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

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 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

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. 

Posted in Center for Nonprofits, Nonprofit, Opportunities | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

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.






Posted in Dodge Road Trip, Environment, Green Ideas | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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:
  • 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.

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Poetry Friday: Thank You

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Poetry Program Director

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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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Creative New Jersey: Creative Thinking and an Urban Agenda — Perfect Together

Posted on by Elizabeth A. Murphy and Kacy O’Brien, Creative New Jersey


During the recent Spotlight On Cities Conference, produced by the highly-respected news organization NJ Spotlight, panelists and participants alike affirmed that creativity and creative thinking are critical if we are going to solve the problems that plague our cities.

Spotlight1We heard this message not only during the opening plenary with former Governor Thomas H. Kean and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, but throughout the day as breakout sessions tackled issues of gentrification, urban education, immigration, integrated health, affordable housing, and transportation.

The conversations during the conference are similar to those we hear when we are working at the local level in small and large cities throughout the state, and our Creative New Jersey battle-cry of encouraging all our citizens to exercise our creative muscles so that we can design pathways that allow for innovation, and collaborate to use limited resources wisely and fairly was echoed throughout the halls of NJPAC during the conference.

And while the conference’s list of expert speakers was noteworthy, we were pleased that the NJ Spotlight team was willing to hold a breakout session where conference participants could contribute their expertise and knowledge, and we were happy to facilitate this group discussion.

Our session was titled, “Building an Urban Agenda,” and although we only had an hour, we asked attendees to pose topics for discussion under that theme; a tactic we use at Creative New Jersey.

Our blog readers know that our CNJ engagement process is, on average, 8 to 12 months in length and culminates in a two-day 16-hour conference — so a one-hour session was a bit of an experiment! But the power of individuals to assemble around the issues they care most about never ceases to amaze us.

Within the first five minutes, topics proposed from participants included:

  • Creating healthy cities and communities, including environmental and natural solutions
  • Racism and creating community among diverse peoples
  • Economic democracy
  • Addressing crumbling infrastructure and green solutions


In a span of 30 minutes, these four robust conversations allowed people to connect with each other, lend their knowledge and expertise to inform their peers, build consensus around issues, and formulate questions that were raised with the gubernatorial candidates at a session later that afternoon.

A sampling of key points raised in the conversations included:


  • Public health policies need to be integrated into broader government policies, and state/municipal departments and divisions because improved public health benefits us all;
  • Need to address toxic stress with trauma informed care;
  • Available and reliable transportation is intricately tied to healthy outcomes for individuals and families;
  • Culturally competent care will continue to be necessary as our population continues to grow more racially and ethnically diverse.


  • Need to minimize the impact of “culture wars” by providing opportunities for parents and children to experience more diversity; this will build deeper understanding across cultures;
  • Need to create opportunities for open and honest conversations about implicit bias;
  • Racism is a complex issues and it’s helpful to speak in a small group about racism (like the small group discussion during this session); we need to create opportunities for people to speak in small groups in city neighborhoods and schools;
  • Need to create those “safe spaces for dialogue” with intention and respect as part of an urban agenda.

Economic Democracy

  • Look at successful programs in other states, such as New York City’s “participatory budgeting” process in which citizens are involved in state budgeting conversations, or civic cooperatives, such as those outlined in Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice by Jessica Gordon Nembhard;
  • Consider progressive taxes based on income instead of property;
  • Consider forming a separate Education fund that is funded independently from property taxes;
  • Help citizens and government understand that there is a tangible payoff for being engaged with each other.


  • It is vitally important to develop the strategy for infrastructure improvements with clear prioritization of projects and goals, and how this supports job creation;
  • Mass transit infrastructure upgrade must be a priority;
  • Can local monitoring, rather that state monitoring of things like air and water quality be implemented to motivate change in communities?;
  • Public state banking may be a way to help with funding, as could cap and trade models that would collect fees to help fund green solutions.

spotligh 4

As we find in all of our Creative New Jersey work: when given the opportunity (even only an hour!), people will bring their best creative thinking, bold insight, and courage to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and participate in difficult conversations.

It’s been a long time since our state has had an Urban Agenda and we’re hopeful that a collaborative and inclusive strategy can bring about a creative process that will lift up our struggling urban centers so they can take their rightful place alongside other great American cities.

We are going to need all the creativity we can muster to make this happen—and the full support and engagement of our next Governor. Thankfully, the citizens of New Jersey can rely upon NJ Spotlight to continue to serve as our steady beacon.

Learn more about the Spotlight on Cities event here

Elizabeth A. Murphy is the part-time Director of Creative New Jersey. She also regularly consults with other nonprofit and philanthropic organizations through her consulting firm, The Murphy Group, Inc. Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and 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.

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Sustainable Jersey: Preparing the Next Generation of Sustainability Heroes

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

Three New Jersey schools receive Sustainability Champion awards

Schools 1

This week, Sustainable Jersey for Schools celebrated the 83 schools that achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification in 2016 at an awards event attended by over 250 teachers, principals, green team volunteers, school board members and staff.

I left the event with a surge of hope for the future. It is our children who will ultimately be solving the most pressing sustainability challenges. That is why the opportunities and experiences provided in the schools are so important.

Three schools in Atlantic County received the Sustainability Champion Award: Reeds Road Elementary School, Alder Avenue Middle School and Egg Harbor Township High School.

This award recognizes schools that have made significant progress toward sustainability and have been certified with the most Sustainable Jersey for Schools points in one of three categories: elementary, middle or high school. These schools far exceeded the minimum requirement of 150 points for bronze-level certification.

Solar Nachos at Reeds Road Elementary School

Reeds Road Elementary School serves over 650 students and is located in Galloway Township School District. Reeds Road Elementary School was certified at the silver-level with 415 points after completing and documenting actions including a District Sustainability Policy, Breakfast After the Bell, staff wellness activities, Mr. B’s Backyard classroom, cafeteria composting, energy tracking, school gardens, a green fair, a green challenge, education for sustainability programs, a school health assessment, a waste audit and more. Review all of the actions completed; read the 2016 Reeds Road Elementary School Certification Report.

School participation in Sustainable Jersey for Schools was championed by several school staff members.  The school green team, which has nearly 40 members, worked with Barbara Fiedler, the now retired Galloway Township Sustainability Chief Officer, Steven Boilli, the Galloway Township Public Schools Operation Manager/Energy Education Specialist, the Galloway Township School Board of Education, students and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

Principal Dr. William Zipparo, Reeds Road Elementary School said, “Nothing in life is difficult, things only take time. And most people have a tendency to equate putting in time with something being difficult. At Reeds Road School this was our approach to earning the silver-level certification. Yes, it took time but everyone worked as a team to produce this wonderful sustainable program. The K-6 students were so excited to place their compost in the bins at lunch and record which composting bin was working the best. The knowledge that the students gained through this initiative will be long lasting and will certainly carry over as the years unfold at our school. We were truly fortunate to have had this opportunity to make our world a little bit greener.”

Reeds Road Elementary School completed all twelve of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Education for Sustainability (EfS) Actions that require sustainability instruction to be built into the curriculum. EfS prepares students to tackle sustainability challenges by engaging them in solutions-based lessons that consider diverse social, economic and cultural perspectives.

The creative EfS programs at Reeds Road Elementary School have provided the foundation for the many accomplishments of this Sustainability Champion award school. Each grade has a different focus for the EfS program; for example, the first-grade students participated in a four-day lesson in which they visualized how much water is used to do everyday tasks and then decided how much water is needed to grow common food items.

The students each made a necklace of 100 beads that represented 100 percent of water on Earth: 97 blue beads represented salt water, two white beads represented frozen water and one green bead represented clean drinking water. In second grade, the students participated in a unit called, “Be an Environmental Superhero.” The students were taught how to be more sustainable both at home and at school by learning the meaning of recycling, reducing and reusing.

Schools 2A solar cooker lesson was taught to the third-grade classes. It began with a discussion of what nonrenewable resources are and the problems that they can cause for the earth. Students were introduced to renewable energy sources and the benefits of these types of energy resources. The students were then asked to create their own solar cooker using a shoe box, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, tape, glue stick and newspaper. Students tested their solar cookers by making nachos with melted cheese.

The lesson titled, “What are Green Jobs?” was taught to sixth grade students to encourage the students to think about the future of sustainability on Earth. Students brainstormed a long list of environmental issues currently facing their generation and the jobs of the future that will have an environmental benefit.

Sixth graders also received a lesson titled, “We Dream of a World.” The students developed a long list of environmental issues currently facing their generation and then researched facts and possible solutions. In sixth grade math, a lesson called, “The Real Cost of a Water Bottle” allowed the class to discuss how many water bottles they drink in a day, a week and a year. Totals were tallied and discussed. The students were asked to develop possible solutions to the water bottle problem.

By integrating sustainability into classroom lessons, the students of Galloway Township will be well prepared to make informed choices with regard to the Earth’s resources and ready to meet new challenges presented.

Composting Lunch Waste at Alder Avenue Middle School

Schools 3Alder Avenue Middle School, located in Egg Harbor Township School District, has approximately 900 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. This school was certified with 275 points after accomplishing actions including an Environmentally Sustainable Practices Policy, an on-site solar program, a school carbon footprint, Breakfast After the Bell, energy management and tracking, green purchasing, staff wellness, a no-foam cafeteria and more. Review all of the actions completed by this school; read the 2016 Alder Avenue Middle School Certification Report.

Principal Dr. Joseph Marinelli said, “I think I can speak for everyone at Alder Avenue Middle School when I say we are extremely proud, honored and humbled to be named among the state’s leaders in sustainability. But the real champions and movers and shakers are our students. Without them and their passion and commitment to the environment, none of this would be possible.”

Egg Harbor Township is fortunate to have a grassroots environmental education program called the Catawba Project, that partners Egg Harbor Township Public School students with township leaders, environmentalists, parents and community members to work together to help solve environmental problems. At Alder Avenue Middle School, the students involved with the Catawba Project did a waste audit of the lunch trash and realized that they needed to design a larger composting system to hold all of the organic waste produced from the school lunches.

Schools 4The students determined that each lunch resulted in over four pounds of organic waste being dumped into the trash. By projecting the total amount over the entire school year and multiplying by three lunches a day, they calculated that 2,160 pounds of organic waste could be taken out of the solid waste stream. The kids made a simple design for the composting system using pallets which allow the decomposing material to be rotated from left to right. The students also collected yard waste from the grounds staff and raked piles of leaves from the woods nearby to add to the compost system.

At the end of the school year, the students had a compost bin full of decomposing fruits and yard waste. The students made a presentation on the waste reduction project, including the composting of the cafeteria organic waste, to the Egg Harbor Township School Board. Now, a district-wide waste audit, spearheaded by Alder Avenue Middle School, is currently in the works. The Alder Avenue Middle School students will serve to ‘train-the-trainers’ and help younger district students conduct their own cafeteria waste audit and establish a compost project. Due to Alder Avenue School’s leadership, nine scales have been ordered to conduct the waste audits at the other Egg Harbor Township schools.

Principal Joseph Marinelli explained, “I have excellent staff who help the students transform their vision and passion into service projects that make a genuine difference in the community. I’m lucky to have staff members who are willing to come in early, stay after hours and work through their lunch periods to make sure that every student is engaged and succeeding — regardless of their learning level. All of our sustainability efforts involve project-based learning that is first introduced in the classroom and then put into action by the students. Students identify a need in the district or the community and then under the guidance of their teachers, design a plan of action to address that need. The students set timelines and goals, measure their outcomes, adjust their plans based on those outcomes, and work together as a team to accomplish those goals. It’s a win-win-win-win for the students, the environment, the community, and the school.”

No Foam Zone at Egg Harbor Township High School

With over 2,420 students, Egg Harbor Township High School serves students in ninth through twelfth grades. This school achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification at the silver-level with 390 points for completing actions including an Environmentally Sustainable Practices Policy, a rooftop solar-system, a school carbon footprint, Breakfast After the Bell, energy tracking and management, a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, a green challenge, green fair, staff wellness council and more. To review the full program, read the 2016 Egg Harbor Township High School Certification Report.

Schools 5Egg Harbor Township High School Principal Dr. Terry Charlton said, Winning the Sustainability Champion award for the second year in a row shows our school’s commitment to sustainability at a high level. It takes continual efforts by every student and staff member and the knowledge that we are supported from our district administration and Board of Education.” 

As part of a district-wide initiative, the high school participated in a “No Foam Zone” day on which students were encouraged not to use foam trays in the cafeterias. Like other schools that use the cost-effective, single-use trays made of polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, once the trays are used, they are discarded into trash cans, taking up enormous amounts of space and requiring the use of many trash bags. Along with other trash, these trays are sent to landfills where they do not disintegrate.

On “No Foam Zone Day” the high school replaced single-use foam trays in its lunchrooms with molded fiber trays that are eco-friendly and compostable. Before the event, the high school students took a survey to determine what they would feel comfortable carrying in the cafeteria and did a count of the number of trays used every day. The large number of trays used was so surprising to the students that they embraced the concept of a no foam day. During the morning broadcast, the high school television station encouraged students not to use the foam trays.

Egg Harbor Township High School also has a 454 kW rooftop solar system that has generated approximately 2.4 MW of energy since 2011. A monitoring program gives the community a snap shot of how much energy is being generated and the resulting reduction in greenhouse gases due to the solar panels. The high school science classes developed public service announcements that were displayed at various locations to encourage support of the bond referendum that was used to fund the project. Students now use the information and data gathered to monitor the system and incorporate into yearly energy projects.

Donna Drewes

Donna Drewes

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

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CNJG: Five New Jersey Leaders On Leadership

Posted on by Dodge


Last month, I had the extraordinary honor to be among those named by Lead New Jersey as one of its “30 Leaders for 30 Years.”

The recipients were chosen because their “leadership has made New Jersey a better place to live and work.”

With that as the criteria it is not surprising that there were in fact a few of us that come directly from the philanthropic side of the social sector. But in truth, having foundation representatives being recognized this way in a room filled with representatives from corporations and politics is not typical.

I believe this marks a decided change in how philanthropy is perceived and engaged in New Jersey these days. Those of us in the social sector are well aware that foundations have been investing in ways to make New Jersey a better place for many, many years.

The good news is that now policymakers and other decision makers are recognizing the difference that effective philanthropy can have when brought into the conversation.

Over the years, the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has been involved in a number of important leadership initiatives on behalf of our membership – the private philanthropic community.

From our Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison and Hurricane Sandy Recovery work to the landmark Facing Our Future study and even the creation of the Community Foundation of South Jersey, these are just a few examples of the ways in which New Jersey’s grantmakers are having a profound impact, improving outcomes, fostering important conversations, and more.

It was not surprising that some exceptional leaders from our field were recognized. It was a pleasure to join Risa Lavazzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Chris Daggett, CEO of The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and Eleanor Horne, longtime Trustee of the Princeton Area Community Foundation and a model corporate funder during her 20-plus year tenure at ETS. It was also wonderful to be joined by one of my most important colleagues and partners Linda Czipo, President of the Center for Non-Profits.

Merriam-Webster offers a number of definitions for leadership, from “the capacity to lead,” to “… an instance of leading,” to “the time when a person holds the position of leader.” While these definitions are certainly adequate and indeed factual, they clearly do not convey what it really means to be a leader.

Each of us were asked to offer two sentences on leadership in advance of the event.

It is a pleasure to share with you my colleagues responses:

Chris Daggett:

“Leadership is the driver of any successful organization. Good leaders set and clearly communicate the direction of an organization and develop a culture of achievement, openness, collaboration, integrity, and encouragement.”

Eleanor Horne:

“Leadership is sharing your vision, value, and strengths in ways that enhance the vision, value, and strengths of others.”

Risa Lavazzo-Mourey:

“There’s an African proverb that says walking alone leaves a narrow footprint. Leadership is encouraging others to walk beside you.”

Linda Czipo:

“Leadership is marshaling individual and collective resources to serve the greater good. It’s combining the dream of what can be with the will and practicality to make it happen. It’s being open to new ideas and tapping into the wisdom and strengths of others. Leadership is persevering in the face of seeming impossibility and encouraging others to do the same.”

And never one to completely follow the rules…I offered a sort of double haiku:

“On Leadership: Listen. Respect. Serve. Be brave. Be generous. Be open. Understand responsibility. Give way. Trust. Question. Hold fast to your beliefs. Keep your word. Persevere. Hope.” 

Both the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors in our state teem with extraordinary and dedicated leaders, so yes it must have been difficult to select just thirty. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers again congratulates and salutes the 30 leaders named, and the many other leaders throughout the social sector whose leadership contributes every day to improving neighborhoods and communities in our Garden State.


Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 130 funding organizations working in and for New Jersey.

The Council is the center for philanthropy in the state, serving the leading independent, corporate, family and community foundations as well as public grantmakers of our state. CNJG supports its members by strengthening their capacity to address New Jersey and society’s most difficult problems. 

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Posted on by Dodge

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smithWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Aaron Smith!


Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Poems I’ve written have scared me, and I’ve been nervous about sharing them, but never enough that I didn’t share them eventually. Also, as I’ve gotten older, I worry less about people’s reactions to poems that might deal with difficult or uncomfortable ideas. Now, I actually feel like I’m doing something right if a poem makes me nervous. I must be in an interesting space. I’ve found, too, that when I’ve taken risks and shared work that makes me uncomfortable, the response is usually positive. People often say those poems spoke to them in a meaningful way. When I find myself getting nervous, I go back to a quote by the poet Lucille Clifton: “You cannot play for safety and make art.”

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
As a poet, I hope I’m the one who “solves” the poem before the reader gets to it. I’m drawn to writing about things I don’t understand or to things I want to understand better, so working to understand is what drives the making of a poem for me. I value “clarity,” though that’s not necessarily the same thing as “accessibility.” Whether or not a poem is “accessible” is probably determined by 1) how well I write it and 2) a reader’s willingness to engage all their senses with what’s on the page. I’m definitely not a fan of the notion that a poet should deliberately leave out information to make a poem more challenging. When my students do that, the poems fail.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
I don’t like the belief that all poets love language. Since I’m interested in making meaning, I find language useful, and I like to see what I can get language to do, but I don’t love it as an end. Language can actually be a frustrating obstacle. I do find it satisfying working with words to figure out how best to say what I want to say, but I don’t walk around saying words in my head over and over because I love them. I also think some writers hide behind language so they don’t have to take any risks with content or with being vulnerable. I get bored with beautifully written poems that sound good but don’t illuminate anything. Worshipping at the altar of language can be as much about the writer hiding as it can be about opening space and communicating something.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
I’m fortunate because I write better when I’m busy and distracted. Teaching gives me a more flexible schedule, but a decade before I started teaching, I worked desk jobs, so if I didn’t make writing part of the mess of my day to day, then I wouldn’t be a writer. I’ve written poems on subways, at meetings, on scraps of paper while running errands. I didn’t own a computer when I wrote my first book: I wrote my poems by hand and then stayed late at the place I was working to type and print. I think if you value something, you figure out how to do it and make time for it. You make time to brush your teeth every day because it’s important. If poetry is important, you make time for it.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?
In a century where everything moves quickly, poetry reminds me to engage deeply, to linger with text to discover everything it has to offer. Having spent most of my life looking for the right word, the right line break, I’ve learned the importance of how what we say matters and lives inside people. Poetry is the opposite of sound bites, tweets, and talking points. I believe when we spend time engaging deeply with words and ideas that we are studying compassion. If we need anything in the twenty first century, it’s compassion.

Aaron Smith is the author of three books published by the Pitt Poetry series; his most recent book is Primer (2016). His first book, Blue on Blue Ground (2005), won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. His second book, Appetite (2012), was named an NPR Best Book and was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. His chapbooks are Men in Groups and What’s Required, winner of the Frank O’Hara Award. A 2007 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts, his work has appeared in numerous publications including: Copper Nickel, LIT, The Literary Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is assistant professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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