Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Want my MTV

A recent New York Times article highlighted a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MTV that has angered some non-profit leaders.

According to the article, the Gates Foundation has spent $960,000 in contracts with MTV to learn how to better engage students. Some of those funds are being used for a social networking site called that is designed to encourage youth activism. Several other foundations have supported this effort.

On the one hand: if MTV is more effective at reaching great swaths of young people than some of the non-profits that run similar social networking sites, shouldn't the foundations invest in initiatives that are going to show the best results and have the most bang for the buck?

On the other hand: Are foundation dollars best spent on an initiative that is backed by MTV, which is part of Viacom, a gigantic media conglomerate? Shouldn't Viacom be footing the bill? Is part of ThinkMTV's design related to driving viewership and brand loyalty to MTV?

On the third hand: (yes, I know there is no third hand) This is a great example of the Golden Rule - He who has the gold, rules. The foundations can do whatever they want - if the non-profits complain about it, should that push them to be more effective, more competitive?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

2007 MacArthur Fellows

Ah, my favorite awards of the year. Not the Oscars, not the Grammys... the MacArthur Fellows, otherwise known as "MacArthur Genius Grants." Nominated and chosen in a completely secret process, the Fellows are leaders and innovators in their fields (science, the arts, nonprofit, etc.) They win $500,000 to use however they wish. Read about the current class of Fellows here. Always an inspiring group.

(OK, it's my secret dream - well, not such a secret anymore - to win a genius grant someday. I'm not really sure how the heck that's gonna happen... I'd better come up with something geniusy to do!)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting Some Attention for "The Little Guys"

I just saw an interesting piece in The Huffington Post. Dennis Whittle writes, in "Markets for Philanthropy":

"Did you know that about 6% of non-profits in the US attract four-fifths of the resources?... The problem is, as Paul Brest puts it in his most recent Hewlett Foundation President's Letter , most donors "simply lack the necessary data to support informed decision making." This means that the philanthropy marketplace does not function well, and resources don't get allocated to their highest-impact uses.It also means that big organizations can get bigger based on their marketing and branding rather than on their results. And the little guys, regardless of how good they are, usually have trouble attracting the attention of donors...As Paul says, "diverse philanthropic investments do not have a single common measure [of return]." To that, I would add that diverse "donors" do not share the same measure of returns. As a result, no single set of data or information can or should inform - or motivate - all philanthropic decisions. The question is how to provide a mosaic of data suitable for different philanthropic investments and donors..."

So - what about the "little guys" who are not attracting the donors, because of all of the competition in the marketplace? Is the competition really telling us that the marketplace is too crowded, and some of these organization should go out of business or merge with others?

I think one flaw in Mr. Whittle's premise is that philanthropic investors do not necessarily make their decisions based on measure of return. Lots of people give to charities because they know someone who works there or has been helped by the charity, they are honoring a loved one, their parents/grandparents gave there, etc. People just don't make philanthropic investments with the same analytical minds that they use to make personal financial investments.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time Magazine focuses on service

The September 10 issue of Time Magazine featured a cover story and lots of juicy articles about service/volunteerism, including a call from the magazine's editor for the federal government to create ways for every American to devote a year of their life to service.

If you go to Time Magazine's web site, you can connect to a podcast featuring Caroline Kennedy and author Jeff Sachs. They discuss lots of issues, including the notion of mandatory national service, the current surge in interest in volunteerism among Americans, and the value of serving abroad. A few highlights and questions this podcast raised for me:

Is it better to volunteer abroad or closer to home (and does "closer to home" mean in the U.S., in a neighborhood in your area that's less well off than yours, or right in your own backyard)?

Should national service be mandatory? How do we Americans feel about the word "mandatory"?

Did you know that 1/3 of Americans, around 65 million, say that they volunteer regularly? I wonder if this is more or less than other countries...

Jeff Sachs talked about the "shock and dismay" over the situation in Iraq leading Americans to ask themselves what they can do to contribute positively to the world. Do you think this is on the mark?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tranquil Space Foundation Gala in DC

I'm on the Steering Committee for the Tranquil Space Foundation, a terrific new foundation that is an offshoot of my yoga home, Tranquil Space Yoga. The Foundation focuses on expanding opportunities for yoga, creativity, and leadership for women and girls. The Tranquil Space Foundation Gala will take place in DC in Thursday, October 11th and will feature a wine reception, silent auction, raffle, and mingling with some great, fun souls. Please join me there!

Monday, September 03, 2007

50 Ways to Give Right Now

This inspiring page was included in the article "what you get from giving," in the September 2007 edition of body + soul magazine (p. 134 - article by Terri Trespicio, attached page by Deblina Chakraborty) I hope it inspires you as it has inspired me.