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10 posts from October 2017

Weekend Link Roundup (October 21-22, 2017)

October 22, 2017

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


In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million gift in support of a major overhaul of the public school system in Newark, New Jersey. To be spearheaded by then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker (now a U.S. senator) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the effort stumbled out of the gate and became the object of derision (as well as the subject of a well-reviewed book by education reporter Dale Russakoff). But a new study from a team led by a Harvard University researcher finds that the performance of students in the district has improved significantly in English (although not so much in math) since 2010. Greg Toppo reports for USA Today.


In a post for Forbes, Kris Putnam-Walkerly offers ten reasons why community foundations are your best for disaster relief giving.

On Beth Kanter's blog, Alison Carlman,  director of impact and communications at GlobalGiving, challenges the conventional wisdom that donors are fatigued by the series of disasters that have hit the U.S. , Mexico, and Caribbeanf.  

Interestingly, a new study from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy shows that since the early 2000s, volunteering and charitable giving in the United States has dropped roughly 11 percent. And, as a country, our generosity appears to have peaked around 2005, with giving hitting an average of $1,024 annually; in 2015, the most recent year measured, that number dropped to $872. Eillie Anzilotti reports for Fast Company.

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review Jennifer Xia and Patrick Schmitt, students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, note that while the largest wealth transfer in human history will take place over the next twenty years, most nonprofits are poorly positioned to take advantage of it.

In a video on the CNBC site, tech entrepreneur Alexandre Mars, the "French Bill Gates," argues that giving is something that anyone can — and everyone should — do.


With the Trump administration's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the fate of some 800,000 young immigrants is in limbo. The Center for Law and Social Policy's Kisha Bird shares five things youth development advocates and others need to know about these so-called Dreamers and the DACA program.

International Affairs/Development

"The capital is flowing [into SDG-related efforts],” Fran Seegull, executive director of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, tells Devex' Catherine Cheney. "But it begs the question, what about the impact?" For advocates like Seegull, "metrics [are] a vital piece of keeping the focus on impact, particularly as more investors get involved in the field."

In his latest post, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther takes a deep dive into the clean cookstove sector.


Members of the Forbes Nonprofit Council share some advice for nonprofits looking to increase their engagement with the communities they serve. 


Interested in learning more about the biggest funder of right-wing causes these days? Check out David Callahan's recent profile of secretive hedge fund executive Robert Mercer, whose charitable giving is  "financ[ing] hardball politics and...legitimiz[ing] views that are extremist, even in the eyes of many conservatives...."

On the Glasspockets blog, Ed Pauly, director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, explains why the New York City-based arts and education funder has embraced the idea of making evaluations public and distributing them widely.  The post is the latest in the #OpenForGood series hosted by Glasspockets in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight.

Is social media a good use of a foundation's time and resources? Or as Malcolm Macleod, president of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, asks in a post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Is anybody listening? The answer might surprise you.

Donald Trump and many of his Republican allies in Congress are intent on getting rid of the estate tax for good — a tax policy change that would very good for Trump and about five thousand other high-net-worth families but terrible, writes NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman, for the rest of the country.

Social Justice

And what are we really talking about when we talk about "equity"? As you might expect, Nonprofit AF's Vu Le has some thoughts.

(Photo credit: Scott Halleran | Getty Images)

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

5 Questions for...Mark Brewer, President and CEO, Central Florida Foundation

October 19, 2017

In September, with the Houston area still wringing itself out after the historic rains dropped by Hurricane Harvey two weeks earlier, parts of the Caribbean and Florida suffered their own disaster, as Hurricane Irma became the first Category 5 storm on record to hit the Leeward Islands and then moved over much of Florida as a Category 3 storm, causing millions of Floridians to evacuate and leaving the Florida Keys cut off from the mainland.

Recently, PND spoke with Mark Brewer, president and CEO of the Orlando-based Central Florida Foundation, about the relief and recovery efforts in his region and what the foundation is doing to help nonprofits in the area get back to normal.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is the extent of the damage in the region served by CFF?

Mark_Brewer_Central Florida FoundationMark Brewer: Finding the answer to that question has been an evolving process. As I'm sure you know, there are three phases to these events: response, recovery, and rebuilding. In some parts of the region we're still in response mode, in part because of the widespread electrical outages and water-related issues in the counties on the coast. But response and recovery is going to look different here than it does in South Florida and the Caribbean, even though we suffered a large amount of unseen damage.

This morning [September 25], for example, more than a hundred daycare centers didn't open because they suffered damage to their buildings or their employees couldn't get into work. That translates into thousands of people who couldn’t get to work because they didn't have child care. So when you look out at the roads, things look like they're clearing up, the tree branches are being removed. But when you start looking at nonprofits in the region, you see that they're struggling to get back to full strength.

PND: What are the most immediate needs, and how do you think things will unfold over the next several months?

MB: The response phase is wrapping up. Most of the power has been restored, and people are starting to get back into their normal routines. Recovery is about getting back to business as usual. It's not just those daycare centers, it's also about making certain that everyone who cares for people with disabilities, children, and the elderly are back in business and the overall "quality-of-life-system" in the region operates as it’s supposed to. For the rest of 2017, we're going to be moving into recovery and making certain that service providers are operational and have what they need. Then for most of 2018, I think it will be a mix of recovery and rebuilding as it becomes clearer who was able to recover from the storm and who wasn't. Remember, while we're happy to have FEMA on the ground, it can sometimes take months  even years  for FEMA to pay the bills. That means you will see a lot of nonprofits that are stressed in terms of their capacity to help people with things that they've been told they'll be reimbursed for later.

PND: What is the role of a community foundation in addressing the needs of nonprofits and people in the community after a disaster?

MB: We operate in two areas. One is around the process of identifying capacity issues for nonprofits in the region. We established the Hurricane Irma Relief Fund, which will focus mostly on recovery. If we see gaps during rebuilding, we'll address them, but the first grants out of the fund will go to things like helping people cover their insurance deductibles and making certain that people who are eligible for FEMA grants understand the process and its requirements.

Right now, the foundation is finishing an assessment of a thousand nonprofits in the region. What the early numbers tell us is that about 7 percent of those nonprofits essentially have been put out of business. They're not able to do anything right now because they don't have the people or the resources. Another 40 percent of nonprofits in the region are operational, but they're doing so at a huge disadvantage, either trying to figure out how they're going to make payroll and what to do about holes in the roof, or how to deal with the IT and technology systems that aren't working. Transportation’s another big issue for some of them. But we're seeing a lot of folks in the region looking for and finding ways to help each other get up and running. As we move into the recovery phase, those kinds of needs will become more apparent. It's not rocket science: You do some surveying, get some data, and do what needs to be done.

PND: How much do you hope to raise to address those needs?

MB: Based on the number of people who have access to insurance and FEMA resources, there could be several million dollars of need over the next year and a half in the seven counties we serve. In terms of making sure services are available, it looks like the need is going to be in the $1 million to $2 million range. To achieve that fundraising goal, we'll be collaborating with the United Ways and other foundations in the region.

But it's important that philanthropy doesn't get too far out in front of public money, because that can sometimes lead to the faucet being turned off. Typically, it takes public money a long time to get to those who need it, and getting sufficient dollars from the right pockets to the right places at the right time is all about coordination and collaboration. We will be convening hundreds of nonprofits over the coming weeks and will continue that process over the next year around specific areas of interest, which we hope will help us make a case to the community for addressing some of the problems in the region in a more strategic way. It's not enough to say we have about four thousand nonprofits in the metro area, and 40 percent of them could be in trouble and need help. That's not really a case for support.

PND: How has the response to Irma been different from the response to other hurricanes that have hit Orlando?

MB: It hasn't been much different. As soon as a storm has passed, corporations and corporate philanthropies around the region come together and try to figure out how can they best allocate resources in the areas that they fund. Typically, if a hurricane hits Orlando, we get calls from companies that have employees in Orlando or do business here looking for ways to put money to work. That didn't happen this time, however, because the hurricane affected the entire state, and I think that confused corporations a little bit. They were looking for the worst-hit areas, almost as if they automatically shifted into response gear instead of recovery gear.

As you might imagine, local companies and local philanthropists are a little more strategic. About half of them have been focused on ensuring that people in the region have what they need to survive, while the other half have been focused helping businesses and nonprofits get back to normal. Remember, we're not just talking about social service and human service nonprofits; we're also talking about arts and cultural groups, many of which have not brought in any significant revenue for almost a month, putting them in pretty dire straits. You also have education and healthcare groups, and they're in the same situation, losing a revenue stream that could put them in jeopardy. Local folks are more likely to think about making sure that every business and nonprofit in the community is operational and that we don't lose anybody along the way.

Another way in which storm response has been different this time is that we have a lot of people who weren’t here in 2004 when hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne all hit Orlando. Literally half the people in Orange County didn't live here in 2004. Recovering from a hurricane requires a lot of social capital — who has good cell phone service, who owns a chainsaw, who knows how to get a tree off a roof or fence. Irma quite possibly created more damage than all three of those earlier hurricanes put together, but we don’t have as many people around with that kind of experience. The social capital is missing a little and needs to be rebuilt. But, hey, hurricane season isn't over until November.

— Matt Sinclair

Deepening Audience Engagement With Long-Form Content

October 18, 2017

Communicating complicated ideas can be a significant challenge for social change organizations trying to reach diverse audiences in a short-attention-span world. But it's something long-form content is particularly well suited for. If your organization publishes research, reports, and other types of long-form content, what strategies can you use to ensure that your content resonates with and engages your target audiences?

Audience-Engagement-bubblesDigital communications and social media have had a tremendous impact on our ability to maintain focus and attention — not just online, but in the real world. Online and offline, we are awash in content that's fragmented and comes at us fast. Distractions are everywhere and, for social change organizations, creating awareness around complex issues can feel like an uphill battle.

But even as short-form platforms like Twitter increasingly shape how issues are framed by the media, recent studies show that when it comes to audience engagement, long-form content performs better than shorter content. So, while we may live in a world dominated by short bursts of commentary, opinion, and insights, long-form content remains a critical (and effective!) format.

While every organization with a message to communicate has to learn how to navigate this dynamic, social change organizations face a bigger challenge. Because when your mission revolves around a complicated issue, is connected to a problem in a far-away place or the distant future, or is just removed from the concerns of everyday life, maintaining audience engagement is inherently more difficult.

Still, it usually boils down to the same question: How can we elevate our issue or cause and engage our target audiences? The time-tested principles used by storytellers since, well, forever are an excellent place to start.

Leveraging Narrative Structure

Whether presented as narrative or as academic research, all long-form content can benefit from the three-act structure of exposition, confrontation, and resolution familiar to professional storytellers. In general, it works like this:

Invite your audience in. Whenever you are asking an audience to engage with a longer narrative, it’s important to invite them in to the narrative by stating up front the things you have in common. Establishing a shared understanding and creating common ground with your audience — and appealing to their "better angels" when appropriate — makes it that much easier to pivot to the more complex ideas you need them to engage with and to share new perspectives they are likely to value.

Establish your "characters." Establishing common ground with audience members also earns you their interest and attention — equity you can use to deepen their engagement with your issue or cause. In storytelling, effective writers use this equity to establish their "characters" and the underlying relationships that animate them. Keep in mind, characters don't need to be actual people — they can be a commonly held belief, a way of doing things, or an entire system that impacts your mission. Whether you're sharing a traditional narrative or specialized academic content, it's important to establish this framework sooner rather than later, and to supply important details that will deepen your audience's commitment to, and understanding of, the issue at hand.

Introduce a catalyst. By this point, your audience should both be familiar with your issue and inclined to commit themselves to learning more about it. It's time to elevate their interest by revealing the catalyst! For social change organizations, a catalyst could be a new way of addressing systemic inequity or research that offers insights into how to think about social change in a new way. Whatever the case, your goal is to provide a compelling reason for your readers to step up their investment in your work. And the more complex the issue, the more important it is to clearly lay out the related activities and/or outcomes that are part of the catalyst. Done well, you'll create a connection with your audience that boosts their willingness to engage with and support your mission.

Create a resolution. For many social change organizations, impact is something that happens in the future (sometimes the distant future). The delay in being able to demonstrate results is a major challenge for social change organizations working to address deep-rooted problems such as poverty, structural racism, or climate change. So if your audience is still engaged with your long-form content at this point (and you certainly hope they are), it's critical to offer them some kind of resolution. Depending on the nature of your organization, that resolution can take a number of forms — a satisfying conclusion to a story about impact, a roundup of resources they can use to further their own change-related efforts, and/or a list of things they can do to strengthen their engagement with your organization.

Again, whether your content falls into the emotional narrative category or is fact-based research, the key to deepening audience engagement is maintaining an equal focus on both its structure and substance. And the same best practices that work online can be applied to any medium or format.

Tips for Content Creators

Now that you have a better understanding of the principles of effective narrative, here are some recommendations for crafting compelling long-form content that will deepen audience engagement and spur potential supporters to action:

Be consistently thoughtful. The bar for high-quality long-form content is, well, high. And with so much content so readily available, ensuring that your content is respected, remembered, and returned to means making sure it always speaks to and reinforces your organization's credibility, delivers meaningful value, and provides a great reading experience.

Editorial creativity is paramount. To spark and sustain engagement, long-form content needs to be focused and well structured. To keep your audience's attention, try alternating between simplicity and complexity. Punctuate deeper dives into an issue with simple summaries and key insights. Doing so will not only underscore and amplify what's at stake, it will make it easier to move on to the next idea you need to communicate.

Empathy is important, but... Successful communications is about more than just making sure your ideas are clear, concise, and well-stated. It's about meeting your audience wherever they are (i.e., creating common ground). That said, conveying empathy isn't about purple prose or being gratuitously emotional. Instead, it requires establishing a genuine, meaningful connection to the people you are hoping to engage on terms that resonate with them, and building trust.

Make sure your audience doesn’t get lost. Consistency and clear expectations are critical to building trust — especially in long-form content that requires a greater commitment from your audience (and even more so online). Both in the language you use and the actual vehicles you create for your content, cues designed to orient audience members within the reading experience can reduce cognitive load, improve content accessibility, and create a sense of anticipation that keeps audience members reading.

Provide a place to rest. Giving your audience members conceptual places to take a break is a great way to reduce the fatigue often associated with reading long-form content. Analogy, metaphor, and digression are tried-true techniques that, when executed well, can reinforce context, add needed perspective, and reinforce reader understanding. From a design perspective, creating visually (and conceptually) separate material such as sidebars is also an excellent way to introduce a change of pace into complex material.

Don’t be afraid to pick a fight! As our name suggests, Constructive is all about positive dialogue. But that doesn't mean we don't appreciate the importance of taking clear positions and standing up for what we believe is right. If the issue your organization is working to address requires you to take a stand, you can strengthen your case by contrasting your position with the position of those who see the issue differently and explaining in clear terms what's at stake.

Leave your audiences wanting more. Every piece of content you share with your target audiences should leave them better informed and feeling energized. But the next steps are crucial. You need to give them a rationale for wanting to help you advance your cause, including a range of actions and an explanation of why their actions will create more impact when combined with the actions of like-minded people (as always, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!).

In Conclusion

We create content in hopes that people will engage with our ideas. Storytelling has long been one of humanity's most powerful ways of translating ideas into action. While sharing our ideas through digital communications may be different than telling stories around a campfire, the fundamental principles are the same.

To truly engage an audience, digital content must be meaningful and deliver value — wherever and however an audience chooses to consume it. In a world of too many choices, sustaining online engagement requires that we design and deliver experiences that highlight the alignment of our ideas and activities to the interests of our audience. When ideas are presented in a way that our audience finds to be both accessible and useful, those ideas will be shared with others. At Constructive, we call that a win-win!

Headshot_matt_schwartzMatt Schwartz is founder and executive director at Constructive, a New York City-based brand strategy and experience design firm dedicated to helping social change organizations achieve greater impact.

Best Practices for Implementing New Software

October 16, 2017

Puzzle_cooperation_250If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential you have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.

Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:

  • a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
  • technology needs that go unaddressed;
  • duplication of effort; and
  • lack of systems integration.

At the same time, selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. Unfortunately, many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution. As a result, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Indeed, software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.

Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:

  1. CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
  2. Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
  3. Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
  4. Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
  5. Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.

So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:

  1. Align on expectations. Prior to implementation, set goals with your implementation specialist, share and confirm that all requirements are aligned with organizational expectations, construct a timeline, and get final sign off on the steps in the process.
  2. Appoint a project manager. Once expectations have been outlined and agreed to, appoint a key stakeholder from your team to serve as project manager. The project manager should also be the main point of contact for your software partner's representative.
  3. Focus on the partnership. Once a project plan has been agreed to, discuss and determine the most efficient method of communication between your team and your software partner, as well as the frequency of communications (once a week? biweekly? monthly?). Also, be sure to finalize how best to share and collaborate on all documents created and maintained during the project.
  4. Develop checkpoints. Building checkpoints into the project plan will ensure that your goals and expectations are being met and that any questions are answered in a timely and responsive manner. The objective here is to eliminate miscommunication and make sure that all parties to the agreement are held accountable for their deliverables. We often hear, for example, about a system that has gone live without historical data. If something like that occurs, everyone involved needs to know who made the decision and why it was made. Having checkpoints with specific approval criteria helps keep the project on track and ensures that expectations laid out at the beginning of the project are being met.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Although it can be time-consuming, engaging in a continuous dialogue with your software partner is the best way to ensure that your organization's needs are being met and that everyone involved in the project is on the same page.

All too often, an organization's overarching technology strategy and best practices like those outlined above are considered after an organization has invested in a bunch of different solutions, making it harder to course correct when it becomes apparent that the technologies in question don't connect or integrate with each other.

If your organization is just starting out, focus on the core technologies it needs to be effective and operate efficiently (ideally choosing from the solutions listed above). And when you're ready to build out your technology platform, be sure to reference your organization's overarching technology strategy, which should be updated every two or three years (the world is moving fast!).

Annie_rhodes_for_PhilanTopicGood luck!

Annie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud Foundation Solutions. Follow Annie on Twitter at @AnnieMRhodes.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 14-15, 2017)

October 15, 2017

California-fire-story7-gty-ml-171012_4x3_992Our 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

We've always admired Herb Alpert — chart-topping musician, innovative record producer/executive, generous philanthropist — and are happy to pass on the news that his foundation has a brand brand new website.


"[F]or the first time since World War II, American children have only a 50-50 chance of earning more than their parents" — proof that our "economic system is broken," and why jobs and opportunity are America's most pressing challenge, writes Rockefeller Foundation president Rajiv J. Shah.


How might tax reform affect charitable giving? On the NPR site, Jonathan Meer, a professor at Texas A&M University and an expert on charitable giving, shares his analysis.

Cash-strapped though they may be, cause-driven millennials are finding ways to support causes and organizations aligned with their passions and concerns. Justin Miller, co-Founder and CEO of CARE for AIDS, a faith-based NGO that provides holistic care to families affected by HIV/AIDS in East Africa, explains.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Anthony Richardson, a program officer at the Nord Family Foundation in Ohio, argues that it is critically important for funders "to listen and be discerning about what may be most helpful — and what may indeed be unintentionally harmful — to organizations doing challenging work on the front lines."

Gun Violence

On The Slot blog, Prachi Gupta argues that the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas distracts us from the real issues around gun violence in America: most of it is clustered in areas with high levels of poverty, low levels of education, and high rates of unemployment. “The places where our murder rates are the highest are places where there is intense poverty, and where the police are just not solving murders.”


Given the increasingly polarized nature of the debate, is there a way forward on healthcare reform? And if there is, what might it look like? In a post on the California Healthcare Foundation blog, Sandra R. Hernández, the foundation's president/CEO, shares some thoughts.


Education Week blogger reflects on all-too-common "arrogance" of deep-pocketed philanthropists with an abiding interest in education reform and the lessons to be learned from The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools? — journalist's Dale Russakoff's "edgy, hugely readable take on Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to Newark and the messy, controversial reforms that followed."

In a post on the foundation's blog, Barr Foundation co-founder Barbara Hostetter reflects on how much has changed since she and her husband established the foundation twenty years ago and sheds some light on "four important decisions [we've] made about governance and the rationale behind those decisions."

In a new post on the foundation's blog, Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant reminds us that a healthy, functioning, helping society "rests on attitudes of love, trust and shared responsibility, without which there will be no helpers left to save us, be it from disaster or from ourselves."

Slowly but surely, impact investing is gaining traction. On the Wealth Management site, Amy Bennett shares fives trends in the space that financial advisors — and the rest of us — should have on their radar.

Here on PhilanTopic, Matt Sinclair has five questions for Rye Young, executive director of theThird Wave Fund, the importance of "representation" — the notion that organizations representing vulnerable communities should be led by members of those communities — and what nonprofits and foundations can do to boost representation within their organizations and in the sector more generally.

Social Enterpreneurship

In his latest post, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger offers an unvarnished profile of media darling and nonprofit superstar Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, social enterprises that provide work to poor people in Kenya, Uganda, Haiti and India.

Social Media

The once-bright promise of social media has faded, thanks in part to the role it has played in coordinated misinformation campaigns, the inability of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others to ban racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic trolls from their platforms, and mounting evidence that social media is dangerously addictive. On her blog, Beth Kanter has a good roundup of links to articles that detail the threat and resources for funders and nonprofits eager to fight misinformation and fake news and the negative impact it may be having on their work.

And in the Washington Post, eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar looks at six ways social media has become a threat to democracy.

(Photo credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images)

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

5 Questions for...Rye Young, Executive Director, Third Wave Fund

October 12, 2017

The Third Wave Fund, an activist fund led by and for women of color and intersex, queer, and trans people under the age of 35, recently launched a pilot effort, the Our Own Power fund, aimed at fostering grassroots organizations in the gender and reproductive justice fields. Rye Young, a trans-activist and executive director of the fund, spoke with PND via email about the importance of representation — the notion that organizations representing vulnerable communities should be led by members of those communities and what nonprofits and foundations can do to boost representation within their organizations and in the sector more generally.

Philanthropy News Digest: What can nonprofits and foundations do to increase self-representation within their organizations?

Rye YoungRye Young: An important first step that many organizations skip is to acknowledge that there is a representation problem in the first place, and to appreciate that this problem does not have an easy fix because it is the result of many factors. There needs to be a conscious effort made to understand how this lack of representation came to be and why it hasn’t been addressed.

Once that understanding has been established, real conversations need to take place focused on why self-representation should be an organizational goal and to determine how far the organization’s leaders are willing to go. For instance, how much funding should be allocated to training? Are those in leadership positions who come from outside the community served by the organization willing to step down from their roles? Can job qualifications be changed or replaced with something more appropriate?

When deciding what steps it can and should take, the organization also must acknowledge the legitimacy of the problem and the many factors behind it. The root causes behind the lack of representation are varied, layered, and deeply embedded within most organizations. So, any decisions arrived at to address the problem must be long-term, and there must be buy-in at all levels of the organization.

PND: Can you give us an example of the kinds of things that result in a lack of representation?

RY: Racism, patriarchy, ageism, ableism — all can result in staff and board members not being members of the community being served, and in turn that can lead to a culture, a set of norms, practices, and values that are reflective of a more privileged or dominant group. And addressing the issue should go beyond changes in leadership or a few key staff; it has to involve a deep examination the organization’s work at every level, from mission and values, to its theory of change, to programs and its human resources policies.

Another example of a root cause could be that your field requires certain types of specialized education, eliminating many eminently qualified candidates and resulting in a small, privileged pool of “qualified” applicants. But there are many drivers. What’s important is that we all do some deep thinking and learning as to what exactly is going on at our own institutions.

PND: Cultural changes like the one you’re suggesting typically take decades to be embraced by a majority. Can the process be accelerated? And should it be?

RY: It’s our opinion that what’s more important than being fast is being intentional and honest about what the problem is, the steps organizations are willing to take to address it, and the end goals. Sometimes, being patient actually can serve a change as deep and inclusive as the one we’re talking about. A change in who is leading the organization’s work shouldn’t be done hastily and without adequate preparation. In fact, all too often, in a change like this, folks from the community being served are thrown into leadership positions during challenging financial times and with very little preparation, training, or external support; essentially, they are set up to fail. But what definitely can help ensure the success of these transitions is for funders to rally around this type of change and support organizational plans that go deeper than just who serves as executive director or in a key leadership role.

PND: Not all forms of diversity are obvious. What can nonprofits do to ensure that their leadership and staff are reflective of diversity in all its manifestations?

RY: It is true that “diversity” programs tend to focus on the representation of identities that are not hidden. And there are many types of discrimination and representation gaps that tend not to be addressed because they are “invisible,” including class, gender identity, immigration status, and so on. On top of that, many organizations assume they know how staff mirror the many different aspects of diversity. But they miss a lot. One thing organizations can do to address that problem is to use anonymous surveys to learn what gaps exist in the organization, do an audit of their physical environments, and get feedback on the organizational culture to see whether there are barriers to inclusion they haven’t thought of. Groups also can use targeted outreach strategies to spread the word to the communities they serve when positions on staff open up.

PND: What is the Our Own Power Fund doing to ensure that young women, especially women of color and from the LGBT community, help inform the decisions affecting those communities?

RY: The Own Our Power Fund is answering the call from our grantee partners to trust young women of color and queer and trans youth to lead the work that impacts them. The fund also is working to address many of the things our grantees have identified that make it challenging for them to lead their nonprofits. The fund acknowledges that although many professionals in philanthropy truly believe in the value of centering the leadership of those affected by systemic prejudice and oppression, it is not unusual for funders to shy away from organizations that are controversial or too outspoken and to not support leaders who belong to the communities being served, or to grant them very little margin for error.

We hope to do it differently. We want to invest in gender justice organizations so that they can set the terms of their work and, to that end, will award one- and two-year capacity-building grants that help support organizations as they undergo a leadership transition or to provide coaching, skills-building training, or other types of professional development training for new leaders. We want to help them develop sustainable revenue models and, at the same time, foster self-representation more broadly by harnessing the power of vulnerable communities to tell their own stories.

Matt Sinclair

Funding Disability Arts

October 09, 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.

Fudning for disability artsThe stage has been set for a new and vibrant era of funding for disabled artists and disability arts. A spate of innovative programs — Dance/NYC’s Disability. Dance. Artistry. Fund, Alliance for Artist Communities’ Creative Access Fellowship Program, and the Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship, among others — are putting new dollars into art made by and with disabled people and raising the bar for the broader philanthropic sector.

With CreateNYC, released this summer, the City of New York established the first cultural plan in the United States with disability-specific strategies for expanding cultural access, including a new fund for disabled artists, cultural workers, and audiences. In this and other ways, the city is modeling the kind of leadership that is urgently needed at all levels of government.

Because they embrace disability as a positive artistic and generative force, these efforts are already generating value. They also represent a shift in arts philanthropy, where the exclusion of disabled people is entrenched and where niche disability-specific funds largely have been limited to facility improvements or programs focused on the therapeutic and educational benefits of the arts. And they are demonstrating how, by funding the field of disability arts and its workforce, philanthropy can move the whole creative sector forward — and, by extension, drive social change.

The moment is rife with opportunity. On the one hand, there are opportunities for more expansive disability-specific funds. Indeed, a new generation of disability arts organizations and fiscally sponsored projects is primed for capacity-building investments, and there are critical gaps in funding for disabled artists along the artistic development continuum, from public school classrooms to professional studios and stages.

At the same time, it is incumbent on philanthropy to develop intersectional strategies that consider disability within and across arts funding portfolios rather than in isolation. While philanthropy has made some important strides in its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the arts, more explicit and holistic work needs to be done to address disability.

Money matters, but success in funding disability arts depends on more than money. It requires that funders think and work in new ways, including training their decision-makers in disability aesthetics and disability rights; improving their facilities and communications to ensure equitable access for disabled applicants and grantees; and overhauling their data-gathering practices to better understand inequities in funding and track progress over time.

To effectively expand the pie of financial resources and drive shared goal setting, learning, and accountability, collaboration at multiple levels also is needed. This includes collaboration involving public and private arts funders organized by creative discipline, topic, and geography — local, regional, national, and international.

Second, funders traditionally focused on the arts and funders focused on disability matters need to focus on opportunities to work together and define and achieve common objectives.

Third, and crucially, it is time for philanthropy to adopt the disability rights concept of “nothing without us” — ensuring that no practice be established without the direct involvement of the affected group. This includes efforts to diversify boards, staff, and grant review panels to correct for gaps in disability representation and leadership, as well as a greater focus on relationship building with service groups like the new Disability/Arts/NYC Task Force, which helped shape New York City’s new cultural plan.

Finally, there is a critical role for funder affinity organizations such as Philanthropy New York and national organizations like Grantmakers in the Arts, which can do more to move the needle with respect to funding by demonstrating best practices to their members, cultivating partnerships, and delivering relevant field advocacy, research, communications, training, and convening.

As a proud ally to disabled artists, I call on funders to join the movement to advance disability arts.

Lane Harwell

(Photo credit: Merry Lynn Morris)

Lane Harwell, executive director of arts service organization Dance/NYC, where he administers the Disability. Dance. Artistry. Fund. The fund, which was established with leadership support from the Ford Foundation and additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, builds on recommendations from Dance/NYC research and convenings. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 7-8, 2017)

October 08, 2017

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

Disaster Relief

ProPublica, no fan of the Red Cross, sent a team of reporters to Texas to see how the organization performed in the days after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston and the surrounding region. They found a lot of local officials who were not impressed. And here's the official Red Cross response to the criticism.


In the Baltimore Sun, Aaron Dorfman, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, wonders whether elimination of the estate tax, as the Trump administration has proposed, will result in a decline in charitable giving, especially large gifts. That's what happened the last time the tax was effectively zeroed out, in 2010, a year that saw bequests from estates decline by 37 percent from the previous year ($11.9 billion to $7.49 billion). A year later, after the tax had been reinstated (albeit at a lower level), the dollar value of bequests rose some 92 percent (to $14.36 billion). And in an op-ed in the Argus Leader, Dorfman provides some numbers which suggest that the family farm argument for eliminating the tax is overstated.


On the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Tracy Jan shares a set of charts from the Urban Institute that help explain why the wealth gap between white families and everyone else is widenening.

International Affairs/Development

In a welcome development, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of disarmament activists, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.


"Social justice organizations in the U.S. and around the world are playing a very long game," writes Kathy Reich, director of the Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) program at the Ford Foundation. But the way the nonprofit sector is currently financed, she adds, "doesn’t make the fight against inequality any easier." Reich shares five practices outlined in Scaling Solutions Toward Shifting Systems, a report published by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, that, in her judgment, "are key to powering nonprofit innovation and enabling organizations to scale to solve the world’s pressing social and environmental challenges."

In a post on the Forbes site, Michael Etzel, a partner at Bridgespan, and Hilary Pennington, vice president for for Education, Creativity, and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, introduce something called the Grantmaking Pyramid, a "philanthropic framework [that] rests on a wide base of foundational capabilities, rises through organizational resilience, and is capped by increasing impact."

Be sure to check out the five-part No Moat Philanthropy series featured on our sister Transparency Talk/Glasspockets blog on consecutive days last week. Penned by Jennifer Reedy, president of the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation, the series looks at the strategies and tactics Reedy and her colleagues have adopted to "open up" the foundation's grantmaking. The posts can be read in any order, but we suggest starting with the first one ("No Moat Philanthropy Part 1: Opening Up") and proceeding in the order in which they appeared: "Bringing the Outside In," "Building Your Network," "Beyond the Transactional," and "The Downsides & Why It's Worth It."

Did you know a new website called GrantAdvisor allows "grant applicants, grantees, and others to share their first-hand experiences working with funders through authentic, real-time reviews and comments"? An initiative of the California Association of Nonprofits, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, and Great Nonprofits, in partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Social Media for Nonprofits, the site bills itself as a sort of TripAdvisor for grantseekers and looks to be off to a great start. For more info, check out this FAQ.


Some much-needed good news: The child poverty rate in America has hit a record low. Annie Lowrey reports for The Atlantic.

You're not alone if you think government and philanthropy could be doing more to reduce poverty. So does Warren Buffett.

Women and Girls

And Michelle Milford Morse,  a senior advisor to the United Nations Foundation and currently its acting vice president for girls and women strategy, checks in with a week's worth of highlights from the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, which was focused on gender equality and women's rights and empowerment.

(Photo credit: Eric Gruneisen)

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

The Secret to Motivating Donors

October 04, 2017

ActNowbuttonWith year-end fundraising season fast approaching, it's easy for development professionals to fall into the trap of focusing on a single project for which their organization really needs funding. Other nonprofit leaders are frantically crafting year-end appeals, checking and re-checking their donor lists, and trying to come up with creative new ways to engage donors.

No surprise, then, that this is the time of year when we're approached by nonprofits who want to know how they can develop a strategy for new donor acquisition and turn their one-time donors into loyal supporters.

The secret, we tell them, lies in connecting donors to the specific and general — in the same appeal.

Let me give you an example. Assume your organization is working to address a really big problem — say, eliminating hunger in the United States. Such a goal, and the language used to articulate it, can be hard for people to process. In our years of testing fundraising appeals, we've found that potential supporters often don’t understand or respond to messages asking them to support such an ambitious goal. Why? It's too big. What's the point of making a donation if you don't believe your donation will make a dent in the problem it's meant to address?

For a lot of nonprofits, a not atypical scenario looks like this:

  1. A donor — let's call her Margaret — receives a direct-mail appeal asking her to support Organization X, which is working to eliminate hunger in the United States: "Won't you help us end hunger?"
  2. Because she's a compassionate person, Margaret is a little overwhelmed. She isn't a celebrity activist or a deep-pocketed philanthropist, and she only has a couple of hundred dollars set aside for charitable giving. So many people in America struggle with hunger and food insecurity — how can her small donation possibly help?
  3. Margaret decides not to make a donation because she doesn't think it will make a difference.

Instead, we counsel our clients to tell the story of one individual who has been helped by their organization, in the belief that it's easier for a donor to grasp the specific rather than the general. Here's what that might look like:

  1. Margaret receives a direct-mail appeal asking her to support Organization X, which is working to eliminate hunger in the United States. The appeal tells the story of a woman in Margaret's community who was helped a few months ago by donors like Margaret. "The support of generous donors like you makes it possible for a single mom like Donna to feed her family. Will you help us feed another neighbor in need?"
  2. Being a compassionate person, Margaret is moved. As a mother, she knows how hard it can be to provide for one's family, and she's pleased to think her donation can help others like Donna.
  3. Margaret decides to make to donation to Organization X because she truly believes her support will make a difference for someone else in need.

Problem solved? Well, not quite. Communicating need in terms of a single individual or family and appealing to a donor's empathetic nature is only the first piece of the puzzle.

Donations often are made on impulse, meaning when Margaret read the direct-mail letter, she could relate to Donna's plight and wanted to do what she could to help another person in need. What she likely didn't feel, however, was a deep connection to Organization X. She might not even have been aware of its mission.

So while Margaret made a donation — something that made her feel good and that also supported the work of the organization — there's no guarantee she'll do it again in the future.

If Margaret is to become a loyal supporter who is willing to take regular actions on the organization's behalf, she needs to be convinced it is effecting change in small but tangible ways. She also needs to be told how those small actions build on each other — and the actions of other people like her — to effect change on a much larger scale.

In most cases, the failure to do so starts and ends with the organization. If you and your colleagues don't understand or can't articulate how smaller actions by your supporters lead to bigger change, how do you expect your donors to figure it out? Regardless of the action you'd like individual supporters to take, the key is to show how taking this action serves a greater goal.

Let's go back to our example:

  1. Margaret receives a direct-mail appeal asking her to support Organization X, which is working to eliminate hunger in the United States. The appeal tells the story of a woman in Margaret's community who was helped a few months ago by donors like Margaret. "The support of generous donors like you makes it possible for a single mom like Donna to feed her family. And your support today will bring us one step closer to eliminating hunger in the United States. Will you help us feed another neighbor in need like Donna?"
  2. Margaret is moved. As a mother, she knows how difficult it can be to provide for one's family, and she's pleased to think her donation can help someone else in need.
  3. Margaret decides to make a donation to Organization X because she truly believes her support will make a difference for someone else in need.
  4. A few weeks later, upon receiving a thank-you letter from Organization X, she decides to become a monthly supporter of the organization — knowing that every person it is able to help brings it one step closer to its goal of eliminating hunger.

For someone to feel a sense of ownership in a cause, she needs to believe her actions on its behalf — whether it's signing a petition, sharing a post on social media, or making a donation — will make, when combined with the actions of others, a tangible difference.

Remember: Every time you ask a potential supporter to act on behalf of your organization, it should be in the context of how that action will advance the problem or issue your organization is working to address. Keep that in mind as you gear up for the fundraising season ahead (and all the fundraising seasons to come), and best of luck!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick 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.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2017)

October 03, 2017

September 2017. A month most of us would like to forget. But while folks in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands were being pounded by Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, our colleagues here at the Foundation Center were doing yeoman's work tracking the hundreds and millions of dollars (more than $300 million at last count) in corporate, foundation, and individual commitments for relief and recovery efforts. For folks interested interested in doing a deeper dive into who gave what, we posted (and regularly updated) some great tables during the month (see below) — as well as great posts by Michael Seltzer, Surina Khan, Tracey Durning, and Chris Kabel (Kresge Foundation), Amy Kenyon (Ford Foundation), and Sharon Z. Roerty (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Check it out...and RIP Tom Petty — our hearts are broken.

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


Quote of the Week

  • "[W]hat struck me was the startled awareness that one day something, whatever it might be, was going to interrupt my leisurely progress. It sounds trite, yet I can only say that I realized for the first time that I don't have forever...."

    — Anatole Broyard, book critic/editor/essayist (1920-1990)

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