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Nonprofits Make a Splash for “Our Common Future”

Hi! I’m back. I’ve been studying Globalization and enjoying two jobs— one in the corporate world and one in the nonprofit. All of this made me ripe for a paradigm-shifting vision I beheld at Our Common Future last week in Detroit.

This year’s annual conference for nonprofits was organized by the Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan Non-Profit Association, and Independent Sector. Over 1,400 amazing people were there and I was thrilled to attend the second day of the event. 

In one workshop, presenters asked nonprofit leaders to consider telling their stories to show economic impactFor example, the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Study detailed expenditures and attendance data from 14,439 arts and culture nonprofits. Overall, these organizations pumped $63.8 billion into the economy. Coupled with a media campaign to communicate the results to decision makers, Americans for the Arts received an allocation of $145 million from the House Appropriations Committee under an administration wanting to terminate funding altogether. 

Some of the audience pushed back. They weren’t sure this approach applied to their nonprofits. Numbers tell one side of a story and ethnographic data tells another. We need both. Here, we’re talking about quantitative data. Dan Cardinali, CEO of Independent Sector, responded to the audience’s doubts by stating that, “Showing your economic impact is another— not the only— tool in your toolbox for making a case to donors.”

But there is another reason why nonprofits might jump on using data to show economic impact. It has to do with the symbiotic relationship between corporations and nonprofits. Many corporations give generously to nonprofits. Some have their own robust foundations. Some send staff to help nonprofits. Some reward employees with time for giving. And corporations speak in data.

Corporations use data not only to inform their strategy but to tell the story of how their businesses help our communities, i.e., their social impact. DTE Energy’s Corporate Citizenship Report, for example, reveals increased safety, reduced carbon emissions, greater investment in renewable energy, increased spending on Michigan-based suppliers, and more. Corporations are setting sustainability and social responsibility goals, gathering data to track their progress, and communicating results to their customers.

Nonprofits need to communicate economic impact just as much as corporations need to communicate social benefits. Data helps. The more fluently nonprofits speak in terms of economic impact— with data — the sooner they can generate socially beneficial public policy and help influence corporate strategy. As nonprofits become better businesses, corporations become better servants. To learn from each other, both must play their part.

One objection to economic indicators included the concern that nonprofits express our civil, not market, society. As one participant pointed out, economic data often masks what’s relevant to her mission, viz., equity for diverse populations. The economic impact data presented in the workshop did not distinguish by race, gender, age, or ethnicity. Maybe that data is there, but it wasn’t part of the economic impact story.

Similarly, corporations need to do a better job of sharing data on diversity within their own ranks. “Even as California’s Silicon Valley struggles with diversity and discrimination, most of the area’s tech companies won’t share that basic data with the public.” Hidden Figures: How Silicon Valley Keeps Diversity Data Secret. I believe corporations and nonprofits will become stronger by learning from each other and this includes using data that is meaningful to both.

As this symbiotic trend reaches critical mass, like a wave cresting, only to turn itself inside out, a new version of our former society might emerge. With it, our collective needs can influence government action and corporate strategy. Universal Basic Income? Companies making and doing more of what’s good for us and the planet? The social and environmental damage left for nonprofits to clean up in the wake of economic disparity could shrink. We’ll reach a tipping point where caring’s economic value surpasses consumption’s.

Maybe this vision is obvious to others and I’m only catching up. Maybe it’s silly and I’m just naive. Still, it’s what I felt surfacing at this conference. And it was refreshing. I carried the image of a tsunami-sized paradigm-shift from the workshop into the ballroom where next year’s conference theme was announced. Upswell. What synchronicity. 

So now, as our country enters its most disruptive phase of globalization — one that will dwarf the pains and gains of today’s deindustrialization with those of tomorrow’s telepresence and telerobotics — we will come out better than before. It won’t be easy but the tide of corporate-nonprofit symbiosis is swelling and lifting us up with it. We’ll transform priorities in the process. Public policy, corporate strategy, and nonprofit mission will align to reflect the highest values of “our common future”.  Now let’s go get some data.

LauRen I. Zinn consults to leaders developing organizations with social impact


How to Teach Religion Today – With Purim as an Example

photo of poster called Spring Rules!Matt, the Jewish father in an interfaith family with two young girls, shared with me this story:
His mother, the girls’ Jewish grandmother, asked if he would raise the girls Jewish. “Yes,” he said, “but it won’t look like the Jewish I was raised with, or the Jewish you, Mom, were raised with. It will look like the Jewish they will be raised with.”

Now more than ever we need models for teaching religion to today’s youth in ways that lay the foundation for a new form of religious identity in a safe, loving, and just world. And I mean World. Education is no longer a singular ethnic communal concern. Today we must consider how we fit with others on our shared planet. How are we —the grown ups in the room— supposed to do that?

Religious and secular educators need good examples of lessons that work. Continue reading How to Teach Religion Today – With Purim as an Example

The Times of Interfaith

The Times of Israel
writes about this year’s convergence of Hanukkah and Christmas. You can read their article here: Is the Jewish Community ready for a very merry interfaith Chrismukkah?

The article raises the very discussion we can imagine took place in Judea in 165 BCE. How much of “not Jewish” — whether Hellenistic culture or interfaith marriage — is too much? How much of “what is not Jewish” endangers “what is”?

These questions are loaded with assumptions — about what it means to be Jewish, about what it means to live with others — assumptions that lean heavily towards exclusivity. And it is these very assumptions that need to be questioned if Judaism is to evolve as a viable source of meaning and purpose and as a resource for wisdom in a global, world culture.

With 28 years in an interfaith marriage, most of my life has been dedicated (I choose that word intentionally) to discerning my relationship with Judaism in light of living in and raising children in a multi-faith society. I won’t go into the story of my ever-evolving struggle, one which perhaps defines my Jewishness more than anything else, but I will share what I’m doing tomorrow.

When Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah, not to mention Havdalah, all coincide tomorrow evening, I will be leading a Home Service for my husband’s extended family.

While his family has religious roots in Presbyterianism and Quakerism, like many American families today they are now an ecumenical bunch. Past and current affiliations within the family include Mormonism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Judaism. My nieces and nephews include agnostics and atheists, believers and seekers, and poets.  We gather every year to attend a Christmas Eve Service at a particular Presbyterian Church. But this year that tradition has been foiled by a change in the church schedule.

The situation couldn’t have presented a better opportunity to create a service that speaks to all of us. And I am thrilled that I get to design and lead it. I won’t give it all away here but I can tell you it will be interactive, participatory, multi-sensory, religious, scientific, and philosophical. It will be meaningful and appealing for all ages. (And it will be short-ish.)

But what will make our Family Home Service successful is not the design as much as the openness with which it will be received and the joy with which it will be given. So when The Times of Israel asks if the Jewish Community is ready, I hope the idea of our Family Home Service shines some light on the answer.

Read more about turning December’s Dilemma into December’s Delight here.

World AIDS Day: In My Brother’s Name

December 1st is World AIDS Day. 

This year, Michigan-Unified/HARC sponsored an outstanding musical-theatrical program, thanks to Rev. Joe Summers for organizing and Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware for hosting. It included performances by Gospel Against AIDS, Threshold Choir, The Corner Health Center Theater Troupe, Rev. Roland Stringfellow, and more. I was honored to speak at this event.

In my talk, I remember my brother.

Continue reading World AIDS Day: In My Brother’s Name

December: The Most Interfaith Time of the Year

December: INTERSPIRITUAL COMMUNITY links to connect you to the global movement.The joys and challenges of interfaith life are amplified in December —the most interfaith time of the year.

This December that volume goes up as THREE MAJOR HOLIDAYS overlap.

Hanukkah,  the Jewish festival of light, begins this year on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) and ends on New Year’s Day (Jan 1).
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, & its official observance run from December 24-26.
Kwanzaa, celebrating African heritage and culture, begins Dec. 26 and ends January 1.
• Plus, December is populated with  Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, the Swedish holiday of St. Lucia, bearer of light, on Dec. 13, and in Mexico and the Americas, the Catholic Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, and more.

The month is so loaded it’s called December Dilemma. Partners can get tied up in knots deciding what holiday to celebrate with which family group and how. So the confluence of three holidays this year could be a recipe for December Disaster. As an interfaith coach, I’ve seen the season cause conflict and anxiety but also compassion.

With December here, if you’re in an interfaith relationship, you may be feeling a little sensitive right now.

Continue reading December: The Most Interfaith Time of the Year

Post-Election Thanksgiving

Post-Election, why couldn’t Pence have said, “Thank You,” to the cast of Hamilton?
“Thank you for sharing. I hear your concerns. It is our future administration’s intent that everyone benefit positively from our policies. Congratulations on a great performance!”
How AMAZING would that have been.

Alas,  We the People must become the leaders we wish our leaders to beWe the People must act wisely by carefully guiding our leaders to make decisions that form our more perfect union. We the People want equality, diversity, and inclusivity. Even those who chose Trump did so because they no longer felt included. We the People must not make the same mistake nor let our new administration repeat it.

How do we do this? Bear with me.

Continue reading Post-Election Thanksgiving