Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strut Your Stuff

I have never been so nervous in my life. I am standing in front of a room with 40 sets of eyes staring, waiting for me to begin my presentation. But there is no PowerPoint and I am not in front of major donors trying to persuade them to do their charitable giving through the Foundation. I am reading a book for the Freedom School at Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC).

Freedom School is a national program through the Children's Defense Fund, and the program at CYDC serves 50 North Charleston children for six weeks during the summer by boosting motivation to read and creating a more positive attitude around learning. This morning, like every morning, started off with a ritual called Harambee, Swahili for "let's pull together,” which is a 30 minute session of energetic dancing, motivational cheering, and children's books. I started tapping my foot to the first song of the day, but by the "Hallelujah Chorus," I was being strongly encouraged to sing along and learn the dance moves. I have to say that this version of Handel's Messiah's finale was much more fun to sing than the version I did back in my college days.

After the kids settled down, I was introduced as the reader for the day. Each day, a professional from the community reads a short story. The readers are from varying industries and all walks of life. My story was "She Who is Alone," a story about a Comanche orphan who makes a great sacrifice to save her village. When I finished, the children all thanked me, not by clapping, but by singing to me and asking me to "strut my stuff." The kids then sang a few more songs about looking people in the eyes and believing that they could achieve anything despite what others may say.

When I said goodbye, the real work started. The kids were broken up into groups to participate in intensive reading-related activities, as well as sports and team-building exercises, arts and crafts, and field trips. The hope is that the kids will start the school year at the same level of reading, or better, that they left with the previous year.

Too bad all our days don’t start with Harambee!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Community-Based Grant Making Brings Parents of Special Needs Children Together

On Monday, July 12, the committee for the Charles Webb-Ed Croft Endowment met to review applications and make recommendations for this year’s Webb-Croft grant awards. This Endowment, established in 1994, provides money for organizations that help children with special needs and their families. Seventeen organizations were recommended for grants this year with a total of $69,800 being awarded. Recipients will be announced on July 28.

Part of the value of community-based grant making is that the committee members—each having a child or relative with special needs—are able to share their stories of challenges and rewards when having a loved one with special needs. Each member brought different ideas into the meeting and shared their experiences, knowledge, and solutions. Through this sharing, other committee members learned about organizations that help special needs children that they were previously unaware of and gained information that could help them support their own child.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Remembering the Friends of Sullivans Island Schools

It could be a long time coming, but when people gather to successfully create change, the community eventually tells the story of those beginnings over and over again. For a fleeting moment when standing before the meeting of the Friends of Sullivans Islands Schools tonight I could see the story of their origins being told over and over again far into the future. The thought was fleeting because soon it was overwritten by the details of budgets, classroom renovations, and the incoming crop of students. The thought resurfaced later on the drive home.

Forty-eight years ago this month, Philip Hanvey, was killed in a tragic accident on Sullivans Island. Philip, then 18 years old and full of promise, was killed when the mast he was installing on a sailboat made contact with a high voltage line. Sam Hanvey, Philip's father, was a member of the Charleston Kiwanis Club. The passing of Philip Hanvey could have been just another tragedy had the Kiwanis club not decided to change that sad story into a permanent memorial. They created a scholarship fund that is now housed at Coastal Community Foundation. Today, each student that receives an award from the fund learns about Phillip and his great potential. They also read about the Kiwanis Club. Some of Philip's potential rubs off on them. Some of the hope of the Kiwanis Club rubs off on them too, perhaps more than today's Kiwanis Club members realize.

Tonight at the meeting of the Friends of Sullivans Island Schools I was struck by how the parents have rallied around the Sullivans Island Elementary and how they have sought to improve on what the Charleston County School District provides. The room was full of bright, charismatic leaders from all sorts of businesses; a printer, a restauranteer, a developer, a lawyer, a banker, among others. All have experienced success and momentary failures in their careers. All are now applying what they learned to the challenges facing the schools.

Just like for the Kiwanis Club and Philip Hanvey, the Friends of Sullivans Islands Schools have created a permanent endowment that one day will be their collective memorial. The interest earned by the fund will celebrate the great potential of children. The stories told about the fund will be stories about the origin of the "Friends" and the level of parental involvement in the schools.

Fifty years from now the children of the parents I saw tonight will be asking themselves deeply personal questions about their own charitable giving. When asked how they became involved in philanthropy many 60 year-olds have said to me "It was just something my parents did, they were involved, they were there when people needed them." In a like way, the children attending Sullivans Island Elementary today will remember that their mother served as a teachers aide one hour a week or that their father helped to organize school-wide social events. They will remember how engaged their parents were and think to themselves that they too should volunteer or give money. Afterall, it was just something their parents did.

Which would you remember most? That your classmates in elementary school were full of potential?...or that your mother or father or your entire hometown was there for you, gave up things for you, were, in short, philanthropists?

Which memory would you like to be a memory about you? Full of potential or full of charitable thoughts and deeds?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Center Building Progress 6 28 10

The Coastal Community Foundation Center at 635 Rutledge Avenue is coming along. The concrete foundation has been poured and is being tested. Next week, steel delivery and the elevator walls will be erected.

Now we're talking.

To view other videos, visit our Foundation YouTube page.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The View From The Other Side

She called me to ask if we could check on a charity for her, saying that she felt so pressured that something just did not feel right. Here was this guy on the phone with a New Jersey accent telling her that she should make a donation because the scholarship fund honors a South Carolina woman who died in combat. He said that "You're from South Carolina, aren't you? You should contribute." She paused and said to me "I hate to say it but it felt a bit like the Sopranos."

She was right to be suspicious.  While the website said it was a memorial scholarship fund and even gave a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), when we cross-checked it against the IRS listing of certified nonprofit organizations the organization was not listed. 

Why do people do this?

Well, for one, being a real nonprofit organization means that you have a Board that represents the community being served.  That Board is charged with the task of making sure that the organization's operations provide broad community benefit.  The whole reason you get a tax deduction for a gift to a nonprofit organization is that our government decided that local people do a better job of determining where tax dollars could go than do people in Washington, DC, at least as far as charities go.  Not having a Board meant that the dollars raised could be spent in any way that the caller wanted.  No oversight.  No requirement that the dollars were spent to better the community.  Somebody probably does get a scholarship from this fundraising but there is no requirement that the scholarships be awarded fairly or even to people who are not relatives of the caller.  (Now there is a dark thought.) 

In short, people like our New Jersey caller do this because it is easier not to become a real nonprofit.

Another reason the caller might mouth the words of 501(c)3 organizations is that prospective donors open up to what seems like a real nonprofit, imagined or real.  Donors trust real nonprofits to do what is right.  That includes fundraising tactics.  Professional fundraisers adhere to the Association of Fundraising Professional's Code of Ethics.  This guy from New Jersey is probably not be aware of those ethical standards.  Sounding like a nonprofit is a good marketing tactic.  It works. 

Once again, it is easier not to become a real nonprofit, no accountability, no ethical issues.  Easy.

But here is why this kind of thing makes me so frustrated.  Would our generous donor have made a gift and claimed it on her income taxes, she (not the caller) would have faced a penalty imposed by the IRS.  It is the donor who suffers in these situations...and remember, the donor is a kind-hearted person who is just trying to help.

So here is the punchline in this story.  The good guy gets penalized for doing what she thought was the right thing to do.  The bad guy goes on about his business.  He probably doesn't even know that he has to register with the IRS, let alone the South Carolina State Attorney General's Office, to make solicitations in South Carolina.  He gets checks.  He cashes them.  Next!

Once again, it is easier not to become a real nonprofit, there is so much less paperwork involved.

I'd love to end this with a "and here is what you can do" statement.  Of course you can ask for IRS nonprofit determination letters before making a gift.  Of course you can call Coastal Community Foundation to check on a charity.  But in the end, the ignorance that penalized the good is the same as the ignorance that rewards the bad.  Maybe if you forward this blog post to 50 of your friends and ask them to forward it to 50 of their friends...

Naw, its easier not to become a DONOR so you don't run the risk of making a mistake.

Hmmm, maybe this is something we should get a little more angry about.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

School on Saturdays

For the past 20 years, the N.E.W. (Neighborhoods Energized to Win) Fund of Coastal Community Foundation has awarded small grants ($2,500) to low-income neighborhood groups in 4 counties (Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, and Dorchester). As part of the funding cycle the Foundation conducts a 4-part Summer Leadership Institute for leaders of the neighborhood groups to learn about various capacity building topics such as grassroots fundraising, new member recruitment, managing volunteers, organizational development, etc. On Saturday June 26, twenty-six neighborhood leaders, representing the 2010 N.E.W Fund grantees, gathered at Sterett Hall for the first Leadership Institute session.

The session featured John Zinsser of Pacifica Human Communications, who volunteered his time to give participants “the answers” for “Communicating for Collaborating.” Zinsser is the Co-founder and Managing Principal of Pacifica Human Communications, which has helped Fortune 100 companies, U.S. government agencies, private institutions, and individuals overcome the functional and institutional challenges created by under-considered and under-managed conflict.

Participants were asked to think of a difficult situation that they had with an individual while doing their organization’s work. Through a variety of team-building activities Zinsser led participants through a process to help them communicate better to achieve the ultimate goal of collaboration. At the end of the day, Zinsser asked each participant to recall that difficult situation again and now write down what they would do differently. The room became so quiet that you could hear a pin drop…they did indeed have the answers.
Three more leadership sessions remain for N.E.W Fund grantees.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Growing up in four years

In their scholarship applications to us each spring/summer, graduating high school seniors often write that they plan to “eradicate poverty”, “revamp the entire educational system”, or “make so much money that my parents will never want for anything”. It’s remarkable (and full of pathos) to read their letters four years later, when some of them write to renew a four-year award.

Aspirations change to things like, “Work for the Lowcountry Food Bank to do what I can to help people who need food”, “Be a really good high school English teacher”, or “Be a great parent to the children I’ll have some day”. Reminds us of the starfish story. Review Committee members recognize their own idealistic selves in the innocent plans and goals of the high school seniors they recommend for awards, and they also see their own young-20’s selves in the graduating college students – faced with “the real world” and needing to find where they fit into it.

We keep up with many of our scholarship recipients – some because they keep in touch with us, and some by our sleuthing. Many have become famous in one good way or another, and all are doing what they can to make their own corner of the universe a better place.

Early July, the Foundation gave its 101st scholarship of the 2010 spring/summer season, with volunteers on 14 different Review Committees awarding nearly $250,000. If you want to feel good about the characters, personalities, aims and ambitions of the next generation, give us a call to sign up to volunteer on one of next spring’s Review Committees. Easy it’s not, but no one has ever regretted doing it.