Vertical Farming: The Future of Basic Needs Nonprofits?

Basic needs organizations may have a new model to emulate that could provide a fresh and constantly renewing source of produce to help those in need.

INFARM, a German firm, has expanded upon the common design of vertical farms which have enabled growers to ship produce over shorter distances. The company’s “Kräuter Garten” is made for in-store use, providing on-site, functional farming to generate fresh produce.

The company’s vision is to create self-sustaining cities, capable of cultivating food sources with out taxing far away land-bases. The implication for basic needs groups could be enormous. If the design proves feasible, then charity organizations could maintain low-cost, renewable food sources to provide healthy produce to those with food insecurity.

While seemingly complex, the system is controlled through a smartphone application, indicating a small learning curve for nonprofit service providers.

As INFARM CEO Erez Galonska remarks,

We believe our food system should be de-centralize and production should get closer to the consumer. This is essential in terms of the impact on the environment as well as for significantly improving the safety and quality of our food.

Those very qualities could make a massive impact on underserved communities, who could benefit from cutting out the production, transportation, and retail steps from the food distribution process, instead enjoying direct access to charity pantries operating vertical farming systems.

Watch INFARM’s informational video below to learn more: 

Was Trump Foundation’s Political Donation Intentional?

The IRS clearly states that charity organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.”

A brewing controversy involves one of today’s most recognizable names potentially breaking this cardinal rule. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the IRS undertake an investigation into a gift made by the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

If CREW’s hunch is correct, Donald Trump’s namesake foundation may have made a colossal misstep by gifting $25,000 to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. The donation arrived in the same week that Bondi began investigating charges of fraud at Trump University – the now defunct educational enterprise of Trump and current hot topic of debate in the Republican presidential race. Trump’s opponents have pointed to the failed endeavor as an emblematic case of the candidate’s disastrous business record and potentially fraudulent practices.

Trump has chalked up the donation as a clerical error, in which Bondi’s political support organization – And Justice For All – received a check that was designated for a Utah-based nonprofit of the same name. To further complicate the situation, the gift was listed as going to yet another organization – a Kansas-based pro-life nonprofit called Justice for All – in the Trump Foundation’s 990.

The coincide, however, is quite staggering. Bondi ultimately dropped the investigation into Trump University, and has since endorsed the real-estate mogul and front-runner for the Republican presidential candidacy.

CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz remarked that “there’s so much going on here that the IRS really needs to investigate and find out where the truth was.”

Key Elements Group will cover the developments relating to Donald Trump and the political donation his foundation made as CREW continues to lobby for an investigation and the presidential race brings more candidate controversies to the national discourse.

Terror in Brussels: How to Help

(Brussels, Belgium)

Today’s harrowing attacks in Brussels, Belgium are yet another reminder of how far we have to go for the cause of peace. While details emerge, the cold hard reality of the loss of life is certain. Instead of responding with gloom in the face of terror, however, we can respond with humanity.

Considering giving to the Red Cross of Belgium as it triages the disaster on the ground, supporting victims and providing vital care. Also consider donating to the Foundation for Peace – an organization that supports victims of terror.

If you are in Brussels, there are a number of places to donate blood. Residents have been deploying the hashtags #OpenHouse and #IkWilHelpen to offer shelter for those stuck outside during the government-mandated lockdown.

The terror in Brussels will not be the last tragedy of its kind, but the response it provokes can move us down a path to eradicating such wanton hate and violence.

Scrutiny for Wounded Warrior Project

One nonprofit is in hot water following the dismissal of its top leadership. The Wounded Warrior Project – a charity whose mission is to provide care for injured veterans – is facing scrutiny following reports that personnel grossly mismanaged organizational funding and directed few resources to its charitable programs.

The group’s board jettisoned Chief Executive Steven Nardizzi and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano, while attempting to reassure the public that the nonprofit has done nothing wrong. A press release from the group claims that statistics on organizational spending cited by the charity watchdog group Charity Navigator as well as The New York Times are misleading.

Critical reports cited extravagant galas and meetings – one of which cost $1 million dollars and featured histrionics including Nardizzi rappelling from the ceiling. The overall picture is further darkened by first-hand accounts from former employees, one of which described the organization’s operations as “frat party.”  The former staffer – Erick Millette, a veteran himself – continued by remarking that “there was heavy drinking, dancing, inappropriate sexual behaviors. There was everything. It was just totally out of control.”

Long a topic of debate in the world of philanthropy, the ratio of programmatic spending versus spending directed to fundraising is not set in stone. Many in the field – including Wounded Warrior ally and vocal apologist for the organization Dan Pallotta – believe that spending a lion’s share of fundraising on further fundraising is ultimately the best way to achieve results.

Key Elements Group will have more as event unfold at the Wounded Warrior Project.

Gender Equity Elusive in College Sports

With March Madness just around the bend, it’s worth returning to an intractable issue facing collegiate athletics: the disparity in opportunity between men and women.

Still – 44 years after the enactment of Title IX – women receive the short straw when it comes to college sports. Each year, men receive $190 million more in athletic scholarships than women. Overall, there are approximately 63,000 fewer participation slots for women in college-level sports. This great difference is in part influenced by the fact that female high school students possess 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than their male counterparts.

As Kelly Wallace points out at CNN, these discrepancies exist regardless of the great feats accomplished by women athletes. Last year, the Princeton women’s basketball team beat the previous most winning college season ever held by the 1970-71 Penn men’s team, winning 30 games and losing zero during the regular season. Combine this with the continued dominance of US women in international tennis and the cultural cache of the highly successful US women’s soccer team, and the fact that institutions (especially those that are publicly funded) are still doing so little to promote and foster women’s athletics is both head-scratching and evidence of a biased system.

The Women’s Sports Foundation – a nonprofit organization – runs a variety of programs aimed at improving the state of gender equity in sports, ranging from wellness programs to get sedentary youth into physical activity to advocacy campaigns to increase the share of women employed by the sports industry. If you are disconcerted at the ongoing disparity in opportunity between men and women in sports (or interested in giving back during this Women’s History Month), consider contributing to this laudable organization.

You can also make a difference by tuning in – the more public support that women’s athletics attract, the harder it will be for detractors to argue for continuing the glaring inequality that currently exists.

NCAA: The Profitable Nonprofit

As Key Elements Group reported last year, the NCAA enjoys a dubious nonprofit status. Ostensibly, the organization’s mission is to foster thriving student-athletes while maintaining an emphasis on education.

The nonprofit’s mission statement:

Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

In reality, the organization churns immense profit. From its lucrative media deal to its branding rights, the organization pulls in big money, especially through high-interest sports like football and basketball which require a rigorous degree of student commitment that virtually precludes the possibility of focusing on educational pursuits. Considering that very few NCAA athletes go on to play their craft in the professional arena, commentators have accused the organization of outright exploitation – a fact even recognized by some coaches such as Skip Holtz of Louisiana Tech, who voiced support for stipends for over-burdened student-athletes.  

As the NCAA gears up for another profitable March Madness, here’s a quick look at the numbers that place the organization somewhere south of its laudable, if less-than-honest, mission statement.

  • In 2010, the NCAA signed a 14-year TV contract worth $10.8 billion
  • 4,535%, the average annual increase in March Madness TV rights value since 1986
  • $1.1 billion, TV advertisement revenue from 2015’s tournament
  • $1.5 million, the average price of a 30-second ad during title game in 2015
  • $1.7 million the annual salary of NCAA President Mark Emmert through 2020
  • 16x, the amount NBA rookies receive in comparison to what D1 men’s basketball players receive in tuition, room, and board (if provided in full).

Columbus Planned Parenthood Clinic Attacked

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Key Elements Group has covered issues facing women and the nonprofits that fight for greater gender equality.

This past year has seen an upsurge in violence directed toward nonprofit professionals working with and for women, especially those employed by the nonprofit health organization Planned Parenthood. In November of 2015, a gunman stormed one of the nonprofit’s clinics located in Colorado Springs, killing three. In the months of July and August 2015 alone, there were 849 acts of vandalism committed against Planned Parenthood clinics across the United States.

Much of the vitriol directed against the organization  - which provides invaluable health services to underserved women, including cancer screenings – stems from the exaggerated discourse revolving around its services. Though abortion accounts for a small fraction of the organization’s work, antichoice activists have reduced Planned Parenthood to this one particular service. The widely discredited video series released by the Center for Medical Progress (which recently came under investigation in Texas), were catalysts for violent acts directed toward Planned Parenthood. The Colorado gunman cited the heavily edited and doctored video as a primary inspiration for his murders.

Recent non-violent actions by antichoice activists and legislators have also stoked angry sentiment against the organization. As we discussed in a post yesterday, laws across the nation are effectively shutting down nonprofit clinics that provide safe access to abortions.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio recently signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood at the behest of antichoice voices in his home state, and we are already seeing the effects.

A clinic run by the organization in Columbus, Ohio was defaced with the phrase “SATAN DEN OF BABYKILLERS GOD SEE ALLLL (sic) Mark 9:14″ written in red lettering. The timing is certainly no coincidence. As the women’s health nonprofit was targeted by lawmakers due to dubious accusations, vigilante action followed course, further endangering the lives of workers who go out on the line for women on a daily basis.

The danger posed to Planned Parenthood and its staff across the country is a reminder of the courage of many nonprofit workers fighting at the margins for greater equality and better lives for the disenfranchised.

Anti-Choice Laws Spur Backchannel Abortions

(Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson)

A haunting trend has emerged in Google search behavior among U.S. citizens, indicating the effects of anti-choice legislation sweeping across the country in recent years.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz discusses an alarming uptick in search queries for alternative means to terminate pregnancies.

The state with the highest search rate for backchannel abortion methods is Mississippi, the state with perhaps the most stringent anti-choice legislation in the books. State lawmakers have passed measures that place onerous requirements on abortion clinics, raising near-insurmountable bureaucratic and financial hurdles that effectively drive them out of operation. The state has one remaining clinic, which could face closure in a case before the supreme court.

Mississippi officials state that the anti-choice law is “medically legitimate health and safety regulation,” which arose from “highly publicized reports of deaths and injuries involving abortion facilities across the country that raised serious doubts as to the safety of women undergoing abortion procedures.”

Research has proven that women are 14 times more likely to die from childbirth.

In the op-ed, Stephens-Davidowitz breaks down the list of search phrases – beginning with seemingly more benign queries including “buy abortion pills online” and “free abortion pills,” and entering decidedly more harrowing territory.

“How to self-abort,” “how to have a miscarriage,” and “how to do a coat hanger abortion” are increasingly common search phrases.

Mississippi is by no means alone. Texas is party to another supreme court case that calls into question the constitutionality of similiar legislation that has shuttered all but a handful of clinics across the state, the second most populous in the nation. Other states have gone after women’s healthcare provides such as Planned Parenthood, which was recently defunded at the sate-level in Ohio through anti-choice legislation signed into law by  Governor John Kasich.

Planned Parenthood has become target number one for anti-choice activists, most evidently in the widely discredited, heavily doctored videos disseminated by the organization Center for Medical Progress, which is now under investigation for its libelous actions.

As nonprofits and fundraisers respond to these threats to women’s healthcare and basic rights, Key Elements Group will provide ongoing coverage.

Victories for Equality: Women on Currency

(An artist’s rendering of a $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, winner of the Women on 20s poll)

In honor of Women’s History Month, Key Elements Group will look at women and organizations that have helped advance the cause for greater equality.

This year, one women’s rights organization oversaw a big victory, getting women on one very public domain hitherto dominated almost exclusively by men: U.S. currency.

Women on 20s – a  501(c)3 nonprofit – has run a wildly popular grassroots campaign to encourage the U.S. Treasury Department to print an important female figure from U.S. history on the $20 bill. The group excelled in garnering press. From The Atlantic to NPR, news outlets picked up on Women on 20s’ unique and well-articulated mission, spurred in part by the wide-sweeping participation in online polling that the group inspired.

Founder Barbara Ortiz Howard sat down for an interview with Key Elements Group last year, in which she discussed her own inspiration for beginning and running a nonprofit dedicated to gender equality:

For me, having role models of great women in our daily lives is important to helping us all conquer stereotypes that limit our perspectives. Seeing women who exemplify the best of who we can be is at once uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Imagine if we were all inspired to be our best selves.

In June 2015, the Obama Administration announced that a woman will appear on the $10 bill in 2020. Scheduled for the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote, the actualization of the bill reflects Ortiz Horward and her colleagues’ hard work raising awareness of this glaring discrepancy in gender representation.

The last time that a women appeared on paper currency in the United States was in the late 1800s, when Martha Washington’s likeness was emblazoned on a silver-dollar certificate.

Key Elements Group will continue to provide snapshots of change makers and groundbreaking nonprofit work for gender equality throughout the month.

AT&T Star Steps Up for Syrian Refugees

(Milana Vayntrub speaking at VidCon 2012. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore)

Following a recent trip to Greece, Milana Vayntrub – the actress who plays the buoyant shop clerk in AT&T commercials – has found a new cause: the Syrian refugee crisis.

The actress was once a refugee herself, fleeing Russia as a child in the 1980s. In an essay for the website Popsugar, she writes:

My family fled the Soviet Union because of hostile circumstances for Jews in the late ’80s. I was too young to remember details of the yearlong journey, but my parents have told me stories about the poverty and constant uncertainty they faced before we were lucky enough to settle in Los Angeles.

With this experience in mind, Vayntrub was struck by the plight of Syrian refugees in Greece, who often risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean on rafts. According to the European Union’s border control agency – Frontex – 131,724 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016. The vast majority of these refugees have arrived in Greece, a nation still in the throes of a debt crisis and bruising austerity imposed by EU fiat. The prime minister of Germany Angela Merkel has recently underscored the additional assistance that the Hellenic Republic needs to cope with the ongoing crisis.

In her essay, Vayntrub describes the scenes in Greece that compelled her to not only ditch her vacation and help in the moment, but to also create a new nonprofit as well:

I’d never seen anything like it. As we rushed to the shore, people stepped off the rafts, some in tears, some celebrating. They passed their children off the boat to volunteers before jumping into the water themselves. Some people collapsed as they got off the boat because their legs had gone numb from spending an hour with 50 people on a raft only meant to carry a dozen. On the shore, volunteer doctors checked the babies’ temperatures and dried them off. I tried to contain my shock and concern, focusing on greeting people with a smile and a warm hug.

Moved by the experience, Vayntrub founded #CantDoNothing, a nonprofit campaign to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis and to raise money for affiliated organizations working to ameliorate migrants’ tenuous and dire situation.

“I learned a lot in Greece,” writes Vayntrub, “One of the biggest lessons was that everyone has something powerful and important to contribute — something that can make the world a little (or a lot) better.”

Read the whole essay here and visit #CantDoNothing to learn how you can help.

PricingPrivacy PolicyRefund Policy