Events


So, yes…I’m Bayer Center staff, but I would attend this event even if I weren’t! Here’s why I think you should come:

#10: Good networking opportunity – lots of nonprofit (and some for-profit) peeps in one place.  A great way to say hello to those you know and to make new friends!

#9: Food and drink.  Wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres – yum!  In my mind, very necessary items for an after-work event.

#8: It’s a celebration AND fundraiser (our first ever, actually), so your ticket cost is going to a really good cause and helps us continue to help the nonprofit community.

#7: The entire Bayer Center staff will be there.  All of us in one place at the same time is a rare event in itself – we are usually all over the place, consulting, teaching, etc.

#6: Bricolage has been commissioned to create a performance especially for this event.  I don’t even know what they are doing, but I checked out their past performances/creations on their website and they do some fun and crazy stuff!  This is not-to-be-missed!

#5: No talking heads.  When we started planning this event, we swore we’d not put people through two hours of speech-making and we are sticking to that promise.

#4: We’re giving something special away to everyone who comes.  I know what it is, but I’m not telling.  You’ll like it.

#3: You’ll get to see the new August Wilson Center if you haven’t been there before.  It’s lovely!

#2: There will be cake.  Who doesn’t like cake?

#1: YOU are the reason for our success.  We want you to celebrate with us!


If you would like to RSVP, visit
http://www.rmu.edu/bcnmregistration.
We hope to see you there!!

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The U.S. public debt burden is $7.75 trillion, and “most economists agree that our rising deficit poses a very real threat to the health of our future economy.” We could start paying down this debt – as many Americans are struggling to do with their own personal finances – but our federal government continues to run up even larger deficits.

One of the reasons we cannot reign in our spending ways is our political leaders continue to care more about representing the interest of their state, and getting reelected, than about the future health of the U.S. economy. Take Senator Ken Conrad (D-ND), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, for example. Sen. Conrad is adamant that Congress and the President need to reign in their irresponsible spending ways and pass a balanced budget. He has even gone on record as saying:

“Yes, the small things are important to my state, but I also recognize that the big things are what matter from a national perspective. What really matters is that we have an overall (budget) plan that is balanced.”

As Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Conrad has arguably more clout over this process than any of his Congressional peers. So, in practice, how does he use this influence? Well, Sen. Conrad awarded his home state of North Dakota with the third highest amount of federal earmarks per capita of any U.S. state ($213 per capita versus the U.S. average of $41 per capita for fiscal 2008 -2009).

In a time when we as a country are spending 10% of our revenues ($250 billion) to repay our federal debt, and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consume another 57% of our budget ($1,430 billion), it’s good to know our leaders are “looking out” for our best interest. Oh, least I forget, the current 2011 budget request is likely to add another $1.6 trillion to our growing public debt (Did you know that China and Japan, collectively, own $1.5 trillion of U.S. debt?), which went before the Senate Budget Committee this week. The best part of it all is that the Obama administration projects the entitlement programs and the interest on our deficit will “absorb 80% of all federal revenues by 2020.” Therefore, let’s all be clear, our current political leaders, much like their recent predecessors, are fully aware of the approaching fiscal crisis and are doing nothing to avert it.

Speaking of fiscal crisis, let’s not forget about our own state’s budget woes. Last year, the state of Pennsylvania took 101 days after its constitutional deadline to pass its $28 billion budget. PA was the last state to pass its budget amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression. By August of last year, most of the state’s 67 counties could not afford to fund their nonprofit agencies without state money. (Harrisburg did manage to pass an interim budget that would pay the state’s 71,000 government workers, but nonprofit agencies were not included.) During a time of great community need, and declining public contributions, foundation funds, and already scaled back government contracts, Pennsylvania politicians could not decide on how to fill a $3 billion hole in our budget (or 10% of the total budget, which is pretty “cheap” in comparison to our projected 33% federal budget hole for fiscal 2010 – 2011). Instead, nonprofits were forced to take out private loans to continue to operate; reduced their services; furloughed or reduced their staff; and, in some cases, closed their doors altogether.

The bad news for nonprofit agencies and Pennsylvanians alike is the fiscal picture in Harrisburg is sure to only get worse because of the looming debts in both the state employees’ and teachers’ retirement funds. PA legislators entered the millennium with a pension surplus and spent the surplus funds despite the fact that they would one day have to deliver on this “accounts payable”, just as their federal counterparts did (remember Al Gore’s 2000 platform promise to create a Social Security “lockbox”?). Unfortunately, the “payable” starts coming due in 2012, and the Tribune Review and Post-Gazette both estimate it’s going to cost the state approximately $3.5 billion (the Trib says $4 billion, the PG says $3 billion). Mind you, this money will not be used to improve our schools, create new jobs, or improve living conditions in our cities and rural communities, but rather will cover the state’s entire employer contribution for state workers and half of the employer contribution for school workers for fiscal 2012 – 2013. Essentially, the folks in Harrisburg are imitating the same fiscal irresponsibility of their federal counterparts. May the most irresponsible lawmaker “win”, I guess?

I realize that I work for a university, but, believe me, there’s no conflict of interest in my opposition to the proposed Pittsburgh tuition tax on students.  And then, when the tax was challenged as being unconstitutional and City Council responded by passing special, unique zoning procedures only for universities, I just had to write the following Letter to the Editor (it’s the fifth one on the page):

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09331/1016483-110.stm

I hope you agree with me that this is an embarrassing, anti-intellectual seeming step backward for Pittsburgh — a city that  has been transforming itself into an exciting and progressive new image.

We nonprofits are in a touchy position right now.  Some of the universities and hospital systems have tremendous wealth, and there is certainly a reasonable argument to be made that they should be paying into the coffers for the services they receive.  On the other hand, they are providing tremendous services in exchange for their tax-exempt statuses.  And, the vast majority of nonprofits struggle day to day to survive as they provide essential safety nets, high quality arts and culture, and countless other benefits for the common weal.

So, on the one hand, it’s a dangerous can of worms to open for any nonprofit to pay some version of taxes.  On the other, we’re all — government included — financially stressed right now.  But whatever the solution, it seems to me that taking a leadership role in adding even more to the already exorbitant cost of education can’t be a good idea.

What do you think?

I know I can sound like a broken record when it comes to our TechNow conference (“come to TechNow, come to TechNow!”) but it is heartfelt and not just promotional marketing.

I was a TechNow attendee before I started working at the Bayer Center.  It was my first technology conference and it opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone in my “nptech” endeavors.  I used to be the mostly one-person IT shop at my old nonprofit, and TechNow helped me to expand my support network, meet some new vendors, and to think about the possibilities.  It can be difficult to be innovative when you deal with the same grind day-in and day-out, without taking time out to sharpen the saw and to think and dream about “what could be” rather than what is.

I’m also excited about this year because our keynote speaker is Ami Dar from Idealist.org.  Ami is amazing, in my opinion, because he has been all over the world, is self-made (see below for details), and is truly innovative in his thinking.  I’ve read and watched interviews and speeches by Ami, and I know he’s going to bring us all something great to stretch our minds and challenge our paradigms.

I recently asked Ami to complete a list that I used in a promotional email.  His answers were pretty neat, so I’m going to repeat it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

10 Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know About TechNow 2009 Keynote Speaker, Ami Dar

  1. AmiDar_webHe was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Peru and in Mexico, and lives in New York.
  2. He dropped out of high school and didn’t go to college.
  3. He can’t drive.
  4. Thirty years ago he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army.
  5. There is a classic video game that shares his name: “Amidar,” released in the 80’s by Atari.
  6. He started Idealist in his apartment with $3,500.
  7. He loves playing backgammon.
  8. He eats everything except eggplant and spinach.
  9. He gets annoyed by conference organizers who call themselves “curators.”
  10. Many people who meet him online think he is a woman.

Fascinating guy, eh?  I personally can’t wait to hear what he has to say!  And now it’s time for one last shameless plug…

There’s still time to register and hear Ami speak at the TechNow 2009 nonprofit technology conference, which will happen at Robert Morris University’s Sewall Center on Thursday, October 29!

Visit http://technow2009.wordpress.com for more details and registration information.

Along with 500 of my closest colleagues, I attended the Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania‘s Nonprofit Summit last Thursday.  As usual, the event was a great chance to see old friends and hear what’s new.  The fact that it occurred in early October this year made it feel even more like homecoming; if it’s in October again next year, maybe we can have a nonprofit football game to round out the day’s events.

I wanted to share a few things that I took away from the event:

  • Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen reframed nonprofit collaboration.  I’d always thought of nonprofit collaboration – and Egger obviously thinks most of us have – as being focused on organizations coming together around mission.  Egger said we have reasons other than mission for coming together; owning our status as members of a sectore with shared strengths and issues has value in itself.  For example, he said that we never get any mainstream media coverage except for scandal and fluff.
  • Scott Hudson of the Alcoa Foundation said he has three questions when it comes to grants, speaking in social venture capitalist terms:
    • What are we buying?
    • What are the chances that we’ll get it?
    • Is this the best use of the money?
  • Larry Berger of the Saturday Light Brigade made a distinction that I have made before and one that I hold dear: the distinction between data and information.  One can’t have information without data, but it is possible to collect data and not turn it into information.
  • Janera Solomon talked about how she had to make the hard decision to choose quality over quantity at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.  This is a bold decision because quality is harder to evaluate objectively than is quantity, but she felt like she had to do it because the attribute her audience complained about was inconsistency.  If the Theater books fewer acts but they’re higher quality, the strategic thinking goes, the audience will build in future years.
  • During the Wishart Awards ceremony, I noticed that two of the three finalists used stories as the center of their videos.  They picked a client and gave a thumbnail of their lives before and after they’d found their way to the agency’s programs.  I remember those two videos a lot more than the other one, which was no less visually appealing but lacked a story to hold it together.

I decided to venture forth last Friday, September 25, for the day of the scheduled height of G-20 activity — both sanctioned and otherwise.  Like much of downtown Pittsburgh, the Bayer Center offices were closed, and I was unsure how difficult it might be to get in.  We are located in the Regional Enterprise Tower in what was designated as a restricted access zone.  In addition, our lobby was the media welcome center.

As it turned out, access to my office was shockingly easy.  My wife dropped me off on her way to her office on the North Side, and we were able to get to within about 2 blocks of the building.  Other than a slightly circuitous walk from there,

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

it was no problem at all — in fact, due to a lack of traffic, it was easier than on a normal work day.  I’m sure if I had to worry about parking or took a rerouted bus, it would have been a little trickier — but not much.

Upon reaching the city around 10 a.m., what I found was some limited access, some evidence of security — most strikingly in the form of mounted police whose powerful steeds completely blocked off Grant Street —

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

and a decided lack of people.  Businesses were closed, some windows were boarded up (no apparent logic as to who boarded up and who didn’t), and just no people.  It was downright eerie.  I walked in the middle of the streets.  Pittsburgh on a Friday morning was emptier than a western ghost town selling tickets to tourists (maybe we should have tried that).

I spent some time in the office, then headed out around noon for what turned out to be a 4-hour hike.

As I walked deeper into town, there was one overwhelming impression — force.  The more I walked, the more intense it became.  Cops on every corner, Pittsburgh police, then state police, Erie police, Indianapolis police… they were brought in from all over.  And soon it wasn’t just regular police.  More

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

mounted police, cops on motorcycles, SWAT units, humvees, and various forms of riot gear — shoulder pads and knee pads and sticks and helmets and shotguns and body armor and utility belts that would make Batman salivate.  They looked like a cross between Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers and the Michelin Man.  And let me tell you, when you see these guys up close, they are intimidating.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

Police in force, and police in numbers.  Riot-garbed security in groups of 100, shoulder to shoulder, moving in formation and leaving no doubts.

Eventually, I made my way as close to the Convention Center — the meeting place for the G-20 — as I could get.  I did this by passing through a security checkpoint, then walking a few blocks along Penn Avenue.  On my right were businesses, including some stores and restaurants that stayed open, although I can’t imagine they were happy about that decision.  On my left was the

10-foot steel fence, running unbroken along the curb and caging me in as completely as it caged in the roadway that was a feeder to the Convention Center.

I wandered down to the Point where a tent city was supposed to have been erected.  It was totally vacant.  Not a tent, not a sign, not a protester in sight.  Just a large lawn.  Where was everybody?

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

It got to be time that the main body of protesters should have been reaching downtown from the start of their march in Oakland, so I headed out in search of them.  I found them at the City-County Building where they had gathered for some speeches and music.   After listening for a little while, I left to find a place on Fifth Avenue to watch their ensuing parade.

I use the word parade deliberately, for, to me, that’s largely what it was.  There was almost a partying, paradelike atmosphere as they passed by.  I found myself just past Macy’s (appropriate for a parade) at, coincidentally, my regular bus stop.  5,000 or so of them passed — drummers and costumed dancers, anarchists and

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

socialists, those concerned with climate change and capitalism, freedom for Tibet and jobs for everyone, advocates for the Falun Gong (these were the most quietly elegant among the marchers) and for the Pittsburgh Penguins (where were the Steelers fans?).  It was a complete cacophony of issues.  And it left me feeling frustrated and a bit perplexed.

This was not 250,000 people gathered to end the war in Vietnam.  This was not 1,000,000 indignant human beings demanding civil rights for all.  It was a mishmash, a general objection to, well,

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

just about anything that might be institutionalized or established.  To the extent that there was a unifying theme, it was the black-garbed, bandanna-faced anarchists, followed by the socialists.  Amazing to me, even the Philadelphia Democratic Socialists of America (who knew?) found their way to Pittsburgh.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

“Down with everything!  Up with anything else!” was the message of the streets.  This is not to diminish the fact that there were many passionate, principled, committed people in this crowd.  But with no focus, what were they accomplishing?  Who, that mattered, was really listening… or, for that matter, could even if they wanted to?  When there is so much noise — both figurative and literal — how can your voice be heard?  This was protesting in the internet age, when all voices are equally loud and fragmentation of micro-interests is global.  The protesting equivalent of Twitter – tweating by marching.

On the flip side, I found the whole experience to be rather inspirational.  This was truly democracy at work.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

Corny as this may be, I am proud to live in a country where this kind of dissent is possible.  This was also a remarkably harmonious event.  The protesters were self-controlled and peaceful, the security phalanxes were restrained.  Were there problems in some of the outlying neighborhoods, notably in Oakland where student density is high?  Sure.  But, given the scale of the event, they were minor.  Were mistakes made?  Of course.

With so much hype and so many people, mistakes are inevitable.  Yes, I know that Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann will have much to complain about.  Yes, I know that the Thomas Merton Center alleges mistreatment of protesters and, I’m sure, there are police who are outraged by things that were “tolerated.”  Both the NRA and the ACLU may feel the need to weigh in.  But, let me tell you, I was here, and it was remarkable.

Some have suggested that the show of force was excessive.  Well, maybe, but I think the proof is in the pudding.  Pittsburgh did not

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

end up like Seattle.  Pittsburgh did not end up like London.  And we did not end up like Kent State.  I respect and admire the restraint of the police.  I respect and admire the restraint of the protesters. When a protester marched down Fifth Avenue jabbing his finger at the face of each cop he passed, hissing, “Fascist!  Nazi!”, the police remained stoic.  When the young man riding his bike down Fifth Avenue did not move off the street as quickly as the police wanted and they grabbed his arm and he fell over, the crowd groused, but that was all.  No one was harmed, the cops weren’t rushed, the young man was fine, bricks didn’t fly.  And the marchers continued to march.

I was a skeptic, but I’m impressed.  I think we accomplished something for Pittsburgh (a city I appreciate more and more the longer that I live here).  My hat is off to the protesters for how they behaved.  My hat is off to the police for how they behaved.  And my hat is off to the planners of this event for a remarkable job.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

Those of you who know me, know that I get really excited about TechNow, our annual nonprofit technology conference.  TechNow energizes me in a way that only one other event in the year really does (and that would be NTEN’s tech conference).

Hence and therefore, please don’t be shocked if I’m spouting TechNow from here until October.  When I get excited about something, I tell people.  This is no exception.  🙂

So….mark your calendar, tell your fellow techies, co-workers, and friends!  TechNow, the annual conference devoted exclusively to nonprofit technology, will be held on Thursday, October 29, 2009.

Ami DarThis year, we have another fabulous and relevant keynote speaker for you!  We will be joined by Mr. Ami Dar, the founder and executive director of Idealist.org.  Built in 1996 with $3,500, Idealist has become one of the most popular nonprofit resources on the web, with information provided by 90,000 organizations around the world, 70,000 visitors every day, and a staff of 60 in New York, Buenos Aires, and Portland.  Ami plans to speak about how nonprofits can successfully collaborate, accomplishing more with fewer resources.

This year, we are delighted to be hosted by Robert Morris University at its very own Sewall Center, located on RMU’s Moon Township campus.  The Moon Township campus is near the Pittsburgh International Airport and is easily reached via car or Port Authority bus.

If you would like to be notified when TechNow conference registration opens on the Bayer Center’s website, email me at leonard@rmu.edu.  Look for more TechNow updates in the upcoming months, including a re-vamped conference website!

Hooray for Technovians everywhere!

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