Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lunchtime Conversations

As an office full of self-proclaimed “nonprofit nerds”, it should come as no surprise that our lunchtime conversations often turn to the latest nonprofit headlines we see on twitter, hear on NPR, or read about in the Huffington Post.

The past few weeks have been no different at the Charities Review Council, as we’ve been provided with a plethora of lunchtime fodder. Here’s what we’ve been talking about lately:

When Peter Buffet, son of the infamous Warren, took to the pages of the New York Times to express his take on philanthropy and the wrongdoings of the sector, his words sparked conversation in lunch rooms, news rooms, conference rooms and Facebook feeds across the nation. Buffet explains that philanthropy is actually feeding the cycle of inequality in our world and to combat it, we need “a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up.” He goes so far as to say that there is a “crisis of imagination” and whole-heartedly disregards the notion of ROI in the nonprofit world.

While most reactions were quick to criticize, Chronicle of Philanthropy columnist, Phil Buchanan, made sure to point out some of Buffet’s valid arguments that we shouldn’t outright dismiss. The Chronicle ran a summary of many of the responses from thought leaders around the country. Mr. Buffet himself has continued to participate in the discussion and has responded to criticism by clarifying some of the points he made in his original piece.

This American Life, the weekly show broadcast on National Public Radio, recently featured a story about an unusual sort of charity – one that provides money to those in need, instead of building houses, digging wells, or providing animals. GiveDirectly was founded in 2008 by a group of Harvard and MIT economic development students looking for a vehicle to send monetary donations directly to the poor, allowing them to decide how to best use it. Even with the explosion of mobile banking in developing countries, the founders realized that very few nonprofits were utilizing these tools and directly addressing the need with no-strings-attached financial assistance.

According to its website, “As a non-profit created by donors, GiveDirectly is focused exclusively on giving to the poorest possible households at the lowest possible cost. Its leaders have no personal financial stake in the success of the organization, as their time is all volunteered.” GiveDirectly recently completed an in-depth report on their work in Kenya, expansion into a second country, and the long-term outlook of the organization. Listen to the NPR story here, and tell us, do you think giving money directly to those in need is an effective way to address poverty?

There you have it – a sneak peek into our lunch room. Though these conversations often happen spontaneously, they always leave us with a new sense of inspiration and motivation to work harder and think more innovatively. What have you been talking about lately on your lunch break, around the conference table, or at the water cooler?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Strengthening Communities: The Importance of Nonprofit and Donor Partnerships

As the Minnesota State Fair begins, signaling the end of the summer, I am cleaning off my desk here at the Charities Review Council for the last time. I joined the Council in June as the Engagement and Marketing Intern after graduating from Colby College in Maine. Now, as I prepare to begin my Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, I am leaving equipped with an increased understanding of the positive impact that nonprofits can have in today’s ever-changing world.

The Council’s commitment to strengthening communities initially drew me to this position. At the Council, I have had the opportunity to delve into community engagement by directly interacting with donors and nonprofits alike. Through my internship, I have seen first-hand how donors and nonprofits work tirelessly to meet the needs of their communities. Often, a nonprofit’s ability to swiftly adapt to the changing needs within its community is reflected in the commitment of donors. In Minnesota, our vibrant nonprofit community would not be what it is without the support of donors, who give not only monetarily, but also with their time and expertise.

As part of my internship, I enjoyed helping the Council recently move to a new space, marking a pivotal moment for the organization as it expands to meet the new and growing needs of the philanthropic community. The Council’s flexibility to act as a resource for both donors and nonprofits continues to build vital bridges and new community solutions.

Although today is my last day as the Engagement and Marketing Intern, I am very much looking forward to remaining a member of the team here at the Council in my new role as an Independent Contractor. I am excited to continue working to help nonprofits complete our Accountability Wizard review process and meet the Accountability Standards.

Thank you to all of the staff here at the Council for warmly welcoming me as a member of the team and for taking the time to share your invaluable insight.

By Brita Midness, Engagement and Marking Intern

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teaching Youth to be Great Givers

As summer draws to a close and the start of school is on the horizon, we are dusting off our spiral notebooks, Lisa Frank folders, freshly sharpened no. 2 pencils, and our Great Givers program. Just over ten years ago, we developed the youth philanthropy curriculum to help children better understand the philanthropic sector, encourage informed giving in younger generations, and ensure that all individuals have the tools to become active, informed givers from an early age.

The Great Givers program launched in 2002 and has since expanded to become an effective resource both locally and nationally. The curriculum fills a gap in personal finance education of youth by covering the topic of informed giving. The combination of interactive and fun lessons, educational tools and hands-on involvement strive to instill an early interest in philanthropy. In doing so, youth have the opportunity to develop skills for a sustainable approach and lifetime commitment to informed giving as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

The Great Givers program is composed of a 10-lesson curriculum that is free of charge and available for download directly from our website. We also provide supplemental information and resources for youth education and participation in philanthropy. By continuing to get the program into the hands of educators, parents, counselors, mentors, and all those who influence a child’s view of financial management, we hope to further engage youth both inside and outside the classroom.

In the classroom, students can explore the topic of philanthropy as it relates to their own interests and passions, as well as those of their peers. At home, the topic of philanthropy provides the perfect platform for lessons in trust, generosity, financial management, and helping others.
Today’s youth are able to give with more than just money. Through our Great Givers program, we provide resources for youth to learn how to give their time, talent, and treasure. For example, a family-friendly volunteer experience gives children a firsthand look at the need in our community and the positive impact that they can have.

At the Council, we work to help donors of all ages find causes and vehicles for giving that align with their interests and ignite their passion. By encouraging today’s youth to engage in informed giving, we can build a stronger foundation for the future. With a new school year just around the corner, we hope you will join us in increasing our collective impact by teaching a child in your life what it means to be a smart giver.

Please visit our website or contact us to learn more about the Great Givers program. We also welcome your feedback and suggestions as we work to provide resources reflective of the needs within all communities.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Update: Annual Review of the Accountability Standards

As part of our first annual rolling review of the Accountability Standards®, we recently completed an important and enlightening part of the process – the community input phase. Through surveys and focus groups, we sought out the voices of nonprofit organizations and their supporters to gain public insight into the current standards up for review this year.

The Charities Review Council’s Accountability Standards® strengthen nonprofits’ capacity to pursue their missions while providing meaningful information to the donating public in order to advance more informed philanthropy and increased impact.

The Accountability Standards® first debuted in 1998, and have since expanded from 16 to 27 standards, further addressing the many complex aspects of nonprofit governance, fundraising, financial health, and public disclosure. In January, the Council launched a new process that involves a rolling review of 5-7 of the 27 standards each year. We are committed to continuously improving, remaining on the cutting edge of nonprofit accountability, and ensuring the timeliness and relevancy of each standard.

Through the recent surveys and focus groups, we engaged donors, grantmakers, nonprofit leaders, community representatives, and academics to co-create standards reflective of our shared expectations. The collaborative commitment of both donors and nonprofits is an integral component of the success of the Standards Review project.  

We received survey responses from 133 nonprofits and 99 donors, far surpassing our initial participation goals. Additionally, four focus groups were held around the state of Minnesota, engaging a total of 36 individuals. These numbers reflect the active engagement of our community in ensuring informed philanthropy and nonprofit strength.

Here at the Council, our evaluation consultant is currently finalizing the compilation and analysis of survey data and focus group feedback. With your input, comprehensive research, and expert advice, we will work with our Board of Directors and Program Committee in the coming months to revise the Standards accordingly, rolling out any changes in January 2014.

Council staff will provide webinars, resources, and one-on-one guidance for nonprofits and donors to ensure that the revised Accountability Standards are clear and easy to implement. Please contact us if you have any questions about this process.

Thank you very much to all those who took the time to provide insight and feedback regarding the Accountability Standards®! We sincerely appreciate your support, experience, and expertise as we work together to ensure the Standards reflect what it takes to be a truly strong organization.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Council Is On The Move!

The boxes are packed, the paint is drying, and our voicemail message has been changed. We have binder clips coming out of our ears, and we haven’t ordered new furniture yet. But you know what? We’re so thrilled we can hardly sleep. It’s moving day.

As of August 1, 2013, the Charities Review Council will have a new home. The move is more than a physical one. We’ve been growing and changing, and our new space represents a commitment to that shift. We’re positioned to continue to strengthen the relationship between nonprofits and donors in new and exciting ways this year.

“Our new space will inspire collaboration, innovation, and inclusion for the common good. It will help nurture a community of engaged philanthropists for a new era of nonprofit work,” says Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch. With 30-foot vaulted ceilings, large windows, and wide open space, we will have the flexibility to meet nonprofits where they work, convene groups of stakeholders, and host a true space for conversation about the future of the nonprofit sector.

You can find us at:

Charities Review Council
2334 University Ave W, Ste 150
St. Paul, MN 55114

We remain centrally located, just a few blocks southeast of our old office, among many other nonprofit friends and allies on University Avenue. Click here for directions.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new office space. Please feel free to stop by and say hello!