Why arts education is vital to the workforce of tomorrow

Posted on by Atiya Weiss, Executive Director, The Burke Foundation



Recently I was asked to speak about how the arts — and specifically arts education — will contribute to the workforce of the future. The convening at which I spoke was primarily concerned with STEM education and its importance to the future of this country, and we took pride in not only affirming that importance but pushing for the arts to be acknowledged for their value as well.

The world is changing rapidly, and the skills needed for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century are different from those currently being emphasized and tested in our schools. We also know that we need to produce students who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate versus simply scoring well on tests. In addition, we want our students to be engaged, passionate, and given ample opportunity to explore their interests.

Our business leaders — from Jamie Dimon to Jeff Bezos — are desperate for innovators who are intellectually curious, capable of overcoming adversity, and willing to take risks. In light of that fact, it is especially saddening that we lose our curiosity at too early an age. Four-year-olds constantly ask questions, wonder how things work, and test their assumptions about the world around them.

Unfortunately, the evidence reveals that by the time children are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they have learned the “right” answer is prioritized over the provocative question.

At the Burke Foundation, we’ve chosen three key areas in which to invest our resources: Early Development, Children’s Health, and Achievement Through Arts.

We’ve learned that the arts are a vital component in fostering curiosity, self-expression, and risk-taking. Yet, despite the many positive returns on the arts, they remain consistently underfunded and are the first to be cut in a crisis. This is one area where we as philanthropists can make a difference in guiding and supporting the development of well-rounded children.

Each of us has sat through a beautiful, inspiring performance — whether being drawn in by a theater production or moved at a concert. I have two young boys and had that magical feeling when watching my kids’ preschool class perform Where the Wild Things Are. I loved seeing the colors, costumes, and children finding their voices and having a chance to push their boundaries and express themselves. It was as magical for them as it was for me.

The impact of the arts on us isn’t just an intangible, and we’re learning more every day about the effect they have on us from a neuroscientific perspective.

The Washington Post featured an article called Your Brain on Arts and shared: “While art is considered the domain of the heart, its transporting effects start in the brain.”

We now know that when we watch a performance next to other people in an audience, we feel a strong sense of social connection and are attuned to the emotions and reactions of others around us.

In addition, given our brain’s capacity for empathy, we get a neural rush when art tells us a story—whether it’s through dance, visual art, theater, poetry—that speaks to the human condition. We generally laugh more, cry more, and enjoy ourselves more at a live performance than watching something at home.

Being new to the Burke Foundation, I wanted to understand how to unleash this potential and delve into complex questions about the value of the arts. I wanted to understand how that value can be measured and communicated. I also wanted to know how we, as a foundation, could stand to make a meaningful impact in the lives underserved youth in New Jersey and New York through arts education programming.

Since my arrival at the Burke Foundation, we’ve been engaged in a field scan process to guide our approach, and I’ve found that my perspective on the importance of arts education has deepened through conversations with more than 30 researchers, practitioners, and foundations active in the field.

Here is some of what we found:

We began by looking at the systems in place. Poverty is increasing in New Jersey, and it’s one of only three states where the number of families living in poverty is growing. In addition, New Jersey currently has one of the largest achievement gaps in the US when comparing low-income kids versus their higher income counterparts.

We also learned that closing that achievement gap in our schools is harder when students suffer from poor attendance, are not engaged in the classroom, and have parents that are not involved in their education.

In our search for productive approaches to get students more engaged, and to provide them with a reason to come to school and participate, we realized that music, dance, and theater programs give students a sense of mastery and excitement that is hard to find in other disciplines. We found that arts education can be a powerful tool for getting kids engaged in school and helping them see it through.

As part of our research process, we also dug into the evidence base. We spent some time with Professor James Cattarall, a giant in the field of research around arts education and creativity. He recently passed away, and while we don’t know him well we are grateful for the guidance he offered us and touched by his passion for supporting and empowering young people.

Cattarall’s research has indicated that low-income students with a high engagement in the arts had a school drop-out rate of just 4 percent, compared to 22 percent for low-income students with a low engagement rate in the arts. He attributed the lower drop-out rate to various factors. He hypothesized that the arts reach students who might normally fall through the cracks, speaks to students who have different learning styles, and creates more opportunities for student engagement.

Professor Catterall found that underserved youth who have high levels of arts engagement show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low-arts-engaged peers. Importantly, his research also found that underserved young people with a history of intensive arts experiences showed achievement levels closer to, and sometimes exceeding, the levels shown by the general population.

We learned about many impressive results when the arts are integrated into education, such as:

  • Students not wanting to miss school on a day that there is arts programming
  • Better rates of homework completion in classes with an arts integration focus
  • Teachers reporting connecting better with their students and often saw them in a new light
  • Greater involvement by parents who come to see their kids’ performances

One of my favorite examples involves a theater and dance program, ArtsConnection’s DELTTA, that allows English language learners to excel and learn English much faster than a regular class.

These findings tell us that anyone considering ways to close the achievement gap should look to arts education as an option. It’s a proven vehicle to engage the three key stakeholder groups necessary to improving kids’ academic outcomes: students, parents, and teachers.

During our field scan, our experts repeatedly came back to the notion that the arts have a unique ability to engage the whole child. And while the arts share similar characteristics with activities like sports — which fosters teamwork and friendships and requires grit and dedication — it can also offer something truly unique by being an avenue for self-expression, communication, and creation.

At the Burke Foundation, we believe the arts serve as a powerful gateway for engaging the minds of at-risk youth and contributing to their cognitive, socio-emotional, and personal development. We learned the intrinsic and extrinsic qualities of arts education collectively play a critical part in helping underserved kids thrive, by keeping them engaged in school, giving them a safe space to express themselves, teaching them critical thinking and collaboration, developing their cognitive skills and social-emotional core, and giving them a sense of community, among so many other things.

The arts can prepare them for a wide variety of jobs in the modern world, many of which are as focused on persuading others, operating within teams, and crafting new solutions to pre-existing problems.

The arts offer many tangible benefits to young people, but there is also something distinctly human about them that we can’t forget. It is an opportunity to make sense of one’s life, create and express meaning, and cope with remarkably difficult circumstances.

The Burke Foundation, a member of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, was founded in 1989 by the late Jim Burke and Diane Burke with the mission of improving the health and well-being of children in the NJ/NY region. Over the last year, the Burke Foundation has expanded significantly in its grantmaking capacity and intends to fund research-backed interventions that will have an outsized impact.

Posted in Arts, Arts Education, Philanthropy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ask a Poet: Jasmine Mans

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Jasmine Mans.

In 2012, Jasmine Mans was chosen by Glamour Magazine, as one of their Top 10 Most Influential Woman in College. Later, Lyon Magazine would call Jasmine “Your New Favorite Poet on the Internet.” Blavity, Saint Heron, and Billboard would cover Mans’ poetry, all commenting on the intensity and honesty safe guarding her work. Jasmine has also successfully competed in HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voice and Knicks Poetry Slam competitions. Jasmine has opened for artists such as Goapele, Mos Def, and Janelle Monae. Her work has appeared alongside other artists such as NoMalice of Clipse and Pharrell. Her artistry has brought her to theatres and stages including the Kennedy Center, Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater, the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion and the Sundance Film Festival, amongst others. In 2016, Mans opened up for group Disbatch before 30,000 fans in Madison Square Garden. Jasmine Mans is a classically trained poet and orator whose toured London, Manchester, and, of course, the United States of America.

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Mans Author PhotoWhat is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I recently discovered that poetry can live in many spaces. Poetry should not be confined to just the page. It belongs on billboards, bodies, on the ground, etc. I am learning every day, and asking myself, “In which ways do I want my work, my poetry, to take up space?” I recently discovered that my poetry is allowed to take up space, once I allow myself to.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Most of the poetry that I write, I am afraid to share. We are all worried that we will be misunderstood. And, moreover, we are worried that our truth will hurt the people we love.

However, the state of being “afraid” only speaks to a premature stage of growth. May I mention, after “fear” comes possibility, exploration, and chance.

I’m often afraid of writing about my family. I am often scared of making the people who love me unconditionally look “flawed.”

But then, I think, the most valuable question is: what do we owe fear and what do we owe truth?

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage in poetry?

Yes, my advice for those who are trying to help students engage in poetry is:

Vulnerability: Poetry begins with honesty.

Storytelling: At its core, poetry is simply storytelling. It is important to invest in how students already use their voice and tell their story. It is important to empower the language that’s true to their “literary voice,” and to shift the language that doesn’t channel their true intention.

Identity: Personal identity will always be important to the poet. Who or what is the reader identifying with?

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Underground Railroad, a novel by Colson Whitehead.

Do you have a favorite memory of time spent in Newark?

I grew up in Newark. I would say that most of my valued memories were cultivated here. I attended Arts High School. I thank Arts High for my creative palette. It was during my time there that I discovered, subconsciously, my love for sound, dance, and poetry. That high school gave me access to an idea of talent that was surreal, yet ever so possible. Arts High taught me that you don’t have to be rich to gain a wealth of talent.

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged | 2 Comments

Water is vital to our everyday lives, so why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Posted on by Margaret Waldock


Imagine your typical morning and the multitude of finely choreographed steps you take to get out of the house on time.

You wake up, turn on the tap to wash your face and give your teeth a brush. You turn on the shower, adjust the temperature so it’s just right. After finishing up and getting dressed, you fill and turn on the coffee maker, the warm toasty coffee aromas filling the air. That first sip simultaneously relaxes and propels you out the door, prepared for whatever else there is to come.

Now imagine that morning routine without water. You turn on the taps, try to flush and — nothing.

What if you own a business, a restaurant, or hotel, or you run an institution like a hospital or a university, and there’s suddenly no water? There’s no doubt that just a day without water can range from minor inconvenience to crisis, and while unimaginable for most of us, there are many communities that are living right now without access to clean and safe water — from man made tragedies in Flint, Mi., to water shortages in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

With all the emphasis on what divides us, a concern for water and water infrastructure is among those issues that cuts across political and geographic boundaries.

Some 91 percent of New Jerseyans put protecting the drinking water supply at the top of the list of priorities, according to a 2011 Monmouth University poll. Imagine — New Jersey residents ranked clean water more important an issue above reducing property taxes. We know how much New Jerseyans care about that.

Across the country, Americans also value the importance of water infrastructure to reliably and affordably deliver this vital resource to our homes and businesses. Some 71 percent of Americans polled in a recent U.S. Water Alliance study deemed it “very important” to improve and modernize the water infrastructure system.

So, why then, do some of New Jersey’s cities still rely on water infrastructure built over 100 years ago?

Want to read more about this issue? Check out New Jersey Future’s Ripple Effects report.

The problem is multi-faceted, and solutions are expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that New Jersey will have to spend $27 billion over the next 20 years to modernize our water infrastructure. That’s a big price tag for any state, but especially daunting for one with New Jersey’s budget woes and tax fatigue.

But let’s, for a moment, consider the cost of not investing in our water systems. An economic study conducted by the Value of Water Campaign found that just one, single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk. And certainly, the experiences of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico right now should serve as a serious wake-up call to us all as to the connections between water infrastructure and resilient communities.


Water is a public health issue, an economic issue, and an environmental issue, and every New Jerseyan is dependent on a safe, reliable water system.

That is why on Oct. 12, we are joining with hundreds of groups across New Jersey and the country to Imagine a Day Without Water, because we want people and decision makers to pay attention to our water systems.

We will share our thoughts on a Day Without Water on our Facebook page and Twitter accounts, using #valuewater, and we hope you will join us and tell your water story.

What is the value of water to you?






Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

Sustainable Jersey: Making sustainability change stick

Posted on by Lauren Skowronski, Program Director for Community Engagement, Sustainable Jersey

SJ October

Sustainable Jersey Regional Hubs meet to advance collective leadership

What drew leaders from Sustainable Jersey’s Regional Hubs to an indoors five-hour gathering on a recent beautiful fall Saturday?

Consider the range of responses ticked off as we went around the room:

  • “I want clean water, clean air and clean food to be available on my 104th birthday.”
  • “I need new ways of organizing people to address our issues.”
  • “I get energy meeting other people with a shared passion for sustainability.”
  • “Because sustainability is no longer a choice, it’s a must. The planet is warming and the consequences are dire.”

The people who attended the meeting are leaders in their community working with their individual municipal green teams, sustainability organizations and as part of a Sustainable Jersey Regional Hub. Nearly half of the attendees have been named a Sustainability Hero for their outstanding accomplishments as part of the Sustainable Jersey recognition program. Overall, these folks are not flashy attention seekers — they are committed, hardworking individuals who have prioritized sustainability as an issue they value.

Strengthening green teams through regional hubs

Sustainable Jersey works with eight active regional hubs: Atlantic-Cape May Hub, the Hunterdon Sustainability Team, the Mercer County Sustainability Coalition, the Middlesex County Hub, the Monmouth County Hub, the Somerset County Green Leadership Hub, Sustainable Essex Alliance and the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance (Camden-Burlington-Gloucester).

To make New Jersey more sustainable, we need our green teams to have the ability to think together and to cooperate across community borders. To tackle our biggest challenges, it will take the leadership of many individuals working towards a similar goal on a collective scale. Building committed teams of leaders is the underlying goal for the regional hubs and the meeting.

Sj Oct 2

In 2014, Sustainable Jersey started the regional hubs as a way to help green teams build capacity through training, best practice resources, and networking. In keeping towns connected to each other, green teams gain the opportunity to learn what has been successful elsewhere in the state and partner on projects with neighboring towns and schools in order to boost limited resources.

The hubs are independent and approach issues in different ways. For example, the Somerset County Hub is led by the county staff, while other hubs are completely volunteer driven. Some of the hubs are focused on mentoring towns in their region and other hubs are working on projects like community energy aggregation in Essex County and a regional Arts and Creative Culture Team in Hunterdon County.

Resources are shared like the plastic bag monster costume that is used across the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance members and worn at different community events to further plastic bag reduction awareness. Some hubs have logos and extensive social media while others have regular social events. For example, the Atlantic Cape May Hub has a green team mixer planned for October 3, 2017 at the Little Water Distillery in Atlantic City, register here.

Tenacious change is change that sticks, stays and is “roll back” resistant

For the September 16, 2017 Regional Hub leader gathering in Asbury Park, Sustainable Jersey brought in Tom Klaus, of Tom Klaus & Associates to share his ‘Tenacious Change” initiative. Tom’s work is based on original community engagement research on the Roots to Fruit of Sustainable Community Change framework.

Tom describes tenacious change as positive community change that is resistant to snapping back to the way things were before. It is an approach to organizing and working together to solve complex social problems through collective leadership, community engagement and coordinated action.

Tom walked the regional hub leaders through the two key aspects of community change. First, the “roots” are the community’s infrastructure and key stakeholders needed for the change to happen and then the “fruit” of community change are the acts of community engagement and mobilization. The community engagement work focusses on building relational trust through social networking and leveraging personal relationships. In other words, sending out a promotional mailer alone will not build a committed community of sustainability enthusiasts that will stick. It takes time and relationship building.

Tom said there are two groups to engage and mobilize: the content experts and the context experts. Context experts include the citizens, population or groups that are most directly impacted by the issue or problem and the “grass root” influencers like the gurus and citizen leaders. The content experts are the professionals, providers, program partners and the “grass top” influencers such as the funders, business leaders and elected officials.

The discussion was lively and the participants walked away with new tools.  The group especially liked a three-minute video that Tom shared called Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy – How to Start a Movement. It is definitely worth a watch!

Sustainable Jersey will report the success stories of the regional hubs moving forward and annual meetings are in the works for the hub leaders. The hubs are a powerful force in sustaining the sustainability movement in New Jersey. Sustainable Jersey is lucky to be working with these individuals who understand that community engagement leads to community change.


For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

Posted in Collaboration, Community Building, Community Engagement, Environment, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ask a Poet: Kurtis Lamkin

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Kurtis Lamkin.

Kurtis Lamkin is a poet from Philadelphia who plays the Kora, a beautiful West African instrument. He has produced several cds, the latest of which is called Kora Poems, as well as a book of poems entitled Golden Season. Recently he was selected as a 2013-2014 Poetry Fellow by the Jubilation Foundation; and he is a 2014 grantee of the New Music Foundation for a new project, Big Fun. He is lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Dodge Poetry Festival 2012 113..Dodge Poetry Festival 2012.Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12.Photograph © T Charles Erickson.http://tcharleserickson.photoshelter.com

Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12. Photograph © T Charles Erickson

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

My high school experience with poetry became massive when my tenth grade teacher took my class to the First International Haiku Festival which was held at the University of Pennsylvania. We were immersed in Japanese culture for the whole day and I loved the feel of the poems because they reminded my of the blues, way out in the fields blues with their clean elegance that invited my imagination into the words. Matsuo Basho and Langston Hughes influenced me. And from looking at my early journals it seems that I wrote a lot about loneliness

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

It’s hard to recall anything. I wasn’t afraid to share because so many things can happen to a poem when you let it go into the wild wild world.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Whatever exercise for a poem you give to a student, write your own with them.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

The last time I saw Amiri Baraka perform there; he was already a master but even after 50 years he was still getting better, surging forward just as young poets do.

What are you currently reading?

A non-fiction book called The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein.


You can watch Kurtis Lamkin play the Kora and recite his poem “jump mama” below:




Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ask a Poet: Robert Hylton

Posted on by Rebecca Gambale

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Robert Hylton. 

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Robert Hylton has been performing poetry since 1996. He has been an English teacher in Newark NJ for over 17 years as well as a poetry club curator in many public schools, universities, community centers, and churches in the tri-state area. He has performed at renowned venues, such as, the former Serengeti Plains, The Poet’s Corner (Bogies), Euphoria Café and NYC’s The Nuyorican Poet’s Café. Respected by his peers and younger poets alike, Hylton prides himself in mentorship and introducing writing and the art of slam poetry to young people across the tri-state area.

*   *   *

Robert Hylton cropped photoWhat was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I discovered poetry in high school. I remember well, grade 10. My teacher, Ms. Banks noticed that I took an interest in poetry. I was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Beatnik poets like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and many Renaissance poets.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

People always think a poem is about the author. People think a poem should sound a certain way. A poem can sound like whatever you want it to sound like, or look like what you want it to look like.

What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve recently discovered that writing poetry is truly God’s gift to me, and that I’ve been selling God and myself short all this time.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

My favorite spots in Newark are the poetry venues. I pop in from to time to time and catch up with old friends, fellow poets, and students alike. Halsey Street has many.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

For any teacher trying to engage students with poetry:

  • invite live poets to the classroom
  • find interesting, cool, real-life poems that teenagers might like
  • have a poetry reading in class (with snacks, dimmed lights, couches/comfortable chairs, a mic… make it feel special)
Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Sign Up for Imagine A Day Without Water 2017

Posted on by Naeema Campbell

Join us to…



What would a day in New Jersey look like without water? For a city, a business, a school, or an artist? On October 12, the Dodge Foundation is joining hundreds of other organizations across the country to show the value of water to our everyday lives as part of the Imagine a Day Without Water campaign.

And we are inviting you to join us to add your creative voice to the campaign.

We know that safeguarding our water requires leadership and action, and we believe that people are inspired to protect and invest in what they love and value. So, we invite you to share with us in imagining a Day Without Water here in New Jersey.

Through social media, public events, media outreach and other activities, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the value of water to our lives, businesses, communities, and the environment. Click here for ideas on how to get involved.

We’re encouraging organizations and individuals across sectors in New Jersey — from artists to educators — to post a photo or message on their social media accounts using #valuewater or to plan something bigger like a neighborhood catch-basin clean-up or mural painting event.

At the Dodge Foundation, we invite you to follow along with our take on what a day without water might look like on our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

We’d like to collect and share your stories, too. If you would like to be included, please connect with Naeema at ncampbell@grdodge.org by October 9.

Get involved and sign up today!

Naeema Campbell
Environment Program Associate

Margaret Waldock
Environment Program Director












Posted in Environment, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Creative New Jersey: Beautiful Questions

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Director of Programming, Creative New Jersey

woodblock questions

In an age of declarations, assumptions, and sound bites it’s refreshing to come across a book like Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas where curiosity reigns and questions are the goal, not answers.

Berger’s search for beautiful questions – questions that he defines as, “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change,” takes the reader through an exploration of the science behind questioning, into the minds of breakout innovators, and practical approaches to becoming a better questioner in our work and our lives.

Creative questions like these populate the book:

  • If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot? (Van Phillips designer of Olympic-athlete prosthetics)
  • What if a video rental business were run like a health club? (The birth of Netflix)
  • What if we spend the next hundred years sharing more of our stuff? What if access trumped ownership? (Questions the founders of Airbnb are now asking)
  • Can a school be built on questions? (Deborah Meier, pioneer of “small schools” movement, and MacArthur “genius” award winner)
  • How do we continually find inspiration so that we can inspire others?

Van Phillips’ talk at the 2011 Cusp Conference outlining his experiments to develop, cheap, easily assembled and customizable prosthetics for people in poverty around the world.

Berger looks at innovators such as Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, and organizations like The Right Question Institute, IDEO, Acumen and Gore (creators of Gore-tex fabric) among many others in his search for common ground on what makes an innovative questioner.

Strategies and examples of how to increase divergent thinking, connective inquiry (the idea of taking bits from seemingly unrelated topic areas and putting them together to solve problems), and collaboration with diverse teams pepper the pages, which Berger argues makes your questions stronger and your solutions more creative.

Berger poses a loose framework for creating beautiful questions in three stages, referred to as the, “Why? What If? and How?” phases of questioning. And if you’re feeling stuck, Berger includes a “Questions Index” that includes every question posed in the book for a quick inspirational kick-start.


In our work at Creative New Jersey, we start our community gatherings by posing questions for discussion, because questions work to open up our minds to different points of view, to ways we’ve never thought before, and yes, to the possibility that what we think we know may not be the full story. And for me, that’s exactly what makes those gatherings so beautiful. There’s a particularly juicy question I discovered in Berger’s book that was posed by education innovator Deborah Meier about encouraging skepticism and empathy in her classrooms:

I believe you have to have an open-mindedness to the possibility that you’re wrong, or that anything may be wrong. […] If you can’t imagine you could be wrong, what’s the point of democracy? And if you can’t imagine how or why others think differently, then how could you tolerate democracy?

My role at Creative New Jersey is to help bring people in communities with different life experiences, different backgrounds, philosophies, training, professions and passions together.

Each time, I see Berger’s questioning framework playing out – Why, What If, How? I watch as people listen, ask questions of each other, get past the declarations, assumptions, and “easy answers” (because there aren’t easy answers to complex questions) in order to collaboratively tackle issues. Those beautiful, ambitious, actionable questions that seek change light up the people in the room.

So tell me, what’s your beautiful question?  Send your questions to us – we want to start a Question Index of our own! Email me at kobrien@creativenj.org with the subject line “My beautiful question.”

Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Director of Programming and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, collaboration, and inclusion 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 Creative NJ | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Introducing: Our new, streamlined Board Leadership Series

Posted on by Wendy Liscow, Technical Assistance Director

Getting Started 2015

For more than a decade, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has provided a comprehensive Board Leadership Series free of charge to our grantees to ensure nonprofit boards and staff access the training, resources, and peer-to-peer mentorship that enable them to accomplish organizational goals and deepen impact.

We often hear from graduates that the series laid the groundwork to help them better understand why their board work is important and provided the tools to map and effect change in their organizations.

We’re excited to once again offer this series starting on October 14, 2017, but with a new workshop design and support offerings.

We heard from you that it can be difficult to carve out the time to attend an eight-month series of all-day workshops, even when you understand it is important mission-driven work.

So we have streamlined the series to a four-workshop series that leads to an opportunity to apply for a “Day of Clarity” retreat for the full board. You can find out more information here.

We are only offering spots for 10-12 grantee organizations to participate, and you must commit upfront to attending all four workshops with your executive director and board president. We will be giving preference to first-time attendees, but all interested parties should register as soon as possible. Now is the time to mark your calendar and make your reservations.

Please register your team no later than October 7. Spots will fill up quickly!

Please reach out to Elaine Rastocky or Wendy Liscow if you have questions.

Posted in Board Leadership, Technical Assistance | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: The ‘duty to read’

Posted on by Christine Michelle Duffy, Pro Bono Partnership

Read Sebastien Wiertz

If you have attended one of the workshops presented by Pro Bono Partnership that includes a discussion on nonprofit governance, you likely have heard us talk about the three legal duties of nonprofit trustees and officers.

In New Jersey, these duties arise out of the New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation Act, which includes the requirement that “Trustees … shall discharge their duties in good faith and with that degree of diligence, care and skill which ordinary, prudent persons would exercise under similar circumstances in like positions.”

The first duty is the duty of care, which obligates trustees and officers to take reasonable measures to ensure that the nonprofit has adequate resources, prudently manages those resources, and doesn’t violate the law.

The second duty is the duty of loyalty, which requires that trustees and officers put the best interests of the nonprofit first and disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest.

The final duty, which some — including me — argue is subsumed within one or both of the first two duties, is the duty of obedience, which mandates that trustees and officers ensure that the nonprofit operates in accordance with the mission and purposes set forth in its filings with its state of incorporation and the IRS.

I recently read a court decision, In Re Preliminary Contract Financial Settlements on The Center for Family Support’s Contracts, which made me think that perhaps we should break out a fourth duty, one that likely is subsumed within the duty of care: the duty to read. This duty, like the other ones, would apply to both trustees and officers, but would also apply to anyone with the responsibility to understand and implement contracts entered into by the nonprofit.

According to the decision of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, The Center For Family Support (Center) entered into two contracts with the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities (Division), which is within the NJ Department of Human Services (Department). Like many contracts, especially government contracts, the contracts in question incorporated by reference standard terms and conditions that were set forth in appendices, regulations, and contracting manuals.

One key clause of the contracts stated:

“In the administration of this [c]ontract, the Provider Agency shall comply with all applicable policies and procedures issued by the Department including, but not limited to, the policies and procedures contained in the Department’s … Contract Policy and Information Manual [(Manual)] (as from time to time amended). Failure to comply with these policies and procedures shall be grounds to terminate the contract.”

One such policy document is Policy Circular P1.10, which sets forth the procedures a provider must follow in order to modify the contract during its term. According to the court, pursuant to this circular, “if the provider has agreed in the contract that it will spend a specified amount for a particular service during the contract year, it may not exceed that amount without first obtaining a written contract modification approved by the Division. In addition, the provider may not transfer funds from other budget categories to cover cost overruns in a different budget category unless it has obtained prior Division approval.”

The Center exceeded its budget for particular line items and shifted funds from other budget categories to those line items. It never sought Division approval to do so.

The Division sought to recover nearly $900,000 in allegedly improper expenditures and misspent funds. In the ensuing legal battle, which is still ongoing, the Center argued that it was improper for the Division to incorporate the Manual by reference into the contracts.

I won’t bore you with the details of that legal argument, as it isn’t relevant to the three morals of this story and the court flat out rejected it. The litigation will continue with respect to other issues, such as the exact amount that the Center might eventually need to repay.

The first moral of this story is simple: don’t sign a contract until you have read all the terms and are willing to abide by them. You have to read through those annoying, often small-print appendices, regulations, and contracting manuals. You are not a legislator, who can get away with voting to approve legislation without having read the 100 pages of text.

If you aren’t willing to read all of the provisions of contracts, then don’t sign them, and forget about ever seeking any government contracts or grants in the future. Foregoing contracts and grants the nonprofit might easily qualify for simply because you won’t read the “fine print” might itself be a breach of the duty of care to ensure the financial well-being of the nonprofit.

The second moral is equally simple: if you execute a contract that requires the nonprofit to jump through hoops A, B, and C in order to modify the terms of the contract, then start jumping before you change the contract terms or deliverables. If you don’t, you put your nonprofit at significant risk and yourself at risk of breaching your duty of care to the nonprofit.

The final moral is that trustees need to be sure they have put officers in charge who understand the first two points. Trustees should also consider adopting a signatory authority policy that sets forth at what levels in the organization contracts need to be approved. In such a policy, higher levels of approval are required as the dollar value of contracts increases and/or based on the subject matter of the contract.

For samples of such policies (and related matrices), see Rutgers’ Signatory Authority Policy and Tufts’ Signatory Authority Policy.

PS: The duty to read also requires trustees and officers to read, understand, and follow the terms of the nonprofit’s Certificate of Incorporation and Bylaws. If the trustees are unhappy with the requirements of these documents, they need to amend them instead of ignoring them, as was the case in Sparks v. Doby, another case decided by the Appellate Division, a year ago this month.

Want to learn more?  Check out:

Christine Michelle Duffy cropped

Christine Michelle Duffy is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership and a participant in the Members Consultative Group for The American Law Institute’s (ALI) Restatement of the Law of Charitable Nonprofit Organizations.  At its 2016 annual meeting, the ALI membership approved Chapter 2 (Governance) of the draft Restatement, which rejects the concept of a separate duty of obedience.  Earlier this month and on the same day, Christine celebrated Christine’s thirtieth wedding anniversary and the twenty-eighth birthday of Christine’s daughter.  To learn more about Pro Bono Partnership, or to donate, please visit www.probonopartner.org or call (973) 240-6955.


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Ask a Poet: Ellen Hagan

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Ellen Hagan.

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry, Hemisphere, was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found on ESPNW.com, in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crowned was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. She is Director of Poetry & Theatre Programs at DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan and South Korea. Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.

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Hagan_Headshot_BWWhat is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

There is a big misconception out there that you can’t make a living being a poet, or that you will go broke following the path of poetry. That’s simply not true. The poets I know curate their lives in beautiful and thrilling ways. They travel the world, they craft brilliant collections of poetry, they teach in community centers, colleges, they edit books, they jump genres and write novels, screenplays, young adult books. They have families, they have massive communities – they make their work. It is possible to do what you love and be both financially and creatively successful. You just have to create the best path for you – and figure out the kind of life you want – and how to build that vision. It’s all possible!

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I absolutely loved poetry in high school. I went to the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts – a summer arts intensive program, and was taught by my mentor, and now friend: Kelly Norman Ellis, who exposed all of us to poets such as: The Affrilachian Poets, Nikky Finney, June Jordan and Jayne Cortez, to name a few. We were exposed to poetry as a way to define our identity, a way to speak back to the world, confront injustices, write our hearts, craft what mattered most to us, and do the work. My high school experience was transformative because of poetry. I always say it saved me. It gave me a home to harness all of my feelings – it gave me the space to explore who I was and who I wanted to be in the world.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Read and travel and celebrate life. I think the best way to engage with poetry is to witness it all around us. Poetry is on our bus routes, on the train, in the cup of coffee we order at the diner. It’s hanging out after school, it follows us home. It dances and spins – poetry can be found everywhere, so it’s just finding new ways for young people to open their eyes – and finding ways to capture that spirit and energy – with words.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

Lower Broadway! I did a Dodge Poet visit to Barringer STEAM High School in April, and walked from the train station. I ended up on Lower Broadway early in the morning, and was blown away by all of the brilliant murals on the gates covering the stores. There was so much joy and celebration – such color and expression. The whole city feels energized and alive to me. I love that Newark supports the arts – and they have a way to honor that in such a real and vivid way.

What are you currently reading?

I just re-read The Panther and the Lash by Langston Hughes. I used it years ago to find poems for a 2nd grade residency through The Community~Word Project, and saw it again. I wanted to revisit those poems. I also recently joined the board of the I, Too Arts Collective, a non-profit based in the home of Langston Hughes, founded by Renée Watson. I love being in Langston’s House – there is such brilliant creative energy there! It’s such a perfect home for poets and artists. I also recently read Beasts Behave in Foreign Land by Ruth Irupé Sanabría. She’s such a lyrical and socially engaged poet. Her collections stay with me – I can’t wait to teach some of the poems during the school year.

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Ask a Poet: Jonterri Gadson

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Jonterri Gadson.

Jonterri Gadson’s debut poetry collection, Blues Triumphant, was published in 2016. She is also the author of two chapbooks. She co-directed Writing from the Margins at Bloomfield College, a literary studies institute with workshops that centered the writing and voices of marginalized writers. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Los Angeles Review, The Collagist, and other journals. She writes for an all-female comedic panel show and her comedy writing earned her selection to the 2016 NBC Late Night Writer’s Workshop.  She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing/English at Bloomfield College in New Jersey.

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GadsonWhat is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

It bothers me when people assume that poetry has to be some code to crack and that it only matters if it makes sense to the person who wrote it. If it only needs to make sense to the poet, then the poet might as well leave it in their secret diary that no one else will ever read.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

It was the strangest thing when I was online dating a few years ago that all of my first dates bought at least one copy of my chapbook from me to try to impress me. They often bought more than one so they could give it to their moms because everyone likes a man who treats his mom right, right? So I discovered that dating new people is a great way to sell books.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

I challenge myself to write whatever it is that I am most afraid to say, so I’m definitely afraid to share it. But I have to get over the being afraid to say it part first. I worry about sharing later.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Don’t let students get away with writing poems about nothing, as if poems don’t
really matter. Teach students how to be vulnerable by demonstrating your own vulnerability. That’s one way writing poems can change anyone’s life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading/studying a lot of television scripts so I can become a TV writer. My life and experience as a poet has directly led me to even greater possibilities as a writer. Poetry is the foundation for everything I write.

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Ask a Poet: Kyle Dargan

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Kyle Dargan

Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Kyle Dargan is the editor and founder of Post No Ills online magazine and an Associate Professor of Literature and Assistant Director of Creative Writing at American University (Washington, D.C.). His debut collection, The Listening, was awarded the 2003 Cave Canem Prize and his sophomore collection, Bouquet of Hungers, won the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for poetry. Dargan’s poems and non-fiction have appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, American Poetry Review, BuzzFeed, TheRoot.com, and other venues. His most recent poetry collections are Logorrhea Dementia and Honest Engine. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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KGD (Print Quality)What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

That one needs to understand—if not have a mastery of—all the terminology and craft minutia to read or write poetry. The most important thing is being able to find and articulate what moves us about poetry. Once you know that, you can bring in the technical understanding to identify how the poem was able to create what you felt.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Of course. I mean, I think there should be a little fear in sharing any of yourself and your passion in poetry because the fear means you care. If you did not care how the poem and what you say in it would be received, you aren’t invested in saying something sincere and vulnerable—the type of writing that allows you to grow as a human being and for people to grow closer to you through the writing.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Yes. I think we go about it all wrong when it comes to teaching poetry to young people, especially young brown people in America. We start with the canon’s “classics” (which isn’t very representative) and then get frustrated when the students aren’t engaged. But if you start with poems that reflect the realities and specific experiences of the students you are teaching, they’ll be invested enough to actually want to do the work to understand how this art form is capturing and rendering something they recognize, something that validates them. It makes a difference. You need to introduce people to poetry with poems they can see themselves within.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

Newark is such a huge city. It isn’t just downtown, like many people outside of the city think. I came of age in City Hall. I fell in love at Branchbrook Park. I watched the world from high up in an apartment building on Elizabeth Avenue. I helped conduct research as a Minorities-in-Medicine fellow at UMDNJ. I mean, the way I grew up, I got to experience all of the city, and in that way it all runs together for me. People talk about east ward and north ward and south and west ward, but it was all just Newark to me, and I have great memories everywhere.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

Newark is changing. A lot of the things I loved aren’t there anymore, Je’s Soul Food Restaurant on Halsey Street is gone. Queen’s Pizza … it’s still there but it is owned by different people now—the flavor has changed, and it is essentially gone to me. The kind of gentrification I saw over the past ten years in Washington, D.C. is finally coming to Newark, as I suspected it would. But that is the nature of cities—they “reface,” they change. But I have a good friend who works as Mayor Baraka’s chief policy adviser, Tai Cooper, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone whose love for Newark runs deeper than hers does. She’s always showing me or telling me about some new cultural event or some new restaurant that the people seem to be enjoying. Cities need energy, and it is heartening to see all the new energy Newark is attracting and generating. And just as it was important for me to write about my Newark, we need the young people there now to write about theirs. That’s the only way the facts and the feeling of our time in our cities get remembered—which is something you can’t fully appreciate until your city changes and the people and places of your past become the ghosts and rubble of the present.

What are you currently reading?

Blud, by Rachel McKibbens

Bestiary by Donika Kelly

Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram x. Kendi

Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City by Derek Hyra

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ask a Poet: Eduardo C. Corral

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Eduardo C. Corral. 

Eduardo C. Corral is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut collection of poetry, Slow Lightning, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 2011. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the “Discovery”/The Nation Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from Poetry Magazine, a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University. During the 2017-18 academic year, he’ll be a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

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Corral_Eduardo(c-Matt Valentine)What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I keep forgetting that poetry can tell lies. Poems don’t have to stick to what actually happened. Poetry can reveal and illuminate personal experience and memory, but I often find my poems are a mixture of both the actual and the imagined.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

Once, on a flight to Los Angeles, after I told the business man sitting next to me that I was a poet, he asked me to write a poem about unicorns for his young daughter. He added that he would pay me five dollars for the poem.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Yes. I’ve trained myself to follow my imagination on the page. Sometimes I arrive at places I don’t want to explore, but I continue writing until I’ve explored every nook and cranny of that specific place. Why do I continue if it makes me uncomfortable? Because I know I don’t have to show the poem to anyone. I can write it. Then delete it. Or save it in a file for a long time. I give myself the freedom to explore my imagination and the freedom to decide when the work is ready for publication.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I didn’t write poetry in high school. But I did write outside of high school. I wrote lots of song lyrics in the privacy of my bedroom—I never shared them with anyone. The song lyrics were usually about loneliness and broken hearts. I’d often imitate my favorite song lyricists. Musicians like Morrissey, Madonna, Michael Stipe, and Juan Gabriel.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading two books of poems. Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar and Lessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez.

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Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Raising Unrestricted Revenue

Posted on by Nancy Eberhardt, Pro Bono Partnership


Are you tired of endless grant applications, expenditure tracking, report writing? Do you know that you have great services and could probably market more great services or products through a natural expansion of your programs? Are you thinking it would just be so much easier if you could raise your own revenue through earned income?

In this challenging fundraising climate, organizations are becoming more creative about how they bring money in the door. Creative thinking is great, and the desire for revenue with no restrictions on use is attainable, but requires careful planning to understand all the potential results.

Income-generating activities may involve tax implications, including taxes on possible unrelated business income, and might even impact tax-exempt status. Nonprofits must understand the legal considerations for monetizing existing resources (e.g., licensing and renting space) and carefully control and manage the corporate structure of social enterprises. These issues are interrelated and should be analyzed thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Unrelated Business Income Tax

It’s important for 501(c)(3) nonprofits to understand that not all revenue is tax-exempt. Income is taxable to otherwise tax-exempt nonprofits when it results from:

  • A trade or business (in which there is a profit motive) that is:
  • Regularly carried on (i.e., not once a year at an annual gala/golf outing/gift wrap sale) and
  • Not substantially related to the organization’s own specific exempt purpose (i.e., not any tax-exempt purpose, but the particular organization’s own stated tax-exempt purpose).

The rationale for taxing is to prevent unfair competition with for-profit (and nominally tax-paying) businesses. Nonprofits sometimes struggle with this concept, believing that if all the revenue goes back to the charity, it should not be taxed. But it’s the way the revenue is generated that determines its taxability, not the money’s ultimate purpose.

Sidebar: To learn about how it came to pass that unrelated business became taxable to nonprofits in 1950, see The New Yorker article from 1977, The Law School and the Noodle Factory. That article is behind a pay wall, though you can learn a little bit about the situation that prompted the tax in The First Annual NYU Law Pasta Commemoration.

There are many exceptions to Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), and if a nonprofit is making money using one of these methods, then it doesn’t have to worry about taxes. These exceptions include royalties and licensing fees from use of intellectual property, such as curricula, trademarks, and patents; rental income (with some limitations); income from activities conducted entirely by volunteers; and income from the sale of donated merchandise (such as in the case of thrift stores).

It’s important to remember that income-generating activities are not taxed if they are conducted as part of, or closely related to, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s exempt purposes. Examples include scientific research and sale of patents if there is a benefit to the public; aids in education, published and thus available to the public; disease research; provision of childcare or home health care; job training; and provision of low-income housing. There are many more examples, and nonprofits should consult with a tax professional for advice about a particular activity.

Too Much Unrelated Business Activity

A charity is permitted to engage in unrelated business activities so long as it pays the appropriate tax. And for many nonprofits, the tax is manageable in light of the revenue it raises. But at a certain point, even if the nonprofit is happy to pay the tax, taxable income may become too great a percentage of revenue to allow the charity to meet the public support test or otherwise impact the substantiality of its charitable activity. There is no bright-line test to determine how much non-exempt activity is too much to undertake; the calculation is not percentage-based, although the public support test must be met.

Tax-exempt status is generally not at risk if the activity has a direct relationship to a non-commercial exempt purpose of the organization; the revenue generated is relatively small compared to the organization’s overall activities and not greater than necessary to accomplish the exempt purpose; and the activity is not competing with activities carried on by the business community. Special attention will be needed to account for staff and other resources of the nonprofit used to support the revenue generating activities.

Many groups decide to avoid the UBIT risks to the nonprofit by forming a for-profit subsidiary, from which the profits can flow up to the “parent” non-profit as non-taxable dividends. In this case, the nonprofit must use caution in how much investment the nonprofit makes in this sub – is it adequately capitalized? Will the income cover the sub’s tax obligations with enough to spare to truly benefit the charitable parent?

Also, it’s critical that there are arm’s length agreements between the two corporations and that the charity receives fair market value for its services. If control of the sub is too close, however, liability issues might cross corporate entity boundaries and come back to the charity. Separate boards; separate board meetings; separate corporate records – all are important to monitor and document. See our article, Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Entities Forming Affiliations With Other Entities: Benefits, Risks, and Structural Considerations.

Some nonprofits form a separate, uncontrolled corporation to conduct the activity. Obvious disadvantages of this option are a lack of control, which might affect revenue back to the nonprofit and thus eliminates the reasons for starting this activity in the first place.

Charitable organizations should consider the many available ways to earn money and strengthen their revenue stream and flexibility. With careful planning and tax advice, a nonprofit can improve its self-sufficiency and decrease its reliance on highly restricted funding.


Please contact Pro Bono Partnership if you have questions about the legal aspects of revenue-generating activities.


Nancy Eberhardt is the 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 www.probonopartner.org or call 973-240-6955. Photo at top courtesy of Creative Commons / perzonseowebbyra.se

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