy to set up, operate, and maintain charities that principally benefit their fund-raisers and managers.” Stern gives examples such as donations not going to programs but instead, to fundraising and administrative expenses. For example, the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics (AFP) designate only three percent of the funds to the programs that assist burn victims.

Solutions: a path to a better charitable marketplace

In the final chapter, Stern discusses what we, as a society, need to do to combat the real dangers of the charitable sector as it stands today. Many charities believe the sector does not “lend itself to empirical measurement” because it is difficult to measure social good. Also, people that work for social good should not be evaluated. This belief results in being more fair to the charities than the beneficiaries of their work. Donors’ lack of research and their donations to good stories rather than legitimate impact are exacerbating the problem.

Stern’s paths to a better charitable marketplace include:

Ken Stern

  1. Resist the old ways” by focusing on social impact to beneficiaries based on objective evidence. People must look past charismatic leaders and fundraisers and enticing marketing strategies to real impact.
  2. Look for indicia of quality”: clarity of targets, transparency with goals and research, real growth. Be wary of claims of low overhead because they may be “managing their books for public display or shortchanging their potential, or both.”
  3. Do the work” by researching the charities thoroughly, not just the charities’ websites, but also public reports and other websites. Share the information you find.
  4. Follow the leaders,” or signalers, that have done the research (GiveWell, New Profit and Robin Hood Foundations). These organizations are still small and limited in scope, but it’s a start.
  5. “Reconsider what constitutes a charity: Businesses that look, act, and feel like for-profit operations, like [some] hospitals, … should be treated as for-profit businesses, both out of notions of competitive fairness and out of the belief that such operations neither need nor deserve public support.” What organizations really should receive tax-exempt status?

We must open our eyes if we’re to make a change

Given the extent to which our society and government increasingly depend on the social sector to deliver critical support to the underserved as well as augment our quality of life, it’s understandable that former nonprofit CEOs like Ken Stern who’ve witnessed the challenges we face feel compelled to give readers an unvarnished look in front of and behind the curtain. With so much riding on our sector’s ability to deliver impact, Stern challenges us to open our eyes and take a closer look at what seemingly has gone unnoticed for too long.

See also:

Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World

The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About

Governance Series–Volume One: Fundraising for Boards, Ethics, Governance as Leadership and Conversations that Matter

Image credits: snipview.com, anchor publishing

 

 

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Six ways to package your story so it qualifies as news

If you don’t have anything to hide, why should you worry about media relations? I get asked this question on at least a weekly basis. People figure that if they’re not breaking the law or having a sordid affair with a married politician, they really shouldn’t have to spend time thinking about dealing with the media. They also think that because they know all about how wonderful their organization is, everyone does too.

 

And they’re wrong on both counts.

 

All of my clients are hardworking, publicly-minded people who work in progressive nonprofits. That’s the only kind of client my firm takes. So when I suggest to them that it is important to learn about what makes the media tick and how to use that knowledge to their advantage, people always look at me like I wandered into the wrong meeting. They are laboring under the belief that because they are the good guys, they will look like the good guys if the media ever comes to call.

 

Big mistake. For several reasons.

 

Misconceptions about media and coverage

 

First, they have a misconception of what the term “media relations” or “public relations” means. To many people, these terms conjure up visions of slick, chain-smoking corporate types lying through their teeth. In reality, the number one rule of media relations is never, ever, lie. Not even about the tiniest thing.

 

Second, most people who are dedicating their lives to improving their communities tend to be under the impression that most reasonable people can see what they see–the poor need food, kids need education and families need access to health care. What they forget is that they are standing on the front lines – and there are way too many people out there who travel from their gated communities to their high rise offices and don’t see any of that. Those are people who could potentially become donors, volunteers, and voters in support of their cause – if they only could be reached.

 

Third, because my clients do their jobs very carefully, knowing that lives and livelihoods are at stake, they often believe that everyone in the media is as careful as they are. And that just isn’t the case. You can blame it on impossible deadlines, corporate profit motive, sloppy reporting or just bad editing, but the fact of the matter is, a news-story is generally written at breakneck speed by an overworked reporter who has little or no background on the issue. It is edited at an even faster pace by an even more overworked editor who has even less knowledge.

 

How to qualify as news

 

So, no matter who you are, if you have a desire to inform the public, increase your donor base, change laws or regulations, or just get some well-deserved kudos, it is in your best interest to become savvy in media relations. It is never about lying or twisting facts. It is about is packaging information so that it could qualify as “news,” and then making sure that everything needed for the story is lined up in a way to make it easy, fast and accurate for the reporter.

 

To know how to “package” your information, you have to know what makes a story “news”. When I taught journalism to college students, every basic journalism textbook laid it out the same way. So I teach my clients exactly what every journalist is taught in their first reporting course. A news story must contain at least one (and hopefully more than one) of the following six elements: conflict, impact, novelty prominence, proximity or timeliness.

 

Conflict is the strongest basic news element there is. The fact that everything is hunky dory just isn’t news. When something goes wrong, then it becomes interesting. It’s just human nature. Think about the last time you called a friend with some really good gossip. Was it good news? Probably not. Conflict is what makes story-telling go round. And news is story telling. If there’s not conflict in your story, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to the press.

 

Impact is another strong basic news element. If something happens that’s going to have an impact on the reader, they’ll likely want to know about it. Unfortunately, we’re a country of self-centered people. If it affects them personally, Americans care. If it doesn’t, generally they don’t. We can discuss the morality of this at another time (and believe me, I do) but the fact remains. A majority of readers probably aren’t that interested in a civil war in a far off country. But they DO care if that war is going to affect their coffee prices.

 

Novelty is easy: If something happens all the time, it’s generally not news. If it is very unusual, then it is. The standard J-school example is this: if dog bites man, that’s not news. If man bites dog, that’s news.

 

Prominence is the culprit behind all those Brittney Spears stories. We are a celebrity culture, and once someone has made it into the limelight, any tiny tidbit about them is news. But remember, prominence means prominence. Your Executive Director might be a star around the office, but in terms of media, unless they also double as a movie star or a billionaire, they probably don’t count as “prominent.”

 

Now for the last two: Proximity and Timeliness. Proximity deals with distance. If you’re pitching a story to the local paper, it better be a story that takes place right in town. Statewide papers do carry some national news, but for the most part, they write stories about what happens in the state. Timeliness means something just happened – a court case decided a month ago is not news, one decided today is. Timeliness is the reason reporters and editors work fast and furious. Because to delay means to lose the story.

 

Those are the six elements of a news story. If you want a media outlet to pick up on your story, it has to have one (or more) of those elements. That means you should package your story to play up one or more elements. Usually the two that work best are conflict and impact. If you can show how what your organization does helps ordinary people who don’t even know you exist – you’ve got a story. If you can show how some issue in your community is causing a clear definable conflict, you’ve got a story. There are all kinds of ways you can work this, but these are the foundational building blocks to pitching the media.

 

You can also use these elements stop a story from becoming news. If a journalist calls you and wants to talk about an issue you’d rather not be in the paper, then the strategy is to TRUTHFULLY play down the elements in the story. If you can convince a journalist that the story is old (not timely), or that your certainly not concerned about it (no conflict) or that it doesn’t really affect anyone (no impact), you’ve successfully killed a story. That comes in handy too.

 

At this point, I always have to stop and tell my clients that they shouldn’t despair. Despite how it looks, the human race is not beyond redemption. But talk of “reforming the media” isn’t going to do much good in the short run. If you work at a nonprofit that needs to get its message out there, you’d be better served by working within the parameters then fighting them. Just remember the elements of a news story:

 

Conflict

Impact

Novelty

Prominence

Proximity

Timeliness

 

See also:

 

Social Media–Volume One: Measuring Social Media, Building a Network, Creating Multichannel Campaigns and Mastering Twitter

 

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

 

This was Part I: The 6 elements of a news story

 

Image credits: fawstin.blogspot.com, quantummarketers.com, gladiatorguards.com, torreyshannon.com

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No instruction manual? Adopt a start-up attitude.

The online world is changing the way we live, work and engage with our communities. Nonprofits that raise more and leverage new heights in advocacy relate with their constituents through a variety of online channels in tandem, meeting each group where it already is: on the Internet.

Social Change Anytime Everywhere coauthors, Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward, establish beyond a doubt and with inspiring sector examples just how much a multichannel approach can help meet your goals.

If 78 percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet, nonprofit leaders must embrace not just one or two online channels but launch a coordinated effort that incorporates simultaneous online platforms, mobile devices and offline efforts.

One of the many stories Allyson and Amy highlight was the harrowing challenge faced by the National Wildlife Federation. The U.S. had just undergone the largest oil spill in its history on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Organizing a multichannel fundraising and advocacy campaign

The Federation responded with a multichannel disaster response campaign. Its two goals were to organize a multichannel advocacy and fundraising campaign to protect the wildlife impacted by the spill and to channel the community’s concern for the oiled animals toward the Federation’s campaign actions to make a real impact.

To meet these goals, the Federation spread information by creating a microsite to share data and impact and a Flickr group to feature photos. It recruited volunteers to help monitor rescue efforts, asked for donated supplies and urged people to advocate for legislation where needed. It focused on fixing the immediate damage and helping people cope by using social media as an emotional support.

Then, the National Wildlife Federation transitioned to a long-term goal of restoration, which involved more advocacy efforts, mainly the RESTORE Act that directly allocated BP fines to efforts to fix the damage. Through multichannels, the Federation not only shared information, but also ways to help and it “even filed a Freedom of Information Act request to make sure the oiled wildlife totals were made public.”

Here are some ways the Federation used multichannels to meet their advocacy and fundraising goals:


1) Website–shared adult and child-friendly content and set up campaign action pages for advocacy. 

2) Facebook and Twitter—planned and adapted messages for each from the beginning and tested them along the way. The Federation shared a couple of links a day, thanked people who posted fundraising efforts, encouraged people to reshare information, and used these channels as stories of the day for reporters. They were sure to balance messaging between sharing valuable information and making “the ask.”

3) Flickr—posted photos and made uploading easy for community posts.

4) Email—sent updates and direct mail appeals to donate to a restricted fund specific to the oil disaster.

5) Causes—supporters started fundraising on a page the National Wildlife Federation set up on Causes.com.

6) Text-to-Give—set up a first-time text-to-give program and promoted it through the heightened media exposure and other channels (website, Twitter, Facebook).

7) Ads—secured donated ads and travel.

So what did all of these channel efforts amount to?

It was difficult to measure all the relief efforts due to the urgency of this disaster but the Federation did track how people were responding to its appeals using source codes in its emails. Additionally, they raised $120,000 from the fundraising effort on www.Causes.com. It mostly tracked the impact on the ground (number of volunteers trained, number of news reports, number of sea turtle nests saved, the RESTORE Act, etc.). Internally, the Federation learned to identify point people from all departments who could meet daily to share information, brief staff so it could talk with the media, and streamline its website processes to make the website the main source of updated information. More specifically, Federation efforts resulted in:

– 250 wildlife surveillance volunteers to monitor more than 2,500 miles of coastline.
– 400 volunteers helping with events that included restoring fragile nesting habitats.
– Generated media attention by showing reporters the spill impacts in remote areas.
– Relocated more than 250 sea turtle nests (each nest has about 100 eggs).
– Directly impacted the passage of the RESTORE Act in Congress, ensuring that BP fines go toward restoring the damaged habitat.

    Lessons learned

    “We had no instruction manual on the shelf called ‘What to do when an oil rig explodes in the Gulf.’ It was written page by page, on the fly in the weeks and months after,” said senior manager for online integration, Kristin Johnson. Identifying a point person from each department to focus on the campaign and communicate regularly was essential. Additionally, we learned that having a streamlined internal web process for updating the site regularly was critical. Otherwise, our other channels working in tandem with the site would have provided duplicative or conflicting information.

    Adopt a start-up attitude

    Kapin and Sample Ward encourage readers to adopt a start-up mentality when launching a multichannel effort. I asked the authors in our CausePlanet interview, “What are some of the behaviors you admire about startups that nonprofits should consider?” Kapin answered:

    Startups prefer to fail fast and iterate. This gives them an opportunity to experiment with new ideas that they think have potential. Plus there is a lot to be learned from failing: It can lead to much better products, programs and initiatives. But in order for nonprofits to adapt this mindset, they must stop being so risk-averse and develop a plan to communicate with their funders, donors and board about learning from failure. One of the organizations we work with–Ask Big Questions at Hillel International–lists specific questions they are asking themselves about their programs, which they share with their funders. They talk about what they have learned and the exciting journey ahead of them.

    See also:

    Networked Nonprofit

    Content Marketing for Nonprofits

    Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

    Twitter for Good

     

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    Diverse relationships: the path to systemic change

    A relationship built around a film

    Soon after the Trayvon Martin verdict, I sat in a darkened movie theater with a mixed age and gender audience of predominantly, but not exclusively, people of color, watching “Fruitvale Station.” This powerful and highly acclaimed film clearly had drawn a group of people who related to or were curious about the subject matter. Some may have been intrigued by very thoughtful reviews on National Public Radio or urged to attend by a respected colleague. Regardless of the individual reasons that brought us all there, as the credits rolled and the lights came up, we all continued to sit in our seats, somehow connected by the anonymous shared experience. The theater crew stood by patiently as weeping strangers exchanged tissues across the rows, wiped their eyes and slowly filed out. No words were spoken. However, a sense of relationship now existed between us as we dispersed and considered the film’s impact on our individual beliefs and actions.

    “Fruitvale Station” has since quietly disappeared from theaters. And, I am not writing a movie review. (Although, I urge you to see this excellent film.) Stay with me…

    The importance of relationships

    Years ago, I wrote for CausePlanet about my personal passion for systemic change. I spoke of my inclination to try to harness the moon and change the tide as opposed to throwing in starfish one-by-one, as the iconic story describes. It is not a lack of compassion for each one to whom it matters, but rather a deep desire to change everyone’s course for the best. That passion has not waned. At the same time, I recognize no approach to the most challenging issues that face our communities can stand alone. To that end, today I write about the importance of relationships in the context of individual beliefs and actions: relationships to systems, to communities, to neighborhoods, to schools and to each other.

    Inclusiveness Project builds relationships and moves toward systemic change

    In 2011, The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project (the 2009 recipient of the Council on Foundations’ Critical Impact Award) joined Dr. Vincent Harding and the Veterans of Hope Project in sponsoring Michelle Alexander’s visit to Denver. The dynamic author of The New Jim Crow riveted audiences at Manual High School, Iliff School of Theology and Park Hill United Methodist Church as she spoke about the history and impact of policies related to drug sentencing on mass incarceration of black men. One of the individuals in a pew was Barbara Grogan, a pioneer business woman, trustee and donor to The Denver Foundation. Barbara was not only touched by what she learned, but also spurred to relational action. She bought dozens of copies of the book and gave them out to every person of social and political influence she could imagine. At the same time, a local group of residents, law enforcement, advocacy, faith-based, and direct service groups came together to continue the discussion and elevate collective will to amend the devastation of over-representation of men of color in the criminal justice system.

    That was Denver, but systemic work was happening across the country. Officials in several states and Attorney General Eric Holder have given voice and taken action to change laws and practices that unjustly incarcerate groups of people—leaving broken lives, families and communities in their wake. I celebrate these shifts in the tide. And, I believe those systems can be fraught with undercurrents and the tides can change. I also know the re-entry of individuals from prisons to productive lives will require the support of those who, like the starfish I mentioned in my years-ago column, help their neighbors one-by-one.

    Today, I grieve again as I read headlines of events or circumstances within our global and local community. We can’t legislate or enforce the elimination of the effects of trauma, injustice, hate, poverty, intolerance, incarceration and violence.

    Other ways The Denver Foundation builds relationships

    What can we do? The Denver Foundation has spent years investing in the work of inclusiveness and resident engagement through the Inclusiveness Project and Strengthening Neighborhoods. Our new ten-year strategic plan calls for us to become champions of change for those who are most vulnerable and to help our community build racial, ethnic and economic equity. At the same time, we are working with cadres of leaders who are often unseen and unsung but work diligently daily for the common good. These members of our community are young, old, people of color, allies, of varying abilities, LGBTQ, residents, donors, business people, veterans, refugees, immigrants, and other diverse people who care deeply about our region. They are often the strangers who realize that when we are struck by a 100-year flood or an unspeakable tragedy or just winding our way through our lives, we all must reach out helping hands to support and love one another until the sun shines upon us and we rebuild.

    As a part of The Denver Foundation’s work in schools, this capacity for good is recognized and supported through practices that divert young people from the school-to-prison pipeline and on to graduation. The visionary Unity Council, comprised of multigenerational men from the African-American and Latino communities, meets regularly to reach deep down to their “rootstraps” to heal wounds and build bridges between cultures. Our Basic Human Needs work includes neighbors who help others navigate systems. The Foundation’s partners show up every day to ensure we are all better for their having done so. The interns in our Nonprofit Internship Program share powerful stories that inspire them to become community and nonprofit leaders. Within the Foundation, we appreciate our individual personal journeys and gifts of time, talent and treasure that contribute to excellence.

    How YOU can build relationships

    Nonprofits (including philanthropic organizations) often build relationships and community in the following ways:

    • Listening campaigns that focus on assets, not just needs (Asset Based Community Development)
    • Feedback loops with constituents, residents, donors and partner organizations
    • Development of diverse and inclusive boards and staffs
    • Brown-bags, book clubs or movie groups for discussion purposes, not problem solving
    • Encouragement of curiosity and listening

    Exploring tools to create dialogues:

    www.racialequitytools.org

    www.coloradoinclusivefunders.org

    www.nonprofitinclusiveness.org

    So today, my “cause for the planet” is for relationships connected to a belief in the inherent decency of humankind. Those relationships may form in classrooms or boardrooms, on the streets or the light rail, over a seat or across an aisle.

    See also:

    The Power of Collaborative Solutions

    Community: The Structure of Belonging

    Salsa, Soul and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age

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    Why haven’t we tackled the “biggie” of systemic challenges?

    We like to think we know change in the nonprofit sector. We’re in the business of systemic change after all. So why haven’t we tackled the “biggie” of systemic challenges? Yes, I’m talking about our challenges as a sector.

    In our current Page to Practice™ book feature of Charity Case at CausePlanet, we’ve explored how author Dan Pallotta argues that the social sector is required to work with a different rule book than the corporate world. This alternative rule book prevents us from moving the needle on critical humanitarian issues and reflects five transgressions against the sector. These transgressions range from disparities in compensation, to risk-tolerance for revenue generation, to the time horizon for successful outcomes.

    Pallotta further asserts that the social sector needs its own civil rights movement to overcome these hurdles perpetuated by the current rule book and explains his plan for a new “Charity Defense Council” to lead it.

    The Council should approach the problem from five angles: 1) Establish an Anti-Defamation League; 2) launch an aggressive, paid public media campaign; 3) enact a National Civil Rights Act for Charity and Social Enterprise; 4) establish a Legal Defense Fund; and 5) organize the sector on behalf of its own issues (including 17 ways to get involved in this movement).

    In our interview with Pallotta, we asked him about which of the five strategies he felt was most important and about the role of other sectors:

    CausePlanet: You’ve discussed five strategies that will help the social sector change the way our society views charities. In your opinion, which is the most important among them?

    Pallotta: We need to begin with anti-defamation and public advertising efforts. Those are the two quickest paths to a public conversation. Charities are defamed in the media all the time, and there is no legitimate nationally respected voice there to defend or offer an alternative point of view. And that’s free media if we can get an anti-defamation voice to respond to those stories. With public advertising, we can completely control the message and deliver lay-friendly, really smart, really provocative ads that can change people’s minds quickly.

    CausePlanet: Many thought leaders observe meaningful social change happens when sectors collaborate to create a movement. What essential actions might we need, if any, from the corporate and government sectors to accomplish this new view of charities?

    Pallotta: Not to be too pedestrian, but one of the things we could use would be corporate brands sponsoring these efforts with financial support. The government could create a sea change overnight by finding a national iTunes for charity that would give the public much more robust and friendly information that is updated regularly. Eventually it could provide information on every single nonprofit organization in the country.

    Do you feel you operate under a separate rule book from the corporate sector? Have you experienced any of the transgressions Pallotta mentions? If yes to either question, tell us about it.

    For more information about Dan Pallotta’s Charity Case, or to purchase his book, visit www.danpallotta.com.

    If you would like to view the full Page to Practice™ book summary of Charity Case to research the book further, visit our Summary Store to purchase a copy or subscribe to our entire Page to Practice™ library of recommended reading. Or, download a free sample of a Page to Practice book summary and see if you like our format.

    See also:

    Charity Case

    One-Hour Activist

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    Charity Case: Are nonprofits operating under a separate rule book?

    Charity Case author Dan Pallotta explains the number of nonprofit organizations that have crossed the $50 million annual revenue barrier since 1970 is 144. He adds, the number of for-profits that have crossed it is 46,136, and as many as 80 percent of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. have budgets under $500,000. Finally, only one percent have budgets greater than $1 million.

    Despite the fact that our sector is tackling issues of “massive proportions,” we are required to work under a separate rule book, one that doesn’t have any of the proven capital strategies our corporate sector leverages every day.

    “This is the crux of the matter,” says Pallotta.

    Pallotta explains this discriminatory rule book reflects five transgressions against our sector:

    1) Compensation: We let the for-profit sector pay people a competitive wage based on the value they produce without limit. Want to make $50 million selling video games to children? Have at it, says Pallotta. “But if you want to pay the right leader half a million dollars to cure kids of malaria, you and the leaders are parasites yourselves.”

    2) Advertising and marketing: Charities can’t build demand for donations to their causes while businesses advertise until the last dollar no longer produces a penny of value.

    3) Risk taking in pursuit of new donors: While it’s okay if the movie industry spends $100 million on flops, a $5 million charity walk that doesn’t show a 75 percent profit in the first year is considered suspect. Consequently, nonprofits shy away from large-scale fundraising ideas and cannot benefit from powerful learning curves.

    4) Time horizon: New companies can go six years without returning any profits to investors in the interest of building market dominance while charities that have long-term goals are expected to yield short-term, direct services. If they don’t deliver, they are pariahs.

    5) Profit: Businesses can offer profits to cultivate investment capital, but there’s no such vehicle for charities. The social sector is starved for growth capital.

    The author included a relevant quote from former president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Paulette Maehara. She says we are to blame for perpetuating some of these transgressions. “The sector has fallen into a trap we created. By focusing on what we DON’T spend, and not on what has been accomplished, we have completely missed the mark in our messaging. We are part of this problem and it’s up to us to educate our way out of it,” adds Maehara.

    Pick up a copy of Dan Pallotta’s Charity Case. It’s a provocative look at some of the sector’s most persistent problems as well as Pallotta’s comprehensive answer to them.

    Do you have personal experience with one of the transgressions mentioned above?

    See also:

    Page to Practice™ book summary of Charity Case
    Page to Practice™ book summary of One-Hour Activist

    Image credit: TED, danpallotta.com

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    Why do half of all chief fundraisers want to quit?

    Join me in taking a closer look at our latest feature at CausePlanet: Charity Case by Dan Pallotta. In Pallotta’s prior book, Uncharitable, he presents the problem with our social sector: the way our society has been taught to think about charity is backwards. Furthermore, the social sector is required to work with a different rule book than the corporate world, which prevents us from moving the needle on humanitarian issues. Uncharitable prompts readers to ask what we should do about it.

    Charity Case is a comprehensive answer. It’s a blueprint for a national movement that will put our society on the right track to support social issues. Pallotta argues the social sector needs its own civil rights movement and explains his plan for a new “Charity Defense Council” to lead it. The Council should approach the problem from five angles: 1) Establish an Anti-Defamation League; 2) launch an aggressive, paid public media campaign; 3) enact a National Civil Rights Act for Charity and Social Enterprise; 4) establish a Legal Defense Fund; and 5) organize the sector on behalf of its own issues (including 17 ways to get involved in this movement).

    We asked Pallotta about the foundation community’s role in his movement. His answer references an interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week:

    CausePlanet: The foundation community seems to be uniquely poised for funding and supporting some of the five strategies you’ve explored—especially because one of the problems is rooted in the misguided goal of maintaining a low overhead. What are your thoughts on this statement?

    Pallotta: Foundations are notoriously risk-adverse, and they have a high rate of illiteracy about the power of fundraising. In fact, there is a story in the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” this week that says half of all chief fundraisers would like to quit their jobs, primarily because even their own CEOs don’t understand fundraising. Foundations understand it even less. I think the capital that foundations are sitting on would be well-used to fund an effort like this, but it’s going to take an enormous amount of work to get them to see the light.

    Watch for more interview highlights with Pallotta in the upcoming weeks and follow him at www.charitycasebook.com and  www.charitydefensecouncil.org for more discussion about these issues.

    See also:

    Page to Practice summary of Charity Case

    Page to Practice summary of One-Hour Activist

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    Keys to successful advocacy: compelling local stories and long-term commitment

    Working to improve public policy is often the best way to address the underlying problems facing the people many nonprofit agencies serve. It has been compared to “going upstream” to fix the railings on a bridge to prevent people from falling into a river, rather than only pulling them out after they’ve fallen in. In an ideal world we would do both.

    The Page to Practice™ summary of Christopher Kush’s The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About provides excellent advice and outlines specific actions nonprofit leaders can take to move “upstream” and advocate for public policy changes.

    While some nonprofits are reluctant to work on public policy, the Colorado Nonprofit Association includes advocating on behalf of constituents, the organization and the nonprofit sector as one of its principles of excellence.

    In this article I will expand on two aspects of the advice provided by Mr. Kush:

      Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers.
      Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials.

        Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers

        Once you have identified the issue or issues you plan to work on, you need to develop a strategy for influencing policymakers to adopt your proposals. Kush offers several pieces of good advice for reaching out to and communicating with policymakers.

        As Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House once said, “All politics is local.” Kush builds on this idea and argues, “Geography is the single most important thing about you and your issue.” He points out most elected officials are very concerned with local trends, the number of people your organization serves and how broader statewide or national policies are playing out in the local community.

        I see this all the time in the Colorado General Assembly, where legislators want to know how a policy would affect either people in their community or Colorado generally. On a bill to limit the use of credit information in hiring decisions, lawmakers wanted to know the number and type of Colorado workers who were denied jobs because of their poor credit history. National data is helpful in describing the issue, but the more local the data the better. Nonprofit organizations often have solid local information and can show how policies affect their communities and constituents.

        Kush also argues the best way to communicate the effects of policy proposals is through personal stories. Again, this is very consistent with my experience. A compelling personal story helps legislators put data and statistics into context. Using the credit information bill as an example, testimony from workers who struggled with inaccurate credit reports and had problems getting jobs because of poor credit helped legislators see how the issue affected real people. Conversely, testimony from business owners who explained why and how they used credit information to screen job applicants helped lawmakers better understand their side of the issue. You need to be prepared to offer compelling stories to help make your case, because you can count on your opponents using stories to help make theirs.

        However, it is important to put the stories into the broader context. Many times opponents will try to dismiss one person’s story as the result of bad decisions on his/her part or chalk it up to a single incident. Presenting data showing many people face similar problems or having experts attest to the broad scope of the problem makes it harder to discount one individual’s story.

        The power of a personal story was brought home this session when we worked on a bill to allow students to get college credit for training they received at work, in the military or through other experience before enrolling. We presented background statistics and studies showing how this policy would save students money and help more of them graduate from college. However, it was the testimony of a long-serving veteran who told about the difficulty he had in getting colleges to give him credit for the training he received in the military that won over the committee members. They were so moved by his testimony they passed the bill out of committee unanimously and several agreed to speak for it –Democrats and Republicans–when it was heard on the floor.

        Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials

        Mr. Kush correctly points out a key to being successful in public advocacy is cultivating ongoing, long-term relationships with elected officials. Most policy issues take many years to play out and are often not resolved with a single piece of legislation or in one legislative session.

        Even if you are successful in getting legislation passed, you will need to stay engaged to see it is implemented properly. Many times, the legislature will give a state agency broad authority to work out the specific details of a policy proposal and how it is to be implemented. Nonprofits need to monitor and participate in this process to ensure the policy as implemented is consistent with the intent of the bill as passed.

        Several years ago, we worked as part of a coalition to pass legislation reforming payday loans. After the bill passed, we testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments during the Attorney General’s proceedings to write the rules implementing the law. This paid off as the rules adopted were consistent with our interpretation of the legislation and more favorable to the borrowers than those pushed by the payday lenders.

        Kush offers excellent advice for developing long-term relationships with elected officials, such as maintaining regular contact, inviting them to visit your organization and attending lawmakers’ town hall meetings. As Kush writes, it often takes several meetings over a number of years before legislators have a strong awareness of your organization. “The dividends come but none of this stuff happens instantly.”

        Kush’s advice is a good starting point for your entry into the world of public policy advocacy. In our experience, engaging in public policy and making the effort to go “upstream” and fix the railings pays off in the long run.

        See also:

        One-Hour Activist

        Social Change Anytime Everywhere

         

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        Use your cultivation know-how for advocacy

        Building a relationship with your elected officials is no different than cultivating a donor. You can’t expect to call them last minute on an important issue affecting your nonprofit and get results…unless you live in his or her district, but I digress.

        Our current Page to Practice™ feature of the One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush is a smart tutorial on making incremental progress on advocacy without detracting from your core responsibilities as an executive director, staff member or board member. Each of the “10 most powerful actions you can take to fight for the issues and candidates you care about” takes no more than an hour but cumulatively add up to a conscientious approach to advocacy for your cause. Kush also provides five “super-sized” actions that take more than an hour but are worth the effort.

        Get to know your legislator: One of the most proactive measures you can take in advocacy no matter how involved you decide to be is to develop a relationship with your legislator. You may be wondering what value you can bring to your elected official by meeting with them. The answer is a lot.

        Bring two clients: When I asked Kush about what nonprofit leaders can do when preparing for a meeting, he said, “There are always compelling stories related to important issues–it is usually a matter of taking the time to find them and refine them. I always ask nonprofit executives to ‘bring’ two clients with them whenever they come to Washington, DC, or the state Capitol. Nonprofit professionals should be ready to articulate the experiences of their front-line clients (members or constituencies). By the way, people who work for nonprofits often don’t realize they do have personal stories. Jobs are very interesting to elected officials right now, so just working for a local nonprofit can in and of itself be a compelling ‘story.’”

        I dug deeper with Kush on this topic with the following question: In Part Five, you discuss the mistakes nonprofits make when meeting with lawmakers. What’s the most common among them? Here’s what Kush had to say:

        Don’t overwhelm with aggregate stats on your issue–anecdotal information does more: You are in a pretty good position if you are actually meeting with lawmakers, even if you stumble. The first mistake is to NOT regularly (at least once a year) talk to your federal, state and local lawmakers to let them know whom you are serving and what the local trends are related to your issues. Any service a nonprofit provides is one less service lawmakers might be asked to provide in their local offices. Nonprofits that are nervous about tax status can be mindful about not making any specific legislative requests when communicating with their elected officials. (Don’t discuss any current legislation.) The biggest mistake if you ARE meeting with your legislator is to rely on massive aggregate statistics to make your impact. Almost all elected officials are far more engaged by small numbers–the number of people who are being served locally, the number of local jobs you provide, the names of local board members, etc.–than they are by the bland large numbers we often rely on to impress.

        Watch for more Page to Practice interview highlights in our next blog.

        See also:

        One-Hour Activist Page to Practice feature

        Christopher Kush and Soapbox Consulting

        Image credit: RobertEgger.org

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