Friday, July 30, 2010

"A Maverick in the Field ... "

Prof. Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and her colleague Noah D. Drezner have just published an award-nominated scholarly study of The Oram Group's historic role in helping historically black colleges and universities raise funds. A Maverick in the Field: The Oram Group and Fundraising in the Black College Community During the 1970s is based on our company's files that are archived at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, on some of my published speeches and writings - and on interviews with me some years ago. For the the full paper please cut and paste:

Reading it for the first time was exceptionally moving and emotion-inducing. I lived it, participated in the work, and with other colleagues like Eve Bates and Liz Hicks, Paul Frillmann and many others carried forward Harold Oram's idealism hard pragmatism and great tradecraft. No other consulting firms in this field - of which I'm aware - have been the subject of such a study.

Comments appreciated. ...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 2nd Quarter?Trends for the Year

Friend and colleague Marilyn Hoyt summarizes the second quarter...

An excellent roundup and informed speculation.

The 2010 second quarter is behind us. The Financial Times notes that "The US housing market is the biggest debt market...with more mortgage debt outstanding than US government debt" and, in another article, that the federal deficit now and for some time to come is about 1/2 ov what it was at the end of WWII as a % of GDP. Encouraging news and dismal news still swirling around. So where are we now? (Please let me know if you want the citation of any of these notes. Also if you'd like to add a colleague or if you prefer not to receive these notes:)

The staff volatility trend is emerging quickly:
**Nonprofits are starting to re-hire against the positions that were laid off (An April business survey conducted by the NJ Star Ledger found that for the first time in 2 years, more CEO's are planning to hire than lay off)
**Recruiters with large nonprofit practices are seeing strong upticks in demand beginning about last May
**CEO's and development staff are leading in searches conducted by recruiters
**The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes in separate articles that nonprofits are starting to increase salaries again, but foundations are not
**Nonprofit professionals who have lost confidence in the potential for moving ahead where they now work are not only looking to move to another position, but more readily to another city. Assertive Boards and supervising staff are well positioned to recruit a strong candidate if they can demonstrate that their nonprofit is ready to roll again
**If you are searching, check carefully as you interview. Many job descriptions now roll-up the effort of 2 or even more former positions. It may be hard to meet expectations, let alone win success, if this is the situation. Know before you go:)

Corporate philanthropy is redefining itself
**The trend toward bringing marketing priorities into corporate foundation giving has been growing for over a decade
**Now, with corporate foundations still depressed (many had a policy not to diversify their investments), we are seeing what a colleague in the Bay Area refers to as "blurring" across giving methods. The value we are expected to add to the CSR (corporate social responsibility) equation is beginning to show up as part of the giving discussion whether we are working with corporate foundations, corporate contributions, gala ticket purchases from departments supporting their clients/prospects, corporate volunteer programs, employee matching, charity partnerships/awards, or in-kind giving.
**I think most of us are used to thinking of the U.S. as the bellwether in corporate voluntarism. Is this the next big thing coming over the horizon from Europe and Asia? GRI (Global Resource Investment) is fast-growing as the definer of sustainable standards. In Europe, there is a trend toward requiring GRI compliance in order to win contracts, so our international companies are now playing in this field. Where does philanthropy stand in this paradigm? Well, the good news is that the most recent survey on community impact has lots of references to philanthropy: The less good news is that in GRI's own rubric, philanthropy
appears to be positioned in opposition to "sustainable" community inputs. Current thinking does not seem to be moving toward encouraging/requiring philanthropic activity.'s a free newsletter to help us watch what's happening

Foundations seem to be putting out more RFP's
**It seems that the pressure to make scarce resources meaningful is leading to more directive behavior from foundations -- defining the project and issuing an RFP, providing technical assistance/consulting rather than funding, taking on their own projects and producing them soup to nuts (often with nonprofit contractors), setting rigid expectations (such as a merger) prior to releasing more funds or accepting another proposal. Will these patterns spread across the sector and come to dominate activity? Probably not...but since this is growing trendlet, it's one we want to follow attentively
**Keep in touch with your foundation funders and prospects! They notice when we disappear because funding is greatly reduced or on hiatus. Now is the time to call -- to thank, to noodle what's going on in the sector we serve, to act like a real colleague

Government is getting hungrier
**In 2010, we are experiencing tough times in state, county and city budget as cuts in funding
**As stimulus monies end and the tax base is not yet recovered, government is getting hungrier
**Operating cash reserves are more important than ever. We are seeing more frequent stories of school districts, county and state government holding contracted funds "in reserve" or just plain waiting months and months and months to pay. In some instances, grants have not yet been received even as new proposals for the coming year are in review.
**Populations are voting to increase taxes for selected needs (Arizona Prop 16, Georgia education)
**However this won't do the whole job.
1) Governing Magazine notes excise taxes (tobacco, liquor) are on a steep climb.
2) Limiting tax exemptions for charitable gifts is under discussion in New York and elsewhere.
3) Taxes on admissions income has been tested in Illinois. When over 100 supporters turned out for an open meeting, the tax idea disappeared and now discussions of much higher fees for water, sanitation services, and/or other city services are underway.
** Now is the time to check in with colleagues in your field. If precedents exist where these taxes or user fees are in place, it is a problem for all of us. We need to be informed and ready to act.
** Just as in every other part of our work, we need to keep telling the story internally and externally. It is a strong bulwark against the ignorance that yields bad legislation and -- believe it or not -- there's still service and capital funding out there. Our elected officials and their staffs as well as department staff know where it is. Keep talking!

Worth Reading: -- just as comprehensive as ever, and now free on-line. This is the go-to reference for 2008-09 trends, where private funds are coming from and flowing now.

Turns out that employing about 10% of the U.S. working population pays off. Business journals have been really helpful through this period. Subscribe if you haven't yet. Travelling around the country, I see them most consistently providing us with useful articles on the state of a local nonprofit sector (health & hospitals, the arts). And they are great compilers of lists. This week the San Francisco Business Times built its list of top corporate funders and unveiled them at their annual Corporate Philanthropy Awards while Crain's New York Business together with the nonprofit Arts Alliance inked thoughtful articles on the arts sector as well as a useful rundown on the top 100

The Pew Foundation continues to publish such helpful and thoroughly prepared reports. Here's the latest from July 14th -- a look at the effect of all these furloughs and layoffs on the nonprofit sector. There is some nice categorical work here so you can look at your particular field.

Thanks to all the colleagues, grantmaking staff, and trustees who keep finding time to give me the observations see here. Let me know what you are thinking! (Thanks to Joni Podolsky, community engagement specialist, Bay Area, CA)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We want to alert you to a new resource. Beginning in June, Giving USA Foundation’s Melissa Brown began an excellent blog about information, ideas, and recommendations for fundraising coming out of GUSA’s ongoing research. About once a week, Melissa is posting updates to giving information or new ways of looking at the data GUSA collects. We encourage you to bookmark: .

We have just returned from the Giving Institute’s Summer Symposium, our consultant association’s annual conference on best practices, trends, and forward thinking. As always, there was a session about GUSA, of which Giving Institute is the producer. Patrick Rooney, E.D. of IU’s Center on Philanthropy, who oversees the Center’s ongoing role as the research partner for Giving USA, noted that year after year, the forecast—which draws from available IRS data and uses well-tested and vetted econometric models—has had a variance of only 1-1.5%, which is astounding.

Knowing we can rely on the data, we had, as always, a deep discussion about the ways the data can be most useful to our clients, given that our resources are not unlimited. Questions to GUSA staff from Giving Institute firms, including Oram, included what the overall giving picture looks like when certain large inputs or outputs are removed. We know from the data, for example, that overall, direct individual giving (itemized gifts only), which makes up 75% of all reported giving, declined just. 0.4% last year. (Bequests are a separate story, of course.) But in a world where a handful of donors can shift the entire picture by giving large sums into investments or a few select places, we were curious what all the superb bar charts and graphs would look like if GUSA took out what we call the “super-absorbers” — the mega-gifts to mega-institutions. True to form, GUSA is ready to take up the challenge and see what they can do. Your questions can help continue to refine how this marvelous resource to all of us can continue to expand its relevance.

Stay tuned, and keep an eye on the blog. Melissa’s July 20 post concerns “Giving to Religion.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Does the blessed use of tainted money purify it?

Early on in this business I learned not to question the provenance of money. Not much "old" money was generated in a saintly manner. For "new" money much the same can be said much of the time. I don't know of charities turning away donations aside from those who turn away gifts from tobacco or liquor companies. Whatever your take on the evils of rum or tobacco the makers are acting legally if not morally.

But what about "Illegal" money? The Spence School and Asia Society, two of New York's most elite institutions are fighting the government's demand that they repay funds donated to them by a man later convicted and about to be sent away for running a Ponzi scheme. This claw-back strategy became a thing when the Madoff empire collapsed.

The institutions' argument is that they accepted the funds in good faith, they had no way to know the gentleman was a crook he was not so labeled at the time. Ergo they have no obligation to return the money.

The legal issue I will leave to the lawyers. The ethical question intrigues me because if every charity had to repay every cent of ill-gotten gains that they indirectly received through a good-faith (if not purely motivated) donation I would fear for the worst.This does not appear to be a clear and imminent peril but does lend light to the illusion that the government's on it. Would I advise the Asia Society or the Spence School to give back the money? I would not. Would you?

There's the old story about the wizened preacher who was offered $1000 of tainted money to repair the church roof. "Tain't enough," he replied.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Disaster Fundraising

On NPR this morning Carrie Khan and Marisa Penaloza report that "the charitable outpouring for Haiti has been huge. To date, Americans have phoned, texted and mailed in more than $1.3 billion, according to The Chronicle Of Philanthropy. Much money was spent on immediate relief, but hundreds of millions of dollars remain in the coffers of nonprofit organizations from the American Red Cross to Oxfam."

First of all that is a tremendous outpouring of generosity illustrating once more that Americans are exceedingly generous and compassionate, second modern technology enables a lightning philanthropic response but third it is essentially impossible to move that much money through the turnstiles effectively and efficiently.

The hare's speed of dollar acquisition versus the tortoise's pace of distribution is an old story in philanthropy and it has tripped up the Red Cross - as one example - more than once. When part of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed in October 2009 and Katrina in August 4 years ago, the Red Cross was inundated with money. They sat on a lot of it, and in the Oakland case, re-distributed a portion to other disaster relief reserves. In Katrina the public outcry compelled them to assure donors their money would stay in Louisiana. Did it? How could you know?

One can argue that it is better to have it and not spend it than it is not to have it at all. Whether charities are sophisticated and efficient in handling money is not the issue. The end use of charitable funds raised in a disaster setting is always a challenge. Having worked in Haiti, India, the Philipines, Thailand and elsewhere - in non -disaster situations - what I learned is that there are really not enough troops on the ground - either nationals or imports - to oversee the good use of donations, nor enough good management for real oversight and the charities themselves are not held to strict standards of accountability by independent entities.

All that said, and allowing for the enormous challenges Haiti and other disasters pose charities must be held accountable for the stewardship of all funds - those on reserve waiting for distribution, and other funds in their possession. As the NPR report makes clear there is no real oversight of charities' finances. The Form 990 that all non-religious charities have to file annually are not fonts of information. For one thing they are often late (extensions are automatic); they are most easily accessed on Guidestar (forget the IRS directly) but those reports are, on average, at least 2 years old. Charities' annual reports are not required to show finances. Many don't, others offer condensed pie-chart types of reporting, and because there are really no rules trying to compare one charity to another is well nigh impossible. A few private sources like Charity Navigator "rate" charities but neither this group nor the few others I know of can cover all of them.

No one is going to hold out the SEC as a model of government oversight. The technical term is "yuck." But even the SEC has centralized, if weak, enforcement powers. Nothing like it exists for oversight of charities. There are state regulations and registration requirements but often no budget nor person-power to deal with charities effectively. I have long advocated an SEC-type charity, separate from the IRS, an idea that goes back to a guy named Carl Bakal who raided it in his book "Charity USA" a generation or so ago. This is of course a skunk-at-the-picnic sort of thing and I haven't picked up a lot of picnickers!

And when God's in the picture things really get mysterious. I don't mean God works in mysterious ways. I mean religious organizations don't have to file any kind of report. Thus a lot of good and maybe some not-so-good info is simply unavailable to anyone on the outside.

The takeaways are disasters raise money fast, spend it slowly and there is virtually no information on what costs were incurred, the ratio of output to retained funds, or whether they can really do what they claim to do what they say the do.Yet I gave more than once to three Haiti-relief organizations.I suppose I could disable the "send" button the computer and the cell phone. But not quite yet!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Do Those Giving Numbers Mean?

July 1st marked the beginning of a new fiscal year for an uncountable - but huge - number of nonprofits in academia, health care, the arts and just about every other category. This start coincides with many governments' fiscal calendars. For most of us a new beginning carries the promise of brighter times and a rosier future.

But coming off a substantial drop in giving in 2009, and 2008, clouds of uncertainty are fogging the mirror. One reason for concern is that the Giving USA Foundation data - summed up here in the last blog - simply did not pass the sniff test of actual experience rather than the statistical extrapolation (on which GUSA numbers are based).

In that context Ruth McCambridge and Rick Cohen opined in a two-part takein The Nonprofit Quarterly is well worth reading. Entitles "Giving USA and You: Cognitive Dissonance Anyone?" Ruth's argument, briefly put, is a few very large foundaion grants skewed the picture. Rick's main point is aggregate corporate giving appears to have gone up because of non-cash gifts, an increasing tranche for company philanthropy.

Take a look at these two provocative essays. (

And if your new fiscal year just started, may you prosper.