Connect With Us

79 posts categorized "Community Improvement/Development"

Aha Moments on the Road to Building Healthy Communities, Part 1

July 05, 2013

(Robert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_robert_rossWe are now two-plus years into the implementation of the California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities initiative, and I can safely say that it has been the two most exciting years of my career in community and public health.

This is the first of a series of periodic reports we will produce to share our progress, observations, mistakes, and lessons along the way as we support the efforts of community leaders to create healthier environments for young people in distressed and underserved communities.

Building Healthy Communities -- BHC for short -- is a ten-year commitment by our board of directors to a two-pronged strategy. We have "dropped anchor" in fourteen distressed California communities, working in partnership with community leaders to improve the health and life chances of young people. In addition, we are supporting change by funding advocacy, organizational capacity building, and communications related to our key health issues. 

It is our intent to have these place-based and "bigger than place" strategies complement one another -- and for the moving parts to come together and spark a powerful synergy. At the local level, BHC communities are engaging multiple sectors to develop innovative efforts to advance health. As these innovative strategies emerge, we're looking for ways to scale the ideas through policy change and communications at the state and regional levels. By acting on multiple levels with complementary strategies, we expect to make a greater contribution than if we were to work only at the place level or only by supporting advocacy at the state level. This is central to our theory of change. In a sense, it's appropriate to think of BHC as a "place-based plus" community change campaign.

In the spirit of the kind of knowledge sharing that is a central aspect of Glasspockets and Transparency Talk, I will highlight three "aha" moments we've had to date, followed tomorrow by a second post listing key lessons for philanthropy.

Continue reading »

To Innovate…Collaborate

June 06, 2013

(Paul Grogan is president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. His blog, City of Ideas, appears regularly on the Boston Foundation Web site.)

Headshot_paul_grogan"If we put our heads together, we might be able to figure this out."

It's a bit of folk wisdom that often rings true -- and for a number of years, the Boston Foundation has highlighted the opportunity for collaborations and mergers to tackle otherwise intractable problems.

In 2010, we co-founded the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits, a five-year, $1.925 million fund in partnership with local funders Boston LISC, the Hyams Foundation, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and the national Kresge Foundation. The idea behind nonprofit mergers isn't cost savings -- in a high-touch world like ours, there is only so much excess you might be able to trim in a merger. Rather, it's all about service. Organizations that merge and/or collaborate build capacity to do more of what they do best, and do it even better.

In Boston, the much-publicized merger of the Pine Street Inn for the homeless and hopeFound, a job training nonprofit serving the same client base, has proven a success, as demonstrated in a recent assessment of the Catalyst Fund's work and in a profile in the Boston Globe. The merger has allowed the two organizations to connect their respective job training programs and opportunities in a way they likely never would have as separate entities, and the results have been remarkable.

But to succeed, we also need to see the power of a more grassroots-level of collaboration. In that vein, we launched our first-ever Collaborate Boston competition this winter. The premise was simple: We'd pose a problem and then open the floodgates to proposed solutions, with one important restriction -- all the proposals had to bring together organizations in collaborative efforts to address the issue.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 1-2, 2013)

June 02, 2013

Summer_funOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Guest blogging on the Inside Philanthropy blog, Katherine McLane, vice president for communications and external affairs at the Livestrong Foundation, explains how the organization plans to move on from the doping scandal involving its founder, international cycling star and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. "None of us anticipated the rapid and radical changes that are now the new normal," writes McLane. "But we're dusting ourselves off and keeping the focus where it should be: helping people with cancer...."

Community Improvement/Development

The folks at the Philanthropy Potluck blog give a shoutout to MCF member the Bush Foundation, which has launched two new grant programs designed to "enable, inspire, and reward community innovation" in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the twenty-three Native nations that share the same geography.


On the Chronicle of Philanthropy blog, Carol Weisman, an international consultant who specializes in fundraising, governance, and volunteerism, shares some advice about "what to do when donors say 'no' or 'I'm not sure'."

Continue reading »

Partnering With State Governments to Strengthen Families: Early Lessons From the Work Support Strategies Initiative

May 20, 2013

(Luis A. Ubiñas is president of the Ford Foundation. This commentary is adapted from a forthcoming Urban Institute report, available online starting June 4, that includes an array of perspectives from leaders about practical lessons emerging from the Work Supports Strategies initiative.)

Headshot_luis_ubinasOver the past half-decade, as the country has suffered through a deep, persistent economic downturn, America's work support programs have served as an essential backstop for millions of working families struggling to keep a toehold in the labor market. For many families, supports such as child care subsidies, health insurance and unemployment assistance, and food stamps have been the difference between staying together and dissolution.

Yet in dozens of states, lean budgets and antiquated, underresourced work support systems are failing to meet the needs of America's working poor. Problems that were evident in better times have become more intractable, even as caseloads have expanded. How can states improve the health and well-being of low-income families, stabilize their work lives, and make it possible for family breadwinners to get and keep a job if they are unable to get basic work supports to those who are eligible?

Solving such a challenge goes to the heart of what all of us in the philanthropic community do on a daily basis: tackling major problems at a scale that results in real and enduring change -- in this case, creating opportunity for low-income populations and keeping low-income workers in the workforce.

Continue reading »

Introducing the 'Open Places' Initiative

April 08, 2013

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post originally appeared on OSF's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanAcross the United States, local communities face an ever more challenging environment: dramatic shifts in federal and state funding, advances in technology, and large-scale demographic change. Each of these affects how low-income communities and communities of color are able to access political, economic, and civic opportunities. In response to these shifts, the Open Society Foundations is launching a new effort, the Open Places Initiative, to advance the ability of local communities to achieve equal opportunity and promote vibrant democratic practices.

As part of the initiative, planning grants of roughly $100,000 each have been awarded to eight sites. The awards will enable an assortment of nonprofits in each of these places to plan how to create sustainable change in areas such as effective and accountable government, civic engagement, criminal justice reform, and equal educational opportunity.

In late 2013, OSF will award up to five of these sites long-term implementation grants of up to $1 million a year, for a minimum of three years -- and, potentially, a full decade.

The eight sites selected to receive grants are Albuquerque, New Mexico; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Diego, California; and Puerto Rico. We are pleased with the geographic diversity of these sites as well as the diversity of communities represented.

Continue reading »

'Funding for the Arts' Month: Arts and Community Engagement

October 20, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida is features editor at Philanthropy News Digest. In her last post, she provided some background on the deteriorating situation in Syria through the lens of half a dozen foundation-sponsored publications.)

Irrigate_artshappenIn a commentary piece on Philanthropy News Digest earlier this month, Sharon DeMark, a program officer for the arts at Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, argued for expanding the definition of arts engagement in grantmaking. While citing examples of arts institutions that are experimenting with new ways to attract younger and more diverse audiences, DeMark also noted that the lion's share of grant dollars goes to a handful of large, established organizations, and that there is ample opportunity for funders to identify and support smaller, lesser-known groups and individual artists.

One example mentioned by DeMark that elicited comment was the Walker Arts Center's recent Internet Cat Video Festival, which showcased short videos curated by an online community from among more than ten thousand submissions. "Think expansively, yes," one comment on DeMark's piece read. "Pander to the lowest common denominators and call it the arts, no." Fair enough, but if the subject hadn't been cat videos, would this kind of crowdsourcing be considered "pandering"? Whatever your view of cat videos, there are any number of contests in which the public are invited to vote for their favorite arts organization to receive funding; for example, five South Florida nonprofit arts groups currently are competing for votes via text message to win $20,000 in the first Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice Awards. While it goes without saying that online popularity contests are in many ways a flawed mechanism for awarding philanthropic support, they have been shown to engage more diverse audiences in the arts by giving them a say in directing support to less established groups and artists.

Continue reading »

[Commentary] If Nonprofits Fail

July 05, 2012

Jennifer Talansky is vice president of knowledge and communications at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a national nonprofit that provides a continuum of financing, consulting, and advocacy services to nonprofits and funders nationwide. Talansky held previous marketing positions at Credit Suisse Asset Management, Partnerships for Parks, Hearst Magazines Brand Development, and JP Morgan's Private Client Group.

NFF-logoRecently, the Nonprofit Finance Fund released the results of its 2012 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey. The response to those results has varied widely based on who is interpreting the data. While many who are well-acquainted with the long history of the sector's financial woes saw the results as confirmation of their own experiences, some saw the results and told us, "That doesn't look so bad!" This divergence of perspective about what constitutes a healthy nonprofit sector begs the question: What is an acceptable level of instability -- or even failure -- within the sector?

Nonprofit financial health can be an abstract and technical subject. Let me start with a look at something more familiar. I live in New York City, where there's a pizza joint on almost every corner. Unless she has a favorite or is a friend of the owner, most New Yorkers don't blink if one of these pizza places goes out of business. Heartless as it may seem, it's the kind of economic Darwinism that one grows used to in a city with high commercial rents and an overabundance of almost everything.

Yet, there are repercussions to this kind of churn beyond a more limited pizza choice. The revenue once generated by the shuttered pizza joint supported the owner or group of owners, their families, other dependents, and employees. Its taxes contributed to the maintenance and expansion of the city's infrastructure, including teachers, police, and trash pickup. Perhaps the owners also donated to a local charity, or gave their time to a local business association. And because their basic needs were covered, the pizza shop owners and employees probably did not need to access some of the social safety-net services that a growing number of people in the city have come to rely on. With the failure of that one pizza place, the community lost all the economic and social good that was bound up in it.

Now let's take my example a step further and shift our thinking to the nonprofit sector. Like the pizza place, nonprofits contribute to their local economies in a variety of ways, including rent, the regular purchase of supplies, job creation, and more.

But imagine that the "business" at risk of failing is a domestic violence shelter. And that we're no longer in New York City but instead in a rural community in the Midwest. And that this particular shelter is the only safe haven for women and children within fifty miles. Is it acceptable from a community perspective if the shelter only has enough money to cover the next thirty days of its expenses, as is the case for one in four of the more than forty-six hundred organizations we surveyed? Or that it's like the 50 percent of survey respondents that don't expect to have the resources to keep up with demand for their services in 2012?

One of the more powerful aspects of the survey is its reflection of the collective voice of the organizations working to provide some of the most critical social services in our communities. But we mustn't succumb to statistical numbness: the survey numbers aggregate many individual stories, and each of those stories has local -- or wider -- meaning. For instance, it sounds great that "only" 20 percent of the organizations responding to the survey had to reduce or eliminate programs in the past year. Yet among these nine hundred organizations, 63 percent were unable to keep up with demand for their services. From Georgia to Texas to Montana, this simple fact has serious repercussions for the populations and communities that depend on those organizations and services.

Indeed, consider what a leader of one of those organizations told us: "We have seen a dramatic increase in the need for our services. As available resources decrease across the country, the demand for basic needs continues to grow....Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children in the nation. It takes more than a roof over [one's] head to break the cycle of homelessness, particularly when domestic violence is involved....Our greatest challenge is securing a steady stream of revenue and funding for services and programs."

So when we look at the numbers, it may seem like a small victory that "only" 31 percent of survey respondents finished 2011 with a deficit -- which means the other 69 percent either broke even or ended the year with a surplus. And yet, among the more than twelve hundred organizations that said they ran a deficit in 2011, 39 percent were human services organizations -- precisely the kind of organizations that provide the basic safety-net services that the most vulnerable in our communities rely on -- while another 15 percent work to educate our children.

And as if that's not sobering enough, when respondents filled out the survey in late January, 34 percent of those with a deficit in 2011 were already anticipating operating in the red in 2012. Are the rest of us willing to accept the possibility that, with two (or more) consecutive years of deficits on the books, many of these organizations may have to shut their doors? Do we, as a society, have a plan to replace the critical services they provide? The answers to those questions are unclear, the stakes are high, and, unfortunately, failure is a possibility.

NFF launched its annual sector survey in January 2009, during the darkest days of the recession. The nonprofit financial picture painted in the response to that first year's survey was pretty grim. Our hope, as the economy improved (albeit slowly) in the three-plus years since then, is that we would see a similar positive shift in the nonprofit sector's finances. That has not been the case and any improvements along the way have been modest.

Let's be honest: Business as usual is not working. The business models, revenue sources, and practices that have long been mainstays of the nonprofit sector are no longer adequate to see us through the challenging times that lie ahead. We must consider other approaches that tap new sources of money, generate new cross-sectoral partnerships and ideas, and help identify new solutions to persistent social problems. Because without fundamental change -- change that involves both innovation and more risk taking -- we will see the same disappointing results year after year. And that's a prospect that none of us should be willing to tolerate.

To see the results from the most recent NFF survey and from past annual surveys, please visit For individual stories behind the numbers, the "In their Words" section is likely to be of special interest. And for a more localized look at a particular sub-sector or state, we encourage you to check out our new NFF Survey Analyzer, which lets you easily filter the data in multiple ways.

-- Jennifer Talansky

Weekend Link Roundup (June 9-10, 2012)

June 10, 2012

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


What to do when people say bad things about your organization online? Before you respond in kind, take a deep breath -- "then suck it up and deal," writes Network for Good's Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing blog. "As long as the person isn't a troll, he or she deserves to feel heard, acknowledged and understood. I've found some of my biggest fans were initially critics. By taking the high road with them, I won them over and learned something from them in the process...."

Community Improvement/Development

After looking at how Kepler's, an independent bookstore in Menlo Park, California, is using crowdsourcing and other digitally enabled techniques to reinvent its business model, Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz asks: "If you run an institution that thinks it has a community purpose...what would your community do for you?"

Corporate Grantmaking

Here at PhilanTopic, the Foundation Center's Andrew Grabois shares the news that the center has begun to add CSR data to Foundation Directory Online. "Appearing as a separate tab on individual company profiles," writes Grabois, "more than fourteen hundred companies will have at least one CSR measure that users of FDO can incorporate into their prospect research."


"If we're going to be the leaders of 'learning organizations', we need to be learners ourselves," writes GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff on the GuideStar blog. "That means sharing problems and opportunities with not only your closest allies, but also building a network of interesting people we can learn from...."

Nonprofit Management

At the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Susan Stehling of the Minnesota Council on Foundations discusses the benefits of collaboration, with a focus on what collaboration expert Karen Ray calls the "four phases of alliance" –- cooperation, coordination, collaboration, and consolidation.


On NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Christine Reeves recaps a recent event at the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement dedicated to Inderjeet Parmar's new book Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power. Reeves writes that she was disappointed the panelists -- which included Parmar, Thomas Asher of the Social Science Research Council, Kathleen McCarthy of the Graduate Center of CUNY, and Patricia Rosenfield of the Rockefeller Archives Center –- did not get around to discussing "truly urgent and important questions such as:

How can philanthropy be more responsive to disparities, diseases, hunger, discrimination, poverty and other urgent issues of our time? How can philanthropy, nonprofits and marginalized communities partner together to leverage philanthropy’s limited dollars? How can we shift the philanthropic power conversation away from the power of philanthropic institutions and towards empowering historically underrepresented populations or fostering equality of opportunity? [And how] can we all better understand, attack and solve the important and urgent problems that disproportionately affect marginalized communities?...

Instead, the panelists discussed what Andrew Carnegie might have done today, a hundred years after founding the Carnegie Corporation. But, writes Reeves, the questions that went unanswered "need to be at the forefront of philanthropy, and [they] require all the time, talented people, and resources we can give them...."

Social Media

On her blog, Beth Kanter shares a very good "remix" of a Link Building by Imitation presentation that highlights the differences between good and bad content curation.

Last but not least, in a guest post at the Philanthropy 411 blog, Brad Aronson offers twenty-two tips for nonprofits interested in extending their reach and impact through social media.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at And have a great week!

--The Editors

Why LISC? It Starts With a Cold Call

May 30, 2012

(Michele Sullivan is vice president of the Caterpillar Foundation. A version of this post appears on the LISC Web site.)

Peoria_skylineNot unlike most cities in the U.S., Peoria, Illinois, and its surrounding communities have areas where existing businesses have left and economic development has ceased, housing is crumbling, crime and unemployment are high, and public transportation is inadequate or nonexistent. Yet, the residents of these areas have the same desires as everyone else. They want a safe place to live and raise their children, a job they like, local neighborhood businesses to shop in, and a neighborhood they can be proud of.

Peoria is blessed to have a strong base of nonprofit organizations to help families in blighted neighborhoods that are struggling with the problems mentioned above. While the Caterpillar Foundation supports many of these organizations, we recently found ourselves asking, Why aren't these neighborhoods thriving?

As we thought about that question, it became evident that nonprofits and stakeholders in the community were treating symptoms, not causes, and that the greater Peoria area needed an organization to help redevelop blighted neighborhoods and address challenges such as affordable housing and high crime rates. What's more, those efforts were needed not just within Peoria proper; poverty and high unemployment extend beyond the city limits. Which got us wondering: Does such an organization exist?

Be honest. Everyone rolls their eyes when a cold call comes in. Steve Sagner, head of development for LISC, came calling in February 2011. LISC was fundraising and wanted an investment from the Caterpillar Foundation. Doubt turned to curiosity. As the conversation turned to what LISC had to offer, my team and I began to think this was just what Peoria needed. With a thirty-year track record of revitalizing communities in need, LISC would take the lead in mobilizing all available resources for job training, business development, affordable housing, child care, and more. By the end of the call, LISC agreed to do an assessment of Peoria for a possible future office.

The assessment was soon completed and the news got better. LISC agreed that Peoria fit its organizational model. And while it admitted it had not worked in a metro area which required a rural and urban strategy, it was confident it could deliver results. To be honest, we weren't sure. But the day LISC program VP Anika Goss-Foster took us to visit the Auburn Gresham neighborhood in Chicago was the day all the dots got connected. When we saw that thriving neighborhood, the 'Net center full of people on computers working on resumes and reading USA Today, the new Walgreen's, the financial office for residents, and, most importantly, the pride of local residents, we knew that making an investment in bringing LISC to Peoria was the right idea at the right time.

Caterpillar, Inc. -- and by extension the Caterpillar Foundation -- promotes the health, welfare, and economic stability of communities around the world where its employees work and live. One such community is Peoria, Illinois, our hometown and global headquarters. LISC's expertise and experience, coupled with Peoria's strong nonprofit base and support from the city and county, has convinced us that the residents of the greater Peoria area have a much brighter future to look forward to.

Has your view about cold calls changed? Ours sure has.

-- Michele Sullivan

[Infographic] Playgrounds That Build Communities

May 23, 2012

Nice infographic from the folks at KaBoom!, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating great playspaces with the participation of community members, and the Knight Foundation, which today announced that it is providing $1.5 million to the organization for the construction of nine additional playspaces in Akron, Ohio, Miami, and Detroit.


The grant announcement coincides with the release of a report, KaBOOM!: Playgrounds That Build Communities (exec summary, 10 pages, PDF), that provides lessons for groups seeking to engage volunteers in community change efforts. Based on a Public/Private Ventures evaluation of Knight-funded KaBoom! projects in five states and the District of Columbia, the report found that:

  • The majority of KaBoom! project planning committee members believed they had developed or improved in a variety of skills related to organizing, leading, and executing large-scale change efforts.
  • Most of the respondents to the survey reported positive changes across a variety of skills, abilities, and attitudes related to their community.
  • All the community partners showed increases in their organizing and leadership skills, and many went on to apply these skills to other efforts post-playground build.
  • Much of the effort involved in building a KaBoom! playspace is mutually reinforcing: Planning committee members and community partners become more skilled and confident through the effort, which enables the participating organization to employ participants' skills in other and more ambitious tasks.
  • After participating in a KaBOOM! project, planning committee members expressed a greater sense of hopefulness that they can improve their communities by working with others.

To download the full report (58 pages, PDF), click here.


The L.A. Riots, Twenty Years Later: A PubHub Reading List

May 05, 2012

Last Sunday, April 29, was the twentieth anniversary of the start of what became known as the Los Angeles Riots -- four days of civil unrest and violence sparked by the acquittal of white LAPD officers who had been captured on video in March 1991 brutally beating Rodney King after a high-speed car chase through the San Fernando Valley. In the days that followed the verdict, Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, and a Guatemalan immigrant were brutally beaten by a mob in the South Central neighborhood, home to many of the city's low-income African Americans; buildings were torched; stores were looted; and more than fifty people lost their lives. The prevailing view at the time, as captured by New York Times reporter Don Terry, was that "the acquittal...was only a spark put to a tinderbox of anger constructed from years of deep poverty, governmental neglect, racism, charges of police abuse and high unemployment."

Twenty years later, how much has -- and has not -- changed?

Rand_reparableharmAccording to Reparable Harm: Assessing and Addressing Disparities Faced by Boys and Men of Color in California (126 pages, PDF), a report from the RAND Corporation, African-American and Latino men and boys continue to be negatively affected by structural racism and a variety of socioeconomic, health, and education disparities. Young African-American and Latino boys are more than three times as likely, for example, to live in poverty as their white counterparts; almost seven and more than three times as likely to have HIV/AIDS; more than five and almost three times as likely to end up in prison; more than sixteen and five times as likely to be a victim of homicide; and nearly twice and almost seven times as likely to drop out of high school. Funded by the California Endowment, the report calls for a range of targeted interventions, including more effective foster care and prisoner-reentry policies; community-based zoning laws that address the social determinants of health; and mentoring and school-based programs for children traumatized by violence. The California Endowment itself has funded the National League of Cities Institute's Gang Prevention Network and the Healthy Returns Initiative.

Aecf_puenteOne nonprofit that has worked with disadvantaged and at-risk youth in Los Angeles since before the riots is the PUENTE (People United to Enrich the Neighborhood Through Education) Learning Center, which offers preschool, kindergarten, tutorial, and college preparation programs as well as job and computer skills training, English as a second language, and literacy programs for adults. Of, By, and For the Community: The Story of PUENTE Learning Center (21 pages, PDF), a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, describes how the family-focused organization -- which had a thriving center in the Boyle Heights neighborhood -- was offered the site of a burned-out ARCO station by the ARCO Foundation in the wake of the riots. "The embers were still warm, and the total damage had not been tallied," recalled former ARCO Foundation president Russell Sakaguchi. "We wanted somebody to provide hope and relief to that very visible corner. We wanted an organization that wasn't going to flounder, that was sensitive to the shock in that community [and] had faith in its ability to deliver."

Starting with two trailers, PUENTE eventually built a state-of-the-art facility with ten classrooms serving a thousand students of all ages, one-third of whom are African-American and two-thirds Latino. (As of 2005, the population of South Central was 45 percent African-American, 47 percent Latino.) One of the organization's keys to success, the report notes, is its sharp focus on its educational mission, which enables it to address issues even more fundamental than racial disparities or cultural differences. "Our mission," says PUENTE vice president Luis Marquez, "is not about any particular ethnic group; it's about people. It goes way beyond ethnicity and race. It's about humanity."

Csii_alltogethernowAmong other things, the riots highlighted the serious racial/ethnic tensions that existed between long-established African-American communities in Los Angeles and the more recently arrived Korean and Latino communities. The influx of immigrants into historically African-American neighborhoods has continued in the two decades since, and racial/ethnic tensions have become more pronounced as unemployment rates have climbed. All Together Now? African Americans, Immigrants, and California's Future (66 pages; 7.15MB; PDF), a report from the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, examines the potential of inter-ethnic alliances to address tensions created by demographic and economic changes. But bringing the various communities together first requires a forward-looking agenda. To that end, the report notes,

  • A number of community-based organizations have developed new mechanisms to both manage tensions and build toward a common ground. Leadership development is key, but the first step is creating the space for new and honest dialogue about what is shared and what is different.
  • Seemingly specific issues can be effectively connected to both populations. The criminalization of black (and Latino) youth has its parallel in the excessive enforcement of a broken immigration system; the racial profiling embodied in Arizona's 2010 immigration law echoes an experience all too familiar to African Americans. If [minority groups] pursue economic opportunity and fair treatment for all residents, the [focus on] difference[s] can give way to a concert of common interest.
  • A common and unifying agenda should be based on a vision of everyday social justice. "Everyday" means three things: address[ing] daily needs around education, the economy, and the social and physical environment; ensur[ing] that dialogues go beyond a more comfortable middle-class and multi-ethnic elite and reach grassroots participants; and realiz[ing] that this will require effort every day and over the long haul.

Funded by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, James Irvine Foundation, and John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the report calls for an approach which recognizes that "African Americans have laid the groundwork for America's commitment to equality and fairness" and "that immigrant rights will be insecure as long as African Americans remain vulnerable to racial profiling and economic despair."

Ncrp_strengtheningAll three reports suggest that twenty years after the L.A. riots and almost fifty years after the Watts riots, the City of Los Angeles, the state of California, and the nation still have a long way to go in addressing the racial and socioeconomic disparities that made South Central such a tinderbox on the eve of the Rodney King verdict. At the same time, all three reports suggest that we have only begun to tap the potential of civic engagement, advocacy, and community organizing efforts to bring communities together and advance the cause of social justice. And, of course, funders have a role to play here. Funded by the California Endowment and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the NCRP report Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles notes that for every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement efforts of fifteen Los Angeles County nonprofits between 2004 and 2008, $91 in benefits were generated for marginalized communities.

To learn more about the factors contributing to enduring socioeconomic, health, and education disparities in Los Angeles (and across the country), the demographic shifts that sometimes exacerbate racial/ethnic tensions, and efforts to address these and other problems, see also:

Why Place & Race Matter
PolicyLink; California Endowment

State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation Brookings Institution

Critical Condition: Examining the Scope of Medical Services in South Los Angeles
California Endowment

Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America's Older Industrial Cities
Brookings Institution

Shared Prosperity, Stronger Regions: An Agenda for Rebuilding America's Older Core Cities

What do you think? Have we made as much progress, as a country, as we should have in the twenty years since the L.A. riots? And if not, what is holding us back? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Kyoko Uchida

This Week in PubHub: Race, Place, and the Wealth Gap

February 10, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that addressed the topic of protecting the rights of people with disabilities.)

Research shows that racial/ethnic disparities in a variety of areas, including wealth, health, and educational attainment, have worsened over the past two decades. This week in PubHub, we highlight four reports that examine the extent of these disparities, as well as how they are linked and reinforce one another.

According to the Pew Research Center report Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics (39 pages, PDF), the median net worth of white households in 2009 was twenty times that of African-American households and eighteen times that of Latino households -- a wealth gap, in both cases, nearly double what it was in 1984, thanks in part to the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble and the recession that followed. Indeed, since 2005 Latinos and African Americans -- many of whom live in states characterized by housing market volatility and/or who derive more than half of their net worth from home equity -- saw their median household wealth fall by 66 percent and 53 percent, respectively, compared to only 16 percent among whites.

What factors other than the housing boom and bust are driving disparities in household wealth and asset accumulation? The Urban Institute report Private Transfers, Race, and Wealth (36 pages, PDF) examines the role of financial support from extended family members and friends, large gifts, and inheritances in asset accumulation and finds that African Americans and Latinos are much less likely to receive large gifts and inheritances than whites -- a fact that contributes significantly to racial and ethnic wealth gaps. Funded by the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations, the report also found that large gifts and inheritances are a bigger factor in wealth accumulation among African Americans than among whites or Latinos, and that the disparity in private transfers of wealth accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the black-white wealth gap.

Does the wealth gap influence racial/ethnic disparities in child development, health, and economic mobility? And if so, how? According to Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children (16 pages, PDF), a report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development based on 2007 data, 32 percent of white households with young children were income-poor while 14.2 percent had no assets, compared to 69 percent of Latino and 71 percent of African-American households that were income-poor and 40 percent (for both groups) that had no assets. Lacking the financial resources to pay for high-quality early childhood education or college tuition, children in income- and asset-poor households face a future of limited economic opportunity, the report argues. Indeed, racial/ethnic disparities in child outcomes related to health status and skills development appear as early as the age of 2. The report also notes that while there is an inverse correlation between a mother's educational attainment, economic insecurity, and child outcomes, the wealth gap between households headed by white and African-American mothers with bachelor's degrees increased fivefold between 1994 and 2007. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research, and the National Institutes of Health, the report calls for helping economically vulnerable households of color build wealth and accumulate assets as a way to improve child well-being.

Would narrowing the wealth gap in and of itself eliminate disparities in health status and child outcomes? Any effort to mitigate the former must first address the links between location, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status as well as the physiological effects of bias and discrimination, Why Place & Race Matter (113 pages, PDF), a report from the California Endowment and PolicyLink, argues. According to the report, race/ethnicity is a greater determinant of health status than income, while structural racism continues to shape the economic, social, and physical environments of low-income communities of color -- which, in turn, affects the health status of residents of those communities. Among other things, the report argues that strategies for building healthy, thriving, sustainable communities must be race-conscious and focus on addressing both community conditions and individual interventions simultaneously.

To mitigate racial/ethnic wealth gaps, these reports suggest, policy makers and funders first need to address disparities in health, environmental justice, educational achievement, neighborhood safety, and other areas. Do you agree? And, if so, what strategies are working and deserve more attention and support? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than two hundred and sixty reports on topics related to minorities.

-- Kyoko Uchida

This Week in PubHub: Funding for Social Justice

January 12, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examined specific grantmaking strategies and practices designed to maximize fundamental long-term social impact.)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, this week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of the rights of marginalized populations.

Foundation support is essential if advocacy and community organizing efforts to improve the lives of marginalized populations are to succeed, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues. Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in the Gulf/Midsouth Region (88 pages, PDF) found that between 2005 and 2009 twenty organizations in the Gulf/Midsouth region secured more than $4.7 billion -- $114 for every dollar invested -- in benefits for marginalized communities, trained more than 31,000 local residents in civic engagement techniques, and achieved significant policy changes in the areas of environmental justice and LGBTQ and immigrant rights, with foundations providing 78 percent of the funding for said activities. Funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the report urges grantmakers to invest more in building the region's advocacy and community organizing infrastructure, make flexible investments in groups working in rural areas, and support organizations with people of color in leadership positions.

Of course, foundations that fund social justice activities saw their endowments take a hit during the post-Lehman financial crisis, as described in the Foundation Center report Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy (35 pages, PDF). While the report found that giving for social justice as a percentage of total giving by foundations in the sample varied only slightly between 2005 and 2009, in 2009 it fell below 2007 levels, with small foundations experiencing the sharpest declines in the value of their assets. Funded by the Cricket Island, Edward W. Hazen, and Ford foundations in partnership with NCRP, the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, the report projects that unless the field sees five years of above-average investment returns, social justice grantmaking in 2015 will remain below 2008 levels.

The good news, according to Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), is that giving within and on behalf of communities of color is increasing. Commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the report found that, given the disproportionate need in communities of color, those communities typically have received a too-small percentage of mainstream philanthropic dollars -- a gap that was exacerbated by the Great Recession and cuts in public-sector funding. In response, the report argues, donors of color and others have begun to direct more resources to communities of color, with an eye to building advocacy skills in those communities and empowering local leaders and residents to lead short- and long-term change efforts. The report calls on mainstream funders to advance this kind of identity-based philanthropy by providing seed funding for grassroots efforts and forging stronger connections with local philanthropic leaders and other change agents.

What about trends in social justice work abroad? Mobilising for Social Justice: Migrant Rights Centre Ireland's Community Work Model (50 pages, PDF), a report from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland that was funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, offers case studies of MRCI's "community work practice" model on behalf of migrant workers' rights -- work that, among other things, encourages marginalized migrant groups to take part in decision-making structures through participation in discussion/action groups, empowers them through consciousness-raising and skills-building activities, and promotes advocacy and collective action.

What are your thoughts about the future of funding for social justice philanthropy? Are you aware of any new trends or developments that could energize the field or take it to the next level? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.

And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on the topic of civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Weekend Link Roundup (November 26 - 27, 2011)

November 27, 2011

Aurora-borealis-NWTOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Community Improvement/Development

On the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga issues a call to support community-based organizations, which, he says, "are just too good and too important to fail."

On the Knight Blog, Philadelphia program manager Donna Frisby-Greenwood announces the beta launch of Change By Us, a platform for Philly residents who want to share ideas, join or create projects, build teams, and find resources to advance their projects.


Did you find yourself fumbling for words when the dinner-table discussion turned to income inequality and the Occupy Wall Street movement this weekend? The next time that happens, you might want to mention this finding about the widening income gap, courtesy of the Weakonomist:

In 1967, the lowest fifth (called a quintile) of income earners earned 9 percent of what the top quintile earned. In 2010 that number was 6.5 percent. That means the gap between the top and bottom has widened.

But there's a problem with statistics like that. It's a measure of household income. Household income is the total income of anyone living at a particular address. Since 1967, the total number of households in the US has grown 95 percent, while the population has only grown 56 percent. How can that happen? When a household splits in half, you get two households. Say mom and dad get divorced and each make $30k a year. You go from having one household that makes $60k to two that make $30k. How does this get reflected in the data? It skews the low-income numbers down. In the lowest quintile household, on average, there are zero income earners. In the top, of course, there are two. If more households had two income earners, you'd see less of the widening gap....

International Affairs/Development

Philanthrocapitalism authors Matthew Bishop and Michael Green explain why the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness created by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2005 to manage development assistance has been disrupted "beyond repair" by the financial crisis.


GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff weighs in on organizational leadership, which happened to be the subject of Ashoka CEO and founder Bill Drayton's remarks upon accepting the John W. Gardner Leadership Award and is discussed at length in Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs' book Leadership Agility. During his remarks, Drayton urged nonprofits to trade in their hierarchical structures, which, he said, don't work anymore because they "are no longer able to respond quickly or sufficiently enough," for a team approach, while Joiner and Josephs argue that today's organizations need to "nimbly anticipate and respond to rapidly changing conditions," and that the team approach is one way to do that. "There's a lot to think about here," writes Ottenhoff. "In some ways, these observations seem to be stating the obvious. But if [it's] so simple, why aren’t we doing it?"

Public Policy

On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Niki Jagpal looks at at a new study from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life which found that there has been a "dramatic increase in the size and influence of the 'religious lobby.'" These findings, Jagpal writes, "are important for any foundation concerned with advancing our democracy or engaging in policy."


In and op-ed for the New York Times, Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff looks at the favorable tax treatment accorded donor-advised funds, many of which are affiliated with and managed by large financial institutions like Fidelity, Schwab, and Goldman Sachs, and calls on Congress to enact rules "that require donor-advised funds to distribute all of their assets to real public charities within seven years of their contribution."

Social Media

To kick off the holiday season, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz highlights a few campaigns that embrace a sense of fun, including a #GoodSpotting sweepstakes organized by the Case Foundation that invites Twitter users to share pictures of an individual or organization doing good using the hashtag #GoodSpotting; participants who enter the contest on the foundation's Facebook page can win up to $500 in holiday spending cash -- and up to $5,000 for the charity of their choice.

Guest blogging at Beth's Blog, Mary Trudel and Rory MacPherson of Trudel | MacPherson Arts Consulting share findings from a new national study that looked at social media use by arts organizations. Among other things, the study, How Strong Is Your Social Net?, found that 70 percent of the 1,600 arts groups surveyed feel that social media is delivering on its promise and hype.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Funding for Capacity Building: 5Qs for Karen Brown, Fairfield County Community Foundation

November 14, 2011

(Karen Brown is vice president of programs at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, where she is responsible for overseeing grantmaking and providing philanthropic advisory services to donor-advised fundholders. Laura Cronin, a regular contributor to PhilanTopic, interviewed Brown recently.)

Karen_Brown Philanthropy News Digest: Nonprofit executives have been managing against a backdrop of economic turmoil for three years years now. What have the most successful Fairfield County groups been doing to keep it together during these difficult times?

Karen Brown: One key element of navigating this economic climate is transparency. Funders need information from grantees in order to make the case internally for all the grants in their portfolio. One exemplary executive director in our area has done something very simple and smart along these lines. After each of his board meetings, he sends a synopsis to us and to his other funders. It doesn't include every single detail of the meeting, but it gives a full picture of what transpired, and when I read it I feel as if I was there. It keeps me in the loop, and it's probably a document he needs to create anyway, so it's efficient. It's just an example of how communicating with funders and donors can be managed in a cost-effective way that gives them the information they need to make informed decisions.

PND: While great management is no substitute for a robust economy and a healthy fundraising environment, what kind of strategies should nonprofits pursue to ensure that they have the capacity to manage through tough times?

KB: We've been urging grantees to continue to invest in staff and professional development and not to look at those kinds of investments as frills. Employee morale and team building are crucial in a difficult economic climate. And funders need to consider supporting these programs in order to help organizations hold the line on their budgets without sacrificing effectiveness.

Other groups we fund are asking for support for short-term strategic planning -- looking two years out instead of the traditional five. This gives them something to focus on and a set of near-term goals that can keep them on track.

Funders can also be helpful by providing support for organizational assessments. We've assisted several grantees in hiring outside experts to come in and take a thorough look at all aspects of their operation, from leadership to fundraising to their business systems. That kind of thorough organizational assessment can help a grantee focus more attention on its key strengths and identify areas in need of improvement. The key is finding the right third-party help.

Continue reading »


Quote of the Week

  • "The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity...."

    — Amelia Earhart

Subscribe to Philantopic


Guest Contributors

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

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »


Other Blogs