Chris Satullo: How Local Media Can Regain Trust

Posted on by Chris Satullo, Senior Advisor to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
Trust in local journalism will be built on new models of engagement with the audience. Photo Courtesy of Free Press

Trust in local journalism will be built on new models of engagement with the audience. Photo Courtesy of Free Press

Here’s a news flash: Journalism is in trouble.

The business models that once supported big newsrooms capable of churning out high-impact work are near collapse.

Purveyors of fake news and propaganda seem to be proving that Gresham’s Law — bad money drives out good — applies to journalism.

Four decades of “poison-the-wells” tactics by political partisans, with their claims that all news reports that displease or discomfit them are tainted by bias, have done great damage. On the left as well as the right, the ideal of “honest-broker” reporting is mocked.

In response, a proposition and a proposal:

The proposition: These trends can be thwarted and reversed. In your lifetime. Maybe even in mine. (I’m eligible for Social Security. Yikes.)

The proposal: Let’s not waste time trying to begin the fix at the level of national politics or political reporting. Those wells are too toxic. The damaging reflexes of both those who provide, and those who react to, inside-the-Beltway coverage are too deeply ingrained.

No, the fix won’t happen through trickle down from Washington. It has to be built from the ground up, from the furrows and fields of local journalism. The grassroots have the power, with patience and effort, to heal the capital.

This can’t be achieved merely by good journalists recommitting to do what they have always done, only harder.

It also has to be built on new models of engagement with the audience – and by this I mean far more than getting people to like a Facebook page, follow you on Instagram, or respond to an insta-poll.

It has to be built on authentic, aerobic, face-to-face (IRL, if you prefer) engagement with the audience. It requires engagement carefully designed to create virtuous cycles of input, reporting, impact, and feedback that propel new reporting.

This type of meaningful civic engagement is integral to the substance, the credibility and the sustainability of modern digital journalism.

To be meaningful, engagement must be based on active, patient listening in the community the journalist aims to serve. This engagement must relish real conversation with the community, in all its sometimes cantankerous and befuddling diversity. It must be ready to listen, learn and act upon what it learns.

Such engagement can improve and deepen journalism, discover new ways of serving the community, and help the public life of the community go well.

What does all this look like in practice?

Local journalism in New Jersey, where the Dodge Foundation has been seeking to nurture innovative practices, provides four positive examples that Dodge has supported.

1. Newsrooms pilot Hearken 

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Three New Jersey newsrooms — Brick City Live, New Brunswick Today and NJTV News — are working with Jennifer Brandel’s Hearken technology, which lets the public assign stories and collaborate on reporting with newsrooms. Each New Jersey newsroom has created its own interactive website using the Hearken tool — Curious Brick City, New Brunswick Listens, and NJTV News Ask Away. Questions already posed by audiences on the sites range from affordable public transit routes to where to find the best zeppoli in the state.

2. Superstorm Sandy Community Dialogues

WHYY hosted community forums after Hurricane Sandy.

WHYY hosted community forums after Hurricane Sandy.

WHYY, the public radio station in Philadelphia, led a series of community dialogues in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Called “Ready for Next Time? The Shore after Sandy,” the four forums asked residents to react to three very different long-term strategies for rebuilding counties ravaged by the storm. Input from the forums then helped guide a reporting collaboration of WHYY, New Jersey Public Radio and the NJ Spotlight news site for the next year. The project also connected to a televised town hall on NJTV.

3. Creative Collaborations

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Dirty Little Secrets” was a collaborative investigation by those same partners and some others. The series looked into the environmental and financial woes caused by leaking underground tanks all over the state. From its inception, with guidance from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the project was designed with civic engagement techniques built in. These included a student reporting project, a night of on-point standup comedy called the Toxic Comedy World Tour and a one-act play called Terra Incognita.

4. A Listening Post for Jersey Shore Hurricane News 

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Jersey Shore Hurricane News, the digital local news phenomenon begun after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy as a one-man, Facebook show by Justin Auciello, has launched Listening Post Jersey Shore. This promotes a suite of citizen engagement techniques based on a successful model in New Orleans. The techniques range from audio Listening Posts in local libraries and nonprofits to Facebook Live Q and A’s with local mayors — all designed to amplify local voices to those who have the power to make change.

Nurturing face-to-face dialogue in the civic sphere

This is all good stuff. But, to be clear, the kind of civic engagement that makes a difference is not easy, and doesn’t fit nearly into the current routines of most newsrooms. A couple of caveats:

  • Engagement is not the same as marketing aimed at strengthening brand or building audience (though those goals can become happy byproducts of real engagement done well).
  • Digital tools are not satisfactory substitutes for face-to-face, on-the-scene contact with community– though those tools can certainly assist in the effort.

Nurturing face-to-face dialogue in the civic sphere is an intrinsic part of the template for quality, 21st-century journalism, just as much as data mining, crowd-sourcing or having a great Twitter game.

This type of dialogue seeks to create a self-sustaining cycle: find out what’s on the public’s mind, do journalism that addresses public questions and amplifies public voices effectively, then invite responses to that work to fuel new rounds of reporting and co-produced content.

The Holy Grail at which this cycles aim is real-world impact: a more responsive style of government that improves communities; a heightened capacity in the community to identify, discuss and act upon problem and opportunities.

The active listening of civic engagement does not require abandonment of journalistic independence or professional judgment. You are not “turning your publication over to the ignorant masses.” Civic engagement, done well, enhances community trust in the journalist’s integrity.  It informs, not supplants, the journalist’s judgment.

Think of it this way: Most journalists want as many people as possible to pay attention to and benefit from the work they do.

A crisis of trust

But consider: Do people often trust or listen to other people who never listen to them?  The active listening of meaningful civic engagement can address the crisis of trust that haunts journalism today.

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How did that trust gap grow to its current yawning dimensions?

It has grown over decades as many media companies adjusted poorly to digital innovation, lost track of audience desires, and sacrificed community service to the bottom line. As these trends threatened their job security and professional standards, journalists (alas) often turned panicky, defensive and resistant to change.

These evil spirals were accelerated by the well-funded partisans and ideologues who poisoned the wells.  They have so discredited the idea of factual, balanced, independent journalism that many Americans now think down is up, true is false and false is true.

Civic engagement, done well, is a way to flush some of those poisons away, to restore to journalists a sense of the civic value of what they do, to create a new sense of connection and trust with the community. People are less likely to dismiss fact and to chase phantoms, more likely to accept and value real reporting, when a story is happening in a community they know well, rather than in Washington’s murky corridors of power.

Some might object that when news outlets are in a death struggle for fiscal survival, it’s hardly time to add the new work and expense of aerobic engagement. This is short-sighted.  While civic engagement is different from marketing and promotion, it still can legitimately enhance, not detract from, the revenue side of local journalism.

Here’s why: Many of the forms of content — international and national news, sports and entertainment, want ads — that used to sustain local newspapers now are commodities served up on-demand to mass audiences through global digital platforms.

For the local journalist, this means some formerly lucrative franchises are long vanished. Many forms of general-interest content can no longer be counted on to draw eyeballs and advertisers to a local publication, site or outlet; they no longer can cross-subsidize the difficult, expensive work of covering local communities well.

In fact, the entire construct of using content to collect eyes and ears that are in turn sold to advertisers has been exploded. In a world where a profusion of content is available at the stroke of a key, content is a commodity. In the global context, platforms are the engines of wealth, not content making.

The local journalist cannot survive simply by shouting, “Hey, I’ve got some content, too, over here, and it has your town’s name in it.”

The journalist must deliver content as part of an on-going pact of engagement with the community.  (This is something public media worked out and acted upon long before commercial media got a clue. Listen to a good public radio pledge pitch. What’s being “sold” is not stories or content; it’s a sense of connection and engagement between audience and outlet.)

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A relationship rooted in community

While local journalism can’t ignore the power of global platforms, it can find solace in this fact: The core unit of value that local journalism provides is in fact a relationship rooted in community, a relationship that platforms can’t easily mimic.

Local journalism alone can make a pact with its audience built upon a sense of service, mutual listening, co-production and shared commitment to the health of a given community.  It is primarily out of such a sense of trust and connection that the revenue to sustain quality local journalism will flow, not out of volume or even quality of content.

But it is hard to have trust in someone whom you never see face to face, never hear speak in person. It’s hard to feel like giving money to someone who hides his face from you, who never asks what you think, and never responds when you do.

Local journalists need to be present, open and transparent to their community in a way that wasn’t the norm when newspapers ruled the local news world in all their citadel-like arrogance.

Digital tools can help maintain some sense of dialogue and transparency, but to a lamentable degree those tools have been colonized by the voices of complaint, grievance and mistrust. Anyone perusing the comment strings beneath most stories on a standard “newspaper” site would despair of ever launching a sane, useful, trust-building dialogue with audience members.

But the hyperlocal journalists who have worked with Dodge insist the following is true: Plenty of people are out there who still value solid local news coverage and want to engage with the story-tellers who provide it. (They just tend not to hang out in the bruising, troll-laden environs of a comment thread.)

Meaningful in-person civic engagement helps establish contact with such people, then nurtures trust between them and the journalist.

In this way, town by town, outlet by outlet, the toxins can slowly be neutralized, the noise from the capital overcome, and a model for an engaged, 21st-century, public-interest journalism built.


Chris Satullo is a Senior Advisor to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

 

Posted in Collaboration, Community Building, Community Engagement, Informed Communities, Local News Lab | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry & Migration: Join Us Friday for Birds of May

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Join us on Friday, March 31st at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, when we will celebrate the NJ premiere of Jared Flescher’s Birds of May, the newest installment of The Creature Show, with poetry by Cynthia Arrieu-King and Catherine Doty. It will be held at 7pm in the Community Room, Princeton Public Library. Admission is free and open to the public.

Birds of May documents efforts to save the endangered Red Knot during its 9,500 mile migration by restoring one of its few resting and feeding places, along New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and to protect its major food source: the eggs of the over-fished horseshoe crabs who migrate there each year.The film reminds us that all creatures migrate, and while we often think of animal migration and discuss human immigration, we rarely draw the connection between the two.

Special guests include Larry Niles of the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project, David Wheeler of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and featuring endangered wildlife art by James Forentino.

And there will be ice cream and sorbet courtesy of the bent spoon!birds2

We are honored to be a part of the National Poetry Coalition, a group of over 25 poetry organizations across the country coming together to create the series “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry and Migration.” The series is dedicated to promoting the value poets bring to our culture and communities, and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Our common belief is that through reading, writing, and discussing poems that we learn about one another on our most human level, inspiring empathy, compassion, and greater understanding of one another and our environment. #WeComeFromEverything

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Sustainable Jersey: Helping NJ schools turn STEM to STEAM with art

Posted on by Heather McCall, Sustainable Jersey for Schools Program Director

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I-STEAM Task Force hopes to spur next generation of innovators, educators, leaders and learners  

While the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have been a focus of integrated learning systems in schools across New Jersey, there is a growing movement to add the “A” in “arts” to turn STEM into STEAM, acknowledging that art and science are better together than apart as drivers for innovation.

A notable group of New Jersey leaders has come together to serve on the Sustainable Jersey for Schools I-STEAM Task Force. The volunteer committee, with about 50 members, has experts from academia, the non-profit sector, the business community and state, local and federal government.

As the first step the I-STEAM Task Force is working on defining I-STEAM and will then develop new actions with best practices for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program.

The “I” in I-STEAM is for “integrative,” recognizing that STEAM education needs an integrative approach across the disciplines. The I-STEAM Task Force will recommend foundational action steps that need to be in place to provide a solid foundation for the integration of STEAM into classrooms and schools.

Kristin Wenger serves as the co-chair of the I-STEAM Task Force and is the co-director of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership.

“[The NJ Arts Education Partnership] recognizes that an integrated approach to teaching and learning provides students with the knowledge and experiences needed to cultivate creative, thoughtful citizens,” Wenger said. “Including I-STEAM in Sustainable Jersey for Schools will help schools understand and implement action steps which are designed to deepen students’ understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. New Jersey has a long tradition of prioritizing the arts as an important component of student learning, which is critical to the implementation of I-STEAM in our schools.”

The New Jersey School Board Association has been training school board members and other school leaders in I-STEM/STEAM for the past four years and has hands-on experience in these areas. John Henry, an I-STEAM and Sustainable Schools Specialist and LEED Green Associate at NJSBA, is the co-chair of the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force. John explained the importance of integrating I-STEAM, saying, “Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy. STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical

John Henry, an I-STEAM and sustainable schools specialist and LEED green associate at NJSBA, is the co-chair of the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force. John explained the importance of integrating I-STEAM, saying, “Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy. STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical

“Increasing student achievement in STEAM education in New Jersey schools is critical in order to prepare them to enter the global workforce with the necessary skills to grow our economy,” Henry said. “STEM/STEAM jobs in the United States are predicted to grow faster compared to other job sectors, thereby providing a variety of career pathways and opportunities. For our students to be successful in the technical and related fields, they must be exposed to learning environments that allow them to be creative and use design, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills while incorporating innovative and entrepreneurial thinking.”

I-STEAM is often touted as a way for the United States to compete in a global economy that demands innovation.

Wendy Liscow, education program director at Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation said Dodge is proud to participate in the I-STEAM Task Force because “we believe wholeheartedly in the power of integrating arts into STEM teaching practices.”

“Studies have found that integrating arts instruction with other academic subjects increases student learning and achievement and helps teachers more effectively meet the needs of all students,” Liscow said. “In fact, researchers are discovering potential benefits to increasing long-term memory. As we prepare students for the 21st and 22nd century workforce we need students who are critical thinkers, creative and adaptable —all skills developed through arts practices. We need more students falling in love with STEM subjects and if we continue to teach the same way we have in the past, we will not be providing our children with the opportunities they deserve.”

Mary Reece is the director of special projects at Foundation for Educational Administration , which is the professional development division of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Associations. She is coordinating a program, funded by the Dodge Foundation, at Foundation for Educational Administration that provides professional development for “creative leadership teams” of principals, superintendents, supervisors, art specialists and other classroom teachers to collaboratively integrate the arts and the artistic process with New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards and other curricular areas.

“The schools that have incorporated arts integration in their lesson and unit planning have seen positive outcomes in student retention of content, student engagement, climate and culture and teacher practice. And, these benefits increase over time,” Reece said.

We know that when the I-STEAM Task Force creates actions that schools across New Jersey can implement, the end result will be students who are able to take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, apply learning to real-world situations and work through the creative (design) process. These kids will be the innovators, educators, leaders and learners of the 21st century and beyond.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sustainable Jersey I-STEAM Task Force, email us at Schools@sustainablejersey.com.

I-STEAM Task Force Members include representatives from:

  • The Barat Foundation
  • The Collaborative for Leadership, Education and Assessment Research (CLEAR)
  • The College of New Jersey, STEM Education Center
  • The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • Human Preservation Foundation/NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars
  • Livingston Public Schools, Technology & Business Education
  • Madison Board of Education
  • Middlesex County Workforce Investment Board
  • New Jersey Arts Education Partnership
  • New Jersey Business and Industry Association
  • New Jersey Department of Education, Division of Teaching and Learning
  • New Jersey Education Association
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology, Future Ready Schools
  • New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, Policy & Planning
  • New Jersey School Boards Association
  • New Jersey Technology and Engineering Educators Association
  • New Jersey Technology and Manufacturers Association
  • Northern Valley Regional High School, Supervisor of Technology
  • Piscataway Public Library, Emerging Technologies
  • Rider University
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Center for Mathematics, Science, and Computer Education
  • United States Army
  • Woodrow Wilson Foundation
  • Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania

For more about Sustainable Jersey for Schools: Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram LinkedIn

 

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Board Leadership: When Looking at Financials, Don’t Do What Seems Most Obvious

Posted on by Hilda Polanco, Dodge Board Leadership Facilitator

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In the nonprofit sector, we’ve gotten used to complexity when it comes to assessing the performance of our organizations. An organization’s “effectiveness” can be a complex combination of benefits to constituents, social and political impact, cost efficiency, and even environmental footprint.

With all of that complexity, it would at least be nice if nonprofit financial statements — and “bottom line” performance, at least in the financial sense — were perfectly straightforward. Unfortunately, there’s some complexity there, as well.

And those executives or board members who are used to looking at standard corporate (or even personal) financial reports can often misinterpret this key metric of nonprofit performance and sustainability.

The source of confusion is apparent anytime you pick up a set of audited nonprofit financials and turn to the Statement of Activities. Typically, what you’ll see there is a grid-type presentation showing columns called “unrestricted,” “temporarily restricted,” and (sometimes) “permanently restricted” — each with their own “bottom lines” — as well as a “total” column.

“Whew,” you think, “I don’t know what all of this other stuff means, but at least I know that total means total, so the bottom line in the total column should tell me how this organization is doing financially.”

That’s a perfectly rational and even obvious assumption to make. Unfortunately, it’s also incorrect.

Without getting too technical, when revenue appears as “restricted” on a nonprofit financial report, it means it’s been designated by a donor for some future use (or, in the case of permanently restricted funds, preservation), rather than being available for use in the period the report covers. It’s money an organization has been given but hasn’t yet been allowed to spend.

What this means is that we can really only compare the unrestricted portion of income to expenses in order to understand the actual operating results — the true “bottom line” — of a nonprofit organization.

When teaching this concept, I sometimes say that the Statement of Activities’ “unrestricted” column compares an organization’s available revenues for a year to expenses that year, the “temporarily restricted” column tells us the revenue raised that year for use in future years, and the “total” column was put there to confuse us.

OK, it wasn’t actually put there to confuse us (there are technical reasons why it has to look like this), but by combining revenue intended for use in different periods and comparing that with expenses from a single period, confusion can be a pretty common result.

To illustrate, let’s look at an excerpt of a Statement of Activities below:

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Looking at this in the “obvious” way, it seems to show an organization that broke even in 2016 — $2 million in total revenues, $2 million in total expenses. But if we look more closely, we see that only $1,750,000 of those revenues were “unrestricted”—in other words, available for use in 2016.

The organization carries forward an additional $250,000 (net) in revenue intended for use in future years, shown here in the “temporarily restricted” column. So the $2 million in total revenue is something of a mirage — $250,000 of it really is for use in 2017 and beyond.

That’s not a bad thing in itself — it will go to offsetting expenses in those years, but it’s not a help to the 2016 operating results, which are not in fact break-even but a $250,000 deficit. This means $250,000 has been depleted from the organization’s financial reserves, potentially threatening financial flexibility and sustainability.

A brief but important technical note: take a look at the line called “Net Assets Released from Restrictions.” That $200,000 “transfer” means that the organization met the terms imposed by donors for the use of $200,000 in restricted funds. That line will always show a zero in the “total” column — it’s just a transfer from the restricted to the unrestricted column — but it still has a big impact on the unrestricted bottom line, so it’s important to understand.

Organizations need to keep a close eye on what is moving from restricted into unrestricted in order to be able to anticipate operating results. Unfortunately, this can get even more challenging when we’re looking not at audits but at standard internal financial reports.

In a basic accounting system like QuickBooks, reports such as a profit-and-loss are presented on a “total” rather than an “unrestricted” basis. This can be the cause of some unfortunate surprises at the end of the year, when an organization’s leaders have been looking at reports that show positive or break-even results that suddenly turn into a deficit when the restrictions get sorted out. That’s why it’s important to monitor and forecast our unrestricted financial results not just at audit time but regularly throughout the year.

Lots of nonprofit leaders and board members get caught by doing what seems perfectly obvious — looking at a “total” bottom line — and miss much of the real story of what a financial statement is telling.

To know a nonprofit’s true financial performance, we have to look in a not-so-obvious place: unrestricted results.


 

Hilda_polanco2Hilda Polanco is the Founder and CEO of Fiscal Management Associates, the go-to advisor foundation and nonprofit leaders seek when addressing nonprofit financial management capacity. Hilda provides capacity building, training and coaching services to foundations and nonprofits throughout the country.

Photo at top: Courtesy of Creative Commons/ Tax Credits

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Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Keeping Your House in Order

Posted on by Pro Bono Partnership

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As noted in Allison Trimarco’s February post, these are interesting times, replete with significant issues. To borrow some phrasing from Kipling, if you can stay focused on your mission, when all around you there is challenge and change, you will be an effective board member, my friend.

In the face of challenge and change, boards and management must stay focused on mission and the programs and services used to achieve it. This post provides some considerations from a legal perspective, which actually apply in calm as well as turbulent times.

All nonprofits must assess their operations, plan for the future, and review their governance practices to ensure that they are in the best position to meet the challenges and changes that may affect the services they provide or are planning to provide.

Here are some thoughts on governance practices and the housekeeping procedures that can support them.

Corporate Governance

Corporate governance comprises the principles, policies, and procedures by which a nonprofit accomplishes its mission.

There is no “one size fits all” for governance. It should be established based on the facts and circumstances particular to your nonprofit, which may change over time. While facts and circumstances differ among nonprofits, there are certain principles and “best practices” that should be considered in establishing any nonprofit’s governance.

There should be a periodic review of your mission to see that it appropriately describes what the nonprofit wants to accomplish and what programs and activities it will use to do so. If the nonprofit plans to change or expand its mission in some way, it may have to amend the “purposes” provision in its Certificate of Incorporation and notify the IRS.

There should also be a periodic review of the Certificate of Incorporation and Bylaws. These contain the internal rules by which the nonprofit conducts its activities and provide a framework for its governance and management. The review should ensure that they comply with legal requirements, reflect the nonprofit’s governance and activities, and conform to best practices.

The board should periodically review its governance and management policies to ensure that they reflect the nonprofit’s operations and best practices. These can change over time as the nonprofit evolves.

For example, if a nonprofit is hiring its first executive director, it should consider adopting a compensation policy to cover how the level of compensation will be determined. There are specific questions in the annual return on Form 990 on executive compensation. A good starting point for your policies is adoption of conflicts of interest, whistleblower, and record retention policies. These are also the subject of questions in Part VI of Form 990.

There should be a periodic review of the procedures in place to ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal reporting and other requirements, including state annual reporting and charities registration, annual federal information returns, sales tax exemption, and compliance with state and federal fundraising requirements.

Depending on the nonprofit’s activities, this could also include compliance with lobbying and advocacy restrictions. For information on political and lobbying activities by nonprofits, see our earlier posts here, here, and here.

The board should schedule routine reviews of the nonprofit’s operations. For example, it should review financial policies and procedures, risk management considerations, and insurance coverage.

Finally, to ensure that good governance is ingrained in the nonprofit, the board should structure a system to train and integrate new board members. They may never have been on a board and should be educated about governance and their roles and legal responsibilities. Consider using a board book and a “buddy system” to help orient and train new board members.

Corporate Housekeeping 

A good housekeeping practice is to create a corporate calendar with all of the nonprofit’s state and federal filing requirements. On this calendar, it would also be productive to include scheduled dates for periodic reviews of corporate governance, as suggested above.  Keep a hardcopy version in case your e-calendar is damaged by a virus or lost.

Good board meeting practices will help board members meet their fiduciary duties.  Agendas and material to be considered at a meeting should be sent in advance. Agenda items that provide the board with essential information on the nonprofit’s operations, such as financial reviews, should be included for each meeting, with appropriate management personnel available to provide and explain the information and respond to questions.

Appropriate meeting minutes should be taken and maintained by the board and board committees. This is the subject of another question on the Form 990.

Compliance with all notice, quorum, and voting requirements is a must. While this may not seem important, it will matter if there is a dispute or disagreement over some issue, a point amply demonstrated by a 2016 decision of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, which upheld the invalidation of certain actions that were not effectuated in accordance with an organization’s bylaws.

You will find governance among the many topics covered on the websites of the IRS and Pro Bono Partnership.


 

Kent HansenKent 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.

 

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Arts Ed Now: March is NJ Teen Arts Festival Time!

Posted on by Harrison H. Haney

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This March begins the kickoff of the Teen Arts Festival circuit in New Jersey. Individual counties across New Jersey host local Teen Arts Festivals showcasing the literary, performing and visual talents of the resident teen artists.

At these county festivals, the students receive constructive feedback from professional artists. In addition to the showcasing of creative work, students are able to partake in workshops where they can discover new art forms and learn more about their already dedicated art forms.

Outstanding students from local Teen Arts Festivals are nominated to represent their home county by showcasing their creative talents on the state level at the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival on May 31, June 1and June 2 at Ocean County College in Toms River.

The New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival is the culminating celebration and showcase of talented teen artists from all across the state of New Jersey.

The New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival strives to create a greater community amongst the arts educators and student artists them to come together is this state-wide celebration. At the New Jersey State Festival State Festival by offering master class workshops for students, a college fair, special guest performances, and professional development credits for teachers. Junior and/or seniors who showcase their work are eligible to receive a $1,000 scholarship to further their education.

New Jersey Teen Artist Network

In addition to the day of festivities offered by the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival efforts are being made now to help create a New Jersey Teen Artist Network by hosting the “Express Yourself Contests” where students can post their literary, performing and visual works on the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NJTEENARTS.

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Students can win a $25 Gift Card by posting their creative work and receiving the most likes for their Facebook post.

The New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival is also proud to announce the sponsorship provided by the New Jersey Education Association! The NJEA sponsorship combined with the sponsorship of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation is sure to make the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival the premier state-wide celebration of the arts in education!

 

 

Arts Educator of the Year

Nominations are currently being sought for the Arts Educator of the Year Award presented by The New Jersey Education Association and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

GRD Educator of the Year

This award has been established to honor an outstanding Arts Educator who has made a significant impact on their students, school district and community. The award includes the honor of the title along with a $3,500 stipend. The award recipient will be honored at the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival on May 31st. Nominations can be made by school principals and arts supervisors. Visit: www.njteenarts.com/aey to submit nominations virtually and/or download the paper form.

Please head out and support your local County Teen Arts Festivals this March as well as those in the coming months leading up the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival. Be sure to ask your County Teen Arts Coordinator about student nominations and overall participation for the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival taking place at Ocean County College in Toms River on May 31, June 1 and June 2! We love to see you there! Visit:

Be sure to ask your County Teen Arts Coordinator about student nominations and overall participation for the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival taking place at Ocean County College in Toms River on May 31, June 1 and June 2! We love to see you there! Visit:

Learn more at www.njteenarts.com and be sure to follow New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube: @NJTEENARTS


Harrison H. Haney is a professional puppeteer who has recently returned to his roots to serve as New Jersey State Teen Arts Coordinator at the Arts & Education Center in Matawan. Haney holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the internationally recognized Puppet Arts program at the University of Connecticut where he also earned his second BFA in Acting. Follow Haney’s creative journey and artistic projects on Instagram @hhhcreations.

 

 

Posted in Arts, Arts Education, Education, Events & Workshops | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

History Matters

Posted on by Sara Cureton, New Jersey Historical Commission

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You may not have noticed, but history is having a moment.

Often overlooked as a bit of a wallflower next to its showier sisters—arts, literature, and science — history does periodically take center stage and remind us of its inevitable, relentless impact on our lives.

We are experiencing one of those moments right now.

Look around and you will see history at the center of debates and conflicts, often in unexpected places.

In the South, where reminders of the Confederacy are unavoidable, communities continue to grapple with what to do with monuments, buildings, street names, and, yes, flags that are a constant reminder of a painful past. Georgetown, Yale, and most recently Harvard have responded to calls to confront their historic relationship to slavery.

Here in New Jersey, Princeton witnessed vigorous protests from students over buildings, art, and a school named for Woodrow Wilson, a man who (in addition to serving as the nation’s 28th president) famously entered the University as an undergraduate and ultimately became its president.

In the aftermath of the recent election, references to history and the lessons it can offer have proliferated in the media, too. Like me, you have no doubt heard endless comparisons with the past, whether it relates to the Electoral College, trade policies, or our relationship with Russia.

Naturally, history is a welcome and, I argue, essential anchor in the midst of rapid change. Some, however, are troubled by the general lack of historical literacy evident in 21st-century Americans.

In a thoughtful piece published in The New York Times on February 3rd of this year, columnist David Brooks ruminates on our shared historical story, what he calls “America’s true myth.” The myth has been bruised, he notes, “by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism.”

I take Mr. Brooks to mean that it is the shapeless nature of current educational practice that is the problem, as he goes on to describe “the meaning of America” as “the purpose-driven experiment that Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important to this common project.”

An understanding of our past, its achievements and its horrors, is vital to a vibrant, healthy democracy. And simply understanding the past is not enough — we all need to master and practice the process of forming opinions based on solid documentation, or, in other words, use the tools of history.

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The New Jersey Historical Commission is entrusted with advancing public knowledge of the history of New Jersey. The agency celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

This milestone offers an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the past and, more importantly, affirm goals for the future. Through its grant program, the Commission is committed to supporting projects and institutions that demonstrate and teach the essential techniques of history, and seek to increase the diversity of history audiences through programs and leadership.

The Commission also encourages programs that use the materials of New Jersey history to address contemporary issues. The importance of this last priority cannot be overstated.

Our current national policy debates remind us that history is essential to making good decisions for the present and the future. History organizations around the nation are offering programs that invite visitors to use an understanding of the past to take action in the present.

In Mount Laurel, New Jersey, the Alice Paul Institute employs history to prepare the next generation to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, to offer just one example. While the Alice Paul Institute offers programs for all students, it has long focused on building leadership skills in girls, inspired by the life and work of pioneering feminist Alice Paul.

Girls in grades nine through 12 can join their Girls Advisory Council to learn more about issues facing girls around the world, plan a New Jersey Women’s History Day, and even travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the Equal Rights Amendment.

What’s more, API’s careful tracking of program graduates documents their later success in college and career planning.

With history once more in the spotlight, I encourage you to look beyond the headlines and explore programs like the ones at Alice Paul.

Be reminded of the critical role that history plays in our civic life, and support history education in the classroom. And support the vital work of organizations that preserve our past and make it accessible and relevant to audiences today. The future of our democracy depends on it.


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Sara Cureton is executive director of the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the New Jersey Department of State. The Commission is dedicated to the advancement of public knowledge and preservation of New Jersey history. Established by law in 1967, its work is founded on the fundamental belief that an understanding of our shared heritage is essential to sustaining a cohesive and robust democracy.

Courtesy of the Alice Paul Institute. Girls explore the legacy of Alice Paul at her birthplace, Paulsdale in Mount Laurel, and develop leadership skills at programs offered by the Alice Paul Institute.

Posted in Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, Education, Nonprofit, Philanthropy, Public Policy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Board Leadership: Living in — and planning for — interesting times

Posted on by Allison Trimarco

Life Track Opensource.com

Staying on Track in an Unpredictable World

We’re just a few weeks into 2017, and it already seems hackneyed to talk about how unpredictable the world has become. It’s not surprising that many nonprofits are already experiencing stress from the many variables that change in our situation every day.

It’s tempting to throw up your hands in frustration or adopt a “let’s wait and see what happens” posture. But this is the worst choice you can make right now.

Nonprofits that continue to succeed in these challenging times will become more strategic than ever in their thinking and planning.

Here are some ideas for how to keep your organization on track — even when it seems like the track has vanished.

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Know what you don’t know. With all the news swirling around us, it’s easy to start thinking that there’s no valuable information to be had. But this is just not true. Real uncertainty is the lack of knowledge that remains once you have fully investigated an issue.

Maybe you’re concerned about the effect that the new gubernatorial administration will have on state funding next year. While it’s true that you can’t know who is going to win, you can research the positions of the top candidates so you can better predict how they might act if they are elected. This allows you to start planning the strategies you will use in the event of different outcomes.

The example of an election illustrates the concept of a trigger event. Trigger events are moments when you can know something you didn’t know before, allowing you to act with more assurance.

Once the election is over, we will know who the next governor will be. But by the time that happens, it’s almost too late to start making a plan. If you want to maximize your chances of getting the outcome you want, you should be planning now for what you’ll do in different circumstances.

Most people have heard of this technique, commonly called scenario planning – and even if you’ve never done it formally, you’ve probably thought about issues in the same way: “well, this could happen, and we would do this, or that could happen so we would do something else.”

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You can expand on this kind of thinking to build strategies for meeting the uncertainty in your world so that you are prepared to be pro-active as conditions change. Use this worksheet to help you as you walk through the steps:

  1. Determine the unknowns that really matter to your organization. Sure, there are a lot of variables, but which ones are really stopping you from making a solid decision?
  2. Identify the factors that could influence the outcome. What is uncertain here? Who is controlling the uncertainty?
  3. When are you likely to have enough information to act? These trigger events are like road signs on the highway, showing you when it’s time to make a decision. In addition to obvious trigger events like the result of an election, your triggers might also be passage of legislation that affects your constituents or issue areas, economic events, funding decisions, decisions made by other organizations that influence the industry, or decisions made by partner organizations that affect what you can or cannot do.
  4. Consider the best and worst case scenarios – these aren’t your dream state or your nightmare. They are the best and worst outcomes that are actually likely to happen. You can also discuss a “most likely” outcome that details what you think will probably happen when all the variables shake out.
  5. Plan your approach. The right time to consider what you should do when conditions change is before they change. This is particularly important if your organization values consensus-based decision making, which is harder to do under time pressure. If your organizational culture won’t permit you to act until everyone is on board with a strategy…build the consensus for that strategy well in advance of an expected change in external conditions.
  6. Consider the finances. Scenario planning can also help you to gain a better understanding of your organization’s financial security under different conditions. When you understand how your revenue or expenses (or other in-kind resources) may shift, you give yourself some time to plan for it – rather than just reacting in the moment.

This basic structure can help you to stay focused on your mission and impact, rather than falling into survival mode. And this strategic focus is critical since your constituents will often need different things from you as times change.

The services that were needed last year may not be right anymore – people may urgently want or need something different. The organizations that can adapt to meet these changing needs are the ones that will retain their value in the community.

Being able to say if this happens, then we will… is a powerful tool for staying strategic and in control of your organization, even when times are tough.


 

Allison Trimarco is the founder and principal of Creative Capacity (www.creativecapacity.net), a consulting firm that collaborates with nonprofits to find creative solutions to management challenges. She is also affiliated with The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business (www.lasallenonprofitcenter.org).

Illustrations at top: OpenSource.com via Creative Commons

Posted in Board Leadership, Collaboration, Community Building, Technical Assistance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Local News Lab: Jersey Shore Hurricane News experiments in listening to get to ‘deeper’ community issues

Posted on by Chris Satullo, Local News Lab fellow

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At first blush, New Orleans and the Jersey Shore might seem as different as étouffée and salt-water taffy.

New Orleans is urban, diverse and Creole. The Shore is seasonal, suburban and deep-fried.

Still, each sits in a state entirely too familiar with the kind of corruption that leads to Oscar-winning movie scripts. Both sit on the water and offer a coastal vibe. And each has recent traumatic experience with storm-tossed waters that left a vivid legacy of physical, fiscal and emotional harm.

And now, each has a Listening Post.

Listening Post is a suite of civic engagement techniques, both digital and grassroots, begun in New Orleans by Jesse Hardman, a reporter at public radio’s WWNO.

Intrigued by dialogue Hardman has nurtured by planting audio listening posts around New Orleans and by pushing discussion prompts out via text message, the Dodge Foundation sought a local news operation in New Jersey that would experiment enthusiastically with the techniques.

Well, if you’re looking for a local news entrepreneur in New Jersey who’s open to experimenting and whose middle name is enthusiasm, your search will soon turn to Justin Auciello.

Auciello is a 30-something Shore native who started a Facebook page called Jersey Shore Hurricane News during the back-to-back years (2011 and 2012) when his community got pounded first by Hurricane Irene, then Superstorm Sandy.

Fast-forward five years and JSHN is a much-praised, hyperkinetic hyperlocal that reports on all things Jersey Shore. That Facebook page now boasts 250,000 likes and is joined by a newer website drawing 200,000 unique visits a month and an Instagram account with 25,000 followers.

JSHN reports breaking news from traffic jams to shark attacks in towns up and down the Shore, combining crowdsourcing with Auciello’s excellent sources in local government.  It also provides a daily visual diary of Shore life, lifestyle features, and event notices. It also provides occasional deeper dives into issues.

But those dives aren’t deep enough, nor do they come often enough, to satisfy Auciello, whose roots are in urban planning and community organizing.

“It’s pretty consistent,” he says. “The biggest drivers of our traffic are the quick-hit, breaking news things. That’s the struggle I have. I get so tired posting all the breaking news stuff that I often don’t have time to get to all the ideas I have for deeper impact. I also know, at the same time, there’s a public service there in the breaking news. But at the end of the day, what am I really achieving with all that traffic?”

ListeningPost

That’s why Auciello was excited to try Listening Post in 2016, using a Dodge grant to convert intern Kelly Schott into a paid leader of the initiative.

Here are some of the things the pair (guided by Hardman) tried during the maiden voyage of Listening Post Jersey Shore in 2016:

  • Setting up audio listening booths to take anonymous comments from people visiting three spots – a food pantry, a thrift store and a library (pictured above).
  • Using notices on their platforms, plus teaser signs posted around the town of Asbury Park, to get people to respond by text to question prompts.
  • Conducting a Facebook Live Q-and-A with the mayor of one the larger townships at the Shore, asking questions texted by residents.

Auciello and Schott decided to focus much of Listening Post effort on Asbury Park (yes, the very town from which Bruce Springsteen famously sent greetings in his very first album).

Why Asbury Park? Auciello, after five years of frenetically chasing news up and down a 140-mile coastline, wanted to dig into one place and connect with residents who don’t normally see their faces or hear their voices in coverage.

“The Shore is so big there’s no way to avoid being spread thin,” Auciello said. “I’ve been grappling with how to zero in. I’m never going to solve the all the problems of all the Shore.  Honing in on specific problems in specific areas, that’s the way to go.”

Both Auciello and Schott grew up nearby and know Asbury Park well.

“Asbury is not a large town, but it has a lot of issues that go way back,” Schott says. “There’s this really deep divide between the East and West sides, with railroad tracks literally being the line. So it’s place where you can look at any issue that’s big at the Shore, and you can hear what the differing views are.”

Auciello dreams of creating a virtuous feedback cycle: Hear from residents what issues are on their minds, deepen the take by talking to key stakeholders, then deliver the input to the people in power, getting them to respond in a real way to the people’s concerns. Then use the public feedback to guide choices for deeper reporting.

The effort is still in its infancy. Since the program started last spring, about 85 people have responded to the invitations to comment anonymously by text that Listening Post has put up on signs around Asbury Park and on JSHN platforms.

On any given question, response rates can vary from 10 percent to 25 percent of the GroundSource database where the cell phone numbers are stored. GroundSource automatically pushes questions out to the database and adds the cell numbers of any new participants who text responses to prompts they see on signs or on JSHN.

With a sigh, Auciello says it’s been hard to keep some regular JSHN readers from answering prompts on the Facebook page, rather than by sending a text. Oh, well, it’s all engagement.

When enough responses have arrived, Schott sums them up in a JSHN post, often accompanied by a clever photograph. (She studied photojournalism at New York University.)

Based on Hardman’s tutelage, Schott tries to keep the questions as open-ended as possible:

  • Is your voice being heard in this election …?
  • What’s missing from the Jersey Shore …?
  • What’s the best thing about your town …?
  • If you could ask your town’s mayor for one thing …?

That last question generated so many replies from Brick Township that Schott and Auciello decided to ask Brick Mayor John Ducey if he’d like to do a Q-and-A on Facebook Live. Schott, noting that Ducey had an active Twitter game, tweeted him the invitation and got a swift yes.

“He’s more engaged than a lot of officials I’ve seen,” Schott says.

The Facebook Live session with Ducey got 8,704 views and 203 reactions.

Ducey

Schott reports that the mobile listening posts took a while to take off.  At the food pantry and thrift shop locations, she says, people seemed a little suspicious of the setup. At the library, though, a good, off-to-the-side location for the microphone generated 31 comments, including many interesting ones from teens.

Auciello and Schott say that some tactics Hardman reports have worked well in noisy New Orleans work less well at the less dense, more homogenous Shore.

“When it comes some of the issues I think matter the most, in a suburban context, they don’t do all that well,” Auciello said. “People just want to try to get by – and not to look too far outside the suburban cocoon.”

Still, in 2017, Auciello wants to double down on making Listening Post a forum for what he sees as big local issues, working with nonprofits to bring attention to topics like the health of Barnegat Bay. Both he and Schott want Listening Post to help amplify the voice of the Shore in the coming race for New Jersey governor.

Asked what she wants to achieve in 2017, Schott refers to Auciello’s dream of that virtuous cycle:

“If we can develop our reach, then if people have questions, we can be that facilitator.  We can create a loop where we have access to the people with power to do something, so we can get our audience’s questions to be heard, acknowledged and responded to.”


Chris Satullo is a Local News Lab fellow and civic-engagement consultant. He formerly was a top news executive at the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY Inc.

 

 

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Creative NJ: Creativity & Collaboration in the ‘City Invincible’

Posted on by Dodge

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Camden, the “City Invincible,” which built its early reputation as a port city, industrial and manufacturing hub, is currently home to major hospitals, higher education institutions, cultural attractions and citizens who are deeply committed to their City. Though Camden has been faced with economic challenges for many years, the spirit of its residents and champions from all walks of life has kept the City moving forward.

A highly diverse municipality, Camden is poised to become a model 21st-Century city – one that embraces all of its residents, economic prosperity for all, and collaboration for the collective good.

Many individuals and organizations have been working toward those goals for years, and the upcoming two-day Creative Camden Call to Collaboration will take a creative and collaborative approach to strengthening existing relationships, building new partnerships, and fostering shared vision for the future.

The Creative Camden Call to Collaboration will take place on Wednesday, March 15 & Thursday, March 16, 2017 from 8:30am-4pm on both days and will be held in the Multi-purpose room of the Campus Center at Rutgers University-Camden.

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.

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Our local Host Team of residents, nonprofit, education and business leaders have been working with Creative New Jersey over the last eight months to bring the community together and over the course of the two day Call to Collaboration, participants will explore and develop action plans around topics that fall under the central guiding question:

As our city evolves, how can all of us who live and work in Camden collaborate to creatively leverage our assets, ensure accountability from all, fuel economic opportunities for residents, and strengthen our neighborhoods in order to create a safer, prosperous Camden for all?

If any of our blog readers know people who live or work in Camden who might be interested in participating, please forward this blog or send them here for more information! We’d also like to extend thanks to our Creative Camden host venue partner Rutgers-Camden and our media partner NJTV.
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Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a Lead New Jersey 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 Collaboration, Community Building, Creative NJ, Creativity, Events & Workshops, Opportunities | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: Never underestimate the power of a small grant

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

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C.J. Davenport and West Cape May elementary schools inspire us

 Through Sustainable Jersey for Schools, we’ve gotten to know some amazing changemakers, ranging from teachers and principals to parents and students to district administrators – all with a true passion for what they do. Their stories inspire us.

We’ve also realized that grants are a spark that can make incredible things happen. For many grant recipients, the grant they were awarded was a launching pad to something bigger. The stories are different, but each is important. Here are the experiences of two schools, each of which has achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification and recently received a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant.

Beeline to Breakfast at C.J. Davenport Elementary

As many parents can attest, it’s not easy to get kids, up, dressed, fed and to school on time. Yet, eating a healthy breakfast is critical. So, led by Ellen Gregory, the director of development for Egg Harbor Township School District, the Davenport Breakfast After the Bell pilot 2C.J. Davenport Elementary School Complex looked for a grant to fund a pilot program to address this need. The school applied for a $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant, funded by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), to provide healthy bagged breakfasts to students.

After the grant was awarded, more than 7,400 bagged breakfasts were served through the pilot program that lasted from January to mid-June 2016. With a focus on ease and efficiency, bagged breakfasts were provided every morning to first-grade students of C.J. Davenport Elementary School as they exited school buses. The students took the bags to the classroom to be eaten during morning preparations.

The small grant has made a big impact. The continued success of the program at C.J. Davenport Elementary has spurred expansion to other schools in the district. A similar grab-and-go bagged breakfast program was implemented last year at Alder Avenue Middle School and offered to the entire population of nearly 900 students. This year, the program was expanded to E.H. Slaybaugh Elementary School, E.H. Slaybaugh Primary School and also to 6th graders at Fernwood Avenue Middle School.

The teachers report that the students are more engaged since the Beeline to Breakfast pilot program was implemented.

“There are over forty key nutrients children need for healthy development, and those who skip breakfast have little hope of getting them later in the day,” said Kevin Fricke, the former principal of C.J. Davenport Elementary School Complex. “On top of that when a student is hungry all morning, their mind is often anywhere but focused on lessons. We believe that bringing breakfast into the classroom creates the best opportunity for turning that situation around. We will also continue teaching students about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast every day.”

Kevin Fricke is now principal at E.H. Slaybaugh Elementary School Complex.

A Greenhouse at West Cape May Elementary

It’s a shame that gardening and all of the important lessons associated with digging in the dirt have to be limited to warm months. This leaves little time for schools to involve students in gardening.

greenhousecapemayIn West Cape May, parent Dr. Inga La Puma, a biologist, spearheaded an effort to apply for a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant funded by NJEA. The West Cape May Elementary School wanted to expand their modest school garden program by creating a winter greenhouse space that could also serve as an outdoor classroom.

The school applied for and was awarded a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant. Thanks to a group of volunteers, the greenhouse was built and officially opened this month to an appreciative school and community. Bob Shepanski, a local contractor, donated his time to the project and parent Mike Lanzone, who had building expertise, supervised.  Forty volunteers helped raise the greenhouse frame and then came back to do the smaller jobs of getting the greenhouse ready.

Now growing and caring for plants in the greenhouse will provide room to expand the science, math, art and nutrition curricula and provide a connection to the agricultural heritage of West Cape May. The grant will also provide for the use of the foods grown in the greenhouse to promote a Farm to School lunch program. Students will be exposed to healthy eating habits that they will take home and parents will benefit by coming together for a joint community and school effort.

Although the district was unsuccessful in its first attempt at a federal Farm to School Planning grant, Dr. La Puma and the green team are hoping to secure a future grant to implement a farm to school program that will improve access to local foods. What started out as a request to improve the lunch offerings, has blossomed into a green team, teachers trained to infuse sustainability into their curricula and collaboration with neighboring school districts to spark the Farm to School movement.

“Although West Cape May Elementary School only has 95 students, our remarkable parent, staff and student participation and support made this possible,” Superintendent Dr. Alfred Savio said. “We hope that the students and families will be positively impacted by this project. Each grade will have a project, with the fifth and sixth-graders taking on the effort to start their own business selling plants, herbs and vegetables. They will develop a business plan and budget and sell shares in the business to raise money for supplies. This grant has served to energize our school sustainability work.”


For more about Sustainable Jersey for Schools: Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram   LinkedIn

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Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Does Your Organization Meet the Public Support Test? 

Posted on by Pro Bono Partnership

CashStrings CC Tax Credits

Where Funding Comes From Matters

Your nonprofit is pretty new and still small. It’s been operating on about $5,000 a year. Now a funder wants to give you a grant for $20,000. Or, it’s a mature charity, but an offer of unusually large support arrives from one wealthy individual.

Great, right? Of course we’ll take it! Time to slow down and think about what it means to be a 501(c)(3) “public charity,” and what impact your funding sources may have on that status.

Failure to meet the Public Support test over a five-year period may result in reclassification of the organization as a private foundation, so it’s important to keep this issue in mind and discuss significant funding opportunities with your accountant before accepting them.

If you retain a professional to help prepare your annual Form 990, they will likely raise these issues, but you should be aware of the funding percentages before the point of preparing the 990. (This is not the most exciting stuff, but it’s important to maintain public charity status — so bear with me.)

The IRS required you to demonstrate in your organization’s application for tax-exemption that it would meet one of the public support standards. This is why the IRS asked your nonprofit to estimate how much money you’d be raising and from what types of sources.

Which set of standards applies to your organization depends on where you expected to get most of your funding at the time you applied. Do you know whether your organization is tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 509(a)(1) or 509(a)(2)? That information is specified in your Determination Letter from the IRS — the one that confirmed that the nonprofit qualified for federal tax-exempt status.

If your Determination Letter states that your organization qualifies under 509(a)(1), then your nonprofit is subject to a requirement that it receive at least one-third of its support from contributions from the general public, or meet the 10 percent “facts and circumstances” test. Public support generally includes funding from governmental agencies and contributions or grants from the public and/or other public charities. Grants from other single sources, such as private foundations or individuals, count towards public support, but only up to 2 percent of the organization’s total support. Note that the percentage is calculated using a five-year period.

For example, if an organization’s total support over the five-year period is $2 million, including $200,000 of total contributions from one foundation, the amount of that foundation’s contributions that can be included as public support is limited to 2 percent of $2 million, or $40,000.  Because $40,000 is only 2 percent of $2 million, the organization would need another $626,666 of public support (from government grants, individual contributions, etc.) to meet the 1/3 test.

Instead, the alternative “facts and circumstances” test for a 509(a)(1) organization is met if the nonprofit has a public support ratio of 10 percent or more; the organization is organized and operated so as to attract new and additional public or governmental support; and the facts and circumstances indicate it is a publicly supported organization. The “facts and circumstances” are analyzed using the “Five Factor Analysis,” which includes analysis of sources of support, corporate structure and governance, and programs and services.

Section 509(a)(2) organizations are those that generally receive more than one-third of their support from contributions from the general public and/or from gross receipts from activities related to their tax-exempt purposes, and no more than one-third from gross investment income and unrelated business taxable income. Examples of a 509(a)(2) might include theaters or schools that receive most of their support from ticket sales or tuition payments.

The takeaway is that you don’t need to be an expert in nonprofit accounting, but you do need to keep in mind that new or potential funding sources must be evaluated in light of your organization’s total support.

Failure to pay attention to relative percentages of funding sources has led many nonprofits into private foundation status — escape from which requires several years of effort! If a particularly large gift or grant is being considered, or there are any doubts about meeting the public support test, you should contact the nonprofit’s accountant or another financial professional familiar with public charities.

For more information and examples, please see the following articles:

Do you have a question you’d like to us to address? Leave it in the comments below.


20160108_Nancy_025cNancy Eberhardt is New Jersey director of Pro Bono Partnership and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 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. Learn more here

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

ArtPride New Jersey: Now is the Time

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, ArtPride NJ

March CC Wendy Harmon

 

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

It’s the (early) 70’s and that was the warm up drill in Mrs. Lester’s typing class where I learned to type over 100 words per minute. Today, of course, it would be “all good men and women.”

2016AADThat phrase keeps echoing in my brain as 2017 shepherds in political turmoil accompanied by tense but much-needed discourse. The pervasive undercurrent, in many instances, is a rediscovered energy to “come to the aid of our country.” The day before the inauguration, arts advocates heard an early call. An article in The Hill said that transition team advisors to the President are calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

To this day, there has been no official White House confirmation of this plan. The Hill article is about two transition team members who put together suggestions for the FY2018 Trump budget proposal. Both of these individuals worked for the Heritage Foundation, which has been calling for the NEA to be shut down since 1997. It’s not clear if their suggestions will be incorporated into a Trump budget proposal to Congress.

That being said, The Hill article was enough to mobilize grassroots arts advocates around the nation. Can advocates prevent this from happening? If so, what can you do and what should you do to preserve federal funding for arts and culture until the budget is released in early March?

Here are three quick things you can do now.

  1. Make sure you sign the Arts Action Fund petition and invite friends to do the same. This action helps arts advocates organize, and Americans for the Arts CEO Bob Lynch plans to present this Arts Action Fund petition to the President (you may have seen other petitions, but THIS is the one to sign).
  2. If you do not currently receive action alerts from ArtPride NJ, complete the quick sign up at ArtPride NJ’s Arts Action Center.
  3. Join the New Jersey delegation to Washington, D.C. for National Arts Advocacy Day on March 20-21. Register now and inform ArtPride NJ that you plan to attend. March 20 is filled with advocacy training before visits to all New Jersey congressional offices on March 21.

Arts Pride New Jersey from Dante Giannetta on Vimeo.

New Jersey is fortunate to have members of U.S. Congress who support federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting.

However, it is our job as citizens and advocates to remind them how federal funding affects our state. The ArtPride online NEA toolkit has information on how each year nearly $2 million from the NEA makes a big difference to the quality of life in New Jersey.

Lastly, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are sister agencies to the NEA. The NJ Council for the Humanities is fully funded by federal dollars and depends on that support for its very existence as they provide programs and grants that deepen our understanding of ourselves and our world.

WBGO-FM and NJTV receive funds from CPB to support diverse programs and services that inform, educate, enlighten and enrich the public — an invaluable service that deserves the support of all good men and women.

Stay informed, learn more about how government operates and set time aside for strategic civic action.

For more information on how to be an active and well-informed arts advocate, do not hesitate to reach out to ArtPride NJ for resources, guidance, real facts and tools to help you, as a citizen, “come to the aid of our country.”


 

annmarie1-150x150

Ann 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 / Wendy Harmon

 

 

Posted in Advocacy, ArtPride New Jersey, Arts, Arts Advocacy, Community Building, Informed Communities, Nonprofit, Public Policy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t Weaken the Existing Ban on Electioneering by 501(c)(3) Organizations

Posted on by Guest Blogger
Proposed ‘Johnson Amendment’ repeal would harm nonprofit organizations
white house

Since 1954, tax law has contained a provision prohibiting 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from directly or indirectly attempting to influence the election or defeat of any candidate for public office. This ban, also known as the Johnson Amendment for its sponsor, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, applies not only to churches but to all nonprofit organizations.

During this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump renewed his call for a repeal of the 62-year-old ban, and several different bills have been introduced in Congress to weaken or completely repeal it. The Center for Non-Profits strongly opposes repeal and supports preserving the current law.

The current ban provides an important buffer between partisan politics and charitable or philanthropic works. A hallmark of the charitable community is its ability to unify stakeholders and tackle important problems without regard to partisan labels. As the National Council of Nonprofits has pointed out, if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, charities risk becoming identified more with a specific political party and less as the problem-solvers they are.

Repeal would all but guarantee the infusion of “dark money” into charitable work and would undermine public trust in the integrity of charitable organizations.Dark money” refers to the use of non-charitable entities such as 501(c)(4), 501(c)(6), and other vehicles, for political contributions without the legal requirement to disclose the source of these donations. Under the existing law, 501(c)(3) organizations are barred from accepting or using funds for partisan political purposes (this is often a source of confusion among policymakers, press and the public who are unaware of the clear differences between 501(c)(3) organizations and non-charitable non-profits).

If the Johnson Amendment is repealed, donors could turn charitable organizations into conduits to funnel contributions to political candidates and campaigns – and these contributions would be tax-deductible. Charities and foundations would also become vulnerable to untoward political pressures – for endorsements, campaign contributions, and other kinds of support – that would effectively divert scarce resources from public benefit missions to partisan political purposes.

Donor privacy could be at risk. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the proliferation of political organizations such as 501(c)(4) entities, 527 political action committees and others, efforts have been mounting at the national and state levels to shine a bright light on money in politics by requiring identification of political donors. Donor privacy has long been considered sacrosanct in the charitable world, and precisely because of the existing ban on electioneering, there is a strong rationale for excluding 501(c)(3) organizations from the donor disclosure requirements targeted at political organizations and activities. If the Johnson Amendment were weakened or repealed, the distinction between 501(c)(3) organizations and political organizations would become effectively meaningless, and donor privacy harder to protect.

Non-profit leaders can already speak out in their individual capacities. Proponents of repeal argue that it is needed on free speech grounds in order to allow religious leaders to express views about candidates and campaigns. But religious leaders, like any individual associated with a charity, are always free to make public statements endorsing or opposing candidates in elections – as long as they do so as individuals and not on behalf or in representation of the institution or with use of its resources. And current law already permits 501(c)(3) public charities (including houses of worship) and their representatives to engage in issue advocacy, limited lobbying, and voter engagement, all on a nonpartisan basis.

Non-profit advocacy is a critical part of public discourse and sound public policy. The current, longstanding ban on electioneering helps to preserve the integrity of, and trust in, charities and foundations, and also shields them from untoward pressures that could undermine their independent advocacy voice. Individuals who wish to endorse candidates should do so in their individual capacities, and organizations that wish to become involved in partisan politics should use one of the other vehicles, such as 501(c)(4), Section 527, or other non-charitable structures available for this purpose. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would cause incalculable damage to charitable and philanthropic organizations and to the public causes we serve. The current law should be preserved.

For more information about how you can help to preserve the nonpartisanship of our nation’s charitable and philanthropic organizations, contact us at the Center.


Czipo

Linda M. Czipo is President & 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. 

 

Posted in Nonprofit, Public Policy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Seven Simple Suggestions for Making Your Lawyer Happy (cont.)

Posted on by Pro Bono Partnership

Creative Commons Billy Brown

Last month, I offered you the first four of my seven tips for making a lawyer happy. Here are the final three.

Five: If You Want to Schedule a Call, Please Suggest Some Days and Time.  Some nonprofits will drop me an e-mail to ask, “Do you have time for a call?

It would have been helpful had the correspondent set forth what the topic is about, how urgent the matter is, and, most importantly, a few different days and times when the inquirer would be available for the call.

And please don’t say you are available “anytime” or “all day on Thursday,” when in fact you don’t normally arrive at work until 10 a.m. or you typically leave at 2 p.m. It would be more efficient to say, “I’m available on Tuesday, from 8:30 to 3:30, or on Wednesday, from 10 to 1.”

These tips will reduce the number of emails (or phone calls) that we will need to trade.

Six: Don’t Hold Back on the Facts, Especially the Ugly Facts.  Sixty percent of the substantive calls we receive involve employment issues; issues that often are highly fact sensitive.

So, for example, when you call me for advice on how to terminate a long-term poor performer, give me the good, the bad, and especially the ugly facts. Tell me that the employee has had good performance reviews – a potentially bad fact. Tell me that the employee complained two weeks ago about racial harassment or fraudulent bookkeeping practices – a probable ugly fact. Tell me that a new executive director joined the nonprofit nine months ago and has higher performance expectations – a likely good fact.

Also, as a general rule, it is better to not include detailed facts in emails pertaining to personnel issues and other sensitive topics. People are not always careful about what they type and/or might use a poor choice of language to explain the facts. Moreover, emails are sometimes misdirected because the sender picked the wrong name for the e-mail address book – always double check recipients’ names before hitting “send.” At least once a month I receive an email that wasn’t intended for me, often because the intended recipient has the same first or last name as I do.

Seven: Don’t Invite People To Join a Conference Call with a Lawyer Without First Checking with the Lawyer. When one of our volunteer lawyers steps forward to assist a nonprofit, we normally schedule an introductory call to discuss, among other things, the details of the project. On occasion and without providing advance notice, the client contact will invite one or more people to join the call. This can lead to some very awkward moments because sometimes it is not appropriate to have other people involved in the meeting. Here’s why.

The attorney-client privilege is designed to allow a client and a lawyer to have frank discussions about legal issues without having to worry about those discussions becoming discoverable in legal proceedings. Depending upon the circumstances, the privilege may be destroyed if (1) a person without a need to know participates in the discussions; (2) a non-manager is involved in the discussions; and/or (3) one of the participants discloses the legal advice to someone who is outside of management or has no need to know.

Here are two common scenarios. First, Executive Director Jesse calls us and asks for advice regarding a claim of sexual harassment made against Program Manager Dana. We line up Volunteer Lawyer Peyton to work on the project and then set up the introductory call with Jesse and Peyton.  Without telling us, Jesse invites Dana to participate. Because Dana has been accused of misconduct, Dana should not be on the call. Dana’s interests and the nonprofit’s interests might be adverse, and Dana’s participation on the call might well destroy the attorney-client privilege.  Peyton likely will need time to evaluate whether and to what extent Dana can be involved in future discussions.

Second, Val has designed a new logo for the nonprofit and Jesse wants to make sure the nonprofit owns the rights to the logo. We line up Volunteer Lawyer Chris to work on the project and, without telling us, Jesse invites Val to participate. Val should not be on the call. It is possible that Val’s interests are adverse to the nonprofit—resolution of that issue will depend upon whether Val is an employee, independent contractor, or volunteer, and possibly upon whether Val signed any documents setting forth ownership rights in the logo.

In each situation, it may be necessary to ask the unexpected attendee to drop off the call in order to not risk losing the attorney-client privilege and to allow the volunteer lawyer to provide a candid assessment of the situation to Jesse. Dana and Val might not appreciate being excluded, especially after they have been invited, and, even if they do not feel that way, it is awkward to have to ask someone to exit a meeting.

Thus, before inviting someone to a meeting with a lawyer, ask the lawyer if it is okay to do so.


Christine Michelle Duffy croppedChristine Michelle Duffy is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership. Christine is editor-in-chief and contributing author of the critically acclaimed treatise Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Practical Guide, and a contributor to the treatise New Jersey Employment Law

The photo at top is courtesy of Creative Commons/Billy Brown

Posted in Nonprofit, Opportunities, Pro Bono Partnership | Tagged , | Leave a comment
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