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.

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