Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

By Pilar Oberwetter

The District of Columbia is quite small—just 68.3 square miles. As such, definition of neighborhood and community should be all-inclusive here in the nation’s capital. So why loud and vehement protests on the awarding of DC’s Neighborhood Investment Fund dollars to organizations such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Washington National Opera, and the D.C. Jewish Community Center? Perhaps because these organizations that tout their outreach efforts still have some work to do in solidifying authentic relationships with their neighbors outside of NW DC.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lessons from the Nonprofit Sector

By Chris Dell'Amore
Colgate University

Expanding on what Ana said, I, Chris Dell’Amore, was also part of this opportunity to spend my spring break examining the non-profit sector in Washington. Being a sophomore at a liberal arts school you can’t blame me for not knowing what I want to do with my life. I’m an economics and Spanish double major looking to go into the field of finance once I graduate, but to be frank credit swapping and derivative trading aren’t exactly on my mind all the time at this point in my life.

However, this trip to D.C. was eye-opening to me because learning about the importance of mission statements in NGOs provided me with practical advice that I will follow throughout the course of my career. I will adhere to my own personal mission statement. That’s when it hit me, our lives are very similar to NPOs. The further you stray from your mission statement, the more convoluted and unsatisfactory your life becomes. Over time, mission statements can be refined to incorporate more purposes or to intensify their purposes, but completely going astray from the values that you hold dear can only lead to an unceasing feeling of emptiness and unhappiness.

Like non-profits need funding and support, so do we. Convincing and pleading people to support your cause results in you having the means and funds to pursue your cause. In a person’s life, a sponsor is a support system which allows you to pursue whatever goals you have in mind. Various people such as, parents, friends, family or co-workers are essential in providing you with the inspiration and motivation to pursue anything that your heart desires.

So, this is what I took away from my trip to Washington. Pursue whatever makes you happy because should you do something that you’re not interested in, you aren’t going to be as successful due to a lack of motivation and sense of gratification. Relying on people that you respect and love helps you actively pursue any of your goals, because by relying on people that have your best interests in mind, your odds of succeeding in any endeavor you participate in drastically increase. Going to Washington with hopes of learning about an entirely new sector that I had little knowledge on, I came away with much more. Not only did I get a comprehensive look at the non-profit sector, I left Washington with life lessons that I will abide by for the rest of my life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Power of Nonprofit Exposure

By Ana Almeyda-Cohen
Colgate University

Last week, a group of Colgate sophomores went to Washington, D.C. to visit different nonprofit organizations and learn about the nonprofit sector. The trip was not related to a course, a major, or a particular club or organization about nonprofits. It was just a group of Colgate students (with the assistance of the Office of Career Services) that wanted to learn more about the nonprofit sector and visit DC.

As a participant of the trip and a mere novice of the nonprofit sector, I did not know what to expect. Before the trip, I knew that the nonprofit sector consisted of charities and foundations that help people in many different ways. As a past scholar of a nonprofit, that works towards improving the education of under privileged students in New York City, I knew what kind of impact a nonprofit could have on the life of an individual.

While in DC, my perspective on the nonprofit sector completely changed. Some organizations were small and regional while others were big and international. During our visit we visited the Center for American Progress, Pew Charitable Trusts, American Institute for Research, the Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the International Center for Research on Women, just to name a few. We met 35-year-old assistant researchers, 65-year-old presidents and CEOs, and everyone in between. We listened, asked questions, and engaged in great conversations about public policy, social welfare, and education. By the end of the week, we were exhausted but filled with an abundance of information and knowledge.

Last week, I thought I wanted to be a Spanish professor, now I want to be a Resident Scholar at a major Think Tank. Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can own my own nonprofit. The endless possibilities excite me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Could Nonprofit Status Save Local Newspapers?

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md, introduced a bill on Tuesday designed to save struggling local newspapers -- allow them to choose tax-exempt status.
"We are losing our newspaper industry," said Cardin. "The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."

Not So Fast, Nonprofit Execs

The Wall Street Journal highlights ongoing controversy over nonprofit executive pay.

A good reminder that anger over AIG bonuses is bound to spill over into the nonprofit sector, especially for big dog universities and hospitals...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In Case You Missed It

Martin Feldstein, an economics professor from Harvard and president emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research, opposes Obama's plan to limit the tax deductibility of charitable contributions.

Obama's defense of the proposal?
"I'll tell you what has a significant impact on charitable giving, is a financial crisis and an economy that's contracting. And so the most important thing that I can do for charitable giving is to fix the economy, to get banks lending again, to get businesses opening their doors again, to get people back to work again. Then I think charities will do just fine."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Merging the Wage Discussion

By Robert Egger

First of all, I think that’s important to acknowledge that most who work in corporate America love their jobs and products just as much as those of us in the nonprofit side. I fight the stereotypes everyday (who is homeless, etc..) so I don’t want to imply that for-profit employees are any less committed to community than I/we are. But…society views the contributions of corporate America as “greater” than those of the nonprofit sector, so the wage scale slides higher in their favor. Is that right? Of course not….that’s why I have spent so much time trying to help promote the Value of the sector (see the V3 Campaign).

I’m also hearing that a growing number of young people want to merge their income, lifestyle and spirituality…in effect making a solid wage while not only NOT doing harm, but actually doing good. Many have ventured into nonprofits (straight from school or from jobs they do not find fulfilling) thinking they will find it there. They won’t…at least not yet. This is why this discussion is so key. But there are two parts---

  1. To get to the point where we can offer solid, well distributed wages AND upward mobility in the nonprofit sector, we’re going to have to explore new hybrids that merge for-profit and not-for-profit concepts (Look up social enterprise, micro-credit, LC3 Corporation - all concepts already ongoing). But...
  2. This will involve a new distribution of resources. In short---we’re going to have to discuss wage in both sectors while also analyzing the impact of their work.

Frankly—we still view the contributions of for-profit and not-for profit through a bifurcated (and gender biased) lens. For-profits (male) creates wealth while not-for-profits (female) nurture community. Once you get your heads around that, then you can begin to understand why we’re in this trap. In reality BOTH sides are equal. BOTH need the other to thrive. But as long as we adhere to this outdated and frankly, idiotic separation, then we will appear at odds, and remain locked in boring battles over which has a better campground.

Our current economic meltdown allows for a robust new debate, and I urge you to join in. What is a good wage in BOTH the sectors? How can consumers create economic incentives that encourage (rather than mandate) behaviors we support, in BOTH sectors? Is it time for a nonprofit NASDAQ? Should you be able to get an “annual tax dividend” when you invest in a high performing non-for-profit?

If you are under 35—you need to be all up in this dialogue, as you all are going to get the bill.

Higher Wages, But Uneven Distribution

By Pilar Oberwetter

I want to offer another perspective of wage issues within the nonprofit sector—not in level, but in distribution. Unlike the authors of the previous two postings, I feel that nonprofit salaries have increased in recent years. Not to amounts traditionally seen in the private sector, to be sure, but certainly higher than they used to be.

However, these salary increases have not been evenly distributed.

Almost universally, increased revenue and the related increase in salaries for nonprofit organizations and staff have been applied to back-office functions—not front line programs and staff. In other words, staff responsible for implementing programs, providing services and interfacing with clients do not see the same financial windfalls that the executive teams experience.

If dialogue and discussion on nonprofit salaries happens in a productive and proactive manner, equal distribution of salary increases needs to top that agenda. For me, the gradual eroding of mission priority throughout the sector— as indicated by the widening gap between executives and lay-staff within the sector—is the most distressing of all.

The Perils of Climbing the "Not-So-Corporate Ladder"

A reader's response to Egger:

The nonprofit sector is a funny area of grey. When picking such a career trajectory, you enter knowing you will never make as much as your attorney or banker friends (pre-recesh), but the fact that you are “doing something good” makes up for part of that salary difference. That being said, despite the trade off, you still must earn a livable wage. It is a difficult field to get into though when you have any experience, but not quite enough to be considered for a management level position (and salary).

As a 20-something college grad, there are a lot of us struggling to find ways to manifest these meaningful career opportunities that set us in a position for a climb of the not-so-corporate ladder. Oftentimes, this does not come without a serious monetary investment in an advanced degree or skill-specific, post-collegiate training that is required to be taken seriously in your field of choice. At the graduate level, programs that train such employees—MPAs, MAs in psychology, education, etc—are often those with the least financial aid available to prospective students. Thus, individuals take on a huge economic burden, which will become a consideration after their graduate training. Once completed, such an investment should be compensated appropriately.

In my current position, I have a masters degree and am paid adequately, but certainly not in line with someone who has an MBA and four years of employment experience (which would make us employment and educational equals). To make things more complicated, in order to achieve any sort of jump on the pay scale, beyond the cost of living raise, I need a Ph.D. and several more years of experience (keep in mind, I work in an odd position--evaluation). This happens at the level before me as well. A system of gradual (and livable) salaries must be considered. Often those doing the most work (in our case, direct service with a large caseload of students and families) are paid the least or mandated to be part-time. This effects quality and scope of service in a negative way. It also impacts the rate of employment turnover.

Ultimately, it’s a complicated and delicate formula. Simply because individuals work in the non-profit sector does not mean that they should expect to succumb to a lifetime of living paycheck to paycheck. We will never get a retention bonus, but we should be able to leverage our experience, education, and potential in order to secure a fair wage. Now if only someone could give me a dollar figure of precisely what that may be…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What's a "Good" Nonprofit Wage?

By Robert Egger

For a few years now, folks inside the sector have been wrestling with the notion of wage.

As a new generation rides over the ridge, many (if not all) will not be able to make do with the modest wages that nonprofits often offer their new employees. Unlike the founding generation of leaders, this new generation is the first to come into the sector (en masse) armed with both significant volunteer experience AND a degree (often in nonprofit management). This will require them to make a wage that allows them to manage both student loan repayment schedules as well as an alarmingly escalating cost of living. Simply put -- this new generation needs to make a solid wage.

But what is a solid wage? Some have argued that we mist be prepared to mirror wages offered by blue chip firms (six figures), if we are going to attract blue chip talent. But is that the case?

First of all, would the public support these higher wages? As crazy as it is to grapple with misunderstandings about how nonprofits work, and the important role of things like administrative overhead -- the world is what it is. For wages to increase, so must public respect for, and appreciation of, nonprofits. Without that public education, we'll walk right into a wave of populist anger.

Second, as important as a solid wage is, does anybody really need, let alone deserve, a six-figure salary when most Americans will never nudge $50-65K? I must admit, I wonder if it isn't more appropriate for nonprofits to be leading the "all jobs have value - how do we raise the average citizen's wage" debate. Considering that most direct service need is driven by lack of living wages, this tactic might yield better long-term results that further professionalize the sector. 

But perhaps what is most important here is what I refer to as the Tyler Durden question -- will more money actually make you happier? Before you answer, consider taking a look at Baby Boomers. Do they look all polka dots and moonbeams? Now ask yourself -- given all the stuff they bought, why aren't they all grinning ear-to-ear? Then ask yourself, do I want to go down that same road?

Look, I make $85K at DC Central Kitchen (DCCK). That's far more than many working in the US, but much lower than many executives of my experience level. Others at DCCK make more than I do (not a lot, mind you), but this is just my own experiment in wage. My point -- I'm happy as a f****lark. I dig my work. All of us here make a solid middle class salary and everyone has bennies. Most importantly, we rock the city. So while more money might be nice, it isn't essential. Other things are. I focus on that.  

But this is an open dialogue, so I ask -- what do you think?

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Fraying Social Safety Net

A reader writes:

“No matter what one’s political views about individuals bearing more risks, very few Americans are in a position to cope with their added responsibilities right now. That’s because most of the changes that have shifted new burdens to families and, in the process, moved people further out on the economic limb have occurred in ways that have masked the full dimensions of what has happened.”

This is an excerpt from the introduction to Highwire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families, the harrowing but worth-reading book by L.A. Times reporter Peter Gosselin.

The book’s premise is that the prosperity that the U.S. enjoyed until recently occurred at the same time that pieces of our historic social safety net were fraying. Pensions became a thing of the past, CEOs who oversaw massive layoffs rather than try to preserve the jobs of loyal employees were celebrated, and a series of Supreme Court decisions eroded legal means to get healthcare plans to fulfill their contracts. The result is that more families are one job loss or major illness away from certain financial ruin.

In my mind, this raises at least two issues for the portion of the nonprofit sector that provides social services:

  1. In the short-term, individuals’ more tenuous positions mean that the sector will require additional resources to meet the increased demand for services. Will the private sector be able to fill the funding gap? Is the government willing?
  2. In the long-term, I think we must examine what the social safety net should be and who is responsible for ensuring that families do not fall through the holes. The nonprofit sector is very effective, but where does government responsibility end—especially as deregulation and corporate special interests have left the average person so vulnerable. Questions include: What should the safety net cover? Who should provide it? And who should pay for it?

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Case of Cherry Picking?

By Pilar Oberwetter

The moment has come where I feel that I need to (gasp) criticize Obama. For the faint of heart, rest assured—it is not Barack that I take issue with, but rather Michelle.

While the major headlines focus on positives and negatives of Barack’s maneuvers since taking office in January, Michelle has been doing less-showy, yet very effective work in raising local morale and national awareness. She has paid visits to federal agencies, served food to the homeless, and, most recently, recruited powerful women in government, entertainment, sports and business to visit the area’s public schools in honor of Women’s History Month.

So what is my beef?

Well, when Michelle and her gang of power-gals, which included the likes of singer Alicia Keys and gymnast Dominique Dawes, went to the schools, they spoke to less than 20 students at each school who were “picked for their academic and athletic achievements.” Translation: they spoke to the successful students at each school, and provided them with examples of further success, encouraging them in words and by example to push themselves in that direction.

However, in DC’s public schools, the prevailing trend is that students do not succeed. More students drop out of school than graduate. More students fail classes than get A’s. More students get pregnant than star on sport’s teams. So why was Michelle not bringing her insight, wisdom, and inspiration to the students who are on probable paths to failure? Why was her visit treated as a reward for students who were doing well instead of an intervention strategy for students who are at-risk? Why were the students who are most in need of this type of motivation not given consideration when DCPS staff were hand-picking the attendees?

Next time, Michelle, be an advocate for those who are educationally most at-risk. Speak up for those who need more than just a path to success—who, in essence, need the whole map.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Latest Victim

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer moves to an online format only. NPR reports.

Pope Benedict on Condoms: I Wish He Hadn't

Every once in a while, I sit down and compile a list of my favorite people. As I make this list, I am keenly aware that some will never make it on my list; in fact if I made the opposite list, they may rank rather high on that list. Pope Benedict XVI is one of those unfavored people. As his papacy extends, he has wedged himself nicely on my "other" list.

At the beginning of his "Africa tour," the good old man once again pontificated; this time about condoms and AIDS in Africa. In his words: "You can’t resolve [the HIV/AIDS crisis] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."

Even a dispassionate observer should be displeased with the pope's pronouncement - it is scientifically inaccurate.

For those of us who consider the HIV pandemic in Africa a battle, displeasure is an understatement. The pope's words were irresponsible for a plethora of reasons: it was his first time on the continent as Pope Benedict. It was his first time addressing the use of condoms since he ascended unto the papal throne. The African continent is one of the few regions where the Catholic church is growing - they listen to the wise old man.

To use that platform to dissuade Africans (and others) from using condoms set advocates working to prevent the virus back several notches. It perpetuates some of the misperceptions that already exist: one of the most powerful voices just said condoms may increase the HIV problem, so why should I use it? Maybe that HIV counselor was wrong, I'm sure the pope knows better than she does ... the stories can continue.

I acknowledge that Pope Benedict has one quasi valid point - condoms alone are not the solution to the HIV crisis. However, we are past the point where experts argue over the efficacy of condoms. We may not have resolved the question of how best to fight HIV, but we know and agree that condoms are part of the solution. Why then is the pope telling the most affected people otherwise?

What does this have to do with the nonprofit sector? A large number of folks invested in international HIV education, delivery of services to infected people, and those hard at work to prevent future cases of HIV are in the nonprofit sector. Many of these are friends and former colleagues. I can only imagine their frustration when they read the pope's pronouncements.

Public statements from influential people are powerful. On a topic as vital as methods of HIV prevention, it helps when these voices use their platform responsibly.

Did I mention HIV is a pandemic in Africa? There is room for discussion over best practices. There is no room for dogmatic misinformation.

By Kehinde Togun

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

34-Year-Old President

The Regenerates are all about young people taking charge and doing big things. Having said that, I wonder if my fellow Regenerates would endorse Andry Rajoelina, the new president of Madagascar. 34-year-old Rajoelina took power (literally) yesterday after successfully orchestrating a coup against the sitting president. Seeing he had no other option, sitting president Marc Ravalomanana handed power over to the country's military, which in turn gave control over to our Rajoelina this morning.

Madagascar, the African island off the Indian ocean has been plagued by poverty and political violence. In December 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) suspended their support, citing irregularities (corruption). In February, the outgoing president sanctioned the use of military force against citizens rallying in front of the president's office - killing 30 people. In recent days, the military leaders denounced the use of force saying their mission is to protect citizens not oppress them - good for them!

The new president is supposed to be in office until 2011, when elections would be scheduled. We/I wish the new president well (this does not in any way imply support for his method of taking power). For the sake of the Malagasy people (and for young people everywhere), the Regenerates hope this former DJ is able to usher in an era of peace and prosperity for the island nation.

By Kehinde Togun

Rethinking Aid in Africa

By Casey Tesfaye

It's something I see quite often at liberal events: the "aid for Africa"table. A few well-intentioned kids with a poster full of pictures of all of the worst poverty in Africa. We are all very familiar with these poverty pictures and we all know the pleas -- just a dollar a day can save these families who are suffering and have no way of helping themselves.

These depictions make me sick to my stomach.

Yes, Africa suffers from great poverty and realities that are difficult for us to imagine from our secure American perspective. But Africa is, has been, and will be a whole lot more than those
caricatures will ever begin to represent.

Africa the birthplace of civilization. It is the key to many of the values that are quickly vanishing in America today, values that we suffer deeply without. And, lesser known to most, it is the beginning of the next greatest economic frontier.

In her book that is released today, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo addresses the impact of aid in Africa and introduces the economic realities and potential of the continent. This NPR interview with Dambisa Moyo is a
great introduction to the book.

It is high time we take a minute to rethink and redefine the way that we view the development needs in Africa, moving away from desperation and pity, moving away from companies that practice modern colonialism, and moving into the creation of a developed Africa that respects and comes in accordance with the rich cultural heritage and values of its inhabitants and natural resources, as well as its needs and infinite potential. And nobody knows the potential and resources of Africa better than Africans themselves.

Oftentimes in American circles African aid is discussed in the total absence of African efforts. This is hardly the case in Africa, where people are fighting, dying, working, developing, training, learning, educating, giving their knowledge and expertise to their continent. It is time to explore and enable the riches that the continent has, and let Africa become a model of proper, sustainable development, in her OWN image.

Just Like Your Parents Always Told You

I admit that I rarely discuss higher education  as it relates to the nonprofit sector. But now it seems that some of the most interesting effects of the recession are unfolding on college campuses, or rather, in the admissions offices of college campuses. 

As The New York Times highlighted last week, "Colleges [are] facing a financial landscape they have never seen before - [they] are trying to figure out how many students to accept, and how many students will accept them."

It seems that the usual predictive enrollment systems have been chucked out the window. As the dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College in Ohio told The Times, "Trying to hit those numbers is like trying to hit a hot tub when you're skydiving from 30,000 feet."

As colleges and universities cope with whatever massive hits their respective endowments have taken -- undoubtedly making sweeping budget cuts -- it seems that we may simultaneously observe an increasing number of people looking to invest in education. My own alma mater, Wesleyan University, recently reported a eye-popping 22% increase in the number of applicants this year, allowing the school to expand next year's freshman class to loosen a tightening budget.

How individuals and families ultimately respond to acceptance letters (especially those that come without generous financial aid packages) is, of course, the unpredictable piece. But after speaking to the Program Manager of a major English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program yesterday, I wonder if we won't see a general increase in educational investments across the board. In the past six months she tells me her enrollment numbers have increased significantly, not just because individuals are out of work, but because they feel that there is no better time than today to increase their skills and make a safe investment in their future.

What do you think? Will people increase investments in education in the face of an uncertain financial future? How will this affect nonprofit educational providers of all types?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh, the Irony

The Washington Post eliminates its business section.

International Tragedy: DC's Rising HIV Rate

I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last night; I'm here for two weeks on a work assignment. Ever the news junkie, I woke up this morning and sought out news stations to watch. I settled on Al Jazeera TV. As I have come to expect from 24 hour news, everything is wrong with the world: the Chinese government reported a bombing Tibet; a riot in Sierra Leone turned violent, with some women raped and at least 20 people killed; the opposition leader in Madagascar is scheduled to take over the Presidential Palace and name himself president; Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has ordered aid agencies out of his country by year's end; AIG is giving my tax dollars away to undeserving executives. All of these I've come to expect.

What I did not expect was a feature story on DC's HIV rate on international television. The BBC has a headline story on it as well. The district's HIV rate hit 3 percent recently and has risen 22 percent since 2006. One person interviewed for the story remarked on the irony that the "capital of the free world" has a growing HIV rate higher than some parts of Africa. In Sunday's Washington Post, the director of DC's HIV/AIDS administration said the rates are higher than West Africa's and on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya.

Quite frankly, parallels to Africa are unwarranted. In fact, I think they are a distraction. The fact that HIV rates in the District of Columbia has risen by 22 percent in 3 years is in itself the problem. It's an indication that we are not addressing the crisis or perhaps do not yet know how to address the crisis. It is troubling that rates in all three most "vulnerable" populations are on the rise: men having sex with men (MSM), heterosexual couples and injection drug users.

The district's (and the nation's) political and public health leaders need to wake up and address the sources of this problem: poverty, inadequate HIV education, late testing, etc, etc. The fate of DC's residents is resting on this.

By Kehinde Togun

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Community Shapes Giving

By John Oberwetter

People find pleasure and comfort in being part of a community; perhaps a community is a helpful concept to encourage giving.

In November 2008, more than 50 people from the Smithtown, NY, Class of 1963 went to Costa Rica for their 45th reunion. The week was paid for by a generous classmate who lives on a large sugar cane ranch on the Pacific side of the country. Towards the end of the week, a small group of us fell into conversation about the future, the environment, and charitable giving. One fellow reminded us that potable water will increasingly be a concern over much of the globe in the future. He explained that he had funded a few wells for villages in Thailand. The group responded immediately, conceiving an idea for repaying our benefactor, in a way, by creating a nonprofit organization that would fund well-drilling projects in Africa.

Upon our return, some of us began to work on a mission statement and other to research creating nonprofit organizations that deal with well-drilling. It quickly became apparent that reinventing the wheel would be costly and even duplicate services already offered by any number of thoughtfully conceived nonprofit organizations. The research delved into issues of overhead, costs of wells, and organization; field trips also took place in New York City to visit several offices and speak with volunteers. We settled on, established a page for donations in the name of the Class of '63, and sent a cover letter and mission statement via snail mail to all known members of the class.

Using an existing nonprofit still seems to be a sound idea and the sense of community that has been established through this group effort has been an added but significant benefit. The total raised thus far puts us close to funding our first well. This venture contains within it the possibility of changing the patterns of giving amongst the earliest crop of baby boomers from 1945.

More TARP Woes

We knew Pilar had it right when she asked on February 18th why TARP recipients and financial institutions "with very hard bottom lines and very tangible products" were not held to the same dollar-for-dollar financial reporting requirements as nonprofit organizations.

Her words ring more frightfully true in light of the latest news of $165 million in bonuses paid out to AIG executives, a group that has already received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout funds.

But don't worry folks, only another $90 billion of those bailout funds were passed from AIG onto Goldman Sachs and "several other European banks," according to the latest news from Reuters. 

Surely we should not be depending on the media to reveal the use of TARP funds. And certainly this is not the last time we'll see violations of taxpayer "donor intent" making headlines. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grassroots Resurrection

President Obama's latest move is true political innovation--aggressively bringing politics back to the grassroots. Reportedly, the President intends to call upon the massive social capital acquired during his campaign to pressure Congress to pass his budget, a tried and true strategy with clear nonprofit origins. This technique is not only affirmation that we elected a president who actually believes that his job is to represent the interests of the American people, it also validates the direct link between the democratic system and and the community-based traditions of nonprofit America. Our Regenerate hats are off to you, Sir.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

"To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man power nor an easy matter."
- Aristotle

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nonprofit Bailout, for Who?

Written By: Cecilia Fong

Are We Prepared for a Nonprofit Bailout?

David Scadden, M.D. wrote “. . . philanthropic money is what fuels the most innovative work” in yesterday’s Express under a small Discussions piece entitled, “Stem Cell Funding.” As much as I love this quote, it got me wondering about donations and causes with today’s economy.

Although where or to whom the donation goes is ultimately up to the donor, can we prioritize the needs that currently exist? What if this “donation” or as some like to call it this “investment” comes from the government? How and where should it go? Which nonprofits should receive “life-saving” monies? Which nonprofits are essential to the fabric of (American) life? Should we rank the nonprofits trying to address the problem’s of today’s society? Do we give to those that have the greatest need in today’s economic downturn, such as shelters and food pantries? Do we give to those that are in jeopardy of dissolving due to lack of funds? Do we give to those that have the most transparency and operate under good governance? Do we give to those that may provide us with the chance of a better future? I guess, my question is, if the nonprofit sector were to receive a financial bailout package, which organizations or causes would or should be included? What do you think?

Stimulus Applications

Prepare for total systems meltdown.

From the Field

Name: Katharine Needham
Title: 2nd Grade Teacher
Organization(s): Andrew Wilson Charter School; 2007 Teach For America Greater New Orleans Corps Member

Why I Do What I Do: I joined Teach For America Greater New Orleans because I think our country's educational system is one of the greatest injustices of our generation. My students deserve the same educational opportunities as any other children in any other neighborhood. I do what I do because I know my second graders will have better lives if I give them the skills they need to succeed. I feel like teaching in New Orleans is the best way for me to contribute to the rebuilding effort and to closing the achievement gap.

Interested in contributing a "From the Field" entry? Email

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Priced Out

By Pilar Oberwetter

If Independent Sector (IS) is supposed to be the voice of the nonprofit sector, they need to explain, and ideally reconsider, the exorbitant fees that they charge to attend their annual conference. The cheapest rate—for a member organization who registers as an early bird—is $595. The cost rises as high as $1675 for a nonmember who signs up on the day-of. And these prices do not include cost of travel or hotel stay.

With finite budgets, small nonprofits, and even medium-sized ones, cannot afford these rates. Yet to develop a comprehensive message and strategy for mobilizing the sector, incorporating the perspective of these organizations is critical. If IS wants to capture the views of the entire nonprofit sector, the organization must make their conference more affordable.

True case in point-- the focus of the coming conference is on “strengthening the nonprofit community's ability to respond to the economic conditions facing our organizations and our communities.” IS, this Regenerate asks you to practice what you preach.

Michelle Obama Rolls Up Her (Non-existent) Sleeves

The First Lady has been taking her passion for service and her impressively toned biceps out into the nonprofit community. Along with her February visit to the Washington, DC community health center, Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, Mrs. Obama hit Miriam's Kitchen last Friday to help serve "healthy, homemade meals" to homeless men and women.

The event was covered by The Washington Post who churned out a rather lackluster piece entitled "For a Day, First Lady Becomes a Lunch Lady." Beyond the obvious issues with referring to staff members and volunteers who serve food to the homeless as "lunch ladies," the article scene's descriptions were enough to suck nearly all of the life out a story that matters not only to the DC nonprofit community, but to the entire nonprofit sector.

After such a disastrous federal response to disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the power of seeing a public figure like Michelle Obama out serving individuals who are suffering in her local community can hardly be overstated. As she explained to the crowd at Miriam's Kitchen, "[This place] is an example of what we can do as a country and a community to help folks when they're down." She encouraged people to visit their local nonprofits and to volunteer time if they do not have the resources to donate money.

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times asked the question Monday morning, "Should Michelle Cover Up?" Coming from the Regenerates corner (I think I can safely speak for all of us on this one), the answer is resoundingly "no" - she should cover up neither her arms nor her ability to be a confident, outspoken role model. It's not just because she inspires us all to stick to our exercise regimens, but because she understands that in times like these, we all need to be reminded that we are part of a larger community. And that sometimes time is more valuable than money.

Say what you will about President Obama's charitable deductions plan, I would say that we have at least one resident of the White House who isn't "out to lunch" when it comes to supporting the nonprofit community.

For our readers, I wonder -- what are the most effective ways for our public figures to support the nonprofit community? Beyond our own narrowly-defined missions, what messages should the sector as a whole seek to make known to the larger public? And lastly, is there anyone out there besides insecure congressmen that really want Michelle Obama to wear turtleneck sweaters?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Cleaning

Like many of you, I am overjoyed about the inevitable arrival of spring. Over the past 72 hours, I have increasingly sensed a promise of warm weather and rejuvenation. When I first checked the weather channel this past weekend, I immediately started making a list of things to do-- with the breeze and the sun and the temperature, I figured I would open the windows of my house and air things out. Freshen things up. Do my spring cleaning.

But something else took over. I started thinking about the issues and the news and the challenges facing my community and my city, and even the rest of the country and the world. And I started thinking about things that I could do to make change happen beyond my doorstep.

Perhaps the past few days are deceiving. Perhaps we have a few more weeks left to this winter. However, I felt it. I really did. A sense that the spring that arrives in a few weeks, and the summer that will follow, will bring good things. For me, and hopefully for others, with the warm weather from this past weekend came a brief sentiment of optimism, a promise of change.

Honoring Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, 50+

The Peace Corps is seeking nominations for the 2009 Lillian Carter Award. Application deadline is March 18, 2009. Hosted by the Atlanta Regional Recruitment Office, this bi-annual national award honors Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served at age 50+ and continue to embrace the third goal of Peace Corps: to promote a better understanding of other cultures on the part of Americans. The award will be presented by Miss Lillian’s son, President Jimmy Carter.

Applications should be emailed to:

Picture: Peace Corps Lillian Carter Award website

The Prop 8 Battle Rages On

The battle on Proposition 8 is far from over in California. The California Supreme Court heard arguments last Thursday in a case that seeks to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

As of Friday, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the court appeared to be leaning towards upholding Proposition 8. As Chief Justice Ronald George said, "There have been initiatives that have taken away rights from minorities by majority vote ... Isn't that the system we have to live with?" 

Kenneth Starr (why, oh why, are you still around Kenneth Starr?), lawyer for Protect Marriage - the group that sponsored the ballot measure - was quick to put it all in perspective. He explained that the initiative, "does not erode any of the bundle of rights that this state has very generously provided." Right, right. Of course. Gays in California should stay at home and be grateful for all of their very "generously provided" rights. Forget Proposition 8 already.

Equality California, an organization that "works to achieve equality and secure legal protections for LGBT people," sees this issue a bit differently than Mr. Starr. It's quite refreshing to see the group stealing a few moves out of the Protect Marriage playbook in their latest advertising campaign:

While advertising will be a critical part of building the broad-based public support needed to finally turn the corner on same-sex marriage in California, the road ahead still seems long. I'll be keeping my eyes out to see what else nonprofit organizations and opponents of Proposition 8 turn out in the months and years ahead. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Volunteer for the White House

As a huge proponent of volunteering, I feel a mild obligation to always plug opportunities that are out there - especially when they sound uber-interesting. Like most volunteers for the Obama campaign, I still get a fair share of emails from the campaign folks and this opportunity from DC for Obama caught my eye:

"The White House is currently in need of volunteers to help with the President's correspondence. Due to unprecedented levels of excitement around this Administration and the President's pledge of openness, they are being flooded with mail. Volunteers will assist White House staff in reading and responding to mail. This will happen each Thursday evening 6-9. Fill out the form if you are willing and able to help on a weekly basis."

As this sounds like a great opportunity, I won't be surprised if it fills up quickly.

Happy sorting!

Friday, March 6, 2009

College Scholarship for All (in Kalamazoo)

By Lina Karaoglanova

As the war between heartless economists and weepy do-gooders rages on, it’s always refreshing to stumble upon something of actual and significant substance that ADDS to the debate. Since 2005 the Upjohn Institute, Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center and the Midwest Educational Reform Consortium have been conducting the Kalamazoo Promise, a long-term community and education reinvestment experiment. This experiment may someday give those pesky economists and emotional non-profit folks some hard evidence as to whether there really is a high return on education investment that has spill-over benefits for a community.

The project gives a full college scholarship to potentially all graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools in Michigan, indefinitely! Their progress will be tracked and recorded. It’s every econometrician’s dream. Though this experiment will take many years to bear fruit, the possibilities for application may be endless. We may finally be able to extensively test not only whether these investments will increase life-time incomes for students, but also whether these investments in education can spur economic development in the community.

For all the eager international development, education and community development folks jumping in their chairs uncontrollably, take a visit.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Irony, DC Style

Exiting DC's red line metro at the New York Avenue stop this evening, on my way to visit a friend, I was able to view from up close the recently erected Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), built in direct proximity to the train station.

For our out-of-town readers, I want to share a special DC kind of irony-- this latest edition to our federal infrastructure is housed in the District's Trinidad neighborhood, one of this city's roughest areas . Perhaps the subject matter experts inside the architectural marvel can figure out ways to stifle the flow of all three of the items within their jurisdiction into neighborhoods such as Trinidad that suffer horrendously as a result. Maybe if ATF's headquarters had been built a few blocks to the east, and required that five minute walk from the train station, ATF's staff might have a bit more of an incentive to regulate and restrict wholesale distribution of either alcohol or tobacco or firearms.

Confused and Cowardly Nation

By Ihotu Ali

Does anyone really know what socialism is... or isn't? Honestly, I feel as though we are a nation of confused, as well as cowardly, souls. Maybe this article will be enlightening. Or at least, it may incite us to consider the real forces in this economic situation, rather than mimic the talking heads on DTV.

Bad Paintings of Obama

I think this one with the white stallion in the background is my favorite.

A Rush to the Right

Is this a joke? Rush Limbaugh as the new/old "face of the Republican party?"

Why is the Republican party working so hard to cater to the far right? Didn't this theory already bomb with the Sarah Palin pick?

Placing Rush Limbaugh front-and-center in the Republican party does a major disservice to our democracy. A Republican party with strong leaders is needed so that our government (and the public) can engage in sound, balanced policy debates. Now more than ever.

I know the Bobby Jindal speech was a flop, but c'mon, isn't it a little early to resort to Rush?

(Picture copyright: Belltown Messenger)

Rebel Music

It has been about eight years since I completed my service in Peace Corps Jamaica. The details of my projects have faded, but the sound of my experience, the lyrics and beats of the reggae music that dominates every street corner, every route taxi ride, and every community 'session' on this island and throughout the West Indies, is clearer than ever.

In every society, in every culture, music provides a mechanism for individuals and communities to describe their social circumstances. It cultivates camaraderie and solidarity around inequality and injustice. It provides a forum for social and political mobilization and resistance.

If you want to understand the issues, listen to the music...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Starbury Rising

By Jay Brown

The world sucks right now. No jobs, no money, no credit. You’ve read about it, I won't belabor the point. I’ve been trying to find an escape for a few weeks now, trying to find something that gives me hope as poverty levels rise, unemployment grows, and more families face food insecurity.

Without a doubt, I will find respite in the National Basketball Association.

At first glance, however, I find nothing.

KG is hurt, the Knicks are borderline respectable, everyone seems to forget why we should all hate Kobe. Teams are desperately dumping salary while the Association is making a $200 Million line of credit available to struggling teams. My favorite columnist has a rude awakening for me too - the NBA isn't immune from the current financial mess, and we're looking at a possible lockout in 2011.

Congratulations, economy, you've ruined everything.

Then, it happened. Stephon Marbury signed with the Boston Celtics.

Starbury has become my Knight in Shining Armor. Really, he’s my hero. In 2006, Starbury unveiled his real gift to the world when the NBA All Star launched a line of apparel for low income athletes, beginning with the Starbury One's which sold for $14.98 (For perspective - the 2009 Jordan’s go for $189.99 while Timmy and Suzy go to bed hungry). Starbury hasn’t come out with a new sneaker this year, but I’m praying that those Green and Black Starbury 3's will hit stores before the playoffs.

In the meantime, I'll be rocking my Starbury Ones in pick up games with some co-workers on Thursdays at 4:00 in solidarity with the kids whose parents can't afford to drop 100 bones on court shoes; and I'll smile inside every time I see Starbury rocking a pair of his Two's for my home town team.

The NBA is going into the tank along with the rest of the nation. But, for the next 4-5 months, I'll be cheering for a headcase who's making a difference on more basketball courts than the ones in NBA arenas.

The OMB Defense

Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), answers the question: "Is our budget proposal uncharitable?"

The Economists on Giving

While the nonprofit community is all in a tizzy over charitable deductions, we might all benefit from hearing what economists have to say about what motivates giving.

This is why I love The Economist. It's so nice to have access to cranky, nonpartisan Brits when I need to be talked back off the cliff. In particular, I like it when they say this like this, "Economists, who tend to think self-interest governs most actions of man, are intrigued [by what motivates giving and volunteering], and have identified several reasons to explain good deed of this kind."

It's just so dry and reassuring.

Back in January, the magazine highlighted a series of experiments designed to identify "what motivates people to give money to charities or to donate blood." The results are potentially enlightening for the nonprofit community here in the States. They write,
"Tax breaks are, of course, one of the main [motivations], but donors are also sometimes paid directly for their pains, and the mere thought of a thank-you letter can be enough to persuade others to cough up. Some even act out of sheer altruism. But most interesting is another explanation, which is that people do good in part because it makes them look good to those whose opinion they care about. Economists call this 'image motivation.'"
If that's true, then could a reduction in tax breaks for giving be off-set by how much more generous the wealthy will look to their social circles?

I mean, it's a thought.

The full article describing these experiments, "Doing Good or Doing Well? Image Motivation and Monetary Incentives in Behaving Prosocially," by Messrs Ariely, Bracha, and Meier will be featured in American Economic Review in March 2009.

His Politics are Global?

One would think that the current economic crisis would put a fine point on the phrase, "all politics is local." However, looking at President Obama's recently released budget, one can argue his politics are global. The budget increases funding for the State Department and other International Programs from $47.2 billion in 2009 to $51.7 billion in 2010 - a slight increase, but an increase no less. While the increases include typical strategic priorities, such as funding for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and anti-terror activities, the president's budget also increases funding for "soft" issues such as global health (HIV, malaria, tuberculosis) and education.

Although I share some of the criticisms made of President Obama's international funding plan by the Center for Global Development, I support his overall vision.

Nonetheless, I wonder if there are folks who believe there is a real choice between helping abroad and helping those at home? Perhaps, some would argue the additional $4.5 billion could be better spent domestically? Or is this is a false choice?

(Picture taken while I was working in Rwanda during the Summer of '07)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Egger Weighs In

Robert Egger, founder of the ever-innovative and successful nonprofit, DC Central Kitchen, is concerned about nonprofit capacity under the new Obama administration. He comments:

"I'm worried that we are being viewed as Points of Light LITE, not as Social Entrepreneurs who employ millions, pay billions in payroll taxes, and support every city in America.

Still, I do have faith. But let's not assume things will be all right in the end. Be observant, work together, and be bold. Our role is essential in restoring the American economy. This isn't just about us, it's about the U.S."

The ReGenerates say, "Right on."

Open Access

A British newspaper reported today (via All Africa) that South Africa will become the first African country to make top academic journals widely and freely available to the public. The first journal on open access, The South African Journal of Science (SAJS), is scheduled to be available at the end of March. By the end of 2009, 35 other journals should also be on open access.

A supporter of the initiative says, "Open access is relevant to the development of Sub-Saharan Africa, as some of the "closed" journals are expensive and some of our print-only journals do not reach the international academic community."

A round of applause to the SAJS for leading the way.

Admittedly, there is still a long way to go before closing the digital divide. Hopefully initiatives like these bring us one step closer.

Dow is Down, Again!

Aside from my "healthy" dose of cynicism, I'd say I am a natural optimist. However, it's harder to be an optimist when the lead story in The New York Times makes you immediately somber. Assuming that the stock market is a measure of the economic health of our nation (and the developed world), this cannot be good.

According to the Times, "Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, wrote in his company’s annual report that “the economy will be in shambles, throughout 2009, and, for that matter, probably well beyond."

Cue the music: "We shall overcome..."

Here's what the economic sage had to say about a month ago:

Take That, Former Community Organizer

I have to apologize for being New York Times-centric in the last few posts, but op-ed columnist David Brooks has made a very serious accusation against the Obama budget plan this morning. He writes:
"The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention."
 This is very strong language. Brooks raises very legitimate concerns in this piece, but really, is President Obama, the former community organizer, really going to spell the quick death of "vibrant neighborhood associations" and "civil activism" in America? 

I respect David Brooks' opinion, but I find it hard to believe that capping itemized charitable deductions at 28% instead of 35% marks the tipping point of a downward spiral into civil apathy. 

I don't know about you, but I'm not itemizing my charitable deductions anyway.

Monday, March 2, 2009

By the Way

One reader describes the implications of Obama's plan to reduce the percentage of itemized charitable deductions, but adds:
"Of course I think the more interesting story is how we have evolved into a system in which rather than providing social services itself, the government chooses to incentize giving to the nonprofit sector via the tax code."

You Wanted a Vacation, Not a Pink Slip

Nonprofit organizations have a hard enough time recruiting and retaining young workers. Now, Bob Herbert tells us that, "Nearly 2.2 million young people, ages 16 through 29, have already lost their jobs in this recession."

In his latest New York Times opinion piece, Herbert writes:
"There were not enough jobs to go around before the recession took hold. So the young, the poor and the poorly educated were already suffering. Now that pool of suffering is rapidly expanding.

This has ominous long-term implications for the country. The economy cannot perform well with such a large cohort of young people condemned to marginal economic status."
So what are these new young, unemployed going to do? I'm guessing they're will be a great proliferation of blogs and quite a few more twenty-something one-woman or one-man consulting firms.

The nonprofit sector may still offer more job security than much of the private sector, but my gut tells me lag-time is the only thing working in our favor now. Once individual, corporate, and foundation giving fully contracts as books turn over into their next respective fiscal years, this will hit nonprofit bottom lines just as hard.

Hold onto your hats, young nonprofiteers.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"So What's New?"

A reader reminds us:

What is going unspoken in this wave of unemployment and foreclosure and trips to the local church's food pantry for America's middle class is that there are literally millions of people who live with these same realities every day, regardless of how the stock market is doing. 

Thanks for the shout-out to folks like me in the nonprofit social service agencies that are doing (and will, God willing, continue to do) more with less. But let's not forget about those folks who are looking around at this mess our country is in and say, "So, what's new?" Let's not forget that the reason many of us social servicey types got into our work was to serve the poorest of the poor. And that while a whole new group of people are hurting as a result of the economy's collapse, it's the poorest of the poor who need the biggest shout-out of all.

Performances for the Masses

On Friday, two friends and I went to The Kennedy Center to watch K'Naan, a Somali hop hop artist, perform on Millennium Stage. Millennium Stage is part of the Performing Arts for Everyone (P.A.F.E) initiative. Begun in 1997, P.A.F.E provides an opportunity to watch free one-hour performances at the Kennedy Center every night of the year. One friend said it was a perfect example of the public's interest being prioritized. I couldn't agree more!

As much as I love patronizing the arts, I certainly cannot afford to pay for shows frequently (yet). That's why Millennium Stage is such a fabulous idea! Any evening at 6pm, my friends and I can stroll down to The Kennedy Center and catch what is usually a great (and wide array) of performances. Friday's show was a packed house. If you can't make it in person and want to watch a performance, you can stream it from the Center's website.

James A Johnson, chairman of the national center for the performing arts, put it best: "The Kennedy Center belongs to the nation, and the productions staged here must be shared with every American."

Props to Mr. Johnson and others who conceived this idea. While at The Kennedy Center, be sure to bask in the beauty of such an amazing building.

What the Stimulus Means For You

The National Council of Nonprofits has released their Special Reports on Economic Stimulus & Recovery that includes analysis of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009.

For all the nonprofiteers out there, this is a great site to keep your eye on in the coming weeks and months. 

As the Council rightly points out:
"With individuals and communities suffering, Americans in all three sectors - business, goverment, and nonprofit - need to come together and share information. By working together, we can collectively develop better solutions for the common good."