Friday, March 25, 2011

Death of Brian O'Connell, Co-founder of Independent Sector

Brian O'Connell, co-founder of Independent Sector, died on Monday of complications from cancer.  Independent Sector has a beautiful remembrance of him on its home page including the video linked to above and the following:

Brian O’Connell spent a lifetime advancing the issues of the nonprofit and the philanthropic sector. For twelve years he was national director of the National Mental Health Association during a period of breakthroughs in community care and in the understanding and treatment of depression. During that time he was also an organizer and first chairman of the National Committee on Patients’ Rights. For the prior dozen years he was with the American Heart Association, serving as the director of its California affiliate.

He became president of the National Council of Philanthropy and executive director of the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations. On March 5, 1980, after almost two years of preparation and planning, he and John W. Gardner launched Independent Sector. Brian served for 15 years as president and CEO of the organization, which from the beginning has been devoted to strengthening voluntary initiative, philanthropy and civic action. During that time, he was on the ground floor of the founding of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Civic Participation.

Brian was a 1953 graduate of Tufts University and later received the Tufts Distinguished Alumni Award. He served as a trustee there, and after leaving Independent Sector, professor of citizenship and public service from 1995 to 2006 He helped found the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts, where he established the Brian O'Connell Library. Comprised of books from his personal collection, he hoped visitors to Tisch College would read the volumes, which address citizenship and civic education, the nonprofit sector, and philanthropy.

Most recently Brian served on the boards of The Bridgespan Group and The Cape Cod Foundation. Prior assignments included board membership with: the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the National Academy of Public Administration, Points of Light Foundation, Hogg Foundation, and the National Assembly of Health and Social Welfare Organizations. He was also chairman of the 1989 Salzburg Seminar on non-governmental organizations.

Brian was an elected Fellow of the American Public Health Association and the National Academy of Public Administration and received several honorary degrees, including a doctorate of humanities from Fairleigh Dickinson University and doctorate of laws from Indiana University. He performed his graduate work at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse.

Brian O’Connell received many awards including a special John W. Gardner Leadership Award when he retired from Independent Sector; Weston Howland Award for Citizenship from the Lincoln Filene Center; Gold Key Award of the American Society of Association Executives; United Way of America’s Award for Professionalism; the Chairman’s Award of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, and with John W. Gardner, the 1998 Tiffany Award for Public Service.

Brian penned 14 books including his most recent, his memoir, Fifty Years in Public Causes: Stories from a Road Less Traveled, and donated a beautiful “Brian O’Connell Bookshelf” with signed copies of each to Independent Sector in September 2010. Other titles include Civil Society: The Underpinnings of American Democracy; Voices From the Heart: In Celebration of America’s Volunteers; The Board Member’s Book; Effective Leadership in Voluntary Organizations; America’s Voluntary Spirit; Board Overboard: Laughs and Lessons for All But the Perfect Nonprofit; People Power: Service, Advocacy, Empowerment; Powered By Coalition: The Story of Independent Sector; Philanthropy in Action; and, with his wife, Ann Brown O’Connell, Volunteers in Action.

The NonProfit Times has a moving story on O'Connell's life well lived here.

“Brian O’Connell offered the sector and the nation a wonderful gift, and we would not be where we are today without his vision and leadership,” said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector. “He was passionate about building the sector and, through his work and insight, advanced research and education that helped to create the next generation of leadership. We will always be grateful for his service to our organization, our sector, and our country.”

Colleagues remember O’Connell as committed, meticulous, forward-thinking and gracious. “More than anything I recall that he was an expert at cultivation -- cultivating staff, the board, and people outside the organization,” said John Thomas, who worked with O’Connell for more than 25 years, first at the National Mental Health Association and then at Independent Sector as vice president of communications. Thomas also remembered his tact. “He would send us memos to prompt us to do things. He would start every memo with ‘You probably already thought of this…’ Of course we had not thought of it, but he made us feel good.”

I can hardly think of a better way to spend a good life and career than in the pursuit of good for the sake of good.


March 25, 2011 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Texas' Hogg Foundation: Philanthropic Model of Note

Maybe I'm being selfish: I live and work in Texas, so this story got me rather excited: 

Today's Nonprofit Quarterly touts the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health as a strong policy player in the mental health field in Texas.  Having noted that

In Texas, more than 4.3 million residents, including 1.2 million children, live with some form of mental health disorder ... [a]nd, according to the Texas Medical Association, Texas ranks 49 in the nation for the amount it spends per person on mental health care[,]

the Quarterly explains that:

Founded in 1940 by the children of Texas Governor James S. Hogg, and housed within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, the foundation has a masterfully developed strategy for impacting the mental health system in Texas. Not only does the Hogg Foundation tackle research, but also funds policy advocacy and, itself, engages in legislative education. Within that framework is a deep undercurrent that places a high value on consumer involvement in policy development and service delivery.

I highly recommend the article for reading, not only because it speaks well of a Texas foundation, but also because I find that the Hogg Foundation's activities provide an excellent example of what non-profit organizations should do: provide much-needed services that the government either will not or cannot provide.


March 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Protection of Charitable Assets Act" Update

The Uniform Law Commission (the same folks who brought us UPMIFA) has a project in the works called the "Protection of Charitable Assets Act." This project intends to address state oversight of charitable assets, notably the authority of the state attorney general, registration, and notice requirements for certain "life events."  The act focuses on the AG's role in charity governance, essentially complementing state statutes on charitable solicitations.

The drafting committee has a meeting scheduled for April 1-3, 2011, in Washington, D.C., to be followed, subject to progress, by a second (and final) reading at the July 2011 annual meeting of the commissioners.

The URL for the project, with the draft and memo for the April 2011 meeting (and earlier drafts and and memos), is

If you have suggestions on this project, please send them to the Reporter, Susan Gary, at


March 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Slow Response in Giving for Japan Disaster

According to an article appearing in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy, the rate of donations for relief efforts following the devastating earthquake and tsunamis in Japan is slower than after last year's earthquake in Haiti and after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.  The article maintains that more than a dozen relief groups contacted by The Chronicle said they were not raising money for relief efforts in Japan.  Some organizations, such as Oxfam America, report they are still determining how they will respond to the disaster. Others, such as American Jewish World Service, said they are not responding because they work only in developing countries.  Meanwhile, some others have been cautious about raising money for the catastrophe because the needs are not yet clear -- at least, so they claim. 

Notwithstanding the slow response, however, American donors have thus far contributed over $136 million for the relief effort.  Nearly two-thirds of the total has been raised buy one organization -- the American Red Cross.


March 23, 2011 in Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Judge Rejects Amish Request to Let Faith Community Deal With Alleged Ponzi Schemer

Today's Washington Post  is reporting that federal bankruptcy judge, Russ Kendig, on Friday refused to dismiss a case involving alleged Ponzi schemer, Monroe Beachy, and cede control of the matter to members of the Amish community of which Beachy is a member.  According to Judge Kendig, a dismissal on the grounds requested by Beachy and about 2,000 members of the Amish community would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  

When Beachy sought refuge in bankruptcy court last year, many of his investors and fellow members of the Amish community complained that their deeply held religious beliefs had been violated.  According to the Post, 

In court filings, they focused less on any financial fraud Beachy might have perpetrated than on his decision to draw them into a judicial proceeding. Resolving financial disputes through the courts is contrary to their faith, they said, and more than 2,000 of them urged the court to let them resolve the matter among themselves. Amid the backlash, Beachy had a change of heart and asked the court to let him withdraw his bankruptcy filing.

The Amish had proposed setting up a private alternative to court-supervised bankruptcy. In fact, they formed a committee to oversee the matter under the supervision of Amish bishops and an Amish church.

But Judge Kendig will have none of this.  The Post reports him as saying that any such delegation of the court's authority is forbidden by the Establishment Clause.

Although I have little -- if any -- sympathy for Beachy, this case troubles me.  On the one hand, I understand Judge Kendig's concern that delegating the court's authority to the Amish committee would violate the Establishment Clause.  Yet, I understand the Amish who, if they wish to pursue their claims against Beachy, must now do so through the courts, in violation of their deeply-held religious beliefs.  Maybe we need the Supreme Court so speak on this matter.




March 21, 2011 in Church and State, In the News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)