Tumblr Shows the Changing Face of Corporate Philanthropy

Through its support of Planned Parenthood, Tumblr is showing the changing face of corporate philanthropy.

Through its support of Planned Parenthood, Tumblr is showing the changing face of corporate philanthropy. Photo: M-SUR / Shutterstock.com

For a long time, corporations tended to avoid controversy when they could, seeing it as bad for business. When they engaged in philanthropy it was with causes that everyone could get behind, or at least which didn’t alienate many people.

But we’re seeing a shift in recent years, well illustrated by Tumblr joining forces with Planned Parenthood.

While corporate advocacy has been going on for a while, tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have the ability to reach millions across the country and around the world. And tech companies are not only becoming vocal in their opinions, they’re engaging in actions like petitioning the government, filing amicus briefs in court cases, and other boots-on-the-ground activism.

“The third rail is changing,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Dawn Laguens told VentureBeat. “The third rail used to be companies should not get involved—they’re a blank canvas and should just do their business. Tech companies have changed companies. They have become personalities. They’re an expression of their users.”

Tumblr staff actually spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to vocally support Planned Parenthood, but they eventually settled on a rule of thumb: If the company could contribute anything to the fight and if it could have an impact, then they would act.

“We’re still thinking through a lot of this,” said Tumblr Social Impact and Public Policy Lead Victoria McCullough. “What we’re seeing now and why we feel so compelled to act with swiftness and again be a little more definitive on certain issues, we do feel like [the president’s Executive Orders] are impacting a group that does not have a voice and does not have the political space to advocate for themselves.”

Tumblr has long used its voice for raising awareness of issues like wage equality and education, but this year the company is not just supporting Planned Parenthood, they’re going to advocate on four other issues as well: LGBTQ equality, mental health, racial justice, and freedom of expression related to media protection and net neutrality.

Tumblr’s move will hopefully benefit Planned Parenthood, and maybe inspire other companies to take similar steps. “I think they are going to unleash a flood of other organizations and corporations that say that this is what the new moment demands of us,” said Laguens.

But even if Tumblr’s actions don’t inspire other companies to take action, at the very least, it is reaching its audience and rallying them to support a cause that they as a company believe in.

Everytown for Gun Safety and Snapchat: A Cautionary Tale

Snapchat app open on a phone.

Everytown for Gun Safety had an interesting exchange with Snapchat regarding coverage of the 2016 National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Photo: dennizn / Shutterstock.com

Nonprofits have to be careful who they work with, since their missions can be corrupted or tarnished by the wrong associations. Few organizations trying to curb gun violence would be willing to advertise for the NRA, for example, but Everytown for Gun Safety was put in exactly that position due either to a miscommunication or deliberate action by Snapchat, according to an article in Mic.

For National Gun Violence Awareness Day in 2016, Everytown reached out to Snapchat early in the year asking about advertising for its #WearOrange day, a day of advocacy organized by the charity. Rob Saliterman, Snapchat’s head of political sales, then quoted the organization at least $150,000 to allow Snapchat users to participate in #WearOrange day using custom filters and lenses.

But a little bit later, Snapchat’s editorial team also reached out to Everytown about a partnership for National Gun Violence Awareness Day, saying they were excited to spotlight Everytown’s star-studded movement and get involved with the organization’s “nationwide movement to honor all lives cut short by gun violence.”

Since Everytown had an editorial deal with Snapchat, they would get their publicity at no cost, and thus they no longer needed to use Snapchat’s advertising services.

Saliterman found out about the editorial team’s plan and emailed Everytown, “I just learned our News Team is doing a Live Story on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. I would urgently like to speak with you about advertising opportunities within the story, as there will be three ad slots. We are also talking to the NRA about running ads within the story.”

Everytown responded that they couldn’t afford the cost of the advertising, and pulled out of the project altogether, refusing to participate in the editorial side, either.

So, was this an attempt by Snapchat to strong-arm Everytown into buying ads by threatening them with having their story flanked by NRA ads, or was this a result of the kind of siloing that typically exists within news organizations—where editorial and advertising departments work separately? That remains to be seen, as neither Snapchat nor Everytown for Gun Safety responded to Mic’s request for comments.

Federal Cuts Might Hurt Existing Contracts in NYC

Because of some complicated funding issues, New York City could be in immediate danger of losing federal funding for services to the most vulnerable of its citizens.

Photo: Shutterstock

Since Donald Trump won the U.S. election, there has been concern in the nonprofit field that his proposals could result in less federal funding, which seems likely. But for most nonprofits, this is a future problem, one that requires looking for other funding opportunities to supplant or replace that funding. But for nonprofits in New York City, there is an added wrinkle. Some cuts to federal spending could result in the loss of money even for existing contracts, thanks to some complicated legal issues in that city.

Because New York uses “retroactive contracts,” some nonprofits that contract with the city end up paying out of pocket for expenses that eventually end up covered by the government, essentially the city pays them back for the good they’ve already done. With less federal funding going to the city, that could mean less money to go around to honor existing contracts.

In addition, some contracts dole out money based on whether or not funds can be appropriated. They don’t come out of an existing fund, but rely on whether or not the funds become available as part of the federal budget. Those contracts could also end up not being paid.

While New York City only receives about 9 percent of its total funding from the federal government, a lot of nonprofits rely on that funding. The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development gets 48 percent of its funding this way, while the Department of Homeless Services gets 34 percent. These and other organizations are pretty important to the well-being of the city, and they could end up with suddenly and seriously reduced budgets because of federal cuts.

According to the city comptroller, about 69 percent of city contracts were retroactive contracts as of 2015. Even if that number has gone down by now, there are still a lot of contracts that are in danger of suddenly not being paid.

PayPal Giving Fund Under Legal Fire

PayPal's Giving Fund is the subject of a lawsuit.

Photo: Gil C / Shutterstock.com

PayPal is facing a lawsuit over its Giving Fund platform, which plaintiffs maintain isn’t delivering their money to the charities it promises. The platform purports to give 100 percent of donations to the charity indicated by the donor, and in some cases offers a 1-percent match. But that doesn’t seem to be working out.

According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Terry Kass and the North Shore Health Center, what is happening instead is that charities that are not registered with PayPal aren’t receiving their money. PayPal holds donations made to non-registered organizations for six months, then, according to the lawsuit, they are transferred to other nonprofits.

Essentially, Kass used PayPal’s system to donate more than $3,000 to a number of local and national charities in late 2016. She had received an email promising that PayPal would donate an additional 1 percent if she used their platform. She found a special PayPal page for each of the organizations to which she wanted to donate and did so. Later, Kass learned that her donation to one of those organizations had not been received. She got in touch with PayPal and learned that 10 of the 13 charities to which she had donated were not registered with the PayPal Giving Fund, and thus, they had not received her donations.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs in the suit were not notified that their money wasn’t going to their designated charities, and the nonprofits in question were not notified that they needed to register with PayPal in order to receive this money.

“As a general practice, neither [PayPal nor PayPal Giving Fund] notifies unregistered charities that they are holding donations for them,” the complaint reads. “Instead, Defendants transfer the donations to an interest bearing account that inures to PayPal Giving Fund’s benefit.”

The complaint also suggests that PayPal’s motive was to “force charitable organizations that might not have otherwise created PayPal business accounts to open and utilize such accounts in their daily business, thus generating revenues for PayPal” through the company’s transaction fees.

“PayPal only recently became aware of this filing and we are reviewing the contents,” a PayPal spokesman said in a statement. “PayPal and PayPal Giving Fund foster positive change and significant social impact by connecting donors and charities. We are fully prepared to defend ourselves in this matter.”

Metropolitan Museum Director Resigns

Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Thomas Campbell has resigned.

Photo by Daniel H. Tong via Unsplash

As of June 30, 2017, Metropolitan Museum Director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell will resign from his position in order to “pursue new challenges beyond the Met, always in service of art, scholarship, and understanding,” according to a press release from the museum.

Daniel Weiss, the Met’s president and chief operating officer will be serving as interim chief executive while working with Campbell on a transition plan while the museum’s board seeks a new director.

Campbell began his career at the Met in 1996, as an assistant curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and supervising curator of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center. He was appointed as CEO by the Met’s board in the fall of 2008.

In the course of his tenure as Director and CEO, Campbell saw overall museum attendance grow by 40 percent to a record-breaking seven million visitors across the museum’s three sites—the museum itself, the Met Breuer (a building formerly occupied by the Whitney Museum of American Art), and the Met Cloisters. It was also named by Trip Advisor as the #1 museum in the world for two years in a row.

Although in the museum’s press release about Campbell’s departure Board Chairman Daniel Brodsky had nothing but glowing things to say about Campbell, The New York Times reports that Campbell resigned under pressure.

Despite the museum’s successes under Campbell’s leadership, his financial decisions and expansion plans had been criticized as having led to a massive deficit. In fact, much of Campbell’s agenda, including the construction of a $600 million wing for Modern and contemporary art, was postponed or scrapped due to the museum’s dire financial state.

Shortly after Weiss was hired as COO in 2015, he announced that the Met would have a $40 million deficit unless it addressed growing costs and added more revenue.

The Board is not looking to appoint a new director right away, Brodsky said in a letter to board and staff members, “but instead will take some time to consider the leadership needs of the museum in a thoughtful and deliberative way.”

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of speculation in the art world about who might replace Campbell at the Met’s helm. Though the usual suspects—directors of other high-profile art museums, primarily—have been floated, some think that the job will be offered to Weiss. If the board does intend to hire Weiss, it remains to be seen if he is able or willing to take that job.

Remembering the Grassroots of the Nonprofit Sector

Young people volunteering in park

Nothing beats some good old grassroots participation. Image: Shutterstock

We’ve heard it over and over again, that real change comes from the grassroots. While national nonprofits can get a lot done, they absolutely require that the “little people” be giving them money. And that’s just on the most superficial level.

All problems faced by nonprofits are, essentially, local problems. They affect real people in real communities, even if an organization is approaching them from a top-level, abstract point of view. Curing a disease may not “feel” local, but if one remembers that the disease in question is affecting real people, with real families, in real communities, it’s a lot easier to think about it that way.

With about £64bn (a little over $80bn) going to nonprofits every year, the competition for funds can be fierce. There are many good causes out there, and a lot of those causes have big international organizations trying to find solutions. But it’s often the smaller local nonprofits that have the most impact, especially when it comes to talking to local politicians and dealing with the underlying causes behind issues like poverty or drunk driving.

It can be easy for bigger organizations to overlook small grassroots operations. In a meeting of the United Nations in July of 2016, attendees discussed the importance of working together to eradicate global poverty and other serious issues. The conversation stayed at a larger overview level until two Catholic sisters, Sr. Margaret O’Dwyer and Sr. Elsa Muttathu, urged the assembly not to forget the importance of the work already being done by local nonprofits.

“To the 193 nations supporting the SDGs–don’t forget the wisdom of the people at the grassroots, and don’t forget their voice,” O’Dwyer admonished.

Mutttathu agreed: “The way to sustainable development must involve empowerment of grassroots groups.”

So if nonprofits want to actually make changes, they need to address issues at the local level. They need to work with communities to solve problems, spread knowledge, or whatever their mission entails. And they need to address elected officials at pancake breakfasts and other events where those officials are more likely to actually hear from the people they represent. While a letter might get ignored, it’s a lot harder to ignore a constituent–or a nonprofit which helps and represents those constituents–when you’re sitting across the table from them.

What Makes Altruism Go Viral?

What makes an altruism campaign go viral? One research argues it's SMART.

A group of young women participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Photo: Saklakova / Shutterstock, Inc.

Viral altruism refers to a “new breed of wildly successful online charity campaigns,” best personified by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. That campaign raised $115 million, but when attempted the next year brought in less than 1 percent of that total. The ephemeral nature of viral anything, which catches on like wildfire and then vanishes, is at the root of the problem. While a viral campaign can bring in a lot of funds in a short amount of time, they tend not to actually bring in long-term engagement.

And long-term engagement is what most nonprofits are looking for. All the money raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge will help, but finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease is a long-term project that needs constant engagement by dedicated donors. Viral campaigns aren’t going to solve the world’s problems, though they can certainly help to raise awareness.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who came of age on the Internet where, especially since the early days of YouTube, we’ve seen viral “hits” come and go with alarming speed. Marketers have tried over and over to catch this fire and make something go viral, but they’ve generally failed. It’s impossible to know what will or won’t go viral, and trying to engineer something to do so is an exercise in futility.

Still, Dr. Sander van der Linden of the University of Cambridge has been investigating what made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge such a success, and to get a better understanding on how viral altruism works. His conclusion is that viral campaigns work when the creators take the SMART approach—social influences, moral imperatives, affective reactions, and translational impact.

Most often missing from viral campaigns, he finds, “is ‘translational impact’: the conversion of online token support, or ‘clicktivism’, into real-world contributions, whether financial donations or a long-term commitment to an issue.

One of the most successful long-term campaigns van der Linden saw was “No-Shave Movember,” the month-long growing of a mustache to raise awareness of issues related to men’s health such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide. Movember didn’t experience the virality of the Ice Bucket Challenge, but it did spur more long-term growth. It went from 30 to almost 5 million members in 11 years. By 2014, the Movember Foundation reported that 75 percent of participants were more aware of health issues facing men.

“Campaigns that allow for the creation of a shared identity between the individual and the cause over time appear to be more successful in achieving translational impact,” van der Linden said.

Lenfest Institute, Knight Foundation Award $4.8M for Digital News Project

The Lenfest Institute and the Knight Foundation have awarded $4.8M for a far-reaching digital news project

In October of 2015, Temple University, in cooperation with the Knight Foundation, launched the Knight-Temple Table Stakes project. The goal of the project was to help metropolitan daily news organizations speed up their transition from print to digital. The idea of doing so was to help these dailies reach new audiences and better engage their communities.

More than 50 leaders from papers such as the Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer spent a year focusing on creating plans to develop their digital transition strategies.

Thanks to an additional $3.3 million from the Knight Foundation and $1.5 million from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the program is going to expand to 12 additional papers including the Seattle Times, Houston Chronicle, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The initiative has also been renamed the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative.

“This project is rooted in collaboration. Bringing together major news organizations and experts in technology, journalism, and other areas, it recognizes the importance of a concerted, strategic effort to address the challenges that local news organizations are facing in the digital age,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation Vice President for Journalism. “This next phase will help to create a model for the digital transformation of news organizations that can be shared across the country, helping local journalists better connect with their audiences and develop new innovations in storytelling,”

This phase of the initiative will also include collaboration with the Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The work at UNC will be focused on local and regional news organizations, so the university will be working with eight to 12 media organizations in North Carolina—including newspapers, radio and TV stations, and digital startups—to address the challenges of news in the digital age.

The Poynter Institute will also receive $880,000 to support its efforts to assist newsrooms across the U.S. with their digital transformations, and the cultural transformations that go along with them.

Charity is a Great Motivator for Exercise

Walkathons and other "exercise for charity" programs work because people seem to appreciate the opportunity to do something they already do (exercise) and raise money for charity at the same time.

A walkathon to benefit AIDS research and treatment. Photo: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock, Inc.

Given the success of walkathons for cancer cures, AIDS research, Alzheimer’s Disease research, animal welfare, and other causes, it’s apparent that “exercise for charity” programs are a reliable way to raise funds. While it might seem reasonable to assume that many people participating in such activities are already physically active and appreciate the opportunity to help a nonprofit by doing something they do on a daily basis, there are actually some other factors involved. According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, it seems like the opportunity to raise money for charity in and of itself is getting people out of their seats.

In the study, researchers split a group of 94 women over the age of 65 into four subgroups: a control that received weekly feedback only; a group whose participants received payment of $20 each week walking goals were met; a group whose participants received a $20 donation to a charity of their choice each week walking goals were met; and one group whose participants had the option of keeping, donating, or keeping part and donating part of their $20 payment.

All the participants in the study started walking more, but the group that donated the money had the largest increase in weekly steps. This implies that donating to charity is a greater incentive to exercise than even getting paid to do so.

The authors of the study did note that their participants were a pretty homogeneous group: they were predominantly well-educated, white, and already interested in exercising. They cautioned that before their findings can be broadly applied, they need to be replicated in more diverse groups.

Nonetheless, what this study does tell us is that people are inherently generous, and that they very much appreciate the opportunity to get involved in fun activities and raise money for their favorite charity at the same time. If your organization hasn’t done a walkathon or other pledge-based exercise fundraiser, it might be time to consider it.

Overhead Ratios Are A Persistent Problem for Nonprofits

Overhead ratios and the issues they cause are a persistent problem for nonprofits.

Photo: Shutterstock

In Canada, it appears that the acceptable limit of how much a charity can spend on overhead is about 15 percent, leaving a full 85 percent to be spent on its mission. While that might sound like a pretty solid distribution—after all the point is to achieve that mission—the goal of a 15-percent overhead can actually do a lot of damage to nonprofits.

While most nonprofits want to spend more money on their mission, when it comes down to it, that mission requires people, primarily employees, who should be paid a living wage. That’s overhead. Looking for ways to solve problems requires research and experimenting with new techniques. That’s overhead.

However, for many people, the smaller the overhead, the better the charity, and, according to author Gail Picco, that leads to less effective nonprofit work overall. In order to actually solve problems, which should be the goal of nonprofits and charities, organizations need to spend money, and not all of that money can be on “tangible” things that go directly to the mission.

In 2013, GuideStar, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator began a campaign to end the “overhead myth,” the false concept that financial ratios of administrative and fundraising costs to program expenses are the only indicator of nonprofit performance.

The Overhead Myth campaign aims to correct the assumption that low administrative costs are inherently desirable. In fact, they say, under-investing in administrative costs is consistently linked with poor organizational performance and lack of sustainability.

Instead of looking solely at a nonprofit’s overhead ratio, the Overhead Myth campaign encourages potential donors to take the following steps to minimize the chances of waste and fraud.

  • Look at the organization’s website to learn about program activities, the board of directors, and a financial summary.
  • If it’s not already on the website, ask the organization to provide information on results reporting and other available information on its goals, strategies, and accomplishments.
  • Review the organization’s IRS Form 990, as well as audited financial statements that have been reviewed by an independent CPA firm (smaller organizations may not have audited financial statements).
  • Talk to the nonprofit and ask questions. Responsible nonprofits are transparent about their operations and are happy to help donors who are doing their due diligence so they can make informed decisions.

A different point of view comes from Charity Watch, which argues that overhead ratios are essential for informed giving. Although the organization agrees that “overly simplistic overhead ratios or computer-automated ratings absent of critical analysis are of extremely limited value to donors,” they strongly believe that the ratios provided by deeper study can be useful giving tools. (It should be pointed out here that CharityWatch is in the business of putting together these “carefully considered and analytical ratios.”)

One argument CharityWatch uses to support its justification for the importance of sharing overhead ratios as a tool for wise giving is that many expenses mistakenly classified as overhead could actually be considered program expenses rather than administrative expenses. One example the organization gives is a disaster relief charity that pays for first aid training for its staff. This is not an overhead expense, CharityWatch says; it’s a program expense because the charity’s purpose is to provide disaster relief and first aid skills are crucial during a disaster.

What do you think about overhead ratios? Do they accurately determine a nonprofit’s success or responsibility? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.