Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Radical Collaboration: Making New (Weird) Connections.

Leaders, innovators, collaborators, get ready! Annual Forum 2015 is just around the corner on Tuesday, September 22nd. To kick-off the annual forum experience, we're beginning the day with Radical Collaboration: Making New Connections, a fun and interactive networking event.

Carl Atiya Swanson at Annual Forum 2014: Disruptive Philanthropy
We're asking attendees to take a risk, challenge the status-quo, and be willing to engage with a new 'Weird Friend,' a term shared with us by Carl Atiya Swanson, Director of Movement Building at Springboard for the Arts and Annual Forum Committee member. 

Weird Friends, is the "fundamental notion that we are all more interesting people, that our teams are better and organizations more resilient, when we're not always around the same type of person." 

Building a network of weird friends can challenge us to engage more conscientiously in the world around us and think more creatively as we endeavor to solve problems, but it takes stepping outside of our comfort zone. As Carl puts it, "being comfortable doesn't help you grow." You have to be get comfortable, being uncomfortable.

Radical Collaboration is possible when you welcome risk, have an openness to the unknown and a willingness to engage. 

Carl has inspired us to be bold in our pursuit for Radical Collaboration at Annual Forum 2015. So we're asking you to do the same. But, we get it. Meeting someone for the first time can often feel awkward or even intimidating. So we asked Carl to share his tips and tricks for incorporating weird friends before, during and after Annual Forum 2015.

Carl's Tips for 'Weird Friend' Success:
  1. Meeting someone for the first time? Embrace the awkwardness of it. It'll give you something to laugh about later.
  2. Twitter, pay attention to it. Don't be afraid to walk up to someone and say, "Your tweet really resonated with me." 
Hey, Carl! Your tweet really resonated with us.

"We have to be willing to change. We have to be open to discomfort. We have to hold it close & hold the space. We do it together. #DisruptMN" 

- A tweet from Carl at Annual Forum 2014: Disruptive Philanthropy. 

Joining us at this year's networking event is nonprofit enthusiast and artist Soozin Hirschmugl, with SPARKit, a mobile pop-up park that encourages creative exchange through games, art making, music, and a festive atmosphere, as well as Council DJ, Lizzy Shramko. With a DJ in-house, and fun activities to help conversations flow naturally, who knows, you just might form a new Radical Collaboration.

Friday, August 28, 2015

NEW! Better Together Award

Charities Review Council is excited to announce the NEW Better Together Award!

At Charities Review Council, our focus is on building authentic relationships between donors and nonprofits using our Accountability Standards®, by providing the spaces, places and tools to do just that. We know that our community is stronger when donors and nonprofits deliver the greater good in partnership. In fact, nothing excites us more than when we see a nonprofit working hand in hand with their donors to create even greater impact in our community. At Annual Forum 2015, we'll have the opportunity to highlight those partnerships with the all NEW Better Together Award

We want to highlight YOU! The Better Together Award will recognize an engaged, creative, and collaborative donor-nonprofit relationship that is changing the community for the better. As our Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch, says, “Last year’s Annual Forum generated palpable energy and excitement, highlighting unusual partnerships between donors and nonprofits.” Kris and the Charities Review Council team are excited to continue the #DisruptMN conversation, which recognizes the value of coming together in new and creative ways to create even greater outcomes. 

To illustrate what a creative, collaborative donor-nonprofit relationship could look like, we called in our reinforcements; engaged Council donors and supporters, Lorraine Hart, Lee Hickerson, and Nausheena Hussain, who in partnership, help us achieve our mission of mobilizing informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good.

Lorraine Hart, a long-time supporter of Charities Review Council, says, "As a donor, the Council's list is my first screen for organizations I consider supporting. I can have confidence that these organizations meet standards for fundraising, financial activity, governance, and public disclosure. Having the Accountability Standards in place frees me up to focus on the mission of the organizations and how I can become involved in the nonprofits and missions that matter to me.”

Lee Hickerson, a self-proclaimed “Council Cheerleader,” says, "I see myself as a catalyst for approaching nonprofits that have not met Standards yet and urging them to consider going through the review process. I believe that if we are good stewards of the community, the whole community benefits.”

Nausheena Hussain, a nonprofit partner from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN), says, "Charities Review Council is one of the best tool kits out there! It’s a one-stop shop to take your organization to the next level. It can really change how you interact with the donor base.” 

Nausheena also shared a favorite Charities Review Council memory, which was the Ramadan design-thinking session for CAIR-MN“We were skeptical at first and saw it as a risk, but we were really trying to disrupt how things are done. We asked the community, ‘How can we help?’ and the entire room just lit up. This was the first time the community had felt invited to participate in the conversation. It showed that when the community is part of the equation, we can be better together.

We want to hear from you! Apply today for the NEW Better Together Award for a chance to win $1,000 for your nonprofit organization. 

  • How does your organization partner with donors in a unique, and meaningful way?
  • What makes your donors so crucial to the work that you're doing?
  • Donors, how are you partnering with a nonprofit organization to create lasting impact?

Donors and/or nonprofits are encouraged to apply. Donors applying should work together with the partner nonprofit to complete the application requirements.

We look forward to hearing from YOU about your collaborative and creative donor-nonprofit relationship! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration

We took a risk! 

In 2014, we expanded our traditional keynote Annual Forum luncheon to be a full-day, interactive, learning and networking experience. We created a place where the full spectrum of Minnesota's philanthropic community could come together to honor the history of generosity, and together imagine a new future where donors, funders, nonprofit and community leaders could do even more good together. 

Last year's Annual Forum theme, Disruptive Philanthropy, developed from the idea that change isn't always easy or comfortable, but is necessary in order to make space for new ideas and even better outcomes. What we found was that people were ready and excited to challenge the philanthropic status-quo. People were ready to move Disruptive Philanthropy into action. 

Watch: Video Recap of Annual Forum 2014: Disruptive Philanthropy

With over 850+ ideas generated at Annual Forum 2014, the Council winnowed them down to these five significant themes.

  • Philanthropic education & skill-building
  • Authentic collaboration
  • Increased transparency & improved communication
  • Advancing technology for greater good
  • Shared value of capacity building & impact measurement

On March 24th, 2015, we hosted the #DisruptMN Town Hall to reconvene, share what we had learned, and begin to move Disruptive Philanthropy into action. 

With a room full of innovative, collaborative-thinking, and engaged cross-sector leaders we continued to challenge the traditional model of philanthropy by providing the space for conversation to take place. It was a great place to start, but without a plan and the collaborative will to put the ideas into action, often these great conversations go without action. 
So we asked #DisruptMN Town Hall attendees to help move this work forward, and 24 people committed to action! The appetite for change was evident. 

We're at it again! 

It's time to continue the conversation and make a move towards action.  Charities Review Council is excited to present Annual Forum 2015, Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration. When it comes to Radical Collaboration, we believe everyone has something to ask and something to offer. Annual Forum 2015 will provide the space, place and tools to bring the ideas and opportunities together. 

At Annual Forum 2015, you'll hear from cross-sector leaders who are leading the way in innovative, disruptive and collaborative efforts both nationally and locally. We'll also hear from you! Minnesota has long been recognized for its strong nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure, so where better to look for the answers to our burning questions around Radical Collaboration than right here in our nonprofit community. Annual Forum 2015 will provide the space to make that a reality.

To learn more about Annual Forum 2015, Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration, check out our website at http://www.smartgivers.org/annualforum15


Register today to join us Tuesday, September 22 at Annual Forum 2015, Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

When a Purchase is also a Donation

Charities Review Council's Accountability Standards® are based on the value of establishing trusting and meaningful partnerships between nonprofit organizations, donors, and the general public. At Charities Review Council, we believe strengthening these relationships can help us better understand how to effectively engage the communities we serve.

Cause-related marketing offers a meaningful opportunity for community engagement.

Cause-related marketing allows a for-profit organization to partner with a nonprofit organization by selling a good or service with a designated percentage of profits donated to a charitable cause. The partnership between a for-profit and nonprofit organization aligns with Charities Review Council’s value of establishing relationships based on mutual benefit and public good.

At a glance, cause-related marketing presents a scenario in which everyone wins.

  • Corporations increase profit revenues, strengthen their reputations, and expand brand recognition.
  • Charities generate funds and raise awareness for a particular social cause.
  • Consumers feel reassured that a portion of their purchases will be utilized in a meaningful way.  

However, some would argue that the benefits of cause-related marketing are 
short-lived. For example, imagine a shopper who chooses to buy coffee that promotes world peace, cereal that supports early childhood education, yogurt that funds breast cancer research, and, as a last minute impulse, a chocolate bar that promises to protect animal wildlife. By filling a shopping cart with products promising to make the world a better place, consumers such as this one may feel that they have already fulfilled their philanthropic responsibilities. For donors, cause-related marketing is attractive because it provides an easy and convenient way to support a charitable cause.


The danger of cause-related marketing is that it may lead individuals to overestimate the value of their charitable consumption patterns and underestimate the reality of social problems in our society.

Buying a chocolate bar at a grocery store that donates a portion of its proceeds to environmental sustainability won't save the world. After all, the reality of environmental degradation cannot be condensed into a simple label designed to boost sales. 

However, buying products that support charitable causes can make a small difference and represent an increased trend towards ethical consumerism.

If choosing to make a purchase of this kind, be sure to ask:

  • What percentage of my purchase today is going towards the nonprofit organization? Charities Review Council's Soliciting Practices Accountability Standard® requires that the percent going towards the cause be made available upon request. As a donor, you should look for a disclosure that looks something like this, "10% of your purchase today is going to support X nonprofit." 
  • Is it clear what nonprofit organization I am supporting with my purchase? Sometimes it's not clear what nonprofit is being supported. As a donor, you are entitled to know who your gift will be benefiting. So before you give, ASK who will this gift benefit?

Although cause-related marketing is not a catchall approach to solving the world’s problems, it provides the unique opportunity for nonprofit and for-profit organizations to work together for the advancement of a meaningful cause. As a donor, you can make each dollar an informed investment by continuing to ask questions about the causes you care about. 

Click here for Charities Review Council's list of strong, trustworthy, and accountable nonprofits. 

Holding Nonprofits to a Higher Standard

James Reynold Sr.
President of  the Cancer Fund of America
In a case of unprecedented collaboration between state charity regulators, the Breast Cancer Society, Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, and Children’s Cancer Fund of America have been charged with bilking over $187 million of donor’s money. These four cancer charities— all regulated under the oversight and control of James Reynold Sr. and his family members— have been accused of using dishonest means to solicit funds from donors and filing misleading financial statements that inaccurately portray the amount of funds spent towards fundraising and administrative costs. 

As Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, declared, 
Millions of dollars intended for cancer patients never reached the patients, depriving legitimate cancer charities and cancer patients of much-needed funds and support.” 
Rather than support the intended organizations and individuals in need, professional fundraisers of these cancer charities often received over 85% of donations and some individuals spent donations on luxury vacations, new cars, and more.
Jessica Rich
Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection

The failure of these four cancer charities to adequately represent themselves and appropriately spend donor dollars, as well as the failure of governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations to have detected these cases of fraud earlier, raise the questions: 
  • How can donors build trust with nonprofit organizations?
  • What questions should donors ask to ensure their dollars are being spent in meaningful, equitable, and transparent ways?
  • In what ways can nonprofit organizations be held more accountable to the public and to the people they are designed to support?
We believe these questions are the building blocks towards creating more meaningful partnerships between donors, nonprofits, and the public. 

In response to the cancer charities case of fraud, David Callahan presents a pessimistic view of today’s nonprofit sector. In his article, "Who Will Watch the Charities?" he argues that philanthropy “is a world with too much secrecy and too little oversight”. He even equates the charitable sector with the “Wild West, connoting a society overwrought with unregulated and corrupt charitable organizations.

It’s hard to argue with Callahan’s underlying claim that nonprofit organizations would benefit through greater transparency and oversight. Indeed, these values align with Charities Review Council's Accountability Standards®communicating the mission and work of the organization with the public and actively reviewing the organization’s impact on the community. However, Callahan gives little recognition to reform that has taken place in the past and he provides guidelines for reforming the nonprofit sector that may ultimately result in more harm than good.

For example, Callahan envisions a hierarchy of philanthropic nonprofits with corresponding levels of tax-exemption based on their relative assessment of “actual public benefit”. He criticizes the way in which “Donors can get the same tax break for bankrolling a libertarian push to abolish food stamps as they do for giving to a food pantry.” While this example might seem to provide a clear-cut indication of one organization that is more worthy of tax exemption than another, the reality may be much more nuanced and complex. For example, who would be granted the power to determine the value of various nonprofit organizations? And which organization would be more deserving of public funds— an organization advocating environmental rights or animal rights? LGBT rights or civil rights? Or organizations that are directly in conflict with one another, such as pro-life or pro-choice organizations? Creating a sliding scale of tax exemption based on “actual public benefit” becomes an increasingly political debate that many people fear would lead to the exclusion and discrimination of meaningful organizations. 

Because Callahan believes that the nonprofit sector operates with little-to-no-oversight, he concludes his argument with the declaration, It’s time to create a new federal bureau to police the sector, much as Britain has a national Charity Commission. Although Callahan continues to advocate greater accountability and enforcement of legal standards, he disregards the work of similar organizations that are currently striving to enforce regulatory standards and establish organizations that are more transparent, accountable, and just, like Charities Review Council. We work alongside nonprofits as they strive to better meet the needs of their communities. We meet nonprofit organizations where they are, using the Accountability Standards® as a guide to strengthen their internal practices, policies, and procedures. While Charities Review Council offers more comprehensive and non-judgmental support to nonprofit organizations, other organizations such as GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau will also provide donors with the information they need to make smart giving choices. 

Charities Review Council
Meets Standards Seal
The Breast Cancer Society, Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, and Children’s Cancer Fund of America are by no means representative of all charitable organizations within the nonprofit sector. The case of fraud was preventable and serves as a reminder of why the Accountability Standards® are so important.
Through adherence to various nonprofit sector practices, legal and regulatory requirements, and donor and public expectations, we at Charities Review Council help strengthen nonprofits capacities to pursue their mission and better serve the community. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Investing in the Infrastructure of Under-Resourced Nonprofits

Nonprofit Strengthening Projects
An innovative program of Charities Review Council's Grantmaker Services, where Council staff partner with grantmakers to accomplish their strategic interests for increasing the capacity of the organizations they fund.

In 2014, Charities Review Council successfully completed three Nonprofit Strengthening Projects, created in partnership with local funders: Youthprise, Greater Twin Cities United Way and Northside Achievement Zone, while also launching a new 2014-2015 project for St. Cloud area nonprofits with the Otto Bremer Foundation. The goal for each of these projects is to strengthen the capacity of the organizations participating, their relationships with each other, and with the funder who supports them.

Each project is carefully designed with the participants' needs in mind. Projects include a Strengthening Workshop Series, access to the Accountability Wizard® at no cost, and individual consulting sessions. By using Charities Review Council’s 25 Accountability Standards® and the Accountability Wizard® as common ground, organizations are able to assess and improve their current practices, policies and procedures with support along the way.

  1. Community Engagement: Goals are created in partnership with the supporting funder. Each project engages local partners and community-based consultants to provide a meaningful and relevant experience for each project participant. 
  2. Peer Learning Communities: We strive to create culturally affirming programming, which reinforces our ability to learn from one another, while building a stronger sense of community.
  3. Customized Strengthening Workshops: Each workshop is designed with input from project participants and facilitated by subject-matter experts. These workshops utilize adult learning techniques such as honoring time and knowledge, leveraging motivation, and presenting practical tools/learnings that can be used right away. 
  4. Individual Consulting Sessions: Council staff (or in some cases a Council Consultant) meet organizations where they are, providing non-judgmental support in order to help them achieve commonly agreed upon standards of accountability. 
  5. Built-in Assessment & Incentives: Traditional capacity building services often lack proper incentive and assessment. These projects provide both by using pre and post assessments to identify needs and enabling organizations to demonstrate their strength to a wider audience by earning the Meets Standards® seal, a visual maker of nonprofit strength recognized by donors, funders, and community members.
We invited more than 100 organizations to participate in our Strengthening Projects; 88 registered to participate. In 2014, we hosted 10 Strengthening Workshops, facilitated by subject-matter experts from MAP for Nonprofits, Nonprofits Assistance Fund, and several community-based consultants.

“The Strengthening Workshops gave me real tools that I can apply at work right away. I enjoyed the informal, interactive, yet resourceful atmosphere and presentation style.”

54 organizations took advantage of a free, two-hour consulting session with a Council Staff member or Consultant.

"My consultant helped me to feel more confident.. She reinforced the fact that I did not have to have things perfect now, rather it was a process to achieve some of the standards over time."

Nonprofit Strengthening Projects demonstrate the value of investing in the administration and infrastructure of historically under-resourced nonprofits, with each component designed to be a capacity building opportunity for nonprofit professionals at all levels of the organization. “I think it’s great these workshops are open to more than just the Executive Director. I learned a ton as a young, relatively new, nonprofit professional.” On average, 97% of project participants indicate that the Nonprofit Strengthening Projects are valuable. We look forward to continuing these projects in 2015 and beyond.

Interested in learning more about each Nonprofit Strengthening Project? Click here for more information.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Big Welcome to Our New Summer Interns!

Charities Review Council is excited to welcome our three new summer interns, Anna Bartz, Jay Corliss, and Siri Ericson. After a grueling orientation (filled with free doughnuts and personalized office notebooks), we asked them those 'fall asleep at night,' thought provoking questions like,  'how have you seen nonprofits have an effect on our community,' and more seriously, if you could listen to one CD for the rest of your life, what CD would it be.' These interns have covered it all. Read on to see what they had to say! 

Anna Bartz

Anna, our Engagement and Marketing intern, is a rising senior at St. Olaf College with a double major in Economics and Psychology. She plays collegiate women's hockey for St. Olaf and is a member of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. Born and raised in the Twin Cities, Anna is excited to engage and work with the community throughout the summer while interning at Charities Review Council. Besides her work here, Anna is also currently a research assistant for the Institute of Research and Evaluation at St. Olaf College. Anna has a passion for traveling, and just recently spent her J-term in Italy and Germany studying religion and history. 

 Here's what Anna had to say to our tough questions.

1. What is your favorite Accountability Standard®?

My favorite Accountability Standard® is Impact on the Community within the Public Disclosure section. It is crucial that nonprofits stay on track with program goals and ensure they are ultimately benefiting the community with their work.

2. How have you seen nonprofits have an effect on our community?

Nonprofits positively impact our community by giving individuals an opportunity to personally take part in the solution, rather than rely on external actions to make a change. I think it is important that all community members take a personal responsibility in helping to engage in and solve local matters. Nonprofit organizations help with this by facilitating important conversations and giving community members appropriate outlets or causes to direct their efforts towards.

3. When you’re not connecting with nonprofits through the work that you do at Charities Review Council, what do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy playing hockey, reading, solving Sudoku puzzles, taking my Jack Russell Terrier, Herbie, for walks around the Minneapolis lakes, going to Zumba classes, and spending time with friends and family.

4. If you could eat any food for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

My dad’s air‐popped popcorn! I have tried many times to duplicate his recipe, but I have never come close to his kerneled masterpiece.

5. What are you most excited about as you begin your journey with Charities Review Council?

I am excited to learn more about the nonprofit sector, and to help the enthusiastic Charities Review Council team engage with the community.

Jay Corliss

Jay, our Events and Communications intern, is originally from Wisconsin, and moved to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in the music industry. She recently graduated with a degree in Music Business from McNally Smith College of Music. Throughout the last few years Jay has worked for many music-related businesses in Minneapolis, Austin TX and Brooklyn NY. After attending the SXSW Music Festival this year, Jay realized that she wanted to use music as a vehicle to promote good causes. Jay hopes to someday work for an arts-related nonprofit, and is excited to be at Charities Review Council to learn more about event planning and how organizations can grow to meet the Accountability Standards®.

See how Jay answered our questions below.

1. What is your favorite Accountability Standard®?

My favorite Accountability Standard® is the Impact on Community Standard. I think it’s really important that organizations aim to not only serve the community but become an effective part of it.

2. How have you seen nonprofits have an effect on our community?

When I worked with Rock the Cause I was able to interact with many nonprofits at different benefit concerts. I was able to see how organizations utilized these opportunities to promote their mission and turn audience members into donors and volunteers who were passionate about helping better the community.

3. When you're not helping plan events at Charities Review Council, what do you like to do for fun?

I spend my time working with various people and organizations in the local music scene. Most nights I can be found selling merch, volunteering, or checking out new doughnut shops.

4.  If you could listen to 1 CD for the rest of your life, what CD would it be?

I could listen to Death to The Pixies forever. If I could meet Kim Deal my life would be complete.

5. What are you most excited about as you begin your journey with Charities Review Council?

I'm most excited to meet everyone and learn more about the work Charities Review Council does.

Siri Ericson

Siri, our Nonprofit Services intern, will be a junior next fall at St. Olaf College. She is majoring in Political Science, and Sociology & Anthropology. At school, Siri has an assortment of jobs including working in the economics department, science library, post office, and dining hall. Siri is passionate about ending sexual violence and creating a safe campus environment, and strives to do so as a Sexual Assault Resource Network Advocate. Outside of school, Siri volunteers regularly with the Northfield community and has taken  mission trips to Tanzania and Guatemala.  

Last, but not least, let's see how Siri answered.

1. What is your favorite Accountability Standard®?

My favorite Accountability Standard® is the Governance Standard of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I believe in the value of creating nonprofit organizations that are responsive to the needs of the community and representative of the population they are designed to support. This is my favorite standard because it calls for organizations to be directly involved in the communities they serve and to be open-minded to a diversity of new perspectives. Through the collection of information related to individual demographics, internal and external components of the organization, as well as the organization’s general goals, setbacks, and achievements, this Standard is significant because it promotes the  establishment of nonprofit organizations that are built on the foundation of trust and public support.

2. How have you seen nonprofits have an effect on our community?

I value living in the Twin Cities because it is a concentrated area with a variety of social justice initiatives and nonprofit organizations working to meet the needs of the community. I am currently employed at the nonprofit organization, Open Arms of Minnesota, where I see the Accountability Standards® coming to life through staff, donors, volunteers, and clients working together to provide meals to individuals with life-threatening illnesses. In light of the immense social and economic needs within communities and the challenges nonprofit organizations face, I believe it is important to reflect critically on the failures and successes of aid and to strive towards the establishment of organizations that promote services in legitimate, respectful, and effective ways.

3. When you're not strengthening the capacity of nonprofit organizations by interning at Charities Review Council, what do you like to do for fun?

I love to run, read, and spend time with friends. I am a Political Science and Sociology & Anthropology major at St. Olaf College and I volunteer in the Sexual Assault Resource Network on campus.

4. If you could be a superhero, who would you be? And why?

If I could be any superhero, I would be Elastigirl from the movie, The Incredibles. Elastigirl is a smart woman with a secret identity and the superhuman power of great flexibility. She can stretch to be the length of skyscrapers and transform her body into the shape of boats and parachutes in times of need. I would like to be the superhero, Elastigirl, because she fights bad guys alongside her family with a stubborn persistence and unconventional strength.

5. What are you most excited for as you begin your journey with Charities Review Council?

I am excited to be part of Charities Review Council and learn more about the factors that make nonprofit organizations accountable, transparent, and just. I am passionate about issues of social justice and I believe that non-profit organizations are meaningful agents of social change. I look forward to becoming more knowledgeable about the Accountability Standards® and I hope to develop my writing and editing skills through this internship.

Join us in welcoming Anna, Jay, and Siri to Charities Review Council by sending them an email.