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5 Questions for...George Abbott, Community & National Initiatives, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

October 21, 2016

Headquartered in Miami, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation long has been regarded as one of the most interesting and innovative foundations operating in the United States. Led by Alberto Ibargüen, a former publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Knight bills itself as a national foundation with strong local roots an orientation informed by the Knight brothers' high regard for the more than two dozen communities where they once published newspapers. Today, Knight's stated goal is "to foster informed and engaged communities," which it believes are "essential for a healthy democracy." To help advance that goal, in 2015 the foundation launched the Knight Cities Challenge, a competition designed to surface innovative ideas that can make cities more interesting and vibrant places to live and work.

Earlier this week, PND chatted via email with Knight's George Abbott about the 2017 Cities Challenge, the kinds of ideas the foundation is looking for, and Knight's unique approach to grantmaking. The challenge will be accepting applications through noon on November 3.

Philanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues have opened the application period for the third annual Knight Cities Challenge and have announced that, in 2017, you'll be awarding $5 million in grants through the competition. Without prescribing in too much detail what kind of ideas you're looking for, what kind of ideas are you looking for?

Headshot_George_AbbottGeorge Abbott: We're looking for ideas with the potential to create impact in one or more of our three focus areas: keeping and attracting talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement. The challenge is designed to fund innovation and to provide "risk capital." We're not looking to do maintenance funding — to give money to fund year three of a four-year program. Instead, we're looking to fund new things and ideas and help cities add to their success, with those three focus areas in mind.

PND: The 2016 challenge attracted forty-five hundred applications and awarded grants ranging from $4,400 to $334,000 to thirty-seven entries. Any personal favorites among the winning entries?

GA: I couldn't single any one out as a favorite, but I'm happy to mention a couple of projects that stood out.

There's the Sunset Rises Again project in West Palm Beach, Florida, which will engage residents of that community around the renovation of the Sunset Lounge Jazz Club in that city's Historic Northwest neighborhood. While the community engagement aspect of the project is still in its early stages, the head of the Community Redevelopment Agency there told me the project has already redefined the way the city thinks about public civic engagement.

The Innerbelt Bicycle Park in Akron, Ohio, is another project that stood out. Our grant is helping to kick-start a process to turn what will soon be a non-operating freeway in downtown Akron into a new amenity for the community: a mountain bike park. The highway isn't even closed yet, but the project has developed tremendous momentum, with the city already having identified which section of the highway can be used for this project, calls coming in from around the country offering pro-bono support, and the project garnering widespread media attention in national outlets such as Fast Company and CityLab.

And the third project I'd mention is Pedal to Porch in Detroit. The organizers of that project are going to use their grant to fund monthly bike tours of Detroit's various neighborhoods that enable riders to meet and interact with longtime residents of those neighborhoods. Actually, this was a project that was launched through our Emerging City Champion program last year, and its success there led to a Knight Cities Challenge application and the project lead, Cornetta Lane, being asked to expand the program in other cities, including Charlotte.

PND: The focus of the Knight Cities Challenge — and much of Knight Foundation's work — is on local, bottom-up efforts. That's a reflection of the Knight brothers' desire to give back to the communities that supported their newspapers. Does it also reflect something larger about the nature of successful communities that Knight has learned over the years?

GA: We believe strongly that communities are in the best position to determine their own future. And we've seen first-hand that top-down efforts from outside often don't pan out the way they're intended to, or benefit the people they're supposed to. There is a value, however, to outside expertise and a balance between the two that can be struck. Many of the grants we fund involve a partnership in which a local group partners with a national, or even international, organization, combining local with national expertise. The Pop-Up Minimum Grid, the Exchange House, and Minimum Grid: Maximum Impact are all examples of partnerships between local and national organizations.

PND: The twenty-six cities where Knight works run the gamut from thriving to barely hanging in there. What separates the former from the latter? And do you see things happening in those barely-hanging-in-there communities that give you hope for their future?

GA: You're right, but there are commonalities between all our cities. Every city is competing for talent, and every city faces challenges in providing equal opportunities to all. Both of those are issues that the challenge addresses. Of course, cities are complex systems, so it's difficult to identify one or two issues that have led some places to succeed. That said, it's important to constantly be working on improving the community for all its residents. That kind of approach and attitude sets cities up for success when outside events like a recession or a natural disaster threaten their vitality.

PND: Any final words of encouragement for people out there who might be thinking about entering the 2017 challenge?

GA: I would encourage them to apply! The application form is easy to fill out, and the challenge really is open to everyone. We believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, and we want our Cities Challenge to reflect that belief.

Mitch Nauffts

Does It Count, If You Don't Count It? The Future of Social Impact Measurement

October 19, 2016

Solutions_outcomes_signpostOutcomes. Impact. Results. In the for-profit world, all are key to the long-term viability and health of an organization. Today, in the giving sector, we are seeing the same concepts around performance and measuring outcomes take center stage. 

But as the conversation around best practices for results-focused giving continues to gain traction and the ability to demonstrate the results of giving becomes more important, organizations and individuals across the philanthropic spectrum, from foundations to nonprofits to corporations, to the individual change agents that support them, are struggling to define a common language for performance measurement and reporting. 

While that language may not yet exist, players across the giving sector can agree that being able to demonstrate social impact involves many of the same elements as good storytelling.

Needless to say, the power of good storytelling has been a feature of politics, business, and our dinner tables for as long as any of us can remember. That's because the best stories get to the heart of their subject and leave the listener feeling moved — whether to act, reflect, or investigate the subject matter. And while a story focused on a single individual, if told well, can grab our attention, when the story relates to something bigger or greater than ourselves, it is even more powerful.

Across the giving sector, we see champions for social good who understand that strong stories, powerfully told, can make a difference. Nonprofits, foundations, and corporations alike are harnessing the power of storytelling to share the impact of their work, to draw people to their mission, and to inspire action. But once social impact begins to be viewed through a storytelling lens, it becomes clear that crafting a compelling story about impact starts with a focus on measurable results. In other words, a donation or giving campaign that doesn't lead to the measurement and reporting of results is like a story without an ending. 

Consider the following statements: "The XY Foundation vaccinated three hundred children children"; or "The XY Foundation’s vaccination program reached three hundred children and led to a 50 percent reduction in instances of measles in the region." When organizations can track, measure, and share the results of their efforts in terms of the value being delivered, their story becomes much more powerful.

A year ago, the United Nations announced seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, as a way to "stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet." The SDGs include goals to end poverty, hunger, ensure inclusive and quality education, gender equality, clean water, and more. If each foundation, nonprofit, and corporate donor could track the results of their donations, efforts, and partnerships and map them back to one of the SDGs, think how many powerful stories the giving sector would be able to tell. And powerful, compelling stories are what inspire donors to provide more resources to advance social and environmental goals.

The first step in helping the giving community track results and create powerful stories is to settle on an agreed-upon taxonomy. With a sector-sourced (and continuously growing) lexicon of outcomes and output measurements, a common language will enable those who are already successful in achieving impact to share their best practices while giving those who are just starting out on their outcomes journey the ability to more easily jump in. Standardized measurement and reporting also will lead to greater transparency so that all involved in changemaking efforts can see exactly where resources are going. 

For individual organizations in the giving sector, the measurement journey begins with understanding where you are and where you hope to end up. Whether your organization is just starting out, has developed some competence, or has arrived at a completely integrated stage of measurement proficiency, a thorough understanding of your goals, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses is essential to the successful execution of your outcomes measurement framework. 

Headshot_charlie_vanekAs outcomes measurement in the field becomes more sophisticated, the organizations best poised for success will be the ones positioned to capture and use results data to build strong impact stories. Find out where your organization falls on the spectrum of outcomes maturity today, and begin the journey toward a more impactful tomorrow. 

Charlie Vanek is vice president of product management and business development at MicroEdge + Blackbaud.

Philanthropy as if Democracy Really Mattered

Infographic-foundation-funding-for-democracyI've been doing quite a bit of traveling overseas recently, and everywhere I go people seem to be scratching their heads at the U.S. presidential election.  Living through it day-to-day via television and radio is challenging enough, but trying to explain it in a rational way to people who know little about the United States but somehow expect more from the self-proclaimed "greatest nation on earth" is close to impossible.

Fortunately, I head an organization in a sector, philanthropy, that is trying to do something to "fix" American democracy. That work has nothing to do with the candidates of the moment, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and everything to do with the system that produces, funds, promotes, nominates, and elects candidates for national office. Even better, that work can be explored in depth through Foundation Center's Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a data visualization platform for funders, nonprofits, journalists, and anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in supporting and improving U.S. democracy. Produced with the support of a group of foundations — Carnegie, Hewlett, Rita Allen, JPB, MacArthur, Open Society, Rockefeller Brothers, and the Democracy Fund (a creation of Omidyar Network), among them — the platform captures more than $3 billion in foundation grants made since 2011 and is refreshingly free from the rhetoric, factoids, and outright lies that have dominated news coverage of this election cycle. It focuses, instead, on important structural issues such as campaign finance, civic participation, open government initiatives, and journalism education and training.

Here are a few examples of what you can find there:

  • A $1.2 million grant by the Ford Foundation to the Brennan Center for Justice "to partner with Rock the Vote on a social media-based civic engagement program aimed at increasing democratic participation by Latino youth in the southwestern United States."
  • A $50,000 grant from the CS Fund to the National Security Archive Fund in support of "the Open Government and Accountability Program and its audits exposing and challenging the performance gap between FOIA and classification policy reforms and their implementation."
  • A $25,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation to the Campaign Finance Institute "to analyze public financing alternatives for election campaigns at the state level."

The foundation and grants data captured on the site represent a spectrum of strategies designed to help the democratic process in this country live up to our lofty ideals. They also represent the best of philanthropy: foundations using their unique freedom and flexibility to tackle long-term challenges that markets are ill equipped to address or solve. If democracy is the operating system of American society, it badly needs an upgrade, and a growing number of foundations are doing something about it.

Before the passions of tonight's debate overwhelm rational discussion, and even after those passions have subsided, spend some time on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy — or explore our infographic series — and be uplifted by the fact that while others are just talking about the state of U.S. democracy, philanthropy is doing something to improve it.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his last post, he addressed the topic of foundation transparency.

Elevate Your Cause Sweepstakes

October 18, 2016

GivingTuesday_11.29.2016This #GivingTuesday, November 29, Foundation Center — the parent organization of Philanthropy News Digest — is giving nonprofits an opportunity to grab the spotlight by "donating" our social media channels to a few lucky winners!

Enter our Elevate Your Cause Sweepstakes for a chance to win 1 of 5 spots on our Twitter and Facebook feeds on #GivingTuesday and increase your reach by 130,000 people globally. The five winners also get a fundraising success kit valued at over $3,000, while all entrants who meet the entry requirements* will receive a free trial to Foundation Directory Online, our top fundraising prospect research tool!

We'll be accepting entries through November 9. To enter, click here.

Good luck to all!

*Open to 501(c)(3) organizations in the United States that have been in existence for at least a year and have a valid email and existing online donation page. ARV of all prizes: $3,498. 

[Review] What Universities Can Be: A New Model for Preparing Students for Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership

October 17, 2016

College application season is upon us, and every publication, it seems, has a list bestowing the title of "best" on this or that group of colleges and universities. But with tuition costs continuing to climb and more students than ever looking to further their education beyond high school, important questions have been raised about the value of a college education: Is it worth it? Is the admissions process fair? And what larger purpose should higher education serve? Answers to these questions are elusive.

Book_what_universities_can_be_for_PhilanTopicCornell University professor Robert J. Sternberg, author of nearly sixteen hundred academic articles and editor or author of numerous books, including Teaching for Successful Intelligence and Educational Psychology, adds his perspective to the debate over the purpose and direction of higher education with his new book, What Universities Can Be: A New Model for Preparing Students for Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership (Cornell University Press, 2016). A scholar as well as an accomplished administrator who has served in leadership posts at Yale, Tufts, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Wyoming, Sternberg uses the book to correct misconceptions about higher education and share his vision of what a university should be.

The state of U.S. higher education has been the subject of many books in recent years, providing those interested in the topic with no shortage of perspectives with which to engage. Some, such as Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education (PND review) or Andrew Delbanco's College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, are historical or philosophical tracts that highlight the trends and challenges confronting American colleges and universities. Sternberg's book is different. Part professional reflection, part prescriptive blueprint, it addresses how universities and colleges can better fulfill their missions in the twenty-first century while preparing their students for an increasingly diverse and complex world.

"The purpose of higher education," Sternberg writes, "is to develop active concerned citizenship, ethical leadership, and democratic participation through the nurturance of high-level creative, critical, practical, and wisdom-based and ethical skills." With this as his starting point, he lays out a framework he calls Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership (ACCEL) through which institutions of higher education can provide students with an "education that prepares [them] for and promotes [their] interactions with the world." Chapter by chapter, Sternberg outlines how each function in a university — from admissions and financial aid, to teaching assessments and university governance — should be structured to accomplish that goal, while sharing insights into the challenges and opportunities today's college and university leaders face.

He is critical, for example, of the narrow admission criteria favored by elite institutions and the way in which students are determined to be worthy of passing through their gates. He is likewise troubled by their reliance on standardized "aptitude" tests and overly narrow definitions of intelligence, which, he argues, are likely to lead in the long run to a "closed," stagnant, and stratified social structure. Indeed, with the country ever more divided between haves and have-nots, such an outcome is one of the challenges the ACCEL model is designed to combat, with Sternberg viewing the model as both a way to level the admissions playing field and as a tool to strengthen civic bonds and boost social mobility.

Also central to the mission of the ACCEL university is its focus on building students' capacity for leadership. While Sternberg shies away from words and phrases such as "character" or "student formation," preparing students to play an active role in society is certainly part of his vision. Of leadership, for example, he writes that it is "a path whereby one makes a positive, meaningful, and enduring difference to the world, at some level," and that far from requiring a formal title, it is something all students are capable of, provided they are given the chance.

More than a manifesto, What Universities Can Be is filled with insights into the practical nuts and bolts of U.S. higher education. At times, in fact, the book has the feel of a manual for the practitioner written by an expert who has lived and breathed his subject. But while the book is likely to be a useful resource for administrators and higher education leaders, it isn't for everyone. Filled with list after list of suggested actions or improvements, it's often dry and occasionally meanders into digressions that do little to further his arguments.

Still, with the many challenges facing higher education today, thoughtful, experience-based perspectives are invaluable. Sternberg's rich understanding of the subject adds to a growing body of literature in a way that is both useful and interesting. For the university administrator seeking insight and hard-won wisdom from a respected colleague, What Universities Can Be is worth the time. For the lay reader interested in the subject, there are more engaging and enjoyable books out there.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section of PND.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 15-16, 2016)

October 16, 2016

Fruits-Fall-HarvestOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Contra Donald Trump, the majority of African Americans do not live in poverty or inner cities. Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic.

In Yes! Magazine, Liza Bayless interviews Marbre Stahly-Butts, deputy director of racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy, about why divestment from the prison and military industries is critical to a just future.

Climate Change

On August 7, Scotland, one of the windiest countries in Europe, generated enough electricity from wind turbines to power the entire country. And it's goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 may be within reach. The Washington Post's Griff Witte reports.


"Most people are uncomfortable talking about race, discrimination, privilege and power," writes the Knight Foundation's Anusha Alikhan, who moderated a panel on diversity and inclusion at the Communications Network annual conference in Detroit in September. "[W]e get tripped up by the need to be nonpartisan, while balancing the interests of a variety of groups and even our own upbringings.... [But how] do we produce real change in these areas if we don’t acknowledge their roots?" Alikhan shares some takeaways from that conversation that communications teams can use to "advance hard conversations and create deeper connections with their communities."

Disaster Relief

Relief efforts for hurricane-battered Haiti gained some traction during week, with the United Nations launching a $120 million appeal to fund its activities there, the World Health Organization gearing up to send a million cholera vaccine doses to prevent a more serious outbreak of the disease, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announcing a gift of $2 million in cash and product donations, and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt announcing he will donate $10 million through his foundation for recovery efforts. To learn more about recovery challenges and opportunities for donors, check out this webinar hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Haitians need all the help they can get. But according to the Washington Post's Peter Holley, they don't trust the American Red Cross to provide it.


In his first column as a regular contributor to the op-ed page, veteran New York Timesman David Leonhardt calls out economic stagnation and declining social mobility as a "central challenge of our time."

The most "unequal" big city in the U.S. is...Miami — followed by Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Dallas, Boston, Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. And the biggest factors in the rising income inequality in those cities seems to be the disappearance of middle-income jobs and rapidly rising real estate prices. Sarah Ponczek and Wei Lu report for Bloomberg.


Looking for a few fundraising ideas that work? The Nonprofit Times journeyed to National Harbor, Maryland, a few months ago and came back with sixteen of them.

Gun Violence

The Center for American Progress has created an interactive map of the country that shows how each state ranks in terms of overall levels of gun violence. The rankings were based on an analysis of ten categories of gun violence across all fifty states, as described in "America Under Fire: An Analysis of Gun Violence in the United States and the Link to Weak Gun Laws."

International Affairs/Development

Hungary is the latest country to crack down on a foreign-funded NGO. The New York Times (via Reuters) has the story. And in Haiti, the lives of staffers at Fondation Connaissance et Liberte (FOKAL), Open Society's foundation in that country, have been threatened by a group inspired by demagogues and religious fundamentalists.


In her annual president's essay, the MacArthur Foundation's Julia Stasch "address[es] the task of building trust in a time of flux and challenge. Philanthropy," she argues, "must learn from the ways that technology and new modes of communicating are reordering our world...examine critically our history, structures, and practices, and where necessary, take new directions...[and] listen more, be more flexible and inclusive, and allow those who experience directly the problems we seek to address even more room to participate fully and lead."

Hedge fund legend and Giving Pledger Julian Robertson talks to Philanthropy magazine about his giving, investments in education reform, and a few of his philanthropic heroes.

In the Philanthropy Daily, Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, executive director of the Fund for Academic Renewal, a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, pushes back on the argument advanced by Uinversity of Chicago political scientist Chiara Cordell in a recent essay titled "The Problem with Discretionary Philanthropy" that "the moral core of philanthropy ought to be about 'giving back' what is owed by the wealthy to 'their fellow citizens who suffer from deprivation as a consequence of insufficient public provision by the government'."

And If you haven't already, be sure to read this commentary by Joanne Florino, senior vice-president for public policy at the Philanthropy Roundtable, on the value of philanthropic freedom.

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at or post it in the comments section below....

Mastering the Video Interview

October 15, 2016

Video-interviewLike it or not, the video interview is a recent development that's here to stay. At my executive search firm, Koya Leadership Partners, we leverage video interviews as a standard part of our candidate evaluation process, and more and more clients are building them into their own processes in order to save time and money. But for job candidates, they require a bit of a different approach.

Here are a few tips that will help you make a great impression in your next (or first!) video interview:

Do a test run. Download the software used by your recruiting agency or the employer you hope to be working for and test it with a friend for the things like volume levels and lighting. If you're using Skype, make sure your profile image and ID are professional and appropriate.

Pay attention to the background and your appearance. Make sure the physical space immediately around and behind you is neat and professional looking. The ideal location has a plain background (move that giant movie poster or funky piece of art!) and a chair at a desk or table that puts you at the right height for the camera to frame your upper body and face.

Continue reading »

'Business of Giving': Brad Smith, President, Foundation Center, Chats With Denver Frederick

October 13, 2016

The following is the transcript of a conversation between Bradford K. Smith, president of Foundation Center, and Denver Frederick, host of "The Business of Giving." In their conversation, which aired September 18, Frederick and Smith talked about the next frontier of philanthropy — managing information and producing and sharing knowledge. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. "The Business of Giving" can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. on AM 970 The Answer in New York City and on I Heart Radio. For an audio version (running time: 45:38) of Denver and Brad's chat, hop on over to the BofG site.

Denver_fredericks_brad_smith_vertical (2)Denver Frederick: The rate of change is increasing in every field of endeavor, including philanthropy. And in order to be a true leader in the field, a person can't be 100 percent consumed with just the well-being and state of their own organization; one also must leave some space and time to contemplate what all these changes mean for the entire sector. One individual that fits that description perfectly is my next guest. He is Bradford K. Smith, president and CEO of the Foundation Center. Good evening, Brad, and welcome back to the Business of Giving.

Bradford K. Smith: It's great to be back.

DF: For those listeners that are not familiar with the Foundation Center, tell us about the work you do.

BKS: I think the easiest way to understand us is what Bloomberg does for the financial markets, we do for philanthropy!  Basically, we publish data and information about the transaction of philanthropy. In other words, these endowed foundations that make grants to support organizations in the social sector to make the world a better place — we track all that information. We put it out there in an unbiased way so that you can search it; you can find it; you can understand who's funding your cause, who's not funding your cause, what foundations are doing, and what they're not doing.

DF: Let's talk about foundations for a moment. When we look at philanthropy in the U.S., last year about $375 billion was made in contributions. What percentage of that comes from foundations?

BKS: It's roughly 16 to 17 percent,  and this is a common misunderstanding. A lot of people look at nonprofits in America, and they assume that their larger supporters are wealthy foundations and maybe individuals. But the largest source of income for American nonprofits in the aggregate is actually government. Foundation money is very important because it's one of the few sources of income that nonprofits have that usually is not earmarked; it's very flexible.

DF: Well, let's talk a little bit more about that. I think foundations are pretty abstract to most people. It's kind of a big idea out there, and I think you have a wonderful way of explaining it by talking about the sources of influence that they hold.  There are three of them, and let's pick up on each. I'm going to start with the one you just mentioned. The one that is obvious to everybody: money. But as you say, it's a very special kind of money, right?

BKS: Correct. Foundations have a really important role in American history and American society. Basically, our government has created a kind of social pact in which wealthy individuals are given a tax incentive for creating a charitable foundation. They make a donation of a portion of their assets to the foundation. They no longer control those assets. They can't take them back for personal use. They get a tax exemption in exchange for creating a stream of charitable giving in the future. Now, there are a lot of ways to look at the size of the philanthropic sector in the U.S. There are a lot of foundations. I  know when the Foundation Center was created in 1956, there weren't near as many. In fact, when the Foundation Center published the first print directory of American foundations, there were about four thousand foundations. And today there are well over eighty thousand foundations. And the assets they manage — their investments — surpass $800 billion. And it's the earnings on those investments, which are tax-free, that are used to actually fund grants and fulfill their charitable purpose.

DF: Right. The second source of influence that foundations have is "convening power."

BKS: Well, there are not a whole lot of people in this world whose job is to give away money. And people always were sort of perplexed about that. They said: "Gosh, how do you find the organizations to be worthy of getting the support of the foundation?" And I used to tell them: "Look, when you are in the business of giving away money, you don't have to go looking for people; they find you." So, one of the things that gives a foundation virtually a seat at any table is the fact that they're giving away money.

And the other thing is, they're giving away money that, unlike congressional money or city money, isn't earmarked by elected officials for their pet causes. It's very flexible, long-term, risk-taking money. But this also gives them the ability to "convene." And we find that the foundations that are having the greatest impact on the issues that are working — whether it's criminal justice reform, or climate change, or job creation — are not just giving away grants in a retail kind of way. They're actually creating tables to which policy makers, academics, activists, and others can come and really think about what the long-term solutions are to these serious problems that our society and world face.

DF: And it would seem, in an era of collaboration, they do have that special role. They don't have a dog in the fight; they're neutral….

BKS: Correct.

DF: They give money away, and they have an incredible ability to get everybody to come when they call a meeting.

BKS: Yeah. When I worked with the Ford Foundation, the two jokes they always tell you when you start to work there is that all your phone calls get returned. And immediately, it seems like all of your ideas are brilliant.

DF: That's right, and you also become a little funnier and better looking, too.

BKS: That's right. Two of the perks.

DF: And finally, and this is so important: the accumulated knowledge that foundations hold. Speak to that.

BKS: I think this is really the frontier for foundations. Roughly, I think we can say that — and I know you've had a lot of speakers come on this program — foundations have moved from the notion of just giving away money, a charity approach, to what a lot people call social investment. The idea that even though you're making a grant, you're investing in a solution, and you're expecting return in the form of impact.

But another way to look at foundations is — I gave a presentation on this recently, and I said: "When it comes to knowledge and information, foundations are like black holes, and they need to become supernovas."

So what do I mean by that? The average foundation receives hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals from nonprofit organizations — different kinds of social sector organizations filled with ideas about how to make the neighborhood, the community, the city, and the world a better place. Some portion of those get approved. As part of the process, the groups that get the grants provide written reports periodically — progress reports — full of information also. Then there's also the foundation staff themselves. When you’re sitting in a foundation, let's say you're working on early childhood issues, on any given day you probably talk to four or five different people who are the best in their field, who have fantastic ideas about how to solve all the issues around early childhood learning. And you accumulate all that knowledge; that knowledge is in your head; it's in your notes; it's on your hard drive. All these documentations are  flowing in to foundations. If we weren't philanthropy — if we were Google or we were Facebook — we would have data scientists crawling all over that stuff!

DF: Tagging everything.

BKS: Tagging everything, looking for correlations, trying to extract [information]. This is a tremendous source of potential knowledge about how we can make this world a better place. And I think the next frontier for philanthropy is going to be managing information, and producing and sharing knowledge.

DF: Let's talk a little bit about that frontier. A few years ago, the Foundation Center launched a site called Glasspockets.  The tagline was: "Bringing transparency to the world of philanthropy." And, when it comes to the world of foundation transparency, there is a [recent] development which you believe will have a profound effect: the machine-readable 990. Tell us what that is. And what is the significance of it?

BKS: I think that phrase, "machine-readable 990s" — if we went out onto Broadway here and we asked a bunch of people what they think about machine-readable 990s, we'd get a lot of blank stares.

First of all, the whole notion of transparency is in the DNA of the Foundation Center. We were created during McCarthyism when foundations were being investigated for support of un-American  activities. And a group of foundation leaders felt that the best way to deal with that kind of suspicion was to create a public information service about philanthropy. And part of that is, we're not an advocacy organization; we're not a membership organization. We're neutral.

But there is one thing we advocate for, and that is transparency; that's why we were created. And in fact, the name of the site,, comes from a quote that was used at the founding of the Foundation Center. "We think foundations should have 'glass pockets'."  That was coined by the chair of the Carnegie Foundation board at the time. So we've been promoting foundation transparency. And for years, the tax return that foundations file, which is called a 990-PF — it's what endowed foundations file in exchange for their tax exemption — has been open information. What that means, or what it has meant until very recently, is that that document, if you request it, should be available from the foundation itself and available from the Internal Revenue Service. 

Now, what a lot of people don't understand is that those documents, or some portion of them, are filed electronically online by foundations. But many of them are still filed in written form —

DF: The old-fashioned way...

BKS:  — and some of them — because we see this all the time — are still filled out in pencil. But until very recently, regardless of how they were filled out, the Internal Revenue Service was fulfilling its public information requirement by making them available as image files, something called a .tiff file. Probably the easiest way for people to understand it is that it's just like a .pdf.

But even if you file it digitally, anybody who requests it essentially gets a picture of it. Now if you've ever tried to edit a .pdf, or do anything with a .pdf — you can't do anything with it, right? It's not like a Word document. It's not digital. It's a picture; it's like a photograph. So, we and GuideStar and other organizations that work a lot with these tax returns in order to get information from them, basically had to create a pretty significant infrastructure to try to extract data from these documents — which is largely a manual process. But as of just a few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service surprised everyone by releasing all the tax returns — the 990-PFs  that have been digitally filed — as machine-readable open data.

So, what is machine-readable open data? What that means is, it's actually released in a form where it can be automatically harvested by a computer with no human intervention. Basically, if you think of the computer as like a vacuum cleaner — it sucks in all the information, and then using algorithms and other kinds of computer programs, you can manipulate and begin to do all sorts of things with that information. All of a sudden, the barriers to actually creating something useful out of information have been drastically lowered and made much cheaper.

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5 Things to Do Before Issuing an RFP: Advice From a Former Nonprofit Leader

October 10, 2016

RfpImageIn my former life (B.C., or "Before Constructive"), I ran a nonprofit in New Zealand that raised awareness and funds for cancer research. Like a lot of nonprofit leaders, I wore many hats and had a wide scope of responsibilities, including the organization's communication strategy and a major overhaul of its website. I found the latter experience both fascinating and terrifying — and, believe me, the learning curve was steep. Despite my initial trepidation, however, I was gradually bewitched by the process — and the meeting of minds that was our partnership with the agency we eventually selected. It was magic: our mission and vision, their creativity and expertise, all of it leading to something that looked great and truly had the power to change lives.

On returning to the U.S., I made the leap to a brand strategy and design firm with the intention of participating in and experiencing that magic on a more frequent basis. These days, I'm often the first point of contact between Constructive and social sector organizations that reach out to us for assistance. And in that role, I get to chat with many people like my former colleagues about their challenges and how we can help them better advance their missions.

With half a year under my belt here, I find myself wishing I could do more to share the agency viewpoint with all the fantastic social change organizations out there. And I often daydream about time-traveling to tell my past self how to find an agency partner that would not only do a great job on my project, but also bring a perspective to the work that I didn't know was missing and add value I didn't know existed.

So, if you're beginning a search for a branding or digital agency and are struggling to develop an effective RFP, here's a little helpful guidance (I hope) from a former nonprofit leader who has moved to the agency world and is deepening her understanding of both sides of the nonprofit-agency equation.

1. Clarify your goals (but don’t be prescriptive). If you're issuing an RFP for a website redesign or rebranding project, you're already familiar with the pain points that brought you to this stage. Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is to clarify the likely challenges and strategic goals for the project. But don't get carried away!

As someone responsible for selecting a partner for an important project, it's tempting to create an RFP that includes everything you might need in painstaking detail. If nothing else, you may tell yourself, it will make it easier to evaluate the proposals you receive in response to the RFP. But there's a fine line between articulating your goals for a design/rebranding project and being prescriptive about how you expect to achieve those goals. And time you and your colleagues spend "designing" your ideal solution now is likely to be time, as the process unfolds, that's not particularly well spent.

According to business development expert Blair Enns, the vast amount of information easily accessible on the Internet has led to a dramatic rise in the number of organizations that approach agencies, of all kinds, with entrenched ideas about the solutions needed to solve their problems. And that often leads to unfortunate consequences. You don't have to be a genius to appreciate Einstein's observation that "it's unlikely that [a] problem will be solved from within the context it was created." While proactivity in a client is something every agency welcomes, it can be a problem when experts in a domain are not allowed to exercise that expertise. A good partner will be equally effective in combining the expertise of the client with its own unique expertise to create something greater than either could achieve on their own. And if there's one thing agencies bring to the table that clients are unlikely to develop on their own, it's an "outside" perspective and new thinking.  

So, if you're issuing an RFP, yes, absolutely, make sure you know what your goals for the engagement are. But before you spend valuable time adding painstaking detail to your RFP, remember that you want to leave room for good ideas not necessarily your own to flourish. Then go find a partner who is willing to ask challenging questions and can help shape, not simply implement, your vision.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 8-9, 2016)

October 09, 2016

Haiti Hurricane MatthewOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks has some good advice re the dangers of committee writing and the three-verb fumble.

Disaster Relief

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, killed more than seven hundred people in Haiti and ravaged the southwestern tip of that impoverished nation. On the Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog, Regine A. Webster answers three questions for donors: When should I give? How should I give? And where should I give?

Derek Kravitz and a team from ProPublica have uncovered documents that purport to show local officials in Louisiana were "irate" over the American Red Cross’ response to the August flooding in that state, the country's worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.


On Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog, author and education expert Alfie Kohn explains why pay-for-performance schemes for students and teachers are counterproductive.

International Affairs/Development

According to the World Bank, "[t]he number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than 100 million across the world despite a sluggish global economy," with 767 million people were living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, down from 881 million people the previous year.

On the UN Foundation blog, Aaron Sherinian shares thumbnail bios of seventeen young people who are working to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.


With pension costs rising and stock market returns flat, a growing number of municipalities are "looking for ways of taxing what until now have been tax-exempt sacred cows." Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trust's Stateline initiative.

Beth Kanter has officially announced the launch of her third book, The Happy Health Nonprofit (with Aliza Sherman), which "explores why burnout is so common in the nonprofit sector and simple ways to practice self-care and bring a culture of well-being into the nonprofit workplace." 

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Linking Challenge to Opportunity to Strategy

October 07, 2016

Link-Building-IconMost of us dread the annual strategic planning process. It's a daunting task to have to stop and think about the future when your days are already super busy with the work you do for your organization's clients and beneficiaries.

Then there's the fact that the plan itself can be a document that inspires and creates a visionary context for an organization, or, as I've seen lately, a series of work plans detailing what the organization is going to do over the next few years and how it's going to do it.

Regardless of which approach your organization takes, here are a few things to think about as you and your colleagues sit down to develop your next strategic plan:

  • Your supporters really don't care how the ship runs; they care about what your organization is doing to help people and advance its cause.
  • Your supporters don't want to know about how you're going to boost the reach and impact of your communications. From their perspective, you should be doing that anyway. They do care about what lies ahead for the organization, and what they can do to help make change happen.
  • Your supporters want to believe your plan will get more people like them to support your cause or issue. They want to be assured you have a handle on your overall strategy and the tactics needed to implement it. And they want to be reminded why they are important to your organization's success.

The points above underscore the important role individual supporters play in the change process. I hope they also convey a sense of the linkage that is often missing from strategic plans: challenge begets opportunity begets strategy.

Creating a "Challenge" Narrative for Supporters

It is crucial that supporters feel compelled to act by your challenge narrative. And the hardest part of that is making sure it conveys enough urgency to cause potential supporters to say, "Wow, I need to step up and do something." Your narrative should do two things:

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How the Lack of Market Feedback Puts Foundations at Risk and What Some Funders Are Doing About It

October 06, 2016

FeedbackQuick: What's the difference between a private foundation and a public charity? To answer, you could consult the Internal Revenue Code, or you might just as easily say: "One has money and the other needs it."

This simple truth carries profound consequences for foundation decision-making and culture, through the impact of market feedback — or the lack thereof. A private foundation (generally an independent, endowed grantmaking entity) has a fundamentally different and weaker market feedback loop than either a for-profit business or a public charity (generally an operating nonprofit). Even the smallest business receives regular feedback from its market in the form of changes in sales. In order to maintain its tax status, a public charity must constantly attract public resources to put toward its mission — and the response to these efforts is a very real, ongoing, and often painful example of market feedback. A nonprofit unable to attract sufficient funds faces an existential crisis. Negative market feedback in the form of inadequate resources presents the organization with an imperative: either change in ways that will attract the necessary resources, or risk economic failure.

In a striking contrast, no such feedback loop exists for a private foundation. Because its resources were provided by a donor in an endowment at the outset of its existence, there is never a question of economic failure. Put more simply: to survive, a private foundation need not operate successful programs or make effective grants; it need not manage its staff well, engage its board in generative thinking, or meaningfully participate in larger conversations about its work. So long as it achieves the low bar set by the law (meeting payout requirements, paying excise tax, etc.), it has nothing to fear. The only external measure of its success is whether it remains in good standing with the IRS and the state in which it is incorporated. Beyond that, accountability begins and ends with itself.

This unique situation is a source of jealousy, impatience, and frustration among nonprofit leaders, who find it hard to imagine a world not dominated by their continuous need to fundraise. For the foundation, however, this insularity removes one of the most valuable inputs for any organization: frequent, timely, and accurate market feedback.

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The Cost of Caring for Survivors of Domestic Human Trafficking

October 04, 2016

Sex_traffickingThe problem of human trafficking in the United States is a relatively new issue. The Federal Strategic Action Plan was released in 2013 and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of the Office on Trafficking in Persons in 2015. Almost daily, however — particularly in major metropolitan areas — we are presented with news stories about the latest sex trafficking sting or labor trafficking violations involving manufacturing supply chains. Polaris Project has been reporting on legislative progress within the states for the past several years, and while there has been progress on the awareness-raising and legislative fronts, the landscape of victim services, and residential programs specifically, has been harder to quantify. Everyone seems to point to the growing number of victims and the need for "beds," but few understand what providing those beds entails.

In July 2016, through a grant from an anonymous donor, The Samaritan Women of Maryland, PATH of Arkansas, and Gracehaven of Ohio convened a group of almost two dozen service agencies with at least two years' experience serving victims of trafficking and more than twenty individuals representing start-up efforts on the campus of Wheaton College in Chicago. At that four-day summit, the above-mentioned agencies committed themselves to working together to improve information exchange, research, peer mentoring, and survivor referral through a modern-day "underground railroad." One of the things the group did was to establish a shared lexicon so as to better categorize each type of agency and the scope of services provided. Speaking the same language is the first step to improving the quality of survivor referrals.

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Advancing Women's Economic Security

October 03, 2016

WFN_DSP_discoverIn Tennessee, the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis is working to reduce poverty by 5 percent over five years in a zip code, 38126, where 62 percent of adults and 76 percent of children live at or below the poverty line.

In Chicago, 460,000 workers now have paid sick leave thanks to the work of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a coalition of community, faith-based, women's advocacy, and labor organizations.

In Massachusetts, the Women's Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts piloted a support program that helped Jamielee, a mother of two young children, get a car — and on the path to a college degree and employment, along with 76 percent of the program's participants.

These are just a few of the things that women's foundations across the United States are doing to advance women's economic security.

In September, the Women's Funding Network unveiled a new Economic Security Digital Storytelling Platform to highlight the important work our members are doing for women and girls around the world. The site allows visitors to explore economic security data and grantmaking strategies, as well as powerful stories of the women, programs, and organizations that are driving and creating positive change for women.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 1-2, 2016)

October 02, 2016

Ears-up2Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

Every year, B Lab, a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good, puts together a list of "the best companies for the world." Business Insider's Ariel Schwartz has the details.

First Amendment

In an article on the Knight Foundation site, Sam Gill, the foundation's vice president for learning and impact, shares key takeaways from a survey of university students in which they were asked to weigh in on First Amendment issues and freedoms. Very interesting.

Global Health

In a guest post on the Humanopshere blog, Sean McKee, a policy translation specialist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, reports that mother and child death rates are improving dramatically in most parts of the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to commit $3 billion to cure, manage, and end disease by the end of the century. How should they spend the money? Devex's Catherine Cheney shares some thoughts.

Higher Education

The Steve Fund has launched a free online resource center that aims to connect college students of color with mental health information and support. Claudia Lamberty reports for the Campus News.

Although they're often overlooked, community colleges are a key driver of rural economic development and opportunity. Science Foundation Arizona's Caroline VanIngen-Dunn reports.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

Entering the homestretch of another year that has flown by, and we have good news and bad news. First the bad: There are still thirty-seven days left in this election cycle. On the good-news front, you all dug into the PhilanTopic archive and surfaced a couple of wonderful items from the past, including a terrific post by Small Change author Michael Edwards (one of three in an excellent series Michael wrote for us) and a sharp review of Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education by Michael Weston-Murphy. You also liked Stephen Pratt's sensible advice vis-à-vis metrics and measurement, Kris Putnam-Walkerly's exhortation to grantmakers, and Matt's Q&A with Markle Foundation president Zoë Baird. As for that pesky thing called time, I like (but don't always follow) the great Satchel Paige's advice: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

How We Can Uncover Childhood Health Outcomes Over a Lifetime

September 29, 2016

Childrens_healthEven if their approaches differ, philanthropies ultimately have the same core goal: to create a better future. Many philanthropies, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), have been working diligently for years to identify the root causes of health problems that affect populations across the nation and to develop solutions to those problems that extend across every aspect of our lives.

Nevertheless, life expectancy in the United States continues to lag other high-income nations, and we continue to lag in other key health indicators as well. With many different factors influencing health, the need for a trusted national source of longitudinal data that tracks how children's health is impacted by environmental, social, and economic influences has never been greater. This kind of cross-sectoral database could help researchers and policy makers see how different factors — including education, parenting style, exposure to chemicals, and the digital environment — affect the growth and development of children.

No philanthropic organization or academic institution has had the inclination — or the resources — to fund a study of this nature, even though such a study could have wide-reaching benefits — and despite the fact that most nations already have this kind of data, allowing them to recognize and address areas in which their children are struggling. The United Kingdom, for example, hosted a birth cohort analysis in 1958, 1970, 1989, and 2000 that has produced 3,600 studies and currently provides data free to researchers. At RWJF, understanding how factors related to where we live, work, and play impact our health — and finding novel ways to spread what's working in a given community — is at the center of our vision of a Culture of Health.

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Four Questions Every Nonprofit Marketer Should Ask

September 24, 2016

Hands_upMost nonprofit executives will tell you that the competition for funding has never been tougher. Donors have an overwhelming variety of causes to choose from, an abundance of guidance and advice to listen to, and not nearly enough time to sort it all out and make an informed decision. The question for nonprofits is: What can we do to break through the noise and build lasting and meaningful relationships with donors? 

Having worked with nonprofit marketing teams and executives for more than twenty years, I'm well acquainted with the lack of planning that pervades the sector. Nonprofits tend to jump right into the program execution phase without asking the most basic marketing and branding questions. And this lack of upfront planning often results in more than confusion; it can cost a nonprofit money.

With nonprofit marketers about to dig in for the all-important final quarter of the calendar year, here's a handful of questions you should be thinking about:

What's the opportunity cost of our organization not having a strong brand?

A strong brand is more than just a logo, color palette, or mnemonic device. Your brand should create an emotional connection in the hearts and minds of donors that grows stronger over time. Once donors understand the fundamentals of your organization's work and how it differs from other groups doing similar work, the investment in creating that connection will pay off in a variety of ways. Because of that connection, donors are more likely to support your organization by doing more than just giving money. They'll attend events and volunteer. And, more importantly, they're more likely to actively promote your organization's work and recruit other supporters to its cause.

Ask yourself the following: 

  • Is our organization well known in our segment?
  • Do donors understand our mission and the work we do?
  • Are donors easily able to explain our mission to others?
  • Are donors willing to promote our organization to others?

If the answer to any of these questions is anything other than "yes," you need to understand there may be real financial consequences for your organization. Before things reach that pass, suggest to your colleagues that it's time to revisit your messaging strategy and think about how your brand is connecting — or isn't — with supporters and potential supporters.

What's preventing our organization from building a stronger brand?

Marketing initiatives aren't always easily communicated within organizations. Often, there's confusion between the role of the marketing team and the role of the development team. And in cases where a marketing initiative needs to span chapters or affiliates, securing organization-wide buy-in can be next to impossible.

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Building Police-Community Trust Through Reform

September 20, 2016

Building-TrustThis year, tensions between communities of color and law enforcement have escalated to new heights with a series of tragic incidents across our country. Too many communities have lost trust in police. And this gap in trust makes it even more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officials to do their jobs.

Like you, we at the Irvine Foundation have been disturbed and deeply saddened by the growing violence and racial tensions. It is enormously painful to see the loss of life — the lives cut short in their interactions with police as well as of law enforcement officials who have become targets despite risking their lives to navigate tremendously difficult situations.

Long term, the goal of our grantmaking at Irvine is to ensure that all Californians — especially those working but struggling with poverty — have job opportunities and a voice on matters that impact their community. But for Californians to seize opportunity, fundamental prerequisites like community safety and trust in law enforcement must be in place. Sadly, strained police-community relations are a result of a festering, connected set of problems that have been ignored for too long.

Eager to find solutions, we reached out to foundation partners to learn what effective approaches could be expanded to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color. Since this is not Irvine's area of focus, we were fortunate to be able to tap the expertise of Tim Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation. He and his colleagues at the Rosenberg Foundation have done vital criminal justice reform work for years alongside grantees and other funders.

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Building Trust Through Reform

Building-TrustIf securing and sustaining community trust and inclusion is an integral part of protecting public safety, we are in trouble.

Today, the chasm between law enforcement and communities of color appears wider than ever. Over the last few years, we've seen incident after incident of police brutality, too often against unarmed men of color. No one should ever live in fear of violence at the hands of the very people who are sworn to protect and serve them. At the same time, officers who put their lives on the line for all of us increasingly feel like they are targets themselves.

Real transformation of our justice system will require all hands on deck — all of us working together over the long haul to make bold change possible. That is why we are deeply appreciative of Don Howard, president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, and our colleagues in philanthropy for responding to this pressing need by investing more than $1.3 million for the statewide expansion of an innovative model that builds trust — and reform — through police and community collaboration.

With this support, PICO California, a statewide network of five hundred faith-based community organizations, will work in partnership with communities across the state to expand its Building Trust Through Reform initiative. Piloted in Oakland, this effort brings together community members and law enforcement for frank dialogue about history, bias, community voice, and respect. Working together, community members and police officers are able to build trust and also craft real solutions for reform. For example, Oakland ended a twenty-year pattern of, on average, one officer-involved fatal shooting every six weeks (achieving a 23-month period with zero lethal officer-involved shootings), while reducing homicides by nearly 40 percent over two years and also reducing officer injury.

PICO's initiative is one of many important approaches that can help improve public safety by reforming our police and justice systems. At Rosenberg Foundation, we are clear that criminal justice reform is one of the leading racial justice and social justice issues of our time. Our out-of-control justice and policing systems have done real damage to our communities, especially communities of color and low-income communities, and to our local, state and federal coffers. We are optimistic that we can end decades of so-called "tough on crime" approaches to public safety and replace them with policies and investments proven to create real community safety.

Headshot_TimSilard_RosenbergPhilanthropy has a critical role to play in making sure we all live in safe and healthy communities. It is time for us to reimagine what it really takes to build a justice system that works for all of us.

Timothy P. Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation. This post originally appeared on the foundation's website.

Elder Justice Philanthropy Enters a New Age

September 19, 2016

My grandmother, Brooke Astor, was a role model and ahead of her time when it came to philanthropy. Well into her tenth decade of life, she was known as "New York's First Lady" and a "humanist aristocrat with a generous heart" who immersed herself in a form of engaged philanthropy decades before the practice was mainstream.

Headshot_brooke_astorAs president of the Vincent Astor Foundation from 1959 until she closed the foundation in 1997, she worked to advance the "quality of life" in her beloved New York City. But in 2006, at the age of 104, she unknowingly became an advocate for elder Americans, for "quality of life at the end of life." That year, after I learned she had been a victim of elder abuse perpetrated by her own son — my father — I sought her guardianship. However, the press discovered the contents of my guardianship petition, leading to lurid front-page headlines and the harsh spotlight of unwanted publicity. While my grandmother would never have wanted to be known as one of America's most famous victims of elder abuse, it may be one of her greatest and most lasting legacies.

I came to the cause of elder justice through my grandmother's sad personal circumstances. It was a situation that informed and touched me, firing my commitment to lend support to the cause and join with others to enact meaningful change.

When I first sought to assist my grandmother, I didn't know what resources were available to me, where I could turn for help, or how I could help those who had helped her. To say I found it confusing and overwhelming is an understatement.

In 2010, after a six-month criminal trial that ended in my father's conviction, I began to speak at events and conferences across the nation in what eventually turned into a multiyear listening tour. Over these last half dozen years, I have learned much from the professionals who do so much — for so many — often with so little. I have come to realize that elder abuse is a systemic problem that demands systems-based solutions.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 17-18 2016)

September 18, 2016

Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


Did the board of the Wounded Warrior Project blunder by firing CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giardano in response to allegations in the media that the organization was spending too much on itself and too little on those it was supposed to help? Forbes contributor Richard Levick reports.


On openDemocracy's Transformations blog, Megan Tompkins-Stange, assistant professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School, University of Michigan and author of the recently published Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence, argues that billionaire philanthropists are imposing their views on the rest of society with little or no accountability for their actions.

Giving Pledge

Dean and Marianne Metropoulos of Greenwich, Connecticut, are the newest members of the Giving Pledge club.


Guest blogging on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jessica Bearman, principal of Bearman Consulting and a consultant to the Grants Managers Network, suggests that foundations intentionally moving to integrate operations and program have five essential characteristics in common.


On the GuideStar blog, Martin Teitel, author of The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants and a former CEO of the Cedar Tree Foundation, shares his six-step formula for winning a grant.

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[Infographic] How Foundations Get Out the Vote

September 17, 2016

In a commentary for PND written shortly after the 2014 midterm elections, Ruth Holton-Hodson, a former director of public policy at the California Wellness Foundation, suggested that the one area that has an impact "on every one of the issues progressives hold dear... [is] the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy." Holton-Hodson further noted that while "Citizens United and other recent court cases...have given corporations and billionaires a huge advantage in terms of buying a government that is responsive to their isn't the most powerful tool in our democratic toolkit. Voting is. Corporations can't vote (yet), and billionaires only have one vote, just like you and me."

Although Holton-Hodson's message continues to be ignored by too many Americans — in recent years, only 40 percent of the voting eligible population has bothered to vote in midterm elections, a number that jumps to 60 percent in presidential election years — it is not, as this week's infographic suggests, because U.S. foundations have ignored the issue. Indeed, since 2011, foundations have made grants totaling more than $3 billion in support of U.S. democracy.

Now, anyone who has been discouraged, if not troubled, by the bluster and sound-bite superficiality of this election season could be forgiven for thinking that that may not have been money well spent. But as Holton-Hodson notes, fixing our democratic infrastructure and, by extension, our democracy is a long-term project. And foundations interested in the success of that project need "to take a page from the conservative playbook and fund the work so desperately needed to strengthen that infrastructure so that everyone who can vote and wants to vote is able to vote." It is, she adds, "the only way to ensure that we have a government willing to support and implement policies that meet the education, health, and welfare needs of all Americans."

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You Can Connect the Dots for Global Philanthropy

September 16, 2016

ConnectthedotsData is something we all want. Data, though, is not something we can all have... not right now, at least. In order for data to be collected, processed, analyzed, and shared — all while taking into account individual country contexts around the world — the data has to exist in the first place. This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked, especially in a global context. For example, we simply don't know what kind of impact foundations in Kenya are having in a sector like health, or what funds they are directing to various issues and how that compares to the impact and spending by government programs or international aid. As a result, we have no way of knowing whether philanthropy is making a difference or if there's a way those dollars could be used more effectively. That's the case not just in Kenya, but in countries across the global North and South. And the reason we don't have a complete picture of the philanthropic sector's contribution to and role within the development ecosystem is because there is a lack of data skills and a data culture in philanthropy. Not just a small gap; it's a pretty big one.

In order to tackle these issues, Foundation Center has developed a program to partner with philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world to create a culture of data, build much-needed data management capacity, and create and use data to drive more effective development and grantmaking outcomes. The program also aims to strengthen the efforts of local foundations and associations of foundations to develop their own long-term, sustainable, in-country data strategies, better understand and fill their capacity needs through skills development, and highlight and provide tools to help foundations work with data more effectively.

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Mind the Gap! Bridging Funder and Grantee Approaches to Measurement

September 14, 2016

Methods of measurementsOver the past thirty years, the total value of philanthropic assets in the United States has more than doubled, while the poverty rate has remained unchanged and income inequality has grown.

There are lots of reasons for this lack of progress, but facts like that make it hard to argue that foundations and nonprofits are successfully pursuing an anti-poverty mission.

At Root Cause, we believe a big reason nonprofits and foundations struggle to create the change we all seek is their failure to articulate the hypotheses underlying their approach to change, to use data to test those hypotheses, and to use the results of those tests to refine those approaches and build a body of evidence about what works.

For the past year, I've been making the rounds at regional and national conferences to talk about why measurement and evaluation matter. I've also had the chance to sit down with dozens of nonprofit and foundation leaders for extended conversations about what's at stake here.

The good news is that many foundation and nonprofit leaders share our point of view and have a real sense of urgency about using data and evidence to improve nonprofit practice and achieve better results.

The bad news is that everyone seems to be on a different page. Even among those pursuing a performance-measurement agenda, there is little in the way of dialogue, transparency, or knowledge sharing. Nonprofits develop theories of change in isolation, as if meaningful change happens through a single intervention here or a single intervention there, while funders articulate their own theories of change without much regard for what their grantees are doing.

The result: a boatload of metrics gets collected but neither funder nor grantee gains much insight into what works or how their efforts can be leveraged to drive real, systemic change.

What to do? We'd like to suggest the following:

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5 Questions for...Zoë Baird, CEO/President, Markle Foundation

September 12, 2016

We've all heard that necessity is the mother of invention. And like most clichés, there is plenty of truth to it. But for every other UpWork professional using Uber to a get to a client meeting, there's a CEO who would prefer to convert that freelancer into a full-time employee. Or so shows a recent survey conducted by the Markle Foundation, the Aspen Institute's Future of Work Initiative, Burson-Marsteller, and TIME magazine. While employers recognize the benefits of hiring "contingent workers" and embrace the principles of the "on-demand economy," the survey found, among other things, that 56 percent of employers believe full-time employees provide more long-term value to their businesses and are more invested in the company.

Recently, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Zoë Baird, who has led the Markle Foundation since 1998, about the results of the survey, the foundation's Skillful initiative, and how the job market in the U.S. is changing.

Headshot_Zoe Baird_MarklePhilanthropy News Digest: Markle recently released the results of a Workforce of the Future Survey, which examined new employment models in what many people have taken to calling the "gig economy." What, if anything, surprised you about the findings?

Zoë Baird: What really surprised us was the extent to which employers preferred to have full-time employees. It's clear that employers are using independent contractors, but over 60 percent of them really prefer full-time employees, which we view as a very positive finding. The concern that twenty-first century employers have no loyalty to their employees did not come through in the survey. Employers want full-time employees, and the main reason they hire independent contractors seems to be that they need specific skills or have a surge in work and need to hire people faster than the people they already have can acquire new skills.

PND: Did respondents say why they prefer full-time employees to part-time or contract employees?

ZB: Loss of productivity and the cost of replacing a skilled employee are factors, but the main reason seems to be that full-time employees are more loyal and committed than part-time employees. And that fits well with the work we are doing with Skillful, which is designed to get people who have a high school diploma but no college degree on a path to attain the skills they need to thrive in the twenty-first century economy.

PND: You don't have to look far these days to find someone willing to talk about the lack of skilled employees in the marketplace. Have we made progress in closing the so-called skills gap?

ZB: What we’re finding, both in the work we’re doing and in the research, is that jobs and the nature of work are changing, but people aren't getting retrained fast enough to keep up with those changes. Increasingly, employers are eager and willing to re-train workers, whether or not those workers have a college degree. And what we're trying to do is to work with employers to define the skills they need and then help job seekers demonstrate to potential employers that they have those skills.

With Skillful, we've created a platform that lets everyone, employers and job candidates, see what they need to see. Individuals who are interested in a career path can see what a particular job pays and watch videos showing them what it looks like to do a particular job. We also have videos of people talking about what a job in, say, advanced manufacturing is all about. People often end up doing the same kind of job a parent did, in part because it's often the path of least resistance. Skillful enables you to see what different jobs look like and what they pay. Then you can sit with a career counselor at a workforce center, or at Goodwill, which is partner­ing with us on the initiative, and talk with them about how to get the training you need to get onto a career path that leads to a brighter future. It's designed to be a "begin-again" system and remove the mystery of how you go about switching gears.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 10-11, 2016)

September 11, 2016

9-11-memorial-ceremonyOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Half of the ten largest cities in the world, including New York, are already threatened by rising sea levels. And if Greenland becomes ice free, as is currently projected to happen in the next century, all bets are off. On the EDF blog, Ilissa Ocko looks at five other climate tipping points scientists are worried about.


Most of us don't think twice about tossing our old clothes. Which is a problem, writes Alden Wicker, because textile waste is piling up at a "catastrophic rate."

Higher Education

Harvard University has raised $7 billion since it launched its most recent fundraising campaign in 2013 -- and while that's good news for America's oldest university, it's bad news for higher education. Akshat Rathi reports for Quartz.

On the Aspen Institute blog, Josh Wyner and Keith Witham look at what policy debates over increasing college affordability and reducing student debt say about the value we as a nation place on a college education and its individual and societal benefits.


On the Triple Pundit site, Nicole Anderson, assistant vice president for social innovation at AT&T and president of the AT&T Foundation, explains what the telecommunications giant has been doing to measure the social return on AT&T Aspire, its signature educational program.

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Get Out There!

September 08, 2016

Go_signI hope you had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it's time to hunker down in the office and get things done, right?


In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see community problems being solved. There's no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging connections. And there are few people more suited to forging connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.

Building connections isn't something you do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them firsthand with those who are most affected by them. You need to meet people on their own turf and look them in the eye before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear on a problem. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that almost never take place within your own foundation's walls.

Of course, not every foundation operates this way. It's not that foundation people are shy or too self-important to get out there – it's that they get caught up in the myth of the importance of being in the office.

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[Review] 'The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism'

September 06, 2016

Our country is at an impasse, stymied by gridlock in Washington, a highly polarized press, and an increasingly toxic social media-driven discourse. Far from being our finest hour, the race for the White House has devolved into name calling and nativist appeals to fringe elements, while leaders on both the Left and Right seem powerless to find a way forward. Many citizens, if they can bear to watch, are left wondering how we got here.

Book_fractured_republic3In an era of sound bite-driven news, serious reflection and reasoned thought often get short shrift. Which makes Yuval Levin's The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism all the more welcome. In it, Levin, a National Affairs editor, former staffer in George W. Bush's White House, and historian of ideas (The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left; Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy), lays out a vision for a new politics that rejects the nostalgia of both Left and Right and challenges liberals and conservatives to renew America's social contract by moving beyond the stale certainties of the status quo.

The basis of Levin's argument is deceptively simple. In its efforts to advance economic equality while celebrating the continued expansion of individual rights, the baby boomer Left looks back wistfully at LBJ's Great Society and the creation of the welfare state as a high point in postwar American politics. The boomer Right, meanwhile, pines for the perceived moral clarity of a golden past while lauding the triumph of the market in almost every aspect of our lives. Even now, a decade and a half into a new millennium, the tension between these two versions of recent history reverberates and shapes the lived reality of our public life. But while there are lessons to be learned from both perspectives, the fundamental demographic and socioeconomic conditions of the country have changed to such a degree that the political solutions of mid-twentieth century America no longer make sense. "That the baby boomers so dominate our national memory and self-image means that we don't think enough about what came before the golden age of boomers' youth," he writes, "and we don't think clearly...about how things have changed since then."

Throughout the book, Levin adopts the respective lenses of both Right and Left, recounting their many ideological battles and political skirmishes. In so doing, he suggests that two developments which emerged out of the disasters of the twentieth century have shaped who Americans are and how they think — the expansion of federal power and the celebration of individualism and personal choice. And yet, as entrenched as these two forces in American life have become, little attention has been paid to how they have combined to subvert the middle ground between them. Levin writes:

As the national government grows more centralized, and takes over the work otherwise performed by mediating institutions — from families and communities to local governments and charities — individuals become increasingly atomized; and as individuals grow apart from one another, the need for centralized government provision seems to grow….  

He further argues that Left and Right value different aspects of this dynamic, creating an ontological bind that begets an even more "hollow polity." "The Right," he observes, "wants unmitigated economic individualism [and] a return to common moral norms," while "[t]he Left wants unrestrained moral individualism but economic consolidation."

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 3-5, 2016)

September 05, 2016

Ball_and_racket_headOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

The landscape of corporate philanthropy is changing — for the better. Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, looks at one Wall Street firm determined to change the existing stock-buyback paradigm.

Disaster Relief

In aftermath of the recent flooding in Louisiana, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate's Rebekah Allen and Elizabeth Crisp look at how crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are disrupting the traditional disaster relief funding model.


In the New York Times, Christopher Edmin, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and the author of For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, challenges the idea that the answer to closing the achievement gap for boys and young men of color is to hire and retain more black male teachers.


Wondering how to get the public solidly behind your cause? Of course you are. Regular PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann shares some good tips here.

Higher Education

As the call for institutions of higher education to diversify their curricula grows louder, maybe it's time, writes the University of Texas' Steven Mintz on the Teagle Foundation site, for colleges and university "to embrace the Great Books spirit and delve into the most problematic aspects of our contemporary reality through works that speak to our time and perhaps all time."


The Organizational Effectiveness program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has launched an Organizational Effectiveness Knowledge Center designed to be a space where nonprofits, funders, and others can "exchange learning, resources, and reflections about improving nonprofit organizational and network effectiveness."

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