43 posts categorized "author-Brad Smith"

Football (Soccer), Democracy, and Philanthropy

June 10, 2014

World cup clothingEarlier this month I was in Brazil, a country preparing itself to host the biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup. The sport is what we call soccer, but the rest of the world knows it as football and nobody plays it better than Brazil. The U.S. made it through the grueling two-year process to qualify, but no one expects the team to get very far in the competition. When you see how obsessed Brazilians are with football, you can understand why they're so good at it. One small indicator: my sister-in-law bought very stylish Brazilian football outfits so her six-month-old twin granddaughters will be ready for June 12 when Brazil opens the tournament against Croatia. If Brazil wins its sixth World Cup, the celebration will be on a scale that's unimaginable for most of us — it will make the Super Bowl look like a Sunday school retreat.

If you've been following World Cup news, you are undoubtedly aware that Brazil's plan to showcase to the world its culture, growing economic power, and social progress has not exactly gone as planned. Demonstrations, some of them violent, protesting the expenditure of billions of dollars for luxurious new stadiums and the accompanying forced removal of slum dwellers have filled the streets. Meanwhile, the country continues to be plagued by poor health care, inadequate infrastructure, and urban violence. The phenomenon of its football-obsessed citizenry protesting Brazil's hosting of the World Cup took the government by surprise and has caused a political crisis: there is growing criticism of endemic corruption, and the country's president, once a shoe-in for reelection, now faces a tough race. The crisis goes even deeper, however, as growing dissatisfaction with politicians and government institutions morphs into a kind of repudiation of politics and business as usual.

As painful as this is for Brazil and Brazilians, it shows how far democracy in the country has come. In 1970, Brazil's then-military government cynically promoted the Brazilian football team's march to its third World Cup championship (Mexico was the host country) to distract attention from a wave of internal repression. Years later, as the dictatorship was losing its grip on power, the tactic was exposed in a banned Brazilian film (though no one dared criticize the dictatorship at the time). Today, as a democratic Brazil prepares to host the Cup for a second time (the first was in 1950), people are protesting in the streets, the media is filled with exposés, political parties are battling it out in the media and Congress, and a young Brazilian has made a YouTube video entitled “No, I’m not Going to the World Cup” that has been downloaded more than 4.2 million times.

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Philanthropy as If Democracy Really Mattered

June 05, 2014

Philanthropy could have far greater impact if government worked better. That's the conclusion of a recent survey of more than two hundred foundation leaders by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. According to the report based on the survey, "Foundation CEOs believe the greatest barriers to their foundations' ability to make more progress are issues external to foundations — particularly the current government policy environment and economic climate."

The more than 86,000 independent foundations in the United States make some $54 billion in grants every year in a wide range of areas, including education, health, environment, and the arts. Though rightfully proud of their accomplishments, the leaders of those foundations are far from satisfied. With a mandate to serve the public good, they want their foundations to have greater impact, and that requires the kinds of policies and government action needed to scale the many worthy programs piloted with philanthropic dollars.

Fortunately, foundation leaders are doing something about their frustration. Since 2011, more than one thousand American foundations have granted nearly $1.4 billion to organizations working to help American democracy live up to its promise. These data are displayed in Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a new interactive data platform developed by Foundation Center with support from eight of America's leading funders: the Rita Allen Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Omidyar Network's Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The platform defines what "democracy funding" means for philanthropy, establishes a baseline for such funding, and allows users to quickly grasp, in terms of both major trends and detail, who is funding what and where, across the nation.

Screenshot_democracy_tool

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Google Loves Taxonomy; Is It Good Enough for Philanthropy?

June 02, 2014

Portrait_linneaus"Why do I need Foundation Center's taxonomy when I can find everything I want on Google?" was the question posed to me by the board member of one of America's largest philanthropic foundations. I remember giving an appropriately measured response, but later I realized I should have answered: "That's like asking why we need farms when we can buy everything we need at the supermarket?"

Google loves taxonomy like supermarkets love farms: without it, Google search results wouldn't be anywhere nearly as deep, accurate, or varied. Why? Because most of the enormous volume of information that feeds the brilliant algorithms of Google's search engine has been collected, cleaned, and structured by somebody else. And structuring data has relied on classification systems known as taxonomies since Carl Linnaeus published Systema Naturae in 1735. Messy, incomplete, and unorganized data is of little interest to Google because it would have to spend too much time and money to make such data useful. Better to let other people do that, get the improved data for free or next to nothing, and monetize the pageviews it generates on the Google site through advertising (more than 90 percent of Google's revenue).

So why does philanthropy look askance at taxonomy? It starts with the very notion of classifying the work of foundations. Philanthropy is an intensely individualistic industry made up of some 82,000 endowed, self-sufficient, private foundations that serve the public good. They are free to describe their priorities, programs, initiatives, and grants however they choose, and they display a fair amount of creativity in this regard. To the extent that foundations think of taxonomy at all, it is usually the larger, staffed foundations that do so, and their reasons for doing so are twofold. The first is internal knowledge management – another way of saying that having no classification system or multiple systems in place can make it virtually impossible for a foundation to fully understand its own work over time. The second reason is concern for reputation, whereby a donor's or CEO's own "legacy" can drive an attempt to classify and align the foundation’s activities to self-described strategic priorities. Such efforts often create a kind of bespoke taxonomic silo that provides internal consistency at the expense of aligning that information with the way others beyond the foundation’s walls have organized it.

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Justin Bieber vs. the Gates Foundation

May 21, 2014

When it comes to social media and "crowds," the largest philanthropic foundation in the world is no match for Justin Bieber. Not even close. As the graphic below shows, over the thirty-day period from November 3 to December 3,"Justin Bieber" was mentioned in 40,596,304 tweets while the "Gates Foundation" appeared in just 4,765.

Bieber_vs_gates

This somewhat crazy comparison offers some important lessons for philanthropy as foundations struggle to measure their grantees' (and their own) online impact.

Lesson #1 — "Crowdsourcing" requires a CROWD

The professionals that really understand crowdsourcing work for companies like eBay, not for philanthropic foundations. But like most of us, foundation program officers have learned enough about all this stuff to be dangerous and increasingly pepper their grantees with questions and suggestions about crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing works best when knowledge can be built on the clicks of very large numbers of people involved in relatively simple market-based activities such as shopping and travel, or where new markets can be created, as we are beginning to see with crowdfunding. Crowdsourcing in the philanthropic space, on the other hand, has by and large been a failure, and there is a trail of dead wikis to prove it.

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Foundation Fundraising for the 99%

November 20, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

It’s that time of year again: nonprofit execs are turning over every rock in sight to find the resources they need to close the gap between their ambition to make the world a better place and the hard reality of meeting payroll and paying rent. Many nonprofits rely on government contracts and individual donations, but many also go for foundation grants. Yet a significant portion of the $50 billion in grants made each year by America’s foundations is captured by just 1 percent of nonprofit recipients. Here's something that can help the other 99 percent level the playing field.

FDO_FreeIt's called Foundation Directory Online Free, a searchable database of close to 90,000 foundations and three years of their most recent 990-PF tax returns. Okay, I'm the president of the Foundation Center and can hardly be considered unbiased. But I cut my teeth in this business years ago by using the old Foundation Center print directories and ever since have believed the center to be the most reliable source of information for foundation grant research, period.

Open Foundation Directory Online Free and key in the two-letter code for your state or type a city name to search for foundations in your area. Change the ranking of the list you get by giving, assets, or name. Explore an individual foundation by clicking on its name. The profile will give you contact information, some financial stats, a URL (read on!), and the foundation’s fields of interest. This kind of basic information on foundations is surprisingly hard to come by; 93 percent of America's foundations do not have Web sites. That doesn't mean they don't make grants; they're just harder to find. Moreover, if you really want to dive deep into a particular foundation's grantmaking, FDO Free links you to the foundation's three most recent 990-PF tax returns -- a great source of information that includes a list of all the grants made by that foundation, the recipients of those grants, and grant dollar amounts.

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The Brave New World of Good

October 08, 2013

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't."
(William Shakespeare)

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."
(Aldous Huxley)

Globe-handsWelcome to the Brave New World of Good. Once almost the exclusive province of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic foundations that fund them, today the terrain of good is disputed by social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, impact investors, big business, governments, and geeks. Their tools of choice are markets, open data, innovation, hackathons, and disruption. They cross borders, social classes, and paradigms with the swipe of a touch screen. We seem poised to unleash a whole new era of social and environmental progress, accompanied by unimagined economic prosperity.

As a brand, good is unassailably brilliant. Who could be against it? It is virtually impossible to write an even mildly skeptical blog post about good without sounding well, bad -- or at least a bit old-fashioned. For the record, I firmly believe there is much in the brave new world of good that is helping us find our way out of the tired and often failed models of progress and change on which we have for too long relied. Still, there are assumptions worth questioning and questions worth answering to ensure that the good we seek is the good that can be achieved.

Markets

The potential of markets to scale good is undeniable. The most successful nonprofit and foundation efforts can only be replicated in multiple locations, while markets routinely attain regional, national, or even global scale. But even "philanthropic investment firms" like Omidyar Network, which was born out of eBay-inspired market zeal, have added outright grants to nonprofits as an essential part of their change strategy. Perfect markets exist only in economic theory. In the real world, avarice, corruption, politics, and power conspire to exclude minorities of all descriptions from their share of market rewards. Social policy and philanthropy, for all their faults, persist precisely because market booms benefit too few and market busts hurt too many.

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Philanthropy and the Millennium Development Goals

September 27, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

Headshot_brad-smith2New York has been abuzz this week with the reconvening of the United Nations General Assembly and the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, and in the streets, cafes and restaurants you can hear people from all over the world taking about "the MDGs." Those who circulate in the acronym-laden universe of international development know that "MDGs" are the Millennium Development Goals -- the ambitious blueprint developed by the United Nations in the year 2000 to make serious progress on the pressing challenges of global poverty, health, education, and environment.

By one measure, "MDGs" is hardly a buzz phrase among America's philanthropic foundations. I just did a quick keyword search of three years' worth of 990-PF tax returns for close to 90,000 foundations and found just seven in which the term "millennium development goals" appeared. Then I tried an "only foundations" Google search on Glasspockets and got 3.65 million results!

But what people usually want to know about foundations is how much money they have spent on a cause or issue. It says a lot that only once in the years since the Millennium Development Goals were established has the Foundation Center been asked to map foundation funding to the eight goals. So this being a week where the MDGs are being discussed everywhere, we decided to pull some very quick data for 2011.

Goal Amount No. of Grants No. of Fdns.
Eradicate extreme poverty $770,761,183 1,663 318
Achieve universal primary ed 42,756,909 294 80
Promote gender equality 223,768,315 312 56
Reduce child mortality 456,276,756 337 54
Improve maternal health 211,008,135 215 38
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, other diseases 1,572,823,543 426 48
Ensure environmental sustainability 534,927,086 1,747 224
Develop partnership for global dev 278,124,929 363 109

 

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Foundations and the 'New Normal': A Q&A With Bradford K. Smith, President, Foundation Center

June 10, 2013

(The following Q&A with Foundation Center president Bradford Smith appears as part of a special feature on "Philanthropy in a changing world economy" in the June 2013 issue of Alliance magazine. It is reprinted here, with minor revisions, courtesy of Caroline and her team.)

Headshot_brad-smith2Caroline Hartnell: To what extent are U.S. foundations changing in response to austerity?

Bradford K. Smith: I started this job two weeks after Lehman collapsed. On my first day in the office, we had a press call about what foundations were doing about the economic crisis. I put down the phone and walked down the hall to our research department and said, "Quick, I need a statistic," and they came up with a really good one. Foundation giving for the previous year, 2007, was around $45 billion -- about 6 per cent of the first stimulus package announced by the federal government. So one thing the crisis really showed up was the scale of foundation resources. When the economy gets into serious trouble, it takes government to try to keep it from collapsing. Foundation dollars alone aren't enough to solve problems. That made foundations think more about how they can leverage money from each other, how they can collaborate with other sectors rather than trying to do it themselves.

A second interesting thing is that foundation giving held up quite well during the recession. One reason is that U.S. foundations calculate their mandatory payout on a rolling three-year average of the value of their assets, which cushions them from big market swings. It also held up well because foundations actually went beyond the federally mandated payout rate of 5 percent.

CH: The recession has changed things for the foreseeable future. Do you think U.S. foundations see this as a "new normal" and are rethinking their role?

BKS: I think most of them are adjusting to the idea that long-term expectations for returns on investment need to be reduced. 2012 was a good year in the financial markets, but nobody really expects that it will go back to the boom years when, as one foundation investment manager put it, for a number of years "all we had to do was get out of bed in the morning and we could make a 20 percent return on our endowment."

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Philanthropy? I’m Going Fishing!

March 31, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the linguistic creativity of funders who award general operating support.)

April 1 is the most important day of the year on my calendar, and not because it's April Fools' Day. No, April 1 is the opening day of trout fishing season here in New York State -- and if it's like past opening days, it will be icily cold, wet, and unproductive, with my chances of actually catching one of those wily trout almost zero. Still, I'll be out there -- early -- because trout fishing is my form of meditation, the one thing I do that takes my thoughts as far away from work as possible, to nowhere.

Brook_trout
Given that my work is the business of philanthropy, I thought I'd share a list of the things I will NOT be thinking about while I am, as author John Gierach puts it, "standing in a river waving a stick." Here goes:

Is philanthropy effective?
Is philanthropy efficient?
Is philanthropy strategic?
Is philanthropy catalytic?
Is philanthropy innovative?
Is philanthropy transparent enough?
Is philanthropy too transparent?
Does the Foundation Center's data capture the uniqueness of each foundation?
Will the foundation world ever agree on data standards?
What is the difference between an outcome and an output?
Is there too little collaboration among philanthropy "infrastructure" groups?
Is there too little collaboration among foundations?
Is limiting the lifespan of a foundation better than establishing a foundation in perpetuity?
Is perpetuity better than limiting the lifespan of a foundation?
Who will be the next president of the Kellogg Foundation?
Who will be the next president of the Ford Foundation?
Who will be the next president of the (fill in the blank) Foundation?
Is there a viable business model for open source, open data, open anything?
Can philanthropy keep up with technological change?

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'How Do I General Support Thee, Let Me Count the Ways!'

March 22, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the globalization of the Giving Pledge.)

Headshot_brad-smith2With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could not resist paraphrasing her famous poem for an appeal to foundations to stop trying to be so unique. But I promise you, this will be the shortest blog post I've ever written because the data speak far louder than words.

America's more than 80,000 foundations have invented at least 251 different ways to utter the phrase grantseekers most long to hear -- "general operating support." They range from the terse ("for general use") to the turgid ("for unrestricted funds for operational development"), from the honorific ("for honorary grant for general support") to the positivistic ("for general operations advancement"), from the vague ("for general") to the didactic ("for general operating support, core support for agency").

So even answering a seemingly simple question like the one posed not too long ago by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy -- "What is the state of general operating support?" -- can be devilishly difficult. It takes people willing to penetrate the linguistic creativity of donors, develop standards, write code, and crunch data -- people like my colleagues at the Foundation Center. And it takes foundations like those which have already banded together to form the Reporting Commitment to be more transparent and consistent about the way they report their grants data.

End of post. Any and all thoughts welcome!

-- Brad Smith

Version 2.0: The Giving Pledge Globalizes

March 01, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_brad-smith2They said that the Giving Pledge was "made in America," they said that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett didn't understand other cultures, and that their brand of philanthropy was inappropriate for (substitute the country of your choice). They were wrong: on Tuesday, February 19, the ranks of the 93 American billionaires who have already signed the Giving Pledge -- a public commitment to dedicate more than half their fortunes to philanthropy -- were joined by a dozen more representing eight countries. In one fell swoop, the Giving Pledge has gone global.

How could the skeptics have gotten it so wrong? Since the Giving Pledge launched in 2010, wherever my travels have taken me, I have heard Brazilians, Mexicans, Europeans, and Chinese go to great lengths to explain why it would never catch on in their countries. On the eve of the Gates/Buffett visit to China, I was interviewed on CCTV2 (the English language channel of China's state-controlled media conglomerate) by a reporter who bombarded me with question after leading question to prove that theirs was a fool's errand. It was all I could do, in vain I suppose, to tell her that as hyper-developed as philanthropy may be in the America, it is alive and well and growing in China.

Here's what the skeptics fail to understand about the Giving Pledge:

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Foundations and the Freedom Not to Forget

January 15, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote about Lucy Bernholz's annual look at trends in the social economy in his last post.)

Agent_orange_sprayedRecently I had a front-row seat for two profoundly moving presentations that highlighted philanthropic freedom in action. Both involved groups of forgotten people -- the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam and rural Americans without Internet access -- and one foundation, the Ford Foundation.

First, Charles Bailey, the former representative of the Ford Foundation in Vietnam, spoke to staff here at the Foundation Center about the "Make Agent Orange History" campaign. During the Vietnam War, the United States dumped 12 million gallons of a herbicide known as Agent Orange on South Vietnam, exposing in the process some 4.5 million Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands soldiers from America and other nations. Agent Orange contains the chemical dioxin, which remains toxic to living things for hundreds of years and is concentrated in contaminated soil, or "hot spots," throughout the Vietnamese countryside. The Ford Foundation quietly began working on the issue of dioxin remediation at a time when there was no official dialogue between the American and Vietnamese governments and none of the sixteen corporations that had produced Agent Orange would accept any liability for its devastating side effects.

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“Beep, Beep”: The Sound of Philanthropy and the Social Economy in 2013

January 07, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

Wile-E-Coyote"We will change what we do with and without institutions, and we will change how our institutions (funders, nonprofits, and others) work." So predicts self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz in Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2013, a must-read roadmap available for the first time as a GrantCraft publication. "Beep, beep." Wile E. Coyote (me, nonprofit executive) has just been left holding a burning stick of dynamite while the Road Runner (Lucy, blogger extraordinaire) races headlong onto her next prediction. That is the true value of Blueprint 2013 for those who are busy running the institutions that make up the "social economy": Lucy has seen the future for us, and now we must struggle to adapt, respond, and innovate. The data- and technology-driven future she envisions is both exhilarating and a bit unsettling, but one thing is clear: the Silicon Valley credo is fast approaching the staid world of philanthropy: "Disrupt yourself or be disrupted."

The vast majority of today's social sector leaders grew up in a world where foundations were the funders and nonprofits were the doers. Blueprint 2013 lays out a vision of a social economy inhabited not only by traditional nonprofits, but also by social businesses, socially responsible corporations, peer networks, and institutional forms not yet invented. Donors in this economy have choices between well-known forms of charitable giving (like creating a foundation), impact investing, and political giving to bring out the change they desire.

Running throughout the social economy is the lifeblood of data. In 2012 alone:

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From Open Data to Open Knowledge: Foundations, Nonprofits, and the Production of Ideas

November 08, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he looked at what philanthropy can do to help underresourced communities in tough economic times.)

IssueLabIf you think foundations are only ATM machines and nonprofits just service providers, think again. With the launch of IssueLab, there is one place you can go to find more than eleven thousand knowledge products published, funded, produced, and/or generated by foundations and nonprofits in the U.S. and around the globe.

Last month, the Foundation Center announced the Reporting Commitment, an effort by fifteen of America's largest philanthropic foundations to make their grants data -- who they give money to, how much, where, and for what purpose -- available in an open, machine-readable format. Starting today, through IssueLab, the social sector can also access what it knows as a result of that funding. A service of the Foundation Center, IssueLab gathers, indexes, and shares the sector's collective intelligence on a free, open, and searchable platform, and encourages users to share, copy, distribute, and even adapt the work. It's a big step for philanthropy and "open knowledge."

What's in it for you? Read on.

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Of Fire Trucks, Obama, Romney and Philanthropy

October 15, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he announced the launch of the Reporting Commitment, an effort initiated by a group of the largest U.S. foundations to develop more timely, accurate, and precise reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars.)

Gilpinlib_sign"I live in a rural community where the Tea Party dominates, no new taxes can be passed without a super majority, and government is cutting back on everything. The other day someone asked me how I can help the fire station find money to buy a new fire truck. What do I tell him?"

I was recently asked that question by a librarian at "Network Days," an annual live/virtual gathering of the librarians, nonprofit resource center administrators, and community foundation leaders that are the human face of the Foundation Center's Cooperating Collection Network. In all fifty states and fourteen countries around the world, CCs help struggling nonprofits, those who want to create nonprofits, and people who want to work in nonprofits connect with the resources they need. Except when there are no resources to be found.

Despite being president of the Foundation Center, the world's largest source of information on organized philanthropy, my response to that librarian's question was pretty feeble. All I could really muster is a few words to the effect that, around the country, there are small, local foundations which, on occasion, are willing to contribute to the purchase of a fire truck, an ambulance, emergency medical equipment, and the like. You can find some of them through the Foundation Directory Online or by searching 990-PF tax returns. Most of them don't have Web sites.

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