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

Posted on by Allison Trimarco

Life Track

Staying on Track in an Unpredictable World

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Illustrations at top: via Creative Commons

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

Posted on by Chris Satullo, Local News Lab fellow


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

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

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

And now, each has a Listening Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Posted on by Dodge

Camden Central Question landscape v1

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

If any of our blog readers know people who live or work in Camden who might be interested in participating, please forward this blog or send them here for more information! We’d also like to extend thanks to our Creative Camden host venue partner Rutgers-Camden and our media partner NJTV.
camden mural background


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.

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Sustainable Jersey: Never underestimate the power of a small grant

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


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

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

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

Beeline to Breakfast at C.J. Davenport Elementary

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Greenhouse at West Cape May Elementary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by Pro Bono Partnership

CashStrings CC Tax Credits

Where Funding Comes From Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20160108_Nancy_025cNancy Eberhardt is New Jersey director of Pro Bono Partnership and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Pro Bono Partnership provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Learn more here

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ArtPride New Jersey: Now is the Time

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, ArtPride NJ

March CC Wendy Harmon


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

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

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

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

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

Here are three quick things you can do now.

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

Arts Pride New Jersey from Dante Giannetta on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.

Photo at top: Creative Commons / Wendy Harmon



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Posted on by Pro Bono Partnership

Creative Commons Billy Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Press: Race, the Media, and Politics in the Trump Era

Posted on by James L. Thompson, Free Press

Free Press group-shot-standing


One of the most important roles news outlets have is their power to convene. They can bring together community members and those in positions of power, and provide a space for thoughtful conversation while asking necessary, but uncomfortable, questions.

So over the weekend, News Voices: New Jersey partnered with WNYC in Newark to bring together local leaders, lawmakers, artists and residents to engage in important discussions about race, the media and politics in the Trump era.

More than 150 people came together at the Newark Public Library to have a critical conversation about the ways these issues play out in the city. The discussion took place as thousands were taking action at airports across the country in defense of the rights of refugees and Muslims.

FP Neark

My colleague Mike Rispoli and I started planning this event with WNYC’s Rebecca Carroll last August. But the conversation about race in America has taken on new meaning and urgency over the last 11 days.

We were all there to all listen, share and reflect on what we could do to better understand the impact of systemic and structural racism in America.

The program included three one-on-one conversations covering the American dream, tokenism, black feminism and the women’s marches.

Speakers included New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez; Rep. Donald Payne Jr.; Newark-based poet Paula Neves; local educator, mentor and community organizer A’Dorian Murray-Thomas; gallery owner and activist Jasmine Wahi; and feminist theorist and Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper.

This live event was just one way to bring journalism out of the newsroom and into a community. Instead of having these conversations in a WNYC studio, those speaking could hear from and interact with people in attendance. Instead of people passively listening to “important” people speaking, they could see those figures, ask questions and respond in real time to important ideas.

And — as we do with all of our News Voices events — we invited all those in attendance to host their own conversations. This enabled people to discuss what they heard and think about ways to turn ideas into action.

FP Newark 2

Here’s a recap and some takeaways from the event:

The American Dream

Sen. Menendez and A’Dorian Murray-Thomas shared personal stories about their journeys as members of New Jersey’s Hispanic and Black communities, respectively.

Menendez drew on his experience as a determined high-school student whose teachers failed to take seriously his desire to get into the best schools available.

Murray-Thomas recalled her struggle as a young Black student to overcome racial and cultural barriers to a good education. She spoke of her initiative SHE Wins, which mentors young, disadvantaged girls seeking better educational and career opportunities and more civic engagement.

The focal point of their conversation was that a good education is one of the single most valuable ways to overcome the barriers of structural and systematic racism.

Thoughts on the Women’s March

Brittney Cooper and Jasmine Wahi had a candid conversation about the role race played in the recent women’s marches.

Cooper, a respected black feminist theorist, spoke about ongoing tensions between the march’s largely white leadership and black feminists, and the work that needs to be done to unite communities and movements.

Wahi touched on the impact art has on feminism. Her Gateway Project Spaces is a gallery and artist workspace that engages Newark’s creative community in critical dialogues about race and social justice.


Identity Politics and Tokenism

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. and Luso-American Ironbound poet Paula Neves discussed their experiences with identity politics. In particular, they spoke about what it means to be seen, and how dehumanizing it feels to be unseen.

To illustrate this, Payne told a story about encountering a traffic cop as a young man in Newark. When he was pulled over, the police officer treated him harshly and threatened to throw him in jail. After Payne handed over his license, the officer changed his tone completely upon realizing that Payne was the son of a distinguished South Ward city councilman. In a matter of moments, Payne went from being “unseen” as a nameless young Black man to being “seen” as the son of someone in power.

Neves took this idea and spoke about how people choose to see or not see people. For instance, as the child of Portuguese immigrants in Newark, Neves grew up around people of color but was often identified as White.

FP Newark 3

Q & A, Group Discussions and Next Steps

As important as the program itself was the audience, which was racially diverse and included a mix of Newark residents and folks from the broader region.

When we broke into the open-dialogue section of the program, people organized themselves into small groups to talk about what inspired them during the one-on-one conversations — and how to turn that energy into action.

But we weren’t done yet. We asked participants to write down one thing they were taking away from the event, whether it was an idea that moved them or something they wanted to act on.

While leaving, people posted their notes on a wall for all to see. The results were remarkable. Here are a few of the observations we saw that inspired us:

  • Mentoring young people and providing educational opportunities that focus on advancement are needed to help break the cycle of poverty and inequality.
  • White people and those in positions of privilege need a better understanding of the struggles that people of color encounter in American society.
  • We need to identify structural and systemic racism whenever we see it in our institutions — to call it out and work with policymakers, residents and civic leaders to develop initiatives that measure progress.
  • Educating our youth about their culture and their history is essential.
  • We need to identify the steps we can take together and the roles each of us can play in highlighting issues that contribute to inequality.

Many attendees expressed interest in participating in more public dialogues. Just as important are the steps local media and News Voices can take to shed light on social justice issues.

Here are a few:

  • Raising up the good programs, best practices, and actions that can lead to positive change for the residents of Newark
  • Pinpointing ways that we can strengthen local media and support independent local journalism
  • Forging collaborations between local media and community organizations
  • Convening discussions on topics local residents care about
  • Educating community leaders and residents on the importance of media literacy and how it can help foster change

Stay tuned for info on upcoming News Voices activities in Newark.

To hear the full audio recording of the event, go here.


jamesJames works with Free Press members, allies and community members on the News Voices: New Jersey project. Throughout his career as an organizer, James has assisted in developing models and methods to increase community engagement and advocacy for a stronger and more inclusive democracy. For more information on Free Press’ News Voices New Jersey project, click here.

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Creative New Jersey: The Spark of Collaboration in Asbury Park

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

AP Dodge Blog head image

On January 11 & 12, 2017, the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration took place and welcomed a highly diverse group of individuals representing all areas of city life in Asbury Park.

This two-day gathering was part of Creative New Jersey’s statewide series of community-based convenings, aimed at helping to fuel current efforts already in action and to foster creativity, collaboration, and inclusion by facilitatinDSC_0757_resizedg cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture.

Over the course of the two-day meeting, participants grappled with topics that fell under our central guiding question:

How can we work more creatively and collaboratively to build our local economy, strengthen ties across our culturally rich community, and leverage our diverse assets, so that all who live, work and play in Asbury Park can benefit from our city’s renaissance?

Thirty-nine breakout sessions took place on topics as varied as the skills and interests of the 125+ participants.

The energy and vibrancy of those conversations sparked new collaborations and strengthened partnerships, leading to a variety of actionable outcomes including:


  • A new Mayor’s Youth Council (the result of conversations led by Asbury Park High School students)
  • More collaborative approaches to reaching out to and helping homeless individuals and families
  • Social service organizations working across industries to bring services to clients in need
  • An arts & culture and tourism collaboration between several organizations and groups with plans for a multi-cultural city-wide festival
  • The launch of a Mayor’s Wellness Campaign
  • Increasing the number and reach of existing re-entry programs and partnering with like-minded organizations who can help to
    broaden this service to more people

Creative Asbury Park’s Call to Collaboration was supported by many generous restaurant sponsors, including a delicious cake from Confections of a Rock$tar – which echoed the feeling in the room!

If you want to become involved with the Creative Asbury Park members, please email us at and we’ll be sure to connect you.

There’s a new Creative Asbury Park Facebook group that recently launched and you can check out photos and videos on our Instagram account.

The compendium of notes from all thirty-nine discussions will be available soon on our website.

Day 2 cake_resized

Our next community is Camden and we are deep into preparations for the Creative Camden Call to Collaboration!  Let us know if you want to be included in that invitation list:


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

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


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

Posted in Collaboration, Community Building, Creative NJ | Leave a comment

Board Leadership: How to use a competitive advantage exercise to better understand your organization’s strengths

Posted on by Allison Trimarco

Steven Depolo

How to use a “competitive advantage” exercise to better understand your organization’s strengths

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation – so it’s no surprise that it’s also densely populated with nonprofits.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates that New Jersey has almost 39,000 incorporated nonprofits, and close to 26,000 of them are 501c3 public charities that raise funds from the public and philanthropic sources.

While this brings up some challenges, it also presents a strategic planning opportunity. Looking at your organization in light of other nonprofits can give you a new perspective on your own group’s strengths, and help you understand what it is about your nonprofit’s approach that makes it particularly valuable to the people you serve. Knowing these strengths can be a tremendous asset to your ongoing strategic planning.

While the ideas of competitive advantage or unique value proposition are not new in the for-profit world, we are only just starting to see them integrated into nonprofit strategic planning. In many cases, community needs are so pressing that it seems obvious that nonprofits are essential.

But understanding what sets your nonprofit apart can help your ongoing strategic thinking about how to strengthen your organization and better carry out your mission. This is less about figuring out how to best your competitors and more about making strategic decisions that amplify the best aspects of your organization.

So how do you figure out what sets you apart from other nonprofits? Start with this chart:

Who provides services similar to ours?

How are we similar?

How are we unique?





Consider other organizations that are similar to yours. Depending on what you do, there are numerous ways to frame this question. If you are a symphony, you can start by looking at other symphonies…but you also can also look at other choices available to people looking for an arts experience, like

Depending on what you do, there are numerous ways to frame this question. If you are a symphony, you can start by looking at other symphonies…but you also can also look at other choices available to people looking for an arts experience, like theaters, dance performances, or other types of concerts. You could even consider other choices that people might make with their leisure time, like going to a restaurant, shopping, or staying at home watching Netflix. You should select comparison organizations that will provide you with maximum insight into how your organization is viewed by the people you are trying to engage – be they clients, audience members, volunteers, or donors.

Once you have your list, look for similarities between your organization and each comparison group. Do you serve the same people? Seek similar outcomes? Share the same approach?

Then look for ways in which you are different. Do you serve different people? Maybe you offer a different service or experience or approach your work in a different way. Perhaps your service offers a different benefit to the people you serve. Maybe you carry out your work in a more efficient or effective way. What makes your approach unique and valuable for your constituents and your community?

Be disciplined when you are doing this exercise. It’s easy to say, “no one else offers an exact replica of our service” — but that’s not the point. While it might be true that you are the only group presenting Baroque music or conserving field mice habitats, you can dig deeper to better understand the roots of your uniqueness and success.

For example, I recently did this exercise with a company that presents an unusual type of dance — there really isn’t another company that produces the same kind of experience, so they had a hard time coming up with a list of comparison organizations. They settled on looking at other mid-sized dance companies even though the artistic product is not exactly similar.

During the comparison exercise, they realized that one thing that sets them apart is that they have never gotten into debt (a pretty common occurrence for smaller arts groups, unfortunately). This helped them to understand that their conservative financial approach has been a key to their success and longevity – and they should continue to prioritize it when making future decisions.

An advocacy group completed the exercise, and realized that it is their staff expertise that sets them apart from other groups with similar mission and intent, many of whom are more volunteer-driven. They have both lawyers and conservationists on staff, which informs their policy decisions and their advocacy work, makes them a leader in the field, and positions them as a valuable collaborator for many organizations with similar values. Understanding this, they place a high strategic priority on maintaining a strong staff and investing in their professional development.

Once you take the idea of “competition” out of this exercise, you can see it is really about understanding your own strengths and then using them to improve your chances of success. Your clients, audiences, donors, and volunteers are all comparing you to other similar organizations, so why shouldn’t your leadership do this as well? It can only help you to better understand what sets you apart and makes your work truly essential to our community.

Allison Trimarco

Allison Trimarco

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

Photo at top: Creative Commons/ Steven Depolo

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Sustainable Jersey: Less water for all of us

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


Drought warning in effect for 14 NJ counties

Even as New Jersey is battered with heavy rains from a nor’easter expected to bring two days of wet weather, the rainfall won’t be enough to lift a drought warning and buoy the state’s dwindling water supply.

The state Department of Environmental Protection in October issued the drought warning for 14 north and central New Jersey counties — Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren. In addition, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties remain under a drought watch, while only Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties are classified as “normal” in regards to precipitation levels.

Why You Should Care

Droughts are damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, but they are also opportunities, a chance to change personal behaviors and put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed during normal years. The goal of the drought warning is to preserve and balance available water supplies in an effort to avert more serious water shortages in the future. The warning also reinforces the need for residents and businesses in impacted counties to conserve water.

“The situation in our reservoir systems is becoming more critical, with some systems dropping to half their capacity or less,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “Without knowing how much precipitation we are going to get over the winter to replenish our water sources, it is vital that every resident and business step up efforts to voluntarily reduce water use in the hope of averting a water emergency and mandatory restrictions.”

Since Sustainable Jersey’s inception, DEP has been a strong advocate and partner and continues to be critical to the ongoing evolution of the program.

What You Can Do

Many of us still have old toilets, showerheads, washing machines and other appliances that are not water efficient, and we should replace them. We need to take a new look at the water hungry, non-native plants and grass we have in our yards. And we should seek out and explore new, renewable sources of water, including water treatment and reuse, rainwater harvesting and water desalination.

A number of New Jersey municipalities have passed water conservation ordinances. Most towns limit days and hours when lawn watering or other irrigation can occur. Some towns have simply established a sprinkler use ordinance that sets a schedule for lawn watering, while others pass an annual resolution to establish seasonal restrictions.

Sustainable Jersey has a number of actions related to water conservation including the Water Conservation Ordinance, Water Conservation Education, Minimize Water Consumption and Rain Gardens. In late February 2017, we are adding new green infrastructure actions, including a Water Loss Audit and the Stormwater Management Ordinance.

By using water more efficiently and by using more water-efficient products, we can mitigate the effects of drought.

But, drought or no drought, water conservation needs to be a way of life.  If you agree, here are a few things to get you started.

  • Lead a Water Conservation Education Program: Water conservation is not possible without the support and participation of residents and businesses that consume water. It is essential our communities get information on the benefits of water conservation as well as water conservation techniques. Encourage your local green team to do a Water Conservation Education program for residents and local businesses. You can focus this program on the drought. Use the Sustainable Jersey action to learn more: Water Conservation Education Program.
  • Get a DEP Municipal Drought Awareness Kit: DEP can provide you with its free Drought Awareness Kit for New Jersey Municipalities. This kit includes ready-to-use flyers with conservation tips, a media release template and more. To request a drought awareness kit, contact:
  • Change Your Habits: Every drop counts; for example, a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day. Here are a few tips to save water from DEP:
  • Don’t let the faucet run while brushing, shaving or washing the dishes.
  • Run your washing machines and dishwashers only when full.
  • Install water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators.
  • Fix leaky faucets.
  • Don’t wash your car at home – a car wash uses less water and recycles it, too.
  • With the end of the growing season, be sure to turn off automatic lawn and garden sprinkler systems.

For more NJ water supply status information and to view the DEP Drought Administrative Order, visit: To learn new ways to conserve water, visit


For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram   LinkedIn


Posted in Community Building, Environment, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Poetry Friday: Inauguration Poems of the Past

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Poetry Program Logo

Today is Inauguration Day, and we invite you to spend some time with the six poems that have been part of inauguration ceremonies of the past. While poems are often part of public ceremony, it wasn’t until 1961 that an inaugural poem was included in the ceremony. Here is a list, with links, of all of the poems read to commemorate this historic day:

Barack Obama’s Inauguration

2013 – Richard Blanco reading “One Today” (video)

2009 – Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day

Bill Clinton’s Inauguration

1997 – Miller Williams’ poem “Of History and Hope

1993 – Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of Morning

Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration

1977 – James Dickey’s poem “The Strength of Fields

John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration

1961 – Robert Frost’s poem “The Gift Outright


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CNJG: Our Democracy Needs Our Problem Solvers

Posted on by Nina Stack, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers

white house

I’m acutely aware that I’m writing this blog the week our new president will be sworn in. It is that event that has me thinking a lot about Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal book Democracy in America as we once again observe the peaceful transition of power.

I am also a “Hamilton” junkie so I keep reminding myself of what this means as I listen to Washington’s schooling to Hamilton in the song “One Last Time” about how the transition will prove our country’s strength. And for those that haven’t had a chance to see Hamilton yet, I offer a little School House Rock help to remind us how we got here.

Hamiton’s “One Last Time:”

School House Rock:

In his book, Tocqueville spoke of what I believe is one the greatest examples of our country’s and our democracy’s strength – our associations. What he calls associations, we now refer to as our social sector.

Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools.

It seems he may have found our desire to associate in this way a bit excessive but it is clear he envies and finds value in our ability to unite, to come together, to build, to care for our citizens, to solve problems. Today, the social sector in America is more robust than ever — and more essential.

My colleague Tim Delaney at the National Council of Nonprofits speaks often about how it is the social sector that are  the “incubators of innovation, laboratories of leadership, protectors of taxpayers, responders in times of trouble, stimulators of the economy, and weavers of community fabric.” Those of us working in charities are the problem solvers making a difference every day in every city and town across this country.

There is a lot of talk lately about how the “disruptors” are so important to our economy, our society — and they are. However, please remember that nonprofits were among the original disruptors and they are still at it.

There is a vital thread through the group training young women how to code and young men in construction trades to the Community Development Corporation creating a state of the art early child learning center, from organization training immigrant entrepreneurs to the one designing transportation alternatives for the elderly.

Tocqueville wrote his book over 180 years ago; so much still holds true.  We do unite and our associations, our social sector is at the heart of that practice.

As a new President arrives and we ready for a new New Jersey Governor next year, the time has never been more important for all those working in community, in education and healthcare, the environment and criminal justice, in elder care and child advancement, to fully claim our titles and our realm as problem solvers.



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.

Photo at top: Creative Commons/ Stefan Fussan

Posted in Advocacy, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: 7 Simple Suggestions for Making Your Lawyer Happy 

Posted on by Christine Michelle Duffy, Pro Bono Partnership


The New Jersey office of Pro Bono Partnership in 2015 helped 299 nonprofit clients with 654 formal projects and 788 resource calls. As we closed out 2016, we were well on the way to shattering those numbers, with the same internal staffing.

Given this volume, I thought I would share my list of seven things nonprofits could do to make a lawyer happy. As you will see, these tips will result in more efficient service for nonprofits, thus benefitting them as well.

Here are the first four. I will share the final three items on my wish list in our next post.

One: Your E-mails Should Include Descriptive Subject Lines.  We all receive way too many e-mails, a fair number of which are spam. Earlier this year, via an e-mail, one of our clients asked us to review a contract that arose out of a grant it had been awarded. The subject line of the e-mail read: “Hooray!!! We just were awarded a $1 Million Grant!!!!”  I was seconds away from deleting the e-mail without reading it, as I thought it was another “puff” piece – some days I just don’t have time to scan those. A better subject line, which would have caught my attention, would have been “Good Deeds Nonprofit Requests Assistance with the Review of a Contract.

Two: Please Be Patient. Because of the volume of e-mails and calls that we receive, we often engage in triage. We also have lots of scheduled conference calls and meetings. As a result, we might not be able to get back to you the same or next business day. If something is truly urgent, a phone call usually is best. Sending multiple e-mails and making repeated phone calls the same day will not expedite my response time.

Adding the “high importance” flag to your e-mail doesn’t move it up on my priority list. I’ll triage e-mails the same way irrespective of red exclamations point appended to them.

If you don’t get a response to an e-mail within a few days, it would be worth calling us to make sure we received it. Perhaps it still is in your drafts’ folder, is lost somewhere in the Ethernet, was snagged by a spam filter, or was deleted because the subject line started with “Hooray!!!

In a true emergency, if you don’t get a response the same day, call back 24 hours later.

Three: Don’t Reuse an Unrelated E-mail Thread to Raise a New Legal Issue. As a general rule, you should never repurpose an e-mail thread to discuss a new topic. A new legal issue should be raised in a new e-mail. Here’s why.

When you ask me a question or need help with a new project, I might need to look for a volunteer lawyer to assist you. On occasion, especially when a project is time sensitive, I might forward your e-mail to a potential volunteer who has worked with your nonprofit in the past so that the volunteer has the relevant background. If you have unrelated e-mail messages in the same e-mail thread, I might end up accidentally sharing the unrelated information with a person who doesn’t have a need to know.

Similarly, if we trade e-mails over time, the unrelated material gets buried at the bottom of a long e-mail thread. You might decide to share the most current e-mail exchange with a manager you need to bring into the loop. That other person might not have a need to know about the unrelated project (e.g., perhaps you had previously asked me about how to terminate that manager).

Four: Do Use the Same E-mail Thread for the Same Topic.  When a nonprofit sends me an e-mail about a new project, I might have to ask for more information and supporting documentation.  One in four nonprofits will send that information via one or more separate e-mails with different subject lines.  So, instead of having all related information in one thread, I might need to refer to two or more threads.  This needlessly makes things more complicated, including when I need to forward the background information on to the lawyer who volunteered to help you with the project.  Also, when you need to send attachments that will not transmit in one email because they cumulatively make the e-mail too large, please identify the emails with the same subject line and an identifier such as “1 of 4,” “2 of 4,” etc.

By the way, when your computer or photocopier assigns scanned documents file names such as “docazqtx20161219111758,” before e-mailing them to me, please change each of the file names to something that is descriptive, such as “Bylaws revised November 2016.”  Doing so helps us (and our volunteers) when we file the documents away and access them at a later date.

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

Photo at top: Creative Commons / HospitalityPerformance

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