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  • NAACP Appoints Interim President/CEO

    The president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP and vice chairman of the NAACP national board of directors, Derrick Johnson, will serve as interim president and CEO until a permanent new president is appointed.

    Johnson will guide the nation’s oldest civil rights organization through “a period of re-envisioning and reinvigoration” until a new president is selected, the organization said in a press release announcing the appointment. The unanimous decision by the executive committee of the board of directors came on Saturday during the NAACP’s 108th annual convention in Baltimore, Md.

    Johnson, who will serve as the NAACP’s primary spokesperson, succeeds Cornell William Brooks, who was president for the past three years but did not have his contract renewed when it expired June 30. Johnson has been leading the organization in the interim along with Chairman Leon W. Russell.

    “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we won’t waste any time getting to it,” Johnson said in a press release. “We are facing unprecedented threats to our democracy and we will not be sidelined while our rights are being eroded every day. We remain steadfast and immovable, and stand ready on the front lines of the fight for justice,” he said.

    At its annual convention at the Baltimore Convention Center, the organization launched “NAACP Forward,” a national listening tour that’s part of its strategic plan for the future. Among its goals is to enhance the NAACP’s vision, mission and commitment to civil rights “amid a climate of political hostility, voter suppression, income inequality, mass incarceration, police, brutality and anti-immigrant sentiment.”

    After listening sessions with current NAACP branch state presidents and leadership from rural and urban communities, “NAACP Forward” will have its first official stop on Aug. 24 in Detroit, Mich., for local membership, supporters and partners. The tour will continue with a session in San Antonio, Texas, in September with NAACP leadership visiting seven major cities over the next few months. Details for each tour stop will be released in the coming weeks.

    “NAACP Forward” also will include smaller discussions in visits to the tour cities to gain the perspective of membership, local community leaders, activists, and others.

    A Mississippi native, Johnson attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., where he now serves as an adjunct professor. He received his law degree from the South Texas College of Law and is an annual guest lecturer at Harvard Law School for a course on social movements. He also has served fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, George Washington University School of Political Management, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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  • Marketers Not Giving Consumers What They Want

    Nonprofit email marketers are lagging behind peers, and the preferences of constituencies, in their ability to provide personalized, relevant messaging.

    More than four out of five consumers (81 percent) report that they want touches of personalization in emails they receive from nonprofits, according to the 2017 “Consumer Email Habits Report: What Do Your Customers Really Want,” a study of 1,003 online respondents commissioned by Campaign Monitor and conducted by Market Cube. The percentage is in line with preferences for other industries, including media and publishing (87 percent), entertainment (85 percent), travel and hospitality (84 percent) and retail (79 percent).

    When it comes to actually delivering relevant information to supporters and potential supporters, nonprofits tend to bring up the rear with only 42 percent of respondents stating that they regularly get relevant emails. The percentage represents the lowest measured, just behind media and publishing’s 50 percent, and far behind the leader, retail, at 76 percent.

    Email personalization can be based on either personal demographics or behavior – how an individual is interacting with an organization, according to Andrea Wildt, chief marketing officer for Campaign Monitor. Based on how individuals are segmented, emails can be personalized with a variety of content, calls to action, and the like. In addition to being a more targeted approach for organizations, personally relevant emails resonate better with recipients – building a trust that is sometimes hard to foster when recipients are bombarded with so many contacts from so many senders.

    Wildt attributed nonprofits’ struggles to provide personally relevant emails to an overall lack of ability to capture data and use that data to segment. Resources available to nonprofits are often far more modest than those of retailers, she added.

    Further complicating matters for nonprofits is the disparate ways various age groups interact with emailed material. Nearly three out of five Millennials (58 percent), defined as those younger than 35, can trace the decision to take action or make a donation to an email – the highest among measured industries. That figure drops to 29 percent among those ages 35 to 54 and 18 percent for those age 55 or older.

    The data mean that nonprofits must take a multi-pronged approach to marketing, Wildt said, that still features methods such as direct mail that appeal to older donors while using methods like email to cultivate younger donors who might not grow into their giving for another decade. Given the similarities in how individuals like being communicated with across industries, Wildt said that nonprofits can take lessons from peers in the for-profit space that tend to be more adept at leveraging technology and targeting customers.

    “They are just not quite as mature at leveraging some of the technology,” Wildt said. “There is so much noise that nonprofits really need help cutting through. The competition for donors’ wallets is still fierce.”

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  • DRTV Getting Much More Personal with Viewers

    The child’s eyes are significant. The look of the mother is a potential drawing point. Research is conducted in search of the most heart-wrenching, emotional stories. From a dozen possible stories, seven are selected for air, a focus group assisting in identifying the strongest story to be repeated during the segment.

    If this all sounds like a day on a studio lot instead of an international charity, the notion isn’t completely off base. Direct-response television (DRTV) continues to be a resource for fundraisers to make giving personal with emotional touchpoints applicable across more platforms.

    Stories and the emotional factor continue to be the most important elements for a DRTV spot, according to Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor, based in Coconut Creek, Fla. A 58-minute spot for the organization features eight segments, seven stories with the strongest story played at the beginning and repeated either in the middle or at the end. Decisions have been made to keep a solemn tone, as content with smiling children tends not to perform well for the charity. “The hungry dog gets the bone. The lean dog gets the bone,” Aloma explained. “If they see happy children they don’t think consciously, but subconsciously, ‘Oh, this has been taken care of.’”

    Additional elements of Food for the Poor DRTV spots include appearances by Cheryl Ladd, a Christian celebrity of “Charlie’s Angels” fame who resonates with the giving generation, donor testimonials, and a few words from Aloma as a representative of the organization.

    Food for the Poor began testing DRTV in 2011 and rolled out its program in 2012. The initial outlay for the two weeks of shooting in the field, production, and focus research were “very expensive,” Aloma said, declining further detail, but the program has paid for itself, he said. In addition to being a fundraising method, Food for the Poor’s DRTV spots provided recognition for the organization at call centers and through its mail program.

    Aloma credited the DRTV campaign with increasing the number of credit-card donations among monthly donors. Credit-card donations provide a large advantage compared to check donors, Aloma said, because the organization is guaranteed the 12 donations instead of risking a donor forgetting to write a check. Attracting monthly donors also benefits the organization’s long-term future, according to Aloma, as monthly donors tend to stay longer and provide fertile ground to future planned giving.

    At the start of Food for the Poor’s DRTV program the organization was receiving monthly gifts averaging $21 with the percentage of credit-card donations in the mid-40s. Today, the average gift is up to $25 and the percentage of credit-card donors has increased to 63 percent.

    Little has changed in Food for the Poor’s approach in its five years of broadcasting via DRTV. Stories were swapped out after three years and reused in markets that had not previously seen them. A growing number of channels has been beneficial from a competition perspective as they have led to increased options and better rates. The cost of airing a 58-minute spot can range anywhere from $500 to $15,000 depending on the channel and market, Aloma said.

    Local channels, predictably, tend to be less expensive than national and cable is usually the most affordable. Food for the Poor targets all of them at various times of day, testing the best combination of upfront cost and donor response. Primetime airings tend to do better than the middle of the night, but every timeslot garners some sort of response, Aloma said. As a religious organization, Food for the Poor’s spots do well when airing after religious programing, but they also do well after Law and Order reruns. “I don’t know if religious people have a mind for criminal justice, as well,” Aloma said.

    The key component to a DRTV spot is visual, emotionally-driven stories, according to Geoff Peters, CEO of Moore DM Group. Such emotion needn’t be “flies in the eyes” with individuals on screen in anguish, but content that triggers some sort of visceral response — joy, sadness, anger, etc. — is necessary. Positive and uplifting tend to work best in Peters’ experience.

    The other variable to consider with DRTV is the types of donors to be attracted. The long-term value with DRTV spots is with monthly, sustained donors, not one-offs, according to Peters. This is important to note for two reasons: One, the messaging in DRTV spots must display a long-term need as opposed to something that can be solved with one big campaign push; and, Two, a sustainer infrastructure must be in place or created to handle repeated transactions and donor communications.

    In terms of format and cost, DRTV has traditionally functioned either in long-form — a 30-minute or longer spot similar to that of an infomercial displayed on remnant air time on weekend days and late night — or short-form — a 60- to 120-second commercial also aired on remnant time. When Moore DM Group entered the DRTV space five years ago, the firm almost exclusively keyed into short, 120-second spots. It was determined that 120 seconds was what it took to tell a good story and capture an audience as opposed to “tombstone ads,” which refer to ads that simply give an organization’s name and what they do.

    Instead of following the typical short-form format, however, Moore DM Group targets vacant primetime slots. While zeroing in on unpurchased primetime slots costs 30 to 50 percent less than general primetime airtime, it’s still more expensive than remnant time, according to Peters, but potentially yields better results with vastly more viewers. A remnant-time strategy might run a client $750,000, which would cover the production of three 120-second spots, money to buy airtime, and an understanding of how DRTV works for them.

    A “high-velocity,” primetime rollout can cost closer to $2 million for three 120-second spots, airtime, and strategizing. The entire sum isn’t necessary upfront, Peters said, and there are checkpoints after storyboarding, after filming, etc., in which an organization can opt out to avoid further costs.

    Peters believes that behind-the-scenes changes coming to DRTV include back-end tracking, trying to narrow the spot seen to the donation down to the minute, an exercise made more difficult by the rise of DVR. Neuro-testing, analyzing how viewers’ brains react to content, is another area that commercial producers have worked in for three or four years that should be popularized in the nonprofit space.

    Syndication is one strategy organizations are investigating on the creative side. A popular move for network television shows, syndication could allow a veterans charity, for instance, to create a 30-minute program to both entertain troops and also educate audiences on work needing be done and then sell it to networks for upfront or ad dollars.

    Integration and product placement are other trails being blazed. Shriners Hospitals for Children, for example, has been featured on the soap opera General Hospital, giving the organization the opportunity to circulate its name and mission all within the constructs of a television program.

    The DRTV space has evolved with the times during the past decade, added David DeBetta, vice president of media buying for Russ Reid, an agency that works with nonprofits. DRTV spots were about the sick children that needed donors’ help when DeBetta started 12 years ago. The education component is less necessary now. Anyone can turn on CNN and see that there is a refugee crisis. Explaining what the organization is doing to make an impact and detailing progress is more important with modern spots.

    The rise of online fundraising has made it difficult to track which supporters were spurred by DRTV. Years ago, it was a pretty easy bet that if a person dialed a specific number to make a donation, the donor was driven to do so by a DRTV spot. “Influencer” has become a buzz word of late, referring to scenarios in which a viewer sees a video, goes online to research further, and then donates.

    DRTV is also becoming a means of reactivating donors. Today, 25 to 30 percent of donors acquired via DRTV are lapsed donors, according to DeBetta, up from about 20 percent three or four years ago. Donors cut back on the number of organizations they support following the economic downturn in 2009, but are giving again. They might even still associate themselves as supporters of an organization despite having not given in a number of years. They just need to be reminded, he said.

    The multiplicity of various mediums has and will continue to be a driver. Russ Reid staff now talk about “video” as opposed to “television,” DeBetta said.

    The old days of just shooting a commercial are gone. Now, it’s about going into the field and shooting a full spot, a two-minute commercial, a promo, Facebook Live content, and so on. What used to be the content for the DRTV spot and B-roll footage is now more intentionally put together to develop a variety of content that provides consistent messaging across channels. A subsequent request for production pricing figures was declined.

    The variety of video content options also creates increased competition for eyeballs. “I don’t think anybody watches TV anymore without another screen accompanying it,” DeBetta said.

    Targeting is the new-wave capability coming down the pike. DRTV spots primarily air on Saturdays and Sundays, yet the busiest donation times are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Being able to follow up with a viewer a few days later with additional content is a big opportunity. Geo-targeting, targeting content in areas where events were recently held such as a run-walk for an organization, is also a possibility.

    The question to be explored, DeBetta said, is at what point does such targeting become too Big-Brotherish? It is possible to know that somebody viewed an organization’s video content based on their Internet protocol (IP) address, but finding the right mix between targeting and coming on too strong is a challenge to be weighed.

    Technological capabilities available now as compared to when Operation Smile entered the DRTV space in 2002 amaze Ryan Wallace, manager of digital strategy and media. Adjustable advertising allowing organizations to get granular with targeting opportunities and automated ad exchanges that Wallace believes are around the bend are among new and exciting capabilities nonprofit leaders might be talking about in earnest in the years to come.

    DRTV fundraising in Hispanic markets is one area in which Operation Smile, based in Virginia Beach, Va., has seen a good deal of success for the past three or four years. It has been so successful, according to Wallace, that an entire Spanish-language show has been produced with actress and singer Roselyn Sánchez. Operation Smile is now expanding into digital efforts directed toward Hispanic audiences.

    Core messaging has remained relatively unchanged for Operation Smile during the past decade and a half, Wallace said. The organization has an in-house content team dedicated to patient stories and the economic, medical, and volunteer impacts of cleft palate surgeries. Operation Smile redid its program in 2014 for the first time in eight years with a focus on telling the patient’s journey complete with life before surgery, how they reached the medical mission site, life after surgery, and circling back to see how they’ve done since.

    “Our goal there is to demonstrate the need and demonstrate the impact of our donor dollars,” Wallace said. “I think that’s communicated naturally in the journey of a patient.”

    What has changed has been the way viewers consume content and the approach in reaching them. The linear progression of producing a television spot, including a phone number, and tracking the calls in are things of the past. The omni-channel approaches have risen. With omni-channel, a similar narrative must flow through a 60-minute television spot and a 30-second online piece all while making tweaks to best meet the needs of each format.

    “People are no longer thinking in that linear format,” he said. “People are channel-agnostic for the most part. Gone are the days you’re building content for one channel. You really have to take a multi-channel approach.”

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  • Community Foundations Expand Reach Globally

    International giving by community foundations has grown in recent years, led by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) in particular as well as donor-advised funds (DAF).

    A new report released yesterday examines the current and recent trends in international giving by community foundations. “Local Communities with Global Reach: International Giving by U.S. Community Foundations” is a joint effort by the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center.

    Among the report’s key findings are:

    • Grant dollars awarded by large U.S. community foundations for international programs more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, from $103 million to $223 million;
    • The average grant size grew by 78 percent, from $52,000 to $93,000, and the number of grants increased from 1,980 to 2,396, some 21 percent;
    • Eighty-five percent of community foundations made at least one international grant in 2014, compared with 67 percent in 2002;
    • About 92 percent of international grants were from donor or corporate advised funds and supporting organizations;
    • Almost 90 percent of global giving was channeled via U.S.-based grantees working overseas, with 8 percent awarded directly to the country of implementation; and,
    • The proportion of grant dollars awarded by U.S. community foundations to programs and recipients abroad increased from 3 percent in 2002 to 6 percent in 2006 and has remained relatively stable ever since.

    “Community foundations have not been blind to the significant demographic changes occurring in the communities they serve,” said Bradford Smith, president of the New York City-based Foundation Center. “While they are appropriately thought of as place-based organizations with a fundamental focus on the health of the local community, they are equally committed to addressing the diverse needs of local constituents with increasingly global backgrounds,” he said.

    In 2014, community foundations represented less than 1 percent of the total number of U.S. foundations but were responsible for 9.5 percent of the sector’s assets and 12.5 percent of total giving.

    The report used Foundation Center’s dataset of 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations from 2010 to 2014 to analyze international grants made by U.S. community foundations. During that time, foundations made 10,533 grants totaling almost $700 million. The report also features case studies of five community foundations engaging globally in different ways, including SVCF. The report also provides case studies of the Boston Foundation, Cleveland Foundation, Greater Houston Community Foundation and Seattle Foundation.

    Since the 2007 merger of the Peninsula Community Foundation and Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, SVCF has become the largest U.S. community foundation and one of the 10 largest U.S. foundations of any kind. Its assets have grown at an average annual rate of 17 percent over the last decade, from $1.7 billion at the time of the merger to more than $8 billion.

    The foundation also is more proportionally focused on international grantmaking than any other community foundation. SVCF accounted for 44 percent of international giving by community foundations in 2014, about $98 million out of a total $223 million. Between 2010 and 2014, SVCF awarded $272 million to programs implemented outside the U.S., $223 million more than the Foundation for the Carolinas, the second largest international grantmaking community foundation over that period.

    “The report highlights something that few are aware of, that community foundations are increasingly stewarding local philanthropy towards international activities,” Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based Council on Foundations, said in a press release. “This presents an enormous opportunity for cross-border collaboration between community foundations and local organizations building stronger communities around the world,” she said.

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  • Paquin To Lead Points Of Light

    Natalye Paquin will be the next CEO of Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.

    The Board of Directors of the Points of Light announced its selection yesterday and Paquin will lead the organization starting in September. For the past two years, she has served as chief transformation officer at Girl Scouts of the USA in New York City where she has led a national transformational strategy.

    Paquin also is a former CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, one of the largest councils in the nation, where she was successful in growing revenue and engaging partners in new strategies that resulted in significant investments in programming, according to a press release announcing her appointment. She previously served as a civil rights attorney with the United States Department of Education and also in legal and executive roles in both the Philadelphia and Chicago public school systems.

    Paquin brings “extensive experience in nonprofit leadership, education and civil rights to the role, as well as a skilled hand at working with large networks and volunteer organizations – all key to the Points of Light mission,” said Neil Bush, chairman of the Points of Light board of directors. “Her undisputed passion for good, demonstrated leadership skills and commitment to action make her an exceptional choice to lead and build on the legacy of Points of Light as an organization that gets things done,” he said.

    Paquin has served in numerous volunteer leadership roles and currently is a trustee of Rosemont College and a board member of the national advisory board of The Salvation Army.

    Founded in 1990, Atlanta, Ga.-based Point of Light has affiliates in 250 cities and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and corporations. It engages more than 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service each year. It was created in response to President George H.W. Bush inaugural address, invoking the vision of a “thousands points of light.”

    Paquin will succeed Tracy Hoover, who announced in January that she would step down as CEO this year, allowing for a transition period while the board engaged in an executive search. Hoover joined HandsOn Atlanta in 1995 and was CEO of the local organization when the HandsOn Network merged with Points of Light Foundation in 2007. She has led Points of Light since 2013 after taking over for Michelle Nunn, who stepped aside to run for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Hoover will remain in the role through the transition.

    Points of Light reported $24.13 million in revenue last year, against $24.82 million in expenses, in the fiscal year ending September 2015, the most recent Form 990 available. As CEO that year, Hoover earned total annual compensation of $332,944, including base compensation of $309,474.

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  • 6 Ways To Entice Millennial Donors

    They’re here. Millennials gain prominence in society and commerce each year, making them an attractive population to help expand and diversify your organization’s donor base. What remains elusive, however, is how to attract this sect of donors, larger in number than Baby Boomers, after years of focusing on predominantly older donors — those who tend to be the most likely to give.

      During their presentation “The Donors of Tomorrow: Effective Ways to Engage Young Audiences” at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., Rachel Clemens, chief marketing officer for TradeMark Media, and Ashley Wilson, vice president of marketing and communications for LIVESTRONG, discussed best practices in attracting the Millennial supporters. These included six fundamental steps:

    • Understand the younger audience. Millennials understand technology, are racially diverse, want stories to build connections, and are not attracted to communications that look like they are being sold something. An Abila software study showed that preferred channel preferences among donors include peer-to-peer, radio and TV ads, and email;
    • Focus on design. Younger audiences like to be engaged and delighted with visuals such as animation. This does not need to be expensive. Simple design principles such as white space and typography can go a long way;
    • Recognize them. Consider giving swag or incentives for those who support your organization such as LIVESTRONG’s yellow band. Public thank you messages such as spotlighting partners on social media can also be effective;
    • Be transparent and authentic. Watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator can be helpful in this respect. An example of transparency is the post-Ice Bucket Challenge infographic that was developed to show how donations were spent. An example of authenticity is LIVESTRONG chronicling the experience of a cycling challenge event on social media;
    • Increase inclusion. Collective action and participation are valuable. Peer-to-peer fundraising and peer giving groups help lend authenticity. Consider satellite parties for larger events and zanier events such as color runs; and,
    • Incorporate Millennials throughout the organization. Millennials like to volunteer, so it’s very possible that is how they will come to your organization. Develop a volunteer-donor action plan and think about ways to retain them, help them become advocates, and — down the line — members of your board. Ensure that your board is tapped into the voice of this younger generation. Also evaluate whether younger individuals are in positions of leadership within your organization.
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  • The Light Of Public Scrutiny Burns Bright

    Whether you like it or not, your organization is not immune from the kind of scrutiny concerning organizational expenses that Wounded Warrior Project was slammed with in 2016. Here’s the key question organization leaders have to ask themselves, according to Lou Mezzina, retired partner at KPMG LLP: If that scrutiny comes, are you ready for it? During the session, “Expense Allocations and the New ASU” at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Not-For-Profit Conference in National Harbor, Md., Mezzina discussed “the overhead myth” and the need to properly document organization expenses. Mezzina opined that, given the differing complexity and level of staffing and working necessary to achieve missions from organization to organization, expense ratios are given too much focus. The problem with pivoting too far from organization expenses, he said, is that it hurts fundraisers who depend on being able to tell donors that “90 percent of contributions go to mission.”

    With that all in mind, Mezzina recommends being both cognizant of a general public preference for programmatic spending over fundraising and general spending and to be prepared to support organizational expense allocations with proper documentation. The 2016 AICPA Audit Guide states that activities not identifiable with a single program, fundraising activity, or membership development activity — but are indispensable to the existence of the organization — should be categorized as management and general activities. Mezzina likes that definition because it describes the underlying value of management and general expenses.

    The most recent Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Accounting Standards Update (ASU) includes payroll on the list of management and general activities as well as human resources, the costs of which are traditionally not allocated to a specific program. “Supervising activities,” often interpreted liberally by organizations, has also become more granular, Mezzina said, recommending that organizations revisit “direct conduct and direct supervision” to ensure compliance.

    Multiple example scenarios were discussed during the session. Among the key takeaways from Mezzina was ensuring the documentation and accuracy of information. For instance, if an expense is attributable to multiple programs, make sure that there is a reasonable basis to allocate the expense one way as opposed to another and refine as better information becomes available. Similarly, Mezzina referred to a client where when it came to where to allocate employee time and effort – staff estimate time spent on various tasks on a quarterly basis. There is a bias with such practices, he said, as staff know that program work sounds better than fundraising or management – so maybe 20 percent programmatic work turns into 30 or 40 percent.

      Additional questions and responses raised during the session included:

    • Does an organization 100 percent funded by grants still have management and general expenses? Yes, according to Mezzina. The fact that the expenses are charged to a grant do not change its stripes.
    • Where should communications costs go? The answer can vary depending on the work, according to Mezzina. An annual report, for instance can be a general management cost. It is also possible for communications to contribute to program-level and fundraising reporting.
    • To what extent should an organization detail every line item? Use your own judgment. If your organization is preparing a 30-line matrix of expenses, stop what you are doing. Mezzina doesn’t see the need for a matrix greater than 10 or 12 lines.
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  • Investment Returns Pop, But Don’t Keep Up

    Private and community foundations saw their highest average returns in three years but spending rates also jumped, staying ahead of 10-year returns.

    Community foundations reported an average return on investments of 7.3 percent while private foundations reported an average of 6.4 percent, according to the 2016 Council on Foundations-Commonfund Study of Investment of Endowments for Private and Community Foundations (CCSF).

    In 2015, private foundations reported an average return of 0.0 percent and community foundations reported an average -1.8 percent, a year after returns were 6.1 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.

    Released today, the survey covers the fiscal year from January to December 2016 and return data are reported net of fees. More than 200 foundations participate in the survey, representing combined assets of more than $96 billion. It’s the fifth year that Commonfund Institute and the Council on Foundations have partnered to produce the research, believed to be the most comprehensive annual survey of its kind.

    Returns saw a complete turnaround in each major asset class from the previous year, when all were negative or zero. U.S. equities generated the highest return for private and community foundations, in the neighborhood of 12 percent, followed by:

    • Short-term securities/cash/other, 3.8 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively;
    • Alternative strategies, 5.6 percent and 5.1 percent;
    • Non-U.S. equities, 4.8 percent and 4.1 percent; and,
    • Fixed income, 0.8 percent and 0.3 percent.

    Asset allocations for both types of foundations remained remarkably stable from year to year, with virtually no change at the level of the five major allocation classes. Private foundations generally averaged 45 percent in alternatives and a quarter of assets in U.S. equities, about 19 percent in non-U.S. equities, followed by 8 percent in fixed income and 4 percent in short-term securities/cash/other. Community foundations held a third of assets in U.S. equities, a quarter in alternative strategies, and 22 percent in non-U.S. equities. Fixed income saw a mild shift from 16 percent to 14 percent allocation, with the difference going into short-term securities/cash/other.

    “Investment returns for 2016 are encouraging, but deliver a mixed message: It is heartening to see improved investment performance, especially given its implications for ongoing mission support,” Council on Foundations President and CEO Vikki Spruill and Commonfund Institute Executive Director William Jarvis said in a joint statement. Long-term returns are not sufficient to maintain the principal of foundations’ endowments after spending, inflation and costs, they added.

    Ten-year returns averaged 4.7 percent for private foundations and 4.6 percent for community foundations, trailing reported effective spending rates. Spending rates among participating private foundations in 2016 rose to 5.8 percent, up from 5.4 percent the previous year, while community foundations reported a decline from 4.8 percent to 4.7 percent.

    “Over the past 10 years, community foundations’ returns roughly equal their 2016 effective annual spending rate but do not offset the effect of inflation and costs. Private foundations’ 10-year investment returns are 1.1 percent lower than their 2016 effective spending rate, and, if continued, this could be a concern over the long term,” they said.

    Sixty percent of private foundations with more than $500 million in assets reported increased spending in dollars, up from 50 percent last year. About 42 percent of community foundations of the same size increased spending in dollars compared to 50 percent in the previous year. Spending in dollar terms declined for private foundations in the other two size categories, rose for community foundations in the $101 million and $500 million range and was unchanged for those with assets of less than $101 million, year over year.

    As returns have dropped in recent years, so have long-term expectations for some foundations. The average long-term objective among private foundations with assets of more than $500 million fell from 7.7 percent to 6.9 percent in 2015. Among private foundations within the same size category, none had a long-term objective of 9 percent or more in 2016 compare with 8 percent a year ago and 16 percent in 2014. No community foundations of that size report an objective of 9 percent or more in the past three years.

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  • Progressive Protesting Proving to Be Profitable

    All it took was eight women sitting around a table at a conference in Boston last year talking about sustainability and the planet, and a new nonprofit was born. Called Global Women 4 Wellbeing, it launched in October at the Georgetown home in Washington, D.C., that owners Leigh Stringer and John Hlinko affectionately call “the house that Trump built.”

    Hlinko is the founder of Left Action, a network of 2 million progressive activists, built mainly through viral marketing. Donald J. Trump’s election to President of the United States, boosted interest in political organizing and campaigns to such a great extent that Hlinko said every day is like Super Bowl Sunday with the energy and engagement associated with a big event.

    The bulk of his business is based on political activism, but he says that shouldn’t scare off nonprofits from capitalizing on openings created in the new Trump era. Stringer and other board members of Global Women 4 Wellbeing held a large sign aloft to identify their group as they marched in Washington, D.C., with the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration.

    Their goal is to support women’s health research. From the moment the idea took hold during a June conference at the Harvard School of Public Health, the fledgling nonprofit became part of a burgeoning new health and well-being industry that analysts value at $3.7 billion a year.

    Trump-era policies that question climate change and threaten funding for women’s health are big motivations. “There’s a fire under our butts, no question about it,” said Stringer, an architect and author of, The Healthy Workplace.

    Left Action helped fund the inaugural event at Stringer’s house, and Global Women 4 Wellbeing will eventually tap into the Left Action list. But the group’s measured approach to reaching out to activists reflects the caution among nonprofits about getting too close to the partisan edge.

    “The challenge for nonprofits is to appropriately tap into the energy and attention paid because of the Trump effect, yet many are concerned about being overly partisan and have to be careful of the rules restricting what they do,” said Hlinko. “It’s a challenge.”

    Among his clients are the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Mom’s Clean Air Force, an offshoot of EDF. “I lean toward advising them to get more critical, not to get involved in campaigns. But if Trump or (House Speaker Paul) Ryan (R-Wis.) do something bad on their issue, don’t back away. The softer approach would be to educate and explain why you’re right — or go after them as the villain attacking your issue.”

    You have to decide whether you lose more or gain more, Hlinko said. “If you’re a nonprofit and 90 percent of your supporters are on one side, go after the villain.” With the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) working on climate change, it was completely appropriate to go after Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), for denying climate change.

    The approach you take depends on your audience. Years ago, when he worked on the stem cell issue, demonizing the other side didn’t make sense when former First Lady Nancy Reagan was walking the halls of Congress lobbying lawmakers to support stem cell research, which she said could potentially find cures that would help sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease such as her husband.

    “Had the stem cell community villainized Republicans, she might not have gotten on board,” Hlinko said. The same thinking applied to conservative lawmakers such as Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch and the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, who became advocates of the research.

    Hlinko’s resumé includes a stint at MoveOn.org, the pioneering Internet site launched to rally opposition to the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998. He also led the successful draft that briefly got Gen. Wesley Clark to run for president in 2004. But the “big one,” he said, that put him on the map for creative Internet skullduggery was in 2001 when the George W. Bush administration instituted a policy denying financial aid to students who wouldn’t say whether they had a drug conviction.

    “I thought it was deliciously ironic” for Bush, who had dodged questions about his drug use as a youth, so Hlinko created “Students for a Drug Free White House” with the slogan, “Just Say Blow,” a takeoff on Nancy Reagan’s, “Just Say No.” It led to Hlinko’s first TV appearance, on Fox, debating conservative Monica Crowley. It helped put him on the map in cable television-crazed Washington, D.C., the next best thing to being a stand-up comic, his original goal.

    Hlinko got his first email address when he enrolled at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1992, where he honed his reputation as a prankster. He and a buddy devised a fake swim test with requirements that would have strained Seal Team 6. The two-hour ordeal called for a 30-minute backstroke and a “clothed survival float,” which sent all the high-achieving students into a tailspin, along with the dean, who failed to see the humor and issued a very serious memo decrying the test and its authors.

    When Hlinko published his book, “Share – Retweet – Repeat: Get Your Message Read and Spread” in January 2012, it included a “118 email test,” to ask yourself before you hit send. The idea is if it was the 118th email in your inbox, would it get any attention? Would it grab anyone?

    “Now I get at least that many every day because the intensity has gone up,” he said, and so has his bottom line. An article on The Daily Beast website noted he was making money off leftwing activism, and he got some critical comments. “But I welcomed them,” he said. “I feel all too often, progressives shy away from money, assuming that if they just wish hard enough, they’ll wake up in a world where it’s not necessary to win campaigns. But back here on planet Earth, it’s critical, and I wish progressives would embrace that.”

    That applies to the world of nonprofits as well, he elaborated. “You need to have resources, and progressives all too often shy away from resources. Money is the root of all evil. It’s also a way to fight against evil. We need money to fight the good fight. It’s a tool used for good or bad.” Leveraging instant access to potentially millions of like-minded people is a pretty good way to spend your day.

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  • Young Nonprofit Executives Seek Accessible Training

    Jamie Smith isn’t just the executive director of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), she’s a member. When she first joined the network’s Chicago regional office in 2009, she – like many in the sector – found herself underpaid and underdeveloped. Now she’s leading the organization’s mission of connecting young, emerging leaders with resources, professional development and ideas.

    Smith knows well the benefits of prestigious career development opportunities. She was a 2013 YNPN Launchpad Fellow and is a 2016-2017 Independent Sector NGen Fellow. She appreciates, however, that such opportunities can be selective — with a limited number of slots to fill — and other developmental opportunities might be costly. Smith has sought to democratize development opportunities. One such way has been through YNPN’s 42 chapters.

    It is clear that many nonprofit staff members and managers believe they are on their own when it comes to professional development, seeking out career growth through education and networking.

    YNPN’s chapters service more than 50,000 members across the country, the majority of them between the ages of 25 and 35, according to Smith. Many are in the early stages of their careers and are seeking training. Those new to the sector or maybe just new to a particular community are able to join local chapters and seek out training and programming opportunities, most of which are either free or low cost. Each chapter is run by a young professional in the community and serves as a leadership opportunity in and of itself. Many of the chapters are their own 501(c)(3) organizations and leaders, in addition to their day jobs, gain the experience of running their own nonprofit.

    What Smith has found is that members generally join to access a particular training but stay as a means of remaining connected with a network of peers tackling the same challenges. She noted that the recent focus on a nonprofit leadership gap, caused by Baby Boomers preparing for retirement, has emphasized a need for soft skills such as leadership and working with people. While those talents are needed, YNPN members have indicated that such trainings are easier and less costly to come by than hard skills such as managing organizational finances. Organizations tend to limit the exposure mid-level employees get to such trainings, but often require such skills in order to move up to senior roles.

    YNPN has taken to encouraging members to seek out shadowing and stretch opportunities at their work place to access technical skills. Smith is often asked at conferences and in meetings how best to connect with the incoming Millennial generation in the work place. The answer, she said, is that many young people entering the nonprofit workforce are focused on systemic change, are more diverse than previous generations and are seeking a better work-life balance than their predecessors.

    Professional development must also evolve. Accessibility, in time, cost and diversity of recipients, is important. Also vital is being intentional about opportunities for those receiving training and making sure that individuals are able to bring back and use their training within the organization. “In terms of making training more impactful, is an opportunity to use those skills,” Smith said. “People go to these trainings, get skills and can’t use them. It’s a strange approach.” YNPN’s peers in development and mentorship are not waiting around for Millennials to evolve their offerings. Several organizations and networks have similarly made efforts to increase accessibility for workers in the sector in need of career guidance or simply enough information to fill a learning gap or solve a problem.

    The Community Resource Exchange (CRE) in New York City, founded in 1979, was originally envisioned as a means for leaders of small organizations to get together and help one another by sharing resources and ideas. Leaders quickly found that nonprofit clients didn’t have time to gather and share, but needed a place to go to for quick answers, according to Katie Leonberger, president and CEO. CRE, in turn, evolved into a nonprofit consulting group, geared to providing assistance in the form of one-on-one consulting, coaching and professional development for nonprofit and government workers.

    There is plenty of commonality among those seeking out the exchange’s offerings, according to Leonberger. Financial management and being able to read and base decisions off statements continues to be one of the most sought-after hard skills. Individuals also have a general desire to be more impactful leaders, but require guidance to determine what that means and where they might have gaps.

    Finally, there is a value in cohorts and collaborating with peers as a means of both working through individual struggles, as well as gain a sense that one isn’t alone in facing day-to-day pressures. CRE addresses these needs in a variety of ways. It hosts a seven-month leadership caucus each year, supported by scholarships for organizations that can’t afford to send an employee. Government agencies, such as New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, buy slots and allow for scholarships to be made available, Leonberger said. A future goal is to offer similar scholarships to further CRE management initiatives.

    The nonprofit consulting firm also developed peer and action-learning opportunities. Action learning might refer to a session in which groups of nonprofit workers are split up into small groups accompanied by consultant for a structured problem-solving exercise. Each participant will bring a problem they are working on at their organization and one or two will be selected during a three-hour session to hash out their issue with their group. The goal, Leonberger said, is to have group members ask tough, pointed questions to help the member in the spotlight develop an answer. By doing this, members in the center are helped out with their specific concern while fellow participants receive practice in active problem solving, leadership and asking difficult questions.

    The active learning process has become popular enough that CRE is receiving requests to hold similar sessions during on-site consulting work at larger organizations. Leonberger believes that similar peer learning and support opportunities will gain traction. “I think it will continue to grow, but the question is how you make it work in busy nonprofit professionals’ lives,” she said. “We’ve found that even though it’s painful for them to peel themselves away, it’s beneficial to get out of the office.”
    A similar peer-learning and support endeavor is kicking off this month in Rhode Island. The United Way of Rhode Island, based in Providence, will be launching an 11-session Executive Director Learning Circle in an effort to expand its offerings beyond the organization’s grantees, according to Diana Perdomo, director of grants and strategic initiatives. Slots for the year-long course will run $100. Michael Fournier, a retired nonprofit executive and former chief operating officer for the YMCA of Greater Providence, will facilitate the sessions.

    “Even in a small state like Rhode Island, nonprofits don’t speak with other as often as they could,” Perdomo noted. “Funders could do more to share ideas and work and learn from one another.”

    The learning circle’s first cohort is expected to be limited to 12 to 15 people in an effort to maintain an intimate feel. Leaders from organizations with revenues of $1 million and less will also be prioritized with plans to add series for both larger and grass-roots organizations.

    Topics for the sessions will range from general tips to specific challenges participants face. Fournier said that his style generally entails organic discussion. For instance, as opposed to providing an A-to-Z guide on strategic planning, discussions will focus more on the process around strategic planning, with participants sharing good and bad experiences and reflecting on what is most likely to work for each participant. Tracking and reporting organizational progress will also be a focus of the sessions, according to Fournier.

    “That’s, to me, why a learning circle, conversational learning, sharing experiences, is so much more helpful than going online and seeing the top five things you need to protect,” Fournier said. Both Fournier and Perdomo noted that many of the topics that the sessions will cover can be found in online portals and other resources, but opined that the experience isn’t the same as in-person instruction and sharing — something the United Way of Rhode Island will look to expand to other cohorts.

    “I think we’re increasingly separated as a community,” Perdomo said. “That dialogue really helps us see and address the issue. … That’s what I see as the key benefit to this. That is what makes us unique.”

    That sentiment is not shared by all. The heads of Aspen Leadership Group, which typically focuses on executive searches and consulting, launched its Career Network a few years ago as a means of both guiding those looking to change in their careers as well as provide themselves with better reference on potential candidates. Very often individuals will jump to a job because of relocation, or for a spouse or because of change of leadership at their organization and they’ll land in a poor fit, according to Ron Schiller, founding partner and principal search consultant.

    “The basic concept is that we want to encourage people in the field to have more thoughtful approaches to their career and avoid jumping for title and salary,” Schiller said of the network. “What we’re trying to encourage is having a strategic plan for your career.”

    Aspen posts information and articles in the network on topics ranging from perfecting cover letters to best practices for board management. The network also provides an extra layer of communication between the firm and candidates to identify skills necessary to land a particular position and means of gaining that experience. Aspen has taken to using the network as a means of connecting candidates with leaders at the types of places that they are interested in working. The leader might not be hiring at that time, but the introduction serves as a means of providing additional information and guidance, Schiller said.

    The plan is to expand the network over time to potentially include webinars, tutorials and discussion groups, Schiller said. The goal is not to recreate a formula already in full swing with services such as LinkedIn, but to foster conversations curated by Aspen professionals. “We like the blend of using online dialogue, but introducing the personal relationships and the curation,” Schiller said. “As the network grows, the plan is to keep that blend.”

    The Internet is being used as a method of delivering quick answers to nonprofit staffers in need of a particular training or lesson. NonprofitReady.org, an online learning portal supported by the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, was created several years ago with the goal of providing sector-specific e-learning, downloadable guides and short videos to sector professionals free of charge.

    The portal currently consists of more than 200 courses and is visited by about 24,000 active users, according to Rebecca Petersen, director of NonprofitReady.org. Much of her role as director centers involves curating content and creating partnerships with specialists in the sector. Specialists tend to be generous with their time, donating the work to the portal.
    Information available on the portal tends to be general in nature, capable of applying to a variety of different organizations. The types of lessons sought tend to be cyclical. For instance, lessons on giving performance reviews tend to be common at the end of the year. Often, users go to the portal with time-specific needs to learn or freshen up on a topic. “In a small nonprofit, one person might wear a lot of hats,” Petersen said. “What we see is a lot of individuals who need to become specialists in the moment.”

    More generally, financial management and stability is a topic that is popular throughout the year. Basic essential courses such as governance, marketing, finance, leadership 101, etc., are common for incoming social entrepreneurs who might be looking to start their own nonprofit, according to Petersen.

    Petersen found that NonprofitReady.org’s sweet spot tends to be with small- and medium-sized organizations that might not have formal development programs, but are seeking some level of training for employees. In an effort to improve the portal’s offerings, Petersen said that a user survey was conducted in December, an advisory board featuring e-learning experts make recommendations and current trends and events are followed. Potential changes in tax codes with the incoming administration, for instance, is a place resources might be aligned to address. Adjusting content to take deeper dives into social entrepreneurship, financial stability and governance are also planned for 2017.

    Petersen said that there is interest in online learning within the sector, but a tendency to stick with more traditional graduate and certificate programs. She predicted that the next two to three years will be an interesting time as awareness around online options increases and users begin to more actively seek such resources out. “That’s going to change in time when there is more ubiquity,” she said. “From a workplace standpoint, people are not only changing jobs over their lifetime, maybe they’re changing careers. Are they going back to school each time?”

    If professionals in the sector choose to pursue the more traditional education route, they might find that the realm of academia has adapted over the years. “What do you do when you already have a master’s degree and 15 years of experience,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of Arizona State University’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. “You’re not going to take the GRE.”

    The Phoenix, Ariz.-based center has full bachelor and masters offerings in subjects such as social entrepreneurship, but has also developed its Nonprofit Management Institute which provides short-course, noncredit offerings both in-person and online. In some cases, an attendee might be seeking out specific knowledge to fill a gap they might have, Ashcraft likening it to perusing the produce aisle at a grocery. Others might take a bundle of training in a specific area to earn a certificate.

    This fee-based, pick-and-choose format makes students more like market customers in a lot of ways, Ashcraft said. The typical student and how they get involved is also changing. The center’s work was jumpstarted by resources provided by the Kellogg Foundation and it was for center leaders to proselytize and engage potential students. In recent years, there has been a shift to more and more people and organizations seeking individualized training coming to Lodestar. The market shift has come as certificates become an acknowledged and valued asset, he said.

    The center also has adapted. Social impact measurement was not a big focus 15 years ago. Now it’s been added to the curriculum. The rise of hybrid organizations and importance of social media strategy has also influenced offerings, as has accessibility. Ashcraft noted that somebody living on a Navajo reservation in northern Arizona is unlikely to make the commute to Phoenix. Technology, in turn, has allowed the center to scale to students across the country with its Nonprofit Management Institute offerings and even more traditional programs. A full, online master’s degree program launched this past fall, with undergraduate programs also moving toward online, according to Ashcraft.

    “People are seeking a purpose mid-career and beyond,” Ashcraft said. “If you care about something, there is a cause to align with and people are looking to adapt their own expertise. Purpose and passion only carry you so far without a skillset and people are yearning for a means of getting involved.”

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