Controversy in the philanthropic world
January 29th, 2008On December 20th, I commented about two young former hedge fund analysts who have been in the process of launching an innovative organization that promised transparency in its evaluation of the nonprofits they were reviewing for the funding of those programs they felt made the grade. The organization is GiveWell and in recent weeks, the momentum of attention highlighting this innovative effort was noted not only in The New York Times but the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media sources as well. My caution at the end of my earlier post was that I hoped that wisdom would catch up with these two young men and that the board would help guide them well.
While this has not attracted the attention of local media and likely it won't, a controversy has exploded when it was discovered that one of the co-founders, Holden Karnofsky had disguised himself on several websites driving people to GiveWell.net. This is when I learned about "astroturfing" which is not allowed on various online community sites - nor frankly is it acceptable "offline". This was discovered by one observant participant in the online community blogsite known as MetaFilter. Using a disguise or as referenced on the site "sock puppet", Mr. Karnofsky asked the question about a service that could help in evaluating a charitable organization and then would post an answer with another identity leading to GiveWell.net.
GiveWell touted its transparency and had provided full disclosure of their board meeting - including the discussion around grants that were being made through the Clear Fund which is the source for their funding. It appears that transparency did not extend to how this young man disguised himself which prompted a strong, tumultuous response from many members of various online communities.
Lucy Bernholz, whom I reference occasionally, is one of the board members and as this controversy mounted with more than 1400 messages being posted on MetaFilter on this topic, she was very transparent in her comments on her blog - Philanthropy 2173 - answering questions as to when she accepted the GiveWell board appointment and her acceptance at the time she commented on GiveWell on the Huffington Post.
This has been an explosive event and for the nonprofit and philanthropic communities this is quite a story. Mr. Karnofsky was demoted as of January 3rd remaining with GiveWell. Many opinions had been expressed that the board should fire him and restructure the organization. It will be interesting to see what happens and if GiveWell can emerge from this and continue its work.
To blog or not to blog - that is the question!
January 29th, 2008There's an interesting online discussion going on over at GiftHub regarding why a philanthropic leader should not blog. Actually it is about transparency and why the time and effort may actually be worth it.
My posts are meant to provide more insight into this Foundation. My introductory post noted: The purpose of this blog to give my perspective on key issues in philanthropy, a view inside the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and to note trends that will likely have an impact on the social fabric of the greater Grand Rapids area.
I write each and every post - no ghost writers are used. Some of my colleagues around the country have stayed away from this type of communication given potential liability and risk issues. And there is the risk of sparking some backlash from community groups and/or donors.
Of course, all of this is predicated on a couple of key things . . . does anyone read this and what impression are they receiving if they do? So for the small group of people who do read this, I have one simple question: "How am I doing?" Okay maybe another question, does the commentary provide the insight you were expecting regarding this Foundation? Your suggestions are welcome and if I receive no comments, then I guess I have an answer too! Thank you!
Learning from the best!
January 29th, 2008Sue Blandford passed away on June 19th. Sue's leadership, vision and humanity will be sorely missed. She lived and breathed philanthropy and she did and will continue to make a difference. She had a strong influence on me and certainly on this Foundation and on this community.
She served on the community foundation board from 1979 to 1987 making certain that sound grant decisions were made. During that same time, she was the lead volunteer to whom I related when I worked at the United Way locally and she was on the search committee when I was hired as the Executive Director of The Grand Rapids Foundation as we were known in 1987.
The family was kind enough to ask me to make some remarks at her memorial service on Thursday, June 26th and I copy them here as they express my appreciation for her positive leadership - she was a tremendous person!
Since Sue's passing last week, I have spent a great deal of time remembering so many moments spent with her in the past 30 + years. I first met Sue in the mid-1970's when I worked as a very young and green caseworker at the American Red Cross chapter where she was a board member and ultimately the chairperson of the board. She was immediately supportive and didn't seem to mind the naivete so evident in my early years. Her passion for the work was evident and she was ever diligent and serious about her role. But not so serious that she couldn't let her hair down and just talk about the issues of the day.
As I moved along in my career, my next stop was the United Way of Kent County as it was known in those days. Guess who was the lead volunteer for the division I headed? None other than Sue Blandford! Well now it was really time to get to work! This is where I learned so much from the woman who had such a strong influence in my life.
Back in the late 1970's, Sue and her many female friends were the pioneers shining the light on the path of leadership for many of us. And was she inexhaustible, quick to laugh and share her experiences and of course her opinions. She helped guide me and many others to understand why it was and still is so important to not shy away from stepping up and making our thoughts known. She was action oriented and thought that time was wasting away if we didn't get going on the issues of the day!
The sight of Sue standing before the board of directors of the United Way a few years later taking over the helm of chairing that august group was in my eyes a defining moment. It wasn't just because she was the first female to take on the role of chair, it was because she deserved it and she demonstrated leadership every moment. Imagine learning from her! What a privilege and what an honor.
So in my quest to move forward I interviewed for the lead staff position at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation twenty years ago. Guess who was on the search committee. You got it . . . Sue Blandford! As she was serving her term as chair of the United Way board, she was also serving two full terms at the Foundation. I was offered the position and again I learned from the best.
She was honest, forthright and extremely caring as she gave me wise counsel on this new world of leading the Foundation. Do not be intimidated she would say and speak your mind. Be smart and strategic and by all means, if you need me, you call and I'll be right there to help you.
More than two weeks ago the peregrine falcons nesting on the top of McKay Tower were squawking like crazy, or as the falconers would say "kaking". From my office on the second floor of the Waters Building, I could see the falcons soaring and diving back down toward the roof of the Tower. People on the street stood and stared at the spectacle and I thought of Sue as her passion for the falcons led to funding back in the late 1980's and help draw the community's attention to try to save these magnificent birds on the brink of extinction primarily due to the widespread use of the now-banned pesticide DDT. The falcons finally returned last year to Grand Rapids and the din that arose that day had to do with representatives from the DNR and John Will, who is a leader in the Peregrine Falcon Restoration project, trying to tag the new babies. The parents were enraged and wanted to protect their youngins'.
Sue's passions included art, birding, and most of all her precious family. Tom was her best friend and their relationship was so loving and so full of humor and good hearted teasing. Building their business and working well together, they made the best team around.
At one point back more than a couple of decades ago, I learned and read about the efforts of a young woman who was trying to get the attention of our city government to help eradicate the vermin found throughout the neighborhoods in the core city. She got their attention and she quickly became known for her remarkable advocacy and tenacity standing up for the rights of neighborhoods to address concerns in their area with the help not the hindrance of the city. This young woman is one of Sue and Tom's daughters Karen. She learned well from her mom and Sue was so proud of her.
Equally proud of her other daughter Bonnie, I was told many years ago by Sue to watch for her daughter's beautiful jewelry at various art shows not only here in Michigan, but beyond. Bursting with rightful pride, Sue would just beam if someone was wearing a piece of Bonnie's jewelry and the beauty of her talent certainly had its origins from her mom's draw to beauty and art.
I will miss you Sue - - - - you had an indelible mark on many people and in particular on me. I will call upon you from time to time if I need to just as you told me I could many years ago. I'm sure in some way you will get your answer back to me!
Congratulations to Lynne and Marcia!
January 27th, 2008I have made some really bad, bad decisions both professionally and personally in my life! Some real clunkers! However, two of the best decisions I have made were to hire Lynne Black and Marcia Rapp back in 1988 in snowy and cold January.
I was alone back in 1987 for about four months prior to the board and I making the decision to bring people in to lead the charge in the areas of grantmaking and organizing our administrative operation along with the financial underpinnings. Frankly I was also lonely!
Lynne Black, VP, Finance, has been the person managing the financial aspects back when the Foundation's assets were $35 million to where they are today at close to $250 million! Understandably staffing has increased and Lynne has had the ability to manage that process as well. When thinking about where technology for office systems was 20 years ago, know that we have all gone through at least a century of change in that area in just this relatively short period of time! When we walked in the Foundation, there was a large - and I mean large - word processing machine and one copy machine. We have gone from those inauspicious beginnings to very quickly moving to PCs and now handheld devices to well . . . who knows what is next! Not to mention the software advances! Lynne has carefully guided us in all these things and is now in charge of the planning of our move to our "new to us" building. She does all of this and then some with patience and tremendous wisdom. Thank you Lynne for your intelligence, your perseverance, your "we can do this" positive attitude, your laugh, and your exceptional kindness.
Marcia Rapp, VP, Programs, manages and leads our grantmaking processes, community initiatives and the elusive area known as "community leadership" which is what our field of community foundations is calling anything related to embracing change and addressing key issues in our area. We have been doing this long before the field gave it a name. Marcia is one of the fairest people I know which is critical in her role and she is ten times smarter than I ever can dream of being. Her knowledge of community needs and resources along with the people involved in our area's nonprofit organizations is unmatched. However, one thing that people may not know about her is that she is our in-house humorist! The secret is now out Marcia! She has built a great team of staff as Lynne has and is outstanding in every way. Both Lynne and Marcia keep me grounded! Thank you Marcia for your tenacity, your wisdom, your seemingly quiet demeanor that many have made the mistake of misjudging, your extraordinary sense of humor and your warmth.
To Lynne and Marcia I say - I owe you both a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you both for your 20 years of making this community foundation the best that it can be! Most importantly, thank you for being such great friends.
A reprieve from cynicism
January 10th, 2008A few days ago I said to a Foundation staff member, "Don't you just want to say to people - hey take a break from your cynical view of life!" We laughed and thought it was a good idea given the holiday season. But alas, pessimism abounds in some corners of our world!
In my last post I stated that community politics were particularly active these days and not in a good way thus my comment re: a reprieve from cynicism.
In the midst of the barrage of commentary, I received an email from the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University notifying me that the December issue of the newsletter for the Nonprofit Good Practice Guide was available. If you never have accessed this site here's the link- it is well worth the visit and in fact, well worth looking over the entire Center for Philanthropy site.
The good work that the Johnson Center does for our local community and frankly well beyond our borders throughout the country and globally, just confirmed for me how important it is to support their efforts and use the great resources that they make available!
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation has provided the Johnson Center's Community Research Center $1.6million over the past few years. We are doing this because of this is our R&D and it is the community's R&D as well. Their expertise is constantly growing and the data is made user friendly (and I would be the litmus test on that score!) and improving all the time!
I heard that one of our local funding leaders made the statement to a county official that the GRCF seems to be closely aligned with the Kent County Family and Children's Coordinating Council (KCFCCC). I cleaned up what he actually said. And this person also has said that of our relationship with the Community Research Center. You bet we have a close relationship with both entities and we will continue to have this close relationship!
Why? Because both entities are excellent! The KCFCCC is at the epicenter of strong collaboration for human services in our county. The CRI is at the epicenter of great data and information to help all of us make critical decisions!
So I admit it! We are closely aligned with KCFCCC and the CRI and the entire Johnson Center! And when I received the notice of the Nonprofit Good Practice Guide's December newsletter, it reminded me that good work needs to be rewarded and that cynicism needs to be silenced. Let's just get on with it addressing the critical issues facing our community!
Happy holidays everyone and let's move forward working together!