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1204 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

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

August 29, 2015

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

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Warning to All Grantseekers: When Markets Tank, HOLD That Request!

August 24, 2015

Markets_downYou can't time markets but you can time grant requests. So when newspapers scream: "Massive sell-off on Wall Street as investors fear China slowdown" (New York Post), you should think twice before asking a foundation for money.

In good times, foundations can drive grantseeking nonprofits crazy with their demands for effectiveness and metrics to support those claims. At regional and national gatherings, foundation professionals speak passionately about effectiveness in sessions with titles like "Unlocking Impact...", "What Works...", and "The Cost of Achieving Outcomes..." What's more, every year it seems more and more foundations turn to online application and reporting forms that require nonprofits to produce copious amounts of detailed information about their logic models, theories of change, inputs, outputs, and outcomes.

But when stock markets head south, especially in the dramatic way they have over the past few days, there are only three indicators that matter: the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the NASDAQ Composite. If you are ever fortunate enough to make it into a foundation president's office, apart from the usual large desk you will be greeted by a television or monitor tuned to CNBC with its endless chatter about share prices and market moves. Remember, the vast majority of the 87,000 foundations in the U.S. are endowed, meaning the income that underwrites their grant budgets comes exclusively from the performance of their investments. Foundation presidents and the trustees to whom they report know that the ability to advance a foundation's mission depends on that performance, and they also know that they are being watched by state and federal regulators tasked with ensuring they are responsible fiduciaries and "prudent investors" of foundation assets.

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Cultivating Programs for Next-Generation Donors

August 17, 2015

Money-treeFifteen years ago, as Charles Bronfman and his late wife Andy were ushering Birthright Israel into its toddler years, they inherently understood that next generations would have new ideas about Jewish life and new energy to contribute to it. One strategy they supported began in 2002, when Jeff Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), hired me to encourage next-generation donors to bring their own ideas and resources to bear on the Jewish world.

After spending a few months surveying the landscape and exploring best practices across the country, we set up a collaborative giving process for next-generation donors who wanted to give beyond tables at benefits by more directly funding critical issues in the Jewish world. With initial financial support from ACBP, the Samberg Family Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, I helped launch a next-generation giving circle, Natan, for Generation Xers, largely financial-types in New York, who wanted to support start-ups catalyzing new Jewish life in North America and Israel.

We then founded Grand Street, a network for Generation Yers inheriting opportunities to participate in their families' philanthropy. These men and women wanted to honor their parents' and grandparents' legacies and commitment to the Jewish community while also introducing their generation's ideas with respect to contemporary Jewish life.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 15-16, 2015)

August 16, 2015

Julian-bond-1940-2015Our 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....


In the first Q&A for their new Community Insights series, the folks at Markets for Good speak with Andrew Means, co-founder of the Impact Lab and founder of Data Analysts for Social Good.


Good post by Beth Kanter on six fundraising platforms that have disrupted charitable giving forever.

In a review of Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther says that if "Effective Altruism catches on more widely – and that's a big if – it will disrupt traditional philanthropy, change the way individuals donate to charity and force nonprofits to get much better at measuring impact...."

Global Health

Think the world is getting worse? Max Roser and the folks at have a dozen or so charts and tables that suggest otherwise.

The continent of Africa recently celebrated a year without a single recorded case of polio. On Slate, the Gates Foundation's Jay Wenger explains why that is cause for optimism but not complacency.


In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sonya Campion, a trustee of the Seattle-based Campion Foundation, argues that advocacy is a basic responsibility of all nonprofit boards.


On the Social Velocity blog, the Packard Foundation's Kathy Reich, who usually doesn't agree with those who urge nonprofits to act more like for-profits, says there is one area where nonprofits lag their for-profit peers: talent assessment, development, and management.

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Criminal Justice: Letter to POTUS From Executives' Alliance

August 15, 2015

In a letter sent to the White House earlier this month, the presidents and CEOs of twenty-seven foundations called on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal agencies and contractors to treat job applicants with arrests or convictions fairly in the hiring process.

The letter was signed by members of the Executives' Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color, which works to reform the criminal justice system, and was issued as proponents of "fair chance" hiring reform have, in recent weeks, stepped up their campaign, including a rally at the White House in late July that drew hundreds from around the country.

The White House, for its part, appears to have arrived at a similar  conclusion and, as Alan Schwarz reports in today's New York Times, is taking steps to address some of the damage caused by over-incarceration and harsh sentences for minor drug offenses that became the norm after a war on drugs was declared in the 1980s.

With the alliance's permission, we've reprinted the letter in its entirety below....

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

August 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 06, 2015

Failure_stampAt three recent philanthropy gatherings*, I heard open discussions of failure in grantmaking strategy and execution. The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but I'm heartened by this mini-trend.

Still, why is it so hard to talk about failure in philanthropy?

There's no incentive. Under what circumstances is one encouraged to fail? Working out, playing sports, rehearsing for a performance – these are all activities where you're meant to try something new, see how it goes, fix what didn't work, and try again. You get immediate signals that tell you what's not working, and often someone is there to tell you what to do instead, or how to do better. What's crucial in those cases is that you're not alone – there is someone in the role of spotter, observing your performance with a frame of reference of how to do it better and giving you timely feedback on how to improve. And you can see the results. Signals about performance in philanthropy travel much more slowly, if at all, and the roles are not nearly as clear. As discussed in a prior post, most foundations are minimally staffed, so there's not a lot of space for an HR function. And most program staff are recruited for their content expertise, not because they're good managers. So you can't count on there being a spotter for you within your foundation. Don't get me wrong, people within the foundation do pay attention to what you're doing, and you are called to account if you don't follow the rules. But those rules aren't necessarily set up to support performance or performance improvement. Which brings up another point....

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Why Venture Philanthropy Is the Future of Giving

August 04, 2015

News_plant_giving_growth_200For decades, the formula has remained unchanged: donors give to charities, nonprofits, and other social purpose organizations — here in Canada, where LIFT Philanthropy Partners is based, more than $12 billion was donated last year — and organizations, in turn, use those donations to run their programs and offer services in their communities. Benefits are considered to be directly correlated to the size of the donation: more money = more programs and services; less money = fewer programs and services. The cycle simply repeats ad infinitum, without a real understanding of results, impact, or long-term value.

The chief executives of many of these nonprofits are so busy feeding the cycle so as to serve their vulnerable clients that they have little or no time left for the business planning or evaluation that would be the next steps in building organizational capacity. The result is real and systemic challenges that, year after year, aren’t addressed in any meaningful way. For example, despite $12 billion in donations, 42 percent of Canadians have low literacy skills, more than 20 percent of those over the age of 20 have not completed high school, and only 4.4 percent of youth get the recommended amount of physical activity.

How can we help nonprofits do more to tackle these problems? How can we ensure that every dollar of that $12 billion is being used to address the very real, very systemic challenges that are a reality for too many people? How can we get more results from hard-working organizations that are already stretched thin?

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 1-2, 2015)

August 02, 2015

Adirondacks-with-ocean-viewOur 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....

Climate Change

While the decision of the Hewlett Foundation to amend its social investment policy to say it will "refrain from future investments in private partnerships primarily involved in oil and gas drilling" falls far short of divestment, it is significant nonetheless. Marc Gunther explains.

In the New Yorker, Katy Lederer explains how a new report from international consulting firm Mercer not only quantifies the investment impacts of various climate-change scenarios, it makes clear that as climate change "trashes" the economy, superfiduciaries— sovereign wealth and pension funds, foundations, and endowments — are not going to be able to meet their long-term obligations. 

Endowed institutions aren't the only ones waking up to the existential threat of unchecked climate change. Bloomberg Politics reports that executives of thirteen major U.S. corporations have announced at least $140 billion in new investments "to [reduce] their carbon footprints as part of a White House initiative to recruit private commitments ahead of a United Nations climate-change summit later this year in Paris."


The latest edition of the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Marketing Guide blog, is open for submissions. The topic of this month's roundup is how you share progress or communicate your accomplishments -- "not just with donors, but to program participants, and other supporters and influencers as well." The deadline for submissions (new or recent posts) is  Friday, August 28, and the roundup of all posts will be published on Monday, August 31. To submit a post, just email the URL and two- or three-sentence summary to

Corporate Social Responsibility

Large multinationals spent some $20 billion on corporate social responsibility programs in 2013. Good news, right? In The Atlantic, Gillian White explains why we shouldn't get too excited.

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The Parting Glass

July 30, 2015

Jane_Schwartz_Paul RapoportIn 2009, when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then worked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant proposals, and help grantees develop viable exit strategies once our final multiyear grants had concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and our grantmaking was at an end. After twenty-seven years of supporting all the major organizations in New York's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities — providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period — the actual closing date was upon us.

Throughout the preceding decades the foundation's board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out phase. When they realized our closing was imminent, all of them — either formally or informally — reached out and urged us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff but for our grantees as well. So while we had had the idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, holding a final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the sad realities of closing.

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[Review] How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World

July 29, 2015

Book_how_to_be_great_at_doing_good_for_PhilanTopicThere are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and in 2013 over 62 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours to charitable causes. Given these statistics, you might think we were well on our way to a world in which caring people are significantly improving the lives of people in need. According to the World Bank, however, more than a billion people globally live in extreme poverty, and each year over 2.6 million children die of hunger-related causes. It's enough to make one wonder whether charity does any good.

In How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World, animal rights activist Nick Cooney offers an antidote to such cynicism in the form of a "complacency-shattering guidebook for anyone who wants to actually change the world, whether as a donor, a volunteer, or a nonprofit staffer." 

In the book, Cooney addresses the misconceptions that persistently prevent donors and volunteers from "succeeding" in their charitable endeavors. He tells us, for example, that most people see charity as

a warm, fuzzy thing and that as long as our intentions are good we should be applauded. We are not taught to think rigorously about our approach. We are not taught how to succeed at doing good, or even that success is what matters. So we aren't in the habit of making calculated decisions when it comes to doing good....

But what do we mean by "success"? "The measure of success for charities," Cooney writes, is not an "up or down vote on whether they are making the world a better place." The question is, or should be, how much good can a charity accomplish. It's not a revolutionary — or even new — idea, but if pursued to its logical conclusion, it requires donors, volunteers, and nonprofit practitioners to make some tough decisions. If we really want to change the world and include as many individuals as possible in that change, we need to completely rethink the way we do our work.

For nonprofits to become more efficient, Cooney argues, they first need to establish a "bottom line" that reflects their "cost per good done." It could be something like the "cost per HIV infection prevented," or "the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions prevented." Not that establishing such metrics is easy. A study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that "even among the largest foundations...only 8 percent had any data whatsoever that showed how successful they'd been at achieving a defined goal." 

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We're There When You Need Us

July 21, 2015

Money-treeDo you expect your street to be plowed after a big storm? Yep. Do you expect that bridge to remain standing as you drive over it? Of course. Do you expect the folks at the 911 hotline number to pick up every time you call? Without question. Do you take the existence of all this publicly-supported infrastructure for granted? Most likely.

The same is true for the infrastructure serving the social sector. Philanthropists and nonprofits depend every day on hundreds of organizations around the globe that serve the needs of the field. Organizations such as Independent Sector, Grantmakers in Health, the Michigan Nonprofit Association, and the European Foundation Centre are there to make connections, answer questions, and, in myriad other ways, facilitate the work of the sector.

So, how do they keep their doors open? Up to now there was no comprehensive picture of what support for "infrastructure organizations" looked like and how that funding was faring relative to other grantmaker priorities. But thanks to a new Foundation Center analysis (22 pages, PDF) prepared at the request of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we now know more.

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Knowledge Is Power: LGBTQI and Human Rights Funders, Disaggregate Your Data!

July 20, 2015

Lgbt-handprintWhen several LGBTQI funders set out in 2013 to better understand the landscape of funding for trans* human rights, our first stop was the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center's groundbreaking data set on global human rights funding. To our surprise, we found very little information about funding for trans* people specifically. When I went looking last month for data on funding dedicated to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, I found the same gap. This, I realized, is because most foundations report their funding for "LGBT" people as just that: "LGBT."

We know, however, that the LGBT acronym masks a huge diversity of communities, needs, and human rights priorities. Lesbian and queer women may be more concerned with addressing family violence or changing cultural narratives about sexuality than overturning a colonial sodomy law. Trans* activists may be focused on ending the discriminatory policing of trans* women of color or passing laws that allow people to self-determine their legal gender. Intersex activists are seeking specific protections against non-consensual genital surgeries and other rights-violating medical interventions on intersex bodies. From Astraea’s nearly forty years of supporting queer and trans activism with a racial, economic, and gender justice lens, we also know that foundation funding for LGBTQI rights does not match this diversity of agendas. Without dedicated attention to lesbian and queer women, trans*, and intersex folks, "LGBT" too often means the leadership and priorities of cisgender gay men.

Without attention to other identities we hold, "LGBT" also often means the more privileged aspects of our movements in terms of race, class, and age. It would be easy to look at the LGBT funding dedicated to marriage equality in the U.S., for example, and say that our work is getting done. But we know that LGBTQI justice will only come when all people experience legal and lived equality, and when we are all free from hatred, discrimination, and violence. That is why we need an LGBTQI agenda that dismantles racial, gender, and economic inequality, and why we need to look not only at the gender breakdown of "LGBT" but also the proportion of funding that supports organizing by and for communities of color, as well as poor and working-class folks. Our data must reflect the intersectional reality of our lives and our movements.

This year's Advancing Human Rights report tells us that LGBT funding represented 5 percent of all foundation human rights dollars in 2012 and has held relatively steady over the past three years. If we are going to meet the demand from growing LGBTQI movements pursuing human rights around the world, we absolutely need to grow the overall pie. But we should also look at where the funding available to us is going. Which constituencies are receiving support? Whose agendas are they funding and amplifying?

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 18-July 19, 2015)

July 19, 2015

Old-slip-watermarkedOur 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....


On the Bloomberg Business site, Alex Nussbaum reports that a new study released by the Analysis Group, a Boston-based consulting company, found that a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide generated $1.3 billion in benefits for nine U.S. states, created more than 14,000 new jobs in the Northeast, and saved consumers $460 million on their electric bills over the past three years.


No Child Left Behind, the education policy overhaul introduced by George W. Bush in 2000, has more critics than supporters. But no one in Congress knows how to fix it. Mother Jones' Allie Gross reports.


The economy is recovering (slowly), but your fundraising results remain stuck in second gear. Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks shares some thoughts on what organizations do — and don't do — to create their own fundraising recessions.

Higher Education

Should public university-affiliated private foundations be subject to state public-records laws? Of course they should, write Jonathan Peters and Jackie Spinner in the Columbia Journalism Review.In fact, courts "should cut through any artifice and conclude that a university-affiliated foundation that exists for the purpose of serving the university and performing public functions is an arm of the state and accountable to its citizens....[And] foundations should view those laws as a floor rather than a ceiling, making it a policy to release more than simply the minimum required by law.... "

International Development

The United Nations will commit to new Sustainable Development Goals in September. In advance of the launch of the SDGs, the folks at the Global Partnership for Education have put together a nice post explaining how education is essential to the success of every one of the seventeen goals.


What do Bill and Melinda Gates talk about in the privacy of their home? New York Times columnist Nick Kristof asked them. And on LinkedIn, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan explains what Bill and Melinda — and other modern philanthropists — do better than their distinguished predecessors in the field.

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Quote of the Week

  • "If you're asking me my opinion, [Edward Snowden's] going to die in Moscow. He's not coming home...."

    — Former NSA head Michael Hayden

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