Altruism Today

What They Saw Over There

April 16th, 2015  |  Source: PS Magazine

A new study suggests witnessing death, not just deployment or combat, raises soldiers' risk of suicide.

The jury is still out on whether overseas deployment leads to more suicides in the armed forces. Witnessing death or atrocity, however, seems to be a different story: Soldiers who see that kind of violence are roughly twice as likely to take their own lives, according to a new study.

Military suicides are a controversial subject—never mind the politics. It used to be that suicides in the armed forces were a bit below civilian levels, at 13 per 100,000 every year.

But, after climbing for about a decade, in 2012, military suicide rates hit a high of 23 per 100,000 military personnel each year. Judging by the timing, the cause appears obvious: Our servicemen and women invaded two countries in the early 2000s, and the stress of repeated deployment and tricky urban combat must have led to the suicides—right?

Well, no. Some studies suggest deployment itself isn't enough to trigger soldiers stationed in war zones to kill themselves. Other have reached more mixed conclusions, though. That's at least in part because these studies all had slightly different aims. Some focused on deployment, while others looked at combat experience. Different research teams were also interested in different aspects of suicide itself, including suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and deaths. In other words, no one was asking quite the same questions, and maybe nobody was asking the right question.

Soldiers who'd seen people killed in war were at 43 percent higher risk for contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide, regardless of who'd done the killing.

Motivated by the death of colleague Peter Linnerooth, who took his life early in 2013 after serving five years as an Army psychologist, professor Craig Bryan at the University of Utah and six other researchers re-visited the evidence with the hope of figuring out what was going on. For their research, they gathered 22 studies on the effects that deployment and specific combat experiences—such as witnessing someone die—have on suicide.

Bryan and his fellow psychologists found that deployment itself, and deployment to a combat zone—Iraq, as opposed to Qatar—had at most a small impact on suicide rates. In fact, even being in combat had essentially no effect on whether soldiers took their lives.

But there was one thing that influenced whether combatants would later think about or attempt suicide: witnessing death. Killing another person in combat, being unable to prevent someone else's death, and witnessing atrocities or massacres increased the likelihood of thinking about, as well as attempting, suicide, Bryan and his colleagues found. Overall, soldiers who'd seen people killed in war were at 43 percent higher risk for contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide, regardless of who'd done the killing.

Though the researchers are quick to caution that combat isn't necessarily a trigger for suicide, the narrow range of combat experiences that influence suicide risk should give psychologists pause. "Continued use of deployment history and overgeneralized measures of suicide-related outcomes are likely to contribute to mixed findings and confusion," the team writes. Instead, probing the details of a soldier's combat experience will benefit researchers, clinical psychologists, and soldiers alike, they write.

Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.

Study Reveals Generational Differences in What Engages Donors

April 15th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

A study released today by software company Abila (formerly Sage Nonprofit Solutions) contrasts the ideas nonprofits have about how to engage donors with what donors say actually makes them feel engaged. Further, it looks at generational differences in the preferences of the donors.

One of the points made in the study is that when nonprofits segment donors for a variety of approaches, it is often around only one data point, and that this is less than fully effective. Of course, the company that commissioned the study helps nonprofits use data to get better fundraising results.

The two foci of the study combine to lead to a finding that makes good sense but perhaps needs more exploration by nonprofits: Different generations have different preferences, and there may be some worth in segmenting donors by age, or at least in offering enough approaches to donor engagement to provide an open and welcoming way in for donors of every age.

For instance, it is only millennials who give higher marks to volunteering than for giving in terms of what makes them feel most engaged. All three other generational groups said they felt most engaged when they gave money. Boomers and “matures” are apparently more interested in updates than in participation in events or advocacy, which attract millennials and Gen Xers more readily.

Not surprisingly, the amounts given per individual go up with age, and reputation matters more with age, reinforcing the need to maintain the integrity of the organization as a major asset to be nurtured by all.

It is interesting that the least liked methods of fundraising are phone calls and canvassing, followed closely by text/SMS and social media. Of these four channels, social media had, by far the highest marks among millennials with 72 percent expressing approval (against 66 percent for Gen Xers, 38 percent for boomers and 21 percent for matures).

Surprisingly, the highest marks across the board were given to radio or TV ads and direct mail, followed by peer-to-peer fundraising.

Successful Successions: Executive Transitions that Worked

Succession from one generation of leadership to the next is a period of opportunity and risk. Common sense, an inclusive listening tour, frank dialogue that invites all views within the board and from other key players, and a robust analysis of what the organization needs going forward are essential ingredients for this process.

But also be aware that many challenging and critical needs can be in plain sight and still go unaddressed. Why? Because over time, boards and their executive leadership can settle on an equilibrium—accepting or implicitly agreeing to work around fundamental tensions and difficulties, like the frog in a slowly heating pan of water. Sadly, these unspoken challenges can substantially undermine the vision of the organization and the hopeful rhetoric of the search. If they are not addressed in the succession process, they will still be present when the new team is in place. Having missed the opportunity to vet them, they will be that much more entrenched.

Examples of these unspoken challenges are revealed in these stories of our experience recruiting chief executives and their successors for three different organizations. In the first two examples, there was a span of about eight years between the searches. In the third example, it was less than two years, for reasons that are explained. The contrast in what was needed the first and second times around is striking.

These are mostly happy stories. In each case, our client was prepared for an unvarnished look at the circumstances that would likely shape the next chief executive’s tenure. As they signaled that readiness and welcomed a frank give-and-take during the recruiting process, strong candidates stepped forward. Before hiring the new CEO, they were able to establish a common understanding of the challenges they would face together. Those foundations paid dividends in the performance of the organization and the chief executive, sooner or—as shown in the third example—later.

Leveraging a unified board and a favorable funding environment.

Eight years ago, we were engaged to recruit the president of a nationally renowned public/private partnership known for innovation, solid research, and an effective community-based service delivery model. The founding president was retiring. She had built a solid foundation and felt it was time for fresh energy and growth. All in all, it was a stable and happy organization. Most of their funding came from government. The board members were in alignment with the political party in power, and the programmatic agenda dovetailed with the ideology of that party. A large board, which shared a common vision of the organization and its strategies, had fully supported the outgoing president and was disposed to continue with this model of governance.

We recruited a strong and vocal advocate. She was highly skilled at promoting the agenda of the organization in public testimony, in the media, and with funders and community leaders. She was active in partisan politics in alliance with the party in power. The board, which shared her philosophy, granted her considerable license to occupy a visible bully pulpit, and she did it well. The organization prospered and grew during most of her eight-year term. Innovative programming based on solid research and development and growth marked her tenure.

More recently, the party in power, and the ideology and public policy that shaped this organization’s funding, changed. Board members are appointed by elected officials, and a number of new board members were appointed by the party newly in power. What had been a monolithic board was suddenly no longer so, and the political activism of the president was suddenly a liability. The president retired, and we were engaged to find her successor.

We look back on this placement as a success. The person we recruited was well matched to the needs of the organization—until she wasn’t.

Read on here:

Real wealth and nature's stock

April 11th, 2015  |  Source: Philanthropy Daily

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a man eats not that he may be fed but that he may work. Although I doubt Emerson knew fully what he meant by this (I doubt the Sage of Concord knew anything fully), I am going to attempt to relieve some pressure from his statement by considering it in relation to real wealth, about which I made a few preliminary remarks in a previous essay.

By “real wealth” I mean nature’s stock, which backs whatever paper we are habituated to mistake as actual wealth.

Nature’s stock isn’t gold but, rather, available goods beginning and ending in what feeds us. There are other goods, certainly, but none as important as food (after which I would name, without ranking them, clothing, shelter, and fuel). If you aren’t being fed you’re not going to become a coal baron or a railroad tycoon and then, if luxury affords it, a philanthropist. You’re going to be a corpse with only the worms and grass and trees to thank you for your generosity. The fellowship of dust cares nothing about donor intent.

And if we were really interested in wealth in the older and deeper sense of weal (whence common wealand commonwealth), we would do the intelligent thing and make health and wholeness and true agricultural potential the gold standard. There would be no such tyrant as a bottom line, because we would be engaged in a less reductive and less simplifying and less despotic enterprise than the one we’re currently engaged in. We would be engaged not in selective but in comprehensive bookkeeping. A depleted aquifer would go on the books as a cost offsetting the harvest it nourished. Divorce, though it increases the unimpeachable GDP (which Ed Abbey called it the “grossest domestic product”), would go on the books as a cost offsetting the purchase of extra dishwashers and toasters. These and other costs—poor health, obesity, smog, the emotional damage children inevitably bear when parents fail to love each other sufficiently—would go on the books and be subtracted from whatever gains we think we’re making. And whatever “net” gain we’d come up with after doing all the math carefully and honestly might turn out to be no gain at all but, instead, the kind of loss that some people could conceivably regard as a compelling reason to adjust their behavior.

What feeds us, obviously, is food. But food isn’t contingent upon piles of money, as most of us are habituated to think. It is contingent upon healthy topsoil, adequate water (preferably rainwater), sunlight, salubrious seasons, and the human intelligence that encourages the issuance of food from the earth. All flesh may indeed be grass, as the prophet said, and this may suggest that our lives are ephemeral, but that’s just the metaphorical sense of the phrase. There’s a literal sense to it as well. All flesh is grass because we are constantly converting what the earth produces, by the grace of sunlight and water and soil, into human flesh—into usourselves.

If sunlight falls and grass grows and a cow eats the grass, and if a man comes along and eats a steak cut from the flank of the grass-eating cow, what the man is doing is precisely the same thing that the cow did: converting grass into flesh. The cow is the man’s intermediary, but the man’s flesh, like the cow’s, is still grass. It is also sunlight, water, and soil. The body that I understand as “me” or part of what constitutes “me” is grass (or bananas or potatoes or whatever). It is as true to say that as to say that a healthy pasture, or hay in a barn loft, is stored energy. A horse that grazes and then pulls a cart has converted grass into energy. In this case all energy is grass, and in this case the energy happens to be solar—energy run on contemporary rather than ancient sunlight. The biggest difference between a horse and a tractor isn’t horse power. It’s energy. A horse uses sunlight that is falling right now or that fell yesterday or during the most recent growing season; a tractor running on oil uses sunlight that fell a long time ago. (About this, more presently.)

We must get used to the fact that the grass is soil plus sunlight plus water. We must get used to the fact that the cow is soil plus sunlight plus water plus grass. And as a carnivore I must get used to the fact that I am soil plus sunlight plus water plus grass plus cow.

read on here:

Chaos at Bitcoin Foundation Sparks Move to Bifurcate

April 9th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

Source: International Business Times

Olivier Janssens, a Bitcoin millionaire and foundation board member, blogged earlier this week on “The truth about the Bitcoin Foundation.” He said, “I can no longer in good conscience hide the truth on what I have witnessed in the Bitcoin Foundation since I was elected last month.”

He went on to claim that the Foundation was out of money and had dismissed most of its staff:

“First of all, the Bitcoin Foundation is effectively bankrupt. As a result of two years of ridiculous spending and poorly thought out decisions, they almost ran out of money in November of last year. In extremis, but way too late, they decided to select a new executive director during that time.”

In a response, the chief executive, Patrick Murck, refutes Jansen’s claims. “The Foundation is not bankrupt, but a restructuring is needed. Olivier basically jumped in front of our announcements on that and our annual report on the 2014 finances to be released next week, and he spun it very, very negative,” Murck wrote.

According to an internal proposal posted to Scribd by Murck, the Foundation is considering splitting into two separate organizations. An entirely new entity would be created to fund core development (the Bitcoin Foundation’s original focus) while the existing Foundation would continue as a promotional organization supported by its current membership.

“To continue funding an engineering team within the Foundation, we will need a significant infusion of cash or potentially be insolvent in eight weeks,” the proposal states.

Amongst other things, it also notes that there is a dichotomy between the current structure and the objective of funding an engineering development team:

“People willing to invest large amounts to fund engineering want the ability to direct funding without the reputational or management risk of an elected board. Large donors don’t want to commit significant capital to an org where they must share 50 percent control of their funds with members who pay as little as $25.”

And it says:

“The IRS has indicated that our 501(c)(6) status may be in jeopardy if we are directly funding software development and advancing a specific product…We can transition to a 501(c)(4) without penalty if focus is purely promotion, education, and community development.”

CoinDesk, an independent digital currency website, suggests that this proposal has created deep divisions at the Foundation. They suggest that the core developers may have already moved on. One of the developers, Gavin Andresen, is quoted as saying, “It is nice so many people are concerned about how [developers] Wladimir and Cory and I will make a living, but in the end it is up to us, individually, to decide what is best. Sometimes it feels like ‘the Bitcoin community’ expects to micro-manage our professional lives ‘for the good of Bitcoin’, but that isn’t how open-source projects work.”

Another member of the core development team, Jeff Garzik, said “People—not just Olivier—want to create some anointed organization for anointed individuals when it doesn’t really work that way.”

Garzik, who CoinDesk asserts has another job with payment gateway BitPay, added, “Decentralized, open-source development means many people at many organizations.”

The Bitcoin Foundation has no control over the Bitcoin digital currency itself. There is no reason to suggest that these reported developments will have any effect on the value or exchange of Bitcoin, which has been widely used by charities for fundraising, as previous Nonprofit Quarterly stories herehere, and here indicate.

Revealed: Gates Foundation's $1.4bn in fossil fuel investments

March 25th, 2015  |  Source: The Guardian

Analysis of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s most recent tax filing reveals huge investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies

The charity run by Bill and Melinda Gates, who say the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed, held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, according to a Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013.

The companies include BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Anadarko Petroleum, which was recently forced to pay a $5bn environmental clean-up charge and Brazilian mining company Vale, voted the corporation with most “contempt for the environment and human rights” in the world clocking over 25,000 votes in the Public Eye annual awards.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Asset Trust is the world’s largest charitable foundation, with an endowment of over $43bn, and has already given out $33bn in grants to health programmes around the world, including one that helped rid India of polio in 2014.

A Guardian campaign, launched on Monday and already backed by over 95,000 people is asking the Gates to sell their fossil fuel investments. It argues: “Your organisation has made a huge contribution to human progress ... yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk. It is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal.”

Existing fossil fuel reserves are several times greater than can be burned if the world’s governments are to fulfil their pledge to keep global warming below the danger limit of 2C, but fossil fuel companies continue to spend billions on exploration. In addition to the climate risk, the Bank of England and others argue that fossil fuel assets may pose a “huge risk” to pension funds and other investors as they could be rendered worthless by action to slash carbon emissions.

Dyson Foundation donates £12m [$18m] for new engineering school

March 24th, 2015  |  Source: The Independent [UK]

With the largest donation in the history of the foundation, it has previously given large sums to Cambridge of the Royal College of Arts

Imperial College have announced a £12m [$18] donation by Sir James Dyson for a new Dyson school for engineering that will open its doors later this year.

The new Dyson School of Design Engineering will be aimed at training the next generation of graduate engineers and technology leaders.

In an announcement on Monday, Dyson said: “We want to create engineers who are bold and commercially astute. They will use their skills, nurtured in the Dyson School, to develop future technology that will catalyse Britain’s economic growth.”

The school will be situated on Exhibition Road in South Kensington in a building purchased by the university from the Science Museum.

The acquisition was made possible by the biggest single donation in the James Dyson foundation’s history to date.

Revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt nonprofit status

March 22nd, 2015  |  Source:

When I found out that the National Football League (NFL) -- the most profitable sports league in the world -- is a nonprofit, I couldn’t believe it!

Despite making more than $10 billion a year, the league is considered a tax-exempt non-profit trade organization, which means it does not pay many federal and New York state taxes.

Though there have been efforts in Congress to address the NFL's nonprofit status, proposed legislation has been stuck for a couple years. But now there's another way to keep pressure on the NFL.

Two New York State legislators, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, have proposed legislation to change New York State’s tax laws, so that sports leagues like the NFL would lose their "nonprofit" tax-exempt privileges. We need to take action right now to make sure their legislation passes.

This is a concrete solution to generate tax income for all of us, while closing a loophole that benefits only a super-rich league.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell makes more than $44 million a year, which is much more than many nonprofits make in a year in New York. The NFL also spends big bucks annually on government lobbyists to make sure that it isn’t taxed like the business that it is. Regular people like you and me MUST make our voices heard to counteract that influence.

Our elected officials should keep our best interests at heart, not the NFL’s lobbyists’. Other sports leagues, like the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, have already given up their nonprofit status, and it’s time for the NFL to follow suit. This NY legislation is our best chance to make that happen, which is why it’s so important that we show policymakers that we care about this issue right now.

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Archdiocese of SF Vows to Stop Drenching Homeless People Seeking Refuge

March 20th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

A few weeks ago, NPQ published a newswire about “defensive architecture,” urban design that is hostile to humans. The source article discussed such stuff as spiked areas where homeless people might sit on the grounds and benches designed to discourage comfort. But the Archdiocese of San Francisco has taken things to a whole new level by installing a system that periodically dumps water through a hole in the ceiling into the four sheltered doorways of Saint Mary’s Cathedral where homeless people sometimes go to rest. This repellent system has been in place apparently for a year.

KCBS in San Francisco, which reported on the system, observed the shower running in four different doorways for about 75 seconds every 30 or 60 minutes, starting before sunset and soaking homeless people and their belongings. There are no signs that warn people about what will happen if they take refuge at this house of God.

Once it was brought to their attention, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection issued a notice of violation for “the unpermitted downspout,” sending its chief plumbing inspector to the site on Tuesday. The Archdiocese was given 15 days to remove the system but it vowed to have it gone by the end of the day.

The archdiocese issued a statement that read in part, “The people who were regularly sleeping in those doorways were informed in advance that the sprinklers were being installed,” adding, “The idea was not to remove those persons, but to encourage them to relocate to other areas of the Cathedral, which are protected and safer.”

It continued: “We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method used was ill-conceived. It actually has had the opposite effect from what it was intended to do, and for this we are very sorry.”

Chris Lyford, speaking for the Archdiocese, which does fund programs to address homelessness, said cathedral staff tries to help. “We refer them, mostly to Catholic Charities, for example, for housing,” Lyford said. “To Saint Anthony’s soup kitchen for food, if they want food on that day. Saint Vincent de Paul, if they need clothes.” But they keep coming back. “We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person. But there is only so much you can do.”

“I was just shocked, one because it’s inhumane to treat people that way,” one neighbor said to KCBS. “The second thing is that we are in this terrible drought.”

Tax-Deductibility of Donations for Israeli Settlements Questioned

March 16th, 2015  |  Source: NPQ

Source: Mother Jones
Josh Harkinson reports for Mother Jones that a global nonprofit called Avaaz has petitioned the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the charitable status of the Hebron Fund, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that provides financial support to Israeli settlers in Hebron, a community in the Occupied West Bank. Not a particularly long-established group, much like other similar organizations, Avaaz functions as a venue for Internet-based organizing, using techniques such as petitions, online media campaigns, and lobbying governments, focusing on issue priorities established by Avaaz members. (The Avaaz webpage, when we looked at it on March 13th, claimed 41,513,085 members in 194 countries.)

The role of the settlements is very contentious, as they appear to be illegal under international law no matter what justifications may be used by the government of Israel to maintain its military occupation of the West Bank and the continued building of settlements there and in East Jerusalem.

Harkinson, and presumably Avaaz, asks “why American taxpayers continue to subsidize the Hebron settlers, accused by international observers of human rights violations that include thefts, battery, and murder.” Among those international observers are Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and B’tselem, all documenting human rights abuses in Hebron conducted by settlers, to which the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers in the area turn a blind eye.

Harkinson quotes from an Avaaz official, outlining the complaint: “The Hebron Fund has supported, either directly or indirectly, a wide array of acts that are definitely not charitable,” says John Tye, the Avaaz legal director, and notably, a former U.S. State Department whistleblower. “They are basically using a small group of Jewish settlers in the West Bank to push Palestinians out of their homes. These settlers are arming themselves, they are engaged in military and paramilitary acts, some of them have connections to terrorism, and they are committing a wide range of crimes against Palestinians.”

As the NPQ Newswire noted in its coverage of American philanthropic support to organizations promoting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress, American taxpayers support a range of organizations that themselves support settlers in various West Bank communities. A 2012 study by Eric Fleisch and Theodore Sasson is one of the few studies we have seen to examine U.S. giving to Israeli organizations through the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federations of North America, various “friends-of” organizations, and pass-through intermediaries. Their analysis included U.S. donations to support the settlements broadly (through the One Israel Fund and the Central Fund of Israel, for example) as well as funds for specific settlements (such as the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, the Friends of Ir David, the American Friends of Ariel, and the Hebron Fund, to name a few).

Harkinson’s description of what is happening in Hebron reveals much about the dynamics of Israeli settlements, the displacement of Palestinians from homes, the IDF’s closing off of parts of the from Palestinians, and the hostile acts of the settlers themselves. It is a strategy that is followed in other settlements, the eviction of gradually increasing numbers of Palestinians and opening up more West Bank and East Jerusalem sites for settlements. The pace of Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank is not slowing. There are some 350,000 settlers living there, up almost a quarter million from a decade ago. Nick Kristof wrote in the New York Times recently about settlers’ displacement of Palestinians from agricultural lands in the West Bank. Although the Netanyahu government gives lip service to a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it looks to just about everyone that the settlements are not temporary, but meant to be permanent as part of a strategy that sounds more like a one-state future.

The Avaaz complaint focuses on the Hebron Fund’s support of one settlement and, as per Harkinson’s article, emphasizes the human rights violations of the settlers as the basis for the request to IRS that the Fund lose its charitable status. However, the bigger question is whether it is right for American taxpayers to receive charitable deductions for supporting organizations whose objectives and programs not only constitute human rights violations but violate international law regarding one nation’s occupation and usurpation of another.

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