Friday, April 29, 2011

"Not You Madam. The Attractive Woman To Your Left"

Giving USA ... The Good Gray Lady.

Giving USA
, the annual compendium on philanthropy published since 1955 has long been the industry standard. With research and development conducted by its partner the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University it is thorough, complete and has always maintained that it's the best estimate available based on IRS data. The major criticism of course is that Giving USA doesn't come out until six months after the year's close. Though it's not ho-hum it is sort of historical and less effective than a speedier output. We all live more instantaneously (than we probably should) these days; old information simply has less currency. The Holy Grail of information is expert knowledge, accuracy and speed. Giving USA is two out of three.

For the third, speed, there's an attractive newcomer on view. Philanthromax, the brain work of two Texans and, they say, an army of academics has developed a proprietary algorithm set that reports philanthropic data in what is real time in this business: monthly. They've been in business since August 2009; CEO Rob Mitchell told me their model enables them to to have data back to 1969. I hadn't heard of them until an article appeared in Chronicle of Philanthropy a few weeks ago.

I am not an economist. Like most of you I am an avidly interested consumer of philanthropic data. Long ago I had a second undergraduate minor in economics but decades past lost whatever skills I had to analyze data like this. So I got in touch with Philanthromax. I wanted to know how their monthly estimates comported with actual Giving USA data. Their CEO, Rob Mitchell, responded with this chart. I don't have the skills to vet this. I also asked Patrick Rooney for a response and what I got was a "Key Points" .pdf circulated by the Giving Institute's new executive director Geoffrey Brown. It's SOS, all stuff the members have heard before; it doesn't respond in any way to Philanthromax.

Rob Mitchell also said "we are in the process of building sector (religion, health, arts, etc) and source (individual, foundation, corporation, bequest) and geography (state and region). Because of the way the algorithms work, we can build data for the last 4 decades and more importantly, provide a reliable forecast for the coming months. Perhaps the more practical application is that we are able to build Atlas customized forecast algorithms for individual organizations and groups of organizations. This enables very accurate budgeting and now, for the first time, organizations can make decisions about the timing of fundraising campaigns and promotions that will produce better results.”

Professional skeptic that I am everything here is retrospective – not yet real time. Keep a sharp eye on the 2010 estimate!

Here's the (unverifiable by me) data. Giving Institute's Summer Symposium is coming up. I'd like to hear Rob and Patrick discuss their methodology.

Giving USA Atlas of Giving Variance






Wednesday, April 27, 2011


With Marilyn's permission:

Lots of national trends emerging as we "climb the wall of worry" out of the Great Recession. Thanks to everyone who shared local nonprofit trends as I worked across the country this quarter.

In order to maintain consistent grantmaking, many private and corporate foundations set their 5% federally required grant payout based on a rolling 3 year average. So the dates in this hed tell us why we are not dancing in the streets yet. That said, we are seeing grantmaking begin to strengthen this year. An even more hopeful sign is the renewal of new foundation start-ups. From last June to now we've seen the total foundation number move from about 98,000 to 102,000. 2012 when 2008 drops out of the equation for setting grantmaking, we should see more monies being granted overall by more foundations. More trends info at:

Tending wounds stealthily:
Anxious to appear as healthy partners as grants and gifts in all donor sectors excepting government start to grow again, we are still tending the institutional wounds of these past years. Lay-offs and workweek cuts continue quietly...often disguised as "early retirements," or "desire to work part-time." Since senior management is most likely to retain their furlough days while releasing lower paid staff back to full-time work, I'm hearing employees complaining that they don't see enough of their Directors.

Some of us are merging, but more announced mergers seem to falter and fall through. (Unfortunately, the word on the street is that the new merged agency is likely to end up with the grants that only one of the two got before. And whichever one gives up its well-branded name, may find the loss of many traditional donors)

On the other hand, it looks like there is a trendlet of winning additional funds via collaborating to offer more comprehensive and/or higher volume services by working together. (Think about one agency simply subcontracting to the other for services. The form of collaboration saves fortunes of monies in comparison to the endless meetings needed to form genuine -- and likely unnecessary - consensus on all activity by both agencies.)

From the Harvard Business Review to our conferences to the airwaves, we are talking about failure. "Failure is the new success." Well -- sort of. If this is an area of interest to you, send your snail mail address to me at and I'll send you a mini-library of sane, well-founded articles on how to assess failure, set up a logic model for circumstances in which failure could be acceptable or anticipated, and how to keep it from wrecking your career or your institution.

The Music is Playing
Ever since this quarterly began two years ago, we've been anticipating the huge staff turnover that comes after a big recession. Now the musical chairs are s well underway at the most senior levels. Recruiters, who generally work with positions in salary ranges at $100k+, are hyper busy. A salary survey covering nonprofits in New York, New Jersey and DC sees both increased recruiting and higher salaries. ( And a Crain's New York 3/14/11 notes that that 87% of U.S. workers are seeking a change.

Now is the time to sit down with valued employees and tell them how much they appreciated...and look together to their career future at your agency. Promotions and job changes don't have to start right now, but they need to be anticipated formally in order to retain your most valuable and ambitious staff.

Now is also the time to refresh those operating manuals and simple cheat sheets that show how things are done in your area of responsibility. Operational effectiveness is hard won. Don't lose it with staff change. Likewise, your donor database or even hard copy files should have notes on interactions with donors, their relationships, past delights and squabbles...and, of course, a history of pledges and gifts, asks and reports. Don't leave this all in the head of a bunch of key staffers who may be going (or being pushed) out the door....

Reading that helps us work more effectively: (e-mail with your snail-mail address. I'll respond with a mix of e-attachments & hard copies depending on what articles you pick)

Thoughtful round-up on thinking about assessing return on social media investments

January and February articles regarding Women and the Glass Cliff (includes a really interesting stuffy on hiring patterns of women vs men CEO's depending upon the health of the hiring company)

A reminder that when we accept large gifts, we also accept duties of loyalty. This article covers Geoff Canada's testimony in support of Raj Rajaratnam as part of the Galleon fraud court case.

Good charts from a March study on how nonprofits view current finances and the actions they've taken to cope.

Marilyn is at