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1235 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

How Foundations Are Supporting Voting Rights

November 24, 2015

The last five years have seen a tug-of-war over the future of our democracy. At odds are forces that want to restrict access to political participation and others who seek to open it in hopes of increasing the number of Americans who cast ballots. After the 2010 election, the war on voting rights intensified with the adoption of laws that curbed participation through voter ID laws in a number of states and cutbacks on early voting opportunities in others. The Supreme Court further complicated the picture by putting money over people in its Citizens United decision and dealing a blow to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which made it easier for states to engage in voter suppression tactics impacting voters of color. At the same time, while some states were rolling back the clock on voting rights and democracy, others were pushing through reforms such as online and same-day voter registration aimed at modernizing their voting systems.

As the battle rages on, nonprofits, think tanks, and universities have received substantial funding from foundations in support of their efforts to advance democracy in America. Foundation Center's new tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, indicates that foundations made grants of almost $299 million between 2011 and 2014 in the campaigns, elections, and voting category, which includes support for implementation, research, reform, and/or mobilizations efforts related to campaign finance, election administration, redistricting, voting access, as well as voter registration, education, and turnout. More than half those grant dollars went for voter registration, education, and turnout initiatives, and, as one might expect, the annual total spiked in 2012, a presidential election year, as did funding for voting rights efforts.


This is information that everyone should pay attention to. In the voting rights and election administration arenas, we often raise concerns that funding for our efforts tends to be cyclical whereas our work is anything but. The data in the center's tool indicates that as the campaign to roll back voting rights intensified in 2011, support for the field was meager, leaving American voters vulnerable to voter suppression efforts. In contrast, in 2012, an election year, foundations significantly increased their support for such efforts, from $5.3 million to $29 million. Unfortunately, scarce resources in so-called "off years" left voters vulnerable because advocates lacked full capacity to litigate, advocate, and educate. Past and recent history make it clear that voting rights is not an election-cycle issue and cannot be ignored during non-election years, lest we slip back into old ways and attitudes.

Clearly, some foundations understand this. The Foundation Center's tool reveals that the Ford and Open Society foundations have been leaders in supporting efforts to protect and extend voting rights, while a relatively new funder, the JPB Foundation, has moved quickly to assist. Nor did foundations shy away from funding an important tactic in protecting our democracy – litigation. From 2011 to 2014, grants of nearly $30 million were earmarked for voting rights-related litigation, which is absolutely needed as a check on partisan manipulation of election laws by various state legislatures. In the face of these efforts, foundations simultaneously supported election administration efforts seeking to modernize our election system, increasing their investment in such reforms from $1.7 million in 2011 to $9.4 million in 2013.

These efforts are paying off with wins in states such as Colorado, Oregon, and others, where laws have been passed increasing access to the ballot box through mail-in ballots, automatic voter registration, and other mechanisms. Still, as history reminds us — and foundations well know — we must always be vigilant and ready to defend government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Headshot_Judith_Browne_DianisJudith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, is a civil rights attorney who has practiced in the areas of voting rights, education, housing, and employment and has served as counsel in major cases under the Voting Rights Act. Advancement Project's Voter Protection Program has challenged voter identification laws in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Wyoming and is counsel for the North Carolina NAACP in its challenge of North Carolina's omnibus voter suppression law, which was passed in 2013. You can follow her on Twitter at @jbrownedianis.

This is the ninth in a series of ten posts about U.S. democracy and civil society that will be featured here on PhilanTopic in the run-up to Election Day in November, and beyond.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 21-22, 2015)

November 22, 2015

Rick-CohenOur 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

Tax documents posted on Monday show that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation "has significantly scaled back its holdings in some of the world's biggest oil, coal and gas companies." The Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton has the story.


Forbes contributor Beth Braverman has some useful advice for your end-of-year giving. And you'll find more good year-end giving advice from Network for Good's Liz Ragland on NFG's Nonprofit Marketing Blog.


The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has announced that it has amended its tax returns for the last four years "to more accurately account for revenue received from government sources." The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman reports.


According to new figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in the U.S. has declined some 2 percent on a year-over-year basis. The Department of Education disagrees. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.


On the Knight Foundation blog, Neha Singh Gohil, a senior media fellow at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, shares four lessons the foundation learned from the Knight-funded  Informed Communities Education Reporting Fellowship, a nine-month project to support ethnic media outlets in their education reporting.


On the Giving in LA blog, John E. Kobara, executive vice president & COO of the California Community Foundation, reports on a resolution approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that will strengthen the county’s nonprofit sector through the implementation of "new federal rules that remove the long-held arbitrary 'ceiling' or limit on allowable overhead costs for nonprofits." 

After reminding her readers that the theme of November's Nonprofit Blog Carnival is how nonprofits can move from a scarcity mindset to a a mindset of abundance, Beth Kanter applies the same lens to the topic of self-care, or lack thereof, in the nonprofit sector.


To mark its seventy-fifth anniversary (1940-2015), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has posted a nifty interactive timeline of its activities and work.

On the HistPhil blog, Ben Soskis checks in with a good synopsis of a recent Hudson Institute event featuring Linsey McGoey, author of the recently released No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy.

Writer and charity strategist Brady Josephson attended nonprofit technology company Blackbaud's annual conference recently and came away "both amazed by the magnitude of the philanthropic sector at this moment [and] incredibly inspired by the ability of our actions to make change possible."

Fidelity Charitable, the largest donor-advised fund sponsor by assets in the world, has announced that it now accepts donations of bitcoin. Veronica Dagher reports.

In a post on the Kresge Foundation website, Rip Rapson, the foundation's president, reflects on the results of the most recent survey of the foundation's grantees by the Center for Effective Philanthropy -- the third time in the past decade that Kresge has commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from CEP -- and reports on some of the steps the foundation is taking to implement the almost two dozen recommendations contained in the report.

With Thanksgiving upon us, Jennifer Rainin and the program staff of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation in Oakland celebrate some of the people and partners for whom they are grateful.


Excellent piece by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic detailing how a series of bad decisions left Syracuse, New York, with the highest concentration of poor people in the country.

Social Good

"[T]here is a vast difference between conscious consumerism and actively fostering social change," write Cinnamon Janzer and Lauren Weinstein on the Fast Company Exist blog, "and confusing them is dangerous...."

The Case Foundation has released a new "Be Fearless" Action Guide. The foundation also has a good list of entrepreneurial "influencers" you should be following on Twitter.

And  two months after Facebook announced that it had created a Social Good team, the social media giant has launched its latest cause-focused products: fundraiser pages and improved Donate buttons for nonprofits. Matt Petronzio reports.

(Photo: Rick Cohen; photo credit: Eleanor Cohen)

That's it for this week. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at or via the comments section below....

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?

Keep the door open, even if it is just a crack. No matter how bright a foundation's trustees or staff might be, their networks are necessarily limited. And, as I can attest from long years of experience as a foundation professional, no matter how good your own ideas are, there are many people in the world with better, more creative ones. So it's just good business for a foundation to maintain at least one program area that freely allows organizations to apply for funding. Think of it as a kind of venture window or idea lab for your foundation. Failing that, foundations can signal their willingness to accept brief letters of interest, after which staff can decide whether or not to invite a formal proposal.

Create a website. While a remarkable 93 percent of American foundations do not have a website, there are some countries like the Netherlands where a Web presence is required of all foundations. (But that's a topic for another blog post.) In terms of numbers, the majority of American foundations are very small and have little or no infrastructure. They figure: "If we put up a website, we will be flooded by proposals that far exceed our grantmaking budget and most of which do not respond to our priorities." A simple website can actually help and gives you the chance to be crystal clear about what your foundation will fund and what it will not. Foundation Center has a service that designs and hosts (more than two hundred) foundation websites to make this process as simple and painless as possible.

Do a good job filling out your 990-PF tax return. For that huge majority of foundations that do not have websites, the 990-PF is the principal source of information about them for the public. It is also used by Foundation Center and others to build databases that describe foundation interests, priorities, and limitations. The Internal Revenue Service, in coming years, will require digital filing of 990s and will make them available as machine readable open data for use by anyone with a computer and a good algorithm. In other words, information about your foundation will be everywhere, and it will be based primarily on what you say about yourself in the tax return.

What can nonprofits do?

I once gave a live Web chat with the seemingly contradictory title "How to get a grant from a foundation that doesn't accept proposals." This is one of the most frequent questions posed to Foundation Center staff and the professionals who staff some four hundred and fifty Funding Information Network affiliates in all fifty states. The answer basically boils down to what my mother told me when I was growing up: "It's who you know that counts." In more modern parlance this means networks. If a foundation says it will not accept unsolicited proposals, look for a connection that could lead to an invitation to the party. Use Foundation Directory Online to scour its board and staff lists (if they have staff). Look at all their grants and who is getting them for what purpose. If you or one of your trustees has a connection with someone on the grants list, see if that organization will introduce you to the foundation. Remember, foundations that do not accept unsolicited proposals still make grants. Your task is to find a way on to the invitation list. The good news is that foundations tend to fund organizations consistently over time, so once you get that first grant (and perform well) there is a strong chance that future grants will follow.

Foundation Center sits at the nexus — or, to use the postmodern term, "interstices" — of foundations and the nonprofits they support. Though we know both types of organizations extremely well, we strive to remain religiously neutral by not picking winners or losers or otherwise classifying organizations as good or bad, worthy, or unworthy. Nevertheless, we do see trends, and some of those are worth noting, exploring, and perhaps going public about. As one who has committed his professional life to philanthropy and the social sector I am still wrestling with this one. Help me think it through in the comments section below.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about philanthropy's difficult dance with inequality. 

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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Weekend Link Roundup (November 14-15, 2015)

November 15, 2015

Sydney-tricolorOur 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

More bad news on the climate change front this week, as the World Meteorological Organization reported that average levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in the early months of 2015, a rise of 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. The Washington Post's Joby Warrick has the details.

Will environmental limits, including limits on the climate system, slow or put an end to economic growth? Not necessarily. Cameron Hepburn, professor of environmental economics at the University of Oxford, explains.

Corporate Philanthropy

As part of its Tech Titans: Community Citizens?, Triple Pundit has a compelling, in-depth look at homelessness in Silicon Valley by Sherrell Dorsey, a  social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social, and economic equity in underserved communities.


The path to college completion for low-income students is a marathon, not a sprint, writes Todd Penner, team lead for the College Preparation & Completion portfolio at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and one of the most important things we can do to help them is to look at each student as a whole, understand the complexities of his/her life, and be thoughtful about the type of support we offer.


During this season of giving, Feeding America suggests that you think about making a donation to one of the hundred and ninety-nine foodbanks in its nationwide network.

"More than $50 billion in charitable assets now course through our country’s economy via donor-advised funds (DAFs) as a result of changes wrought by the [Tax Reform Act of 1969]," writes Lila Corwin Berman in Forward magazine. And in "no small part due to the acumen and persistence of a mid-century Jewish tax lawyer, those dollars function quite differently from other charitable resources...."

How much are baby boomers expected to give to charity over the next two decades? According to a new analysis conducted by Merrill Lynch, the answer to that question is $8 trillion — part of the $59 trillion that boomers are likely to transfer to younger generations over the same period. Gayle Nelson, a development consultant, attorney, and blogger, reports for NPQ.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Crystal Hayling, a former CEO of the Blue Shield California Foundation and current member of the CEP board, argues that picking individual grantees is probably not the best use of foundation board members' time.

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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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[Report] 'Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy'

November 13, 2015

Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517aI am pleased to announce that the second annual Measuring the State of Disaster of Disaster Philanthropy report has been released. The report, a joint effort of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Foundation Center, represents a global effort to track, document, and record philanthropic giving to disasters.

Why do this? The answer is twofold. First, we want to more accurately capture how philanthropy currently responds to disasters and encourage philanthropy to support the full arc of a disaster, not just immediate relief needs. And because this second report represents the most comprehensive analysis to date on disaster philanthropy.

This year's report benefits from several enhancements:

  1. The data are drawn from seven different sources – Foundation Center, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System, FEMA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center Disaster Corporate Aid Tracker, GlobalGiving, and Network for Good.
  2. The Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy Dashboard allows funders, practitioners, policy makers, and other stakeholders to interact with the data and hone in on their specific areas of interest. When visiting the dashboard, you can filter the information by disaster type, disaster assistance strategy, geographic area, and data source.

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Donor-Advised Funds at Community Foundations: Connecting Donors & Nonprofits

November 12, 2015

Tree_illustrationA blog post I wrote about our board's recent policy decision on dealing with inactive donor-advised funds generated interest and questions.

  • What prompted us to act?
  • Are other community foundations taking similar steps?
  • What does the growth of donor-advised funds mean for local grantmaking?

What Prompted Us to Act?

Our board's action to address the few (about 5 percent, or fewer than five) inactive donor-advised funds out of the eighty we steward was done to align all the funds at the foundation with our business goal of helping people and businesses invest in our community.

The policy was crafted with sensitivity for our donor advisors and their heirs, real people we know and respect.

After four years of inactivity by a donor advisor, following a process to contact and work with them — and some of whom live out of state or out of the country — we can exercise our variance power and direct the funds toward the closest charitable purpose we have to the donor's original intent.

Are Other Community Foundations Taking Similar Steps?

Yes. There are examples of fund agreements online from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Boston Foundation and the Community Foundation of Collier County in Florida, with similar provisions for addressing dormant donor-advised funds. Community foundations across the country are implementing such policies, not because they are compelled to act by increased scrutiny or regulation, but because they, and almost universally their donors, are genuinely committed to increasing grant dollars and affecting change in their communities.

In crafting our policy, we looked to our colleagues and the Council on Foundations for guidance and best practices.

What Does the Growth of Donor-Advised Funds Mean for Local Grantmaking?

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Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust: Five Lessons Learned From Redefining Our Role

November 11, 2015

Healthy_places_ncWhen we decided to shake up our role as a funder four years ago, the concept of philanthropy took on new meaning at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Our message was clear: "We are moving from grantmaking to changemaking. We will spend less time identifying fundable projects and more time immersing ourselves in the communities we serve." To that end, we charged our program officers with thinking and acting differently — with going beyond the usual partners and funding requests, listening to communities in our state, and exploring new relationships and ideas.

It was a seismic shift, and we experienced some program staff turnover because of it. But those who stayed — as well as those who have joined us since — remain steadfast in their belief that this model is an essential part of how we can impact entrenched, community-wide problems. It also played a crucial role in the 2012 launch of Healthy Places NC, a ten-year, $100 million investment that put the responsibility for improving community health and quality of life squarely in the hands of the communities themselves.

Here are five lessons we have learned in the course of that journey:

1. Give Up Control. At its heart, Healthy Places is about a large regional funder giving up control of its processes in favor of outcomes. The trust works with communities to identify high-level goals but takes a back seat in the discussions of how best to achieve them. There are no specific models and no prescribed solutions. Instead, our program officers focus on helping communities convene discussions; align disconnected efforts; connect with statewide, regional, and national experts and services; and supply funding for many — but not all — projects a community wishes to undertake. The trust is willing to take risks, learning continuously from our successes and from the places where we have stumbled.

2. Invest in Unusual Relationships. A hallmark of Healthy Places is that it reaches beyond the network of "usual suspects" with regard to health. Trust program officers recruit new voices to the conversation and encourage diverse perspectives on community successes and challenges. There are health centers and hospitals engaged in this work, but the vast majority of those working under the Healthy Places umbrella are community organizers, faith leaders, nonprofit organizations, child care centers, housing authorities, local government officials, recreation enthusiasts, school systems, and a wide variety of people from outside the traditional health arena.

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A Look at Three States and the Role of Civic Participation Funders

November 10, 2015

Picture an America where democracy is vibrant because every eligible voter can exercise their right to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Where policy makers at every level reflect the interests of the communities they lead, and justice and fairness rule the day. This is the vision of my organization, the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), home to a national network of grantmakers committed to making democracy work for everyone.

At FCCP's recently concluded annual convening, discussions centered on the need for philanthropy to make long-term, sustainable investments in people-of-color-led organizations and in supporting engagement outside normal election cycles and independent of electoral calendars. Doing this effectively requires a deeper understanding of the groups and dynamics in local communities, funding that goes beyond three-year cycles, robust state-based funding infrastructure supported by national foundations, and a shared vision and understanding of the long-term measures needed to achieve these goals.

So, what does data have to do with this? Conversations at the convening elevated (among other things) the need to use democracy funding data to inform smarter grantmaking decisions that amplify the effectiveness of limited civic participation dollars. Indeed, a look inside the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool uncovers some important lessons for grantmakers.

The data paints an interesting picture of three states — Arizona, California, and Texas — that share some common elements but are characterized by widely differing philanthropic landscapes. First, none of them is considered a political battleground state. They also comprise three of the top six states with the largest Latino population, a rapidly growing demographic whose voter-participation rates lag behind that of white voters.

A closer look at the data reveals the disparities. Funding for nonpartisan civic participation activities in California significantly outpaces funding for those types of activities in Texas and Arizona. And though Texas edges out Arizona in total dollars contributed in support of civic participation efforts, it has four times the population of Arizona. Thus Texas clearly falls to the bottom in terms of philanthropic investments in a healthy democracy.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 7-8, 2015)

November 08, 2015

AcornsOur 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

It would seem as if we have only two unattractive options when it comes to climate change, writes Ross Anderson in The Atlantic. "We can continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We can cross our fingers that we adapt to a warming climate, and that earth's natural systems adapt too. Or we can transition to a cleaner global energy system, at a speed that is unprecedented, across all of history." But what if there's a third option? Anderson talks to Oliver Morton an editor at The Economist and the author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World about what might be humankind's last best hope.


Did the government of Rwanda manipulate data to show that poverty in the small central African country fell, when, it fact, it rose? Humanosphere's Tom Murphy takes a closer look and uncovers a fundamental truth about data: It's not so much having it that matters, it's how you use it.

How important is "open data" to the success of the recently ratified Sustainable Development Goals? Pretty darn important, argue William Gerry and Kathryn Pritchard.

"We spend tens of billions of dollars on social services for low-income households each year, but we have only the vaguest ideas of where those dollars go, what impact they have, and where unmet needs exist," writes Scott Allard, a professor in the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, on the Brookings Institute blog. To address this "information void," the Salvation Army and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University have developed a Human Needs Index drawn from service provision tracking systems maintained by more than seven thousand Salvation Army sites nationwide. With a little luck, adds Allard, the index will be both "a cool data visualization tool or source of information for academic inquiry into the measurement of need" and a  model of "how communities and philanthropy might collect, share, and use data to improve outcomes for clients, organizations, and community residents."


At a panel hosted by NCRP in October, Lori Bezahler, president of the Edward Hazen Foundation, was asked to consider whether market-driven strategies can be expected to drive equity in education. Her thoughts are here.

Higher Education

Findings from the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual report on the fundraising results of the top ten public and private colleges and universities in America are both "sobering and instructive." Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of the Edvance Foundation, explains.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself, has a few suggestions for "ending" the Ivy League and, at the same time, mitigating the inequality that America's favorite "bastion of elitism" contributes so significantly to:

  1. Eliminate the tax deductibility of contributions to schools having endowments in excess of $1 billion.
  2. Require that all schools with endowments of more than $1 billion spend at least 10 percent of their endowment annually on student financial aid.
  3. Require that university admissions be based strictly on objective criteria such as grades and SAT/ACT scores, with random drawings used to cull the herd further if necessary.

Yale has announced that it is committing $50 million over the next five years to diversify its faculty.

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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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Multi-Generational Models That Work

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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Voter Turnout: A Linchpin of American Democracy

November 03, 2015

Voter turnout in the last midterm election was embarrassing, hitting the lowest levels since World War II, while statements like "the game is rigged" and "why bother" could be heard in conversations around the country.

But it does matter. It matters to the effectiveness of our democracy if the majority of people stay home on Election Day. And it matters to the future of our democracy if most Americans think of government as an inefficient "other" rather than something we create.

While running an organization focused on engaging young people in politics, I was privileged to be able to travel the world and speak with other organizational and state leaders on the topic of democracy. Those trips never failed to remind me that, in the U.S., we are lucky to have a robust nonprofit sector with nongovernmental and nonpartisan organizations dedicated to promoting the health of the country and democracy, as well as an equally robust foundation community that supports them. Collaboration among foundations supporting democracy-focused work in the U.S., combined with creative and rigorously evaluated work by nonprofits, is a critical part of solving the crisis that faces our nation as citizens stop participating and give up on — rather than try to improve — the government we have created over the last two hundred and twenty-eight years.

So, I was struck by the data I turned up when searching Foundation Center's Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool. For example, funding for the entire category of "Campaigns, Elections, and Voting" lagged far behind funding in any other category, making up only 8 percent of the total funding for U.S. democracy in 2011 and 14 percent in 2012. The three other main categories (Media, Government, and Civic Participation) comprising the U.S. democracy funding landscape (as defined by the tool) received 41 percent, 30 percent, and 31 percent of funds, respectively, in 2011 and similar percentages in 2012. And this was during a presidential election cycle. (Note: grants may support democracy work in more than one area; therefore, totals for the major areas of activity exceed 100 percent.)


Break it down further and you find:

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2015)

November 02, 2015

To quote the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro: "You are a New York Mets fan...and you know nothing is guaranteed." Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on a spectacular season and a truly memorable World Series victory, their first in thirty years. If you're a Mets fan...well, you don't have to wait that long to revisit some of the winning content we posted in October.

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that had you cheering? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at


Quote of the Week

  • "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why...."

    — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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