Saturday, February 18, 2012

Remembering Harry McPherson

I always felt that having lunch with Harry McPherson was like having the History Channel to myself for two hours. He was one of those rare men who was not only filled with great stories he was eager to share, but who was equally curious to hear yours. Harry died this week at 83. He was one of the last of Washington’s wise men, a counselor to President Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic partisan but always civil, even courtly.

We had initially known each other through government and politics, because everyone in government and politics knew Harry, but we did not know each other particularly well. Then one day, when the Washington Post happened to have written a very flattering profile of Share Our Strength, I was browsing in Chapters bookstore on K Street at lunch time when Harry walked by, somehow saw me from the sidewalk, rapped on the window, and gave me the thumbs up sign.

When I got back to my office there was a message waiting for me from Harry saying that he’d love to have lunch some time. We did and continued doing so more than 20 years. He was fascinated by our model of creating community wealth, deeply interested in our work in Ethiopia where his law firm had been involved in settling some border disputes, and full of ideas about useful introductions he could make, which he did.

Harry was as animated in talking about the novels of Trollope (“You simply must read The Way We Live Now”, he insisted) and architecture and poetry as he was about civil rights, history and politics. He was one of a kind, and with 25 years on me, a wonderful mentor. I miss him already.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Can you afford to not do advocacy?

A new study backs up what Share Our Strength has learned through the success of its No Kid Hungry campaign in enrolling more children in public food and nutrition programs. The National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy’s new report called Levering Limited Dollars found that every dollar invested in policy and civic engagement returns $115 in community benefits. The report cites numerous concrete examples. It can be found at @

For many years, we funded advocacy but did little ourselves. It was only when we realized that one of the primary reasons that children in America were hungry was that they were not accessing programs for which they were eligible, like school breakfast and summer meals, that we built a capacity to better understand and intersect with relevant public policy matters. We did not become lobbyists, but we did work to ensure that those we serve were more likely to benefit from the programs policymakers, with bipartisan support, had established.

Too many nonprofits assume that they can’t afford to devote limited resources to advocacy. But with a return of $115 dollars for every dollar spent, how can they afford not to?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Does Your Nonprofit Manage a "Social Strategy Supply Chain"?

When I was on the board of the Timberland company one of the major areas of focus for the senior management team was supply chain strategy. In its simplest terms the supply chain is the network of businesses who supply every material, part, piece, button, circuit, software, label, etc needed to make and ship a finished product. If the chain gets interrupted, if just one of perhaps hundreds of different suppliers drops the ball, something goes missing and the product fails. So might the enterprise. The fate of businesses rest upon supply chain management almost entirely. And so of course there are supply chain associations, journals, consultants, etc.

We don’t usually talk about supply chain in the social sector. But we should. Because solutions to social problems also depend on a highly integrated chain of inputs that might be thought of as a “social strategy supply chain”. New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman made me think of this when he wrote that “someone who really wanted equal opportunity … would support more nutritional aid for low income mothers-to-be and young children.” Instead of only narrowly prescribing changes in tax, trade and manufacturing policies, as President Obama did in his State of the Union speech, Krugman made the link to the critical ingredients across the entire length of the chain.

Some of the most successful, transformational, and rapidly growing nonprofits do exactly this. For example:

- The Nurse Family Partnership, aiming to break the cycle of poverty for low income fanmiles, advocates for not just one intervention, but for immunizations, breastfeeding, home visits, etc. and conducts randomized controlled trials that demonstrate better prenatal health, fewer subsequent pregnancies, increased maternal education and employment.

- The Harlem Children’s Zone is built around a “project pipeline” whose focus is “cradle to college” supporting young people with the most comprehensive range possible of family, social, and health services for their entire journey

- Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry strategy is designed to surround kids with nutritious food where they live, learn and play and so it’s social strategy supply chain must include not only food assistance, but nutrition education for moms and families, resource maximization skills, public policy interventions.

Timberland’s supply chain team understood that it would be futile to try to produce a quality footwear product if any critical ingredient from leather to glue was missing. The same holds true in the social sector but because we are habituated to resource constraints we often overlook this central, unforgiving reality. That’s why the supply chain that the Harlem Children’s Zone calls their “pipeline” is such a refreshing exception to the norm.

When it comes to succeeding on behalf of vulnerable kids we need to think not only about the expertise we can provide but about the entire social strategy supply chain, how we maintain it’s integrity, and how each link in the chain depends on every other.

The Political Courage of A Governor and No Kid Hungry Champion

Because Maryland is of such great importance in our No Kid Hungry strategy, our focus in listening to Governor O’Malley’s State of the State speech yesterday was on whether he would include a reference to ending childhood hunger. He did. But the speech turned out to be well worth listening to for other reasons as well. It was not only ambitious in scope, but politically courageous.

O’Malley did what other political leaders rarely do: he told people what they did not want to hear, but needed to know. He said that creating jobs and investing in the future means there would need to be increases in taxes and fees.

The Governor tried to help legislators and voters think long-term and see the big picture:

“To create jobs, a modern economy requires modern investments: investments by all of us, for all of us. That’s not a Democratic or a Republican idea; it’s an economic and historic truth. It was true for our parents, it was true for our grandparents, and it is a truth that has built our State and has built our country….
"Everything has a cost. Failing to make decisions that are consistent with the interests of the next generation – this too has a cost," he said. "Progress is a choice."

Politicians don’t often say such things. But leaders do.

The Baltimore Sun coverage is at @,0,6645505.story
and the speech itself can be found at @