Family Donates Solar Power Systems to Local Charities

A family donated solar panel setups to several nonprofits in their area.

Photo: Shutterstock

Solar power is still a matter of some controversy, with arguments raging about whether or not an individual panel can ever recoup the energy cost of making it. But the technology improves day by day in leaps and bounds, and the more solar systems put in place, the lower the costs creep. Once installed, solar requires relatively little maintenance, beyond cleaning, and they cut the utility costs wherever they are installed.

It was with all of these things in mind that a family in Hatfield, Massachusetts, arranged to donate large solar power systems to eight Northampton nonprofit organizations.

In 2016, the family, who has chosen to remain anonymous for the time being, approached Northeast Solar about the project. Details were finalized late in August of 2017, and throughout October and November, one solar system will be installed each week until all eight are up and running.

The eight lucky nonprofits are the Amherst Survival Center, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, the Grove Street Inn homeless shelter, Historic Northampton, the Amherst headquarters of Peace Development Fund, Prosperity Meadow Farm, Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA), and ServiceNet, which is a service agency for people with mental and physical impairments. All of these organizations are notably resource-poor, making this an incredible gift that will continue to pay dividends for decade in utility savings.

According to Greg Garrison, President of Northeast Solar, the installations will, over their functioning lifetimes, save the organizations over half a million dollars in energy costs, money that can instead be put towards their missions.

The total cost to the donors is very near to $400,000, with Northeast Solar donating their labor for free. For tax reasons, the donors will retain ownership of the solar systems for the immediate future, as there are tax benefits that nonprofits aren’t eligible to take advantage of. According to Philip Korman, executive director of CISA and one of the few people who know the identity of the donors, they intend to reinvest those tax credits in maintaining and expanding the systems.

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Ruby Rose Donates to Houston LGBT Center In Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Ruby Rose caught flack for donating to a Houston LGBT center in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Ruby Rose caught flack for donating to a Houston LGBT center in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com

Fans of Orange is the New Black will remember Ruby Rose, who played virtually herself in two seasons of the show. In addition to being an actress, she’s also a model, a DJ, and a recording artist, with two movies coming out in the next few months. Rose has a history of charity work, supporting campaigns against bullying and for youth health care as well as volunteering internationally.

When her friend, musician Jack Antonoff, announced on Twitter Tuesday, August 29 that he would be donating $10,000 to the Montrose LGBT Center in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, she chimed in that she’d be matching his donation.

Montrose, one of the largest LGBT centers in the country, is dedicated to serving the needs of Houston’s LGBT and HIV+ communities. Harvey has seen many of their community displaced, and the Center has provided valuable service in checking in with those who have no family to be concerned for them. Aside from this, however, they are collecting needed supplies for all nearby shelters (not just LGBT), feeding volunteers around the city, and soliciting emergency volunteers. The services they are providing in this disaster are universal.

Despite this, Rose’s announcement met with an immediate outcry on twitter about how “disgusting” it is for the actress, herself a lesbian, to donate to an LGBT-“only” center.

“So you are only willing to help out gay people suffering from the floods in Houston?!?!” reads a comment on Twitter. “You are a disgusting human being.”

Keeping her cool, Rose posted an explanation of the Center’s emergency actions on Instagram, pointing out obliquely that many other organizations have not treated the LGBT population so fairly.

It is also worth noting that although Antonoff instigated these donations, he received no such castigation.

Anyone interested in joining Antonoff and Rose by donating to the Montrose Center can do so either via their Facebook page linked above or on their website.

Kaepernick Keeps His Philanthropic Promises

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick. Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

Colin Kaepernick’s career is still stalled over his decision to bring politics onto the football field with his quiet protest. But he’s far from inactive.

In the wake of that protest, which was inspired by unequal treatment of black victims of police brutality, Kaepernick fledged a foundation, and pledged to donate $1 million to help communities of color and organizations of support for the oppressed. This week, a new $100,000 in donations brings him 80 percent of the way to that goal.

On Wednesday, August 23, Kaepernick sent a $34,000 check to the non-profit run by rapper J. Cole, Dreamville. Dreamville is a Fayetteville NC-based organization dedicated to exposing inner-city youth to opportunity and inspiration. The donation will help Dreamville begin a few new projects.

Another check went to New York City, to the Lower East Side Girls Club. This club’s goals include making sure girls and young women in the area have access to good food, counseling, extracurricular STEM classes, and workshops on job seeking, entrepreneurship, and leaderships. This donation will fund field trips to museums and cultural venues, necessary supplies. It will also make it possible for the club’s staff to attend women’s conventions worldwide, increasing their footprint and therefore their ability to both receive and provide help.

The third check of this wave of donations went to 100 Suits for 100 Men, a charity aimed at helping parolees groom and train themselves to re-enter the work force. This donation is earmarked to help the members of the coalition visit prisons and connect with inmates, as well as to provide tailoring services for the eponymous suits.

Kevin Livingston, the leader of 100 Suits, had strong, grateful words to say after receiving the donation on behalf of his organization.

“He’s keeping his promises to folks of color. To the people mocking Colin, my five words are: What have you done lately?” said Livingston to online magazine SBNation. “What are you doing for the cause? If you aren’t doing something, what gives you the right to question that man?”

How You Can Help the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Give wisely in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Here are some tips and good charities to support.

This aerial photo shows the extent of the flooding in Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Photo: Shutterstock

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25. It’s the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Houston has been devastated by the storm and the ongoing flooding that resulted from receiving some 30 inches of rain in the last week.

Lots of people want to help—possibly including you—but as with any time you make donations in the aftermath of a natural disaster, you need to donate where your dollars will make the most difference and beware of charity scams that pop up in the wake of disasters.

Here are some Houston-based organizations that need your financial support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Organizations that are meeting basic needs like food, fresh water, and shelter should be your priorities.

If you want to help the animals that have been affected by Harvey, here are some shelters working to save the storm’s animal victims.

  • Austin Pets Alive has transported more than 235 animals from Houston shelters to safety in Austin and is preparing for more as the roads into the area open up.
  • Houston Humane Society is operating with skeleton crews as many of its employees and volunteers have been affected by the flooding, but they will need financial assistance to rebuild once the flooding abates.
  • San Antonio Humane Society is assisting with pet evacuees from Hurricane Harvey.

Charity Navigator has a list of nonprofits that are working to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

You can also donate blood. There’s an urgent need for Type O positive and Type O negative blood. Check with your local Red Cross for blood drives in your area.

As always, be careful to avoid charity scams. If you get a solicitation call, don’t be shy about asking who wants your money and how much of your donation will actually go to the charity. Check charity review websites. Beware of sound-alike “agencies” that exist just to scam. In fact, your best bet is to donate to the charities directly, through their websites, rather than through solicitation calls; that way, you’ll know your money is going to the right place. Here are some tips from Charity Navigator on how to avoid scams.

Also, beware of GoFundMe and other similar solicitation sites and people claiming to be victims of the storm. It’s a sad truth that there are people who take advantage of disasters for their own benefit.

In short: donate directly to charities in Houston or other affected areas, and use your mind as well as your heart when deciding where to direct your money.

Women Are the Key to Stronger Communities

When women are supported in their community, everyone benefits.

When women are supported in their community, everyone benefits. Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been shown time and time again that if women are supported in their communities, they can bring out increased health, financial benefits, and opportunities for everyone involved. That’s why charity organizations supporting women—especially young women—are so important.

The American Association of University Women

The AAUW, based out of Washington, DC, has worked to empower women both as individuals and as members of their communities since 1881. They focus on research that analyzes gender equality issues in education and the workplace; campus initiatives that support women in college; and preparing women for jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). You can find out more about their work at their website.

The Anita Borg Institute

Founded by computer scientist Anita Borg in 1987 and later renamed for her, the Anita Borg Institute focuses on supporting women in technology. They believe that women are the key to accelerating global innovation. Their main office is in India, but they work with women in 50 countries, partnering with academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies.

“Around the world, women are not full partners in driving the creation of new technology that will define their lives,” said Borg on the organization’s website. “This is not good for women and not good for the world….Women need to assume their rightful place at the table creating the technology of the future.

In addition to the Institute, in 1994, Borg joined Dr. Telle Whitney in creating the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) event. It’s now the largest annual gathering of women in tech in the world.

Camfed

Focusing on women and girls in rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Camfed is an international non-profit that fights poverty. Their mission is to send more girls to school, as well as empowering women to take on leadership roles in their communities.

Since 1993, Camfed has served Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Malawi, directly supporting 1,876,214 students in attending primary and secondary school. Their work builds on the fact that educating girls can improve child and maternal mortality rates, get families out of poverty, accelerate a community’s economic growth, and help deal with the consequences of climate change. You can find out more about Camfed’s work at their website.

Women’s Learning Partnership

The Women’s Learning Partnership promotes female leadership in curriculum development; training at grassroots, national, and regional levels; strengthening civil engagement; and promoting women’s human rights. They work via 20 autonomous and independent partner organizations in the Global South, particularly in Muslim communities. Their primary objectives are to help women take on more leadership roles and to support feminist movements in Muslim-majority areas. You can find out more about the organization here.

These are just a few organizations from around the world that work to support women and improve their education, communities, and lives. Along with many others, these groups are bringing about a better world by giving women a better chance of improving their lives.

The Philanthropic Sector Needs to Be More Diverse

The nonprofit sector needs to focus more on diversity and inclusion.

Grantmaking organizations need to focus more on diversity and inclusion. Photo: Shutterstock

The Council on Foundations recently released a report, The State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector. In it, they reveal that their research shows that women and people of color are still underrepresented in the philanthropic sector.

For example, the researchers found that despite the fact that women are over-represented in the philanthropy world, and they seem to have found opportunity there. However, women and racial or ethnic minorities are not equally represented within different levels of the 267 organizations that participated in the study, and the proportion of women and racial/ethnic minorities on staff have changed very little over the past decade.

The representation of women and racial or ethnic minorities decreases as you move up the career ladder from administrative to professional to the executive level.

There has been a small positive change in the share of racial and ethnic minority staff, as the number of minority staff reported has moved from 22.65 percent to 24.33 percent from 2006 through 2015.

However, what’s really missing is data about other diverse populations. As Floyd Mills of the Council on Foundations writes, “Even our large dataset…lacked sufficient data for us to be able to conduct any meaningful analysis with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical/intellectual disability.”

Mills asks the questions, “Are the LGBTQ population and people with disabilities simply underrepresented within the talent pool available to the sector? Are survey respondents reluctant to report on these particular demographics?”

Either one of these could be true, but I suggest that it’s more likely to be hesitancy to report sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability status. “Any perceived stigma associated with the disability and the degree to which the disclosure may influence an employee’s experience in the workplace would likely influence his or her decision, as will the extent to which the sector as a whole is inclusive of people with disabilities,” said Mills

One former nonprofit employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, said that she didn’t report her mental illness for fear of reprisals. “Although the foundation gave lip service to diversity and inclusion,” she said, “I sensed an undercurrent of a different attitude. This was particularly true when I had an episode of severe depression that affected my job performance. I was never asked what was going on or offered any kind of support. Instead, after five years of stellar work, I got a punitive performance evaluation and was threatened with being fired. Needless to say, I left that organization as soon as I could.”

Not only that, but the philanthropic world doesn’t have a tool like the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which would give potential employees a way of measuring an organization’s friendliness to the LGBTQ population.

“While some may be content to argue that the world of philanthropy is a ‘good’ place to work, not to mention one that attracts and serves people from a variety of backgrounds, the fact remains that the data on sexual orientation and gender identity within the sector is not representative of the nation’s growing diversity,” Mills wrote.

The point is that the nonprofit world needs more diversity at every level, and particularly in the executive population. Each nonprofit should examine its true beliefs about diversity and inclusion. Just because a statement about non-discrimination based on protected categories appears in the employee handbook, that doesn’t mean it’s the reality of its employees’ behavior.

How have you worked to encourage diversity and inclusion in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Minnesota Philanthropists Focus On Putting People to Work

Several foundations are putting their dollars and political clout together to develop job training programs.

Several foundations are putting their dollars and political clout together to develop job training programs. Photo: Shutterstock

Many charities serving low-income or homeless people operate in crisis mode: they operate soup kitchens to relieve hunger, provide shelters for people to sleep at night, or provide emergency financial assistance, for example.

But things are changing in Minnesota.

There, philanthropic organizations have realized that these emergency programs are stabilizing people and families in crisis, they’re not doing anything to help move these people out of poverty. Thus, they decided to put their time, money, and political influence into lobbying for and funding efforts aimed at getting jobs for the state’s low-income and homeless population.

The partnership, dubbed MSP Win (Minneapolis-St. Paul Regional Workforce Innovation Network), is a group of Minnesota-based foundations, has become active in state and local politics, hoping to influence legislators to put more time and money into workforce development and job training initiatives. The ultimate goal of the program is to get the state’s neediest residents into well-paying jobs, according to Philanthropy News Digest.

The partnership includes the McKnight and St. Paul foundations, the Otto Bremer Trust, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Those organizations changed their funding focus from crisis management to job training due to research that shows a looming worker shortage, persistent skills gaps in critical areas, and a deep income disparity between whites and people of color. They came together to urge state lawmakers to create an annual “report card” that revealed outcomes of state-funded training programs.

MSP Win is also analyzing job openings by industry so they can better understand market demands. In doing so, it’s bringing together unions, trainers, and employees to get information about how to build successful careers in those industries.

“We are really focused on the economic well-being of families to be self-sufficient,” said Eric Muschler, a program officer for the regions and communities program at the McKnight Foundation.

Naturally, some organizations were resistant. The were concerned that publicizing their statistics would lead to a loss of funding if results didn’t measure up to their goals.

Training that leads to employment “is the best cure for many of society’s challenges,” Brian Lipschultz, co-CEO of the Otto Bremer Trust, told the Star Tribune.

“As a region, our economic viability depends on us getting people educated, getting them employed, and earning a livable wage where they can support their families, said Hennepin County Administrator David Hough.

New Startup Aims to Empower Donors With Information, Community

Giving Compass's goal is to enable people to make wise decisions about making an impact with their philanthropy.

We all know about Charity Navigator and GuideStar, and how they are used by savvy donors and advisors to help provide direction for effective giving.

But now there’s a new game in town. Giving Compass wants to be the go-to destination for the world of philanthropy.

In spite of the fact that Americans are donating almost $400 billion to charities every year, most people spend very little time figuring out which nonprofits are effective in achieving their goals.

Giving Compass hopes to empower donors to make sure their gifts are making a real, meaningful difference. Not only does it provide users with information about charities, it helps them to learn about charitable giving and builds community around philanthropy.

“The amount of money being given in this country is mind-blowing,” Giving Compass CEO and Co-Founder Luis Salazar told GeekWire. “What is the impact of that, is the core question, and how do we make it more impactful?”

Giving Compass launched about a year ago, and it’s funded mainly with a catalyst grant from the Raikes Foundation, which was established by former Gates Foundation CEO and Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes and his wife, Tricia, who also came from Microsoft. Even Salazar came from Microsoft—he was the co-founder of Office 365.

So far, Giving Compass has impressed many people in philanthropy. They are particularly happy with the diverse backgrounds of the staff and board (it includes technology, philanthropy, and marketing experts), and they say there’s a huge need for educating donors.

The creators of Giving Compass say they’re not trying to push donors in any particular direction. “We’re not trying to remove the heart in favor of the head,” said Giving Compass Chief Marketing Officer Shelly Kurtz. Instead, they hope people will consider multiple approaches when choosing where to make their donations.

Giving Compass differs from most charity monitoring sites in that it works more to help potential donors realize the impact a nonprofit is having rather than focusing exclusively on measures like overhead ratios.

“That is where people go wrong when they’re trying to have impact,” said Katherine Lorenz, board chair for The Philanthropy Workshop. “They’re starving the whole sector.”

If nonprofits need to focus so intensely on keeping costs down in order to impress a donor, they may well starve themselves by being unable to make needed technology upgrades or staff training, both of which are needed in order for a nonprofit to be able to carry out its mission.

“A lot of people don’t know what they’re interested in, and coming into philanthropy for the first time it can be overwhelming,” said Sarah Hopper, founder of Sound Philanthropy, a Seattle business that advises people in their giving.

Giving Compass hopes that by providing information about charities’ performance, they will be able to give donors a better picture of the impact those nonprofits have.

“We’re asking people to give us five minutes a week to spend on outcome-driven philanthropy,” said Kurtz. “You can break that down into bite-size pieces.”

How to Convince Your Manager to Let You Work Remotely

Working remotely is gaining popularity in every part of the workforce. Here are some tips to help you explain to your manager that it's a win-win to let you work from home.

With the growing popularity in the private sector of working from home or other non-office locations, it’s not surprising that the trend has begun to enter the nonprofit world, too.

But what do you do if you want to convince your manager to allow you to work remotely? Here are a few tips.

First, understand what makes you productive. Are you an early riser or a night owl? When do you find yourself fully immersed in your work? What makes it easy for you to be creative and solve problems? Does working remotely tick your high-performance needs?

Also understand what could harm your productivity. If you’re working at home, do you have pets or children around to distract you from your work? Do you have people asking you to babysit because they assume that if you’re home, you’re not working? If so, you’ll want to figure out how you’re going to deal with those issues.

Examine how you allocate time to your key responsibilities. Review your job description and break your responsibilities down into three categories: those that require you to be on site, responsibilities that can be managed through email, video conferencing, and responsibilities that you can take care of alone, from anywhere.

Obviously, if 100 percent of your responsibilities require you to be in the office, you’re not going to have much in your favor for working at home. Instead, try requesting a flexible schedule—for example, if you want to beat rush hour traffic, maybe you can work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Maybe you can work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. However, if parts of your job can be done from anywhere, you’ll have a better argument for working remotely.

Once you have a better understanding of your needs and your employer’s needs, think about different scenarios that can meet both of your needs. Come up with a few options that you believe will satisfy those needs.

Finally, talk with your manager. When doing so, focus on the win-win of the remote working arrangement, and share the scenarios you’ve come up with. Say that you’re willing to try it for a month or two to see if it works.

Keep the lines of communication open. Have a set of clearly formulated questions that you and your employer want to answer during the trial arrangement. Both you and your manager will need to make a commitment to give honest feedback about the effectiveness of your remote work situation as the trial period goes on.

Pre-schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss how effective your remote working arrangement is. Be prepared to come back to the office if it turns out that working from home is not working for you or your employer.

Do you work remotely? What do you like about the arrangement? Is your employer happy with your performance when you work from home? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Rasmuson Foundation Awards Almost $9 Million to Alaska Nonprofits

The Alaska-based Rasmuson Foundation has awarded almost $9 million in grants to organizations that benefit the state.

The Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation recently announced that it made grants totaling $8.6 million to 18 Alaska nonprofit organizations. This is one of the largest awards in the foundation’s history.

“These uncertain economic times in Alaska have put a strain on many of the programs that fill a critical role in our state,” said Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan. “Making sure these programs are not just existing, but thriving, means more Alaskans have the opportunity to be safe, healthy, and supported.”

The foundation awarded $500,000 to the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which will go to construction of a new clinic in Circle, Alaska. The current clinic is in a flood zone and has no running water, making waste disposal and infection control a challenge. The new clinic will provide a safer location, medical equipment and technologies to better serve Circle’s residents.

They also awarded $500,000 to The Children’s Place, the only child advocacy center serving children and families in the Mat-Su Valley. A child advocacy center is a safe, child-friendly location in which specialists from a variety of disciplines come together in one building to investigate allegations of child abuse, help children heal, and hold offenders accountable. The grant will support construction of a larger facility to accommodate the growing need in the region.

Other grant recipients are as follows:

  • Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to renovate their Anchorage building.
  • The Alaska Community Foundation, to implement a statewide automatic voter registration project.
  • Alaska Primary Care Association, to develop a statewide data warehouse and quality improvement project.
  • Alaska State Council on the Arts, to renew funding for arts touring and arts-in-education programs throughout the state.
  • Alaska State Fair, to construct public restrooms on the fairgrounds.
  • Breast Cancer Detection of Alaska, to renovate their Fairbanks facility.
  • Challenge Alaska, to acquire property in Girdwood.
  • Christian Health Associates, to expand Anchorage school-based health centers.
  • Cook Inlet Housing Authority, to provide working capital for the development of workforce housing.
  • The Conservation Fund, for the restoration of the Eklutna River.
  • Denali Education Center, to build a multi-purpose building in Denali Park.
  • Gustavus Community Center, to construct a community center.
  • Ilisagvik College, to upgrade phone, technology, and security systems in Utqiagvik.
  • International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, in recognition of Nobel Laureate Dr. Vernon Smith and his contributions to the Rasumson Chair of Economics and the experimental economics program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
  • Thread, an organization that connects early care and education, to support a technology initiative, including updating a statewide data management system, website improvements, and training facility upgrades.
  • United States Artists, to sustain the growth and success of their mission to directly support America’s most accomplished artists.

The Rasumson Foundation was created by Jenny Rasmuson and her son Elmer to honor Jenny’s late husband, E.A. Rasmuson. The foundation is a catalyst to promote a better life for all Alaskans.