Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Philanthropist's Coming Out

Ever wonder what it's like when a wealthy person "comes out" as a major philanthropist? Well, today's New York Times paints such a picture in the story of Lisa Maria Falcone. She's the 40-year-old wife of a billionaire who's passionate about the arts in New York City. The most interesting part of the story, however, is the very subtle hints at philanthropy as an elite status symbol. Her spontaneous $10 million contribution to the High Line, certainly is generous, but would it be better spent addressing the needs of the city's under served populations? Her love of the arts comes from a lack of cultural experiences as a poor child. Considering her upbringing in a poor neighborhood, I would think that contributions to social services would better serve poor children.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"The Philanthropist" episode 1

Every Center on Philanthropy student's dream starts in one hour: the premier of NBC's new show "The Philanthropist." You won't be disappointed. I'm not much of a t.v. critic, so instead I'll point out some of the philanthropic questions you can mull over while you watch the show. If only this was airing when we were in Gunderman's ethics class! (*oh, maybe we'll discuss it when I take his doctoral seminar this fall!)

Here are a few philanthropic dilemmas you'll see in the pilot:
  • One of the first things Teddy Rist declares in the episode is, "Happiness is the art of living well." What is the relationship between giving and human happiness?
  • How is corporate social responsibility defined and measured? Rist makes a point in noting that his private plane is a hybrid.
  • What is the relationship between profits and corporate giving? How much should corporations give? Is it enough to simply write a check? What's the return on investment?
  • Are Rist's motives altruistic? [They obviously are not, and he recognizes it.]
  • The episode only skims the surface of the problems in getting humanitarian aid to people, including: government corruption, lack of roads and infrastructure, political roadblocks, rebel forces, snake bites, and how to keep vaccines from going bad.

I honestly didn't know much at all about humanitarian aid before I took Professor Lenkowsky's international civil society course this past spring. There's still a lot to know, but I'm sure glad I took that class now. As I was watching the show, David Rieff's book A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, kept ringing in my mind. His book describes the major obstacles and dilemmas of humanitarianism as he saw it during his time as a journalist in crisis areas.

Rieff says, "When all is said and done, humanitarianism is an impossible enterprise. Here is a saving idea that, in the end, cannot save but only alleviate." (page 83)

We'll have to watch and see how Teddy Rist navigates his philanthropic calling in situations where it's almost impossible to succeed.

"Benefactor Without Borders"

So, the premier is tonight! To tide you over, here's the New York Times review. Overall it's postive and accurate, I think. I may or may not have already seen the pilot thanks to one professor who will remain nameless. I'll be blogging about it later this evening!

Monday, June 15, 2009

NBC's "The Philanthropist"

It's about time I'm back to blogging. Let's just count the last six weeks as a much needed post-graduation break from any kind of intelligent thinking.

BUT, but with the much anticipated debut of NBC's "The Philanthropist" show, I'll be back in the saddle, providing you with a philanthropic studies point of view. What would Gunderman say? How would Burlingame respond in an opera? And most of all, will the show be any good?

[Full disclosure: I'm already a little biased in favor of the show since Jesse L. Martin, original cast member of Jonathon Larson's RENT, plays one of the lead characters.]

All this and more starting June 24th.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just Desserts

This weekend, the White House is hosting the White House Correspodent's Association dinner. This year, people won't be receiving their just desserts. The association has decided to forego serving dessert and instead is donate the money saved -- over $13,000 -- to the So Others Might Eat charity. The president of the association wanted to make it clear that they were trying to recognize the difficulties that lots are facing.
This "dessert" money, in addition to $10,000 generated the event, will go towards SOME's provision of meals, job training, and addiction counseling to the poor.

So there's a sweet ending after all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Class field trip??

As a final act, I suggest we all go to NYC to see "The Philanthropist" on Broadway. Surely we could write a much better review than the New York Times after finishing our degree in philanthropic studies.

Oh, and it stars my most favorite movie & theater star ever: Matthew Broderick!

Who's up for it?

Facebook for Philanthropists

Well, kids. We *know* Sarah and I love facebook and twitter (is it wrong that I started saying things like "Tweet dreams!" and "Oh, I heard about that -- I saw that in my news feed!" ??). Now there's a social networking site specifically for nonprofits to network. Unlike idealist, where nonprofits post jobs and people can search nonprofits, ActofGood.org is specifically for networking. Every nonprofit on the site is researched extensively to verify its validity.

I say: sign me up. But only if I get to have a profile picture.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wine & Giving

My three favorite things:
1. Wine
3. Philanthropy

After many months blogging, I finally get to combine the three. Check out the latest episode of Wine Library TV which features hockey player Wayne Gretzky talking about his wine brands - which fund the work of his foundation.

Episode #660: Wayne Gretzky Visits Wine Library TV

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This Country Could Use more North Dakotans

As the flood fight continues in Fargo, I've been overwhlemed with the human interest stories that have come to light. Fargo is a special place - where volunteers have made 5.5 million sandbags in the last week. When you consider that each sandbag takes 4 people to create, you can image just how many people have come out to help. As national journalists have come to Fargo covered the rising river, they've uncovered more about the people than the river.

This CNN photo/audio essay really captures the spirit of the place. As I look at photos, listen to stories, and hear Mayor Walaker defend the city's decision not to evacuate, I can all but fight back tears.

I also want to share this personal story that captures the mood in Fargo - from someone whose home is safe.

The fight is far from over. Six inches of snow fell yesterday with more on the way. Current projections suggest a second crest around 40 feet in mid-April when the snow melts, especially in the southern valley.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday in Fargo-Moorhead

It appears the Red River has crested, but the city remains vigilant as it monitors the strength of its dikes. Despite the crest, the dikes now have to hold back the strong river current for 3 to 7 days. This was made painfully clear early this morning as the dike at Oak Grove Lutheran School failed and two buildings - including their beautiful performing arts building - have scummed to water. It's a devastating loss for this school, which has rebuilt itself since the campus was lost in the flood of 1997. I know several families that have been sandbagging all week at the school so I know just how hard they've tried to save the school.

Volunteer sandbagging has resumed at the FargoDome and shifts of volunteers continue to monitor the dikes 24 hours a day. It is the work of volunteers that has kept this city alive - and will help the city recover in the weeks and months to come. Click here to read an AP story featuring "Stories of Volunteerism."

And, on a personal note, my family's beloved Bailey - and my mom - are featured in a lifestyle story today. Be sure to check out the accompaning photos.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fargo Flood Update

Volunteers are still working, all non-essential businesses are closed, travel is limited to volunteer sandbaggers and official vehicles, and evacuations are increasing. The situation is unprecedented.

For those of you who are wondering, my mom lives in the highest part of the city, and even in the worse case scenario, she should be fine. But, we do have a Plan B for her, just in case.

And, in the spirit of this blog - and my thesis which I'm finishing today - here's some news about the West Fargo Lions Club:

The West Fargo Lions pancake and sausage feed scheduled for Saturday at Blessed Sacrament Church, West Fargo, has been postponed.

Once it's rescheduled, I hope everyone will go out to support their work in the community!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Sheer Power of Volunteers

I just heard during the City of Fargo's daily press conference that volunteers made 500,000 sandbags yesterday alone. That's a total of 2.5 million sandbags made by volunteers in 5 and a half days. There are so many amazing stories of how this community has come together to fight the rising water, but this is one way to measure it concretely.

"Spirit Incredible"

I'm listening to radio coverage online this morning and the flooding situation in Fargo-Moorhead gets worse. Help is urgently needed and the community continues to rally around the flood fight. I'm overwhelmed just reading and listening to the stories. As of 6:15am the river was at 38.19 feet, with a projected crest of 41 feet on Saturday. As the Fargo Forum's headline declares, we are in "UNCHARTED TERRITORY."

Please read the news coverage and look at these dramatic photos.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Voluntary Spirit Thrives

I've been obsessed with reading all of the flood coverage the last few days, to the neglect of my work. Things got worse overnight as a blizzard moved into the area and 3 inches of snow have already fallen today - that's on top of the rain which fell yesterday, making most roads dangerously icey. While the universities have cancelled classes since Monday, all schools are closed today. With all the little kids home from school today, my mom thought that might actually deter people from volunteering. The city of Fargo is still calling for a massive volunteer effort today.

Volunteer stories are flooding in as well. Many people are saying what I'm thinking: It's 1997 all over again. Here's just one of those stories, which highlights my brother's favorite soccer coach.

And, of course, you can see updated photos here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Flood Fighting Volunteers

It's 1997 all over again in the Red River Valley. The Valley, especially the "twin cities" of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN, are especially vulnerable to the rising Red River because:

1) the ground was already saturated from heavy fall rains, followed by,
2) heavy winter snow fall, which is only about half melted,
3) 2 days of record rainfall, and
4) an impending blizzard.

(By the way, this is my unofficial understanding of the flooding situation. For a more scientific understanding, check out the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.)

Not good at all. From what I'm reading, the cities are doing a good job of mobilizing volunteers to both make sandbag - some 3 million of them - and building protective ring dikes around peoples' homes. Most of the local colleges and high schools have canceled classes so that students and faculty can volunteer. Some 20,000 volunteers came out yesterday, with an additional 10,000 needed today. For an area of about 150,000 people, the local voluntary spirit is high - - and as we did in 1997 (I spent a good part of that last semester of high school sandbagging) the community will put up a good fight, and I hope that most homes will be saved. There is really no better example of what a community can do to help their neighbors in a time of crisis.

Check out photos by my cousin Dave Arntson (er, third cousin once removed, maybe?).

As I sit at my desk this Tuesday morning looking at a framed photo of the iconic Fargo Theatre, I actually miss home and wish I was there to help. Much love!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where do you vaycay?

I'm a travel girl. I love it. I may or may not have a gold, shiny passport cover. And a method to packing that allows me never to wear the same outfit twice. Even if I'm just carrying on. I.Kid.You.Not.

A new trend in travel these days is Humanitourism. I have heard of Voluntravels before, but this seems to fall on an upper echelon of travelers. Daily Candy, the posh social updates I get sent to me every morning, featured this new trend in their ever-popular travel section. This week's Daily Candy Travel highlights three types of Humanitours, one in India, Greece, and even on the peaks of Mt. Kilamanjaro. Aside from helping communities and animals, the perks include "Karma points" and stays in "comfy tents."

An indulgent way for people to feel good about themselves while enjoying the benefits of travel? Or a good way to draw an otherwise uninvolved, elitist population?

Either way, I'm carrying on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Romeo the Cat

You've heard it all here, folks.

Click here to read all about Romeo, the Twittering, fundraising cat.

And a big shout out to my favorite cats Belle & Mr. Poot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Google DotOrg

There's nothing more pop culture than that great search engine in the sky (er, internet super highway): GOOGLE. If you've ever checked out its non-traditional philanthropic arm, google.org, as I have, you know they are doing all kinds of interesting things. Things my fellow classmates and professors would probably classify as "social entrepreneurship." They're changing things up again, to align the "DotOrg" in their work with the regular "DotCom" part of their business. Read about it in here, in New York Times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Don't Bowl Alone-a-thon 2009

I'm pretty proud that our class has officially made the Don't Bowl Alona-a-thon a tradition. Taking our cue from Robert Putnam, we've organized an event that is the epitome of social capital building. The evening's activity began at the Fountain Square Duck Pin Bowling Alley (seriously, it's like stepping back in time to 1958) and continued at local drinking establishments including a hip new neighborhood bar and Indiana's oldest bar still in operation. This year included a few kids and a super cute baby (at the bowling alley, NOT the bars!), so I know it's just going to get better and better each year!
Here's the group, at its social best:

And here's your favorite blogger who was put in charge of score-keeping. What can I say, I like being in charge!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How do you respond to homelessness?

Listen to this NPR story with Patty Stonesifer (formerly of the Gates Foundation) about how she chooses to address homelessness in her community.

Among the ethical questions the story addresses are (and these should be familiar to my fellow classmates!):

should you give to panhandlers? money? food? or both?
want to do when you are confronted with a panhandler?
how does that differ from what you actually do? or, does it?
is it better to look a panhandler in the eye with respect rather than give them money?

Patty Stonesifer explains that she usually does not give to panhandlers. Rather, she chooses to direct her giving to organizations in her community which address problems of homeless as part of a city-wide plan. Compare her response with her daugher's very different giving choice.

What do you think? And how do you answer the questions above?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

It's Super Bowl Sunday!

Well, it's Super Bowl Sunday - a major national event for civil society - and I feel obliged to blog about philanthropic themes in today's broadcast. Most apparent, of course, is the NFL's season-long partnership with the United Way to promote fitness among youth - Play 60. I've seen at least one related commercial already tonight promoting Play 60, and tonight's game ball was brought onto the field by a young boy who won the Play 60 contest. Since this kind of partnership is essentially a corporate social responsibility initiative, the cause certainly ties nicely to the mission of the NFL; and, considering the exposure among young people, a place where the NFL can have a positive impact. The website even solicits donations for its four philanthropic causes. I would be interested in seeing some kind of data on the number of kids who've participated this season and how the NFL measures the program's success.

Watch Colts number 21, Bob Sanders, teaching kids the importance of an active lifestyle.

Finally, for my fellow philanthropy geeks, I encourage you to look up the NFL's 990 nonprofit tax return if you haven't already ... but that's really a whole 'nother ball of wax ... we'll save that discussion for another time!

P.S. Did you see the end of that first half?!?! What is UP with that 100 yard touchdown interception? We're rooting for Arizona in this house, but it's not looking good...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bras on Broadway

I'm super late in posting this story, but I just found these pictures on my digital camera.... When I was in Fargo in October, this is what greeted me at my old downtown haunt: The Hotel Donaldson:


It's an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and includes an auction of unique designer bras... this year the event raised almost $30,000. As part of the breast cancer awareness month the HoDo strings all these donated bras from the roof!

Since I LOVE the HoDo, all I have to say is KUDOS for a job well done!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Endowments, art collections, donor intent, oh my!

In our continuing coverage of how the financial crisis is effecting nonprofits, here's the story of Brandeis University and it's Rose Museum. The University trustees have voted to close the museum and sell pieces of the collection - some very valuable pieces, I might add. In this NPR interview, Brandeis President says he will not violate any donor intent but sees educating students as more important than keeping the museum open. The University says it will not turn away any current students who cannot pay their bills at this time. With an endowment that's lost significant value, I think that the University is staying true to its core mission and doing the right thing. On the other hand, it's not really a good time to be selling art either, so is it really prudent to sell when prices are low? Are University trustees upholding their duty of care? What do others think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

iGoogle at it again!

So, I didn't exactly pay attention to when Google started offering iGoogle - I just know I'm slightly obsessed. Well, those fun Google folks are at it again, and this time they have a philanthropy-related tie-in: Cause Themes!

For those of you not in 'the know', iGoogle offers thematic backgrounds for your iGoogle page for just a touch more personalization. So, when I hopped online this evening I found that I can choose a theme based upon some select causes! (By the way, how does one become a 'chosen cause'?!? I seriously hope they don't have to shell out any money for that, but I'm guessing I'm wrong.) Not only did I select the World Wildlife Fund for my new theme, but I also saw a handy little link pop up at the top of my screen directing my how to donate to WWF! One word: GENIUS.

Sorry, Oscar de la Renta and Kate Spade! You're out, and cute pandas are in!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bill Gates' letter

I no more than hit "Publish Post" before Bill Gates' letter was in my in-box. You can read it here.

Bill Gates' letter expected today

The country (ok, maybe just us philanthropy junkies) is expecting the first annual letter from Bill Gates, a "candid look at the issues at the forefront of the foundation's work." You can listen to his interivew with NPR in which he discusses many things familiar to us: issues of donor crowding out, measuing impact, and Carnegie's call for people to distribute their wealth during their lifetime.

I haven't seen the letter posted yet, but I'm interested to know what others think once you've read it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day of Service

I can't pull my eyes away from CNN's coverage "MLK to Today." It's a national holiday with philanthropy at it's core and I've teared up at just about every segment CNN has done so far today. I hope everyone saw the broadcast of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech at noon. I don't think I had ever actually heard the speech in its entirity: it was just as inspiring today as I imagine it was 46 years ago.

If hopefulness is the star by which we naviage the murky waters of philanthropy, then our country is moving in the right direction.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Envelope Real Estate

So, I've been carrying this envelope around with me for a week because I wanted to show you the precious real estate Ticketmaster is giving to the American Red Cross. I think it would have been more effective if the envelop solicited donations for the Shedd Aquarium which is where I purchased said Ticketmaster tickets for their Planet Earth 4D show. In any case, I doubt that this envelop inspired many donations.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Stephen & Melinda Gates Foundation

You read that right, I finally have a way to talk about philanthropy AND The Colbert Report!

In classic Colbert satire, he makes fun of the Madoff Ponzi scheme by reporting his own charity's endowment, The Stephen & Melinda Gates Foundation, was invested by Merdoff. According to Colbert, "Before this scandal broke, my nonprofit was making huge profits .... The worst part: we were just weeks away from finding a cause."

Watch the entire episode (which is full of laughs) or just the first 5 minutes for the Madoff story.

You can learn the whole thruthiness about the Foundation here.