Author Archives: Rachel Werner

What’s the big idea?

During the holiday season, we all take some time to reflect on our lives and think about how we can give back to others, be more charitable and think about New Year’s resolutions in the coming year. Recently I was listening to a Tiny Spark podcast and there was an episode about global volunteerism. The challenge is that while donors have good intentions, their support may not necessarily be directed in the best way. Let’s examine this further.


BIG QUESTION:

Does global volunteerism help or hurt those causes about which donors care so deeply?


The problem with “donorsplaining”

 

What is donorsplaining? It’s what I refer to to the situation when a donor explains to a recipient organization why their donation is important to them and how it benefits the community, without listening to the recipient organization explain what is most needed at the onset. As referenced in the Tiny Spark podcast episode on global volunteerism, the funding support at first seems perfectly perfectly charitable. In essence, wealthier individuals from Western countries provide support as volunteers and funders for orphanages on the African continent. The orphanages need the funds and the donors feel good providing charitable support and volunteering their time. It seems like a win-win situation, right? While there are many international organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, World Wildlife Fund that provide excellent support in the international community, this is not always the case with certain organizations. Some orphanages do great work and rely on this support to support the children who need their care. However, other non-government sanctioned organizations are a bit less philanthropic. One orphanage director said that there are some children who pretend to be orphans, but actually have parents and are sent there for financial gain given the family’s limited economic means. Also, when donors volunteer in these orphanages, they want to provide direct support to the children, but this is not always what is needed. Would you travel around the world for a meaningful experience if all you’re doing is administrative work in a building? Might not seem glamorous.

If this sounds familiar, it should. There are many organizations right here in the United States that deal with these similar issues. Some funders think they might know best and provide support, but it is not targeted in the right places. Ever write a grant to create a program specifically for a grant opportunity? Ever receive in-kind donations that do not actually help your clients or your organization? Organizations can often bend over backwards to develop group volunteer activities for a large corporate funder, but the activity might not actually provide the greatest level of support. Altruism is a wonderful human quality, as are empathy and compassion, but if these are misdirected, the impact is not as great.
People will still donate and volunteer, and this is absolutely needed across the world. I am simply advocating for a more directed and common sense approach that is mutually beneficial to both the giver and the recipient.

What should we learn from this?

Authenticity matters from both a donor and recipient perspective, and maintaining integrity in the work that is being done and how it benefits the greater community.
Meaningful collaborations between a funder and recipient can support both causes effectively. Donorsplaining is not helpful for either party!
Listen to others to gain clarity about the mission and how you can best serve others.
Stay in your lane so that you don’t overstep your boundaries or make assumptions about the people you are trying to help.
How can you use altruism to most effectively benefit your organization or a cause about which you are extremely passionate?

What’s the big idea?

We have all seen the news – children in cages, families split up the border, and funding earmarked towards building a wall between the Mexican and United States border. The problems are massive, and only appear to be getting worse. While we may not be able to change policies at this point, what are we doing with people who are undocumented immigrants, those who came here legally and those who are refugees? There is a lot of fear, and this is impacting many of those in our sector. In order to figure out how some communities are addressing this, I spoke with Kathy Steven, Executive Director of Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) and she was able to share how Montgomery County, Maryland, a culturally and ethnically diverse community, is addressing this issue.


BIG QUESTION:

How are nonprofits addressing immigration reform at the local level?


News we can use

 

 

Since MCAEL knew that many of their clients (i.e. individuals taking ESOL classes) were going to be impacted by the immigration policies, they hosted two meetings with other Montgomery County education service providers. The focus of these meetings was for providers to come together and share information, as well as collaborate on next steps. Once these meetings were convened, it became clear that there was a great deal of misinformation and they were all aware of the challenges their clients have been facing. To this end, the providers developed a PowerPoint to detail information about each immigrant subgroup (i.e. DACA, undocumented immigrants) and useful information they can share with their clients. This was a first step in attempting to deal with a much larger Federal policy issue.

Montgomery County’s Immigration Resource Center also offered more up to date information, and goes beyond resource sharing, and more about immigrants’ rights and how providers can navigate the muddy waters so as to be in legal compliance. The key thread through all of this is for immigrants to know their rights and when to take action.

What makes this whole process even more challenging is that the political leanings of each County Executive, Mayor and other elected officials will impact how immigrants are treated in each community. While some, such as the Montgomery County Executive, Mark Elrich, offer compassion and acceptance of immigrant individuals and families, others have a different viewpoint as to how to address the growing crisis. 

What should we learn from this?

It is important to understand what is fact as many immigrants do not receive accurate information and are left trying to figure out what to do.

Nonprofits are taking the steps to advocate on behalf of their clients, and also provide them with the tools to advocate for themselves.

Stay informed so that you can be aware of any changes or potential challenges.

How would you partner with other providers to support a vulnerable population during a shifting political landscape?

What’s the big idea?

Happy summer everyone! While people might be taking some time off (hopefully) and perhaps taking advantage of some flex time, perhaps it allows for some time to reflect and learn. Instead of focusing on a big and important topic, I wanted to do a round up of some of my favorite nonprofit related resources that I like to review to stay current and informed.


BIG QUESTION:

How has the #MeToo Movement impacted organizations that primarily serve women and girls at the local level?


Resource review – news we can use

Podcasts

  • Tiny Spark is issued by the Nonprofit Quarterly. This 30-minute podcast covers such juicy topics as global volunteerism and racial inequities in the nonprofit sector. The global focus of this podcast showcases the breadth of the issues that organizations face.
  • 99% Invisible goes into different topics each week that are often overlooked by mainstream media sources. It makes you think about how these issues can shape our world.
  • Revisionist History is for those who love Malcolm Gladwell. If you have ever read one of his books, he goes in-depth into areas that make you think twice about your viewpoints about historical events. I always love it when a podcast can help you see things from another perspective.
  • How I Built This is one of the most interesting and inspiring podcasts about major CEOs and how they build their businesses (did you know that Whole Foods started out as a tiny food co-op in a house in Austin, TX?). Not only do you learn about your favorite brands and leaders, but also what made each of them continue to push forward, even when they faced extreme adversity.

Online/Newsletter

  • NonprofitAF is the go-to newsletter for nonprofit professionals. Period.
  • Nonprofit Quarterly is the golden standard for nonprofit publications. Informative and well-researched articles. You always feel like you can learn something new.
  • Thrive Global offers great resources to promote a smarter, more engaged and energized way to live. Each article offers a nugget of information to help you live more simply and with purpose.
  • Grammar Girl’s Mignon Fogarty can always offer a quick and dirty tip about grammar and better writing.

Books

  • Simon Sinek’s books offer a way for you think about living your life with purpose. Start With Why is a book that changed the way I work.
  • While Simon Sinek can nourish you brain, Brene Brown can nourish your soul. You will not be disappointed by reading one or all of her books.
  • Begging for Change was the first book I read as a nonprofit professional that offered a new way to look at fundraising beyond “charity work.” I still keep it on my bookshelf.
  • We all need digital minimalism in our lives, so why not go through a 30-day breakup plan with your phone so you can view devices in a new way. Summer is the best time to do it too!

What should we learn from this?

It doesn’t have to be about nonprofits for you to gain some insights and adapt them into your work. Maybe it just takes a nugget of information to change the way you work.

Short and sweet can do the trick, and you don’t always need to read a long book or article to stay on top of trends.

Change the way you think about professional development and that a podcast can be incredibly informative.

What will you learn this summer?

What’s the big idea?

Ever since big names like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Larry Nassar and other high-profile celebrities, politicians and newsmakers made headlines for sexual assault and harassment, women all over the world have responded to the #MeToo rallying cry. This cause was most pronounced in the Supreme Court Justice nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, and have politicized a once bipartisan issue. Better or worse, these news stories and the #MeToo movement in general has elevated this cause, and victim empowerment in general to ensure these individuals are not silenced. While we know what is happening at the national level, I was curious about one particular organization (a former client) and how this has impacted their work.


BIG QUESTION:

How has the #MeToo Movement impacted organizations that primarily serve women and girls at the local level?


Focus on Girls’ Empowerment

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with a former client, Elizabeth McGlynn, Executive Director of Girls on the Run of Montgomery County. I asked her about the #MeToo Movement in general has impacted their work, and she shared some interesting feedback that it has and hasn’t changed what they do. Girls on the Run International was developed with the premise that the collective power of girls working towards the goal of running a 5k, coupled with coaches that led a curriculum focused on building their self-confidence will help build their self-esteem, self-worth, and allow them to feel accomplished. Their programming begins when girls are eight years old and coincides with the drop in girls’ confidence levels after age nine, and can plummet after middle school. Using this proven approach to counteract this decreased self-esteem, Girls on the Run already has a baked in solution and did not have to change who they are as an organization because of #MeToo.

Elizabeth did share though that while the girls are receiving the same type of programming, and that hasn’t changed, more adult women and men are interested in becoming coaches and are extremely supportive of the curriculum used. Many even say that they wish they had such a program growing up in their own communities (when they battled confidence issues themselves). Given the organization’s well-established reputation in the community, they continue to have a number of sponsors and there is public interest in their work. In addition, Girls on the Run International serves as the advocacy arm for the organization and is pushing out strong messages about women and empowerment, and these messages are magnified to funders and parents.

While there is no local task force to address these issues, Montgomery County remains supportive of the cause and in general encouraging women and other victims to speak out and share their stories. The Girls on the Run message is geared towards girls having a voice and being able to speak their minds. Seen this way, Girls on the Run was at the forefront of this cause and offers a solution to empower girls during a time when they are most vulnerable.

What should we learn from this?

Some ways that we should think about this issue and how to address it locally are to:

Empowerment is central to success, whether it be in response to the #MeToo movement, overcoming job loss, mental health issues or other challenges. What is your organization doing to empower clients to become their best advocates?

Don’t Fix the Wheel if your programs are already successful and have proven results. This could mean that your solution is what a funder or partner is looking for.

Policy Changes within your organization might be needed if there are no safeguards in place to protect victims from assault and harassment.

How is your community responding to the #MeToo movement? Are there additional working groups set up to address this issue? Are you building in new service offerings? 

What’s the big idea?

While most of us are aware of the fact that there are inequities across the country, it is most fervently felt in the area of housing. Major cities across the United States showcases this divide, especially as mortgage rates, rental prices and interest rates rise, but there is limited housing to support those who are being pushed out by high prices. While we all believe in the American Dream and boosting innovation and entrepreneurship, some areas are feeling this directly, especially Seattle and Denver. In these areas in particular, there are higher than average rates of homelessness, and the income gap is felt most acutely. What is being done to address these crises and prevent others from falling through the cracks?


BIG QUESTION:

What are organizations doing to create more low-income housing, especially in high net worth communities?


Case Studies: A boom or a bust?

Since Microsoft set up its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, highly educated and high net worth individuals have flocked to the Northwest. This has only been compounded by the growth of such companies as Amazon and Starbucks in the area as well. Housing prices used to be in sync with other cities, but now many areas have become unaffordable. While Microsoft has pledged $500 million to the city to counteract the housing crisis, this won’t help the systemic challenges that individuals and families face in finding housing, and those who are experiencing homelessness.

Denver is experiencing the same crisis as the state’s vote to legalize marijuana usage has led to a cottage industry, which has stimulated economic development and tourism throughout the state. However, even though cranes for new construction dot the city, there is a rising homeless population and movement of individuals to exurbs and areas further outside the city limits.

What can be done to address these challenges? In his book, “Generation Priced Out,” Randy Shaw, Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic advocates for rental control rules, and zoning deregulation to promote equity rather than the inclusion of low-income housing units in new housing developments. Some argue differently and say that the inclusion of low-income housing units in these developments promotes fairness and integration. The main issue they say is the dearth of housing, as the waiting list to obtain one of these units can be quite long. Philanthropy alone cannot fix this problem and while big donations from companies like Microsoft and Amazon will help in the short-term, what about the rising housing prices in these areas? When will the bubble burst as it did in 2008?

  • 50% experienced an uptick in services required, but only 30%had adequate supplies to serve them. Of those, 60% had to tap into their reserves.
  • Even though just over 50% of the respondents receive Federal funding, multiple other organizations were impacted.

What should we learn from this?

Some ways that we should think about this issue and how to address it locally are to:

Work collaboratively across agencies and organizations to address these issues from a collective perspective, and include those impacted by the housing crunch. Task forces and working group are popping up to address these issues, and also look at them from a bottom up perspective.

Align issues with affordable housing to show how this issue impacts so many other areas including food scarcity, income levels, education, just to name a few.

Make a case and tell a story about how a lack of housing can truly impact people’s lives. This can be the difference between living on the streets, a temporary stay in a shelter or permanent housing.

Does housing scarcity impact your community? What are local organizations and agencies doing to address this issue?

What’s the big idea?

Unless you weren’t watching the news the past few months, you were probably very aware that a Federal government partial shutdown took place earlier this year. While this impacted more people than others, as someone living in the Washington, DC area this actually felt personal. While we won’t go into the politics behind this decision, we can agree that many people experienced severe hardships as a hefty percentage of people do not have adequate savings to sustain themselves during a difficult period without pay and, some were forced to work without pay. Since the Federal government was unable to provide support, this fell to nonprofits and local government agencies to address these challenges. I am focusing on two organizations, Interfaith Works and Manna Food Center to describe what they experienced and also share more via a report published by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and survey published by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement.

 


BIG QUESTION:

How did community-based organizations and local government agencies respond to the Federal shutdown?


Case Study: The collective impact of a local response

Speaking with Manna Food Center and Interfaith Works, it reinforced two things: 1) Nonprofits provide critical support during times of crisis and 2) They do work together towards a common goal when a great need arises. Manna shared that they had an uptick in need with an additional 106 households receiving food (translating to 325 people in total with 129 being children). They actually waived their income eligibility requirements so furloughed employees could receive food. They also received an extra 28,000 pounds of donated food and leveraged the MLK Day of Service for an additional 200 volunteers providing support. Interfaith Works offered more referral support through their IW Connections program and worked with Pepco to relax rules to offer emergency assistance support for people unable to pay their rental or utilities. Fortunately, this was not needed as the Shutdown ended before the funds were utilized. Both organizations also worked with the Montgomery County Council and other agencies and organizations to develop a coordinated response for information sharing, referrals and other emergency assistance needs. This led to a more collective response to deepen the level of support provided to those impacted.

MWCOG issued a report on February 2019 entitled Responding to the Partial Federal Government Shutdown that indicated, “During the shutdown, local governments stepped up and offered a wide range of support to area residents. They did so in coordination with a strong network of partners, including nonprofits, charities, faith-based organizations, utilities, and businesses, providing food, financial assistance, and employment services. Some jurisdictions offered free public transit to affected workers as well as reduced fees for city and county recreational opportunities. Many also shared information for people to cope with stress.” A survey of the impact of the shutdown conducted by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement of nonprofits in Maryland, Washington, DC and Virginia found that:

  • 50% experienced an uptick in services required, but only 30%had adequate supplies to serve them. Of those, 60% had to tap into their reserves.
  • Even though just over 50% of the respondents receive Federal funding, multiple other organizations were impacted.

 

What should we learn from this?

Local support matters – As demonstrated by these organizations, even situations at the Federal level have a direct impact in our community. The support of county and city agencies, nonprofits and other philanthropic funders and donors is critical during such emergency periods.

Be prepared – Sometimes a crisis cannot be averted. If your organization does not have a plan of action, that could deplete your reserves and greatly impact your ongoing programs. Can you develop such a plan with your board and also incorporate coordination with funders, in-kind partners and other stakeholders to plan ahead?

Nonprofits do more with less – The nonprofits continued to operate and were also willing to serve more people. The committed to the cause superseded the financial impact it would have on the organization. This showcases the deep connection to the organization’s mission and dedication to the population in need.

Collaborative responses work – When agencies and community-based organizations work together, great things happen. A strategic and thoughtful response can be extremely effective and necessary during times of need.

How would you respond to a crisis within your organization? Are you able to set up appropriate measure to accept more people and do more work?

 I am venturing into a new format for my blog posts to not just talk about grants, but about what’s happening in the world. Every few weeks we will be digging into a big issue and talking about how it relates to nonprofits, government agencies, and the philanthropic sector. The first post focuses on racial inequities and how the philanthropic and nonprofit/public sectors are responding. I am thrilled to share that many organizations are tackling this issue head-on. In my neck of the woods, The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers has established a Racial Equity Working Group; Nonprofit Montgomery will be hosting a forum on racial equity in May; and Maryland Nonprofits is hosting an Equity Speaker Series starting in March (and these are just three examples).

I look forward to sharing how responsive and flexible we are regarding these issues, and also thinking of how to incorporate new perspectives.

Check out my first issue here: https://conta.cc/2DlRtkN

When I think about 2019 I often feel that there is a need for catharsis and letting go of the things that held me back this year and trying to be more mindful of putting my best foot forward in 2019. I think for me I think a lot about being mindful and present and not distracted by email, alerts and other technology that removes us from our stated path. What can we do to become more mindful and let go of the fear, angst, and nervousness that can hold us back? I have found the following tools particularly helpful.

1) Mindfulness journal – Taking some time to focus on gratitude and energizing yourself each day is a way to build some calm and restore some sanity. It just takes 3 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to prepare and reflect. There are many of these journals available on Amazon, and you can find the one that is right for you.

2) Reading – Whether you are reading for pleasure, business or both, try to keep a running list of books so that you can always find something at a bookstore or Barnes and Noble. It is a great time to start, especially with all of the “Best of 2018” lists that are available via multiple publications. No time for reading? How about an interesting podcast or audiobook?

3) Technology detachment – Try to set some parameters so you can step away from your smartphone. Is it not sleeping with your phone next to your bed? Avoiding your phone between certain time periods? Perhaps installing a “do not disturb” app on your phone could be a helpful tool as well.

4) Exercise/yoga – Any kind of exercise, even just a walk around your block can help provide a mental break needed. Yoga is the ultimate way to cleanse your mind, and there are many YouTube videos that can take you through even a 10-minute routine. I love the ones by Rodney Yee and I like the Cosmic Kids Yoga videos (I do them with my own kids).

Whatever you decide to do, it is important to find a routine and stick with it. What are you going to let go and how will you do it?

Last week I attended the Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference in Chicago and was able to learn from and facilitate conversations with grant professionals all over the country. I always learn something new each time I go, and as I reflect on the conference, I wanted to share some key takeaways:

  1. Building funder and grantee relationships: During the keynote panel, there were many conversations about bridging the divide between grantees and funders. How can we build sustainable partnerships without an imbalanced power dynamic? One speaker brought up a site that allows grantees to rate funders on a number of different criteria: https://grantadvisor.org/. Check it out for more information.
  2. Overcoming inequality barriers: There are more dedicated measures by the nonprofit and philanthropic communities to overcome racial/ethnic and income equalities in our communities. There are more collaborative community-based partnerships taking place to address these systemic inequalities through wraparound service models. Also, funders are more cognizant of these models and holding nonprofits accountable to maintain boards that are more reflective of the constituencies they serve.
  3. Strategic Planning: I found out some more tools that we can use during strategic planning processes:
    1. SOAR – Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results (same as the traditional SWOT analysis but with more of a positive spin)
    2. PESTEL – Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal (spreadsheet of various elements that impact the organization)
    3. Boston Matrix – Matrix of profitability and impact (helps us understand what should be a priority
  4. Using digital platforms: Through the use of social media, nonprofits and public sector agencies and are able to share their stories and become more connected to the communities they serve. It also allows a baseline level of equity with a common platform to share this information, regardless of the size and scope of the organization or agency.
  5. Abundant Resources Available: There are wonderful podcasts, books, newsletters and websites that provide information on best practices and also case studies from the field. Some highly recommended ones (not necessarily just about nonprofits) include:
    1. Newsletters: http://nonprofitaf.com/ and https://www.blueavocado.com/
    2. Podcasts: Successful Nonprofits and Nonprofits are Messy
    3. Books: Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman), The Art of Gathering (Priya Parker) and The Power of Moments (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

 

What will you be able to use today?

 

In honor of Halloween, I wanted to share a scary story… I am sure my fellow writers (and almost anyone who works on a team where the end product is a final document) can relate to the #FRANKENPROPOSAL (queue scream). Do you know what the #Frankenproposal is? Well, what starts out as a document full of promise and creativity quickly devolves into a freakish and chaotic mess with too many people involved in its development. You know what I’m talking about…. Mixed up acronyms, passive voice and active voice, run-on sentences, spelling errors. This is what happens when tracked changes are not integrated and a number of people have their hands on a specific proposal at one time. Also, the final reviewer doesn’t have enough time to integrate changes and try to make a more seamless and integrated voice throughout the document.

I’ll refer to this phenomenon as the #frankenproposal. I have experienced this several times, and although I have done this work for many years, I still get vexed and frustrated with last minute additions, lack of clarity regarding a proposal concept and different viewpoints as to how grants language should be written.

By far my worst experience was a federal proposal I wrote several people that not only involved several people, but several people with different writing styles, connection to the proposal (meaning they would be impacted differently if funded) and feedback was integrated in each draft (not just the 1st draft). Needless to say, the application was not funded and still remains one of the most difficult proposals I ever worked on in my career.

Let’s try to stop the madness and eliminate #frankenproposals for good. What is your most salient #frankenproposal that you have experienced in your career and what did you learn from it? Let’s keep the hashtag going and create a list of scary stories of our own….