Archives For March 2014

Students tackling “the defining challenge of our time”


For the students in my Nonprofit Giving course at Framingham State University, the growing opportunity divide in American society isn’t just a subject to talk about in class. It’s a problem they’re equipped to go out into the world and mitigate.

With generous support from the Learning by Giving Foundation, the class has $10,000 to give away to Boston-area nonprofits that are measurably increasing access to economic opportunity. This money will address what President Obama has called “the defining challenge of our time.”

The class first read and discussed my book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream, which shows how philanthropy can enable Americans experiencing hard times to move their lives forward. Students subsequently researched nonprofits that, at least from their websites, appear to be doing promising work to fuel greater opportunity. They came up with a list of nearly 50 organizations which, after lengthy discussion, we whittled down to 27 whose work seemed to most closely fit our mission.

We spent a couple of hours creating a grant application, discussing the kinds of information we would need to make a proper evaluation of organizations interesting in obtaining funding. We then invited our list of 27 to submit proposals, 20 of which did.

In class this past week we evaluated the first ten. The class especially liked a few in particular. These, as well as more to be determined next week, are competing to make it into the top four. In a couple of weeks, the entire class will visit each of these four and subsequently decide how to distribute the $10,000.

Stay tuned for more about how this exciting process unfolds!

Fifty years against poverty and towards opportunity

GUEST BLOGGER: Sid Mohn, President, Heartland Alliance

It’s been 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of the War on Poverty. In that time much has changed, and yet much has stayed the same. Fifty years ago, the faces of poverty were children, the elderly, and those living in rural areas. And while poverty amongst these groups is still a cause for concern, today new faces are emerging. Among them are single mothers and workers, as well as those in suburban areas. What remains the same is the basic injustice of it. Poverty is a cycle built upon a lack of the most basic human need – the opportunity to build a safe, stable, healthy life. The programs developed through the War on Poverty can turn that cycle around, but today’s changing needs demand we look at on-the-ground realities with fresh eyes.

To look at the current poverty rate of 15%, it would seem these programs have had little effect. In fact, the opposite is true. The War on Poverty spawned Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, housing programs, and job training, among others. They work together holistically, and together they’ve had an incredible impact in both preventing and mitigating the most devastating effects of poverty. It’s estimated that without government programs, the national poverty rate wouldn’t be near today’s 15% or even 19% as it was in the 1960’s, but a staggering 31% – almost a third of the population. The War on Poverty not only created programs to address immediate needs. It also offered a way out, preventing a fall into increasingly inescapable depths of poverty.

One key underpinning of poverty today is the nature of employment, which is changing drastically. In the 1960’s, if you were working, you could provide for your family. Today, that’s not the case. At Heartland Alliance, the Midwest’s leading anti-poverty organization, we’ve recently released our yearly report on poverty in Illinois (where we’re based). It’s the most comprehensive of its kind and it found that 388,000 impoverished Illinoisans live in a household where someone works full-time, a trend that’s growing across the nation.

In line with that, as women have increasingly entered the workforce and the percentage of single parents has increased, the need for affordable childcare and transportation has grown. Yet, its availability has not. Working parents find themselves trapped in a cycle where they must work to support their families, but after childcare costs their take home pay is so low that they’re barely able to keep the lights on. In addition, the demographic of our population overall has changed. Today, we as a country are increasingly older and more likely to be minority, immigrant, and/or living in single female-headed households.

Therefore, we must rededicate ourselves to the principles that the War on Poverty was built upon – that everyone deserves the opportunity to support themselves and live with dignity. We all deserve to live free from hunger, oppression, illness, homelessness, joblessness, and injustice. Programs created under the War on Poverty provide the opportunities people need to stabilize their lives, building a future of safety and stability. This is the legacy and the torch we must carry if we are to ensure people a more stable future for themselves and their families.

Sid Mohn is responsible for developing and implementing the strategic plan that allows the Heartland Alliance to meet its mission. Through his passion and vision, Dr. Mohn has enabled the organization and its partners to become the premier service-based human rights organization in the Midwest.

Importing Innovation for Big Community Impact

GUEST BLOGGER: Casey Johnson, Founding Executive Director, GreenLight Fund Bay Area

At GreenLight Fund, importing is at the very core of what we do — Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area on an annual basis. We import proven nonprofit models into our communities when we know that they will address a critical gap in services for low-income children, youth and families and achieve measurable results.

To achieve our mission of changing the life trajectories of children and families in GreenLight’s three communities, we must do this importing well, with significant work on the front-end – selecting organizations to join our portfolio – AND on the back-end – launching and supporting those organizations in our GreenLight communities.