Friday, December 27, 2013

What inspires me to work for a capacity building organization

When I graduated from college 5 years ago, I was young, innocent and idealistic. I set out to find a job where I could have a big impact. However, I struggled to find an organization or position that really appealed to me. Nothing seemed “big” enough. Even bold missions like ending world hunger or ­­­­­curing cancer somehow seemed too narrow for what I envisioned as my contribution to the world. Then I stumbled upon the Charities Review Council. Probably not the first organization you think of with a mission to satisfy a young appetite for positive change, but as I saw it, the Council enabled me to support every nonprofit mission – and that is big.

When I deliver on the Council’s mission to strengthen the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, I affect the good work of the hundreds of nonprofits we support by helping them meet the Accountability Standards. Organizations with a strong infrastructure, including good governance, effective financial management and accountable practices are better able to deliver on their missions and garner trust from the public. Therefore, I see the work I do at the Council multiplied by the number of organizations we serve, and then again, by the hundreds of thousands of people served by those organizations. The ripple effect is what I find motivating. By dipping my toe in the sector by way of an organization like the Council, the impact of my work moves through each unique nonprofit I serve and continues to spread out into the broader community.

It is hard to believe I’ll soon be celebrating my 5th anniversary at the Charities Review Council (fairly significant, since as a millennial, that’s like a couple of decades!). However, in that time, I’ve guided myriad nonprofit organizations through the Accountability Wizard review process and provided them with the support and resources to meet the Accountability Standards. I’ve spent countless hours evaluating organizational practices and policies, as well as providing guidance, assurance and helpful tools to enable organizations to meet standards. My role may be finite, but I continue to be inspired by the broad impact I’m able to have on the sector - by working for a capacity building organization, I also work to end world hunger and to cure cancer.

-Jenna Salinas, Nonprofit Services Manager 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Smart Giving Guide

Tis’ the season of many things: sharing, spending time with loved ones, and saying “Tis’ the season.” It’s also the season of year end giving, a time when many are looking for good causes to make their year-end donations before the tax year is over. It can be a bit overwhelming when there are so many great charities asking for your support. Smart givers give with both their head and their heart, giving to the causes they care the most about, as well as researching which organizations will most effectively use their gift. In order to help you with your decisions, here are five ways to maximize your giving this season.

1. Choose a critical problem to solve and look for organizations that tackle that problem.
Instead of focusing on a specific organization, consider starting by thinking broadly about what problem is facing your community that you want to be part of the solution.   Starting with the list of strong Nonprofits that meet 27 Accountability Standards (located online at, look for organizations that want to solve the same problem that you do.  These organizations have committed themselves to working hard to build a firm and solid foundation that includes accountability, transparency, good governance and public disclosure; that foundation allows them to focus on advancing their missions. 

2. Know whether your donation is tax deductible.
Remember, just because you give to a "tax-exempt" organization does not always mean your donation is tax deductible.  Generally, gifts to a charity registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3) organization are tax deductible and contributions to most other types of organizations are not.
3. Research how the organization will use your donation.
Homework is easy now that you can find information on mission, financial health, and impact online.  Overhead is an important investment made to improve their work.  Things like training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems.  Overhead ratio is one data point to consider but doesn't tell the whole story.  Focus on the organizations performance by looking at transparency, governance, leadership, and results.  If you have questions or don't find what you're looking for, ask!  Strong nonprofits always welcome all questions from donors.

4. Does the organization strive to reflect its community?
An organization that reflects the community it serves is one that includes its constituents at all levels: on the board, on staff and in its volunteer workforce.  Organizations who are led by and for stakeholder groups often have stronger social capital and healthier ties to that community.  That means they'll have strong outcomes in their work.

5. Look for risk-taking and out-of-the-box solutions.
Nonprofits today are tasked with a huge challenge: serve more people with less money.  Donors who care about those challenges should invest their dollars into charities who innovate.  The willingness to take creative risks is the difference we need in finding new solutions to the problems we've faced since the dawn of humanity.  It's up to this generation of donors to change the world, for good.

Check out all organizations Meeting Standards here, and some additional tips and guides for giving during the holiday season below:
Charity Navigator’s 2013 Holiday Giving Guide
Just Give’s Holiday Gift Guide
Slate’s The Cynic’s Guide to Holiday Donations

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Building Capacity by Sharing Stories: Online, In Person, In Your Community

Pollen started as a newsletter created by Lars Leafblad, in which he shared local events, job openings, and news and updates of his friends and extended network, the recipients of the newsletter. Since its beginnings, the content of Pollen has always been generated by and for its members, designed to build ties across the civic-minded community.

Pollen has since grown to 7,500 plus Twin Cities-based connectors who contribute biweekly to each issue of Pollen. Today, Pollen announced a merger with OTA, a South Dakota based, fellow Bush Foundation grant recipient who also has a mission of building stronger communities by connecting civic-minded individuals. Together as OTA-Pollen, they aspire to scale their commitment to community building across North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

We shot some questions to Jamie Millard, Meghan Murphy, and Hugh Weber about OTA-Pollen, the self-described “laboratory for possibility.

CRC: How do you see OTA-Pollen helping other organizations, nonprofit or otherwise, to build their capacity?
O-P: Every capacity building organization has their niche role to play as a part of the “rising tide.” For OTA-Pollen, the role we’re playing is a piece that often gets overlooked: network-building and storytelling. When organizations and the individuals leading them are better connected and have the platform to share their story, the possibilities for impact are exponential.
We’ll be directly growing the capacity of organizations and individuals through immersive, large-scale gathering experiences and also our online community rooted in resource and story sharing.

CRC: As general cheerleaders of the Accountability Standards (your executive director, Jamie Millard, is even a former staff member of Charities Review Council) how are you keeping the standards in mind while building Pollen into a new nonprofit along with OTA?
O-P: We do indeed love the Accountability Standards! They’ve been an invaluable asset for us as an organization in startup mode. It’s already been helpful to refer back to certain Standards as we navigate very early decisions and discussions. For example, as we move into our first conversations for strategic planning, the philosophy and context behind Standards like the Impact on the Community and Diversity and Inclusivity help ground our thinking.
As we begin the process to seek 501c3 status (right now we are under fiscal sponsorship with MAP for Nonprofits), we plan to go through the Accountability Wizard to ensure we start off “Meeting Standards.”

Meghan Murphy, Jamie Millard, and Hugh Weber of OTA-Pollen
CRC: Where will OTA-Pollen be in three years?
We are looking to build artwork into storytelling in new and exciting ways, and we are confident our digital platform will be innovative in this space. We will primarily seek talent right here in the region to accomplish a new kind of reader experience. This new network will be powered  by individuals with ambitious goals, that are eager to take advantage of generous deadlines and serious compensation for a high quality work. We are excited to hire an amazing body of first-rate writers and illustrators and we are eager to empower individuals outside of that market, artists and big thinkers, to take on a passion project under the OTA-pollen banner.

CRC: What is something Pollen is not doing right now that you’d like to see come from the OTA-Pollen collaboration?
O-P: Even though Pollen has been building a rich, engaged community for the past five years, it’s mainly a digital network. In our recent member survey, it was unquestionable that one of the number one things Pollenites crave is the opportunity for more in-person gatherings. With the expertise OTA brings to the table, we’ll now have the ability to offer that type of experience!

We are also eager to extend the network well beyond the boundaries of the metro area. From the beginning OTA has focused on the stages of North Dakota, South Dakota and greater Minnesota. We look forward to building hyperlocal Pollen-like resources in communities like Bismarck, ND, Duluth, MN and Rapid City, SD. We’re excited to see all of these communities have their own petri-dish of connected, cross-sector civically-engaged community that bubbles up into the overall regional network.

CRC: What ways can smart givers be involved in the work of OTA-Pollen?
O-P: Smart givers have a deep understanding of the nonprofits and individuals doing impacting, meaningful work. One of best ways smart givers could bring that expertise to OTA-Pollen is through our first big initiative, our We Must Be Bold Tour. In January and February, we’ll be traveling the length and width of the OTA states of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, collecting stories of boldness. Our hope is to work with our community to collect nominations identifying bold artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, community builders and cross-sectors leaders across the region who had embraced an ethos of creativity, connectivity and community.

Get live updates about OTA-Pollen by following them on Twitter.
 -Matt Beachey, Engagement and Communications Specialist

 Want to know how you can support Charities Review Council this month without spending a dime? Click here!