Archive for March, 2008

Information (online) about volunteering online

March 31, 2008

Our colleagues north of the border at Macdonald Youth Services in Winnipeg offer guidance about how to work with volunteers at remote locations.  Online Volunteer Program Developer Randy Tyler writes,

Considering the challenge to recruit sufficient face-to-face
volunteers coupled with the lack of online volunteering resources
available, our leading and trusted 78 year-old registered charitable
Canadian organization, Macdonald Youth Services (MYS), recently
launched three best practices virtual volunteer program development
resources, based on our 10 years of pioneering work in this space. . . .

Our "About Online Volunteering – Information Non-Profit Organizations Can Use" Blog and Podcast can be accessed from:  http://www.mys.ca/aov . . . .

"The Global Directory of Web Sites that List Online Volunteer
Opportunities" allows any non-profit organization to easily locate Web
sites where they can list (post) their online volunteer opportunities….[at] www.mys.ca/directory.

Noting that "Working with online volunteers usually involves the exchange of files, often exceeding e-mail attachment limits," Tyler and his online volunteer crew have also produced a listing of 17 free Web-based file exchange services. For each file transfer service, the name, Web address, maximum file upload size, monthly transfer limit, maximum storage, allowable file storage time and user requirements have been provided.  You can download it as a PDF file from http://www.mys.ca/aov.

Tyler writes, "I am still amazed at the kindness of these
strangers who contribute to an organization they will never see.
Remarkably, some of our committed and talented online volunteers have
been involved with us for as long as eight years." 

The Nonprofiteer is even more amazed; and yet why should she be?  People volunteer to connect with and experience community, and people–young people especially–increasingly connect with one another on-line.  If it doesn’t feel like the "community" with which the Nonprofiteer is familiar, well, neither did her feminist consciousness-raising sessions feel much like her mother’s League of Women Voters meetings.  Both were nonetheless valid.

Never mind how: as E.M. Forster advised, "Only connect."

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Foundation Friday: Giving With One Hand, Taking Away With the Other

March 28, 2008

A program officer with a community foundation brings the following to our attention, with the observation, "This just blew my mind… they REQUIRE their grantees to donate a portion of their awards directly back to them!  This may be legal, but is it ethical?!?"

Here’s the questionable practice:

ProLiteracy is entering the thirteenth year of the National Book Scholarship Fund, a project that supplies books and materials to local adult basic education and literacy programs. The resources available through NBSF are from New Readers Press, the publishing division of ProLiteracy.

Programs providing direct service in the areas of basic literacy, adult basic education, English-as-a-second-language, and family literacy will be considered for support. NBSF grants are made in the form of the New Readers Press materials requested in the grant proposal. Grants typically average $500 to $2,000 each but can vary depending on the needs of the applicant organization.

Programs awarded a grant must provide a cash contribution to ProLiteracy equal to 20 percent of the grant award. These funds are used to defray the costs of NBSF program administration. Organizational members of ProLiteracy must provide a cash contribution equal to 10 percent of the grant award.

So you (charity) will buy x amount of my product, while I (foundation) jack up the list price of the product and pretend that the difference between what you paid and what I listed is a donation.  Of course this isn’t ethical; and if the sole asset of the foundation is this product which it’s turning into cash, the IRS will probably be very interested.

This is the second time in her career the Nonprofiteer has encountered what seems to her to be an obvious scam connected to literacy programs.  Maybe the people who have these ideas are under the impression that literacy program officers can’t read, either.

Dear Nonprofiteer, Is This A Dangerous Liaison?

March 27, 2008

Dear Nonprofiteer:

My problem seems small and particular from where I’m standing, but I think it might be of general interest.  I write from a small independent artsy college.  Which art we practice, I’m sure you don’t need to know.  We do fine.  Charge a lot of tuition, bring in more than enough revenue to meet our needs, keep the students happy enough, satisfy the accreditors.  I have tenure and I can work on the side too.

Some of my colleagues want to start up an independent committee to serve as liaison to the Board of Trustees.  We’d be elected, a group of three, and we’d attend Board meetings twice a year.  Our president and CEO, High-Hat Hattie, has the Board wrapped around her little finger.  All they know, they learned from her.  High-Hat Hattie doesn’t love the idea of a liaison committee but will succumb if we push. 

I don’t necessarily want to disabuse the Board of anything, but if I (and others) can get their ear, maybe I could make the institution better.  Should we go ahead?  Or leave well enough alone?

Signed, Secure but Questing

Dear Secure:

You seem in a perfect position to take on this assignment: you can’t be fired (ain’t tenure grand?) and the worst that can happen is a couple of unpleasant meetings followed by resignation from the committee.  Whereas the best that can happen is (1) you can educate the Board about the institution, education they’re currently receiving from a single source you deem unreliable; and (2) you can get educated about the Board’s work for the institution, and possibly help communicate to your faculty colleagues the rationale for Board decisions.

If the Board is better-educated, it will work better on behalf of the college.  This is more an article of faith than something the Nonprofiteer can document; but she believes it nonetheless.  Specifically, she believes that governors of an institution who become aware of all the things it could do if it had more resources are more inclined to help secure those resources.  Your college may "do fine," but perhaps it could do better–admit more students who can’t pay your tuition, say, or provide a broader or deeper curriculum–with more money.  And if money is what you want/need at a nonprofit, there’s no substitute for firing up the Board.

You don’t have to think of your role as "disabusing the Board of anything" but simply as offering, in your person, a statement of what the institution does, how well it does it, and how much better it could be done with a little additional assist from the Trustees.  If, in the course of this statement, a Trustee raises questions about Hattie and what she’s been doing all this time–well, that’s what the Army refers to as "collateral damage."

And don’t underestimate the value of your learning about the constraints Hattie and the Board face as they govern the college.  Maybe those constraints are primarily self-inflicted–the Board is too small, too timid, too lazy, or Hattie is too maternalistic, too comfortable, too controlling–but if so, you’ll be able to make a difference soon enough.  ("Why don’t we recruit Ms. Rolling-In-It whose daughter graduated from here last year?")  And if not, you’ll be better satisfied with the college and better positioned to spread that satisfaction around the faculty once you’ve seen what the Board and Hattie are grappling with.

Just one word of caution (which you clearly don’t need but your committee colleagues may): the liaison committee should not be involved in personnel issues, that is, should not serve as a channel for the grievances of individual employees (faculty or staff).  If Hattie is generally unreasonable about personnel, that’s something that can be gently inserted into general conversations about staffing or compensation; but individuals who have a problem with her should solve it individually (or grieve to the union, if you have one) and not through you. 

Of capital markets and women’s health

March 26, 2008

The Nonprofiteer had remembered this as an announcement that the Calvert Foundation had given $10 million to Catholic Health Initiatives, and was preparing a protesting broadside having to do with the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide reproductive health services.  But it turns out to be an announcement that Catholic Health Initiatives has invested $10 million in an investment product offered by the Calvert Foundation, which in turn "channels capital to underserved communities." 

An interesting effort to create a much-needed capital market.  The Nonprofiteer is torn: wanting the investment to turn out well so that other wealthy nonprofits (e.g. universities) are encouraged to put capital at the disposal of their poorer brethren, and wanting it to turn out badly to punish the Catholic health-care system on behalf of all the women whose health is regularly sacrificed on the altar of its concern for spermatazoa, embryos and fetuses.  Readers may take their pick.

CATHOLIC HEALTH INITIATIVES MAKES $10 MILLION INVESTMENT IN CALVERT FOUNDATION’S COMMUNITY INVESTMENT NOTES

Major Initiative Will Promote Healthy Communities in U.S. and Around the World; Investment is Single Largest from Faith-Based Group in Groundbreaking Program.

BETHESDA, MD. and  DENVER, CO.//March 13, 2008//Catholic Health Initiatives, the nation’s second-largest faith-based health care system, is making a $10 million investment in Calvert Social Investment Foundation (Calvert Foundation) Community Investment Notes….

“Our focus has always been on providing the best health care available – especially to underserved communities,” said Kevin Lofton, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Initiatives. “We have been promoting the social good since our formation more than a decade ago by investing in organizations, such as the Calvert Foundation,that are committed to building healthy communities. This investment is especially appropriate for us because it is a major step toward helping to provide sustainable solutions to fighting poverty and improving the health of disadvantaged populations.”

Shari Berenbach, executive director of the Calvert Foundation, said, “I would like to congratulate Catholic Health Initiatives on using their leadership role to make a real difference not only in the lives of people in the communities in which they work, but also in developing countries, where microfinance truly helps families pull themselves out of poverty. CHI is truly taking a localized approach to supporting the poor here in the U.S. and around the globe.”

Catholic Health Initiatives follows on the heels of previous Community Investment Note investments by other health care systems, including Trinity Health and Catholic Healthcare West….

The investment by Catholic Health Initiatives is a major boost for Calvert Foundation, which, in the wake of the investment, has over $175 million in assets.  To date, this is the largest investment by a faith-based organization in the Community Investment Note program….

Catholic Health Initiatives’ investment is in Calvert Foundation’s flagship product, the Community Investment Note, a high-impact, fixed income investment that channels affordable capital to underserved communities and markets, providing economic opportunities where they are needed most. Calvert Foundation offers custom targeted portfolios for larger investors that align with their mission and desire for maximum social impact….

CONTACT: Patrick Mitchell, for Calvert Foundation, (703) 276-3266, or pmitchell@hastingsgroup.com; or Michael Romano, for Catholic Health Initiatives, 303-383-2720, or michaelromano@catholichealth.net

To Pay and Pay Not

March 25, 2008

A few items courtesy of colleague-readers:

  • Dana Hagenbuch of Commongood Careers in Boston draws our attention to the group’s recent survey of 1,750 nonprofit jobseekers, showing that most intend to make long-term careers in the sector but object to its salary and benefits (or lack thereof) and are concerned about opportunities for advancement (or lack thereof).  As a result, "Over 75% of respondents believe that nonprofits have to immediately change their recruitment, employment and professional development practices."  But, as most of these people are looking for jobs right now, the Nonprofiteer suspects all that’s going to happen "immediately" is a drastic lowering of their expectations.  The complete 7-page survey report can be found at http://www.cgcareers.org/downloads/CGC_2008TalentSurveyReport.pdf.
  • Meanwhile, nonprofits trying to combat their personnel crunch by using volunteers would do well to heed the reminder from Carol Karimi of Volunteermatch.org in San Francisco that National Volunteer Week is approaching (April 27-May 3), and that s/he who wants to keep volunteers had best appreciate them.  Tips on so doing can be found at http://www.volunteermatch.org/about/resources/index.jsp. 
  • And those same volunteer-dependent nonprofits will need to figure out an answer to the excellent question raised by Christie Weeks of Jonesboro, Louisiana:

    "Are you aware if anyone is addressing/paying attention to the disparities in charitable mileage deduction and business mileage deduction?  Since 1998, the standard mileage deduction for charitable purposes has been 14 cents per mile.  In the same time, the standard mileage deduction for business purposes has risen from 32.5 cents per mile to 50.5 cents per mile.  It obviously costs a volunteer just as much to operate his/her vehicle as it does someone who uses a vehicle for business purposes.  Generally, those who employed by 501 (c) (3) organizations are reimbursed for mileage.  Who is looking after their volunteers? . . . .[I]ncreased fuel costs are a real hit on many volunteers.  Is anyone looking down the road at the impact that decreased travel due to costs to the volunteer will have on charitable organizations?"

And a friendly reminder from the Nonprofiteer that (to adapt a phrase) labor is a feminist issue.  Charities concerned about attracting and retaining good personnel could always pay more; remarkably, the ones determined to employ men somehow manage to dig a little deeper into their pockets.  When the sector stops expecting to be able to operate on the unpaid labor (and unreimbursed fuel expenditures) of women it will truly have come into its own.   

There’s nonsense, and then there’s damned nonsense

March 24, 2008

Here’s a truly thoughtless piece from David Brooks (not in itself an especially newsworthy phenomenon) about the "new" trend in nonprofits: social entrepreneurship!  Note that the only consideration he gives to the role of the commonwealth in determining the common good is to shudder at the prospect:

There’s obviously a
danger in getting government involved with these entrepreneurs.
Government agencies are natural interferers, averse to remorseless
competition and quick policy shifts.

The danger is in getting government involved with providing for the welfare of its citizens?  And the solution is having private individuals determine what public-welfare programs work best and should be supported?  That must be because privatizing government functions has worked so well in Iraq, and at the State Department (where contract employees are reading your passport files), and in the public schools that have been captured by for-profit companies.

Their problem now is scalability. How do the social entrepreneurs
replicate successful programs so that they can be big enough to make a
national difference?

America Forward, a consortium of these
entrepreneurs, wants government to do domestic policy in a new way. It
wants Washington to expand national service (to produce more social
entrepreneurs) and to create a network of semipublic social investment
funds….to invest in
community-run programs that produce proven results. The government
would not operate these social welfare programs, but it would, in
essence, create a network of semipublic Gates Foundations that would
pick winners based on stiff competition.

If the problem is replicating successful programs so they can be big enough to make a national difference we could use, uh, what’s that called?  Public funding?  But that would mean all these wealthy people would have to pay taxes.  And worse, that would mean all these brilliant people–and they must be brilliant, right?  Otherwise they wouldn’t be wealthy, because the market allocates rewards perfectly and life is completely fair–would have to consult something other than their own attitudes, prejudices and needs before deciding what’s best for the rest of us.

 

Foundation Friday: A New Grantmaker

March 21, 2008

Good news from Chicago: 3Arts, formerly a residence for women artists called the 3 Arts Club, has reinvented itself as a grantmaker providing "cash support that goes directly to artists, residency fellowships, an organizational grant given to up to three nonprofits for their support of women artists, and sponsorship of events and programs that showcase artists."

Several aspects of the 3Arts story invite praise:

  • This was an organization whose original model–residence for women artists–had been rendered obsolete by a number of social, economic and real estate development factors.  So its Board made some years of good-faith effort to reinvent the residence, and then finally went all the way and reinvented the agency.  It sold the building and plowed the proceeds into support for artists–maintaining the original purpose but in a form suitable to contemporary life.  Bravo (or, mostly in this case, brava)!   A truly courageous set of choices.
  • 3Arts examined arts funding in Chicago and noticed that it’s least available to artists–the people without whom there would be no art.  Having found a niche, it promptly occupied it, focusing its grantmaking precisely where the need is greatest.
  • In keeping with its original mission to aid under-supported artists, 3Arts will focus its grants on women, people of color and people with disabilities working in music, theater and visual arts.  This straightforward statement contrasts beautifully with the usual namby-pamby language about "diversity."  3Arts will support those who need supporting and assure that those who have been silenced will be heard.

The Nonprofiteer has watched the 3Arts transformation from afar.  She was enthusiastic about the plan to reinvent the building as a cultural center, and disappointed when it collapsed.  But she’d be hard-pressed to think of a more welcome addition to the Chicago arts scene than a grantmaker with this mission, this clearly stated, at this time.

Note: 3Arts Artist Awards are by nomination only, in recognition of the group’s lean staff.  Details about its other awards at 3arts.org.

Dear Nonprofiteer, I’m F***ed and Far From Home

March 20, 2008

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I am hoping you can give me some guidance.  I took a new position in Sept. 2007 with a small nonprofit organization as the Executive Director.  From the outset, there were complex issues to deal with–staff being slighted in the hiring process (after being assured by the Board Chair of involvement), a Program Coordinator that had been acting as Interim Director and not selected for the ED position, a Board Executive Committee (the ED search committee) that described the duties of the position as one thing (what I was looking for) without actually knowing that the ED needed to be MUCH more involved in the actual program delivery, and oh yeah…I was following the Founding Director who was beloved and only stepped down due to health reasons.

I worked hard to prove myself and try to win over the staff and others…yet have received push back from the staff, and the Board Executive Committee gives me mixed signals and no clear expectations or articulation of the criteria they will be evaluating me on.  This is extremely frustrating!  I’ve had issues with confidentiality (a Board Vice-Chair speaking directly to a staff member about issues/suggestions from my 3 month review without my knowledge or consent) and personnel (staff questioning and undermining my decision-making and leadership by having conversations directly with Board members without addressing issues with me first), and basically feel like I have no professional or personal allies or mentors within my organization.  I’ve been told that I need to communicate with them more effectively, yet I send messages where I am practically begging for guidance and receive no response. 

Is there a way to "vent" about this in a professional and productive manner to my "supervisors"–the Board Executive Committee?  Should I just throw in the towel and part company with this organization?  That is not at all what I want to do.  I feel strongly about the goals of the organization and want to stay in this community–I relocated my whole family (including 3 children under the age of 7) to take this position and don’t want to disappoint anyone, including myself.  Is there an online support group for disillusioned nonprofit leaders?  The tipping point came on Monday when I came in on my previously scheduled day off to a last minute meeting with one of program managers from a state grant with the executive committee, and basically got the wind knocked out of me with issues that I didn’t know existed.  HELP!

Looking for a Silver Lining

Dear Silver,

The Nonprofiteer is nearly ill with empathy, having experienced a similar situation herself back before the glaciers melted.  But here are some suggestions she wishes someone had offered her.

First, no, there is no safe way to "vent" about what’s going on within the confines of your agency: in a place as gossip-permeable as yours, you’re best off assuming that everyone hears everything you say, and if somebody’s got the knives out for you and hears you howling, that just encourages them.  Anyway, what you need isn’t to vent–it’s to correct the structural problems you’ve so ably identified.

Second, you may have no allies or mentors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some.  Take the Board President out to lunch (dinner, breakfast, bed-time snack), just the two of you, and tell him/her that breaches in confidentiality are making it impossible for the agency to operate properly.  (Emphasize the good of the agency, not your own well-being or ability to do your job, even though in this case they’re identical.)  Ask him/her how the two of you can solve this problem, and then suggest what the military people would call a pincer movement: s/he does x to the Board at the same time you’re doing y to the staff, thereby squeezing the problem people between you and giving them no place to go.  Specifically, ask him/her to meet individually with the blabbery vice-chair and any other Board members who’ve been having ex parte contact with staff members, and to explain to them that this is not the role of the Board.  (S/he can review this entry, if you think it will be helpful.)  Emphasize that you understand what a different approach this is from the days when the Founding Director was still there and the Board was essentially a support group for him/her and his/her staff; but emphasize with equal fervor that this new approach is essential to the success of the institution.  You can’t raise money to support the mission (yes, use those magic words "money" and "mission") unless you can be out in the community shaking hands and making friends, and you can’t do that if you’re being undermined at the office every time you turn your back. 

Do not leave this meeting without a commitment from the Board President to (a) rein in leaky Board members and (b) support you when you tell leaky staff members that their back-channel to the Board has been silted up, and that you’ll be glad to discuss with them any questions or concerns they may have about their jobs or the conduct of the agency.  If the Board President says, "I’ll think about it," you should be prepared to tell him/her–not in a threatening way; practice in advance, if need be–that you won’t be able to continue at the agency without his/her support on this matter; an Executive Director who can’t manage personnel can’t operate, and operating is what you’re being paid to do.  Be regretful, be tactful, be thoughtful–but be firm.  And if the Board President says, "I can’t make this decision alone," offer–with alacrity!–to restate everything you’ve just said to the Executive Committee, and if necessary to the full Board–but in a meeting to be specially and immediately called for this purpose.  Urgency is your friend: the Board doesn’t really want to have to replace you, and when it understands you’re not merely "venting" but preparing to leave unless a change is made, it may fall (albeit grudgingly) in line. 

Meanwhile, schedule a meeting with the Program Coordinator (and if you’re not meeting on a weekly basis with him/her and all your direct reports, you should be), and share with him/her what you’ve said here: that your position is turning out to include much more program responsibility than you had expected, and that you won’t be able to raise the money to support the mission (those magic words again!) if you’re simultaneously trying to operate the programs.  Appeal to his/her expertise and experience and ask for guidance as to how the two of you can approach the agency’s needs, as Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, as it were.  What aspects of program does s/he need help with, and what sort of help?–that is, is it really your help?  Ask how s/he balanced the program and fundraising/public outreach  responsibilities when s/he was acting ED, and most likely the answer will be, "I didn’t have time to do fundraising and public outreach;" to which your reply will be, "Exactly."

Unlike your meeting with the Board President, this Program Coordinator conversation doesn’t need to have a specific outcome.  You simply need to convey (and be prepared to convey repeatedly) that you respect his/her program tasks too much to try to do them yourself, and that his/her doing them is what’s necessary to enable you to do your tasks of fundraising and public outreach–which in turn is what’s necessary to enable him/her to do the program tasks, and so on and so on.  This won’t be simple, especially if the Program Coordinator is one of the people who keeps tattling to the Board, but it’s worth trying.

If the Board gives you the backing you need, then you’re in a position to press for additional backing, namely, the right to fire people who won’t fall in line.  Don’t mention this right up front, and don’t do what the Nonprofiteer did, namely, fire a long-time employee with the okay of the Board President alone–it unleashed a firestorm for which the rest of the Board was unprepared and in the face of which it caved, leaving the Nonprofiteer weaker than before.  But once the Board acknowledges that its only conversation with staff members is, "I’m sorry, you’ll have to take that up with the Executive Director," it will be ready[er] to grasp that staff members who won’t accept that for an answer might be happier somewhere else.

One final thing: Write a description of the job you think you’re supposed to be doing, and then write a list of all the things you’re doing that keep you from doing your job.  Take this list to the Board President (and the Executive Committee, once the President has the leaks plugged) and to the Program Coordinator and work with both to assign out or eliminate the non-essential aspects of your workload.  This is the only useful form of "communicating better" with the Board and staff–being clear on what you’re supposed to be doing, and on what someone else will have to do.

Remember: the reason the Board doesn’t give you guidance is that it doesn’t know what it’s doing.  The Boards left behind by Founding Directors often don’t.
So (to adapt a phrase) don’t ask, tell: tell them what you’re doing and
why, and what you’re not doing and why, and what you need from them to
enable the agency to thrive, and give them a chance to do it.

In other words: Don’t throw in the towel yet.  Try these suggestions and give it another 6 months–which would be until your one-year anniversary.  And don’t worry about the basis on which you’re going to be evaluated.  Define your job and do it, and the Board will evaluate and reward you accordingly.  Or if not: there are always other agencies that will.

Keep us posted on how you do.

Et tu, Stratford?

March 19, 2008

You’d really think that people whose specialty is Shakespeare would have learned from "Julius Caesar" that a triumvirate won’t work.

A Way of Making Amends?

March 18, 2008

The Nonprofiteer has been boiling at references to "victimless crime" in the case of New York’s Governor.  She wants to ask every male commentator who used the term whether he’d encourage his daughter to pursue renting her vagina as a career path, or whether he’s eager to run home and tell his wife and family that he patronizes prostitutes.  If not, that’s probably because the activity is
dangerous and demeaning, and exposes not just the patron but his family (and the prostitute, of course) to the risk of disease, blackmail and public humiliation.

But until she saw this letter to the New York Times, she didn’t see any way of connecting her rage to the subject-matter of this blog.  Now, enlightened, she takes the liberty of passing along the following suggestion from  Mr. David Hayden of Wilton, CT:

Since economic desperation is the foundation of most prostitution, I
have a suggestion for how Eliot Spitzer can start to atone for his
pathetic transaction.

He is the heir to a large real estate
fortune and should be able to come up with a handsome chunk of money to
endow a trust fund that would temporarily pay the basic living expenses
of women arrested for prostitution.

This would make a dramatic
difference in the lives of these women and serve as a reminder that
economic injustice is usually the root of the sad profession of
prostitution.

An excellent idea–and an excellent reminder of the fact that the only way prostitution is "victimless" is if women count for nothing.