# Non-profits

Nominate an Iowa project for the Best Development Awards

1000 Friends of Iowa is taking nominations through September 28 for the organization’s Best Development Awards. Projects anywhere in Iowa can be nominated in one of six categories: new residential, renovated residential, renovated commercial/civic, new commercial/civic, mixed use, and leadership. Click here for details on how to submit a nomination. I posted the selection criteria after the jump.

I’m active with 1000 Friends of Iowa, and while I’m not involved in choosing the award winners, every year I’m inspired to see the amazing development work being done around this state.

Click here for photos and information about the 2009 Best Development Award winners: the Marshalltown Public Library (new commercial/civic), Court Avenue Lofts in Des Moines (new residential), Durrant Building in Dubuque (renovated commercial/civic), Westfield Avenue Lofts in Waterloo (renovated residential), Plaza Towers in Iowa City (mixed use), and the Historic Millwork District Master Plan in Dubuque (leadership).

Projects in Davenport, Dubuque, Sioux City, Marion, West Des Moines and Iowa City won Best Development Awards in 2008. The ISU Design West building in Sioux City was one of my all-time favorite nominees.

Projects in Dubuque, Elkader, Davenport, Lake Park (near Spirit Lake) and the City of Okoboji won Best Development Awards in 2007. Projects in Conrad, Central City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Des Moines won Best Development Awards in 2006. The 2005 award-winners were Iowa City’s Peninsula neighborhood, the Van Allen building in Clinton, the America’s River Project in Dubuque and the Strand Theater in Grinnell.

The number of award-winning projects in Dubuque is a testament to how hard city and business leaders have been working on redevelopment and sustainability in recent years. Many other Iowa towns and cities could learn from their example.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Rehabber’s Club is taking nominations for its 3rd Annual Most Endangered Buildings list through October 8. Click the link for details on that competition.

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Egg recall news: Northey and Thicke to debate, Sierra Club wants broad investigation

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will debate his Democratic challenger Francis Thicke on September 11, the Thicke campaign announced today. The Spencer Daily Reporter is sponsoring the debate, which will take place from 11 am to 12:30 pm at the Clay County Fairgrounds, during this weekend’s county fair. The Thicke campaign’s press release states that the Spencer public access cable channel will broadcast the debate, but I hope Iowa Public Television and other media organizations will bring the exchange to a wider audience. Thicke argues,

Iowa voters deserve a full discussion of the issues that are important in this campaign – protecting water and air quality; local food production; local control over – and reducing the impacts of – concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); more diversity on the landscape, including more use of cover and perennial crops; and truly sustainable, renewable, farmer-owned energy systems for agriculture.

Thicke is seeking five debates with Northey, one in each of Iowa’s Congressional districts, but details about other possible meetings have not been finalized. The candidates clashed last week over the Iowa secretary of agriculture’s responsibility to inspect feed mills like the one where a recent salmonella outbreak seems to have originated.

Northey has won the endorsement of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, while Thicke has the Iowa Farmers Union’s endorsement. Last month Thicke published the questionnaire he completed for the Farm Bureau Federation and called on Northey to do the same, so that “so that Iowa voters can determine for themselves where each candidate stands on critical farm issues.”

In related news, today the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club sent an open letter to Attorney General Tom Miller requesting a “thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the egg recall for shell eggs produced by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms Inc for violations of state law. This investigation should also include Quality Egg LLC Feed Mill, the supplier of the feed to both egg producers.” I’ve posted the full text of the letter after the jump. It includes a detailed list of facts supporting the Sierra Club’s view that the egg producers showed “reckless disregard for the health and well-being of the public.” To prevent similar violations in the future, the Sierra Club is also asking the Attorney General’s Office to consider possible “internal policy changes, legislative needs, and administrative rule changes.”

Miller recently returned a $10,000 campaign donation that Peter DeCoster made in 2005. DeCoster’s father owns the company at the center of the egg recall.

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A cautionary tale for non-profit boards

The board of the YWCA of Greater Des Moines has voted to shut down the organization’s center by the end of March, the Des Moines Register reports today. The YWCA has provided services to vulnerable women in central Iowa for more than 120 years.

Many non-profits are under financial stress because the recession has cut into donations, but the YWCA’s problems go back years before the economy started to slide. Clark Kauffman’s story for the Register recounts some of the agency’s troubles:

• The United Way, a major funding source, placed the agency on probation last March due to concerns over financial accountability.

• The Polk County Housing Trust Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for low-cost housing, in September said that safety and sanitation problems rendered the YWCA residence unfit for homeless women and children.

• The YWCA was temporarily unable to make payroll in December.

• Earlier this month, the agency unexpectedly shut down one of its main programs, a child-care center that once served 100 area families.

Tax records show that since 2004, spending at the agency has exceeded revenue by almost $1 million. The organization now has only four board members, down from the 12 members that it claimed 18 months ago, and it began the current fiscal year with no budget in place.

In addition, the YWCA’s 40-year-old building on Grand Avenue “is in poor repair” because maintenance needs were neglected for many years. An audit also found that the YWCA staff had used a Greater Des Moines Community Foundation grant to pay for ongoing expenses, instead of the targeted purpose for which money was allocated.

Whether the mismanagement of the YWCA stemmed mainly from staff incompetence or from malfeasance, the buck should stop with the organization’s board. Non-profit board members have many responsibilities, including a fiduciary duty to approve realistic annual budgets and make sure the organization is not spending money inappropriately. Board members also should have ensured that the YWCA’s building, a prime asset of the organization, was properly maintained.

I feel for the 40 women who live at the YWCA (some with kids), who have to move by the end of March. It’s not clear yet what transitional housing will be available for them, because the recession has increased demand for shelter space and low-cost housing. I hope that local funders like the United Way and the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation will step up to help cover the costs of finding residents a new place to live. These women are not to blame for the YWCA’s management problems.

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How many good causes will suffer for the failures of the SEC?

By now you have surely read about Bernard Madoff and his $50 billion Ponzi scheme. For background, here’s a collection of New York Times articles on the scandal.

The Securities Exchange Commission is conducting an internal investigation to find out why Madoff’s criminal enterprise went undetected for so long. It’s already obvious that this was a massive regulatory failure.

The SEC was warned about Madoff:

The SEC had the authority to investigate Madoff’s investment business, which managed billions of dollars for wealthy investors and philanthropies. Financial analysts raised concerns about Madoff’s practices repeatedly over the past decade, including a 1999 letter to the SEC that accused Madoff of running a Ponzi scheme. But the agency did not conduct even a routine examination of the investment business until last week.

No one knows yet how many people were involved in helping Madoff conceal his fraud. And while Madoff’s operation was particularly massive, no one knows how many other fraudulent investment firms are out there, because the SEC lacks the resources to enforce compliance with financial securities laws.

Those who had invested with Madoff have lost the entire value of their accounts, and they are not the only victims of his crimes. In fact, Madoff may have indirectly harmed more victims than any other white-collar criminal in history. His clients included many non-profit organizations and charitable foundations, some of which have already ceased operations. Numerous Jewish non-profits have been hit hard, but the fallout will extend far beyond the Jewish community. The Picower Foundation alone gave out tens of millions of dollars in grants every year. Within months, the education, human rights and arts non-profits that relied on those funds are likely to be in financial crisis.

The JEHT Foundation was much smaller than the Picower Foundation but “was a leading supporter of civil rights causes, including groups working to expand voting rights in the South.” Its outgoing president noted when announcing plans to shut down operations that

The issues the Foundation addressed received very limited philanthropic support and the loss of the foundation’s funding and leadership will cause significant pain and disruption of the work for many dedicated people and organizations. The Foundation’s programs have met with significant success in recent years – promoting change in these critical areas in partnership with government and the non-profit sector. Hopefully others will look closely at this work and consider supporting it going forward.

We can hope that others will step in to support the worthy causes whose funders were defrauded by Madoff, but that is extremely unlikely. Just about every grant-making foundation has suffered a significant decline in assets this year because of the stock market’s slide. Individuals of great wealth have also seen their net worth shrink. Non-profit organizations were already bracing for a difficult fundraising year in 2009. The Madoff scandal makes it even more likely that many non-profits will not survive this downturn.

Consider them casualties of “small government” at the SEC, and remember what happened to them the next time conservatives whine about big, bad regulators.  

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