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.

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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?