Thursday, March 19, 2009

Philanthropy's Response to the Economic Crisis

For those of you tracking how philanthropy is dealing with the economic crisis, here is a link from the Foundation Center that gives detailed information on how our nation's largest foundations are addressing the issue.  In some cases, you will see how foundations are "scaling-up" as opposed to reducing the size and scope of their portfolio to meet the needs of communities.

Take a look at how the Atlantic Philanthropies, Open Society Institute and are mobilizing to assist nonprofits impacted by the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Future for Nonprofits

In the midst of great economic challenge, there is also great opportunity to reflect on the future of the nonprofit sector.  Many nonprofits are in defense mode trying to weather the current economic tsunami while also trying to sustain a level of social services needed in their communities.  Other nonprofits are looking at the current economic crisis as an opportunity to reflect on scale and scope and identify ways to improve efficiencies--both as an organization and as a sector. 

Holly Sidford, principal consultant for the Helicon Collaborative proposes looking at the "Five A's" to evaluate the viability of institutional change proposals for any nonprofit contemplating transformation.  They include: 

Analysis and Anticipation:  Is the organization planning based on good research and solid projections--including the loss of significant revenue?

Attitude:  Is the organization projecting forward based on opportunities or are they focused on challenges putting them in retrenchment mode?

Adaptability:  "Is there a track record of flexibility, seizing new opportunities, willingness to let go of what no longer works?  In other words, can the organization evolve?"

Articulation:  How clear and concise is the plan moving forward?  Does it have broad stakeholder support?  Are there genuinely new approaches and strategies in the plan?

Audacity:  Is the approach as bold as the situation? 

Social entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to generate innovative approaches to long-standing social issues.  Strategies such as service and volunteerism as a major infrastructure piece to support health care, education, after school and anti-poverty initiatives is one of the many proposal currently out there to assure that services in communities can be scaled-up with more human capacity.  You can also see that Sidford's 5 A's borrow from free market, private sector approaches to conducting business.  

The long-term viability of the nonprofit sector--much like the private sector--will require vision, innovation and most importantly, a solid business plan!  

Holly Sidford's 5 A's were taken from the Arts and Culture Blog produced by the Cleveland Foundation.  

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tracking the Recovery Act

Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office offered up a quick tip for tracking opportunities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the Recovery Act.  We have all heard of the incredible amount of money being reinvested in our country to stimulate the economy, rebuild our ailing infrastructure and redefine how our government goes about doing its business. What is less known, however, is just how the Recovery Act impacts state and local governments and businesses wishing to carve out opportunities through the legislation.  Here are a couple of easy steps to tracking progress and opportunities through the Recovery Act: will give you a detailed account of how your taxpayer dollars are being spent.  There are also useful links on the page that allow you to share your story and track state progress and resources available through the Recovery Act.  

Federal Department/Recovery.  Each federal department has its own Recovery page.  For example, you can type in to see how the Recovery Act impacts the Department of Energy or to see how the act is being implemented by the Department of Labor.  Most importantly, most of the department Recovery pages will link you to funding opportunities available for government agencies, nonprofits and small businesses seeking to do business with the federal government. 

Hope you find this helpful!  

Monday, March 2, 2009

Go Get the Gardener

Looks like your tax dollars to support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not exactly nabbing hardened criminals.  An editorial in today's LA Times sheds some light on some of our nation's misguided immigration enforcement efforts.  According to the article, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 96,000 illegal immigrants from 2003-2008.  The Bush Administration increased ICE's budget during this time period by 1,300% to apprehend more illegal immigrants with criminal records.  

Here's the problem:  Almost three-quarters of immigrants arrested did not have a criminal background.  According the report, most were apprehended for illegal entry into the country and ignoring deportation orders.  Most of the immigrants apprehended were working in low-wage service jobs and were posing no real security threat to our country (Unless you see missing aprons and dishrags as a threat to national security).  

We understand that ICE has an enforcement job to do.  However, they may want to re-think their approach to immigration enforcement.  How about deporting hardened criminals that are currently in U.S. prisons?  How about stricter enforcement of cargo entering our borders?  

The senseless raids of workforce sites throughout the country to deport waitresses, car washers and food service workers is not sound security enforcement policy.   


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mexican Enough??

I'm currently reading Mexican Enough by Stephanie Elizondo Griest which is part travel journal, part soul searching testimonial of the author's Mexican heritage.  In the southwestern US, there are generations of Latinos who never actually lived in Mexico, but yet identify with being Mexican.  When the U.S. plays Mexico in soccer, we don't know who to cheer for.  When Oscar de la Hoya fights, we don't know if we should be wearing a Mexican flag or an American one (although I think De la Hoya solved this by creating a U.S/Mexico tapestry).  With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the end of the Mexican War, the border dividing the U.S. and Mexico shifted with the stroke of a pen.  Hence, the now infamous saying:  "I never crossed the border, the border crossed me."

In the southwest, most don't grapple with the issue of being biracial like Elizondo Griest.  We grapple with being bilingual and bicultural.  There is an entire generation of 30+ Latinos in the southwest that speak little or no Spanish at all.  The reasons for monolingual, English-speaking Latinos range from acculturation to American culture to sheltered family upbringings.  With all of the discrimination our parents faced (my dad always says that he had the Spanish 'beaten out of him' in school) there was little incentive for parents to subject their children to the same discrimination to preserve our native language.  

Culturally, I feel incredibly connected to my Mexican roots.  The food, the traditions, the dichos of our ancestors are pillars of life in the southwest.  However, there is a dire condition with our second and third generation Latinos:  The loss of language.  I can run down the list of my Latino high school and college friends and only a very small percentage of them speak Spanish.  Of those that actually speak the language, most learned Spanish in high school and/or college courses--not at home.  When asked if I'm fluent in Spanish, I always say that I am functionally fluent.  In other words, I can order food in a restaurant, ask where the bathroom is and engage in real basic conversation with native speakers.  

Losing the native language is troubling.  It feels like something is missing.  I find it particularly troubling when engaging in conversation with native-speaking youth.  When conducting a recent focus group with Latino youth, I had a young person ask me about my ethnicity.  I replied, Mexican-American.  He looked at me with a blank expression and said:  Then how come you struggle to speak Spanish? (He was critiquing my Barney Fife delivery of a research question in Spanish).  

This is something that many southwest Latinos struggle with as a result of Manifest Destiny. Our land was highly-valued, but our language and culture were not (It took almost 65 years for New Mexico to achieve statehood after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo). 

So, we ask ourselves regularly:  Am I Mexican Enough


Friday, February 20, 2009

Our Shifting Values

Looks like the President's call to service is resonating with America's youth.  According to the Seattle PI, applications for volunteer organizations like Teach for America have seen a significant increase from the previous year.  According to the report, Teach for America saw a 50 percent increase in applications from one year to the next.  

The downturn in the economy along with the President's commitment to volunteerism are two factors that are driving young people to choose the nonprofit sector as an alternative to a career in corporate America.  

I think we are starting to see a fundamental shift in values to more of a community-centered, as opposed to an individual-centered focus in the job market.  This shift can be attributed, in part, to the economic conditions we are facing.  However, it also signals a cultural shift at the federal policy level with the rise of a community organizer to the executive branch of government.  We can see tangible results already from our federal government that service to the community is a a value that will remain constant throughout Obama's presidency.   


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

People are a Strange Species!

After facilitating a series of partnerships sessions I come to one resounding conclusion:  People are a strange species!  No matter how committed individuals are to a common goal, if relationships are not sound, true collaboration likely will never happen.  

One of the problems I encounter with relative frequency is that people will air out their interpersonal issues in a group space rather than confronting these issues one-on-one in a private space.  I find myself constantly managing these types of conflicts in facilitation sessions.  I think this happens because people will hold onto pent up frustrations and feel more confident airing them out in a group space.  I'm convinced most people do not like dealing with conflict one-on-one or directly with the person contributing to their angst.  

So, how do you resolve these types of interpersonal issues in a group space?  Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question.  One thing I try to do is set group norms at the beginning of the meeting.  I'll typically write:  "Confront issues, not people."  Dealing with issues and not the people contributing to them is a necessary step to mitigating conflict.  Once issues become personal, defense mechanisms kick in and the focus of the real issue becomes a moot point. 

A second strategy I use is to utilize meeting breaks to talk things out with individuals who are either unhappy with another individual or unhappy with the process.  People want the acknowledgement that their concerns are heard.  When appropriate, I try to set-up time offline where interpersonal conflicts can be worked out in a smaller, safer space.  Often times this little step can get our facilitation session back on track.  

These two strategies have worked for me in the past.  Now, do they always work?  Absolutely not.  People are a strange species.  Sometimes I walk away from facilitation thinking:  "I would much rather work with at-risk youth (I don't really like the term "at-risk") than at-risk adults!" In youth development work, adults tend to get in the way to real progress more than youth do. However, you need passionate, caring adults to be role models for our young people. 

Even though people--specifically adults--can be a strange species, simple facilitation strategies such as setting group norms and addressing concerns during breaks can help keep a session on track.  

Frank Mirabal is the Founder and President of Contigo Research, Policy & Strategy, a national consulting firm that focuses on issues impacting the Latino community.