Haiti relief shows digital giving’s potential

By Todd Cohen

The massive charitable response to the devastation in Haiti should be a wake-up call for the charitable marketplace.

Using text-messaging and other digital applications, givers quickly have donated millions of dollars to relief efforts

Givers also showed social media can be powerful tools for charitable giving.

Just as online giving came of age in the days after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the tsunamis in Asia, the Twitter generation has shown through its Haiti relief that texting is a strategy all nonprofits need to understand and put to use.

The challenge for nonprofits is figuring out how to do that.

The recession has hit the charitable marketplace hard, stressing nonprofits with rising demand for services and greater competition for shrinking donor dollars.

And in the face of the recession and a tradition of struggling to do too much with too little, too few nonprofits truly have taken full advantage of the Web and email, which these days already seem like “old” media.

Nonprofits tend to be slow on the uptake in adopting new media and fully integrating new digital tools into the way they do business.

Seeing the outpouring of Haitian relief using social media, nonprofits that truly care about connecting with givers using the means of communication their givers prefer should invest the time and effort to truly understand how to build digital tools into their overall operations.

Beyond just being cool and easy to use, social media actually can make a big difference in the way nonprofits raise money, recruit volunteers, deliver services, and communicate with constituents and supporters.

The huge question for nonprofits is whether they actually will do what it takes to plug into new media and put it to productive use.

A new model for nonprofit journalism

By Todd Cohen

I am delighted to report that the Philanthropy Journal has become a program of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

At a time of huge financial and operating challenges for the nonprofit sector, the move will expand the services the Journal and the Institute provide to the nonprofit sector.

The Journal, which will be self-sufficient and not supported by state funds, will be able to “tap into scholarship on the nonprofit sector, reach new audiences and provide more news and resources for readers,” says Mary Tschirhart, the Institute’s director. “This furthers the Institute’s mission of developing current and future nonprofit leaders.”

And the Institute will be able to reach more nonprofits needing the expertise and services available at N.C. State.

The Institute will receive multi-year gifts from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh and the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill to support the Journal.

Dedicated to research, education and engagement involving the nonprofit sector, and to collaboration with nonprofit partners to address community needs, the Institute was formed in 2003 with a $1 million grant from the Fletcher Foundation.

As part of one of the top land-grant universities in the U.S., the Institute works to connect with the nonprofit community and put the resources of the university to work to enhance nonprofits’ capacity and leadership.

Those resources include the expertise and commitment of faculty, students, staff and community partners.

The Institute also serves as a center of expertise, generates knowledge and hosts a collaborative and diverse community of scholars, all aiming to better serve nonprofits.

As a program of the Institute, the Journal will continue to publish, on our website and in our email newsletters, the news and resource articles our readers count on.

The Journal also will continue to sponsor monthly online webinars on topics such as management, leadership, fundraising, giving, marketing and communications.

And we will continue our series of lunch ‘n’ learn workshops on those topics throughout North Carolina.

The only change for the Journal will be our ability to make our products and services even better.

The Fletcher Foundation for the past 10 years has provided a home and significant operating support for the Journal, which was launched in 1993 by The News and Observer Foundation as a monthly print publication.

The Journal was the first statewide newspaper in the U.S. dedicated to reporting on nonprofits.

“The future of our communities depends on healthy nonprofits,” says Barbara Goodmon, president of the Fletcher Foundation. “The Institute and the Journal are on the cutting edge of efforts to help nonprofits become more efficient and effective, and to develop research and raise awareness about the important role nonprofits play in social change.”

The Journal, which I created and will continue to edit, grew out of a weekly column on philanthropy I began writing in 1991 as business editor of The News & Observer, the daily newspaper in Raleigh.

Today, the nonprofit sector and news business both face unprecedented challenges.

Nonprofits are a critical, yet underappreciated, social and economic force, and they are struggling in the economic recession to more effectively meet the growing and increasingly urgent needs of our communities.

And the news business as we have known it for generations is collapsing, and in the process paying less and less attention to the nonprofit sector.

The combination of the Institute and the Journal will create an innovative new resource for nonprofits, help students and faculty better understand and serve the nonprofit sector, and will build on the nonprofit model for new journalism pioneered by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and The News and Observer Foundation.

Recession should spur smarter grantmaking

By Todd Cohen

Despite the stress it has placed on the giving sector, the recession should be fueling greater innovation and collaboration in the charitable marketplace and making nonprofits stronger.

And just as the economic crisis has spurred nonprofits to rethink their strategies, grantmakers should be looking for ways to work smarter.

That’s the view of Kathleen P. Enright, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

In a year-end statement, Enright offers recommendations for grantmakers.

While they may be tempted to focus on charities with the greatest need, she says, a better strategy for grantmakers is to “focus on the strong rather than the ailing.”

In the recession, “even the strong are struggling,” she says, “so grantmakers would be well-advised to maintain or increase support to the highest-performing groups in their grantmaking portfolios.”

She also says grantmakers should engage their stakeholders by reaching out and listening closely to grantees “to get a clear picture of what nonproifts are experiencing and a better understanding of the help they need.”

Grantmakers also should build new alliances, Enright says.

Wanting their grantees to collaboration, she says, grantmakers also should work with partners.

“The Obama administration is encouraging public/private partnerships to address pressing social needs,” she says. “Grantmakers must embrace these opportunities and use the full range of their convening power to bring key players together to maintain progress on the issues they care about.”

Enright also calls for flexible and full-cost funding.

“Access to unrestricted funding can make or break nonprofits in this uncertain economy,” she says.

So grantmakers might increase the amount of generation operationg suport they provide, or ease restrictions on current grants.

And when making grants, she says, grantmakers should be sure to “consistently pay the full cost of services.”

Finally, grantmakers should “commit to the ‘new normal,’” Enright says.

The collapse of the economy, she says, simply underscored existing “cracks in the nonprofit system,” including nonprofits’ “scant unrestricted assets and no long-term reserve funds,” and grantmakers’ tendency to “work in isolation from those closest to the problems they are trying to solve.”

What the recession has done, she says, is to show increase the urgency of the giving sector’s response.

“Granmakers must provide more flexible dollars and cover overhead in project trants, engage more powerfully with grantees and fellow grantmkers, and ensure that the highest performing nonproifts are well-supported,” Enright says.

Those changes “should not be viewed as short-term fixes in response to the economic crisis,” she says, “but as part of the ‘new normal’ for how grantmakers support nonprofit success.”

By better understanding and addressing nonprofits’ operating needs and practicing the innovation and collaboration they preach, grantmakers can help the giving sector emerger smarter and stronger from the economic crisis.