Blue Avocado Investigates

The latest nonprofit news and insight from our nation's capitol, by The Nonprofit Quarterly's Rick Cohen.

photo of Rick Cohen

Social Innovation Fund: Where Is the Money Going?

With this issue, we inaugurate a new column from Washington's pithiest, most independent critic: Rick Cohen. Although many of us aren't deeply involved with policy matters, all of us do want to have a general view of what's going on. In future every-other-issue columns Rick will report on the role of foundations in tax cuts, how the Obama administration sees the nonprofit sector, and the apparent disappearance of faith-based funds. His first column takes on the much-publicized, little-analyzed new federal Social Innovation Fund:

Despite the fact that President Obama's staff is still trying to figure out what social innovation really means, we've got a pretty good idea on what will be in the $50 million Social Innovation Fund -- and what won't be. For starters, it's now the $35 million Social Innovation Fund (more on this below).

First, grants to regrantors

Because the program needs non-governmental grantmakers that can provide matching funds, the Fund is largely structured to pass money to and through established grantmakers, particularly community and private foundations.

Of the total amount, 5% comes off the top for evaluation and R&D, and only 10% will go as grants awarded directly to "community organizations." The remaining 85% will go in grants sized between . . .

Nonprofits Portrayed in Popular Culture

Thanks to dozens of Blue Avocado readers who sent in examples of nonprofits in popular culture, here's a look at the mostly-fake world of nonprofits on the big and small screens.

Queen Latifah in "Life Support" is a refreshing exception to how nonprofits are typically portrayed in popular culture. As Ana in this 2007 film, she works her butt off at Life Support, an AIDS education nonprofit, but neglects her family and endangers her own health (sound just a little familiar?). Through Ana, we catch glimpses of what we know community nonprofits to be: fiercely committed,under-staffed, and essential life support to their clients and the community writ large.

In contrast, nonprofits are more usually invisible, stereoptyped, or off-camera employers of minor characters. For example, in "The West Wing," Mary Louise Parker played the director of a women's rights group deeply enmeshed in policy work. Several "Curb Your Enthusiasm" characters interact with NRDC, a nonprofit where producer Larry David's ex-wife is active in real life. References to the real-life Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center as well as to the fictional California Arts Center pop up in "The L Word."

Nonprofit issues . . . but not nonprofits

But mostly what we learn about nonprofits in popular culture -- and not just in mainstream culture -- is wrong twice over. First, while the issues that nonprofits . . .

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