May 29, 2009

Embodying The Spirit of Service

Today, I begin a new adventure.

The day that Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, he called on Americans to, "embody a spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves." I was there in Washington, shivering in 15 degree weather with to my brand new fiancee when I heard those words. But thankfully I wasn't the only one listening. At that same moment, everyone in the nation heard the president's clarion call to service. Intuitively, every American knew that something had to be done, there needed to be some way to inspire public service to be cool again.

About 2000 miles away, the Dean of the College of Public Programs heard the same call and just so happens to have the sphere of influence necessary to answer the president's challenge in a meaningful way.

Before the week was out, Dean Friedman gathered the leadership of the College and set out to lay the conceptual groundwork for a scholarship program - called The Spirit of Service - where a small group of students, both undergraduate and graduate, would be competitively selected to participate in an interdisciplinary academic symposium geared toward a career in public service.

Enter Sam.

Providing access to higher education? Check. Developing the next generation of leadership? Check. Empowering people, both young and old, to engage in national and community service? Check.

So here I am, on the day of John F. Kennedy's birthday, in a role largely made possible by a bill signed into law bearing his brother's name, starting a journey that will bring life to a scholarship program that raises the celebrity of public service and creates pathways to careers for anyone invested in the work of making our communities better places to live, work, and play. I'm a little bit excited.

"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

May 28, 2009

Public Perception Or Public Deception

Regular Sam + Pursing an Accurate Public Awareness of the Nonprofit Sector = Happy Sam

Now, let's move on. From PhilanthroMedia yesterday:

Last Wednesday, the FTC and 48 states announced a nationwide sweep targeting scam artists who claimed to be raising money for military veterans, firefighters, and police officers. In reality, almost all of the money went to the fundraisers themselves. How can you, as a donor, guard against such scams, and discriminate between an honest, and a bogus charity?

Don't get me wrong, I love quality transparency and accountability as much as the next guy - but it is these "task forces" and "nationwide sweeps" that scare the average donor away from giving to nonprofits altogether.

Here in Phoenix, a 5-day series ran in our daily paper detailing the conquests of a 22-organization network that embezzled, laundered, and otherwise stole millions of dollars. No mention about the fact that those 22 organizations represent less than one-tenth of one percent of the nonprofit agencies in Arizona alone. Or that the sector is the third largest source for employment in the state. But that didn't stop the Pulitzer-hungry reporter from painting with the proverbial broad brush:

An Arizona Republic investigation found that charities can use a kind of title transfer of gifts in kind that inflate their finances, making their operations appear larger than they are. That improves the financial profile they present to donors in the federal charity drive and may attract more cash donations. The charities then spend most of the cash on salaries and expenses and pass the cash to other charities operated by relatives, co-workers or associates.

And again:

Donors to charities often have little say in how their cash contributions will be spent — and almost no way to find out. Despite rules that require non-profits to disclose their finances, their operators and their missions, federal tax forms give only a limited picture of a charity's operation. At the same time, the Internal Revenue Service doesn't have the staff to investigate more than a fraction of the nation's 1.2 million charities. An Arizona Republic investigation shows charities can use their donated cash and goods in ways that can be misleading and controversial, and in ways donors may never know.

I feel like creepy music from a horror movie should start playing through your speakers now. Yes, there are going to be bad apples. Always. But there are responsible ways to react, and setting up a website through the Federal Trade Commission entitled, "Avoid Charity Fraud" seems a little dramatic to me.

Maybe I'm alone in this thought. What say you out there, Nonprofit Community? And you, Mr. or Ms. Donor?

"The world and life have been mighty good to me. I want to put something back."
Ted Turner

May 19, 2009

Summer Reading List

Nonprofit Management is a relatively young field of study. Because of that, there plenty of people out there theorizing on the subject. Plenty.

They are asking questions like, "What financial impact does the sector have on communities?" "Where does it end, and the business or government sector begin?" "What role should the federal government play in the oversight of the sector?" and "Who the heck is Alexis de Tocqueville?"

Point is, we haven't really gotten to a place where the intellectual chaff has been separated from the wheat and left an agreed upon body of knowledge. For instance, take our name. Instead of the Nonprofit Sector, some prefer Social Sector, some say Citizen Sector, while others go with Independent Sector or Civil Society.

Side bar - if you hyphenate "non-profit" or use the phrase "not-for-profit," please stop. Thanks.

No doubt, there are well-respected academic luminaries in the field that the rest of us look to for guidance on the big issues of the day. But what Galileo was to astronomy the Nonprofit Sector is still searching for.

All of this academic adolescence boils down to one thing - studying the sector means that I have to read a ton (literally, I'm certain, if I printed all of it out) for class. Books, articles, journals, blog posts, context, subtext, and pretext. It also means that I don't get to read what I want during the school year. Case in point, check out this post about the book, Team of Rivals. Notice anything odd? Yep, I wrote it in August.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to a good 10 or 12 weeks to dig into the few books that have nothing to do with the nonprofit/citizen/social/independent sector on my nightstand at the moment:

Despite the fact that these titles don't have much to do with what I'm learning about in class (save for the last one) - be sure that you'll read a few attempts to stretch the content into something blog worthy. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you're reading over the summer.

"In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end."
Alexis de Tocqueville

May 15, 2009


From Osocio:

Commercials aren’t always about the visuals, with the beauty being sometimes just the sound. The latest Oxfam America ad is just that, with a kynetic type treatment and the wonderful soundtrack of “Með suð í eyrum” by Sigur Rós, the Icelandic band, whose symphonic rock is always inspiring.

The video is great, and the campaign is up and running. Enjoy:

"It's really simple, Governor. When people are hungry they die. So spare me your politics and tell me what you need and how you're going to get it to these people."
Bob Geldof

May 13, 2009

I Am (Maybe) ASU MPA

Today, I take my last final exam for the Spring 2009 semester - which means I only have one full semester (plus a summer) left of classes before I get to own a little piece of paper that certifies me smart.

After that, there are plenty of possibilities - but chief among them are sticking around the Land of Maroon & Gold to pursue a Masters of Public Administration.

Who knows? Maybe in a few years, I'll get to put some nifty letters after my name: Samuel Richard, MPA.

"A lot of fellows nowadays have a B. A., M. D., or Ph. D. Unfortunately, they don't have a J. O. B."
Fats Domino

May 8, 2009

Not Dead

Hi, friends.

I'm not dead, just not writing lately. At least here. I wrote a sweet research paper on the demise of nonprofit organizations, wrote another about a program that a group and I planned, implemented, then evaluated - and oh yeah, I've been writing here every once in awhile.

Long story short, I've neglected the fan base of Deserted After Dark (read: my mom) - but not because I've given up. Come summer I'll be back in full swing. Unlike my sorry excuse for a home team...

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
Norman Cousins

PS - Thanks to Rosetta Thurman for the great profile on her blog.