Poetry Friday: Festival Video – Saeed Jones

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

saeed jones 3Today’s featured Festival film is a reading by Saeed Jones from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poems “The Blue Dress in Mother’s Closet” and “Boy in a Whalebone Corset.” For more information about Saeed Jones, you can follow him on Twitter @theferocity.

 

 

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Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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Free Press: How an Organizing Mindset Can Serve Newsrooms

Posted on by Mike Rispoli, Free Press

Heart

 

Newsrooms are experimenting with different ways of engaging their audiences — and over the last few months Free Press has been on the ground figuring out the best ways to connect Garden State journalists and residents via our News Voices: New Jersey project. We’re busy learning from community-engagement specialists, listening to community members, and drawing on organizing tools to discover what types of engagement work for newsrooms and benefit the public.

While the practice varies from newsroom to newsroom, engagement involves interacting with an audience to further a newsroom’s mission. It reflects the recognition that journalism is better when it engages communities through meaningful and thoughtful conversations, whether online or in real life.  Some newsrooms are even creating new positions and adopting new tools dedicated to the practice.

Engagement can bridge the gap between journalists and audiences. It can also heighten community investment in local reporting.

Advantages of community engagement

Seeking and reporting the truth is essential to a journalist’s work. Community engagement is a powerful way to deepen a journalist’s ability to do so.

Here’s how community engagement can serve newsrooms:

  • Listening to residents enables newsrooms to report on the issues that are most on people’s minds. That means stories draw greater interest and attention.
  • An engaged audience is like an army of sources. Conversation with knowledgeable members of the community can help a reporter learn quickly, gather facts and get stories right.
  • Engagement helps reporters be transparent about how they do their work and how they know what they know. This approach builds trust with audiences and makes readers more critical news consumers.
  • When people feel journalists are listening to them and representing their perspectives, they’re more likely to become avid readers and listeners. They’re also more likely to share journalists’ work with others.
  • With so many forces competing for people’s attention, engagement helps ensure that hard-hitting journalism has the impact it should.
  • Engagement is an opportunity to convey the value of journalism to the community. When people see that value, they’re more likely to support journalism financially.

Deepening community investment

With News Voices, we’ve adapted strategies commonly used in organizing and brought them to the newsroom.

By “organizing,” we don’t mean “activism.” Here’s how reporters can adopt an organizing mindset to engage communities:

Start with the person: People can tell whether you care about them. Community members should be treated with dignity and respect, even if you remain skeptical about their stories or motives. Residents’ interactions with reporters shape how willing they are to engage. If you approach people with a spirit of openness and engage in active listening, the community will be more likely to trust you.

Embrace the community: Some of the most meaningful engagement happens when journalists stop thinking of themselves as being apart from the community, and instead start seeing themselves as part of the community. Discussions then go from being transactional or one-sided to being emphatic and reciprocal. This is something that all reporters, even the ones without “engagement” in their titles, should recognize.

Shift into a  “reporting with” approach: Journalists play invaluable roles when they provide information and hold the powerful accountable. But members of the media themselves have significant power, especially over the communities they report on. The mindset of reporting with rather than reporting for is an attempt to dismantle this power dynamic. Adapted from theories in civic technology, it attempts to draw on residents’ knowledge and power, respond to community needs, and create stories that are useful to the audience.

Acknowledge the whole person: Residents are not simply sources of quotes: They have a range of concerns and intersecting perspectives. Developing stronger relationships with everyday people allows reporters to tap into a community’s collective knowledge. This not only informs how a journalist approaches individual stories but also how the reporter covers the community as a whole.

Some of these points may seem intuitive. Some may seem foreign. But don’t let the term “organizing” turn you off. Organizers know how to mobilize communities to address long-standing problems and get people to take collective action.

As local newsrooms seek to build their relationships with the community, they need to look to other fields that have had success in forming those bonds.


 

Mike_Rispoli_newMike directs Free Press’ campaigns to protect press freedom and oversees the organization’s News Voices: New Jersey project. He also teaches journalism as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. Before joining Free Press, Mike worked for the human rights organizations Privacy International and Access. Mike also served as the technical editor on the 2015 bookYou: For Sale, a look at protecting user data and privacy online. In a past life, Mike was a journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger and Gannett Newspapers. Mike received his master’s degree in media studies and media management at the New School in New York City and his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @rispolimike.

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Creative New Jersey: Celebrating Community at Creative Hammonton

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

CHammonton1

On an alternately rainy and sunny April 12th, Creative Hammonton’s second Call to Collaboration – a town-wide, cross-sector gathering of people from local business, environmental, social service, arts and culture, faith-based, education and government sectors, among others – welcomed participants to St. Joseph High School, our venue host, for a day of network weaving, action-oriented problem solving and collective impact.

This day-lCHammonton2ong meeting of collaboration and creative thinking was the continuation of the Creative Hammonton Call to Collaboration in January 2016 (you can read more about that from an earlier blog here), tackling the central question:

“How can we creatively strengthen and expand the connections of our increasingly diverse community, improve collaborations, and capitalize on our economic, cultural and natural resources to cultivate a thriving Hammonton?”

At the top of the day we heard from members of the community about ideas that had gained fuel or formed since our January gathering, including:

  • A group of individuals with representatives from the local MainStreet organization, Stockton University, Chamber of Commerce, as well as a local artist, restaurateur, and faith-leader formed a task force focused on capitalizing on the Hammonton train station through tourism, marketing & branding to increase ridership, and coordinating events with the train schedule for added convenience. In the two months between January’s and last week’s convening, this group created a working agenda, met several times, and found new members during our second day in April.
  • A Welcoming Committee formed during the first day of Creative Hammonton to help tourists and new residents get connected to the town. This group of people will act as ambassadors to introduce newcomers to area restaurants and attractions, family activities, and neighborhood groups and committees. In the two months between sessions, this group met several times and attracted new participants last week.
  • A local artist and studio owner had the opportunity to take over a disused 3,000 sq. ft. space which will be called the “Art Mart” and will include artist studio space, classroom space and community gathering space, which she offered for future Creative Hammonton and other group meetings. The space is under renovation and is scheduled to open in May 2016.

Creative NJ Hammonton_marketplace topics

Many of those groups continued to build out their ideas and projects over the course of the day while others proffered new topics for discussion, which ranged from helping to prepare autistic children for college and beyond to fostering community service and youth involvement, from using multi-media platforms such as podcasting, blogs and video blogs to solidify Hammonton’s identity for tourism and businesses to protecting and maintaining the health of and access to Hammonton Lake, among many more.

A compendium of the Complete Notes from the January and April convenings are available here on Creative Hammonton’s section on CNJ’s website.

We were also joined by statewide partners and colleagues from NJ Future, Media Mobilizing Project, New Jersey Community Capital, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, who were able bring knowledge of resources and demonstration projects from around the state to lend to the conversations in Hammonton.

The Hammonton business community also lent their impressive support for the day by providing participants with a wonderful variety of breakfast and lunchtime food, including eclectic dishes from newly-opened restaurants La Cubana (whose Chef also attended both Calls to Collaboration) and Touch of the Caribbean, alongside established purveyors such as Marcello’s Restaurant and Annata Wine Bar.  We also could not have done this Call to Collaboration without very generous support from Stockton University and Lucca Realty.

CHammonton3

CHammonton5We saw connections and collaborations deepen during the day, and the energy around new spaces, new endeavors, and new appreciation for the power of individuals to make a difference.

One participant, a long-time resident and commercial developer in the area, remarked during the closing circle that she was originally skeptical of our community engagement model though willing to give it a try. She announced to all that her opinion was completely changed by the end of the convening. She affirmed our values of creativity, collaboration and inclusivity, and stated the best way for Hammonton to realize a prosperous and sustainable future is by including as many residents, workers, and students as possible in the strategizing and decision-making.

“You all — everyone in this room,” she said, “Are going to make change happen.”

We’ll celebrate that!


Kacy O'Brien

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.

Photo credits: Kacy O’Brien

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Poetry Friday: Festival Video – Robert Pinsky

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

 

Pinsky WebIn preparation for tonight’s performance of PoemJazz at NJPAC, today’s featured Festival film is a reading by Robert Pinsky from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poems “Rhyme” and “Samarai Song.” For more information about Robert Pinsky, check out his website robertpinskypoet.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertPinsky.

 

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Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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Sustainable Jersey: Creating a National Network of State-level Sustainability Programs

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

SJ Report

Sustainable Jersey releases Statewide Sustainability Report

Imagine what we could accomplish if we worked together. The idea of starting a multi-state conversation about state-level sustainability programs originated during a national American Planning Association session in 2014.

A group of us who lead state-level sustainability programs sat around a table and realized the potential impact of sharing best practices and leveraging resources.

Within the year, we reconnected over a series of phone calls to design and plan a larger face to face convening for 22 representatives across 10 states. The convening was held this past December in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Representatives came from Energize Connecticut, Florida Green Building Coalition, Green Tier Legacy Communities (Wisconsin), Massachusetts Green Communities, Minnesota Green Step Cities, New York Climate Smart Communities, Sustainable Jersey, Sustainable Maryland and Sustainable Pennsylvania.

Most of us had never met each other despite running very similar programs. One participant said, “I’ve been running this program for years and I never knew there others were out there working to solve the same problems.”

This comment and many others were generated during a session when the group was asked: Why form a network? Although this question was prominent throughout the convening, it wasn’t the only focus. We also tried to provide space for each of us to share knowledge and experience and build relationships with each other. The state programs agreed that it would be beneficial to form a national network to set common standards and share resources and best practices.

Sustainable Jersey Releases National Study of State-Local Sustainability Initiatives

OneCommmunityYesterday, Sustainable Jersey released a study on a new breed of bottom-up meets top-down state-local sustainability programs in the United States. Municipal certification or recognition is a signature element of these programs; yet, certification is merely the visible tip of an iceberg of collective action aiming to coordinate priorities, policy, and resources among state and local, public and private actors.

Funded by the Surdna Foundation, this study was guided by a working group comprised of representatives of five state-local sustainability programs including: Minnesota GreenStep Cities, Sustainable Maryland, Sustainable Pennsylvania, Wisconsin Green Tier Legacy Communities and Sustainable Jersey. Key personnel from Green Cities California, Clean Energy Communities (CT), the Florida Green Building Coalition, Massachusetts Green Communities, Michigan Green Communities, Climate Smart Communities (NY) and Go Green Virginia also contributed to the report.

“This study sheds light on a growing trend where organizations operating at the statewide level form partnerships to amplify the role of local government to make change,” said Helen Chin, director of Sustainable Environments at the Surdna Foundation. “This is a growing model where statewide organizations, including state government, engage communities to set standards together and cooperate to identify needed resources that enable the communities to make measurable change on the ground. Hundreds of local governments are now placing sustainability on the policy agenda and implementing thousands of discrete sustainability projects within a short span of time.”

Melanie Hughes McDermott, Ph.D., a senior researcher at Sustainable Jersey and one of the report authors said, “This report is the first part of a multi-year effort to support the growth of state-local sustainability programs for the certification or recognition of municipal sustainability and evaluate their potential. In addition to providing insights across the board, the report includes program profiles of each of the 12 state-sustainability programs. We hope to show a path forward toward collaboration across the United States to move these local efforts to the next level.”

A few themes emerge from the comparative analysis of the 12 state-local sustainability programs:

  • Most of the programs set standards and rate community performance on dimensions related to sustainability and/or energy, and provide a form of certification or recognition to local governments.
  • Most of the programs go beyond rating communities and work to provide resources in the form of grants or technical assistance to help communities make progress.
  • Some programs are led by NGOs or universities, while others are led by state government. The organizations generally embody some kind of public-private cooperative relationship.
  • State-led programs as a whole tend to have larger budgets and higher rates of entry-level participation.
  • A higher proportion of participants in programs led by NGOs and universities attain certification (or equivalent recognition).
  • Funding available to the programs is a key driver of local participation, but is not the only driver.  Funding for operations and direct grants to local governments is the number one need cited by respondents.
  • All twelve programs strive to demonstrate widespread impact. Thus, the participants in this study expressed a keen interest in networking to engage national partners, attract resources, and learn from each other how best to make (and measure) impact – one community at a time.

We see great potential in the programs coming together to learn from each other, share resources, and also to engage national partners. We agreed that it would be beneficial to form a national network to set common standards and share resources and best practices. We continue to meet and plan to have a second convening this September.

Imagine what we will accomplish if we work together — stay tuned!


Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Randall Solomon has 20 years of experience working in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. He is one of the principals that founded and directs the Sustainable Jersey Certification program.

For more about Sustainable Jersey:

Website   Facebook  Twitter  Instagram   LinkedIn

 

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Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Look Hard for ‘Soft’ Skills on Your Board

Posted on by Dodge

TA illo for website

“What should we look for in recruiting good board members?” Our clients often ask us this question and, while there is no simple answer, there are some important considerations.

This post focuses on “soft skills,” which can impact how well the board functions and meets its legal obligations.

There are a number of qualities considered typical of a good board member. Enthusiasm for the organization’s mission is a requirement for any board member. After that prerequisite, the organization usually focuses on the hard skills, or specific competencies, desired for the board. No matter what hard skills are being sought for the board, however, every candidate’s soft skills, or interpersonal traits, should be carefully vetted to ensure that the individual has both sets of skills necessary to be an effective board member.

Organizations need board members who understand a board’s responsibilities, who possess the hard skills desirable for governing the organization, and who have the soft skills necessary to work effectively in a group. Members who are new to board service can be educated about the responsibilities of the board.

The organization should pay the most attention to hard and soft skills in the recruitment process. There are a variety of hard skills that will contribute positively to the mix of skills on the board, which will change over time as the organization evolves.  Every board member should have soft skills, as they are qualities that result in a well-functioning group.

Board members must be able to work as part of a team, because a board acts both collaboratively and collectively. Under most circumstances, once there has been an opportunity for a free and open discussion on a matter, members should respect the decisions of the majority and support them as decisions of the entire board.

At the same time, board members must be mindful of their fiduciary duties to the organization. They must not be so collegial that they fail to structure governance principles, policies, and practices to ensure that board members are fulfilling their fiduciary duties and, in small organizations without staff, managing the organization effectively.  With good soft skills, members can work assertively to fulfill their duties to the organization while maintaining a good working relationship with each other.

If the organization has paid staff, board members should understand that they are not hands-on managers. Their responsibility is to make certain that the organization is being managed well and has the resources to successfully fulfill its mission. They should accept that the day-to-day activities of the organization are managed by the executive director.  At the same time, the board cannot be so deferential to the executive director that it allows that person to dictate the board’s activities.

The board must ensure that the standards it has established for governance of the organization are being followed. Again, with the necessary soft skills, board members can effectively meet their obligations while maintaining a positive relationship with the executive director.

If board members aren’t working well together or with the executive director, hard skills often won’t matter. It is usually the soft skills that prevent a board from becoming dysfunctional. Pro Bono Partnership provides resources on corporate governance, board development, and board assessment, many of which are on our website. Only you can make sure that your organization’s board members have those soft skills.


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.

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Poetry Friday: Festival Video – Aja Monet

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

ajamonetToday’s featured Festival film is a reading by Aja Monet from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy her poems “Tardiness” and “The Emerging Woman After Aborting a Girl.” For more information about Aja, check out her website ajamonet.com or follow her on Twitter @aja_monet.

 

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Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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Dodge Partners with New Jersey Health Initiatives to Support Build It Green Competition

Posted on by Dodge

Green Infrastructure

BIG Competition Aims to Spark Innovative Stormwater Management Solutions in New Jersey Communities

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and New Jersey Health Initiatives recently awarded $165,000 in matching grants to New Jersey Future in support of the new Build It Green Competition, a design challenge to help New Jersey communities design, finance, and scale up green and grey infrastructure projects addressing outdated, failing water infrastructure.

BIG-logo-300x214 (1)While most cities have newer wastewater systems with separate sanitary and stormwater sewers, 21 New Jersey communities are still served by older combined systems that discharge untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways during heavy rain and snowmelt events. These communities are now creating plans to meet new state environmental mandates (pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act) that will lead to greener, cleaner cities.

The enormity of the needed investment represents a tremendous opportunity to leverage new projects to create multiple benefits for New Jersey communities. The Build it Green (BIG) Competition will provide technical assistance and engineering support services to selected New Jersey cities and utilities to design innovative, financeable projects that reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) while also making neighborhoods and downtowns better places to live, work and invest.

Combined sewer systems are designed to dump raw sewage into water bodies during rain events. Source: USEPA

Combined sewer systems are designed to dump raw sewage into
water bodies during rain events. Source: USEPA

So why did an environment and health funder decide to support this engineering design competition? Dodge Foundation Communications Manager Meghan Jambor sat down with New Jersey Health Initiatives Director Bob Atkins and Dodge Environment Program Director Margaret Waldock to find out.  

Dodge: Bob, what is New Jersey Health Initiatives and what do you do?

Bob Atkins: New Jersey Health Initiatives, the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, reflects the foundation’s mission to build a culture of health here in its home state of New Jersey by supporting innovations and driving conversations to build healthier communities. Through our grantmaking, we encourage collaboration across sectors to foster deep relationships committed to long-term change affording everyone the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible.

Dodge: Margaret, can you tell us a little bit about Dodge and its involvement with Jersey Water Works, a collaborative dedicated to influencing the transformation of inadequate water infrastructure through sustainable, cost effective solutions that provide communities with clean water, healthier, safer neighborhoods, flood and climate resilience, and economic growth and prosperity?

Margaret Waldock: Dodge has partnered with New Jersey Future, the backbone organization of Jersey Water Works, since 2013 to elevate the issue of deficient urban water infrastructure as a priority to sustainable communities and clean waterways in New Jersey, through research, convening, coordination and advocacy. Under New Jersey Future’s leadership, what began as the urban water initiative evolved last year into its own standalone network, Jersey Water Works. Dodge is just one of 20 organizations to sit on the steering committee of Jersey Water Works, which today has almost 200 supporting members working together to make a difference.

The Dodge Foundation has a long-standing commitment to environmental protection and believes that clean water and healthy waterways are essential to the long-term sustainability of our communities. Plus, whether you live in bustling Newark, rural Sparta, or in seaside Cape May, healthy ecosystems and access to natural places like parks, forests and riverfronts make for better places to live, work, and play. We also know that the long-term prosperity of our communities is dependent on keeping these places free from pollution. We can’t turn back the clock on our state’s toxic legacy, but we can act now to make our communities better than when we found them so future generations can enjoy them.

Dodge: What drew your interest in funding the Build It Green (BIG) Competition?

BA: NJHI is committed to building healthier communities in New Jersey and we realize this is going to require unprecedented partnership and a willingness to work together differently across the board. The BIG Competition exemplifies working together differently. New Jersey Future and refocus Partners will foster cross-sector collaboration by developing public-private partnerships and involving sectors not typically engaged in conversations around health. Additionally, the initiative afforded the opportunity for us at New Jersey Health Initiatives to partner with an important philanthropic partner in the state, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. We look forward to exploring how building healthier communities intersects with their focus areas of arts, education, informed communities and the environment.

MW: Tackling this issue is a monumental task, to be sure. We know that in order to get to cleaner, healthier communities, we need to push ourselves to a new level of collaboration to find innovative solutions. Limited funding and access to financing and expertise are among the biggest barriers communities need to overcome to solve their water infrastructure problems, and that’s why we were attracted to the BIG Competition. We hope the selected projects will serve as best practices and help build a financeable pipeline of integrated grey and green infrastructure upgrades to reduce or eliminate CSO discharges into New Jersey waterways. And we’re proud to stand alongside New Jersey Health Initiatives and all the members of Jersey Water Works.

The 21 cities with CSOs have 1.5 million residents, or one-sixth of the state’s population, and 530,000 employees, about one-seventh of the state’s employment.

The 21 cities with CSOs have 1.5 million residents, or one-sixth of the state’s population, and 530,000 employees, about one-seventh of the state’s employment. Source

Dodge: How does the BIG Competition fit with the current work your programs are addressing in New Jersey?

BA: The BIG initiative illustrates how health and the environment are linked together and equally important in the conversation to making New Jersey a healthier place to live, learn, work and play. Also, the BIG initiative drives conversations to build healthier communities in a way not commonly seen in our state. We need the different perspectives from all involved — NJHI, Dodge, New Jersey Future, refocus partners and the communities in which they will work.

MW: Our goal is green cities and clean waterways. We support organizations and programs that provide direct connections to nature and ensure that the benefits of watershed protection extend to some of the most urbanized and industrialized landscapes in our state. This is realized through investments in what can broadly be referred to as “green” infrastructure: parks, gardens, farms and forests in urbanized communities. The results of these investments far exceed mere beautification and include clean waterways, increased recreation and exercise, cooler neighborhoods, green jobs, and citizen environmental stewards. An expanding focus among grantees is the use and restoration of natural systems to address flooding, polluted run-off and deteriorating urban waterways, which threaten public health and are barriers to economic prosperity.

Dodge: There are 21 New Jersey communities with serious CSO challenges. Do your programs currently fund any initiatives in any of these 21 communities?

BA: Yes. In July 2015, under NJHI’s Building a Culture of Health in NJ – Communities Moving to Action initiative, coalitions focusing on the cities of Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton were funded. It is our hope that by partnering with Dodge in funding the BIG Competition, we will be able to raise awareness among our coalitions about green infrastructure possibilities in their communities so they can engage a greater range of voices in their conversations.

MW: We are targeting  investments in specific cities, including Newark, , Trenton, and Camden, because there is both need and capacity. These communities have some of the highest concentrations of toxic sites (legacies from decades of land use policies that concentrated polluting industries in neighborhoods), a significant gap and need for public parkland, and a concentration of polluting, failing urban water infrastructure. These places also benefit from the work of a number of community-based organizations with capacity, relationships and networks that extend beyond their borders — the groups to whom we direct our funding. These cities also hold considerable promise for attracting population growth and reinvestment as the population trends shift towards walkable neighborhoods and access to public transit. By investing here, we have opportunity to leverage our impact. There are synergies to be found with partners focused on related issues like public safety, air quality, transportation, and job creation to advance mutual goals.

CVymu_BWEAAVkSs

For more information about Jersey Water Works, visit JerseyWaterWorks.org.


Bob Atkins, PhD, RN, FAAN is director of New Jersey Health Initiatives, the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more information on New Jersey Health Initiatives, visit njhi.org

Margaret Waldock directs the Dodge Foundation’s Environmental grants and identifies opportunities for Dodge to support innovative and creative approaches to advance sustainability and environmental protection in the Garden State. For more information on Dodge’s Environment program, visit grdodge.org.

Photo at top: Green infrastructure protects, restores, and mimics the natural water cycle. Newark’s Riverfront Park (Trust for Public Land); Sussex Avenue School Playground (Trust for Public Land); a rain barrel building workshop (Sustainable Jersey).

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The Garden State: Join Us Today on Twitter For Our First #BetterNJ Chat

Posted on by Dodge

Garden State Twitter TLC

 

Join us for our first-ever #BetterNJ LIVE Twitter chat to learn about the Garden State’s community gardens and urban farms with some of New Jersey’s leading organizations working to develop regional food systems that offer plentiful access to fresh, local foods.

Thursday April 14, 2016 from 2-3 p.m. 

Tune in to chat with Center for Environmental Transformation in Camden, City Green in Clifton, Greater Newark ConservancyGrow It Green Morristown, Ironbound Community Corporation, Isles in Trenton, Sustainable Jersey and more.

During the The Garden State #BetterNJ conversation, we will ask featured guests what’s new at their farms this spring, how they provide healthy produce to their communities and to share tips and resources for new gardeners.

Tips to get the most from #BetterNJ:

  • Follow the main participants and #BetterNJ hashtag.
  • Submit questions before the event to get the discussion going early!
  • Use the #BetterNJ hashtag on your comments that you want to share with the community.
  • Share tweets you think your followers will appreciate.
  • Follow interesting participants during and after the chat.

Be sure to follow these participants (and look for others who are joining the conversation!):

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Center for Non-Profits: Chronic Under-Funding of Non-Profits An Unacceptable Risk

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

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The Center for Non-Profits has just released its New Jersey Non-Profits 2016: Trends and Outlook report, highlighting the findings from our 2016 annual non-profit survey.

2016AnnualSurveyRptCover_1700x2200The full report lays out in detail the ups and downs experienced by non-profits during the previous year, and their outlook for 2016.

Here are the major highlights, based on the 311 New Jersey non-profit respondents from late January/early February 2016:

  • Nearly three-quarters of responding organizations reported that demand for services had increased during the past year.
  • Nearly four-fifths expected demand to continue rising in 2016.
  • Only two-fifths reported receiving more total funding in 2015 than in 2014, but nearly two-thirds reported that their expenses had increased during the same period.
  • Over one-third (35%) reported that expenses exceeded support and revenue during their most recently completed fiscal year; the proportion was even higher (44%) among larger organizations, those with annual budgets of $1.5 million or more.
  • Seventy percent expected their total expenses to increase in 2016, but fewer than half (47%) expected total 2016 funding to increase.

If you’ve seen our previous surveys or if you work regularly with non-profits, these findings may sound like variations of a familiar theme. You may even think that they’re better than during the worst of the recession – and that’s true. But if you care about the well-being of the non-profit community and non-profits’ ability to provide vital programs and services, these numbers should generate deep concern.

Why? Because the findings show the continuation of a long-running trend that threatens the sustainability of non-profits at a time when our communities need them more than ever.

Chronic Under-Funding Puts Non-Profits at Risk

JengaComposite_LMCThe disconnect between rising demand and lagging resources has been occurring for years, and has been well documented in national surveys and studies as well as those conducted in New Jersey by the Center.

And for years, experts have warned about the risks of ignoring organizational infrastructure needs, and the perils of skimping on these essential investments.

The problem, quite simply, is that this disconnect is not sustainable. If we continue to add to non-profits’ workloads year after year without providing the resources to meet the increased needs, the inevitable result is a steady erosion of critical support systems and structures.

The consequences of such chronic under-funding can be disastrous. To see how, you only need look to New York and last year’s collapse of Federation Employment and Guidance Services (FEGS), a $250 million/year social service organization with 1,900 employees serving 120,000 individuals and households annually. A recent report by the Human Services Council lays out the roots of FEGS’ collapse in detail. Although there were clearly some circumstances that were unique to FEGS, the underlying systemic problems that precipitated FEGS’ failure were years in the making and strikingly similar to those identified by the Center for Non-Profits and our allies in New Jersey, and by national advocates. These include:

  • Government contracts that failed to cover the actual costs of providing services, requiring non-profits to find ways to fill the gaps, whether through private philanthropy, by subsidizing the government through other means, or by foregoing essential organizational or personnel needs.
  • Wasteful, burdensome government paperwork, reporting and monitoring requirements that sap organizations of scarce resources that could be devoted to better purposes.
  • Late payments or delayed contract paperwork.
  • Failure to sufficiently involve provider organizations in planning and policymaking decisions.

This under-funding of non-profits is not new, and it’s hardly unique to government-funded organizations. For far too long, too many policy makers, government agencies, funders, donors and “raters” have told non-profits that devoting resources to institutional infrastructure is inappropriate. Instead of working in partnership with organizations to define real measures of success, too many still rely on the program vs. admin/fundraising expense ratios that even their proponents admit are inadequate (but still persist in using), or they propose legislation designed to prop up these meaningless standards. They cap indirect costs at 5-10% (if they allow them at all) when national studies suggest that 25%-35% or higher is more realistic. They believe, mistakenly, that charities aren’t contributing to the economic well-being of our municipalities, and seek to tax charitable property, scolding charities for “not paying their fair share.”

Non-profits continue to transform lives and lift up communities in the face of extraordinary challenges, tackling these and many other obstacles with professionalism, competence, intelligence, dedication, passion and creativity.

But these obstacles, whether imposed deliberately or unintentionally, place a huge strain on the ability of non-profits to meet continuously escalating needs. And if we, who work in and care about non-profits, allow this situation to fester, we are complicit.

We perpetuate the problem:

  • when we continue to accept contract or grant conditions that are untenable and unsustainable;
  • when we boast that “100% of your donation goes to program” (while neglecting to mention that the other costs have to be covered somewhere);
  • when we silently endure years, if not decades, of flat funding while the mandates placed on non-profits continue to grow;
  • when we perpetuate artificially low compensation structures that force talented people to seek careers elsewhere;
  • when we cannot invest in planning, technology, outreach and facility upgrades, and
  • when we do not speak out, vocally and frequently, about what is needed for success.

If we fail to act, we are putting charitable missions, and the public interest, at risk.

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What can be done?

Fortunately, there are steps that can, and are being, taken by leaders, champions and allies within the non-profit community and our partners in government, philanthropy, and business.

  • Tell the story. As non-profit champions, it’s up to us to improve understanding about non-profits, and to debunk the myths and misconceptions that still permeate opinions about our community. We need to remind government and for-profit leaders, current and prospective donors, the media and the public, about what non-profits do to make our economy and our society strong. If we don’t do it, no one else will.
  • Fund the real costs of non-profit work. The chronic under-funding of non-profits has serious consequences for the communities and causes that depend on us. For non-profits, it means ensuring that our budgets reflect full costs, and presenting full-cost budgets to our funders. For funders (public and private), it means acknowledging the consequences of chronic under-funding and working with non-profits and philanthropic colleagues to tackle the problem together. For all of us, it means sustained communications and education.
  • Focus on the questions that matter. As non-profit blogger Vu Le often points out, few people walk into a restaurant and refuse to eat the meal because they spend too much on electricity. When government contracts with a construction company, they don’t ask if they’ll be using any of the money to pay for tuition reimbursement for their employees. Let’s keep the focus where it belongs: on mission, meaningful results, and the well-being of the causes we serve.
  • Reform the government contracting system. The broken government grant and contracting framework is not a new phenomenon, and many efforts to fix the system date back decades. Thanks to persistent advocacy efforts by the National Council of Nonprofits and others, significant national progress has been made with the OMB Uniform Guidance and in other quarters. But much more can be done. Here in New Jersey, numerous common-sense changes can improve efficiencies and yield significant benefits.
  • Make it easier for New Jersey non-profits to generate revenue. Several bills, some with bipartisan sponsorship, are pending in the state legislature, to promote charitable giving in New Jersey by creating state-level giving incentives. Other initiatives are in exploration to modernize the games of chance framework. We should explore these and other mechanisms to help charities generate the funds they so desperately need to do the work.
  • Keep the conversation going and stand together for change. Our 2016 report isn’t the beginning of this dialogue, and it’s certainly not the end. We do hope that it will encourage a heightened urgency among non-profits, funders, board members, policy makers, and other allies to work together to address the challenges and opportunities we face.

Let’s work together to reverse the tide of chronic under-funding, remove the needless barriers, and create more opportunities for success. There’s too much at stake to hold off any longer.


36fa43eLinda M. Czipo is executive director of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community.  Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and cost-saving member services, the Center works to build the power of New Jersey’s non-profit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state. 

 

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ArtPride NJ: Growing Arts Advocacy Nationwide

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, ArtPride New Jersey

SAAN

“If you’re not networking, you’re not working.” – Denis Waitley

We all have our networks at work and at home, online and in real time. The most valuable ones provide knowledge, insight into best practices, and oftentimes they are a haven of support and comfort.

ArtPride New Jersey’s business networks range far and wide from more than 40,000 Jersey Arts members, to the unique Jersey Arts Marketers, to the State Arts Action Network of Americans for the Arts. This blog will introduce you to that special network of leaders in 42 states across the nation who have similar goals — to increase financial and human resources and support for the arts in both public and private sectors. Our collective impact increases those resources nationwide.

While the goals of each state arts advocacy organization may be similar, the climates in which they exist are indigenous to each state, and the current status of arts funding in each state reflects its own set of unique societal and economic forces.

In New Jersey, we are fortunate to enjoy a healthy nonprofit arts community that has support from its residents despite a struggling state economy, the lack of multiple major metropolitan areas and the media networks that exist outside of New Jersey in New York and Philadelphia. In comparison, other states like South Carolina have an entrenched conservative base and the state advocacy organization labors each year to pass a modest arts appropriation without a gubernatorial veto.

The State Arts Action Network gathers in person three times each year, at National Arts Advocacy Day, at the Americans for the Arts Annual Conference and in the fall. At these times the Network shines as a model for professional development, and colleagues share lessons learned from successful (and failed) statewide and local advocacy campaigns, partnerships that reap great returns, and strategies that compel citizens to actively seek a healthy cultural environment. In addition to national forums, Arts Action Network members benefit from webinars, an email listserv moderated by Americans for the Arts, a monthly e-newsletter, and a closed group Facebook page where it’s easy to post relevant news that relates not only to arts advocacy but to public policy that affects the arts throughout our nation. Policies that result from the Network’s efforts  often provide new ways to tackle issues at home and are adaptable to a variety of situations.

I invite you to follow Arts Blog this week for a Blog Salon on “Innovations in State Arts Advocacy.” I guarantee you will gain insight into why state arts advocacy is critical, learn about successful advocacy campaigns in states like Massachusetts and California, and understand how unique partnerships generate new advocates and increased interest in the arts throughout our nation.

Even more than knowledge of how the arts fare in other states, you will witness firsthand the brain trust that is the State Arts Action Network and how smart these change agents are, some dealing with seriously challenging circumstances. Personally, Action Network colleagues have challenged me, supported me and served as sounding boards and connectors to valuable contacts.  I am often in awe of their skills and many have become close personal friends over the years.

I hope you follow and enjoy this Arts Blog Salon, share the links and stories with colleagues and friends, and spread the word about this unique and valuable professional network.


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 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. 

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Poetry Friday: Festival Video – David Daniel

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

Image courtesy of Connotation Press

Image courtesy of Connotation Press

Today’s featured Festival film is a reading by David Daniel from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poem “Ornaments.” For more information about Daniel, check out our blog about him or visit his faculty page.

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Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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Arts Ed Now: STEAM Stories from the Garden State

Posted on by Kira Campo, New Jersey Arts Education Partnership
STEAM EmPOWERment showcases the work of several schools in the Paterson Public Schools. Photo via steamempowerment.blogspot.com/

STEAM EmPOWERment showcases the work of several schools in the Paterson Public Schools. Photo via steamempowerment.blogspot.com/

Conversations about STEAM, both in New Jersey and throughout the United States, are frequently taking place in educational circles.

STEAM — an acronym that has become synonymous with learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — is regarded by many as a worthwhile and impactful approach to learning. As with other issues related to the arts in education, New Jersey continues to make positive inroads with this topic. With educational leaders throughout the state publicly recognizing the value of STEAM learning, the support and infrastructure for hands-on, interdisciplinary learning experiences continues to grow.

Click on this link to view a video from EdCamp STEAM, a professional development event held at the Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick.

One way to think about STEAM is through the lens of arts integration: the application of one or more arts disciplines enabling students to make deep and meaningful connections with concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. For those already familiar with the long tradition of arts integration there is probably little surprise that the STEAM model has captured the attention of educators and educational leaders. With STEAM learning responsible for many positive outcomes, there seems to be just cause for the recognition it receives these days. As an instructional model, arts integration has been regarded as highly effective for decades.

Countless examples of STEAM learning take place throughout New Jersey. The New Jersey Arts Education Partnership looks for stories and details about the inspired STEAM projects practitioners develop. For example, GE Wilson Elementary in Hamilton was featured on NJTV’s Classroom Close-up recently, with a highlight on the school’s interactive murals.

The time spent creating the artwork is not only highly engaging for students, but once complete, the murals become artifacts that teachers employ to reinforce other subjects.  One of the murals at GE Wilson is used to help students better understand the lifecycle of plants, while another is used as a teaching tool in 3rd grade math classes. Large-scale group projects like these represent one approach to STEAM learning.

Other STEAM projects increase students’ exposure to cultural resources in the community. This was the case on March 7, when a reception was held at the Paterson Museum in Paterson featuring a student STEAM Art Exhibition. The event was a remarkable opportunity to showcase students’ artistic accomplishments, as well as the significant learning that has taken place. The artwork resulted from cross-disciplinary learning, which was supported by William Paterson University’s Professor In Residence STEAM initiative.

Last fall, during the New Jersey School Boards Association conference there was a session devoted to a multi-year STEAM project in Beach Haven. Details about the project can be found on a blog that documents the process; a process that stretched beyond the walls of the school building.  For example, in order to write an original script that would culminate in a student performance at a local theater, the young playwrights sought input from members of the community who had lived through two epic storms: one in 1962 and the other in 2012. Students engaged in the project were learning about science through the lens of island ecology.

These examples, and myriad others taking place throughout New Jersey, demonstrate the how the process of learning and the learning environment are both enlivened and expanded through STEAM. Fortunately, with support received from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, STEAM programs like those in Paterson, Beach Haven, and other communities can continue to thrive.

Do you have a favorite example of STEAM learning you would like to share?  If so, we would love to hear about it.

Please visit the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership Facebook page and post videos or photos with a short description of the project…or projects.  If you have a blog that features examples of student work, feel free to include that, too.  Let’s try to collect the most shining examples of STEAM stories from the Garden State.


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Kira Campo is the Program Development Manager at the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP).

The NJAEP was established in 2007 to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society.

For additional details about the NJAEP, visit www.artsednj.org.

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Technical Assistance: Three Common Operating Reserve Myths

Posted on by Hilda Polanco

Technical Assistance Hero for Homepage

How LUNA Could be the Key to Long-Term Sustainability

 A recent study of the financial health of New York City nonprofits uncovered some disturbing trends: 10 percent are insolvent and 40 percent exist with virtually zero cash reserves. For nonprofit leaders, these statistics play out in the form of daily anxieties: struggling to make payroll, defaulting on vendor payments, and reacting to never-ending fires.

Operating reserves — liquid savings readily available for opportunities and emergencies alike — would be a game changer in these scenarios. And yet, Fiscal Management Associates often encounters skepticism when we advocate for operating reserves to nonprofit executives and Board members. Here are three common misconceptions that we hear about building operating reserves.

Myth One: Endowments are the best route to financial sustainability.

Endowments — permanently restricted funds that are invested to produce an ongoing income stream for an organization — are typically seen as a safe solution for nonprofits looking to bolster financial sustainability. However, as a general rule of thumb, an endowment only has a meaningful impact if it is large enough to provide at least 5 percent of an organization’s annual operating budget. This requires a hefty-sized endowment, usually an amount that is at least equal to the budget size of the organization, which may be difficult—if not impossible—for the average community-based nonprofit to raise.

There is a better way. Liquid and unrestricted net assets in the form of operating reserves may be a more realistic and attainable way to boost financial sustainability for most small to mid-sized nonprofits. Not only that, these types of resources provide flexibility—endowments, by definition, restrict financial resources—which is critical for leaders of ever-changing organizations. Operating reserves usually take the form of cash, receivables, and liquid investments that an organization has on hand that are not designated for specific purposes by an outside funder or donor. At FMA, we call them liquid unrestricted net assets—or LUNA.

Liquid operating reserves can empower the leaders of nonprofit organizations to manage routine cash flow, support future programming or new opportunities, invest in and maintain facilities and other capital assets, and weather economic downturns or (financially) unsuccessful ventures. Rather than raised in a full scale capital campaign, LUNA is either built up slowly over time—by generating modest operating surpluses each year—or, increasingly, the result of foundation grants targeted for the purpose of building a reserve.

Myth Two: Operating surpluses are counter to mission.

We meet many nonprofit leaders who subscribe to the general sentiment that nonprofits should never make a “profit” on the services they provide. On the contrary, without a surplus—some excess in revenue above your actual cost of providing services—there is virtually no way to generate reserves that can carry you over rough patches in funding or help launch new and vital programmatic initiatives. The “balanced budget” for which so many nonprofits strive can in fact be part of the problem, not the solution.

The first step toward building a financial reserve is to create an organizational culture that accepts and strives to generate operating surpluses. It requires buy-in from the Board of Directors and acknowledgement from line staff. Nonprofits can be transparent in their plans to establish reserves by developing a long-term plan that outlines financial goals and clear policies regarding how reserves will be used to strengthen the agency and better achieve its mission.

The board can determine how much of its unrestricted net assets to make available for management to use as needed (“Operating Reserve”), how much to set aside for a rainy day (“Board Designated”) and how much to earmark for a specific strategic goal (“Special Purpose”). This culture change will not happen overnight, but addressing these assumptions is key to moving the needle on your organization’s financial health.

Myth Three: Building reserves is not a priority for organizations with chronic cash challenges.

In situations where an organization is faced with consecutive years of operating deficits and chronic cash flow shortages, building an operating reserve can feel not only daunting, but perhaps even unrealistic. In fact, it is the organizations in this category that stand to benefit the most from a culture of financial management oriented towards long-term stability.

One organization that FMA is currently partnering with has a history of taking out loans to bridge operating deficits, without having the ability to pay back the debt. This vicious cycle has resulted in a particularly grim financial outlook and a general fatigue among the organization’s board and staff. With FMA’s help, the organization has come to an understanding of what needs to be done to restore stability and reduce cash flow-induced anxiety, and has committed itself to a rigorous financial fitness plan. Over the next 5-7 years, it will strive to generate modest operating surpluses each year. This will allow it to incrementally move itself to a more financially sound position—first, by paying back its debt, and then, by slowly building up an operating reserve that will serve as an internal line of credit to bridge those inevitable cash flow shortages.

We offer this story as proof. Though it may be a slow and incremental process, it is possible for any organization to embark on the path of building financial reserves. What matters most is having the long-term vision, commitment, and tenacity to build and maintain operating reserves, even in the face of other obligations and distractions.


 

Hilda_polanco2

Hilda 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. 

 

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Poetry Friday: Festival Videos – Richard Blanco

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

Richard BlancoToday’s featured Festival film is a reading by Richard Blanco from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poems “América” and “Mother Picking Produce.” For more information about Richard, check out our blog about him, visit his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter @rblancopoet.

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Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

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