What I’m Reading — February 2014

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Philanthropy Trends: The more things change, the more they stay the same

In the readings that I have focused on this past month, what I have been seeing is new trends in philanthropy, and yet more of the same.

Following on last month’s analysis of mega-gifts and increased philanthropy, there have already been numerous announcements in 2014 of huge gifts. This includes Harvard’s largest gift from a single donor, Ken Griffin gave the University $150 million, announced on February 19. Since the beginning of the year there have been many gifts of $50 million or more. You can receive weekly news alerts for these gifts by subscribing to NOZA.

Additionally, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in February that in 2013 there was a “surge in giving” from America’s wealthiest, including notable gifts like Mark Zuckerberg’s $1 billion (with a B) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $750 million from Texas oil tycoon George Mitchell to his family foundation in support of sustainability, and $500 million from Phil Knight to support cancer research at Oregon Health & Science University.

Is the mega gift actually back? This article from Forbes says that it will not be long for this world, according to a new survey of young beneficiaries.

According to Chronicle of Philanthropygifts to colleges and universities are trending upwards, with a ten percent increase over 2012. Alums are giving larger gifts, though the number of individual donors is trending down. Personally, I’d like to see what we in the business call higher participation levels. Everybody: give to your alma mater! It’s important.

This article from Spear’s (a magazine about wealth management), supports transparent philanthropy. That is, it opposes anonymous giving. I found this to be a refreshing piece in the way it shines a light on the complications and administrative burdens to a charitable organization that are required by anonymous gifts. Though the article doesn’t focus on this, I do support non-anonymous giving if only for the fact that standing as an example to others in the community and may encourage others to be more philanthropic.

More from the Chron of Phil on philanthropy trends from the One Percent: Some are criticising the signers of The Giving Pledge for not giving towards the world’s most urgent problems. Donors gave more in 2013, but some say that many are joining more for public relations purposes, and some sign but are not giving to capacity right away, making their philanthropic plans for later in life. Defenders of The Pledge say that it influences more effective giving, and encourages philanthropy in general. Additionally, there is a focus on recruiting international donors.

Talking of which…

USA! We’re Number One!

But just barely. Forbes analyzes the 2014 BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, concluding that American donors give more that other countries, but by a slim margin. The article notes:

This is particularly striking given that the U.S. is the source of the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Spear’s has some interesting analysis on the results of the study, too.

This month in “Duh!”

So, about that up tic in philanthropic gifts? Yes, it does signal economic recovery, I suppose, but also, it requires trained professionals and strong, positive organizational culture. While the focus is on health care, two new studies by the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy conclude that there is a direct correlation between investing in fundraising professionals and increasing fundraising revenue. You can read about it in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required).

Local News – Philadelphia

U. of Pennsylvania Official to Lead William Penn Foundation

News near and dear to my heart, Kim Cassidy was confirmed president of Bryn Mawr College. Anassa Kata!

Villanova class does good through documentaries – Students at Villanova are learning how to make documentary films that tell the story of local charitable organizations. Doing good.

Cool, Random, and Noteworthy:

Pope’s Harley goes for $327,000 at charity auction – That’s right, the Pope had a Harley Davidson, and the proceeds of its sale went to support a soup kitchen in Rome. This Pope is super bad. Like, totally sick. Just saying.

This could fit into the local category too: Local fundraising consultant Pamela Grow wrote a very nice piece on her blog about what motivates people to give: It’s personal. Amen, sister.

I enjoyed this piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) by Fay Twersky, the director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She argues against “strategic philanthropy”, and advocates for more risk, and less certainty in philanthropy. She gently and subtly presses for less focus on outcomes and metrics and more creativity, innovation, and learning from beneficiaries. How very Silicon Valley.

In a similar vein, and also from SSIR, Phill Buchanan from the Center for Effective Philanthropy writes about Five Myths that Perpetuate Poor Philanthropic Strategy.

What are you reading?

What I’m Reading — January 2014

January 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of the most exciting stories about academia this month was the White House Summit on Higher Education. 140 college leaders, including Bryn Mawr College President Kim Cassidy (my employer, featured in this article on NPR about the Summit), gathered at the White House earlier this month to discuss and explore ways they could collaborate to better serve low-income students through their college experience.

On the topic of trends in philanthropy and fundraising, prior to the World Economic Forum, the Huffington Post posted this piece, Philanthropy as an Asset Class. The author posits that philanthropy needs to be a strategic part of the solution to the world’s economic problems, along with government and business solutions.

“Philanthropists have the capacity to articulate a vision and actually implement it over a realistic time frame by exercising the requisite skills, expertise and efficient deployment of private resources. These are luxuries rarely accessible to a President or Chief Executive.”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that charitable giving in 2013 increased by at least 13%, and the return of mega gifts is being interpreted as an economic rebound.

On the topic of data and metrics, there always seems to be interesting things to read. This month, the NP Quarterly posted a piece on the tyranny of metrics. Being a data and numbers person, I’m a believer in metrics. It’s important for any organization to be able to measure their progress to goals, whatever that may be. But I’m not so sure that it makes sense for those metrics to be uniform, such as with the model of Charity Navigator. How each organization determines success or failure perhaps requires a diversity of measures.

On the subject of data integrity, the New Yorker published this very troubling piece about an organization that sent out a piece of mail to a constituent addressed in part to “Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” How on Earth does something like that happen? It all comes down to internal processes and maintaining data integrity. What a nightmare for all involved. Let it be a lesson to us all in this business. 

On prospect research, an article in CASE Currents asks “are prospect research services worth the cost?” (subscription required). The title of this article, “The Massive Potential and Frustrating Pitfalls of Big Data” is misleading. “Big Data” is a real buzz term these days, an attention-grabber in a headline. But analytics and prospect research are really different topics having not much to do with each other. Also, I didn’t appreciate the sensationalism of the title questioning the value of prospect research in fundraising. The content of the article itself was generally good, and indeed ended in a positive place affirming that yes, indeed research is effective and important. The author consulted many well-known research and prospect development professionals, and it speaks to many of the reasons why information tools and professional staff are a good investment in fundraising. However,  it raises the typical privacy concerns that we are called on the debunk each time an article like this is published. It seems to me that an article like this that questions the value and ethics of our profession comes out about once a year. At least this lands in a positive place, but it leads and attracts attention with a negative introduction.

On leadership and management, the Harvard Business Review reports that employees who feel appreciated are better performers. Oh, really? Duh.

Finally, the January 26 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy has many interesting reads, including the Outlook 2014 section with segments about what nonprofits should start doing, and what they should stop doing. Also, here are some nonprofit superstars doing some really cool stuff we should all know about. It also gave a nice shout-out to the humorous Tumblog of some friends of mine, When you Work for a Nonprofit. This blog is a good daily coffee break. I recommend it.

Happy reading!

What I Was Reading — October 2013

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Though I’m publishing this in January of 2014, I was indeed reading in October of 2013, and had intended to publish this back then. Let’s just say I have some catching up to do. I resolve to do better in the coming months.

In October, NPR reported that Charity Navigator will be changing its ratings formula. Already controversial with some nonprofits organizations, this change which will focus more on outcomes is causing even more leaders of charitable organizations to question the specific relevance of Charity Navigator’s metrics. Its one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t actually fit all organizations, especially when it comes to overhead costs.

Going directly against this grain, the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) published an opinion piece calling for the scrutiny of overhead costs of nonprofits to stop when it comes to measuring an organization’s effectiveness. 

“Under the assumption that minimal administrative and fundraising costs mean a more effective nonprofit, donors frequently seek out organizations that spend the bulk of their funding on program expenses and only a small amount on overhead. But here’s the issue: We can’t separate a program from the people who develop and deliver it. To ensure that a program can achieve maximum impact, we must actively invest in the staff who are supporting the program and make sure we have the best people on the job.”

Amen to that, I say.

Helen Brown posted some useful fundraising analytics resources and guidelines for visualizing data. More of us in prospect development will benefit from learning to tell a story with our data.

The Nonprofit times published a piece raising concerns about collecting data and donor privacy. Really, this topic was old ten years ago. It’s a sensitive topic for me, and I’m tired of my profession, my respected colleagues, and my own professional practices being accused as having some kind of nefarious intent. We are not the NSA. We work with our organizations’ proprietary information stores, augmenting that with information that is publically available about our prospects. Not to mention the fact that we operate with the highest ethical standards outlined in the statements of ethics from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement. Prospect researchers are easy targets right now because privacy and information is such a hot-button issue in public discourse. Questioning the ethics of our profession is either ignorant or opportunistic, and I expect more from an industry journal.

Though this article goes back to July, I was reading it in October. The Chronicle of Higher Education published This heartening piece: The Ideal English Major. While being specifically about the English major, I read it as pertaining to a liberal arts education in general. The value of liberal arts is on the ropes during this economic downturn, and it’s about time folks in academia and those who have benefitted from a liberal education come forward in popular discourse to defend its value. This article offers some encouraging words and inspiration.

Happy reading!

What I’m Reading, July 14, 2013

July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Two Paths for Charitable Giving: From the Head or From the Heart – From the New York Times. Interesting piece from a donor’s perspective, addressing the question of what should the primary motivator be for philanthropic decisions: heart or head, emotions, or practical impact. The answer, of course, it both, but the guts of this article get at issues of donor intent, stewardship, and raised questions for me about mission drift.

Why the long faces over $316 billion in American Giving? – From Fundraisinginfo.com. In response to the latest Giving USA report about the slow growth trend in US philanthropy. They argue that this growth should be cause for celebration, not hand-wringing. I do think the treand may be some cause for concern. People may be holding back a little as we all wait for the economy to get back on its feet, but these may indeed be encouraging signs. At any rate, perhaps there is opportunity, not doom and gloom.

The Rich are Irrelevant…and Other Thoughts about the Donor Pyramid – From the Nonprofit Quarterly. I think it’s always good to rethink the donor “pyramid” concept, especially as the geometric metaphor is kind or a misnomer. Every organization has a different shape to it’s prospect pool. At any rate, this article challenges fundraisers to think about way to prioritize potential donors at all levels. We should celebrate and prioritize donors at every level.

Worst Charities’ Report Prompts Calls for Charities to Respond – From the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) responds: “The list and accompanying article also miss several key points about fundraising and what ethical charities do and don’t do,” the association said in a statement. “The 50 organizations in the list are such extreme cases that they are not representative of what a typical charity looks like or how it operates.” I tend to agree.

Are “Sent From My Phone” Signatures Useful or Annoying? – A Discussion of the Day from Lifehacker. I find the question more interesting than the online discussion here. My opinion is that I don’t usually give the “Sent from my phone” signature much thought when I see it on email from others, but I have certainly changed my own. First, I don’t feel like advertising what kind of phone I use. Second, I do think it’s more polished to have a custom signature line. So, while I don’t judge others harshly, I do prefer not to use that tag line.

5 Practical Tips: Implementing a Social Media Policy at your organization – From LimeRed Creative Studio. Your organization needs to be on social media, and you need a social media strategy and policy. My favorite such policy is “Don’t be dumb.” However, in our world of imperfect humans, we need some more clearly stated guidelines. This post is concise and has some real-life practical ideas that you can implement at your organization.

Hurricane Sandy: Philadelphia Links

October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Well, I have long admired Research Buzz, and since I am compulsively following Hurricane Sandy and I need something to do as I ride out the storm…

Inspired by this monstorm, and by the NYC resources over at ResearchBuzz, (oohhh, and I see she has a nice Twitter List, too), I have decided to compile some resources here for the Philadelphia area, since Sandy seems to be packing a punch headed right at us.

First of all:

Anyone needing shelter from Sandy can send the text message SHELTER followed by the zip code to 4FEMA (43362).

PECO Emergency number: 1-800-841-4141

Twitter:

Weather Sites:

Local News:

Amusement:

Weather Geekery:

I’m posting this before I have compiled everything. Our Internet service is going in and out, so I will post updates as I can. Meanwhile, I hope this is helpful as we all ride out the storm.

Google Power Search

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been a professional researcher and information wrangler since 1994, so I know a thing or two about finding information. However, there is no doubt that search has changed, and search engines have redesigned their functionality and user interface a lot over the years. I think it’s fair to say that search has significantly evolved since 1994.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up.

So, when Google announced it Power Search class, I signed up without hesitation. As I write this, I am half way through the course, and even this well-seasoned researcher is not disappointed. I have learned a thing or two that will sharpen my search skills.

I’m smug enough to say that I knew most of the class offers, but what is really nice about this class is Daniel Russel’s teaching style. He reveals the intuition behind the design of the search tools, and he challenges the student to think critically about the search. The tools will help you, but your instincts and ability to read and further filter your search results will truly help you to focus in on the results that you’re looking for. The genius of Google’s design is that it is, at least by my estimation, very intuitive.

In Lesson 2 you are challenged to think more deeply about your search and the terms you use to isolate precisely what you’re looking for, as well as to think critically about your results and how the links might lead you through a “six degrees of separation” kind of process to the unexpected, or seemingly unconnected, like six links from the Mona Lisa to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a skill that researchers intuitively acquire with experience, and I think it’s particularly valuable for this concept to come across in these lessons.

The Google Power Search online class is a good investment of time for novice and seasoned researchers alike. I say this having only completed half of the class so far, and I will write another post about the entire class when I have done the whole thing.

Google-centricity

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

What Is Good Search Practice?

I have found myself saying to people more and more how Google-centric I am. It is no secret that I am an information professional, hound, aficionado, and addict, among other things. I love information and the tools and processes associated with managing it. Google happens to make some of the best. And they’re free! Sort of, but that’s a topic for another post.

To justify my Google-centricity, I look to numerous things that I like about the products and the company. It doesn’t hurt that, in honor of Pride Month, Google launched the “Legalise Love” Conference at Google London, partnering with organizations to identify ways to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world…but I digress.

Basically, it comes down to this: Google tools make it easy for me to manage most (but certainly not all) of my personal information. Do I worry about privacy? Like everyone else, yes, I feel some anxiety about all of the information I keep online, and certainly I am anxious about keeping all of my eggs in my Google basket, so to speak. But convenience and good design trumps all of that.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a healthy suspicion that they are trying to sell me stuff, and truly, I don’t have a deep understanding about what they can do with the data they are collecting about my online activity. But I have drunk the Google Kool-Aid, for better or worse (and mostly, I like to think, better).

I used to observe a cardinal rule that when you use one search engine, you should use one or two more that may garner different results. At one time, anyway, it was considered best practice in research. However, I now admit that I don’t often use any other search engine besides Google out of habit more than conscious decision. Google has become so ubiquitous, in popular parlance it has become synonymous with “research”. People use the word “Google” as a verb when they talk about looking something up.

In truth, it comes down to the bottom line of time. It takes significant time to take the extra step of doing an additional search with another tool. And frankly, I find that I don’t get any more interesting results when I use another search engine. Back in the day, that problem was resolved by using Dog Pile, which aggregated results from different search engines. That became problematic when I realized that the different engines interacted in different ways with the search string, so I stopped using it.

Occasionally I look to other search engines like Blekko or Duck Duck Go. I harbor a prejudice against Bing, but I must admit that their latest marketing campaign and model sounds pretty smart. I haven’t used it yet because it’s not applicable for the professional research that I do, but the move to use social media to help you prioritize your results seems like an effective way to search. Jury is still out on that one, however.

So, I’m concluding this post with questions for my readers:

  • Do you still believe it’s good practice to use multiple search engines when you search?
  • If so, do you practice this habit, and what search engines do you regularly use?