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19 posts from April 2017

10 Ways Technology Can Advance Family Planning

April 28, 2017

Dreamstimemedium_25330091Contraceptive social marketing used to be a straightforward, relatively low-tech affair. You would design an attractively packaged condom or contraceptive product and sell it to as many retail outlets as possible. To increase demand, you would create TV and radio advertisements and produce T-shirts, caps, and other promotional items to drive interest in your brands.

Times have changed. While my organization, DKT International, still uses those tactics, we now have new technologies at our disposal that enable us to reach more people than ever with information about family planning products and services.

According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, 94 percent of people living in low- and middle-income countries now have access to mobile phones, up from 4 percent in 2000. That means more people in the world have access to mobile phones than electricity or clean water.

And, as almost everyone knows, social media has become an increasingly prominent communication platform. Eighty-nine percent of Internet users in Indonesia use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2016.  This should come as no surprise, given the excellent 4G coverage in that country combined with the Indonesian penchant for community building. The statistics in other countries are equally impressive: 88 percent in the Philippines, 85 percent in Nigeria, 81 percent in Mexico, and 79 percent in Brazil. By comparison, only 71 percent of Internet users in the United States are on one or more social networking site.

These developments give family planning organizations a wealth of new opportunities and channels to share information about contraception.

With that in mind, here are ten innovative ways technology is being used to advance sexual reproductive health globally:

1. Sex info 24/7: Thanks to a new technology embedded in Facebook Messenger, DKT Brazil has launched "Prudence Advisor," a "chatbot" on the Prudence Condom Facebook page that can answer sex-related questions in real time.

2. Knowledge panels: Google has introduced knowledge panels, a handy way of accessing information about modern contraception (or anything else). When you search for the name of a contraceptive method, you'll see information regarding that method pop up on the right side of the search results. The potential to educate millions of young people with a simple mouse click is enormous. Thank you, Google!

3. Sexual health texts: In Nigeria, we're using SMS text messaging in two ways: 1) women using the Sayana Press injectable contraceptive can subscribe to a free text messaging service that reminds them when it's time for their next injection (apps have long existed to remind people to take medication); and 2) TV and radio program listeners are directed to text their sexual health questions to a secure number. Doctors and certified health professionals then call them back with answers to their questions and can even refer callers to nearby clinics.

4. Find a doctor: In Mexico, users can use this page to locate the nearest reproductive health clinic in the Red DKT Network by entering their state and municipality.

5. Tablets for sales and data: The use of handheld electronic tablets has made it easy for educators, researchers, and pharmaceutical detailers to access a wealth of information and share updates and technical information. For example, Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 uses tablets to gather data on how many people are using contraceptive methods. In Nigeria, DKT's fifty medical sales representatives are using customer relationship management (CRM) field force automation on tablets to capture data (sales, location, type of outlet, etc.), track and fill orders, and send that information to their head office in Lagos, enabling fast and cost-efficient monitoring and evaluation of their activities in real time.

6. Social media: In Egypt, we launched a social media campaign that discusses, in a frank and straightforward manner, condoms and lubricants. Because local law forbids mass media advertising of contraceptives, Facebook and Instagram play a critical role in that work. For example, this condom ad went viral, attracting more than 120,000 views. (It may seem mild to an American consumer, but it is daring by Egyptian standards.)

7. Reaching youth digitally: In Kenya and Tanzania, Well Told Story, an award-winning media company, has created a digital media platform called Shujaaz that engages African youth with fictional characters who deal with issues such as contraceptive use and HIV/AIDS. The website Bedsider, which is targeted to U.S. audiences, is another youth-friendly site, as are DKT sites like Honey & Banana (in Nigeria) and this Egyptian website focused on emergency contraception (available in both Arabic and English). And DKT uses Google Analytics to track visitor behavior on our sites, enabling us to better tailor our messaging and content to our target audiences.

8. GPS, with a twist: In Brazil, our program has a Prudence condom tester program (now in its seventh year) though which people can geo-tag their location and report the creative use of a condom. In Ethiopia, we use GPS to monitor sales, finance, and inventory for all of our 30,000+ sales outlets.

9. Online videos: To reach youth in Myanmar, we bypassed expensive television ads and, instead, produced fifteen-second ads more likely to resonate in today's quick-click social media culture. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a popular YouTube video addresses contraception-related issues for a youth audience. And in Ghana, we've produced humorous animated videos on issues related to the use of Fiesta Condoms.

10. Online sales: In Myanmar and Egypt, clients can order condoms and lubricants online and have them delivered to their homes in discreet, unmarked packages. In Turkey, DKT's condoms and sexual enhancement products are available from a popular online sales site.

These are only a few examples of a trend that we expect to continue in the coming years as older technologies improve and new technologies emerge. Best of all, the beneficiaries of this innovation will be women who are more empowered with the knowledge and tools they need to manage their own reproductive lives. And that's good for them, good their societies, and good for the planet.

Headshot_Chris_PurdyChristopher Purdy is the president and CEO of DKT International, one of the largest private providers of contraceptives in the developing world. In 2016, DKT provided the equivalent of 33 million couples with one year of contraception. His professional interests include social marketing, global health, and socially responsible capitalism.

Nonprofits, Partisan Politics, and Tax Policy

April 27, 2017

Tax_cutsCalls for tax reform by the White House, Congress, and others have led to proposals that would have a direct and profound impact on nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. Of those proposals, one from the House Republicans calls for eliminating the tax deduction for charitable donations, one floated by the White House would eliminate an incentive for charitable bequests, and another from a coalition of nonprofit organizations would expand the deduction to more taxpayers. The three proposals couldn't be more different.

But while charities and donors are scrambling to preserve (or expand) their tax advantages, there are other worrisome proposals floating around. Most significantly, President Trump and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill want to change the tax code to allow charities to engage in partisan electoral activity — while, at the other extreme, some want to disallow tax deductions for support of nonprofit advocacy and policy work.

Certainly, one can understand why most tax-exempt organizations would fight to protect the tax incentives for charitable contributions that support their work, but such efforts raise questions about whether charities and donors are worried more about their own self-interest than the public good.

Nonprofits' efforts to preserve and extend the charitable deduction would be less suspect were the organizations fighting for those policies as engaged in the debates over other government tax, budget, and policy initiatives — debates that profoundly threaten many of the causes and constituencies they exist to serve. When nonprofit and foundation leaders are missing from such debates, it becomes easier to impugn their motives for trying to preserve their own tax advantages. Protecting the charitable deduction is not an adequate surrogate for broader action.

Against this backdrop, the president's pledge to "totally destroy" the so-called Johnson Amendment prohibition on charities' involvement in partisan electoral campaigns needs to be addressed (as do other administration proposals).

The National Council of Nonprofits is among the leaders of a growing effort to counter the president's assault on nonpartisanship in the charitable sector. NCN and other organizations seem to understand that if the nonprofit sector is to keep the public's trust and be seen as an effective arbiter and representative of the public interest, charities cannot become creatures of any political party, whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green.

While the president may believe otherwise, repeal of the Johnson Amendment is not in the interest of either the charitable sector or the nation. And if he believes repeal will help him "neutralize" charities' opposition to his agenda by making it appear that that opposition is fueled by partisan, tax-deductible political contributions, he is both cynical and mistaken.

Trump's bellicose rhetoric, and the Republican-controlled Congress' acquiescence, makes it imperative we address the counter-proposal floated by well-known commentator David Callahan (and echoed in a review/opinion piece by journalist Robert G. Kaiser) calling for an end to tax deductions for nonprofit policy and advocacy work. As much as I respect both men, I'm sure I am not the only one who finds that proposal to be terribly problematic.

At the risk of oversimplifying, their argument is based on the fact that growing inequality has massively concentrated the nation's wealth in the hands of a few people at the top of the economic pyramid. Indeed, these "elites" control so much wealth that they cannot possibly spend it all on themselves, their families, or their hobbies (so the argument goes), making philanthropy an attractive outlet for the billions in question.

Callahan and Kaiser argue that all that tax-advantaged philanthropy allows the wealthiest to shape, through their tax-deductible donations to charities and nonprofit institutions, the direction, and in many cases the outcomes, of our public policy debates and otherwise influence the role of public institutions and the provision of public services.

And they're right. But the problems presented by that analysis need to be put in context. It is critical in thinking about the issue to note that the billions upon billions of dollars in direct political campaign contributions and political action committee spending, as well as the additional billions spent on corporate lobbying, are much more likely to affect government policy than would an expansion of philanthropy's considerable support for nonprofits' policy and advocacy work.

More importantly, nonprofits' efforts are much more likely to serve the public interest. Eliminating tax incentives for nonprofit policy and advocacy work would only serve to further tip the scales of political debate and influence toward private benefit. While it could be argued that tinkering with tax deductibility could be done in a way that shifts more philanthropic resources to community-based work and empowers greater public engagement with policy and politics, I wouldn't bet on it. And even if it did, concern would remain about the power of the uber-wealthy to decide exactly which organizations, communities, and individuals get funded.

In fact, if the deductibility of charitable contributions is denied nonprofit organizations whose work has anything to do with public policy advocacy and political decision making, what's to prevent us from being dragged back to a nineteenth-century system of alms giving that supports only the most basic service provision and public benefit programs? Even then, questions about the self-serving nature of some philanthropy would remain.

Over the years, there have been many proposals aimed at better encouraging and democratizing charitable giving and all the public benefit work it supports. Some variation of the Internal Revenue Service's "public support test" for charities, and even for particular programs, might have the potential to address concerns about the effect of massively concentrated private wealth on the public domain — be it through nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups or through ostensibly apolitical universities, museums, park conservancies, and so on. Channeling philanthropy away from public interest policy and advocacy work, however, is not the answer to our current dilemma.

Headshot_mark_rosenmanMark Rosenman is a professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University. To read more of Rosenman's commentary, click here.

More Than a School

April 25, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. 


SDG_schoolsAs a unifying, universal agenda for countries around the world, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a unique opportunity to deliver innovative solutions and much-needed development assistance to the world's poorest countries and regions. Philanthropists the world over have answered this rallying cry and are playing a critical role in filling technical and funding gaps between what is required and what is available, while also providing important intellectual capital. While the current impact of these efforts is not to be underestimated, it is crucially important that philanthropic dollars are directed in the right way, to the right projects, at the right time. Without lasting buy-in from populations and communities targeted by these investments, impact can fade rapidly and disappear altogether over time. But to really have an impact, this funding needs to go beyond standalone projects and contribute to longer-term systems change.

Here's an example of what we're talking about. A foundation or individual donor decides to pay for the construction of a new school in an impoverished village. The odds are good that, when built, the school will have an immediate impact on the local population. But if the school is not supported by parents and local stakeholders, there's a decent chance that, within a few years, it will fall into disrepair. To achieve real, lasting impact, the school should be viewed as a community-based project that, among other things, provides local youth with a competency-based curriculum and skills training that prepares them for market-driven employment opportunities.

These are real-world challenges for philanthropic investment

It is critically important that philanthropists (and other social investment types) understand the complex development "ecosystems" of the countries in which they work. Why? Because no issue is an island, and many issues overlap in a complex web of cause and effect. Those wanting to have a long-lasting impact in a country must understand this reality, invest wisely, and work with local and national stakeholders to make sure the solutions they support truly are sustainable.

One thing we have seen time and again in the development field is philanthropy and government not working with each other. This often leads to missed opportunities for collaboration, additional funding, and innovation. Philanthropy can benefit from the public sector's knowledge of current policy and development frameworks, the specific and interrelated needs of the target population, and details about what has, and has not, worked in the past. Similarly, governments too often miss out on philanthropy's deep field knowledge, agility, and tolerance of risk. To improve this situation, we believe philanthropy and government need to locate where their interests converge, identify instances where they can collaborate, and share lessons learned.

Let's take another look at the school project we mentioned. An individual donor or foundation provided the funds to build the school, but who else was consulted? There's a pretty good chance it was built without the involvement of the government, NGOs, civil society organizations, local businesses, school officials, teachers, or parents. Which is unfortunate, since collaboration with a range of partners and community stakeholders would have resulted in a facility that was better suited to the needs of the local population. Getting local buy in would have ensured that someone was thinking about training for teachers, meal planning, and long-term project management. And by reaching out to government, NGOs, and civil society organizations, the donor or foundation could have filled funding gaps and secured the kind of expertise needed for long-term success.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

But is that school just a school? Not really. Schools are, or should be, places where many variables come together to allow children to learn, develop, participate, and, yes, even eat a nutritious meal or two. Without that kind of focus on all the factors that go into educating a child, or any of the other complex problems addressed by the SDGs, we will fall short of our goals. That's why, if we hope to bring about systemic change at the national and regional levels, it is imperative for philanthropy to shift its focus from single-issue to integrated solutions and to work together to figure out what is and isn't working.

The SDG Philanthropy Platform is an innovative vehicle to enable partnerships in global development. It builds bridges and advances progress on the SDGs by encouraging philanthropy, the UN, governments, the private sector, and civil society to work together. It also has published a guide, Investing in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya, to help philanthropic and other social investment organizations and individuals map and engage with the complex social change ecosystem in that country. Through our efforts, philanthropy is adopting a systemic and inclusive approach to funding and policy work, shifting from a focus on standalone projects to an embrace of meaningful collaboration. 

Combo_headshot_karolina_mzyk_jessica_russellWe all must see the school in this story not as an individual school but as a part of a wider ecosystem. We must look at everything that makes a project a success and work to enable that success through dialogue, partnerships, and the recognition that philanthropy needs to be a full partner in the conversation. And we must never forget that schools are built by many hands and, like the SDGs themselves, tend to create the greatest impact when no one is left behind.

Karolina Mzyk-Callias is a policy specialist and Jessica Russell is a communications consultant at the SDG Philanthropy Platform.

5 Questions for...Alma Powell, Chair, America’s Promise Alliance

April 24, 2017

America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, is marking its twentieth anniversary on April 18 with a Recommit to Kids Summit and Promise Night Gala in New York City. PND spoke via email with Alma Powell, the network's chairwoman, about its work, the progress it has made toward its goals over the last twenty years, and what every American can do to help.

Headshot_alma_powellPhilanthropy News Digest: A lot has changed since America's Promise was founded twenty years ago. Are the Five Promises to America's children and youth announced at the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia in April 1997 — caring adults, safe places to learn and play, a healthy start, an effective education, and an opportunity to serve — as relevant today as they were twenty years ago? And what, if anything, would you add to those five promises?

Alma Powell: The Five Promises are just as relevant and necessary today as they were twenty years ago. I can't imagine that ever changing. They are rooted in both sound social science and common sense and represent the minimal conditions that every child, in every neighborhood, has a right to expect. If these objectives aren't met, it is not the fault of children; it is a collective failure of adults in this country.

I wouldn't add another promise to the five. When it comes to young people, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to summon the will.

PND: Of the five commitments that form the core of the organization's mission, which has been kept most successfully, and where has progress been unexpectedly difficult?

AP: Thanks to the work of researchers and youth development experts, we know a lot more about what young people need to thrive. Better data helps us pinpoint educational problems by school district, school, and student, enabling us to focus help exactly where it is most needed. At the same time, more nonprofits and other organizations are involved in this work than ever before; advances in neuroscience have opened new windows into how children learn and have underscored the importance of the early childhood years; and scientific breakthroughs on the impact of adversity, high levels of stress, and trauma have taught us a lot about why some students struggle and how they might be helped.

All that has led to progress. Today, infant and child mortality rates are lower, rates of smoking and alcohol use among teens are lower, and high school graduation rates are up. More young people are living in homes with parents who graduated high school, and more students are attending college.

But there's more work to do. The child poverty rate is about the same as it was twenty years ago, snd social and economic mobility has stagnated. If we're to help more young people get on a more sustainable path to the middle class, we need to address the issues behind generational poverty and its long-term effects on young people. 

PND: The issue of "safe places" — the provision, as America's Promise defines it, of "physical and psychological safety at home, at school and in the community" — remains a concern for all communities but is of special concern in many low-income communities. How has the landscape in this area changed over the past two decades? And what has America's Promise done in response to those changes?

AP: Communities today are more divided by income than ever before. Where entire communities once worked together to care for children — for all children — institutions in many communities are now frayed and fragmented, and too many parents and children have gotten used to living with fear.

Our research shows that, despite where you live or where your caregivers live, a web of supportive, caring adults can make all the difference, creating a buffer around young people who most need it. Last year, research from the Center for Promise found that for every seven adults added to a neighborhood, one fewer young person leaves school. The more caring adults who are willing to step up and show up in the lives of a young person there are, the greater the odds that that young person will overcome adversities in his or her life.  

PND: One of your initiatives is called GradNation. How did that campaign come about, what are its goals, and what can you tell us about the progress you've made toward those goals?

AP: In 2006, two of our partner organizations, Civic Enterprises and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, issued a national call in a report called The Silent Epidemic to end the dropout crisis. We decided to answer that call. In 2008, America's Promise, along with others, launched a dropout prevention campaign — which we would later rename GradNation. In 2010, we set the goal of raising the national on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.

Over the years, we have joined with hundreds of local communities to host two hundred and five summits in all fifty states with the aim of helping people come together to develop local plans to increase graduation rates. Tens of thousands of educators, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, policy makers, families, and youth attended these summits, and an analysis from Duke University found that they helped raise public awareness about the high school dropout crisis and inspired the creation of new programs and collaborative efforts.

Thanks to the work of millions of students, families, educators, policy makers, and community leaders, the nation's on-time high school graduation rate is up from 65.7 percent twenty years ago to a record 83.2 percent today. Students of color and students from low-income families have made the greatest gains, and 2.8 million additional students have graduated since 2001 rather than dropping out.

PND: Tell us a little bit about your national partners. How do they hear about America's Promise and what seems to motivate them to partner with you?

AP: The challenges facing today's children and youth are too complex and interrelated for any one sector or organization to solve alone. Success requires participation from a range of stakeholders working together in coordinated and collaborative ways. This collaborative approach is central to America's Promise, and our alliance is the embodiment of it.

The alliance consists of more than four hundred national organizations and hundreds of communities. Alliance partners need only share our belief that children and youth are a national priority and be committed to working collaboratively to ensure that all children have access to all Five Promises.

With the launch of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, we've started putting more of an emphasis on expanding our alliance to include more individuals. We need an army of caring adults to help us accelerate progress and are urging all Americans to join us in this cause.

Every one of us can do something, starting today, whether it's volunteering at your local Boys & Girls Club, donating to a youth-serving organization, or simply being a caring adult in the life of a young person. If every American did just one thing to recommit to our kids, the future of our country would be transformed.

Matt Sinclair

Saving the Affordable Care Act

April 21, 2017

Healthcare_reform_for_PhilanTopicThat was a close one. Twenty-four million Americans get to keep their health coverage — for now. Grassroots pressure undoubtedly influenced the decision of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the White House to pull the Obamacare repeal bill, but winning the first round of this battle is not grounds for complacency. Indeed, now more than ever, Americans need a robust political movement in support of affordable health care for all.

In the end, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as the bill was called, failed because Republican members of the House who wanted to dismember the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could not agree among themselves how to do that. Ordinary Americans also were fortunate to have powerful stakeholders such as the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association on their side. There is no escaping the fact, however, that Republicans gained control of both chambers of Congress and the White House in the 2016 election by promising to repeal the ACA.

This makes the conspicuous lack of consumer-focused nonprofit organizations focused on health and policy all the more troubling. The situation is in stark contrast to the corporate healthcare sector, which spent $509 million in 2016 lobbying the federal government on behalf of drug makers, hospitals, providers, and insurance companies. In addition, most health nonprofits focus on a particular area of health care, such as insurance coverage or wellness or mental health, which contributes to the field's inability to build a unified movement for more affordable and accessible care.

Against this backdrop, foundations have an opportunity to tilt the scales. In Colorado, thanks to the foresight and funding of a large foundation, we have a model that's working for residents of the state — and could, I believe, work for all Americans. Among other things, it recognizes that legislative battles are won by numbers — especially, dollars and votes. And while to date there hasn't been a funded mechanism to unify ordinary consumers of health care around an overarching goal (leaving corporate lobbyists in the driver's seat when it comes to debates about access and affordability), there is hope.

Healthier Colorado was seeded by the Colorado Health Foundation and launched nearly three years ago as a 501(c)(4) organization with the belief that improvements in public health depend, to a significant degree, on robust investment in public policy advocacy. To that end, we hired professionals with grassroots organizing, political fundraising, and lobbying experience. Our investment has paid off. In just over two years, Healthier Colorado has mobilized an unprecedented seventy-five thousand supporters, who in turn have influenced policy makers to:

  • include  more robust physical activity and nutrition standards in the state's childcare centers;
  • adopt new rules that promote vaccinations in schools; and
  • secure the second voter-approved sugary drinks tax in the nation.

Two key strategies have been critical to that success:

  • deploying the full range of legally available advocacy tools to engage with policy makers on health  policy issues; and
  • strengthening the position of health advocates in the state by working alongside and supporting them with collaborative outreach campaigns.

We can accomplish only so much, however, within the confines of a relatively small state like Colorado. What we really would like to do is to combine forces with organizations across the country that have a similar orientation and capabilities. As outlined in our recent white paper, here's what that might look like:

Eliminate issue silos. People who work in the field of health policy know how interconnected the various factors and determinants affecting Americans' health are. And yet, people who work in the health policy field tend not collaborate as much as they could, or should. Few of us talk about the work of our colleagues collectively as constituting a movement. Yes, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has made a great start with its "Culture of Health" initiative, but it's up to the rest of us to take it to the next level.

Figure out how to communicate with the public. "Liberating" our colleagues from their "issue silos" will require lots of hard work. But so, too, will communicating those efforts to the public. Connecting issues as disparate as pedestrian infrastructure and Medicaid policy for the average American is neither straightforward nor simple. We need a bigger investment in communications research and outreach if we are to successfully convey how health and well-being are linked to food deserts, criminal justice policies, and built environments and physical infrastructure.

Create opportunities for activism and expression. By definition, movements are participatory and experiential. (Think Melissa McCarthy trying to save the world in Kia's Super Bowl commercial). And forums for expression are the oxygen of movements. We need to create more ways for Americans to participate in this movement for health.

Build an infrastructure that gives ordinary Americans an effective advocacy voice. Healthier Colorado is actively working with foundations and nonprofits in other states interested in adopting and adapting our model. We also are engaged in conversations to create a national organization. This is no small project. It will require intra-organizational cooperation and a willingness to step outside one's cultural comfort zones. However, there is experience from which we can draw in taking on these tasks. Many lessons were learned from the creation and early life stages of Healthier Colorado, and practices from other issue sectors can be applied to the effort as well. Many of these lessons are shared in our white paper, as well as in a forthcoming white paper from the Colorado Health Foundation.

The American public rarely has been as focused on the details of health policy as they are today, making this an opportune moment to mobilize a movement around the belief that every American deserves the chance to lead a healthy life. Funders nationwide control the resources that can turn this opportunity into reality. It is time to give regular Americans a seat at the table in shaping health policy.

Jake_williams_for_PhilanTopicJake Williams is executive director of Healthier Colorado.

Support Girls of Color by Listening First

April 19, 2017

NOVO Pre Young black girls Conf Gathering 4172016_DSC7603CLast year, the NoVo Foundation announced a seven-year, $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls of color in the United States. After more than a decade of partnership with incredible organizations working with and advocating on behalf of adolescent girls across the country, we saw that the need for additional funding to support girls of color specifically could not be more urgent or clear.

Girls of color face structural barriers in nearly every aspect of their lives. Over 60 percent of girls of color are born to families living on low incomes or below the poverty line. Sexual violence is pervasive in the lives of all girls and often goes neglected, especially for girls of color. What's more, girls of color who face harm are often unfairly penalized. Black girls, for example, are six times more likely to be suspended in school than their white peers — and are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. At least eight trans women have already been murdered this year, most of them women and girls of color. All these disparities combine and deepen into new disparities in adulthood: the median wealth for single black women, for example, is just $100, compared to $44,000 for single white men.

Despite this profound structural inequity, a movement for and with girls of color thrives. And we knew that the best way to deepen our own relationship with this movement was to be guided directly by the women and girls of color who'd been leading it for decades — rather than by our own assumptions. Otherwise, we'd simply be reinforcing the very structural barriers and power structures we sought to dismantle.

So, before developing a new strategy to guide our work, we spent a year traveling across the country, from the Northeast to the rural South, from the Midwest to the Southwest, to hear from girls of color as well as activists, movement leaders, and organizers of all ages. We prioritized communities that are often underresourced, less visible, and living with their own unique challenges — as well as possessing unique strengths.

Our conversations brought to light rich and complex perspectives from the lived experiences of girls of color, their hopes and dreams, and the diverse set of challenges they face in achieving them. The insights will guide the coming years of our work, and we share some here with the hope they can benefit others.

First, "girls of color" is not a monolith. Class, race, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and other social identities all drive unique challenges as they intersect in the lives of girls. Yet,the visions girls across communities had for their lives were often similar; to live in safety, dream all the possibilities for their future, access what's necessary to live with dignity and to feel celebrated.

We also saw how the same systems that harm girls of color and render them invisible also marginalize the work that is being done with and for them. The movement for girls of color is largely led by women of color, working on their own time, driven by personal commitment. We met women who work late into the night and travel hundreds of miles, drawing on whatever could be packed into the trunk of their cars, to respond to the urgent needs of girls in their communities. Yet this work is often not seen as "work" at all. Just as labor traditionally done by women is devalued across our economy, work done with and for girls of color is often seen as the responsibility of the women doing it, not something that should be valued and compensated on its own.

All of this results in a troubling cycle. As work is devalued, it never becomes formally resourced, and ironically, because it is not well resourced, it is not seen by foundations as something that should be supported. While philanthropy often celebrates investing in "risk takers" from other communities, deep patterns of sexism and racism end up deeming the truly innovative work of women of color as a risk too great to take.

That's why we'll be working from the ground up and are committed to finding creative ways to support these women who are and will continue to lead this work. By inviting letters of inquiry, we will support local initiatives that are defined and led by girls and women of color who are best positioned to provide safe and healing spaces for girls while also engaging them in the movements that center them.

As funding at the grassroots level grows, we see an opportunity for philanthropy to also fund regional philanthropic infrastructures. We trust that local and regional leaders know best when it comes to defining how to authentically support movements and deliver resources to community groups, activists, and emerging organizations. To begin this work, we will focus on a region that's been largely ignored but has a deep and strong social justice movement history and capacity: the U.S. Southeast.

Our listening tour reinforced our suspicion that initiatives supporting girls of color in the Southeast are severely underfunded. Yet too often in philanthropy, the drive toward metrics and evaluation creates an insidious pressure to focus on segments of communities that are easier to reach, with the idea that quickly "demonstrating progress" will eventually cause change to trickle down to others. We know that trickle-down progress is a myth.

That's why we're launching a request for proposals to identify a regional partner(s) in the Southeast who can serve as an intermediary for our grantmaking and capacity-building efforts. Having a regional partner who is already deeply invested in the work will help us build the philanthropic and movement-building infrastructure necessary to support activists doing transformative work while bringing additional funders into the fold. And over the long-term, we'll expand our work to include additional regions.

Headshot_Jody MyrumAs funders, we have a tremendous amount to learn from girls of color and their advocates. And it all begins with listening. If philanthropy can find the courage to be as creative, determined, and brave as the movement leaders we seek to support, lasting change is within our reach.

Jody Myrum is director of the NoVo Foundation's Advancing Adolescent Girls' Rights Initiative.

The Role of Philanthropy in Preventing Health Care Harm

April 18, 2017

Patient-safety-2Preventable harm in health care is a leading cause of death in America and must be tackled more comprehensively — as a public health crisis — than it has been to date. Philanthropy has a key role to play, and it's highlighted in a new call to action developed by the National Patient Safety Foundation.

The call to action builds on successful efforts to reduce health care-associated infections and is inspired by America's long history of coordinated public health responses to specific diseases and conditions. That history produced what arguably is the greatest advance in America in the twentieth century: an increase in the life expectancy of Americans of some thirty years.

Efforts to improve patient safety have been ongoing for several decades, but the improvement has been limited. What's needed now is a shift from reactive piecemeal interventions driven by individual organizations to a coordinated system-wide effort aimed at providing safe care delivery across all aspects of care. Philanthropy is essential to that shift, and its role should play out across several dimensions.

First, foundations and other funders are needed to help build a consensus around the importance of a coordinated national effort to eliminate preventable harm in health care. As a nation, we know how to create successful public health responses to crises. Preventing harm in health care certainly rises to that level, and because so much of that harm is preventable, failing to combat it comprehensively is nothing less than tragic.

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Millennial vs. Boomer Strategies: Time to Move On?

April 17, 2017

Millennial-v-boomerIf you've ever talked to or heard from a consultant about how your organization can and should reach younger donors, I'd almost guarantee you were told something like, "Wait till they turn seventy-five," or, "Your young donors are fifty-five."

But is that right? Should you only focus your fundraising efforts on Silents and boomers? And is a millennial-focused strategy so bad?

Let's take a closer look.

No doubt about it, a millennial-focused fundraising strategy can be a challenge. (That's not an insult; it's supported by data.)

Then why would an organization even consider such a strategy? Typically, millennial-focused strategies are driven by two factors:

Media-driven generational comparisons. The media love to compare millennials and younger cohorts to their elders, especially boomers. But guess what? That's not a new storyline. The Silent Generation was compared to their parents, the so-called Greatest Generation; boomers were compared to their parents, the Silents; and Gen X-ers were compared to boomers. How long will it be before millennials are compared to the so-called centennials? The important thing for nonprofit organizations is to figure out ways to reach the rising generation as earlier generations move through and out of their peak giving years.

Board-driven pressure. Board members — older ones, especially — are beginning to notice that many of the prospective donors they see at fundraising events, industry meetings, and organizational activities don’t necessarily look like them. It's to be expected that older donors will continue to provide a significant amount of your organization's revenue for the foreseeable future. But Silent and boomer board members know they aren't getting any younger and, combined with all the media coverage of millennials, they are becoming increasingly interested in persuading leadership to shift some of their fundraising focus to younger generations.

Now, if you are an organizational leader, there isn't much you can do to control, or even shape, the media's obsession with generational comparisons. But you certainly can do something in response to pressure from your board — and I'm not talking about issuing a statement like, "We have lots of younger donors age fifty-five and over."

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 15-16, 2017)

April 16, 2017

Glitter-eggs_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


Our colleagues over at GrantCraft have put together an excellent suite of resources that captures the wisdom of philanthropic leaders who have participated in multi-party advocacy collaboratives. Check it out.

And Salsa Labs, a maker of integrated software for nonprofits, has released a a Nonprofit Advocacy Action kit that includes, among other thing, best practices and customizable advocacy templates. (Registration required.)

Climate Change

There's no denying that philanthropy is as industry that loves jargon — or that the use of jargon often undermines the effectiveness of our messaging and communications. With that in mind, Achieng' Otieno, a communications officer in the Rockefeller Foundation's Nairobi office, shares some tips about how to communicate the concept of "resilience" to non-experts.


Here on Philantopic, the Robert Wood Johnson's Foundation John Lumpkin has some suggestions about what we can do to improve care for patients with complex needs.

Higher Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, Mike Scutari examines the implications of a new Marts & Lundy report which finds that mega-gifts for higher education are rising while alumni giving overall is falling.

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Groundwork for Good Fortune: The Real Power of Strategic Planning

April 14, 2017

Strategic-Planning2It's the phone call every nonprofit leader dreams of. "I'd like to give you a very large sum of money." At first I thought it might be a scam, but when I realized the caller was the real deal — a philanthropist who cared deeply about education — a new question came to mind: How would we spend that much money?

Fortunately, we had just concluded a twelve-month strategic planning process, had a board-vetted plan for growth ready to go, and were able to submit that plan to the donor with only minor revisions. Several weeks later, we received our first-ever seven-figure gift.

To quote the Roman philosopher Seneca, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Nonprofit organizations often treat strategic planning as a luxury, opting to focus on more pressing, day-to-day matters. And because, as time-management guru Steven Covey has framed it, strategic planning is entirely Quadrant II (important but not urgent), its inherent value is easily overlooked.

The concept of deliberate strategic planning goes back at least as far as the late 1960s, which is when John Argenti published his landmark Corporate Planning and when companies began engaging in SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The nonprofit sector embraced strategic planning in the 1980s and 90s, as the number of registered 501(c)(3)s began to explode, "charities" became more professionalized, and the competition for grant dollars increased. In 1993, Patrick J. Burkhart and Suzanne Reuss published Successful Strategic Planning: A Guide for Nonprofit Agencies and Organizations, one of the first books to help nonprofits with their long-range planning.

Still, apart from the occasional discussion at a staff meeting or board retreat, organized strategic planning often takes a backseat to the day-to-day work of running an organization. Yes, schools use strategic planning to shape and guide their capital campaigns, but for nonprofits that don't mount major fundraising campaigns, setting aside time for strategic planning can be seen as more burden than blessing.

At Oliver Scholars, the time and effort that went into strategic planning paid off handsomely when we were asked by our angel donor for a well-thought-out growth plan. Is your nonprofit prepared? The following ten tips can help your organization get the most out of its next strategic planning process:

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A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. 


Socially-responsible-investingOne hundred percent of foundations and philanthropists have set up their portfolios for "impact." But in the words of Heron Foundation CEO Clara Miller, "they just don't know if their impact is positive or negative."

The assumption has been that foundations and philanthropists would be among the earliest adopters of investment strategies that align their portfolios, their values, and the social change they are trying to achieve. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to the Global Impact Investing Network's 2016 Annual Impact Investor Survey, foundations in 2016 accounted for only 4 percent of an estimated $77.4 billion in impact investment assets under management. At the same time, there is much in the report to be excited about, starting with the finding that survey respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the performance of their impact investment portfolios. In fact, "[e]ighty-nine percent (89%) reported financial performance in line with or better than their expectations, and 99% reported impact performance in line with or better than expectations."

There are many foundation leaders who are well aware of the potential of impact investing to drive social and environmental change. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, principal of Blue Haven Initiative, captures the sentiment of a growing number of philanthropists: "Just your philanthropic dollars are not enough to solve big world problems. We have a responsibility to use everything we have to make an impact."

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[Review] The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life (Tenth Anniversary Edition)

April 11, 2017

Ours is not a particularly big-hearted species. Many of us come of age believing that success is measured in dollars and that kindness, compassion, and a willingness to turn the other cheek are behaviors best left to fools. Our generosity, meager as it often is, is reserved for kith and kin, and when extended to others often comes with a price. We would rather be feared and respected than loved and admired. And so it goes.

Book_the_power_of_kindness_2In The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life, Italian psychotherapist Piero Ferrucci rejects this ethos and instead asks his readers to reflect on what it truly means to be kind. To help us, Ferrucci explores nineteen "qualities" he deems to be the essential components of kindness, ranging from virtues such as forgiveness, empathy, and patience to honesty, a sense of belonging, and gratitude.

His reasons for doing so aren't solely altruistic. Ferrucci points to a multitude of studies which show that kindness and its related qualities are good for our health and overall sense of well-being. Not, he argues, that we should be kind simply because it's good for us, as though kindness were like "broccoli or exercise" but because, as studies show, we are hardwired to be kind. What's more, Ferrucci argues, integrating kindness more fully into our lives need not be a thankless sacrifice. Instead, we should think of it as bringing a musical instrument into tune with itself. Not necessarily easy, but so essential to our humanity that without it we are, by definition, diminished.

Much has changed in the ten years since the first edition of The Power of Kindness, translated from the Italian by Vivien Reid Ferrucci, was published. The new edition includes a preface by the Dalai Lama, a new introduction by the author, and a chapter on an additional quality, harmlessness, and its relationship to kindness. Like its predecessor, the new edition also addresses many timeless themes, offering advice calibrated to a wide range of situations and leaving ample space for readers to reflect on their own beliefs, priorities, and vulnerabilities. And yet, against the backdrop of our current contentious and deeply polarized political climate, I often found myself considering Ferrucci's advice and guidance and wondering whether the book stands the test of time.

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Beyond the Emergency Department: How We Can Improve Care for Patients With Complex Needs

April 10, 2017

Healthcare_heart_for_PhilanTopic_300As a physician, I have struggled with the question of how best to care for patients with complex needs since my early days of working in a hospital emergency department. Back then, my colleagues and I routinely encountered people in crisis who were battling medical, behavioral, and social difficulties all at once. And I realized over time that while we did our best to address their clinical problems, the issues they faced at home or in their communities were often what led them to the ED.

In recent years, my colleagues and I collectively have come to the realization that our patients — and others facing similar challenges — have, in many ways, been failed by society. Researchers have uncovered patterns of unstable, traumatic childhoods among patients with complex needs. They've also learned that many of these patients felt disrespected by the hospitals and clinicians who cared for them, which often resulted in patients skipping their medications or missing needed appointments. All too often, patients with complex needs are seen as statistics — just another person with diabetes or heart failure — when what those patients desperately want and need is to be acknowledged as individuals.

While the social implications of how we fail to fully care for these patients are deeply troubling, the economic cost is equally stark. We know that while people with complex needs represent only about 5 percent of the U.S. population, they represent about half of all healthcare spending.

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's site.


"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."


It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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Changing the Political Climate

April 06, 2017

Us-politics_climateThe election of Donald Trump, together with Republican control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and most statehouses, is both a reflection of and serves to underscore the dramatically altered political climate in America. Many nonprofit and philanthropic leaders are scrambling to figure out how they can best operate in this new environment. Too few of them are thinking about how they might work to change it.

A lot of people would like to see it change. We know that a significant majority of Americans are stressed by the outcome of the election and that fully two-thirds are deeply concerned about what it will mean for the nonprofit sector and the nation. That presents an opportunity for charities and foundations. Instead of trying to make do, nonprofit leaders should try to make change.

Make no mistake: efforts designed to alter the context for the administration's policy agenda will find a sizeable and receptive audience. Sixty percent of Americans are embarrassed by the past actions and rhetoric of the president and do not feel he shares their values; similar percentages feel he is neither temperamentally suited for the job nor honest and that his actions are dividing the country. Given these concerns, an outpouring of donations and willing volunteers are finding their way to charities either directly affected by the Trump agenda or working to resist it.

The question now for many nonprofits is how will they deploy the new support they are receiving. Will it be used to ramp up frontline services made necessary by cutbacks in government funding and regulations? Will they allocate it to policy advocacy and organizing aimed at directly contesting the Trump and Republican agendas? Will they also use it help fuel initiatives aimed at changing the political climate in ways that renders these other activities less necessary?

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Quote of the Week

  • " [P]rivileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance....[F]reedom comes only through persistent revolt...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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