February 27, 2009

I'm Just A Bill



Sunlight Foundation is at it again.

By 'it,' of course, I mean completely rethinking out our government interacts with its citizens. it's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Sunlight's work, and this project is no different. Read The Bill is a campaign asking Congress to post bills online at least 72 hours prior to floor debate. Sounds pretty commonsense to me. Whatever political persuasion you subscribe to, it's a pretty universal belief that lawmakers should read the bill that they are signing into law. And since we're part of the Digital Age, why can't us regular folk get a chance to look the legislation over, too?

In an email I received yesterday, Sunlight's Executive Director explains why this campaign is so important:

Dear Sunlighter,

Here's something terrifying: Congress passed the $787 billion Stimulus Bill and we're pretty sure the people who voted on that legislation didn't actually read it. And for sure you didn't have a chance to look at it, either. That's not the first time important legislation has rushed through Congress in a matter of hours. By hurrying to vote on these bills, members of Congress might miss an earmark or tax break that could have a lasting impact on you and your community.

Congress just passed the largest piece of spending legislation in history and no one Read The Bill. Let's make sure this doesn't happen again. Demand that they Read The Bill and sign our petition now:

http://www.ReadTheBill.org/petition

Read The Bill is a commonsense solution -- we want Congress to post all bills online for 72 hours before they are debated. That gives members of Congress - and you - three days to read legislation and consider how it could potentially affect each of us in our daily lives. A 72-hour rule would also give you a chance to let your representative in Congress know what you like, or don't like, about a bill before he or she votes.

Here are some examples of bills that were passed when members of Congress only had a few hours to read each one.

-TARP bailout bill (2008): rushed through Congress with few provisions for accountability

-Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008: Congress' Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout

-PATRIOT Act (2001): rushed through Congress and, consequently, expanded the federal government's ability to gather intelligence, engage in domestic surveillance and secret searches and detain immigrants with little restraint

Just yesterday, the House of Representatives approved a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. Unlike the Stimulus Bill, it was posted online for two days, which allowed members of Congress - and citizens, alike - to read and discuss the bill for a short period of time before it was considered in Congress. But even that is not enough. Let's remove the disparity and uncertainty that makes some bills available while others are cloaked in secrecy. Let's continue to allow everyone to Read The Bill for at least 72 hours before it is considered in Congress.

Help us urge Congress to take some time to Read the Bill-- sign our petition today.

Thank you for your time on this important matter.

Sincerely,
Ellen Miller
Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation

P.S. For real time news and updates, you can follow Read The Bill on Twitter.


This issue has a simple solution. The Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader traditionally set the voting schedule, so all Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Reid have to do is delay floor introduction 72 hours after the bill passes committee. Pretty easy, right? Pelosi could even make the call from her private jet (ZING!).

Please join me by signing the petition to post bills online 72 hours in advance of debate.

Cheers,
Sam
"The who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
Mark Twain

February 23, 2009

I'm Just One Person

Last year Phoenix was one of a handful of cities that turned off their lights for one hour to stand in solidarity with those pursuing a more sustainable planet. The campaign - called Earth Hour - started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and has since gained much media attention and international support.




Funded in large part by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour asks participants to go dark by turning off the lights (and all electricity, for that matter) from 8:30PM to 9:30PM local time on March 28. In the past, restaurants hosted candlelit dinners, downtown office buildings turned off their large marquees, and people were generally forced to enjoy each others' company without technologically sophisticated stimulants. It doesn't necessarily need to be an event, either. Each individual gesture adds to the chorus of voices united in the fight against harmful global climate change.

As of yet Phoenix has not announced its participation in Earth Hour 2009, but I'm confident that the good people of God's Country will step up to the plate once again. Plus, Shepard Fairey designed the poster. I heard any project that guy touches turns out to be a pretty big deal...



Cheers,
Sam
"Character is what you are in the dark."
Dwight L. Moody

February 16, 2009

Guest Post: Just A Regular Guy (Noir)





Hello all! My name is Aaron Stiner. I have the pleasure of serving as a Deserted After Dark guest blogger and I am very excited that Sam has allowed me this honor. Sam and I know each other through a couple of different nonprofit circles. We are both board members for YNPN Phoenix and are both connected to Arizona State University; Sam as a student and employee and me as a Master of Nonprofit Studies (MNpS) Fall 2008 graduate and a new employee at the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

In January, I began work as the Program Manager for the brand new Advancing Philanthropy initiative at ASU's Lodestar Center, which means I am charged with connecting individuals and families to the knowledge, tools and resources which empower and inspire them to unleash their philanthropic investments. I am just beginning to figure out exactly what that means!

Right now, I am in the process of developing the business plan. Thankfully, ASU's Lodestar Center is full of very smart people who are helping me get started because, as with any new endeavor, I find myself with a lot more questions than answers.

I wonder, for example, what exactly are these services going to be and what kind of "support" do philanthropists need or want? I ask myself, once we develop the programs, how do we talk about what we do in a way that is easily understood and garners support? And, how will we work with other nonprofits and foundations in delivering our services? And, how do we measure our success? The questions just keep on coming...

I'm beginning to feel a little like Guy Noir, from A Prairie Home Companion. Always trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions, and rarely satisfied - but never because I give up searching. There is lots of stuff that needs figuring out. On top of the endless complexities wrapped up in the field of philanthropy, I am dealing with the ambiguity of a new initiative and the shifting sands of rapidly changing economic times.

Adding to the uncertainty is that I am only four weeks into working at the Lodestar Center and am still learning the ropes. Prior to joining ASU, I worked for six years at Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) – first as a workplace campaigner, then running fundraising trainings and finally as a major gift officer. After six years, you feel pretty solid in a place. You know why you are there and can easily explain the impact of the organization. So, as you might imagine, I am still settling into my new digs. It’s a little strange being in a place where I can’t whip off my elevator speech in three minutes flat!

Despite being at VSUW for what seemed an eternity in Gen X years (and loving every minute!), I still remember a lesson instilled in me from day one: a nonprofit is only successful because of the relationships the staff builds with the organization’s stakeholders – volunteers, recipients, businesses and nonprofit partners – and only with their support can we really make a difference. As such, it was a big part of my job to foster relationships with donors – obviously important stakeholders – on behalf of our organization.

There are some key points from that lesson that I find myself returning to in my new position. One, people want others to be successful and are willing to help when asked – either by providing time, money, talent or advice – and the number one reason people don’t help is because they aren’t asked (so you better ask). Two, it’s not about me (and this is important) it’s about the organization. People support an organization because they support the mission and because supporting the mission helps fulfill their own personal motives. Maybe they want help with advancing their own cause, maybe they want recognition, or maybe the mission touches their heart. It could be a number of things, but it’s usually not just because I ask.

It’s about the mission, not about me…hmm, if I were Guy Noir I would be reminding myself that the hot dame just showed up at my door because she needs help, not because she thinks I’m handsome…you get the point.

So, in that gumshoe spirit I am out pounding the pavement, meeting with the philanthropic thought leaders I know and working to connect with those I don’t. In each meeting I hope to twist my uncertainty to advantage by putting all my questions out on the table and asking these leaders what they think would be the best way to support philanthropists in our community. Everyone I meet with has been incredibly generous with their time and ideas, not because of me, but because they believe the mission is worthy.

I hope that by keeping the mission always at the front and center of my conversations I can gain ideas and assistance and achieve our goals: supporting individuals and families in unleashing their philanthropy and making our community healthier and more vibrant. Only with the support of the community can our new initiatives be successful.

Of course, if any of you have ideas, please send them my way at aaron.stiner@asu.edu or via the comments. I hope to see you all again here with occasional updates on our work.

Thanks so much!

Aaron Stiner

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."
Garrison Keillor

February 15, 2009

Alphabet Soup

It is well documented that I'm a fairly big nerd. But Kim loves me despite it,so I don't worry too much.

Anyway, I added to my geekyness yesterday when I snagged a poster of the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities - Core Codes (NTEE-CC) classification system. Yup.

The NTEE helps researchers, granters, and individual philanthropists by classifying and categorizing organizations into one or multiple codes describing the work an organization does. For instance, the DC Central Kitchen fits under three codes:
  • K30 - Food Service, Free Food Distribution Programs
  • J20 - Employment Procurment Assisstant
  • P85 - Homeless Services / Centers
There are twenty-six main categories (signified by different letters) and each main category has a series of sub-categories. If you want to see it in action, check out your favorite organization on GuideStar to see how they are classified. You can also search by NTEE. Pretty cool, huh? Man, I'm sure glad Kim doesn't read this everyday...

Cheers,
Sam
"I'm not kissing a nerd."
Betty Childs, Revenge of the Nerds


February 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Arizona

From Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion:

February 14th is, among other things, Statehood Day in Arizona. This means that someone, somewhere, will publish the inevitable “greatest Arizonans who ever lived” or “people/events that changed Arizona” lists in newspapers or blogs. The results of these lists are predictable. They nearly always, for instance, include Barry Goldwater. I have nothing against Goldwater’s inclusion, but the late Senator is a little like the Beatles; yeah they were great; yes, things are different because of what they did, but that does not mean that they are not over-rated.

So I am making my own list. This list will not include easy choices like Goldwater, Kino and Poston, names which should already be familiar to most readers. Instead, I take this opportunity to highlight some of the individuals whose names should be familiar, but have instead slipped into relative obscurity despite their role in shaping the Arizona we all know and love.

My standards in making this list are fairly simple. First, the named individual must no longer be alive and must have no institutions, streets, towns, parks, or substantial monuments named for them. Naturally, the individual must have made a lasting, positive contribution to Arizona during their lifetime regardless of the length of their residency in the state. This last one is, of course, highly subjective, and I will have to admit not only to my geographic bias as a Tucsonan but also my political bias as a Democrat. Anyone who has an issue with one of my choices, or someone I did not choose, should feel free to make these views known.

You'll have to check out his blog for the descriptions of each person, but here is the list:

  1. Antonio Siraumea
  2. General José Cosme Urrea
  3. The Great Western
  4. Manuelito
  5. Colonel Edward Ephraim Cross
  6. Elizabeth Josephine Brawley Hughes
  7. Governor Louis Cameron Hughes
  8. Wenceslao “Three-Fingered Jack” Loustaunau
  9. Father Bonaventure Oblasser, O.F.M.
  10. Governor Samuel Pearson “Sam” Goddard Jr.

Happy Birthday, Arizona!
Cheers,
Sam

"You know you're an Arizonan when a rainy day puts you in a good mood."
Marshall Trimble,
Official State Historian

February 11, 2009

Article Two, Section Two (Part Two)

Dear President Obama:

There was a period of time before India's independence that only 3,000 Englishmen ruled a country of 350 million. Before Gandhi, India was a country fractured by a lack of unified vision. Before the great Salt March, Indians wandered through history without a coherent identity. Before they were represented at the highest governmental levels, Indians did not have a voice.

My friend, Robert, shared this fact with a group of future nonprofit leaders at a conference last month, and I still have not been able to get the thought of such a splintered society - and how much it relates to the nonprofit sector here in America - out of my head. I thank you for your bold leadership amidst a tough economic and political climate thus far, and ask for two minutes so that I may indulge in my own audacious hope:

On Sunday night, Grammy Foundation president Neil Portnow called on your Administration to create an Cabinet-Level Arts Czar.



And Mr. Portnow wasn't the first make such a request; Quincy Jones has repeatedly suggested that having a Secretary of Culture is the right next step for America, saying that arts and culture are "just as important as military defense."

Lest you think otherwise, let me boldly stand in solidarity with these men in saying that arts and culture are pillars of any great society - and that any government worth its weight in rhetoric should work hard to foster the advancement of these endeavors. However, it would be shortsighted not to recognize the deep impact of the National Endowment for the Arts or the myriad other government programs designed to promote arts and culture.

Furthermore, exclusively highlighting a focused sub-group at such a high level completely ignores the holistic significance of the rich tapestry woven together by the golden thread of the Social Sector in its entirety. Said differently: we have many missions, but we wish to speak and be heard as one voice.

We are a group in adolescence, finding our identity. We represent over one million organizations with missions ranging from health-care to earth-care, from animal rights to human rights. Yet we have more that unites us than divides us. Whether our organization is providing shelter for an abused woman and her children or providing future generations with the promise of cleaner energy, the core of our mission is the pursuit of a more dynamic community. As significant employers in every American city, we represent nearly 15 million paid employees and another 80 million volunteers annually. We work diligently, responsibly, and with integrity - returning every invested philanthropic dollar to the community nine times over (and that's a conservative estimate). In other words, we are the economic stimulus you have been looking for.

We are a group faced with the fierce urgency of now, looking to usher in a bold new era of social innovation. Both you and the First Lady held jobs in nonprofit organizations, so you know firsthand how essential it is to have nimble, grassroots organizations able to respond to a rapidly changing economic environment. Now is the time to move beyond the limited constructs of charity and fully explore the powerful potential of the United States Nonprofit Sector.

The well-intentioned requests of Mr. Portnow and Mr. Jones are noble, yes. But we represent much more than musicians, artists, and writers. Every young woman who has hammered a nail into a home for Habitat for Humanity, every young man who has ladled soup into bowl after bowl at a local shelter, every grieving mother who has written letters of support to men and women in service overseas, and every person who has run a race to support breast cancer research or fight Alzheimer's disease - is ours.

Mr. President, we humbly implore you to create the Department of the Nonprofit Sector in order that Social Change and Community Development have a Cabinet-Level voice in your Administration. Thank you for your time, energy, and continued service to the nation that de Tocqueville called great, "because she does good."

Sincerely,

Samuel I. Richard
Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Phoenix

February 10, 2009

Article Two, Section Two (Part One)

The President shall
nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
If by chance you skimmed over the enthralling Hawthorne-esque prose of our Founding Fathers above, this section of the Constitution charges the President with the task of appointing high-level advisors, officers, and adjudicators to be confirmed (or rejected) by the Senate.

Historically, much ado has been of "Cabinet-Level Positions" because these are the people with the ear of the president. And because of the (purposefully) vague language concerning the specifics, many changes have been made to what departments are Cabinet-Level and which are not. For instance, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency used to be a Cabinet-Level post. When the Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2003, FEMA became a sub-department - along with the Transportation Security Administration, the US Secret Service, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US Coast Guard.

The point is: things change. When Washington (and his hot wife) took office, George appointed only four people to his Cabinet: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton; Secretary of War Henry Knox; and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Over the years, new departments have formed while others stay in existence but no longer enjoy Cabinet status.

Take, for example, what we now call the United States Postal Service. The Post Office was created in 1792 by order of President Washington, but didn't reach Cabinet Level status until President Andrew Jackson invited Postmaster General William T. Barry to sit as a member of the Cabinet in 1829. The Post Office Department had the ear of the President until 1971, when Richard Nixon outsourced the operation as part of the Postal Reorganization Act, creating the quasi-governmental entity known today as the United States Postal Service.

Ok, enough nerd talk - but just a little more contextual background. There has been much ebb and flow over the previous 43 presidential administrations, but below is a list of current high-level advisors. There are Cabinet Members - all Secretaries with the exception of the Attorney General - and there are Cabinet-Level Officers. Confusing, but there is a distinction - namely, Cabinet Members need to be confirmed by the Senate whereas Cabinet-Level Officers do not necessarily need to be. Fun side fact - the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, and Justice are known as the "Big Four" because they commonly have the most interaction with the President. During meetings of the Cabinet, these four people sit in closest proximity to the President and Vice President. Alright, enough preamble (historic document humor):

Cabinet
Cabinet-Level Officers
Tracking so far? Good. Because this is where it really gets good. But you're going to have to wait. I have a big policy suggestion that I'm going to lay out - but this post is already pretty long and I want to keep your attention. So check back tomorrow. It'll be good.

Cheers,
Sam
"Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it."
Joseph A. Schumpeter

February 3, 2009

What School Is For Or: Why Arizona Needs Seth Godin

Seth Godin, author of Tribes, The Dip, and Purple Cow writes a fantastic blog that everyone should read daily - including the Arizona State Legislature. A couple of days ago, he outlined what he thought school is for. In his mind, the purpose of school is to (my favorites are bolded):
  1. Become an informed citizen
  2. Be able to read for pleasure
  3. Be trained in the rudimentary skills necessary for employment
  4. Do well on standardized tests
  5. Homogenize society, at least a bit
  6. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
  7. Give kids something to do while parents work
  8. Teach future citizens how to conform
  9. Teach future consumers how to desire
  10. Build a social fabric
  11. Create leaders who help us compete on a world stage
  12. Generate future scientists who will advance medicine and technology
  13. Learn for the sake of learning
  14. Help people become interesting and productive
  15. Defang the proletariat
  16. Establish a floor below which a typical person is unlikely to fall
  17. Find and celebrate prodigies, geniuses and the gifted
  18. Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems
  19. Teach future citizens to obey authority
  20. Teach future employees to do the same
  21. Increase appreciation for art and culture
  22. Teach creativity and problem solving
  23. Minimize public spelling mistakes
  24. Increase emotional intelligence
  25. Decrease crime by teaching civics and ethics
  26. Increase understanding of a life well lived
This list was strikingly relevant to my life last week, because Arizona just approved a $275 million cut to its public schools - making much of the above list nearly impossible to achieve. Maybe we can bring Seth in to teach our lawmakers how to be a little more creative in their spending cuts so we don't completely throw away the future...

Remember when I got all bummed about the state of our state a few months ago? I was thinking about telling you, "I told you so," or writing an equally dreary follow-up, but Brian was kind enough to beat me to it. Here's a snippet from his Open Letter Governor Brewer and the Arizona State Legislature:

You believe that any tax is a bad tax and you laud your ability to cut, slash and refuse to pass any taxation. You tell us you are putting money back in our pockets. But the truth is you are simply stripping us of the services we want from our government. You tell us that we can choose private schools, home school or find the best education alternative for us and our children. What you do not tell us is that you are relegating our children to demonstrably inferior educational alternatives unless we are wealthy. We can not afford to live in a state which educates the children of the wealthy and relegates the rest to menial labor.

I’m not a socialist, or a liberal. I’m a businessman. I know what you do not and can not seem to understand. Prosperity is a result of investment. If you will not invest, you will not prosper. If you will not invest I will no longer invest in AZ either.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are things worth paying for. There are things worth sacrifice and, yes, even higher taxation. If our children, and our future are not worth that sacrifice what, I ask you, is?


That pretty much sums up what I would have said. Except for the "not a liberal" part.

Cheers,
Sam
"At the very time our nation is calling its universities to action... Arizona has gone in the opposite direction."
Dr. Micheal Crow (President, Arizona State University)


February 2, 2009

Human Rescue Plan

While I put the finishing touches on a couple of substantial, I-actually-wrote-them posts, here's something cool from Sean Penn and the World Food Programme:



Congratulations to the Cardinals for making it to the Super Bowl, Kurt Warner for winning the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award, and to Cash4Gold for (in my book) the best commercial. Happy February!

Cheers,
Sam
"I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it's always February 2nd, and there's nothing I can do about it."
Phil Connors

[Source: Osocio]