Monday, September 22, 2014

The Next Ice Bucket Challenge is for the ALS Association Itself

Ken appeared in a segment on CBS This Morning on September 19th to discuss the potential ramifications of the ALS Association receiving a large influx of cash in a short period of time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bloomberg TV: What Will ALS Association Do With Ice Bucket Cash?

Ken Berger was on Bloomberg TV to discuss the ALS Association's challenge in spending the 100 million dollars worth of donations it has received via the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge

Originally published on WNYC on 8/27/2014. 
The ALS ice bucket challenge continues to bring in huge donations this summer for efforts to cure and treat what's commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. As of today, the viral campaign has raised more than $94 million for the ALS Association. That's compared with $2.7 million raised by the group during the same time last year.
Now the association faces a challenge of its own: figuring out the best way to spend all that money. Read the transcript at WNYC.org

Monday, August 25, 2014

Advice From the Top

Originally published in Working Class as a three part series written by Stephanie Longo. 


Part One: LinkedIn Influencer Ken Berger discusses his career path
If Ken Berger, the chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, had the change to sit down and talk to himself at 22 years old, he would suggest one major thing: have humility.

Berger was recently asked by LinkedIn to participate in a series of articles entitled “If I Were 22,” where various LinkedIn Influencers had the chance to travel back in time and imagine a conversation where they taught their younger selves the lessons they have learned throughout their career. Besides advising that humility was necessary and important in the workforce, Berger also added that having an open mind, listening and remembering to have a personal life, among other things, were necessary for fulfillment at work and in life.

Berger explained that one of his biggest mistakes when trying to get his career off the ground was a naivete regarding the non-profit sector.

“I would probably say that the biggest erroneous assumption that I made was that everybody who works in the nonprofit sector is good-hearted, well intentioned, and is dedicated to helping to others and meeting the missions of their charities,” he said. “The other disappointment that I found in my career was that there were a very significant number of leaders and CEOs of charities that were nowhere near mission driven or well intentioned. In fact, their mission was to line their pockets and their intention was to do it as much as possible. And, in some cases, they really did not care at all about the mission, so that was a very sobering reality for me.”

Berger said that Charity Navigator was founded in 2001 by Pat and Marion Dugan, self-made millionaires who were looking to give back to the community. The Dugans felt a place where people could get independent information on charities was necessary because of scandals that were erupting at the time. Charity Navigator's core product is a rating system where charities are rated on a scale from zero to four stars based on performance in a variety of areas.

“We certainly try to match up donors with the correct charity, but we often find that many people come to our website with a specific charity in mind and are looking for validation that it is indeed as good a charity as they thought it was, Berger said. “Beyond this, people often come to our site without a specific charity in mind when there are situations far away like a disaster or a tragedy where they are less familiar with the charities on the ground in that area.”

Berger suggested that people take steps to realize when they are in a situation that isn't working for them and offered a few suggestions. 

“There were situations where I stuck around longer than I think I should have and I tried to make changes from within the organization,” he said. “I discovered that that is a very hard road and, more often than not, the deck is stacked against you because the board is enamored by the CEO and the CEO may actually stack the deck of the board so that the board is comprised of their friends and vendors that they use; with all of these factors in place, it becomes an almost impossible task to overcome within the organization.”

“If I had to do it over again, my advice to people would be to get out of a situation like this,” he continued. 

“If you find yourself in a job where the leadership really does not care about the mission, then leave as quickly as you can and find another place that is mission-driven and where you can excel. Do not waste your time and your career dithering around with that kind of nonsense.”

Berger also added that if an employee sees leverage points where he or she can let someone outside of the organization, such as the state attorney general's office or the board or governmental entity, know about internal issues, the employee should try to report that organization. He also suggested that the employee find out if it is possible to report issues from within.

“I worked for one place where we created a chief compliance officer who reported directly to the board and where anonymous reports were possible,” he said. “With all of this in mind, there are some exceptions, but the basic rule is to get out fast and find a place that is really mission driven.”

Part Two: Ken Berger discusses how LinkedIn helped boost his career
For Ken Berger, the chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, his path to becoming a LinkedIn Influencer began when he was unemployed during one of our nation's worst economic times.

“I got laid off after thirty years and I was faced with realizing that I was never really diligent in keeping track of my contacts, so my Rolodex, to date myself, was out of date,” he said. “And so I decided that I needed a virtual Rolodex and LinkedIn seemed to be the ideal candidate for that. I then made it a practice to, after meeting anyone, request that we become connected on LinkedIn. Since coming to Charity Navigator in 2008, I have had more exposure to people than ever, so my virtual Rolodex went from nothing to thousands of people within a few years.”

Berger's story illustrates the power of professional networking as representatives from LinkedIn contacted him to tell him he was among the site's top one percent users. What followed next gave Berger the chance to reach many more people.

“At the beginning of this year, a colleague of mine who had contacts there urged me to become what is called a LinkedIn Influencer, so again it is who you know as well as what you know,” he said. “At first, I was simply writing whatever struck me to fulfill the article quota, because you have to write an article every month. Then, I discovered that LinkedIn provides a suggested topic and, that month, the suggested topic was, “If I were 22, what advice would I give to myself and to other people of the same age?” and it was from there that the article was written.”

“Other LinkedIn Influencers choose to write on the topic that LinkedIn suggests,” Berger continued. “The other advantage to writing on those topics is that LinkedIn will heavily promote those articles more than the others that are posted on the site. I decided to participate this particular time because this topic is something that I have written on before and have some strong views on. I wrote an article a few years ago called '20 Rules for Moving Up in Your Career if You Want to Become a CEO' and so I thought that this topic aligned well with my experience and my thinking, because I have had some really lousy bosses that I really struggled with because they did things the wrong way. My ideas on what I thought would be the right way to try to manage and treat people was another part of what prompted me to write the article.”

Berger said that he feels that other factors played into being chosen for his role as a LinkedIn Influencer, inclusing how much a person uses the site, how active they are and whether or not a person makes a lot of connections on it.

“All of these things speak to your existing reach on LinkedIn,” he said. “I had a couple thousand contacts on LinkedIn by the time they approached me to become an Influencer. And, since I have become a LinkedIn Influencer, I have what are called followers, and that number has more than doubled. It is getting close to six thousand people that I am connected to, which has also expanded my contacts in the world.”

Berger said that the best part about the social network is that it gives him a larger platform to connect with people all over the world.

“What it means to me is that I have been provided with a special opportunity to speak a larger audience than most of what I have written in the past,” he said. “Some of the topics that I have written on for LinkedIn I have sort of covered in the past on my blog, but it was perhaps just a handful of people that would read what I wrote. It has been very heartening to see that there is a larger audience that is interested and appreciates this.  

To follow Berger on LinkedIn, visit linkedin.com/in/charitynavigatorkenberger.

Part Three: Ken Berger offers suggestions for job seekers
Looking for a job should be treated as a job, that's the advice that Ken Berger, chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, wishes to give those who are currently seeking employment.

“I think that a job search should be treated like a job and that you should get up every day like you are going to a job,” he said. “You should structure your day so that you dedicate a certain number of hours searching for jobs, whether this means going online, looking at articles, revising your resume, visiting companies, reconnecting with some of your contacts, et cetera. All of the above should become a part of your daily routine and, if you want to put in four or five hours a day, that is fine, too. By the way, I am also suggesting that you pace yourself, take breaks, do fun things, do not sulk and do not sit around. Engage yourself in other activities, socialize, do not worry and just do the best you can.”

As a LinkedIn Influencer, Berger has experienced firsthand how networking can impact a person's success not just while looking for a job, but also as a full-fledged member of the workforce. He suggested that any form of networking, either in-person or online, has its benefits.

“The best part about the job search, I think, is that you can reconnect with some of your old contacts, you can meet new people and you can learn about different industries or parts of the industry that you might have been in,” he said. “I think that you can also learn how to do job interviews. I would recommend that you read up a little bit to learn about the best ways to present yourself in a resume and the best ways to present yourself with a cover letter.  People do not realize how important it is to customize a cover letter, how to conduct themselves in an interview and the best ways to follow up to interviews. I think you can learn a lot during this process and that it is a skill to do a job search.”

While the job search has its ups and downs, Berger did say that possible rejections are, to him, the worst part of the job search.

“The rejections can sometimes be very mysterious because you do not get the courtesy of any reply at all, you have not got a clue what is going on, or you can even go in for an interview and then never hear from them again,” he said. “You send emails and you do not get responses. That can be very frustrating, especially when you apply to jobs that you think you are perfectly suited for and you do not even get the courtesy of an interview. It can seem somewhat arbitrary and random and, depending on how confident you are in yourself, you can think you are being persecuted. Not true! So you have to have a certain backbone and do not despair. I think the key is to do your best.”

Berger advises job seekers to keep moving forward and realize that opportunity might knock in places where you might not necessarily thought it would.

“The most critical thing is to not take the obstacles out there personally; just do the best that you can,  look for situations that suit your interests and desires,” he said. “If you cannot get a paying job that you like, do not think that there are not perhaps some volunteer opportunities for you. And keep your eyes open as there may be some opportunities where you are volunteering that could actually lead to a career for you. Even if it is not a paying job, look for volunteer jobs and never underestimate the possibility for new opportunities. I think your personal attitude can be critical to that—so do not look at the glass as half empty, just look at is as half full and continue to keep your eyes open for things and, if there are structural things like technology making it hard to find jobs, do not personalize that and just enjoy your life and do the best you can with the opportunities that are available to you.”

For more information on Ken Berger and Charity Navigator, visit www.charitynavigator.org

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Movember and Kickstarter: a look at the future of philanthropy

Originally published on AirTalk on August 14, 2014.

Please click here to access the radio piece.

 TO GO WITH AFP FEATURE BY ALICE RITCHIEI

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Kris Dorward, a 22 year-old chef, poses for pictures with his 'Movember moustache' in London, on Nov. 28, 2011.
You’ve likely seen the videos on the news and in your newsfeed of friends, family, and celebrities dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads. The “ice bucket challenge” is intended to raise money to fight Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and so far the campaign has been incredibly successful, using the viral, friends-tagging method to increase awareness and bring in over $1 million since the end of July.
Viral philanthropy is nothing new — lots of men (and some women) participate in Movember, growing moustaches to raise funds and awareness to support men’s health, including prostate cancer. Kickstarter and other crowd-funding methods have also added to the virility of philanthropy, generating huge amounts of money for charities.
How do nonprofits and aid groups set themselves apart in a time when fundraising is ubiquitous and unique? Is it enough to host a more traditional event like the walks, runs, or bike rides that support HIV/AIDS and breast cancer? Does direct access to friends and family via social media change the personal landscape of philanthropy? Is the U.S. philanthropically fatigued, or becoming increasingly generous?
Justin Timberlake does the #ALSIceBucketChallenge:

Guests:

Bill Parent, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives at UCLA Luskin School
Ken Berger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charity Navigator

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Much Should We Pay Charity CEOs?

Originally published on Linkedin on June 3, 2014. 


Last week it was reported by the
 Associated Press that median CEO pay among the Standard & Poor's 500 companies had crossed the $10 million mark. The justification given by many board members and large investors for this uptick (in addition to a surging stock market which is a big part of most of their pay packages) was that big pay packages are need to “attract talented men and women who can run multi-billion dollar businesses”.
How does this translate into the nonprofit sector? Some have argued that we need to offer salaries that are competitive with our for profit counterparts to recruit the best talent too. In addition, others have been worried for some time now that we are going to experience a “leadership gap” as nonprofit CEOs retire and there are not enough people with comparable skills to fill the void.
I say poppycock! As my colleagues and I have noted for some time now, there are other motivators that draw talent into the nonprofit sector. In other words, money isn’t everything and most who do the work of helping others do not expect to become millionaires along the way. This reality is bolstered by the ongoing migration of many for-profit workers and CEOs into the nonprofit sector. Surely most of them are not doing it for higher pay!
I believe that much of the focus in the world of social entrepreneurship also supports the fact that it isn’t all about the money. For example, the rising popularity of L3C organizations reflects this trend of doing good over big salaries. This is a relatively new form of for-profit organization that is committed to limiting profits so as to drive more social good. My colleagues in academia have observed that courses in social entrepreneurship at business schools often get closed out within minutes because they are so popular. Sure, some want to get rich while doing good, but many are not concerned with it. Rather, these students and young social entrepreneurs have a deep passion and drive to do good and find creative new ways to get new service models to scale quickly. So I think all of the above and more explains why the long anticipated “brain drain” has not happened and we have more philanthropic efforts going on than ever before in history.
However, I DO think there is one area where it appears for profits and nonprofits have a similar challenge. In the same AP article, one observer noted that, “there’s this unbalanced approach where there‘s all this energy put into how to reward executives, but little energy being put into ensuring the rest of the workforce is … paid appropriately”. THAT IS a big problem in the nonprofit sector, too! In my 30 years of direct service work as well as helping to run these types of nonprofits this problem was a constant challenge for us. My colleagues tell me it has only gotten worse in the 6 years since I left the trenches to come and work at Charity Navigator.
In other words, it is a tremendous challenge to find the resources to assure that front line staff get the pay and benefits they so much deserve. These are the people who have dedicated their heart and souls to providing vitally needed care to many underserved populations. They are not seeking notoriety or big pay packages, just a living wage and some assurance of a relatively decent retirement some day. Most of them are unlikely to get either in the current state of affairs.
Why isn’t there more of an outcry and attention given to this problem by some nonprofit leaders? Because they are not listening to the front line staff who are working in direct service in the sector. If they did, it is much more likely that they would develop solutions that include and flow from the “bottom up” so that their actions and ideas are grounded in the reality of day-to-day nonprofit work.
Nonprofit CEO salaries becoming comparable to for profits is not only a foolhardy solution to a much different problem, it is also just plain ridiculous. The 50% of the US population that pays taxes is, to one degree or another, subsidizing the work of charities. If you told the vast majority of them that many more of our nonprofit CEOs are now going to get million dollar and up pay packages, there would be out and out revolution and abandonment of those institutions that choose such a path. Sure we have some nonprofit hospitals and football coaches at nonprofit universities that appear to be an exception to the rule, but even there we are seeing serious questions being raised along with calls for changes in how we define a charity.
So I hope my brothers and sisters in the nonprofit leadership will wake up and smell the coffee. Let’s get serious about the real problems we face. Let’s stop trying to model everything along the lines of what for-profits do and tailor our efforts to our own unique strengths and opportunities. To begin with, here are a few suggestions to support front line staff that are informed by my own experience running nonprofits:
1. A nonprofit CEO should never agree to a pay or perk increase if the rest of the staff is told they will not be getting these things in a given year.
2. A nonprofit CEO should make every effort to minimize the technique of taking full time workers jobs and breaking them into part-time positions so they do not need to pay their employees benefits.
3. A nonprofit CEO should engage in ongoing conversations with staff regarding what can be done to “sweeten” the pot so that, if salaries and benefits are stalled, we consider other ways to enhance job satisfaction (such as vacation time, flex time, work from home when possible, etc.).
4. A nonprofit CEO should be doing whatever they can to educate their board and funders to this problem and work with them to maximize the flexibility to improve conditions for front line staff.
These ideas are just a start for the conversation. I would be interested in hearing your comments and suggestions for what we can do to help solve this ongoing problem. Our collective wisdom and creativity (as staff, volunteers, donors, beneficiaries, funders and Board members) has done amazing things to help the world. Let’s do our best to do more to help those who help others, too!
Photo: Alex Ionas/Shutterstock

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Charity Refuses to Show Proof of Housing Homeless

Originally aired on WESH 2 News on May 13, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. —Hundreds of charities vie for your donations and time. One local charity claims it houses the homeless in campsites throughout Central Florida.
And he has repeatedly refused to show us proof the charity has provided shelter to anyone at all.
Inside a nondescript Leesburg thrift store is a charity that claims to be housing the homeless.
For James Worley, who lives out of his van, the promise of living on a tented camp site seemed like the hand up he'd been looking for.
"That could be possibly something to my advantage to help me get back on my feet," he said.
Before WESH 2 News Investigates began asking questions, The Foundation for America's Homeless website offered up photos of serene tented camp sites, even a cabin in the woods with working electricity.
After Worley called WESH saying he was told the campsites did not exist, we called the charity's founder Larry Hamer.
Hamer first told WESH 2's Matt Grant by phone that there are no campsites, but he hoped to build them eventually. However, when they met in person, he claimed to run several sites in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
"Where are these homeless camp sites?" Grant asked.
"I'm afraid I can't tell you," Hamer said.
Hamer says that's because he wants to protect the privacy of his clients. Last month, WESH 2 News Investigates met with Hamer to talk about the work he's doing to help the homeless.
"The pictures of the tents and the cabin on your website, those are actual places?" Grant asked.
"Mm-hmm," said Hamer.
"That are housing homeless people right now?" Grant asked.
"Mm-hmm," said Hamer. "Those are absolutely places that are housing homeless people."
But remember that cabin in the woods? It's actually a bathroom at Yellowstone National Park. And a photograph of a tent on the website was actually taken by a blogger in Canada who told us she never gave permission for the Foundation to use her photo.
WESH 2 News Investigates confronted Hamer with this information and he added a disclaimer to the website saying, "Pictures are a representation of furture (sic) goals. May or may not be factuel (sic) at this moment."
Over the weekend, WESH 2 News Investigates began promoting this report. And by Monday morning, several more changes had been made to Hamer's website. The photos of tents and campsites were removed and the headline on the Foundation's website had been changed from, "We are housing America's homeless," to, "We provide needs for America's homeless."
We asked Hamer to explain why he made the changes, and he said, "Because you pointed out my flaw (sic)" and "because the actual campsites are not pretty."
"Everything is inconsistent. It just raises more questions than it answers," said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, an independent charity watchdog.
While Hamer refused to open his financial books to WESH 2 News, the Foundation's federal tax documents are public record. We showed the 2012 documents to Berger, who said there were a number of potential red flags, including not reporting administrative expenses and listing a salary expense while claiming the charity has no paid employees.
"You need to be able to trust a charity, and when they are manipulating images, when they are refusing to give you basic information. This seems like an organization that is questionable at best," he said.
Hamer updated his website again, writing a response to our story before it aired, insisting they do house the homeless, writing, "Do we or don't we house homeless? For those that just need to know the answer is yes! Will we ever tell where?  No!"