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165 posts categorized "Environment"

Moving From Theory to Practice: A Synthesis of Lessons About Incentive-Based Instruments for Freshwater Management

February 08, 2016

Urbanwater_splashThere has been growing interest in applying incentive-based instruments such as pollution charges and tradeable permits to address the twin challenges of accessing enough freshwater to meet our needs while also preserving the well-being of freshwater ecosystems. These instruments use direct or indirect financial incentives as motivation to reallocate water or to reduce the health and environmental risks posed by an activity. But what do we know about how they have actually performed?

New York City provides an excellent illustration of the potential for incentive-based instruments. To meet new federal drinking water requirements in the late 1990s, the city was faced with the prospect of building a $4 billion to $6 billion filtration plant and spending an additional $250 million annually to operate it. Instead, city officials paid farmers and landowners in the upstream rural Catskill watershed to better manage the land, at a fraction of the cost of the proposed filtration plant. The outcome was a win-win, improving downstream water quality for people and ecosystems and boosting the rural economy.

This is just one example. To move beyond theory and better understand how these instruments perform in practice, the Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the Foundation Center and Pacific Institute on a synthesis review of existing, largely practice-based knowledge about incentive-based instruments. For the review, the foundation developed the project's scope and provided financial support, the Foundation Center and its IssueLab service were involved in project and technology development, and the Pacific Institute wrote the text.

The resulting report looks at water trading, water quality trading, and payment for ecosystem services but notes that these are but three of a much broader suite of methods available to address threats to freshwater availability and sustainability. Other methods, such as demand-side management approaches, have demonstrated considerable success in addressing such threats but were not included in the scope of the review.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 23-24, 2016)

January 24, 2016

Melted_snowman_ice_cubesOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Are the residents of Flint, the majority of whom are black and many of whom are poor, the victims of environmental racism? Would Michigan's state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water if the majority of the city's residents were white and affluent? The New York Times' John Eligon reports.

"Recent events have shone a light on the black experience in dozens of U.S. cities. Behind the riots and the rage, the statistics tell a simple, damning story," writes Richard V. Reeves on the Brookings Institute blog. "Progress toward equality for black Americans has essentially halted." 

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Tamara Copeland, president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, writes that, despite the election and re-election of Barack Obama, America is not a post-racial society, and that until the public — and philanthropy — acknowledge that the "negative treatment of a group of people based solely on race is a major contributor to poverty and inequality,...we won't be able to take the steps needed to end racial inequities."

How can America narrow its racial wealth gap? the Annie E. Casey Foundations shares four policy recommendations designed to help low-income families boost their savings and assets, "the currency of the future."

Children and Youth

On First Focus' Voices for Kids blog, Karen Howard shares the five things every presidential candidate needs to know about poverty among America's youngest children.

On the Chronicle of Social Change site, Inside Philanthropy's Kiersten Marek takes a closer look at what new leadership at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation — Peter Laugharn is the first non-Hilton family member to lead the foundation — and a doubling of assets is likely to mean for the foundation's future support of child welfare initiatives.

Community Improvement/Development

Returning to the subject of the most popular post on his blog in 2015, "trickle-down" community engagement, Vu Le argues that communities of color and other marginalized communities too often are "infantalized" by funders, a dynamic that plays out in a number of ways: a lack of trust that communities have solutions to their own problems; unrealistic expectations for communities to "get along"; and demands for communities to prove themselves with little initial support. Instead, writes Le, "[w]hy don't we try the reverse for once, and invest significant amounts in organizations led by the people who know first-hand the inequity they are trying to address." We are tired, he adds,

[of] being asked to attend more forums, summits, focus groups, answer more surveys, rally our community members, only for our opinions to be dismissed. One funder told me, "Communities need to stop complaining and start proposing solutions."

We have been. We propose solutions all the time. But if there's no trust that we actually know what we're talking about, if there's no faith that the qualitative experiences and perspectives of people who have lived through decades of social injustice are just as valid as double-blind quantitative meta-studies written up in a glossy white paper or whatever, then what's the point? The investments will be token, oftentimes trickled-down, and then that will be used to say, "You know what, we invested in you, and it didn't lead to what we wanted," further perpetuating the cycle....

In his last blog post as president of the Vermont Community Foundation, Stuart Comstock-Gay, who is leaving VCF after seven years for the top job at the Delaware Community Foundation, reflects on four questions that all Vermonters — and many other Americans — should be asking themselves.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 9-10, 2016)

January 10, 2016

5-save-worldOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

In an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson explains why it  is imperative to rebuild the city's early childhood ecosystem and the steps the foundation is taking to that end.

Communications/Marketing

According to the folks at Top Nonprofits, a good logo should be aesthetically pleasing, distinctive, memorable, timeless, scalable, simple enough for use in multiple mediums, and effective in communicating the qualities of your organization's brand. Sort of like these fifty logos.

What can nonprofits learn from public radio about storytelling? With the help of some podcast snippets, Aquifer Media's Will Coley explains.

Nice post by Ebola Deeply managing editor Kate Thomas illustrating how first-hand narratives can add meaning to hard data.

The Virginia Quarterly Review, a 91-year-old literary magazine published at the University of Virginia, is planning a year-long "experiment" on Instagram in 2016 featuring a series of black-and-white photographs and accompanying text. "We're improvising as we go along," VQR deputy editor Paul Reyes told Neiman Lab's Shan Wang. “The potential lies in how Instagram, as a platform, shapes content. Part of this is determined by what people want to write about, what they're sick of reading about, and how they might be motivated to push the limits of what can be done on this platform." 

On her Getting Attention! blog, Nancy Schwartz shares four reasons why your nonprofit needs to identify and launch a team of staff messengers ASAP.

Environment

To kick off 2016, three of last year's Goldman Environmental Prize recipients — Howard Wood (2015, Scotland) of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), Jean Wiener (2015, Haiti) of the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM) and Phyllis Omido (2015, Kenya) of the Center for Justice Governance & Environmental Action (CJGEA) — share their hopes for the new year.

Gun Violence

On Medium, Joyce Foundation president Ellen Alberding commends the series of executive actions to reduce gun deaths in America announced by President Obama on January 5 — and the president's use of research funded by the Joyce Foundation to support those actions. And here's a good piece by the Washington Post's Josh Lederman explaining the president's plan.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 2-3, 2016)

January 03, 2016

Jan_fresh_startHappy New Year! Read on for our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. And for more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In an open letter to friends, supporters, and fellow activists, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's Shawn Dove looks back on a year that was filled with "both progression and painful reflection."

Children and Youth

"Spending on children makes up just 10 percent of the federal budget, and that share is likely to fall," write Giridhar Mallya and Martha Davis on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog. In part as a result of that underinvestment, child well-being in the United States ranks 26 on a list of 29 industrialized nations in a UNICEF report. If we want to change that calculus, add Mallya and Davis, "the best thing we can do to give kids a healthy start in 2016 [is to] support parents and families."

Education

Can America's troubled public schools be fixed? In The Atlantic, a group of "leading scholars of, experts on, and advocates for K-12 education" offer reasons to be both discouraged and hopeful.

In Education Week, Doug Allen, principal of the Bessie Nichols School in Edmonton, Alberta, and a member of the Mindful Schools network, offers some reflections for educators on why they should implement a mindfulness practice.

Environment

According to Environmental Health News' Doug Fischer, 2015 was the year that "[c]overage of environmental issues, especially climate change, jumped traditional boundaries to pick up broader — and slightly ominous — geopolitical and health angles."

Environmental Defense Fund's Fred Krupp shares five reasons why 2016 will be a good year for the environment and environmental progress.

Food Insecurity

Before you donate the unwanted canned goods in your pantry to your local foodbank, read this article by the Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 19-20, 2014)

December 20, 2015

Xmas_stockings Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at@pndblog....

Climate Change

"After two centuries of prosperity built on the use of coal, oil, and natural gas, representatives of nearly two hundred countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference resolved to turn away from those fuels and embrace a new future of clean energy," writes Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate strategy at the United Nations Foundation. The key word in that sentence is "resolved," and while the agreement should be celebrated, the "hard work of implementation remains [to be done]." It won't be easy, but Detchon, for one, is an optimist. As is Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and head of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, who in an interview with the Harvard Gazette pushes back against the idea that the agreement signed in Paris was a "fraud."

Corporate Philanthropy

Tech giant Microsoft has announced an "expanded commitment" to its global corporate philanthropy and a new organization within the company, Microsoft Philanthropies, "to make this ambition a reality."

Environment

The so-called war on drugs not only has failed to impede global drug trafficking, it's also contributing to "widespread environmental degradation and accelerating climate change." Vice's Eva Hershaw has the story.

On the Huffington Post's Green blog, Laura Goldman looks at what the Philadelphia-based William Penn foundation, and others, have been doing to improve and maintain the Delaware River watershed, which provides drinking water to fifteen million people or 5 percent of the U.S. population. 

Giving

It's that time of year, and Steve Delfin,  president and CEO of America’s Charities, has six tips for getting the most out of your giving during the holiday season.

When is a pledge to give as valuable as an actual donation? More often than you'd think. The Wall Street Journal's James Andreoni and Marta Serra-Garcia explain.

Yes, taxes matter when it comes to charitable giving. But as Andrew Blackman explains in the Journal, the relationship isn't as simple as it looks. "For instance, research suggests that the system of itemized deductions the U.S. has been using for decades is much less effective at spurring donations than tax systems in other countries that...offer charities matching donations.

Still other research suggests people may even be willing to give money voluntarily to the government — if the government gives them the chance to direct the money to a cause they approve of.

Meanwhile, some scientists have found that the brain reacts the same way to making donations as it does to paying taxes, if the taxes are clearly being used for a good cause — suggesting that people may be more willing to pay taxes if they know how the money's being used. And some findings even suggest that offering deductions for charitable giving may promote good health....

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5 Questions for…Ward S. Caswell, President, Beveridge Family Foundation

November 05, 2015

Foundation Center Vice President for Development Nancy Albilal spoke with Ward S. Caswell, president of the Beveridge Family Foundation in West Newbury, Massachusetts, about the foundation’s grantmaking to nonprofits working to create opportunity and a more vibrant economy and quality of life in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Nancy’s Q&A with Caswell is part of the Funder's Forum series, which helps foundation leaders exchange ideas and connect with their peers, and is featured, along with other Forum interviews, in the center’s monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter.

Headshot_ward_caswellNancy Albilal: How does the Beveridge Family Foundation's grantmaking honor the legacy of Frank Stanley Beveridge while continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the communities you serve?

Ward Slocum Caswell: When the foundation was started back in the 1940s, Frank Stanley Beveridge was doing quite a bit in the community to give back in those areas he felt had helped him become a success. It's important to understand that Mr. Beveridge was the adopted son of farmers up in Canada. He understood the value of hard work, but also what I like to call putting your fingers in the dirt, understanding man's connection with nature and the environment. So, he established a park in Westfield, Massachusetts, that today is called Stanley Park. In the early days, it was small and used quite a bit for Stanley Home Products company events. But it grew over the years and now is the largest non-government-owned, free-to-the-public park east of the Mississippi. It's very popular with people in Westfield and the Pioneer Valley and includes a large playground, beautiful gardens, lots of rolling paths that wind down to ponds and woods and across fields, and it's a hundred percent handicapped accessible.

So the Beveridge Family Foundation exists primarily to fund the needs of the park, which have evolved. Following Mr. Beveridge’s death in 1956, the foundation benefited from growth in its primary investment, the stock of Stanley Home Products. When we exited the stock in the 1980s, we invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and, well, it was the 1980s, and our corpus continued to grow into the late nineties. Of course, as anyone who reads the business news knows, the markets since the late nineties haven't been that productive. At the same time, costs have risen for lots of things, so we took a pause in 2009 and asked ourselves, "What would happen if the needs of the park eventually exceeded the ability of the foundation to fund it?" As a result of that process, we did two things. First, we started to fund raise within the park, and then we began to require public support for anything over and above how the park looked in 2009, including endowing any new structures or additions. And I am pleased to say that we are finishing up a new pavilion to replace one built sixty years ago that had been ruined by beetles and had to be removed. Not only is the new pavilion much nicer than the old one, its construction was also made possible through the support of the community, which is very different from the way we used to do things. It used to be that if the park needed something, we wrote a check. But the new approach allows us to continue growing the legacy of the foundation, which supports a host of nonprofits, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties in western Massachusetts. At this point, we give about $2 million a year, a third of which supports Stanley Park, with the rest going to a range of environmental, social, and other organizations, and all of it in keeping with the interest Frank Stanley Beveridge had in promoting culture, education, and the general enjoyment of the community.

NA: How has the foundation's investment in environmental issues developed over time? And how do you position your work on this issue given your primarily local focus?

WSC: You know, sometimes when people invest in the environment, it's to say "no" to things — to developers, to pollution, et cetera. And saying no to things can create difficulties for people who are trying to earn a living or looking for an affordable place to live. We believe there needs to be an intelligent balance between conservation and the needs of local communities. The park is a great example. It's a large park with very few buildings. A lot of woods, a lot of open fields, and a lot of well-tended gardens, as well as a few facilities that allow people to get out of the rain, to have a wedding or family reunion or hold a concert or any of the hundreds of events we host there every year. When we fund environmental issues in western Massachusetts, we tend to spread that funding across a variety of different activities. Twenty years ago, it would have been for the Connecticut River watershed group that was working to clean up the river after the removal of a lot of paper pulp factories. Thirty years ago, the river I fished as a kid was a mess. You'd pull out your fishing line and it would be covered with strings of paper pulp, and the only fish you could catch were carp and other kinds of junk fish that dug up the bottom. Today the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is beautiful. It's clean. It's clear. There are all kinds of different fish coming back up the river. And for the first time in many years, people are using it. They hold dragon boat races to raise funds for breast cancer research and crew practices and regattas for people of all incomes and from every socioeconomic background. It's a vibrant resource again. And that happened in part because of the work that was funded twenty and thirty years ago, the shutting down of large polluters and the removal of some of the heavy metals and toxins, the replanting of littoral grasses, and so on.

Today the funding we do in the environmental area is a little different. We're strong supporters of the Center for EcoTechnology, for example, and their work in helping make Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state in the nation. We've achieved that not by having crazy restrictions on emissions from cars, which you see in California and which means auto manufacturers have to make special versions of their cars just for California. What the center does instead is to go door-to-door and help people understand the ways in which their homes and businesses are energy inefficient and what they can do with tax rebates and other kinds of programs and incentives to remedy those inefficiencies. The great thing about it is that it actually saves the homeowner or business owner money by lowering their energy bills while making Massachusetts a much more energy-efficient state and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels. It's a win-win.

Another thing we do is fund trusts that help people put agricultural or low-density deed restrictions on their properties as a way to conserve open space in Massachusetts where wildlife can continue to flourish and people can enjoy nature. Often, these trusts also benefit the owners of the property by enabling them to reduce their tax bills and, occasionally, to receive actual funds from a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay the property owner for effectively reducing the economic utility of their properties while preserving the property in perpetuity in a way that benefits the public and is sustainable.

That said, we recognize that one of the greatest needs in Massachusetts is affordable housing. So we do quite a bit of work in trying to help people find effective and efficient ways to build, maintain, rent, and sell affordable housing. We're strong proponents of an east-west high-speed rail line to connect the economic engine that is Boston with the tremendous opportunities in the western part of the state. If you look at the economic cycles that seem to run on a seven- to ten-year basis — think of a sine wave — Boston is interesting in that it is always flattened on the top. Because housing costs are so high in and around Boston, making it increasingly difficult to hire and house employees in up cycles, the city's economy tends to flatten out before the rest of the nation's economy. When the economy is booming, people find it increasingly difficult to live and work within reasonable commuting distance of the city. Meanwhile, Springfield, Holyoke, and the entire Pioneer Valley is full of intelligent, hardworking, experienced people who would love to be earning a higher wage but are reluctant to move from the Pioneer Valley because of its affordability and the quality of life there. Unfortunately, the Mass Pike, along with Logan Airport, is owned by a private corporation that really seems to have no interest in expanding those key transport hubs for the benefit of the state. CFX, which owns the freight lines that run east-west, also is reluctant to give up its rights, which are crucial if we ever hope to connect the two parts of Massachusetts for the long-term economic health of the state and its residents. So we try to work with different groups to understand those problems and find ways to help more people understand the situation and what can be done to address it.

Last but not least, we're involved in a group called City2City in the Pioneer Valley that was incubated by the Federal Reserve and studies what the Fed calls "resurgent" cities. The Fed looked at seventy-five post-industrial cities across the U.S. and found that twenty-five or so of them had actually come back nicely, while the rest had not. Springfield was one of the ones that has not. And so each year, we visit other cities to try to learn what they have done to revitalize themselves and bring those lessons back to Springfield. Next week, we're going to Chattanooga!

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Katrina 10: Recovery, Resilience, and a City Back From the Dead

August 29, 2015

Weekend Link Roundup (August 22-23, 2015)

August 23, 2015

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

Climate Change

The student-led movement aimed at getting universities to divest their endowments of investments in the fossil fuel industry is going global, writes Rosie Spinks, and financial types on Wall Street and in London's City district are starting to pay attention.

Community Improvement/Development

The folks at Daily Detroit have posted a good Q&A with Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, which has played an important role in many of the major and minor developments in Detroit over the last five years or so.

Consulting

Richard Marker explains how the well-known "rule of three" in the world of strategy, along with timely advice from colleagues and friends, made him realize how much he had "siloed" his own consulting practice.

Corporate Social Responsibility

With the "economic system that won the great ideological battle of the 20th century...facing a renewed challenge in the 21st," Fortune editor Alan Murray introduces the magazine's first-ever Change the World list, ten companies that are "doing well by doing good."

"For decades many companies ignored the social and environmental consequences of their activities. They saw their main responsibility as delivering returns to shareholders and viewed their obligations to society narrowly, as 'giving back' through philanthropy," write ;Michael E. Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Mark R. Kramer, a co-founder (with Porter) of FSG, a nonprofit social-impact consulting firm, in conjunction with the publication of Fortune's Change the World list. But what's emerging today, they add,

is something more fundamental — something we call creating shared value. Large companies are addressing big social problems as a core part of their strategy. They are disproving the flawed and simplistic notion that business and society are implacable opponents locked in a zero-sum game. Instead, they are demonstrating the radical idea that companies that tackle social problems through a profitable business model offer new hope for innovative and scalable solutions....

On Forbes, Ryan Scott says the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF), to be held in Geneva in October, is further proof that companies increasingly recognize "the essential role they must play in the march toward social change. Checkbook philanthropy isn't enough to impact communities or benefit a company's culture," Scott adds; "rather, businesses are seeing the positive results that happen when they engage all aspects of their mission and functions around corporate social responsibility.

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5 Questions for...Robert G. Ottenhoff, President and CEO, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

August 11, 2015

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, killing more than eighteen hundred people, and displacing hundreds of thousands of others, important questions remain unanswered. Are we better prepared to help communities of all kinds respond to and rebuild from extreme weather events and natural disasters? Has greater media scrutiny of relief organizations improved the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts? If not, why not? And what can or should philanthropy do to improve its performance and responsiveness in the wake of a major disaster?

With the tenth anniversary of Katrina just weeks away, PND asked Robert G. Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy — an organization founded in the aftermath of the storm — how the philanthropic response to major disasters has evolved over the last decade and what his organization is doing to ensure that the philanthropic community is an integral and effective part of the response to major disasters in the future.

Robert_ottenhoff_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: You’ve written that Hurricane Katrina "forever changed the way our nation thinks, reacts, and plans for massive natural disasters." How so? And what were the key lessons learned by philanthropy in the aftermath of that disaster?

Robert G. Ottenhoff: Katrina was a traumatic experience for our nation and brought the realization that our conventional ways of responding to disasters were insufficient and unsustainable. We learned three big lessons: the need for comprehensive advance planning and preparation for disasters; the critical importance of building communities that are resilient to disaster and better able to respond and bounce back; and the need for funders to support disaster recovery needs before and after disaster strikes, as well as during the immediate humanitarian crisis.

Nonprofit organizations need a plan themselves, too. How will they respond when a disaster strikes? How will they handle an influx of donations or volunteers? If they are a service provider in a stricken city, how will they make sure any interruption of service is as limited as possible? How will their staffs continue to provide vital services?

CDP has been working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation on the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Forty communities that have experienced natural disasters are competing for $1 billion in funds to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters. Our staff contributed to Rockefeller's Resilience Academies in Chicago and Denver with jurisdiction finalists and are working with them to develop initiatives and outreach plans that will better prepare them for future disasters — and, we hope, lead to better partnerships with foundations and corporations.

CDP also is working to ensure that the philanthropic community understands the importance of supporting long- and mid-term recovery needs in disaster areas. This fall, we will begin the process of awarding grants from our Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fund to community organizations in Nepal. Now that much of the immediate crisis has passed, these funds, raised from more than two hundred and sixty institutional and individual donors, will focus on long-term recovery and rebuilding of devastated areas.

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Grassroots Activism Is the Key to Transitioning America From Coal to Clean Energy

July 22, 2015

News_coal_power_plant_for_PhilanTopicWhen business reporters, industry leaders, and analysts claim "market forces" on Wall Street are behind coal's decline, they're getting it only half right. The most powerful forces driving this transition are the national network of grassroots activists and growing coalition of more than one hundred allied organizations working for a clean-energy future. All across the nation, empowered communities are defending their right to clean air, clean water, and a strong economy.

Over the past decade, health advocates, environmentalists, and community leaders have broken coal's hold on electricity production in the United States by organizing local grassroots campaigns backed by strategic litigation. After watching generations of families suffer the health impacts of coal burning, people all over the nation are taking to the streets to stand up to Big Coal. In fact, this movement recently celebrated a huge milestone when we announced the retirement of the two hundredth U.S. coal plant since 2010.

Two of the people fighting back are Wally and Clint McRae, a father and son who have fought for thirty years to protect their Montana cattle ranch from a proposed coal train that would cut right through their land. The McRaes have been active for decades in their local community, but with the support of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, they were able to bring their message to a national stage.

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[Review] 'Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund'

May 15, 2015

Book_staying_the_courseWilliam S. Moody joined the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1968, and for the next four decades he helped shape the fund's grantmaking programs in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe. In Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Moody recounts with unflagging enthusiasm — and, at times, in great detail — his distinguished career, the credit for which he is more than happy to share with colleagues, collaborators, grantees, and members of the Rockefeller family and RBF board.

Staying the Course explores how RBF's grantmaking programs tried, "over time, to enlarge people's understanding of, and ability to address, sustainable development challenges; to protect human rights and promote international understanding; and to strengthen important dimensions of civil society and democratic practice in transforming societies." A tall order, to be sure, and one that, in Moody's view, the fund for the most part delivered on, thanks to what he describes as its "responsive and proactive, serendipitous and systematic" approach to "helping people help themselves."

Moody traces the evolution of that approach from the fund's establishment in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The operation was still very much a family affair, he writes, when he came on board in the late 1960s, but the Rockefeller family philosophy of being "in it for the long haul, articulating ambitious goals knowing full well that those goals could not be reached quickly," and being "willing to make long-term commitments to effective organizations and institutions — a decade or two or more, long enough 'to make a difference', as Andrew Carnegie said" — was already deeply embedded in the fund's grantmaking practice.

As a program officer at a relatively small foundation, Moody was focused on allocating the limited resources available to him to maximum effect. In the late 1960s, for example, RBF's annual budget for international programs was a modest $10 million to $15 million — although at a time when only 5 percent of total U.S. foundation grantmaking was directed overseas, the fund was considered an important player in the international arena. More importantly, its efforts in that arena, Moody argues, demonstrate that small investments can create significant impact. In fact, the approach to grantmaking he developed back then, he writes, is quite similar to what today we call "venture philanthropy," characterized as it was "by a high level of involvement with grant recipients; a willingness to experiment and try new approaches; and a focus on capacity building for sustainability" — while avoiding any expectation of a quick pay-off.

Early on, Moody's efforts were focused on two areas: the thoughtful use of natural and cultural resources, or what is now called "sustainable development," in the developing world, and strengthening civic engagement and the nonprofit/voluntary sector globally. From 1968 through the mid-1980s, for instance, RBF supported rural development in sub-Saharan Africa and anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa, where the young program officer learned the importance of collaboration — as well as the need for flexibility, patience, and good partners. When making grants in six Central and South American countries, for example, he made it a point to invest in individuals, people like conservation expert Kenton Miller, a pioneer of sustainable resource management models and a key facilitator of RBF's productive partnership with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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Calling the Piper’s Tune

April 28, 2015

Headshot_mark_rosenmanNonprofit endorsements for sale? That might be the takeaway when more than thirty charities in the District of Columbia write to government regulators in support of a popularly opposed regulatory action sought by a local funder, with many even lending their logos to full-page newspaper ads.

Pepco, a regional electric utility that serves the District (and mid-Atlantic region) wants to sell itself ­to Exelon, a national energy company with a poor reputation among environmental groups and consumer advocates. The overwhelming majority of the charities endorsing the acquisition in letters to DC's Public Service Commission (DCPSC) have a couple of things in common: they have no environmental mission or apparent expertise on energy issues, and they have received or benefited from Pepco philanthropic funding, which Exelon promises to continue for ten years.

The offered premium of 24 percent over market valuation is enough to convince Pepco to seek approval to sell its electric distribution network to Exelon. The opportunity to become the largest utility company in the country and use Pepco’s significant ratepayer base to dilute its nuclear electric generation investments is motivation enough for Exelon. But what’s in it for local charities?

A big part of the answer was summed up nicely by Meta Williams, the regional development director in the United Negro College Fund's Washington, D.C. Area Office. In a letter to D.C Public Service commissioner Brinda Westbrook-Sedgwick, Ms. Williams noted that Pepco and Exelon are important donors to UNCF, provide a great deal of support to other charities, and are admirable corporate citizens, making their plan worthy of endorsement. Yet, she went on to say in conversation with me that she had not considered environmental, energy, or related issues in deciding to write to the Public Service Commission, that policy was not made in her office, and that she was speaking only for UNCF's fundraising arm and not for the organization itself – none of which is clear from her letter.

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5 Questions for…Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org

April 17, 2015

Forty-five years after the first Earth Day in 1970, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled and the planet faces the potentially devastating effects of accelerating climate change. At the same time, calls for educational and philanthropic institutions to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies have gotten louder and a grassroots divestment movement has emerged from college campuses across the country.

PND asked noted environmental activist and author Bill McKibben about the impact of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the role of philanthropy in the fight against climate change, and the prospect that something meaningful will come out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Bill_mckibben_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: The name of the organization you co-founded, 350.org, refers to the goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current level of 400 parts per million to 350 ppm — a level, according to climatologist James Hansen and others, that is necessary to preserve conditions on Earth similar to those which prevailed as humans evolved and flourished. Where do things stand as of 2015? And do we have any chance of meeting the 350 ppm target?

Bill McKibben: Where we stand is the CO2 level in the atmosphere climbs 2 ppm annually — and the Arctic and the Antarctic are dealing with preposterous changes that even the most pessimistic scientists thought would take many decades to arrive, oceans are acidifying, and the cycle of floods and droughts is deepening. If we managed to get off fossil fuels with great haste — if we worked at the outer edge of the possible — then by 2100 forests and oceans would have sucked up enough carbon that we'd be moving back toward 350 ppm. Much damage would be done in the meantime, but perhaps not civilizational-scale damage. But that window is small, and closing.

PND: 350.org’s Fossil Free campaign aims to convince educational and religious institutions, governments, and other organizations that serve the public good to divest their investment portfolios of fossil fuel companies. One frequently heard criticism of the campaign is that it is trying to put out a fire with a garden hose. That is, getting a few dozen or hundred institutional investors to divest their portfolios of fossil fuels will have no measurable impact on the activities of large energy companies — or on other investors who may see an opportunity as those stocks are sold. What’s wrong with that argument?

BM: If it was all anyone was doing, it would not be enough, not even close. Of course, we're also fighting against new pipelines and coal mines, and for the rapid spread of renewable energy. But divestment is one of the things that knits it together — it's been the vehicle for spreading the news that these companies have four times the carbon in their reserves than any scientist thinks we can safely burn. That's why everyone, up to the president of the World Bank, has hailed divestment as a crucial part of the fight.

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In Pursuit of Better Outcomes Through Transparency-Fueled Adaptability

March 13, 2015

AdaptabilityIf you're a small foundation aiming to achieve greater philanthropic impact, how can transparency be a tool? At the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, we're using it to drive impact through better project management and improved grantee relationships: transparency for adaptability rather than accountability.

Open access to biodiversity information to benefit nature and society is our mission. The principle that data access enables change applies to philanthropy as well as conservation and aligns well with our foundation strategy and culture. And transparency underlies a number of our practices, including customized progress and financial reports, detailed report reviews, amended grant agreements and plans, and regularly updated project Web pages.

From the first steps in the grant application process through the final grant report, we try to model and achieve openness and accessibility. An important moment for new grantee relationships is an orientation video-conference that introduces our approach to managing the funded project. We use the call and future communications to promote the continued refinement of thoughtful qualitative and quantitative indicators that can lighten a grantee's reporting burden and allow us to collaboratively identify areas where plans need to change. Then, during the project, we regularly remind project directors that the plan made months or years earlier to win our funds was merely the starting point; they need to execute on the plan to meet their stated goals today, and that requires flexibility on their part – and ours. When a grantee is transparent about something that has gone wrong, we'll help them revise their budget and plan to do what makes sense based on the changed circumstance. Rose-colored reporting and rigid grant agreements don't serve anybody well, while candor in the grantee-funder relationship keeps small challenges from becoming big problems. We also try to keep a promise to our partners to match our attention to milestones and metrics with our enthusiasm to adapt to emergent challenges and opportunities.

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Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

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