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7 posts from August 2018

It's Time to Invest in Youth Power

August 16, 2018

Youth_power_summitRecent opinion polls show that young people across the country are deeply dissatisfied with the nation's elected leaders and eager to see government pursue progressive policies on issues ranging from gun violence, to sexual assault prevention, to immigration. Young people also are registering to vote in record numbers, creating new hope that change may be at hand.

But whether this surge in interest and engagement among the nation's young people turns into a surge in advocacy and activism — and actual voting — is far from a slam dunk. There is an urgent need and opportunity for philanthropy to invest in efforts to organize and inspire young people, including young people of color, so they can become the transformational force we need in our communities and our country. 

The California Funders for Boys and Men of Color, a group of foundation CEOs dedicated to improving outcomes for boys and men of color through systems change, are supporting one such effort. This August, hundreds of youth advocates of color from across California gathered in Sacramento for four days of learning and advocacy during the Youth Power Summit, where participants had the opportunity to speak directly with candidates for California's superintendent of public instruction, among others. 

The young people who gathered at the summit are leading campaigns for racial and economic justice across the state — fighting for quality schools, an end to youth incarceration, immigrant rights, a healthy environment, healthier communities, and more. Organized by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and PolicyLink, the summit gave them an opportunity to bring their diverse movements together and build their power, leadership, and voice. One of the highlights was a rally on the steps of the state Capitol, where participants shared their vision for a more just and equitable future — a future that includes police accountability, sentencing reform, workforce opportunities, and trauma recovery services.

We're supporting this effort because we know we can't wait for today's young people to start playing an active part in our democracy — we need their energy, their enthusiasm, and their activism right now. Young people want to be heard, create change, and lead in their communities and the country. While we marvel at the young activists who have captured the nation's attention since the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, we have yet to fully recognize that young people, particularly youth of color, are an underappreciated and under-supported force for change. And we can't afford not to support the civic engagement of these changemakers.

It's true that years of data show young people participate in elections and civic activities at significantly lower rates than other age groups. But instead of blaming this participation gap on young people themselves, we need to recognize and address the barriers they face in becoming engaged and involved — from a lack of quality civic education in our schools to complicated and discriminatory voter registration and absentee voting policies.

We also need to change the culture of our social movements so young people can find a welcoming seat at the table and exercise their leadership in the field of social justice. This is what the Youth Power Summit was about: building the skills, engagement, and networks of young activists.

Today, one out of every six Californians is between the ages of 5 and 18. According to the 2010 census, 70 percent of Californians under the age of 25 identify as people of color. Young people deserve, and are demanding, a voice in shaping policies that will have a profound and enduring effect on their ability to find affordable quality education; access to decent health care, clean air, and water; and safety in our communities; among many other issues.

As grantmakers committed to equity and social justice, we know that our work and the work of our movement partners will succeed only to the extent that young people are active and engaged in the democratic process — and the future of their democracy. That's why philanthropy must explore ways to catalyze and build power among the rising generation. 

Mya Middleton, a 16-year-old from Chicago who spoke at the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, summed up the power and the potential of youth engagement when she told the assembled crowd: "We are the turn of this century. We are the voice of change. We are here to fix what America is falling short of."  

Let's work together to ensure that young people have a real chance to make a lasting difference. 

Tim_silard_for_PhilanTopicTim Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation, a member of the California Funders for Boys and Men of Color. For more information, visit https://cafundersforbmoc.org.

Small Charities Are Being Left Behind by Big Data for Social Good Initiatives

August 10, 2018

Big-Data-webData has the potential to help nonprofit organizations work at a scale larger than ever before and to solve problems more efficiently and effectively. Data can help organizations improve their monitoring and evaluation, determine where the biggest problems lie and where the most value can be added, influence policy through evidence, increase their reach, and enhance their fundraising capabilities.

But big data analytics and artificial intelligence have mainly been developed for and by the private sector. The good news is that third sector organizations increasingly are using data for social good, from predicting child welfare needs and monitoring climate change to working toward new cancer treatments.

Large nonprofits can use their brand power to leverage data-sharing partnerships with private companies, pay for expensive data-analytics services, or hire in-house data scientists. But for smaller charities, working with new data methods and analytics requires capacity, funding, and partnerships they typically don't have and can't easily secure.

That was underscored by Lloyd's Bank UK Digital Business Index 2016, which found that almost half of UK charities lack basic digital skills and that 80 percent are not investing in digital technology at all, let alone in big data. It's not difficult to see why: if comes down to a choice between hiring a program officer or a data officer, or between acquiring data analytics capabilities and additional project funding, most charities will choose to spend their limited resources in ways most likely to impact their constituents and communities.

Here at the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), we recently conducted a global scan highlighting how data is being used in different ways for social good, emerging challenges in the field, and how philanthropy can be and is engaged in this work.

For starters, philanthropy can help level the playing field by addressing some of the biggest obstacles facing small charities in using data for good, including often-prohibitive costs, a lack of human capital, insufficient leverage to form data philanthropy partnerships, and a difficult regulatory environment.

But there is hope.

Below, we highlight four examples of how philanthropy is supporting smaller charities to better engage in this work:

1. Funding. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and City Bridge Trust recently provided support to Khulisa, a small UK criminal justice charity, to hire a dedicated analyst to help it implement a strategic plan designed to shift the organization toward evidence-led work and give it more influence in policy conversations, thus driving greater systemic change.

2. Human resources and additional capacity. Uptake.org, the philanthropic arm of data analytics company Uptake, recently granted $1 million to the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University to establish a Machine Learning for Social Good fund that will provide free machine learning and data science assistance to nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies. Elsewhere, DataKind UK, funded by Omidyar Network and others, brings together teams of pro bono data scientists with social change organizations on projects that use data to transform their work.

3. Access to data. Through its Data Labs project, New Philanthropy Capital is serving as a trusted intermediary between nonprofits and government agencies, enabling the former to access government data for the purposes of program impact measurement. Challenge prizes sponsored by foundations and private organizations are another way for organizations to access large amounts of data. In 2013, for instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations program awarded grants to six nonprofit projects focused on bringing together large datasets to solve social problems. One winner, NetHope's Open Humanitarian Initiative, built a tool to help humanitarian charities share their data in real time, helping to save more lives both during and after a disaster.

4. Enabling Environment. The UK-based Charities Aid Foundation has launched the Future:Good initiative with the goal of highlighting the ways in which civil society can play a positive role in shaping and responding to new technological trends. That work includes encouraging government to make technology a key part of its civil society strategy and supporting the idea that civil society organizations are intrinsic to the conversation around responsible technology.

Beyond increasing the use of data for good, there's another pressing reason charities should be supported in their efforts to collect and use data.

In this digital moment, privacy and security breaches and the manipulation of public opinion are top-of-mind concerns for people everywhere. The growing concentration of data in private hands means that individuals and smaller organizations are often left without a voice with respect to these issues and on how data is being used (and abused) to shape our lives.

In this critical moment, philanthropy needs to look for ways to engage smaller charities in this work — not only to keep them from being left behind, but also to ensure that their voice — and the voices of the communities they represent — are heard in the important debates around the ethical use of data.

Headshot_kendra_schreiner_jordan_jungeKendra Schreiner is a research and projects assistant at SIX and a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, where she studies international development and humanitarian emergencies. 

Program director Jordan Junge leads SIX's work ob the future of social innovation and manages the SIX Funders Node, an international collective of fifty foundations from more than fifteen countries, in which role she helps them to be better funders of innovation by connecting them to their peers. 

 

Baltimore Children and Youth Fund: Community-Based Grantmaking Comes to Baltimore

August 08, 2018

BCYF-logoThe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Riots are the cry of the unheard." If that maxim is true, Baltimore children, youth, and young adults were crying out long before the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray, Jr. sparked demonstrations and unrest in the city.

Gray’s death was the tipping point, but it was not the cause of the unrest, which was driven by a decades-long pattern in Baltimore of divestment in education, affordable housing, employment, and recreational outlets for children and youth. Whether by intent or impact, young people were not being heard.

Fortunately, while a broad-based coalition of young people, youth-centered organizations, and community leaders had been working to address the vacuum in opportunities for children, youth, and young adults, Baltimore City Council president Bernard "Jack" Young, a longtime advocate for children and youth, was focused on increasing investments in future leaders. His vision eventually spawned the creation of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, which distributes grants ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 to persons and groups with a passion for, or a track record of, authentic engagement with young people.

BCYF was a long time coming. Young twice wrote legislation intended to create such a fund, and his dream was finally realized when voters approved a 2016 ballot referendum to create the fund. That it was established by referendum is key; politicians don't necessarily get what they want absent public support. And everything from the inception of the fund to its day-to-day management is a testament to end-user demand and public support. In this case, the support isn't just for getting resources to the community but doing so in the most inclusive and transparent way possible.

To achieve that goal, several individuals and groups have agreed to partner with BCYF. My organization, Associated Black Charities, is the fiscal agent charged with managing the fund. Frontline Solutions International and UPD Consultants are technical assistance partners, with the former covering everything from consultant collaboration to community engagement, and the latter charged with providing strategic thought-partnership throughout the design, planning, and proposal review and grantee administration processes. Kinetics is the strategic communications partner covering everything from social media engagement to online marketing to media relations.

Each of these entities is led by a person of color or is based in Baltimore City, which helps ensure that our efforts are informed by the day-to-day realities and needs of the community the fund seeks to serve. A host of volunteers also have helped with the initiative, and we have been fortunate to receive funding from the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Annie Casey E. Foundation to help cover administrative expenses. In addition to the deep community engagement work, outside funding has enabled us to use the services of an evaluator to document the process.

Throughout the process, the partners have committed to do something that’s never been done at this scale: get money to established organizations, as well as persons and organizations that may not be on the radar of traditional funders, and to do so in an inclusive manner.

While traditional grantmaking may solicit letters of interest and then form an internal committee to make awards, we wanted to take the process out of the board room and onto the streets of the communities we are looking to serve. To that end, a series of community design sessions were held to allow community members, including youth, to set the direction for the fund and highlight candidates for funding.

Rather than just publicizing the request for proposal process and leaving individuals and groups to navigate the process alone, we also held three capacity-building sessions to answer questions and assist with grant submissions. And because the fund was created to serve children, youth, and young adults, we assembled a 24-person review committee to help select the grantees. Notably, 40 percent of the seats on the review committee went to persons age 24 and younger.

These not-so subtle practices were important in ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to be at the table. One of the things we realized after Gray’s death was that there were already a host of organizations and community leaders who were serving children and youth, but that these individuals and groups were not on the radar of most funders. Our model, which was developed collectively and implemented collaboratively by capable consultants, committed volunteers, and concerned community members, may very well end up changing the way grantmaking — in Baltimore and beyond — is done.

There's no question that BCYF will positively impact the community. The question now is whether it will lead to fewer cries from children and youth whose voices were ignored or silenced for far too long.

Diane Bell-McKoy High ResDiane Bell-McKoy is president of Associated Black Charities. The City of Baltimore has tapped Associated Black Charities to be the interim fiscal manager for the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund.

The Ultra Rich Won't Drive Innovative Philanthropy  —  Trusting Community Will

August 07, 2018

Community_friends_globeIn an announcement that resembled an NBA free agent mulling over prospective candidates for his services, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos took to Twitter to inform the world that he is very nearly ready to make his major philanthropic debut. After a year of consideration, Bezos stated, "I have settled on two areas that I'm very excited about," adding that he would reveal the areas of interest before the end of the summer.

It goes without saying that when the world's richest man decides to devote a fraction of his wealth to social good, the philanthropic community takes notice. Bezos has become a hot topic in funding circles, with many speculating on where he will focus his efforts and debating the merits of the likeliest scenarios. Those working in or around philanthropy are wise to pay heed to the emergence of a major funder, especially one who aims to make a public splash. At the same time, there are those whose interest in what he will do has devolved into uninhibited enthusiasm and misplaced hope, helping to drive a narrative that Bezos has the capacity and will to significantly change philanthropy or even the world.

Undoubtedly, Bezos' reputation for innovating and succeeding across industries has excited many who hope he will apply that same entrepreneurial spirit to his philanthropy. When you consider Bezos in the context of his business practices and broader history, however, it seems unlikely he'll establish himself as the change agent some are hoping for. For instance, though Bezos announced his intention to step up his philanthropy a year ago, reports have continued to emerge detailing the appalling work conditions and staggeringly low wages paid to Amazon workers. We've also learned of the labor-camp-like conditions at the Hengyang Foxconn factory responsible for the production of Amazon's Kindle, Echo Dots, and tablets. Instead of speculating on what Bezos can accomplish through philanthropy, maybe we should be asking whether he could achieve more good by committing to reform Amazon's exploitive corporate practices.

Perhaps the positive reception Bezos has enjoyed with respect to his philanthropic push simply reflects our society's tendency to venerate the rich and famous. Or maybe we're just desperate to believe that, in these tumultuous times, someone will emerge who is willing to put their power and influence to good use. However, philanthropy as an institution can ill afford to mistake Bezos for anything more than what his actions (and inaction) suggest he is.

Fortunately, hope remains.  If philanthropy wants to embrace genuine innovation while maximizing impact, we should reconsider who is best equipped to drive cutting-edge change. While the ultra rich play a critical finance role in philanthropy, one could argue that it is the only role they should play. Whether one has accumulated or inherited it, wealth does not give one special insight into society's most pressing problems, nor can it purchase solutions. To be clear, this is not a condemnation of Bezos and his tech-philanthropy contemporaries, or a denigration of their skills and value to their industry and society more generally. Rather, it's a rebuke of top-down philanthropy and the false notion that the ultra rich are the only ones equipped to drive effective, equitable, and inclusive social change.

Most foundations and philanthropic organizations embrace this notion. By employing some of the world's brightest minds and subject matter experts, they implicitly acknowledge that there are people who are better equipped to lead and shape their efforts than the folks who have amassed the wealth. The reliance on formal experts has become a hallmark of the industry and is a key feature differentiating philanthropy from charity. In our drive to professionalize philanthropy, however, we often fail to consider what the full spectrum of expertise looks like. While credentialed and formally educated professionals have become philanthropy's de facto advisors and strategists, we have neglected to engage and utilize the expertise of the communities we purport to serve. Astonishingly, the "informal" experts who live, eat, sleep, and breathe these issues are too often left out of the decision-making process.

If philanthropy is looking for innovative solutions to the world's most pressing problems,  it need look no further than the communities most affected by those problems. It is time to embrace a vision of philanthropy that is community driven, community informed, and community led. It's time for funders to empower, equip, and champion community members as experts and leaders, rather than as spectators to the latest round of strategically aligned interventions.

Inevitably, Bezos will earn his philanthropist stripes, joining the ranks of Rockefeller and Ford, and alongside contemporaries such as Gates and Zuckerberg. He will succeed because he has built an empire against the odds, and there's no reason to doubt that he is any less committed to making his mark on philanthropy. One can only hope, however, that his vision of success entails more than building a living monument to his own altruism. Distressed communities across the globe deserve more than yet another foundation bearing the name and banner of a well-intentioned rich person. They deserve to be listened to and heard, and it is our job as the philanthropic executives, advisors, and administrators to uplift and champion their voices.

Headshot_raymond_holgado_for_PhilanTopicRaymond Holgado is a community-informed philanthropy enthusiast and Queens native working at the intersection of the haves and have-nots. He currently serves as grants and project manager at NEO Philanthropy and on the board of the Andrus Family Fund. This post originally appeared on Medium.

Weekend Link Roundup (August 4-5, 2018)

August 05, 2018

Heatwave-europeOur 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

It's a little late, but we just wanted to give a shoutout to Social Velocity's Nell Edgington and her new website. Congrats, Nell — it looks great!

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

What does it mean for funders to build power? And how can they incorporate a power-building frame to measure meaningful progress on their DEI efforts? On the NCRP blog, Caitlin Duffy, senior associate for learning and engagement at the organization, shares the insights of four leaders in the sector — Daniel Lee, Alejandra L. Ibanez, Rhiannon Rossi, and Elizabeth Tan — who recently participated in an NCRP-sponsored webinar on the topic.

As she prepared to depart the Meyer Memorial Trust after more than a decade, Director of Programs Candy Solovjovs sat down with Kimberly Wilson, the trust's director of communications, to talk about the evolution of its grantmaking.

Fundraising

News that some dictionaries have started to include an additional definition for the word literally has language purists and the word police up in arms. To which Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks says: Like, get over it. "[L]anguage changes. And that's a good thing. Even though it means an old 'rule' gets revised now and then."

In part two of a two-part series on board fundraising for the GuideStar blog, fundraising consultant Clare Axelrad looks at the different types of stories your board members can tell and/or elicit from the prospects they approach for gifts. 

Grantmaking

A recent survey of the field by PEAK Grantmaking reveals that too few funders who collect demographic data on their grantees can articulate how they plan to use that information. On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Michelle Greanias, PEAK's executive director, shares some recommendations for funders and nonprofits looking to ensure they are collecting and learning from demographic data in ways that will help increase the effectiveness of their work.

Grantseeking

In his latest, Nonprofit AF's Vu Le goes where few dare tread with a post that tells readers everything they need to know about fiscal sponsorship but were afraid to ask. And bunnies.

Gun Violence

In a guest article for the MacArthur Foundation, Eddie Bocanegra explains how fourteen years in prison informed his work as a "violence interrupter" at Cease Fire, as the founding director of the YMCA’s Urban Warriors program, and now as a senior director at Heartland Alliance.

Philanthropy

Philanthropy in China is booming. Fang Block reports for Barron's.

Here in the States, donor-advised funds have been the focus of a lot of less-than-complimentary press of late. In Forbes, Richard Eisenberg looks at why and shares some proposed reforms for how they should operate.

Betsy DeVos, as most readers, was Donald Trump's controversial pick to head up the U.S. Department of Education. She's also a member of a wealthy family that has "given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative causes.... many of [them] front and center [with respect to the] policy initiatives and goals of the Trump administration." Anya Kamenetz follows the money for NPR.

Can philanthropy save a city? In Detroit, the Kresge Foundation and others are trying to prove it can. And now the Golden State's financially beleauguered capital city, Sacramento, is trying to replicate the approach. Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic.

Te Muka Rau Charitable Trust is the first New Zealand Foundation to join the GlassPockets movement. On the Glasspockets blog, Kate Frykberg, a trustee and philanthropy advisor, explains why.

(Photo credit: Fred Tanneau—AFP)

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

For Your Consideration: Your First Job Should Be a Nonprofit Job

August 03, 2018

Top_chance_change_GettyImageSIf you asked me my freshman year of college where I thought I would be in fifteen years — or even where I would be after graduation — I would not have said "working in the nonprofit sector." I had earned a B.A. in philosophy, politics and law from Binghamton University in upstate New York, and I had every intention of attending law school. But life often takes you in surprising directions, and when a job opened up at The Blue Card, a national nonprofit that provides resources and financial assistance to struggling Holocaust survivors, I knew it was something I needed to do.

I started at the organization in 2009 as a program coordinator, became a program director the following year, and in 2013 took on the leadership role of executive director. My grandparents had fled Nazi persecution, so I had a personal connection to the organization's work. And by making it possible for me to work toward a mission I believe in, the job has given me back as much — and more — as I've put into it.

So to those college grads who are heading out into the world, allow me this piece of advice: think about taking a nonprofit job as your first job.

I know, it's not the craziest idea you've ever heard. Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that, collectively, nonprofits are the nation's third largest employer, behind only the retail and manufacturing sectors. And while I could go on and on about why the nonprofit sector is a wonderful place to begin your career, I'll give you my elevator pitch.

There's plenty of room to grow. The best thing about working at a nonprofit organization is the relative lack of bureaucracy. In fact, most nonprofits are places where you can turn any role into a "stretch role" — that is, a place where you can seek out and perform tasks that fall outside your official job responsibilities. It's not that most nonprofit managers will let you take ownership of a project; in many cases, you'll be expected to. Take it from me, a crash course in grantwriting, budget planning, or government relations can put you on the fast track to a job with even more responsibility.

Nonprofits also provide lots of opportunities for moving around. Not loving the job you were hired to fill? Although you may not be paid as well as your peers in the for-profit sector, you're likely to find it a lot easier to switch to a different department or try something completely different.

There's no lack of opportunities to build marketable skills. When it comes to building marketable skills, new nonprofit employees often are surprised at how quickly they are thrown into the deep end of the pool — I'm talking about everything from writing and editing, to social media marketing, to budgeting, analytics, and project management.

Because most nonprofits have no choice but to be entrepreneurial, they also tend to be great places for honing your soft skills — interpersonal, critical thinking, social, and emotional. And with the rapid emergence of the competitive digital economy, soft skills such as empathy, adaptability, resourcefulness, creativity, ability to manage, and tolerance for risk are becoming more and more desirable to all types of employers.

There's little chance of getting sidetracked. Working at a nonprofit is a good way to gain real-world experience while you are attending, or contemplating, grad school. One reason is that nonprofit employers tend to be more flexible than for-profits about part-time or non-traditional work schedules. During my time at The Blue Card, for instance, I've been able to earn an MBA.

Whether it comes as a surprise or not, one day, like me, you might even wake up and realize the job you thought you would only have for a year or two is a job that you love and hope to have for years to come. A recent survey from nonprofit job site Work for Good found that once people start working in a nonprofit, they tend to stick around. Of the 58 percent who started their careers outside the nonprofit sector and switched over, 88 percent said they planned to stay in the sector. The survey also found that mission-driven workers tend to be committed to their work, with 93 percent of respondents — nearly three times the national average — saying they are highly or somewhat engaged in their jobs.

"Opportunity" is a word I use a lot when talking about what nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have to offer to someone just starting his or her career. As with any job, however, opportunity is only what you make of it. Here are a few additional pieces of advice for those interested in taking full advantage:

  • Say "yes." Most people starting out at a nonprofit will find themselves being asked to take on tasks they might never get close to as a junior employee at a for-profit corporation. It could be anything from representing your organization at a conference, to networking with stakeholders and decision makers, to public speaking. When those doors open, say "yes" and try to walk through them with confidence and pep in your step.
  • Be transparent about your goals. When you're speaking to prospective nonprofit employers, let them know the kind of role you're looking for — or (if it's the case) that you're thinking about pursuing a postgraduate degree. That way, both you and your future employer will be on the same page about needs — yours and theirs.
  • Embrace the start-up mindset. Nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes, but it's a pretty good bet you'll be asked to jump right in and get your hands dirty. That's good, and you should use it to your advantage. Ask to be allowed to try on different hats, and show that you're are a team player who will do what it takes to get the job done.
  • Show your passion for the cause. If you're thinking about going to work for a nonprofit, know that the work is about more than the job description. Any prospective nonprofit employer will want to see that you're a good fit with the organization's mission and culture. Nonprofits tend to be cause driven for a reason, and your employer will want to know that the cause is as important to you as it is to your future colleagues.

Maybe you don't know what you want to do for the rest of your life, or what industry you'd like to apply your field of study to. That's okay. A nonprofit career has shown me that there's more than one way to make use of my degree and my talents. It's shown me that working to further a mission or cause I feel totally connected to is extremely rewarding. And it's shown me that while doing good often means making sacrifices, it doesn't have to mean sacrificing my career.

Headshot_masha_pearl_2018_for_PhilanTopicMasha Pearl is executive director of The Blue Card, the only organization in the United States with the sole mission of providing direct, ongoing aid to Holocaust survivors in need. To learn more about the organization and its programs, visit www.bluecardfund.org.

On 'Fake' Victories and the Need to Act

August 02, 2018

American-Poverty-768x512While no one would argue that Donald Trump is a student of history, he and other Republicans seem to have taken a lesson from a former "dean" of the Senate, George Aiken (R-VT), who was alleged to have said of U.S. involvement in Vietnam that we should simply "declare victory and get out." How else to explain the things Trump and Republican politicians are doing to "address" poverty in America?

Most of us have learned that the president, members of his administration, and his congressional allies are adept at creating "alternative facts" through exaggeration, misrepresentation, and plain old dissembling. After a one-day summit meeting in June with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un generated nothing in the way of detailed policy agreements, Trump declared that the North Korean nuclear threat had been eliminated. (Real-world developments subsequently invalidated the president’s assertions.) Similarly, at an extraordinary press conference following an unprecedented private meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the president dismissed the consensus view of American intelligence agencies that Russia was actively working to undermine our electoral and democratic processes and declared that no such threat exists. And now the president is focusing his magical-thinking act on the home front.

In July, the Trump administration declared "victory" in the War on Poverty — the unofficial name for a series of federal initiatives introduced in the 1960s by the Johnson administration to help people move out of poverty and provide assistance to those in need — and declared that poverty in the United States was no longer a problem the federal government need worry about. The administration's declaration was stunning on two counts: Republicans have a long history of opposing the War on Poverty, and poverty remains a huge problem in America.

Established measures of poverty show that in 2016 about 12.7 percent of Americans — roughly 43 million people — lived in poverty. And a recent United Nations study found that 18.5 million Americans are facing "extreme impoverishment." In fact, close to 2 percent of the population – more than 5 million of us — live on no more than $4 a day, including government assistance. Even more alarming, more than a few moderate-income Americans are included in a Federal Reserve study which found that 40 percent of us would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without having to sell something or borrow the money.

But using a controversial consumption argument, the White House denies these realities and claims that fewer than 10 million Americans, or only about 3 percent of us, are poor. Sadly, the president and his spokespeople are both wrong and disingenuous in their efforts to declare victory in the War on Poverty. Their proclamations are simply a reflection of an intensifying Republican war not on poverty but on the poor themselves.

Reinforcing a point I made here in May is the fact that Republicans are working very hard to cut more than $4.6 trillion from funding for mandatory entitlement programs, with over half that amount coming out of programs — Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, Pell Grants, the ACA — that overwhelmingly benefit low- and moderate-income Americans. Meanwhile, even as they target supports for the poor and needy, the president and conservative politicians are looking to augment their $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans with a proposal to index capital gains to inflation — an action that would add another $100 billion to the deficit, increase income inequality in the U.S., and further weaken our democracy.

Not content with their "victory," the White House also is trying to make federal medical, food, and housing assistance more “contingent” on beneficiaries’ ability to work — despite the fact that an analysis of an earlier but similar proposal found that the majority of the people who benefit from such programs are either elderly, disabled, or already work. In other words, insisting that those who are physically unable to work must work in order to qualify for benefits will merely punish the already over-burdened poor.

It's enough to make one think the White House and Republicans in Congress view the poor, rather than poverty, as the enemy. How else to explain the IRS's use of private debt collection agencies to go after tax delinquents — such agencies garner at least a third of the funds they recover from families facing "economic hardship" — when most unpaid taxes are owed by the 1 percent of taxpayers who are self-employed?

Nonprofit organizations and foundations should be able to see through the "alternative facts" used to justify Republican attacks on the poor. They're the same kind of "facts" promoted by the climate change deniers who are shaping the Trump administration's environmental policy, by federal officials and lawmakers who are weakening animal and wildlife protections, by Republican appointees who are methodically eroding consumer safeguards and making it harder for students to defend themselves against avaricious for-profit schools, by conservative politicians determined to eviscerate workers’ rights and roll back longstanding workplace protections.

As I've said here before: "Nonprofit organizations [and foundations]...cannot stand by while these regressive policies are proposed and advanced. They need to do everything they can to inform and activate the electorate so that Americans realize what is at stake, understand who truly represents their interests, and turn out to vote in the midterm elections.

"Too much is on the line for organizations to mind their own business and narrowly focus on [operations] … instead of advocacy and action. Organizations like Nonprofit Vote can help charities and foundations understand the rules about what they are allowed to do — and suggest tactics that make a difference."

Headshot_mark_rosenmanWhat was true in May is even more true today. We're all in this together; the time to act is now.

 (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

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

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  • "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away...."

    — Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

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  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

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