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Disasters show need for change

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By Todd Cohen

Shaping public policy and engaging donors are critical jobs in the wake of disasters like Katrina that can strain struggling charities, drain donors and expose social problems’ roots.

That was panelists’ consensus at a Philanthropy Journal workshop on lessons from Katrina.

Poverty is one of the most serious issues in the U.S., and Americans must tackle it, said Craig Chancellor, president of Triangle United Way.

Tom Ross, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, said organized philanthropy’s job is not to respond to crises, but to push for systems change to fix the policies driving problems like poverty that crises expose.

Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, said recent crises created an “unprecedented window of opportunity for nonprofits to address the conditions and causes of poverty.”

Barbara Metelsky, director of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University, said systems change takes time and risk-taking, and she warned that Washington lawmakers want to limit advocacy groups’ work.

And Karla Williams, principal of The Williams Group, said if they want donors to support their advocacy work, charities must work hard to understand donors.

Change is a tough job, and requires first that charities change.


Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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