Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 28, 2013

Tackling obesity: Foundations and nonprofits go local for greater impact

Local nonprofits partner with food markets to provide low-income areas with access to fresh food. © Shutterstock

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Garth Graham

Even as childhood obesity rates are starting to level off in this country, 5 five percent of American children and teens remain severely obese, according to new information from the American Heart Association. Individuals in low-income communities across the nation are statistically more likely to suffer from obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions. 

As obesity rates have increased in the United States, we have been provided a broader view to see and understand the factors that multiply the issue, from genetics to food access. And, unfortunately, it’s a fact that individuals living in low-income communities eat greater amounts of cheap, unhealthy foods, contributing greatly to the public health crisis. 

Driving collaboration—Community by community

Recently, the Aetna Foundation sponsored an international meeting on global health and wellness. The meeting brought together 100 of the most notable national and international experts on obesity and chronic disease. As experts discussed successful efforts to combat obesity, it became clear that local programs are having a significant impact in changing people’s health across the U.S.

As a physician and president of the Aetna Foundation, I’m continuously reminded of the duty we have to help advance the health of children and adults. Over the years, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have supported disease prevention programs, helped revitalize neighborhoods, provided aid to those in need and listened to the varied voices that shape our community and our nation.

Today, as we work to increase the health and quality of care for individuals and communities, we also focus our energy on possibilities that may lead to meaningful improvements in health and the health care system. Foundations play a vital role in making this happen, with their ability to bring together experts and assets to address the preventive and individualized care that promotes health and wellness. 

Foundations can utilize grant support and research to serve as catalysts for sharing information, collecting data and bridging partners with a common goal in a way that conventional businesses and other nonprofits cannot. We operate in an area that makes it possible to bring together policy makers, businesses, health professionals and community nonprofits to look holistically at the issue at hand and together develop the changes necessary for positive health outcomes. 

Local focus 

Along with the work of foundations and nonprofits on a national level, the Aetna Foundation provides grant support to a number of local nonprofits implementing programs in low-income communities to increase access to healthy, fresh foods. Take, for example, the Double Up Food Bucks program from the Fair Food Network helps recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) make the most nutritious use of their food stamps. Started in 2009 as a pilot project at five Detroit farmers’ markets, the program has expanded to more than 150 markets throughout Michigan. Through this program, SNAP recipients can double their purchasing power at participating farmers' markets to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. Through a study we supported by Fair Food Network and several similar organizations, we determined that incentive-based programs are effective at promoting healthier eating habits.

In Brooklyn, United Community Centers’ East New York Farms project has significantly increased the availability of fresh produce. In this low-income neighborhood, the project supports two community-run farmers’ markets, manages two urban farms and provides resources and horticultural know-how to expand the number of community gardens and backyard vegetable beds.

On the other side of the country, Special Service for Groups has launched a program to enroll low-income residents of several Asian neighborhoods in their own Community Service Agriculture program, which provides biweekly bags of locally grown, organic Asian vegetables at a greatly reduced price. 

As a foundation, we have a unique opportunity to help improve health and wellness for people across the nation. In my days as a practicing clinician, I held the importance of each and every individual’s health as paramount. In my role as a grant maker, I strive to bring this sense of passion and mindfulness to help change lives through continued research and partnerships.

Dr. Garth Graham is president of the Aetna Foundation. In this role, Dr. Graham is responsible for the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care. A national authority on health disparities and health care quality, Dr. Graham is a frequent spokesperson for the Foundation on health care and health equity issues.

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October 23, 2013

Avoiding regulatory pitfalls: Lessons learned from litigation

© Shutterstock
Special to Philanthropy Journal
Hugh P. Quinn, Esq. and Jack L. White, Esq.
Far too often, well-intentioned and well-managed nonprofit organizations find themselves under intense scrutiny and unnecessary litigation brought on by various regulatory authorities. While these organizations often have experienced advisors, learned counsel and competent accountants, there are certain guidelines that are useful in their endeavors to avoid needless legal hassles.
Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV) is a charitable organization that for more than 42 years has helped in the recovery of wounded, sick and disabled American veterans. Through a settlement permitting HHV to continue helping veterans reclaim their lives, this veterans service organization and its board of directors prevailed in a lawsuit brought by the California attorney general. Based on the experience of HHV’s counsel from Fluet Huber + Hoang PLLC during this investigation and litigation, the following lessons learned will assist charitable organizations in remaining focused on their mission – not needless litigation.
Lesson #1: Regulatory agencies – not former employees, competitive nonprofits or disgruntled donors – present the greatest risk to your continued viability as a nonprofit organization. Charitable organizations face a wealth of challenges along the path to fulfilling their core purposes. Yet the threat posed by regulatory authorities and their ability to derail progress toward charitable objectives can be quite formidable, indeed life-threatening. Each charitable organization must be deliberate in the actions it takes to avoid excessive scrutiny from regulatory agencies.
Lesson #2: A charitable organization’s leadership will be held responsible for the information the charity presents to the public, whether on tax information returns, solicitation materials, public pronouncements or otherwise. A charitable organization’s donor base benefits from a mosaic of regulations and accounting principles that ensure accuracy in information provided. Take measures to ensure that all information presented publicly on behalf of the organization is accurate and not reasonably subject to ambiguity.
Lesson #3: Relying on information presented to the board by officers and consultants of the organization can present risk for violation of your duties as a director, regardless of your volunteer status. Directors of nonprofits often serve on a voluntary basis and rely heavily (and appropriately) on information provided by officers and other advisors in reaching significant decisions regarding a charity’s conduct. Most state statutes recognize this reality of nonprofit governance; however, this recognition does not absolve nonprofit directors of their fiduciary obligations. While the ordinary nonprofit director should not be required to understand the intricacies of sophisticated accounting pronouncements, regulatory authorities will indeed require them to perform their fiduciary duties. Trust but verify the information presented to you by accountants, attorneys, officers and consultants; perform your due diligence.
Lesson #4: Drafting detailed meeting minutes of board meetings might seem like a good idea, but it can present issues when closely examined for evidence of breach of duties as a board. Opinions differ as to the level of precision that should be included in meeting minutes. Insufficient detail may sacrifice the benefit of specificity with respect to deliberation and the rationale for various collaborative actions. Excessive detail sacrifices the benefit of collective resolve, providing a trail of breadcrumbs leading inadvertently to points of contention that might have been resolved during deliberations. While neither approach provides absolute cover from litigation, it is our opinion that less is more with respect to meeting minutes. Keep your board meeting minutes focused, with only the essentials included.
Lesson #5: You can get in trouble for failing to follow protocol found in applicable statutes and your organization’s governing documents. Most states have statutes that define nonprofit directors’ fiduciary duties with reasonable clarity. Most charitable organizations intentionally draft their respective articles of incorporation, bylaws and other internal regulatory documents in a manner that sets forth organizational and individual responsibilities with adequate precision. Knowing what the organization can and cannot do and what the organization’s leaders can and cannot do is an excellent center of gravity for any charitable nonprofit. Where guidelines or proscriptions require adjustment, make the appropriate adjustments. But, follow the rules. Read, understand and follow applicable statues and your governing documents.
Lesson #6: Sometimes it’s not what you did but rather what you didn’t do as a board member that can present risk for a violation. Many charitable enterprises benefit from leadership comprised of like-minded individuals who share a common philanthropic agenda. Over time, this unity of purpose can inadvertently be transformed into an unwelcome sense of complacency that permits unwelcome acquiescence to practices that belie an organization’s ultimate objectives. Among any charity’s leadership, a willingness to gracefully identify and address potentially problematic practices should be embraced. And leadership should not be afraid to do so. If something doesn’t feel right, take the initiative, and address it.
As our clients, volunteer directors for HHV, frequently lamented, “No good deed goes unpunished when dealing with state regulators.” Charitable organizations engage in some of the most honorable enterprises imaginable. The honorable nature of philanthropic service, however, does not obviate the need for vigilance in your organization’s governance and regulatory compliance.
Hugh P. Quinn, Esq. is a partner, and Jack L. White, Esq. is counsel at Fluet Huber + Hoang PLLC, a values-based law firm that serves as advocate, counsel and champion for clients worldwide.

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October 21, 2013

Film, innovative classes boost volunteering, strength of nonprofits in Wilmington

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Michael Walton

Dr. Jeffrey Brudney speaks at NC State.
Innovation is coming to nonprofit education and community engagement in Wilmington.

The Institute for Nonprofits’ Community of Nonprofit Scholars (CONS) welcomed Dr. Jeffrey Brudney to Raleigh Oct. 8 to discuss his recent endeavors to improve the health of Wilmington and North Carolina’s nonprofit sector through innovative student and community involvement.

One new approach introduced by Brudney is promoting volunteerism through filmmaking. With Brudney as executive producer, University of North Carolina Wilmington students put together an original film profiling volunteerism in the Wilmington community, Building a Better Wilmington: Giving and Volunteering in the Port City. The 12-minute film features interviews highlighting volunteers’ motives for giving of themselves and the rewards they receive in return.

Employing the medium of film brings greater recognition to volunteers in the community and shows how easy it is to become involved. Those efforts will receive a considerable boost next month when the film is screened as an official selection at Wilmington’s annual Cucalorus film festival.

Brudney, UNCW’s first Betty and Dan Cameron Family Distinguished Professor of Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector and academic director of Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations (QENO), arrived just over a year ago with the goal of bringing new and different approaches to strengthening local nonprofits.

He has two more films in production. One will explore the results of volunteer efforts, focusing on the beneficiaries of volunteer work who have gone on to volunteer themselves. Brudney highlights this reciprocity by calling volunteering a “renewable resource.” He hopes the film will help raise the level of appreciation and knowledge about the nonprofit sector in Wilmington, ultimately attracting more people to volunteering.

UNCW is also getting students involved through an innovative course offering, which will be documented in the film Beyond the Classroom: Learning to Lead. Students enrolled in Brudney’s Nonprofit Leadership Experience course receive 40 hours of classroom instruction from Brudney and numerous guest speakers from the nonprofit sector.

One class session becomes a nonprofit fair in which organizations present results-oriented project ideas to the students. Students then choose to complete the project that best suits their interests.

Matching students with nonprofits has advantages for both groups. Benefits to the organization go beyond what is gained from the completed project. Brudney says, “The fair is as much for the nonprofits as the students.” Working with QENO to develop project ideas before the fair, organizations gain experience thinking strategically about designing a viable project – a process that enhances management capacity.

At the same time, students can select the project that most appeals to them, enabling them to put to use their own particular skills and abilities. Delivering tangible results provides students with real résumé-building experience.

The course has only been offered once so far, but an impressive list of student projects is already taking shape: developing a training program for one agency, creating a marketing brochure for another and revising a curriculum for an agency that implements after-school youth programs. At the end of the semester, students take part in a poster session to present their projects and receive feedback from the nonprofit community.

Innovative means of engaging students in working with nonprofits creates mutually beneficial ties. In an early testament to the success of these efforts, many students have remained involved with the organizations for which they worked. These initiatives in Wilmington show that student engagement may prove to be yet another renewable resource capable of bolstering the strength of nonprofits.

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October 15, 2013

Sports lesson to never give up is key to strong brand awareness for nonprofits

  © Shutterstock

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Sarah Crawford

Since May 2011, I have had the pleasure of working at Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities. Tammy Lynn Center has benefitted from strong brand awareness and a robust fundraising program, with a rich history in the Triangle since 1969.  

In 2002, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. LeRoy T. Walker, the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.  An amazing athlete and inspirational leader, Dr. Walker has shaped the thoughts of many people, including me.

Dr. Walker said, “In sports, one has to recognize that success is not final, and failure is not fatal.”

This quote applies to work across all industries and can be easily translated to the nonprofit sector.   Although Dr. Walker said it much more eloquently, when it comes to building and achieving strong brand awareness, I have generally two rules: 1) Your work is never done, and 2) It usually doesn’t hurt to try.

I’ll elaborate.
·         Your work is never done. Tammy Lynn Center has been around for more than 44 years. We have served thousands of Triangle families. Families move from out of state just to receive Center services. We have been visited by international constituencies asking us how to best serve their communities. This gives evidence of Tammy Lynn’s strong brand awareness, but that does not mean that we can become complacent.

In a world of so much noise, we must find a way to be heard and the way that we do that and promote our brand is this:
o   Take advantage of every opportunity to do what I call “Waving the Flag.”  Attend Chamber events, leadership conferences and say yes when asked to speak.
o   Start with the Why. Tell the story about why what you do matters first.
o   Be engaged in the conversation. Get in the conversation early with your city, county and state leaders. This creates relevancy for yourself and therefore relevancy for your agency.

·         It usually doesn’t hurt to try. Over the past 44 years, Tammy Lynn Center has had the opportunity to try many marketing and brand building approaches. We have invested in different media mediums, begged for news coverage and created opportunities for the press to come visit. Trying all of these ideas has given us a chance to evaluate success and retool our plan. Here are our general rules for marketing:
o   Smart Marketing
§  Don’t rely on every media outlet to give you free coverage.
§  Media agencies will respond to a list of what you want. Create a list that includes a combination of what you can pay for and what you would like donated.
§  Don’t invest in every form of advertising. Think about your targeted audience. What is your message to them? Then, target your marketing to appropriate advertising outlets that reach your audience.
o   Creating brand awareness is evolution, not revolution. Plant the seeds, water them, and then tend to the plants as they grow. Some crops that you plant might not grow the way you expect; some might not grow at all. Use that as a learning experience to refine your methods.

Tammy Lynn Center has had a robust fundraising program, and every year we are getting better. This does not mean that we do anything exactly creative. In fact, I would caution organizations about watching for gimmicks that promote having a magic fundraising bullet. The truth of the matter is that there is no magic bullet. It comes down to one thing:  Relationship building.

Donors give money for two reasons: 1) They feel passionate for, or connected, to the cause. 2) They cannot say no to the person asking.

Connecting to the Cause:
·         Some donors have a personal connection because they have used services. In this case, the passion is already there.
·         Individuals and corporations not already connected to your cause need a reason to become connected. To create a reason, your first step is to listen. Listen to what the individual or corporation cares about and then look for ways that your organization connects to them.

Not being able to say “No” to the person who asks:
·         This comes down to relationships. Build partnerships with corporations and foundations. Build relationships with individuals.  
·         Investments versus transactions.  Think about a transaction as being a date. Think about an investment as being marriage. You want a happy marriage for your donors and your organization.  It takes time to build a marriage.
·         Keep your donors saying yes!  Communicate how their support makes a difference, let them know what the organization is doing, and continue to invest in your relationship.

I’ll leave you with another Dr. Walker quote,  “We ought to keep them informed. We ought to let them know what the Olympic movement is all about and what’s happening to the dollars that they give.”

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October 14, 2013

What is philanthropy's role in the shutdown?

Source: Wikipedia Commons/Vinoth Chandar

This article originally appeared in the A.J. Fletcher Foundation's blog.
Damon Circosta and Shannon Ritchie

We’re now on day 14 of the government shutdown, and things just got real in NC. With families starting to feel the effects of the crisis, the nonprofit community struggles to meet their needs and the organization’s funders and supporters are left asking, what now?
The hardest hit victims of this crisis are children. WIC benefits were threatened until yesterday for almost 264,000 women, infants, and young children though thankfully temporary funding was secured so they don’t need to rely on food banks. Child care subsidies are starting to run out, leaving tens of thousands of families unable to afford child care by the end of this month (likely leading to many lost jobs for parents). We also learned from our partner Covenant with NC Children that NC DHHS has issued a “stop work order” to contractors funded by federal block grants – affecting a whole host of child welfare services.

It’s all so unfair, isn’t it?
In this time of need, foundations, private companies, and individuals have stepped in to help. Examples include:
These stories make headlines, but support from private donors is a drop in the bucket compared to the support low-income families receive from the government. The WIC program alone has a $205 million annual budget in NC.
As a charitable foundation that provides support to the nonprofit community in NC, it’s hard to watch this go down and not do something. I’m sure the other organizations I mentioned, among many others, feel similarly compelled which is what makes them act. But our work at Fletcher Foundation is to support big, innovative ideas, putting money behind them to watch them grow and improve the lives of families and communities in the state. The government’s work is to support taxpayer’s interests which include caring for our poor and vulnerable citizens – giving them money for food, subsidies for childcare assistance to help them work, etc.
Make no mistake, we’re not chastising organizations and individuals who are pitching in and doing what we pay our government to do on our behalf. We get it and many people are grateful for their generosity. But we do ourselves a great disservice if we lead the public to believe the private sector can make a difference in this mess. As the burden shifts the public implies, “Oh, let’s look to private foundations and companies to foot the bill for these services we desperately need,” but they lack the understanding of just how vast the gaps are. The only entities that can make a difference are our federal and state governments, and perhaps our energy, time, and resources, are best served letting them know how our kids are hurting because of their inability to fund the services they greatly rely on.
Fletcher Foundation has created a site to collect stories, photos, and videos from our grantees and community about how the government shutdown is hurting kids in NC. In working with our partners, we hope to shed light on how desperate this situation is for so many and share with our elected officials in Washington as they make decisions that can change course for us here in North Carolina. We’d love to hear from you.

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