Monday, December 17, 2012

Part 1: Achieving the Full Benefits of Meeting Standards

This three-part series recounts one organization’s journey to meet the Accountability Standards through integrating their entire organization. The Charities Review Council’s Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson sat down with Ekta Prakash, Executive Director of CAPI, an organization working to guide refugees and immigrants in the journey toward self-determination and social equality.
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Intentionally Including Board & Staff in the Review Process is the Golden Ticket
Part 1 of a 3 part series inspired by CAPI’s journey to Meet Standards
By Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson

During my chat with Ekta, I experienced a moment of clarity from which I got a positive case of the willies. These kind of willies may also be known as the “warm fuzzies” and yes, you can get warm fuzzies about nonprofit sector accountability and transparency (or at least I can). Ekta shared with me the power that the process of going through the review process and meeting Standards was having on their organization. I found myself wanting to shout “Yes! Yes!”

Organizations know that donors and funders value the “Meets Standards Seal” showing that a nonprofit is stable and well-managed. Oftentimes, one or two staff members work through the Accountability Wizard to learn the Standards, upload their key documents, and answer related questions, only involving others when the board needs to vote on an issue, conduct an assessment, or finance staff needs to find a copy of a 990. These lucky few (seriously, I mean lucky) quickly see the benefits of learning and applying the Standards.

The benefits are many but the most transformative changes seem to occur if the organization includes all staff, board, and volunteers in the learning process and celebrates the success of meeting Standards. Ekta shared that she thought it was necessary for the CAPI staff to understand the Standards and the related practices.

“We cannot do our work as leaders of an organization without staff understanding the Accountability Standards and how they show up in their day-to-day work.  This is a key contributor to the stability of our organization.”

Here are some ways you can get your whole team up to speed on the Accountability Standards:
  • Celebrate your Meets Standards Seal - Yep, it’s that simple. Don’t let the accomplishment of meeting Standards go unnoticed. Tell the story of how trustworthy your organization is internally, as well as externally. Share the seal with staff and board members so they can include it on materials, explain what it means and what you did to get it. Educate them about the existence of nonprofit standards and how they help to bring the sector together. Most of all, ensure your institutional knowledge is kept by sharing it!
  • Standards Ice Breaker - Take turns having staff share one or two Standards as an icebreaker for your staff meetings. Give a brief introduction of the standard, then challenge the group to talk about how it is important to the work of the organization and how it relates to any current sector issues or news (this can work for board meetings too).
  • Share with Stakeholders - Volunteers, participants, partners, and community members all have a stake in your work. Produce a short story about meeting the Accountability Standards for your website, newsletter, or a postcard explaining your achievement and what it means for your work. This promotes pride in the work and builds a sense of obligation and accountability that is appreciated.
Up Next: How meeting Standards boosts internal accountability and transparency.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Series Intro: Achieving the Full Benefits of Meeting Standards

Our upcoming three-part series will recount one organization’s journey to meet the Accountability Standards through integrating their entire organization.

The Charities Review Council’s Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson recently sat down with Ekta Prakash, Executive Director of CAPI, to discuss the spirit of the Accountability Standards and its power to transform the culture and day-to-day work of an organization.

Lynnea somewhat reluctantly describes herself as a nonprofit sector geek, and as such, the experience that Ekta shared convinced her that when you involve the “whole” organization in the journey to Meet Standards, it can be quite powerful.

CAPI’s mission is to guide refugees and immigrants in the journey toward self-determination and social equality. While exploring the benefits of meeting the 27 Accountability Standards, Ekta provided three lessons learned from CAPI’s experience:


Stay tuned as we post three informative blogs covering these topics over the next month to gain valuable tips and insight into the process of completing an Accountability Wizard review.


Ekta Prakash holds an MA in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics and a Masters in Nonprofit and Public Administration from Metropolitan State University. Prior to joining CAPI, Ekta worked for the Presbyterian Homes and Access Press. She was also a National Gender Equity Campaign Fellow with Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) and a Leaders Advocacy Parity Fellow for the Smoke Free Asian American Pacific Islanders Housing Project.  "My personal philosophy is also based on my management theory of organizational behavior and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I am always open to ways to improve myself as an individual and I’m committed to serving my community.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Games Aren’t Just for Kids, But Nonprofits Too

As nonprofits continue to develop programing that will better serve clients and bring awareness to their causes, a critical piece in this puzzle is technology. And a critical piece in the technology puzzle is the increasing use of online gaming.
In the Co.Exist article, “Games For Civic Participation, Social Causes, and Fun,” Ben Schiller highlights five of the best examples of nonprofits utilizing online gaming technology to improve their programs.
1.       Macon Money
2.       Commons
3.       Reality Ends Here
4.       Situationist
5.       Re:Activism
It’s fascinating to see all of the uses and possibilities for this technology. As Schiller goes from game to game, from cause to cause, it becomes clearer that this really could be part of the future for social engagement. So what makes some games successful and others not? According to the article’s research, “Games tend not to work when they’re intended to drive home a particular message, or have participants find one correct answer.”
Another interesting observation is that none of the highlighted games involve any type of fundraising in the game platform. When games have the user’s best interest in mind and are ultimately meant to be an enjoyable experience for the user, then that’s the ticket to an authentically engaging game.
It’ll be exciting to watch this technology and innovation develop as nonprofits become more creative in engaging their constituents online. A fun exercise for your nonprofit might be to brainstorm a game it could develop. How would you engage users?  What outcomes would you want from the game?  What experience would you want users to have?   

Monday, November 26, 2012

When Taking Legal Action against a Nonprofit

What steps can you take when you discover something about an organization that doesn’t pass the smell test?
Recently we received a letter in the mail from a concerned donor.  His issue was with a specific nonprofit that he knew (and had evidence) was carrying out activities not in line with the organization’s bylaws. On a daily basis we get many calls from donors looking to find out more information about this or that nonprofit. Some inquiries are very generic, some only concerned if the organization has earned our Meets Standards seal, and others with very specific questions or concerns that need more investigation.
In the case of our letter-writing concerned donor, we knew and agreed with the man that an organization should not be doing activities counter to what the bylaws dictate. But ultimately, the best course of action we could recommend to the man was:
·         First, to call/write the organization and have a discussion with them about the concern. Try and find out the reasoning behind their actions and let them know why you, as one of their constituents, are concerned about that action.
·         Second, if that doesn’t get you any closer to a solution, the next step would be to contact the Attorney General's office. Third party reviewing organizations, like the Charities Review Council, have no legal jurisdiction over nonprofits and it’s best to take those concerns to the AG’s office.
In cases that are less serious, or when you’re first researching an organization, we have a list of questions all potential donors should ask charities before making a donation. And of course, we always recommend finding out whether or not an organization is on our list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits, and if not, asking the organization why.
Questions to Ask Charities Before Giving
  1. What is the exact name of the charity? Many organizations have similar-sounding names. It’s easy to assume a charity is the community organization with which you’re familiar, but this may not always be the case.
  2. How does the charity use your contribution? The Council recommends that at least 70 percent of a charitable organization's total expenses should be used for program services. Although fundraising and administrative costs are necessary to a well-managed organization, donors should expect that a substantial amount of their contributions are used for program services.
  3. What are the organization’s unique mission and programs? Different charities attack the same problem from different angles. Three cancer charities may have three very different programs:
    1. making research grants to scientists
    2. publishing pamphlets on a healthy lifestyle
    3. providing free mammograms to low-income women.
Your desire to fight cancer might coincide with one mission more than others.
Read the remaining questions on our website, and be sure to keep them in mind when making donations during this season of giving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mustache to the Max Day 2.0

Give to the Max Day is just around the corner! This Thursday, November 15th, Minnesotans will come together to raise as much money as possible for nonprofits and schools in 24 hours – starting at midnight on Thursday through midnight on Friday. By engaging as many donors as possible to give to their favorite Minnesota charities in one day, GiveMN.org showcases Minnesota’s unparalleled generosity to the world!

During last year’s Give to the Max Day, the Council did something different around the office and Give to the Max Day was coined Mustache to the Max Day. With your help we exceeded our goal of 75 donations and our then executive director, Rich Cowles, agreed to grow a mustache.

Board member, Jay Kim, demonstrates
the power of a mustache.
We had so much fun in 2011, that we’re bringing you Mustache to the Max 2.0, with even higher stakes this year. 

If the Council receives 100 donations on Give to the Max Day, our staff & board will sport ‘staches around town.

  
Photos will be posted on social media (#mustachetothemax) over the next few weeks for your viewing pleasure. 

Why should you donate to see us in mustaches?

Executive director, Kris Kewitsch lays it on the line: “This is the ONLY time you’ll see me with facial hair!”

From board member, Tony Helmer, fundraising extraordinaire: “Believe me, behind every successful fundraising campaign is a great mustache.”

Board chair, Heidi Neff Christianson, says, “Smart giving is more important than ever, plus my kids will LOVE to see me wearing a mustache.”


For updates and buzz, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll send an update via email in the afternoon on progress towards our goal.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smart Giving Tips for Give to the Max Day 2012

Individuals and nonprofits from all over Minnesota are gearing up for GiveMN.org's 4th annual Give to the Max Day (GTMD) on November 15th, but how can you make the most of your donations on this special day?

With the smashing success of the past three "Great Minnesota Give Togethers", this year there is much to look forward to—and hopefully new records to break.
  • In 2009, more than $14 million was raised for 3,400 Minnesota nonprofits contributed by roughly 38,000 donors.
  • In 2010, the bar was raised with more than 42,000 individual donors participating and more than $10 million was raised for Minnesota charities.
  • Last year, $13.5 million dollars was raised by more than 47,000 individuals.
To help break these past records, here are four 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, with a Super-sized Golden Ticket of $10,000 awarded to one individual's donation at the end of the event).

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 $12,500, $5,000, $2,500, or $1,000 prize grant (which will be going to nonprofits that receive the most dollars during GTMD—for more details read here).


4. Busy on November 15th? Schedule your donation ahead of time! New this year, GiveMN is offering the option to schedule your donation to be processed on Give to the Max Day, like you would a monthly bill payment. 






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?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exploring Board and Staff Communication

As most of us know, the vision, governance, and support a board of directors provides to nonprofits plays a critical role in the staff’s success in carrying out the organization’s mission. But what exactly are the appropriate lines of engagement between board and staff? How much interaction is too much and how much is too little?
Yes, this looks different for each organization—depending on critical factors like the nonprofit’s size, culture, and scope of work. In this Blue Avocado article by Jan Masaoka, “Should Staff Contact with the Board Be Restricted,” the benefits and hesitations behind board and staff interaction highlight why this is not a black and white situation.
Masaoka offers a few guidelines to help structure the relationship between board and staff in a healthy and productive way that is in the best interest of the organization:
·        No restrictions for board-staff contact, but the executive director should be aware of meetings
·        In board-staff meetings, keep discussion appropriate and within bounds of the topic (e.g. it would be inappropriate to discuss whether the board or executive director is acting responsibly in finance)
·        Board can request information from staff, but not in a way that would require extra work from the staff (so it would be something already prepared)
·        Personnel grievances must go through channels specified in the appropriate policies
·        The organization should have a whistleblower policy to protect staff and to comply with federal law
While these are great guidelines to follow, the last suggestion from Masaoka hits on a point that the Charities Review Council feels is nonnegotiable.
When organizations go through the Charities Review Council’s Accountability Wizard®, one of the 27 Accountability Standards they must meet is our Whistleblower Policy Standard, which requires organizations to “maintain a policy and communicate the procedures for the reporting and investigation of complaints about perceived or possible illegalities, questionable practices, or policy violations.”
Something we recommend to organizations when writing this policy, is that it includes a way for employees to bring their concern about mismanagement or other issues directly to the board. This ensures that employees have a direction to take in case they are uncomfortable approaching the executive director directly.
We review hundreds and hundreds of different types of whistleblower policies and it might be surprising to learn that this idea that employees should be able to go directly to the board is sometimes not included. To help organizations revise their whistleblower policy to meet our Standard and include this recommendation, in our resources of sample documents, we provide a sample Whistleblower Policy.
So yes, while no organization is the same, and board-staff interaction will look different for different organizational cultures, the importance of a whistleblower policy that allows for cross board-staff communication is important in creating an accountable, transparent, and healthy nonprofit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Measuring Impact on the Community

We asked fellow nonprofit geek and accountability hero, Andrew Gilbert, to share his views and thoughts behind one of our favorite Accountability Standards, Impact on the Community.
 
A reality faced by nonprofit organizations is that they are shaped by those who fund them. This simple concept was asserted just over ten years ago in the article Not-for-Profit Management: The Gift that Keeps on Giving. This was important at the time because the nonprofit sector was poised to begin taking on more work that had traditionally been done by public agencies. In today’s economy, it remains no less true and is most obviously evidenced by the prevalence of donor-advised funding in the sector, as well as the continued trend of government as grantmaker that started when the article was written. Simply put, the values, priorities, and philosophies of the donors, not necessarily the mission of the organizations, determine the type of work that is done.

Virtually all donations include an exchange, in that someone who provides money to an organization does so because they feel as though the value they share with the organization is being furthered through its work. In that way, the nonprofit sector has been formed to reflect the values of various individuals or groups who view the work of nonprofits to be worthwhile extensions and proponents of their value system.

Nonprofits that can demonstrate that their mission aligns with the value system of a donor are much more likely to receive a contribution from that individual or group.

The best way of demonstrating this is to show how working toward meeting organizational goals and objectives have benefited its stakeholder community. Many funders, particularly institutional funders, are placing an increasing amount of emphasis on the ability of funding recipients to demonstrate measurable results from donations. Nonprofit leaders have been working diligently to develop a myriad number of measurement systems (e.g. frameworks, scorecards, benchmarks, guideposts, toolkits, logic models, indicators, and strategy maps just to name a few), so many in fact, that one could almost conclude that there are as many ways to measure organizational success as there are organizations to measure.

A measurement tool is all well and good if a nonprofit provides an easily quantifiable service, but it gets much trickier for nonprofits that deal in human services and social welfare. It is difficult to generate metrics in a social welfare context that accurately demonstrate results that are directly attributable to organizations. Additionally, it is not always understood if results can be attributed to organizations. The metrics used are generally process related, such as the number of clients served. The success, or failure, of a constituent is tied to several different factors that are often independent of the services provided by a nonprofit. Because of this, many human service organizations have had trouble demonstrating desired results, even though their work has had significant impact on the community.

The important thing to keep in mind is that this movement toward results based management has changed the emphasis of many organizations from telling the story of their organization to describing its work through statistics.

I propose that a medium must be reached so that the values of the organization aren’t obscured by its “results.” Use the metrics that can be generated to demonstrate the progress of the organizations in reaching its goals and objectives in a way that tells the story of the organization.

Tying the effectiveness measurements of the organization into the value-driven story it tells to donors has two direct benefits:

The first is that it demonstrates to donors that the organization is committed to furthering their shared values, and that institutional pressure toward “success” measurement is not going to divert it from its mission.

The second is that it demonstrates that it can and will be a responsible, effective steward of the donation. At once the message can convey both passion and competence.

This lesson is an important one to learn for leaders in a sector in transition. In order to satisfy their own stakeholders, institutional funders (in particular grantmaking local and state governement agencies) are requiring grantees to be increasingly accountable for the results generated for an often-decreasing resource pool. Only those organizations that can share objective successes of community impact through the language of their values will properly be able justify their deservedness as grantees.


Andrew Gilbert is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Management program at Hamline University. He is currently working as an Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Using Twitter Smart: Lists of nonprofit thought leaders

Most organizations use or are told to use social networking sites. And most know why: share information with constituents, increase brand awareness, promote services, follow other interesting people, and the reasons go on.

At the Charities Review Council, one of the main ways we utilize Twitter is to follow other thought leaders in our cause space: nonprofit capacity building. By following sector leaders, trend spotters, and nonprofit news sources, we’re able to stay on top of major nonprofit happenings in one single place.

While that might sound all well and dandy, in reality with 72% of nonprofits having a presence on Twitter, there’s a lot of information floating around—some good and useful, some not so much. We follow over 1,800 Twitter accounts and sifting through our main feed can be daunting.

We’ve created a few public Twitter lists to help us organize our followers and access the information we need quickly. 

Our three main lists:

Nonprofit Thought Leaders—this is a list of individuals who are leaders in the nonprofit and civic-engagement spaces and tweeting their journey along the way: executive directors, leadership staff, and up-and-coming sector superstars.

Nonprofit News—here you’ll find some great organizations (and some individuals) who consistently share insightful information about the nonprofit sector at large.

Reviewed Nonprofits—this is a list of nonprofits currently meeting all of our Accountability Standards and have earned our Meets Standards seal.


We hope these lists are helpful to you or your organization and we know our lists are far from complete—we’ve probably overlooked a lot of great organizations and individuals. So please, if you know of any accounts we should add to our lists, let us know in the comments!

Happy tweeting!

Photo credit: Check out Aled Lewis' gallery for more adorable photos 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Allied for Action: Addressing the Big Questions



By Chris Oien, Minnesota Council on Foundations

When I joined the Minnesota Council on Foundations in 2011, the one thing that excited me most about the work, and still does, is the opportunity to address the big questions facing our sector: what are our common challenges, how can grantmakers and nonprofits come together to tackle them head on, and what resources do they need to help make it happen?

Coming up next month is Minnesota’s biggest and best platform to answer those questions and more, during the Minnesota Council on Foundations and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Joint Annual Conference, November 1 & 2 in St. Paul. With the theme of Allied for Action, we’ll spend those two days learning how to harness our differences to work together toward the greater good.

We’ve worked hard to make this conference an interactive experience, where you’ll be directly involved in the sharing and learning. Some of the highlights we’re particularly looking forward to include:

  • The Friday Plenary, where three of Minnesota’s prominent civic leaders (Nate Garvis, Lori Saroya and Paul Schmitz) will give TED-style talks to challenge you to rethink long-term strategies for engaging stakeholders and for serving communities.
  • The Art of Hosting, where you’ll participate in a small group conversation on one of six key questions the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors must address.
  •  30+ breakout sessions, with your choice of expert speakers for you to engage in the topics you find most relevant.
  • Friday morning coffee chats to jolt your brain awake with concrete tools and ideas to take back to your office.
  • The Nonprofit Awards Luncheon, celebrating some of the best of Minnesota’s nonprofits and grantmakers.

What all of these have in common is the chance to meet, network and swap ideas with 1,400 other leaders in Minnesota’s nonprofit and grantmaker communities. When so many dedicated, knowledgeable people get together under one roof for the same cause, we know that good things will be happening from start to finish!

Head over to www.alliedforaction.org to see everything that’s in store for you and to book your spot. But don’t delay! Register by October 17 to beat the late fee.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Onboarding for Success

With many boards gearing up to elect new members for 2013, now is the perfect time for nonprofits to take a look at their board orientation process. We asked fellow nonprofit geek and accountability hero, Andrew Gilbert, to share his views and thoughts behind one of our vital governance Accountability Standards, Board Orientation and Assessment.

Joining a board of directors can be an exciting time for a new member. For most new members, it is their enthusiasm and passion for the mission that drives them to serve. Whether or not a new director has served on other boards, this enthusiasm will come face to face with the unique challenges of the organization that were previously unseen from the outside. This prospect can intimidate, disillusion, and ultimately overwhelm any new member that is not properly prepared.

If a board as a whole is expected to lead an organization, each individual member should be oriented quickly in order to help meet challenges and govern effectively.

One of the most effective tools to facilitate this orientation is a board manual. Both new and existing board members will have their own ideas concerning what is best for the organization. Often, these differences can result in conflict and unless handled effectively may begin to pull the organization in more than one direction. A comprehensive board manual will provide “common language” with shared values and expectations that the board can routinely reference in order to frame conversations and avoid unproductive conflicts. It will also be a great help when assessing the board’s capacity to govern.

Another effective strategy for orienting new members is to have one-on-one meetings between the board president (or a designated board member) and the new member during the initial months of board service. New members will have a chance to ask questions and gain insight that they would not get otherwise. This type of mentor relationship can encourage new members to quickly become engaged in their board during a time when they may be unsure of their new role.

For more on what elements should be included in board manuals refer to BoardSource.org. Another great resource is the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership and Governance Overview.

Andrew Gilbert is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Management program at Hamline University. He is currently working as an Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Welcome to our new Program Assistant, Marc!


Marc Hosmer joined the Charities Review Council last week, as the new part-time Nonprofit Services Program Assistant. His primary duties include helping nonprofits as they go through our Accountability Wizard review process and providing overall support to our program team.

1. What about this position and the Council sparked your interest?
I love the idea of being part of building the nonprofit sector as a whole by helping nonprofits to demonstrate the high-quality that already exists and to continually improve their organizations. 

2. Describe your ideal Saturday:
My ideal Saturday would involve sleeping late (which means at least until 8:00am), going out for breakfast, spending the day on the water (preferably in a sailboat), making a nice vegetarian meal for dinner, and cuddling up on the couch with my partner and two dogs for a good movie. 

3. What brought you to the great state of Minnesota?
Like so many other “transplants” that I have met, it was love that landed me in Minnesota.  During my senior year at St. Olaf I met my partner, Christie.  While she talked the talk about wanting to live on the east coast (where I grew up), I have come to realize that very few Minnesota girls ever truly end up anywhere else but Minnesota.  We spent four years out in the DC area, but Minnesota’s magnetism was just too much to resist.  We have been back in Minnesota for four years now and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. 

4. We hear your other “hat” has something to do with building boats. What’s that about?
While I haven’t built a boat myself yet, my other hat is as the director of Urban Boatbuilders.  This St. Paul based nonprofit uses the building of wooden boats as a vehicle to engage at-risk teens in the development of academic and vocational skills. 

5. What most excites you about the future of the nonprofit sector?
The idea of collective impact is exciting to me.  Instead of working in competition with one another, nonprofits are increasingly joining forces, each bringing their own strengths, to tackle a difficult societal issue.  I think that strategy has the potential to create immense change in our world. 

6. If you were handed $10 million today, no strings attached, what would you do with it?
I would take $8 million and start a foundation focused on building the capacity of youth development nonprofits.  With the other $2 million, I would buy a new car (to replace my ’93 Explorer), pay off the mortgage, and invest the rest for the future.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Staff Reflections: Why Treaties Matter to the Nonprofit Sector


On August 30th, the Charities Review Council’s staff, board, and committee members gathered to take in and reflect on “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations”, a traveling exhibition at the Ramsey County Historical Society. This exhibit explores the Native nations in Minnesota and the history of treaty-making with the United States. Board member, LaVon Lee, and her husband, John Poupart, guided a discussion on the exhibit and its meaning for the nonprofit sector. Then staff members took a moment to reflect:

Amy Sinykin
I love how the exhibition reminded me of the Native philosophy about how we’re all related to the earth—how our innate being impacts the land, the plants, animals, and each other. We are all inter-related.  Land isn’t about ownership but it’s about our relationship to other living things. Humans can be so full of hubris to think we are “in charge”, as my 6 year old would say. But we share this world with all living things. At its essence, the “Why Treaties Matter” exhibit was another opportunity for me to continue my learning and cultural understanding.  It re-iterated the importance of relationships and the value of conversations in any culture and in the American Indian culture.

Jenna Salinas
The “Why Treaties Matter” exhibit provided a unique perspective of our State’s history, and of the American Indian experience, both then and now. The exhibit reinforced the importance of taking the time to learn about the backgrounds of others and to recognize how those experiences impact who we are and how we relate to the world. This holds particular importance for our work at the Council, as we strive to reach out to a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations, be mindful of where people are coming from, and remain nimble in how we provide our services to meet all needs.

Kris Kewitsch
The exhibit is a great reminder of how the history that continues to be taught in our classrooms does not present a full picture of what transpired nor why it matters today.  Seeing “Why Treaties Matter” not only taught me historical facts I didn’t know, but made them real and relevant. We cannot begin to meet the needs of the changing demographic in Minnesota without first acknowledging and understanding where we’ve been.

Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson
This exhibit is full of pictures, history, and the present. What I found most powerful was the video of current members of the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations sharing their stories and knowledge. Both elders and young people shared their vision, knowledge, concerns, and, most importantly, solutions for the future. It is amazing what people are capable of; to thrive in the face of tremendous adversity is spirit filling. I walked away with some sadness, a lot of hope, and gratefulness. I want to learn more about what it means to work across sovereign nations.

According to MN Compass, 67,325 American Indians reside in Minnesota, many of whom face disparities in health, income, education, and employment. This population is growing and some outcomes are improving, thanks to many area nonprofits. Seeking knowledge, increasing multicultural participation, and creating reciprocal intercultural relationships are keys to building culturally affirming and relevant nonprofits best positioned for the future of Minnesota.

“Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” is a collaboration of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. You can find a listing of exhibit dates and locations here: http://www.minnesotahumanities.org/treaties.

Other great exhibits to consider visiting:
Dakota Family Day - Minnesota History Center, St. Paul MN, Sept. 29, Noon to 4 p.m., Free
U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Exhibit - Minnesota History Center, $6
DED UŋK’UŋPI—WE ARE HERE Exhibit - All My Relations Gallery, Sept. 28, Free


Monday, September 10, 2012

Cool People Have Favorite Accountability Standards

I was at a party recently and a group of us started talking about our favorite Accountability Standard and one poor lad wasn’t able to come up with one on the spot—that was awkward.
Okay, apologies for the lame introduction, but seriously that sounds like a fun party, am I right? Okay, maybe just for fellow nonprofit geeks.
It can take a while to become intimately familiar with each of the 27 Accountability Standards that the Charities Review Council holds at the heart of its nonprofit reviews, but once you do, each one seems precious and absolutely necessary. While I have a bundle of favorites, the one I couldn’t live without (no judging for the melodrama) is the Public Information and Annual Reporting Standard. It’s also the one Standard I’d want any ol’ regular non-nonprofit geek to know by heart.
Why “Public Information and Annual Reporting” is my favorite Accountability Standard:
When a nonprofit is upfront about their mission, governing body, management of financial resources, communities served, and progress towards achieving its mission, it promotes informed and responsible philanthropy. And by upfront, I mean super easy to find. I want to be able to find all of this information in less than three clicks on an organization’s website.
When I’m researching an organization (whether to donate or volunteer), if it’s not on the Charities Review Council’s list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits, I check the organization’s website. Can I easily find:
·         A mission statement
·         A list of board of directors
·         Annual financial statements (prepared in conformance with GAAP—Generally Accepted Accounting Principles)
·         Summary of the total cost of each major program and the fundraising and administrative costs (as defined by GAAP or IRS guidance for completing IRS Form 990)
·         Descriptions of its programs, activities, and accomplishments in relation to the organization’s mission for at least the most recent fiscal year (note the accomplishments and impact piece is key)
·         Description of the communities or populations and geographic area served
 This might seem like a pretty basic bar, and honestly it is. But it says a lot about an organization and its value for transparency to provide this information easily to constituents.
So when contemplating your own nonprofit geek cred, ask yourself, “Do I have a favorite Accountability Standard?” And if not, it’s high-time you get one. Who knows when you’ll be out on the town and the question gets asked, “So, what Accountability Standard best speaks to you?”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Once You Go Accountability You Don’t Go Back

When you’re a nonprofit geek—and if you’ve worked for an organization like the Charities Review Council, then you’re definitely a nonprofit geek—you get how energizing it is to be a capacity builder. 
Yes, “capacity building” is common nonprofit jargon.

Wikipedia describes it as:
A conceptual approach to development that focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people and organizations from realizing their developmental goals while enhancing the abilities that will allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.
I describe it as:
A rising tide lifts all boats.
As a nonprofit geek and capacity building die-heard, I found my home in the sector at the Charities Review Council. Our work to build stronger nonprofits by developing and maintaining state-of-the-art Accountability Standards that represent a balance of sound practices for nonprofits and working directly with those nonprofits to help them implement the internal changes needed to become a more trustworthy organization that donors feel confident in supporting, well, that’s the rising tide.
While I’m sad to announce that I’ll be transitioning out of the nonprofit sector for my daily work, and on paper leaving the Charities Review Council, I’ll always be a banner carrier for nonprofit capacity building; if you ever try and talk to me about a nonprofit, don’t be surprised if I ask “Do they meet the Charities Review Council’s Standards??”
Starting September 10, I’ll be joining the team at Fast Horse, an innovative, integrated agency offering a full range of traditional and non-traditional marketing services to all sorts of wonderful clients (from some of the world’s most famous brands to some of my favorite local nonprofits).
As I’ve been mentally preparing for this transition, I’ve spent some time thinking about the core aspect of the Council’s work—accountability and transparency. A belief in these values pulled me to this work and over time I’ve had the pleasure of becoming increasingly familiar with how those values translate to nonprofit governance and mission fulfillment.
But beyond our core work of doing reviews, staying on top of sector trends, and continually refining and improving our Accountability Standards, I’ve learned a little something about myself. Accountability and transparency will always play a role in how I live my life—way beyond applying standards to nonprofits. When you value accountability and transparency, you have the right mindset to build deep, trusting relationships. It’s the philosophy that spurs nonprofits to go through our review, so they can form those deep, trusting relationships with their donors and clients. It’s a philosophy that I will take with me and fold into all of my future relationships and work.
Thanks to the Charities Review Council, the staff, volunteers, and board members behind this mission. To everyone else, keep your eye on this organization—the next few years are going to be big.
Jamie Millard joined the Charities Review Council as an intern in February of 2010 and then full-time as a Communications Specialist in February 2011. In this role, Jamie provided overall marketing and communication support for the Council's programs to donors and nonprofits.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting to know Kris Kewitsch!


We're excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch, who comes to the Charities Review Council from a long background in directing giving for Target and Piper Jaffray foundations. So who is the Council's new leader? Get to know Kris and what she thinks about Minnesota's philanthropic pulse, her favorite part of accountability, and, most importantly, she shares a photo of her adorable pooch.
  1. What about the Charities Review Council inspired you to become its next Executive Director?
    Through my previous roles in foundation giving, I developed a strong belief in the integrity and depth of work with nonprofits carried out by the Charities Review Council. I often leveraged the Council’s resources to be more effective not only in my own work, but also as an individual giver. I’m excited to now be part of the team!
  2. Minnesota has a pretty engaged philanthropic sector, what do you think contributes to this?
    Beyond Minnesota’s long history of generous giving by business leaders, there’s a certain legacy of support that’s part of the core fabric of those who live, work, and give in Minnesota—it’s the essence of who we are.
  3. A fun activity you’re most likely to be seen doing on the weekend?
    Spending time with my family and walking my dog Tyson. Isn’t he cute?
  4. Do you have a favorite Accountability Standard yet J?
    While I couldn’t pick just one Standard, I do have a soft spot in my heart for a specific area of accountability: Public Disclosure. I believe in the value and importance of nonprofits being open and transparent with their information—this is at the heart of the contract between donors and nonprofits.
  5. Anything you’re most looking forward to in your first year as a new executive director?
    The Charities Review Council is a Minnesota best kept secret and it’s time to for that to change. I’m looking forward to broadening our work and reputation nationally about our services to donors and nonprofits.
  6. If you could live inside a TV show or movie forever what would it be?
    The upstairs of Downton Abbey.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More than Writing a Check: Making Philanthropy Fun

Summer is the ideal time to make charitable giving fun through fundraising activities that will motivate you to get outside. If you are looking for ways to enjoy the warm weather and support your favorite organization, here are some ideas to help you make a difference.

In addition to raising funds for an organization, fundraising events help charities raise awareness for their cause. By getting involved through action, engaged donors, like you, can feel more meaning and connection to an organization.
There are some things to consider before you sign up for an organization’s bike-a-thon, car wash, or plan your own fundraising activity. First, you should research if that the organization has been reviewed by the Charities Review Council. You can visit our Charity Search to check and see if the organization has earned the Council’s Meets Standards seal (earned when an organization meets all 27 of the Council’s Accountability Standards). If the organization is on the Council’s list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits, then you know the charity’s operations and policies meet the accepted standards for accountability and transparency.
If the charity hasn’t been reviewed by the Council, here’s a great list of questions you can ask the organization directly to get a better understanding of how they use contributions and evaluate the effectiveness of their work.
If you find a charity that you want to support, check out the events calendar for the organization for ways you can get involved through a fun activity. For example, the March of Dimes will hold a carnival to support the Needs For Our Pre-Me’s team on Saturday, July 14, at the Richard Walton Park in St. Paul. There will be music, games, and food for you to enjoy, as well as silent auctions and prizes.
Another creative approach to encourage philanthropy is to start a giving circle among your friends to raise a certain amount for an organization. Or, do you have stuff taking up needed space in your home? You can organize a yard sale to clear out the clutter and use the money raised for your favorite organization. To take advantage of the beautiful summer weather, you could host a water-themed party with slip n’ slides, kiddy pools, water balloon fights, etc. and then provide activities such as sale of snacks, raffle prizes, and games to raise funds for your favorite organization.
Hopefully you’re inspired to not only enjoy the remaining months of summer, but to also try making philanthropy fun!
By Bridget Deehr
Marketing and Communications Intern

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Building a Foundation for Social Change

On Tuesday June 19, the Charities Review Council held its Annual Forum—a yearly meeting dedicated to not only publicly reporting the activities and accomplishments of the organization, but to also give space and recognition to pivotal topics affecting our communities. This year, the Council structured the event around the idea of “Building a Foundation for Social Change” by inviting Luz Vega-Marquis, President and CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation, to speak on the critical role capacity building and effective partnerships play in building a foundation for change.

The program also included awarding the annual “Community Leadership Award” to Greater Twin Cities United Way for continued support and encouragement for accountability and transparency in the nonprofit sector.

Before Ms. Vega-Marquis took the stage, there was a heartfelt recognition and standing ovation for the Council’s executive director, Rich Cowles, as this was the final Annual Forum before his end-of-June retirement after a 13-year tenure as the organization’s leader.

And, here is a summary of Luz Vega-Marquis’ keynote speech, written by the Charities Review Council’s Marketing and Communication’s Intern, Bridget Deehr:

Speaking to a room of over 300 influential people in the nonprofit, philanthropic, and business communities, Luz Vega-Marquis shared her outlook for better serving the impoverished people of our country.

As the keynote speaker at our 2012 Annual Forum, she addressed the growing problem of the treatment of poverty in our country.
“I have a hope that poor people have a place to get services where they feel encouraged and that they can participate and vote,” she said, “and that they are engaged in some way in changing the lives of others.”
With a staggering 49 million people living in poor conditions, it is very important to listen to those families in our communities and to keep the epidemic at the forefront, Vega-Marquis said. To ensure that poverty remains in national discussions, Marguerite Casey Foundation maintains a staff reporter to inform leaders of the ongoing struggles for low-income families.

As a pioneer in achieving societal change, Vega-Marquis recognizes the urgency in the issues that a poor family will endure, including having their voice heard. One of the ways that the Foundation strives to build bridges across issue, race, and geography is to improve relationships with other charitable initiatives and organizations. “The core of the strategy is adding the collective capacity,” she said. If we connect with other extensions, we will be able to assist the families more effectively.”

She has seen too many instances where someone has sought help and they are transferred between specialized networks, rather than given the assistance that they needed, she said. “These people aren’t just reeling from a hit that solely affects their housing choices. They are hit with everything coming down around them in one big swoop. Networks that specialize in housing, food, and job concerns must become that collective capacity to help that family,” she said.

Understanding the impact on the families and building an infrastructure are just some of the ways that organizations can better serve low-income families, Vega-Marquis said.
“We need to envision something grand,” she said. If we collect the political power of the poor, it will make these families proud to belong to something and build their participation levels in our society.
If you missed this year’s Annual Forum, no worries. The tech-savvy attendees were live-tweeting their hearts-out and you can see a stream of those conversations here: