Friday, March 23, 2012

No Kid Hungry and the human capital needed for national security

One of the strongest arguments for Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign is coming from one of the most surprising places: The Council on Foreign Relations.

A report issued this week warned that America’s national security and economic prosperity are at risk if schools do not improve, asserting that “The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital. The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.” See @
The report may not have specifically focused on hunger, but it could not have been more focused on the kinds of schools No Kid Hungry knows firsthand: Parker Elementary in Chicago where we launched No Kid Hungry last week; the Robert Morehead School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas where we shot the school breakfast video; Principal’s Mac’s Old Mill Middle School North in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Joel Klein, former Chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education and one of the 30 commissioners responsible for the report explained: “One statistic that blew members of this task force away is that three out of four kids today in America are simply ineligible for military service. It's unbelievable. We're drawing our national security forces from a very small segment of the population. And a lot of the problem is they simply don't have the intellectual wherewithal to serve in the military.”

Commission members included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp, Craig Barrett, ex-CEO of Intel, and others including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a vocal advocate for school children being well fed so that teachers are able to teach effectively.

Make no mistake: any discussion of America’s dependence on human capital must include a discussion of whether our school children are fed, fit, and ready to learn.

As we continue to strategically broaden the base of support for No Kid Hungry, we need to join the conversation where it is happening, right now, and in the context of the stakes being higher than ever for our national and economic security. We need to embrace but go beyond the great work and partnerships of state anti-hunger commissions, food banks, nutrition educators, and even pediatricians. We also need business, military, and education leaders like those behind the Council on Foreign Relations report. We couldn’t be off to a better start, but we still have a long way to go and we can only get there with a broader coalition of national leaders.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mario Morino on the fiscal crisis facing nonprofits and the need to rethink and reinvent

 More than 15 years ago Mario Morino was the first investor in Community Wealth Ventures and has long been a keen and candid observer of the challenges facing nonprofits and efforts to create social change. He’s among the best I know at imagining what can be, but without that comprising his ability to see things as they are. His new book, LEAP OF REASON, is a powerful summation of much of what he’s learned.

Mario’s summary of two reports below, from Bridgespan and the Alliance for Children and Families concludes that “the fiscal crisis facing nonprofits is anything but a passing phenomenon” and that “every nonprofit will need to rethink, redesign, and reinvent for this era of scarcity”.

In many ways this has been our mantra at Community Wealth Ventures well before the current fiscal crisis, since it has long been clear that there simply aren’t sufficient charitable dollars, even for organizations that excel at getting more than their fair share, to solve many of our social problems on the scale that they exist. And so we have been a proponent of creating community wealth by leveraging assets into revenue generating opportunities; investing in capacities that support scale and sustainability, and more recently focusing on collaborative and systemic efforts, including intersecting with public policy, to create transformative change. As we’ve taken lessons from, and contributed to, Share Our Strength’s success scaling the No Kid Hungry campaign, we’ve seen the indispensible need to focus on measurable outcomes as Mario prescribes.

Mario’s message is an important reminder that many good and important organizations will be fighting simply to survive and maintain current levels of services. It points to the need for us to be helping them with the fundamentals of strategy and sustainability at the same time we help them aspire to transformation.

Excerpts from Mario’s recent letter follow below.


Mario Morino: First off, I want to commend two outstanding—and sobering—accounts from Daniel Stid and colleagues at Bridgespan: the report The View from the Cliff and the article “Five Ways to Navigate the Fiscal Crisis.” Stid et al. have done a much better job than I to assemble facts to back up one of Leap’s core premises—that the fiscal crisis is anything but a passing phenomenon, and it will force nonprofits and their boards to be more rigorous in how they pursue and assess performance. Here are just a few of the many valuable insights from the Bridgespan works:

• “The long-term outlook for human services funding is bleak. The federal government is facing record budget deficits and interest payments to service its rapidly accumulating debt, the rising cost of health care, and the demographic challenge of paying for entitlement benefits for retiring baby boomers.”

• “Given that roughly one quarter of state government funding and one third of local government funding come from Washington, D.C., the federal budget squeeze in turn will impinge on human services budgets at these levels.”

• “Moreover, state and local governments have their own demographic time bomb to address, in the form of an estimated $1 trillion to $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retirement liabilities for current employees and retirees.”

• “As one former state government [CFO] told us, echoing a common view among the … officials we have talked with, ‘All levels of government are facing steeper costs on health care and pensions, where the relentless demographics are just grinding down on all other items in the budget.’”

• The Hillside Family of Agencies CEO Dennis Richardson: “We started focusing more on measuring our outcomes as a result of our organizational curiosity—What are we doing that actually works? We also have come to believe—looking ahead to the future—that if we couldn’t answer that question, our funding would go to someone who could.”

I was equally impressed with the Alliance for Children and Families’ recent report Disruptive Forces: Driving a Human Services Revolution, inspired by the forward-looking IBM Global CEO Study and intended “to push [leaders] to think outside of their comfort zone.” Here are a few of the many good insights in that report:

• “Funders and communities will expect greater impact at a lower cost. The Hyundai-style approach of providing functional attributes in design and quality at a low cost has taken hold; competition will be cost based.”

• “The number of individuals with the same social ills we face today will increase…. Government will significantly reduce its funding of the sector. Foundations will hone their focus to the few proven, impact-generating organizations.”

• “Successful, high-performing networks of human services organizations will embrace technology, employing sophisticated and integrated systems to manage clients, operations, and advocacy … form innovative partnerships that deliver via multiple sectors … view the sector as a system, where all parts are interconnected and impacts are collectively measured … be comfortable with increased complexity.”

The bottom line is clear: With tight money and growing needs, every nonprofit will need to rethink, redesign, and reinvent for this era of scarcity. Even if you’re not the direct beneficiary of public funding, please don’t assume that you don’t need to think about these cuts. The competition for foundation grants, major gifts, and fee-based contracts will skyrocket as those whose public monies are cut look to other funding sources—like yours. Performance is the best way to protect your organization and meet the growing demands that are coming your way.

Back in the 1980s, an authority in the field of change management shared his view that dramatic personal change doesn’t happen until what you had stops or is taken away. Our fiscal realities—coupled with seismic demographic and social shifts—are likely to be this kind of turning point for the nonprofit sector, and possibly for the public sector as well.

My fervent hope is that this moment produces a true movement—a movement of public, private, and nonprofit leaders committed to tap the potential of, encourage, and support those leaders who have the courage to leap high in pursuit of performance for those they serve.

- Mario Morino

“Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” Harry McPherson's Memorial Service

On Friday morning, my colleague Chuck Scofield and I walked over to Saint John’s Church across from the White House for the memorial service for Harry McPherson who died two weeks ago at the age of 83. It was the church Harry was married in 30 years ago, and sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, 23 of which were created by artisans at Chartres Cathedral in France. The last pew has a plaque indicating where Abraham Lincoln frequently sat after walking over from the White House for a moment of quiet contemplation.

Establishment Washington – at least the part old enough to know and remember Harry, turned out in force: former Senate Majority Leaders George Mitchell and Tom Daschle, former Senators Chris Dodd and Harris Wofford, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, journalists Al Hunt and Mark Shields, and hundreds more.

From his beginnings as counsel to Lyndon Johnson, during the turmoil of Vietnam, civil rights and the Great Society that was the defining period of his life, Harry went on to serve every president from Nixon through Clinton. There were many references by the eulogists to his patriotism, civility, and a seemingly long ago time “when government actually worked.” There were remembrances of his love of books, poetry, and literature, and his own wonderful memoir, A Political Education. Mostly there was admiration for his intellectual curiosity, love of adventure, humor, and fully lived life as father and friend.

Harry’s son Sam who interned at Share Our Strength gave a eulogy as did historian David McCullough. McCullough summarized Harry’s credo with one line from essayist Alexander Pope: “Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” It was the kind of timeless wisdom most of us aspire to and Harry lived.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was surprised, and honored on behalf of all of us, when seeing on the back of the program that the family had asked that charitable contributions be made in Harry’s memory to Share Our Strength and two other organizations.

The last of three hymns was America the Beautiful. The entire audience rose and sang it as one.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A glimmer of unity rather than division: political lessons from No Kid Hungry

Today’s headlines report the retirement of Maine’s Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, widely seen as one of the last of the moderates. The various analyses describe how moderation is being squeezed out of politics. But it still exists in the civic sector and I’m convinced that the more discouraged people are by the dysfunction of our political system, the more encouraged and inspired they are by efforts like ours.

Accordingly I wanted to see what political lessons might be drawn from our experience with No Kid Hungry. Such lessons could help guide our future endeavors, may be of use to state partners as we progress, and might have applicability to other nonprofit seeking to intersect with public policy to advance social change. In most cases the lessons underscore the value of steering away from conventional political thinking and “politics as usual” and instead toward the less traveled path. I think there are at least five such lessons to consider:

Governors Are More Pragmatic and Less Ideological: Governors are chief executives responsible for getting things done. They tend to be more pragmatic and less ideological than members of Congress. And unlike members of the House and Senate they are not fighting to gain or maintain majority status and all of the powers and perks that go with it. While they are political, they are under less pressure to remain faithful to party at all costs. Our focus on governors, overlooked by many of our colleague organizations, is one of the reasons we’ve been as successful as we have. The NGA meeting in DC last week, and the strong personal testimonials by many governors about the importance of No Kid Hungry, was solid evidence of the above.

Children Represent Common Ground: and perhaps the last patch of turf that Democrats and Republicans can share together and that has not been torn apart by the relentless partisan divide. Children are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the situation they are in, they are not only vulnerable but voiceless, and that makes it hard not to join our campaign. There is a moral case and a strategic case for putting children first.

Not Trying to Be All things to All People. Politicians get a bad rap, and deservedly so, when they are so eager to please everyone that what they really stand for becomes so watered down as to be undetectable. It takes some courage and discipline to pick and choose rather than check “all of the above.” We picked and chose. As we once did, many of our colleagues focus on hunger in general. Some day we might do so again too. But our sharp focus on child hunger conveys that we don’t just give lip service to every need and interest but that we authentically care about and are committed to this one.

No One to Blame But Ourselves. Politicians play the blame game, quick to take credit for victories and quick to blame the opposition in defeat. Like the all-thing-to-all-people syndrome above it turns people off. But we’ve offered to hold ourselves accountable for solving the problem of childhood hunger. We won’t be pointing the finger at any one else. We will own our successes and our failures. And our stakeholders know where to look for results and accountability.

The Power of Ideas. Politics at its best is not about money, or endorsements, or great press or political muscle, it is about the power of ideas to motivate and move people to action. We have kept our focus on a powerful idea: ending childhood hunger. While we are not a political organization, at its best politics is about persuasion and our efforts to persuade are clearly succeeding.

When we are successful in ending childhood hunger, and we will be, a wonderful byproduct may be that we also created an example of what politics at is best can achieve.