Philanthropedia Blog

Archive for November, 2011

New Research on How People Give – Announcing Money for Good II

November 30th, 2011

Earlier today, GuideStar’s CEO Bob Ottenhoff announced publicly the results of a groundbreaking research effort called Money for Good II. It is a collaboration between Hope Consulting and GuideStar that focuses on developing a deep understanding of how individuals, foundations, and philanthropic advisors actually research and support nonprofits. I am personally very excited about the study because its overall goal is to help all of us understand how we can channel more money towards nonprofits that are having a real impact – a mission very clearly aligned with Philanthropedia and GuideStar’s theory of change.

You can check out the full report as well as a summary deck at Or you can just read about the highlights in this GuideStar post: There is a lot of new great data on the way individuals, foundations, and advisors research nonprofits.

Southern Center for Human Rights: #6 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 30th, 2011

Today we honor the #6 expert-identified nonprofit: Southern Center for Human Rights. Read about how they brought an end to the violence at Arrendale State Prison and protect the human rights of the vulnerable people there:


Too often, prison administrators tolerate high levels of violence of their facilities, excusing it as an inevitable consequence of life in prison.  That was the case at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Georgia.  For years, Arrendale was a violent and troubled institution.  Dangerously understaffed, the facility housed the youngest and most vulnerable prisoners, including children sentenced in adult court.  Rapes, stabbings, chokings, and beatings with locks, broomsticks, trash cans and other objects left many of these young people with severe head injuries, lacerations, bruises, broken teeth and other physical injuries as well as severe psychological trauma.


The violence at Arrendale resulted in the death of Wayne Boatwright, Jr.  The 18-year old youth was raped and strangled to death in February 2004.  He had written to his grandmother desperately asking her to intervene with prison officials because of his fear of being raped.  His grandmother and father contacted prison officials asking that he be protected.  It was to no avail.  In the six months following Wayne’s death, the Southern Center documented over fifty further violent incidents, including rapes, stabbings, and beatings by officers.


The Southern Center for Human Rights and King & Spalding LLP brought the unconstitutional conditions at Arrendale to the attention of the federal court.  Courageous family members of the young men at Arrendale spoke out at a legislative hearing on the troubled prison.  Under pressure from the court and the Legislature, the Department of Corrections closed Arrendale, moved the men to other facilities, and created a special unit for vulnerable people under age 21.  (Arrendale was later re-opened as a women’s facility).


(Read more here:

The Southern Center for Human Rights is praised highly by experts as one of the most influential non-profits in the nation working to improve prison conditions, provide adequate legal representation to indigent defendants, and reduces the use of capital punishment as a response to crime. To learn more about Southern Center for Human Rights and their impact, read more expert reviews here.

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: #5 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 28th, 2011

Our #5 nonprofit, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has led the nation’s bar in its pursuit of justice for society’s most vulnerable.  LDEF has spearheaded the litigation in numerous cases decided in the Supreme Court, frequently winning key constitutional protections for those facing execution and long-term prison sentences.


Kenneth Reams’ case epitomizes the injustices associated with the administration of the death penalty in the South.  Mr. Reams, who is African-American, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the killing of a white man during the course of an ATM robbery in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  When Mr. Reams was sentenced to death, he was the youngest person then on Arkansas’ death row.

Mr. Reams’ conviction and sentence were the product of a fatally flawed system – Mr. Reams was represented by an appointed lawyer who did not properly investigate the case, did not retain necessary experts, and did not meaningfully challenge the government’s case against Mr. Reams. The trial prosecutors excluded black prospective jurors on the basis of race and withheld from the defense critical evidence that would have undermined the state’s case. Additionally, Mr. Reams was tried by a judge who was later convicted of a felony and removed from the bench.  Not surprisingly, given how the odds were stacked against him, Mr. Reams received the death penalty while his co-defendant – who was the shooter in this case – was allowed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

This case shows that in the South, the death penalty is not reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) began representing Mr. Reams after the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed his conviction and sentence on direct appeal.  LDF is working to have his death sentence and conviction thrown out.

(Read more here:


The NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund has had a long history of providing legal protections to minorities in the criminal justice system. The group has maintained its position as a leader in high impact litigation to remove racially biased legislation and unjust court practices.  Read more reviews from experts here to learn more about NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.


Vera Institute of Justice: #4 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 26th, 2011

Today we honor the #4 expert-identified nonprofit in National Criminal Justice: Vera Institute of Justice. By providing expert research and technical assistance, they have created a reputation as a leader in model programs.  They develop and implement tangible examples that work for the rest of the country to replicate.


Last week, two publications highlighting the harmful effects of zero-tolerance policies that have become increasingly prevalent in schools across the country over the past decade got a lot of media attention.


Breaking Schools’ Rules, issued by the Council of State Government’s (CSG’s) Justice Center, presents findings from a longitudinal study of Texas youth who entered seventh grade between 2000 and 2002. It reports that youth who were subject to disciplinary actions not only had worse educational outcomes than those who were not—they were also three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system.


Lockdown High, a recently published book by investigative reporter Annette Fuentes, chronicles her visits to schools around the country, where she encountered the corrosive effects of punitive policies toward kids. Fuentes makes a powerful case for a reconsideration of these policies and their negative impacts on youth, which experts have begun to characterize collectively as the “school-to-prison” pipeline.


The zero-tolerance discipline policies discussed in both the CSG report and in Fuentes’s book mandate that kids be excluded—suspended or expelled—from school for certain types of infractions deemed to be so threatening that allowing a child to return immediately after committing one of them would put both students and staff at risk. The policies first began to crop up in the 1990s, under the guise of making schools safer, and proliferated in response to high-profile incidents of school violence such as the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.


As tragic and alarming as these types of incidents are, they are also extremely rare, and thus should not form the basis for sweeping policy changes. In fact, research shows that zero-tolerance policies have contributed to a number of negative trends in schools, including record-high suspension and expulsion rates, sharp rises in the use of school-based arrests and referral of students to law enforcement, and declining graduation rates.


Furthermore, over the years, schools have extended these policies—originally intended as a response to only the most serious infractions—allowing them to suspend youth at their discretion for disruptive behavior. For instance, misconduct such as loitering in the hallway, talking in class, and violating the dress code used to be handled with a reprimand or a detention. Now these behaviors can lead to suspensions lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Indeed, the CSG report found that 92 percent of the disciplinary actions they documented were discretionary, targeting violations of the school’s locally determined code of conduct.


Finally, these policies are troubling because they tend to disproportionately affect students who are most in need of support—minorities, low achievers, and those who qualify for special education services. Of course, schools have an obligation to maintain discipline in order to ensure a safe learning environment. The problem is that the punitive discipline policies that are often adopted to achieve this goal ultimately push high-needs students out of schools, placing them at risk of future involvement with the criminal justice system. Put another way, the policies tend to further marginalize populations of kids who are already marginalized.


There are better approaches to school discipline infractions than zero-tolerance policies. Since the 1990s, Vera has worked in New York City to assist in identifying and implementing innovative school safety approaches, and, in the past two years on designing innovative anti-truancy approaches. A white paper released by the American Psychological Association a few years ago urged practitioners to use preventive measures to improve school climate and increase students’ sense of belonging as opposed to creating a punitive environment. Similarly, Child Trends released a policy brief identifying promising alternatives to zero tolerance, including programs that provide targeted behavioral supports for at-risk students. In general, these programs are built around leaders who mentor students, helping them to build social and behavioral skills.


As a society we have an obligation to educate and nurture our young people. Reliance on overly aggressive discipline policies is counter-productive to fulfilling this obligation The best way to nurture and educate kids is to establish policies grounded in evidence of what works to make them healthy, productive citizens.


(Read more here:

For 40 years or more, LDEF has led the nation’s bar in its pursuit of justice for society’s most vulnerable.  LDEF has spearheaded the litigation in numerous cases decided in the Supreme Court, frequently winning key constitutional protections for those facing execution and long-term prison sentences.   LDEF continues this work today, litigating a wide range of criminal-justice issues across the country, from illegal police stops in public housing to unconstitutional and unjust death sentences across the south.  LDEF also has a great impact by training attorneys to follow best practices. To learn more about Vera Institute of Justice, read more expert reviews here.

The Sentencing Project: #3 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 23rd, 2011

Our #3 nonprofit, The Sentencing Project’s continued influence in litigation and policy circles have made it an organization with a high impact. Their research is valuable for all advocates and policymakers.

Andres Idarraga is a 29-year-old junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He has become a prominent advocate for restoring the right to vote to thousands disenfranchised in Rhode Island because of a felony conviction.

But Andres’ commitment to the cause is deeply personal. Andres himself could not vote because of a felony conviction received when he was 20 years old. As of November 2006, with the passing of a ballot referendum, voters helped decide current Rhode Island law which now allows individuals with felony convictions to vote immediately after being released from prison. Prior to that, they could not vote until they had completed parole and probation. “I went to register to vote the other day,” Andres recalled. “It feels good to be a part of the democratic process. It was very fulfilling, but truthfully, I had mixed feelings. I thought, ‘why did I have to work so hard just to sign this little piece of paper.’

Andres views the right to vote as a significant and crucial aspect to rebuilding his life and to contributing to his community.

After spending six and a half years in prison, Andres has made strides on the path to making a difference. Since his release in June of 2004, Andres has become a full-time student at Brown University studying comparative literature and economics while maintaining full time employment. “I knew education and voting and being responsible to the community were extremely pressing issues for myself,” Andres told USA Today.

Andres continuously spoke out on the personal and political consequences of felon disenfranchisement and worked alongside several voting rights organizations in Rhode Island to support the November 2006 state ballot initiative that restored the right to vote to individuals immediately after they leave prison.

Prior to November, more than 15,500 residents of Rhode Island could not vote due to a felony conviction. An overwhelming 86 percent of those individuals were, like Andres, not in prison. Furthermore, the racial implications of Rhode Island’s felony disenfranchisement laws were extremely problematic: one in five Black men and one in eleven Hispanic men could not vote. Now that the rights of these individuals have been restored, other states can look to Rhode Island as an example in re-enfranchisement.

“I do know I have enjoyed the journey and enjoyed the process of being able to turn my life around. It feels great to see the spectrum what our entire society has to offer … from the underbelly, to the very privileged setting being at Brown. I’m learning how to put it to good use and give back to society and that starts with participating in the democratic process and encouraging others to vote.”

(Read more about them at:

The Sentencing Project is mentioned by experts as a primary source of information on racism in the criminal justice system, the ill effects of over-incarceration, and cocaine-related sentencing disparities. The Sentencing Project is praised for the successes it has had in the realm of policy reform through reliable reports and thorough research.  Read more reviews from experts here to learn more about The Sentencing Project.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): #2 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 22nd, 2011

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came in at #2 on the list. The ACLU has had a long history of broad-based litigation on prison issues and has provided leadership on national policy issues.


In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the public was inundated with stories of personal tragedies that were unfolding day by day in the city of New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast region. Some reports were of amazing rescues, but much of the coverage focused on the disaster within the disaster—the thousands of men, women, and children left stranded around New Orleans, in their homes, the Louisiana Superdome, and the Convention Center.


But just a few miles away from the Superdome and the Convention Center, another disaster within the disaster was developing at Orleans Parish Prison (“OPP”), the New Orleans jail. During the storm, and for several days thereafter, thousands of men, women, and children were abandoned at OPP. As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests. Over the next few days, without food, water, or ventilation, prisoners broke windows in order to get air, and carved holes in the jail’s walls in an effort to get to safety. Some prisoners leapt into the water, while others made signs or set fire to bed sheets and pieces of clothing to signal to rescuers. Once freed from the buildings, prisoners were bused to receiving facilities around the state, where, for some, conditions only got worse. At the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, thousands of OPP evacuees spent several days on a large outdoor field, where prisoner-on-prisoner violence was rampant and went unchecked by correctional officers. From there, prisoners went to other facilities, where some were subjected to systematic abuse and racially motivated assaults by prison guards.

(Learn more about them here:


Through its litigation efforts and advocacy programs, the American Civil Liberties Union Inc. has become a strong and respected national voice in issues pertaining to criminal justice. The ACLU’s National Prison Project has specifically been mentioned for its successful campaigns to increase the respect of prisoners’ rights.   Read more reviews from experts here to learn more about the great work American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is doing.


The Innocence Project: #1 Expert-Identified Nonprofit in National Criminal Justice

November 21st, 2011

Nonprofit #1, The Innocence Project , has had an enormous impact on the public perception of the fallibility of the criminal justice system by helping to free innocent prisoners and some death row inmates.


Ralph Armstrong served more than 28 years in Wisconsin prisons for murder before a judge overturned his conviction in 2009 based on evidence that a prosecutor had deliberately withheld evidence of his innocence more than a decade earlier. The Innocence Project became involved in Armstrong’s case in 1993, working with Wisconsin attorneys Jerome Buting and Keith Belzer. More advanced DNA testing was conducted in 2001, excluding Armstrong and the victim’s boyfriend as the source of the head hairs on the bathrobe belt, and finding that the semen stain used against Armstrong at trial was connected to the victim’s boyfriend. Based on these results, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2005, granting him a new trial.


While a new trial was pending, a woman testified at a hearing that she had called Dane County Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter in 1995 to report that Armstrong’s brother, Steve, confessed that he, not Ralph, was guilty of the crime, and that he feared Ralph would be exonerated by DNA and come after him if he found out Steve was the real guilty party. The woman said she described Steve’s gruesomely detailed confession to Norsetter, who did not report this evidence to defense attorneys and did not pursue the lead. Steve Armstrong had disappeared shortly after the crime and never again contacted his brother Ralph. Steve died in 2005.


(Learn more about them at:


The Innocence Project, Inc. is cited by experts as one of the leading forces in the legal representation of wrongfully convicted individuals. The Innocence Project, Inc. has also employed effective advocacy programs to spread awareness about the fallibility of the criminal justice. Read the expert comments here to learn more about The Innocence Project.


Ducks Unlimited: #14 Expert-Identified Environmental Nonprofit in Minnesota

November 18th, 2011

Ducks Unlimited, our #14nonprofit, protects and restores hundreds of thousands of acres of critical habitat, not only benefiting waterfowl, but also a variety of other species and the humans who cherish them.

There are thousands of lakes in Minnesota with rich histories of waterfowling traditions, but arguably none as well known as Lake Christina in Douglas County. Due to a combination of prolonged high-water levels and over-population of rough fish, the lake was in a turbid, unproductive state. This poor water quality had virtually eliminated the aquatic food resources that historically attracted hundreds of thousands of waterfowl each spring and fall. To restore the lake to a clear water condition and reverse the decline in waterfowl use, a comprehensive conservation plan was developed at the local level. Starting in 2003, DU’s involvement with implementing the conservation plan has included an aerial application of rotenone, followed by the design and installation of fish barriers between Lakes Ina and Anka and at Nycklemoe Slough to prevent fish from reentering Lake Christina. Preliminary surveys by the MN DNR show water clarity has dramatically improved and vegetation and invertebrates are recovering. The best news is that the ducks are coming back!  Our work on Lake Christina is not done as we continue to move toward a more permanent solution. The next phases include working with the Lake Association and MN DNR to study the feasibility of a permanent pump structure that would allow periodic drawdowns and to work with additional conservation oriented Lake Christina property owners to help protect undeveloped shorelines. One conservation-oriented couple, John and Pat Lindquist, donated a conservation easement to DU in December, 2004, on 170 acres of land along Lakes Christina, Anka, and Ina. Thanks to numerous dedicated supporters, the future is looking very bright for Lake Christina and the waterfowl that depend on it.

(Learn more about them at:

Ducks Unlimited is notable for its success in protecting and restoring wetlands and other habitats critical to waterfowl and wildlife in Minnesota.  They effectively form partnerships, leverage donations, and engage the public in their campaigns. Read the expert comments here to learn more about Ducks Unlimited

Transit for Livable Communities (TLC): #13 Expert-Identified Environmental Nonprofit in Minnesota

November 17th, 2011

Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) has been critical in moving public transportation forward in Minnesota.

We all need to get somewhere. Whether we’re traveling to a job, to the grocery store, or home for dinner, we all need safe, convenient, and affordable ways to reach those places. We need a balanced transportation system that can serve Minnesota’s growing needs. With one million people moving to Minnesota by 2030, we need a transportation system that can help us take advantage of all that Minnesota offers—a system that gives more people an opportunity to step outside and hop on a train or a bus or safely walk and ride bicycles to our parks, grocery stores, and schools. Right now, Minnesota’s transportation system is out of balance, mainly because of policies that weren’t shaped by communities. It should reduce the growth of traffic congestion, protect our air and water, create new jobs and places to live, and ensure that all of Minnesota’s residents can get around. It should make our communities more vibrant and successful, connecting our region and shaping places that we are proud to call home. Transit for Livable Communities is calling for a new direction in transportation policymaking. Transportation should serve people, and more people should be involved in the transportation decisions that impact our communities. This new direction should remove the patchwork of policies that serve too few and instead advance a vision for a transportation system that advances the interests of all Minnesotans.

(Learn more about them at:

TLC has helped Minnesota move toward a more balanced and sustainable state transportation system through its successful advocacy for increased public transit funding, support for bike trails and transit-oriented development, and effective grassroots mobilization. Read the expert comments here to learn more about Transit for Livable Communities (TLC).

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness: #12 Expert-Identified Environmental Nonprofit in Minnesota

November 16th, 2011

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness,  our #11 nonprofit The organization focuses on issues affecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota, and this focus has allowed the organization to have good impacts, particularly on the threats of sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota.

It was a proud moment for the Friends when 200 people attended the premiere of our film “Precious Waters: Minnesota’s Sulfide Mining Controversy” in November. Following the film, a panel of individuals featured in the movie answered questions and discussed solutions to the risks this new form of mining presents. We were honored to have Rep. Alice Hausman, author of legislation that seeks to strengthen our financial assurance regulations, join the panel.  But it is what has happened since that night that is truly amazing. As of February, more than 3,000 people watched “Precious Waters” online at There have been dozens and dozens of showings in communities around the state, at churches, lake associations, businesses, and in private homes. There have also been several high profile public showings.  The release of the 25-minute documentary marked a turning point in our work to raise awareness and engage the Minnesota public on this issue of such great and pressing concern. Featuring scientists, business-owners, citizen advocates and other voices, the film covers the history of this form of mining, the risks associated with it, and information about what is proposed in northeastern Minnesota. It was expertly written, directed and edited by award-winning filmmaker John Whitehead (you may have seen his previous work on TPT, including the series “Minnesota: A History of the Land.”) The film has been a success. Thousands have watched it and been motivated to get involved and take action. The 850 comments submitted via our website on the PolyMet Draft Environmental Impact Statement are a testament to the film’s power to educate and inspire.

(Learn more about them at: Annual Report 2009)

Friends has been a vocal leader in educating the public about the threat of metallic sulfide mining in northern Minnesota, raising awareness and successfully mobilizing opposition to this type of mining.  Read the expert comments here to learn more about Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

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