Despite Struggles, Entrepreneurs find Ways to Give Back.

by: Jim Witkin / New York Times 

By the end of 2008, some 60 percent of small-business owners like Mr. Gumas reported that the economic downturn had affected their charitable giving, according to a study whose sponsors included The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper that covers nonprofit organizations. Tough times have compelled small-business owners like Mr. Gumas to rethink long-held business practices. But many are finding creative ways to continue their support for good causes — a practice that can have positive side effects. Here are some suggestions based on the experiences of small-business owners.

GIVE TIME AND SERVICES “We want to give back,” said Larry O’Toole, founder of Gentle Giant, a moving company based in Massachusetts. “That’s an important part of our company culture.”

A depressed housing market has meant less demand for the company’s services, which has forced it to cut back on cash donations. But with more down time, said Stephen Coady, the company’s marketing manager, it has been able to do more pro bono work. In the spring a local real estate agent approached Gentle Giant about collecting donated medical supplies for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Volunteering its trucks and movers, the company collected supplies like crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs — filling two large moving vans over the course of two months. Gentle Giant turned the supplies over to Partners in Health, a nonprofit group based in Boston that provides medical services to the poor.

Along with supporting a good cause and bolstering employee spirits, providing the pro bono services enabled the company to build connections with important business contacts, like real estate agents, who are a frequent source of referrals. “We would do this kind of thing anyway,” Mr. Coady said, “but you can also use this time to build relationships that you wouldn’t have time to cultivate when you are busy.”

Small businesses can help nonprofit organizations in a number of ways that may not seem obvious at first, said Christine Marquez-Hudson, the executive director of Mi Casa Resource Center, a nonprofit human services group that helps Latino families in Denver. For instance, Mi Casa called upon a multicultural marketing agency, The Idea Marketing, to create brochures and other marketing materials. When the firm recognized that Mi Casa would also need a cost-effective way to distribute this material, it helped negotiate discounts with one of its suppliers for printing and bulk mail services. “They have the clout and volume of business to get these discounts that we couldn’t get if we approached the vendor directly,” Ms. Marquez-Hudson said.

GIVING AND OUTREACH Trevor Dierdorff, owner of Amnet, an information technology company in Colorado Springs, has continued to support the Humane Society and the local Veterans Day parade, but he said, “we’ve had to be more selective this year.”

Before the recession, Amnet spent money every year to entertain crucial customers on expensive golf outings. The company also contributed time and money to several local charities. When the economic crunch hit, Mr. Dierdorff looked for creative ways to combine these efforts.

He had been making cash donations to a local charity, but this year saw the opportunity to use his donation to become one of the sponsors of the charity’s annual golf tournament. As a result, not only did Amnet gain visibility, but it also received a round in the tournament that Mr. Dierdorff plans to use to entertain clients.

REBUILD EMPLOYEE MORALE While layoffs and shrinking budgets can take a toll on morale, Mr. Gumas said, getting employees involved in pro bono projects can rebuild enthusiasm.

His advertising company has designed marketing brochures, TV commercials, billboards, and print ads for the San Francisco Giants Community Fund, a nonprofit organization that works with underserved youth in the areas of education, health and violence prevention. Mr. Gumas’s employees take part in many of the fund’s events. “It gives us all a rallying point,” he said, “and as tough as things are, we are reminded how lucky we are compared to the next guy.”

Research has shown that the most successful company-run volunteer programs allow employees to select the causes they support, said Dr. Dwight Burlingame, who is director of academic programs for Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. Nonetheless, he suggests that you make sure your small business organizes these volunteer days on behalf of the employees. The most effective morale builders, he said, were programs “organized by the company, especially where there’s a company match of time or money and the company provides recognition for the volunteers’ efforts.”

TAKE THE TAX BREAK Amnet used to offer a discounted rate on information technology services for nonprofit organizations, a practice that helped the nonprofits without affording Mr. Dierdorff any tax benefits. When the economy worsened, he decided to eliminate the discounted rate for nonprofits. Instead, he now charges the standard rate but then donates the equivalent of the discount back to the organization in cash, which allows him to take the tax deduction.

FIND A PARTNER Joining forces with other organizations can compound your impact. If you belong to a local service club like the Chamber of Commerce, Lionsor Rotary, look for ways to partner with them on their outreach efforts.

For example, said Rick Wells, chief executive of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce in California, if cash is tight, “the local business can volunteer employee time, help with logistics, or donate products and services which can be given away as raffle prizes.” Donating products, he noted, can also help the business clear out excess inventory.

Like so many companies, Dairy Specialists, which designs, builds and supplies commercial dairies in Colorado, has had to trim its work force. But when the decline in revenue put a squeeze on the company’s long-standing college scholarship program, Robert Brown, the company’s chief financial officer, went looking for partners. He found many of the businesses that served the same agricultural community were receptive to donating matching funds. “If you can’t do these things on your own anymore,” Mr. Brown said, “look to some of your bigger business partners to help you.”

REVIEW YOUR STRATEGY “Businesses are bombarded with requests for contributions,” said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing with Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that tracks public charities. “It’s important to have some standards in place.”

This is also a good time to review the strategic purpose of your philanthropy, said Scott Hauge, president of CAL Insurance, a San Francisco-based agency. Developing a philanthropy “playbook,” he said, makes it easier for you to stick to your mission and keep it aligned with your business goals.

While many small businesses are learning to do more with less, said Mr. Gumas, giving to good causes will always be the right thing to do. He subscribes to a karmic view of the business cycle. “When you are doing the right things for the right reasons,” he said, “good things will come of it.”

How to get your organization started with community engagement!

You don’t have to look far before finding communities that are troubled by a variety of challenges and problems. From Economical, to Environmental, to Health, the list goes on and on. Our Mission is to help Organizations identify these troubled areas and utilize their current resources to help bring solutions to a given community. If your organization is still discovering a pathway to successfully engage their community, here are a few tips that will help:
Surf — Conduct research on the internet, in regards to how organizations are giving back and to what issues they are giving back to. You can also use the internet to see what issues are being talked about in articles, blogs, and news feeds.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy, TED Talks, and Social Innovations Conversations, are great places for an organization to start research.
Observe — Observational research is extremely important and tends to be overlooked. Sometimes there are issues that you see happening or that your organization would like to prevent rather than cure. Observing a specific community and assessing what the needs are is also an effective way of discovering key social/environmental patterns and needs.
Ask — Speak with the local community about what the challenges are and how your organization can help.  Most people are usually ready and willing to speak about the “pains” of human society. Does your business help to solve some of these “pains”?  A survey can be created and handed out to willing participants, or you can send one via email which is much more efficient.  Surveys can simply be created through Google Apps, or Survey Monkey (for example).  Using these platforms allows your organization to generate quicker responses and create additional analytical data such as percentage breakdowns, and pie charts.
Social Media platforms in which you can ask these questions, while collecting feedback through your followers, is also a useful tool.  Make use of your Organization’s social pages to ask these specific questions to the online community. If your organization does not have one then perhaps you can suggest that one be created.
In addition, ask other organizations within your community or industry, what they have done to reach their “Community Engagement Objectives” or Social Responsibility goals. Getting ideas from other organizations that are willing to share them, can be extremely helpful.  You may be able to pick up some great tips before launching into a specific cause as well.  Click here to see one of our clients, Marc Ecko’s Unlimited Justice campaign!
However you choose to “ask” allow the process to be simple and convenient.
Evaluate — From the research that you conduct, carefully evaluate the responses that you received from the community and document your findings. Within an organization there are several levels of accountability, whether you are the CEO or a middle manager, documentation will be useful.  Utilizing the limited resources of your organization to help solve community challenges should be a well thought out plan of action.  An opportunity to get involved means that you have conducted your research, and you are now able to show the need for the organization to get involved on some level, due to the data collected.
Decide — Based on the research, what challenges seem to be rising to the surface the most?  What resources does your current organization have that would be able to help solve at least one of those challenges? Does the cause at hand match your Organization’s goals and responsibilities?  The vision and mission?  If so how?  Are there organizations already working on solutions to your organization’s issue of choice, and if so would you be able to come along side them without reinventing the wheel?  Or will your organization have to pioneer a work that hasn’t been done before?
Although there are plenty of issues within a given community, your organization can start with ONE! If you have several that your organization would like to get involved in, get the feedback from other owners, staff, board members, etc., before making a final decision.  Involving these key stakeholders within the decision making process will create support for the cause throughout the organization.

Kids That Have Changed the Lives of 1,000s!

“Kids these days,” you say or maybe just think, at times? Well, these kids have changed the lives of thousands, as well as the connotation of that phrase.

Meet five young people whose compassion-filled hearts birthed child-founded charities that have transformed the lives of many worldwide.

1) Craig Kielburger, was just looking for some laughs in the comics section of the newspaper when he was horrified to read that a 12-year-old Pakistani boy, his same age, was murdered for speaking out against child labor. Craig didn’t even know what child labor was, so he had to take a trip to Pakistan to found out. Craig, started the Free the Children Foundation which is the largest organization of children helping children. It didn’t take much for one child to touch the world, just a simple idea, parental support and tons of passion.

Take a look at what Craig, now 23, discovered in Pakistan and has worked to eradicate.



2) Hannah Taylor, at five years old, asked her mother, “Why is that man eating out of a garbage can.” “Because he’s down on his luck,” her mother replied. From that moment, Hannah peppered her mom with questions about what it meant to be homeless. By six years old, when Hannah was starting school, she saw a woman pushing a cart that contained all of the woman’s worldly possessions. At that moment, Hannah decided to “cure the world of homelessness.” So, she figured, since those people needed luck and ladybugs symbolized luck, why not paint babyfood jars like ladybugs, put them in local businesses and collect spare change to help the homeless. With the support of parents and her community, The Ladybug Foundation has raised upwards of $500,000.

Hannah, now 11, said, “This last year I learned a lot more about what it’s like to love somebody who lives on the streets. It’s not a place anyone wants to be. Sometimes I think we forget how hard it is to survive without permanent shelter, especially in winter.”

Visit the The Ladybug Foundation to learn more about what Hannah does.

Website: – View testimonies of the people she has helped.

3) Although becoming homeless is unimaginable, living in an abusive foster family is just as unfathomable. What if you lived under the worst conditions and one day you bolt with only the clothes on your back, no knapsack, no toothbrush, no soap, no shampoo and no intention of ever going back?

The Care Bags Foundation provides “care bags filled with new essential, helpful, fun, safe, and age appropriate items for children/youth (ages baby-18 yrs.) who are in need.” In 2000, Annie Wignall, 11 years old at the time, learned about how often children in crisis were displaced without any of their belongings. So, the next day she called up her friends and asked them for travel bags and suitcases to fill them with necessary items and give to them to kids in need. Today, Care Bags provides about 100 bags monthly.


4) Austin Gutwein learned about the AIDS crisis in Africa, where in Zambia alone, 50% of children under 15 years old have been orphaned. He wondered what he could do to change the situation. So, he combined his love for basketball and concern for children and figured out a way for just about anyone to be able to help. He created Hoops of Hope where children collect $1 for every successful free throw made. With the help of thousands, Austin has gone on to raise funds to build orphanages, schools and medical facilities.



5) Dylan Mahalingam, was eight years old in 2004 and led the way in founding the Lil’ MDGs, a non-profit organization to benefit many causes around the world.

Take a look at the simple projects that have profound effects on a community.



In each of these cases, these children coupled their compassion with action and have demonstrated their love through different forms.

Most of these young people simply stumbled upon societal needs and responded spontaneously from their hearts, but there is a global effort initiated by the United Nations to address eight issues.

In order to make this a better world for all by the year 2015, the U.N. outlined eight Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) that are the following:

1. Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

2. Achieve Universal Primary Education

3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

4. Reduce Child Mortality

5. Improve Maternal Health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases

7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability

8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development .

Take a look at your community or a community of which you take interest in. Perhaps you are conducting business within a particular community and you are noticing some challenges the community is facing. What problems and challenges can you help to solve? Is there a pollution problem? Is there a lack of places for kids to hang out, and they are looking for a place to ride their bikes or skateboards? Are there vandalized abandoned properties that you can help to restore? As easily as some tear down, what initiative could you create to help build up a community?

Click the links above or below, get involved or even get creative. See where your ideas can take you and the affects they can have on generations to come.

For more child-funded organizations check out

How Schools Can Engage Their Community


By Naomi Dillon

Ed Honowitz was a middle school student in Pasadena, Calif., when his district became one of the first west of the Mississippi to be placed under court-ordered desegregation. It wasn’t until he was an adult, after returning from college and career stints elsewhere, that he fully appreciated the impact of such a ruling on his hometown.

“We’re a tale of two cities,” says Honowitz, now a board member for the Pasadena Unified School District. “We’ve got the Rose Bowl, the Rose Parade, and lots of old money — and we’ve got a district that is two-thirds free and reduced lunch.”

That dichotomy, played out in larger cities across America over the past four decades, has become a joke among locals in Pasadena. The joke, according to Honowitz, goes like this: After desegregation, the city and the school district divorced. The schools got custody of the kids but not enough support.

Reclaiming that support — and the investment and involvement of an engaged community — is critical to a district’s success. A 2009 report issued by researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College says family and community involvement have a direct impact on student learning.

“[Federal] policy and media keep isolating our schools, making it appear that the answer to this very complex issue is the teacher,” says Martin Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “Yes, the teacher is the most important in-school factor, but the community is the most important out-of-school factor, and we’ve got data to support that.”

Other data, however, shows that school districts are struggling with how to make it happen. While research corroborates the importance of communication in building strong relationships and support between families and schools, these conversations are often intermittent, one-way, and focused on problems. When you throw in language barriers, varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and logistical constraints, it’s easy to understand why disconnects exist between schools and the public.

The bottom line: Engaging families and the community — especially in the comprehensive, ongoing, and strategic ways that yield the best results and not the “random acts” that current education policy promotes — is hard work. And it starts at the top.

“It is indeed a challenging thing to work across boundaries, and that’s where leadership and school boards have a pivotal role to play,” Blank says. “We need people who will be relentless about results and who believe in partnerships as a vehicle to engage the community.”

Sometimes, as in Honowitz’s case, those efforts start from the outside and work their way in.

Show and tell

Honowitz joined the Pasadena school board nearly a decade ago, but he’s been a public school advocate far longer, founding and leading a myriad of community organizations and initiatives focused on improving the city’s schools.

“The way I look at it is you can’t just have a group that’s going to be cheerleaders,” he says. “They don’t have the credibility in the community to ask the tough questions. There’s a need to have an external accountability mechanism to drive the system.”

Pasadena’s problem is that middle-class and affluent families have left the city and district in droves, taking much of the “accountability mechanism” with them. Today, at least 30 percent of school-age children who live in the district’s boundaries attend parochial schools.

“It created this release valve for middle and high school parents to not address the public school system, so part of what I’ve been trying to do is build connections broadly across the city and the district,” Honowitz says.

In many areas, Honowitz and his fellow board members have succeeded.

The district just wrapped up an extensive community-wide strategic planning initiative, inviting and ultimately involving more than 800 people through focus groups, community meetings, surveys, phone interviews, and even an interactive panel discussion broadcast live from a local radio station.

It was a far more sophisticated endeavor than the public engagement campaign Honowitz helped lead as a community organizer, but both efforts revealed the same challenges.

“When we started in the 1990s and did this large-scale community involvement process, the number one issue people had with the district was communication. If you ask today, it’s the same issue,” Honowitz says. “It’s a constant effort to make sure people understand the decision-making process, the issues facing the schools, and have a vehicle for making their voices heard. It’s not like you fix it once and you’re done.”

The “social” connection

While social media and Web 2.0 tools have made it easier for districts to “connect” with communities, some districts are more willing than others to venture into this new territory.

Dave Doty can certainly understand the hesitancy. For months, the Canyons School District superintendent had been hounded by information technology staff to start a Twitter account. It was early 2009 and Doty was in the midst of preparing to open Utah’s first new district in almost a century. While at NSBA’s annual conference, he finally relented to his techies’ prodding and timidly joined the Tweet crowd.

“I sat there for 30 minutes and I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know who to follow,” Doty says. “I, frankly, didn’t get it at first.”

But like technology, it didn’t take long for things to change, and Doty soon began connecting with other educators across the country. Then he started connecting with principals, teachers, education reporters, and even some parents.

“Then I said, ‘OK, I get this now.’ It connects me with professional colleagues and people in ways that I couldn’t before,” he says.

He points to a recent Saturday morning as an example. After checking his Twitter account from his phone, Doty discovered from a high school staff member that the cheerleading squad was washing cars to raise money. He decided to pay them a visit.

“I parked my car, got out, and walked to these two moms, and they were absolutely beside themselves, so I took a picture and tweeted it,” he says. “I don’t know how many new customers that generated, but those parents and kids thought that was a big deal and I never would’ve known about it.”

Of course, there are some risks in the cyberworld. Doty, who encourages his staff to blog and utilize social media networks, has had more than a few disgruntled parents post unflattering comments on his account.

“I’ve had some choices to make: do I shut down my account, do I engage, do I ignore? Those are still questions I’m asking myself,” he says. “But the days of leading a district from an office and only responding to people that call you are over. These are public, high-profile positions and you might as well engage these tools to engage the community in a positive way.”

Talking face to face

Sometimes, though, good old face-to-face interactions can be just as effective at connecting with the community. Just ask Paul Vranish. You can do so every month at the high school in Tornilla, Texas.

Vranish, the district’s superintendent, started the “parent chats” after a huge scandal erupted in his previous school district. A popular employee had misrepresented himself, but rather than fire the individual, the district buckled under community pressure and let Vranish go instead.

“It was easy to leave when they were so obviously wrong,” says Vranish, who felt vindicated after learning the employee was later fired. “But the danger in playing the victim is you passively concede control of your destiny.”

After reflecting on the episode, Vranish says it was clear why things had spun out of control.

“It occurred to me that so much of what the school administrator does involves personnel, and that’s the one thing you’re really not allowed to talk about,” Vranish says. “Part of the problem is things tend to be controversial when they are, by statute, off-limits, or hard to explain, so I thought: Why not try to establish a climate of trust before things hit the fan?”

Hence the parent chats which — besides providing food, child care, and translators — always include some child-centered entertainment and a platform for community members to voice their concerns. These informal gatherings have helped the district squelch rumors and misinformation, gather good ideas, and, most importantly, bridge gaps in understanding with the public.

“This sounds like a nice thing to do, but you cannot be insincere about hearing what they have to say,” says Vranish, who credits successful ballot measures, faster inclement weather procedures, and a safer and more robust transportation plan to these chats. “This can’t be just a propaganda mechanism.”

Be deliberate and data-driven

It’s exactly the same advice Jennifer Rogers, communications director at the Michigan School Boards Association, gives to districts interested in surveying their constituents, a service the organization provides to more and more districts every year.

“We’ve always been a big advocate for data-driven decisions, and I think our message is starting to filter out,” Rogers says. “Districts understand, now more than ever, they need that input.”

But it can’t be a shell game. In initial conversations with districts, Rogers is clear that the online survey results must be shared with the public and acted on in some fashion in order to build credibility and trust.

“How they use it is up to them, but I tell them the data they gather must be used and carefully considered,” says Rogers, who notes that surveys that are part of a district strategic plan are the most successful.

In Michigan, customer service surveys that ask about interactions and experiences with staff and schools are becoming a popular and integral part of improving community relations. In New Jersey, Rutgers University’s Office of Civic Engagement is trying to do more — it wants to improve the greater community.

Part of Rutgers’ initiative includes a focus on teaching civic behavior through new courses and curriculum, but the university has taken the endeavor a step further by lending resources and support to various organizations in Camden. Included in that is a coordinated partnership with the city’s schools.

“We’ve always had these pockets of collaboration between the university and the district,” says Nyeema Watson, administrative director of the university’s Center for Children and Childhood Studies. “But our new chancellor wanted to take a more focused look at these partnerships, understanding that our prosperity is linked to the city.”

Watson, a Camden graduate and former school board member, works to build strategic alliances between the university and the district. She says Rutgers’ approach represents a considerable shift among universities that want to be seen as anchor institutions in the community rather than as takers that only engage the public when they need to do research.

“How do we get to a point where people in the community see us as a partner?” Watson asks. “How do you build this level of trust so that we can work in strategic ways to bring knowledge and resources into the schools?”

Certainly, Watson’s experience and background serves her well as she tries to bridge these different worlds. In her four years on the school board, Watson became keenly aware of how painfully slow change occurs in a large district, and how a volunteer position easily can become a full-time job.

Maybe it’s the stalled economy, a changing job market, or last fall’s rash of media events, but Watson believes education is moving into the forefront of national discourse. She just hopes it inspires people to come together and actually do something about it.

“Hopefully what people have come to see is the challenge, especially for urban school districts, is great and it will take some innovative thinking to change the culture and climate of schools to help students succeed,” Watson says. “And there hasn’t been one spot-on model that can be replicated across the country. Different things will work in different ways, depending on your community’s needs.”

And the only way to determine what a school, district, family, or community needs to move ahead is to ask.

Have a framework and goals

Soliciting and relying on community input to remove barriers is what started a philosophical shift in Georgia’s Clarke County Schools five years ago.

“We called it a ‘parentdigm’ shift because we realized parents and families were necessary to change the landscape of education in Clarke County,” says Monica Knight, the district’s director of student achievement and educational equity.

That realization grew in tandem with the district’s poverty rate, which currently impacts some 70 percent of the student population of 12,217. Getting around the hurdles inherent in disadvantaged communities would require a new, more strategic approach, which began with a simple name change.

“Parent involvement used to be the standard term, and we moved away from that because we know more than just parents need to be part of the process,” Knight says. “And engagement is different than involvement because, just like when someone gets engaged, they are setting a whole different standard. They are ratcheting that relationship up to another level.”

Proving the district was serious about moving the community/schools relationship in a different direction began with developing a nuts-and-bolts framework, one that laid out expectations, goals, dreams, and a shared vision.

“We wrote a school district policy that was based on national best practices and leading research in this field,” Knight says. The result was an inclusive document that provides all kinds of avenues for the community to become part of the school and the school to become part of the community.

Family engagement specialists placed at each school help build these connections, and surveys are conducted regularly. Questions have been asked about information and services parents would find most helpful, what times would be easier to attend school meetings, and whether parents would be comfortable with home visits from teachers.

“We don’t just have stuff to have it. We’re really strategic about what we do,” Knight says.

And where they do it as well. Last year, the district donated 800 old computers to a community organization that refurbishes them for free or at an extremely low cost to sell to needy families. But when the computers arrived at one of the area’s housing projects, district officials discovered it had no Internet service. The district worked with the housing authority to provide that connection.

“Becoming true partners with these organizations has put us in strategic places to work out those kinks for families, which is the whole point of equity,” Knight says. “We don’t give all neighborhoods Internet access, but we do for the neighborhood that needs it.”

Naomi Dillon ( is a senior editor of American School Board Journal.
Cover illustration by David Julian.

The hub of the community

Meet Martin Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership. Typical of the many hats education leaders wear today, he also is the director of the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS), an alliance of national, state, and local organizations that believe schools should be centers of the community.

“A school that is open, where the space and facilities are available to the public and the community, brings health and social services, human capital, and a wealth of knowledge all around the purpose of getting students ready for postsecondary education,” he says. “We call that kind of a place a community school.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Community engagement is the strategy behind creating community schools, which is both a place and a new way of thinking, says Martin Gonzalez, deputy executive director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA). In true collaborative fashion, the CSBA is extending its work with CCS into a brand-new joint venture with the University of California, Davis (UC).

Funded by a $50,000 grant from the Stuart Foundation, the CSBA and UC’s School of Education will establish the California Center for Community Engaged Schools, which will provide a policy framework that can be adapted by schools across the country to fit their needs.

“This is a natural departure from our Building Healthy Communities leadership guide because it was all about collaboration around resource issues,” Gonzalez says. “I think a lot of districts have reached the conclusion that the problems or issues they are trying to address in school must be done with partners. They are finding they can’t do it alone.”

Though the center still is very much in its infancy, the CSBA recently released a policy brief on the growing trend of community schools, providing some insight into the kind of guidance that can be expected to come. School boards, for instance, are critical to setting direction, establishing structure, providing support, ensuring accountability, and modeling collaborative behaviors.

“It’s being able to help districts in their leadership teams have a conversation about what the concept of community schools is, especially how that needs to be a data-driven conversation,” Gonzalez says. “Because data changes the nature of those conversations from one of accommodation to one of need.” For more information, visit

What schools are doing

Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington, Va., started offering English as a Second Language classes to its large population of non-English speaking families and found that not only did it improve communication, but 95 percent of the parents who took advantage of the classes began attending parent-teacher conferences and intended to be more engaged in their child’s education.

In New York City, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition’s campaign to build and repair school facilities resulted in more than 14,000 new seats to relieve overcrowding in the neighborhood’s elementary and middle schools. In Chicago, the Community Links High School has maintained a 99 percent graduation rate since graduating its first class in 2006, with 85 percent of its students going on to college.

ASBJ’s Magna Awards have honored districts over the past several years for their successful community involvement programs, including Texas’ Austin Independent School District’s UpClose program; the Home School Initiative in Mason County Schools, in Maysville, Ky.; The Community Summit in New York’s Bay Shore Union Free School District; the Partners in Education Breakfast in New York’s West Seneca Central Schools; the Using Expert Panels for Community Engagement in Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo.; and Senior Citizens’ School Tours in Missouri’s Lee’s Summit R-7 school district.

More information about these programs can be found at, including a searchable database of award-winning and high-scoring programs.

Kicking off Global Entrepreneurship Week with the Consortium!

This week begins Global Entrepreneurship Week. A week in which thousands of people and organizations from all around the world, play their part in spreading the importance of entrepreneurship, and all of its impact. From celebrities, to big time corporations, to individuals within the community, many have decided to join in to spread the message to young people to embrace innovation, imagination and creativity, helping them to turn their ideas into reality.

To launch the week, we attended the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education in Columbus, Ohio. From November 12th to the 15th, there were hundreds of educators, curriculum providers, non-profits, universities, small businesses, foundations, and more, who attended the 28th Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education Forum from all over the country. The goals of the conference were similar to that of Global Entrepreneurship week. There was tremendous opportunity to train and educate one another on the efforts that are being conducted nationally to empower youth to get excited to learn how to start and run their own business while mounting soft-skills in the process. Workshops included tips on social media, how to raise money for your entrepreneurship program, and how to spark creativity in high school entrepreneurs, just to name a few. One of my favorite parts of the forum were teen entrepreneurs. The expo that exhibited these teen entrepreneurs was nothing short of inspirational. Great to see knowledge in action, a strong viewpoint that we really believe in. It’s the heart of what “EpiLife” is all about. Click Here to see some of these young entrepreneurs. The event was successful and gave an opportunity for many to share their best practices.

Within this conference were several guest speakers. While all guest speakers found a way to add social value, I must say, the keynote by Michael Holthouse, Founder and Chairman of Prepared 4 Life, a non profit organization that empowers youth to become contributing members of society through it’s core, asset based, experiential programs. One of those programs is Lemonade Day! Lemonade Day is a day in which youth are empowered to sell lemonade to their local community by literally creating a lemonade stand. Michael, who delivered a very moving keynote, believes that this approach will introduce the basic principles of entrepreneurship to youth at a very young age and so far it seems to be working. So far through Lemonade Day, there has been approximately 6.8 million glasses of lemonade sold. This initiative began in Houston, but Lemonade Day has spread to more than 15 cities across America so far and is continually growing. Visit their website at, to see more of their outcomes.

Our workshop that we conducted was on behalf of our client, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and what NFTE is doing to teach entrepreneurship in conjunction with the new 21st century skills. 21st Century Skills are within the conversations of many organizations and we recommend visiting to read more about it. However, upon leaving the conference, I realized the influence that can occur as organizations come together for a common cause. Through observation and years of experience, often time community based organizations are hesitant to collaborate for various reasons. However this weekend was not the case. Organizations had the chance to share with no reserves. As change agents, it’s our hope that we get the opportunity to help organizations collaborate and come to together for a common cause — build community capital and enhance the opportunities for effective community engagement. We emphasize the importance for all organizations to stay focused on providing resources (capital or human) for the purpose of community development. While entrepreneurship education is one of many ways in which this can happen, it’s definitely one of the most important.

Kene Turner
EpiLife Consulting Inc.

Can Apple’s MobileMe Packaging Get Even Smaller?

Published November 02, 2010
Can Apple's MobileMe Packaging Get Even Smaller?

NEW YORK, NY — Apple has made incremental improvements to its packaging over the years, like eliminating foam padding and shrinking boxes to fit laptops more snugly, but as with all packaging, there’s always room for improvement.

The New York Times’ Gadgetwise blog calls out the company’s MobileMe packaging as one example of already-small packaging that could get even smaller.

Gadgetwise writes:

The software that keeps the contacts and calendars stored on your computers, iPad, and iPhone in sync comes in a cute cardboard box. Actually, the software doesn’t come in the box; you download that directly from the Apple Web site. What actually comes in the box is…virtually nothing.

Customers that buy the software from retailers get that empty box with an activation code on heavy paper, something Gadgetwise suggests could be replaced with a smaller sheet, or even distributed in an enveloped instead of a box.

The point is, as many companies also tout when they make minor packaging changes, every little bit helps.

Whether it’s Bayer and Aleve getting rid of the cardboard boxes some pill bottles used to come in, Sprint replacing plastic bags and trays for cell phones with paper versions, or video game maker Ubisoft eliminating paper manuals from game cases, the culmination of all those small steps can have a big impact.

Take the case of Dell, which made numerous packaging changes like slicing a few millimeters from its Inspiron laptop boxes over the course of a year, allowing it to gut 8.7 million pounds of material from its packages since mid-2009.

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Social Entrepreneurship…Developing Community Capital, Beyond Sustainability Training

by Kene Turner

“For any organization whose external environment is changing faster than it is changing internally, the end is in sight.  It is only a matter of time.” — Jack Welch, Letter to GE Shareholders, 2001

The above quote was apart of my opening at the west coast green conference (West Coast Green is the world’s leading interactive conference on green innovation for the built environment).  Myself and two very distinguished gentlemen, Wilford Welch and David Hopkins (pictured above) who are co-authors of a book called, “The Tactics of Hope,” delivered a workshop at the conference titled, “Developing Your Community Capital Beyond Sustainability.”

Wilford Welch first spoke about the causes of the sustainability crisis, why a shift in values and priorities are imperative, and these values & priorities for sustainable communities consist of — a shift in thinking from former thoughts such as “more is better” to “enough is enough.”  From “me” to “we”  from “Growth/Profits” to “People, Planet, Profits.”  Wilford encouraged us as social entrepreneurs to move to a system that creates long-term abundance rather than short-term profit margins.

Next David Hopkins spoke about lessons learned from Social Entrepreneurs.  David spoke of characteristics of social entrepreneurs like the fact they focus on social and environmental challenges; they seek systemic solutions; they implement using for profit, not-for-profit, and hybrid models.  He taught that Social Entrepreneurs collaborate beyond the local workplace to design solutions that are communal within its makeup, in which the community becomes the marketplace of opportunity to exchange social and financial capital.  David gave examples of social entrepreneurship models such as KIVA, IDEA VILLAGE, OPEN ACTION, and PLAY PUMPS.  More examples are written within the book, the Tactics of Hope.

Lastly, I rounded out the presentation, speaking about how small businesses can implement community engagement.  As a product of community engagement myself (read about my story), delivering the content about community engagement was almost second nature.  I defined community engagement for the audience using key words like collaboration, affiliation, special interests, bring out change, mobilizing resources, etc.  We discussed the importance of viewing business as ecology and valuing the impacts of community engagement.  I spoke of internal and external impacts of community engagement such as human/social capital, local support, stable customer base, and developing niche markets.  My case study was about Steve Mariotti, the Founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and how his decision to apply community engagement positively impacted many others.  It’s up to us, as small business owners, to do the same.

If you are interested in having this workshop at your organization, please feel free to contact us at or call us toll free at 888-751-7773.  FEEL FREE TO VIEW OUR POWER POINT BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW!

Unitus, We Stand; Divide Us, We Fall

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Posted: September 2, 2010 09:53 AM
Author: Jonathan C. Lewis

“He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money”—Benjamin Franklin, 17th-century social entrepreneur and co-founder of the United States.

This, in a nutshell, is the apprehension driving many of the critics and critiques of Seattle-based Unitus, a nonprofit that on July 2, 2010, unexpectedly abandoned its microfinance work in favor of a yet-to-be-named new poverty alleviation mission.  The almost instant blowback came on July 9, 2010 in the Chronicle of Philanthropy with phrases like “decision to wind down its sole program shocked. … Is [there] a more sinister reason lurking behind the positive spin…? The announcement …came just before the long July 4th weekend which to some observers calls to mind a ‘bury the news’ ploy used frequently by for-profit corporations.”

By all accounts, Unitus will not be winning any PR awards for deftly handling the media relations rollout of its decision. But handling the media with the tin ear of a British Petroleum executive is not the same as fouling the Gulf Coast. Ineptitude in media relations does not constitute nonprofit malfeasance. If it did, most nonprofits would be in jail.

What truly matters is what can be learned from Unitus’s storied history as a leading microfinance institution and its recent change of mission. There is much to consider.  While this blog raises a number of policy concerns and even goads Unitus in places, in my view Unitus has earned the benefit of the doubt. The overarching story here is that microfinance increasingly finds itself on the sharp edge of making money by providing a public service. Like for-profit HMOs who finance healthcare, but make it hard to access the care; or for-profit energy companies who power our lives, but pollute them too; or for-profit automakers who build job-creating plants in local communities, but later close them down—microfinance will no longer operate in an unexamined vacuum.

Nonprofit leadership is, first and foremost, about trusteeship. A nonprofit board holds in trust the donor dollars received, the social capital of its brand, the human capital of its staff, and the unwavering responsibility to defend the mission to which all the organization’s stakeholders have committed themselves.

The concerns, broadly summarized, are that Unitus acted capriciously and without due care for the handling of charitable donations, that windfall profits from the recent SKS IPO are linked to the decision to fold, or that some ill-considered organizational behavior is being, if not covered up, then badly explained. But suspicion and rumor are not facts. No hard evidence substantiates any of these concerns. Moreover, without question, the Unitus leadership has historically been motivated by a public interest steadfastly devoted to poverty alleviation. That is my view.

This is why the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, the State of Washington Attorney General, or some other external agency should review the circumstances surrounding the Unitus decision to terminate its 10-year commitment to microfinance. An independent agency with the skills to conduct a financial and legal audit will put to rest the untoward rumors, clear the air, and re-establish the Unitus brand.

Nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises alike put forward three fundamental and intertwined cases to garner financial support: One, the organization is working on a pressing problem that needs solving or improving, in this case poverty. Two, the organization has a theory of social change and problem solving, which works and even works uniquely. Three, the organization’s leadership team and staff are talented, imbued with integrity, dedicated to the mission, and effective. Let’s examine each in turn.

To examine these questions, read Jonathan Lewis’s full story on Unitus, which was first published as a blog in serial form at Social Edge.

Jonathan C. Lewis founded MicroCredit Enterprises in 2005 and serves today as its chair on a pro bono basis. He is also the founder and CEO of the Opportunity Collaboration, and a contributing blogger at the Huffington Post.

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