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15 posts from May 2017

Charities Stand to Benefit From Trillions in Mandated Retirement Distributions

May 23, 2017

61mitchmillerThe same generation that sang along with Elvis, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles will be singing a different tune as they pay taxes on trillions in 401(k) and IRA required minimum distributions (RMD) this year.

In January, Edward Shane, managing director at Bank of New York Mellon, told the Wall Street Journal that he estimates boomers have roughly $10 trillion stashed away in tax-deferred savings accounts. As the first generation with 401(k)s, boomers are in a unique position to call their own tune as they decide what to do with that money. How can charities join the chorus and benefit from this potential windfall?

HBO's recent documentary Becoming Warren Buffett highlighted the homespun billionaire's pledge to give away the bulk of his wealth during his lifetime. Buffett is setting a new standard for philanthropy and — more importantly — is encouraging others to do the same. Not everyone is Warren Buffett, of course, but we can all learn from his philosophy of giving.

Boomers can make "giving while living" the norm

My parents, who are among the oldest of the boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), turned 70 last year. According to Pew Research, they are just two in a wave of 74.9 million boomers who will be reaching that milestone over the next decade and a half. Though only second in size (behind the millennials), the boomer generation is the wealthiest on record. That puts them in a position to give more than any previous generation.

My parents will mark another "first" this year when they hit the RMD age of 70½, meaning they will be required to withdraw monies from their retirement accounts (IRAs or other tax-deferred vehicles) or face steep penalties (50 percent of the amount not withdrawn). Of course, these distributions are taxable, and for some boomers they will represent unwanted income, which is where a proactive giving strategy comes in.

Boomers who want to establish a "giving-while-living" strategy (akin to Buffett's, in principle if not size) can take their RMD from their tax-deferred retirement savings plan and allocate those assets directly to a charity through a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). A QCD is a direct transfer of funds from the trustee of an IRA to a qualified 501(c)(3) organization. There are other requirements: $100,000 is the maximum allowed per year, and the IRA or 401(k) holder must be 70½ or older.

The benefits of this type of planned charitable giving strategy are threefold. First, QCDs can satisfy the required minimum distribution. Second, QCDs are excluded from taxable income. And third, studies show that giving back can make you happier and feel more connected with your community.

What's more, this tax-planning strategy isn't going away. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 made QCDs a permanent part of the tax code, and with the bulk of boomers approaching RMD age, they have an opportunity to make this type of proactive giving-while-living strategy the norm.

Recurring donations

There's a second tax-related opportunity for charities interested in creating a recurring stream of donations from boomers who would like to make their qualified charitable distributions by donating some or all of the value of their required minimum distributions from their IRAs. Among other things, this type of gift could help charities offset reduced giving and spending in the future stemming from a market downturn, and it could also provide the spark needed to offset the donor fatigue that hamstrings so many nonprofit fundraising campaigns.

Education is the key. Charities should reach out to their boomer donors and instruct them on their options. By assuming the role of teacher and showing boomers who are nearing their seventieth birthday how they can help provide funding for worthwhile causes (while securing tax benefits for themselves), charities can get the generation that used to "Sing Along With Mitch" to learn a new tune called "Giving While Living."

Headshot_Jaylene HowardIt could be sweet music to nonprofits everywhere.

Jaylene Howard is a director for Canterbury Consulting, an investment advisory firm in Newport Beach, California, that oversees $17.4 billion for foundations, endowments, and families. Founded in 1988, the company designs and manages custom investment programs aligned with its clients’ goals.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 20-21, 2017)

May 22, 2017

Pause-button-2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


Does your organization have a strategy for dealing with the media? To help its members think beyond the press release, dispel misperceptions about working with the media, and provide practical guidance on how to approach this powerful medium, Exponent Philanthropy has released A Funder's Guide to Engaging With the Media, which includes the five building block of a successful media strategy highlighted in this post on the organization's PhilanthroFiles blog.

"Why do so many nonprofits take on the burden of producing the equivalent of a magazine a month [i.e., your monthly newsletter] that gets an average 1.5 percent click through rate and 14 percent open rate?" That's one of the controversial questions Ally Dommu poses in a post on the Big Duck site. Before you do anything rash, take a look at some of the other questions Dommu poses in her post and read the half a dozen or so comments submitted in response to her post.


Budget documents obtained by the Washington Post offer the clearest picture yet of how the Trump administration intends to shrink the federal government's role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children's schools. Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report


In his first four months as president, Donald Trump has walked back many of the promises he made to supporters on the campaign trail. One thing is absolutely clear, however: he is committed to rolling back a half-century of environmental regulations and protections supported, at different times, by majorities in both parties. And that, according to the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, puts him at odds with a majority of Americans.

Global Health

On the Devex site, Rebecca Root shares five key takeaways from her conversations with attendees at the recent G-20 meeting on global health innovation.


Evidence has been a buzzword in philanthropy for the better part of twenty years now, writes Forbes contributor Jake Heyman. "And yet no such demand for evidence is applied to the work of funders themselves, be they philanthropists, corporate donors or foundations. [Instead, a] typical funder journey seems to be identifying an area of perceived need, finding a program/organization that is judged to counter that need, and then throwing an arbitrary amount of money at it."

Would grantmaking be more effective if it was focused on identifying and supporting critical "inflection point" interventions? The Heckscher Foundation for Children's Peter Sloane thinks so and, in a post here on PhilanTopic, explains why.

Higher Education

"Good boards ask good questions, and great boards ask great questions." But at many colleges and universities, "[t]oo many boards struggle with asking questions at all, let alone asking good or great questions," write Peter Eckel and Cathy Trower in Inside Higher Education. Instead, "[s]tatements, not questions, frequently carry the day. Why? [Boards] lack sufficient curiosity."

International Affairs/Development

Are foreign aid and charitable giving to help the poor in developing countries part of the problem rather than the solution? On the MIT News site, Amy MacMillan Bankson chats with Mark Weber, and MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management and producer of the award-winning documentary Poverty, Inc., about the pros and cons of the global charity model.


What are the traits nonprofit leaders need in today's uncertain environment? The Forbes Nonprofit Council, an invitation-only organization for nonprofit CEOs, asked seven of its members for their thoughts.


On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther shares highlights of a recent conversation he had with Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in which Heintz updated Gunther on RBF's divestment process, discussed its approach to mission-aligned investing, and talked about why a foundation built by a nineteenth-century fortune should persist into the twenty-first century.

Contributions to the Obama Foundation jumped to more than $13 million in 2016, according to an IRS filing released a couple of weeks ago, and they're expected to skyrocket in 2017 with the lifting of a self-imposed $1 million cap on donations. Lynn Sweet reports for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Institutional philanthropy may have gotten used to the idea of itself as "risk capital," but it has a lot of work to do to turn the idea into reality, write the Rockefeller Foundation's Pam Foster and Ellen Taus — and that includes working with grantees to get them to become more comfortable talking about the risks inherent in their proposals.

Tax Policy

And in his weekly syndicated column, Denver Post columnist Bruce DeBoskey weighs in with a good overview of what proposed changes to federal tax policy could mean for donors and nonprofits.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at

3 Ways to Bring Your Work to Your Donors (Instead of Asking Them to Come to You)

May 19, 2017

Mobile_ExperiencesNearly every nonprofit organization I deal with is careful to include an "experiential" touch point somewhere along the donor journey. That is, once they've cultivated a new donor, they spend a considerable amount of time and effort attempting to persuade that donor to volunteer or participate in some kind of hands-on activity at their headquarters or at an off-site location where the donor can experience their work firsthand.

Sound familiar? If your organization does something similar, how often is it successful? (Be honest.)

As nonprofit and cause leaders, we wish every individual had the opportunity, interest, and time to meet the people we serve and see the impact of our work in real time. But let's face it, getting donors to visit your offices or to join you on a site visit usually isn't realistic. Why? Because people are busy.

After my colleagues and I figured that out (it took us a few years), we adopted a number of practices designed to bring our work online: posting photos and videos on social media, sending out a series of emails, and so on. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else adopted the same practices at about the same time. Today, they are so commonplace — and people are so inundated with emails and status updates as a result — that it's hard, if not impossible, to get your message stand out amid all the noise.

What's an organization to do? How can organizations share with donors the important work they are doing in a way that's both meaningful and experiential?

Actually, all it takes is a shift in mindset: Instead of bringing the donor to your work, you have to bring your work to the donor.

To truly capture donors' interest, nonprofits today must rethink donor engagement with an eye to bringing their issue to the donor (instead of the other way around). And the organizations that are the most successful at that are those that use technology in innovative ways to design memorable experiences.

Here are three examples:

1. The technology of tomorrow. As the technology improves and becomes less cumbersome, virtual reality simulators are making it possible to put donors into other people's shoes. For example, uses VR to give donors an up-close and very personal look at the crisis of poverty in Africa, while Alzheimer's Research UK uses the technology to raise awareness of research on dementia and memory-related illnesses. In a recent Washington Post article, nonprofits using VR technology were quoted as saying it "offers the best medium to date for evoking genuine empathy for their mission" and has the ability to "combat fatigue among donors who feel disconnected from the results [achieved by] their money."

2. The mobile movement. When you think of "mobile" today, your first thought is probably of a smartphone or a favorite app. But while mobility has become a given in our lives, we've forgotten its original definition: capable of moving or being moved readily.

From literacy to blood drives, mobile awareness and fundraising initiatives work because they literally put your cause into the hands of potential donors and supporters, eliminating barriers such as time and distance. Short, phone-based "mini" experiences designed to engage donors can be completed over a lunch hour or a quick afternoon break, increasing the likelihood they'll participate. Experiences can even be brought directly to the workplace so employees can participate in real time. One Seattle nonprofit I know of uses the parking lot of one of its company sponsors to fit homeless people with eyeglasses, delivering a critical service to constituents in need while creating a meaningful (and convenient) volunteer opportunity for the company's employees.

3. The immersive experience. Even without big technology budgets, nonprofits and causes are proving increasingly adept at immersing donors in their mission and work. For example, many organizations serving people who are blind or visually impaired now host "Dinner in the Dark" events, where donors and participants are challenged to navigate through a meal wearing eye masks to simulate blindness. Other organizations are creating events and activities that pair up beneficiaries with donors for one-to-one storytelling sessions designed to make real the impact of the organization's work.

As nonprofit leaders, we want our donors and supporters to meet the people we serve and see the impact of our work firsthand. If, in our media-saturated world, that has become difficult, it's not impossible. All it takes is a little imagination, some technology, and a willingness to experiment. If at first you don't succeed, try again.

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Conscious Collaboration: The New Competitive Advantage for Nonprofits

May 18, 2017

CollaborationWhole Kids Foundation is a nonprofit on a mission to support schools and inspire families to improve their children's nutrition and wellness. We were established by Whole Foods Market in 2011 and operate in the U.S., UK and Canada, supporting more than ten thousand schools and reaching over five million kids. Our staff of six full-time team members is responsible for raising and investing $5 million annually. With such a small team, collaboration plays a critical role in our success.

It's unrealistic to believe that any one organization can solve today’s major societal issues alone, and so from the outset we have viewed the work of improving nutrition for children as a kind of relay. As such, it's imperative that we focus on our leg of the race — the work we are uniquely qualified and equipped to do. To achieve maximum impact, however, it's also critical for us to get to know and build relationships with organizations that are running other legs of the race. And as a leader in our field, it's important that we help other funders think about the quality of collaborations as an indicator of effectiveness.

From our roots in "conscious capitalism," a term coined by Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey to express the generative spirit of business and its capacity to create positive change in the world, we have developed an approach I call "conscious collaboration,” which is based on the idea that the tenets of conscious capitalism are as effective and powerful when implemented by nonprofit organizations.

Conscious collaborations begin with honest conversations, and the most difficult part of such conversations often is having an open dialogue about goals. Every dialogue we have with a potential collaborator begins with a simple question: "Can you help us understand your goals — both for your organization and related to anything we might do together?" If the question is not reciprocated, or if active listening is missing from the conversation when we share our goals, it's usually a good indicator that the organization is not a good partner for us.

Once your goals have been shared, the next step is to decide whether there is alignment between those goals. If there isn't, you have to to be willing to unapologetically admit as much. Don't worry. Even if there is no alignment, there's still value in having gotten to know each other. I cannot count the number of occasions where I’ve contacted a potential partner years after we first met. In 2009, for example, before Whole Kids existed, I met Curt Ellis, who had recently produced the documentary King Corn. In our meeting, he shared an idea he had for an organization centered on school gardens. I didn't see any immediate connection to the work we were doing, but we agreed to keep in touch. In 2012, when the Whole Kids Foundation wanted to establish a school garden grant program, I called Curt. He was in the process of co-founding FoodCorps, a national service organization that today connects kids to healthy food in school so they can lead healthier lives and reach their full potential.

Because Curt and I had met and were comfortable with each other, we were able to quickly reach agreement on a set of goals and outline a program of mutual benefit to our organizations. Our relationship has evolved over the years since, as our respective organizations have matured and their goals have evolved. Today, the FoodCorps program is in its fifth year and, with the help of our support, has established nearly five thousand school gardens. FoodCorps fellows also act as third-party grant reviewers for us, and thanks to their feedback, we have updated our application form to reflect what we've learned.

Thanks in part to our partnership with FoodCorps, we've learned a lot about the key ingredients of a successful collaboration. And for Whole Kids, it all starts with asking (and answering) the following questions:

1. Do you have a basic understanding of the other organization's big-picture goals? It's important to invest resources in developing such an understanding — both in terms of goal alignment and the areas where you differ (or are indifferent).

2. Are you willing to commit to face time at least once a year? Where is your potential partner located? It's important to think about this — and other potential obstacles to a successful partnership — at the outset. Accessibility is a key factor in creating a productive, long-lasting relationship.

3. Do you respect the person with whom you are dealing and the work done by his/her organization? This is where your proverbial gut instinct comes into play. Are you aligned philosophically — and temperamentally — with your potential partner(s)? Are your work styles and cultures complementary or contrasting? If the latter is the case, will that be a problem — for either organization?

4. Think about potential conflicts. How will you feel about openly disagreeing with your potential partner? How will you feel when they push back? It's imperative that you have this conversation with them before any agreement is signed.

5. Examine your respective decision-making processes. Many frustrations can be avoided if you take the time to learn how your partner and his/her organization arrive at decisions, and vice versa.

If, after answering these questions, you determine that there is real synergy and alignment between your organizations, the next step is to identify a modest joint initiative that allows you to test out the relationship. Be sure to choose an effort that fits comfortably within your existing resources, both human and financial.

An ability to collaborate can be one of an organization's greatest assets. But keep in mind that experimentation is an intrinsic part of working with others, and that lessons learned often are more important than actual outcomes. And remember: all collaborations are an investment, so be sure to invest with your eyes wide open!

Headshot_nona_evansNona Evans has led the Whole Kids Foundation since its inception in 2011. Her career at Whole Foods Market has spanned seventeen years and includes leadership roles in regional marketing, store design, private label brand development, and global marketing.

A Call for Inflection Point Funding

May 15, 2017

Broken_ladder"A strategic inflection point is the time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

– Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It's always been important to think about how private philanthropy can fill gaps in the social safety net that government, with its lower risk tolerance, cannot. At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we're increasingly attracted to inflection point funding — not a new concept but an approach that provides a different lens through which to look at our efforts. What makes inflection point funding interesting, in my opinion, is that, in addition to strategic partnerships with other funders, catalytic initiatives, and targeted solutions, it forces us to look hard at the obstacles that keep low-income youth from realizing their full potential.

Inflection point funding seeks to change the course of young people's lives at key junctures. I think of it as a ladder offering underserved children a way out of poverty. A child may move easily through the early stages of development, but at some point a rung in her development ladder will be missing or broken. Then what? In too many cases, she gets tired or discouraged and stops trying to climb.

Most of us are familiar with the ladder metaphor. Less familiar are the challenges so many disadvantaged and underserved kids face when trying to climb the ladder to success. Suppose, however, that with philanthropic support, we could develop solutions that enabled every underserved child to reach the next rung, and the rung after that, and the rung after that (or even the first rung). If you look at inflection point funding as a way to support kids who desperately want to climb the ladder to a brighter future, you'll understand why we're attracted to it as an approach.

That said, it isn't always easy to identify inflection point opportunities. There are no guidelines, only questions in need of answers. My own first question always is: Could our funding for a strategic intervention create opportunities for  young people to reach new heights? And, conversely, could the failure to solve the problem lead to other obstacles and challenges for the young people we were hoping to help?

The next question I usually ask is whether or not we can identify and isolate a solution to a problem that, metaphorically speaking, can function like a rung in a ladder. The key to that is to determine whether the solution under consideration is practicable. We all know, for example, that crime is rooted in poverty and deprivation. But that doesn't really help us figure out how to invest our philanthropic dollars in solving crime. Poverty and deprivation are not problems a single foundation can address on a large enough scale. So, instead, we look for fixable problems. If, for example, you say that underserved kids often go hungry, that's not a problem any one foundation can fix. But if the problem is that kids, during the summer months, do not benefit from free school breakfast and lunch programs, then that is a problem that can be addressed. And in New York City, to a significant degree, we've done just that with a three-year targeted outreach solution involving the distribution of refrigeration units, flyers, and posters that increased participation in the city's Summer Meals Program by 31 percent.

Where are some other inflection point opportunities we think are worth funding? Here are three we are considering:

Youth library fines. Hundreds of thousands of New York City children cannot check books out of the library because they have outstanding fines of less than $15. The majority of these children live in poor neighborhoods. In our view, these fines operate in a punitive manner, preventing young people from borrowing books and research materials needed for assignments that can only be completed outside library hours. When most students in New York City do not have access to an in-school library, it becomes painfully clear that this a problem in need of a solution. To the credit of the city's library systems, some fixes have been tried. But we continue to think this is a problem in need of a creative solution.

College emergency-grants programs. Each year, college students in good academic standing are forced to withdraw from school because of economic setbacks unrelated to their school work or the burden of tuition — including medical expenses, housing or textbook costs, and transportation issues. Without the earning power that a degree can provide, many of these young people will struggle. The Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation sought to address this problem by establishing emergency-grant programs at each of the sixteen member colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System. During the three-year grant period, nearly twenty-seven hundred students received emergency grants averaging $500 each. College-reported data indicates that over the three years of the program, 73 percent of Pell Grant-eligible emergency-grant recipients either graduated from or remained  in school and on track to a degree. By comparison, the National Center for Education Statistics reports a 59 percent retention rate for all students attending a public two-year institution in the U.S. Given the modest cost of such initiatives, this strikes us as an opportunity worth devoting more resources to.

Diagnosing and treating dyslexia in kindergarten. The diagnosis of developmental dyslexia in underserved children is primarily based on a "wait to fail approach." Despite the fact that studies show that intensive interventions are most effective in kindergarten or first grade, and other studies show that up to 92 percent of at-risk beginning readers, when provided intensive instruction, achieve average reading ability levels, dyslexia diagnoses are usually not made before the third grade. In other words, the current system doesn't help kids until they have fallen behind and interventions are likely to be less effective. Education experts, however, are developing an app that diagnoses dyslexia and will be easy for professionals and others to use at preschools, camps, or even in a home setting. If a risk of dyslexia is detected, the app directs the user to tools and websites that provide teaching resources as well as intervention programs. To us, this sounds like an opportunity for inflection point funding.

If a simple test for dyslexia in kindergarten can prevent years of reading and learning loss, what other fixable problems can we address that will help low-income families and kids gain access to needed services and interventions? The more rungs on the ladder that the philanthropic community can identify, fix, and/or strengthen — and there are many — the better. With relatively modest investments at strategic inflection points, funders can, and often do, make a significant difference in underserved children's lives and future success.

Peter_sloane_for_PhilanTopicPeter Sloane is chairman and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 13-14, 2017)

May 14, 2017

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

Arts and Culture

Although President Trump has signed into law a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, bringing to an end (for now) months of debate over his administration's controversial budget blueprint, the future of arts funding in America remains uncertain, write Benjamin Laude and Jarek Ervin in Jacobin. Critics who accuse the president of philistinism are missing the point, however. "For better or worse," they write, "the culture wars ended long ago. These days, with neoliberalism's acceleration, nearly every public institution is under assault — not just the NEA. If we want to stop the spread of the new, disturbing brand of culture — the outgrowth of an epoch in which everything is turned into one more plaything for the wealthy — we'll need a more expansive, more radical vision for art."

On the Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, the foundation's president, Earl Lewis, explains why the National Endowment for the Humanities is an irreplaceable institution in American life.


In a post for the Packard Foundation's Organization Effectiveness portal, Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, reflects on the process that led to the center's Digital Impact Toolkit, a public initiative focused on data governance for nonprofits and foundations.

According to The Economist, the most valuable commodity in the world is no longer oil; it's data. What's more, the dominance of cyberspace by the five most valuable listed firms in the world — Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — is changing the nature of competition while making the antitrust remedies of the past obsolete. "Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy," the magazine's writers argue. "But if governments don't want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon."

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap report, 42 million Americans were "food insecure" in 2015, the latest year for which complete data are available. That represents 13 percent of U.S. households — a significant decline from the 17 percent peak following the Great Recession in 2009. The bad news is that those 42 million food-insecure Americans need more money to put food on the table than they did before. Joseph Erbentraut reports for HuffPo.

Higher Education

On the Aspen Institute blog, Meryl Justin Chertoff, executive director of Aspen's Justice & Society Program, argues that Trump's threat to impound federal funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) because the schools "may be discriminating against non-African American students" is likely illegal.


Recently, members of the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative sat down with Sally Yee, a program officer with the Meyer Memorial Trust, to discuss their efforts to implement a coordinated and collaborative funding process in support of organizations working on immigrant and refugee issues in Oregon. Their conversation is available as a podcast (running time: 27:15) and an edited transcript.


Forbes contributor Christopher P. Skroupa sits down with Katherine St. Onge, a senior officer on the Investor Relations team at the Calvert Foundation, to discuss challenges to the adoption of impact investing and how an impact investment strategy aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals can produce satisfactory financial returns.

International Affairs/Development

Here on PhilanTopic, Foundation Center's David Hollander explains why "open-source projects…are the wave of the future in both #philanthropy and #development."


Can't say we're all that surprised, but researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have released the results of a twelve-year study which found that organizations that were early adopters of managerial practices have been able to change relatively quickly to become more transparent and collaborative.


These are challenging times for progressive foundations working to advance social justice and the public good. One thing they can and should do, writes Dan Petegorsky on the NCRP blog, is refuse to do business with firms that undermine the values they stand for — and that includes not only law firms and money management firms that have fueled Donald Trump's rise to power but "hedge funds and private equity firms that use their earnings to work against everything many funders hold dear."

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther's weekly post offers a sobering look at the social calamity unfolding in coal country — and what philanthropy is, and isn't, doing to help promote a "just" transition — that is, from fossil fuels to a clean-energy economy that does not leave workers and communities behind — in Appalachia and other hard-pressed regions of the country.

Fast Company has a nice piece by Ben Paynter on what the Knight Foundation is doing to diversify the ranks of the people who manage its endowment — and portfolio management more broadly across the sector.

The team behind the estimable HistPhil blog have launched a new forum on political science and philanthropy that will be curated by guest editors Sarah Rechkow and Delphia Shanks-Booth.

Social Entrepreneurship

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has released a new report and announced a big bet ($1 billion) on social entrepreneurs. Forbes contributor Ben Paynter (him again!) has the details.


And the first commercially available birth control pill debuted fifty-seven years ago, ushering in a new era of economic freedom for women. Now, more than a few members of Congress are determined to roll back that progress. Kate Abbey-Lambertz, national reporter for the HuffPost, explains.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at or share it in the comments section below....

[Infographic] The Current and Future State of Nonprofit Philanthropy

May 13, 2017

No doubt about it, these are challenging times for nonprofits. Revenues for most organizations are flat, government support for the safety net has been singled out as something we can longer afford (or are no longer willing to pay for), competition for limited resources is increasing, and demand for services continues to grow.

This week's infographic, courtesy of the online Master of Public Administration program at the University of San Francisco, provides a snapshot of a sector poised between the certainties of the past and, well, an uncertain future. And as someone who has covered the sector for years, a couple of things jump out at me. The charitable-giving-as-a-percentage-of-GDP ratio — 2.1 percent — has been stuck right around there for years, despite the efforts of infrastructure groups, activists, academics, and celebrity philanthropists. Might it inch higher in the future, as millennials enter their peak giving years? It's possible, though there's little evidence to suggest that millennials will be more charitable than their parents and grandparents — and some to suggest that, as a group, their giving will be constrained by worrisome economic trends. The infographic includes an oddly specific intergenerational-transfer-of-wealth range — $22.2 trillion to $55.4 trillion — which suggests to me that there will be a wealth transfer of some kind over the next thirty years, but that no one really knows how much wealth will be passed on, how much of it will end up in university and foundation endowments, or how much will end up supporting the work of faith-based and human services organizations. And the number of charitable organizations in the U.S. cited below — 1.5 million — almost surely is overstated, creating a false impression of a sector that is larger and more robust than, in actuality, it is.

Elsewhere, the infographic underscores the still-significant impact of volunteers and volunteering in American society and hints at the rapid growth of online giving. But don't take my word for it. Have a look and then join us in the comments section below for a conversation about what the infographic gets right, what it gets wrong, and what you would change or add if you could.



5 Questions for...Donna McKay, Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights

May 12, 2017

Donna McKay is executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using science and medicine to prevent and investigate human rights abuses around the world — with a focus on torture, mass atrocities, rape in war, and the persecution of health workers. A joint recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, PHR has unearthed forensic evidence from mass graves that helped convict former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; mapped attacks on healthcare workers in Syria; and led a campaign against the complicity of health professionals in the United States' post-9/11 torture program.

PND asked McKay about PHR's work, in the U.S. and elsewhere, to end human rights abuses as well as the role of physicians and science, medicine, and technology in advancing those efforts.

Donna_mckayPhilanthropy News Digest: Since you joined PHR as executive director in 2012, conflict and humanitarian crises have dominated the headlines — including the rise of Boko Haram and ISIS, violence against civilians in Burma, and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ukraine. Is conflict, and its attendant human rights abuses, on the rise globally?

Donna McKay: What's striking to me is how many of these crises actually began as human rights crises. In Burma, what started as the marginalizing of a minority group has ballooned into a humanitarian disaster. In Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad mercilessly suppressed an anti-government uprising, those who criticized his government were arrested, tortured, disappeared, and murdered — resulting in a massive refugee crisis. In South Sudan, fighting and forced displacement have caused the world's youngest nation to basically unravel. The list goes on. And each time, the international community has stood by while those human rights violations piled up and became some of the most vexing conflicts facing our generation. If you want to talk about conflict prevention, you have to talk about ending human rights violations and snuffing out larger crises before they begin.

What's heartening, though, is that while crises are on the rise, so too is the notion of human rights more generally. In a number of our trainings, health professionals from other parts of the world have told me that a generation ago, they didn't even have the language of human rights. Indeed, conflict is on the rise, but so is community activism. People are pouring into the streets, demanding their rights. I will never forget the joy I saw on the face of a friend and fellow activist from Egypt describing the first time he voted in an election. There's a thirst out there. And once people are exposed to human rights, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. They're just not going to give up.

PND: You have said that physicians in conflict zones bear witness to atrocities, that they believe in the power of evidence, and that medicine and science are about truth. PHR has documented nearly 800 attacks on medical workers and more than 450 attacks on medical facilities in Syria since 2011. Why are medical workers and facilities targeted in civil wars? And what should the international community be doing that it is not doing to better protect them?

DM: The numbers take your breath away. Doctors not only save lives — they are often on the front lines of human rights violations. Medical professionals adhere to some of the most robust ethical standards and treat those on all sides of a conflict, regardless of their identity, affiliations, or beliefs. They are also poised to speak credibly about the atrocities they see first-hand. Until fairly recently, the world had agreed that health professionals in conflict must be shielded. But we've allowed those longstanding norms to crumble. In Syria, we feared that attacks on hospitals and doctors would become the new normal — and sadly, they have. The conflict has been raging for over six years, and it's really only in the past year that the world has woken up to these atrocities. I think our work has played a part in that awakening.

Now that the awareness is growing, the international community must demand adherence to international law and must not let politics interfere with century-old norms that protect health professionals. At this point, no one can turn a blind eye and say this isn't happening. And yet so far, there has been no justice, no accountability. That must change. And that's why we at PHR are meticulously documenting these crimes. We're hopeful that our work can contribute to future prosecutions for attacks against medical personnel and facilities. It may seem impossible right now — but that's what naysayers said when we were gathering international support for a global landmine ban, an effort that led to the international landmine treaty and recognition by the Nobel Committee. We wouldn't do this work if we didn't have hope.

PND: The Open Society Foundations recently awarded PHR an $8 million challenge grant in support of your efforts to expand your network of health professional and human rights advocates and upgrade your technology. What new technologies is PHR developing or adopting to help clinicians more effectively collect, document, and preserve forensic medical evidence of human rights abuses?

DM: Since 2011, PHR has been using a multi-sectoral approach by training medical, law enforcement, and legal experts to fight the scourge of sexual violence in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the DRC in particular, there are thousands of rape cases annually, yet few of these are properly prosecuted, often due to lack of evidence. So we've also taken a high-tech/low-tech approach. On the high-tech front, we've developed an award-winning mobile app called Medicapt, which allows our network members to document, securely store, and safely transmit forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. But we've also worked with our partners to develop a standardized forensic medical intake form, a kind of routine checklist that last year the Congolese government adopted and agreed to implement nationwide. It sounds a bit bureaucratic, but it's revolutionary in that it provides concrete solutions that radically change how systems can serve survivors.

And we don't think of MediCapt as an end in itself. In order to develop the app, we had to bring together a multidisciplinary group of lawyers and doctors and police officers and prosecutors, all of which has enabled us to strengthen our network. I don't know of another organization that forges these alliances to combat sexual violence. PHR has never been afraid to reinvent and innovate, but we always do so collaboratively. In East and Central Africa, for example, we're all working toward the same goal — ensuring that strong evidence makes its way through the system and ultimately prevents impunity.

PND: Before joining PHR, you spent a decade at the American Civil Liberties Union helping to shape its response to the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11. How did that work influence your perspective on the role of physicians in investigating and preventing human rights abuses?

DM: I was at the ACLU in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent assault on civil liberties in the United States. Helping the ACLU respond to that crisis and then grow strategically was a powerful experience and one that I wanted to take to PHR because I see the incredible power that can happen when change agents are deployed. At the ACLU, lawyers were those change agents, and at PHR, it's health professionals who can influence the world. You see that in PHR's partners — in Turkey, in Uzbekistan, in Tunisia — who've caught that bug, who now know what it's like to deliver rights and fight for justice on behalf of ordinary people. PHR functions best when it acts as a vehicle, a network to support human rights activists who are also health professionals.

When I came to PHR more than five years ago, I saw the organization as this beautiful gem sitting on a shelf, a bit unknown but with enormous potential for impact. I wanted to take that gem off the shelf, shine it up, and make sure that health professionals everywhere know that we are here for them, upholding their ethics and providing a rubric under which they can become some of the world's most powerful advocates. And I think we're moving in the right direction.

PND: PHR was one of the organizations that in September 2015 called on the Obama administration to allow more refugees from the conflict in Syria into the United States. What do you make of the Trump administration's policy vis-à-vis Syrian refugees? And do you have any hope that the administration's policy may become more responsive to the plight of Syrian refugees over time?

DM: I'd push back a little and ask: What policy? I'm hard-pressed to identify anything this administration is doing that qualifies as a coherent policy. The recent executive orders and the fear-mongering whipped up against immigrants and asylum seekers and refugees from war zones are just plain inhumane. It's short-sighted. It's immoral. And it's painful. There's no doubt that the U.S. shutting its doors on those seeking refuge will do more harm than good.

At PHR, every day we're watching the crises that are feeding refugee flows and meticulously documenting the human rights abuses that are leading so many Syrians to flee. We're providing that evidence so no government — including the U.S. — can say it doesn't know what's happening in Syria. As far as responsiveness goes, I'm concerned that there are no signs the administration is going to change its approach to refugees. In fact, through his fixation on building a wall and cracking down on asylum seekers — whom we support through our network of clinicians who evaluate victims of torture and ill treatment — President Trump has shown a deep antipathy toward those who still see the U.S. as a safe haven. He talks a lot about making America great again. But what's great about turning his back on those fleeing horrors like we've seen in Syria or fleeing sexual violence in Central America?

The other challenge we face is that human rights activists and health professionals are under threat — not just in Syria but in Yemen, in South Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Turkey. They're being persecuted, arrested, and even killed for doing their jobs and telling the truth about human rights violations they're witnessing. NGOs as well as foundations and governments have to commit to protecting these activists and professionals. And ordinary Americans can help by showing their solidarity with those efforts. There's so much fear that Americans will lose interest — that, under the weight of so many crises and so many mixed messages, they will relent and say, "It's just too big a problem for one person to make a difference." Our call to Americans and advocates of humanity and human rights everywhere is simple: Don't give up. And don't underestimate the power of solidarity. We have to show support for one another, for fellow activists, and for the next generation of young advocates who are trying to find their way toward a sustainable model for promoting human rights around the world.

— Kyoko Uchida

[Review] 'The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age'

May 11, 2017

The mega-wealthy have long been celebrated in American culture. Even in the first Gilded Age, when the likes of Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, and Sage were scorned as robber barons, their wealth — and power — were much admired. In their time, these titans of America's burgeoning industrial might determined the economic destiny of millions and set the course of the nation. And their philanthropy — more than a century on — continues to echo with all the force that money can buy.

TheGiversBookShotToday, as we celebrate the dynamos of a new gilded age — their fortunes, in many cases, made younger, growing faster, moving at the speed of light — we're witnessing a second philanthropic boom. And that seemingly inexhaustible river of "private wealth for public good" brings with it the ideas and voices of those who, having made vast fortunes, are now determined to put that money to use. How society responds to and channels that torrent of money while making sure the ideas it funds best serve the interests of the American people is of broad concern.

In The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, David Callahan gives us a grand tour of the philanthropic landscape in the opening decades of the twenty-first century while opening a window on how today's economic winners — having proved themselves in business — are eyeing philanthropy as the ultimate opportunity to convert wealth into power. But where a Matthew Josephson might have distrusted such a development, in Callahan's telling these masters of the universe are thoughtful, broad-minded, and, yes, even likable. He's not interested in taking them down, criticizing their often rapacious business practices, or pointing out the role played by fiscal and tax policy in cementing their status as the .01 percent. Instead, his is a book about the giving away, not the getting, of great wealth.

Founding editor of the Inside Philanthropy website, a founder of public policy think tank Demos, and a former fellow at the Century Foundation, Callahan has a reputation as a keen observer of philanthropy and civil society and it serves him well here. Not only does he know his subject, he's also interviewed many of the people in his book — Priscilla Chan, Eli Broad, Melinda Gates, and John Arnold, to name a few — and is able to support his own judgments with their words. And what both he and they see is a future in which giving by the mega-wealthy is going to be bigger, more sophisticated, and more focused on influencing public policy debates.

Of course, many of today's mega-wealthy, people like Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg, have indicated they have little interest in leaving much of their wealth behind. (In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Bloomberg joked with correspondent Steve Croft about "a guy on his death bed in a hospital with the rails around and his family looking down like vultures. And he looks up and says, 'I know I can't take it with me, but I can take the access code'.") Indeed, in the next decade alone, some $740 billion is likely to be distributed in the form of private philanthropy. And if the Giving Pledge — the Buffett and Gates effort to encourage the uber-rich to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes — is any gauge, we could see another trillion dollars in private wealth making its way to nonprofit organizations and causes over the lifetimes of the one hundred and fifty-eight current "pledgers" who have signed on. (Learn more about that campaign and its signatories at the Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge feature.) How all that money will be used over the coming decades is what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might call a known unknown, but it undoubtedly will have important and lasting effects, and that — as well as who will decide what its impact might be — is at the center of Callahan's inquiry.

In the book, Callahan examines the collision of two fundamental American values — freedom and equality — and how the wealthiest Americans have been able to leverage their money (for better or worse) to gain advantage in the marketplace of ideas. Sure, money in politics is as American as apple pie: for proof, look no further than the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, the flood of cash swirling around political campaigns, and K Street lobbyists and super PACs. But much less is heard about the ways in which the mega-wealthy are using their philanthropy to influence public policy and (intentionally or not) drown out the voices of average Americans. We're not talking about eight-figure gifts for museums and the like; we're talking about philanthropy that shapes national agendas and priorities and promotes policies that affect Americans where they live — from promoting school vouchers, to hobbling the Johnson Amendment, to pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

It's one thing, for instance, for the average American to make a $100 donation to a cause she believes in, and it's certainly noteworthy when a wealthy donor trumps that with a gift a hundred thousand times larger; it's something else entirely when a donor puts up the money for a think tank to develop a public policy recommendation, hire researchers to provide intellectual cover for the policy, and disseminate the results through a report and a media campaign. The Brookings Institute has been around since the 1910s, the American Enterprise Institute since the 1930s, the Heritage Foundation since the 1970s. All are tax exempt and all have been the beneficiaries of substantial philanthropic largesse over the years. What's different in 2017 is the full-throttled way in which such bounty has become another weapon in the ideological clash that defines our time, Left vs. Right, liberal vs. conservative, cosmopolitan vs. populist. What we are seeing, Callahan notes, is the mega-wealthy using their philanthropic dollars to define the terms of the debate and dominate the public square in areas and on issues that a generation ago were the purview of academics, technocrats, and policy makers.

Some might argue that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and Callahan is quick to note that the mega-wealthy have no agreed-to set of interests and, as a group, are as ideologically and politically pluralistic as the country itself. If at times they can seem like gods throwing thunderbolts at one another, the diversity of ideas and approaches they represent seems to balance out: for every wealthy advocate of school vouchers and charter schools, there's an equally wealthy and committed advocate eager to double down on public education.

In a perfect world where government is more or less trusted to do the right thing, that might be okay, argues Callahan. But in an era of widening inequality and growing political polarization (exacerbated by our addiction to social media), government and traditional institutions are losing their ability to absorb those thunderbolts and forge compromises that satisfy the majority of Americans. It's not that the public square is empty; it's that the platforms from which the plural voices of American democracy typically are heard have been roped off and posted with "Do Not Enter" signs. For Callahan, it's no coincidence that the outsized influence on public policy of the mega-wealthy comes just at the moment when both institutional and government effectiveness appear to be in terminal decline.

With a nod to French economist Thomas Piketty, Callahan sees this decline as a by-product of mounting economic anxiety, driving broad disaffection with both major political parties and a loss of faith in the ability of government to materially affect the lives of those who have lost their livelihoods to globalization, automation, and de-industrialization. Into that vacuum has stepped the wealthy, with states and local governments increasingly looking to foundations and nonprofits to join forces in public/private partnership and fund everything from education initiatives to homeless services to public parks. Every time a philanthropist gives $100 million to bankroll a new reform effort in a struggling school district, or convinces a city to spend a portion of its parks budget on a whimsical project, or provides millions for a campaign to convince the public to support/oppose an international climate agreement, writes Callahan, we are seeing a new kind of philanthropy in action. And there's no reason to believe the trend won't continue, or that it won't happen in ways largely beyond the ability of the public to control.

As much as The Givers pulls back the curtain on this reality, it's also a call to change how philanthropy in America is regulated. Readers of Callahan's posts on Inside Philanthropy will not be surprised by his prescriptions — chief among them a call for greater transparency and accountability in the sector (principles Foundation Center has long championed through its Glasspockets initiative). Here, though, Callahan has something more specific in mind: changing the rules to require wealthy individual donors, donor-advised funds, private foundations, and nonprofits to disclose more information about their giving, more quickly. He also calls for the creation of an independent Federal Reserve-style commission to oversee the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors; the establishment of formal metrics to assess charities' effectiveness; and for the IRS to be given more resources — and greater latitude — to audit more than the tiny fraction of nonprofits and foundations it currently reviews. Callahan also favors limiting the tax-deductibility of contributions to nonprofits that are not working to alleviate poverty or address other urgent social problems, and he wants to see foundation boards be more independent and representative of the communities they are charged with serving.

For Callahan, these are small changes — a somewhat Pollyannaish take that seems to ignore our current political climate and the treasured prerogatives of many large, important foundations and nonprofits. Yes, philanthropy needs more transparency and accountability, it probably needs new rules, and the public needs more and better information about how foundations and individual donors are spending their tax-advantaged resources.

But we also need to find the will, and a way, to restore the public square to something like its imagined heyday so that the voices of the rich and powerful are not the only ones heard in statehouses and the halls of Congress. As Callahan puts it, Alexis de Tocqueville didn't esteem America for its robust nonprofit sector; he admired it for its egalitarian ideals. Nurturing and sustaining those ideas over the coming decades should be something we can all agree on.

Daniel Matz is manager and content developer for Foundation Center's portal. For more great reviews, check out the Off the Shelf section of PND.

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 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.


OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

Much of the code we write here at Foundation Center makes use of open-source tools. Foundation Maps uses JavaScript and PHP to run the pages you see in the Maps application, and both of those scripting languages are the product of long-running open-source collaborations. In my work, I also employ various machine-learning techniques (more details on machine learning coming in a future blog post!) that use open-source tools such as scikit-learn and Keras.

Indeed, given the increasingly important role played by open-source tools and software in our efforts, the Application Development team at Foundation Center has agreed that it's time for us to share some of the tools and code we've created with the broader philanthropic community. Our rationale is simple: not only will it lead to new ideas and use-cases for the code behind those tools, it will help us improve the quality of our own software.

This isn't a new approach. Tech companies have benefited from making their tools available through open source for some time now. In 2015, Google released TensorFlow, a machine-learning tool that enables developers to easily build neural networks (a type of artificial intelligence). And even though Google continues to use the TensorFlow tool internally for its own projects, including speech and image recognition applications, turning the tool over to the broader machine-learning community led the company to make improvements to it, some of which may not have been caught (or thought of) by Google engineers. It's a win-win, in that it benefits the machine-learning community by providing direct access to a powerful tool developed by Google, and it benefits Google by facilitating the continuous improvement of projects that millions of the company's users rely on.

But it's not just Silicon Valley that benefits from open sourcing. A colleague and I recently attended a workshop in London for Open-Ag funders, an initiative to end hunger and food insecurity and reduce poverty globally by ensuring that development actors working in agriculture and food security have the data they need to make smarter investments. We were encouraged by the large number of programmers at the workshop eager to contribute to making the field of agricultural funding more transparent and accessible through code, and we left the event convinced that open-source projects, because they lower barriers for people and organizations not on the cutting-edge of technology, are the wave of the future in both philanthropy and development.

The center's contribution to the Open-Ag workshop was a pledge to build an open-source application for the field. The app will allow anyone to enter a snippet of text — a mission statement, for example — and, using the magic of machine learning, determine how their work aligns with various aspects of the funding universe for sustainable agriculture and development. (For an example of what we have in mind, check out this SDG Indicator Wizard we built for the SDG Philanthropy Platform.) When completed, the app not only will be available to the public, but the code base behind the app will be made available on GitHub.

At Foundation Center, we are committed to leading the charge for greater transparency in philanthropy through the use of data, and we hope the Open-Ag project is the first of many open-source code projects we're able to collaborate on with the broader community (making us a leader in transparency through the sharing of code, as well). As we release projects to the public over the coming months and years, users will be able to access the code on GitHub at (And note to programmers: you'll be able to fork our projects for your own development needs.)

We're excited about our entry into the world of open source, and we look forward to both sharing, and receiving, contributions from other programmers out there. Feel free to drop us a note in the comments section below if you have any questions about our open-source initiative, or if you'd like to be a part of it.

Headshot_david_hollanderDavid Hollander is a data scientist at Foundation Center. For more posts in our FC Insight series, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 6-7, 2017)

May 07, 2017

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

Corporate Philanthropy

Forbes contributor Robert Reiss profiles five organizations that are redefining corporate philanthropy. 


The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the United States, is showing signs of success. So why, asks journalist and Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton on the Yale Environment 360 site, is the Trump administration seeking to eliminate funding for those ongoing efforts?

Lots of people in the climate change community are not happy the New York Times hired longtime Wall Street Journal op-ed writer Brett Stephens as a columnist for its opinion pages. Vox's David Roberts explains.


Could persistent disagreements over inequality and opportunity (e.g., "self-made" vs. "takers") be the result of cognitive bias? On the New York Times' Upshot blog, Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard, looks at how our tendency to remember and celebrate the challenges we faced, not the advantages we've had, colors our perceptions of those who are less fortunate — and how we might use that bias to create better public policy.

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5 Questions for...Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation

May 04, 2017

Since joining the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia Juech has led the foundation's efforts to identify and assess new, large-scale opportunities for impact across the foundation's priority areas and spearheaded its horizon scanning activities, informing both strategy and programs.

Recently, PND spoke with Juech about Rockefeller's "scan and search" activities, an approach the foundation is using to bring more diverse voices into the earliest stages of its work, ensure that all early-stage decisions are based on the best available evidence, and ultimately do the most good with the resources it has.

Headshot_Claudia_JuechPhilanthropy News Digest: What were the factors that led Rockefeller to adopt the "scan and search" approach? What are its benefits over more conventional approaches to philanthropic investment? And has your background in finance shaped your thinking about what the foundation can and should do to maximize its impact?

Claudia Juech: We wanted to develop a tool that would help the foundation generate the most impact for its investment — and to do that, to truly achieve transformative change, we needed to cast a wider net. That entailed a couple of things: in addition to being guided by our in-house experts, we realized we needed to reach out and listen to a broader spectrum of voices, and to look at problem areas that we hadn't considered previously. And we wanted to find ways to put the "winds of change" at our back — to identify changes that were already happening and could help us achieve our impact goals.

In comparison to more conventional philanthropic approaches, it's very open-ended and opportunity-driven. Rather than settling on a strategy or approach beforehand — say, increasing agricultural productivity — and then doing research to confirm our assumptions, we look at problems affecting vulnerable populations and try to keep an open mind in terms of deciding which issues we want to work on and how.

We're looking at big spaces, big fields, big problems where we want to make big bets. And there are a couple of things from my experience at Deutsche Bank, where I was responsible for trend monitoring, that I've tried to apply to my work here — using futures methodologies, for example, to predict "winds of change" trends. We start by looking quickly at about a hundred options, potential big bets, and then winnow them down to those we think will generate the biggest bang for our buck. I see some similarities with venture philanthropy in the belief that not every investment will have the impact you want, and that you look across a wide range of options and try to place informed bets. We look at a broad range of options, from cybersecurity concerns for the poor, to issues of energy poverty, to urban food insecurity, to neglected tropical diseases, and we ask where we could make the most headway, and what we can bring to the table in terms of our assets and competencies. Eventually we'll move on to dedicated, rigorous research and stakeholder consultation on a short list of options.

PND: What are some of the challenges you faced in shifting to the "scan and search" approach — internally with foundation staff, as well as externally, with grantees? And are there any lessons you could share with the field?

CJ: I think the short answer is that the work is not any easier with this approach. It might provide a broader array of opportunities and in the end lead to better results, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a "silver bullet," any more than other approaches would. We've learned a couple of things, though. Internally, there have been a lot of questions about the staff's "ownership," engagement, and role in shaping these ideas. Typically, our investment ideas had been developed by, for example, someone leading the foundation's agricultural program, so when a separate "scan and search" team was tasked with casting a wider net for ideas, well, it initially created some tensions and challenges. It was a change-management process for the first two years. And in some ways I feel that tensions will always exist around mechanisms designed to ensure that outside perspectives are included in the planning process and that we don't fall into programmatic silos, which is one of the things scan and search is meant to address.

Over the years, we've developed different processes designed to bring in our colleagues and their expertise. We work closely with our in-house experts, who are our partners and advisors in the work of surfacing new ideas, and we use various facilitation methods, internal huddles, ideation meetings, and the like. In fact, some of those methods are now being used after the work has progressed to a later phase. So, we've advanced the work of the foundation not only substantively but also methodologically.

Externally, because scan and search is used in the very early stages of the initiative pipeline, the implications for grantees have not been that dramatic. We reach out to a broader universe beyond our grantees, to experts and people who can provide insights or who are directly affected by the problem. Although often the work we do ends up informing the work our grantees are doing as well.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2017)

May 03, 2017

For those in the Northeast, April was rainy, cool, and dreary. Here on the blog, though, things were hopping, with lots of new readers and contributors. The sun is back out, but before you head outside, check out the posts PhilanTopic readers especially liked over the last thirty days.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

Hands-upThose of you who check in with PND on a regular basis know (here, here, and here) that Viktor Orbán, the illiberal and increasingly authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, and lawmakers from the country's governing Fidesz party have launched a campaign to rid Hungary of liberal (and dissenting) voices. In addition to attacks on the press and political activists, the campaign has targeted nongovernmental organizations operating in the country with the help of foreign funding — with a particular focus on groups backed by the Open Society Foundations and its founder, Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros.

Last week, a group of funders led by the European Foundation Centre, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Stefan Batory Foundation issued a statement in support of Hungarian NGOs and the broader values of "transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations." We are pleased to share that statement, which has been signed by a coalition of more than eighty philanthropic and civil society leaders from Europe and the United States, below.


Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

As the leaders of private philanthropies in the United States and Europe, we are greatly concerned by the repeated efforts of the Hungarian government to restrict and stigmatize nongovernmental organizations operating in the public interest. This includes actions in recent years that have threatened the existence of organizations supported by Norwegian civil society grants and, more recently, steps that may force the closure of the Central European University. We are especially concerned with efforts to require entities that receive even modest international financial support to register as foreign-funded organizations and list this designation on their website and all publications, or face fines and potential closure.

We support transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations, but some of the proposals currently under consideration go well beyond what is reasonable and would have the effect of discriminating against certain organizations and stigmatizing those that operate at world-class levels and are able to attract financial support from private foundations in Europe and globally. Hungarian law already requires all civil society organizations to report their sources of income and other support to the National Office for the Judiciary. We oppose public communications campaigns that undermine public trust in civil society organizations, falsely implying that such organizations in general, and those receiving foreign funding in particular, may be more prone to engaging in illegitimate activities than others. We are especially concerned that listing NGOs in a special registry of foreign-funded organizations may open the door to further, discriminatory treatment of these NGOs.

The ability to source funding from international donors is an important signal of the international quality and competitiveness of Hungarian NGOs, and it reflects Hungary’s solidarity with the European commitment to civil society. We hope the Hungarian government will honor the country’s and Europe’s commitment to the freedom of its citizens to form organizations, debate the issues of the day, and seek financial support from all legitimate sources.

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[Book Review] Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact

May 02, 2017

How can the social sector create lasting impact? By changing the way it thinks about and approaches social change, writes Tynesia Boyea-Robinson in Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact. Drawing on her experience in both the private and social sectors, Boyea-Robinson shares lessons she's learned and strategies she's found to be effective for changing how we think about and create change, how our organizations work, and how we collaborate.  

Book_just_change_3dIt's an approach well worth considering; as chief impact officer at Living Cities, a partnership of foundations, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the federal government that's committed to improving the vitality of cities and urban neighborhoods, Boyea-Robinson is tasked with ensuring that the organization's investments lead to measurable impact. She also has witnessed, both in her own family and in her previous work at Year Up National Capital Region, the barriers that many poor urban children come up against, leading her to acknowledge that the challenge of creating change, let alone lasting change, is daunting.

Something like closing opportunity gaps, for example, is a complex problem, one that involves interconnected relationships unique to each situation, as opposed to a merely complicated problem, the solution to which involves many difficult steps but can be mastered and replicated. And yet, she writes, we can create lasting impact, even around complex problems, if we work together and focus on a problem's underlying cause instead of its symptoms, continually improve our efforts through ongoing feedback, use data to define the impact we are looking to achieve, and align our programs, policies, and funding streams with clearly articulated goals. 

Boyea-Robinson is careful to note that meaningful social change rarely is driven by a single individual, organization, or sector. And while forging cross-sectoral partnerships is just one of the six ways, as she puts it, to "change how you create change" (the others are focusing on bright spots, changing systems through individuals, defining success in terms of people not neighborhoods, engaging the community, and supporting racial equity), it really constitutes the core message of the book. By definition, participation in a cross-sectoral collaboration creates the possibility of achieving something bigger than any one individual, organization, or sector could achieve alone. At the same time, collaborations, if they are to succeed, require solid relationships and a high level of trust, not to mention partners who are willing to commit to a collective goal that transcends their own individual objectives or reputation.

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  • " [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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