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!

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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.

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