Monday, December 19, 2011

Diversity and Inclusion Networking Lunches

If you are currently working, volunteering, or serving on the board of a nonprofit, you are invited to join the Charities Review Council and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits for Diversity and Inclusion Networking Lunches.

The monthly lunches will explore the most pressing Diversity and Inclusion topics—from how to engage diverse stakeholders to creating inclusive working environments. Each month a topic is identified around which the majority of the discussion will revolve. Participants are encouraged to bring questions, examples and insights related to the topic of the session. In addition to the featured topic, each session will include time to network and ask questions. This network is free and no RSVP is necessary. You are invited to bring your lunch, business cards, and ideas.

Please note these lunches take place at nonprofits that serve diverse communities. Locations change each month so please check the specific event listing for each lunch you would like to attend.

The first six lunches will be facilitated by Dr. Mai Moua and will be following the same topics covered in MCN’s Diversity and Inclusion Series. However, you do not need to attend the webinars to attend the lunches.

The Diversity and Inclusion Networking Lunches are co-sponsored by Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Charities Review Council.

For a list of the remaining 2012 dates and topics, visit:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mustache to the Max Day

As you might know, this Wednesday is Give to the Max Day…but here at the Council we’re calling it Mustache to the Max Day. . . Why? Our very own executive director, Rich Cowles, has humbly agreed to sacrifice his stache-less upper lip for our Give to the Max Day campaign.

If the Charities Review Council receives 75 donations, Rich will grow a mustache.

"If you've ever seen my seedy looking mustache, you'll know what a sacrifice this is." —Rich Cowles

In this interview, Rich Cowles shares not only what his wife thinks about this campaign, but we also asked if he'd prefer the fu manchu or handlebar:

So join us tomorrow and be one of the 75 donors coming together to make Rich grow a mustache!

And on an even more exciting note, every dollar you donate will be matched up to $10,000 during our year-end Matching Gift Challenge! Thanks to a group of our strongest supporters, this Matching Gift Challenge will continue through the end of the year.

In the meantime, tune in via Facebook and Twitter as we post pictures and interviews with Rich Cowles as he prepares for the possibility of having to grow a beautiful stache, but most importantly, show your support for the Council's work around informed giving and nonprofit accountability by making a contribution to us on Wednesday November 16th.

Friday, November 4, 2011

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

I know it’s trite, but today is bittersweet as it is my last day working here at the Charities Review Council. Without a doubt, this has been the best place I’ve worked, and I’ve been honored to be connected to such a storied organization.

When I started at the Council, we were just launching the process of revising the Accountability Standards, which included getting feedback from people across the state about what they saw as the “reasonable expectations” of an accountable nonprofit. Whether it was in Duluth or Mankato or right here in the Twin Cities, I always walked away from these town hall forums amazed at the number of people who showed up and genuinely cared about making the connection between the nonprofit sector and donors stronger. For a self-professed “nonprofit geek,” I knew that anyplace that could energize that type of response was the place for me.

There have been a lot of exciting changes at the Council since then - the launching of the new Accountability Wizard (along with the revised Accountability Standards), developing a new program working with immigrant & refugee-led nonprofits, and changing the way we report review results to focus on the most trustworthy nonprofits. Through all of these changes, though, the Council’s values of transparency and integrity have shown through and it has been a great place for me to learn. I’ve appreciated building relationships with board and committee members, staff members at reviewed nonprofits, donors who thoughtfully support the great nonprofits in the area, and (of course) my amazing co-workers here at the Charities Review Council.

Despite all this, I am excited to start a new chapter at Ameriprise Financial in their Community Relations department. I know that the lessons I’ve learned here about informed philanthropy will serve me well, and I look forward to continuing to work with the nonprofit sector, albeit in a different capacity.

Thank you to everyone who has made this a great place to be. Here’s hoping our paths cross in the future again. Take care.

Martin Wera joined the Charities Review Council in March of 2009. As the Program Director, he oversaw, managed and delivered the Council’s services to nonprofit organizations, donors and grantmakers.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Nonprofits Can Learn from Political Campaigns

By Martin Wera, Program Director, Charities Review Council (@mjwera)

I love fall. I love seeing fields being harvested, the taste of Honeycrisp apples (take that SweeTango!), and the gentle bite of cold in the air. And, I have to admit it; I love the excitement of political campaigns as they hit fever pitch for Election Day. As a self-professed recovering political hack, there’s something indescribable about that final month of a campaign.

I’m also a nonprofit geek. (What can I say, I’m a man of many passions.) And this fall there have been some great conversations happening locally about collective impact sparked in large part to the Greater Twin Cities United Way’s United Front 2011.

We’re all familiar with the calls for nonprofits to learn from the for-profit sector (and vice versa), but it struck me while I was listening to Mark Kramer describe the 5 key qualities needed for collective impact at the United Front 2011 that there are some lessons the nonprofit sector could learn from the political sector too as it relates to collective impact. (Of course, I think there are a lot of things the political sector would do well to learn from nonprofits, but that’s for a later post.)

In the interest of space, I’m going to focus on just 3 of the 5 qualities that I think most directly connect.

1. Common Agenda (aka The Win Number)
To be successful, collective impact initiatives needs to have a laser focus on one shared vision or goal. This concept is at the forefront of every good political campaign as well. It’s called the win number and, simply put, it’s 50% of the vote plus 1. A lot of complex work can go into calculating the win number, but every staffer on a well-run campaign will know this number by heart and every action taken – from how much to spend on media to where to put field organizers – has to help get the campaign to this goal. If it doesn’t, forget it.

When collaborations fall short, it’s often because we didn’t take the time up front to get clear about a shared, specific goal AND use it as the criteria for every decision. It’s not enough to say we want to reduce homelessness among children by 50%, for example. We need to use that goal to drive every decision the group and the individual organizations make in getting there.

2. Shared Measurement Systems (aka The Voter File)
Just saying you need 50% plus 1 of the vote to win isn’t enough, you have to track it. And to do this political campaigns invest heavily in sophisticated data systems to track voters at the individual level – otherwise known as the voter file. Every time to get phone call, every time a campaign volunteer knocks on your door, it gets logged into the voter file. All of this data helps the campaign focus its resources on just those voters it needs to convince or mobilize in order to achieve its win number. (I’ll let you in on a tip. If you don’t want to get any mail, calls or door-knockers from campaigns, just tell them you’re voting for their opponent. They’ll never come back again.)

Buying a data system to track voters is usually the first thing a campaign does because it knows that without it, they’re effectively shooting in the dark. They also make sure that they can track their efforts down to the individual. Nonprofits need to learn to prioritize this too. Unless we can effectively track and share our data – down to the individual level – all the good intentions of the world will not get us to our shared goal.

3. Backbone Support Organizations (aka The Coordinated Campaign)
As political campaigns reach the final month, they begin their Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, which often means a coordinated campaign effort. In simple terms, political parties (usually) will take charge of collecting all of the voter data collected from all of the different campaigns (another reason it’s important to have a shared measurement system) and take the lead in organizing how resources are going to be used to get their voters get to the polls. This way all of the campaigns know that efforts won’t be duplicated, people won’t be tripping over each other, and (hopefully) on Election Day they get to their win numbers.

The challenge, of course, with a coordinated system like this is that you have to cede a certain amount of control. No longer are the smaller, local campaigns for state representative, for example, calling their own shots. It’s now part of a larger effort. But there’s an understanding that by coordinating, everyone is more likely to win.

Steve Boland wrote a great blog about the need to fund backbone organizations, which I completely agree with, but I also think the sector needs to get more comfortable with giving up some level of organizational control when engaging in collective impact. It’s not enough to have a backbone organization; it needs to have the buy-in from the members to depend on it, which can mean putting the individual organization’s need for control on the back-burner.

Like I said earlier, I think there is a lot that the political world can learn from the nonprofit sector – things like meaningful community engagement techniques, building long-term, trusting relationships in under-represented communities, and effective ways to leverage volunteer skills. But I do believe that the nonprofit sector would do well to look at how political campaigns can leverage money and people in short periods of time to accomplish remarkable things. I think this conversation on collective impact is an exciting one and I’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this too.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's Really Needed for Innovation?

By Martin Wera, Program Director, Charities Review Council (@mjwera)

Calls for innovation are all around us. Turn on the radio or TV, and you hear politicians calling for policy changes to spur economic growth through innovation. Read blogs or newspapers, and you see demands for schools to innovate in order to address educational disparities. And, of course, the nonprofit sector is also caught up in the wave as many are developing new, innovative programming to address social issues.

I don't have an answer for how to spark innovation in the nonprofit sector, much less anywhere else. But I do think there is an interesting conversation to be had around how to remove barriers to innovation - especially for the nonprofit sector - and allow creativity to flourish that I'd like to get started here.

Innovation and creativity
Innovation comes from the Latin word innovare for "to renew or change." This change, at its core, is a creative process. Something new is being brought into the world by the efforts of one person or (as is more common) countless people working in cooperation. And, of course, creativity is a necessary ingredient to this creative process - you need to be able to think outside the norm in order to find innovative solutions. So, if you accept the logic that you need creativity to innovate, then the question we need to ask is really how do you best spur creativity?

To answer this, we need to take a short (but interesting) detour. So, please stay with me.

Motivation and Creativity
In his book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," Daniel Pink posits that humans have built an economic system that works on an "if-then" equation. If you do something good, then you get rewarded (e.g. you meet your annual performance goals at work, you get a bonus). If you do something poorly, then you get punished. What research has started to show is that while this system can work well in certain situations to motivate people, it can also actually work against high performance in other situations.

For tasks that are routine, motivating people with "if-then" rewards results in higher productivity, which makes sense. If someone is paid for each widget they make, and there's just one way to make a widget, then they probably will be motivated to make more of them. However, for tasks that require basic cognitive thinking and creativity, research shows that people actually perform worse when their pay is directly tied to an "if-then" situation. In other words, if solving a problem requires thinking of an out-of-the-box solution, then motivating people with a carrot or a stick actually makes the situation worse. (Here's a short video explaining this phenomenon.)

So what does this have to do with innovation in the nonprofit sector?
A huge portion of nonprofit funding is an "if-then" scenario. Government contracts are largely designed to reimburse the nonprofit when a service is completed. Pay-for-performance grants, which are now gaining some attention, also work on a similar model. Individual donors increasingly want to fund only proven programs and none of the overhead costs to administer these programs.

At the same time, the issues nonprofits are tackling are becoming more complex and demand new, innovative solutions. But if the above research is right, then most of the funding sources available to nonprofits are actually hampering the ability of the sector to tap into the creativity it needs.

Daniel Pink outlines three concepts that the research shows are important to people not only being satisfied in their work, but also high performing. If people have autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work, they can better tap into the creativity needed to be successful. I think that there is a similar thing to be said for nonprofit organizations (after all organizations are comprised of people). Here is my take on how these three concepts would relate to the nonprofit sector.

  • Autonomy - Allow people to be self-directed and they outperform others that are micro-managed. In terms of funding for nonprofits, general operating funds are the resources that allow for the greatest autonomy. I know it's very easy to say foundations, government and donors should give more general operating grants, but it's time go back to basics and allow nonprofits the freedom to best identify how to use funding. (Related to this, there's a lot to be said about engaging community about what they want the nonprofit to be doing as is articulated in this really interesting blog out of Australia.)

  • Mastery - We all want to feel like we are getting better at what we do. On the flip side, we can all conjure up a time we felt like we were set-up to fail and not given the support to succeed. In translating this to the nonprofit sector, helping organizations approach mastery is capacity building. Unlike the disappearing gen-op grant, more grant makers have started funding capacity building for its grantees. However, this is still a small number and there is a much greater need. If the philanthropic sector wants success, we need to commit more resources to improving the nonprofit sector as a whole.

  • Purpose - This one may seem like a given in relation to the nonprofit sector (after all, many people working in the nonprofit sector started out doing so because of a sense of purpose), but I think there is something more here. The past few years have pulled the curtain back on a number of nonprofits that were just fundraising to stay afloat rather than to address a community need. When this happens the social purpose of the organization is compromised. As a result, many of these organizations have decided to close down, merge or form strategic alliances, which helps gets the focus back on the mission - the social purpose - and away from just raising money to keep the doors open. Some funders have started to dedicate resources to helping nonprofits explore and carry-out mergers. This trend needs to continue.

I believe that the nonprofit sector's potential for innovation is greater than any one of us can imagine, but the way organizations are currently funded is counter-productive to fostering the creativity needed to break through to new solutions.

I know this is only a start, but even the biggest ideas start out small.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tips for Smart Giving During Give to the Max Day 2011

Individuals and nonprofits from all over Minnesota are gearing up for this year’s much anticipated Give to the Max Day (GTMD) on November 16th, but how can you make the most of your donations on this special day?

With the smashing success of the past two Give to the Max Days, this year there is much to look forward to—and hopefully new records to break. To freshen your memory, in 2009 more than $14 million was raised for Minnesota charities in 24-hours – and more than 3,400 Minnesota nonprofits benefited from contributions made by more than 38,000 donors (making it the most successful place-based online fundraising drive in history—anywhere). Last year, the bar was raised with more than 42,000 individual donors participating and more than $10 million was raised for Minnesota charities.

To help break these past records, here are three tips for being smart with your Give to the Max Day donations:

1. Keep an eye out for Minnesota’s Most Trustworthy Nonprofits by looking for the Meets Standards Seal on a nonprofit’s GiveMN page:

2. During GTMD, donate to your favorite organization during “off hours” (e.g. 2am!) to help your chance at winning a “golden ticket (throughout the 24-hour Give to the Max Day, one donor will be randomly chosen every hour to have $1,000 added to their donation).

3. Rally your friends, family, and co-workers together to join you in your efforts of supporting your favorite organization. The more donations your favorite organization gets, the better chance it has at winning a $15,000, $10,000 or $5,000 prize grant (which will be going to nonprofits that receive the most dollars during GTMD—for more details read here).

With records to break, causes to support, and money to raise, how will YOU make a difference during this year’s Give to the Max Day?

Pam Anderson of Helping Paws talks about why they use GiveMN:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back-To-School with Charitable Giving

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and notebook paper is in the air again. That’s right, the back-to-school season is upon us. And though our youth are now hidden inside the walls of our area schools, now is no time to forget about them. Returning to school provides many children with new obstacles to overcome aside from understanding their math homework, while also providing us the perfect opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Here at the Charities Review Council, we decided to do our part by highlighting some of the charities that have our Meets Standards Seal and do their part to support the needs of school children.

Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP)
In Bloomington, Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP) has organized a back-to-school program that distributes school supplies to children in need entering grades K-12. They accept new supplies ranging from back packs to #2 pencils. To see an updated list of supplies still needed or get more information about the program for next year, visit their website!

Also important, especially in Minnesota with the winter months approaching faster than many of us would like, is clothing our students appropriately. ResourceWest, another charity meeting all of the Charity Review Council’s Accountability Standards, offers donors an opportunity to help with their Winter Warm Wear program. The program provides qualifying youth with a winter jacket, snow pants, snow boots, a hat, and mittens as supplies permit. To find out more about this program visit their website!

The Link
Aside from assisting children with their physical and material needs this school year, there are also programs designed to help in areas that may not be as obvious. One such program is the Project Potential Program run through The Link in Minneapolis. According to Morgan Larson, a case manager for the program, the goal of the project is to “connect with families that are referred for truancy in Hennepin County by reaching out into the community and finding them to bring them back to school.” She went on to say, “We assess the barriers that stand in the way of them attending school and address them by offering one-on-one case management and referring them to services within the community.”

Use Charity Search
These are just a few of the efforts in our community to help our children make this school year a positive one. You don’t need to be a teacher to impact the life of a student, and all of the programs discussed are living proof of this sentiment. We also encourage you to begin your own search for an organization to support, as always our charity search can be a useful tool!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Trusted Alzheimer's Organizations

Every year on September 21st Alzheimer's associations across the world unite to recognize World Alzheimer’s Day in efforts to increase awareness, understanding, and support for people with dementia.

Looking for trusted, accountable organizations that are also working towards eliminating Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer's Association and Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association, Inc., Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter have both earned our Meets Standards Seal and are on our list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits.

Learn more about this disease and the efforts to address the nation’s sixth leading cause of death:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How September 11th Changed the Charitable Sector Forever

Rich Cowles, executive director of the Charities Review Council, shares his insight about the charitable aftermath of September 11, 2001 and how mistakes, lessons learned, and increased transparency changed the sector forever.

My first indication that Sept. 11, 2001 was not an ordinary day was when a local TV station cancelled an interview on how to find good charities to support. The reporter said she was needed at the station. In the following days, our phone rang off the hook, as media outlets from San Jose to Montgomery to Boston wanted analysis of what went wrong in the way the American Red Cross mishandled the avalanche of charitable gifts. We weren’t reticent about the charitable icon’s mistakes:
  • lack of transparency about the fact that, initially, donations went to a general disaster fund and some were expended to strengthen organizational capacity;
  • continuing to raise funds for the disaster with no plan on how to use the funds;
  • and lack of ownership of its mistakes.
But we also argued for some understanding—the Red Cross had no pattern to follow.

Never before had American generosity been triggered all at once by such a massive tragedy where there was no initial clue as to whether there would be survivors and what kind of long term needs families of victims would face.

The Red Cross was under a lot of pressure from the media. There was also concern within the charitable sector that donors—especially people who weren’t regular givers—would be disillusioned by this experience and calloused toward future pleas to alleviate human suffering.

In a remarkable turnaround, the Red Cross found a way out of the mess.

They leveled with the American public. They said they made mistakes and identified them. They asked for patience and an opportunity to earn back the public’s trust.

The organization learned from its mistakes, and instituted a rigorous, transparent process, including checking and double-checking to ensure they understood each donor’s intentions.

The lessons in a high-stakes, unforgiving atmosphere were clear for all nonprofits for all times: the public will support organizations that own their mistakes, shine a light on them, and fix them. And, as evidenced by the warm reception Minnesota’s nonprofit and philanthropic leaders gave American Red Cross CEO Harold Decker when he spoke at our Annual Forum nine months after 9/11, there is no better way to earn trust than to simply say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s evident more than ever that Americans were not disillusioned by the charitable aftermath of September 11th, and that, in fact, we are capable of an outpouring of support no matter the disaster—terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes. But if the sector has learned one thing in the ten years post September 11th, it’s the necessity for sensitivity around donor intent, transparency and public trust.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Accountable Nonprofits Earn the MN Nonprofit Excellence and Mission Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the 2011 Minnesota Nonprofit Excellence and Mission Awards sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MAP for Nonprofits.

Four of the six recognized nonprofits have earned our Meets Standards Seal and are on our list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits!
  • East Metro Women’s Council, White Bear Lake, for Excellence in a Small Organization
  • YWCA of Minneapolis, for Excellence in a Large Organization
  • Community Action Duluth, for Innovation
  • Headwaters Justice Foundation, for Responsive Philanthropy
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota for Anti-Racism Initiative
  • The Arc of Minnesota, for Advocacy

The excellence and mission awards will be presented to these six nonprofits October 7th at an awards ceremony held during the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s 25th Annual Conference.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do your programs work? Learn how to evaluate impact!

Do you know the difference between outputs and outcomes for your nonprofit's programs? How about how to evaluate those programs? Have an evaluation plan in place? If you attended our most recent webinar you would! Kristin Cici, owner of The Advancement Company walked attendees through an informational discussion on evaluation, its importance, and tips for implementing a successful plan for evaluating programs' impact.

Check out our live tweets from the event and get an idea of what you missed!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Social Media Resources for Nonprofits

We are always adding to our Online Resource section, and today we’ve added some helpful information about social media use for nonprofits!

With the pervasive use of social media over the past few years, many nonprofits have embraced the pros and cons of the medium and added social networking strategies to their marketing, communications, and fundraising departments. It's key to know how to use social networking responsibly; whether your nonprofit is still getting started or already actively using different social platforms.

Here at the Council, we actively use social media and we’ve noticed other organizations’ surfacing questions about how to best, and safely, use these tools for their own purposes.

With this in mind, we’ve created a list of online resources to help nonprofits feel comfortable effectively using social media.

Our social media online resource guide includes links to:
  • Explanations of why social media policies are necessary and examples of policies (we even share our own internal social media policy!)
  • Thoughts on best practices and how to evaluate if your social networking is doing what you want it to do
  • Broad overviews of the social networking movement
  • Specifics about each of the major social media tools

Thursday, August 25, 2011

$100,000 Matching Grant for Somalia Famine Relief Efforts

With Minnesota home to the largest Somali community outside Mogadishu (capital of Somalia), it’s exciting to see our communities coming together to support the Somali famine relief efforts. Statewide fundraising power-house,, has received an impressive $100,000 matching donation grant from The Mosaic Company benefiting the American Refugee Committee (ARC).
“By making this generous gift, Minnesotans can join Mosaic in the fight against famine in Somalia, stand with our local Somali community and demonstrate the spirit and generosity of Minnesota,” said Daniel Wordsworth, president of the American Refugee Committee. “This donation will help the people of Somalia for whom each day is a struggle to survive.”
ARC is also on the Charities Review Council’s list of the Most Trustworthy Nonprofits and we recently highlighted their important work as a recommended organization to donate to for those looking to support Somalia.

Donors supporting the American Refugee Committee’s famine relief efforts know that not only will their donation be matched with all credit card transaction fees covered, but also they are supporting a trustworthy and accountable organization dedicated to transparency.

To donate, simply visit and click on the homepage link to make a donation to the American Refugee Committee Somalia famine relief efforts to have your donation matched. Also, take a moment to view our full Accountability Review of ARC.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Luxury Brands Hurt By Doing Good

When Robert Egger spoke at our Annual Forum 2011, he made several comments about the purchasing power of the consumer and the shrinking gap between donating and spending money. That is, more than ever individuals are able to make socially responsible purchasing decisions in their everyday spending. If you want to order a pizza, you might choose to order from Galactic Pizza because they have a socially good vision behind their “planet saving pizza." To quote Egger, “It is time to get past the notion of transparency as it relates to .com or .org, but to take it to the next level.”

In general, it has been the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) improves a product’s performance with consumers. However, in a recent study “Doing Poorly By Doing Good,” research shows when people saw an advertisement for a luxury brand associated with a social cause that the group reacted more negatively than if the advertisement stood alone without a connection to social good. In a time when “being green” or promoting a good cause in conjunction with your product usually does nothing but help the bottom line, it is strange to see luxury brands performing negatively in the world of CSR.

So why isn’t this school of thought working for luxury brands? Does the message not feel authentic? The authors of the study suggest that perhaps consumers felt “something just didn’t seem right” and that there was too much conflict with the ritzy image already associated with the luxury brands.

Do you shop to support causes (luxury or otherwise)? If so, what are some of your tips to keep in mind as you make your purchases?

Here are some pointers to consider when shopping to support a cause:
  • Research the organization being helped by your purchase. You can always use the Charities Review Council’s list of most trustworthy nonprofits to find information about charities.

  • Find out how much money actually goes to the cause.

  • Find out what types of programs the funds raised will support.

  • Learn more about the business practices of the company. Are they consistent with your values?

From yogurt to clothing to Rolex Watches, it is important to remember that you are not only making a purchase but an investment. Take charge and be an informed shopper.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Human Capital Performance Bond Pilot Signed Into Law

On July 20, Gov. Mark Dayton brought the 20-day Minnesota state government shutdown to an end by signing into law the budget bills passed in the early morning hours by the state legislature. The process of parsing through the next biennium's budget has begun and understandably many of the bigger budget items have been getting the most attention. However, tucked into the State Government Finance bill was $10 million appropriated for a pilot Human Capital Performance Bond program that is newsworthy for a number of different reasons.

Simply put, Human Capital Performance Bonds are a new way of funding nonprofits not through traditional charitable donations, but by attracting private investment funds through the sale of state bonds. As Investing In Outcomes, the organization led by Steve Rothschild that championed this idea at the capital, explains:

Proceeds from the bond sale will be deposited into a “performance pool.” High performing providers of state services qualify for performance payments as they create economic value for the state.
When the provider obtains an economic outcome the pool will provide it a performance payment. In this way economic value to the state commences at the same time as the provider is paid. The size and timing of payments will vary with the amount of economic benefit created by the provider.
As the legislation is written, it isn't clear yet what types of nonprofits or projects will be funded through the pilot project. The common denominator will be that the work performed by the nonprofit can show an economic gain - for example a person who was unemployed is now working, resulting in income taxes for the state and a reduction in costs to serve that individual through unemployment insurance - and that it would be a pay-for-performance mechanism. Only when providers meet the agreed upon outcome would it get paid for its work.

Although there has been interest in Massachusetts and Pres. Obama has called for similar projects at the federal level, Minnesota is the first place in the United States to test this new funding mechanism. The only other similar pilot has been happening in the UK working to reduce recidivism rates at the Petersborough Prison just outside of London. (Social Finance, the group that is spearheading the effort in the UK, recently published an initial evaluation of the project to date.)

We're interested in hearing for you about your thoughts on Human Capital Performance Bonds. What is your opinion on how this will impact the nonprofit or philanthropic sector? Certainly, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but one thing is sure - this is a new way to fund nonprofits that will have an impact.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pushing Nonprofits Forward: It's not about .com or .org

A recap of the Charities Review Council's Annual Forum 2011 with keynote Robert Egger
By Keely Shallock

"It is time to get past the notion of transparency as it relates to .com or .org, but to take it to the next level."

The Charities Review Council’s Annual Forum was held last Tuesday, June 21 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Minneapolis. As an intern with the Council, I gladly expected to be put to work setting up tables, handing out name tags, and seating guests. And I was. But I was also fortunate enough to catch Robert Egger’s keynote speech on transparency and the future of the nonprofit sector.

Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the country’s first “community kitchen”, where food donated by hospitality businesses and farms is used to fuel a nationally recognized culinary arts job training program, where unemployed men and women learn marketable skills while donations are converted into balanced meals.

Feeding the poor and training the unemployed is not what Egger dreamed of accomplishing as a young boy. Rather, he had ambitions of opening his own nightclub. In fact, he was so taken with the brass fixtures in the Metropolitan Ballroom and the elaborate stage he was speaking from, I thought he might just break out into a little ditty, exclaiming, “What time is it?! I’m so at home on this stage!” And there’s no doubt he was just as excited to be in Minnesota not only for the Council’s big event, but also because it is home to Prince and The Replacements (as he made sure to point this out!).

It was easy to see how his enthusiasm for music boiled down to a passion for bringing people together, dating back to the days of Dr. Martin Luther King when Egger, at the ripe age of 10, first thought about equality and breaking down barriers. “If you have people of different races in a room and a good song comes on, skin color no longer matters, and everyone gets up to dance.” However, it was Egger’s experience feeding the homeless out of a food truck in Washington DC, a duty he was not necessarily excited about, that made him think “there must be a better way.” Many years later, he has established a highly successful, multi-faceted national organization, and is known as a thought-leader on the subjects of sustainability, political engagement, and social enterprise.

"When nonprofits are transparent in their operations and outcomes, it becomes clear that they are anything but nonprofits"

Egger went on to discuss the future and what it means for the nonprofit community, the for-profit sector, and the issue of transparency. When nonprofits are transparent in their operations and outcomes, it becomes clear that they are anything but nonprofits, he explained. The work of organizations feeding the poor, training the jobless, educating the illiterate, and building up communities results in more jobs, more workers, more taxpayers, and more good in the world. That is nothing if not “profit.”

Egger’s message was not just about patting the backs of the myriad nonprofit professionals in the audience though. He challenged attendees to be the kinds of leaders who march out and meet the future head on, to face reality with courage and conviction, rather than wait for the future to come to them. This future, according to Egger, includes a generation who wants to help more than anything, and a society that needs help more than ever. The Millennial generation is asking questions like, “how can I change the world and make a living doing it?” and “how can the way I spend my money every day be my charity?” This is a new age of giving, and it brings together sectors more than ever before.

The Millennial generation is asking questions like, “how can I change the world and make a living doing it?” and “how can the way I spend my money every day be my charity?”

“I see dead nonprofits,” Egger joked, referencing the movie, The Sixth Sense, but went on to explain that the business model of the future is a hybrid, and any nonprofit who thinks they can go it alone, deserves to go it alone. It is time to get past the notion of transparency as it relates to .com or .org, but to take it to the next level. Egger cited the example of his organization’s Volunteer Bill of Rights, used to give power to volunteers by giving them the right to voice their opinions, rate their experiences, and access financial information. This level of breaking down walls and barriers is the only way to start having real, honest, and clear conversations toward change.

Throughout his 45 minute address, Egger undoubtedly covered a wide-spectrum of topics, from music to history to race to food to politics to movies to the ever-present generation gap, often jumping from one to the next like it made perfect sense. And judging by the 330 sets of eyes in the room, glued to his every word, it did. More than anything, Egger wasn’t afraid to address relevant issues, like the pending government shut-down and the immediate need for change, head on, and challenge us to do the same. Through his humor and passion, he injected a palpable energy in that brass-lined Ballroom that made us want to get up and dance…or at least start having real conversations about the future of our communities.

Did you miss this chance to see Robert Egger in action? No worries, check out this clip from his above keynote at the Charities Review Council's Annual Forum 2011. Thanks to David Wheeler for taking this clip!

This guest post was written by Keely Schallock. Keely Schallock is the Fund Development Intern at the Charities Review Council. She graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 2007, and after spending time volunteering in Ecuador and selling food in Chicago, she is back in Minnesota to look for a job in nonprofit development, communication, or administration.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Join us June 21 at our Annual Forum!

Hit the "next button" below and find out why you should register for our Annual Forum "The Age of the Super Donor: Demanding Transparency" with keynote Robert Egger...

We hope you'll join us! Register now:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Advocacy and Collaboration—The Two Secret Ingredients for Leveraging Your Philanthropy

Part II of a three part series about "Philanthropy and Policy"

By Lea M. Johnson, Grant Writer and Advisor, LMJ Consulting

Imagine the difference it would make if you could bring the best and brightest people together who are committed to your issue to create lasting social change. Advocacy does exactly that. Advocacy has the power to change people’s lives and the course of entire communities. It should be one strategy you employ to leverage your philanthropy.

The examples of advocacy that inspire me are the ones that take seemingly basic issues, drill down to examine root causes and barriers, and then work to remove those barriers. The following two stories of philanthropic advocacy come from Minnesota grantmakers—the Northwest Area Foundation and the Blandin Foundation. The success of these projects can be attributed to the unique collaboration that brought donors, nonprofit agencies, community organizations, and policy makers to the same conversation to find solutions to a community problem. By bringing multiple voices to the table, these philanthropic organizations found that their funding efforts went further to achieve innovative, large-scale, and lasting solutions.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Kevin Walker, president of the Northwest Area Foundation, shared stories with me about his organization’s work. I also chatted with several other community leaders to further explore the topic of “convening conversations.” I am excited to share my conversations with you.

“We Help Bring Them to the Table”
Last year in Montana, advocacy groups and policy makers collaborated to rid the state of predatory lenders—makers of “payday” loans. Payday loans ensnare poor people in a cycle of high-interest borrowing, where interest rates can reach 400%. The average payday borrower pays about $800 for a $300 short-term loan.

Attempts to cap the interest rates payday lenders could charge had previously failed in Montana’s legislature four times—2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009. In 2010, the strategy was
different. Grassroots organizations obtained the nearly 25,000 signatures needed to put the Payday Lending Ballot Initiative before the general electorate. The initiative passed with overwhelming bipartisan voter support, with 75% of voters casting in its favor. A month later, payday lenders from Billings to Butte had shuttered their storefronts and left the state.

Montana State Representative Michele Reinhart (D- MT 97th District) explains how the collaboration worked: “There were many groups and individuals who came together to hold predatory lenders accountable via a ballot initiative, including the Montana Women’s Foundation, Montana Women Vote, and M&R Strategic Services. They asked community leaders to do our part. I joined Rep. Sue Malek (D-MT 98th District) in a guest opinion piece in support of the initiative, and I encouraged voters to support the initiative as I campaigned door to door. While my role was small, every bit helps. All it takes is reaching out to people, including elected officials, educating them, and asking them to help advance the cause.”

The Northwest Area Foundation was one of the resources the coalition sought to support its effort. Walker describes the foundation’s role in supporting the conversation: “We gave general operating grants to nonprofits involved in the coalition. It provided organizational capacity to do the work. . . . We didn’t set the agenda, but we did help bring them to the table so they could have the conversation. Our approach is to fund local groups who are working on the ground. It’s effective because it’s grassroots.”

Representative Reinhart encourages people working on such issues to bring as much brain
power to the table as possible, and, when it’s time to engage policy makers, “to use your network of colleagues to set a meeting. Or, if you don’t have a connection, just pick up the phone and reach out. It’s as simple as that.”

“The Elephant in the Room”
The Blandin Foundation also subscribes to “bringing people to the table” and participates actively in community conversations.

Ten years ago, Blandin began leading the charge to improve early childhood education in its northern Minnesota community. The foundation convened a community group with representatives from every sector—from educators, doctors, and business leaders to preachers, parents, and pregnant teens—to determine barriers for educational readiness and success.

According to Mary Kosak, Blandin program officer, “It took us awhile, but in examining the issues with community members and nonprofit partners, we finally began to talk about the Elephant in the Room. The families and kids that we want to help need more than just early childhood education. They need healthcare, transportation, adult education services. They need, well, everything.” While there were state and county funding streams to support several of these services, they were all siloed, requiring families to submit multiple application forms to access each support service. The process was just too cumbersome.

From these conversations, Invest Early initiative was born. Invest Early blends public and private resources to deliver wrap around support to children and families. It is composed of
seemingly disparate partners, including Kootasca Head Start, four school districts, public health services, and Itasca Community College. However, together they create comprehensive services for their families and kids.

To make access easier, the Blandin Foundation’s partners worked closely with staff at Itasca County to problem-solve the application process. Now, a single screening process and streamlined application bring children and families into the program. Working with the county on an administrative level has reduced barriers to accessing services.

Invest Early shows potential for being a model for early childhood education improvement. The Blandin Foundation has committed to a longitudinal study that will monitor the outcomes for Invest Early children over the next 30 years. Blandin anticipates not just better school readiness and graduation rates, but reduced incarceration, stronger families, and a more vibrant cultural, social, and business community. As they continue to tweak the program and monitor its results, the Invest Early model shows promise that could benefit children far beyond northern Minnesota.

Blandin’s Invest Early project has gained interest at the state legislature. This legislative session, the School Readiness Coalition (another collaboration that brings together philanthropic and nonprofit partners) invited Invest Early leadership to testify before the Education Finance Committee. Frank Forsberg of the Twin Cities United Way, a leader in the coalition, explains that a state office of Early Learning would align resources within three Minnesota Departments:
Education, Health, and Human Service. Streamlining the offices will create greater efficiency and stronger outcomes in early learning, in much the same way that Invest Early does. The coalition continues to have conversations with the commissioners of those departments. Long-term, this type of conversation has the potential to improve early learning outcomes for children across Minnesota.

“Look at the Return on Investment”
Bringing people together, convening conversations, and mutually engaging in policy improvement can change the course of entire communities. It’s powerful stuff. According to Marcia Avner, a nationally respected public policy expert, “Advocacy and policy work should be one strategy for meeting [philanthropic] mission.” Why? “Look at the return on investment.” It is exponentially higher than funding direct service alone.

Marcia offered a slew of resources on public policy and advocacy strategies, which I will share in my next blog. In the meantime, consider this: The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy recently analyzed the return on investment of public policy and civic engagement work in our state. The committee tracked Minnesota foundations that invested $16.5 million in grants to 15 Minnesota nonprofits engaged in advocacy and collaboration from 2004 to 2008. According to its measurements, those investments had a net $2.28 billion impact on the state. Since we can’t plan on that kind of exponential return on investment in the stock market, it is smart money to invest in the two secret ingredients—advocacy and collaboration.

Coming up next, a closer look at the IRS rules on advocacy and lobbying, as well as strategies for employing advocacy as a tactic for meeting mission.

About Lea:

Lea M. Johnson has two decades of experience as both a grantmaker and grantseeker. For seven years, she served as a program officer and manager for a $42 million family foundation. Over the last fourteen years, she has raised millions of dollars in corporate and foundation grants for nonprofit organizations.

She serves as Principal at LMJ Consulting and can contacted at

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Become a Convener of Conversations: Making a Difference beyond Your Checkbook

Part I of a three part series about "Philanthropy and Policy"

By Lea M. Johnson, Grant Writer and Advisor, LMJ Consulting

As I listen to budget debates in the media, I am reminded of an insightful conversation I heard recently. It was about how philanthropists—from large private foundations and corporations to individual donors—have the power to influence social change beyond their charitable giving.

There is a crucial intersection where philanthropists can bring nonprofit organizations and government policy makers together to build stronger communities. I have become increasingly inspired by the idea of philanthropists as conveners of conversations. I hope to inspire others—particularly donors—by blogging about this topic and by offering resources, tips, and ideas about how to make a difference beyond just writing checks.

Here is how the conversation started for me. Kevin Walker, president of the Northwest Area Foundation, was wrapping up a session at the 2011 Grantmaking Outlook Seminar sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Foundations. He said to the crowd of attendees (and I’m paraphrasing), “It can become easy for us in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector to merely sit back and watch what is happening at the capital—while wringing our hands—wondering what the Legislature will decide to do about the budget. But, in doing so we miss an opportunity to bring people to the table to help solve problems.”

Kevin went on to say that some people in philanthropy shy away from engaging in advocacy because they interpret the IRS rules against lobbying by private foundations to mean that they can’t support advocacy at all. He pointed out that there are permissible research, education and advocacy activities that do not cross the line into lobbying, and that philanthropic folks are well-positioned to convene conversations to address the social issues they support.

This was an “aha!” moment for me. It was also a reminder of something I had learned early in my career as a program officer. In the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to work at The Wasie Foundation, a family foundation whose assets topped $42 million. One day, my executive director, by nature a big-picture guy, came into my office and said something like, “Lea, I really want to get a better handle on how we can be more effective grantmakers in the area of schizophrenia. Please call the director for the National Institute of Mental Health and get us an appointment for our upcoming trip to D.C.”

Me, out loud to him: “Sure thing, I’ll take care of it.” Me, quietly, to myself: “Really? We can do that?”

And you know what? A few weeks later we were having coffee with the director of the National Institute of Mental Health in his office and discussing how a private foundation could do the most good for the 1 percent of the population in this country—over two million Americans—who suffer from schizophrenia. We discussed the havoc the illness wreaks on individuals and families, and the significant cost it has on society. We weighed the merits of funding large national research projects versus local direct social service programs. This conversation helped inform our grantmaking over the next several years. In the years that followed, I was privileged to sit in on a number of similar meetings, on a broad array of topics, with leading Twin Cities’ business people, philanthropic executives, and thought leaders of the day.

The point here is that when a philanthropist calls to ask policy makers to take time to discuss a social problem, they rarely say no. What are they going to say? “Those pesty-altruistic philanthropists are calling again, trying to make the world a better place.” Of course not. People of influence want to be part of those conversations, and they are honored to be asked to participate.

What Kevin suggests takes this idea to the next level. Savvy philanthropists—whether individual or institutional—are the natural conveners of conversations to solve social problems. They have already invested themselves and are likely to know who the experts are in the field. This power to bring people together—to convene conversations—is a crucial way in which donors can make a difference for the social causes about which they are passionate. While donating money is important, the ability to help shape policy and improve systems is truly transformative.

Such conversations are transformational because it can recast the partisan, never-ending, and circular debates about appropriation and state and federal programming and budgets. Working to tackle a specific problem helps move the conversation from a theoretical political debate to specific problem-solving activity. By convening conversations with policy makers, nonprofit experts, and other community leaders, philanthropists can help identify workable solutions for some of our toughest social issues.

Since this initial “aha!” moment, I’ve had a few email and phone conversations with Kevin. He has generously shared his wisdom and suggested tapping into several other thought leaders on this topic. I am going to share their insights and knowledge in my blog posts that will follow. These posts will address:

  • Success stories of collaborations between philanthropy, nonprofits and policy makers
  • Understanding lobbying and advocacy for foundations and other types of institutional donors

I hope you will join me in this conversation. Now more than ever, I believe donors of all types need to become conveners of conversations, bringing together policy makers with nonprofit and for-profit thought leaders. Together, we can find inventive ways to solve our deepest social problems within our limited budgets.

About Lea:

Lea M. Johnson has two decades of experience as both a grantmaker and grantseeker. For seven years, she served as a program officer and manager for a $42 million family foundation. Over the last fourteen years, she has raised millions of dollars in corporate and foundation grants for nonprofit organizations.

She serves as Principal at LMJ Consulting and can contacted at

Monday, May 9, 2011

Philanthropy and Policy

This is the introductory post for what will be a three part series about the relationship between philanthropy and policy.

Written by
Martin Wera, Program Director, Charities Review Council.

When most people give to a nonprofit, they are giving to help provide a direct service. Either as volunteers giving their time or as donors giving their money, the intent is to address a tangible need in their community in an immediate timeframe. Be it volunteering as a tutor at a school or donating to a homeless shelter, these acts of philanthropy are an important part of our civic society – especially in the past few years with greater need across the country.

In addition to this, though, are a growing number of philanthropists – both individual and institutional –who are giving to support policy change while also giving to direct service needs. This is not a new concept, but it has been gaining attention given the budget conversations happening in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the country.

The Charities Review Council serves donors and nonprofits in strengthening philanthropy and, in so doing, our communities. For donors, we do this by providing timely, quality information on how to make smart giving decisions. Part of that information is through our reviews of nonprofits, but it is also accomplished by providing tools and resources to donors about burgeoning trends.

One of these trends as of late has been a conversation about what role does philanthropy have in relation to policy change.
Although policy change is often a slow process that can take years of effort, it is nonetheless an important piece of addressing our society’s needs alongside the direct service philanthropy that most of us are more familiar with.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be presenting a series of blog posts examining the connection between policy and philanthropy. We are pleased to have the help of Lea Johnson of LMJ Consulting who will be guest writing the posts. As a former program officer at the Wasie Foundation and a consultant to both nonprofits and donors, Lea brings a unique perspective. The blog posts that follow are meant to provide more information to donors, but also spark conversation. Please let us know your thoughts on this topic. Are donors giving to support advocacy efforts? If so, what are the reasons behind this decision?

Part 1: Become a Convener of Conversations: Making a Difference beyond Your Checkbook
Part 2: Advocacy and Collaboration—The Two Secret Ingredients for Leveraging Your Philanthropy

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Helping you find the Nonprofits to Know

By Jeff Achen
Interactive Media Strategist
Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation

Have you heard about Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation’s new web video series, Nonprofits to Know™? Like the work of Charities Review Council, the Foundations’ Nonprofits to Know™ series shines a spotlight on reputable nonprofits that are having a real impact in their communities.

Each 3-4 minute Nonprofits to Know™ video focuses on a nonprofit that is doing extraordinary work in Minnesota. The teams from the Foundations’ grants and program, development, and marketing and communications departments collaborate to identify the nonprofits we will feature. Charities Review Council has partnered with the Foundations to spread the word about these videos and will also use email and social media point out which featured nonprofits have completed the Accountability Wizard review process.

Here is the Nonprofits to Know™ video for the Project for Pride in Living, a Meets Standards organization:

When we create a video about a nonprofit, we see it as a great tool for the nonprofit to use in its own capacity building. We encourage each featured nonprofit to distribute the video through social media, email and its own website. The Foundations also help to distribute the video—posting it on our YouTube channel, creating links to it on our website and via social media, and emailing links to individuals in our network that we think would like to learn more about the work of the particular nonprofit. We’re also proud to be posting these videos complete with closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

Clearly, the nonprofits benefit from the video series—many of which have wanted to create videos but have been budget constrained to do so. But we believe that our Foundations also benefit from this initiative. The Nonprofits to Know™ series help us demonstrate our expertise in identifying nonprofits doing great work in the community, and we believe the videos help us create partnerships with donors, nonprofits and community leaders who want to do innovative and extraordinary work.

Here are other reviewed organizations that also have a Nonprofits to Know™ video:

Rebuilding Together
Store to Door
Jeremiah Program

Jeff Achen
Interactive Media Strategist
Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation

Monday, April 11, 2011

Connecting with Your Roots in Volunteerism

Amy Sinykin
When starting my nonprofit career, I accidentally began working for a free medical clinic in Washington, DC. (By accidentally, I mean I picked the year-long volunteer stint via Lutheran Volunteer Corps because the executive director made me laugh AND I desperately wanted to live outside Minnesota.) That accident led to an experience as a volunteer coordinator. I was responsible for organizing and recruiting the volunteers that ensured the clinic could provide medical appointments to low-income or uninsured individuals. I LOVED it.

After a few months, I started wondering what I should do after my year was over. The next day, Paul and Jerry walked into the clinic. These two retired military men came each Tuesday night to help run the lab during clinic hours. They talked often that they liked their volunteer work at the clinic more than their Pentagon jobs. As I watched each of them grin with enjoyment over their volunteer work, suddenly I knew wherever I worked, I wanted to interact with volunteers—their passion, their energy, their spirit, their intent to make the world better.

Most recently, I’ve had the honor of reconnecting with my “roots” of volunteerism. And despite changing paths in my nonprofit career, I still value the impact volunteers have in my world. The volunteers that engage with the Charities Review Council are yet again more examples of committed, dedicated, engaged, spirited, and passionate individuals. I do not underestimate the impact that each and every one has had on my life, let alone the impact they’ve each had on their communities. It’s a powerful thing volunteerism.

So, in honor of National Volunteer Week (April 11 – 16, 2011), I’d like to highlight the Council’s dedicated volunteers. As volunteers did 20 + years ago, they make me wake up in the morning looking forward to my day.

If you know any of our volunteers OR someone who volunteers, please join me this week in giving them a high-five, a thank you, or a shout out.

“Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls.” -David Thomas

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Matters Most...Evaluation as Learning

Poet Charles Bukowski is famous for a lot of things, but one of them is writing the line, "What matters most is how you walk through the fire."

I don't mean to be melodramatic, but I think many nonprofits approach evaluation like it is walking through fire. They avoid it unless they know the results will make their organization look like a shining beacon of best practices. This is unfortunate because it is not about making it through the fire (i.e. getting positive results from your evaluation), but HOW you make it through (i.e. what did you learn from it, what changes are made because of it).

Last year, as an organization, we made a commitment to share our learnings as we evaluated our work (here's the first post, and here's the second) - be they things that we were doing well or things that we could improve upon. In this spirit, the following is a summary of an evaluation we just concluded.

What We Learned
During the second half of 2010, we received funding to launch a pilot project to work with immigrant and refugee-led nonprofits. The goal was to prepare these organizations for a review and to meet all standards by providing hands-on technical assistance on a one-to-one basis.

We've all heard the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, here is a thousand words (or there abouts) as a picture that summarizes the responses of the nonprofit leaders who participated in the project.

Project Participant Responses

Clearly, the most common responses of "helpful" and "information" jump out immediately, but also the words "support" and "services" stand out as common themes. These are music to my ears as they validate the work we were doing as beneficial.

But as I wrote earlier, it's easy (and tempting) to bask in the positive good news evaluation can bring and stop there. There is a great deal to be learned by looking at a similar word cloud of those nonprofit leaders that we met with initially, but who didn't choose to participate in the project for a variety of reasons.

Project Non-Participant Responses

Although there is some overlap between the two word clouds, tellingly there are two other words that stand out - "relationship" and "work."

Remember that this second image summarizes the responses of nonprofit leaders who chose not to engage with us in trying to meet all standards. Why? First and foremost, there was no established relationship between our organizations. With no relationship, there is little trust and little understanding of why go through this process.

There is a recognition of how much work this process is, even with help. Most of these nonprofit leaders are the sole employee of their organization and have to balance multiple demands on their time.

What We're Doing Now
We're using this information in a couple ways going forward. First, we recognize that developing a relationship is very important, but even more important is doing the work to stay in that relationship. There's a balance that we are learning between being available, but not hounding. Giving space, but not disappearing.

Second, we are streamlining the process as much as possible for nonprofits engaged in this project. An example of this has been to prioritize those "easy steps" first, set realistic timelines, and engaging board members to share the work so it doesn't solely rest on the shoulders of the nonprofit leader.

We'll continue sharing our evaluation results as we get them, but in the meantime it's important to remember and support one another in sharing the areas where improvement is needed.

After all, that is what matters most.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Proposed Cap On Charitable Giving?

The nonprofit world has been a buzz since President Obama unveiled his proposed budget earlier this month, and much of the buzz has little to do with the federal funding for various programs going forward. A proposal for a cap on itemized deductions for wealthy Americans has monopolized the conversation, which (if passed) could impact the tax incentives people receive for charitable donations.

As it is currently written, families with incomes over $250,000 (or individuals who make more than $200,000) would have their tax rate for itemized deductions capped at 28 percent, down from the current 33 or 35 percent. This new cap is proposed to start for the 2011 tax year.

What the impact of this cap would be on charitable giving is a point of discussion, with estimates varying significantly. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the proposed cap would mean a 1.9% decline in charitable giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy cited a study with a different result:

Using 2006 tax data, the most recent available, Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy has estimated that giving by high-income households would have been 4.8 percent less if President Obama’s proposed limits on charitable deductions, and increases in taxes owed by the wealthiest Americans were in effect then.

Anecdotally, as National Public Radio reported recently, some donors are claiming that cap or no cap, they will give to their chosen charities regardless of the tax incentive.

We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the proposed budget cap?