95 posts categorized "Advocacy"

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

July 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's an example from our recent grantmaking.

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

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

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

Advocacy Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

What Is at Stake, and Why Philanthropy Must Respond

July 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Am Hopeful

July 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

Marches…and More

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

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

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

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

New Allies, New Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funders Taking on Mass Deportation and Mass Incarceration

June 28, 2017

Statue_of_liberty_blogMany in philanthropy are willing to stand up to the Trump administration's actions targeting immigrants and refugees. Recently, more than two hundred grantmakers signed a joint letter opposing those actions, and many foundations have ramped up their rapid response and long-term giving for everything from legal services and community organizing to policy advocacy and litigation.

But the crisis facing immigrant communities across the country demands much more from philanthropy — in particular, that we step out of our funding and programmatic silos and consider how immigration is integrally connected to so many other issues we care about as funders. One such issue is criminal justice reform.

It is no secret that the United States maintains the largest immigrant detention system in the world. At last count, we were holding more than four hundred thousand immigrants in jails and prisons — including numerous for-profit facilities. This is the equivalent of putting the entire population of Oakland, California, behind bars. In the overwhelming majority of cases, immigrants in detention are asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents, and others who come here seeking the promise of freedom and a better life for themselves and their families. Instead, they have been tragically caught up in our nation's broken immigration system.

Under the Trump administration's rapidly expanding detention and deportation machine, immigrants are under attack as never before. Arrests of undocumented immigrants have increased by nearly 40 percent since Trump took office, while fewer than 9 percent of those arrested by ICE since January had convictions for violent crimes. In fact, research consistently shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans. Nevertheless, the Trump administration is demonizing immigrant communities, stepping up its rhetoric and media manipulation to scapegoat immigrants and label them as being inherently criminal.

Undocumented immigrants who come into contact with law enforcement are punished twice — once by the criminal justice system and the second time by the immigration system — all without the protection of the minimal rights and due process available to others caught up in the justice system. Indeed, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, for undocumented immigrants, contact with law enforcement "brings with it disproportionately harsh immigration consequences" ranging "from incarceration in immigration detention and banishment from the country to denial of future immigration benefits to individuals and their family members."

The arbitrary and harsh treatment of so many immigrants by law enforcement is representative of the larger systemic failures of the U.S. criminal justice system. The criminalization of immigrants and people of color in our country is the product of "tough on crime" laws adopted in the 1980s, '90s, and early 2000s. Among the most harmful of these laws was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which opened the door to expedited removal, harsh penalties, and mandatory detention for immigrants swept up by law enforcement. This and other laws criminalizing immigrants followed the blueprint of broader criminal justice measures passed in the 1980s and '90s, all resulting in the mass incarceration of people of color. Today, our country's criminal justice system continues to place a big target squarely on the backs of immigrant communities and communities of color.

The good news is that immigrant rights leaders and criminal justice advocates from around the country are increasingly working to fight the over-criminalization of our communities. Recognizing that the system fails immigrants and other vulnerable communities by equal measure, grassroots groups are joining together to organize and build powerful intersectional coalitions aimed at ending mass criminalization, deportation, and incarceration. For example, it was a coalition of immigration and criminal justice reform advocates that created the momentum for enactment of California's TRUST Act in 2014. This groundbreaking law limits local law enforcement collaboration with ICE across the state. Today, coalitions of criminal justice and immigrants' rights advocacy groups are fighting to end the use of money bail in states across the country and to realize other common sense reforms that will benefit immigrants and other communities of color alike.

Addressing the enormous failures of our immigration and criminal justice systems means standing up for American principles of due process and equal justice for all. This should be something that all of philanthropy can support. We applaud the many foundations across the country that are making investments in criminal justice or immigrant rights — or both. The intersection of these two issues — and their life-and-death consequences for so many people — demands that we catch up with the courageous advocates who are leading the way and break out of the silos that so often constrain our grantmaking.

How can foundations simultaneously work on both criminal justice and immigration (or "crim-immigration")? We can seed and support collaborative efforts undertaken by advocates in the two fields. We can convene grantees working across these issues to develop shared agendas and to explore the intersections of their work. We can strategize with other funders about how best to align our "crim-imm" investments. We can explore public-private partnerships with state and local governments to protect the rights of immigrants and people of color who are caught up in the immigration enforcement and criminal justice systems. We can fight back against the narrative that paints immigrants as criminals and instead lift up who they really are — our neighbors, family members, and friends who add tremendous value to our country and our communities.

There are myriad possibilities for funder action, and it all begins with building our knowledge and understanding of the connections between these two issues. Let's work together to protect and advance our common values of inclusion, freedom, opportunity, and justice — for all. 

Tim_silard_for_PhilanTopicTimothy P. Silard is president of the Rosenberg Foundation.

‘Justice Matters’ and the Power of Film to Persuade

June 12, 2017

JusticeMattersEach year, Justice Matters, a special series within Filmfest DC, the annual Washington, DC International Film Festival, shines a spotlight on some of the best new social issue films from around the globe. This year, three of the films were judged outstanding by jurors and audience members.

Filmmakers throughout the history of the medium have felt the need to address injustice, poverty, and other social concerns, prodding audiences to reflection and action, a tradition that continues today. As Filmfest DC founder and director Tony Gittens noted in launching Justice Matters in 2010: "What better city to highlight this tradition than our nation's capital, the vortex of ongoing debate on how best to further democracy and equitable treatment for all." And what better time than the present.

I was happy to catch the Justice Matters 2017 program during this year's festival in April. I had attended Justice Matters in 2012, highlighting 5 Broken Cameras in an earlier PhilanTopic post and was eager to see this year's selection of films, especially The Good Postman, an intimate story about the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe set in Bulgaria, where I'd lived for two years.

This year's lineup included eight award-winning films that explore some of the most pressing challenges of our time and some of the most creative and courageous responses to those challenges: corporate corruption (150 Milligrams); corrosion of public trust and the need for a free press (All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone); the privatization of public education (Backpack Full of Cash); refugee integration (The Good Postman); the crisis in Syria (Last Men in Aleppo); and climate change (Tomorrow). Two of the films mined the past for lessons and inspiration: one a personal recollection of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (The House on Coco Road); and a musical quest set during Freedom Summer (Two Trains Runnin’).

(All the films should be available in other festivals, theaters, broadcast, or on the Internet. More information about each is on the Justice Matters site and/or on the films' websites.)

Jurists for the series included Conrad Martin, executive director, the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and executive director of the Fund for Constitutional Government; Montré Aza Missouri, founder and director, Howard Film Culture; and Kathryn Washington, director of diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 3-4, 2017)

June 04, 2017

Pittsburgh office media carousel skyline triangle  700x476Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, television personality, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, has some advice for the NAACP, which recently announced the departure of its president, Cornell William Brooks, and its intention to pursue an "organization-wide refresh."

Climate Change

Hours after Donald Trump claimed "to represent the voters of Pittsburgh in his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement," Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering the city entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035. Shane Levy reports for the Sierra Club. (And you can read Peduto's executive order to that effect here.)

Although there's no doubt that "President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on global warming is a short-sighted mistake," writes Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek, the jury is still out as to whether "the decision [will] unravel the entire agreement."

Fundraising

We missed this post by Vu Le outlining the principles of community-centric fundraising when it was first published in the lead up to the Memorial Day weekend. But it is definitely worth your time.

Hey, Mr./Ms. Nonprofit Fundraiser, job got you down and almost out? Beth Kanter shares four warning signs of burnout — and easy ways to make yourself feel better.

On the GuideStar blog, BidPal's Joshua Meyer looks at five unexpected benefits of text-to-give software.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2017)

June 02, 2017

Like many of you, we're trying to make sense of all the tweets, charges/counter-charges, and executive orders emanating from the White House. One thing we do know, however: you found plenty to like here on the blog in May, including a stirring call to action from Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits; some excellent grantmaking advice from Peter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children; a new post by everyone's favorite millennial fundraising expert, Derrick Feldmann; posts by first-time contributors Nona Evans and Jaylene Howard; and an oldie-but-goodie by fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. But don't take our word for it — pull up a chair, click off MSNBC, and treat yourself to some good reads!

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

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2017)

May 03, 2017

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

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

Nonprofits, Partisan Politics, and Tax Policy

April 27, 2017

Tax_cutsCalls for tax reform by the White House, Congress, and others have led to proposals that would have a direct and profound impact on nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. Of those proposals, one from the House Republicans calls for eliminating the tax deduction for charitable donations, one floated by the White House would eliminate an incentive for charitable bequests, and another from a coalition of nonprofit organizations would expand the deduction to more taxpayers. The three proposals couldn't be more different.

But while charities and donors are scrambling to preserve (or expand) their tax advantages, there are other worrisome proposals floating around. Most significantly, President Trump and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill want to change the tax code to allow charities to engage in partisan electoral activity — while, at the other extreme, some want to disallow tax deductions for support of nonprofit advocacy and policy work.

Certainly, one can understand why most tax-exempt organizations would fight to protect the tax incentives for charitable contributions that support their work, but such efforts raise questions about whether charities and donors are worried more about their own self-interest than the public good.

Nonprofits' efforts to preserve and extend the charitable deduction would be less suspect were the organizations fighting for those policies as engaged in the debates over other government tax, budget, and policy initiatives — debates that profoundly threaten many of the causes and constituencies they exist to serve. When nonprofit and foundation leaders are missing from such debates, it becomes easier to impugn their motives for trying to preserve their own tax advantages. Protecting the charitable deduction is not an adequate surrogate for broader action.

Against this backdrop, the president's pledge to "totally destroy" the so-called Johnson Amendment prohibition on charities' involvement in partisan electoral campaigns needs to be addressed (as do other administration proposals).

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 15-16, 2017)

April 16, 2017

Glitter-eggs_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

Our colleagues over at GrantCraft have put together an excellent suite of resources that captures the wisdom of philanthropic leaders who have participated in multi-party advocacy collaboratives. Check it out.

And Salsa Labs, a maker of integrated software for nonprofits, has released a a Nonprofit Advocacy Action kit that includes, among other thing, best practices and customizable advocacy templates. (Registration required.)

Climate Change

There's no denying that philanthropy is as industry that loves jargon — or that the use of jargon often undermines the effectiveness of our messaging and communications. With that in mind, Achieng' Otieno, a communications officer in the Rockefeller Foundation's Nairobi office, shares some tips about how to communicate the concept of "resilience" to non-experts.

Health

Here on Philantopic, the Robert Wood Johnson's Foundation John Lumpkin has some suggestions about what we can do to improve care for patients with complex needs.

Higher Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, Mike Scutari examines the implications of a new Marts & Lundy report which finds that mega-gifts for higher education are rising while alumni giving overall is falling.

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

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"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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Changing the Political Climate

April 06, 2017

Us-politics_climateThe election of Donald Trump, together with Republican control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and most statehouses, is both a reflection of and serves to underscore the dramatically altered political climate in America. Many nonprofit and philanthropic leaders are scrambling to figure out how they can best operate in this new environment. Too few of them are thinking about how they might work to change it.

A lot of people would like to see it change. We know that a significant majority of Americans are stressed by the outcome of the election and that fully two-thirds are deeply concerned about what it will mean for the nonprofit sector and the nation. That presents an opportunity for charities and foundations. Instead of trying to make do, nonprofit leaders should try to make change.

Make no mistake: efforts designed to alter the context for the administration's policy agenda will find a sizeable and receptive audience. Sixty percent of Americans are embarrassed by the past actions and rhetoric of the president and do not feel he shares their values; similar percentages feel he is neither temperamentally suited for the job nor honest and that his actions are dividing the country. Given these concerns, an outpouring of donations and willing volunteers are finding their way to charities either directly affected by the Trump agenda or working to resist it.

The question now for many nonprofits is how will they deploy the new support they are receiving. Will it be used to ramp up frontline services made necessary by cutbacks in government funding and regulations? Will they allocate it to policy advocacy and organizing aimed at directly contesting the Trump and Republican agendas? Will they also use it help fuel initiatives aimed at changing the political climate in ways that renders these other activities less necessary?

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2017)

April 04, 2017

Maybe the nicest thing we can say about March was that it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. If the lion's share of your media consumption during the month was devoted to March Madness (of the sports or political variety) and you missed out on your regular PhilanTopic reading, well, here's your chance to catch up.

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

Reframing Addiction: Removing Stigma, Saving Lives

April 03, 2017

Addiction_disease_brain_300Every parent worries about the harm his or her child might encounter in the world. As parents, we dedicate our time and energy to protecting our children from every preventable danger — accidents, violence, illness. Why, then, don't we take steps to stop the epidemic that is claiming more American lives than car crashes or gun violence — the devastating disease of addiction? Addiction is killing our children. Even worse, the stigma associated with addiction keeps many people who are affected from seeking treatment.

In 2011, I lost my son Brian to addiction. He didn't die of an overdose or as a result of a drug-related crime. In fact, he had been in recovery for more than a year. The undeniable reality is that it was not just addiction that claimed my son's life — it was the shame he felt every morning when he opened his eyes that led him that day to research suicide notes, light a candle, and take his own life.

Brian had struggled with the disease of addiction for nearly ten years, cycling through eight different treatment programs. He desperately wanted to lead a normal life. His substance-use disorder was not indicative of a lack of willpower on his part; rather, the chemistry of his brain continually worked against him. Brian wasn't irresponsible. He was always curious, cheerful, and consistently caring. A dear companion and a beloved child. Full of compassion.

I wish I could say my anguish has subsided over the years since his death. But it has only intensified with the knowledge that addiction is a disease that is preventable but that we don't prevent; that is treatable but that we don't treat; that is undeniable but that we continue to deny.

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How to Supercharge Your Advocacy Campaign With a Story

March 27, 2017

In 2001, Madison McCarthy died of sudden cardiac arrest in a kindergarten classroom. She was five years old. No one attempted CPR. Her mother, Suzy McCarthy, became the face of an American Heart Association campaign that, fourteen years later, made New York the twenty-sixth state in the country to mandate CPR training as a part of the public school curricula. More than 1.5 million students a year began learning this lifesaving skill.

Megaphone_advocacyThe McCarthys’ tragic story became the foundation of an advocacy campaign that changed policy and saved lives. I would argue that all causes have the potential to use stories to such powerful effect.

AHA didn’t discover Madison by accident. It deliberately paid attention and collected stories of loss as well as stories of CPR saving lives. It then pushed these narratives at lawmakers through emails, phone calls, news articles, and social media posts. In the critical last weeks of the campaign, patch-through calls with Suzy McCarthy’s voice moved advocates to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of the CPR bill. When I heard the recording, I thought to myself: How could someone not act on that story?

Generic statistics on CPR wouldn’t have moved lawmakers to act. Stories, on the other hand, with their heroes, drama, tragedy, and hope, tap into our emotions. A good story well told has the potential to bring out the best in supporters and advocates — and in lawmakers.

Unfortunately, too few advocacy organizations use stories to their full potential. Often, my colleagues and I receive advocacy emails jammed with technical information about pending legislation. They’re almost unreadable. Advocates for your cause are people with jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Even if they care about your issue, they can only invest so much time in getting themselves up to speed on all its nuances.

Now imagine the effect of replacing all those jargon-filled explanations with a real, compelling story. Let’s talk about how you can accomplish that at your organization.

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