Arts Ed Now: From Armenia With Love

Posted on by Argine Safari, NJ Teacher of the Year


The most important life lessons I have ever learned came from my music teacher in Yerevan, Armenia.

When I was 15, Rita Israelovna Petrosian was my music theory and solfege — the study of singing and musicianship using solmization syllables — teacher.

Soft-spoken and kind, Rita Israelovna was a brilliant musician, hard-working single mother, and most importantly, a remarkable teacher. She encouraged curiosity in her students. She taught us how to connect the most complicated music theory concepts to the real life. She pushed us to be the best we could possibly be and made each and every one of us believe in ourselves.

But the most important lesson I learned from her is that with passion, drive, and hard work, anything is possible.

One of my first projects was about a musical form. As I started digging deep into the topic of my choice — the prelude form — I got excited to learn about the evolution of this form and before I knew it, my project turned into a research paper.

Flipping through 60 pages of my handwritten work, Rita Israelovna gradually raised her eyebrows in an amusement, gasped, slowly looked at me and said: “Բալիկ ձան (my dear child), there is nothing you cannot accomplish if you work hard.” I stood there in wonder. What does she mean? Why is she saying this?

Day after day, Rita Israelovna made me work harder than I could have ever imagined. She gave me the toughest assignments and expected more from me than from any other student in that class. She knew right away I was hungry for challenges, so she accepted her own challenge of supporting me in my passionate journey of discovering music and what it meant to me. She encouraged and helped me in my struggles, making sure I never lost faith in myself.

Three years later, I became a student in the dream school for anyone pursuing a music career, Moscow Conservatory. Rita Israelovna changed my life in the most profound and insightful way.

Music teachers have a unique platform to inspire and influence their students because the power of music is penetrating and everlasting.

Music is the force that keeps me going, and this force motivates me to inspire my students to stay strong and never give up. Music’s transformative power is evident in the way my students grow and mature, and it gives me pure joy to watch them blossom.

Through music, I teach my students to recognize beauty, have more love, compassion, respect, integrity and understanding. Through music, I teach my students how to be truly human.

The author with her students.

The author with her students.

As a State Teacher of the Year, mother and, musician, I want to thank all my colleagues in arts education for making this world a better place by bringing beauty, passion, and love to our students. We should never forget what got us into education and why we do what we do every day. We should always remember that we have an enormous power to influence our students. Let’s not take a single day for granted but use it as an opportunity to help our students discover their passions and help them use the power of their dreams to find their voices.

Twenty-two years later after my graduation from Conservatory, I received a package in the mail from one of my classmates, Gohar, now a movie director and a producer. It was titled, “From Armenia with Love.”

My heart palpitated as I unwrapped the protective bubble paper and discovered a VCR video. The video contained Rita Israelovna’s last interview, only a year before she passed away.

In that interview, she was asked to name the proudest accomplishment of her career.

“Argine Safari,” she said. “Argine inspired me to be the best teacher I could possibly be.”

Tears came down my face as I thought of all that Rita Israelovna did for me. You taught me that with passion and hard work, anything is possible. You taught me that my dreams and goals were worth all the hard work and pain. You taught me that music can change the world.

Rita Israelovna, I am forever grateful to you.


Argine Safari

Argine Safari

Pascack Valley High School’s Argine Safari is the 2016-17 N.J. Teacher of the Year. Safari has taught students about music theory, led concerts, and launched a nationally recognized vocal program at the school. An award-winning music educator and advocate, vocal coach, clinician and conductor, Safari is also a pianist and vocalist.


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New Jersey Sustainability Summit 2017: Build your local action for increased collective impact  

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Executive Director, Sustainable Jersey

SJ summit2

Where will leadership and progress come from in an era of declining federal interest in sustainability issues? We believe that it will come from all of us, working together.

If a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable New Jersey sounds like a good goal, I hope you will attend Sustainable Jersey’s 2017 New Jersey Sustainability Summit on June 21, 2017. We will share a vision for the future, update our progress and renew our commitment to a joint approach to making progress for achieving this vision through collective action.

Sustainable Jersey is fueled by our participating local communities — 444 municipalities and 897 schools and districts. As an organization, we are a connecting force between municipalities and schools, and scores of public, private and governmental entities.

Where once sustainability wasn’t present in the local conversation, now there are hundreds of new green teams and sustainability commissions created as formal bodies of local government and in the public schools, all charged with driving change on these issues. Where once local leaders felt isolated, now they can move forward supported by a vast network of allies providing technical assistance, grants, political support and recognition for their efforts. Where once they saw their effort as part of a local initiative, now they can see how their local progress contributes toward achieving a broad vision for the future of our State.

Collective impact initiatives require a common agenda, a backbone infrastructure to coordinate action and participants from across all sectors of the community. The fact that collectively municipalities and schools have implemented and documented nearly 8,000 discrete actions as part of their Sustainable Jersey efforts is a direct result of commitments and efforts made by diverse individuals and organizations throughout New Jersey at all levels.  Sustainable Jersey looks to collaborate, support and amplify the efforts of the existing resources in New Jersey to achieve a shared vision.

SJ summit 3

Create a Vision and Inspiration for the Sustainable New Jersey Movement

Working with experts, partners and local leaders, Sustainable Jersey has over 300 best practices and performance standards for communities that are intended to move us toward sustainability. Thousands of local volunteers and officials have dedicated their time and resources to implementing the best practices and meeting the standards. All of this is done by people relying on an intrinsic belief that things need to change and a broad unwritten consensus about the general direction in which we need to go.

Track Our Progress

Agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported is also significant. Sustainable Jersey has indicators to track progress so that we can ensure that over time our work is yielding results that are commensurate to the long-term challenges.

The goals and indicators in the 2016 New Jersey Sustainable State of the State Report, provide us with a better picture of why we are engaging in sustainability efforts, and help guide the future creation of Sustainable Jersey’s standards and actions. The establishment of “Gold,” Sustainable Jersey’s highest level of certification, forges the link between the municipal program and the broader, long-term outcomes desired.

This is outlined in the Sustainable State 2016 Update & the New Gold Standard. A 2017 update on our progress will be provided at the Summit on June 21.

2017 New Jersey Sustainability Summit Highlights


Chris Daggett, president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, is the keynote speaker at the Sustainability Summit.

The Sustainability Summit keynote speaker will be Chris Daggett, president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Chris directs efforts to build the capacity of grantees by connecting leaders across sectors to foster a culture of collaboration. Chris comes with decades of experience leading regional efforts in the federal and state government, nonprofit and private industry arenas. Chris will share his insights on the long-term implications and relevance of collective impact on today’s climate.

Sustainability Summit participants will have a choice of attending one of six breakout sessions and one of six information sessions.  Led by practitioners and community leaders, these sessions will present what is being done, and what can and should be done, at the local level in areas ranging from water resources, energy, waste, civic engagement and local economies to school and municipal green teams. Each session will include the collective action that can take your local action to the next level. Read the full descriptions of the breakout and informational sessions

Each session will include the collective action that can take your local action to the next level. Read the full descriptions of the breakout and informational sessions here.

2017 New Jersey Sustainability Summit: Breakout Sessions

  • Complete Streets: Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
  • Need Help? Strategies and Resources to Support Local Sustainability Initiatives
  • Promoting A Clean Energy Future at The Local Level
  • Protecting Our Natural Resources: Local Action, Regional Impact
  • The Art of Sustainability: Turning Creativity into Problem Based Solutions
  • Waste Not, Recycle More! Waste Management Strategies at The Local Level

2017 New Jersey Sustainability Summit: Information Sessions

  • Coding for Community Demonstrations
  • Funding Helps! Tips for A Successful Grant Application
  • Helping Your Local Businesses Be More Sustainable
  • LEAD NJ: Strengthening Leadership at The Local Level
  • New Jersey Clean Energy Program: Save Money and Energy at The Local Level
  • Shining the Light on Solar

When communities act individually, they can solve their own problems. When they act together, they strengthen their ability to make local progress and are also able to address challenges across New Jersey and then make progress on national and global problems.  Be a part of this movement and register for the 2017 New Jersey Sustainability Summit:

The 2017 Sustainability Summit sponsors are Investors Bank and Church & Dwight. Summit partners include New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Future, New Jersey League of Municipalities, The College of New Jersey and Together North Jersey.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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CNJG: Embracing Philanthropic Future Shock or Bracing For It

Posted on by Nina Stack, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers
Ah, for a crystal ball. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has set out on a strategic visioning process to imagine how the organization and philanthropic sector will transform in the next 10 years. Photo courtesy Creative Commons/ Ed Schipul

Ah, for a crystal ball. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has set out on a strategic visioning process to imagine how the organization and philanthropic sector will transform in the next 10 years. Photo courtesy Creative Commons/ Ed Schipul

We are doing a lot of thinking about the future at the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers these days — the future of New Jersey (with a new Governor next year), the future of philanthropy (with new forms of giving showing up weekly it seems), the future of the social sector (with social entrepreneurs redefining approaches), and the future of the Council itself.

Even our upcoming Conference for the Social Sector “The Next 20: Places, Places, Perspective” will consider the New Jersey of tomorrow.



This year the Council marks its 20th anniversary. In those two decades, CNJG has grown from a loosely based “lunch bunch” of foundation leaders to a highly regarded leadership organization offering valuable and comprehensive educational programming for grantmakers and donors of all shapes and sizes. The Council is recognized by policymakers and elected officials as a reliable, connected, informed representative of New Jersey’s social sector. And, the Council maintains its standing as the “go-to” resource for thoughtful, knowledgeable, and informed perspective on the best practices of philanthropy.

This is why our membership makes up over 80 percent of the private foundation assets in New Jersey. As the center for private philanthropies working in New Jersey, we recognize how essential it is that the Council consider now what it needs to be, what it needs to look like, at the end of its next decade of service.

Ah…for a crystal ball.

A Shifting Field

While it may not seem so different on the outside, the changes we have seen in the philanthropic sector in the past 15 years have been dramatic, most notably in the form in which strategic giving is structured.

For instance, in 2002, private foundations and donor-advised funds at community foundations were the primary way in which philanthropy worked. Staffed foundations might have program officers who brought experience on the issue areas in which the foundation’s giving was focused. Unstaffed family foundations might accept unsolicited applications, but more likely the funding decisions were made during a family convening (Thanksgiving perhaps) or by directing the family accountant or attorney to issue a check. Community Foundations were working only occasionally with fund holders on special initiatives and designated community-based funds.

And, while over the years, other states saw a jump in the number of community foundations created (Ohio has over 50, Michigan over 60), here in New Jersey only a handful were at work with limited assets and little discretionary money.

So what has changed in the way philanthropy operates and giving gets done? A great deal.

  • The rise of national charitable funds for DAFs that hold the majority of charitable dollars (Fidelity Charitable is the now the largest charity in the world) but not transparent, not tied to a community, nor providing on-the-ground counsel to fund holders
  • Corporations embracing the concept of Shared Value, a corporate social responsibility approach that directly aligns corporate giving with the company’s line of business
  • Impact investing that promotes a foundation using its corpus investments as a tool to advance its mission beyond grantmaking
  • Venture philanthropy where high-net worth donors employ a variety of approaches and significant resources toward their issue (i.e. ChanZuckerberg Initiative LLC, Omidyar Network )Online giving technology, apps, and campaigns where
  • Online giving technology, apps, and campaigns where GoFundMe appeals out raised giving to tax deductible charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army post Louisiana flooding

And the list goes on.

A Strategic Vision for the Future

To help us understand how our field will change in the coming decade we’ve set out on what we are calling a Strategic Visioning process. This goes beyond a strategic plan in the traditional sense — as we are pushing ourselves, our members and our stakeholders to consider how we and our sector will transform in the next ten years. Our working group has been thinking about the evolution of how philanthropy operates AND how our world operates.

We’ve seen some significant shifts; here are just a few:

  • Charity model → Strategic model
  • Institutional donors → Crowdfunding
  • Fewer players → More players
  • Logic model → Fluid, nimble
  • Closed source → Open source
  • More gov’t support → Less government support
  • Isolated decision making → Community decision making

We’ve also been thinking about philanthropy’s role in the world:

  • Little attention → Heightened scrutiny
  • Hidden → In the spotlight
  • Little support for policy → Encouraging advocacy and policy work

We are still deep in the “discovery” stage of our process but it is leading to some interesting questions and considerations including:

  • Will foundations be around in 50 years?
  • Where will new places of power and influence come from?
  • How will we define the field?

These are just a taste of the themes, evolutions, and conversations we are having about the future work of philanthropy of our country and our state.

It is fascinating, especially at a time when it seems all our assumptions about how government works are being disassembled…which adds a whole other element to the idea of visioning.


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.


Posted in Advocacy, Collaboration, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, Leadership, Philanthropy, Public Policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: How to Spot and Address Conflicts of Interest in the Board Room

Posted on by Dodge
Avoiding board conflicts of interest can feel like a tug of war.

Avoiding board conflicts of interest can feel like a tug of war.

We’ve all seen the headlines about possible conflicts of interest in the news lately, in stories of national interest and importance.  The topic is also important for all nonprofits to understand and address properly, regardless of whether those organizations’ activities may make the headlines.

Pro Bono Partnership receives frequent questions about what may constitute a conflict of interest and the board’s responsibilities in the face of potential conflicts.  Conflicts of interest arise any time a board member’s duty of loyalty to make decisions and enter into transactions that are in the best interests of the organization may be at odds with the trustee’s personal or financial interests, or with their other volunteer or professional obligations.

Here are a few examples to consider.  A board member might own a restaurant and offer to have it cater all board events at a “good price.”  Another trustee’s family member runs a software company, and the Technology Committee, which this trustee chairs, has decided that the best software for the nonprofit is provided by this company.  Your landlord, an individual who has always been supportive of your organization’s work, wants to serve on the board.

Do any of these situations present a conflict of interest?

All of the situations above are examples of potential conflicts of interest, because each situation creates a tension between the board member’s (or their family member’s) financial interest and the interest of the nonprofit.  The fact that the situations present conflicts does not, however, automatically require that the nonprofit avoid these transactions.  To the contrary, it will often be in the best interests of a nonprofit to receive services from an interested party, particularly when the services are offered at below-market rates.

What should the thoughtful board do?

The board should follow the procedures in its conflict of interest policy.  A conflict of interest policy is one of the most important corporate governance policies an organization can have.  So if your board doesn’t have a conflict of interest policy, it should strongly consider adopting one.  It may be a standalone policy, or contained in the organization’s bylaws.

While New Jersey doesn’t have a specific requirement, having a conflicts policy clearly supports good governance and compliance by the board with its fiduciary duties.  New York nonprofits are required to have a conflict of interest policy that conforms to certain statutory requirements.  At the federal level, the application for tax-exempt status, Form 1023, and the long form annual informational tax return, Form 990, also ask organizations if they have a written conflict of interest policy.

How do conflict of interest policies work?

These policies outline a procedure that boards must follow when conflict transactions are proposed.  In such a situation, the board member must disclose the conflict and all the pertinent facts to the rest of the board, and the board member should not participate in the deliberations and vote of the independent board members.

Disclosure is a critical step, because if board members aren’t aware that a transaction could present a conflict, they will not raise the issue with the rest of the board.  Some boards have an agenda item for each meeting that reminds members to disclose potential conflicts for any items on the agenda, and many policies require that board members complete an annual certification as to conflicts.

Conflicts may be less obvious than the examples above, such as where an individual sits on the boards of two different nonprofits.  Even if the organizations are not providing the same type of services to the community, there may be conflicts over applying for the same funding, or one of the organizations may make grants to the other.

The independent board members must satisfy themselves that the services are of the quality and quantity that the nonprofit needs.  They also must decide whether the compensation or cost of the services is appropriate, which requires that they understand whether the cost of goods or services provided is at, below, or above the market rate.

The independent board members then must make an informed judgment as to whether it is in the nonprofit’s best interest to enter into the transaction, taking into account not only cost, but also how the transaction might impact the board’s or organization’s dynamics, and how it will appear to those in the larger community.  For example, if many local software vendors have expressed interest in selling their product to the nonprofit, might the community see a decision to award the job to a trustee’s relative as unfair competition?

If a decision is made to move forward with a transaction, the nonprofit should take steps to make sure that the services or goods that have been ordered are delivered and that the interested board member has no involvement in the transaction.

Last, but importantly, the rationale for the board’s decision should be documented in the minutes of the meeting.  While documentation may not protect the organization from criticism, it can provide an important shield to claims that the board violated its conflict of interest policy or the board members violated their fiduciary duties.

Please contact Pro Bono Partnership if you have questions about conflicts of interest or if you’d like to see a sample conflict of interest policy for board members.  To read more about conflicts and view a sample policy, see the article on our website.

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.  To learn more about Pro Bono Partnership, please visit or call (973) 240-6955.

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Creative Camden: Putting Ideas into Action

Posted on by Diana Mendez, Community Organizer & Communications Specialist, Creative New Jersey

Consider the words of Wesly Taveras, a student at Camden’s Creative Arts High:

“I’ve learned here that I don’t have to wait to be old to make a difference.”

Wesly shared this sentiment during Creative Camden Call to Collaboration’s closing session. Earlier, he moderated a breakout based on a question he posed — “How can we reunite our community?”


Wesly Taveras speaks during the Creative Camden Call to Collaboration.

Wesly’s thoughtful comments made a lot of people smile. Maybe because it made them feel old, but also because they could understand how he was feeling. They don’t want to wait either, and this is why many decided to come together to build a shared vision of the future for the city.

The event, held at Rutgers University-Camden on March 16, was the first day of a two-day gathering in Camden, part of Creative New Jersey’s statewide series of community-based convenings, aimed at helping to fuel new ideas and current efforts already in action; and to foster creativity, collaboration, and inclusion by facilitating cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture.

In this Call to Collaboration, participants had the opportunity to engage in 34 breakout sessions that sparked new collaborations and strengthened partnerships. Attendees brainstormed topics that fell 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?

Some of the topics discussed included job creation and training, helping youth attend and graduate college, collaboratively increasing the availability and accessibility of services for those in need, and engaging community members to be actively involved in the transformation of Camden, just to name a few.

“I love the idea of having this platform [Call to Collaboration] as a place where we can take our individual aspects, aspirations, and all our goals and put those into play and actually do something about it,” said Zulma Gonzalez-Lombardo, executive director at the Rachel & Drew Katz Foundation.


Zulma Gonzalez-Lombardo, executive director at the Rachel & Drew Katz Foundation, speaks during the Creative Camden Call to Collaboration.

The first day of Creative Camden Call to Collaboration brought together over 140 residents, business owners, nonprofit leaders, and others intersted in shaping Camden’s future. Creative Camden community members will have the opportunity to keep the conversation going during the second day of this Call to Collaboration, which is focused on action planning, on Monday, May 8,

Creative Camden community members — and those interested in joining the conversation — will have the opportunity to keep the conversation going during the second day of this Call to Collaboration, which is focused on action planning, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, May 8 at the Camden Salvation Army Kroc Center. New community members are welcome, whether or not they participated in the March gathering.

Readers, if you or someone you know should be a part of the Creative Camden Call to Collaboration, please share this blog and registration info. We have a few spaces still available.

You can learn more about what participants experienced and discussed during the first day of the Creative Camden Call to Collaboration, as covered by SNJ Today, NJTV and the Courier-Post by clicking here, and also through the Creative Camden Facebook group.

Creative New Jersey would like to thank the Creative Camden host venues, the Camden Salvation Army Kroc Center and Rutgers University-Camden, our media partner, NJTV, and special thanks to the Sixers Youth Foundation for its help and support of the event.

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

The compendium of notes from Creative Camden (Part 1) are available here.

fotoDiana Mendez is Creative New Jersey’s Community Organizer & Communications Specialist. She has over 10 years experience empowering communities to solve specific social issues from the non-profit, public, and private sector. 

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy. Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.

Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Community Building, Creative NJ, Events & Workshops, Nonprofit | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Lawyers Giving Back to Their Communities

Posted on by Christine Michelle Duffy, Pro Bono Partnership


Volunteers help make our communities stronger and nicer places to live.

Their extraordinary efforts are the impetus for National Volunteer Week, celebrated this week, April 23-29, a time to recognize and thank volunteers who lend their time, talent, voice and support to causes they care about in their community.

In designating the first such week in 1974, President Nixon observed that American volunteers’ “efforts most frequently touch the lives of the poor, the young, the aged and the sick, but in the process, the lives of all men and women are made richer.”

Each president has carried forward this tradition of honoring volunteerism, with President Trump noting last week that National Volunteer Week provides us the opportunity to “celebrate the spirit of compassion and generosity that drives us to care for others, and [to] recognize America’s volunteers[, who] … are often unsung and unseen, but they are heroes.”

Celebrating Pro Bono - Change the World

Become a volunteer lawyer to strengthen nonprofits.

In honor of all the volunteers that make our work at Pro Bono Partnership possible, I’m going to share a story of a recent program that would not have been possible without the dedication and passion of volunteers, and highlight some of the individuals we’ll fête later this week.


On April 6, we held SmorgasbonoSM, one of our legal Q&A programs for nonprofits. This installment of the program was co-sponsored with the Association for Corporate Counsel–New JerseyVerizon, and Jackson Lewis.

Twelve nonprofits — including Dodge grantees Dance/New JerseyFreespace DanceGreater Newark Conservancy, and New York – New Jersey Trail Conference — had the opportunity to meet with up to five different teams of lawyers to discuss the nonprofit’s practices with respect to contracts, corporate governance, employment, intellectual property, internet and websites, privacy, and real estate.

Thirty lawyers from nine corporations — Brother International, Chubb, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Datapipe, Dun & Bradstreet, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Merck, SUEZ, and Verizon — and two lawyers from Jackson Lewis participated.

A program such as SmorgasbonoSM requires a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes work to pull off successfully. Thankfully we have an able team of partners who helped us facilitate the April program, including Leslie Wolfson, executive director of ACC-NJ); Val Camara (chair of the ACC-NJ Pro Bono Committee); Promila Chaudhari, Celeste Como, Karen Francis, and Susan Schachman (from Verizon); Jim McDonnell (from Jackson Lewis), and our own Kate Marchese.

I’ll let the words of Rebekka Zydel, executive director of Child & Family Resources, speak for themselves:

“I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to participate in SmorgasbonoSM.

“The event was well organized, thoughtfully planned, and extremely beneficial.  Having the opportunity to meet with a variety of attorneys from multiple areas of expertise at one coordinated event is unique. Speaking with the employment attorneys was validating and confirmed many of the practices we have are appropriate. Being able to reflect with two attorneys helped me to identify areas for improvement, confirm my instincts, and build my confidence as a leader. The intellectual property and real estate attorneys shared valuable insights that will be key to running a successful organization. The privacy attorneys were a blessing and could not have come at a better time. They helped put a new, very overwhelming state-mandated policy into perspective.

“Pro Bono Partnership’s commitment to supporting the nonprofit sector is admirable. You continue to exceed expectations. I wholeheartedly believe that the services provided by the Partnership are integral to Child & Family Resources success over the past 15 years. As an organization who receives approximately 90 percent of our funding from a state contract with level funding year after year, there is no way our organization could access the legal services we’ve required without the Partnership. Because of Pro Bono Partnership, Child & Family Resources can remain focused on providing child care financial assistance to low-wage earning families, professional development to an underpaid child care workforce, as well as help parents and caregivers of young children to change or improve their parenting practices and create safe, stable, nurturing environments for children that protect them from violence, abuse, and its long-term consequences.”

Volunteers of the Year

This Friday, we will honor our New Jersey Volunteers of the Year, at an event hosted by Jackson Lewis.

Dun & Bradstreet’s Legal Department will receive our Volunteer of the Year honor as a group for their collective efforts to launch their pro bono program and work with the Partnership to provide pro bono service to the nonprofit community. Since their program launch in 2015, 16 Dun & Bradstreet lawyers, including Chief Legal Officer Chris Hill, have already answered the call to volunteer their time on 15 projects covering a wide range of legal issues for the Partnership’s nonprofit clients. Their incredible efforts reflect the strength of Dun & Bradstreet’s commitment to volunteerism.

Brian Ginsburg, assistant general Counsel for Sanofi US, will receive our Volunteer of the Year award for 16 years of active volunteerism with the Partnership dating back to Brian’s tenure at Schering-Plough. Brian has provided guidance on nearly 40 projects, allowing clients to devote their resources to programming. Brian has been a volunteer we frequently, and gratefully, rely on. Brian so enjoyed working with one nonprofit, Bridges Outreach, that Brian joined its board of trustees.

In addition, we will honor the following Founding Volunteers, who commenced providing free legal services through Pro Bono Partnership within the first two years of the opening of our New Jersey office in 2000 and who continue to volunteer with us today: Lee Braem (Evonik), Vance Camisa (Merck), David Cohen (Honeywell), Phil Crowley (Johnson & Johnson and Law Office of Philip P. Crowley), Justin Cutlip (Jackson Lewis), Brian Ginsburg (Sanofi), Stephen Greene (G&W Laboratories), Michael Hughes (Prudential), Dave Islinger (Jackson Lewis), Theresa Kelly (Day Pitney), David Richter (PSEG), and Larry Rickles (Teva Pharmaceuticals).

Please tip your caps in honor of these wonderful volunteers and the thousands of other volunteers whose efforts we couldn’t do without.

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. To learn more about Pro Bono Partnership, or to donate, please visit or call (973) 240-6955.

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Arts Ed Now: 2017 National Arts Advocacy Day

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, Art Pride New Jersey


Just days before National Arts Advocacy Day, news hit of President Trump’s plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts in 2018.

The announcement, though not entirely unexpected, sent a surge of energy into the day’s mission: connecting arts leaders with Congressional representatives to share stories of the importance of the arts and humanities, their impact and transformative power in communities, and the value of federal partnership.

Some 40 New Jersey arts leaders — the largest delegation ArtPride NJ has ever coordinated — joined the more than  700 people who gathered in Washington DC for the annual event sponsored by Americans for the Arts,

Veterans and first-timers alike together reviewed data on how the arts improve our lives and tips on how best to make the case for continued support for the arts and humanities. We learned about how NEA funding affects the arts in New Jersey — last year more than $1.9 million in grants that supported 40 projects in communities across the state — and from each other we learned how to make the best use of our time with fresh approaches to storytelling so leaders could better understand the importance of the arts to their constituents.


A highlight of the two-day event was the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, this year presented by Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president.

Mr. Walker’s powerful remarks were compelling and portrayed how he became familiar with the arts as a child, perusing art magazines that his mother brought home from her job as a domestic in a wealthy household where attending cultural performances was a part of life, far removed from his own experience. He emphasized what we all felt deeply as arts advocates–that the arts are not a special interest, but a national interest that strengthens who we are.

“You see, all of us here tonight: We are all the lucky ones,” Walker said. “Because there are children across the country growing up in circumstances, not unlike those of my childhood — children who, day after day, experience in their lives the most terrible manifestations of inequality. For them, exposure to the arts, to imagination and ambition, remains a matter of chance or circumstance. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be. Not in a democracy like ours.”

The New Jersey delegation’s outreach to the Congressional representatives on this day also focused on arts education as critical to a well-rounded education, and complementary to advancing objectives of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Representatives who are not currently part of the Congressional STEAM Caucus were invited to show their support for the arts in STEM by joining over 75 other members. The fact that arts programs are now eligible for through ESSA for Title 1 funds and other federal resources, was also stressed to elected officials.

The federal budget process is a long one that extends throughout the summer months to come. For more detailed information on how federal arts funding and cultural policy affect the nonprofit arts industry in New Jersey, visit

Posted in Advocacy, ArtPride New Jersey, Arts, Arts Advocacy, Public Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carpe NPM

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff


There’s just about one week left in April; if you’re looking for ways to savor the end of National Poetry Month, check out the Academy of American Poets’ 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month. This list includes suggestions ranging from memorizing a poem to using the Academy’s special poetry event search engine to find poetry near you.

We have one more item to add to the list: if you are an educator, sign up for Spring & Fountain Online by the end of today (Friday, April 21st). Spring & Fountain Online is a free program designed to help you bring more poetry into your life, on your timeline and from the comfort of your home. If you’re not an educator, share the sign-up link with someone who is, and check out our post on the Dodge Blog last week for a few poems and a fun poetry activity you can try today.


Photo by Eugene Kogan

National Poetry Month serves as an excellent reminder to make time for poetry as we move about our increasingly busy lives, but the fun doesn’t have to stop on May 1st. We’ve all heard that “April showers bring May flowers.” We hope that the seeds of poetry you’ve planted and tended this month bring color and beauty to your life all year round.


Click here to sign up for Spring & Fountain Online by the end of today.


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April is the Coolest Month

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff
guitarPhoto by Giulia van Pelt
“Poetry…flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.”
–Ray Bradbury

Celebrating National Poetry Month

Now that April is National Poetry Month, it’s no longer cruel. We’re barely halfway through the month-long celebration, so there are plenty more opportunities to savor poetry in the weeks ahead.

Last week, we announced that at the end of this month, we will be running a nationwide week-long Spring & Fountain Online program for educators (school teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians and staff at accredited institutions). Registration for this program is open today.

Try This

To give you a taste for what the program is like, we’ve set up this post much like one of the daily e-mails. If you sign up for Spring & Fountain Online, each day for one week, you will receive an e-mail directly to your inbox that contains a quote about poetry, a packet of poems, and a suggested activity to help you slow down, incorporate poetry into your day and engage with it more deeply.

This is a great activity to do first thing in the morning, but you can do it at any time of the day.

1. Pick a Poem

The first step is to choose a poem. Below are three different poems you can choose from. Just take a moment to choose–don’t overthink it. There is no wrong poem!

The Giving Voice packet that we send to Spring & Fountain Online participants will contain poems without attribution—you won’t know who wrote the poems until we send a list of attributions at the end of the program. This is meant to help you enjoy the poems as free of judgment and preconceived notions as possible. For now, try reading the poems below without clicking on the authors’ names or Googling them first.

Zen of Tipping


The New Religion

Once you’ve chosen your poem, either print it out or keep it handy on your electronic device.

2. Ground Yourself

Sit down in a quiet place, get comfortable, and take a few deep breaths. Years ago, Mark Strand wrote that one of the things poetry does is slow us down because we have to slow down for it. Take a moment to slow yourself down, whatever that means to you.

3. Give it Voice

When you’re ready, take out the poem you’ve chosen. Read it silently to yourself, then read it out loud.

Once you’ve read the poem silently and aloud, however many times you want, write a note to the poet who wrote the poem or to the speaker of the poem. It could be a quick thank you note, a series of questions you would like to ask the poet, or a response to questions raised by the poem. This note is not meant to be analysis of the poem, but rather a reflection of your personal response to what you’ve read, the feelings or questions that have bubbled up from a deeper place inside you.

If you return to the poem later in the day, perhaps just before bedtime, read it aloud again. Reflect on how you feel about the poem now, at the end of the day. Is your experience of the poem different now than it was earlier?

Want more? Sign up for Spring & Fountain Online!


Posted in Poetry, Tidbits | 1 Comment

Newark in the Spotlight: Summer Youth Employment Program Nod Emblematic of City’s Collaborative Spirit

Posted on by Guest Blogger
Courtesy of Newark Youth One Stop, City of Newark

Youth participants in an NJIT Architecture and Design program spotlight present their designs.

When Mayor Ras Baraka took office in 2014, he immediately called for an expansion of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

There is a growing body of evidence that youth employment programs are a positive intervention that can reduce summer violence and incarceration and improve educational outcomes of participating youth. Just as important, they help to expose youth to career pathways early, allowing the city to integrate youth into an overall workforce development strategy.  For Mayor Baraka, the call was personal — he participated in the program as a youth and remembers fondly the impact it had on his life.

With this call to action from Mayor Baraka and the support of committed philanthropic partners, the City of Newark turned its long-running Summer Youth Employment Program into a national model in two short years and summoned a whole community — businesses, universities, the non-profit sector, and philanthropy — to serve as collaborating partners.

It is an example of philanthropic investments in the public sector at their best — clearly defined goals with flexibility to address emerging needs, leveraged public dollars, grant funds that support both system building and yearly program support, and foundation leaders collaborating with each other, thereby leveraging their own voice. Some philanthropic partners even showed an openness to adapt and move slightly outside of their funding comfort zone to support the workforce initiative.

All of this was made possible because we had a small group of angel investors who helped us build a new summer youth employment system.

Courtesy of Newark Youth One Stop, City of Newark

Youth participants on their final day at United Vailsburg Service Organization.

Courtesy of Cities for Financial Empowerment

Mayor Ras Baraka addresses the Cities for Financial Empowerment convening in Newark.

What did this look like? A group of local foundations, including the Victoria Foundation, Prudential Foundation, and Foundation for Newark’s Future, supported a fund that allowed the city to redesign the program to meet the 21st century needs of youth. Mentoring and coaching, banking and financial literacy, job readiness training, jobs matched to interest, and defined career pathways were all added to the program’s core model.

One of the program’s national angel investors and largest supporters is Cities for Financial Empowerment and their Summer Jobs Connect program. Summer Jobs Connect leverages the infrastructure and paycheck of Summer Youth Employment Programs to embed banking access and targeted financial education in municipal systems. The City of Newark joins other cities like New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago in participating in this learning community.

As the Newark philanthropic liaison, my role is to convene funding partners, connect foundations, non-profit organizations, and city government to form effective public-private partnerships, and leverage funding streams both public and private to support evidence-based programs in the city. Therefore, it was my pleasure to provide facilitation when Cities for Financial Empowerment chose Newark to host their latest Summer Jobs Connect convening to spotlight Newark.

For two days from March 6-8, about 35 experts in the Cities for Financial Empowerment network from around the country gathered in Newark to share best practices. Mayor Baraka provided the conference welcome. Newark’s work was featured, as was our city – with its vibrant downtown, the explosion of the arts scene, a strong and dedicated stakeholder community, and our diverse cultures.

Too often narratives are built about communities that are an over-simplification of the complexities faced when affecting lasting change.

I am here to say that this city is more primed for investment, philanthropic and otherwise, than ever before. I encourage everyone to take the time to visit our city, meet our leaders, and learn about what we have accomplished.

We have a visionary mayor whose policies for inclusive revitalization are ensuring that we welcome our new residents and businesses even as we lift up those who have lived in Newark their whole lives.  We have a community that has embraced collaboration and collective action with campaigns on college attainment and graduation, the arts, and out of school time opportunities, among others.  Graduation rates are up, crime is down, the community is involved in our education system in an unprecedented way as we return our school district to local control, and we boast some of the finest urban school models – district, magnet, charter, and private – in the country.

In short, we are honored that Cities for Financial Empowerment chose our city to spotlight. Their leadership and partnership have been invaluable to changing the life trajectories of hundreds of youth.

But we could have just as easily hosted a conference on how to create a city-wide college-going culture, or how businesses and universities can form partnerships with cities to advance their workforce, or how the arts can be a driver of neighborhood renewal.

It is all happening in Newark and it is all happening now.



Kevin Callaghan is the Newark Philanthropic Liaison, a nationally recognized initiative of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and the City of Newark. For more information on the impact and work of the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison click here.

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

Board Leadership: Financial Projections Help to Flesh Out Scenario Plans

Posted on by Hilda Polanco, Board Leadership Facilitator

Allison Trimarco’s post “Living in (and Planning for) Interesting Times” does an excellent- — and practical — job of walking organization leaders through the process of scenario planning in conditions of uncertainty.

As Allison says — “The right time to consider what you should do when conditions change is before they change.”

By outlining our intended actions and responses to plausible future developments we can more thoughtfully and strategically prepare for the consequences of disruption, rather than having to react unscripted in what can be a confusing and emotionally charged moment. We can’t ensure that we’ll like the circumstances we end up in (as many of us today are well aware), but at least we’ll have a plan to deal with them.

As a financial planning consultant, I want to take as my point of departure item six in Allison’s list of scenario planning steps: “consider the finances.”

While creating budgets for unknown (and perhaps unknowable) futures can feel more like an exercise in astrology than economics, any scenario planning exercise that contemplates significant change should include at least a high-level estimate of the financial impacts and implications of the changes being envisioned. This also helps to ensure that your scenario plans are specific enough to be good guides to action when and if it comes time to actually execute.

In a post last year titled “Getting Your Nonprofit Budget Past ‘One Day (or Year) at a Time,’” I described an approach to multi-year planning that considers the financial impact of internal decisions or external factors that extend beyond the time horizon of the fiscal year budget. Without too much adjustment, that kind of approach can be used for the kind of scenario planning Allison describes as well. Once your organization has identified the scenarios it is likely to encounter, defining and quantifying your responses starts the process of estimating the financial consequences.

From a financial perspective, the first question we generally ask in scenario planning is “how would this affect staffing and personnel costs?”

Seventy to 80 percent of the typical nonprofit budget is related to personnel (salaries, taxes, and benefits) so staffing considerations will be the biggest cost-side driver of any financial projection. If the scenario being contemplated is the loss of a significant government contract or a major private donor, for example, your response may be to scale back on a program and lay off staff. What would the scale of the downsizing need to be in order to establish a financial equilibrium? Other scenarios may have less obvious implications on staffing. Perhaps an anticipated change in the political environment would increase the need for services of a particular constituency of your organization. In that case, you may need to

Other scenarios may have less obvious implications on staffing. Perhaps an anticipated change in the political environment would increase the need for services of a particular constituency of your organization. In that case, you may need to reallocate staffing resources or even add additional staff. Quantifying your staffing plan under different scenarios—even if only an estimate—helps to clarify the financial as well as operational picture moving forward.

Besides personnel, what other costs will be impacted by your anticipated scenarios and responses? Even costs that aren’t directly related to personnel are often indirectly driven by staffing levels — organizational expenses like travel, supplies, and technology will generally increase or decrease along with headcount. But be sure to consider anything in the scenario that would entail significant cost implications — an expiring lease, for example, may lead to an increase in rent, or alternatively may be an opportunity to re-evaluate space needs in a way that reduces costs. Whatever your scenario plan entails, evaluate and quantify its effect on expenses.

But be sure to consider anything in the scenario that would entail significant cost implications — an expiring lease, for example, may lead to an increase in rent, or alternatively may be an opportunity to re-evaluate space needs in a way that reduces costs. Whatever your scenario plan entails, evaluate and quantify its effect on expenses.

Obviously, we don’t want to forget about the income side of the equation either, although that is commonly “built in” — most scenario planning is driven by uncertainty or risk around revenue, so the scenarios themselves incorporate revenue projections or alternatives.

If your plans include assumptions that would increase or decrease revenues be sure you are considering that in any financial projections, although be careful to err on the conservative side in projecting future revenues. Overly aggressive revenue assumptions can lead to trouble down the road if those assumptions fail to bear out, particularly if your organization has limited financial reserves to begin with.

Developing financial projections helps add specificity to the process of scenario planning, so that if the time comes to “pull the trigger” on a response, your organization will go into uncertain times with a better sense of what that response looks like and what it means for your bottom line.

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

Posted in Board Leadership, Events & Workshops, Technical Assistance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Calling All Educators: You’re Invited to Spring & Fountain Online

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

Photo by Jeff Kubina

Banner 2It’s a simple premise—people gather together to sit in a circle, read poetry aloud to each other, and talk about the poems, all with the accompaniment of a seasoned poet. For many years, New Jersey educators have been doing just that: each spring, small groups of school teachers, librarians, counselors and administrators, along with experienced Dodge Poets, have gathered at schools, libraries, museums, and other venues around the state to take part in this program. And while it is straightforward, Spring & Fountain is an example of how, sometimes, the simplest actions have the deepest effects.

Spring & Fountain participants use poetry to flex their imaginations, open their creative channels, practice deep listening, and cultivate mindfulness. They also use this time to relax and simply enjoy poetry, without analyzing it to death or applying a judgmental right-or-wrong attitude towards it. With this approach, poetry becomes a self-care tool, a path towards empathy and connection.

This spring, we are expanding the reach of Spring & Fountain to people who can’t join the traditional in-person groups. Spring & Fountain Online will bring a week of daily e-mails to educators around the country. The e-mails will include:

  • A “Giving Voice” packet of 20+ poems
  • Daily activities and exercises aimed to help participants incorporate poetry into their lives
  • Videos from the Dodge Poetry Festival archive

We encourage participants to make the program your own; we will send the e-mails and suggestions, but it’s completely up to you to decide how you wish to use the tools.

The program is free and open to all educational professionals who work at an accredited institution. Registration is open from April  14-21st, and the program will run from April 24- 30th. Visit this page to register starting April 14th

If you have any questions or require assistance, please e-mail us at

Happy National Poetry Month!


Posted in Poetry, Poetry Archives, Poetry in the Schools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Chris Satullo: How Local Media Can Regain Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response, a proposition and a proposal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all this look like in practice?

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

1. Newsrooms pilot Hearken 


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

2. Superstorm Sandy Community Dialogues

WHYY hosted community forums after Hurricane Sandy.

WHYY hosted community forums after Hurricane Sandy.

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

3. Creative Collaborations


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

4. A Listening Post for Jersey Shore Hurricane News 


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

Nurturing face-to-face dialogue in the civic sphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A crisis of trust

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A relationship rooted in community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Poetry & Migration: Join Us Friday for Birds of May

Posted on by Dodge Poetry


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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Environment, Poetry, Poets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
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