Thursday, December 31, 2009

Too many things & not enough of one?

Three years ago, another funder said to me, “You guys are worthless. You’re trying to satisfy so many people with such disparate charitable interests that your impact is diluted. Your grants don’t make a significant impact on anybody. Rather than give grants of $12,000 to 1,000 different organizations, you should be giving 100 grants of $120,000 – or better yet, give grants of $1.2 million to 10 organizations. You’re a pathetic example of the good that philanthropy can do.

We absolutely know for sure that small grants can make a big difference. There are thousands of examples, but how about this one? In 2006, when Elizabeth Tarrant Anderson was 17, she recommended a grant of $500 to underwrite a website for a new non-profit organization hardly anyone had heard of back then – Pattison’s Academy - now acclaimed as one of the most valuable programs in the Lowcountry for children with multiple disabilities, and recently approved as a Charter School.

The Board and staff of Coastal Community Foundation decide how to spend our time, but recommendations for how we spend our money comes from the community we serve – from our donors who have their own charitable agendas and want us to help them to achieve them, and from volunteer grant review committees whose combined wisdom has never let us down. Every grant we make, whether it’s for $500 or $500,000, is the result of deep thought by a donor or by a Committee charged with honoring donors’ charitable priorities.

Whether it’s a gift in a box with a bow or a charitable gift, its value is usually directly proportional not to the dollar value, but to the thought that went into it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quick tips to get credit for year-end charitable deductions

Just a few more hours to claim a charitable tax deduction for tax year 2009. If you are like most Americans you have already given something less than 3% of your income to charitable causes. I hope that does not feel right to you. In my thinking, it should be percentage-wise, more than 3% of your total income, given all the services the nonprofit sector provides.

If in looking back over 2009 you would like to do a bit more, well, the clock is ticking. Here are some tips on how to squeeze in a little more giving before the "aughties" decade ends. No need for heroics, just some simple tips to get the giving done.

The IRS is very strict on the timing of year-end gifts. The funds must be released to the nonprofit as a gift before year-end to count as a gift made in 2009. That makes sense. However, apparently people have a tendency to delay year-end giving up until the very end or even the very, very end. As a result the regulations are tough.

If you are making cash deliveries yourself, and by this I mean dropping off dollar bills, coins, or checks, you need to 1) hand deliver the cash to your favorite charity before midnight on December 31st, 2009 and 2) get a receipt dated prior to December 31st, 2009 to get credit for the 2009 tax year. Leaving a bag of money at their doorstep and getting a receipt after the New Year means your gift is credited in 2010. Opps. Get a receipt written before year-end for all gifts that are given face-to-face.

If you are mailing the gift you need it postmarked by December 31st for the gift to count in 2009. No backdating those checks and mailing them after New Year's Day. As mentioned earlier, the IRS is strict in its enforcement, so strict that we photocopy envelopes and checks in the weeks around New Year's Day. This means that even checks dated before December 31st, 2009 that get a mailed acknowledgement from the nonprofit after the start of 2010 do not count as being given in 2009 without the US Postal Service postmark on the incoming envelope.

Transfers of commonly held stock are even more troublesome. If you would like to give some of that highly appreciated Google stock to a nonprofit you need to allow time for the stock to go through Wall Street's version of purgatory (that ambiguous zone between brokerage accounts). Don't sell the stock unless you want to pay capital gains. You need to transfer the stock directly to the nonprofit. That way you can take a deduction for its current value rather than the amount you paid for it. (Note: Many small nonproifts do not have a brokerage account. More on this later.) This transfer, even under the best of circumstances can take days. It is not the fault of the nonprofit. Moving stock between brokers, even in these days of speed-of-light electrons takes much more time than it should. It is not clear where the problem lies. You may no longer "own" the stock but until it hits the brokerage account of the nonprofit you have not given it away either.

For transfers of common stock, the fastest, easiest way is to run the money through a local community foundation. They will have a brokerage account (as mentioned earler many nonprofits do not) and they will have had practice with the procedure. You will need its DTC number (i.e., Depository Trust Company number). For example, at Coastal Community Foundation you need to give your broker the following information: DTC # 418 (Smith Barney) for credit to Coastal Community Foundation A/C# 435-19851-1-6-212. Should you be so inclined to act on this suggestion, please call us first at 843-723-3635. We get so much stock during the last week of the year that we can have trouble sorting it out quickly. Not only does the stock go through Wall Street purgatory, it goes through without a record of who made the transfer. There has got to be a better way, but until there is it helps if you warn us or your local community foundation that the stock is coming.

If you intend to give illiquid assets: closely-held stock, precious metals like gold or silver, real estate, boats, or your uncle's stamp collection, well, you are out of luck. There simply is not enough time left in 2009. There is always next year. No reason not to start things moving with your New Year's Resolutions. The creation of a receipt that passes muster for the IRS will take more than a week and by then it really will be 2010.

For all of these rules and complications you might think that the IRS has got all of the year-end loopholes closed. However, there remains one way to make a gift in 2009 and pay for it in 2010. It is legal, too! Use a credit card. You will pay the credit card bill in 2010 but the gift will be credited in 2009 (provided you run the charge through before December 31st, 2009). The internet makes this easy. You can go to our website at and click on "Donate Now." You can specify which charitable need your gift aims to satisfy and get a tax deduction for 2009. When your credit card bill comes due in January, 2010 you will see a charge in 2009 that counts as a 2009 gift for tax purposes.

So if you like to run close to the edge, make that year-end gift with plastic. Just make sure your internet connection stays up all the way to midnight on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things I learned in 2009 that scare me about 2010

Sometimes being scared is okay.  It gets you to pay attention.  Here are three things I learned in 2009 that scare me.   Not scare me in the sense of "this is the end of philanthropy as we know it" but scare me into thinking carefully about why I am scared and what giving up my fear can do.

Scary Thing One:  Where did the 100,000+ applications for the iPhone come from?  I remember just a few years ago smart people were saying that Apple was out of its mind trying to take on the cellphone industry.  Apple didn't know anything about cellphones.  Turns out, they didn't have to.  They knew enough about how people want information: form, format, and functionality.  Lesson Learned: I am just not smart enough to predict where philanthropy is going and how it will affect the nonprofit sector.  Neither is anyone else.

Scary Thing Two:  Matt Dunne, Head of Community Affairs at Google, spoke at the Philanthropy Day Luncheon in Charleston in early November.  He said the power of incumbency is fading.  The big nonprofits all want to look small.  Donors want to see deep inside organizations.  The more a donor's gift can be traced directly to the good being done the better.  This means that the more that small start-ups connect donors to people in need (think DonorsChoose) the more they will garner support.  It doesn't matter that Red Cross has been here for hundreds of years.  It doesn't matter that United Way is carefully measuring impact.  What matters is the connection between the gift and the child, the donation and the micro-loan recipient, the dollars and the individual scholars.  Lesson Learned:  Let the donor decide how the money is spent and take them out (physically or virtually) to see where and how it was spent.  (Sorta like Apple letting the App designers define "what is a cellphone."  We need to allow donors to decide what is worthy of a gift.)

Scary Thing Three:  Committees, crowds, and common folk are, in aggregate, smarter than I am.  We do not always agree but in the long term they will be right more often than I am.  Let them decide.  Create conditions where they will be able to make good decisions.  It will be okay.  Lesson Learned:  Listen.  Find new ways to listen.  Listen some more. Hire people around you who listen better than you do.

So what will 2010 bring?  You tell me.  Really.  Tell me.  Perhaps we, collectively, can figure it out as it happens (if not before).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Standards: You’re in Good Company

In 2005 Coastal Community Foundation participated in the first round of the Council on Foundation's (COF) National Standards and was confirmed to be in compliance with the national association's best practices for community foundations. We are now up for renewal in 2010; which entails reviewing organizational policies from every department to ensure accountability on all levels by our Staff and Board.

To learn more, check out the COF blog series:

Monday, December 7, 2009

A day "that will live in infamy", perhaps.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day.  For our parents this is their 9/11.  For many of us December 7th is a day that we have heard about all of our lives and one that still shapes our foreign policy, our sense of national self, and our place in history.  While I remembered this date without prompting, most of my younger colleagues had to be reminded.  For some, the day needed to be explained.  Looking around your collection of friends, elders, and institutions, where does communal memory reside?

The press provides reminders of events that have shaped our lives.  It is often in the form of opinion pieces rather than stories about how each of us is being affected by the memory.  Businesses sometimes link their advertizing campaigns to memorable events (consider the year-end holidays) but by necessity the memorial becomes sugar-coated or sepia-toned as firsthand witnesses pass away.

It is the business of community foundations to create permanent memorials for events past.  The endowment funds held by community foundations pay tribute to causes people care and cared about.  Our small contribution in this regard is Honor Flight, a fund that has been created to fund transportation of WWII veterans to Washington, DC to see the WWII memorial there.  While small in the broad array of endowment funds we hold, it serves the purpose of a placeholder, a reminder, of what we hold dear.
The memory of their service lives on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reinvent Yourself this Season

Reinventing one's self is the ticket to continued happiness. As thinking beings we are capable of starting over, trying again, and becoming anew.

This is the mantra of both the holiday season's inspiring poster child Ebeneezer Scrooge and local Charleston artist, Bernadette Cali.
At opening night of Charleston Stage's A Christmas Carol, Artistic Director Julian Wiles remarked about the performance's reinvention theme and how each day we face countless decisions, i.e. opportunities, to be whoever we want to be.

In tune, local artist Bernadette Cali has received this year's Griffith/Reyburn Lowcountry Artist of the Year to re-invent herself through her art. “The goal is to start my next important phase, new subject matter, new media. As I explore my elder-artist years (the most important years) I want to confront my subconscious, explore issues of space, and get serious,” says Cali explaining how her new work is just the start to a longer term goal of re-entering the art world after an eight-year hiatus.

Bernadette's new works will be exhibited December 4th- December 31st at the Charleston Library Society (who is going through their own re-invention process as we speak). An opening reception will be held a the Lower King Street library December 4th from 5:30pm-8:00pm during the French Quarter Art Walk.

This holiday season take every opportunity to reinvent yourself. You might surprise yourself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Microcosm of the Mission

Glimpses behind-the-scenes help you see how an organization really works: dust on the windowsills, animated hallway conversations, empty coffee cups stacked neatly or haphazardly filling the sink.  All of these can be positive or negative indications of single-mindedness, collaboration, and mission-focus.  With trained eyes you quickly get a feeling for the culture of the place.  Messy does not mean bad and too neat can mean trouble.  Getting it just right is a collaborative effort. 

At East Cooper Community Outreach the lobby is bright and cheery.  There is enough space so that clients do not feel cramped.  Behind-the-scenes is another matter.  The working conditions are professional but cramped.  All available space is given over to a dental clinic, a food distribution facility, offices for social workers interviewing clients, a classroom, a medical other words, all available space goes first to service and only later, if there is any left, to working comforts.  Even the Staff offices are divided into tight cubicles shared with the one desk offices of smaller, collaborating nonprofits.  Jack Little tells me that the latest renovation enclosed what used to be a shady porch so that a childcare service can be provided to visiting clients.  East Cooper Community Outreach, even without saying a word, says we are here to serve.

So here's a behind-the-scenes photograph for you to interpret.

And here is a close-up of this coming week.

Get the picture?

East Cooper Community Outreach is a service organization that packs into every available space service to clients.  They collaborate with other organizations while striving to become a full-service operation that caters to the needs of those in need.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whatever happened to "The Quiet Company?"

Community foundations pride themselves on their quiet competence.  We often work behind-the-scenes to improve communities through the creation of nearly silent, but steadily growing endowment funds.  While every now and there is a splash in the media pond when a large endowment fund is created, generally community foundations do not make waves.  Few have fulltime communications officers.  This past week I saw a noisy outpouring of emotion as many of my colleagues exchanged emails about a Wall Street Journal article that failed to mention community foundations as a locally-administered, low-cost, high-value option for those seeking a custodian for a Donor Advised Fund.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that community foundation executives are overly sensitive, it is not as if community foundations are a trivial part of the Donor Advised Fund management marketplace.  There are more than 700 community foundations compared to only a handful of for-profit investment firms.  More than $31 Billion is held in endowments funds by community foundations.  While quiet, we are huge and quiet.

Moreover, the reporter in her research conducted an extensive interview with the President of the Council on Foundations, Steve Gunderson.  The Council on Foundations is the nonprofit membership association that serves as an advocate for nonprofit foundations of all types.  It is not like she just didn't hear about community foundations, she chose instead to favor the small subset of the Donor Advised fund management sector that advertizes in the Wall Street Journal.

Coincidence?  Perhaps, but the last time this happened I wrote a note to, (and I got a nice response back from) the Wall Street Journal reporter who failed to mention community foundations.  That time they said that they would make a special effort next time.  This is next time. 

What do we have to do?

Maybe this is why I no longer see those ads for Northwestern Mutual with the tagline: "The Quiet Company."  That marketing strategy doesn't work.

Would you be comfortable with a portion of the operational costs of your local community foundation going to a national marketing campaign or would you rather those funds be used to directlly benefit your local nonprofits?

I think community foundations need to take advantage of social media tools to reach deep into our local commuinty rather than spending money on raising our brand awareness nationwide.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I learned at camp

I was one of the few, the proud, and one of 250 people that went to BarCampCHS last weekend. There was no bar. It wasn’t quite camp. There was a lot of brainpower, creative thinking, and no shortage of new information.

One of the things I learned is that geeks are cool. No, really, they are. I went to the conference by myself and had no problem finding people to talk to at the event. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly. It was great to meet people that I had previously only known through Twitter. As a Twitter skeptic only a year ago, it still surprises me that you can build relationships using this tool. When I met some of my Twitter connections in person, it was great to be past that initial small talk usually reserved for first-time meetings. This only reinforced the value of Web 2.0 tools for me. They work, believe me.

I also learned that geeks are charitable. It amazes me how much work the organizers of the event put into planning, both in advance and that day. There were also a number of great presenters who gave their time, welcomed interaction from the audience, and made themselves available for questions in the future. Some gave examples of support they have given to nonprofits with their time and others talked about reaching out even further into this community. It’s awesome to know how many smart, creative people in our area want to give back.

And finally, a word about the sponsors. I have no ties to any of these people, no commissions paid to me, no family member on staff. I just think it’s cool how they came through to make this event possible – the location, the t-shirts, giveaways, food – all free to the attendees. There was definitely an overall spirit of giving.

I hope this BarCamp was just a beginning of things to come in Charleston. People are already talking about next year and hoping for some in-between events. In the meantime, what other ways can we share our knowledge and experience with each other in this community?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Public Trust: Past, Present, Future

This posting is a transcript, written from memory, of a speech made by Coastal Community Foundation President George Stevens before awardees and guests at Memminger Auditorium on October 22nd, 2009. More than $279,000 was awarded to forty-one organizations that together address a wide range of needs in our community. George's words follow:

In Charleston it is easy to feel like we inherit history, rather than make it. I think that this is a misreading of history.

When you think of making history you think of an instant, perhaps captured in a photograph or a painting, of a hero quickly stepping forward. As we look around Memminger Auditorium tonight, the history of this place tells us a different story.

In 1909 a young woman graduated from Memminger High and Normal School. Memminger was an all-girls school that trained teachers. Her name was Mabel Pollitzer. She was a very good student and had earned a place at Columbia University in New York. In the year she graduated the Principal, a Mister William Knox Tate, told Mabel that he would hold open a job for her at Memminger. He asked only that she return to Charleston to teach here. Mabel did return and taught science. Science had not been taught at Memminger High and Normal School before Mabel taught it. She taught Botany for first year students, Zoology for second year students, and Physiology for the Senior class. But she did more. In 1913 she formed the National Woman's Party and fought for universal suffrage. She fought to allow women to vote. In the time a commentator wrote that "Men and women work as one. He is the one." Think of the enormity of the task of convincing the nation to allow women to vote.

Looking back on this history where is the instant that captures Mabel's history? At what instant was history made? Was it her graduation from Memminger High and Normal School? Was it the job offer by Mr. Tate? Was it Mabel turning down the job offer in Philadelphia to return to Charleston? Was it the founding of the National Womens Party? It was none of those things.

The French philosopher Henri Bergan identified two types of memory. Everything I have told you about Mabel is what Henri would call "intentional memory." Intentional memory is facts and figures. It is things that you can memorize. The other type of memory is spontaneous memory or visceral memory. For me the smell of crayons is a visceral memory. Whenever I smell crayons I think of the third grade and my teacher Miss Montgomery. I cannot help myself. I think of the big box of crayons. Sixty-four crayons in all.

When I ask my parents about Hugo they tell me how hot and still is was the day before Hugo. Today, when there is a still day my father-in-law says "It feels like the day before Hugo." The day after Hugo there were no birds, no squirrels, on days without a songbird my father-in-law is reminded of Hugo. It is a visceral memory. He cannot help it.

Visceral memories spontaneously generate thoughts and feelings. When we talk of Mabel today we have none of these spontaneous memories. No one is alive who knows how she laughed or what it was like to fight for the vote. Because we are missing those spontaneous, visceral memories what we do know seems much more heroic. Lacking feelings for the context it seems that each action was quick and courageous.

Tonight we have before you 41 leaders from different organizations, each with their own stories about their organization. These stories are powerful. The stories allow all of them to create strong emotional reactions in us. Those spontaneous memories help them to create change.

I read a story before a group of students at the Freedom School at Carolina Youth Development Center. They rose to their feet and started chanting a song whose words I could not follow because the first words were so powerful. They sang to me "You are so awesome. You are awesome..." and something else but by that time I could no longer hear as the emotions washed over me. It is a viseral memory now. It made me realize how important self-esteem is for young people and how infrequently we provide it.

I visited Paul Stoney at the Cannon Street Y. He told me a story of a woman who wanted to join the dance program. Now, Paul is an absolute gentleman and I do not remember how he told me but somehow I got the distinct impression that this woman was fat…actually obese. Now rather than deny her the opportunity to dance they let her in the program and they turned her into a prima dona. Not have her dance off to the side...they made her the center of the dance. Think of what that did for her self-esteem. For the first time in ages she was made to feel awesome. I have seen the same esteem-building in Wings for Kids and Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding. My spontaneous memory of the waves of emotion are now are linked to each of those programs.

At Biedler Forest I saw the migration of Prothonatary Warblers. These little yellow birds are very cute with black eyes and bill. They are everywhere in Biedler Forest. You are drawn closer when you see them. You want to get close. Seeing them and understanding how important the forest is for their survival is now a spontaneous visceral memory. I saw the same at a sea turtle release by the Aquarium. Two thousand people crowded a beach to see and get close to a turtle being released into the surf. The release of the sea turtle released powerful emotions. We can use that power.

Tonight my role is to take you through Past, Present, and Future. Mabel is the past. When we think of her we think of heroic acts because all we have are intentional memories and the facts and figures of her life. Today, in the Present, we have both intentional memories and these spontaneous memories, spontaneous like my memories of crayons. The emotions spontaneous memories unleash are very powerful and can help us to change our community.

When we think of the major challenges facing our community today in the areas of education, conservation of our environment, poverty, and others, it is clear that all of us will need to work together to address these challenges. Before you tonight are 40-some organizations that are addressing those needs.

The largest challenge, not community but a global challenge, is global climate change. It will take all of us to address this challenge. If I drive a little less, ride my bike more, it is not going to make much of a difference. We need everyone to be aware and everyone to do what they can do.

On accepting the Nobel Prize for his work on global climate change, Al Gore spoke of an African proverb. It does not matter which way you feel about Al Gore, good or bad, the proverb he cited has special meaning tonight. He said there is an African proverb that goes like this: If you want to go quickly, go alone. To me that is our heroic thinking about Mabel and other historical figures we know only from intentional memories. The full proverb goes like this: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Tonight we go together because we have so far to go. We will get there.

Tonight I want to thank all 41 of these organizations represented by the people here. Together we will go far. I also want to thank the members of the committee that made the funding decisions that resulted in the checks being handed out tonight. They recognize that we need to fund all of these organizations because we all go together.

Thank you for coming tonight. Together we will go far.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Not In Georgetown?

They said that white kids would never swim in the same pool with black kids. Then they said that nobody could raise $6 million in Georgetown County. Now they are saying that there will never be enough members in Georgetown to keep the facility open. Amy Brennan (pictured above with Charles Rowland of Walterboro) has heard "them" say these things before. She listens, but only half-listens, when she hears such talk. Given this flagrant disregard for the words of community leaders you might think that Amy Brennan, the Executive Director of the new Georgetown YMCA, needs training on her listening skills. However, the only kind of training she needs is an additional bank of fitness training machines. Given member demand she has already posted a notice that use of the mechanical trainers is limited to 30 minutes when others are waiting. Three weeks after opening the facility she already has more members than expected by anyone, naysayers and herself included.

The story of the Y in Georgetown was once a "why not in Georgetown" story. Only later did it become a "Y in Georgetown" story. It took five years for the transition to occur. Five years of talking, planning, listening, and doing. The photo that leads this post catches the meeting when Coastal Community Foundation Board Member Charles Rowland asked Amy Brennan to come to Walterboro. The photo shows the instant that the "Why not in Walterboro?" story took over from the "Y in Georgetown" story. It only took three weeks for this transition to occur. Soon it will be a "Why not in fill-in-the-blank" story and will be being told all around the State. Amy Brennan is being asked to take her listening and leadership skills on the road to help others create a Y of their own...and why not? If Amy Brennan and her Board can create a YMCA in Georgetown County, with all of the naysayers still doubting their success, she deserves an audience.
Let's just hope that Amy's audiences learn to listen to the voices that matter, like Amy did. If Amy can teach her particular style of listening we, and all our children, will be better for it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lose The Fear

Last night in Georgetown I was speaking before a Board of a small nonprofit about fundraising. Quite by accident I stumbled into a life lesson. I had asked, by way of introduction, why the members of the Board were involved in the organization. I wrote their answers on a flipchart...things like "we save the lives of children" and "we give families a second chance" and even, "we create the future leaders of Georgetown." Powerful stuff. That flipchart page faced the audience for the rest of the evening. What happened next surprised me.

The fundraising committee of the Board decided that their goal should be to raise $64,000 in major gifts in the coming year, major gifts for this organization being a gift of $5,000 or so. I asked who would be willing to ask the local bank President (I made this person up. I was just using that title as an example) for $5,000. Remember, that flipchart page was up behind me, you know, the one with "save the lives of children" etc. on it. The assembled volunteers said that they were scared of fundraising. No one said that they would be willing to ask for $5,000. Someone said, we have to learn to "lose the fear". I almost went down the path of talking about how to make an "ask" fearlessly when I stopped for a moment.

It was not that they were scared of fundraising. With further discussion we found that no one knew what $5,000 would do to help them. They did not know if $5,000 would sponsor a child, pay for a program, expand the supply cabinet, or what. It was not fear. It was not passion (remember that flipchart page). It was simply that they could not bring themselves to ask someone for money when they did not know what the money was for.

The moral of the story is to avoid simple excuses. Instead of fear it was a lack of understanding of how to connect organizational needs to what was staring them in the face...the good the organization does for the community.

We all lost the fear of fundraising once we started talking about marketing materials and how to communicate the need. It was a break through moment that occurred by not letting the easy answer of "I am scared of fundraising" be the last thing heard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

God bless the child

Mid-August, an 11 year-old girl named Miranda Roberts (cute as a button, smart and friendly as could be) came to our office with her grandfather, Robert Melendez, with a check for $50 – a gift to an endowed Fund here that was created in memory of Miranda’s Aunt Terri, who died tragically young in 2007 – a murder victim, actually. The check represented money Miranda had saved to honor the memory of her aunt, Terri Melendez. The same week, we received a check for $50,000 for a Fund here that was created to help renovate a public building. $50 vs. $50,000. Hmmm. Which check was more valuable to us?

We’re grateful for both, of course, but to be honest, Miranda’s $50 gift is the one we’ll remember longer. Hers was to an endowed Fund whose income will forever be used to help people in the community who are homeless while the $50,000 gift was to a Fund that, once spent to help renovate a building, will close. The larger gift came from a foundation, while Miranda’s was the result of saving her money and foregoing a new pair of sneakers, a cell phone, or visits to restaurants. Her gift was timeless and selfless.

Miranda Roberts – one of tomorrow’s (and today’s) philanthropists.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Offsetting Your Digital Footprint

By now we have all heard about carbon footprints. We've been made to feel guilty about the tenticled trail of spent-energy tugging on that pint of shipped strawberries delivered in winter. The sensitized among us offset the climbing cloud of carbon dioxide trailing our choices by planting trees. Several nonprofit organizations sell measured units of carbon sequestration just for this purpose. The appeal seems to be that offsetting your carbon footprint reduces guilt. In a similar way your digital footprint can also be offset to better the world. It does not even require an additional purchase. Guilt too, is not involved. In fact, you are doing it right now whether you are aware of it or not.

If you are going to troll the internet, at least linger at sites that reflect your hopes for the world. Your visits will be noted, enumerated, and aggregated. Your visits create a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing connectivity. The more who visit a website now, the more who will be drawn to that website in the future. Your clicks and comments create buzz that strengthens the nonprofits you frequent. If you tweet, email, blog, and just plain talk about the nonprofits you like, more people will do the same. The more buzz created, the more people will find your favorite nonprofit.

Taking this one step further, given that your every purchase is going to be tracked by credit card companies, the products you consume recorded via the loyalty cards of grocers and other retailers, your current location and movements monitored by cellular and landline telephone companies, your frequent flier miles metered out by airlines, hotels, rental car agencies...(you get the picture yet?)...why not freely give your coordinates to that Art Museum that asks for your zipcode at the admissions desk, or provide your home address to a nonprofit you care about. The idea that you are going to limit your digital footprint by treading lightly with nonprofits is silly given the broad boulevards of data we tramp out each day. Stand tall and proudly lay down that tiny digital trail. Use your own personal data stream to carve a path toward a changed world.

In a world where our digital footprints are being tracked by those who may not have our best interests at heart, there is an offset. Take a path less-well-traveled. Make it more traveled. Help a charity mark your passing with really big signs. Blaze a trail so like-minded people behind you can see your digital footprints.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Hidden Cost of Art

Art per se is perhaps the most profitable product on the planet. Designer jeans sell for hundreds of dollars more than jeans at discount retailers, but they don't cost hundreds of dollars more to make. The material used to paint a watercolor costs next to nothing, but in an artist's hands those pigments can come to cost a pretty penny. We gladly pay the artist who with a few minutes can take pen to paper, or dance across the stage, and in doing so create something that seems a bargain at any price. So why is the business of Arts organizations so pitiful?

A recent report from The Johns Hopkins Listening Post Project called Impact of the Economic Recession on Nonprofits presented data showing that Arts organizations in the US are generally in trouble. Nearly three-quarters of Theaters and half of Orchestras report "severe" or "very severe" financial stress this year. In Charleston, Arts organizations with large payrolls have cut expenses and laid off long-time Staff as a result of a drop in charitable donations. Sales have remained strong, however, even increasing for particular performances or for the works of particular artists. As a whole the Arts community is suffering but there are shining stars out there that continue to do well.

Artists themselves say the cause of this pitiful state of affairs in Charleston is due to lack of leadership. That doesn't seem right as never have there been so many Arts leaders clamoring to head up a central clearinghouse of information about the arts, be advocates for the arts, or both. There is the League of Charleston Theaters, Charleston Arts Coalition, Office of Cultural Affairs, a new one called Alliance for the Performing Arts in Charleston, Redux, and the list goes on.

Since artists think leadership is lacking they have created multiple organizations to lead. Each one is struggling to be "the one." Patrons of the Arts see things differently. They are used to paying for art and perhaps that explains the difference. Patrons see the rockstars out there and are looking for the "roadies." They point out that sometimes the strongest leaders lead less and collaborate more. This is not a criticism of the Arts community alone because we at Coastal Community Foundation hear this with regard to all charitable fields of interest. We have heros and success stories across the full spectrum of the nonprofit sector. Finding the rockstars, that is not the problem say the Patrons of the Arts. What we need is quiet collaboration that allows limited resources to be shared to create services beneficial to all.

As Julian Wiles of Charleston Stage keeps reminding me, it is not that we will save money by fostering collaboration between Arts organizations, it is that we will share the additional expenses required to build the killer website, pay the marketing gurus, send the lobbyist to Columbia, and build a community that supports the Arts even when the economy turns down.

It is paying for the backoffice, the marketing machine, the ambience that allows the art to arrive, in a word the "collaboration" that makes those designer jeans so expensive, that painting so pricey, that show a must-see at all costs. That is the hidden cost of Art that artists themselves (but not their Patrons) are reluctant to pay.

The hand drawn image of the five-dollar bill shown above can be found at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Malcolm Haven Award for Selfless Community Giving

August 24th was indeed a special day in North Charleston.

Not only was it the dedication ceremony of the North Charleston Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science, but also the great scientist, inventor, and S.C. philanthropist's 60th birthday his wife Anita remarked at the well-attended morning presentation and reception at the new school.

Anita Zucker accepted the Coastal Community Foundation's recognition of the late Jerry Zucker's Selfless Community Giving in the late Malcolm Haven's honor. The 2009 Malcolm Haven Award will hang in the Zucker Middle School halls to provide inspiration to its ambitious students.

Posing with Jerry Zucker’s portrait are Dr. Nancy J. McGinley (CCSD Superintendent of Schools), Honorable Mayor Keith Summey, Richard Hendry (VP of Programs Coastal Community Foundation), Anita Zucker, Sherry Biss (ZMS Principal), Philippe Cousteau (Distinguished Guest), Charlotte Anderson (TUW 211 Hotline Director), and Rabbi Ari Sytner.

Happy birthday, Jerry.

And here is the rest of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Repairing the World -- Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science

"It is something Jerry and our whole family believes in. We need to repair the world." That's how Anita Zucker explains it. But how? How does one person, or even a family, repair the whole world? With the opening of Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science, the world will be a better place. But that's only the beginning.

At 9:30 am on August 24th, in North Charleston, Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science will celebrate its germination as a partial magnet school. Ms. Sheryl Biss, the school's Principal, has invited dozens of people as has Coastal Community Foundation. From that moment onward, powered by its own momentum, the repair will begin. Like a germinating seed, full of hope, an idea will spread. Here's how.

In the entryway a portrait of Jerry Zucker will hang. Next to it the Haven Award, bestowed on those, like Anita and Jerry Zucker, whose selfless acts of charity have made a difference in the community. Kids will come and go. Jerry Zucker will be remembered as each of us remember the namesake of our own middle school. However, the memory will have a distinct difference.

As a result of the Zucker family involvement tens of thousands of dollars, from dozens if not hundreds of donors will flow into a special fund at Coastal Community Foundation. Those funds will be used to augment and enhance the learning environment at the school. An activity bus will be purchased. Lab coats for the teachers, with the school logo, will be distributed. Kids will see first-hand the power of a whole community caring about their future.

A small army of young people will be nurtured. They will nurture others. They will remember, perhaps vaguely, that there was someone who cared enough to start a repair job. As each of these young people go forward they will recognize that they have the power to change the world, just as the Zucker family did...and so, the world will be repaired.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Tough Times for Non-Profits

During a period of economic stress, it is clear that many charitable enterprises are having difficulty in generating donations and grants while keeping expenses down. There are also human problems which are bound to accompany stress as well as the obvious problems relating to letting employees go to keep expenses under control.

What can be done? How can not-for-profit enterprises respond creatively to this hornet nest of difficulties?

A few thoughts – none of them necessarily original – may be worth digesting … among them:

1) Outreach – Boards of not-for-profit firms are often less than perfect in guiding the enterprise. Meetings appear to be substantive, but momentum can be lost before the next gathering. It is axiomatic that all board members should qualify for at least two out of the three “W’s” (wealth, work, and wisdom), but evidence of meeting such criteria is sometimes hard to find.

Without regard as to how effective any not-for-profit board might be, it can be worthwhile exploring ways to reach beyond the traditional outreach of any board – both in terms of fundraising and ideas. A concept that resonates with a few such firms is that of creating a new board with broader geographical representation. This group of individuals would not replace, but rather supplement the existing board. Naturally a cost/benefit analysis of the effort should be conducted. The naming of this second board has been easy – President’s Council and Board of Overseers have been used in the past.

2) Networking – In addition, it might be more important now, more than ever before, to initiate gatherings of non-for-profit staff and/or board representatives working in similar areas of interest. Hopefully this effort would lead to more collaboration than competition or even generate mergers in fields of common interest. Those who have served on many boards can spot possibilities of combining forces in the fields of culture, the environment, and even education. It might be worth examining the need for two symphony orchestras in one area, saving farmland and promoting healthy eating habits elsewhere, and even in combining an upper and a lower school. These are only a few examples of what enlightened networking can accomplish when merger ideas develop.

3) Funding Ideas – It is no secret that funds held over a period of time without invasion can compound nicely. It was none other than Albert Einstein who praised the value of compounding interest, and none other than Benjamin Franklin who apparently gave the City of Boston $100 many years ago – a gift that was allowed to compound over the years, producing miraculous results.

The difficulty, of course, is that most charitable organizations feel it necessary to live hand-to-mouth rather than impose a discipline of keeping $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000 untouched for years. If such a donation was placed in an endowment as a discreet amount, invested in a stock or bond index fund, it would allow the board to measure the work of the independent money manager while, at the same time, contributing to the life of the enterprise.

An afterthought: Many not-for-profit firms have a toolkit of skills and accomplishments which might provide an opportunity for making money in the marketplace. If it is useful to explore the possibilities of selling ideas to educate, to entertain, or to save the environment, these notions should be discussed by the board. It should be recognized, along with the possibility of allowing a portion of the endowment to remain untouched for an extended period of time, that there are relatively few examples of a for-profit effort cohabiting with a not-for-profit culture or for a portion of the endowment serving a long-term purpose, but necessity can be the mother of invention.

This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it may serve to generate ideas which could lead to an easier path through difficult times. It is in this spirit and with this hope that these thoughts were written.

John Winthrop is a Charleston resident who has created several endowment funds at Coastal Community Foundation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Accepting donations online

Many nonprofits want to accept donations online, but don't want to pay the processing fee charged by many sites. With Razoo, the processing fee is no longer a concern.

So what's the catch? Believe it or not, there isn't one! I contacted Razoo with that very question. They told me there is a donor backing their service who believes it is important for nonprofits to have online donation capabilities without losing a percentage for service fees. Knowing that 100% of your donation goes to nonprofits using Razoo is definitely enough for me, but there are also other features that are pretty cool.

No account required! Signing up for an account can be a barrier for many donors. It is still a good idea to set up an account with Razoo since it lets you track your donation history.

Connect with Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, you can use that to log-in to Razoo and share information with your Facebook friends.

Fund-raising pages. I've seen some pretty cool fund-raising pages out there, but they generally carry a fee, either through a percentage or a set up cost. Razoo lets you set up a fund-raising page at no charge. Anyone can create a page to support an organization.

I encourage you to check it out whether you are a nonprofit or an individual wanting to show support for a particular cause. To see what it looks like, you can visit our Razoo page directly from Razoo or from the "Donate Now" button on our web site.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Protector of the Ebbs and Flows

One of the newest weapons in the arsenal of water quality protection efforts is Charleston Waterkeeper, a one-man watchdog operation on the lookout for pollution in local rivers, streams, and tidal creeks.

Cyrus Buffum is literally serving as our eyes, ears and nose, out on local waters day and night, looking for pollution and other environmental degradation that’s often out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Last fall he secured a charter from The Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of 180 independent groups globally, and today he looks for polluters, reports to the appropriate authorities, and, if necessary, pursues legal action to stop or mitigate the fouling activity. Cyrus has been busy organizing beach cleanups, supporting local efforts to remove abandoned boats from creeks and rivers, building relationships with other water quality stewards, making regular patrols, and oh yeah, raising money. To see Cyrus’ daily activities, “follow” him at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Changing Your Life

It all started out in a straight forward way. Corporate life at IBM. White shirt. Blue tie. Golfing during those rare and precious moments of free time during corporate meetings at exotic locations. Thoughts of golfing in retirement, but not deep thoughts, just thoughts. Then reality hit.

A corporate "right-sizing" created an opportunity for Buck Edwards to step away from the highly structured and protective environment of IBM to do what we all dream of doing: the thing that exactly suits us. Problem is, what suits us during the high stress, work-filled weeks of making a living may not be what suits us in retirement. We forget that we create that high stress for a reason. We create it because it suits us.

Mr. Buck describes the transition this way. "On Day One of retirement I came home from the golf course and my wife asked me how was my game. On the second day, when I came home, she asked me again. By the fourth day I realized that you do not ask someone about their game unless you want a full stroke by stroke description." Mr. Buck scowls at the retelling of this story. He needed more of a reason for his week. Meanwhile, his wife was playing tennis and meeting people, making new friends, volunteering at the Bargain Box, in short, networking just like she always used to be doing. It suits her. (She is also an Ex-IBM'er.)

Mr. Buck reluctantly volunteered to mentor a 4th grader. "Just an hour a week, really, I promise," his new-found tennis buddy told him. He got his monicker there. "Mr. Buck" is what the kids call him. He also got his mojo, his meaning, his motivation to become a recruiter of other volunteers and to volunteer elsewhere as well.
He nows "sells" volunteerism on Hilton Head.
He also serves ("really, just a day a week," his wife told him), as VP of Furniture at the Bargain Box. A volunteer position of course, but closer to his past life at IBM than his past dreams of retirement when he was at IBM.
Change? Sure. It is the nouns that have changed in Mr. Buck's story. The verbs are all the same.
Mr. Buck tells me that The Bargain Box distributed $400,000 to charities in the past year from the sales of furniture and everything else that passes through their doors. That's $12MM since 1965 when the thrift shop first opened. He could have said, but didn't, that corporate earnings are flat but market share is increasing.
Did I tell you that Mr. Buck was a salesman at IBM or did you guess that?
I can just hear him saying "Well, that's a nice piece of furniture you've picked out. Be a shame to not display it well in your about a throw rug to go with it? Candlesticks? Do you have some accessories for that end table?"

Changing one's life, one noun at a time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Changing a Kid's Life

So I was a bit nervous. I had visited a Freedom School before but this was different. This time I had to read aloud to a roomful of kids. I was to read about Li Chi, a Chinese maiden who volunteered to be eaten by a dragon. Instead, she killed the dragon and saved the village. The irony of it crossed my mind as I stepped to the front of the classroom. She was out there killing dragons and I was trembling at the thought of reading a book to a group of kids.

Both Metanoia and Charleston Youth Development Center have Freedom Schools. They both encourage youngsters to overcome obstacles and to be strong in the face of adversity. They make "summer school" fun with chants, songs, and hard work that is rewarded with shout-outs of praise. The students at both Metanoia and Charleston Youth Development Center come from disadvantaged families. They face greater adversity than I ever do or did and probably about as much as Li Chi did in killing her dragon.

I read my piece. The students broke into a practiced ritual of singing a song that began with the words "That was awesome..." Those words were followed by other words fit together nicely but I was no longer able to listen. I failed to hear much after the "That was awesome..." part because the waves of thanks and adoration washed over me. It made me realize the power of praise and how infrequently many of these kids get any of it in their regular lives.

It also made me realize how fortunate I am, not because I get praise, but because I witnessed the raw power of praise and how it changes a kid's life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sustainability Or Just Sustaining Hope?

If only it were true. If only there were a formula for sustainability that could be broken down into three additive components that equaled sustainability: leadership + adaptability + program capacity = sustainability. To read the consultant's report, recently making the rounds of the twitter-sphere from Philanthropy News Digest, it looks so easy. All you need is visionary leadership, a willingness to adjust to changing conditions, and staff resources (i.e., skills, knowledge, passion, etc.) and you too can create a sustainable organization. So what's got me, the eternal optimist, ranting?

Well, let's start with the source. TCC Group is a consulting firm that provides strategic planning and management consulting services to nonprofit organizations. The data they analyze comes from the 684 nonprofit organizations that have paid TCC Group for analytical services associated with a "Core Capacity Assessment Tool" or CCAT. These data are not a random sample of nonprofit organizations and most likely include larger nonprofits more often than small ones, rich ones more often than poor ones, ones with inquisitive leaders or leadership teams more than those who just want to achieve their mission without lots of management mumbo-jumbo. Without going into the gory details I've got serious questions about the quality of the statistical analysis.

But what really got me going is a statement buried in the footnotes:

All presentations of variables that predict sustainability are concluded based on two factors: 1) the original theory of organizational effectiveness and how TCC believes it relates to sustainability; and 2) regression analyses. True predictability will require further research and investigation.

Translation: We have a model we believe in and where the statistics support our approach we present them. Oh, and by the way, we can't really predict sustainability. What we see over and over again is that individual donors, whether right- or wrong-headed, can support individual nonprofits in other words, sustainably. I wish that it were true that expert management was held in such high regard by all donors. I wish that nonprofit leaders were chosen for their management skills. I wish that TCC Group's training and coaching would guarantee sustainability, or that anything like a training course could create sustainability, but it simply ain't so.

Donors create sustainability. Some organizations and some causes are so central to our community that donors will give, forevermore, to support the organizations that fill those needs. Donors will give during those times when the organization is poorly led and will give when the leadership is strong. Donors who care about changing our community often give to multiple organizations that address a single issue because they just do not know which organization will do the best work. Donors give for a wide variety of reasons but generally to a narrow selection of organizations or causes. And while their giving can sometimes appear to be misdirected, their desire to address root causes cannot be denied. We have the endowment funds to prove it. They give, forevermore, to causes that matter who is leading the charge.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the internet everyone knows when you're working (or not).

Is it just me or has the 24/7 aspect of email and voicemail multiplied your opportunities for miscommunication? Not miscommunication in the sense of misinformation. The information, in fact, is rather precise...all the way down to the minutes and seconds in the timestamp. Rather miscommunication because you can place a message while in your pajamas and people will think that you are still wearing a business suit, maybe even still wearing that same suit they saw you in earlier in the day while you were in your office. The problem is, it's 11:30PM.

Much has been written about how "on the internet nobody knows you're a dog," the idea that the internet creates confusion over proximity and privacy. Instead, I am thinking about a related problem, the asynchrony inherent in electronic messages. Perhaps you are one of those people who checks your voicemail at the start of the business day, or opens your web browser first thing in the morning. If so, you see the accumulated messages left overnight (emphasis on the word "overnight") and you wonder "when is it acceptable to call it quits for the day?"

In all of my adult life I have never worked at a place that works as hard as Coastal Community Foundation. You would think that everyone, every single employee, was working on commission, working to make payroll, or working to send money home...rather than just working to do good. It is like that at many nonprofits. Working for good is a huge motivator. There are no finish lines, no goal posts, no visible signs of progress yet employees and volunteers push themselves to their limits. It renews my faith when I see people pushing themselves along, without financial rewards, in community improvement projects. When paid employees do the same you have to wonder what's the magic about giving back?

So what does that have to do with dogs and the internet? When there are no limits on working from home; working 24/7 and leaving voicemails and emails with their telltale timestamps, I am sending Coastal Community Foundation employees the unintended message that it is okay, even expected, that everyone work beyond the 9 to 5 workday (our hours are actually 8:30AM to 6PM...that's how bad it is). Once "quitting time" no longer exists my daily ritual of thanking people and telling them to "go home and get some rest" sounds instead like a challenge to their commitment.

So in the spirit of full disclosure (and to counter the ah ha's of those who checked the timestamp on this blog entry) I am writing this while barefoot and enjoying the breeze on my porch. My wife is to my left and a cold drink is by my side. I am enjoying myself. Read this in the spirit it was written. Giving back to your community is a profound motivator that makes the effort of making a living seem like child's play. It does not, however, reduce the wear and tear on body and mind.

So now how do I protect the health of Coastal Community Foundation employees and get them to take a break? What tips do you have to help employees in the nonprofit sector get some work/life balance back into their lives? I've already got the message to reduce my off-hours messaging. What else do you suggest?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Improvement grants help 13 neighborhoods

Read a recent article by Charleston Regional Business Journal about the Neighborhoods Energized to Win (N.E.W.) Fund, which recently awarded over $30,000 to grassroots neghborhood groups.

Small grants can do BIG things.

Improvement grants help 13 neighborhoods

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, June 19, 2009

Henrietta Gaillard – A Leader and A Lady

Earlier this year the Charleston community lost a devoted and much-loved leader, Henrietta Freeman Gaillard, who courageously battled cancer for two and a half years. Henrietta is dearly missed by her family and many many close friends. She is also missed by acquaintances like me, who knew her more by the evidence of her quiet service to our community, by her legacy of servant leadership. You know the type – not so much the people who make the front page of the Post & Courier on a regular basis, but those Rocks of Gibraltar -- the people who, through their single-minded service, naturally ascend to leadership positions. And in leading, point others to the cause they are promoting – not to themselves.

Among the many legacies Henrietta has left to our community, one that stands out to me is her dedication to developing the potential of women. She did this indirectly, through her various public service roles, modeling what it means to be a woman leader of excellence. She also did this directly by encouraging individual women in her personal life.

Henrietta served for eight years as the Director of Development for Ashley Hall. Walker Buxton, who worked under Henrietta at Ashley Hall, described her this way: “Henrietta had an incredible work ethic – I’ll never forget the time we hosted an event at a home south of Broad, and at the end of the long night of meeting and greeting prospective donors, there was Henrietta back in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up cleaning silverware – she was not above doing anything and that is why she was the kind of leader people wanted to follow.” Inflated ego was indeed never a struggle for Henrietta – and she modeled this humility to all those around her. “When I first started working at Ashley Hall, Henrietta said, ‘I don’t mind if people make mistakes, but don’t make a mistake because you didn’t ask!’ The point being,” Walker continued, “that no question is too dumb so don’t be too proud to ask it.”

Thanks to her many years of volunteer work and leadership training through her involvement with the Junior League, Henrietta brought to Ashley Hall’s development shop a focus on strategic planning (back in the 80’s, before it was common practice), an ability to motivate and train volunteer solicitors for a successful $1.5 million capital campaign (at that point in time, the largest capital campaign successfully undertaken by a nonprofit), and she always encouraged the women under her leadership to pursue professional development opportunities. She was more interested in their personal success, not in keeping them “under the thumb” – that never even occurred to Henrietta.

Henrietta served as President of the Junior League of Charleston from 1985-1986. Because of this and her devoted service to our community, her friends and family worked together to establish the Henrietta F. Gaillard Leadership Fund at Coastal Community Foundation. This endowed fund provides a permanent source of funding for the Junior League’s leadership training activities – as well as a perpetual reminder of Henrietta’s dedication to developing the potential of women.

Beyond being a great leader, what I hear most is that Henrietta had an amazing ability to be a great friend. As important as all her leadership and service to our community was, this is what she will be remembered for most.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Woman Making a Difference

Coastal Community Foundation works with a group of savvy women who band together to increase their giving power and provide grants to local organizations that seek to enhance the quality of life for women and children. This giving circle is called Women Making a Difference and its first grants meeting of the year was today. Whenever this group of women comes into our offices, I wonder what really is a woman making a difference.

A recent article in the Georgetown Times talked about how to recognize a woman who makes a difference in her community. This woman not only takes on the historical role of shaping home and family, but she also extends her nurturing role through activism and nonprofit work that has a significant impact on individuals and society as a whole. This woman helps us all reach the common goal of building a better world.

One woman making a difference in Charleston is Cynthia Coker, Vice Chairperson of the Disabilities Foundation of Charleston County. I met Mrs. Coker on a site visit to the Webb Center, one of the many arms of the Disabilities Board of Charleston County. Mrs. Coker was there to fight for a grant to help keep the Webb Center open. She spoke from the experience of raising a child with disabilities of the importance of parents of children with disabilities having a safe nurturing environment to leave their children during the day while they were out earning a living. Mrs. Coker said that without the Webb Center many children would have nowhere to go and many parents would have no alternative but to quit their jobs to stay home with their children. But the Webb Center is only one arm of the Disabilities Board and only one agency Mrs. Coker believes in fighting for.

Mrs. Coker believes that all people with disabilities should live an exceptional life while navigating a world that is often ill equipped to receive them. She has spent endless volunteer hours finding support for underfunded programs, building bridges between the public and private sectors, encouraging people without disabilities to embrace their fellow community members with disabilities, and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of red tape, growing needs, diminishing government funding, and inadequate public awareness.

In the last few years, Mrs. Coker has focused her efforts on creating a viable Disabilities Foundation of Charleston County to generate a source of permanent revenue for the Disabilities Board of Charleston County which serves over 2,500 people with disabilities in our community. Mrs. Coker constantly encourages the Foundation and the Disabilities Board to start every decision making process with one thought in mind: the people with disabilities who are being served.

Mrs. Coker has committed her life to improving the lives of people with disabilities, starting in her own home and then impacting the whole Charleston community. That is a woman making a difference.

Do you know a woman making a difference?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running against the tide

Charitable giving to funds at the Coastal Community Foundation is up 8% while giving, nationwide, to foundations is down 19.7%. What accounts for this 27.7 percentage point spread on the upside? Before you read more, guess. Why is the Lowcountry running so strongly against the tide? Why is charitable giving to Coastal Community Foundation way up compared to the rest of the nation?

So how many of you guessed it is something in the water? That's the most common response I get when I ask this question at Rotary Club presentations or national meetings of community foundation professionals. Of course that answer is tongue-in-cheek, but there is some truth to the idea. Our waters attract nature-lovers of all types, fishing-types, hunters, birdwatchers, and people who like the serenity of a marsh or a swamp. It keeps those here who love the outdoors. The beauty of the Lowcountry attracts early retirees who have money, self-motivation, and moxie. They seek connection with the Lowcountry and eventually get involved with our nonprofits. The waters also draw families back to the Lowcountry, such that if a child goes away to make their fortune they come back and give back. Looked at this way, our water is part of the reason charitable giving remains strong. We attract people who have made money elsewhere. We get the best of the economic engine that has created new wealth in this nation.

The second most common answer I hear for why giving is up is that living on the coast makes our communities self-reliant and resilient. Being in a hurricane zone will do that to you. You come together when there is a crisis. Coastal Community Foundation grew dramatically in the time of Hugo. It also made us stronger during this economic downturn.

So if these ideas do not float your boat, then what's your explanation for the outpouring of charitable giving in the Lowcountry? If not the waters, then what?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shame on me: An angel among us -- Jacki Baer

When Jacki Baer first called here a year or two ago, I thought for a few moments that she might be a con artist and a charlatan. She wasn’t asking for money for her new non-profit organization, Fields to Families (“Yeah, right – not for 10 minutes, anyhow,” I thought). She asked for advice about organizational development and program planning. When I asked what their budget was, she said, “We don’t have a budget.” (“Hah – gotcha!”, I thought, and I was about to do a 60 Minutes number on her so-called “non-profit organization”.)

Jacki is the founder of Fields To Families, a non-profit that in two years has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to glean farm fields and vendor tables at Farmers’ Markets and distribute their fresh produce to dozens of soup kitchens and other local feeding programs that had previously served mostly canned or boxed food. In year-one, Fields to Families volunteers delivered 20,000 pounds of produce in their own cars. Last year, it was over 80,000 pounds.

About Jacki saying they had no budget when she first called? They truly didn’t. Their only expense had been the money it took to file for non-profit status with the IRS, and Jacki paid that herself. Newsletters, website, gas for deliveries, communications, meeting expenses – everything was in-kind donations.

By the end of that first phone call, I was totally won over by Jacki Baer’s sincerity, friendliness and openness to suggestions. We’ve had other phone conversations since then. She has yet to ask for money.

Jacki and her late husband moved to Charleston from Albany, NY in 1989. She became a Master Gardener through Clemson training. Ten years later, she started collecting leftovers from vendor tables at Farmers’ Markets and along with a few friends, decided to organize that kind of recycling into a non-profit organization.

She describes herself as “elderly and not in the best of health”, so Jacki herself doesn’t glean. She’s the volunteer staff member who sits at her computer and by her telephone organizing, mobilizing and scheduling the entire operation. She’s humble, so to find out the truth about all that she does, you’d have to ask one of her Board members, one of her volunteers, or one of the farmers she works with. Here’s a link that takes you to a Post & Courier article with some comments by Brock White, Director of Agriculture at Boone Hall Farms.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Volunteers In Medicine on HHI

Visited the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic on Hilton Head Island. I was blown away by the volume of patients seen annually and the volume of volunteers.

Lois Schuhrke, who is the coordinator for the Dental Department at VIM, said they delivered almost one million dollars of dental services for less than $200,000! The dental clinic provides free dental care and preventative services treating almost 4,800 patients annually; about 1,500 are children. VMI provided $16,000,000 in health care services, including 31,000 visits for 10,000 active patients in 2008. They are anticipating the number to exceed 32,000 this year. How can they do it? They have over 500 volunteers who serve in every capacity. VIM serves people who live or work on Hilton Head or Daufauskie Islands and meet other qualifiying criteria. WOW!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Higher Learning

George Watt, recently arriving Executive Vice President, Institutional Advancement, College of Charleston raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Naval Academy. He arrived in Charleston to take the helm of the fundraising effort at the College just before the recent economic unpleasantness. Across the nation giving to academic institutions is down double digits. Moreover, social media tools like Facebook and MySpace weaken the traditional ties of alumni to Alumni Offices.  What's a leader to do?  

Here is what George Watt suggests:

Offer alumni permanent email addresses like (of course) but take it one step further by having laptops available during class reunions to help returning alumni set up accounts with technical assistance offered by current students.

Deepen the life-long ties of alumni by offering job placement services of the traditional alumni office, but offer those services to alumni for life (not just for recent graduates). You will immediately win some friends in this economy.

Recognize that those complaining about the push to the web and social media are not going to be your core constituency much longer. Online service delivery reduces fundraising costs faster than you might expect, unless you expect immediate gains. It takes a couple of years of struggle to get the benefits, but once they kick in the savings are huge.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

So, what is the Charleston Friend Society?

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Stephanie Swafford (in the picture, on the left) to learn more about the Charleston Friend Society. Stephanie and her friends were thinking about ways to be part of the community as well as contributing to it. Based on their shared interests in social events and supporting the work of nonprofits, the Charleston Friend Society started in October of 2008. Already, they have almost 500 members on Facebook. Their interests lie in cultural and charity events, theater, orchestra, art exhibits, fine cuisine and a whole lot more!

On May 21st, the Charleston Friend Society will hold their first fundraiser and food drive for the Lowcountry Food Bank at Carolina's Bistro from 6-9pm. 100% of your $5 entry will go directly to the Lowcountry Food Bank. (Canned food donations are encouraged but not required).

Please call (754-2454) or email Stephanie ( if you have any questions and watch their web site for upcoming events. Also, check out their Charity Exchange;"A place for charities to share their wish lists and needs, and find those who will fill them."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fishing for a Cause

Interested in Cobia fishing and making a difference in the Port Royal Sound Watershed? The Port Royal CVB is hosting its inaugural Port Royal Sound Cobia Fishing Tournament to benefit the Port Royal Sound Fund of Coastal Community Foundation.

The purpose of the Port Royal Sound Fund of Coastal Community Foundation is to maintain and improve the quality of life in the Port Royal Sound Watershed area by supporting the health of the waterways and the practice of sustainable development and redevelopment practices within the watershed. The Port Royal Sound Cobia Fishing Tournament is a great way to raise awareness and support. The Tournament will be held on May 30, 2009. A Captain's Party and Registration will begin at 6:30 PM May 29, 2009 at the Quality Inn at Town Center in Beaufort, SC. The tournament will begin at 4:30 AM and will conclude at 4:30 PM. It is promoting catch and release of all Cobia. The Awards Party will take place at The Office Sports Bar and Grille in Beaufort Town Center at 6:30 PM. Cash prizes of over $5000 will be awarded. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Port Royal Sound Fund of Coastal Community Foundation. If you don't want to fish you can still support the fund by clicking here and designating the Port Royal Sound Fund.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Feeding Another Need

"You know I could do something big. I have done big fundraisers before." That was Mickey Bakst of Charleston Grill talking up my dinner guests. I had heard of his success raising money for the Charleston Nine and so knew that this was not idle cocktail party chatter. A few weeks later I got a Saturday morning call from Mickey, excruciatingly early in the morning for me let alone someone who manages a restaurant at night (that should have clued me into his energy level). "I have an idea," he said. Well, here's what happens when you mix goodwill with lots energy, add a dash of creativity, a pinch of diplomacy, and simmer in Mickey's special sauce.

You get Feed the Need. Mickey's idea was to recruit 52 chefs to each provide a meal for 400 people over the course of a year at four different soup kitchens. That's right, 52 chefs stirring the pot (and that definitely is not too many to spoil the soup). The first meal of an estimated 20,000 meals over the next year was offered at Tricounty Family Ministries in North Charleston. Crisis Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels, and Neighborhood House will serve as additional distribution points. If you poke around on Google you find that Charles and Celeste Patrick of Patrick Properties (think Fish Restaurant) have blogged on the project and have joined in too. So has the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. So has the Miami press. We are talking serious internet buzz here. What is going on? This idea has gone global.

Paul Stracey, General Manager of Charleston Place Hotel and Managing Director of Orient Express Hotels in North America said that Orient Express intends to roll this idea out to its other properties in the US and around the world.

Now for the interesting tidbit that makes this story more than just your typical "atta boy" story. I had to twist Mickey's arm to get him to even consider making this effort public. He wanted no publicity. Sometimes that selflessness gets lost in the bright lights and amplified speeches. The most successful efforts often have selflessness as a secret ingredient.