Conn Elementary partners with volunteers

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — At 3:45 p.m. every weekday during the school year, nearly 100 students gather in the gym at Conn Elementary School in Raleigh, remaining there until 6 p.m. to do their homework, with breaks for recreational activities and recess outside.

Operating the after-school program is YMCA of the Triangle, which also provides free child care for monthly meetings of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

The partnership with the YMCA is part of a larger effort by Conn to generate voluntary and philanthropic support to supplement the public dollars it receives.

“As a school, we’re always looking for ways to expand what we do to support our teachers and students, and the community support we get helps us,” says Gary Duvall, Conn’s principal.

About 580 students are enrolled at Conn, and about half of them qualify for lunch that is free or provided at a reduced price. With such a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, the school receives federal dollars through the Title I program for schools serving low-income families.

To supplement the public dollars the school receives, Conn’s PTA last year increased to $35,000 from about $15,000 the funds it raised during its annual fall fundraising campaign.

Those dollars were used to pay for playground renovations, and to help fund 30 programs at the school, including mini-grants of up to $500 to teachers for special projects, such as buying books and materials for the school library to supplement what students learn in the classroom.

Conn also is developing partnerships with a growing number of organizations that provide volunteers for the school.

Starting this fall, three members of Lawyers 4 Literacy, a program of the North Carolina Bar Association, are visiting Conn once a week at lunchtime, each working with one or two students in second or third grade on their reading.

And once a week after school, about 10 volunteers visit Conn through a partnership with Cary nonprofit Read and Feed, which provides a meal for about 18 students in first through fifth grade. Each volunteer then works on reading with one or two students, who also receive two books each week to take home and keep.

And thanks to Amy Dameron, a literacy teacher at Conn and a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, volunteers from the congregation are scheduled to visit the school on October 15 for campus beautification and painting.

Another seven volunteers from the church also have applied to work on reading once a week with two students each.

And before the school year began, more than a dozen managers from Whole Foods on Wade Avenue visited the school for day of painting and beautification.

This fall, through two separate partnerships, 12 students in the College of Education at North Carolina State University will be visiting Conn once a week to mentor individual students in fourth and fifth grade on topics ranging from goal-setting and self-awareness to character development, while another 10 to 12 students from the College of Engineering at N.C. State will be visiting once a week to work one-on-one with students on science and math.

“We want to make sure all our students are succeeding,” Duvall says. “By having these small reading groups and small programs, we able to serve a broad range of student needs.”

Philanthropy can work better by working smarter

By Lori O’Keefe and Jennifer Tolle Whiteside

The Triangle, like much of America, has a lot to be grateful for in this season of giving thanks, but we also face huge challenges.

In addressing them, we are fortunate to be able to work through the philanthropic sector to pool resources and find shared solutions to problems that affect our entire community.

To do that, philanthropy itself needs to do a better job in putting its resources to work.

Our community attracts smart people and innovative employers, and our schools, colleges and universities produce smart graduates and workers, but the region is also home to nagging poverty, poor health, illiteracy and other social ills.

And as this month’s national election showed, our society is divided and in flux regarding who we are, where we come from, and the role we believe government and other institutions should play.

With a damaged economy and elected leaders looking for ways to cut spending, the job of fixing our most urgent social problems will increasingly fall to the social sector.

That sector consists of over 1 million nonprofits throughout the U.S., including thousands that call the Triangle home.

Nationally, nonprofit organizations account for 5 percent of economic output and 10 percent of the workforce.  Charitable giving in the U.S. totals nearly $300 billion a year, with nearly 90 percent coming from individuals who give during their lifetimes and through their family foundations and estates.

Increasingly, however, the work of improving our communities is moving beyond traditional philanthropy.

A small but growing number of companies are building into their business underlying strategies to address social problems that represent an obstacle to their bottom line.

Individuals who want to build a better world, particularly young people and young adults, are looking for social enterprises, whether nonprofit, for-profit or governmental, that are dedicated to improving social and global problems, and that can show, with evidence and data, that their strategies for change actually work.

So today, as we celebrate National Philanthropy Day and prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we have a perfect opportunity to think about how to best tap into the Triangle’s human, social and financial capital and apply it most effectively to fix our most urgent problems.

Our region enjoys a rich mix of nonprofits, philanthropic foundations, corporate giving programs, donors and volunteers, women’s funds and “giving circles,” a rapidly growing form of collective giving that makes it easy for individuals to pool their funds and know-how and contribute it to charities.

The Triangle is also home to a broad range of professional advisers and other groups that work with nonprofits and individuals to help them be more strategic and effective in their charitable work.

Sadly, however, too many charities and other groups working for social good in our region overlap, duplicate one another, or work in isolation as they try to fix these problems that affect all of us.

We have an opportunity now to do a better job thinking and working together to put our knowledge, our time and our money to more effective use and find coordinated strategies to make sure we are making a difference.

How can we better coordinate our abundant resources and put them to work to help ensure that families can lift themselves from poverty, for example, or that kids and adults get the schooling and training they need to find good jobs, or that people in need have access to basic health care, or that women can free themselves and their children from abusive relationships, to name just a few of the huge challenges we face?

Our two organizations are known as community foundations, a hybrid breed of charity that was established in Cleveland nearly a century ago.

Community foundations work with individuals and institutions to create and manage charitable funds that support a broad range of local needs, including specific needs the donors and funders care about.

We function as a kind of philanthropic matchmaker, connecting resources with charities that serve people and places in need.

And we know, based on the work of our own organizations, and of the individuals and groups we serve, that philanthropy in the Triangle can be more effective and make a bigger impact on our biggest problems if we work together in cooperative and strategic ways that will make our community a better place to live and work.

Lori O’Keefe is vice president for philanthropic services and chief operating officer of the Triangle Community Foundation, and Jennifer Tolle Whiteside is president and CEO of the North Carolina Community Foundation.

Fundraising fundamentals key in tough times

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This column was written for Blackbaud, which asked me to help interpret and to comment on its charitable giving Indexes.]

Ongoing economic gloom continues to dampen charitable giving, underscoring the core importance of building and maintaining strong connections with donors.

Reinforcing the need for better donor development and retention are new data from Blackbaud

that show a decline in charitable giving overall and only a slight increase in online giving in the three months through September, compared to the same period last year.

With uncertainty about the economy and the fall elections undercutting expectations about how much donors will give, experts say, nonprofits need to do a better job understanding what is making donors anxious, and to stand by them, especially during the crucial year-end fundraising season, even if they are giving less or not making gifts.

“Don’t treat them differently because they reduce their gifts because they’ve had to, or because they stop giving for a year or two,” says Karla Williams, principal of The Williams Group, a national consulting firm based in Charlotte, N.C. “Treat them the same. If you treat them differently, they will not return.”

Lingering recession

Overall giving at 2,931 organizations that raised a total of $8.3 billion over 12 months fell 3.1 percent for the three months through September, compared to the same period last year, according to The Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving.

In the same period, online giving at 1,926 charities that raised a total of $378.7 million online grew 2.7 percent, says The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving.

Independent schools outperformed fundraising overall and online.

A new specialty index focused on K-12 independent schools launched by Blackbaud, says overall giving grew 3.1 percent for the three-month period at 321 independent schools that raised a total of $499 million over 12 months. Online giving grew 17.6 percent at 132 independent schools that raised a total of $30 million online.

K-12 giving

For the fiscal 2012 school year, annual giving averaged $1,149 per student for the more than 1,400 private, nonprofit schools that are members of the National Association of Independent Schools.

While that average was up from $1,119 in fiscal 2011, it still remained below the $1,573 average in fiscal 2008, before the economy collapsed in the fall of 2008.

The new data from Blackbaud showing independent schools are outperforming nonprofit giving overall and online confirm the upswing for schools and “may be a harbinger of a pretty good year,” says Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Donor retention

The continuing impact of the recession underscores the need for nonprofits “to cherish the donors we have,” Williams says.

Nonprofits’ top fundraising priority, she says, should be donor retention.

“Retention is all about personalization, relationships, partnerships, and stewardship,” she says. “You may lose their dollars for a year, or get decreased dollars for a year, but they’re still giving, and you have to keep on treating them as a top donor.”

In a recession, nonprofits need to be “a little more sensitive to where our donors are as it relates to either their fears, their job losses, their job changes, their reluctance to give money right now when they’re feeling a little nervous about what’s going on in the greater economic climate, and give them the liberty to make the decision that’s best for them.”

Year-end fundraising

The final three months of the year are a crucial fundraising period for many nonprofits.

And while they typically set fundraising goals based on expectations about how much donors will give, “if those expectations are unrealistic, the fundraisers will be disappointed,” Williams says.

The most effective year-end strategy a nonprofit could pursue would be to give each member of its board of directors 10 names of top donors to call or visit.

“Don’t oversolicit or solicit when you’re anxious,” Williams says, “but solicit properly and personally.”

The key, she says, is to be patient with donors and avoid overreacting from fear that fundraising goals will not be met.

“When we overreact, we really risk putting the relationships in jeopardy,” Williams says.

To see the full report on the Blackbaud Index, click here.

William Friday has led by serving

By Todd Cohen

North Carolina owes a huge debt of gratitude to William Friday.

Friday, who turns 92 today, is our state’s father figure and beloved son, and its truest servant-leader.

More than any other single individual in the second half of 20th century, Bill Friday helped shape the transformation of our state from an agricultural and manufacturing economy driven by tobacco, textiles and furniture to a global competitor that fosters and is fueled by innovation in information technology, bioscience and world-class research, as well as the emerging fields of social entrepreneurship and public service.

After working as a young aide to Frank Porter Graham, the legendary president of the University of North Carolina who built that institution into an engine of economic growth and a beacon of social progress, Friday himself was named president of UNC in his mid-thirties, growing the institution from three campuses to 16 in his 30 years in the job.

A political genius, Friday has led not through the raw patronage and crass deal-making typical of politicians, or through their shameless posturing and pursuit of self-interest, but by treating people with dignity and decency, listening carefully, and working quietly and diligently behind the scenes to build consensus and support.

He has been a passionate and relentless advocate for the fundamental need to make higher education affordable and accessible for North Carolinians.

Under his leadership, the UNC System produced the workers, leaders and innovators in the public, corporate and nonprofit sectors who have helped make North Carolina a formidable economic power and a force for social progress in fields ranging from medicine and digital media to higher education, human services, finance and philanthropy.

He was instrumental in the creation of Research Triangle Park, an entity designed to tap and enrich the know-how and human capital of nearby Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, and that has made the Raleigh-Durham area a global center for research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Friday has been a national leader in the fight to protect higher education from the influence that big-time college athletics and the big money it attracts can have on academic excellence.

As UNC president, and then for 10 years as president of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, Friday worked tirelessly to try to address urgent needs ranging from poverty and illiteracy to poor health and the other social ills that can crush human hope and progress.

Until his hospitalization in May, when he received a pacemaker, Friday had continued to host North Carolina People, the weekly interview program UNC-TV has broadcast for over 30 years that celebrates the depth and breadth of the leaders, innovators and rich mix of characters who personify North Carolina. (He plans to return to the studio for his show next week, taping an interview with Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a graduate of North Carolina State University, Friday’s alma mater.)

Before his hospitalization, Friday also had continued to go to work and meet with visitors in his tiny office on the second floor of Graham Memorial, the historic building on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill that is named for Edward Kidder Graham.

Graham, who became UNC’s eighth president in 1914, once said the boundaries of the university were “co-terminus” with those of the state, a clear claim of turf that underscores the university’s core mission of making North Carolina a better place to live and work by educating and serving its citizens.

Trained as a lawyer, not an academic, Bill Friday has been North Carolina’s consummate teacher and change-agent because he understands, innately and through his own continuing education, that leaders lead by listening and learning, by sharing what they know, and by engaging and connecting their fellow citizens in the job of working together to build a better world.


Philanthropy is about people

By Todd Cohen

Nonprofits and philanthropic funders can get so caught up in their causes and strategies that they forget about the actual people they exist to serve, or simply treat them as “metrics” to help gauge their organizational impact.

But several recent reports suggest the demand and supply sides of the charitable marketplace both need to better understand and engage real people in the communities they serve.

Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives, a report by The Bridgespan Group, says fixing tough community problems will require new strategies for how to think and work together.

And The Value of Community Philanthropy, a report from the Aga Khan Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, says social and global progress depends on community giving and participation.

While the first report focuses on global community-building and the second looks at community-building in the U.S., both reports emphasize the fundamental importance of local involvement.

The global report says local participation in community projects can result in greater local ownership and accountability, for example, while the U.S. report says key operating principles for effective community partnerships include the engagement of community members as “substantive partners.”
The global report, in fact, says that “local people helping each other, by sharing resources for the common good” represents a new force in the charitable world that is “driven by ordinary people working form the bottom up of our societies, rather than wealthy people working from the top down.”

Key players in building the “capacity” of communities are nonprofits, which themselves face big challenges in building their own organizational capacity.

The lessons of the two reports on community-building apply to building organizations as well: A nonprofit needs to engage all its constituents in its efforts to work smarter and serve better.

Yet many donors and funders act as if the wealth they control qualifies them as smart charitable investors who know the best way to address tough social and global problems, regardless of the real needs of their clients.

In the emerging social economy, that has to change.

That point was reinforced in an article April 6 in The New York Times Magazine.

In the article, a coffee entrepreneur in Kampala, Uganda, had some sobering criticism of traditional philanthropy.

While he was talking specifically about global aid, his comments have implications for philanthropy in the U.S.

“Every society that has prospered has done it through trade and not aid,” said Andrew Rugasira. “Africa will be no different. Charity doesn’t incentivize. It stifles innovation. It causes chronic dependency.”

To succeed, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs need investments and incentives to develop sustainable business models.

So funders and donors need to find ways to shift their mindset from charity to strategic investment that helps nonprofits and communities build their own capacity to succeed.

And an essential strategy for building the capacity of nonprofits and communities is to engage their clients, partners and other constituents in understanding the social and global problems they face, and shaping strategies to address those problems.

All philanthropy, in short, is local, and its effectiveness is rooted in engaging the people and communities it serves.

Nonprofits need to get it together

By Todd Cohen

A lot of nonprofits, boards and funders are in serious denial.

Many are in a deep financial hole, yet precious few can talk straight to their funders about their problems.

Compounding the communications gap, many boards do not understand their nonprofits’ expenses, and far too few use their connections to help their nonprofits raise money.

Those are some of the findings from a new survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund that offers a grim view of the way nonprofits are faring in the stricken economy.

Among over 4,600 nonprofits surveyed, for example, 85 percent of saw rising demand for services in 2011, 88 percent expect greater demand this year, and 57 percent have only enough cash on hand to last three months or less.

Among human-services organizations, which represent 38 percent of nonprofits surveyed, 58 percent could not meet demand in 2011, and 60 percent said they would not be able to meet demand in 2012.

The charitable marketplace is consumed with big talk about the need for transparency, yet many nonprofits, along with their boards and their funders, operate with their heads in the sand.

Nonprofits’ survival depends on their ability and willingness to communicate more honestly and openly with their funders, while educating their boards about their finances and enlisting them in the fundamental job of fundraising.

For their part, boards need to take their governance and fundraising responsibilities seriously.

Instead of sleeping through board meetings and rubber-stamping whatever the staff puts in front of them, boards need to ask tough questions about the financial health of the organization.

And they need to step up and do a lot more to use their connections to help raise money for their nonprofits.

Funders also need to do more, both in providing the operating and capacity-building support nonprofits need, and also in establishing the trust that is essential if they expect nonprofits to talk openly and candidly about their financial and operating problems.

If nonprofits, boards and funders do not wake up soon, nonprofits will continue to struggle, leaving as victims the clients who count on them to provide the programs and services they need more than ever in our shattered economy.