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6 posts categorized "Aging"

Elder Justice Philanthropy Enters a New Age

September 19, 2016

My grandmother, Brooke Astor, was a role model and ahead of her time when it came to philanthropy. Well into her tenth decade of life, she was known as "New York's First Lady" and a "humanist aristocrat with a generous heart" who immersed herself in a form of engaged philanthropy decades before the practice was mainstream.

Headshot_brooke_astorAs president of the Vincent Astor Foundation from 1959 until she closed the foundation in 1997, she worked to advance the "quality of life" in her beloved New York City. But in 2006, at the age of 104, she unknowingly became an advocate for elder Americans, for "quality of life at the end of life." That year, after I learned she had been a victim of elder abuse perpetrated by her own son — my father — I sought her guardianship. However, the press discovered the contents of my guardianship petition, leading to lurid front-page headlines and the harsh spotlight of unwanted publicity. While my grandmother would never have wanted to be known as one of America's most famous victims of elder abuse, it may be one of her greatest and most lasting legacies.

I came to the cause of elder justice through my grandmother's sad personal circumstances. It was a situation that informed and touched me, firing my commitment to lend support to the cause and join with others to enact meaningful change.

When I first sought to assist my grandmother, I didn't know what resources were available to me, where I could turn for help, or how I could help those who had helped her. To say I found it confusing and overwhelming is an understatement.

In 2010, after a six-month criminal trial that ended in my father's conviction, I began to speak at events and conferences across the nation in what eventually turned into a multiyear listening tour. Over these last half dozen years, I have learned much from the professionals who do so much — for so many — often with so little. I have come to realize that elder abuse is a systemic problem that demands systems-based solutions.

It Takes a Village

Informed by my grandmother's work at the foundation — and having been involved in regional, national, and international organizations myself — I have come to see how philanthropy is defining and addressing elder justice and building support for the cause. But while the notion of "strength in numbers" isn't new in philanthropic circles, organizations are still feeling their way as they identify and pool resources from among human service organizations, the legal system, healthcare organizations, the financial industry, and, of course, concerned and committed individuals willing to give generously of their time and money.

Elder justice is a relatively young cause, and organizations that address awareness, advocacy, research, and practice must work together to build a stronger security net for vulnerable seniors while providing needed resources for family members and caregivers — seniors' circles of support. A key component of my commitment to the cause has been identifying individuals and organizations that already work to bring these elements, professions, and sectors together in a meaningful way.

One of those organizations is JASA, a New York City-based nonprofit agency founded in 1968 that, in the decades since, has created a powerful network of professionals and donors committed to addressing the problem of elder abuse. I was introduced to JASA in 2011 by my grandmother's court-appointed lawyer (who started her career as a social worker) and was impressed by its innovative Legal Social Work Elder Abuse Program (LEAP), which brings attorneys and social workers together to assist more than six hundred victims of abuse each year. In addition, hundreds of professionals, healthcare system gatekeepers, and community members are trained through JASA's Elder Abuse Training Institute, as well as its annual NYC Elder Abuse Conference and its neighborhood workshops.

Whether here in New York or in communities across the country, it is organizations like JASA that are doing the critical work of forging collaborations between community stakeholders and legal, financial, and healthcare professionals to address elder abuse in a comprehensive, holistic, and compassionate manner. It is my privilege today to be able to work closely with the wonderful people there to spread the word about elder abuse and help leverage the power of an organization that is delivering real, meaningful results for the vulnerable elderly.

Defining Need, Opportunity, and Success

Elder justice is in its infancy as compared to other realms that define our social, legal, and moral obligations. Elder justice can help complete, not compete with, other causes.

In its formative stage, elder justice demands a formative assessment. There are lessons to be learned from other social justice work (notably in child abuse and domestic violence). However, elder justice initiatives must be informed by, not conform to, these lessons, for elder justice has distinctive needs.

Through analytics, systems-based solutions will help address and assess need and opportunity, bridge critical gaps along the way, and forge connections between multiple — even seemingly disparate — professionals and community stakeholders.

This assessment must recognize that the philanthropic landscape today is much different than the environment that shaped older, more established causes, including that of the Vincent Astor Foundation. We should see this as a great opportunity to envision emergent elder justice through an entirely new philanthropic lens.

Before dying in 1959, Vincent Astor, my grandmother's husband, established the Vincent Astor Foundation for the "alleviation of human suffering." The model for the foundation he settled on was typical of the time: from 1948 to 1997, the $200 million awarded by the foundation in support of social and cultural causes was derived exclusively from the Astor fortune.

Early on, the foundation focused on providing seed money to projects, with the foundation's due diligence acting as a "seal of approval" and a catalyst for investments by others. In the world of philanthropy, this was a traditional exchange, starting with a nonprofit applicant asserting need and identifying an opportunity and, on completion of the proposed work, internally assessing its efforts and self-reporting the outcomes. This twentieth-century philanthropy promoted a siloed, "self-serving" approach, with nonprofits pitted against each other having to substantiate the merit of their individual work.

Much has changed in the decades since in terms of both measurement, means, and results. Today, more than ever, measurement is a mission-critical tool that funders from both the public and private sectors require, resulting in a more rigorous and transparent accounting of need, performance, and outcomes — and potential for lessons learned to guide future partnerships, including partnerships with the private sector.

Beyond Brooke

Today, private-sector impact investments are a powerful, purpose-driven means of engaging all sectors in social and environmental causes while leveraging entirely new assets. As Jean Case, president of the Case Foundation, has said, impact investing is "a new way to solve old problems" — including the problem of elder abuse.

Increasingly, impact bonds and other hybrid approaches to our social and environmental challenges are being shaped and guided by data-driven performance metrics — which, in turn, are more directed when coupled with a systems-based approach.

My grandmother's philanthropic and social justice work over four decades laid the foundation for thinking about and exploring new ways to address and advance our shared concerns and commitments.

Headshot_philip marshallTo advance elder justice, it is urgent we work together to assess needs and opportunities, using a systems-based approach informed by emerging analytics to harness the engagement and investment of all sectors.

Philip C. Marshall is a professor and director of the Historic Preservation Program at Roger Williams University and an elder justice advocate. To learn more, visit

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

September 22, 2015

Rotary_phonePhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in March 2011. Enjoy.

Okay. You're working at a great nonprofit, you've got a wonderful idea that's going to change the world, and all you need is a grant to get you started. Guess what? The majority of America's foundations don't want you to send in a proposal.

Of the more than 86,000 independent, community, and corporate foundations in the United States, 60 percent state that they do not accept unsolicited proposals. Together they represent 32 percent of total assets and 34 percent of annual giving. Nearly $16 billion of the $46 billion distributed every year is not up for grabs; you need an invitation.

Foundations in America are private institutions and have the right to decide how, when, and on what terms they will accept proposals and make their grants. At the Foundation Center, we respect that right and clearly indicate in our databases when a particular foundation does not want to receive unsolicited proposals. But people seeking foundation grants find this more than a bit frustrating. One of their most common questions is, "Why won't foundation X let me send in my proposal?"

There are at least two reasons. The first is foundation size. Dealing responsibly with requests for funding requires significant effort, time, and people. Yet in one Foundation Center survey of 11,000 foundations, 76 percent of respondents had fewer than four staff. Foundations are frequently inundated with proposals. My own experience working in philanthropy has taught me that for every grant approved by a foundation, eleven more are declined. The ratio can be much worse. One year at the Ford Foundation -- which accepts unsolicited proposals and has hundreds of staff -- we decided to count every letter of inquiry, e-mail, and actual proposal and came up with something on the order of 144,000. The number of grants actually made that year? Fewer than three thousand. The situation could be helped if foundations were clearer about their grantmaking priorities and nonprofits were more careful in targeting their proposals, but the reality is one of greater demand than supply. From a foundation's perspective, not accepting proposals can be like building a dyke to hold back the flood.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 11-12, 2015)

July 12, 2015

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

Civil Society

In a guest essay for Civicus, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, argues that the international development community's "obsession with quantifiable impact, and frequently dogmatic adherence to discrete deliverables, undercuts the expansive purpose of [civil society organizations], miniaturizing them in their ambition...[and] distort[ing] and inhibit[ing], rather than unleash[ing], the potential of civil society." Walker continues: "If we believe in the work that CSOs are doing — and we should — then [donors] must help usher in a new era of capacity-building investment, for institutions, and the individuals who comprise them...."


"Given the nature of digital data (generative, remixable, scalable, storable, copyable, etc), it's hard to see how the current nonprofit corporate governance structures provide much assurance that these assets will be used for good," muses Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.


"The best way to activate positive-emotion circuits in the brain is through generosity." Kathy Gilsanan, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has announced an annual gift of Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares totaling $2.8 billion to the five foundations he pledged his fortune to back in 2006. As has been the case since Buffett made his pledge, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation received the bulk of the shares, with smaller amounts going to foundations run by his three children and the foundation established by his first wife, Susan, who died in 2004. The Wall Street Journal has the details.

As generous, elegant, and carefully thought through as it may be, the Buffett style of philanthropy is in "the process of being re-formulated by a new generation of capitalists, many of whom earned their fortunes disrupting traditional business models." John G. Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, explains.

In a post on the Oxford University Press blog, Ed Zelinsky (The Origins of the Ownership Society: How The Defined Contribution Paradigm Changed America), the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University, outlines the continuing benefits (and costs) of the Giving Pledge.

The folks at Eleventy Marketing Group have pulled together a list of key findings from the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which details how millennial employees "engage in cause work with the companies they work for — and the factors that influence their engagement and involvement in philanthropy programs."

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[Infographic] The Millennial Wheel of Disengagement

February 14, 2015

It's been a slog, but the economy seems to be healing, with job creation returning to levels not seen since the final years of the Clinton administration. That's a good thing, for lots of reasons — not least of them the fact that every day between now and 2030, 10,000 boomers will retire and start receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits. Is that a problem for the economy? The Social Security Administration thinks so — and not just because 33 percent of its workforce and 48 percent of its supervisors will be eligible to retire this year.

But wait. Despite what you may have heard, millennials, 77 million strong and comprising a quarter of the U.S. population, are eager, ready, and -- we all should hope -- willing to save us.  As the infographic below from Virtuali, a leadership training firm suggests, they just need a little attention and opportunities to show their stuff. 

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Sharing Knowledge, Finding Solutions

May 12, 2014

As Atlantic Philanthropies makes its final philanthropic investments, it is asking some important questions, including: "How can we all build on the advances and lessons learned from our thirty-plus years of grantmaking?" and "How can we make sure that valuable knowledge on issues that matter to us is not simply lost when we close our doors?"

The Foundation Center has partnered with Atlantic to help answer these questions, starting with an issue that crosses every physical, political, and social boundary in the world: improving access to palliative care.

The result of our partnership is IssueLab's newly launched "Improving Access to Palliative Care," a special collection of more than eighty documents that provides valuable insight into why millions of people cannot access the care they need. Gathered from nonprofits and foundations around the world, the documents in the collection are easily explored through an interface that lays out the key barriers to access and some of the recommended solutions.


As we began work on the collection, I asked Gail Birkbeck, strategic learning and evaluation executive at Atlantic, why the foundation chose access to palliative care as an important topic to address in this way. "Since 2004, Atlantic has invested $58.5 million in palliative care covering a broad spectrum of activities, from building hospice facilities to funding professional staff associations and research institutes," said Birkbeck. "It's apparent from our work that, in general, how you die is a function of where you live. Especially in developing countries, there is limited access to palliative care."

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[Infographic] Grandparents in the United States

September 08, 2012

Ahead of Grandparents Day 2012 on September 9, Generations United, a national membership organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies, has released the infographic below.

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  • "Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language...."

    — Henry James (1843-1916)

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