Saturday, June 26, 2010

Panera Co. to open more pay-what-you-wish eateries offered the following national story:

As the first crowd of customers filed into Panera Co.'s nonprofit restaurant here, only the honor system kept them from taking all the food they wanted for free.

Ronald Shaich, Panera's chairman, admitted as he watched them line up that he had no idea if his experiment would work. The idea for Panera's first nonprofit restaurant was to open an eatery where people paid what they could. The richer could pay full price-or extra. The poorer could get a cheap or even free meal.

A month later, the verdict is in: It turns out people are basically good.

Panera, which operates 1,400 franchised and corporate-owned bakery-cafes across the country, plans to expand the nonprofit model around the nation, opening two more locations within months.

"I guess I would say it's performing better than we even might have hoped in our cynical moments, and it's living up to our best sense of humanity," Shaich said in an interview.

Its cashiers tell customers their orders' "suggested" price based on the menu. About 60 to 70 percent pay in full, Shaich said. About 15 percent leave a little more and another 15 percent pay less, or nothing at all. A handful have left big donations, like $20 for a cup of coffee.

The restaurant took in $100,000 in revenue its first month. He declined to say what kind of margin this left between total costs and revenue, but he predicted the restaurant will be able to cover its costs within months and eventually generate extra cash for charitable programs.

Panera's nonprofit plan is the largest example yet of a concept called community kitchens, where businesses operate partly as charities. Customers who need a discount, or even free food, can get it with no questions asked.

Shaich borrowed the idea from a restaurant in Denver and then connected with Denise Cerreta, who runs The One World Salt Lake City restaurant with a sliding scale menu. Cerreta's community kitchen and others he looked into were impressive, Shaich said, but operated on a smaller scale than Panera could afford to run.

The Clayton store is run under the company's St. Louis Bread Co. banner by a nonprofit organization called Panera Cares that publicly traded Panera Co. supports. But Panera won't bear the nonprofit's losses if the experiment fails. For the expansion, Panera spokeswoman Kate Antonacci said, the nonprofit is considering locations that, like Clayton, are upscale but accessible to lower-income customers. In Clayton's case, St. Louis County's offices and court house are nearby. Read more here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bill Passed in Albany to Make Insurers Pay for Autism Care

By Danny Hakim New York Times June 22, 2010
State lawmakers passed legislation this week that would require insurers to cover autism-related screenings, diagnoses and treatments. The move was a relief for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, but was sure to increase insurance premiums across the board.

The State Assembly passed the measure Monday night, a few weeks after it passed in the Senate. The measure passed unanimously in both houses.

It now goes to Gov. David A. Paterson. New York would become the 22nd state in which insurers are required to cover autism-related treatments.

“We’ll review it once it’s delivered,” said Morgan Hook, a spokesman for the governor.

In a statement, Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker and a Manhattan Democrat, said, “It would be unconscionable to force New Yorkers to pay out-of-pocket for this common, chronic condition.”

There have been a variety of estimates of the effect of the legislation on insurance premiums.

“The bill sponsors acknowledge it will raise premiums up to 2 percent,” said Paul F. Macielak, the chief executive of the New York Health Plan Association, an insurance industry group, in a statement earlier this month.

“Each additional coverage requirement, while they may seem well intentioned, also carries a cost,” he said.

His group has criticized lawmakers for proposing a flurry of mandated coverage this year for things like prenatal vitamins, infant baby formula and wheelchair purchases.

“Lawmakers can’t have it both ways,” Mr. Macielak said. “It’s hypocritical for them to criticize insurance premiums as being too high and then turn around and mandate a slew of new benefits that only drive up costs.”

Peter H. Bell, an executive vice president of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, said, “Our estimate is that it was closer to a 0.5 percent premium increase, and our experience in other states is that the increase is lower than expected.”

Mr. Bell added that the bill was more sweeping than those passed in most other states.

“It has the potential to be the most comprehensive of its kind, because other states have a dollar cap and an age cap, which means that the treatments are only available up to a certain amount of money or for specific ages,” he said. “But the bill in New York does not have those limitations.”

Statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports the legislation, found that the autism rate among children in New York has been increasing by about 15 percent annually, now affecting close to 1 in 90 children.

“This is the next step towards making certain that individuals with autism and their families are given the appropriate insurance coverage they deserve and have earned,” said Senator Roy J. McDonald, a Saratoga County Republican who has two autistic grandchildren. “But this is only the beginning, and the state needs to do more.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Landmark Bill to Strengthen Nonprofit-Government Partnership Introduced

The National Council of Nonprofits and State Association Leaders with Congresswoman Betty McCollum

At a press conference at the Capitol on June 16th, 2010, the National Council of Nonprofits and the New York Council of Nonprofits applauded the leadership of Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) for introducing the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act (HR 5533) a bill that will transform the way that the federal government thinks about and deals with the charitable nonprofit community in the United States.

"Congresswoman McCollum recognizes the vital role nonprofits play in communities across America and the essential need to strengthen the partnership between government and nonprofits in order to deliver vital services, build capacity, enhance accountability, and save taxpayers money," said Tim Delaney, President & CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. "This landmark legislation removes the cloak of invisibility that the federal government seems to have draped over the nonprofit sector. For too long, government has ignored the third sector – the nonprofit sector that employs 10 percent of America’s workforce and often is a key, but unrecognized, partner in delivering government services. This bill opens the door for needed dialogue among nonprofits, government agencies, and the American public."

Marcia Avner, Public Policy Director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, added, "The U.S. collects and reports current economic performance information of nearly every other industry, but we do not know how many individuals work for charitable nonprofit organizations, how federal dollars flow to nonprofits through state and local governments, or even how much public support is given each year to distinct charitable activities. Congresswoman McCollum’s legislation takes the steps necessary to provide answers and show the government and public the incredible work of the nonprofit sector at the national level."

The National Council of Nonprofits was joined at the press conference by their State Association Members, including the New York Council of Nonprofits as well as partner organizations: America Forward, American Association of Museums, Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), and Independent Sector.

For more information, visit


NYCON is a proud State Association Member of the National Council of Nonprofits. The National Council of Nonprofits, the nation’s largest nonprofit network, works through its member State Associations to amplify the voices of America’s local community-based nonprofit organizations, help them engage in critical policy issues affecting the sector, manage and lead more effectively, collaborate and exchange solutions, and achieve greater impact in their communities.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

NY dead-last in volunteerism

The Albany Business Review reported that New Yorkers are not very beneficent when it comes to giving their time. Not at all.

In fact, the Empire State ranks 51st out of 50 states and Washington D.C. when it comes to volunteering, according to the annual Volunteering in America report.

Nationally, however, about 1.6 million more volunteers served in 2009 than in 2008, making this the largest single-year increase in the number of volunteers since 2003, when data was first collected for the study. The report is produced by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government-sponsored nonprofit. Higher unemployment rates also increase volunteerism.

Nationwide, a total of 63.4 million volunteers contributed 8.1 billion hours of service in 2009, an estimated dollar value $169 billion. Overall, the volunteering rate increased in 2009 to 26.8 percent, up from 26.4 percent in 2008.

Volunteering data used in the annual report is gathered through the Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Volunteers are defined as individuals ages 16 and over who perform unpaid activities for or through an organization.

The study showed that 2.9 million, or 19 percent, of New York residents volunteered in 2007-2009, compared with the national average of 26.8 percent. The Capital Region fared better, but still placed in the lower half of the rankings. It ranked 44th out of the 75 mid-sized cities that were studied for the report, with 27.1 percent, or 200,000, of its residents volunteering.

Compared with other mid-sized cities in New York, the Capital Region placed behind Binghamton, ranked 30th, and Poughkeepsie, ranked 41st, and ahead of 71st-ranked Syracuse. Nationally, Provo, Utah, ranked first among mid-sized cities and El Paso, Texas, was last. Utah was the top state for volunteerism.

Volunteers in New York contributed 405.5 million hours, or $8.5 billion worth in service from 2007-2009.

Read more: New York dead-last in volunteerism - The Business Review (Albany)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bringing Comparison Shopping to the Doctor’s Office

The NY Times reported on the development of health care price comparison resources being developed.

As the article relates:

Even if a patient does want to comparison-shop, there is no easy way to obtain complete and useful information. It is a hole in the market that some companies see as an opportunity, especially because many Americans will soon have to pay more attention to what they are paying for, rather than count on insurance to cover everything.

But there has been no easy way for consumers to shop for the best deal on a colonoscopy or blood test. A start-up financed by prominent venture capitalists and the Cleveland Clinic, Castlight Health, aims to change that by building a search engine for health care prices. Patients using Castlight could search for doctors that offer a service nearby and find out how much they will charge, depending on their insurance coverage.

A few others are starting to publish health care prices, including Thomson Reuters, a Tennessee start-up called Change:healthcare, the New Hampshire government, which created a comparison shopping tool for residents, and health insurers. Aetna, for instance, has built tools to help patients estimate prices and may build more advanced tools, said Lonny Reisman, Aetna’s chief medical officer.

Price transparency could significantly change the way health care is bought in the United States. The notion “seems ridiculously simple and obvious, and in any other industry, you would say, ‘Duh, we already have that.’ But in health care, it’s revolutionary,” said Alan M. Garber, a professor of medicine and the director of the center for health policy at Stanford, as well as an investor in Castlight. Read more here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

State law authorizes prior review for health insurance rate hikes

The Central NY Business Journal reported that the New York State Insurance Department again has the authority to review and approve health-insurance premium increases before they take effect.

Gov. David Paterson signed the bill allowing the reinstatement of the power today.
Since 2000, New York had regulated health-insurance premiums under a "file and use" law that "significantly" limited the state's ability to disapprove premium increases and allowed the insurance industry to regulate itself, the governor's office said in a news release.

The new law requires health insurers and health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) to make an application to the Insurance Department to implement premium increases.
The department would review the rate-increase applications, as well as the underlying calculations, to ensure that the rates are justified and not excessive, the governor's office said.

The law would apply to all rate increases taking effect on or after Oct. 1, 2010.
In addition, the legislation will immediately require health insurers and HMOs to spend more of every premium dollar they collect on medical claims.

In particular, the law raises the "medical-loss ratio," or the percentage of premium spent to provide medical care, from 75 percent to 82 percent for small businesses and from 80 percent to 82 percent for individuals.

In a statement released Tuesday night, the New York State Conference of BlueCross BlueShield Plans expressed "complete disappointment" over what it calls "government-imposed price controls." Read more here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Come Together? Right Now? A Discussion of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships

The blog, Done by People, by Joe Brown, Principal and Founder of Slope Resources, LLC, offered the following recap of the "A Conversation with NYS Comptroller Thomas P. Di Napoli and Panel Discussion on Strategic Alliances & Partnerships."

On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a highly informative and engaging forum which brought together government and nonprofit representatives to discuss the topic of strategic alliances and partnerships among nonprofit organizations. While the discussion focused on New York State’s nonprofit sector, the challenges, considerations, and ideas discussed are applicable to organizations nationwide. In the absence of a video or audio recording of the session, I wanted to share this detailed recap and my impressions of the session.

The event was sponsored by the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region and the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON) and held at the headquarters of New York State United Teachers (very nice digs, by the way) in Latham, New York, a few miles northeast of Albany.

Karen Bilowith, President and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, presided over the session. The approximately 75 attendees included representatives of various nonprofits, including arts, cultural, health, and human services organizations, as well as a number of funders and consultants (including yours truly). Following Ms. Bilowith’s welcoming comments, New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez provided brief opening remarks. Ms. Cortés-Vázquez assured the attendees that “most in government” recognize the importance of the nonprofit sector and rules and regulations pertaining to the sector should not be so onerous as to provide disincentives for staff, board members, and volunteers to participate.

I’m from the government, and…
Ms. Cortés-Vázquez then introduced the session’s keynote speaker, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The Office of the State Comptroller has responsibility for the review, approval, and payment of the state’s contracts with nonprofit organizations. Mr. DiNapoli noted the importance of the nonprofit sector to the state and its economy, citing 2006 statistics that the state’s approximately 24,000 nonprofits reported revenue of $133 billion and employed nearly 1.2 million people, or 17% of the state’s workforce. He quantified the state’s contractual bonds with the sector as consisting of nearly 31,000 active contracts totaling $14.6 billion, as of June 2009. Read more here.

The balance of the session was devoted to presentations and discussion by a panel consisting of:
■Doug Sauer, who has served as Chief Executive Officer of New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON) since 1980. NYCON’s membership represents approximately 1,600 charitable nonprofit organizations across New York State.
■Cristine Cioffi, who is a partner in the law firm of Cioffi • Slezak • Wildgrube P.C., but spoke primarily in her role as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Ellis Medicine, an organization which resulted from the recent merger of three nonprofit hospitals in Schenectady County.
■David W. Palmquist, who as Manager of the New York State Museum’s Chartering Program, oversees the chartering of museums, historical societies, and similar cultural organizations with educational purposes across the state.
The panelists responded to questions posed by Ms. Bilowith, as well as several questions from audience members.

Doug Sauer
While all three of the panelists presented interesting perspectives on the potential of various collaborative models for nonprofit organizations, I was particularly impressed by Mr. Sauer’s insight and candor on a number of fronts. Early in his presentation, he discussed the recent proliferation of nonprofits, describing the creation of thousands of new organizations each year, many of which are not active, and the resultant saturated environment. (I was reminded of a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which noted that the number of nonprofit organizations nationwide has increased by 90% to 1.2 million since 1996). Read more here.