Urban Farms

Contribute • June 2008

For years, urban dwellers have tinkered with window-box and roof-deck gardens, toiling to transform small patches of empty land behind brownstones and beneath skyscrapers into bounty.

But now, there’s something bigger growing out of those neighborhood plots. More and more people—and most notably, nonprofit health advocates—are creating urban farms to promote healthier and less expensive local alternatives to corporate processed foods.

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60 Seconds With…Eve Ensler

Contribute • January/February 2008

In the 10 years since the debut of her still-controversial play, The Vagina Monologues, playwright Eve Ensler’s V-Day campaign to halt violence against women and girls has gone global, raising $50 million to support anti-violence organizations at home and abroad, from India to Asia and the Middle East. This year, a tenth-anniversary run of the play is being performed in 1,200 cities worldwide. CONTRIBUTE’s Tracie McMillan caught up with Ensler recently to talk about her decade of activism and her take on the changing landscape of philanthropic giving.

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Pay Gap

Contribute • November/December 2007

Helping the homeless has never been considered a luxurious calling, but for Ralph Nunez, it’s been surprisingly remunerative. As head of Homes for the Homeless, a Manhattan-based social services nonprofit, Nunez brings home $352,381 a year, one-third of it for part-time work for the organization’s policy arm and an additional $53,598 in benefits. There’s also ready access to a company vehicle and an apartment atop one of the group’s homeless shelters in the gentrifying neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.

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The Donor Drain

Contribute • November/December 2007

Anne Senft spends her work days raising money for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s not an easy job, and lately, it’s gotten harder. According to Senft, the Reston, Va.-based charity has been losing some 300,000 donors each year — nearly one-third of its nearly one million members.

For most of the early 2000s, Senft says, the group was only able to replace most of the donors who walked out the door. “We pretty much broke even,” she says. Late last year, though, the nonprofit had to make a tough decision: spend more money to make money, or risk falling behind. The Wildlife Federation ended up spending some $2 million more on fundraising than the previous year, according to its tax return, sending out 20 million donor letters and nearly as many e-mails.

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Special Report: Charity Accountability

Contribute • November/December 2007

Created to alleviate poverty, the nonprofit Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust seemed for nearly a decade to be taking aim at South Florida’s most impoverished neighborhoods by creating new business opportunities and jobs.

As it happened, the organization also had been busy creating wealth for some of its own. The taxpayer-supported agency had lavished money on insider deals, lost money on failed loans, and spent hundreds of thousands on celebrity entertainers. Just one wasteful expense involved a tab of more than $87,000 to fly hip-hop star Sean “Diddy” Combs from New Jersey to Miami on a charted Gulfstream jet. Diddy’s antipoverty mission for the nonprofit? Hosting an MTV awards ceremony.

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The Cause Web / Innovators

Contribute • September/October 2007

Contribute’s Tech 10 is not a hot list. It’s a selection not of the most powerful or the most glamorous or the most famous. There aren’t presidents of established foundations, nor celebrities. They’re not even the most vocal. Rather, they are a handful of some of the most influential new leaders at the very front lines of advocacy today, all using the power of The Cause Web to reshape the reach, impact, and experience of what it means to make a difference. They are innovators like Suzanne Seggerman, who founded Games for Change, to use video games to raise funds and awareness for those caught in the crossfire of global strife. Or Ailin Graef, a Chinese-born entrepreneur who is the first philanthropist in the maturing new world of Second Life. Or Charles Best, whose simple online auction model matches specific individuals on both sides of the give-get divide — a Manhattan banker, say, with an impoverished public school teacher in South Central Los Angeles — and completely removes the middleman to more quickly help those in need. But the real magic of our Tech 10 is the array of new technologies they represent. Herewith, our Tech 10:

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Making Waves

Contribute • September/October 2006

In 1989, South African advertising executive Trevor Field wasn’t looking to start a charity. He just couldn’t help himself. One day, during a visit to an agricultural fair outside of Johannesburg, he stumbled across a curious invention — an irrigation system powered by a merry-go-round. As children ran to spin it, they powered a pump that pulled gallon after gallon of water from the ground.

It didn’t take long for Field to realize that he was on to something big. He already knew that about as many people die from bad water in South Africa as from HIV or malaria, and most who do are under the age of five. So why not attach the same kinds of pumps to freshwater storage tanks and bring clean drinking water to sub- Saharan Africa? Paying for it would be a snap, he figured; convince a company to slap an ad on the side of the tank.

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