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1172 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

Funding the Marriage Equality Movement: Lessons in Collaboration and Risk Taking

July 06, 2015

Rainbow-flagThe marriage equality movement in the United States has been fueled by the strategic and coordinated efforts of legal groups, advocacy organizations, and a small but active community of grantmakers. The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 to extend marriage equality nationwide was preceded by a gradual legislative sea change and a dramatic shift in public opinion. In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed the idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, polls showed a reversal of the numbers, with 57 percent of Americans favoring marriage equality.

One of the key funders behind this shift was the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC), an initiative of the Proteus Fund that has partnered with individual donors and foundations to award roughly $2 million in grants each year since 2004 for a broad range of publicly visible education activities aimed at advancing marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it's worth looking closer at how CMC, as a funder collaborative, contributed to the success of the marriage equality movement. The CMC story also offers lessons about the role philanthropy can play in advocacy, as well as how funders can collaborate and take risks to achieve greater impact.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, federal law defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. By 2004, marriage equality had gained traction with a number of key legislative wins, including the approval of civil unions in Vermont, which granted same-sex couples some (but not all) of the legal benefits of marriage, and a landmark victory in Massachusetts that made it the first state in the U.S. to uphold the right of LGBT couples to marry. But it was also a year of setbacks for the movement, as a series of same-sex marriage bans were passed in thirteen states. According to CMC director Paul A. Di Donato, it was around this time that some grantmakers began to realize that achieving a critical mass of support for marriage equality would require greater engagement by the philanthropic community, not just a few relationships between individual foundations and big national players. With that in mind, a group of funders, including the Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Proteus Fund (as a convener), came together around the idea that pooling financial resources and sharing collective knowledge could lead to broader change. Subsequently, they agreed to test the waters as a funder collaborative for a few years to see whether same-sex marriage would continue to gain traction as an issue. In 2007, when Di Donato joined CMC, same-sex marriage was still at the top of the LGBT agenda and the collaborative's members were still deeply committed to supporting public education activities aimed at advancing that agenda.

From the outset, the collaborative focused on a state-based funding strategy aligned with the overarching vision of the national campaign. CMC reasoned that "success at the state level is essential to building a national movement [that can achieve] a definitive victory at the federal level." Di Donato and CMC also recognized that there was a need to fund organizations operating at the state level because other grantmakers had made an assumption that funding national organizations would result in larger impact. To keep a pulse on emerging priorities in different states, CMC formed connections with a range of influential partners, including organizations such as Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal. Di Donato explains that relationship-building was an integral part of the strategy: "We always maintained very close working relationships and true partnerships with key national leaders, other movement organizations, and our grantees in the states to make sure we were operating as an integrated team."

Drawing on the knowledge of its network, CMC sought to change the debate about marriage equality and shift public opinion by funding a broad array of public education activities, including research, message development, and state-level polling (both baseline and post-public education polling, in order to demonstrate cause and effect). Once the most effective messages had been identified, they could be deployed by grantees through field tactics like coalition building, community outreach, and other forms of advocacy. The collaborative understood that all these activities had to happen concurrently — "firing on all cylinders," as Di Donato puts it — in order to build the momentum needed to move polling numbers, which was one key measure of success.

CMC also made it a priority to learn from both the successes and failures of the initiatives it funded. By striving to understand why particular activities worked or why setbacks occurred, the collaborative could invest the appropriate resources in helping grantees fine-tune the next iteration of their work. Needless to say, it can be challenging to fund in an environment that is constantly changing and in which it may not be possible to achieve consistently successful results, but Di Donato is confident that some of CMC's biggest successes resulted directly from its openness to risk after major setbacks such as the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008 and the loss of marriage equality in Maine during a 2009 ballot initiative. "I can honestly say that we were risk takers," he says. "When there was a big loss in the field where we had been funding the public education component, we doubled down. We were willing to make bets on people and tactics and strategies that were evolving as they went along." After the loss in Maine, CMC continued — and even ramped up — its funding in order to help local grantees like EqualityMaine analyze the problem, understand how to address it, and implement a new plan. When the question of same-sex marriage reappeared on the ballot in Maine and three other states in 2012, it passed.

CMC's willingness to take risks enabled it to be responsive to emerging opportunities and challenges. Those strengths stem in part from the nature of a collaborative structure, which, in CMC's case, yielded a number of other strategic benefits, including:

Convening power: The collaborative was a catalyst for bringing key stakeholders together in order to develop and drive an integrated, overarching strategy. At annual meetings, funder members met for shared learning and agenda-setting discussions with movement leaders; national nonprofit partners; experts in field organizing, polling, and communications; and grantees. CMC used its convening power to effectively build trust with its grantees and partners, as well as to gather the knowledge it needed to engage in sophisticated and strategic grantmaking. By the end of these meetings, Di Donato observes, "the ball had been moved forward in terms of a deeper understanding of issues and getting people on the same page."

Amplified impact: Coordinating with a breadth of organizations had a positive ripple effect that extended the reach of the collaborative's funding and influence. Other grantmakers in the field trusted what CMC was doing and followed its lead. According to Di Donato, it wasn't uncommon for nonprofits on the ground to seek grants from CMC before pursuing other funders because "it became a good housekeeping seal of approval to have a CMC grant." While the collaborative was responsible for investing $20 million in public education activities over eleven years, Di Donato estimates that it had a direct impact on securing and directing another $10 million to $15 million in funding.

Knowledge for philanthropy: CMC commissioned several internal evaluations to examine how public education activities fit into and influenced the broader movement. These included case studies of the 2011 marriage equality victory in New York State and an evaluation of 2012 ballot box wins in Maine, Minnesota, Washington, and Maryland. Learnings were shared with CMC's network of grantmakers as tools for understanding marriage equality funding and shaping public education grants in other issue areas.

As a funder collaborative, CMC has modeled how strategic partnerships and collaboration around advocacy can help drive significant results. Following the court's marriage equality ruling, Di Donato sees a vital, ongoing role for funders in breaking through other barriers that marriage equality alone cannot overcome, including discriminatory practices in housing, education, the criminal justice system, and employment. "There's a robust agenda out there that needs work, and that work can't happen unless it has money," he notes. "Until all levels of government are doing everything they can to fight discrimination in all those other areas, the policy job isn't done."

For more information about the Civil Marriage Collaborative, visit www.proteusfund.org/cmc.

To learn more about funder collaboratives, download the new  GrantCraft guide.

Headshot_noli_vegaNoli Vega, a communications associate at Foundation Center, helps develop, implement, and monitor strategies to increase the center's visibility and communicate about its products and services. She has also worked with a variety of nonprofits, including the Inner Resilience Program at the Tides Center, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). This post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog.

Weekend Link Roundup (July 4-5, 2015)

July 05, 2015

Grateful-dead-50th-anniversary-logo-stickerOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

"Indicators of America’s flagging democratic engagement abound," writes Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, in an op-ed on the Fox News site. And a key reason, says Merisotis, is that America is "losing its edge when it comes to talent – the knowledge, skills and values that lead to success in our lives and careers." What's more, the decline in talent not only serves as a drag on the economy, it affects the quality of our democracy. "Without opportunities to cultivate their talent," writes Merisotis, "Americans are left with few prospects to move up the economic ladder. That creates a sense of hopelessness and apathy, which in turn has a dampening effect on Americans’ willingness to vote and engage. And without such involvement, democracy’s power wanes."

Fundraising

"[T]apping into your network and empowering your people is how the [fundraising] magic happens (especially with big fundraising events like #GivingTuesday)," writes Caryn Stein, vice president for communications and content at Network for Good. And this year, she adds, there are "two things you absolutely must do for a truly successful #GivingTuesday campaign: 1) identify your team and 2) activate your community.  While you're at it, be sure to check out our Q&A with 92nd Street Y executive director Henry Timms, the "father of #GivingTuesday." 

Joanne Fitz is hosting the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival on her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog and is looking for posts on a topic of great interest to all nonprofit leaders: year-end fundraising. To be included in the final roundup, you have to have first published a post or article on your own blog. Then submit it by Saturday, July 25, to Joanne at nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com. Joanne will review all submissions and pick the best to feature in a round-up post on July 28. Good luck!

International Affairs/Development

Writing in the Huffington Post, Suzanne Skees looks at efforts by the Grameen Foundation to design disruptive mobile solutions "to the kind of poverty that's most challenging to reach, in remote rural areas, and to the poorest of the poor."

Nonprofits

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some behavioral ways by which to assess whether or not a quality partnership exists between the board and CEO.

Philanthropy

Can smallish foundations have an impact on major policy issues? Absolutely, writes Robert D. Haas, former CEO and chair emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co., whose family foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, was the first in the country to make marriage equality a top priority.

The team at the newish HistPhil blog continues to hit it out of the park, with deeply researched well-written posts from Stanley Katz, David Hammack, Maribel Morey, and others. Morey's latest, a reflection on philanthropy's role in a democracy prompted by the Supreme Court's recent Obergefell decision, includes this:

Private foundations, like the U.S. Supreme Court, are institutions entrusted by the American people to serve the well-being of the public, whether through the U.S. Constitution, subsequent legal precedent, or tax-exempt status. While the Supreme Court serves the public by being the supreme court of the land and final arbiter of the U.S. Constitution, philanthropic organizations do so by defining and choosing among problems in society and by brainstorming and funding certain solutions over others. And like Supreme Court Justices, staff and trustees in these philanthropic organizations arrive at their positions through appointment and not through any vote of the American people. As unelected individuals making decisions for the public, they sit just as uncomfortably — and arguably more so than the Court — in a democratic society that finds value in the popular will over public policy....

Inside Philanthropy's David Callahan calls Napster co-founder Sean Parker's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal "the closest thing yet to a manifesto for tech philanthropy. And given the vast wealth this world commands," adds Callahan, "it’s a call that deserves close attention." Maybe, but HistPhil's Stan Katz has a considerably different take.

Social Innovation

What ever happened to the Obama administration's Social Innovation Fund? Nell Edgington takes a look at a new report out from the Social Innovation Research Center (SIRC), a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, that details what has worked and what hasn't in the fund's six-year history. 

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2015)

July 01, 2015

Book reviews from two of our favorite contributors, a timely look at the future of community foundations from Silicon Valley Community Foundation president Emmett Carson, a thought-provoking post on the relationship between philanthropy and inequality by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, a cool infographic from CECP and the Conference Board, and great advice for nonprofits from Claire Axelrad and Bethany Lampland — all that and more helped make June the second-busiest month ever at PhilanTopic. Best of all, you've got a long holiday weekend to catch up on the good stuff you may have missed. Have a happy and safe Fourth!

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 27-28, 2015)

June 28, 2015

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

Economy

"For young and old alike," a new poll suggests, "debt now looms as a major factor in setting their life course. An identical 38 percent of both young and older respondents said that in making decisions such as when to get married, buy a home, or have children, debt had affected their choices 'a great deal'. Nancy Cook, a correspondent for National Journal, reports for The Atlantic.

Fundraising

On the Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Jennifer Chandler, vice president and director of network support and knowledge sharing at the National Council of Nonprofits, shares some thoughts on how new rules issued by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could "make life less stressful for nonprofit fundraising professionals and development directors."

In a post on the Software Advice blog, Janna Finch, a market research associate at the firm, shares key findings from a report based on a recent survey of nonprofit event planners.

Giving

Is charitable giving really at a record high? On the CNBC website, Kelley Holland takes a closer look at the numbers.

Higher Education

Meredith Kolodner, a staff writer for the Hechinger Report, checks in with a deeply researched look at merit-based scholarship programs, which, studies show, "disproportionately benefit middle- and upper-income students and have little impact on college graduation rates.

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[Infographic] Impact Investing Opportunities

June 27, 2015

Impact investing is an activity "that aims to generate a specific social or environmental benefit in addition to financial gain." Previously the domain of institutional investors, over the last five years it has begun to attract the attention of foundations and high-net-worth individuals and, according to the team at Getting Smart, has powered a revolution in ed tech. In addition to outlining basic considerations for donors thinking about making an impact investment and listing ten education investment categories, our infographic of the week (courtesy of Getting Smart) includes a link to a paper (38 pages, PDF) that identifies twenty-five impact investment opportunities in K-12 education.

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[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

In the area of education reform, for example, Toyama notes that despite the popularity of Khan Academy, MOOCs, and other online innovations, studies show that while technology has the potential to open vast new worlds to millions of young learners, it also amplifies their tendency to choose entertainment over education. What's more, absent qualified, motivated teachers trained to give each student "caring, knowledgeable, adult attention," as well as an environment that fosters good learning habits — two things struggling schools typically lack — technology alone will never help children learn better. Followers of the Cult of Technology know this, Toyama adds, pointing to "Silicon Valley executives who evangelize cutting-edge technologies at work but send their children to Waldorf schools that ban electronics." Nor is he under any illusion that efforts to bridge the digital divide will reduce inequality; the rich always will be able to afford more of the latest and best technology, he writes, and even if equal distribution of high-tech devices were possible, literacy, Internet skills, social networks, and other factors have more to do with what any individual can hope to accomplish with those tools.

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5 Questions for...Vic De Luca, President, Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation

June 23, 2015

The Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation was established in 1947 by Charles Noyes, a real estate developer in Manhattan, in honor of his wife, Jessie Smith, herself a women's suffrage and civil rights activist. Initially, Noyes set up the foundation to provide scholarships, with half earmarked for non-white students. In the 1990s, the family decided to change course and began to provide funding more directly to organizations working on issues in which they had an interest. Today, most of its support goes to grassroots organizations and movements in the United States working "to change environmental, social, economic, and political conditions to bring about a more just, equitable, and sustainable world."

Recently, PND chatted with Vic De Luca, who joined the foundation in 1991 and has been its president since 2000, about its donor-advised campaign, a new initiative aimed at convincing donors to make more timely allocations from their donor-advised funds.

Headshot_vic-de-lucaPhilanthropy News Digest: The Noyes Foundation recently launched a campaign around the timely distribution of monies from donor-advised funds. Why is the distribution of funds from DAFs suddenly an issue?

Vic De Luca: Donor-advised funds have been around a long time, administered in many cases by community foundations, but they started to become really popular among donors in the 1990s after mutual fund companies like Fidelity and Vanguard began to offer them, and by the early 2000s their popularity was off the charts. One of the reasons for their popularity is that contributions to a donor-advised fund qualify for an immediate tax deduction, while donors have complete say over how those tax-advantaged dollars are allocated. In other words, you're allowed to transfer funds from your own personal account at Fidelity or Vanguard to a public charity, and then at some point in the future you get to "advise" that public charity as to where those dollars should go. It's a simple process. You just contact the fund-holder, answer some questions, and make a contribution; it can be a one-time contribution, or you can choose to contribute on a regular basis. And you can make disbursements from the fund at any time, or not at all.

PND: What part of that equation does your campaign address?

VDL: We're not saying donor-advised funds are good or bad; we're saying the current system is broken, in that it allows an individual donor to take an immed­iate tax deduction but does not insist on a corresponding responsibility to put those dollars to work for public benefit in a timely fashion, which is something we'd like to see. We think donors should be encouraged to give, and what we're trying to do is to say to individuals who have donor-advised funds, "Look, you've made your contribution to this public charity, you've gotten your tax deduction, don't let that money sit there, let's put it to good use." We think the money sitting in donor-advised funds is an untapped resource that could and should be used to deal with some of the pressing problems of the day. And we can help donors who share our social justice concerns do that.

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[Review] 'The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations'

June 18, 2015

In his poem "i thank You God for most this amazing," e.e. cummings wrote that "now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened." It is precisely this sense of clarity that comes to mind when reading The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by David Grant, former president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Cover_the_social_nonprofit_handbookAs Grant notes, the world of the twenty-first century increasingly is defined by metrics and data. The social sector is no exception, and calls for better and more timely measurement of its activities have become a feature of the landscape. Gone are the days when funders were content to let intuition and anecdotal evidence guide their funding choices. Donors today — both institutional and individual — are keen to move the needle on large, seemingly intractable societal and environmental challenges, and in attempting to do so they have become ever-more interested in data that can demonstrate the impact of the programs and organizations in which they have invested. As a long-time admirer and teacher of poetry and literature, Grant relishes the complexity of this brave new world and applies his nuanced perspective toward a keen assessment of what it means for the field. "Social profit," he writes, "is about desired social benefits, and so it has to be defined locally depending on what a community of people values and what they need. It will never have a fixed or standard measure, and efforts to create one will get bogged down in endless quibbles and conflict about measurement itself."

According to Grant, efforts to measure social impact are fraught with challenges with which the for-profit world does not have to contend. Trying to balance multiple bottom lines, for example, is necessarily more complex than having to worry about a single one, he notes, especially given the fact there is no single agreed-upon unit of "social profit." Rather than focus on quantitative measures, therefore, Grant emphasizes qualitative "formative assessment." While not ignoring quantitative performance measures, he favors "soft measurements" and argues that a true assessment of social profit demands "a combination of pertinent metrics and a qualitative description...that can only be created by the people who are providing and receiving it."

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Philanthropy’s Difficult Dance With Inequality

June 16, 2015

Inequality-304America's foundations do not easily use the word "inequality." This may seem surprising in the wake of the Ford Foundation's recent announcement that it will refocus 100 percent of its grantmaking on "inequality in all its forms," but perhaps it shouldn't. Out of close to four million grants made by American foundations and recorded by Foundation Center since 2004, only 251 use the word "inequality" in describing their purpose. Moreover, the geographic focus of many of those grants is countries such as El Salvador, Nigeria and Malaysia -- or it's simply "global," which in the parlance of most foundations means the rest of the world. More common are terms like "opportunity" and "poverty," which can certainly be viewed as related to "inequality" but hardly are synonyms for it.

Nevertheless, inequality is an inescapable fact of our world: while extreme poverty in many regions of the globe may be declining, recent research suggests that the gap between rich and poor is fast becoming a growing threat to peace, economic prosperity, the environment, public health, democracy and just about any other major challenge you can name. Indeed, one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals developed by seventy nations (with the direct participation of 7.5 million people around the world) is to "reduce inequality within and among nations." So, why don't more foundations embrace the term?

Inequality is controversial. In most camps, the word "inequality" is not neutral. It is a concept that implies a search for causes rather than the treatment of symptoms. It requires the kind of work that Carnegie Corporation board chair Russell Leffingwell so eloquently described in his McCarthy-era testimony to Congress: "I think [foundations] are entering into the most difficult of all fields....They are going right straight ahead, knowing that their fingers will be burned again, because in these fields you cannot be sure of your results, and you cannot be sure that you will avoid risk." It is also difficult for a single foundation, or even a coalition of foundations, to know where to begin. Oxfam reports that eighty-five ultra-high-net-worth individuals hold as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. How do you tackle such a challenge? Besides, this simply isn’t the kind of work that most foundations do. More than 60 percent of the giving by U.S. foundations goes to mainstream causes in the fields of health, education, and the arts.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 13-14, 2015)

June 14, 2015

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

Criminal Justice

On the BMAfunders.org site, Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, argues that mass incarceration of young men and boys of color "is a symptom of a larger disease that is prevalent both before and after arrest and imprisonment occur." 

Fundraising

A new report from Crain’s New York Business, in partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, finds that 57 percent of respondents to a spring 2014 survey said they expected to raise more in 2014 than in 2013, while a majority — 52 percent (compared to 29 percent in 2013) — said their organizations planned to hire development staff in 2015 to take advantage of the more generous giving climate.

"Generation Z, the heirs to the digital empire built by Generation X and expanded by Millennials, is made up of people who don’t just spend time online — they live there," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "And despite their youth... kids in Generation Z are regularly rocking social media for social good. Well-informed, constantly connected, and more tech-confident than your aunt Jan, they're taking on the world's problems, one online fundraiser at a time.

Governance

Where do nonprofit boards fall short? The Nonprofit Law Blog's Erin Bradrick shares some thoughts.

Impact/Effectiveness

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington chats with Mary Winkler, senior research associate with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, about measurement as a "necessary practice" for nonprofit organizations, the difference between measurement and evaluation, and the challenge inherent in finding funding for measurement work. 

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The Future of 'Community' for Community Foundations

June 09, 2015

Headshot_emmett_carson_hi-resCommunity foundations have existed for more than a hundred years by adhering to a simple proposition: they exist to serve their local communities. Today, this proposition is being challenged by an increasingly global, twenty-first century mindset and amazing new technologies that strengthen connections even as they weaken the importance of place. As a result, the definition of "community" is changing, and community foundations must ask themselves: Will we change with it?

More and more, Americans see themselves as global citizens – both influencing and being influenced by international events. The ubiquitous nature of smartphones and social media apps means that almost everyone is only a click away from staying in touch with any person they've ever met or from learning about a new development affecting any cause they've ever cared about. At the same time, Americans are more willing than ever to relocate to different communities in pursuit of a job or a different lifestyle.

The fact is, we are all part of multiple communities based on professional and personal interests that do not necessarily stem from or exist within a defined geography. Some of these communities exist only in cyberspace. And yet people have – and will always have – a direct connection to the place where they currently live. This presents a significant challenge – and a huge opportunity – for community foundations, which increasingly must figure out how to respond to locally based donors who support causes and organizations outside a foundation's stated geographical boundaries.

Put simply, community foundations that can address both the local and global philanthropic interests of their donors are the ones most likely to grow over the coming decades. At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we are committed to embracing this responsibility and believe that community foundations that cannot or choose not to do so will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage over time. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 30-31, 2015)

May 31, 2015

Seppblatter_lipssealedAfter a hiatus for college graduations on consecutive weekends, the weekend crew is back with its roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Anne Whatley, a consultant with Network Impact, shares key takeaways from a new guide that provides metrics and methods for measuring the success of your civic tech initiatives.

Climate Change

"The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It's real and it's relentless." writes Michael Grunwald in Politico. Driven by a team of nearly two hundred litigators and organizers, deep-pocketed donors like Michael Bloomberg, and "unlikely allies from the business world," the Beyond Coal campaign over the past five years "has killed a coal-fired power plant every ten days...[and] quietly transformed the U.S. electric grid and the global climate debate."

Community Improvement/Development

In remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce last week, Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson outlined six areas where Kresge is likely to make future investments in Detroit.

Diversity 

On the Markets for Good blog, Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition, argues that philanthropy can lean learn lessons from the business sector about the link between diversity and success.

Fundraising

Telling your nonprofit's story so it resonates with donors and other stakeholders is easier than you might think, Network for Good's Iris Sutcliffe writes, if you keep the five Cs in mind.

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[Review] Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America

May 28, 2015

The arts — as we know it — are doomed. The broad cultural and economic consensus of the last century that placed paramount value on the arts, arts education, and art institutions has been lost like the voice of Yeats' falconer in the widening gyre. Tomorrow we will have less art, and we will be the poorer for it.

Cover_Curtains_the_future_of_the_Arts_in_AmericaLike an Old Testament prophet, Michael M. Kaiser, the former president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, warns of a fundamental crisis in the arts: the way they are created, managed, and marketed in America is simply not sustainable. Ironically, as recently as 2013, Kaiser, in The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations, was somewhat optimistic that such a worst-case scenario could be averted, and he outlined a series of steps arts organizations could take to fortify themselves for the tough times ahead.

Not so much in 2015. In his new book, Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2015), Kaiser paints a dark picture of the future, both explaining how things came to pass and what arts organizations, especially mid-sized ones, might do to (maybe) save themselves from oblivion.

His argument goes like this: In economic terms, the arts are playing a losing hand; in almost every other industry, the costs of production are reduced over time, allowing for more goods to be sold at a lower price point. Innovation and commodification contribute to this process, enabling goods to be produced ever-more cheaply and distributed on a vast scale, which in turn allows for the increasing segmentation of consumer markets and real-time adaptation to changing tastes and expectations. Alas, almost none of this is true for the arts.

The performing arts in particular, writes Kaiser, are a labor-intensive endeavor in which every unit (i.e., performance) is numbingly expensive to produce — a cost that is passed on to members of the audience in the form of ever-rising ticket prices. Moreover, when every performance must support a portion of the salaries and pensions of hundreds of performers, managers, and back-office staff, as well as theater maintenance and the marketing of the production and institution itself, it's little wonder that arts professionals look to the future with pessimism and deep anxiety.

It wasn't always this way. A half-century ago, with the U.S. economy booming, government coffers bursting, and the costs of sustaining arts institutions much less daunting, the arts in America entered a sort of golden age. Arts education increasingly was viewed as a social good to be sustained with taxpayer dollars, and children, as they grew older, followed their parents' lead and became arts consumers and patrons in their own right. While twentieth-century forms of entertainment such as movies, television, and pop music all competed with live performances of more traditional art forms for audience dollars and attention, they served, more than anything else, to fuel Americans' interest in and a broader engagement with the arts. In particular, visionary investments like those made by the Ford Foundation in developing networks of regional theaters enabled the performing arts to flourish in cities large and small, while Lucille Lortel made Off-Broadway a household name.

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Investing in Fundamental Science: A Grantmaker's Perspective

May 26, 2015

Harvey_v_fineberg_for_PhilanTopicA half-century ago, Gordon Moore wrote a paper in which he projected that progress in the density and speed of silicon chips would increase exponentially. In his paper, Moore envisioned how this would enable technologies ranging from the personal computer, to the smart phone, to the self-driving car. His prediction became known as Moore's Law, and it has held remarkably true for fifty years. At a recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal paper, Moore talked about the impact of his insight on modern technology and the crucial role of basic scientific research in making it come true.

Moore, a founder of Intel and chairman of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, noted that the technological progress we have enjoyed over the last half-century was enabled by science education and basic research. While the opportunities for discovery have never been greater, commitment to and funding for science — from government, industry, and philanthropy — fall far short of what is needed today to accelerate progress into the future.

In 1965, when Moore enunciated his insights into the development of the microchip, the U.S. government invested about 10 percent of its budget in basic research and development. Today, federal funding for basic research has fallen below 4 percent. 

"I'm disappointed that the federal government seems to be decreasing its support of basic research. That's really where these ideas get started," said Moore. "Our position in the world of fundamental science has deteriorated pretty badly. There are several other countries that are spending a significantly higher percentage of their GNP than we are on basic science or on science, and ours is becoming less and less basic."

Once a hallmark of an innovation-focused American society, corporate labs are almost non-existent today. Coupled with cuts in government funding, the United States is in jeopardy of losing its lead in super-computing, cybersecurity, space exploration, energy, and health care, a recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds.

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Scanning the Skyline: Lessons From Thirty Years of Capital Grantmaking

May 20, 2015

Headshot_chuck_feeneyBuildings have a special allure for philanthropy — their mass, their unambiguous reality, their durability, their promise of sheltering great transformative enterprise — that few other achievements can match. They also conjure a cloud of distinctive risks: the possibility of inadequate maintenance, financial drain, premature obsolescence, the danger that the activities they house may not end up being all that transformative.

For a certain kind of donor — the philanthropist as creator, whose passion is to summon new things into being — the appeal of a building, if well planned and managed, more than compensates for the risks. It can transform the physical landscape, concentrate attention and resources on important lines of work, galvanize public will, raise standards of effort and performance, perhaps make a striking architectural statement. Yet even from this vantage point, the goal is rarely the thing in itself but the activity it makes possible: superior learning and discovery, more effective human services, accelerated scientific or technological innovation, improved medical care, or intensified creative energy, will, and collaboration.

In other words, if done properly, philanthropic support for a building is not the purchase of a product. It's an investment in enterprise, a long- term underwriting of whatever goes on inside. As Chuck Feeney summed it up in 2010, capital philanthropy creates "good buildings for good minds" that in time "can make the difference in the lives of a lot of people." Partly for that reason, it is especially popular among entrepreneurial givers, for whom building a business and building a cause are related undertakings.

Admittedly, for another kind of donor — let's say, the philanthropist as reformer, whose aim is to change policies and systems, to alter ideas and practices, to improve the way societies and economies function — buildings can trigger more aversion than fascination. Their scale and finality may seem, to some, too costly and irreversible, too inflexible a bet on one thing in one place.

Among institutional funders especially, this aversion to buildings is fairly common. Unlike individual donors, institutions may not derive much satisfaction from placing their names on a structure; many also fear a latent stream of future requests to keep funding maintenance and improvements long after a building is finished. For whatever reason, as South Africa's Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs puts it, "Anyone connected with philanthropy could have told us that we would be wasting our time trying to get funding for physical infrastructure. Money could go for equipment, salaries, transport and conferences, but never, ever for buildings." An exception to that rule, Justice Sachs discovered, was The Atlantic Philanthropies.

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