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39 posts categorized "Policy"

Nonprofits, Partisan Politics, and Tax Policy

April 27, 2017

Tax_cutsCalls for tax reform by the White House, Congress, and others have led to proposals that would have a direct and profound impact on nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. Of those proposals, one from the House Republicans calls for eliminating the tax deduction for charitable donations, one floated by the White House would eliminate an incentive for charitable bequests, and another from a coalition of nonprofit organizations would expand the deduction to more taxpayers. The three proposals couldn't be more different.

But while charities and donors are scrambling to preserve (or expand) their tax advantages, there are other worrisome proposals floating around. Most significantly, President Trump and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill want to change the tax code to allow charities to engage in partisan electoral activity — while, at the other extreme, some want to disallow tax deductions for support of nonprofit advocacy and policy work.

Certainly, one can understand why most tax-exempt organizations would fight to protect the tax incentives for charitable contributions that support their work, but such efforts raise questions about whether charities and donors are worried more about their own self-interest than the public good.

Nonprofits' efforts to preserve and extend the charitable deduction would be less suspect were the organizations fighting for those policies as engaged in the debates over other government tax, budget, and policy initiatives — debates that profoundly threaten many of the causes and constituencies they exist to serve. When nonprofit and foundation leaders are missing from such debates, it becomes easier to impugn their motives for trying to preserve their own tax advantages. Protecting the charitable deduction is not an adequate surrogate for broader action.

Against this backdrop, the president's pledge to "totally destroy" the so-called Johnson Amendment prohibition on charities' involvement in partisan electoral campaigns needs to be addressed (as do other administration proposals).

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Time for Philanthropy to Take Bold Action: Invest in Policy Change

March 10, 2017

Change_buttonOver the past few weeks, we've witnessed a new administration work daily to roll back rights our communities have fought hard to win, putting in jeopardy everything from immigrants' rights and economic security to educational equity and women's health.

At the same time, and despite the increasingly politicized climate in the country, we are heartened to see people stepping up and taking action in the streets, online, and in the corridors of power. In record numbers, more and more of us are becoming engaged in the political process, participating in protests, organizing our communities, and communicating with our elected officials.

Philanthropy, too, must answer the urgent calls to take action and support programs, initiatives, and tools that can help protect communities from draconian changes in policy while advancing the values we hold dear. By tools I mean policy advocacy and organizing. If we truly hope to create a just and equitable society for all Americans, we need more funders in California and around the country to invest in advocacy and organizing efforts that help vulnerable groups and communities withstand the attacks directed against them while taking proven solutions to scale. We need community leaders who know how to work with legislatures at the state and local level to shape more just policies. And those leaders need the knowledgeable and strategic support of philanthropists willing to be partners in their work.

At the Women's Foundation of California, we know we can't create opportunities for our communities without an explicit focus on policy change aimed at both dismantling barriers and expanding rights. As the only statewide foundation in California focused on gender equity, we work every day to advance the leadership of women in public policy. Over the past fourteen years, our Women's Policy Institute has worked with more than four hundred women leaders to advance gender equity through policy change. And those women, in turn, have helped pass twenty-nine laws that have improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of millions of people living in California.

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Foundations Engaging in Policy: Not an Option But an Obligation

March 08, 2017

Policy_word_cloudPhilanthropy as a sector produces an ever-increasing body of writing aimed at encouraging impact investments for the public good. Much of that writing ignores a key consideration: Any foundation involved with impact investing cannot be taken seriously if it does not engage in policy. For many foundations, particularly family foundations, the idea of engaging in policy work is daunting, and in too many cases it's viewed as something to be avoided entirely. But while too many foundations consider engaging in policy work to be risky, I argue that it is as important a function as grantmaking and evaluation. And if we take evaluation seriously, we have no choice but to share those learnings with others, including policy makers.

Most of us know that Congress has imposed stringent limits on foundations with respect to advocacy and even more stringent prohibitions on their lobbying activities. Fully aware of the power that comes with accumulated wealth, Congress enacted prohibitions against charitable institutions engaging in lobbying as early as 1934. Later, in 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson sponsored legislation to prohibit nonprofit organizations, including foundations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates, and extended that prohibition to churches. In 1976, Congress created five exceptions to the lobbying prohibition on foundations. They are: (1) making available the results of nonpartisan analysis, studies, or research that may (or may not) include advocating a particular position; (2) the discussion of broad socioeconomic policy as long as it's not designed to encourage others to take action; (3) the provision of technical advice to a government body; (4) "self-defense" lobbying with regard to action that may affect a charity's existence or tax-exempt status; and (5) communication with members of Congress as long as they are not directly engaged in direct or grassroots lobbying themselves.

The legislated restrictions on what foundations can and cannot do to influence legislation often scare foundation boards away from committing their considerable institutional power and knowledge on behalf of the most fundamental right of all: speaking out on matters of policy. Foundations can do better. Indeed, we have an obligation to do so, if only to ensure that our investments in the social sector are leveraged to maximize our impact. Policy work is not lobbying: policy is what results from listening, gathering data, and developing frameworks that support solutions. Policy informs legislation, which, when crafted well, integrates the solutions defined by policy.

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Evidence at the Crossroads: The Next Generation of Evidence-Based Policy

March 28, 2016

US CapitolWhen we began our "Evidence at the Crossroads" blog series, we posited that evidence-based policy making was at a crossroads. In the past six months — despite rancorous partisan debates and a fierce presidential primary season — Congress surprised everyone and passed the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with strong support from both parties.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes over eighty mentions of "evidence" and "evidence-based," and a devolution of power to states and districts to implement those provisions. And earlier this month, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), was approved by the Senate and the House in another display of cooperation.

It is promising that at a time of heightened political rancor, evidence-based policy is finding bipartisan support. But the road ahead is still tenuous, and much will depend on whether the evidence movement can evolve. Here, I draw on the terrific ideas and insights from the authors of the series to suggest three steps for moving forward: focus on improvement, attend to bodies of evidence, and build state and local capacity for evidence use.

Focus on improvement

It's time to position evidence-based policy as a learning endeavor. Implementing and scaling interventions in different contexts with diverse groups is notoriously challenging. Promising results are emerging, but not all are home runs. The history of evaluation research shows that most evaluations yield mixed or null results, and this generation of studies will produce the same. Interventions work in some places for some people, but not others. Even new studies of established interventions turn up findings that are inconsistent with prior studies. What should we make of these results?

One direction we should not take is to obscure these findings or pretend they don't exist. I fear that already happens too often. The rhetoric of the What Works agenda — funding more of what works and less of what doesn't — has created an environment that pressures program developers to portray home run results, communications engines to spin findings, and evaluation reports to become more convoluted and harder to interpret.

Improvement could be the North Star for the next generation of the evidence movement. The idea of building and using evidence simply to sift through what works and what doesn’t is wasteful and leaves us disappointed. We need to find ways to improve programs, practices, and systems in order to achieve better outcomes at scale. Let's not be too hasty in abandoning approaches that do not instantly pay off and instead learn from the investments that have been made. After all, many established interventions had years to gestate, learn from evidence, and improve. Let's not cut short this process for new innovations that are just starting out.

This is not to say that anything goes. Patrick McCarthy reminds us that when research evidence consistently shows that a policy or program doesn't work — or even produces harm — it should be discontinued. Indeed, the next generation of evidence-based policy will need to aim toward improvement while keeping an eye on whether progress is being made.

Attend to bodies of evidence

If evidence-based policy is to realize its potential to improve the systems in which young people learn, grow, and receive care, we need to rely on bodies of research evidence. Too often, public systems are pressured to seek silver bullet solutions. A focus on single studies of program effectiveness encourages this way of thinking. But, as Mark Lipsey writes, "multiple studies are needed to support generalization beyond the idiosyncrasies of a single study." Just as a narrow aperture can exclude the important context of an image, so too does focusing on a narrow set of findings exclude the larger body of knowledge that can inform efforts to improve outcomes at scale.

State and local leaders need to draw on bodies of research evidence. This includes not only studies of what works, but of what works for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost. What Works evidence typically reflects the average impact of an intervention in the places where it was evaluated. For decision makers in other localities, that evidence is only somewhat useful. States and localities ultimately need to know whether the intervention will work in their communities, under their operating conditions, and given their resources. Evidence-based policy needs to address those questions.

To meet decision makers' varied evidence needs, the evidence movement also needs to focus greater and more nuanced attention to implementation research. Real-world implementation creates tension between strict adherence to program models and the need to adapt them to local systems. To address this tension, we need to build a more robust evidence base on key implementation issues, such as how much staffing or training is required, how resources should be allocated, and how to align new interventions with existing programs and systems. As Barbara Goodson and Don Peurach argue, we have built a powerful infrastructure for building evidence of program impacts, but we need to match it with equally robust structures for implementation evidence.

And finally, the evidence-based policy movement needs to recognize the importance of descriptive and measurement research that helps local decision makers better understand the particular challenges they are facing and better judge whether existing interventions are well suited to address those problems. For those needs assessments, descriptive and measurement studies can be critical.

Build state and local capacity

As decision making devolves to states and localities, the way the federal government defines its role will also change. In the wake of ESSA, officials in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are aiming to move beyond top-down compliance. But to do so they will need to identify new means to support states, districts, and practitioners in the evidence agenda. States and localities are not mere implementers of federal policies, nor are they simply sites of experimentation. A key way to foster the success of the evidence movement is to support the capacity of state and local decision makers to build and use evidence to improve their systems and outcomes.

Technical assistance is one way that the federal government can support capacity, and it'll be important to direct technical assistance to state and local decision makers and grantees in productive ways. While tiered evidence initiatives such as i3 have provided grantees with technical assistance to conduct rigorous impact evaluations, assistance has focused less on other key issues: helping grantees apply continuous improvement principles and practices, vet and partner with external evaluators, and build productive collaborations with districts and other local agencies to implement programs.

Providing technical assistance in these areas would increase the ultimate success of these evidence-based initiatives.

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are another way to support state and local agencies. In education, these long-terms partnerships can provide the research infrastructure that is lacking in many states and districts as they seek to implement the evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act. RPPs can help districts and schools interpret the existing evidence base and discern which interventions are best aligned with their needs. In instances where the evidence base is lacking, RPPs are poised to conduct ongoing research to evaluate the interventions that are put into place. Similarly, in child welfare, research-practice partnerships could provide states with additional capacity as they develop Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects to test new approaches for delivering and financing services in order to improve child and family outcomes.

The federal government is perhaps uniquely situated to build and harness research evidence, so that what is learned in one place need not be reinvented in another and the lessons accumulate. Mark Lipsey suggests that federally funded research require the collection and reporting of common data elements so that individual studies can be synthesized. Don Peurach imagines ways the federal government can support an "improvement infrastructure." We should consider these ideas and others as we move forward.

Foundations also have a role. Private funders are able to support learning in ways that are harder for the federal government to do. The William T. Grant and Spencer foundations' i3 learning community, for example, provided a venue for program developers to share the challenges they faced in scaling their programs and to problem solve with one another. In another learning community, our foundation supported a network of federal research and evaluation staff across various agencies and offices to learn from each other. A learning community requires candor and can provide a safe and open environment to identify challenges and generate solutions. Foundations can also produce tools and share models that states and localities can draw upon in using evidence. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, we can often do this with greater speed than the federal government.

Realizing the potential of evidence in policymaking

The ascendance of research evidence in policy in the past two decades gave way to investments in innovation, experimentation, and evaluation that signaled great progress in the way our nation responds to its challenges. But for all the progress we've made in building and using evidence of What Works, we've also been left with blind spots. As a researcher, I did not enter my line of work expecting simple answers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners know that there is always more to learn than yes or no; more at stake than thumbs up or thumbs down. We build and use research evidence not just to identify what works, but to strengthen and improve programs and systems — to build knowledge that can improve kids' lives and better their chances to get ahead.

As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it's essential we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.

Headshot_vivian_tsengThe above post by Vivian Tseng, vice president, program, at the William T. Grant Foundation, is the eleventh and final post in the foundation's "Evidence at the Crossroads" series, in which it sought to provoke discussion and debate about the state of evidence use in policy, with a focus on federal efforts  to build and use evidence of What Works. It is reprinted here with permission of the foundation. You can read other posts in the series here and/or register for a free event co-sponsored by the foundation, "Building State and Local Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking," in Washington, D.C., on March 30.

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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'Under Construction': Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

July 28, 2014

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit that showcases some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

Grassroots

Jesse Esparza stands tall as he squints into the afternoon sun.
He doesn't quite fill the dark suit that hangs from his shoulders, and his hands, clasped together before his waist, only half-emerge from their sleeves.

Under-construction-bmoc-jesseBehind him stretches Stockton's Southside, the most distressed section of the most violent city in California. Jesse tells the story of the white ribbon tied at the base of a small oak tree in McKinley Park. It's a tragic story — the senseless murder of a friend's cousin, a teenager caught up in a cycle of retaliation — and his telling is both somber and matter-of-fact. But where the trauma gets particular, he generalizes, describing the way news like this travels on seismic waves through his community. "You're in shock," he explains. "You're in denial, you don't want it to be true. You're hoping it's someone else." Only 18 years old, Jesse has already been through this set of emotions more times than would be fair in a full lifespan. One might say he possesses a wisdom beyond his years, though its acquisition is troubling.

In a quiet moment of reflection, Jesse's eyes search the blades of grass as if for answers. His skin is smooth, almond colored, his face open and strong. He seems to play an image in his mind for a few moments before looking up again, lifting his eyebrows. He reaches for words to fill the silence and lights on a stock phrase. "It's pretty crazy," he says. He repeats this again and again over the next hour, the only words he can find to move past each newly risen memory as a casual drive through his old neighborhood transforms without notice into an impromptu ghost tour. The points of interest form a web of violence, dozens of vague memorials to those friends who will never have a chance, as Jesse has, to break through.

Boys & Men

The day has been a long one. All morning Jesse has been talking change politics with some of the most engaged men and women in the state. It's the Fourth Annual Stockton Summit of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a decentralized coalition of organizations working at all levels of civic engagement for policy changes that will improve the lives of young Californians. In one report after another, data show young men of color face more systemic barriers than their white peers, making them much more likely to drop out of high school, serve time in prison (or juvenile hall), be unemployed, and ultimately die young. The situation, according to those involved, is dire.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

War_declaredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

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Charities and the ‘Compassion Gap’

July 09, 2014

Rosenman_headshotAny traces of the "compassionate conservatism" championed by George W. Bush in the early days of his administration has long since evaporated under the heat of Republican extremism. Today, more than three-quarters of American conservatives think the poor "have it easy," while fewer than 10 percent believe the "poor have hard lives" and receive inadequate assistance.

What's more, many conservatives believe the poor have easy lives because "they get government benefits without doing anything," ignoring not only the limits of public aid, but also the obstacles that must be overcome to obtain food stamps, Medicaid, day care, public housing, and other kinds of government assistance. In fact, more than 80 percent of conservatives also say that the government programs on which the poor so desperately depend do more harm than good.

Can four out of five conservatives really be so hard-hearted that they cannot imagine how profoundly difficult life is for people without enough money to feed their children, to fill an essential prescription for an ill parent, or to access a safe place to leave an infant while they try to find a part-time, no-benefits, minimum-wage job that gives them no hope of escaping what in many cases are slum- and crime-ridden neighborhoods? "Have it easy?" Really?

These findings are consistent in that more than half of conservatives believe that people are poor because of "lack of effort," while fewer than 30 percent of conservatives believe poverty results from "circumstances beyond [an individual's] control." Despite all we have learned over the years about the causes of poverty and related ills, conservatives seem bound and determined to reduce the issue to the simple fact of people making bad decisions and doing bad things.

That kind of thinking ought to be greeted with dismay by most charities, even if their missions address problems other than poverty. Blaming the victim does not make the work of nonprofits any easier, does not incline people to support well-meaning interventions, and, at the end of the day, is the opposite of charitable. Indeed, with respect to most problems of concern to nonprofits, there is no path forward if people are seen as the sole source of their own troubles.

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Philanthropy Not Talking Power

October 31, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, an initiative that sought to improve how foundations serve the public. In his previous post, he urged nonprofit leaders to do more to restore Americans' confidence in the sector's ability to serve the common good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn a way, foundations are partly to blame for the dysfunction in Congress. After all, conservative-leaning foundations helped build the Tea Party movement and are still supporting it and many like-minded organizations. Reasons for assigning blame to moderate and progressive foundations are less obvious -- and mostly have to do with actions not taken and opportunities squandered.

In the wake of the government shutdown and the destructive and economically costly legislative brinksmanship around the debt ceiling, some leaders in the foundation world are calling for philanthropy to play a more active role in healing our democracy, fixing a broken Washington, and developing an immediate action plan in support of those ends.

They rightfully note, as have others, that the myriad issues of concern to foundations and nonprofit organizations are powerfully affected by the actions of and funding provided by government. They point out that moneyed private interests continue to trump the public interest when it comes to policy. And they note the growing sense that economic inequality in the United States may be undermining belief in the American dream and our very system of government.

What's more, a survey soon to be released by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds that a majority of U.S. foundation leaders view the "current government policy environment" as a significant barrier to their organizations' ability to achieve their programmatic aims -- and those responses were gathered before weeks of acrimonious debate in Congress and the sixteen-day shutdown of the federal government.

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Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

October 29, 2013

(Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant is the interim director of the Youth Policy team at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Headshot_RhondaTI was a STEM whiz as a child — a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process. My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

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Hey, Wall Street, Can You Spare a Dime?

August 05, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, in Washington, D.C. In his last post, he urged nonprofit leaders to speak out when confronted with evidence of illegal or unscrupulous behavior in the sector.)

Rosenman_headshotWhile religious groups and nonprofit organizations are forming new coalitions and joining established leaders in the fight to preserve the charitable tax deduction, most charities have remained silent about cuts in government funding for domestic needs. Even more disturbing, few in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative initiative that could add billions of dollars to such programs -- and their own funding streams.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have introduced a financial transaction tax modeled after one approved by the European Parliament that is being adapted in eleven nations. Oddly, though Harkin and DeFazio's version of this "Wall Street speculators sales tax" has attracted support from over forty national nonprofit organizations and labor unions, it has not captured the imagination of local and regional charities or nonprofit sector leaders.

According to one study, up to $350 billion a year might be raised by a tax on equity and bond trades as well as the trading of options, swaps, futures, and other derivatives. Such a tax would not apply to the day-to-day financial transactions of individuals or to things like loans and debt issuance.

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The Next Affirmative Action

August 02, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the fourth installment of that series (click here for the third, "A House Divided," by Thomas J. Sugrue), Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation, argues that while affirmative action "as we know it is dying," the Supreme Court's targeting of current policies may be "an opportunity to change the way people think about race and higher education." The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Affirmative-actionAffirmative action as we know it is dying. A growing number of states have moved to prohibit public universities from considering race in admissions, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in an anti-affirmative action lawsuit that left little doubt about where the Court's conservative majority stands. Less than a decade after the Court upheld racial admissions preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger, newer jurists like Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts seem ready to render unconstitutional a policy that has helped generations of minority students grab a rung on the ladder of opportunity.

The Court's likely decision is particularly odious given the college admissions apparatus it will leave in place. Elite colleges warp and corrupt the meritocratic admissions process in a wide variety of ways. Academically substandard athletes, for example, are allowed in so they can play for the amusement of alumni and help shore up the fundraising base. While some men's football and basketball players come from low-income and minority households, many athletes at the highly selective colleges where affirmative action really matters engage in sports like crew and lacrosse that are associated with white, privileged backgrounds. Colleges also give preference to the children of legacies, professors, celebrities, politicians, and people who write large checks to the general fund. All of these groups are also disproportionately wealthy and white.

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Partnering With State Governments to Strengthen Families: Early Lessons From the Work Support Strategies Initiative

May 20, 2013

(Luis A. Ubiñas is president of the Ford Foundation. This commentary is adapted from a forthcoming Urban Institute report, available online starting June 4, that includes an array of perspectives from leaders about practical lessons emerging from the Work Supports Strategies initiative.)

Headshot_luis_ubinasOver the past half-decade, as the country has suffered through a deep, persistent economic downturn, America's work support programs have served as an essential backstop for millions of working families struggling to keep a toehold in the labor market. For many families, supports such as child care subsidies, health insurance and unemployment assistance, and food stamps have been the difference between staying together and dissolution.

Yet in dozens of states, lean budgets and antiquated, underresourced work support systems are failing to meet the needs of America's working poor. Problems that were evident in better times have become more intractable, even as caseloads have expanded. How can states improve the health and well-being of low-income families, stabilize their work lives, and make it possible for family breadwinners to get and keep a job if they are unable to get basic work supports to those who are eligible?

Solving such a challenge goes to the heart of what all of us in the philanthropic community do on a daily basis: tackling major problems at a scale that results in real and enduring change -- in this case, creating opportunity for low-income populations and keeping low-income workers in the workforce.

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Reducing Gun Violence: A Q&A With David Bohnett, Chairman, David Bohnett Foundation

March 18, 2013

Headshot_david_bohnett"Now more than ever, we need to provide support for the advocacy organizations that are working to establish a formidable counterweight to the gun lobby, which is well financed, well organized, and will stop at nothing to protect the interests of the firearms industry and obstruct sensible legislation that will help save lives."

So argues David Bohnett in an opinion piece he co-authored with Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad in February. For Bohnett, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded the pioneering community site GeoCities back in 1994, gun safety has long been an interest of his and a focus area of the David Bohnett Foundation. Indeed, as Bohnett told PND, reducing gun violence is consistent with the foundation's mission "to improve society through social activism."

Earlier this month, PND spoke to Bohnett via e-mail about his and Broad's efforts to reduce gun violence in America, his view of recent legislative proposals in Congress to address the issue, and what he thinks other foundations and philanthropists should be doing to advance solutions to the problem. (For more on the issue, check out the special collection on gun violence in Issue Lab.)

Philanthropy News Digest: The Bohnett Foundation supports organizations working in a range of areas. When and why was gun violence added to the foundation's grantmaking portfolio?

David Bohnett: Supporting responsible gun legislation and working on gun safety has been one of our primary focus areas since the foundation began in 1999. Reducing gun violence is consistent with our mission to improve society through social activism. The issue is one of the cornerstones of building healthy and vibrant communities where people feel safe to walk the streets and conduct productive and meaningful lives.

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Homeownership and the Racial Wealth Gap

March 06, 2013

I'm 29 and still hopeful I'll be a homeowner one day. Both my parents have owned their homes for years, and it has always been clear to me that the financial and social benefits of owning a home outweigh the benefits of paying less in rent and using the extra income for other things. Even though I know, as an African-American woman with some serious student debt living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, that the odds are stacked against me, I've started taking some steps to make homeownership a possibility in the not-too-distant future.

So you can understand my unease after reading the following in a new study from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University about the growing wealth gap in the United States:

While homeownership has played a critical role in the development of wealth for communities of color in this country, the return on investment is far greater for white households, significantly contributing to the expanding racial wealth gap shown in [the figure below]. The paradox is that even as homeownership has been the main avenue to building wealth for African-Americans, it has also increased the wealth disparity between whites and blacks....

As the report, The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide (8 pages, PDF), notes, homes are the largest investment most American families make, and they are by far the biggest item in a family's "wealth portfolio." For African Americans, home equity represents 53 percent of household wealth, while for whites, who typically have a more diversified wealth portfolio, it accounts for just 39 percent. "Yet, for many years," the report's authors write, "redlining, discriminatory mortgage-lending practices, lack of access to credit, and lower incomes have blocked the homeownership path for African Americans while creating and reinforcing communities segregated by race. African Americans, therefore, are more recent homeowners and more likely to have high-risk mortgages, [making them] more vulnerable to foreclosure and volatile housing prices."

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