Nonprofits Help, Not Burden, State and Local Governments

October 24, 2011; Source: The Wall Street Journal | Straddled by chronic budget shortfalls, state and local governments have been desperate for new sources of revenue. Some are now eyeing nonprofits that have not only been long-term partners of governments but are struggling themselves with shrinking revenues and increasing demand.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for instance, is keeping his campaign promise to start charging nonprofits for water and sewage services. His proposed 2012 budget calls for a25 percent increase in water and sewer fees and the elimination of water fee exemptions for non-profits. This move is projected to net the city $7 million in needed revenues.

This is nothing new. There are those who have been clamoring for nonprofits to pay their fair share, since they do not pay property taxes. Nonprofits are increasingly being asked for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes or PILOTs.

Nonprofits however do pay back, arguably more than they get. Nonprofits help governments provide services and goods at a discount, employ people in the community, pay payroll and sales taxes, and by New York City’s experience, rent office space that would otherwise remain unoccupied.

The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization dedicated to assisting injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, has doubled its space in midtown Manhattan to 9,400 square feet. The Roosevelt Institute, which helps run the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and manages the Four Freedoms Center, signed a major lease expansion of 10, 400 square feet.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, “nonprofit organizations have long been a mainstay of New York’s office market especially in older buildings in Midtown South, downtown and side streets in Midtown.” This year, despite hard times, at least 10 nonprofits have signed leases for more space than under their expiring leases

It is understandable that there are those who demand that nonprofits help carry the load, but perhaps they should be fair and tally as well how much these organizations give back. Nonprofits can also do a better job at tooting their horn and letting us all know how much they contribute to our collective well-being.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 24, 2011.

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The Outlook (And Some Solutions) For Nonprofits

“Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?” This was the key question for panelists at a recent Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP) event held to explore what’s ahead for this sector.  Marking its 15th anniversary, CNP asked nonprofit leaders and thinkers to give their take on the “new normal” – limited funding, increased demand, and intensified scrutiny.

The outlook for nonprofits is daunting, according to Stephen Bennett, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy:

I’m not sure there’s an end to the tunnel. I think things are totally different, and I’m not sure I’m looking for light at the end of the tunnel anymore. It’s kind of a wasted exercise for me. We have to do things very differently, I think, in going forward.

Bennett’s view is understandable. The Great Recession and lingering economic torpor strain nonprofits while government funding is down and private giving remains static. Nonprofits make do with less while demand from Americans with nowhere else to turn grows. Talk in Washington about reforming the tax code and charitable deductions and revisiting nonprofit tax-exempt status heightens nonprofits’ anxiety.

Yet, nonprofit experts and leaders convened by CNP at this and other anniversary events offered some solutions for getting through today’s dark tunnel.

Be strategic about limited resources.  Obvious? Maybe, but nonprofit executives and boards need to weigh both the short term and long term costs of cuts. Letting go of staff or drawing down reserves might bridge current gaps, for instance, but can also undermine capacity and viability.

Collaborate and partner. Nonprofits have long worked together to help the individuals and families they serve. Besides sharing resources and expertise with each other, nonprofits can partner with the wider community to address systemic issues. Nonprofit housing assistance agencies in the Washington, D.C. metro area, for instance, can collaborate with school districts to minimize the impact of the foreclosure crisis on children moving homes and switching schools.

Identify and reward best and promising practices.  Private and public funding has to be maximized and channeled to programs proven to get results. Mario Merino, co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, urges nonprofits to “manage to outcomes.” That means using information to guide decisions and operations, which leads to measurable and meaningful impacts.  That said, nonprofits need financial support to gather information and measure outcomes.

Innovate. Marta Urquilla, senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, says that “when we talk about innovation in this context, we’re not talking about novelty. We’re talking about the innovation that comes from the relentless pursuit of results.” Funders must resist funding “the latest thing” for two to three years and then chasing the next big idea. They should see a new initiative through since false starts and glitches can bedevil even very viable programs.

Advocate, especially at the state and local level. The political climate in Washington means that there’s little or no pay off in trying to get Congress and the administration to act on behalf of nonprofits. Julie Rogers, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, cites the Think Twice Before You Slice Campaign in the Washington, D.C. metro area as an example of an initiative that has convinced local and state governments to preserve funding for nonprofits (in this case, more than $45 million) by showing the contributions nonprofit make in their communities.

Educate the public. Bennett believes that the general public isn’t aware of the extent of nonprofits’ contributions and challenges because nonprofits are resilient and usually don’t turn anyone needy away. Educating people, many of whom benefit from nonprofits, can get them to support nonprofits more.

Harness technology and the internet. Joining the digital revolution can be a low- cost and effective way to reach out to the public, raise funds, and train practitioners.

Nonprofits may be stuck in the tunnel for now, but there are ways out of the dark.

Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, October 21, 2011.

New York Asian Community Development Group Expands into Heartland

October 3, 2011; Source: The Kansas City Star | Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), a New York City nonprofit housing developer and social service provider, has expanded into America’s heartland. The community development corporation bought a former Army depot in Kansas City, Missouri, with economic revitalization and job creation in mind.

AAFE purchased the 18-acre Hardesty Federal Complex for $500,000 at a recent auction held by the General Services Administration. The property houses seven buildings totaling 572,000 square feet that were originally used to process the personal effects of fallen World War II soldiers. It has been used by several federal agencies since then and was finally abandoned a decade ago.

Less than 2 percent of Missouri’s residents, or about 96,000 individuals, are of Asian descent. Roughly 8,500 Asian Americans live in Kansas City itself.

AAFE’s mission, however, is not only to empower and aid Asian Americans but to assist others in need and “to foster understanding and unity among diverse communities through building coalitions and forming collaborations.”

The organization now has the opportunity to fulfill its mission in Missouri. Close to 15 percent of Missouri’s population lives below the poverty level and the redevelopment of the Hardesty Complex may help some of the area’s struggling residents, Asians and non-Asians alike.

“We’re in the preliminary stage,” Kevin Kong, an AAFE official, told the Kansas City Star. “We have the site, and we’re trying to understand what the needs are.” He continued, “Over the last 20 years we have been doing low-income community housing and community business loans. We think that site is better for economic development than housing.”

It will be interesting to see what this New Yorker does in Missouri.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly, Nonprofit Newswire, October 6, 2011.

Are DC’s Metro Area Nonprofits a Match for Hard Times and Unrealistic Expectations?

The Census Bureau’s latest poverty numbers paint a dismal portrait of the lives of millions of Americans. Over 47 million of us are poor. That includes families of four subsisting on $22,314 a year and individuals struggling to survive on $30 a day on average for food, shelter, transportation, and other basics.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the average poverty rate from 2009-2010 is 13.3 percent, slightly below the national rate partly because average poverty rates in Maryland (10.2) and Virginia (10.7) are lower. The District of Columbia’s average poverty rate is far higher — 18.9 percent.

Will hard times for poor Americans change anytime soon? Probably not with the unemployment rate hovering at 9.1 percent and projected to remain well above 8 percent in the next couple of years.

The safety net most of us count on also continues to unravel. Federal, state, and local budgets are still shrinking, which leads to more service cuts that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, including the estimated 1.5 million poor people residing in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

The District of Columbia has been able to address a projected shortfall in FY2012 with spending reductions, revenue increases, and government staff reductions but it now has less funding for most of its services. Maryland foresees a $1.4 billion deficit in FY2012 while Virginia anticipates a $2 billion gap in FY2012.

Needy families and individuals are turning to nonprofits more than ever, and some believe that this is how it should be. The onus of helping struggling citizens ought, they say, to be on charities and not governments.

But do nonprofits have the wherewithal to save the day? Some 1,358 registered nonprofits in DC, Maryland, and Virginia provide basic services to those living in poverty. Among them are organizations that provide multiple services and agencies that meet more particular needs through, say, food banks and pantries, employment counselors, and community health clinics.

Seventy-seven percent of these nonprofits are general human service providers whose combined revenue totals about $1 billion. Ten percent run employment programs with 24 percent of the total revenue and nine percent offer health services with 20 percent of total revenue. Only 48 of registered nonprofits (or 4 percent of the total) provide food.

Support Nonprofits in D.C, Maryland and Virginia

Support Nonprofits in D.C. Metro

One in four nonprofits are located in the District, home to only 7 percent of the metro area’s poor. Maryland, which has 38 percent of the area’s poor, houses 35 percent of support nonprofits but has only 24 percent of the total revenue. Virginia, which has 55 percent of the region’s poor, claims 40 percent of the charities but 51 percent of total revenue.

Distribution of Nonprofits in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Distribution of Nonprofits in D.C. MetroThe metro area’s nonprofits will be saddled with increased demand from poor families and individuals along with many others in temporary straits and not counted among those living in poverty.  Meanwhile, they can expect tighter budgets as revenue from government contracts and grants shrink. Clearly, major fundraising challenges lie ahead.

The 2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey reports that only about four in ten charities (43 percent) said philanthropic contributions in 2010 topped their 2009 level. Almost a quarter (24 percent) saw them plateau while a third (33 percent) experienced declines.

The survey packed other sobering news on the basic services front. Human service nonprofits registered had the fewest gains in 2010, with just 38 percent enjoying any funding increases. Nearly as many (36 percent) reported drops, and the rest (26 percent) a flat line.  And small nonprofits lost more ground than larger groups.

As millions of Americans struggle amid sustained unemployment and other economic woes, nonprofits that are increasingly under financial pressure themselves are expected to keep the safety net together. Governments need to step up — if not through more funding, through policies that make it easier for charities  to provide for citizens in need. Large foundations and the ultra- wealthy can also afford to be a bit more generous considering what’s at stake.

Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, September 23, 2011.

Johns Hopkins Affiliate Accused of Tuskegee-Like Study

September 15, 2011; Source: New York Times | A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Johns Hopkins University affiliate, accusing the lab of conducting experiments on African American children which the Maryland Court of Appeals has compared to the Tuskegee syphilis study.  The research, which has been the subject of litigation for more than a decade, involved periodically testing children’s blood to determine lead levels in order to study the hazards of lead paint.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that researchers knowingly exposed more than 100 children who ranged in age from 12 months to 5 years old to high levels of lead dust in apartments selected by Kennedy Krieger for the children and their families to live in. Parents were supposedly misled by assurances from the institute that their homes were “lead safe.”

David Armstrong, father of the lead plaintiff, said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust. “I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place,” he said. “They said it was ‘lead safe.’ ”

The lawsuit also claims that no medical treatment was made available to the children. “Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures,” reads the suit.

Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement that the “research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.” He points out that “Baltimore city had the highest lead poisoning rates in the country, and more children were admitted to our hospital for lead poisoning than for any other condition.”  He further argues that “with no state or federal laws to regulate housing and protect the children of Baltimore, a practical way to clean up lead needed to be found so that homes, communities, and children could be safeguarded.”

Goldstein appears to argue that it is not the responsibility of researchers and scientists to change public policy. Fair enough. But what about their responsibility to people who serve as research subjects? In this case, the court will determine whether Kennedy Krieger researchers fully disclosed all the facts to parents before having their children live in lead-laced apartments.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 19, 2011.

Conference Educates Journalists about American Muslims

August 27, 2011; Source: The Arab American News | Although Muslims have lived in America since before it became the United States, many of us share misconceptions about our Muslim neighbors. The more sinister of these ideas have propagated, in large part, due to the attacks on September 11 a decade ago. The misunderstandings are exacerbated by tough economic times, increasing numbers of non-white Americans, and greater diversity in culture and religion.

Journalists are no different from most of us. They are faced with their own misconceptions and biases as they try to cover issues involving Muslim communities. Many don’t have any background or experience with the faith tradition, and they often lack access to sources who have first-hand knowledge of Islam.

Last week, with funding support from the McCormick Foundation, the Middle Tennessee State School of Journalism hosted a conference in Nashville entitled “Covering Islam in the Bible Belt.” The meeting was attended by journalists from 22 different media outlets including the Miami Herald and the Associated Press.

Conference participants attended presentations on a range of topics, including how to “Acknowledge Your Bias and Improve Your Coverage” and the “First Amendment, Religious Freedom and National Security.” They engaged in meaningful discussions, asking a wide variety of questions and learning more about the issues most pertinent to American Muslims.

The conference did not escape controversy—not surprising given that opposition to a proposed mosque in nearby Murfreesboro has generated national attention. On the second night, a televised public forum entitled “Will Islamic Law Ever Be a Part of the U.S. Legal System?” turned ugly when some of the audience members began loudly disrupting the panel. The outbursts reportedly came from supporters of one of the panelists, Bill Warner, the founder of the Center for the Study of Political Islam. Warner depicts Islam in his writings and videos as a violent movement.

Warner’s followers accused the other panelists, Umbreen Bhatti of the University of Michigan and Saleh M. Sbenaty, a Muslim engineer from Middle Tennessee State University, of lying. Bhatti had tried to explain the compatibility of Islam with the U.S. Constitution and Sbenaty related his experiences as a Muslim in Tennessee.

The disruption at the forum underscores the need for even more events that seek, as this one did, to educate Americans about Islam and their American Muslim neighbors. It also puts a spotlight on the fear, ignorance and irrationality some people choose to indulge in. As the nation becomes more diverse, pluralistic and fragmented, it will be a challenge to live up to the nation’s original motto E Pluribus Unum—“Out of Many, One.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 30, 2011.

Nonprofit Provides Safe Haven for Modern-Day Slaves

August 22, 2011; Source: Twin Cities Daily Planet | The United States still has slaves. They may not be working on plantations, but they are kept in the shadows: sex slaves and unpaid laborers, often lured by promise of the American Dream. These are the victims of human trafficking.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 2,515 incidents of suspected human trafficking were investigated between January 2008 and June 2010. Forty-eight percent involved adult prostitutions and 40 percent involved the sexual exploitation of a child. About 14 percent involved labor trafficking.

The majority of the 527 confirmed human trafficking victims were female and most of the 488 confirmed suspects were male. Four out of five victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases were identified as U.S. citizens, while seven out of ten confirmed labor trafficking victims were undocumented immigrants. Sex trafficking victims were more likely to be white or black, compared to labor trafficking victims, who were more likely to be Hispanic or Asian.

Among the nonprofits that aid human trafficking victims is Civil Society in Minnesota. The organization provides a safe haven for victims where they are given immigration and legal assistance and access to health, language and transportation programs.

Linda Miller, Executive Director of Civil Society, says that they help victims from all over the world including individuals from Vietnam, Cambodia, China, India, Japan and Laos.

One of the women the nonprofit has helped is “Elaine” (she declined to use her real name), a Japanese native who now lives in Minnesota. She said her nightmare began when she was recruited to work as a hostess in Japan by one of her older female friends.

“I trusted my friend and that’s how I got into the world of the sex industry. Not long after that, I was trafficked by a group of Japanese mafia and that’s when my life changed forever.”

She did manage to escape and leave Japan only to find herself prey to another human trafficker in the U.S. “I was soon re-victimized by a woman who promised to help me get my life back together. But she tried to traffick me once again. What hurt the most was that she was Asian and she told me she was a survivor as well,” intimated Elaine.

Elaine eventually found her way to Civil Society whose staff has helped her immensely.

“I believe the staff believed in me more than I believed in myself. They treasure every person and you feel like you’re really cared for. They make you feel important.”

Civil Society empowers victims to speak out, so they can warn others.

Elaine tells other victims, “Have courage, have hope. Please do it for your life, because life is a treasure. One victim of human trafficking can rescue another victim, who can then help rescue twenty more. We have survived this horrifying experience. We are heroes and heroines of the world.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 29, 2011.

“Google for Nonprofits” Will Not Offer Grants to Churches—Because of Religious Content and Proselytizing

August 25, 2011; Source: Christianity Today | Google for Nonprofits’ webpage, in big and bold print, beckons, “You’re changing the world. We want to help.”

The tech behemoth invites nonprofits to apply for its program that grants to selected organizations products and resources that can help any nonprofit “expand its impact.” Google offers free or discounted versions of its apps, free advertising, premium branding and increased uploads on YouTube, and free licensing for mapping technologies. This is a great opportunity for nonprofits that would otherwise not have the resources to invest in IT.

Some organizations, however, are not eligible for this largesse. Google precludes communities or groups that require “membership and/or provid[e] benefit solely to members;” those that have “religious content or proselytizing on their websites as well as organizations that use religion or sexual orientation as factors in hiring or populations served;” and those that serve “a primarily political function such as lobbying, think tanks and special interests.” Schools, childcare centers, academic institutions, and universities are also barred unless an organization’s sole purpose is to serve a disadvantaged community. Finally, places or institutions of worship need not apply.

The restrictions come as bad news to purveyors of the Good News.

Christianity Today reports that Brian Young, IT director for Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, had high hopes when he applied for Google support. Apparently Google had once welcomed congregations but tightened its restrictions over the summer.

Young had envisioned how he would utilize Google’s products and services to proselytize. He had planned to unify 50 paid staff members and 270 volunteers with customized Gmail and office software, distribute video of Sunday services through a premium YouTube channel, beam live feeds of faraway missionaries using Google Video, and map locations of service projects and missionaries with Google Earth. He had hoped to promote the 3,000-member church on Google and its advertising network. But Google sent him a rejection letter.

“There were so many things for nonprofits that were going to benefit us,” Young told Christianity Today. “We just wanted to use them.”

Lloyd Mayer, a Notre Dame Law School professor, points out that Google’s restrictions come as no surprise since corporations often exclude faith-based groups from their philanthropic programs. Mayer believes that Google is “trying to avoid anything that would reflect negatively on them.” That includes polarizing groups that might alienate most of its customers. Tim Postuma, council chairman of a 418-member church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expressed his disappointment with Google, saying the company is “missing the mark here.”

Perhaps Postuma should not have cast that stone. Aren’t churches the first ones to exclude those who disagree or challenge their beliefs and those with lifestyles they judge sinful? In contrast, Google’s restrictions reflect the corporation’s desire to employ its technology for the greater good. And that includes disadvantaged populations and those that are discriminated against by exclusionary groups such as some faith-based organizations.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 29, 2011.

A Charter School for Immigrant Children

August 14, 2011; Source: The Boston Globe | A proposal to establish the Somerville Progressive Charter School, geared specifically to immigrant children in Somerville, Massachusetts, has been submitted to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The agency will decide by the end of February 2012 whether to grant the school its charter.

Selena Fitanides, the coordinator of the group behind the initiative, told the Boston Globe that the proposed K-8 school would serve “the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English—the children of fairly recent immigrants.” It would open in September 2012 with an initial enrollment of 180 and grow to about 425 students over five to seven years.

The U.S. Census estimates the City of Somerville to have over 21,000 immigrants, 28 percent of the municipality’s total population. About 9 percent of its residents identify as Latino and roughly another 9 percent as Asian. One in ten families live below the poverty line.

Somerville Progressive would offer bilingual students the chance to attend daily after-school enrichment programs in Spanish, Portuguese and French, all of which would also be available to native English-speaking enrollees. The school would have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and would feature innovations such as extended learning time and collaborative learning in mixed-age groups. Fitanides said that the school would be “very student-centric, really focused on the individual and tailoring the curricular and instructional needs to that individual.”

Fitanides argues children of immigrants, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, need a charter school. “We need to find a better way to educate those kids,” she told the Globe. “Our current system is not well suited to addressing their needs. We are losing a lot of these kids because they are dropping out of school.”

The founders of Somerville Progressive Charter School share the sentiments of many public-education reformers who have given our public schools a failing grade. President Obama has also touted charter schools as one solution to our ailing education system, although the verdict on their overall effectiveness is still out.

The concept behind this charter school is commendable. But like Somerville School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, I have a few questions and some “serious concerns.”

For starters, will the school enroll children of immigrants who need the help most or will it be a self-selecting pool of kids with parents who know how to work the system? What about immigrant children whose first language is neither English nor Spanish? Is a charter school the best way to improve the education of most immigrant children? Why not spend energy and resources in bolstering the public school system, which already educates most immigrant children?Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 24, 2011.

Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Teach Reproductive Health

August 17, 2011; Source: East Bay Express | Talking about sex and reproductive health with any teenager is not something most parents look forward to. Parents who immigrated from very traditional and conservative countries are most likely not to talk about it at all, at least not in ways that are helpful. Oakland-based Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ) is making sure that Asian American parents have “the talk” with their teens.

According to the East Bay Express, the nonprofit recently held its annual retreat which was designed “to encourage young Asian women to develop their self-awareness and claim their inherent power to stand up for themselves, their families, and their communities for the long term.”

As part of the organization’s campaign to help Asian American teens learn about sexuality in a constructive way, 48 teenagers gathered periodically this summer to talk about gender roles, sexuality, and what it means to be Asian American. This year, ACRJ welcomed young men for the first time, acknowledging the need to invest in their futures as well.

The 14-to-18-year-olds came from predominantly low-income, new immigrant families of Cambodian, Chinese, Mien, Vietnamese, Lao, Thai, Indonesian, and Filipino descent. Their circumstances make an awkward and difficult period all the more challenging as their parents try to impose cultural norms from their countries of origin—to stop them from becoming “too American”—and as they contend with identities battered by negative media stereotypes of Asians.

One young woman, for instance, shared the double standard prevalent among immigrant families. Her dad threatened to kick her out of the house if she got pregnant but her brother never got punished for fathering two children before finishing high school. Many admitted sneaking out on dates without telling their folks.

“We don’t hear from Asian young people talking about gender, bodies, sex, and sexuality,” Amanda Wake, youth organizing manager of ACRJ, told the Express.

And there lies the potential danger and concern. Normal adolescent woes compounded by traditional norms and expectations can lead to risky behavior. ACRJ is doing its part to guide these young people into healthy and empowered adulthood.Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 23, 2011.