Altruism Today

Common Cause vs a Smart Alec

July 29th, 2011  |  Source:


A taxpayer-supported campaign against Big Government

ALEC, one of the right's premier ideas factories, has been the recipient of public money in several states

Taxpayer dollars in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kansas are being spent to fund state lawmakers' memberships in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides model state legislation drafted with the help of big business. In some of the states, public money has gone to travel and food expenses as well, including in Pennsylvania, whose taxpayers spent $50,000 to cater ALEC’s 2007 conference in Philadelphia.

The public money is helping to fund the activities of an organization dedicated to drastically cutting government spending and whose non-profit status is currently being challenged by Common Cause, which contends that ALEC is essentially a lobbying organization. Corporations are given a direct role in drafting the model legislation that ALEC urges states to adopt -- legislation that, if enacted, often benefits the same corporations. ALEC defines itself as a professional association, just like scrupulously nonpartisan organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures and The Council of State Governments, which legislators commonly belong to.

"ALEC receives payment from a variety of sources, sometimes in the form of educational grants for legislative members," ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber wrote in an email to Salon. "ALEC provides an educational environment to hear from experts on a variety of issues including education, public safety, health care and tax and fiscal policy."

The most notable disbursement of public money to ALEC, discovered in documents obtained by this reporter from Common Cause for a separate Philadelphia City Paper article, took place in Pennsylvania, where a $50,000 appropriation to cater the ALEC meeting was slipped into the 2007 state budget. The food bill for that gathering ended up including $30,450 for roasted chicken breast, $4,000 for Philly cheese-steaks and $3,000 for cheesecake lollipops -- all of it paid for by Pennsylvania taxpayers.

In the budget, the ALEC outlay was described as being "for the payment of expenses related to hosting conferences, meetings or conventions of multistage organizations which protect the member states’ interests or which promote governmental financial excellence or accountability."

Abstract, continue reading here:

Recommended reading...

July 28th, 2011  |  Source: VPPartners

Wise, candid, practical advice to help organizations thrive in an era of scarcity

Leap of Reason presents both an impassioned plea and a logical plan for taking a social sector–wide leap forward in our ability to create meaningful, measurable good for those we serve. The book is deeply relevant for:

Nonprofit executives who want better information to fulfill the mission that compelled them to dedicate their lives to serving others

Funders who want to understand what impact their gifts are having and how they can achieve greater impact

Board members and advisors who want to support disciplined, effective, outcomes-driven management

Policymakers seeking better ways to allocate scarce public funding and services.

Hacking Scandal Could Cost News Corp. Its ‘Social License’

July 27th, 2011  |  Source: Yahoo Finance

The phone-hacking scandal has done great damage to the stock of News Corp. and to the public image of its owner and founder, Rupert Murdoch. But the biggest harm may have been to another asset: the company's social license. And I'm not talking about the prospect of Rupert and Wendi Murdoch not getting invited to dinner parties in the Hamptons. Rather, I'm talking about a somewhat vague but important concept. 

Operating a business and working in different markets, even regulated ones, may be a right that courts can enforce. But at a deeper level, it is also a privilege. And so in addition to a formal government license, companies also need an informal 'social license.'

A company, or an institution, gets and maintains a social license if it generally behaves and runs in a way that other businesses and institutions want to do business with it, and that governments and society at large tend to welcome them as a present. Sure, a CEO may define his or her duties as owing primarily to the bottom line and to shareholders. But a company is also evaluated, and valued, based on how well it plays with others, and on whether people want it operating in their neighborhood. (In the accompanying video, Aaron Task and I discuss the concept of social license.)

Companies that possess a social license often find it easy to expand into new areas. Danny Meyer, the do-good, feel-good restaurateur, just opened a Shake Shack in the Connecticut town where I live, and nobody seems to mind the big traffic jams or generally unhealthy grub it has brought. It is common for hosannas to erupt when the city fathers announce a Trader Joe's is coming to town. These cuddly guys have an expansive social license.

But Wal-Mart? Not so much. America's largest retailer rose to dominance through an aggressive strategy of low pricing, low wages and hostility to unions. In the rural areas where it thrived for its first few decades, that wasn't a problem. But having saturated the sticks, Wal-Mart found that its policies and corporate culture made it unwelcome in many large cities where labor and small business groups had a good deal of influence. With domestic growth having stalled, Wal-Mart now realizes that its future in the U.S. rests on making headway in cities where it currently lacks a social license to operate. It is desperately trying to get into the lucrative New York City market, for example.

Wal-Mart has been trying hard to improve its image by offering better health benefits to associates and getting involved in sustainability issues. But that hasn't helped it pry open the closed Big Apple. When you don't have a social license in a particular area, it means that instead of being invited in and receiving incentives, you might have to buy your way in. Wal-Mart just donated $4 million to a New York City jobs program as part of an effort to improve its image in New York.

The consequences of losing a social license — or not having one in the first place — can hit the bottom line in several ways. 

Abstract only.  Read the rest of the article and watch the video here:  

End of an Era: Shriners Will End Free Health Care for All

July 25th, 2011  |  Source: NPQ

Source: StarTribune | Shriners are well known for wearing their red fez hats while raising money through football games, and parades. These events and other efforts gave over one million children free healthcare at their hospitals throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada.  Now, rising health care costs and a tough economy are forcing the national nonprofit to find a new revenue stream – insurance companies.

For 89 years, the Shriners fraternity, 325,000 members strong, supported over 20 hospitals.  In recent years, members saw their endowment decline and their fundraising efforts remain flat.  Starting this August, hospitals will bill insurance companies and charge families co-payments. Those children without insurance will still be treated at no cost.

Shriners Hospitals were started in the early 1920’s to fight polio.  Today, most of their work focuses on helping children who need orthopedic care or have spinal cord injuries.

The new funding scheme was pushed forward as the organization watched its endowment value plummet from $8 billion to $5 billion.  Eight hospitals were scheduled to close. Instead, new revenue from insurance companies will ensure that all hospitals remain open. Still, the organization’s expenses are exceeding revenue by $230 million a year.

The organization is facing a new set of challenges with this transition. Initially, Shriners weren’t able to sign contracts with several major insurers until the by-laws were changed.  And the hospitals lost a few million dollars before they realized that direct reimbursement payments to patients were not being properly collected.

The old business model of free-standing and self contained operations is no more. Newer hospitals are working with local medical institutions to share equipment and costs.

Today, collaborating and connecting with other institutions is replacing football games to ensure that Shriners Hospitals will be there for both today’s children and future generations.

AmeriCares Urgently Responding to East Africa Famine

July 21st, 2011  |  Source:


AmeriCares is preparing to send urgently needed medical aid to areas of East Africa experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades. AmeriCares also has established an Africa Disaster Relief Fund to help direct critical resources to this impoverished region.

The United Nations this week officially declared two parts of Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle, to be in famine. Famine is declared when two adults or four children per 10,000 people die of hunger each day and a third of children are acutely malnourished. According to the U.N., in some areas of Somalia, six people are dying per day and more than half the children are acutely malnourished.

AmeriCares is planning to deliver aid to Somalia, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are on the brink of starvation. Thousands of refugees are making the treacherous journey to Kenya daily on foot, walking through the desert for a week or more to get to overcrowded refugee camps that offer their only hope of food, clean water and, ultimately, survival. AmeriCares shipment of basic medicines and medical supplies will help mobile medical teams serving the influx of refugees into Mogadishu.

“The crisis is intensifying and, without assistance, thousands of children will starve to death,” said Christoph Gorder, AmeriCares SVP of Global Programs. “The medicines AmeriCares is delivering will save countless lives and help to alleviate one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in a generation.”

AmeriCares has been aiding survivors of natural disasters, political conflict and extreme poverty in Africa and around the world for nearly 30 years, saving lives and restoring health and hope. AmeriCares has been delivering aid to East Africa since the Ethiopia famine of 1985 that killed more than 1 million people. For more information, or to donate, go to or call 1(800) 486-HELP.

Sonal Shaw Leaves White House Office of Social Innovation

July 20th, 2011  |  Source: NPQ


Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy | The White House announced yesterday the second high profile resignation from Obama’s offices related to nonprofit social innovation. A few months ago, Patrick Corvington mysteriously resigned from the post of CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service where the Social Innovation Fund is housed.

Yesterday, Sonal Shaw, the head of the three-person White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic participation where the ideas behind the Social Innovation Fund were developed, announced she is stepping down. Neither Corvington nor (according to this report) Shaw left for another position but for a “break.”

Apparently Shaw’s last task was to set up a meeting between the president and around 50 billionaire philanthropists (including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) to discuss ways in which government and billionaires can work more closely together to solve all of our problems.

[Clearly the President is now in re-election mode and these appointment don't fit with his fund raising strategy. Good ideas at the time! Oh well, onto 2012] Ed

Small Foundations Increasingly Convert to Donor Advised Funds

July 19th, 2011  |  Source: NPQ


Source: Investment News | According to this article from Investment News, small foundations are increasingly opting out of foundation status and into donor advised fund status. This has resulted in big increases in the amounts that have been transferred from foundations into charitable gift funds like those at Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab.

Fidelity reports that the amount they took into donor advised funds from foundations last year (ending June 30) almost doubled from $16 million to $30 million. Schwab Charitable saw almost the same rate of increase to $28 million over the same period and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment had transfers from foundations grow from $15 million to $28 million.

Benjamin Pierce, president of Vanguard, suggests that the increase in the use of donor advised funds over private independent foundations, is due to a combination of an urge for investment safety and a reduction of operating costs. “The smaller foundations are beginning to understand it's uneconomical to run a foundation at that size,” says Pierce.

The median size of gifts from foundations to Vanguard is $100,000 but its highest has been $68 million. Schwab has developed an online tool that makes it easier to measure whether a foundation might be better served through converting to a donor advised fund as part of a specialized “conversion service" for foundations.

Homeless Veteran Numbers Drop By 55,000: VA

July 15th, 2011  |  Source: AP/HuffPo

The number of homeless veterans on any given night has dropped by over 55,000, the Department of Veterans Affairs said on Friday, due in part to programs like the $46.2 million announced Thursday to provide permanent housing for 6,790 homeless veterans.

Despite a still-stagnant economy and increased troop drawdowns leading to potentially higher numbers of homeless veterans, VA Deputy Press Secretary Drew Brookie said the number of veterans that are homeless each night has dropped from an estimated 131,000 in 2009 to 75,700 as of June this year.

But continued pressure on this targeted group makes Thursday's funding fundamental to the Obama Administration's goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, according to Anne Oliva, director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's homeless office.

"It's a critical time," Oliva told Reuters Friday. "We have veterans that are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that are potentially becoming homeless in higher numbers than they have in the past. This new influx of people ... we want to try and get in front of it."

The $46.2 million will go to public housing agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

AfricaJack: One Man's Life Changes Many

July 15th, 2011  |  Source:


It was over chicken chow mein and egg rolls that Jack Miller decided to drop his high-paying corporate job in Denver and become AfricaJack. He’d met a friend at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant to check out the photos of his friend’s recent trip to Zimbabwe, not knowing that his life would take a dramatic turn. 

Miller’s parents were missionaries, so helping others was in his genes. But as he was sifting through his friend’s photos, he decided to change his own life in an effort to help change the lives of others. 

He founded the AfricaJack Foundation to help orphans who’ve been affected by HIV and AIDS. Within fifty-four days, he raised ten thousand dollars, enough to fund his dream of building a learning center for the orphans. 

As it was his first foray into non-profit work, he chose a few well-established organizations to support, specifically the Bara Education and Recreation Center in Tanzania and Mother of Peace in Zimbabwe, where he funded a school bus project and realized his dream of building a learning center. 

At Mother of Peace, children who’ve been orphaned because of HIV, and/or have the virus themselves, are able to receive the support and love they need as well as a proper education. 

AfricaJack’s efforts, along with those of Mother of Peace founder “Mama Jean,” also ensure that all of the children are properly nourished. This means that the children can take their antiretroviral medications properly, and live to their full potential. 

In addition to donors sending money, Miller has a vision of participatory donations. He envisions people who support his organization coming with him to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, or Tanzania to see what the foundation is doing and further inspire the children to lead the lives they dream of. He feels that this model of volunteerism is the most effective for both the donors and the children. 

After the foundation’s early success, Miller is now ready to move it into the future. He’s currently in the process of drumming up support for yet another trip, to give more aid to his orphans in Zimbabwe. To lend support or learn more about Miller’s latest adventure go here.


July 14th, 2011  |  Source: beyond profit


Affordable, convenient tech solutions are available to social enterprises to make operations more efficient.

Below are five web-based apps for any IT budget.

1. India-based Aceseller was founded to assist artists, designers and businesses to sell their products online. Features of the web-based store are unlimited products listings, pages and bandwidth, as well as a Facebook store, full customization, inventory tracking and discount codes. There are four pricing plans on offer: starter, basic, pro and premium. The transaction fee varies with each plan. The basic plan, for example, costs INR 1,999 (~$44)/month and has a 8% transaction fee.

2. Google Apps

With its web-based email, calendar and documents, Google has undeniably made business easier. Google offers three different versions of its application suite: for individuals, education and for business. Google Apps for Business is not free, but is affordable. There are two plans available: the flexible plan for which you pay $5/account/month, and the annual plan for $50/account/year.

3. Podio is an online platform that allows a person to organize and manage the virtual workspace. It can serve as a place for project and work process work management, as well as for company news, discussion and interaction. Podio also offers a “social intranet,” allowng people to share information and materials with colleagues and outside stakeholders. Up to 10 user accounts are free, but for $99/month, 25 user accounts are included and additional unlimited users can be purchased for $4/user.

4. Shopify is a web-hosted store where a person can sell her goods globally. It allows a person to do everything she does with a physical store location, but online. Shopify allows the business-owner to organize products, customize the storefront, accept credit card payments, and track and respond to orders. There are four pricing plans: basic, professional, business and unlimited. The business plan costs $99/month and includes a 1% transaction fee, 10,000 product listings and 1,000MB on Shopify’s servers.

5. Zoho is a web-based assortment of applications for business. It has identified and categorized a variety of applications in three categories: collaboration, business and productivity. Zoho applications are free for individuals, but business users may have to pay a fee for applications. For example, Zoho CRM is free for the first three users, but the professional edition costs $12 per user per month or $25/user/month for the enterprise edition. Other applications like Mail Suite, Reports, CRM and Projects are also available for a fee.

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