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16 posts from April 2018

How to Fix Our Food System

April 30, 2018

AgorecologyA good idea doesn't stay buried forever. Even with a $5 trillion agrochemical industry shoveling their propaganda on top of it.

Ten years ago, the World Bank and the United Nations initiated an assessment of the state of global agriculture by some four hundred experts around the world. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IASTTD), as the final report was titled, concluded that gains in agricultural productivity have come at a high cost, including "unintended social and environmental consequences," and that investments in biological substitutes for agrochemicals, and in programs that support agroecology, are needed to address the situation.

At times oversimplified as "sustainable agriculture," or confused with organic agriculture, the definition of agroecology is found in in its constituent parts — agro and ecology. Agroecology puts ecological science at the center of food production. With a focus on the stewardship of soil, water and biodiversity, agroecology seeks to heighten soil fertility and moisture and regenerate ecosystems by encouraging farmers to reduce their use of chemical inputs — a leading source of pollution, soil degradation, and farmer debt.

And yet, despite lifting up the many benefits of agroecology in terms of food safety and watershed health, not to mention endorsements from fifty-eight governments, implementation of the IASTTD report has been slow, at best. Whatever the cause, many of us within the growing agroecology movement are disappointed, and angry.

Earlier this month, however, there was a glimmer of hope. At the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Second International Symposium on agroecology, change was in the air.

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In the Wake of Tax Reform, Nonprofits Are Counting on Strong Economic Performance

April 26, 2018

Fotolia_5090081_SAs soon as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law, companies, nonprofit organizations, individuals, and accountants began to scramble to determine what it meant for them. Coming at the end of an historic year for the stock market, the legislation was expected to further fuel the market's dramatic rise — and it did, for a time. Whether the trend will continue through the end of 2018 remains to be seen.

One way or the other, one sector that will be affected is philanthropy. On its face, the near doubling of the standard deduction for individuals and couples means that significantly fewer filers will itemize their deductions, reducing an important incentive to give. We may not know the full impact on charitable giving for several years, but for 2018 and 2019 philanthropic organizations could certainly benefit from greater clarity with respect to the legislation and its provisions.

If the economic momentum we saw in 2017 continues through the end of 2018, it will be tough to argue that tax reform had nothing to do with stepped-up economic growth and strong fundraising results. The doubling of the standard deduction and the loss of the tax incentives that come with itemization undoubtedly will dampen giving by some households, but the overall economic gains will offset those losses. Furthermore, as corporations benefit from substantially lower tax rates and foundations' endowments benefit from stock market gains, their grantmaking is likely to remain robust and even increase. So in this “high growth” scenario, philanthropy is likely to be unaffected.

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Tips for Finding the ‘Perfect’ Board Member

April 25, 2018

Man-wearing-a-leather-jacket-holding-a-clapperboardOne of the questions we get a lot from our nonprofit clients is: How do we find passionate, engaged, committed board members? Putting together a high-functioning board isn't just about recruiting the "right" people. It's about having the proper mindset and a good plan. Here at Envision Consulting, we often describe the search for the perfect nonprofit board member as a bit like looking for romance, complete with angst-ridden courtships, elaborate proposals, occasional heartbreak, and, with a little luck, true love at the end of your search.

Still with me? Here are some tips to make your search a lot less Romeo and Juliet and a little more The Wedding Singer:

1. Have a "Wish List." You're more likely to find board members who add value to your organization if you understand (and can articulate) beforehand what it is you're looking for. Broaden your wish list beyond skills/expertise (yes, every board should have a CPA) and financial clout (believe it or not, wealthy board members don't always equate to well-resourced nonprofits). Think about the personal characteristics, perspectives, experiences, and networks a candidate is able to bring to your organization. When we have this conversation with our clients, they often tell us they want board members who are available to participate in board meetings and organizational events, have the ability to think strategically, and hold themselves (and others) accountable — the kind of intangible qualities that are difficult to quantify but can have a huge impact on the success and productivity of a board and the broader organization.

2. Fools Rush In. It takes two to tango, right? Too often, nonprofits are overly focused on finding the perfect new board member and neglect to properly "court" candidates by listening to their concerns and answering their questions — only to be shocked (shocked!) when the relationship doesn't pan out. Good board candidates will want to evaluate your organization as much as you want to evaluate them — and they're likely to be selective about which boards they agree to join. Beyond just making a good impression on the candidates you're interested in, you also may need to address how you plan to provide (in an authentic way, of course) the experience the candidate is hoping to gain by joining your board. We strongly encourage our clients to tell candidates in detail about the orientation process and other ways they support new board members.

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What’s New at Foundation Center (April)

April 20, 2018

FC_logoI'm currently in New Orleans at the EDGE Funders Conference and am delighting in the stories and wisdom of bold, understated leaders from around the world who are pushing the traditional boundaries of philanthropy. Through conferences like these and our regular scanning and conversations, my colleagues and I have been busy keeping up with data trends and tracking philanthropy's engagement on a variety of issues. Here's a quick update:

Project launched

  • We added a new Open Knowledge Feature to Glasspockets Profiles to showcase the knowledge each foundation has contributed to Issuelab. Learn more.

Content published

What We're Excited About

  • Learning about and participating in global philanthropy conversations. Our director of global partnerships, Lauren Bradford, had this to say about Russian philanthropy.
  • Our FDO at Foundation Center YouTube channel! Have questions about how to use Foundation Directory Online to identify funding sources, build your prospect network, and win funding to support your mission? Our YouTube channel has all the answers.

Upcoming conferences and events

Our staff will be speaking at these upcoming events:

Data Spotlight

  • Funders have granted over $644 million to libraries since 2015. Learn more about funding for libraries at libraries.foundationcenter.org.
  • We reached more than 1,500 people in March through our eLearning and webinar programming on fundraising and nonprofit management.
  • 736,055 new grants added to Foundation Maps in March, of which 6,101 grants were made to 3,724 organizations outside the U.S.
  • New data sharing partner: Hugh J. Andersen Foundation
  • Foundation Directory Online currently has 140,000 foundation profiles, more than 11 million grants, and over 500,000 recipients profiles.

Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I’ll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

What Is That Noise?

April 19, 2018

NoiseHow many times have you been startled by a noise and thought: What in the world?

You try to ignore it, but it won't stop, so you decide to take action. You go looking for the source, find and disable it, and sigh as you walk back to your chair.

I know the feeling. It's a feeling of exasperation, the feeling you get when someone or something absolutely insists you pay attention, whether you want to or not.

It's the feeling many of us have after we've been exposed to nonprofit marketing.

Hey, I get it. Marketing is noise to some and the stuff of life for others. It can inspire, persuade, and make us fall in love. It can move us to action or dissuade us from taking a stand. It can be something we welcome into our world — or something that intrudes on us when we least expect it.

The question you need to ask is: Is our marketing something our supporters want, or is it the noise in the background they wish would stop. Based on my experience, there's too much of the latter happening in our space.

Let me explain.

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[Review] Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference

April 18, 2018

While all founders of social startups believe their organizations do important work, some startups thrive while others flounder and eventually disappear. What distinguishes the runaway successes from the enterprises that never move beyond survival mode? In her new book, Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference, Kathleen Kelly Janus argues that the difference involves more than luck or chance. 

Social-startup-successAs a social entrepreneur herself and a lecturer in the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University, Janus long recognized that "the struggle to scale is the most pressing challenge for the social entrepreneurship community." Over time, she writes, she "became obsessed with understanding how nonprofits can get off the treadmill and attain organizational sustainability," which she defines as being able to consistently raise $2 million in annual revenue. Faced with a lack of data, Janus and her team created "the most comprehensive survey of seed stage social entrepreneurs ever conducted," surveying scores of founders, donors, and experts, and packaging the results into a book organized into five sections that explore the elements of social startup success: Testing Ideas, Measuring Impact, Funding Experimentation, Leading Collaboratively, and Telling Compelling Stories. In the process, she came to understand that social startups that manage to get off the treadmill excel in all these areas.

In taking a data-driven approach to nonprofit success, Janus examines a number of assumptions about the sector — for example, that admitting failure is something nonprofits are reluctant to do. That's a problem, she writes, because it means too many organizations end up putting resources into programs that don't work rather than programs that do. But for Janus, those kinds of data-driven shifts are absolutely essential, in that they can serve as a "catalyst to an organization really hitting its stride and creating a distinctive identity and mission." While it can be difficult for nonprofit leaders to be open with stakeholders and donors about failure, such "radical transparency" ultimately will inspire trust on the part of funders, who respect (or shouldrespect) "thoughtful, open communication about how organizations test and monitor various approaches to maximize impact."

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Time's Up for Philanthropy, Too

April 16, 2018

Me-too-blogAs someone who has spent the last thirty years working to end violence against girls and women, I have never been more hopeful. Women and girls are being believed. Abusers are being held accountable. Sexual violence, so long invisible, is finally becoming visible.

Yet, amid the remarkable momentum of the last six months, it is important to remember what got us here — and to consider how much more philanthropy can and must do to help ensure that all girls and women, and all people, live and work in safety and dignity.

Almost ninety years ago — twenty-four years before she sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott — Rosa Parks survived an attempted sexual assault by her white neighbor. The experience launched her activism — and led her to her role as a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP. Sixty years later, the brave, steady voice of a law professor from Oklahoma riveted a nation, as Professor Anita Hill opened a new conversation about sexual harassment and abuse.

Sixteen years after that, an activist named Tarana Burke gave voice to millions of survivors of sexual violence with two words: me too.

Today, #MeToo is fueling a national reckoning with sexual violence, as women from all backgrounds and industries come forward to share their experiences of harassment and abuse. Their testimony has been a powerful wake-up call, from Hollywood to the nation's factory floors to its farm fields. It should be a wake-up call for philanthropy, too.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 14-15, 2018)

April 15, 2018

Uncle-sam-taxesOur 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

Lincoln Center president Deborah L. Spar, who left the top job at Barnard College to helm the performing arts mecca, has decided to step down after only a year. Robin Pogrebin and Michael Cooper report for the New York Times.

And across the East River, the Brooklyn Museum has come under fire for its decision to hire a white woman, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, as a consulting curator for African art. Alex Greenberger reports for ArtNews.

Civil Society

Writing in openDemocracy's Transformation blog, Vern Hughes, director of Civil Society Australia, suggests that the problem with the public and private sectors' "embrace of ‘civil society’ is that it bears little resemblance to what civil society actually is or means. Most of civil society is not constituted formally or headed up by a CEO," adds Hughes. Indeed, "[j]ust 40 years ago, very few not-for-profits or charities had CEOs at all: that term was associated with the corporate sector, and few community groups or charities had even contemplated mimicking the language and culture of such a different sphere. But in just four decades all this has changed, and it has changed at an extraordinarily rapid rate, with very little public discussion or scrutiny of the enormity of the organizational transformation involved and its social and political impact."

Roused by certain statements made by Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Congress earlier this week, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz shares some thoughts about the often-unappreciated role that civil society organizations and nonprofits play in curating and moderating content for the Facebooks of the world.

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Embracing Leadership Transitions

April 13, 2018

Top_hands_inLeadership transitions happen all the time in philanthropy, but we rarely talk about the challenges and lessons they reveal. For the most part, our inclination is to try to keep the internal dynamics of our institutions private and (often) separate from our grantmaking. But because organizational change happens to all of us, we have come to see leadership transitions as offering lessons that can be illuminating not just to us but to our grantees and colleagues in other organizations as well.

Three and a half years ago, Lani Shaw, the longtime executive director of General Service Foundation (GSF), passed away suddenly. During her twenty years as GSF's first executive director, the foundation transitioned from being staffed by family members to having a full-time professional staff. Lani's passing put into motion a number of additional changes.

We know from experience that embracing change can be hard. But change can also propel an institution forward, because when it is embraced, it can be an opportunity to connect with our values and work in new ways. This is why, as we mark the two-year anniversary of a new executive director joining General Service Foundation, we wanted to share what we have learned on our journey.

1. Expectations: Transitioning to new leadership is just the beginning.

Robin Snidow (GSF Board Chair): It was a wake-up call when I realized that the hiring of a new executive director was only the beginning of the transition. I had my nose to the ground and was focused on the day-to-day business of keeping the foundation functioning. However unrealistic it may have been, I thought my work would be done once we hired the new ED.

That was not the case, and board chairs need to be aware. Transition means change, and change is dynamic. I wasn't trying to change anything while the executive director position remained vacant. But once Dimple [Abichandani] was hired, I knew we had to be open to changing if we wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities her hiring presented.

Lesson learned: Prepare the board for change. As board chair, don't assume your job is over or that it will get easier when you fill an executive position. That's when the fun starts! 

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Facebook, Foundations, and Democracy: Putting the 'R-word' Back Into Philanthropy

April 11, 2018

Risk is back in philanthropy. As populist rage and technological omnipotence sweep the globe, seven American foundations have stepped up in a way that only private philanthropy can.

Early this week, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan, Charles Koch, John S. and James L. Knight, and Laura and John Arnold foundations; the Democracy Fund; and Omidyar Network, announced the launch of a research initiative aimed at increasing public understanding of Facebook's role in elections and democracy. The funder consortium will pay for an "independent and diverse" committee of scholars that invites researchers to conduct research using proprietary Facebook data that “meets the company's new, heightened focus on user privacy.” To ensure an added layer of objectivity, the venerable Social Science Research Council (founded in 1923) will oversee the selection of research proposals and the peer-review process.

Slowing the game down

This is a perfect of example of how private foundations can contribute to the public good. In a volatile, contentious, and partisan time where dialogue (or lack thereof) can be measured in bots, posts, tweets, links, and likes, these foundations are using their resources and independence to declare a collective "time out." Foundations are not political parties, business, or lobbyists. Guided by mission, values, and donor intent, they have the distance and time horizon to be able to take a careful, deliberate look at what is really going on when it comes to media, elections, and democracy. Social science research, with its strict procedures for requesting proposals and conducting peer review of research, is built for methodological rigor, not for speed. In basketball, they teach you that the best way to deal with a running offense is to slow the game down. These seven foundations are doing just that.

Strength in numbers

Were any one foundation to try to do this alone, it would most likely be criticized for some kind of political or partisan bias. But the seven that have banded together on this initiative are a pretty interesting cross-section of the field. Collectively, they hold over $20 billion in assets originating in fortunes derived from technology (Hewlett, Omidyar, and the Democracy Fund), journalism (Knight), energy/finance (Arnold), the automotive industry (Sloan), and oil and manufacturing (Koch). They represent family foundations, independent foundations, and living donor foundations. They all have solid track records of grantmaking focused on improving the functioning of American democracy. But they do that in different ways. See for yourself in the network map below. Click the link and you’ll go straight to an interactive page on the Foundation Funding for American Democracy site where you can explore each and every grant made by these foundations. All these foundations are proud of their work and, unlike Cambridge Analytica, have nothing to hide.

Democracy-maps-constellation

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The First Year of a New Presidency Moves Philanthropy to Action

April 10, 2018

Unprecedented_Coverpage-232x300The speculation for most of us began on Wednesday morning, November 9, 2016.

Regardless of political affiliation, the election win by a presidential candidate who promised dramatic changes in governing style and policies from the prior administration meant that grantmakers might have to rethink their current strategies and, quite possibly, fundamental priorities. As the new administration's policy agenda rolled out over its first year in office, the interest areas of more and more funders were touched by the shifting political landscape.

Beyond the impact of these policy changes on individual grantmakers, we began to ponder what this meant for the field of philanthropy as a whole; not just grantmaking institutions, but also the many philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) and funder collaboratives that exist to strengthen funder effectiveness through joint learning, alignment, and action. We wondered whether the initial flurry of conversation had led to more formal engagement and even collaboration in responding to the evolving policy priorities. And, if it had, what was the type and scale of their responses? Were they timely? Did they have the potential for catalyzing longer-term changes in the sector?

To begin to answer these questions we talked with nearly thirty leaders of PSOs and funder collaboratives in advance of the first anniversary of the new administration. Frontline partners for grantmakers and close observers of trends across the sector, these leaders described a philanthropic field demonstrating flexibility, nimbleness, and a willingness to collaborate that can serve as a model of creative adaptation for the sector going forward. They also identified enduring challenges for the sector that have been amplified in these unpredictable times.

We've documented our findings in a new report, and key insights include:

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 7-8, 2018)

April 08, 2018

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

Communications/Marketing

The Hewlett Foundation's Ruth Levine argues (persuasively) that "the benefit/cost ratio for [nonprofit] annual reports is pretty unfavorable" and that "[t]they are more trouble than they're worth." 

Reinvent the wheel. Close the loop. Onboarding. Vu Le has gathered nineteen of the most annoying phrases used in the nonprofit sector.

Diversity

On the BoardSource blog, Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation since 2008, shares five recommendations for foundations that want to do something about the lack of board diversity in the field. 

Giving

When should you start teaching your kids about charitable giving. Forbes contributor Rob Clarfeld shares a few thoughts.

Higher Education 

After a lifetime working in and around students and public schools, Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and a former chancellor of the New York City public school system, reflects in an op-ed in the New York Times on the "troubling fact" that "[d]espite the best efforts of many, the gap between the numbers of rich and poor college graduates continues to grow."

The Times' Kyle Spencer reports that, with the price of higher education soaring, middle-class families increasingly are looking to community colleges as an option.

"For years, researchers have highlighted the vast inequities that persist in the country's K-12 education system with students of color disproportionately enrolled in public schools that are underfunded, understaffed, and thus more likely to underperform when compared with schools attended by their white peers," writes Sara Garcia on the Center for American progress site. "What has received less attention is the fact that these inequitable patterns do not end when a student graduates from high school but persist through postsecondary education."

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Leading Narrative Change

April 06, 2018

BigDipperActivists, philanthropists, and social entrepreneurs increasingly are focused on influencing people and shaping opinions, behaviors, and policy through narrative. There's also an increased focus on culture change through narrative.

Although the definition of the word can be nuanced, narrative generally refers to the big, overarching stories that result from the amalgamation of smaller stories. As the Narrative Initiative puts it: "What tiles are to mosaics, stories are to narratives."

Liz Manne and Erin Potts, co-founders of A More Perfect Story, offer another practical analogy to guide our understanding:

  • Stories are stars.
  • Narratives are constellations of stars.
  • Culture is the galaxy which contains the stories and narratives.

Just like constellations are groupings of stars that help us organize our understanding of the night sky, stories are assembled into narratives to more efficiently transmit our beliefs and collective meaning.

Brett Davidson, in "The Role of Narrative in Influencing Policy," offers this explanation of narrative change work:

Narratives embody fundamental assumptions by which we interpret and understand the world. Because they constitute the culture in which we live, we are often unaware of these assumptions and the narratives through which they are conveyed. Therefore we need to find ways to reveal, challenge and change them....

Working with story and narrative is different than working with messages. Working with story and narrative is multi-directional and requires active listening, a willingness to invite participation, and comfort with complexity. Today, leaders of nonprofit organizations have multiple channels for both communicating and listening, and audiences are increasingly distracted and fragmented. Working with story and narrative therefore requires leaders to be intentional about which stories to look for and share, and to select for the narratives they want to influence.

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Going Far Together: Lessons From Convening the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative

April 04, 2018

Food insecurity_nycEach year, nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food assistance. The delivery of that assistance requires a complex network of food suppliers who distribute food to a thousand neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens.

Until recently, however, there was little coordination between those suppliers. Indeed, no one really knew what food was going where, much less whether it was reaching neighborhoods where it was needed. Even had suppliers wanted to, coordination would have been nearly impossible: each supplier tracked food in different ways, and some pantries had only pen and paper sign-in sheets to record how many people they were serving.

Over the years, the key players involved in emergency food assistance in New York would gather to discuss potential projects and information they wished they could share more easily. Good intentions notwithstanding, they simply did not have the resources or incentive to follow through on this work.

In short, it was clear to all that for collaboration to happen, strategic investment was needed.

When trying to solve a complex issue, it can be tempting to identify and tackle one part of the problem — funding a simple increase in emergency food supplies, for example – without getting to the root of the problem. That's something my colleagues and I at the Helmsley Charitable Trust wanted to avoid. So in January 2015, working with the New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy, we convened the key players in emergency food assistance in the city and invited them to create a unified strategic plan that didn't just fund their work but also aligned everyone's incentives to change and improve the system. In the years since, the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative has made a number of investments to build the capacity needed to distribute millions of pounds of food to neighborhoods where it is needed most.

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The Changing Landscape of Russian Philanthropy: Growth Spurts and Growing Pains

April 02, 2018

Philanthropy-in-Russia-cover-1-724x1024Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, in association with Alliance magazine and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), recently launched the second report in its Philanthropy Bridge Series — this time in partnership with CAF Russia — on the world's largest country. Russia isn't just large in geographical size, it's also large in terms of complexity. It's a country about which many of us know little yet find ourselves reading about on an almost daily basis, in turn creating curiosity and intrigue. So, what does the end of the Iron Curtain mean for philanthropy in Russia?

Russia to me is challenging to understand despite having traveled to its major cities and enjoyed its delightful culture and hospitality. This is true for understanding philanthropy there as well. Philanthropy in Russia is a working paper rather than an attempt to describe the sector in its entirety; it begins to distill what is known to create meaning. Here are some of my takeaways:

You can't understand Russian philanthropy without understanding its context. Despite the country's long and chequered history, philanthropy in Russia is relatively young, both the sector itself and even the notion of giving. Whereas philanthropy is embedded in the cultural context of many other countries, its emergence in Russia over the last three decades creates a distinction between a time in which philanthropy existed there and a time in which it did not. CAF's 2017 World Giving Index, which measures individual giving in terms of money, time, and helping a stranger (an awesome measure, by the way), ranks the Russian Federation 124th out of 139 countries surveyed. In terms of giving money, Russia ranks 104th. As the report describes it, "Russia does not appear to be a nation of givers." There are cultural and historical reasons for this. During the Communist era, public well-being was considered the responsibility of the state alone. This reinforced the notion that private charitable work should be considered a private affair and was not to be talked openly about. This may be a difficult notion for many Western philanthropists to understand, given the often default position of self and organizational promotion. Think, for example, about the purpose of a "top funders list" or the Giving Pledge page. Neither approach is right, good, or bad — just different. Twenty-seven years later, though, this does appear to be changing in Russia.

Who's giving, and how, are changing. Once thought of as a "demeaning, manipulative capitalist practice" that was forbidden (Jamie Gambrell), attitudes to philanthropy seem to be becoming more positive. Oksana Oracheva, general director of the Vladmir Potanin Foundation, believes that people are more supportive of philanthropy now, particularly as they become more involved themselves through corporate volunteerism, community philanthropy, and small individual donations. As was also the case with the Philanthropy in India report, small donations by the middle class have led to significant increases in giving in both countries. Although members of the middle class often don't give large sums, they can give smaller amounts more often (especially due to technology).

When did you last give by way of an SMS donation, particularly one that you were encouraged to make by an advertisement on television? For many of us, probably never. For a Russian, it may have been today. Numerous causes invest in storytelling through the media with a call to action to give any amount, which culturally makes philanthropy quite visible. Pretty cool.

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