Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Reminder This Thanksgiving That Charity is Not Enough


NY Times contributing writer Tom Edsall has a new column worth reading this Thanksgiving morning, examining the recent mid-term election results and the changing demographics that will impact presidential politics in 2016.  In looking at the future of the Democratic Party he concludes: “Unless the Democrats develop a coherent, comprehensive strategy for the have-nots, it won’t matter whether the party’s nominee is Clinton, Webb or anyone else.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/opinion/who-will-save-the-democratic-party-from-itself.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

            Edsall quotes potential presidential candidate Jim Webb on how poverty and lack of opportunity signal our having “drifted to the fringes of the very inequality our Constitution was meant to prevent.”  And while Edsall focused on the Democrats, the broader point is applicable to all Americans regardless of political party.

There is always a lot of commentary around Thanksgiving about counting our blessings and remembering those less fortunate. Usually it’s in the form of an appeal for increased charity.  But Edsall’s column is a kind of wake-up call that public policy must change to effectively address poverty on the scale that it exists, and that if doesn’t, the “have-nots” may at long last evolve from charitable cause to transformative political force.  For those of us with much to be grateful for this holiday season, it’s another reminder that more charity, though necessary and good, is not enough.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Increasing civic participation as political participation shrinks


Two recent articles reinforce a special dimension of Share Our Strength and so many other nonprofits.  The first is an analysis of the November elections from the Center for Responsive Politics  @ http://tinyurl.com/m9pugkw arguing that: “The real story of the election’s campaign finance chapter was not which side had more resources, but that such a large chunk of the cost was paid for by a small group of ultra-wealthy donors using outside groups to bury voters with an avalanche of spending.”

            The second in the Washington Post this weekend is by retired General Stan McChrystal, who chairs the Franklin Project on whose board I sit. @ http://tinyurl.com/meygrgq General McChrystal calls for a system of national and community service that exceeds anything we’ve seen so far.  Turnout for the recent election was the lowest for a midterm in more than 70 years… We lack common experiences that bind us as a people. We have lost our confidence in doing big things as a nation…. We need to support leaders who ask more of us and not those who simply promise us more….Imagine if, during the next election season, candidates at all levels competed to propose serious ideas for the civic transformation of America.”

            One thing we do at Share Our Strength that may be even more important than feeding kids is creating opportunities for people to make a difference in their communities.  As political participation narrows, we make broader civic participation possible. Every Arby’s and Denny’s customer who makes a donation during our Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, every chef volunteer, Cooking Matters instructor, school breakfast petition signer, and donor large or small, demonstrates that Americans will engage in making America stronger when they believe their actions will lead to results.

That’s not a substitute for the necessary policy change that political participation can achieve. But it is a way of building back confidence that change is possible, that community can be created, and that the voices of organized citizens will be heard. It means every aspect of our sector’s work is a chance to also restore hope that making a difference makes a difference.  So let’s make every moment count.

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why NY Mayor de Blasio should lead, not just wait and follow, the national movement for school breakfast after the bell


           Yesterday’s NY Times editorial  (http://tinyurl.com/lld5mzm) urging NY Mayor de Blasio to fulfill his campaign promise and make available breakfast in the classroom was the culmination of the first phase of a campaign to raise awareness and put some pressure on the mayor. De Blasio’s own allies counseled that without some of the pressure that public attention brings, it’s very hard for such an issue to emerge from the multiple priorities competing for the Mayor’s attention.

The editorial  also helped to launch a second phase of even greater grassroots support that included the singer P!NK tweeting the editorial to her 25 million supporters as part of a broad based social media effort to ensure this common sense low cost solution gets implemented.

At a time much of the country is dispirited over the seeming failure of government to get things to work as they should Mayor de Blasio has a golden opportunity to demonstrate how a program that does work can catapult New York City from last to first in the nation in school breakfast participation, thereby making America stronger by making our kids stronger. And he can do so in a way that doesn’t cost NYC money but will instead bring millions of dollars into the city.

A national trend is growing in favor of breakfast after the bell.  Given the success of other large cities around the country, it's probably only a matter of time before it takes hold in New York City.  At worst, the Mayor should follow this trend. At best, the editorial makes a compelling case for why he should help lead.  A strong New York requires strong kids - fit, fed, and ready to learn. A strong America demands no less.

Nonprofits and Voter Apathy: Missing The Forest for The Trees


            You have to wonder if some of us who think of ourselves as change agents sometimes miss the forest for the trees, like during last week’s election which had the worst voter turnout in 72 years at only 36.3%.   See today’s New York Times editorial @ http://tinyurl.com/knpsoke  My own very unscientific sampling found not a single nonprofit or advocacy organization website that was reminding or urging people to get out to vote.

            There’s not an issue from poverty and hunger to arts and culture that isn’t profoundly impacted by the public policy set by our elected officials.   The nonprofit sector speaks to stakeholders who care about change. But if we are so myopic as to only talk about our own specific issues, without stepping back to urge anyone who listens to vote, we miss a big opportunity to play a constructive role in combating voter apathy.  That’s not to suggest we become partisan advocates, but rather civic champions.

            Nonprofit achievement is undermined by poor participation in democracy. And participation has become so low that it will take all of us to change it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Poverty, Hunger and "Dark Money"


           Predictions about which issues will shape the agenda of the new Congress have dominated the news since last Tuesday elections.  Poverty and hunger have not been on the lists, even though 45 million Americans have been stuck below the poverty line for three consecutive years.  

One reason, as the NY Times editorialized on Sunday, is that “The next Senate was just elected on the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election…. In the 2010 midterms, when this practice was just getting started, $161 million was spent by groups that did not disclose donations. In this cycle it was up to at least $216 million…”  Neither party’s wealthy donors have a deep understanding of poverty or the desire to make it a political priority.

Against this backdrop of unprecedented amounts of special interest money being spent to buy elections on behalf of those who have everything, Share Our Strength and A Place At The Table are partnering to get millions of dollars of media donated to build political will on behalf of those who have almost nothing at all, not even enough to eat.

It’s not sufficient to counter the vast amounts of money being spent to keep elected officials focused on other issues. But it’s a start, and a critically important “first” in the effort to end hunger.

It’s symptomatic of our broken political system that much of the post-election debate is over which party’s wealthiest donors – represented by the Koch brothers on one hand and by Tom Steyer on the other - got the better return on their investment, and not about how either party can best represent the dreams and aspirations of all Americans from richest to poorest. The latter question holds the seed of the political revolution that still needs to happen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Letter From NASDAQ: The Importance of Investing in Our Kids


Last Friday in NY, we rang the opening bell for trading on NASDAQ, as colorful, confetti-filled images were projected 10-20 stories high on Times Square video screens.

We participated in this great morning thanks to Ray Blanchette and Jim Mazany of Joe’s Crab Shack and The Ignite Restaurant Group (listed on NASDAQ.)  Instead of basking in their moment in the sun, they shared their strength by having the No Kid Hungry campaign and Dine Out take center stage. That generosity of spirit is characteristic of the leadership behind Dine Out’s growth. 

It may seem unusual for a nonprofit to be the focus at NASDAQ. But perhaps not in our case. NASDAQ is for entrepreneurs investing in the future.  Their goals are to create wealth and enhance innovation and economic competitiveness. That’s what Share Our Strength is about as well. We create “community wealth” to invest in the children representing our nation’s future. We can’t have a strong nation or strong economy without strong kids.

Earlier last week, USDA released new data showing food insecurity essentially unchanged from the 14.5 percent of Americans considered food insecure the year before, and still much worse than the 11.1 percent rate before the Great Recession. Hungry Americans never recovered even though the stock market did. In 2009, NASDAQ fell to 1958 points and the Dow to 9344. By 2014, NASDAQ had doubled to 4562 and the Dow nearly so to 17,069.

NASDAQ has nothing to feel bad about. It did what it’s supposed to do. Such growth directly benefits some and indirectly benefits many. On the other hand, our political leadership should feel sick-to-its-stomach awful. If you can’t come together to feed our hungriest kids while massive amounts of wealth is being created, when would you? 

The rebounding stock market shows that America knows how to create wealth. But the lack of progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity shows we are not as good at creating opportunity for all.

Hopefully other companies will be inspired by the commitment to community of Ignite and our many corporate partners like the Food Network, Williams-Sonoma, Corner Bakery and Arby’s just to name a few. (A more comprehensive list of Dine Out participants can be found at NoKidHungry.org.) This can help create the necessary political will to end hunger. Economic success gave us a lot to smile and cheer about at NASDAQ last week. We’ll have even more to celebrate when our collective efforts lead to economic justice.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating economic success, waiting for economic justice


            Last Friday in NY we rang the opening bell for trading on NASDAQ, as colorful confetti filled images were projected 10-20 stories high on Times Square video screens. See @ http://photos.nasdaq.com/2014/09OPENS/No-Kid-Hungry/n-P6ZRm/i-QN6KkVs/A  

 We participated thanks to Ray Blanchette and Jim Mazany of Joe’s Crab Shack and The Ignite Restaurant Group (listed on NASDAQ.)  Instead of basking in their moment in the sun, they shared their strength by having the No Kid Hungry campaign and Dine Out take center stage. That generosity of spirit is characteristic of the leadership behind Dine Out’s growth.  We reached a larger audience with our message and had board members (Wally and Joni Doolin, Mark Rodriguez) and Dine Out Partners (Marla Topliff, Tommy Bahama, the Food Network and others) participate. The professionalism of Molly Parker, Jen Kaleba, Kathryn Haskin, Jessie Sherrer and Alison Zayas and others on our team ensured a successful day.

It may seem unusual for a nonprofit to be the focus at NASDAQ. But perhaps not in our case. NASDAQ is for entrepreneurs investing in the future.  Their goals are to create wealth and enhance innovation and economic competitiveness. That’s what Share Our Strength is about as well. We create “community wealth” to invest in the children representing our nation’s future. We can’t have a strong nation or strong economy without strong kids.

Earlier last week, USDA released new data showing food insecurity essentially unchanged from the 14.5 percent of Americans considered food insecure the year before, and still much worse than the 11.1 percent rate before the Great Recession. Hungry Americans never recovered even though the stock market did. In 2009 NASDAQ fell to 1958 points and the Dow to 9344. By 2014 NASDAQ had doubled to 4562 and the Dow nearly so to 17,069.

NASDAQ has nothing to feel bad about. It did what it’s supposed to do. Such growth directly benefits some and indirectly benefits many. On the other hand, our political leadership should feel sick-to-its-stomach awful. If you can’t come together to feed our hungriest kids while massive amounts of wealth is being created, when would you? 

The rebounding stock market shows that America knows how to create wealth. But the lack of progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity shows we are not as good creating opportunity for all.

Hopefully other companies will be inspired by the commitment to community of Ignite and our many corporate partners. That can help create the necessary political will to end hunger. Economic success gave us a lot to smile and cheer about at NASDAQ last week. We’ll have even more to celebrate when we achieve economic justice.