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10 posts from July 2017

Weekend Link Roundup (July 22-23, 2017)

July 23, 2017

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

Climate Change

According to the best-case scenario — a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases across the world — 48 percent of humanity will be exposed regularly to deadly heat by the year 2100. But "[e]xtreme heat isn’t a doomsday scenario," writes Emily Atkin in The New Republic, it's "an existing, deadly phenomenon — and it’s getting worse by the day. The question is whether we’ll act and adapt, thereby saving countless lives."

Puppy_with_fork_hiResCommunity Improvement/Development

In a Perspectives piece on the MacArthur Foundation website, Tara Magner and Cate A. Fox discuss how the foundation's newly appointed Chicago Commitment team is beginning to think about its work to make Chicago a more connected and equitable city, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.


After twelve years, the Moody's Foundation has dropped its sponsorship of the Moody's Mega Math Challenge, a national math modeling competition for high school juniors and seniors, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which runs the competition, is looking for a new sponsor. Forbes associate editor Alex Knapp has the details.


According to a new report from international environmental NGO Global Witness, two hundred environmental activists were murdered in 2016, more than double the number who lost their lives defending the environment just five years ago. And the violence continues, with more than a hundred activists murdered in the first five months of this year. On the Skoll Foundation website, Zachary Slobig talks with Global Witness' Billy Kyte about the  “culture of impunity” that is enabling these gross violations of human rights.


There are clever tax avoidance schemes involving the charitable deduction, and then there's this one. Peter J. Reilly reports for Forbes.

On the TriplePundit platform, Lee Rhodes, the founder of glassybaby, a manufacturer of hand-blown glass candleholders, explains how she successfully incorporated charitable giving into her young company's business model. 

International Affairs/Development

Big humanitarian NGOs must “change or die,” a new report, The Future of Aid: INGOS in 2030, argues. "The shift in power and resources from the northern hemisphere to the global south could render international aid organizations irrelevant by 2030," writes the Guardian's Karen McVeigh, citing the report. By then, 46 percent of people will live in countries affected by "fragility, conflict or violence." And without "concerted efforts" to evolve, international non-government organizations "will be sidelined by more efficient, adaptable actors — from the private sector [and] religious groups, [to local civil society and armed forces."

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther's latest spotlights Spark MicroGrants "a small NGO that practices what's called community-driven development, an approach that invites communities to design, execute and manage their own aid projects — farms to feed families, power lines, schools or roads" — and, according to a growing body of evidence, may also help to create "stronger governments and institutions."

Colombia’s historic peace accord is a once-in-a-generations opportunity for philanthropy to advance the UN's sustainable development agenda and improve the lives of Columbia's poorest citizens and communities. Juan David Ferreira, a consultant for Asociación de Fundaciones Empresariales y Familiares-AFE Colombia, and Merybell Reynoso, an international communications consultant for the SDG Philanthropy Platform, explain.


Collaboration, as many of you have heard or experienced, is challenging. So when does it make sense for nonprofits to collaborate, and what can they do ahead of time to ensure the success of any collaborative engagement? In a post on her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington has some commonsense advice for nonprofits thinking about taking the collaboration plunge.


In a Q&A with Foundation Center's Jen Bokoff, Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, talks about her philanthropic investment strategy and why she chooses not to be a passive donor.

What happens when a foundation puts residents in charge of local grantmaking? In a post on the NCRP site, Liane Stegmaier, director of communications at the Brooklyn Community Foundation, shares the happy results.


The future is here and, for well-resourced nonprofits, it includes ingenious texting bots. Beth Kanter explains.

Social Science

And some food for thought from Vox and German Lopez: "Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn’t one of them."

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

What Does Advocacy Look Like in the Current Moment, and How Should It Be Funded?

July 21, 2017

Pcas-support-250x300For twenty years, Urgent Action Fund (UAF) has supported frontline activism in the United States and around the world. The need for our funding has never been more apparent, especially here in the U.S. Activists — particularly those who are black, queer, Muslim, or undocumented, as well as others whose identities make them a likely target of threats — are operating in a different environment now.

In reflecting on our work over the past six months, I've identified a few keys to what effective organizing in the current era looks like, and how we as funders can respond.

1. The success of a progressive agenda is dependent on a groundswell of grassroots mobilization and support. Civil society has a heavy lift right now when it comes to defending existing rights and preventing a rollback of the gains we have made over the past few years. We need to recognize that if we are to create additional momentum and sustain our victories, the grassroots need support. Looking back, it's clear that hard-won legal victories — the Voting Rights Act, Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe vs. Wade — could not have been secured or sustained without the actions of vigorous and committed social movements. But because they are harder to fund, because being on the frontlines means they don't always have the breathing room to promote the results of their work, and because philanthropy systematically ignores work led by marginalized people, grassroots movements are often the least resourced part of the equation. Yet their proximity to the issues at stake means they are often best placed to raise awareness and frame the debate.

2. Support intersectional activism and understand the security implications. Because of the backlash activists often face, over 50 percent of UAF's rapid response grants go toward security for our grantees.

This has a lot to do with the fact that women and transgender activists are breaking stereotypes by taking a public stand. They confound society's expectations that they will stay silent, apologetic, and shy away from controversial political views. In our society, one's identity can put you at grave risk.

For example, as the rhetoric around mass deportations began to ramp up, Urgent Action Fund received a request to support an immigrant rights organizer, Valeria, who was facing deportation as well as harassment based on her gender identity at a Texas detention center. In addition to supporting the campaign for her release, UAF's grant to her organization helped activists in the area build networks of support, take know-your-rights training, and develop messaging to push back against discriminatory policies.

As funders who support frontline advocacy efforts, we must remember that not all activists will be treated equally by those opposed to their efforts. At Urgent Action Fund we have seen a 300 percent increase in security requests from women and transgender activists in the U.S. over the past few months, and more than 96 percent of these requests have come from women or transgender activists of color.

As funders, then, it's good to be aware that a strong security plan needs to be part of any frontline advocacy plan, and that we should be ready to fund both.

3. Work with international actors to advance a progressive agenda in the U.S. It's a humbling time to be an activist in the U.S. Much of what we accomplished through our activism over the past few years has been rolled back or now seems out of reach. We can't rely on the federal government in the way we could — to some extent — just a few months ago. The targets of our advocacy work need to shift if we hope to be effective.

Here's an example from our recent grantmaking.

Last summer and fall, we supported Native American women at Standing Rock who were resisting the extension of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native territory. Those efforts, targeting the federal government, were successful, although the victory was short-lived, with the new Trump administration moving immediately to reverse the decision.

This spring, Native women activists reached out to UAF with a plan to target international influencers, rather than the federal government, through advocacy focused on Keystone pipeline investors in Norway and Switzerland. As a result of this engagement — and the stories Native women shared with the bankers — activists were able to secure a commitment from the Norwegians to withhold their financing for the pipeline. The tactic also is working in the case of the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, where efforts by activists to secure justice from the government following the murder of Berta Carceres, an activist who led a campaign against the dam, yielded little response. After sustained advocacy, however, three foreign investors in the dam pulled their funding.

The lesson: Funders who support advocacy groups that work at the federal level may need to think internationally as activists look for new paths forward.

Advocacy Right Now

These are just some of the ways that funders can be responsive to the current moment and support activism at a time of change and transition. In this context, being flexible with how our funds are used, and ensuring the timeliness and accessibility of that funding, is also of the highest importance.

A healthy democracy is one in which citizens can criticize their government and take action in support of a progressive agenda without fear of reprisal. In the current climate, we must be there to support activists willing to speak out and resource them in ways that enable them to be effective — and safe.

As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

Headshot_kate_kroegerAs we work to create a more inclusive society and more responsive, democratic government, it is up to funders everywhere to support those willing to demand.

Kate Kroeger has served as executive director of the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights since 2012.

Colombia’s Peace Accord: Philanthropy Must Not Miss the Boat

July 20, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.


COLOMBIA-PEACE-TREATYThe peace deal and disarmament of FARC in Colombia is a remarkable milestone, but it is still not clear to what extent Colombians are ready to effectively transition from peacemaking to peace building. If it is to be successful, that process must result in full implementation of the accord and the enabling of environments conducive to sustainable peace over the long term.

The historic accord itself does not guarantee peace. While the end of the conflict has created the necessary conditions for peace building and reconciliation, a successful conclusion to the process will require creativity, long-term thinking, and all sectors of society to work together. The good news is that the end of violence means other sectors of society are now able to take part in creating a fairer and more equal Colombia.

In an attempt to engage the philanthropic sector in Colombia in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 16 (promote peace, justice and strong institutions), AFE Colombia and the SDG Philanthropy Platform have issued a report, Peace and Sustainable Development in Colombia: The Role of Philanthropy in Building a Shared Future, that aims to serve as a catalyst for new thinking by and dialogue between key stakeholders in the peace process. The report also provides concrete recommendations that local and international philanthropic organizations can act on to support Colombia's transition toward peace.

The current landscape

Colombia is a deeply unequal country. As such, it needs philanthropic organizations and actors to bring their resources and expertise to conflict-affected regions. More often than not, these are underdeveloped rural areas in dire need of social investment. To make the peace deal a reality on the ground will require stakeholders to come together and rethink the ways in which different actors and sectors in these areas interact and cooperate with each other.

At the same time, philanthropy itself must rethink the way it operates, taking into account its unique power to convene and provide a voice to underrepresented people and communities. Philanthropic actors currently operating in Colombia must also encourage new actors to engage with stakeholders in conflict-affected areas through partnerships designed to strengthen the impact of projects and activities already taking place and/or in replicating them in other areas of the country.

Ensuring a gender perspective

Several philanthropic institutions in Colombia are following UN recommendations and working to ensure that women play a key role in peace-building efforts and that their voices are heard. One of them, the WWB Foundation supports and educates women interested in setting up their own businesses. Philanthropic organizations like Fundación Belcorp and the Mujeres de Exito Foundation promote the development of women through education. And still others are providing legal services to women and girls who have suffered violence.

Taking into account the perspective of women was a key focus of the peace process, and the accord states that women's rights and needs (Goal 5) must be addressed by Colombian society as a whole. Philanthropic organizations looking to support the peace process are critical to this effort and should take it upon themselves to support and strengthen local women's groups so that they are able to play a meaningful role in peace-building efforts.

Taking the lead

Philanthropy itself is uniquely positioned to play a leading role as Colombia navigates this critical moment. Long-term vision and a willingness to take risks can be difficult for governments and businesses to embrace given budget constraints and fiduciary obligations. But philanthropy, acting as a catalyst for innovation and collective action, can become a key player in efforts to create the conditions needed to forge a sustainable peace.

The Colombian peace accord is a once-in-a-generations opportunity to improve the lives of Colombia's poorest citizens and communities. Philanthropy must not miss the boat.

Headshot_ferreira_reynoso (002)Juan David Ferreira is a consultant for Asociación de Fundaciones Empresariales y Familiares-AFE Colombia. Merybell Reynoso is an international communications consultant for the SDG Philanthropy Platform.

The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a global initiative that helps philanthropy engage in the global development agenda and informs and catalyzes collaboration between those working in the philanthropy sector and other key actors. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

What Is at Stake, and Why Philanthropy Must Respond

July 19, 2017

WhatsAtStake240In the months since the 2016 presidential election, philanthropy has begun to respond energetically to real and perceived threats to longstanding American principles of justice, equality, and fairness. Yet more is needed to counter policies and actions that undermine democratic norms, roll back essential safety-net protections, and shrink or destroy government programs essential to the health of the nation and the planet.

For the nonprofit world, the election of Donald Trump as president has raised the stakes in ways the two of us have never seen. Most nonprofits have missions that address inequality, injustice, and fairness in some way or another, whether it’s providing services to poor people and others in need, working to protect and extend civil and human rights, promoting environmental and animal protections, advancing equal opportunity, or enriching arts and culture for all.

We strongly believe these values — and the nonprofit work informed by them — are in jeopardy. And whether Donald Trump is the proximate cause of that danger or merely a catalyst for the expression of years of pent-up frustration, we cannot ignore the problem.

Whether or not you applaud Trump’s campaign promise to "drain the Washington swamp" or Sen. Bernie Sanders calls to fix a "rigged" system, it is painfully clear that many Americans have developed a deep-seated distrust of government and politicians. The populist wave of resentment unleashed by Trump’s election is a manifestation of that disillusionment and anger.

Trump understands that Americans want change, that they want to see the system shaken up in a way that forces politicians to listen to their concerns. But his actions, more often than not, are directly contrary to his words. By not divesting himself of his business interests before taking office, Trump has ensured that his many conflicts of interest (and those of his family) are fair game for watchdog groups and the press. His refusal to release his tax returns and his decision to shut down a website showing who has visited the White House make a mockery of his "draining the swamp" mantra and transparency in government. His condemnation of leaks and willingness to undermine administration officials with his words and tweets, as well as to divulge secrets to the nation's adversaries, has sown fear and confusion where clarity and energy on behalf of the American people are needed.

In this and so many other ways, the Trump presidency threatens our notions of a mature, functioning democracy. Too often, his actions seem impulsive and irrational, not reasoned and well thought out, a presidency where "alternative facts" are aggressively promoted and the press is derided as "enemies of the people." Trump himself is a president who takes criticism personally and responds in a vindictive, illiberal manner, weakening our democracy by attacking judges, civil servants, public leaders, and anyone else who questions his veracity and truthfulness.

Indeed, the only predictable thing about Trump is his unpredictably. He was enthusiastically for the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare before he decided it was "mean"; he was for a cybersecurity agreement with Russia and then wasn't; he intimated that there might be White House tapes of his meetings with former FBI director James Comey before revealing he made the whole thing up.

Trump's willingness to play fast and loose with the facts also means that top White House officials and spokespersons are regularly contradicted by his utterances. And the "Who’s on first?" quality of the administration's communications cuts both ways, as the president's tweets and statements are frequently contradicted by top administration officials.

Americans tend to view their presidents as role models. We shouldn't be surprised, therefore, to see the president's personal style ­— his shabby, bullying treatment of women and Muslims, his vulgar tweets, his regular incitements to violence ­— being copied by young people and even other politicians.

The combination of Trump’s impulsive personality and worst tendencies can lead to disastrous results, as in the case of his so-called election integrity commission. The commission had its genesis in an alternative Trumpian belief that Hillary Clinton's three-million popular vote margin was the result of millions of fraudulently cast votes — a claim no political scientist or voting expert believes. But the damage has been done: the commission has sown distrust in the soundness of our election system and may even, as many have noted, be an attempt to institutionalize voter suppression efforts in America.

Already forty-four states have said they will not comply with all or parts of the commission's request for sensitive voter data. Faced with legal challenges to the effort, the operational head of the commission, Kris Kobach — a former Kansas secretary of state with a history of voter disenfranchisement — has tabled the commission’s data collection request until the courts make a determination on its legality and the commission meets for the first time. Meanwhile, real issues such as making our voting machines and elections systems safe from foreign and domestic cybersecurity attacks go unattended.

Against this backdrop, a key question for the nonprofit sector is how to raise and talk about these concerns without appearing to be partisan. Some in the sector even worry that raising such issues will make them the bullseye of the next Trump tweet. To which we say, if nonprofits don't raise these issues, who will? And what are the long-term consequences of silence and inaction?

In other words, this isn't an issue of partisan politics. It's a question of values. It's a question of democracy.

Encouragingly, many nonprofits and funders have stepped up their game. Since the election, individual contributions to important organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have soared. Foundations have made emergency grants to address issues like hate speech, strengthen protections for a free press, address election reforms (including the census and redistricting), and support greater government oversight and accountability.

Despite these and other efforts, political scientists Kristin Goss and Jeffrey Berry argue that not enough is being done by foundations to "reorient their giving — and their public voice — in a sustained way to counter threats to a high-functioning, civil, and inclusive democracy." We agree, but also recognize that much has already been initiated by organized philanthropy.

The core problem for foundations, however, is that they mostly fund single issues as opposed to cross-cutting themes such as strengthening democracy. Foundation Center has developed a database to track democracy spending, and it reveals that roughly 1.5 percent of foundation grants, or $754 million out of a total of $52 billion awarded in grants in 2014, was spent on democracy issues. Because some types of grants might not have been captured for one reason or another, let’s add an extra 0.5 percent to the figure.

But even 2 percent of foundation giving is not enough to fund the activities needed to protect the democratic norms and institutions we take for granted. There needs to be a concerted campaign to at least double this figure to 4 percent for democracy organizing, advocacy, and related policy and infrastructure work.

Yes, foundation leaders and program officers are faced with growing needs in most of their program areas, but — especially at this critical moment — dedicating resources to strengthening democracy is a fundamental investment that simply cannot be ignored.

Headshot_gary_bass_mark_rosenman (002)Every foundation — local, state, regional, national — has a stake in this. Whether you fund the arts, human services, the environment or education, each is embedded in a political culture that, for the most part, values civility, inclusivity, transparency, and accountability — and requires an effective government, an engaged citizenry, and a healthy democracy. To lose that — to give in to partisanship, incivility, and authoritarianism – would be a tragedy of the very first order. We can't let that happen.

Gary D. Bass is executive director of Bauman Foundation and an affiliated professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Mark Rosenman is a professor emeritus at Union Institute & University.

Weekend Link Roundup (July 15-16, 2017)

July 17, 2017

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

Climate Change

Cities are where most of the world's population lives. But with the climate warming at an alarming rate, just how hot will they be by the year 2100? An interactive map created by Climate Central and the World Meteorological Organization has the scorching results.


Anyone who cares about public education in the U.S. will want to check out the longish piece by Chris Ford, Stephanie Johnson, and Lisa Partelow on the Center for American progress site detailing the "sordid" history of school vouchers in America.

Quartz has a nice profile of Maggie MacDonnell, the Canadian winner of this year's $1 million Global Teacher Prize.


Just how does the health system in U.S. stack up against those in other developed countries? Using data from Commonwealth Fund surveys and other sources of standardized data, the fund's Mirror, Mirror 2017 report identifies seventy-two measures relevant to healthcare system performance and organizes them into five performance domains: Care Process, Access, Administrative Efficiency, Equity, and Health Care Outcomes.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's Cynthia Cox and Larry Levitt examined the individual insurance market in early 2017 and, contrary to Republican Party talking points, found no evidence that it was collapsing; indeed, Cox and Levitt discovered that health insurers are on track to have their best year since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.


Brian Crimmins, managing partner at One Hundred, "the world’s first multidisciplinary, fully integrated service collective for the modern nonprofit," announces the launch of the inaugural Influencers in Philanthropy Report, which highlight four emerging themes nonprofits need to be aware of in order to succeed in the crowded and changing philanthropic marketplace.


Over the last eighteen months, Priscilla Chan, the wife of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and a Harvard-educated pediatrician, has added a new job to her responsibilities: running what is likely to be one of the most well-funded philanthropies in history. Recode's Kurt Wagner looks at how Chan and Zuckerberg hope to use Facebook's billions to end disease and change education.

ImpactAlpha's David Bank checks in with the story of how Ford Foundation president Darren Walker convinced the foundation's "very conservative" trustees and investment committee to carve $1 billion out of its $12 billion endowment for mission-related investments. (And be sure to check out our interview on the same topic with Ford's Xavier de Souza Briggs.)

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit consultant Alan Cantor examines the "fuzzy math" that donor-advised fund sponsors seem to favor when calculating their reported payout ratios.

On the Case Foundation blog, Sheila Herrling shares her thoughts on four trends that are driving the democratization of philanthropy.

In a guest post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Manivanh Khy, a program officer at the First Fruit foundation, reflects on what she has learned about "the age-old power dynamic that exists between the funder and the grantee."

Denver Post syndicated columnist and philanthropy consultant Bruce DeBoskey reviews seven lessons he has learned from his strategic philanthropy practice.


"Lawmakers in the current Congress have slipped language into two spending bills to protect so-called 'dark money' nonprofits from IRS scrutiny." Josh Keefe reports for the International Business Times.

Social Sciences

PND loves demography (and demographers), which means we love this post from the Pew Research Center outlining the ten demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world.


And here on PhilanTopic, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center, kicks off a new #OpenForGood series featuring the voices of "knowledge sharing champions" from the philanthropic and social sectors.

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

Why I Am Hopeful

July 12, 2017

Hope-in-clouds-images[1]It all started with an email from a friend late last year. She said she was concerned about the tone of our politics and the direction in which our country was moving, and she wanted to do something to help. She was calling her senator, but she felt that wasn't enough.

A few weeks later, I found out about a new local café, 1951 Coffee Company, that provides jobs and training for newly arrived refugees. At a time when the nation was debating a controversial White House plan to ban Syrian refugees and close our borders to people from six mostly Muslim countries, the cafe's welcoming and affirmative mission struck a chord. One morning, I stopped in, had a great cup of coffee, and asked how the owners would feel about a community fundraiser to support their work.

The café owners were game, and so I emailed my friend and several neighbors to try and put together a fundraising committee. My friend ended up leading the group, and a neighbor who lives across the street solicited in-kind donations for the event. My brother's mother-in-law even got involved. The outpouring of support from many walks of life — PTA parents, professors, scientists, new volunteers, first-time donors — was truly amazing.

In the end, the May fundraiser attracted nearly two hundred people and netted over $37,000 for the café's work. It was a modern-day community barn raising.

Marches…and More

Given the considerable threats today to the causes and priorities that so many of us care so deeply about, it is easy to get discouraged and down. But the story of this small café gives me hope. At a time when so much is on the line, people are stepping out of their comfort zones and becoming more involved in our democracy. We are marching, participating in spur-of-the-moment protests, volunteering, giving money, and contacting our elected representatives — all in unprecedented numbers, and all in an effort to show we’re paying attention and we care.

In conversations with leaders of our nonprofit partner organizations, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund's staff is hearing a similar refrain. Many organizations are experiencing a flood of new donations and volunteers and offers to help. And perhaps the best news is the groundswell of grassroots action is getting results.

  • Mass protests and accompanying lawsuits sidelined the White House's ban on refugees from six mostly Muslim countries; a weakened (though still-alarming) ban is in effect pending a final Supreme Court decision in the fall.
  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program providing temporary relief from deportation for undocumented young people remains intact because of a wave of popular support from all sides of the political spectrum.
  • Congressional plans to strip health coverage from millions of vulnerable people face a steep uphill climb, thanks largely to a flood of constituents who have been writing to Congress and showing up at townhall meetings and Fourth of July parades to register their concern.

Granted, there are still plenty of policies and executive actions that are posing huge challenges for immigrants, LGBT people, low-income children, and other vulnerable populations and communities. But the heightened level of grassroots activism and engagement we’re seeing makes me hopeful — and confident — that the values of fairness, equality, and opportunity ultimately will win the day.

New Allies, New Strategies

It's not just that community members across the nation are getting involved and making their voices heard. Among the other signs of hope:

  • New and powerful allies are stepping forward to make their opinions known. Consider the tech industry’s powerful advocacy against the refugee travel ban.
  • People and organizations increasingly are working together across movements to build powerful coalitions. Consider the work of the Million Voters Project, a Haas, Jr. Fund-supported initiative that unites local and regional organizations working with Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans and immigrants to get out the vote in 2018.
  • Allies are developing innovative strategies and are taking their work to new levels of scale and impact. For example, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II has turned his "Moral Monday" protests (which started in North Carolina) into a national movement to advance "the good of the whole."

Even as we are inspired by the new wave of activism we’re seeing, it's important to remember that our work today is founded on the same fundamental principles that have guided social movements in the past. The bottom line is that "We the People" need to stand up and use our voices — and our votes — to make a difference. That’s the only way real change happens, and it will require deep investments in community organizing, civic participation, movement-building, and leadership development.

I know these are precarious times for many communities across the country. And I understand that we can't be complacent or overly confident in the face of an onslaught of regressive policies out of Washington and many state capitals.

But from a little café here in the Bay Area to the National Mall in Washington to the streets and sidewalks of so many cities and towns where social justice organizations are organizing and attracting new supporters, there is something very powerful happening out there across the land. It's democracy in action, and it’s an inspiring thing to see.

Headshot_cathy_chaCathy Cha is vice president of programs at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

Because What You Know Shouldn't Just Be About Who You Know

July 11, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.


"Knowledge is obsolete." As a librarian, my ears perked up when someone shared the title of this TEDxFoggyBottom talk. It's plausible. Why memorize obscure, hard-to-remember facts when anything you could possibly want to know can be looked up, on the go, via a smartphone? As a mom, I imagine my kids sitting down to prepare for rich, thought-provoking classroom discussions instead of laboring over endless multiple-choice tests. What an exciting time to be alive — a time when all of humanity's knowledge is at our fingertips, leading experts are just a swipe away, the answer always literally close at hand, and we've been released from the drudgery of memorization and graduated to a life of active, informed debate! And how lucky are we to be working in philanthropy and able to leverage all this knowledge for good, right?


Though the active debate part may sound familiar, sadly, for too many of us working in philanthropy, the knowledge utopia described above is more sci-fi mirage than a TED Talk snapshot of present-day reality. As Foundation Center's Glasspockets team revealed in its "Foundation Transparency Challenge" infographic last November, only 10 percent of foundations today have a website, and not even our smartphones are  smart enough to connect you to the 90 percent of those that don't.

The Foundation Transparency Challenge reveals other areas of potential improvement for institutional philanthropy, including a number of transparency practices not widely embraced by the majority of funders. Indeed, the data we've collected demonstrates that philanthropy is weakest when it comes to creating communities of shared learning, with fewer than half the foundations with a Glasspockets profile using their websites to share what they are learning, only 22 percent sharing how they assess their own performance, and only 12 percent revealing details about their strategic plan.

Foundation Center data also tells us that foundations annually make an average of $5.4 billion in grants for knowledge-production activities such as evaluations, white papers, and case studies. Yet only a small fraction of foundations actively share the knowledge assets that result from those grants — and far fewer share them under an open license or through an open repository. For a field that is focused on investing in ideas — and not shy about asking grantees to report on the progress of these ideas — there is much potential here to open up our knowledge to peers and practitioners who, like so many of us, are looking for new ideas and new approaches to urgent, persistent problems.

As for having a universe of experts a swipe away to help inform our philanthropic strategies, the reality is that the body of knowledge related to philanthropic work is scattered across the thousands of institutional foundation websites that do exist. But who has time for the Sisyphean task of filtering through it all?

No coincidence, perhaps, that a main finding of a recent report commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation was that foundation professionals looking to gain and share knowledge tend to prefer to confer with trusted foundation peers and colleagues. At the same time, the field is doing a lot of soul searching related to diversity, equity, and inclusion — and what it can do to improve its performance in those areas. But if practitioners in the field are only sourcing knowledge from their peers, doesn't that suggest their knowledge networks may be unintentionally insular and lacking in well…diversity of opinion and perspective? And might there be a way to connect the dots and improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and inclusivity of our networks by changing the way we source, find, and share lessons learned?

In other words, shouldn't what we know not just be about who we know?


The good news is that as more foundations professionalize their staffs and develop in-house expertise in learning, monitoring, and evaluation (as well as in grants management and communications), there are a number of developing practices out there worth highlighting. And there's more good news: a number of technology platforms and tools have emerged that make it easy for us to improve the way we search for and find answers to complex questions. Here at Foundation Center, for example, we are using this post to kick off a new #OpenForGood series featuring the voices of "knowledge sharing champions" from the philanthropic and social sectors. Some of these experts will be sharing their perspectives on opening up knowledge at their own foundations, while others will clue us in to tools and platforms that can improve the way philanthropy leverages the knowledge it generates (and pays for), as well as the way it discovers new sources of knowledge.

But before we get there, you might be wondering: What does it mean to be a social sector organization that is #OpenForGood? And how does my organization become one? Not to worry. The following suggestions are intended to help organizations demonstrate they are moving in the direction of greater openness:

  1. Grantmakers can start by assessing their own foundation’s openness by taking and sharing the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment survey.
  2. Funders and nonprofits alike can openly share what they are learning with the rest of the field. If your organization invested in monitoring and evaluating results in 2015 or 2016, make the effort to share those evaluations in our new IssueLab: Results In exchange for sharing your recent evaluations, you will receive an #OpenforGood badge to display on your website to signal your commitment to creating a community of shared learning.
  3. If you have lessons to share but not a formal evaluation process, share them in blog format here on PhilanTopic, or on GrantCraft, so others can still benefit from your experience.
  4. Adopt an open licensing policy so that others can more easily build on your work.

The #OpenForGood series is timed to align with the launch of a new Foundation Center platform designed to help philanthropy learn from all the collective knowledge at its disposal. Developed by the team at IssueLab, whose collection already includes more than 22,000 reports from thousands of nonprofits and foundations, IssueLab Results is dedicated in particular to the collection and sharing of evaluations.

IssueLab Results supplies easy, open access to the lessons foundations are learning about what is and isn't working. The site includes a growing curated collection of evaluations and a special collection containing guidance on the practice of evaluation. And it’s easy to share your knowledge through the site — just look for the orange "Upload" button.

The basic idea here is to scale social sector knowledge so that everyone benefits and the field, collectively, grows smarter rather than more fragmented. On a very practical level, it means that a researcher need only visit one website rather than thousands to learn what is known about the issue s/he is researching. But the only way the idea can scale is if foundations and nonprofits help us grow the collection by adding their knowledge here. If they do — if you do — it also means that philanthropy will have a more inclusive and systematic way to source intelligence beyond the "phone a friend" approach.

The bottom line is that in philanthropy today, knowledge isn't obsolete, it's obscured. Won't you join us in helping make it #OpenForGood?

If you have a case study related to knowledge sharing and management and/or the benefits of transparency and openness, let us know in the comments below, or find us on Twitter @glasspockets.

Headshot_janet_camarenaJanet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. A version of this post originally appeared in the Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog as part of its new #OpenforGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. For more posts in the FC Insight series (not to be confused with the Fund for Shared Insight), click here.

Change That Starts in Your Own Backyard: Mapping Dollars Toward the 2030 Global Goals

July 07, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.


SdgsFor many grantmakers in the United States, the announcement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came and went without much fanfare. Some surely must have wondered how the work they're supporting in the U.S. could count toward a much larger international initiative if they weren't funding projects in developing countries. And some may have even thought the SDGs are designed to improve the lives of people only in places like Kenya or Nicaragua, not Kentucky and Nebraska. But what these grantmakers may not realize is that the work they're already doing, day in and day out, can make a huge difference in achieving the goals set forth by the UN as part of its Agenda 2030.

Whether working to end hunger and poverty, providing access to clean water, or championing gender equality, each of the seventeen goals address issues that towns, cities, and states across the U.S. are familiar with. We need look no further than the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the gender wage gap in most industries and communities. The challenge isn't how to get domestic grantmakers involved in contributing to the SDGs; they already are involved through the work they're doing. Rather, the challenge is how to engage them in mapping the work they are supporting domestically against the larger global framework.

The first step in that process is to change the way we think about results and reporting and to continue to push our sector toward a more results-focused approach. Instead of pointing to one-off impact stories, dollars given, or simple outputs like the number of people served, funders need to focus on measuring how a situation has actually changed as a result of their funding. The SDGs help provide a framework for organizations, foreign and domestic, large and small, to do just that by offering a common taxonomy and set of standards that players across the philanthropic ecosystem can look to in reporting and measuring impact.

Measuring outcomes using a standard taxonomy not only enables domestic grantmakers — whether a large corporation or a small community foundation — to better track their efforts; it also helps to fuel collaboration in the service of better results. Without a shared taxonomy, two funders in the same community can be working toward a common goal and never realize that the other organization is doing similar work — or understand how their own work connects to a broader effort. In contrast, when funders and grantees use the same terminology to describe and measure their work, it's much easier to see how collaboration between two or more organizations can be leveraged into a regional, statewide, or nationwide initiative that connects to an even larger, global goal.

Connecting grantmaking efforts to the SDGs also enables funders to more easily galvanize stakeholders — community members, supporters, board members, employees, and customers — around the work they're doing. Showing that a small jobs training program for women in Detroit connects to a global goal of gender equality tells a powerful story. People tend to feel more empowered when they know they are connected to something bigger than themselves or their individual organizations.

Aligning grantmaking to the SDGs may seem daunting, but the good news is that the work is already under way and there are resources designed to help you. As a first step, take a look at the SDGs to see which goals and targets naturally align with your organization's work or corporate philosophy. The Council on Foundations provides material and information for domestic grantmakers looking to get involved with the SDGs, while the Foundation Center's SDG Philanthropy Platform makes it easy to share your progress toward individual goals and to review other funders' progress.

At Blackbaud, we are convinced that collecting and tracking data toward the SDGs will help lay the groundwork for more efficient and effective giving. In fact, it's only through serious, intentional data collection and analysis that we can benchmark our efforts and ensure that those efforts, no matter how small they may seem, are contributing to building a better world.

Annie_rhodes_for_PhilanTopicAnnie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud's Corporations & Foundations Group. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2017)

July 05, 2017

Don't know if you all agree, but it's unanimous here at PND: Whoever invented the four-day weekend deserves a medal. We've got a busy July lined up, but before we get too far into it, we figured this would be a good time to look back at the blog content you found especially interesting in June, including new posts by Rotary International's John Hewko, Battalia Winston's Susan Medina, DataViz for Nonprofit's Amelia Kohm, regular contributor Kathryn Pyle, and the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. Enjoy!

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

Collaboration Is the New Competitive Edge

July 04, 2017

Successful-collaborationThere aren't many secrets among friends. At least not between, Kiva, and GlobalGiving. For nearly half a decade, my GlobalGiving colleagues and I have been sharing intel with these peers (and a few others) via monthly phone calls and occasional meet-ups. Because we're all working to improve our giving communities, nearly every strategy and tactic is open for discussion. Especially when it comes to donor engagement and retention.

Most nonprofits work tirelessly to engage and retain donors, but there isn't much data about what works online. Much of the research on giving to date has been associated with donor acquisition rather than donor retention, as the latter requires nonprofits to collaborate with researchers. Recently, however, all three of our organizations teamed up with Harvard Business School's Michael Norton and Oliver Hauser to conduct the first known synchronized A/B field test involving three nonprofits. The experiment, aimed at driving repeat donations, was generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The tactic we chose to explore? Pseudo-sets. Previous research by the HBS team suggested that individuals are motivated to complete tasks when they are framed as part of a "pseudo-set" — that is, rather than just performing a single action, individuals are asked to perform three or four actions to complete the "set." In fact, research has shown that task completion can jump five-fold when people are presented with wedges of a pie chart that fill in as each task is completed (compared to the control without a set). Inspired by that idea, my colleagues and our friends at DonorsChoose and Kiva ran a large-scale field experiment across our respective crowdfunding platforms (which together reach more than 200,000 donors) to test the effect on fundraising of "pseudo-set" framing. Could the approach inspire more giving?

I won't bore you with the details, but interestingly the HBS researchers identified a significant pseudo-set framing effect when looking at two of the participating charities, GlobalGiving and They did not see the same effect among Kiva lenders, however. Which — no surprise —left us all wanting to know more. Fortunately, the experiment was only the beginning of the collaboration involving the three organizations and team of HBS researchers, and our consortium is already designing a second phase of experiments that will explore what worked (and didn't) to motivate donors on our respective platforms.

We also hope the model inspires more collaboration involving other nonprofits, researchers, and foundations. "The coordination, execution, and teamwork required for this project — enabling three organizations to pull off a synchronized field experiment across their respective platforms — offers an exciting avenue for novel, large-scale research with the potential to surface unique insights into the psychology of giving," says Norton.

Kevin Conroy, chief product officer here at GlobalGiving, notes that collaboration of this kind saves nonprofits money and can increase their impact. "At the end of the day," he adds, "many organizations have the same goal: to make the world a better place. No matter what programs you have to achieve that, be it funding classroom needs, providing microloans, or supporting grassroots projects around the world, sharing knowledge increases the speed of innovation and lets us all do more with less.", GlobalGiving and Kiva will continue to collaborate and run experiments. We're reviewing and testing the latest research in the sector, including work funded by the Templeton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What drives generosity? How can we inspire donors to give more, both in terms of total giving and frequency of giving? How can we best retain donors over time? How well does past research, conducted primarily with phone solicitations and snail mail, translate to a digital-only appeals? We want to help donors become better at giving. We believe our consortium can help shed light on some of these big questions faster. And, of course, we promise to share what we learn.

Headshot_alsion_carlmanAlison Carlman is the director of marketing and communications at GlobalGiving.


Quote of the Week

  • "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer for a moment the latter. But I should mean that every man should recieve those papers and be capable of reading them...."

    — Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

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