Local News Lab: Reimagining How We Get Community News in New Jersey

Posted on by Dodge


Imagine you were given an assignment. Here it is:

Two weeks before Christmas, gather the major legacy and new media players in your state for a brainstorming meeting that will take up the better part of their day. Just to make things more interesting, also lure a nice sampling of the academics and advocates who track trends in local media.

You’ve got three weeks to get it done. Go!

Could you nail that task — without losing hours of sleep and perhaps your sanity? How could you identify all the key players across a sprawling state? How would you persuade short-handed editors, busy pulling together year-in-review packages, to give up a day to make this meeting?  How do you get academics to leave campus in the middle of finals?

I had exactly that challenge late last year, trying to organize a session on Dec. 12 at the Center for Cooperative Media at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

Guess what? It turned out to be a piece of holiday cake.

That’s a tribute to the coherent and collaborative a network of news outlets, both venerable and newbie, that’s been woven in New Jersey over the last five years, thanks to the efforts of the Dodge Foundation and the Center at Montclair.

I doubt that such a gathering could have been pulled together on such a tight timetable with such ease in any other state of the union.

Here’s who ended up agreeing to come (though, in full candor, a very typical New Jersey phenomenon – an epic, rain-induced traffic snarl on the Garden State Parkway – prevented some of them from ever making it to Montclair that day):

  • Representatives of the biggest newspapers covering the state.
  • Key players at all four of the public radio stations broadcasting in New Jersey: WNYC, WHYY, WBGO and WFMU.
  • A sampling of the impressive cohort New Jersey digital media startups that have hung in there (with dollops of help from Dodge) over the last five years: NJ Spotlight, Brick City Live, New Brunswick Today, NJ Shorebeat.
  • Academics from Montclair State, Rutgers, Rowan and CUNY.
  • Advocates who track media issues from organizations such as the Citizens Campaign and Media Mobilizing Project.

Admittedly, after 40 years spent working for news organizations that sit along the Delaware River and cover New Jersey, I had some relationships I could put to work gathering this crew. And people I knew well in turn had relationships with others whom they could assure, “This one sounds like it might be worth your time.”

Just as valuable, though, was the map of New Jersey’s news ecosystem that the Center for Cooperative Media has been putting together for much of this decade, supported by Dodge.

And, if you put a lie detector on everyone who said, “Yes, I’ll come,” they’d probably say the main reason they considered this a meeting worth scrambling to attend boiled down to two words: Dodge Foundation.   If Dodge was making a bet on an initiative involving the future of New Jersey media, then it was best to pay attention.

The topic of the meeting was an effort by the Free Press organization, funded by Dodge and the Democracy Fund, to persuade elected officials in Trenton to do something that they are not at first blush going to want to do:

  • Spend part of an anticipated windfall on something other than their pet concerns.

The windfall (as much as $1 billion) may come to New Jersey through the federal auction of broadcast spectrum that is now taking place, laboriously, under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission.

In the auction, New Jersey is in a unique position among states. Under Gov. Christie, the state got out of the business of directly producing public television, but it hung onto ownership of four public TV licenses (i.e. rights to broadcast using spectrum bandwidth). The licenses are now leased to WNET public TV in New York City, which operates them as NJTV.

The goal of the auction is to free up a swath of spectrum that the FCC can then sell to telecom companies looking to improve 5G service. That makes the New Jersey licenses, smack in the middle of the populous mid-Atlantic, among the most valuable ones on the block. If the auction reaches any conclusion where buyers and sellers agree on a price, New Jersey stands to make some money.

Operating on default instincts, politicians in the state Capitol would use that money as a pain-free plug for various well-known holes in the state budget, such as pension costs.

But Free Press, backed by Dodge and the Democracy Fund, seeks a hearing for a different idea: Earmark a significant chunk of the proceeds for a new fund or endowment. The fund would provide seed capital to innovative proposals aim meeting the information needs of New Jersey residents and communities.

The logic is clean and powerful: This windfall got generated by selling off remnants of the 20th-century system of public media. At least some of it should be used to invest in building a 21st-century, digital/mobile model for public media.

In this way, New Jersey, long a media stepchild to New York and Philly, could become a national leader in modern local media.

This endowment — for now, let’s call it “the New Jersey Fund for Public Information” — might have something like $10 million a year to invest in creative ideas for how to scratch the local information itch.

Politically, that’s a long shot – but with a new governor being elected in 2017 and many in politics fretting over the “fake news” phenomenon and the fraying of the “honest broker” concept of news media – it’s not a hopeless quest.

To sell voters and taxpayers on the idea, however, you have to be able to show them clearly and succinctly how the fund could be deployed to meet their community’s information needs.

Getting a start on that creative task – that’s why we wanted to assemble the journalists, academics and advocates on Dec. 12 in Montclair.

They came, they brainstormed and they presented their ideas for critical evaluation by their peers in a lively, Shark Tank-like session in meeting room at Montclair that presented a stunning, though fog-shrouded view, of the Manhattan skyline.

Here’s what they came up with (think of this list not as a comprehensive list of possibilities, but as a first course to whet the appetite for more dialogue, more creativity, more great ideas):

  • Create an app, and a digital reporting team, that would track progress and milestones on all laws approved by Trenton.   Statehouse reporting has traditional focused on the politics of getting bills passed.  But those reporters rarely circle back to check on whether that bill that caused all the fuss a year ago is actually being enforced, actually working, actually doing what it was supposed to do.  Audiences often tell journalists that their lack of follow-up on stories is one of their most annoying sins.
  • Create a Pro Publica for New Jersey. Pro Publica is the New York City-based nonprofit investigative reporting outfit that does deep dives into data and emerges with important stories that it often co-produces with major newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets.  The idea is that New Jersey taxpayers deserve a watchdog with a strong bite and time to dig.
  • Set up a New Jersey Right to Know Institute. This institute would deploy the time and expertise of seasoned journalists and attorneys to help New Jersey residents gain access to key information about how their government is functioning. This is information to which they have a right by law, but often get blocked from seeing by red tape, cost and outright bureaucratic resistance.
  • Innovate with “Community Information Districts.” Many New Jersey towns have set up “special services districts,” where taxpayers within the district pay an extra fee to get particular services, whether business corridor development, watershed protection, or libraries. The idea here is for the fund to help fashion a model for towns to set up their own Community Information Districts. Revenue from a small, per-capita fee would be used to support a better information infrastructure for the town: an open-date website; a hyperlocal news site; a regular podcast, whatever town leaders felt would scratch their residents’ information itch.
  • Initiate “AmeriCorps for Journalists.” Create fellowships for a diverse cohort of young journalists, who would commit for at least two years to covering local news in areas now underserved by media, working in concert with established news organizations.
  • Tell the state’s chief executive: “Hearken, Governor.” Modeled on Hearken, a public radio project that crowd-sources the questions it then investigates, this effort would enlist media outlets around the state to crowdsource which question New Jersey voters most want their governor to answer each month. All the media outlets would then publish or air the answer.

One team delved not into a particular idea, but the structure for how the fund should operate.  This team’s suggestions, which track fairly closely to Free Press’s thinking, were:

  • Set up a review board of informed citizens and media professionals to vet applications to the fund and make recommendations to its politically appointed board.
  • Give preference to proposals that a) have a clear local focus b) stress collaboration among partners and c) have a plan to generate sustaining revenue.
  • Be open to applications from entities not traditionally thought of as being part of “the news media” e.g. libraries, arts groups, civic tech.

Do you have thoughts or questions about any of these ideas? Do you have a better idea of your own? Either way, let us know and I’m make sure your feedback is incorporated into Free Press’ work.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or email News Voices: New Jersey Director Mike Rispoli at  mrispoli@freepress.net.

We’ll try to answer your questions while incorporating your feedback into our work.


Chris Satullo is a civic-engagement consultant working with Free Press on the News Voices project. He formerly was a top news executive at the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY Inc.

Photo at Top: Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University

Posted in Community Building, Informed Communities | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ArtPride NJ: Here Comes the Sun

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, Art Pride NJ


2016 is over to everyone’s relief. For most it’s been “annus horribilis” which needs little or no translation. The amount of upset and turmoil from 18 months of presidential electioneering, raw social and other media, and an overflow of celebrity deaths is ready to be relieved by the onset of a new year.

While there is also enough trepidation and fear about what to expect in 2017, I’m going to buck the trend and opt for optimism, so here goes! Here is a list of five un-resolutions — things to hope for instead.

  1. More activism – whether you are planning to march on DC, Trenton or Philadelphia on January 21, the undercurrent is that complacency is no longer an option. It’s time to get familiar with your elected officials and support your favorite nonprofits. That’s plural—from the arts to the environment, you can still date that check 12/31/16 and make sure the nonprofit sector gets the infrastructure boost it deserves to operate with impunity and continue to make a difference in your community. If you need help in learning who your legislators are, a good starting point is ArtPride NJ’s Arts Action Center where you can contact elected officials about pertinent arts issues and legislation.
  2. More philanthropy – Did you like that segue? Activism = philanthropy. If you can’t be there in person to affect change, you can put your money where your mouth is. There’s enough yapping on social media to equate to a considerable increase in philanthropy if each whining post was accompanied by a donation to that unnamed nonprofit organization mentioned in point No. 1.
  3. More kindness – A social trait we can all benefit from on a daily basis. Consider paying it forward from an extra tip to the hardworking waiter, to a return smile for the cashier at the supermarket. Fear and trepidation take their toll on facial muscles and smiles are catchy and suggest the love we harbor that is often submerged by life’s daily routine.
  4. More listening – This translates into “just shut up and listen.” All that remorse and misgiving needs to vent, but sometimes it’s wise (and welcome) to exercise self-restraint and just listen to our co-worker, our spouse, our neighbor and yes, that person who thinks differently from you. This could also translate into “unplugging,” for a bit and removing oneself from the never-ending onslaught of angst that social media perpetuates. Fight the algorithms, fill up your coffee cup, place it close to your mouth and just listen for a bit.
  5. More art — did you really think I would miss this one? The political climate is certain to provide fodder for what artists do best—reflect society at its worst and best. It’s already apparent (I even had my personal stab at it and feel more on the horizon). This translates into more creativity which has the most positive implication for 2017. We are inherently creative as humans whether we acknowledge it or deny it out of modesty. It’s time to imprison the inner critic and unleash creative energy that will generate art that inventively documents this critical moment in time.

What are your thoughts? What do we need more (or less) of in 2017? How can we shift gears from a year that resonated with disdain and despair into a year of action, enterprise and beneficence?

I have faith in our collective will as humans to turn the tide, so here are best wishes for a creative, charitable and compassionate New Year!

annmarie1-150x150Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at amiller@artpridenj.com. Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.

Photo at top: Creative Commons / tsuacctnt

Posted in Advocacy, ArtPride New Jersey, Arts, Arts Advocacy, Nonprofit, Philanthropy | 2 Comments

Sustainable Jersey: Bringing the “Tech” into Sustainability

Posted on by Lauren Skowronski, Director for Community Engagement, Sustainable Jersey

SJ code1

 How does technology relate to sustainability and Sustainable Jersey? The classic definition of sustainability suggests that our future depends on supporting three interdependent domains: environment, economy and society. Among these, society often gets overlooked. But in fact, it may be the most important of the three, as it determines not just our quality of life, but our capacity to act together to solve our problems.

If our government, as an extension of our society, is ineffective, our attempts to solve sustainability issues will also be ineffective. Through Sustainable Jersey’s new suite of Public Information & Engagement (PIE) actions, we hope to enable municipalities to upgrade how they operate to provide better public information and services, engage citizens in public decision making and problem solving and track and communicate sustainability goals. In many cases, innovative technologies already exist to help municipalities, but in some cases, technologies still need to be created.

First State-Wide Civic Tech Competition in NJ: Coding for Community

You’re invited to dream big as Sustainable Jersey towns will be paired with innovative minds to create a tool that can address a sustainability or public engagement need within your community. Think apps, data and input gathering, visualizations and beyond.

What would benefit your community? For example, do you need community members to help locate potholes or invasive species in your park? Or how about an app to empower community members to start and fund art projects to beautify your town? Would it be useful to have a way to collect community input on master plans, upcoming events and new ordinances? Even better, let’s have a tool to map or measure data such as energy usage, waste reduction and bikeways. The options are endless; that is why we need your town’s ideas.

Local governments are increasingly tasked with figuring out how to share important information and data, providing services and responding to resident requests instantaneously, since people have become accustomed to receiving answers in real time.

SJ Code 2

Brian Platt, the director of the Jersey City Office of Innovation said, “Governments traditionally have limited technology resources and data analysis capabilities, but typically have a high degree of need for these types of advances.” He explains that there is a lot to be learned from the private sector and other communities that have brought successful technologies to address local public information and engagement issues. “Our team is focused on leveraging technology and data to improve quality of life and solve a variety of challenges we face as a city, and many of our tools and approaches have private sector origins.”

Brought to you by Sustainable Jersey, Coding for Community (CfC) is the first of its kind, New Jersey-wide civic tech competition. We’re pairing municipalities with techies to develop real sustainable solutions for local public information and engagement issues. Professional and student coders, programmers and digital designers from across the region will work with municipal staff, green team members and elected officials, similar to the now popular hackathons.

The competition kicks off with an all-day event on January 27, 2017, in Newark, where potential tech solutions to local issues will be identified and teams will form. AT&T is providing $10,000 to Sustainable Jersey to use for prize money. Brian Platt added, “We see the Coding for Community event as a way to connect other towns in New Jersey with a talented pool of tech experts that can help drive transformative change through the use of technology.”

Sustainable Jersey is partnering on this event with the City of Jersey City, Code for Trenton, Code for Jersey City, Code for Princeton, OpenGov, the New Jersey Innovation Institute, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Sustainable Princeton. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Knight Foundation are project funders.

Apply for the Pilot: Free PIE Technology Assistance for Two NJ Towns

Sustainable Jersey will also select two pilot municipalities to take part in a Public Information and Engagement (PIE) Technology Assessment. New Jersey municipal governments that are registered in the Sustainable Jersey program can submit an application for consideration.

If selected, the pilot town will be provided with a consultant who will conduct a PIE Technology Assessment to assist in the implementation of the PIE actions. The assessment will provide a roadmap for transitioning to new forms of communications and engagement through emerging technologies that include digital and online tools. If this sounds interesting, make sure that your town submits an application by February 7, 2017.

“There is no time to ‘wait and see’ with technology. This is where the world is headed and local governments will benefit from providing new ways for citizens to engage and better understand local challenges and opportunities,” said Justin Heyman, a municipal information technology director with over 13 years of experience in municipal technology.  Justin will be leading the PIE Technology Assessments and is also the president of GMIS International, which is a professional information technology association of worldwide government information technology leaders.

“If a municipality is thinking about applying for this opportunity, they should know that they don’t have to be far along the technology path; they just need to be ready to engage and support the recommendations that best fit the needs of their community,” Justin explained. “The selected towns will leave the process with a detailed roadmap complete with solution options allowing them to advance their efforts in public information and engagement.”

  • Apply for the pilot by February 5, 2017: The eligibility requirements, application and complete information can be found here: PIE Technology Assessments application: http://bit.ly/PIETechPilot

Webinar: Join Us on January 4 to Learn More about these Initiatives

To help get you up to speed on these initiatives, Sustainable Jersey has a webinar planned for January 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm. Register for the webinar and learn about the Coding for Community competition and the pilot program.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn


Posted in Community Building, Informed Communities, Media, News & Announcements, Opportunities, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

Creative NJ: Creativity and Collaboration in Asbury Park

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Program Manager, Creative New Jersey

Asbury Park

The pioneering spirit of Asbury Park’s residents and businesses, coupled with the diversity of its neighborhoods and iconic places have remained steadfast and resilient through many changes.

The momentum of the city’s burgeoning renaissance provides opportunities to build shared economic prosperity, a united populace, and thriving neighborhoods – a true 21st Century city which requires the voices of all who have a stake in the success of Asbury Park.

On January 11 & 12, 2017, the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration will be held at Holy Spirit Church, from 8:30am-4pm on both days.

This two-day gathering is part of Creative New Jersey’s statewide series of community-based convenings, aimed at helping to fuel current efforts already in action and to foster creativity, innovation, and sustainability by facilitating cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture.

At just over a mile square, Asbury Park’s highly diverse population boasts a bit of everything: entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, a strong faith-based community, news outlets, nonprofit leaders, restauranteurs and a community of people who are deeply committed to Asbury Park’s success.

If any of our blog readers know people who live or work in Asbury Park who might be interested in participating, please forward this blog or send them here for more information!

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a Lead New Jersey’s 2015 Fellow.


Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.

Posted in Arts, Community Building, Creative NJ, Creativity | Leave a comment

Help Support Year-End Giving to New Jersey’s Social Sector

Posted on by Dodge


The Jersey Give Back Guide is back and ready to help New Jersey get generous with its year-end giving!

Looking for some new fellow organizations to support but don’t know where to start? The Guide’s Generosity Generator makes it easy and fun.

Forty of New Jersey’s most effective organizations are featured in four categories — Community, Environment, Arts, and Education (and more are listed in our archives). They are innovative, collaborative, and financially healthy, engage their communities in meaningful ways, and have excellent reputations for their work.
Help Spread the Word!

To see the Generosity Generator in action — and make a donation, too! — please visit jerseygivebackguide.org.

It’s time to get generous for New Jersey. Let’s go.

Posted in Jersey Give Back Guide, Nonprofit, Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: New Jersey Towns Provide Hope Through Local Action

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

Woodbridge, Ewing and Bordentown City rise above

SJ1 Last week, Sustainable Jersey announced the recipients of the 2016 Sustainable Jersey special awards and the 74 towns that have achieved certification. The announcement was made at the 8th Annual Sustainable Jersey Luncheon held during the New Jersey League of Municipality Conference in Atlantic City.

I am so thankful for the positive energy I felt from the green teams at this event. In the wake of a hotly contested national election, it reminded me that at the local level Sustainable Jersey transcends party and ideology and is a unifying force.

In 2012 we did an analysis of the political makeup of participating communities. What we found is that the proportion of Sustainable Jersey municipalities led by Republicans, Democrats and independents matches the overall rates of party identification for the leadership of New Jersey communities.

At the local level, Sustainable Jersey is a group of good hearted people doing amazing things to help their communities. From efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, stimulate local economies, increase resiliency and more, towns are making progress toward a better tomorrow. The actions implemented in New Jersey municipalities this year have been exceptional.

Three towns were awarded the Sustainability Champion award which recognizes municipalities that have scored the most points in the Sustainable Jersey certification program in three population categories (large, medium and small).

Woodbridge Township, Middlesex County

Woodbridge Township, located in Middlesex County, has a population of nearly 100,000 people. The Township received the Sustainability Champion award for a sixth year in our large population category. Led by Chief of Staff Caroline Ehrlich, this township has such an extensive sustainability program that it is listed with the top sustainable communities in the nation. Caroline Ehrlich also received the 2016 Art Ondish Leadership award this year for her tireless pursuit of sustainability actions.

Woodbridge Township developed a comprehensive Sustainable Community Plan as a framework for their program that details goals and actions for areas including: Energy Conservation and Green Building, Transportation and Circulation, Water Management, Trees and Open Space, Green Purchasing, Recycling and Materials Management and Business and Residential Outreach.

In 2016, the Woodbridge Green Team placed special focus on encouraging home energy audits, implementing energy efficiency measures in municipal buildings, creating arts and sustainability programs, publicizing residential and business Clean Energy programs and creating more bike and walking paths. Woodbridge has a monthly Greenable Woodbridge Television Show that is hosted by Caroline Ehrlich. She broadcasts on public access and has web access workshops that involve ecological awareness activities.

“Sustainable Jersey serves as a benchmark for our sustainable initiatives, while providing the Township with additional resources needed to plan for our green future,” Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac said. “Woodbridge Township competed against 198 Sustainable Jersey certified municipalities and 440 participating municipalities in the Sustainable Jersey program earning sustainable points with 92 actions in 18 separate categories – scoring a record 1,035 points. And throughout, Greenable Woodbridge continued to implement many sustainable initiatives and programs that serve to better manage the ways we use energy and other natural resources at work and home.

“The Sustainable Jersey program is an important vehicle by which our Township will continue to move into the future as a sustainable and environmentally-conscious community.”

Visit Greenable Woodbridge at www.twp.woodbridge.nj.us or check out the 2016 Sustainable Jersey Woodbridge Township Certification Report to learn more.

SJ Ewing

Ewing Township, Mercer County

Ewing Township, located in Mercer County, received the 2016 Sustainability Champion award in the medium population category. With the advent of the Sustainable Jersey program, the Ewing Green Team was established in 2009 by a municipal resolution. The green team consists of 12 community members and three Ewing Township representatives, including a member of the Ewing Town Council, the business administrator and a staff representative. Like Woodbridge Township, the work of the Ewing Green Team is guided by a strategic plan. The plan details the goals, identifies the practical actions necessary to achieve them and outlines strategies for continuing to grow organizational capacity. Read the Ewing Township Sustainable Green Team Strategic Plan.

The green team has improved sustainability in Ewing in a variety of ways, including increased and improved community garden space, energy audits of municipal buildings, installation of LED lighting, maintenance and improvement of Township trails and open space and numerous waste recycling efforts. Bert H. Steinmann, the Mayor for Ewing Township said, “I am extremely proud of the diligent work that was done by our amazing green team, and the many volunteers to help achieve this honor.”

The Ewing Green Team achieved Sustainable Jersey certification at the silver-level; read the 2016 Sustainable Jersey Ewing Township Certification Report. The team also supports a full communications program, visit the Ewing Green Team website, Ewing Recycles website, electronic newsletter, Facebook and Twitter (@EwingGreenTeam).

SJ Bordentown

Bordentown City, Burlington County

Bordentown City, located in Burlington County, received the 2016 Sustainable Jersey Sustainability Champion award in the small population category. It is a community with fewer than 4,000 people that is served by a staff of approximately 35 full time employees

The Bordentown City Green Team was formally established by the City’s governing body in 2010, and achieved bronze level certification in the Sustainable Jersey Program that year. The green team, with the support of the governing body and the Bordentown City Environmental Commission, continued its sustainability efforts, and achieved silver level certification in 2013 and 2016. The green team holds an annual Green Fair in June which is the highlight of their overall program. Each year, the number of exhibitors and attendees has increased. The green team is already planning for the eighth annual Green Fair that will be held in 2017.

In 2016, the Bordentown City Green Team maintained or supported ongoing projects, including a Native Plant Demonstration Garden, the Lime Kiln Alley Park Pollinator Garden, regularly scheduled Earthtalks, rain barrel workshops, community paper shredding days, recycling education and reusable shopping bag educational campaigns. Recently completed projects include a community garden, which opened this spring, a pollinator garden at Bordentown Regional High School that was developed in coordination with the Bordentown Township Green Team, and the first Green Business Award. Bordentown City is fortunate to have a strong volunteer base with a deep pool of talent. Read the 2016 Sustainable Jersey Bordentown City Certification Report to learn more.

It’s hard to summarize in a few paragraphs the accomplishments achieved at the local level in these three communities. But, I know from working with them and other green teams across New Jersey that innovative and important work is getting done, and that is why I am feeling hopeful. Working together, we have the opportunity to create a better world.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

Posted in Collaboration, Nonprofit, Public Policy, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Here’s an Election that Isn’t Contentious

Posted on by Kent E. Hansen, Pro Bono Partnership

Photo by Elliot Hill/Creative Commons

One of the questions we ask as part of our screening process for new nonprofit clients is whether the organization engages, or plans to engage, in any legislative, political, or advocacy activities.

If so, we would likely recommend that the organization critically review those activities to determine if its interests would best be served by making an election to use the expenditure test under Section 501(h) of the Internal Revenue Code to measure its lobbying activities. For a primer on the types of activities the IRS regards as lobbying by 501(c)(3) nonprofits, please see last month’s Pro Bono Partnership Pundit post.

Public charities cannot devote a substantial part of their activities to “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation” and there is no objective measure of what is considered to be “substantial” under this prohibition.

The lack of an objective measure provides the IRS significant discretion in determining whether a nonprofit has engaged in too much lobbying. In addition, the limitation imposed by this “substantial part” test is based broadly on the organization’s activities, not how much money is spent on those activities, making the measurement even more subjective and difficult.

The Section 501(h) election provides an objective measure of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s lobbying activities, which is based upon a percentage of the organization’s annual exempt-purpose expenditures.

There are separate limits for total direct lobbying expenditures and for indirect, or grassroots, lobbying expenditures. These specific limits give organizations that do engage in lobbying the clarity of knowing how their activities will be measured by the IRS. In addition to the clarity of a formula, the definitions and related rules under the expenditure test include examples to which organizations can compare their activities to help determine if they result in lobbying expenditures.

Another important benefit of the expenditure test is that compliance with the limitations is generally measured on an average over a four-year period.  An organization that exceeds the limitations by 150 percent over that period might lose its exempt status (this will result in its income during the entire period being taxable). Under the substantial part test, it is conceivable that an organization could lose its exempt status based on its lobbying activities in just one year.

Generally speaking, most organizations that are eligible to elect the expenditure test will benefit not only from the clarity of the test but also from the fact that the lobbying limits may be more generous than those under the substantial part test. For example, under the substantial part test unpaid lobbying activities, such as those undertaken by volunteers (including unpaid board members), would be counted in determining whether the activities are substantial.

In contrast, under the expenditure test those activities have no dollar value and thus don’t count against a nonprofit’s annual and four-year lobbying expenditure dollar limits.

Please note that the expenditure test may have some disadvantages for an organization.  For example, a 25 percent excise tax is imposed on the amount by which lobbying expenditures exceed the annual limitations. Also, if an organization plans to undertake a fair amount of grassroots lobbying, the expenditure test may be more restrictive than the substantial part test.

On balance, we think the ability to objectively plan for and determine compliance outweighs any potential disadvantages for most organizations.

There will still be a fair amount of analysis and quantification necessary to ensure compliance with the limitations. Organizations still have to evaluate which activities constitute lobbying. They must determine how to measure expenditures for those activities to, for example, include preparation time and allocate overhead and administrative expenses to the amount.

They have to determine the amount of their annual exempt-purpose expenditures in order to perform the necessary calculations. They also must comply with additional record keeping and reporting requirements.

If your organization does engage in lobbying activities, we suggest that you consider whether the level of those activities may warrant a closer look at the benefits of the 501(h) election. It provides organizations with a good basis for planning their activities and budgeting related expenses so that they stay within the limitations of the expenditure test.

Sidebar: To make the 501(h) election, a nonprofit must file IRS Form 4506-A.  To learn more about the rules governing lobbying, see the following IRS publications:

Kent Hansen-PhotoKent E. Hansen is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership, Inc.  Pro Bono Partnership provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Posted in Advocacy, Nonprofit, Pro Bono Partnership, Technical Assistance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Friday: Thank You, Veterans

Posted on by Dodge

Warrior Writers At Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival from Lynn Estomin on Vimeo.

In observance of Veterans Day, we present to you an excerpt from State of the Arts NJ PBS program, The Fog of War: Combat Paper and Warrior Writers, produced by Susan Wallner. This is part of a larger performance by Combat Paper and Warrior Writers at the Festival called “Another Kind of Courage.”

Visit the Combat Paper website for visual art made by veterans, and the Warrior Writers website for many more videos of veterans reading their written work. We suggest visiting both to make a donation today.

Thank you to all the veterans who have served our country and shared their experiences.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry 2014 Festival, Poetry Archives | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Annual Conference Will Offer Education, Inspiration to the Social Sector

Posted on by Linda M. Czipo, Center for Non-Profits

The Center for Non-Profits will present its annual New Jersey non-profit conference, Charting Our Course, Claiming Our Future, at the Palace at Somerset Park on December 7, 2016. The conference will explore the challenges and opportunities non-profits face, individually and as part of the larger community, in order to take charge of their future.

More than 450 nonConferenceThumbnail-profit leaders, champions and allies are expected. Here are a few reasons we hope you’ll be among them:

Planning for an uncertain future can be daunting. A volatile political landscape, a difficult funding environment and escalating community needs create unique short- and long-term challenges for many organizations. Gather many of the tools and peer support needed to chart your organization’s path.

Michael-McAfee-Hi-res-colorMorning keynote speaker Michael McAfee, Ed.D., president of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, will open the conference (“Leadership on the Line: Summoning the Courage to Claim Our Future”).  New Jersey native Darian Rodriguez Heyman, former executive director of Craigslist Foundation, current executive director at Numi Foundation, and author of the recently released book, Nonprofit Fundraising 101, will be the luncheon speaker (“The Future of Fundraising & Philanthropy: The Times, They are a-Changing”).

Each year, the Center’s conference attracts a broad cross-section of current and emerging leaders from a diverse array of non-profits, for-profits, government and philanthropy, and 2016 promises to be even bigger. It’s a networking opportunity like no other.

In addition to the plenary presentations, event participants can choose from 20 in-depth breakout sessions tailored to every non-profit career level, and headed by leaders in the sector. Topics include effectively communicating your mission in times of change, keeping your organization running during a disaster, exploring the workings of social entrepreneurship, trends in philanthropy, and the exciting and diverse ways non-profits are in a position to adapt and thrive.

Get a year-end wrap up and discuss what’s on the horizon for key state and national issues affecting non-profits. Weigh in with your own insights and ideas!

Explore a variety of exhibitors offering technology, accounting, legal, marketing, professional education, and much more. There WILL be giveaways, so you’ll want to check them out!

Thanks to conference supporters like the Dodge Foundation, scholarships are available for non-profits who might not otherwise be able to attend. Discounts are also available for Center for Non-Profits members, emerging leaders, and others!

Thought-provoking plenary speakers…  Opportunities for emerging and established leaders to learn from each other… Sharing and gaining wisdom from conference attendees spanning a broad diversity of talents, backgrounds, and experiences…  It all adds up to an amazing day packed with incredible energy, new ideas and information you can use right away. You WILL come away revitalized!

For complete details about the conference, agenda, speakers, and current registrants, visit www.njnonprofits.org/Conf2016Main.html.

We look forward to seeing you December 7!


 Linda M. Czipo is president and CEO of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community.  Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and cost-saving member services, the Center works to build the power of New Jersey’s non-profit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state. 

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Why We Unveiled New Assessment Tools for Our Grantees

Posted on by Dodge


Whether your organization enriches people’s lives through theater that bridges cultural divides or music instruction that sharpens children’s minds and boosts their confidence, you can probably think of ways you wish you did your work better.

At Dodge, we believe assessment is crucial to not only audit your work but to improve it. We also realize it can take a lot of time and money — time and money away from the important work you do — to develop and implement evaluation practices that are difficult to use or only tell part of the story of your impact.

That’s why we are excited to offer two new assessment tools to grantees — the DataArts platform for Arts organizations and the Arts Education Data Dashboard for Education organizations. These tools make it easier for organizations to document their work, surface patterns, be part of a bigger community working toward similar goals, and share stories and key information with supporters and funders.


macbook-pro-mockup_artscult_fnl-beta_banner-1The DataArts platform, the go-to tool for thousands of arts, cultural, and humanities organizations across the country, taps into the power of data to tell the stories of the impacts of the arts in our communities. And thanks to a partnership with Art Pride New Jersey, it’s not just available to Dodge arts organizations, but all arts and culture organizations here in the Garden State.

DataArts enables you to turn financial, program, and operational information into reports that will help you increase management capacity, better understand program participation and attendance trends, and streamline the fundraising and grant application process.

New Jersey’s participation in DataArts also connects the state to a number of national efforts, including one of the largest analyses of the impacts of arts and culture in the country. That’s a big bonus.

In Education, we could not find a tool that fully captures the benefits education nonprofits offer to New Jersey schools — so we created one from scratch. With the help of several of our grantees over a year-long process, we learned about the metrics that matter most and built the Arts Education Data Dashboard.

Together with the New Jersey Arts Education Census, the Data Dashboard will offer a more complete picture of the creativity happening in our schools — where it thrives, where there are opportunities for connection, and where we can work to bridge the gaps.

The Arts Education Data Dashboard will enable education organizations to track their individual program offerings in one database and better understand the schools, students, and teachers served. As the Dashboard is populated, you will be able to map outside arts organizations working in particular schools, the programs they offer, the number of students and teachers served, the teachers and administrators involved in arts and arts integration work, and the funding sources supporting this work.  You will be able to see who else is working in a school and even learn where teaching artists are work.

And we are working to share this tool with other Education funders, so the Dashboard can eventually become a streamlined way for organizations to report to many funders.

We did not make the decision to launch these tools lightly. We carefully consider how these requirements will impact each nonprofit, whether they are a one-person shop or one with offices around the country.

We invite you to learn more about these tools by clicking the links below and check back here for updates as the data rolls in and we begin to understand its collective power.

If you are an arts or arts education nonprofit organization — Dodge grantee or not — and have a question about participating in either data collection tool or a funder of arts or arts education work interested in using the Dashboard, please contact Richard Simon, senior arts and education program associate, at rsimon@grdodge.org.

If you have any questions about DataArts, please connect with them here.

We want to hear how it’s going. Please share any feedback to help us improve these tools as well as any success stories.


Posted in Arts, Dodge Insights, Education, Opportunities, Philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dodge Road Trip: Exploring an Urban Oasis with NJ Tree Foundation

Posted on by Naeema Campbell

Dodge Road Trip

If you know where to look, there are hidden treasures blossoming in Camden.

That’s what I learned on a summer visit with the New Jersey Tree Foundation‘s Lisa Simms and Jessica Franzini while tagging along with Margaret Waldock, Dodge’s Environment program director.

Simms, executive director, and Franzini, a senior program director, led us on a tour of the neighborhoods in Camden where the NJ Tree Foundation and residents have been planting trees and rain gardens to fill in losses to its tree canopy over the years.

The significant loss of trees takes its toll in the city in troubling ways — higher street temperatures, increased flooding and severe loss of natural spaces. By engaging locals in Camden in urban forestry and stewardship, the Simms, Franzini and the staff hope to reverse this trend.

Situated between two waterways — the Delaware River to the west and the Cooper River in the northeast — Camden was once a hub of manufacturing and industrial growth.

The city’s population peaked at about 125,000 people in the 1950s. Census records indicate that more than 36,000 workers were employed within the city for major manufacturers such as RCA Victor and the New York Shipbuilding Corporation.

Today, the population has dropped to 79,000 people. Campbell Soup Company’s international headquarters is still located in the city, but soup is no longer produced.

Ferry Ave Orchard

Ferry Ave Orchard

We began the tour at the Ferry Avenue Orchard, located near Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority’s wastewater treatment plant in the southwestern corner of the city. Set back from a busy road grows a variety of fruit trees laden with fruit, their roots growing strong here for 10 years.

Heading toward Lanning Square, markers of a city that has seen better days were everywhere — some blocks were fully inhabited with tree-lined streets while others were dotted with vacant lots and windowless buildings. Through open car windows radio hits on Latino and black stations rang out. The feeling reminded me of driving through urban communities in North Jersey that are more familiar to me.

As the car neared Royden Street, Simms explained that a local resident had approached the organization about 10 years ago hoping to have trees planted on this street. He wanted it to look nicer and feel safer for when his children came to visit, she recalled. Simms explained to him that the trees would need care just like other plants. More specifically, he and his neighbors would have to commit to caring for the trees for at least three years. So, he organized and gathered his neighbors to make the planting happen.

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For the next few hours, Simms and Franzini recounted numerous stories of how they first connected with residents to plant trees. From school principals, small business owners and parolees, Simms and Franzini have laid the groundwork for a welcoming culture for anyone interested in planting and caring for trees in their neighborhood to bloom.

While trees make the local streets look good, they also serve another function – they can help reduce localized flooding.

Von Neida Park

Von Neida Park

At Von Neida Park, NJ Tree Foundation planted 150 trees — the organization’s largest community planting to date. This park flooded regularly during routine rain storms due to the inadequate capacity of the combined sewer systems and low ground elevations, making the park inaccessible to the surrounding Cramer Hill community. To mitigate the problem, they “daylighted” an underground stream — uncovering a previously paved over and filled in tributary and wetland area. By using a what environment groups and planners call a “green infrastructure intervention” in this park instead of hard concrete solution, this community gets a chance to reconnect with nature.

People relaxing in the Roosevelt Plaza-Pop-Up Park

People relaxing in the Roosevelt Plaza-Pop-Up Park

Next we headed to the Roosevelt Plaza Pop-Up Park in front of City Hall, a plaza transformed from what you might expect an ordinary city hall plaza might look like into a bustling hub with seating, canopies, lounge chairs and an interactive water installation.

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Our final destination took us back to the downtown area to visit the Cooper Sprouts – Tree of Hope and Rain Garden. Together with members of the Camden SMART initiative, this area was identified as a place suffering from localized flooding and blight.

Although a community garden already existed, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program identified the vacant lot next to it as a prime place to install green infrastructure to mitigate stormwater runoff. The intervention resulted in the installation of porous sidewalks that absorb rain water and prevent it from running off into the roadway too quickly.

NJ Tree Foundation’s green street team installed a rain garden and planted various trees including a striking willow tree, fondly named the Tree of Hope. Simms and Franzini explained that the tree was chosen by the garden’s founder, Shelia Roberts, a woman with a fierce commitment to greening her community and creating a place for people to gather and connect. Planted five years ago, the tree has grown tremendously just as Roberts had intended. On the hot day we visited, it was refreshing to find refuge from the sun underneath its canopy.

To see the various green infrastructure installations and trees that NJ Tree Foundation and residents planted over the past ten years is a reminder that long-term change happens from the inside out. If the NJ Tree Foundation team had tried to plant trees without engaging local residents, those trees would not thrive.

Further, the long-term relationships Simms and Franzini have developed with nonprofit partners such as Coopers Ferry, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Camden Collaborative and the Camden SMART team enable them to share their tree care knowledge with a larger community.

Yes, Camden is a city with numerous challenges but this visit is a testament that community members planting trees together seeds hope and neighborhood revitalization.






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Board Leadership: David Grant Imagines If Hillary and Donald Had a Rubric

Posted on by Guest Blogger


The stunning levels of negativity, distrust, and cynicism evident in the political sphere this fall stand in stark contrast to the spirit I encountered recently in three days of workshops with staff and board members of New Jersey nonprofits, courtesy of the Dodge Foundation. I couldn’t help but wish that one sector could learn from the other.

I was reminded of a story I tell in my book The Social Profit Handbook. Business, political, and environmental leaders had gathered in the Hoboken Terminal for an event called The Waterfront Conference, about the future of the New York/New Jersey Harbor. Governor Jim McGreevey was the keynote speaker, and I was asked to introduce him.

Rather than cite biographical details already known to everyone in the audience, I decided to read a poem titled “In Those Years,” by Adrienne Rich. The poem is a powerful indictment of a world driven by a focus on “I” instead of “We.” As I wrote, I felt that I was handing the perfect post-9/11 metaphor for our region to the governor.

Suffice it to say the metaphor did not show up in his talk, and I was feeling sheepish for bringing idealism, let alone art, into an event where hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake in the years ahead. But the executive director of an environmental nonprofit said to me as we were leaving, “That poem was the best part of the morning.”

There it was — the habit of the nonprofit sector, as under-resourced as it is, to think about the way the world ought to be.

Which brings me back to the Dodge Board Leadership series. We kick it off with a lesson in formative assessment — the kind of assessment whose purpose is to improve performance, not judge it after it happens.

We begin with the mission and sense of purpose of the various organizations in the room and ask, “What would it look like if we succeeded?”  Then “what would it REALLY look like?”

Participants begin work on a qualitative assessment rubric – a tool that gives them whatever space they need to describe outcomes, as specifically as possible, along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, the “bottom,” is what they don’t want to see – the level of performance that would disappoint them. At the top end are the outcomes they desire and the actions they need to do to get there.

As I tuned back into CNN for the final days of morbid fascination with a political process that feels like it has run off the rails, I found myself thinking that everything I was seeing was at the bottom of some unwritten rubric.

I imagined some godlike facilitator saying, “Wait. What is the purpose of the political process? What is the purpose of democracy? What would it look like it we succeeded? If we are planning backwards from that vision, who needs to do what?”

I acknowledge that formative assessment is much more manageable on a small scale and when it is driven by a single mission. Yet when I look at our country’s fractured civic and political culture, I yearn for some way to apply its principles.

Could the public sector learn what the most effective practitioners in the nonprofit sector demonstrate all the time: that done collectively, formative assessment brings people together, and it shapes outcomes?

Bernie Sanders called for a revolution.  What if the only weapon needed was a rubric?

David Grant is the author of The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations. He is the former Dodge Foundation president, a facilitator in the Foundation’s Board Leadership technical assistance workshop series, and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 





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#BetterNJ Twitter Chat: Join us for a live Q&A with Dodge Program Directors!

Posted on by Dodge

 Dodge QA

Is there a question you’ve always wanted to ask us but have never gotten the chance?

Join us this Monday, November 7 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. for a LIVE Twitter chat with Dodge Program Directors Molly de Aguiar, Sharnita Johnson, Wendy Liscow, and Margaret Waldock.

We’ll start out by asking some burning questions, such as what is a top priority for each program for next year, what do they look for in a great proposal, and why they say no. We hope these questions generate lively conversation, so please tune in and chime in!

You can tweet your questions ahead of time to @grdodge by tagging #betterNJ, or email it to Meghan Jambor, Dodge communications manager, who will be moderating the chat, at mjambor@grdodge.org.

Ask us anything — really!

Why is the Dodge Foundation hosting a Twitter chat?

Simply, Twitter chats are about connecting and learning. It’s an easy way to hit pause in your work day from where ever you are and share ideas and best practices with peers from across the state.

Twitter chats are also a great way to make new connections and reach new audiences while trying out new tools.

All are welcome to join the chat. The more voices, the better the conversation!

Tips for Participating in a Twitter Chat:

  • Use Twitter to follow #betternj — or give this cool chatting tool a try: http://www.tchat.io/
  • Don’t be afraid to jump in!
  • Always use #betternj in your tweet
  • Chat with other participants by replying directing to them and RT if you’re digging their responses
  • Feel free to dip in and out of the chat
  • Be polite and positive
  • Follow up with people after the chat and keep the conversations going!

Set a reminder on your calendar to join us. We hope to see you on Twitter!

Posted in #BetterNJ Twitter Chat, Nonprofit, Philanthropy, What We're Learning | Leave a comment

Local News Lab: Diverse, Inclusive, and Informed

Posted on by Sabrina Hersi Issa, Local News Lab Fellow

What It Will Take To Build the Future of Journalism


Holding a mirror to society, speaking truth to power and producing coverage and storytelling that can potentially build bridges between people and communities are critical functions I’ve always considered a part of journalism’s DNA. This is how newsrooms hold a crucial role in how we build informed communities and how we serve the public.

Though there is also a necessary obligation for journalism to turn that mirror onto itself and to examine if/how we are building newsrooms that truly reflect what the future of journalism should look like and if/how we are effectively covering the communities we serve.

Over the next few months, I’ll be advising the Local News Lab through the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to do just that — explore how local newsrooms and journalists cover communities in deep transition, the role of listening in community journalism and how philanthropy can support efforts to build diverse, inclusive newsrooms.

The very premise of this project, to research frameworks that support equity and diversity in newsrooms and deepen community journalism, requires suspending disbelief that the status quo cannot be changed. As both a technologist and an optimist, that is a premise I more than happily reject. But as I continue to explore the deeply entrenched barriers and biases I have lived both as a journalist of color and encountered in executing this research, I also understand my role to tell the story of what is possible, elevate the work of leaders who are carving a new path forward and present what will it take for all of us to build the future of informed communities. I believe in building in public and so, over the next few months, I will doing that on the Local News Lab — sharing what I’ve learned, elevating voices building the future now and presenting frameworks to support efforts that strengthen communities through stronger journalism.

When writing about diversity and journalism, it is easy to speak past one another in a vacuum of empathy and posture of defensiveness without truly taking pause to listen, explore and expand a falsely fixed perception of possibility. That is why for the first phase of this project will be focused on listening, learning how to build a shared language for diverse newsrooms, examining what has worked in other cities and industries facing similar challenges and explore how to build the future we deserve. In doing so, there is an enormous opportunity to learn from both inside and outside the news industry and to become better together.

There is an opportunity in this challenge to interrogate ourselves, our values and the role of journalism in building informed communities. There are distinct possibilities to expand; where practicing empathy is a form of community engagement, where our newsrooms reflect America, where listening is not transactional but rather a valued form of leadership and where journalists regularly step outside their own contexts and into the context of the communities they cover.

My work, researching strategies for how philanthropy can support these efforts and deepen local community journalism, joins many, many other leaders in this field who continuously hold up the mirror to help build the future of diverse, inclusive newsrooms our communities truly deserve. They are adaptive change agents: individuals who both see themselves as agents to dismantling structural inequities that journalists of color regularly face and architects to building vibrant newsrooms reflective of the communities they serve. They understand that building the future is a practice in playing the long game and, as Meredith Clark writes in Poynter, that “diversity is a practice, not a target.” By creating journalism initiatives that represent those who don’t feel as though they’re being spoken to or for, these leaders ultimately create both better journalism and stronger communities.

This is what I’ve learned so far: meaningful progress on this front requires both a leadership commitment from all levels of the newsroom and dedicated financial resources. Building diverse, inclusive newsrooms and deepening community engagement is work.

As civic technologist Laurenellen McCann writes,

“What matters is our willingness to believe change is possible and to use that belief to push ourselves to be present (with each other) — to see the ways in which issues and experiences distant from our own connect to our own. What matters is that we don’t submit to cynicism… but instead use our critical eye as fuel for the fire. What matters is that we suspend our disbelief that the status quo can’t be changed — that’s the hardest part. That, and really, truly understanding that we need to try *without* the guarantee that we will succeed.”

It will not be easy. Hard things are hard, after all. But our newsrooms and communities deserve a future that works for all of us. I look forward to exploring more of what that looks like with you…

Sabrina Hersi Issa is a Senior Advisor for the Local News Lab.

Posted in Informed Communities, Local News Lab, Media, Philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Friday: Thank You

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Poetry Program Director

Header for Web Pages

Surely there must be a more expansive word than gratitude for what I experienced during the four days of the 2016 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It is a feeling of having ones too often closed heart unlock in response to the generosity of others, a response as involuntary as the morning glory’s unfolding toward the rising sun. This generosity was shown by the poets, of course, but by the entire Poetry Festival and Dodge Foundation staffs, the hundreds of Newark locals who volunteered all over downtown, the NJPAC ushers, box office workers, techies and maintenance people who worked so hard and were so gracious, patient, welcoming and hard working.

But the openness and generosity the poets brought to their time with us, especially with students, requires special attention. Vulnerability calls forth a responsive vulnerability in us if we honor that act of courage by allowing ourselves to be present and open. Both the poet and the listener have to be present for each other for this to occur. To be in a space where thousands are listening with their entire selves is to understand the word and act of offering only has meaning in so far as both sides make an equal offering. The poet and listener must give of themselves.

In this world where we so rarely listen to each other, to be in a space of such listening is to know that Auden’s tired complaint that “poetry changes nothing” is the delusion. People are changed by such listening. The temptation is to say that in such moments we have entered a sacred space. Instead, I will assert that we have entered a poetic space. In such spaces we are most ourselves, most human, most whole, most holy. We need to make more of such spaces in our lives, in our schools and cities and small towns, in our country.

Whatever else happens in the months and years ahead, I hope the poets, students, teachers and other participants in the Festival will carry the memory of this experience with them, and know they can always have poetry in their lives. Whether or not they ever write a poem, poetry is there for them. When they remember this, I hope they, too, will be filled with gratitude, as I am, for the people who worked, on-stage and off, behind the scenes, volunteering all over Newark, to make this Festival possible.

Some images to revisit if you ever need reminding:

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All Photos: Alex Towle Photography


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