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86 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

5 Questions for...Laurie Garduque, Director, Justice Reform, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

February 04, 2016

Recent opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court which hold that imposing harsh sentences on juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment have transformed the landscape of juvenile sentencing. In December, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which earlier in the year had announced it would be winding down its significant support for juvenile justice reform efforts as part of a refocusing of its grantmaking strategy on  a handful of "big bets," including the over-use of jails and incarceration in America, released Juvenile Justice in a Developmental Framework: A Status Report (48 pages, PDF), its summation, based on twenty years of work, of developmentally appropriate best practices in nine key juvenile justice policy areas.

Last month, PND spoke with Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the foundation, about the genesis of its work in the juvenile justice field, the report's findings, and the prospects for further reform as MacArthur exits the field.

Philanthropy News Digest: MacArthur entered the juvenile justice field in 1996, a decision motivated by a belief inside the foundation that juveniles are not adults and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. What was it about the environment in the mid-1990s that brought the issue to a head for you and your colleagues?

Headshot_laurie_garduqueLaurie Garduque: We'd been investing in research on child and adolescent development before 1996, and that research made it clear that children and adolescents were different, cognitively and emotionally, than adults. But the legal implications of those findings had not been considered. In the 1980s, violent crime among youths increased sharply, and fears of a generation of "super predators," a fear fanned by politicians and the press, led states across the country to move to treat young offenders as if they weren't young. States began to focus on the offense, not the offender, and moved toward harsh, punitive laws that included making it easier to try adolescents as adults. The report notes that, in the years leading up to MacArthur's decision to enter the field, forty-five states had changed their laws to try adolescents and children, some as young as ten years of age, as adults. States had also removed the kinds of due process protections you would like to see for young people – for example, determining whether or not they're competent to stand trial. And within the system itself, the emphasis was less on rehabilitation and treatment, and more on punishment. It wasn't about helping young people learn from their mistakes and getting them back on course; it was about punishing them harshly.

Knowing all that, knowing the harm that can result when you treat young people as adults, and seeing the toll these new laws were taking, dispropor­tion­ately, on young people of color and on low-income communities, the foundation started to look at ways we could use research, scientific evidence, and best practices to stem the tide and reform the system. In effect, we were looking for ways to reverse the rush toward draconian reforms and policies that was sweeping the country.

PND: One of the first things you and your col­leagues did was to create a re­search network focused on some of the important aspects of adolescent development and juvenile justice. Can you share with us some of the key findings surfaced by that initiative.

LG: You have to go back to the origins of juvenile court in the early part of the twentieth century, which was based on the recognition that children were deserving of a separate justice system from adults because they weren't as competent as adults, weren't as culp­able for their actions, and should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their capacity to change. Those ideas were challenged in the '80s as crime rates in the United States rose. To get society to once again accept the idea that a young person is less culpable for his actions than an adult, is less compe­tent to stand trial, and has more of a capacity to change than an adult, we knew we would have to map the adolescent development research that was being done to specific legal concepts. How, for example, do you determine whether someone is competent to stand trial? Are adolescents fully responsible for and truly understand the consequences of their actions? Are they more susceptible to peer pressure? More impulsive? Given their developmental immatur­ity, both with respect to their behavior and their brain development, should the criminal justice system treat them differently? The same is true of sentencing. We tend to punish adults harshly because we don't believe they have the capacity to change, or they're not as amenable to treatment and rehabilitation, whereas young people, who haven't yet matured, either emotionally and, in many cases, psychologically, are more likely to respond to rehabilitation.

So, as I said, it became important to map what all that looked like in terms of adolescents' social, emo­tional, and cognitive develop­ment, and to try to identify what the differences between children, adolescents, and adults in those areas were. We were confident that if we could pro­vide scientific evidence which demonstrated, in effect, how the immaturity of young people argues against them being treated as adults by the justice system, it could be the basis for a new way of thinking about how to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their behavior.

As things turned out, that body of research also became important in terms of recent Supreme Court decisions and was a valuable source of guidance for state and local agencies with respect to their juvenile justice practices.

PND: I want to talk about the Supreme Court in a minute. But first, in addition to supporting research, tell us about some of the other strategies the foundation developed to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform.

LG: What we recognized very early on is that there's no such thing as a single juvenile justice system in the United States. There are fifty juvenile justice systems, in that each state has the power to decide what it is a juvenile offense and what the policies and practices should be in terms of sentencing for that offense. We also knew that there was a great deal of discretion exercised at the local level about whether to process the young person formally or informally, and that states vary in terms of the amount and kinds of resources available to keep kids in the community, as opposed to sending them off to prison. We also knew that if we wanted to demonstrate that juvenile justice reform was practical, feasible, desirable, and could produce better outcomes for kids and the community, all while saving taxpayer dollars and improving public safety, we had to make our case on the ground, in individual jurisdictions.

So, with the research generated by our research network providing the basic framework around which juvenile justice reform should, in our opinion, be pursued  things like ensuring that due process protections for juveniles are in place, minimizing juvenile offenders contact with the adult criminal justice system as well as the use of secure confinement, providing them with rehabilitation and treatment — we had to show it could all be done and produce the desired outcomes.

That was the genesis of Models for Change, our signature effort for over a decade in terms of working with state and local jurisdictions across the country. We wanted to demonstrate to states that they could accomplish juvenile justice reform regardless of their starting point in terms of resources, past history, or politics. We started with Pennsylvania and then expanded our efforts to Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington. As it turned out, that expansion was critical to our success, in that it enabled us to show that there were multiple pathways to reform, regardless of your starting point. It didn't matter whether you were dealing with a Department of Justice investigation, as Louisiana was at the time, or whether you had a long history and track record of progressive reform, as Pennsylvania did. It didn't matter whether you were a red state or a blue state. And it didn't matter whether the drive for reform was led by a charismatic individual inside or outside of government. Through Models for Change, we were able to show that the system could be changed, that reform could happen, and that those reforms could be both cost effective and improve outcomes for kids and the public.

Eventually, we expanded our work with those four states, where the focus was on comprehensive reform, to twelve additional states, where the focus was on specific issues such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities, improving access to and the quality of juvenile indigent defense, and addressing the mental health needs of kids in contact with the system. And through that work, we generated a series of best practices that had been field-tested and demonstrated to be effective, developed guidebooks, tool kits, manuals, and training curricula, and partnered with the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to spread those resources to additional states. Those efforts have made a difference. The spread and diffusion of innovative policies and practices has been validated by the National Academy of Sciences, which in several recent reports talks about a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform and new ways to think about the application of a developmental framework to systems reform. The Council of State Governments has issued a similar report drawing attention to changes in law and policy. So, we feel there has been a cultural shift in the country, one that recognizes the importance of holding young kids accountable, but in ways that ensure they acquire the skills and competencies they need to become successful and productive citizens.

PND: You must be gratified by recent events. First, the Supreme Court, in a six-to-three decision, ruled that a prior decision to bar mandatory juvenile life sentences without parole must be applied retroactively. And on the same day, President Obama issued an executive order banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Does that mean you can declare victory, or is there more work to be done?

LG: We're still dealing with the consequences of the harsh and punitive sentencing practices of the 1980s and '90s, and there is still a tendency to think that treating adolescents as adults is sound policy and practice. Which means we still have work to do in terms of rolling back automatic transfer of juvenile offenders to adult criminal courts.

I also think too many states still put the emphasis on the offense and not the offender. They just don't understand that an adolescent and an adult who commit a similar offense are not, and should not be, considered the same under the law. From an adolescent development perspective, too many of our laws are still unfair, unjust, and inhumane, and those laws have proven to be difficult to roll back. Does it surprise me? Not really. The Supreme Court only eliminated the juvenile death penalty in 2005, and only recently followed that up by eliminating life-without-parole sen­tences for juveniles in non-homicide cases and mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles charged with homicide. But we still see plenty of extreme sentencing practices, which I would call anything beyond twenty-five years without the possibility of parole, for many young offenders. Those laws have proven to be very difficult to change.

PND: Now that MacArthur is exiting the field, how can other foundations support the work that needs to be done?

LG: We think there’s a lot of momentum building behind juvenile justice reform, that networks and advocacy organizations have been seeded at many levels, that juvenile justice professionals and state legislators are better informed, and that there's a substantial body of knowledge out there with respect to best practices, sentencing guidelines, and so on.

That said, MacArthur has shifted its focus to the misuse and overuse of jails, a major issue affecting low-income people and communities of color, where the problem of mass incarceration begins. Based on our juvenile justice work, we were, and are, confident that there is an interest, at both the local and state levels, in changing policies and practices when it comes to the use of jails and incarceration while protecting public safety. One of the things we learned is that local jurisdictions not only need resources to support the adoption and implementation of new policies and practices, they also need technical assistance to help guide their reform efforts. But with new leadership, new resources, and clear pathways with respect to systems reform, the prospects for further change, change that can be sus­tained, are bright. Will there be threats to the current wave of reform? Another spike in crime rates followed by a moral panic? No one can say, but it's certainly happened before. Still, we're hopeful that activists and reformers are in a better position, as a result of our efforts, to deflect any such threats to the gains that have been made and will be able to keep the momentum going.

— Mitch Nauffts

[Infographic] Nonprofit Strategic Restructuring

January 16, 2016

col·lab·o·ra·tion
kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/

noun

  1. the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
  2. traitorous cooperation with an enemy.

For many people, the word collaboration has more than one meaning. And while they may not be as derisive as the second definition above, the topic, when it comes up, almost never fails to spark lively conversation.

Which is as it should be. Nonprofit collaborations are serious affairs and should not be entered into lightly. But as our first infographic of the new year — courtesy of the folks at Tides and La Piana Consulting and our social sector outreach and GrantCraft colleagues here at Foundation Center — makes clear, collaborations, when approached strategically and with an open mind, can yield significant benefits. 

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A 'Big Bet' Strategy: Large Grants for the Long-Term

January 05, 2016

The long runThe Jim Joseph Foundation is about to complete its tenth year of grantmaking and continues to be a work in progress. Striving for continuous improvement involves concentrated time and effort among foundation directors and professionals. The foundation has intensified its focus on strategy in its grantmaking, governance practices, and financial and staff capacities. All this activity has created a change-management agenda, but our commitment to a founding strategic principle has not wavered: careful consideration of invited grant proposals for significant amounts of funding over four- and five-year periods.

We are often queried why the foundation makes such "big bets," enriching relatively fewer organizations with philanthropic capital when many others might benefit from foundation grant funding. This question tends especially to surface when the foundation decides to renew funding to one of its major grantees, often doing so at significant levels of funding support. Two examples of this type of funder/grantee partnership from earlier this year — Hillel International and Moishe House — offer insights regarding how and why the Jim Joseph Foundation chooses to strategically fund well-aligned grantees with large grants and long-term funding.

First, it bears noting that much of the social sector struggles incessantly to achieve organizational stability. Mario Morino posited years ago that:

Nonprofit organizations exist in a culture of dysfunction — limited capacity and modest outcomes pervade critical organizational elements such as strategic planning, staffing, training, management, financing and performance measurement. This dysfunction makes success highly improbable and calls into question the sustainability of organizations unable to adequately capitalize future growth.... (Community Wealth Ventures, Inc., "Venture Philosophy: Landscape and Expectations," Reston, VA: Morino Institute, 2000)

In this regard, the Jim Joseph Foundation spends a great deal of time conducting due diligence on potential grantees. For organizations that are mission aligned, potentially scalable with their reach, and critically positioned within the foundation's focus on education of Jewish teens, youth, young adults and young families, deep investment is inviting.

Recognizing, for example, that Hillel reaches and engages 400,000 college-age students annually, the foundation determined early in its existence to explore effective partnership with the organization. We learned quickly that Hillel would require repeated infusions of funding to build capacity in order to most effectively engage as many college students and communities as possible. Our grants for the Senior Jewish Educator/Campus Entrepreneur Initiative; evaluation of the initiative; funding for the Heather McLeod Grant and Lindsay Bellows study about Hillel's effective strategy to leverage social networks for student engagement; resources for business planning; and seed capital for Hillel projects deemed to be of high priority to a new CEO speak of our commitment to long-term investment in high-performing grantees. And the $16 million, five-year grant the foundation awarded to support Hillel in accelerating its ambitious Drive to Excellence campaign affirms this deep commitment.

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The 5 Dysfunctions of Philanthropy

December 07, 2015

Trust-culturesIn 2002, Patrick Lencioni wrote a book titled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In it, Lencioni explores the interpersonal aspects of teambuilding in a professional setting and explains how they undermine success. And while Lencioni's team operates in a fictional company, his lessons are entirely relevant to grantmakers.

Here's my take on how Lencioni's five dysfunctions can manifest themselves in philanthropy.

Dysfunction #1 — Absence of trust. Lencioni describes this as the unwillingness of team members to share their weaknesses with the rest of the group. This is completely understandable and a deeply rooted aspect of human nature. It's hard to admit weakness to your teammates when everyone is so invested in achieving success. But grantmakers take this dysfunction to a new level when it comes to dealing with grantees. The organizations we fund are just as important to our success as we are probably more so, in fact  yet how many funders are willing to admit any weakness to their grantees or confess that they don't always know the best way forward? And, as a result, how many of us can truly say we have a deep and mutually trusting relationship with the organizations and people we fund?

Dysfunction #2 — Fear of conflict. Few of us relish the idea of arguing with our colleagues, but we often are so afraid of conflict that we shy away from healthy and enlightening debate or discussion. The truth is that talking through any point of contention in a respectful way — whether it's something operational like grantmaking procedure or deeply cultural like equity and inclusion — ultimately serves to pull a team together and make it stronger in the end. Conversely, avoiding debates, even passionate ones, for the sake of maintaining harmony almost always does more harm than good. That said, grantmakers instill a fear of conflict in the hearts of grantees almost by default. After all, what organization wants to engage in conflict with the hand that feeds it? Imagine how much we'd learn, however, if our grantees trusted us enough to debate important issues.

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A Journey Toward Social Change Funding Starts With a Simple Step

December 04, 2015

When I came to Surdna Foundation in 2007, I spent several months just talking with people about the foundation and what they knew of it. Thanks in large measure to the extraordinary family and executive leadership up to that point, Surdna had a stellar reputation for creative, impactful grantmaking. But as I dug deeper, I realized that Surdna staff and board didn't have the language to explain why we funded the things we were funding. We couldn't articulate why some things felt right, while others simply didn't make the grade. I helped us get started on a process to carefully examine what we'd been doing for the previous twenty years — and to think together about what it was that was the glue that held that work together. Most of us could feel it and even identify which grants were bull's eyes, and which weren't.

Families_Funding_ChangeSeveral concepts emerged from that examination, concepts that formed the basis of our new mission statement: family, community, sustainability, and social justice. These core concepts felt both broadly consistent with the values that had been set forth by our founder, John E. Andrus, nearly one hundred years ago, and relevant to the work we wanted to do going forward.

Our story suggests that sometimes it only takes the simple step of naming what it is that you care about to begin the journey toward more effective, responsive philanthropy. Since adopting our new mission statement, social justice has become the key to understanding who we are as a family foundation and what work we want to do to help communities thrive across the United States. We're proud to have this process featured in a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy: Families Funding Change: How Social Justice Giving Honors Our Roots and Empowers Communities (16 pages, PDF).

We share with NCRP the view that empowering communities to solve the problems of poverty, injustice, and inequity should become more prominent in the work of foundations, especially family foundations. We have long supported the work of NCRP and the principles they stand for. We have done so even as we have been on our own journey as a funder working towards those principles. We have always believed that learning is a key part of who we are and, really, core to what makes good philanthropy. I encourage you to read the Families Funding Change report and consider how Surdna's experience with social justice philanthropy, and the experiences of other featured funders, can inform your own work.

By choosing to frame our mission as one "grounded in principles of social justice," the board made explicit their understanding that equity and social justice must be a frame of reference for all of our work. Indeed, this framework reflects the values of the family today. Of course, a mission statement is merely words on a page unless it is put at the center of the work. And with our board's leadership, we have kept that mission in mind as we have built grantmaking programs and revamped the foundation strategies and staff. It has been a remarkable thing to see how our explicit naming of social justice has shaped the foundation from the bottom to the top.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2015)

December 03, 2015

Recent events are a sobering reminder that life is short and the future a mystery. But as Gandhi tells us, throughout history, the way of truth and love always has won out in the end. In that spirit, here are links to half a dozen or so of the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in November....

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that made you feel hopeful? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Serving the Public Good (by Invitiation Only)

November 18, 2015

Private_party_inviteAmerica's foundations are not particularly interested in receiving your proposal. Earlier this year I did a quick search on Foundation Directory Online (FDO) of the 96,042 independent, company-sponsored, and community foundations based in the U.S. The results were pretty shocking: only 26,663 are willing to accept unsolicited proposals. That's right, 28 percent. True, many of these are the larger, staffed foundations that hold the bulk of the sector's assets. So I took a look at the 967 foundations that have $100 million in more in assets and account for close to half of all foundation giving by U.S. foundations. The results are more encouraging, but only somewhat — 568 (58 percent) of them accept unsolicited proposals.

I find this troubling, on two counts. The first is because of the grand public policy bargain that makes institutionalized philanthropy possible in America: wealthy donors are given significant tax incentives to create and maintain foundations in exchange for providing a demonstrable, long-term contribution to the public good. As much as I understand how small foundations (especially) might not want to spend their resources on creating a bureaucracy whose primary task is to turn down the overwhelming majority of proposals they receive each year, it still bothers me. Somewhere in my heart I believe that, when it comes to foundations, the public good is best served when the public (in the form of social sector organizations) can freely apply for support. I can understand how a foundation may want to have a program or two that does not accept open applications, but to shut out the public entirely from any unsolicited inquiries is something I have trouble accepting.

Moreover, this can further isolate foundations, institutions that are already insulated from the kinds of market, electoral, and fundraising pressures that lead to standardization, transparency, and accountability in other sectors. This is also the source of foundations' most precious asset — the philanthropic freedom that allows them to take risks, stick with difficult issues over the long-term, and make leaps of faith that can spark whole new ways of solving the world's most pressing problems. To the extent that foundations put more emphasis on creating elaborately designed strategies while shutting themselves off from unsolicited proposals, their work can become a kind of endowed activism.

So, what can foundations do?

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Taking Civic Engagement to the Next Level

November 17, 2015

Several years ago, a colleague applied for a position at a large foundation that had just launched a democracy program. Ten minutes into the interview, he was told that because of his lack of experience in campaign finance reform and voter participation, he wasn't qualified. Mystified, he replied that he had more than two decades of democracy experience that was about as direct you could get: working with thousands of people in communities to address the same kinds of issues being debated in the halls of Congress.

Luckily he got the job. Still, it underscores how the millions of dollars many foundations have poured into get-out-the vote and electoral reform efforts are often seen as a proxy for democracy. Today, this work is still a top priority for foundations, with almost $300 million going to 738 organizations over the last few years that fall under the “campaigns, elections, and voting” category in Foundation Center's new Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool.

That makes sense. Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. It's a concrete action that people can take to civically engage, and it's measurable.

But what happens after the votes are counted? There's mountains of evidence showing that Americans continue to opt out of the political system; in 2014 alone, voter turnout for the midterm elections was the lowest it has been in any election cycle since World War II.

It's easy to wag a finger at the disengaged and call them "cynical." What's harder is accepting the idea that this "cynicism" represents legitimate frustration over what many Americans see as a broken system that hasn't invited them to participate in meaningful ways. And even when they do engage, many people feel their voice counts for little. As a result, more and more Americans are turning away from traditional political systems and embracing activities where they think they can make at least a small difference such as volunteering, "clicktivism," and charitable giving.

The good news is that foundations appear to be increasing their support for broader civic participation, seeing it as important as elections and voting in defining what constitutes a robust democracy. Indeed, according to the center's database, civic participation receives the majority of democracy-related funding, with more than $853 million in grants made since 2011.

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Grantmaker Transparency: The Dawn of a New Age in Philanthropy

November 14, 2015

Time-for-transparency"People tend to be private about love and money, and in philanthropy, it's both," says Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

It's only natural that, traditionally, philanthropy has unfolded behind closed doors. On the one hand, the freedom to make personal funding choices gives grantmakers the ability to stay above the fray, uninfluenced by both market and political pressures. On the other hand, it doesn't allow the public to understand, learn from, or think critically about philanthropy.

"Giving and charitable acts are such private, emotional transactions," says Suki O'Kane, director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. "How do you come from such strong traditions of privacy and intimacy, and bring that out into the open?"

Where do things stand?

Indeed ­– how do we as a sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency? It all comes down to the following questions: What am I funding? Why am I funding what I'm funding? Is my funding making an impact? And perhaps most importantly, how do we improve?

There is good news: transparency in philanthropy is happening, there's no denying it. In fact, it's well under way, with large foundations like Gates, Ford, and Getty, sharing their endeavors with the public, surveying their grantees (and sharing the results), and creating searchable grants databases. Still, transparency can be difficult.

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Multi-Generational Models That Work

November 05, 2015

This is the third post in a three-part series. Click here for part one, "Going Long: Building a Legacy of Family Philanthropy," and part 2, "Raising the Next Generation of Givers."

Multigenerational_philanthropyIf you have not read the first two posts in this series, I encourage you to take a few minutes to do so now. In this final post, I will compare three alternative models for structuring family philanthropy, each of which — properly planned and managed — can produce meaningful and satisfying long-term results, and will conclude with a few practical tips. But before diving in, allow me to note the obvious:

The information provided here is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal or tax advice, neither of which the author is qualified to provide. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with their tax advisor or attorney before making significant charitable decisions or establishing a charitable giving program.

Now that we've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let's compare some of the key features and benefits of donor-advised charitable funds, private/family foundations, and supporting foundations — three popular structures for managing current giving and/or multi-generational family philanthropy.

Donor-Advised Charitable Funds

A donor-advised fund is a charitable savings account of sorts, established within and managed by either a traditional public charity, community foundation, or, more recently, a nonprofit subsidiary of a commercial financial institution (Vanguard and Fidelity being among the largest in this category).

Donors can brand their donor-advised fund and name successors or charitable beneficiaries, while contributions are placed into separate donor-advised fund accounts where they can be invested and grow tax free.

The donor-advised fund allows individuals to make charitable contributions, receive an immediate tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. (More on that later.)  Contributions are irrevocable, and donors can contribute to the fund as frequently as they like and then initiate grants to their favorite charities when they are ready, with no minimum annual distribution requirement.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 17-18, 2015)

October 18, 2015

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

Climate Change

Does Bill Gates understand that divestment movements do not need to financially impact their targets to be successful? Not really, argues Katie Herzog in Grist.

And look who just came out in support of the UN climate goals

International Affairs/Development

It has been a deadly year for aid workers in the field. Iain Overton reports for the Guardian.

Education

Can separate be equal in education? In Boston, many black families have decided that diversity in the classroom is a luxury, not a necessity. Farah Stockman explains.

On Medium, Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has some thoughts on how philanthropy can promote innovation in Education.

Grantmaking

On the Barr Foundation website, Senior Program Officer E. San San Wong discusses three trends the Boston-based foundation's arts team is exploring in the context of a strategic planning process.

Higher Education

Looking for innovation in higher education? Washington Monthly's Matt Connolly highlights ten leaders who are delivering it.

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Loose Ties + Strong Trust = Innovation in Los Angeles

October 17, 2015

In 2008, Lisa Watson was the executive director of the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of women on Los Angeles' Skid Row hoping to overcome poverty and homelessness. That year, Lisa received a Stanton Fellowship to investigate the viability of a co-located social enterprise retail store that would offer workforce training to homeless women and generate revenues for the center. Revenues would be used to subsidize housing and supportive services in the pricey Los Angeles real estate market.

For the past ten years the Durfee Foundation has awarded a select number of Stanton Fellowships to social change leaders in Los Angeles with the aim of fostering innovative solutions to some of the city's most intractable problems. Lisa's project became a reality in 2011 with the opening of MADE by DWC, a gift boutique and café that offers organic coffee and food along with one-of-a-kind vintage and contemporary women's clothing, accessories, household accents, and their signature handMADE product line. One hundred percent of the proceeds support the residents of the Downtown Women's Center, providing the kind of earned revenue that is a vital component of long-term sustainability for most nonprofits.

Cross-Disciplinary Connections

Prior to the fellowship, Lisa had met a handful of other Stanton alumni, all in the housing/homelessness space. Over the course of her fellowship, however, she expanded her connections to include Stanton fellows with expertise in urban planning, health, education, the environment, and economic development, as well as contacts in the L.A. Mayor's Office. The interactions with other fellows significantly affected her project's design as well as its resulting success. "By bringing together smart people from various disciplines in Los Angeles," she notes, "problems can be viewed through various prisms rather than through a telescope. Solutions and strategies are developed by looking more richly at the problem from various perspectives and disciplines."

The Stanton Fellowship provides funds over two years for each fellow to think deeply about a specific challenge related to their work and to tease out solutions that will improve life in Los Angeles. The Durfee Foundation deliberately encourages connecting and knowledge sharing among fellows as a way to foster the cross-fertilization of ideas that might lead to new approaches. Stanton Fellows are intentionally selected to represent a wide-ranging spectrum of issues and sectors, with fellows coming from government and social enterprise as well as nonprofits. Key elements of the program include opening and concluding fellowship retreats that overlap with the next/prior cohort of fellows; quarterly get-togethers hosted by a fellow who provides a tour of the issue they are tackling and includes time for fellows to update the group on their projects; and foundation staff matching fellows with program alumni mentors. In addition, every other year the foundation hosts a retreat to which all alumni of the program as well as current fellows are invited.

Enhanced Peripheral Vision

In order to better understand the network dimension of the program, the Durfee Foundation asked Network Impact to assess the role that ties among Stanton Fellows play in contributing to the program's goals. To that end, in the fall of 2014 we surveyed current fellows and alumni, and supplemented that work with focus-group interviews and Social Network analysis (SNA) to assess the nature of the connections among fellows over time. What we found has implications for funders who are supporting innovation in the social sector, particularly investors in fellowship or leadership development programs who are curious about the wider impact of these initiatives.

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Latino Entrepreneurs: How Philanthropy Can Fuel Small Business

October 15, 2015

Hand-with-FlagsAs National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, it's a good time to recognize and celebrate the critical role that Latino-owned businesses play in the U.S. economy. Consider, for starters, that between 1990 and 2012, the number of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States more than tripled, from 577,000 to 2 million (Source: Partnership for a New American Economy).

While significant, however, those gains are modest compared to the growth of white-owned businesses over the same period. What's more, Latino-owned businesses generate less annual revenue than non-Latino small businesses and grow at a slower rate. And, like many small businesses and entrepreneurs, Latino-owned businesses report that access to capital is a major barrier to growth.

That should not come as a surprise. A recent Harvard Business School study (66 pages, PDF) reports that small business loans as a share of total bank loans in 1995 was about 50 percent, compared to only 30 percent in 2012. And a report on minority entrepreneurship by researchers at UC-Berkeley and Wayne State University finds that minority-owned businesses typically encounter higher borrowing costs, receive smaller loan amounts, and see their loan applications rejected more often.

The reasons for such disparities are many, but one thing seems abundantly clear: resolving them is not just a question of social justice; it goes to the heart of American competitiveness in a fast-moving global economy.

On the plus side, there are no shortage of examples of dynamic businesses started — and nurtured — by Latino entrepreneurs who have secured access to affordable loans from lenders who understand their dreams, their businesses, and their challenges.

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Funding the Voter Participation Spectrum

October 13, 2015

The fiercely contested American presidential election of 2000 laid bare the different ways in which voters can be disenfranchised: faulty voting machines, poor ballot design, uncounted ballots, and needless barriers to voter registration, to name a few. And, of course, the winner of the election wasn't determined by ballot but by the U.S. Supreme Court a month after the election itself.

In the decade and a half since, voting rights advocates, funders, and various elected officials have promoted reforms that make it easier to register and cast a ballot. These well-intentioned actors are operating under a classic economic theory: if we lower the costs associated with a transaction (i.e., voting), more people will avail themselves of it. But is it that simple? My research supports the theory — new, more accessible ways to register and vote do indeed have a positive impact on voter participation, but only to a point. And election reform is only one step in a continuum of activities that must take place if voter participation is to increase, especially among current non-voters.

Putting this into action requires a new way of thinking about funding. More than ever, it means we need to think about increasing voter turnout as a coordinated process — with the passage of inclusive, pro-voter reform as just one step in that process, not the ending point. The crucial steps that funders and the organizations they fund must be aware of and integrate into a holistic strategy if they hope to really boost turnout include:

  • Researching the most effective reforms and activities for increasing participation;
  • Educating voters and organizations about why voting is important and how it relates to issues that affect them, the voting process, and the availability of new methods of participation (i.e., early voting) and how to make use of them;
  • Organizing and mobilizing people at the state and local level to actively take advantage of new, more accessible voting options;
  • Pursuing legal strategies to ensure that the right to vote is upheld in every jurisdiction; and
  • Sustaining voter engagement into the future as younger generations reach voting age.

What's more, these steps cannot be treated as discrete activities by those interested in promoting and advancing voting rights, including funders.

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Up and Coming: An Inside Look at a Next-Generation Experience in Family Philanthropy

October 03, 2015

Hand_money-treeIt was 1:00 a.m. and six college students were crammed into a small hotel bedroom in New York City— but we weren't wrapping up a night on the town. Crouched around computers, we were putting the finishing touches on our first presentation, which would be given to the entire Andrus Family Fund board. The atmosphere was generally light – we were having a blast hanging out with cousins – but we felt the weight of the following day, too. Our presentation would directly impact the allocation of $25,000. We were also proud to be engaged so meaningfully in our family's philanthropy.

AFF was launched fifteen years ago as an offshoot of the Surdna Foundation to engage members of the extended Andrus family in philanthropy. BETs, the Board Experiential Training program, was designed to introduce 18- to 24-year-olds to philanthropy by building awareness of social justice issues for future board members. Both AFF and BETs emphasize "sharing power to build a culture of learning." This sharing manifests itself in the communication that AFF establishes with organizations and communities to ensure that vulnerable populations have a voice. The culture of learning is essential for AFF's and BETs' funding goals, which focus on issues of social justice related to youth involved in foster care and the justice system.

Our training with BETs focused on learning about social justice and its implications for philanthropy and applying that knowledge in a supportive learning-focused environment. Though our BETs cohort was all family, we hailed from five states and many of us had never met. When we'd first connected a year ago in New York, we received an orientation to the program and learned that our task over the following twelve months would be to go through the grantmaking process like board members. Our two facilitators noted that AFF was shifting its language and focus to further incorporate awareness of inequity in the grantmaking process. As a result, our learning about the practical implementation of grantmaking would be grounded in social justice.

Most importantly during that first meeting, we learned about each other. We were all in different phases in college, with a range of majors spanning interior design to chemical engineering, and we all had different hobbies and career aspirations. We were family, yet we had different backgrounds. Moreover, we were tasked with connecting with and funding communities around the country that most of us hadn't personally experienced. It was important to realize our differences early so we could collaborate effectively and eventually make cohesive decisions.

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