Do More than Be Glad: The Pollyana Principles Author, Hildy Gottlieb

Hildy Gottlieb's new book, The Pollyanna Principles, draws from her experience as an educator and consultant to address a real challenge for charities and other organizations working in the community—regardless of the quality of work, most efforts don’t realize significant improvement in a community’s quality of life. Check out the first part of a two-part interview we had with her.

Read More

Nonprofit Umoja

As you have all heard, the Madoff scam has hurt many nonprofits, especially many social justice nonprofits. I read a recent article about how foundations may be the reason why this scam went undetected for so long (another reason why the 5% payout is hurting nonprofits). There was finally some happy news on the Madoff front. sent an email to their membership base asking them to support organizations that have been hurt by the scandal. It is too rare that we see a nonprofit organization stepping up and fundraising for other organizations that have been hurt by unusual circumstances. I hope this kind of quick action becomes more common. From MoveOn:

Dear MoveOn member,
You've probably heard about how Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff scammed investors out of at least $50 billion.

But you may not have heard that his victims included the foundations that support some really important progressive organizations. Groups that fight for human rights, fair elections and racial justice are getting hit hard—just in time for the holidays. We've worked side-by-side with many of them.

If these groups can't replace the funding that came from investment accounts that Madoff stole, they may be forced to start cutting important projects or, in some cases, even lay off staff.

Can you pitch in $25 or $50 for each of the four organizations we're highlighting below? If a few thousand of us give together, it can make an enormous difference—and help repair some of the damage Madoff has done. Click here to contribute:

Your gift will be tax-deductible as if you had made the gift directly to the designated charities; we will forward 100% of your contribution to the organizations you select.

Many organizations have been hit by this crisis. We're highlighting the four that MoveOn has worked closely with over the last few years. Here's a bit about each of the groups:

The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Their work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform to checking presidential power in the fight against terrorism. MoveOn has worked with the Brennan Center closely in the fight for fair elections. Chip in to help them out here.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, they give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Its rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. MoveOn has worked with Human Rights Watch on campaigns to preserve the constitution and protect human rights in America and abroad. Chip in to help them out here.

Advancement Project is a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1998. They have pursued critical litigation to protect voters and also support grassroots movements for universal opportunity and just democracy in the areas of education and immigrants' rights. MoveOn has worked with Advancement Project to stop vote suppression, especially among minority folks. Chip in to help them out here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a nonprofit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. MoveOn has worked with CCR to hold President Bush accountable for his unconstitutional acts, from illegal wiretaps to Guantanamo. Chip in to help them out here.

2008 has been an extraordinary year. Together, MoveOn's 5 million members have done so much—and we have a new president and new hope to show for it. But we wouldn't be where we are as a country without a strong movement of interconnected progressive organizations. Let's come together one last time to keep that movement going strong.

Thanks for all you do.
–Eli, Carrie, Ilyse and the entire Civic Action team

Every Little Bit Helps

I just read this great post from the Minnesota Council of Foundations about a new fundraising campaign of the United Way. I think that small gifts, driven by social networking, will be the new lifeblood of nonprofits. We can't keep tapping the same donors (especially since capital gains are so 2007) and expect to keep up the same level of work. The needs in our communities are greater and we to think about new ways of engaging individuals and their networks in our work. From MCF:

The Greater Twin Cities United Way is experimenting with a new way of raising money. Instead of relying on a few people to give large donations, they’re asking a lot of people to give a little — just $5.

The Give5Now campaign is a one-minute video that shows how people can use a small contribution to make a big impact:

  • One person gives $5 to help people in need
  • … then passes the message to 5 friends, who each also give $5
  • The “ripple effect” will be felt across the Twin Cites

The simple website — just the video and a “click here to Give5 now” button — is an effort to take advantage of technology that allows individuals to spread the message on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. “Giving trends show that young people, in particular, are more likely to give small donations online that respond to immediate causes,” said the United Way’s Randi Yoder.

Let's ignore effectiveness (just for today)

Image courtesy of the Star Tribune

A few days ago an apartment building near my house burned down. It was one of those tragic stories that makes you hold your family a little bit closer and count your blessings. As a nonprofit geek, it also made me think about the current financial state of the Red Cross and hope that they would be able to provide services to the 64 families left homeless by the fire just days before Christmas.  Then something completely unexpected happened, an anonymous donor gave $1,000,000 to the victims of the fire. No strings attached and with the insistence that the money be disbursed immediately, so that the families would have it before Christmas. The generosity brought tears to my eyes because all I have been hearing for the last few months is how bad the economy is and that nonprofits  and the people that we serve will be left out in the cold. This donor's generosity reminded me that giving is a basic human instinct and we will continue to support each other, especially during hard times. 

It can be argued that, especially in these tough times, there are better ways to use that money. The donor could have leveraged it as a challenge grant to get more funds to the Red Cross, they could have offered to pay two months of rent for each family (and spared the families from the tax burden and other financial implications of a cash gift), they could have started a public information campaign about the need for sprinkler systems in older apartments or the benefits of renters insurance, or they could have build more affordable housing to replace the building that was lost. They could have done a lot of things but they helped in the way that they thought would be the fastest way to meet the needs of these families. As a professional philanthropist, I often get caught up in the how of the giving. This donor reminded me that the why is even more important because that is where our humanity is.

YOU are going to fix this economic crisis (Don't look away, I'm talking to you!)

I have been battling a variety of emotions during this economic downturn. The most prevalent emotion is me feeling like the market would get better for nonprofits if I laid under my desk in the fetal position and said "I'm not listening to you public radio" over and over again. Last week was pretty brutal with the Madoff scandal (which closed the JEHT Foundation, a prominent social justice foundation that gave away $25 million a year and impacted nonprofits and foundation throughout the country). Then a local arts organization, Intermedia Arts, which creates social change through the arts, announced a massive restructure that will include closing their gallery and moving all staff besides the ED to hourly, contract positions. Earlier this month I went to an amazing exhibit that Headwaters is supporting at Intermedia Arts called Body Burden, which shows the connections between our bodies, our environment, and our modern way of life. Now the future of their arts programming is unclear.

Foundations do not have the funds, expertise, or vast network needed to get us out of this mess but YOU do. Don't avert your eyes, I'm serious. The future of the organizations that you care about and their ability to create change in our communities rests solely in your hands. This is a time where we need all hands on deck. If there is a cause that you care about, be proactive, before they close their doors. Ask one of their staff members what their greatest need is and help them get it. Use your network to find them a volunteer grantwriter, bake them cookies for their next staff meeting, offer to upgrade their website, ask your friends to give a gift in your name to the organization instead of birthday gifts, write a letter to the editor to talk about how nonprofits are an economic driver in your community, go visit a nonprofit theater instead of seeing a movie on a Friday night, buy new basketballs for your local rec center, donate your old clothes to a local clothes shelf, become a technical skills tutor so your favorite organization doesn't need to hire as many consultants, use your facebook friends and linked in connections to help the organization raise money for holiday toys, introduce their Executive Director to your foundation CEO, find them a high profile board member, be their high profile board member, ask Givewell to rate your cause, provide childcare at their next community meeting, bring their brochures to your favorite coffee shop's bulletin board, donate an item to their silent auction, ask 100 friends to donate items to their silent auction. Do something! You have everything that it takes for us to make it through this, you just have to do it.
What else can you do to make sure that our social sector exits this financial downturn in a better position than when it started?

Why Rosetta is rocking the nonprofit world

Rosetta Thurman is one of my favorite nonprofit bloggers because she is willing to not only complain when she sees something that isn't right, she moves people to action. Her recent letter to the publisher of the Nonprofit Times in response to little minority representation on the Power & Influence Top 50 list was timely and needed. From Rosetta:

Heather Carpenter's list of next generation leaders inspired me last week. But when I saw the official Nonprofit Times Power & Influence Top 50, I got so riled up that I wrote a letter to the publisher. There were barely any people of color on that list, and I feel that it is really time for us to start pointing that out when we see it, instead of just saying "well, that's the way it is." Below is the letter I emailed to John McIlquham, the publisher of the Nonprofit Times. Hopefully he will write me back.

In the meantime, please help me add to my list in the comments, so we can all learn from each other about the depth of multicultural leadership in our sector. How do we pay this forward so that we can begin to build a culture of honoring contributions from people of color in the nonprofit field?

Dear John,

Like my colleagues in the nonprofit field, I am an avid reader of The NonProfit Times, as the "premier business publication written for nonprofit executives." As your website notes, the NonProfit Times reaches 38,000 executive decision makers, and we all appreciate the timely information that is presented in each issue. That is why it shocked me to see that this year's Nonprofit Times Power & Influence Top 50 included so few leaders of color in a list of 50 influential people in our sector. I was very disappointed that your publication did not reflect the racial diversity of nonprofit leadership. From looking at your list, one might be inclined to think there aren't really any minorities leading in the nonprofit sector. But you would be wrong.

Recent studies show that: people of color represent 18% of nonprofit CEOs and 14% of board leadership.

As a nonprofit community, I think it fits within our values to recognize the deep talent and contributions that people of color are making in our field. I have only worked in nonprofits for six years, and I am aware of way more than 50 leaders of color that are leading the way for social change and making an impact on our sector overall.

I hope to be helpful in my remarks to you in the hopes that we will see a more inclusive set of leaders in your publication next year. For now, I offer this brief list to the NonprofitTimes Top 50 Power and Influence selection committee as a small sample of other folks to consider for 2009.


Rosetta Thurman
Blogger & Leadership Consultant
Perspectives From the Pipeline

See Rosetta's list of Nonprofit Leaders of Color Here.

Microloans for Housing Projects

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently had an interesting article at Habitat for Humanity's plans to start a microlending program to fund building projects. From the Journal:

Habitat for Humanity is looking to grow funds by borrowing a developing-world concept: microloans. The Atlanta-based nonprofit, which builds homes for people in need, is expected to announce Thursday the launch of a microloan program in partnership with the Maryland-based Calvert Foundation. It will allow individuals to invest in — rather than simply donate to — Habitat's philanthropic mission.

Investors can buy a stake in Habitat's microloan program for as little as $100. If the program is a success, investors eventually would receive interest payments on their money.
Microloans are typically used to provide small amounts of credit to people or businesses that do not qualify for traditional loans. The concept has become increasingly popular in the developing world, but it is a first for Habitat, which has subsisted almost entirely on donations, grants and proceeds from home sales. Read the rest here.

What do you think about this plan? Will nonprofits that have the capacity to pay back funds begin fundraising more and more in this way?

Don't forget to enter the 6 word philanthropy memoirs contest here. Entries will be accepted until August 7th.

Green Charities

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had an interesting online discussion about charities going green. The discussion was a follow up to a Chronicle article on the same topic. The discussion summary is below:

Many charities are getting serious about taking steps to become more environmentally friendly in their operations -- to both protect the planet and save money.

Some are taking steps to reduce waste in their operations and cut down on their energy use. Others are taking more aggressive steps by undertaking "green" building projects.

For many groups, such moves dovetail with their social agendas -- and have the added benefit of building good will with grant makers and other donors. What approaches can charities take to become more environmentally friendly? What are the costs of these efforts and how can your charity get access to funding? How should they publicize them to donors and the public? What should they consider before adopting "green" policies?

The Guests

Cynthia L. Bailie is the director of the Foundation Center's Cleveland office and of the organization's special online initiatives. Ms. Bailie has held leadership positions in libraries and nonprofit organizations since 1991 and serves on the boards of directors for Greater Cleveland Community Shares, the greater Cleveland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the Village Foundation, a community foundation in Bay Village, Ohio.

Sarah S. Brophy is a consultant who helps museums, historic houses, and other cultural institutions in New England and the Mid-Atlantic become environmentally and financially sustainable through grants and green performance. She is co-author of the book The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice.

Kimberly Austin is a program associate at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. As part of her role, Ms. Austin is involved in Grants to Green, a new program that provides environmentally focused knowledge and financing to nonprofit groups in metro Atlanta. The program is a collaboration between the Community Foundation, Southface, and Enterprise Community Partners.

What are some best practices that you have seen for charities going green? What role should foundations plan to encourage a more environmentally friendly social sector?

'Millennials and the Moment'

Entering the 'Millennials and the Moment' session, I scanned the room and noticed a much wider and well-distributed range of generations in the crowd. After a few days milling around in the Gaylord, I realized that I now recognized many in the once-indiscernible herd of philanthropists.

The panelists Cassie, Eddie, Andrew, and Carmen maturely reflected on their leadership experiences. Particularly striking points below:

  • Cassie started Campus Climate Challenge and hosted a conference of over 6,000 environmentalists featuring Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
  • Eddie started an organization for improvement of public housing in Oregon - at the age of twenty.
  • Andrew, a young City Councilperson from Tallahassee, wanted more opportunity to network with other young elected officials so he started an organization that now serves over 400 young elected officials.
  • Carmen is the Vice President of USSA a student-led and -run organization that advocates for educational equality.

Other than talking about their specific experiences, the students made the salient point that ours is the most diverse generation in US history and that it is up to us to reverse the polarization perpetuated by past generations.

What Would Kiva Do (WWKD)?

So what happens when you harness Gen X and Y’s idealistic and highly entrepreneurial nature, love of technology, and hunger for feedback and use it to bring resources to people in need? Quite simply, you get the hottest nonprofit on the planet.

Kiva connects individual lenders to developing-world entrepreneurs and in the process gives people access to capital rather than a handout. Their donors are closely connected to their mission because they are helping one individual lift themselves out of poverty. 90% of their lenders recirculate their loans, once they are paid back so the amount of funds available keeps growing and growing. Kiva is so popular that after a recent string of great publicity about the organization, they ran out of funding opportunities and stopped taking donations for a short period of time. They also have to consistantly limit how much each individual can lend so that more people have a chance to participate. How often do you hear about nonprofits capping donations?

At the same time that Kiva has been growing beyond anyone but its founders wildest expectations, there has been a lot of concern in the social sector that there is this insurmountable leadership gap that threatens to ruin the entire nonprofit sector that the idealistic baby boomers so carefully created. Who will be the next nonprofit executive director that works 80-hour weeks and spends 75 of those 80 hours looking for funding to keep the organization afloat? Who will step up to be the Chief Operating Officer that lays off half of the staff when the government grant dries up? Who will be the next Development Director to send the annual appeal letter to 1,000 people who might be interested in supporting your organization because they once supported the World Wildlife Fund? Anyone? Anyone?

I don’t think the issue is “are there enough young people to take over the reins at nonprofits?” There are enough young people that care about the problems and great opportunities in our communities but they are off starting organizations like Kiva, First Step Initiative, and Donors Choose, instead of paying their dues at the Anytown Community Development Center or the National Association for People that Care about the Environment.

The new question is “what are established nonprofits going to do to make themselves more attractive to this demographic?” Remember when Silicon Valley start-ups were tripping over themselves to have the most relaxed and fun office environment so that they could recruit scarce talent? “We have a foosball table in our conference room! Well we let all of our employees bring their dog to work and we will bring in a specially trained dog masseuse in every Friday to keep our staff happy.” I’m not suggesting the nonprofit sector go that far (massages for staff isn’t such a bad idea though), but it is time for the nonprofit sector to start thinking about what it will take to recruit and retain Gen X and Y. Title and salary are not enough to motivate these generations. It is more about how flexible the office environment is, what new skills sets can someone learn in your organization, and what is the impact on the community. Once the nonprofit sector figures that out, maybe we’ll all have to limit how much an individual can donate to us.

Ready to Lead

There is a great new study from the Myers Foundation about the next generation of leadership for nonprofit organizations. From the report:

A skilled, committed, and diverse pool of next generation leaders would like to be nonprofit executive directors in the future, according to a new national survey of nearly 6,000 next generation leaders. However, the survey also finds that there are significant barriers: work-life balance, insufficient life-long earning potential, lack of mentorship and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities which may prevent many younger nonprofit staff from becoming executives. The survey, Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out, is the largest national survey to date of emerging nonprofit leaders and was produced by the Meyer Foundation in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and

An interesting fact from the report is that less that one-third of nonprofit executive director hires happen from within an organization, compared to 65% in the for-profit sector. Without a clear path to move up in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, will the sector lose its most promising new talent?

Visionary Leadership with Bill Strickland

" The only problem with poor people is that they are poor."
-Bill Strickland

I was excited, but not surprised when I saw one of my favorite people in the world as a featured speaker on TED Talks. Bill Strickland is the kind of visionary leader that I think all of us strive to be but the amazing thing about him is that his vision is so basic that it makes it seem downright crazy. Bill believes that by treating people with respect and kindness anyone can achieve great things. This means that by filling your community center with fresh flowers and gourmet food you will be able to teach an illiterate single mother how to be a pharmacy technician. It sounds crazy but he has done this and so much more for many, many years. I had the great privilege of visiting the Manchester Craftsman Guild (his nonprofit) during a Council on Foundations conference in Pittsburgh. I believe that visiting his center has changed the way that I approach program officer work and has made me encourage my grantees to reach so much higher than I ever would have in the past. Please take a half an hour to view his TED Talk, I promise it will be the most useful half an hour that you spend all week.

How the web can transform philanthropy

I was just selected as runner-up for Tactical Philanthropy's one post challenge and despite my competitive nature I couldn't be happier to come in second. Did I suddenly have an awakening and discover that winning isn't everything? Of course not! My sudden comfort with second best is because the winner of the one post challenge was able to harness the power of viral marketing and received 683 comments for their blog posting compared to my 15 comments. The run away success of their post got me thinking about the power of web based networks to do good in our communities. So what nonprofits do you think do a good job harnessing the power of the internet to connect people to causes?

How to be your Program Officer's BFF

New Voices of Philanthropy is participating in this month’s giving carnival hosted by Arlene Spencer's Seeking Grant Money Today blog. The topic this month is “ Are relationships everything in Philanthropy, today?” Since I’m writing from the foundation perspective, my opinion is that it isn’t everything, but it is the most important thing. Fabulous program ideas will get you far, but a good relationship with your program officer will help move that idea forward.

A positive relationship with your program officer is hard to come by and even harder to maintain. This difficulty has nothing to do with your stunning personality or their interest in getting to know you and your organization better, it is just a byproduct of the great number of relationships that they have to maintain. Developing this relationship is important because your program officer needs to be your interpreter and advocate throughout the entire grantmaking process. These tips may not have you and your program officer braiding each others’ hair and you still may not be in their cell phone’s five favorite people but it will help make the grant process more civilized.

1) Turn in your application at least one month before the stated deadline. There is nothing that builds a good grantmaking relationship quite like an early application. Early applications give a program officer time to fully read and analyze the proposal and call with any follow-up that may be needed to make a good decision about the fit of this proposal into the foundation’s guidelines. Grant application that comes in five minutes before the deadline don’t get that personal touch. Do everyone a favor and make a fake grant calendar for yourself that gets applications in early enough to start a dialogue with the funder.
2) Don’t stretch the limits of creativity. Great grantwriters can make any program fit within the guidelines of a foundation. Fundraising for a humane society and the foundation you are prospecting only supports healthy family development? Dogs are like part of the family! Fundraising for a junior high band trip to Germany and the foundation only supports mental health programming? Vacations are the best medicine and have you ever met a junior high student that wouldn’t benefit from a little bit of therapy? This kind of creative writing only wastes valuable time that could be used cultivating a relationship with a funder that is a better fit.
3) Be honest. When asked about weaknesses in programming or audit numbers that don’t add up, be honest. Foundations don’t expect your organization to be perfect but they do want you to be able to identify and work on weaknesses. By pretending that those weaknesses don’t exist, you create a feeling of mistrust that is hard to overcome.
4) Ask for feedback on unsuccessful proposals. Getting a “no” is hard but by being dedicated to continuing a relationship you learn important things that may strengthen your next application to that foundation. Maybe your proposal was denied because they wanted to see a partnership with a local school district or maybe it was denied because they no longer fund youth development. You might also find out that the “no” was because they had run out of money for this fiscal year but if you reapplied in two months, your proposal would be a good fit.

What other tips would you give to grantseekers to develop a positive relationship with their PO?

A breath of fresh air on problem solving

This is such an amazing article by Hildy Gottlieb at the Creating the Future blog that I decided to post it in its entirerty without any commentary. Let me know what you think.

Are you Ending or Beginning by Hildy Gottlieb

The world is filled with problems. We keep trying to end those problems, but despite our tremendous efforts, they are still here.

In the U.S. alone, we have seen 40 years of “wars” on drugs, on poverty, on terror, on illegal immigration. But with all the dollars and time and effort we have spent trying to end this or that, the world is still filled with problems.

Around the globe, people have spent billions and trillions of dollars, trying once and for all to end many of our planet’s problems. Smart, caring people have dedicated their lives to figuring out every approach imaginable for ending the pain in our world. We have created prevention programs (the ultimate in problem-solving), and we have lately seen a whole slew of “blueprints to end” this or that - hunger, homelessness. And so we now have “blueprints” to end what the “wars” could not end. We are trying, desperately trying, working so hard, so long, so ceaselessly, to end the bad things that cause pain.

And despite our well-intentioned and well-thought-out efforts, we keep feeling like we are not getting anywhere.

And the reason we feel like we are not getting anywhere is because we are, in fact, not getting anywhere.

But then, we have not been aiming at getting anywhere. We have instead been setting our sights directly at our problems. And as happens when we give that much energy to anything, it grows. Yes, it grows.

We have aimed all our energy at our problems, and they are thriving under our attention.

So what is a caring citizen of the world to do?

Ending Something Bad vs. Beginning Something Incredible
The answer is, caring citizens, to stop aiming all our efforts at ending our problems. Seriously.

Instead of aiming all our attention and energy at what we DON’T want, let’s instead aim at building incredible, building amazing.

Let’s stop aiming our work at ending something bad, and let’s start aiming that work at building something good. Let’s aim at building an incredible place to live - an amazing community, an amazing world.

Think about it. We certainly cannot create an amazing place to live without addressing in some way the problems we have today. But unlike the “then what?” of problem-solving, aiming at amazing IS the “then what”!

A community that is compassionate, wise, healthy, vibrant - a community that nurtures artistic expression, that brings out the best in us rather than simply trying to suppress the worst in us.

A world full of people who react from our human potential for wisdom and compassion, before reacting from our animal instincts for survival.

No need to aim at ending anything at all. All we need to do is aim at beginning something incredible.

Start with your own organization’s planning. Are your plans reacting to your community’s increasing demands and needs, trying to end something bad? Or are they aiming at a great beginning - building an amazing place to live? If you plan for building an amazing community, you will address your community’s needs on the way to building “amazing.”

Are you creating a prevention program, aimed at preventing something bad - ending it once and for all - perhaps preventing / ending diabetes, heart disease, obesity? Or perhaps preventing / ending teen pregnancy, high school drop rates, gang violence? Or are you instead aiming at a great beginning - building a healthy community in all ways, a vibrant, resilient, nurturing place to live, where diabetes and heart disease and teen pregnancy and gang violence are addressed as one of many “to do” items on the road to building that healthy place to live?

Now look inside your organization. Are you reacting to internal problems, perhaps considering a Capacity Building initiative? Are you hoping you can get enough funding to address the area that happens to be on fire this year? Or are you aiming those plans at a great beginning - planning for overall health and strength for all your organization’s efforts? If you plan to make all your efforts healthy and strong in every way, you will address those problems on the way to building “amazing.”

And what about your board? Are you aiming your board development efforts at problem-solving, to finally put a stop to those nagging issues of recruitment and fundraising, succession planning and financial planning? Or are you aiming your board at a great beginning - tapping its immense potential to move forward not only the organization, but your mission and your vision for a better community / a better world? If you are encouraging and inspiring your board to its very highest potential, the board will address its problems along the way to building “amazing.”

And don’t get me started on world events! Are we aiming at ending a war, or are we aiming at the greatest beginning of all - building peace? Those two scenarios could not look more different. If we end the war on the way to building a peaceful region, a peaceful world - now that would be aiming at building “amazing” in every way we could dream of.

It all comes down to one question:

Are we aiming at an ending or a beginning?

Are we aiming all our energies and resources at ending something bad,
or at creating something incredible?

If you want your work to be inspired, if you want to encourage and inspire others to that work, and if you want to tap on the highest potential we all have to accomplish incredible things, my money is on aiming at beginning something incredible - aiming at building “amazing.”

But more importantly, if you want to address your community’s problems, once and for all, stop trying to solve those problems. Stop aiming all your energies at an ending. Start aiming instead at a beginning - the beginning of building an amazing, vibrant, energized, nurturing, caring and compassionate place to live.

We are creating the future, every minute of every day, whether we do so consciously or not.
What amazing tomorrow will you begin building today?

Gates' Thoughts on Complexity as a barrier to solving social problems

Bill Gates recently gave the commencement speech at Harvard. On Philanthropy did a great summary of this. Gates made an interesting point about complexity that I think is very applicable to our work at Foundations.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity…Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers any time an organization or individual asks “How can I help?” than we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares – and that makes it hard for their caring to matter.

He went on to recommend a four-point plan for addressing a complex problem: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and, until that discovery, make the smartest application of the technology you do have. He used the AIDS epidemic as an example, the goal being, of course, to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention, the ideal technology a single dose vaccine that gives lifetime immunity. Until that vaccine is discovered, however, the best prevention approach is to get people to avoid risky behavior.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

How often does the big idea get lost in the details of the work that we do with nonprofits?

The Great Generational Divide or the Cross-Generational Solution to Work Satisfaction?

I have been in what some people would call a “generational rock and a hard place” for the last few months. I am a young person in the foundation field and one of my passions is helping young people learn how to advance in the philanthropic sector but one of my professional duties at the foundation is managing a project on older adult civic engagement. A big piece of this project is figuring out how to keep baby boomers in my community engaged as they begin to retire or change careers. Talk about competing priorities. On one hand I know how important it is to keep baby boomers engaged, on the other hand I am hearing from young people on a daily basis that they can’t advance because baby boomers won’t leave the philanthropic sector and make room for young people to advance. I have finally realized that this isn’t an “either, or” proposition. Baby boomers at foundations and in the nonprofit sector as a whole have great expertise that they contribute to the field but they have created positions for themselves where they work 80 hours a week and refuse to take vacation (or sick days for that matter), with the idea that “this whole place would fall apart without me”. Young people want more responsibility but would also like to have a life outside of their job. There are lots of explanations for why this is but one of the most probable that I have heard is that Gen X was raised as latchkey kids and saw the family sacrifices that their parents had to make to slowly climb the career ladder. They also saw their parents lose their pensions in mass layoff and Enron scandals, so they know that the old paradigm of work hard for the same company for 40 years and retire is no longer realistic.

What if a new way of working was created that still kept baby boomers engaged but allowed them to reduce the number of hours that they work so that they could keep health benefits and stay involved in a career that they love? What if this same new way of work allowed Gen X the flexibility to spend time with their families or take on a second job (to pay down the massive student loan debt that so many have)? If we started thinking of the program officer position (of any other foundation or nonprofit staff member for that matter) as a collection of tasks that can be completed by one or many people depending on the time available for each worker. How much more effective would a foundation be if instead of one program officer, they now had three sharing that same 80 hour a week position? The foundation would now have 3 times as many connections in the community, 3 diverse perspectives on how to solve social problems, and 3 great ambassadors for the foundation’s work.

What refinements (or significant changes) do you think are needed to create a foundation workplace that is supportive for multiple generations?

Did foundations create the nonprofit leadership gap?

Much has been made of the upcoming leadership deficit in the nonprofit sector. Baby Boomers are retiring (or not able to because of low nonprofit salaries and/or lack of a retirement plan) and younger workers are unwilling to take on nonprofit leadership positions because of low pay and long hours or unable to take on those positions because of student loan debt, credit card debt, and increasing health care costs.

For-profit businesses invest in professional development for their up and coming staff members to ensure that the company remains profitable. By preparing a “ladder of leadership” for-profits make sure that the culture of the organization is larger than just the current leadership and ensures the organization can continue to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

It disappoints me greatly to say that foundations, not the great wave of demographic change, are the root of this coming leadership crisis. Demographics will make it impossible to continue to ignore the crisis of leadership but it is something that has been brewing for some time now. Foundations rarely invest in succession planning or professional development. Non-profit programming is the cash cow for organizations and nonprofits are penalized for high overhead costs. I am definitely not a fan of overhead, for overhead sake but nonprofits need to pay a competitive salary, offer benefits, and invest in the ongoing development of staff at all levels or else they will unable to continue to provide the services that are so needed in our communities.

Do you believe foundations are responsible for the leadership gap? What could we do differently to create organizational capacity and cross-generational institutional leadership?

First Time Visitor Guide

It can be a little bit overwhelming to visit a blog for the first time. On some blogs it may feel like you are entering mid-conversation. This guide is my attempt to help you get a sense of the topics that I include in my blog so that you can be an active participant in this small corner of the web.

Blog Description

This blog covers issues of generational change in the philanthropic sector and more broadly trends in philanthropy. This is a wide range of topics from how professional training programs in philanthropy are creating a younger applicant pool for foundation positions to how Google is revolutionizing the concept of philanthropy. We are in a unique period of time where baby boomers are retiring and Gen Xers have made it clear that they are not content with keeping the status quo in the nonprofit or foundation sectors. I believe we are in an important period of rapid evolution in the philanthropic field, which is very significant for a field has been traditionally stagnant (or based on years of history and tradition, depending on your perspective). I will use this blog to document that evolution.


Working at a Foundation can be very consuming work that narrows your focus to only the grant proposals that come across your desk. I write this blog because it expands my focus to trends that are larger than the community that I work in but that will have significant impact on that same community. It also helps me think through and learn about the topics that I write about. Interacting with readers and other bloggers about these topics really helps to expand and clarify my own thinking. I want your thoughts about these issues as well. The real benefit of reading about topics on the web is the blurred line between audience and author and the real exchange of knowledge that happens when many people provide their perspectives. Comments are very much welcome.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, why don’t you briefly introduce yourself in the comments area below. Who are you, do you work in the philanthropic sector, and why are you interested in trends in philanthropy?