Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Favorite Nonprofit Reads of 2015

This year we have seen many key issues of the nonprofit sector come to center stage, and have seen a wealth of great research and writing on these subjects. Below I provide a summary of my favorites.

Red Cross
The ongoing examination of the Red Cross, its operations, its leadership, and its finances by ProPublica and NPR has been incredible. While some have sought to critique the perspective it has brought, there is no doubt it has had a large impact on public perceptions and will surely impact the organization going forward.

Chan/Zuckerberg Pledge
The pledge by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg of 99% of their Facebook holdings toward charitable causes sent shock waves through the nonprofit sector, both for the scale of the pledge and its nontraditional form. Initial reactions were extreme, either heavy criticism or heavy praise (my roundup is here).  Amidst such extreme reactions was a well-informed and nuanced piece by Gillian White in The Atlantic that told the big picture story.

Donor Advised Funds
Debates over regulation of donor advised funds (DAFs) took hold in 2015, rightly so given the continued growth and prominence of DAFs as a philanthropic tool.  There were excellent perspectives among critics such as Ray Madoff and Alan Cantor, and supporters such as Howard Husock and Jack Shakely.  One piece in particular that stood out to me was Alan Cantor's look at the structure of Fidelity Charitable and its ties to Fidelity Investments.  The perspective was unique, pointed, and gutsy.

You would think the sudden fall of an enormous nonprofit service provider would garner more attention than it did.  Beyond the initial headlines, few dove into the details.  An excellent exception to this is the continuing coverage by Josh Nathan-Kazis. His thorough look into the leadership failures, financial troubles, and risky choices at FEGS was an eye-opener.

Rick Cohen
It's hard to discuss excellent nonprofit writing without thinking of Rick Cohen and his impact.  In Rick Cohen, the nonprofit sector lost an incredible advocate and excellent writer.  The thing about him is that he was both unbelievably prolific (just take a peek at his writing this year for Nonprofit Quarterly) and extremely careful.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge and coverage are hard to overstate, and highlighting one piece does not to him justice.  But, if I must do so, this one comes to mind as an exemplar.  It brings together his perspectives on housing, inequality, politics, nonprofits, and advocacy, and also shows his willingness to examine issues at the local level.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Proposed Nonprofit Onion Headlines 2015

As "America's Finest News Source," The Onion needs to boost its coverage of nonprofits and issues facing the nonprofit sector. In an effort to nudge such coverage, and despite a complete lack of popular demand, below is a compilation of proposed nonprofit headlines for 2015 offered up free of charge to The Onion. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
  • Skeptical Public Relieved to Find their Donations Used to Raise Awareness
  • Local Child's Lemonade Stand Fundraiser Closed after Criticism for Excessive Spending on Sandwich Board
  • Nonprofit Leaders Worry that Plan to Solve World's Ills Will Lead to Changes in the Charitable Deduction
  • Nonprofit Leader Inspired by Twitter Feed Filled with Airline Complaints & Baseball Updates
  • Tech Mogul Not Entirely Confident his Silicon Valley Approach could Transform Philanthropy
  • Inspired by Dan Pallotta TED Talk, Draft Kings Executives Set Out to Change the World With Advertising

Thanks to The Whiny Donor, Tony Martignetti, and some anonymous contributors, we have many great additions to the list:

  • Nonprofit Leaders Urge Congress to Simplify Private Foundation Excise Taxes and Payout Requirements by Eliminating Them
  • Donor Advised Fund Sponsors Rush Madly at Year-End to Ensure that Charitable Donations Do Not Go to Charity
  • IRS Demands DNA Swab to Prove Your Charitable Deduction
  • Philanthropist Donates to Charity CEO Excessive Compensation Fund
  • Research Shows that Most Donors Respond Poorly to Good Stewardship
  • IRS Mulls Plan to Call April 15 Giving Friday
  • After New IRS Ruling Charity Leaders Eager to Sell their Donors' Social Security Numbers to Each Other
  • Giving Tuesday Sets New Record for Number of Email Solicitations Sent to Spam Folders
  • Unknown Donor Gives Major Gift to Athletic Department to Name New Stadium "Anonymous Field"

Monday, December 7, 2015

Nonprofit Writing Roundup: Zuckerberg/Chan Edition

With the news of the $45 billion Zuckerberg/Chan pledge came a wealth of writing and opinions. Here's a roundup of some that stood out in my view.

  • Best Debate: Many opposing views arose about the intentions and potential impact of the pledge, but the debate I found most informative was between Felix Salmon and Jesse Eisinger. Two polar views arose, but its clear both were seeking understanding in forming and conveying them.
  • Oops Award: The pledge brought much quick speculation and incorrect assertions, particularly about taxation and the LLC formation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but this one in Daily Beast stood out for me.
  • To a Hammer Everything is a Nail: The news of the pledge also brought many who saw the event as an opportunity to inconspicuously promote their ingrained views. This by Dan Pallotta deserves credit for doing so most conspicuously.
  • Best in Show: For my tastes, the best piece to accurately portray the facts and provide needed nuance is this Atlantic piece by Gillian White, summarizing where things stand as "it's too early to criticize the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – just as it's too early to praise it."