Nonprofit news headlines – Week of 04.09.07

*A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University identified a disconnect between Americans’ philanthropic aspirations and their charitable giving, the Wall Street Journal reported April 4 [subscription only]. Though most donors believe the bulk of their contributions help the less fortunate, only one-third, or $78 billion of $250 billion in donations, went to the economically disadvantaged in 2005, and despite the enormous difference small amounts of money can make abroad, only 8 percent of U.S. individual donations went to international causes.

* The Smithsonian Institution faces a long list of reforms to regain its footing as one of the nation’s most respected museum complexes, and chief among those is regaining public trust, the New York Times reported March 29. Acting secretary Cristián Samper, appointed after Lawrence M. Small resigned March 26 following a tumultuous seven years in the top post, faces not only issues of governance and oversight, but extensive building repairs, lackluster collections and fundraising strategies, and a board made up of overextended public officials like Vice President Dick Cheney.

* The fight against global warming is poised to become the first mass American student movement since the days of the Vietnam War, Business Week reported April 9. Unlike their 1970s predecessors, college activists today represent a wide array of political perspectives and beliefs and are increasingly waging a “distributed revolution” through the power of YouTube, blogs and podcasts, a strategy that has begun to produce striking results at universities and businesses nationwide.

* Giving by foundations climbed past $40 billion last year, surpassing a $36.4 billion record set in 2005, according to estimates by the Foundation Center, the New York Times reported April 3. The center attributed the increase to a strong stock market and the donation of drugs by foundations associated with pharmaceutical companies, as well as the creation of a “new breed” of foundations, often headed by living donors who funnel money through them at a pace much faster than traditional funders.

* In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, authorities are still sifting through a mountain of fraud cases potentially involving thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars intended for storm victims, the Associated Press reported April 2. Katrina fraud stretches far beyond the Gulf Coast, with more than 600 people charged in 22 states thus far, and its perpetrators go beyond the usual con artists to include employees of FEMA and temporary workers for the Red Cross.

* An influx of hedge-fund managers in the ranks of grantmaking foundations is orchestrating a shift away from purely altruistic roots, according to an interview with Peter Frumkin, director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin, published in Smart Money March 29. These “hard-driven, hyper-aggressive type-A givers” are promoting a brand of venture philanthropy that insists on heavy involvement in operations while seeking measurable returns on charitable investments.

* Reality Charity’s web site will provide a forum that allows donors to avoid diverting any part of their gift to the overhead costs of an official charity by choosing their beneficiaries on an individual basis, the Associated Press reported April 2. The web site promises to be an “eBay for fundraising,” allowing individuals to post their personal needs, from adoption costs to massive debt, to the mercy of strangers, but experts worry such “cyberbegging” will invite massive fraud and abuse.

* Executive coaching has invaded the nonprofit world and is becoming a fixture in the hunt for high-end management positions, Wall Street Journal columnist Joann Lublin reported April 3 [subscription only]. While this additional screening of applicants can help assuage management’s worries about high rates of job turnover, it can also benefit the job seeker by providing an objective perspective on what their new boss will really be like.

* The United Jewish Communities will undergo a major restructuring, according to a memo from President and CEO Howard Rieger, the JTA reported March 30. The current pillar system, which divides the charity’s responsibilities into several domains, will be consolidated into two major teams, a global operations group based in Israel and a community capacity building group, in an effort to eradicate overlap and increase collaboration within the organization.

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