Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beyond the Bucket: Disrupt Philanthropy with More than Ice

By Monica Foss
Rita Ora accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you're like the staff at Charities Review Council, you have been overwhelmed with news about the Ice Bucket Challenge. You care about giving, and are fascinated by the way it's evolving in our increasingly connected world. You've seevideo after video on your Facebook news feed of people being drenched. Now that the phenomenon is slowing down, article upon article are written about what the Ice Bucket Challenge means to society, charities and the future of viral marketing. Personally, I’ve passed by all of these bits of ‘Bucket’ wisdom until our Executive DirectorKris Kewitsch, sat me down and explained it all – no frills, fluff or ice included. 

Kris Kewitsch first told me to read the article by Dan Pallotta, The Ice Bucket Challenge Won’t Solve Charities Biggest Problem. What was the biggest problem? Engagement.

Pallotta relayed that charitable giving has only been 2% of our GDP for the past 40 years, and only about $50 million of that goes to health and human services causes like ALS. In comparison, Pallotta relayed the daily revenues of two popular brands, “Apple sells $465 million worth of iStuff every single day. And Anheuser Bush sells $40 million worth of beer daily.”

Pallotta also brought up the general public's worry that their gifts might be spent inefficientlyWe are inherently averse to seeing humanitarian organizations spend money on anything other than “the cause,” Pallotta says, and the cause in most people’s minds is only the research.  

The biggest takeaway is that we need to redefine the ‘cause’. Viral marketing campaigns that bring mass awareness, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, don’t happen everyday, but real strategic marketing and fundraising ones do, and they need money to persist as well.

Kris had the same sentiments; she thinks the Ice Bucket Challenge is "an awesome way to get first time givers into the equation." But the problem is that most givers “are only giving because of the relationship with the friend or family member that challenged them, not the relationship with the disease or organization.” The trick will be to turn transactional givers (those that write a check, tip a bucket, and then are done) into relational givers (those that have a deep, ongoing connection to the charity’s mission). 
Kate Khaled presenting at a Nonprofit Strengthening Workshop
Charities Review Council works to create spaces, places and tools to create those sorts of relationships, (like the workshop pictured above). Our Standards are the “frame to establish the relationship”, and for the donor, Kris explainedthose Standards give you what you need to know to go deep.” The standards allow for a meaningful and transparent relationship to develop so that the public can find a mission that speaks to them personally and that they can connect with their time, talent and treasure.

The Ice Bucket Challenge showed us how much fun giving can be. Now we need to realize that charities are businesses too, they need working budgets and people that connect with their mission in the same way that consumers connect with products. Our Annual Forum 2014: Disruptive Philanthropy is one step in re-imagining what giving looks like and we hope it will build on the excitement started by the Ice Bucket Challenge.  

Now to leave you smiling, here is Kris’ favorite Ice Bucket Challenge video, Patrick Stewart.

To register for the Annual Forum and contribute your ideas to the conversation, visit the eventbrite site.


Monica Foss is the Event Associate with the Charities Review Council and a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism. With little treasure to speak of yet, her favorite way to donate is with her time and talent, volunteering with causes she cares about.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dameun Strange - Disruptive Philanthropy Personified

Disruptive Philanthropy can have many different definitions. The Council defines it as ‘a transformative event or moment, an act of giving and relationship building that is a departure from the status quo. It may not be easy, endorsed or comfortable, but it is necessary to inclusively create a shared vision, a new sustainability, innovation, imagination and growth.’ 

Dameun Strange sees Disruptive Philanthropy come to life in his Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship at the Bush Foundation (our presenting partner for this year's Annual Forum). The Ron McKinley Fellows infuse the philanthropic leadership of Minnesota with not only an array of diverse new faces, but also the voices and ideas of people who aren't normally heard in a traditional room of funders.  

Dameun as a table guest at the Annual Forum 2013

Dameun self-identifies as one of those voices. Originally from Washington D.C., he moved to the land of snow and hot dish to attend Macalester College. Once here, Dameun fell in love with the collaborative arts community of the Twin Cities and more recently his vibrant Frogtown neighborhood. Since his move, Dameun has worked with organizations like MN UNITED, ACORN and Grassroots Solutions. He is also a member of our Advancement Committee here at Charities Review Council, and he is a founder of Hopewell Music Cooperative. His work has been primarily as a community organizer - working on the ground with the people who are taking action to change their community. 

Dameun felt himself drawn to philanthropy while working as an Engagement Lead on the Forever Saint Paul Challenge – a community problem-solving challenge aimed at all of Minnesota, asking “What would you do with $1 million to make Saint Paul great?” After thousands of ideas from across the state were submitted, the community was able to vote on the one they wanted to see in action. 

This was a departure from the status quo – funders normally rely on the ideas of upper level leadership and make their own decisions about where their gifts will make the most impact. With the Forever Saint Paul Challenge, Dameun saw what equitable philanthropy could look like, (bringing the biggest decisions back to the communities they are affecting), and he thought, “Maybe if I work in the field I can push it in that direction or shine a light on the value of that kind of outreach." 

What exactly does he think needs to be pushed toward change 

“The power dynamic” Dameun explained, “I would like that to change. You want to hear how we’re doing (at the Foundation as a grantmaker) just as much as we want to hear from nonprofits how their work stacks up.” To him, the future of philanthropy lies in mutual accountability and trust between engaged donors and strong causes. 

As a Community Innovation Fellow he is almost always on the ground, having real conversations with the people who are organizing change. “We don't want people to feel like they have to jump through hoops to impress us," he said of the organizations he works with. He sees the ideal power-dynamic as a round table, where there is an equal exchange of ideas and resources between donors, funders and nonprofits.  

Money doesn’t have to equal power.” Dameun explained, there is just as much value in the knowledge and expertise people at the grassroots level have about their communities and the issues they are confronting as there is in the dollars that fund their ideas. 
Dameun dons his Changemaker helmet at our Open House, November 2013

So how do we change that power-dynamic? 

That will depend on how good of listeners we can be. Can we evaluate our own work critically to inform and improve our philanthropic processes? Dameun's role as a Fellow is the beginning of this shift to a new way of funding. His biggest and favorite part of the job is hearing people's stories of hard work and innovation and being able to say "Yes, apply! Or, that's not exactly what we're looking for, but here's another resource for you to try."  

The inequitable power dynamic between people with big ideas and the foundations that fund them is a major topic he hopes to see addressed at the Annual Forum. He thinks if we “work together as a field" by having a collective conversation,  "we can even the levels and make [giving and funding] more balanced.”  

Our mission at Charities Review Council aligns with this value; we work to give nonprofits the tools to strengthen their capacity for mission engagement – to make the donor/nonprofit relationships more accountable, equitable and successful. That is why the Council has designed this year’s Forum to be a gathering of influencers, community organizers, foundation leadership, caring donors, and generous business professionals. All are invited to attend, imagine, create, and build a new road for philanthropy so we can do even more good together. 

Dameun wants guests to leave the Annual Forum with the idea that “there can be a whole new model” of giving, and he wants them to feel “inspired to engage and take that change into their own hands.” Just as he saw his personal power called towards the push toward a more equitable giving arena, he hopes that the Annual Forum with its theme of Disruptive Philanthropy, can give that sense of personal accountability to each of its attendees.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What is Disruptive Philanthropy? Asking the Questions of 'Why?' and 'How?' for a Greater Good



Leaders, builders and lovers of social good: get ready! It's time for our Annual Forum. You asked and we answered. This year we are 'doing it big.' We've expanded the event to honor our community's history of generosity and imagine an even greater future of giving.

This year's focus will be Disruptive Philanthropy. What in the world is Disruptive Philanthropy?

We asked the question of our Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch, who described it as, "Taking a moment to ask if we can, or should, be giving differently than how we've done it in the past."

Giving has been a part of society for centuries, and specific charitable giving practices have evolved over time. It's about time we stood back and started asking the questions of why and how again. Our world is more connected than it ever has been with more technology than we know what to do with, how can nonprofits and donors use that to their advantage? Kris also made it clear that we are not seeking to change things just for the sake of change, it's about the dialogue and the opportunities that will inevitably arise to do "even more good."


We need you as we catapult that dialogue. The day starts with a Design Thinking session to imagine what the future of giving could look like. Here we will fuse creativity and critical thinking to come up with our own ideas about disruptive philanthropy. We need all experiences and generations in the room to make that successful. Following the morning session will be a networking break where the Bush Foundation, our presenting partner, will host a valuable activity to connect us more closely to one another.

Lunch will feature a TED-like talk by our keynote speaker, Michael Faye of GiveDirectly.  Michael's organization is an interesting example of what it means to re-imagine anti-poverty initiatives using new technology. GiveDirectly’s creative model re-engineers fieldwork for the digital era, completing cash transfers to the extreme poor in Uganda and Kenya securely, efficiently and transparently, and letting them (the extreme poor) decide where to invest the money. He will speak with us about how his organization came to be, the challenges he encountered, and about how we can take his message and adapt it to our own work.

If you're able to join us for the whole day we will be finishing things off with some giving and entertainment! Our Live Giving party will include several small nonprofits with big ideas and the opportunity for the community to instantly support and grow those ideas.

Why are we at Charities Review Council so interested in shaking up the status quo?

"Technology, expectations around relationships, and demographics shifts are changing everything for individual donors, nonprofits, grantmakers and the public very quickly. Disrupting the status quo at the Council means building on our strengths, and finding new opportunities to meet the needs of the community and strengthen the [social] sector. For us its about where donors and nonprofits meet; creating a greater good together. There are lots of ways to do that so let's start disrupting philanthropy." - Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Program Director

So please, come ready to imagine, create and innovate. We need you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Introducing Accountability Wizard 3.0!

You’ve seen our revised Accountability Standards, and now we have a brand new Accountability Wizard nonprofit assessment tool that will make our review process even more meaningful and beneficial to participants.

Charities Review Council launched new Accountability Wizard software, known as Accountability Wizard 3.0, on April 1, 2014. This proprietary cloud-based capacity building system is the only one in existence, specifically designed with the nonprofit user in mind.

The Accountability Wizard is a risk free learning tool and assessment where organizations partner with the Charities Review Council to measure and build their internal policies and practices in the areas of governance, fundraising, financial activity and public disclosure. The Charities Review Council works hand-in-hand with organizations until they have met all standards, earning them the Meets Standards seal and positioning organizations to better pursue their missions. These nonprofits are listed on our website, in our bi-annual Giving Guide, celebrated on social media, and recommended to donors via phone and email inquiries. The seal is a visual marker of nonprofit strength, and a great way for nonprofits to differentiate themselves, communicating their internal strength and impact to supporters.

Accountability Wizard 3.0 is more streamlined and user-friendly. You will find enhanced tools and resources on the sidebar of every page, linking you to additional information and sample policies to answer each question quickly and easily. We made improvements to the site navigation, allowing users to customize their experience to best fit their needs. Charities Review Council staff will also be available to provide technical assistance at the click of a button via an online messaging service. We are confident that these changes will improve the user experience and make the Accountability Wizard review process even more helpful, beneficial and accessible for nonprofits of all sizes.

“I found the new Accountability Wizard to be very easy to use. It was intuitive and the additional resources and supporting documents were extremely helpful and easy to find.” 
-Accountability Wizard Tester

Join Charities Review Council for a webinar on Tuesday, April 29 to see the Accountability Wizard demonstrated live, learn about its unique features, and get tips for using the new system.

We look forward to serving more nonprofits with Accountability Wizard 3.0! Interested in learning more about our review process? Visit our website for more information or contact us at 651-224-7030.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Three Must-Read Nonprofit Articles

We’ve talked before about our love for discussing nonprofit trends, perspectives and current events around the office. The nonprofit news reel has been chalk full of exciting and interesting reads over the last few weeks, and these three articles especially piqued our interest.

Reddit To Donate 10 Percent Of Ad Revenue To Charity
Reddit, an entertainment, social networking and news website, has announced that it will donate 10 percent of its ad revenue to charities determined by the community. According to their blog post, "We want to show that advertising doesn't just support the Reddit platform, it also directly supports the causes and goals of Reddit as a whole." At the end of each calendar year, Reddit will accept nominations for nonprofits from its users. The potential recipients will be narrowed down through an electronic election, and the money collected will be distributed proportionally based on percentage of votes to the top ten nonprofits. The Huff Post thinks it’s a good idea, and so do we.

GiveDirectly? Not So Fast.
At the Charities Review Council, we are huge supporters of nonprofit innovation, so when we heard about GiveDirectly last summer, our office was abuzz with thoughts, ideas and opinions about the nontraditional model. GiveDirectly sends money via mobile payment straight to the poorest people in Kenyan villages. That’s it, plain and simple. The approach has broad appeal to donors, as their donation dollars go directly to the recipients in need. But a recent blog post by Stanford Social Innovation Review points out the flaws. According to the article, “It’s an experiment—an important one, but an experiment nonetheless. We hope we’re wrong, but our hunch is that it is more of a 1-year reprieve from deprivation than a cost-effective, lasting ‘solution to poverty’.” What do you think?

Busting the Nonprofit Overhead Myth starts with you
Our friends at Nonprofits Assistance Fund posted an insightful piece on their experience working with nonprofits and attempting to bust the Overhead Myth - the percentage of expenses that a nonprofit spends on administration and fundraising. Executive Director, Kate Barr, asks the question, “Why do so many nonprofits perpetuate the very myth that we claim we want to dismantle?” She suggests scratching the traditional pie chart illustrating program, fundraising, and administrative expenses, and replacing those three slices with “more meaningful information about how resources were used to deliver each of those great programs.” Our 25 Accountability Standards measure a nonprofit’s governance, fundraising, public disclosure, and financial activity, taking into account the expense ratio as one small measure of a much larger picture of nonprofit impact. We are with Ms. Barr on this one. In fact, we joined last year’s national conversation about the Overhead Myth and provided nonprofits and donors with tangible ways to move the conversation beyond the ratio.

What have you been reading lately? Do you have any thoughts or opinions on creative ways to support charities, nontraditional nonprofit models, or busting the overhead myth?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lent and Philanthropy: 40 Days of Giving Alms

This week, many Christians all over the world marked the beginning of Lent, a 40-day liturgical period leading up to Easter. Lent is observed in various ways based on denomination, church community, or family of origin, but three components make up the traditional pillars of Lenten observance. Christians are called to participate in prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to deepen their spiritual relationships and prepare for Easter.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the giving of 'alms' is an act of charity toward those less fortunate, and can range from generously supporting a cause to helping a neighbor in need. Christians are taught that giving alms is an expression of love, first expressed by God in sacrificing his only son, Jesus Christ, as an act of love for the salvation of believers. Almsgiving is considered a form of prayer because it is "giving to God" — and not mere philanthropy. Truly giving something up, or sacrificing to serve others, is a key component.

Almsgiving is encouraged throughout the year, but especially during Lent. Many Christians support a variety of charitable organizations, not necessarily just those with a religious affiliation. In fact, several educational and medical institutions in the United States were founded by Christians giving alms. But all Christians, regardless of socio-economic status, are encouraged to give their time, talent and treasure. Churches and religious organizations often provide opportunities for almsgiving during Lent, including coin collections, soup suppers, service projects, or food drives.

For example, Sue is a retired nurse who is active in her local Catholic Church. She is a friend and supporter of the Charities Review Council and agreed to share some insight into her personal almsgiving as she begins her 'Lenten journey.'

How do you give your time, talent or treasure during Lent?

My husband and I give to a few charities on a regular basis, but we take time to research and pray about a new, unique cause that we can support each year for Lent. We also participate in the fundraisers and collections that our church community holds during Lent to raise money for our partner parish in Guatemala. It is important to us to follow our hearts and allow ourselves to give as needs arise, but we also want to make sure we are supporting worthwhile charities. We often consult the Charities Review Council’s list of trustworthy nonprofits to make sure that the organization Meets Standards, or to get ideas of where to focus our support.

Why is it important to give alms during Lent?

It is about caring for those in need and expressing our gratitude for all that God has provided. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are strong values we hold and try to integrate into our daily life, during Lent and throughout the year. Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is inviting individuals to particularly pay attention to those living in poverty this Lenten season. Giving of alms strengthens my relationship with God, others, and the community.

Religious and cultural groups of all types often incorporate some form of intentional charitable giving, like almsgiving, into their practice throughout the year. To promote inclusive engagement, it’s important for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to become educated on these various practices to expand our view of philanthropy. Here at the Council, we encourage smart charitable giving no matter the occasion, and Lent presents a unique opportunity for individuals to reevaluate and expand their personal giving practices - and for nonprofits to provide giving opportunities to their Christian supporters!

For more information on making smart donations to trustworthy nonprofits, read this article outlining the five questions to ask before giving.

Interested in learning more about how people of different faiths give during their holidays? Read Kate Khaled's piece about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and giving.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Revised Accountability Standards: Changing to Better Serve You

Last year, we piloted a rolling review of the Accountability Standards to ensure that they remain responsive to the changing needs of donors and nonprofits. Through surveys, focus groups and expert dialogue sessions, we engaged a diverse community of nonprofit leaders, donors, grantmakers and academics, making co-created revisions to help nonprofits and donors usher in a new era of accountability.

As a result, we made minor changes to make the standards even more meaningful and useful for today’s philanthropic and nonprofit sector. Some of the changes include:
  • Condensing the Accountability Standards from 27 standards to 25.
The revised Accountability Standards will go into effect April 1, 2014 and will be applied to each organization on a rolling basis as they start new reviews. Nonprofits – don’t worry, your current review and timeline won’t be affected, but we encourage you to become familiar with the revisions so that you are prepared when the time comes for you to renew. The revisions were done with careful consideration and robust community engagement to ensure that the resulting modifications represent a widely-supported framework of strong nonprofit practices. In the coming weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts to provide a more in-depth look at the changes and how they might affect nonprofits and donors.

Along with the revised standards, we will debut a new and improved version of the cloud-based Accountability Wizard that is more streamlined and user-friendly. Changes include easier navigation through the questions and the addition of tools and resources for each standard. The Accountability Wizard fee structure will also change to .002% of an organization’s annual operating expenses. The minimum fee will remain $100 and will be capped at $3,000. This change allows us to continuously improve our services and increases our capacity to serve more nonprofits in a responsive and sustainable way. It is the first time we've ever changed our fee structure, and we'll be revisiting the changes at the end of this year to see how they served the community.

Charities Review Council works hard to build strong relationships between donors and nonprofits so the whole community can thrive. We are committed to continuously improving and taking steps to ensure that nonprofits and donors have the tools to work together toward the greater good. We are confident that these changes are key steps in strengthening the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.

***Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, April 9 to learn more about these exciting changes and how they will affect you!