Nonprofit Newswire | January 5, 2010

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The Nonprofit QuarterlyGauging the Dedication of Teacher Corps Grads
January 4, 2010; New York Times | It has been a common understanding, bolstered by research studies such as that done by Abt Associates and the Brookings Institution for the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2008, that alumni of stipended volunteerism programs such as AmeriCorps “are significantly more civically engaged and more likely to pursue public service careers in the government and nonprofit sector than their counterparts.” The New York Times just reported on a study conducted by Stanford University sociology professor Doug McAdam and colleague Cynthia Brandt at the request of Teach for America that came up with surprisingly contradictory information. Their study, “Assessing the Long-Term Effects of Youth Service: The Puzzling Case of Teach for America,” concluded that TFA alums’ dedication to improving society did not seem to extend past their TFA service. In fact, “In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of the program lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years.” The TFA leadership appears to be nonplussed by the findings. TFA’s Wendy Kopp had asked for the study after reading a report about the 1964 Freedom Summer participants, whose 10 weeks doing voter registration in Mississippi resulted in significantly greater civic engagement by the participants. So the question is, what is it about TFA that not only isn’t generating the civic engagement of the Freedom Summer participants, and contradicts the Abt/Brookings findings? McAdam suggests that the answers might be found in TFA participants’ exhaustion, burnout, and disillusionment with the TFA model for reducing educational inequities. Stanford political science professor Rob Reich offers another perspective. That in the 1960s, participating in Freedom Summer activism was, in his terms, “countercultural”, while in the 2000s, participating in TFA is “joining the system” and “climbing up the elite ladder.” For those of us who are old enough to remember Freedom Summer, it is hard to compare Freedom Summer’s civil rights activism with TFA’s noblesse oblige and fathom the idea that Freedom Summer and TFA would produce similar effects on their “alums.” Maybe the bigger question for the 2010s is how best this nation ought to encourage and incentivize the public policy objective, advocated with great fanfare by the Obama Administration, of greater civic engagement.—Rick Cohen

The Nonprofit QuarterlyFrom the Good News Department
December 27; The Daily Tell | In this article, the author points to Angela Eikenberry’s May report on donor circles [PDF] stating that people give more money, give to more organizations, are more engaged in their community, and are better informed philanthropists when it is done as a collective effort. Donor circles, of which Eikenberry estimates there are at least 600 across the country, provide a way for those wishing to donate money to pool their resources, connect with nonprofits in their community, strategically give, and network with others. There’s a story on donor circles from NPR back in June 2009 which highlights Eikenberry’s research and some examples of giving circles and the groups they support. Nonprofits and philanthropy are certainly changing to address the economic climate. And while this is not breaking news, it’s worth mentioning and keeping an eye on as an emerging trend in philanthropy.—Kristin Barrali

The Nonprofit QuarterlyCelebrating the Mental Health Parity Act
January 4, 2010; Austin Post-Bulletin
| Many articles showed up this past week about the fact that the Paul Wellstone and Peter Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act went into effect on January 1. This bill, passed as part of the TARP in October, 2008 and signed into effect by President Bush, requires insurance companies to stop discriminating against people with mental illness by charging higher co-pays and imposing lower limits on coverage. It’s worth stopping to celebrate this extraordinary moment and its roots. In the Fall 2009 issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly we covered this story. This law was championed by New Mexico’s Republican Senator Peter Domenici, and Democratic Senators Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy. The latter two are perhaps more obvious suspects for the bill’s advocacy but why Peter Domenici, a fiscal conservative? This is where our sector comes in. The story is that Domenici’s youngest daughter started showing signs of schizophrenia in her late teens. The Domenici’s were beside themselves and looked for a place where they could get advice and support and they found in a local chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill where people with mental illness and their families gather to provide peer support and consider how they might make the system of care more rational and complete. The story is told by Domenici in an interview with Time magazine but they began to attend the meetings daily after work and this led to Domenici realizing the depth of the problem. He spent the next twelve years advocating for the measure. This is the way our sector is supposed to work in my humble opinion: mutual aid and personal/collective action leading to social change that results in better community. It’s the soul of civic engagement. It will be interesting to watch the problems in and results of the implementation of this historic measure. Luckily, we will all be able to track it and learn from it through the Web site of the National office of NAMI which played a strong role in the bill’s passage. Their report, Grading the States, is a great model of tracking the details of a system of care such that a map for state advocacy is created.—Ruth McCambridge

The Nonprofit QuarterlyHelpers Need Help
January 2, 2009; Tampa Tribune
| There is an important lesson in this article for nonprofits advocating against state budget cuts to social safety net programs. In Florida, the Department of Corrections has cut the budgets of agencies providing treatment for drug addicted mothers (DOC reduced the number of beds for addicted mothers from 1,876 to 1,244 beds statewide in 2008-2009). In the case of the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center located in Pembroke Pines, the budget cut has been 70 percent. That means there is a three-month waiting list and simultaneously 30 empty beds at the Center that would typically, with better funding, be available to mothers for treatment as opposed to sending them to prison and their children to foster homes. The Center’s director, however, makes an important argument in advocacy terms: that for every dollar spent on treatment for drug addicted mothers at the Recovery Center, the state saves $3 in prison and foster care costs. The argument for nonprofits shouldn’t be, as has been made in other states, that nonprofits employ lots of people and contribute to the local and state economies. So do other sectors of the economy. But other sectors cannot claim the service delivery benefits and overall state cost savings that occur when a state government runs programs and services through nonprofit providers like the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center. We hope that this powerful argument of the Center captures the attention of state legislators in Tallahassee.—Rick Cohen

The Nonprofit QuarterlyNonprofits Get Cash for Ideas
January 1, 2010; Columbus Business Journal
| For all the talk about foundations encouraging nonprofits to merge, few do. The Columbus Foundation appears to be trying to put its money where its (or the foundation sector’s) mouth is. In late December, the foundation’s Fund for Financial Restructuring awarded $246,500 in grants to six nonprofits aimed at strengthening the recipients’ financial health. The six successful applicants (out of 81 groups submitting) included $40,000 to the Contemporary American Theater Company (CATCO) for board restructuring and strategic planning toward a merger with the Phoenix Theatre Circle and $75,000 for United Cerebral Palsy of Central Ohio to assist its exploration of partnerships, collaborations, shared services, and mergers. We’ll be interested to see how CATCO, United Cerebral Palsy, and the other grant recipients progress toward restructuring their financial operations toward improved sustainability.—Rick Cohen




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