Around the Web — items our blog readers might find of interest

18 Apr

Welcome to the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s bi-weekly blog post providing links to online resources that may be of interest to our readers — new tools, thought pieces, reports, and other items.

In The Nonprofit Quarterly, Woods Bowman “reviews the basic rules that all successful performing arts organizations follow instinctively.” He also shares lessons learned.

In an Economic News Release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that volunteering in the U.S. in 2013 fell to 25.4 percent, the lowest rate since 2002. The statistics might not reflect new ways of volunteering — for example, online editing or managing an online discussion group.

Government funding cuts to scientific research is threatening disease-solving progress. Donors and foundations are called on to step in in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Displaying data can be tricky. So how do you make the right choices? HBR Blog Network gives five questions to ask yourself before displaying your data.

Collaborate, Create, Succeed

15 Apr

By Ruth E. Stegeman, assistant dean, College of Community and Public Service, and director, Office for Community Engagement, at Grand Valley State University

Blog pic

2014 Synergy Works attendees network between workshops hosted by GVSU’s Office of Community Engagement.

If you listen to NPR as much as I do, you will have heard this memorable line: “Cargill—collaborate, create, succeed.” It’s one that stays with you, not only as a result of the alliteration and reiteration but also because of its appeal to our better selves. Cargill is a food distribution company, for goodness sakes, and here they are using words that describe exactly what we—nonprofits, foundations, and yes, even universities—are seeking to accomplish.

Collaborate, create, succeed. It sounds simple until we try it. Then we bump into dominions, paradigms, egos, time constraints, and just plain fatigue.

Universities such as Grand Valley are learning how to collaborate too. To prepare students for the 21st century work, our teaching, learning, and research is becoming more community-based. We partner with those in the community who bring experiential knowledge, skills, and other expertise to a problem, research question, or learning goal being addressed. It’s called real-world learning, and when it works well, everyone benefits. Because these partnerships are developed mostly on an individual level—one faculty member connecting to one community organization—our efforts realize small-scale success but lack community impact. To achieve something more, we need to intentionally coordinate our efforts, and there is a role for each of us.

Though I’m sure business, nonprofit, and governmental entities encounter barriers to collaboration, allow me to share the challenges a university faces when we try to coordinate our efforts in neighborhoods. First, because a university is like a small city, it’s hard to know who is doing what in our communities. Multiple departments may unknowingly have relationships with the same business or nonprofit. We are usually oblivious to that fact that we are working in the same geographical space. Secondly, faculty members who have been trained to pursue focused areas of individual research and “defend” their dissertations do not easily work across disciplines and sectors. Our semester timeframes, a brief 15 weeks, mitigate against the development of a meaningful product. Finally, if we want classes to work together on a common project, it’s almost impossible to get them together unless they meet at the same time, requiring planning eight or more months in advance.

So it was refreshing, a couple weeks back, as GVSU hosted Daniel Hall, the University of Louisville’s Vice President for Community Engagement, to hear the story of UofL’s Signature Partnership, a place-based initiative in West Louisville, where the University has collaborated with their West Louisville neighborhood, created a plan that includes four target initiatives, committed for the long term—20 years or more, and are seeing success in education, health care, economic development, and social services.

Mr. Hall emphasized that it’s possible and desirable for a university to work collaboratively around issues important to the neighborhood and to “leverage and build upon these assets and turn them from underperforming assets to high performing assets. “University – community engagement is not the panacea for solving or mitigating all our complex interwoven community challenges. But it is well-documented that universities as anchor institutions in their communities are uniquely qualified and resourced to bring intellectual and fiscal capital to the table for the mutual benefit of the university and community,” said Mr. Hall.

How do we do this? Some suggest that universities can support interdisciplinary community-university partnerships by:
• Encouraging faculty doing community-based work to work together
• Creating opportunities to develop and build trust amongst all stakeholders
• Identifying resources to hire a coordinator
• Devising course schedules to enable sustained faculty and student development
• Designing a website to store, track, and share work

Nonprofits located in the same neighborhood can collectively ask the university to coordinate their many partnerships. In addition, they are positioned to host neighborhood conversations to identify a common agenda. Neighborhood businesses can underwrite the cost of these gatherings.

Finally, The Road Half-Traveled calls on philanthropy to catalyze change, and to “develop a funders’ group that can support long-term, comprehensive, multi-modal initiatives at leading campuses.”

Collaborate, create, succeed. It’s not simple, but definitely worthwhile. What role might you play?

Special Issue of The Foundation Review on Racial Equity

8 Apr

This special issue of The Foundation Review is co-edited with the Associate of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE). Many thanks to Susan Taylor Batten, ABFE’s president and CEO, for writing the issue’s editorial and the blog posting here.

SusanBy 2043, this nation will experience a shift in its demographic makeup; the Census Bureau predicts that for the first time in U.S. history, non-whites will be in the majority. Many in the field of philanthropy are thinking about this pivotal moment for the country (just shy of 30 years away) and investing in strategies today to ensure that all people, regardless of their race and ethnicity, live to their fullest potential. As we see it, the well-being of America is at the heart of work on racial equity and justice.

While many can agree that all people should have the opportunity to live, work and contribute their assets to the greater good, there are divergent ideas about the barriers facing communities of color in reaching this aspiration as well as strategies to overcome them. For over 40 years, ABFE (and its members) has been a thought leader and advocate in the field of philanthropy to achieve racial equity for Black communities. At ABFE, we see racial equity as a desired outcome or state: when you cannot predict advantage or disadvantage based on race. Pursuing equity for our communities is necessary and important work, requires a specific set of competencies and skills and must be addressed over time.

We are pleased to co-edit the soon-to-be-released issue of The Foundation Review on Racial Equity Grantmaking. It contains articles written by leaders in the field of philanthropy who are taking on the “necessary and important” work towards achieving racial equity. Contents include:

  • Bezahler’s article describes the Edward W. Hazen Foundation’s “slow and patient work” to support youth in their efforts to address harsh, inequitable school discipline policies in NY and the thoughtful engagement of their grantees in the strategic direction of its grantmaking.
  • Gulati-Partee and Potapchuk’s important work focuses on addressing white privilege in racial equity grantmaking – critical work often left off the table — and a preview of some of their tools to address it
  • Cunningham, Avner, and Justilien review the role of philanthropy in addressing racial justice and poverty in the U.S and the current work of the Northwest Area Foundation to improve outcomes for Black people as well as other people of color.
  • Pickett-Erway, Springgate, Stotz-Ghosh, and Vance provide a candid summary of the experiences of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s journey in becoming an “anti-racist organization”; the importance of self-awareness of foundation staff and several unintended consequences that translated into powerful lessons-learned for the organization.
  • Endo Inouye’s and Estrella’s contribution describes the use of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation funds to improve health outcomes for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations.
  • Redwood summarizes the Consumer Health Foundation’s own journey in embedding racial equity in all aspects of their work.

Each of these articles demonstrates the importance of leadership and long-term commitment to transform philanthropy and communities for the betterment of all people. We thank the authors for their current and ongoing struggles to advance the field of racial equity grantmaking and anticipate continued learnings from their experiences.

Click here to read this issue’s executive summary and editorial.

Around the Web — items our blog readers might find of interest

3 Apr

Welcome to the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s bi-weekly blog post providing links to online resources that may be of interest to our readers — new tools, thought pieces, reports, and other items.

Woods Bowman, professor emeritus of public service management at DePaul University, answers organizations’ ethical quandaries in  The Nonprofit Quarterly’s “Ask the Ethicist.”

National Volunteer Week, a program of Points of Light held this year the week of April 6-12, 2014, celebrates 40 years of taking action and encouraging social change.

The Nonprofit Quarterly reports about an interview with William Buster of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that shows “the virtual tug-of-war that foundations face in their grantmaking responses to what they perceive as issues of structural racism.”

Meaningless Nonprofit Sayings

1 Apr

By Matthew Downey, program director, Nonprofit Services, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy

CC image courtesy of "Waterprize | ArtPrize 2010" by Fellowship of the Rich on Flickr.

CC image courtesy of “lexicon lexicon | ArtPrize 2010″ by Fellowship of the Rich on Flickr.

The other day, I was watching a video of a well-known national nonprofit/philanthropy thought leader who very proudly and confidently proclaimed: “Nonprofit organizations should work to put themselves out of business rather than work to simply sustain themselves.”

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I had heard this phrase. However, this time it really got me thinking. I tried to consider what this phrase actually means and I found myself questioning if it has any merit, validity or truth.

I came to the conclusion that this is a useless comment that should be disallowed from the nonprofit lexicon. It belongs on a short list of other all-too-commonly used phrases that, in my opinion, are misinformed, demeaning, and more harmful than helpful to nonprofit work.

A few other phrases on this list are “mission creep,” “chasing the money,” and “there are too many nonprofit organizations.” In this and future posts, I would like to deconstruct these phrases and explain why I think they should never have been conceived in the first place, beginning with “going out of business.”

“Nonprofit organizations should work to put themselves out of business.” In order to explain what is wrong with this statement, I must acknowledge that I understand what people are attempting to say when they use it.

It is true that there are nonprofit organizations with missions that work to rid society of moral and social injustices. I have dedicated a good bit of my career to working with social movement and social justice organizations whose leaders truly hope that one day they will succeed and their missions will no longer be valid. In these instances, yes, I agree, these organizations should hope that one day society will progress and they will no longer be needed.

However, the sad but honest truth is that society is a messy place and there will always be injustices that deserve our attention and resources. While the quest for civil rights, for example, has made great progress over the last number of decades, we are a long way off from living in a world where everyone is truly equal, majority privilege no longer exists, and the playing field has been leveled for all.

As the director of a nonprofit capacity building program, my advice to social movement and social justice organizations is: stay strong and plan for the long haul. Your work is hardly done. You are best off developing an organization that is prepared to sustain itself for many years to come.

What is more, when you consider all of the different sub-sectors of nonprofit organizations, it is important to point out that the majority of nonprofits will always have valid and important missions.

For example …

Education: There will always be a role for education. Children and adults will always need to learn. We will always have public and private schools, colleges and universities, job training and adult education programs.

Healthcare: There will always be the need for healthcare. There will always be disease. People will always get sick. Just when we find a remedy for one disease, a new one will appear. Mankind’s need for healthcare is not going away any time soon.

Arts and Culture: Art and culture will always exist. Art is one thing societies pass down from generation to generation. Art is how we learn from our past, deal with our present, and share with our future. Quite frankly, it is in mankind’s nature to express our feelings, fears, and emotions through art. It’s in our DNA. I would never want to live in a world without art.

Poverty: We have never known a time when poverty hasn’t been present in our society. Poverty is a fact of life. This doesn’t mean our work to improve the conditions of those living in poverty is invalid or in vain. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything in our power to relieve human suffering, end homelessness and hunger, and provide effective pathways for individuals to improve the quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities. But if history is any predictor of the future, we will always have people living in poverty among us.

Environment: The idealist in me would desperately like to believe that we will one day right all that is wrong with how we treat our environment, but as human beings we are prone to make mistakes. We are also prone to learning from our mistakes. There will always be a role for environmental organizations that do the research and advocacy to help us explore the tension between industry and environmental stewardship. We need our environmental organizations. They shouldn’t go out of business.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. For both better and worse, huge swaths of the nonprofit sector will always be valid. I understand and appreciate the sentiment that nonprofit organizations should put mission fulfillment above all other organizational decision making. The statement, “Nonprofit organizations should work to put themselves out of business,” is an attempt at holding organizations accountable to these missions. It is an attempt to counter our basic understanding of organizational theory which tells us the very nature of organizational behavior is a drive to sustain the organization for the sake of sustaining the organization. I get that part. But let’s also be real for a moment. Is it really helping any organization? Or is it simply making the person who says it sound deep and intellectual? Personally, I don’t think this phrase helps any of us do our work better or more effectively. I say, get rid of it and call it out when you hear it.



Volunteers: Key to Better Programs, Increased Budgets, and Stronger Community Relations

25 Mar

By Annie Osburn, M.Ed., program manager, Nonprofit Services, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy

StudentLifeNight_2011_09Organizations that take volunteers seriously as a key to organizational success are able to achieve great results by tapping into the full capacity building power of volunteers. They understand that volunteers go beyond the completion of tasks to add value, increase budgets and improve community relations. One of the core principles of Reimagining Service, a national coalition working to increase social impact through volunteerism, is, “Volunteers fundamentally increase our ability to achieve our objectives and advance the social mission of our organizations.”

If this is true, then why aren’t all organizations utilizing volunteers in a more robust way? Unfortunately, volunteer programs are underfunded and underdeveloped. While we don’t have recent data, research from the Urban Institute in 2004 identified lack of volunteer management capacity as a critical factor limiting the effectiveness of volunteer programs. We also know that volunteers and volunteer programs ultimately are not free; they are an investment, financial and otherwise. In a time of scarcity for many organizations, added costs are not seen as feasible.

But what if the benefits of utilizing volunteers and investing in strong volunteer programs could offer so much more to your organization than they cost?

Whether volunteers are skills-based or generalized, the information below might help frame how organizations’ view their role and impact:

  • Volunteers bring skills and pro bono services to the organization.
  • Volunteers add value and increase budgets.
    • Organizations saw up to $20 return on a $1 investment based on the following:
      • On average, volunteers donate nearly ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers according to a 2009 survey.
      • During the grantmaking process, more funders favor and even expect organizations to use volunteers.
      • Volunteer time has an estimated value of roughly $171 billion in 2011 (
  • Volunteers improve community relations.
    • Volunteers bring their own contact lists and connections to outside groups. When they have a great experience volunteering, they are your best advertising, fundraising and recruiting tool.
    • Volunteers know the community and can inform how to best serve clients.

Are you convinced now? Are you ready to ensure your organization capitalizes on the value of volunteers in this more robust way? Get your Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on board. So, how exactly do you go about convincing the CEO of your organization that volunteers are worth the investment? CEOs are going to be motivated when they are able to see volunteers as an answer to limited resources, when they can see volunteers’ ability to increase the work capacity of their organizations, and when they understand that volunteers enhance board recruitment and philanthropic support.

It’s not only important to get the CEO on board, you need to make volunteering a core strategic function of your organization, not just an add-on program. Conduct a needs assessment to identify where volunteers should be placed. Create a budget line to support the volunteer program (don’t forget you’ll get far more for your financial investment than you give!), assign and educate a staff person to manage the volunteers, and make sure your volunteers have a phenomenal experience.

Start a volunteer program, or strengthen your existing program, and you will improve your organizational capacity. That’s a promise.

Readers in the Michigan area who are interested in coaching on volunteer programs are invited to contact Annie Osburn, Nonprofit Services program manager at the Johnson Center at

Around the Web — items our blog readers might find of interest

20 Mar

Welcome to the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s bi-weekly blog post providing links to online resources that may be of interest to our readers — new tools, thought pieces, reports, and other items.


Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

The Getty adopted an Open Content Program to share digital images free and without restriction.

Michigan State University Prof. Robin Lin Miller wrote a compelling piece about “evaluation as an essential tool to address issues such as HIV.”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the GivingTuesday organizers plan to transform the giving landscape by increasing the share of income Americans donate to charities.

Paul Hogan wrote about the unique Oishei Leaders Program in The Nonprofit Quarterly.

LFA Group’s Learning for Action 2013 Advocacy Evaluation Mini-Toolkit provides tips and tools for busy nonprofits. This kit joins a group of valuable guides including The Foundation Review editorial advisory board member Julia Coffman’s 2009 Guide to Advocacy Evaluation Planning.


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