Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Nonprofit and Outreach Specialist, Lynnea!

Give a big, nonprofity welcome to the Charities Review Council’s new Nonprofit and Outreach Specialist, Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson! Lynnea’s energetic attitude, vast expertise, and passion for capacity building makes her an ideal fit for the Council’s team—also, it doesn’t hurt that she’s a self-proclaimed “nonprofit geek" (she'll fit right in!).

Get to know Lynnea better in these answers to some of our favorite interview questions:

1. Where are you from?
I was born in Minneapolis and have lived in North Minneapolis all but 7 years of my life.

2. What was your childhood like?
I come from a multi-ethnic family, lived in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, attended a multi-ethnic church, and was educated in multi-ethnic schools. I come from a family of artists, outdoors people, and active citizens.

3. What about the job position “Nonprofit & Outreach Specialist” sparked your interest?
As a multi-ethnic woman from the north-side of Minneapolis I have committed my career to the nonprofit sector as a means of creating equity and justice for all people. Individual philanthropy is an amazing legacy the United States has given the world. I believe our sector is poised to continue to improve and produce even higher quality outcomes with accountability, transparency, and equity. We need to be successful at ending historic gaps. I think this position will allow the organization to further explore these issues and build a stronger business case for the future.

4. You’ve worked in nonprofit sectors in other states, what’s different and unique to Minnesota’s sector?
There is a large cultural difference between Minnesota and Colorado which I was totally unaware of prior to moving to Colorado in 2003. I grew an appreciation for both cultures. In Colorado there is more of an individualist culture, a pioneer spirit (you either make it or you don’t). There are pros and cons, like more freedom to do what you think is best and a lack of social contracts leaving communities to struggle with inflexible systems. Here is my best analogy for how these cultures compare.

In Colorado if you go on a hike you can accidently kill yourself six ways from Sunday and along the way to potential doom there are no pit toilets, no railings next to 1000 ft. drops, and nameless valuable species you could be trampling along the way with no clue (Cryptobiotic soil). All this and you can get right up in the wonder and roll all around.

In Minnesota if you go for a hike you have to work really hard to kill yourself; there are many amenities along the way, many railings and buffer zones to prevent any potential accidents for every 6 ft. drop. At every opportune moment a beautifully constructed stone bench appears so you can experience wonders from afar and be sure not to impact the environment too much. The amazing thing is that in spite the two completely different philosophies the hikes are just as revered and the environmental impact is just as appreciated. There are a lot of great people and work going on in both states, a lot can be gained by sharing.

5. If you could only eat one food forever and ever what would it be?
New Mexican Green Chili (vegetarian video) on everything or alone, YUM!

6. What blogs/magazines/organizations do you read to stay on top of sector trends/pre-trend?
I try to catch hot items before they really hit trend, here is my list of maybe some non-usual suspects: I really appreciate the stories and articles that I am connected to by Pollen via LinkedIn, Harvard Business Review always a news maker, I also have been tracking on IDEO (I have an design and creative idea generation history so it’s been really intriguing).

7. What do you see as the nonprofit sector’s biggest opportunity in the next five years?
Getting it “right” with cultural competency and effective utilization of diversity as employers. The tides of age, ability, and ethnicity demographic shifts in the workplace is eminent, we need to get this right to be sustainable.

8. If the Charities Review Council was an animal, what type of animal would it be?
Sheep Dog.

9. What are you most excited to learn about with this new job?
How to provide “return on expectations” for nonprofits and their donors as it relates to standards, practices, and systems change.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Interns at the Council: Fatema and Nathan

Give a big welcome to the current interns at the Charities Review Council, Nathan and Fatema! As Nonprofit Services interns, Nathan and Fatema get to see and be a part of a little bit of everything that happens here at the Council. So, who are Nathan and Fatema? What do they like to do and why did they want to intern here? We asked them to take a crack at interviewing each other:

An Interview with Fatema Kermalli Walji by Nathan Sayler

Fatema Kermalli Walji interns at the Charities Review Council and graduated from Rollins College with a degree in International Relations:

Where are you from and where did you go to college?
I moved to the Twin Cities area this past summer from Florida, where I stayed for four years while attending Rollins College.

But that’s the short answer. I was actually born in Kuwait and lived in England for a couple of years before moving to New York and then Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) all that travelling occurred before I was four years old, so I don’t actually remember any of it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like reading, reflecting, and relaxing (all R’s!) But one of the most important things for me is spending time with family and friends.

What led you to Charities Review Council?
I come with many years of experience working with and within nonprofit organizations (many years for a recent college graduate, that is) so the Council naturally appealed to me as a way to learn more about the sector and what it means to successfully run a nonprofit.

What has been your favorite part about interning with the Council?
It’s honestly hard to choose. I have enjoyed everything from reviewing nonprofit submissions on the accountability wizard to compiling data to drafting standard spotlights for the website. If I had to choose, however, I would have to say that the best part has been getting to work with such an amazing group of people – the Charities Review Council staff.

What excites you the most about working in the nonprofit sector?
Having the ability to make a positive difference.

An Interview with Nathan Sayler by Fatema Kermalli Walji

Nathan Sayler interns at the Charities Review Council and is a student at Bethel University, majoring in Business-Marketing and Organizational Communication:

What brings you to the Charities Review Council?
I became interested in the nonprofit sector, so when I heard about the opportunity to potentially intern for an organization that has an impact on so many different charitable organizations I was very excited about it.

What’s your favorite thing to do/place to go in the Twin Cities?
I love the lakes--throwing a football at the beach, tubing, fishing, going for a boat ride, anything outside on a beautiful summer day.

If you had to make a movie about your life, what would it be called and why?
I don’t know, I would give it some kind of strange metaphorical title- those are the ones that win Oscars, right?

What has surprised you most about working with the Council?
I have been surprised with the amount of information I have be able to learn. Coming in, I was a little concerned that I might be in over my head, but I have been taught extremely well since coming here and have had a great experience with the Council.

What will we be seeing you on TV for doing/accomplishing ten years from now?
Hopefully it won’t be on “Cops.” I really have no idea; I just hope I can make some kind of contribution to serving others and making this world a better place to live!

Friday, March 9, 2012

KONY 2012: Responding to Emotional Appeals

The Charities Review Council's Communication Specialist, Jamie Millard, shares her response and reaction to the KONY 2012 campaign through the lens of an informed giver.

It didn’t take me too long to realize something was happening. My Twitter steam was blowing up with the hashtag #stopkony and Facebook friends from distant high-school buddies to fellow nonprofit colleagues were sharing a Kony 2012 video with a call to support the organization Invisible Children. After watching the thirty minute video and trolling the comments of my Facebook friends and Twitter feed, it was obvious that our country was experiencing a very strong emotional response to a deeply complicated issue.

Working for the Charities Review Council, I was immediately interested in finding out more about this organization’s accountability—i.e. does it pass the “smell test." (I mean, we are called Smart Givers for a reason!) Inspired to do some digging, I thought “now what would we do at the Charities Review Council to find out more information about a nonprofit that hadn’t been through our own, in-depth review?”

Quick Research You Can Do Before Responding to an Emotional Appeal:

  1. Check out the organization’s website. What’s their mission? Does the mission align with the appeal you’re responding to? Do they share annual reports and financials (990s, public audits)?

  2. Check out their GuideStar profile. Couldn’t find their 990 on their website? You should be able to download it here under their financials.

  3. Do they have a report with Charity Navigator?

  4. Do they have a report with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance? If not, has the Wise Giving Alliance requested a review?

Below, we dive into these questions for the organization Invisible Children. Yes, this KONY 2012 campaign is based on an emotional appeal and controversial issue. And while it’s okay for an appeal to have an emotional response—in fact, you should feel emotionally connected to a cause you support—it’s important to take a breath, take a step back and do some critical thinking. The information below is a lot to take in. As an individual donor, I have a lot of information not only about accountability, but mission alignment to consider before deciding whether or not I would support a campaign like KONY 2012.

Other interesting links about KONY 2012 and Invisible Children:

Our Research:
Using this quick guide, Jenna Salinas, the Charities Review Council’s Nonprofit Services Specialist, did some research on Invisible Children. Follow along:

1. Check out the organization’s website.

Substantial Public Disclosure information available. I was able to easily find Annual Reports, Public Audits, and IRS Form 990’s for the past 6 years, including 2011. One can learn a lot about an organization with these documents.

What these documents mean:

  • Annual Report: Mission, service area, programs, impact, detailed income and expense information, including the cost of each of their major programs, and a list of their board of directors. It’s important for the public to have access to this information in order to learn about the organization.

  • Audit: It is helpful to know that the organization has had an audit. An audit firm is a third party that verifies the organizations financial statements and assures that they are presented accurately. The auditing firm also issues an opinion indicating if they found any issues. Invisible Children received a clean or “unqualified” opinion, which means that the auditors didn’t find any deficiencies in how the information is being presented.

  • IRS Form 990: Even though nonprofit organizations are tax-exempt, they are required to file with the IRS to maintain their exempt status. Like an audit, you can view financial information for the organizations, but a 990 also provides information about the board of directors, policies, and practices of the organization.

    Quickly making sense of a 990:

  • Board of Directors: Part VII, Section A lists all the directors of the board, the CEO and any employees that receive more than $100,000 in compensation. From this chart you can usually discern who serves as board chair, treasurer, and how much individuals are paid. From the information provided in Invisible Children’s Form 990 for fiscal year 2010-2011, there are a couple of things to note:

    The founders of the organization appear to be paid staff as well as voting members of the board, which doesn’t make for a very independent governing body.

    Part VII doesn’t specify who serves as the board chair or the treasurer. It wouldn't be appropriate if the board chair/treasurer was one of the compensated members or if the same person held both positions. (The website does list the board chair as Scot Wolfe – an uncompensated director- but I still don’t know who serves as treasurer to ensure there is proper separation of roles.)

  • Use of Funds: Part IX, shows the functional expenses of the organization (totals are listed on line 25). Looking at the 3 most recent IRS Form 990’s it looks like the average program expense is 83%, Management 13% and Fundraising is 4% of annual expenses. The details of these expenses can be gleaned from the 990 as well as the audit and annual report.

  • Financial Health: Part X shows the organization’s balance sheet (which can also be found in the audit). Looking at the balance of unrestricted net assets (line 27) you can determine if the organization lost or gained money in that year. Looking at 2008-2011, the 2 most recent years have seen significant gains, so they appear to be doing well bringing in money to carry out their programs. If they had had consecutive years of losses, that would have raised a red flag with regards to financial health.

  • Fundraising:
    Looking at the organization’s fundraising page on its website, you can note that it is a secure site (by the https: in the web address line), so your data is secure on the site. They also make sure you are aware that your gift is tax deductible. However, a couple things seemed to be missing:
    1. If I donate, how will they use my money?
    2. What is the organization’s contact information if I want more information or have a question? I only found an email address, but no phone number or address.
    3. Once I provide my information to Invisible Children, how will it be used? Will they share it with anyone else? I couldn’t find a Privacy Policy or any information to this effect on the website.

2. GuideStar

Once you login (for free), you can view a summary of the organization, as well as access the most recent 990’s (which were also on their website). If the organization doesn’t have the GuidestarExchange seal, it just means that they haven’t provided all of the information requested by GuideStar. This is not required of charities, it’s just an opportunity for organizations to voluntarily provide information to stakeholders. You can also read through personal reviews of the organization from other individuals. Invisible Children had a recent 990 and personal reviews to read through.

3. Charity Navigator

Invisible Children received an overall 3 out of 4 stars (4 out of 4 for Financial and 2 out of 4 for Accountability & Transparency)

4. Better Business Bureau

Not a particularly good sign that the BBB requested to conduct a review of Invisible Children in March of 2011 and the organization either didn’t respond or declined to be reviewed. These reviews are also not required and are completely voluntary.

While this is a lot of information, there is plenty more. At the end of the day, each individual is responsible for gathering as much information as they can and then also evaluating if a cause aligns with his/her philanthropic goals as well.

P.S. If an organization doesn't have a review with the Charities Review Council, you can always encourage your favorite organization to undergo one!