Newsmakers for December 2009-January 2010

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Marian Wright Edelman

Nonprofits

What’s been going on the past two years at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)? More than a dozen senior staff members have moved on from the most recognizable name in child advocacy, which was started 36 years ago by its current president, Marian Wright Edelman, now 70.

The total number of senior management, spokespeople and experts at the D.C. office was about 23 in the summer of 2008. It stands at about 11 today.

It might have been a balance of layoffs and natural turnover, but one former employee’s abrupt response to Youth Today suggests the exodus of staff members might have included a walkout of exasperated employees.

Among the personnel who are not now on the CDF’s online staff list but who worked there as recently as the summer of 2008 or were hired soon thereafter:

Marjorie Newman-Williams, chief operating officer.

Karen Lashman, vice president for policy.

Rhoda Schulzinger

Rhoda Schulzinger, deputy vice president for policy.

Carmel Owen, vice president of development.

Armando Zumaya, who succeeded Owen as vice president of development.

Lynn White, juvenile justice specialist.

Rebecca Beauregard, director of government relations.

Natacha Blain, lead strategic adviser on the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline project.

Catherine Crato, economist.

Casey Aden-Wansbury, director of communications.

Ed Shelleby, press secretary.

Susan Gates, counsel.

Matt Rosen, deputy director for religious action.

Craig Rocklin, major gifts director.

Lee Arbetman

CDF spokesman David Ruffin said the turnover can be attributed to two things: the need for cutbacks forced on so many nonprofits by the weak economy, and the natural tendency of CDF-ers to move on and up in the policy world.

To some degree, the two explanations might seem to be at odds with each other. If the advocacy world is shrinking, you would think there’d be fewer jobs out there and that people would be less prone to leave executive-level positions.

Ruffin did name four senior staffers who have moved on to political jobs: Aden-Wansbury is communications director for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Her former subordinate, Shelleby, does media relations for Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), author of the Fostering Connections Act. Lynn White is with the U.S. Department of Labor, according to Ruffin, although Youth Today could find no Labor contact that knew of her. Catherine Crato is now an economist with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Asked in an e-mail what became of the other 10 former staffers on this list – which Youth Today compiled by comparing the current staff list on CDF’s website to the one posted in July 2008, then adding any hires mentioned in the Newsmakers column during that period – Ruffin did not reply.

If layoffs were an economic inevitability for CDF, as the housing crisis gave way to the Wall Street collapse, it certainly didn’t seem that way until recently. In 2007, CDF’s assets stood just north of $47 million, according to its federal tax return, and its fundraising figures doubled from about $13 million in 2005 to $26 million in 2006. According to research by the Foundation Center, which may not include every single grant, CDF took in a total of $20.2 million in foundation grants in the two years 2006 and 2007.

After shedding some Washington policy staff during the Bush administration, CDF started to bolster its Beltway presence again, presumably in anticipation of a Democratic administration more friendly to its agenda. Consider these seven hires: In late 2007, CDF added Newman-Williams from UNICEF and Blain from the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As the presidential campaign heated up in 2008, Beauregard came on to lead government relations.

Then, six days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration, CDF brought on Zumaya to head up fundraising and added Schulzinger to the policy staff. Shortly after the inauguration, Pakou Hang was hired to direct field operations for CDF and Sheadrick Tillman to direct the organization’s Haley Farm facility in Clinton, Tenn.

Of those seven, only Hang and Tillman remain.

CDF did not reply to a request for its 2008 federal tax return, which is by law a public document. But information from the Foundation Center indicates that fundraising took a huge hit after 2007.

The center’s database shows only $3.3 million in foundation support for CDF in 2008, down from $12.2 million in 2007. Its biggest funder, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, did not provide a grant in 2008, after giving CDF $3.6 million in 2007 and a total of $16.8 million since 2003. Kellogg provided a $227,500 grant for 2009, according to Foundation Center. Another large supporter, the Ford Foundation, has given only about half as much to CDF in 2009 as it did in 2008.

Ruffin told Youth Today that “a couple of people have been laid off,” although he wouldn’t say who they were. A number of the vacated positions haven’t been filled, he said, “so there’s that kind of attrition that can address the tough times all nonprofits are facing.”

None of this explains what Schulzinger, the deputy director of policy for less than a year, told Youth Today when asked what happened to her job.

“I’m not prepared to talk to you about it,” Schulzinger said. “There were a lot of people who left.”

Whatever happened, a scan of CDF’s list of spokespeople indicates that CDF will lean more on leaders from its regional affiliates to handle issue-specific advocacy and media outreach, along with National Education Policy Director Bert L’Homme and one of the best child welfare experts in the business, MaryLee Allen. Handling development and fundraising at the moment is Senior Director of Foundation Giving Robin Heller. Contact: (800) 233-1200, http://www.childrensdefense.org.

Less than a year after it named its previous CEO, Arlington, Va.,-based MENTOR, the National Mentoring Partnership, has chosen Larry Wright, head of the Washington State Mentors as its new CEO, effective Dec. 1.

Wright, a former journalist, had been executive director of Washington State Mentors for four years. He succeeds Dan Schneider, who was named MENTOR’s CEO earlier this year but left within months, apparently because of differences with the board of directors.

In an interview then, Schneider said he planned to steer the organization away from being primarily an advocacy group and toward assisting affiliates and carrying out its federal contracts for Mentoring for Children of Prisoners, which he shepherded as acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

Wright said he has made no firm decisions on how he will guide the agency, which has been wracked not only by leadership problems but also by major money problems during the nation’s economic turbulence.

The new CEO declined to say just how much of the group’s $6.1 million endowment had been lost, but its last tax filing and financial statement showed that $3.5 million was invested in “alternative investments,” which usually means hedge funds. According to federal tax records, the organization has operated in recent years at a deficit of about $1 million annually.

The group has also suffered through layoffs of at least 10 staff members. Wright said he believes the nonprofit is now appropriately staffed with “about 20 people.” Contact: (703) 224-2200, http://www.mentoring.org.

The National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, Calif., named Hayden Lilien as director of finance. Lilien, who joined NCYL in October, was an associate at Wicker, Smith, O’Hara, McCoy, Graham & Ford in Orlando, Fla., before moving to the Bay Area. She served as business and human resources manager for the Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco. Contact: (510) 835-8098, http://www.youthlaw.org.

Street Law promoted its longtime director of U.S. programs, Lee Arbetman, to executive director. Street Law provides practical learning opportunities to youth about democracy, law and human rights.

Arbetman, who has been with the Silver Spring, Md.-based nonprofit since he graduated from law school, replaces retired executive director Ed O’Brien, who stepped down in December 2008. Arbetman gets much of the credit for using a Department of Justice grant to take what O’Brien and fellow founder Jason Newman had accomplished – sending law students into public schools for lessons on laws relevant to youth in Washington, D.C., and establishing similar programs around the country. Contact: (301) 589-1130, http://www.streetlaw.org.

After the resignation of Children’s PressLine (CPL) CEO Marsha Ralls, who is also founder of D.C. art distributor The Ralls Collection, it appears that Elissa Bernstein is managing things for the New York City program. Bernstein is listed on CPL’s website as an individual donor along with husband Matt Bernstein.

But Ralls said in an e-mail that, with her departure, CPL has not decided the fate of its Washington or New Orleans programs.

The nonprofit CPL trains kids between ages 8 and 18 to be journalists. It is an offshoot of the media organization Children’s Express, founded by Bob Clampitt in 1975. Contact: http://www.cplmedia.org.

Foundations

Former Case Foundation Chief Operating Officer Ben Binswanger traversed the nation to join the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Skoll Foundation. Binswanger, who began in mid-November, will serve as vice president of program and impact.

He was brought in to develop programs and initiatives for Case from its corporate benefactor, AOL/Time Warner, where he worked on communications and civic engagement. He got his start in Washington working as a campaign manager for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who also hired him as a political director.

The Skoll Foundation, started in 1999 by Jeff Skoll, the first eBay president, seeks to support social entrepreneurs and bring them together to share information and experience. Binswanger’s task, according to the news release announcing his hiring, will be to “help shape the foundation’s overall strategy to maximize the leverage of its philanthropic capital.”

Washington D.C.-based Case Foundation, which, among other things, has helped provide computers to youth in underserved areas of the United States, has not added a new COO. The foundation is led by CEO Jean Case and Chairman Steve Case. Contact: (202) 467-2059, http://www.casefoundation.org; Skoll (408) 278-2259, http://www.skollfoundation.org.

Edith Asibey has joined New York-based Atlantic Philanthropies as a communications executive. Asibey was the principal of her own consulting firm, Asibey Consulting. Before that she was a senior staff member at NetAid, a New York-based nonprofit that sought to teach youth about global poverty. (NetAid has since merged with the giant multiservice organization Mercy Corps.) Contact: (212) 916-7300, http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.

Government

James Lynch will be President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the resigning Jeffrey Sedgwick as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. There is no doubt Lynch is familiar with the office he would take over: He serves on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on National Statistics, which is responsible for independently assessing the statistical programs at BJS.

Lynch would be one of the five presidential appointees to serve under Laurie Robinson, the assistant attorney general for justice programs. Robinson, who filled that same role for former President Bill Clinton, was confirmed and sworn in again in November. Contact: (202) 307-0765, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.

Also confirmed, in late October, was Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Benjamin took her medical and business degrees to tiny Bayou La Batre, Ala., and started the Rural Health Clinic, a nonprofit that provides everything from primary care services to lab work and minor surgery, in an area where some patients need to make payments in oysters and shrimp.

Benjamin’s work in Bayou La Batre garnered her a coveted spot in the MacArthur Fellows Program – popularly known as a “genius award” – from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a distinction that comes with $500,000 over five years, to be spent at the recipient’s discretion. Contact: (301) 443-4000, http://www.surgeongeneral.gov.

Lillian Sparks is the nominee to head the Administration for Native Americans, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Sparks, who is Lakota, has served as executive director of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) since 2004. One of the program areas at the administration is social development, within which Sparks can approve grants for positive youth development work. Contact: (877) 922-9262, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ana.

Nancy Lewis contributed to this report.