Arts Funding: Boston Lags Behind

(Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston)

A surprising report emerged in the Massachusetts nonprofit world earlier this month.

Commissioned by The Boston Foundation and penned by the research and consulting firm TDC, “How Boston and Other American Cities Support and Sustain the Arts” points to a dearth of institutional and corporate funding for arts organizations in Boston.

While the storied city boasts a strong arts scene – placing at the top of a list of US cities in terms of overall number of cultural nonprofits and revenue earned – Boston fares poorly in foundation and corporate philanthropic funding.

Foundation President Paul Grogan said that the findings are, in a sense, both positive and negative:

The good news is that this confirms that we’re punching way above our weight in terms of the health, vitality, and size of the cultural sector in this city. The bad news is, compared to other cities, certain kinds of financial support that other cities have put in place are not in place here, and that’s a particularly difficult thing for the small- and medium-size organizations.

The city is second only to San Francisco in number of cultural nonprofits per capita. Much of the city’s philanthropic funding – however – is eaten up by Boston’s largest cultural organizations, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, WGBH, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, leaving groups with smaller budgets and niche services with few resources.

While the report has raised questions about the city’s cultural identity, there has already been a swift response. Martin J. Walsh – the city’s mayor – announced on January 19th that the city will spend an additional $1 million funding the city’s artist-in-residence program, providing individual grants for artists, and creating a new artist resource desk at City Hall.

Blow to Ivory Trade Latest Animal Rights Win

Good news for elephants and the animal welfare advocates fighting to secure their future.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong announced that it would phase out the legal retail of ivory. Banned throughout much of the world, the ivory trade has continued to enjoy some protections in Hong Kong, where as many as 400 traders currently have licenses to trade in the material.

Esmond Martin – a co-author of the 2015 Save the Elephants report – remarks on how Hong Kong factors into a vast international trade that is driving elephants toward extinction: “No other city surveyed has so many pieces of ivory on sale as Hong Kong,” he told CNN, explaining that researchers found more than 30,000 items crafted out of ivory for sale inside the city.

Another advocate, Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong, referred to Hong Kong as “the dark heart of the ivory trade” and believes that the closure of the city’s legal market will greatly benefit global elephant populations.

These developments come in the wake of other outstanding news in the world of animal rights advocacy and environmental conservation. Ringling Bros. announced on January 11 that the famous circus act will phase out its use of show elephants a year and a half ahead of schedule (the company announced its intention of ending the practice earlier last year).

Additionally, toward the end of 2015, SeaWorld announced that it would end its orca shows, which have grown increasingly controversial following the release of the documentary Black Fish and a growing body of research that shows that the gargantuan creatures endure immense harm in captivity.

These are no small victories. Nonprofit organizations working for environmental protections and animal rights have been tackling these issues for decades. While these victories may not have come a moment too soon, they likely would not have come about at all without the tireless advocacy put in by thousands of passionate nonprofit professionals to raise awareness and get results.

Oregon Standoff: Group Says #ServiceNotSeizure

(A view of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge)

As federal authorities enter negotiations with the 20 or so extremists currently held up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon, one environmental nonprofit is stepping up to offer everyday citizens appalled at the situation the opportunity to contribute positively.

Conservation Lands Foundation rolled out the #ServiceNotSeizure hashtag in an effort to raise funds to put young people and veterans to work maintaining precious nature reserves in government possession.

On the organization’s website:

The Bundy family from southern Nevada has been in a decades’ long feud with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the family’s use of public lands for grazing, but the recent militant takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has taken the dispute to a new level…Here’s a way to direct your frustration toward helping our public lands: the Conservation Lands Foundation has launched a Crowdrise campaign to invite donations that will support veterans, youth, and Native Americans who want to work as conservation stewards on BLM’s National Conservation Lands.

The organization is tapping into popular sentiment against the gun-toting posse of anti-government extremists, whose behavior is endangering the health of the refuge. In ridicule, people have shipped a number of vulgar or demeaning items to the occupiers. Conservation Land Foundation thinks that people can better spend their energies counteracting the extremists’ noxious behavior through good deeds. The money raised through the group’s #ServiceNotSeuzure campaign will generate job opportunities as well as the staff power to help preserve public lands.

These are imitation-worthy tactics for fundraisers interested in leveraging breaking news stories for specially targeted fundraising campaigns.

Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) – an anti-abortion organization – made quite a stir last year when it released a series of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing profits made by illegally trading fetal tissue. Activists from the organization posed as employees of a fake biomedical company called Biomax Procurement Services and recorded meetings with workers from the women’s health nonprofit in a campaign to delegitimize the organization. During these meetings, activists proposed fake contracts to purchase fetal body parts, none of which were signed or agreed upon by the Planned Parenthood workers targeted by the scheme.

The veracity of what these videos depict has since come into question, as a congressional hearing designed to uncover wrongdoing at Planned Parenthood instead found an organization working entirely within the confines of the law. Eight state-level investigations have come to similiar conclusions.

Raw footage from the video series actually shows a Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly refuting an activist’s insistence that there was any precedent for selling fetal tissue for research, despite a final edit that altered what the individual in question said in order to mischaracterize Planned Parenthood’s operations.

Even if much of general public remains unswayed by CMP’s smear-campaign, the controversy has had a decidedly deleterious impact. Numerous state legislatures and governors have targeted Planned Parenthood, cutting funding and limiting women’s access to vital health services. In Colorado, a gunman cited CMP’s videos as justification for an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three people. Workers for the nonprofit have spoken out over an increased number of death threats following the videos’ emergence.

Planned Parenthood, however, is poised to strike back. On January 14, the nonprofit filed a suit against CMP, alleging that the organization broke a number of state and federal laws, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The suit seeks extensive monetary reparations for workers who have been forced to move, have been threatened with violence, or have been picketed at their homes. The lawsuit also states that – in the months of July and August 2015 alone – there were 849 acts of vandalism against Planned Parenthood facilities across the United States.

When a nonprofit’s identity and message is hijacked by a hostile party, the basic pursuit of its organizational mission becomes immensely difficult. Especially for an organization that provides life-saving medical services for disadvantaged women, the reckless falsification of evidence claiming unlawful and cruel behavior is, in itself, unlawful and cruel behavior. Nonprofit professionals should maintain a rigorous standard of truth, and abide by a considered approach to uncovering facts. In doing so, they can help marginalize noxious voices in the nonprofit world willing to lie to their audiences in order to achieve their goals.

The Flint Water Crisis, and How You Can Help

(The Flint River, which contains water so corrosive that it introduced lead into the city’s water supply)

An environmental and human disaster continues to unravel in Flint, Michigan, where residents are plagued by lead-contaminated water.

In April, 2014, city officials decided to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (which also supplies Detroit with its potable water) to the Flint River, which was widely known even then as a severely contaminated body of water. The move was intended to cut costs, a priority of authorities all over debt-stricken Michigan, where deindustrialization and a shrinking tax-base have left the state immiserated.

Designed to cut $5 million over several years, the switch has precipitated a disaster that some analysts predict could cost as much as $1.5 billion to fix.

A class action law suit has been filed alleging that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Flint city officials are responsible for switching the beleaguered city’s water with a source that was “dangerous, unsafe and … inadequately treated” simply because it was a cheaper option.

The water from the Flint River is so toxic that its corrosiveness has introduced lead from the city’s pipes into the water system. Even though the city has switched back to Lake Huron, the damage is done; the pipe system will continue emitting dangerous lead into the water supply.

The crisis has spurred three state of emergencies – declared by authorities at the local, state, and federal levels. The State Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced that he will investigate how the events unfolded. “The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life,” Schuette remarked in a statement made to reporters. The National Guard has been deployed to distribute bottled water and filters.

Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people are believed to have experienced severe health issues resulting from lead poisoning stemming from the contamination, which may also be responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed 10 people.

The long-term costs are going to be huge, and will no doubt further complicate the fiscal situation for local and state governments already under severe strain. Much of the cost of this egregious mismanagement will likely fall on the federal government.

There are, however, a number of ways that everyday citizens can help alleviate some of the stress faced by Flint residents. Through United Way, people can donate to the Flint Water Fund to help provide safe water for residents. The Flint Child Health and Development Fund is accepting donations to help provide medical and dietary care for sick children.

Key Elements Group LLC will continue covering the story as more details and updated cost estimates emerge.

Making a Difference on MLK Day

Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and nonprofits and citizens across the United States are finding their own ways of celebrating the life of the great civil rights figure.

Since its inception in 1983, MILK day has acted as a day of service, spurring volunteerism and bringing people together in the same vein that civil rights organizers came together during MLK’s time. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, last year’s holiday brought out hundreds of thousands volunteers across the country. People donated clothing and food items, worked as mentors, supported job-seekers, and built homes in what the agency refers to as “a day on, not a day off.”

In the past, local communities have hosted initiatives that found nonprofits, government agencies, and everyday citizens working together for the public good, such as Arizona’s “Year of Service” Community Festival or Portland, Oregon’s many coordinated events.

The day also presents fundraising opportunities for nonprofits. United Way Midlands, for example, created a whole weekend fundraising drive to assist a handful of select nonprofits in the Omaha area.

Not all voices in the world of philanthropy, however, are thrilled with how MLK Day manifests. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, columnist Rick Cohen remarks that run-of-the-mill volunteer projects that causal do gooders participant in have “always evinced a terrible myopia about the meaning and memory of Dr. King” that ultimately sell “Dr. King and the nation’s racial troubles tragically short.”

He continues:

This year, more than any in recent times, the onus on all of us should be to take back Martin Luther King Day from the emphasis on top-down, one-day, feel-good volunteer fix-up projects and refocus attention on strategies and actions to address racial inequity and injustice today… In 2015, we should all be showing courage to analyze, address, and attack overt, structural, institutional, and implicit racism on the day on which we all too often miss the point of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy by making his holiday one that doesn’t forthrightly address issues of race.

With the tumultuous events of the last year, including tragic police shootings and hostile discourse over race relations, there is no doubt a way to balance the volunteerism embedded in MLK Day’s history and the pressing social issues facing us today. When hundreds of thousands of people come together to improve their communities and help their neighbors, the possibility for cross-cultural and ethnic communication is immense. Such a hybrid – one that breeds both action and thoughtful dialogue – would likely satisfy the vision of the day’s namesake.

Fundraising Takeaways from 2015

(2015 takeaway: Millennials are the next great giving generation, and they donate via mobile technology.)

After 5 straight years of growth in the fundraising world (2014 topped previous records, pulling in $358.38 billion in philanthropic dollars, and 2015 will likely be even bigger), things are looking good for nonprofits.

The sector has risen from the financial disaster of 2007 faster than other industries. Nonprofits are becoming more adept at deploying technology and reaching the digital marketplace. And, to top it off, #GivingTuesday has changed the game, infusing the holiday season – long overshadowed by the rampant consumerism promoted by days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday – with a philanthropic spirit.

This last component – #GivingTuesday – is also having a huge impact on how nonprofits organize their fundraising calendars. Combined with the increased significance that millennials possess as a charitable demographic, there are a couple key takeaways from last year that will better position nonprofits to thrive in 2016.

While year-end giving has always carried great weight – setting up fundraisers with the bulk of their annual revenue – December’s importance has shifted heavily to #GivingTuesday. With the day’s skyrocketing popularity, it is fast becoming a competitive flashpoint for organizations looking to secure their financial situation going into the new year.

An unintended consequence of #GivingTuesday may be tapped giving. As more and more charitable individuals (including millennials, who are more likely to give small amounts online) make gifts on #GivingTuesday, they may be less responsive to appeals later in the month. This means that the fundraising potential of December may be shifting to the beginning of the month, requiring nonprofits to refocus their strategies and energies in order to finish the year off with a bang.

Another essential area where nonprofits need to pay attention is millennial giving. Defying predictions that the generation would be self-absorbed, millennials are displaying great philanthropic character. In 2014, 84 percent of millennial employees donated to a company cause. Of those that didn’t donate through work, 78 percent donated on their own. For #GivingTuesday 2015, one out of every three millennials in the United States were projected to participate in some capacity.

It’s evident that millennials give. But how to solicit their gifts? They value simplicity and transparency. It is absolutely essential for nonprofits to adapt to mobile giving strategies and digital infrastructures, meeting their desired audience’s attention where it is being directed – namely, on smart phones. Furthermore, nonprofits need to be clear about how solicited money will be used. Millennials need to see the impact they are making. Visualize operations through graphics and video, and quantitatively explain the difference that donors are making.

While the forecast is good for fundraisers, it is essential that they keep on their toes in order to keep a head up on competition. Following these trends will, in part, aid in those efforts.

PA Ballet Scores Social Media Win

The Pennsylvania Ballet made waves on December 30, responding to a disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles fan who made a sexist remark on social media.

Mourning the failure of this year’s season, the fan wrote that the team played as if “they were wearing tutus.” The disparaging remark did not go unanswered. In a social media coup, the Pennsylvania Ballet penned a thoughtful response on Facebook.

“A Facebook user recently commented that the Eagles had ‘played like they were wearing tutus!!!,’” the company’s post began.

With all due respect to the Eagles, let’s take a minute to look at what our tutu wearing women have done this month:

By tomorrow afternoon, the ballerinas that wear tutus at Pennsylvania Ballet will have performed The Nutcracker 27 times in 21 days. Some of those women have performed the Snow scene and the Waltz of the Flowers without an understudy or second cast. No ‘second string’ to come in and spell them when they needed a break. When they have been sick they have come to the theater, put on make up and costume, smiled and performed. When they have felt an injury in the middle of a show there have been no injury timeouts. They have kept smiling, finished their job, bowed, left the stage, and then dealt with what hurts… So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we’d all be looking forward to the playoffs.

The post attracted 22,000 likes, over 1,000 comments, and was shared 13,000 times.

Taking chances doesn’t always work, as social media managers get themselves in hot water from time-to-time. From companies attaching their brands to tragic anniversaries (as Build-a-Bear Workshop and CVS did with 9/11), to clueless attempts to enter social justice conversations (Starbucks’ “Let’s Race Together” campaign comes to mind), businesses and organizations have become the subject of ridicule over failed social media stunts.

That doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t put themselves out there. The Pennsylvania Ballet safely used an objectively demeaning tweet, refrained from ad hominem attacks on the poster, and used the opportunity to frame the physical and athletic demands that professional ballet dancers face. The end result is a message of empowerment and a highly shareable piece of content that is both informative and humorous.

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