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148 posts categorized "Strategies"

Philanthropy as a Platform for Civic Leadership

May 04, 2016

Civic-Engagement-Green-ShootsPhilanthropy often is the tie that binds communities together. From city to city, state to state, country to country, the vast majority of people benefit from andor participate in philanthropy. The true power of philanthropy, however, lies beyond the art and practice of grantmaking and is tied up with its ability — and responsibility — to equip and empower communities to move forward on their own.

As an institution, philanthropy is uniquely positioned to meet the ever-changing needs of communities, empowering them to drive a variety of projects, programs, organizations, and campaigns that serve hundreds and, at times, thousands. The work we do is, in many ways, the secret sauce — although the recipe for change doesn't always come in the form of a check. Indeed, while our financial capital is important, equally as important is the reputational, social, and intellectual capital we bring to the table. Just as communities are powered by the residents that live and work in them, foundations are powered by the people within them. And, in many cases, those people are very much a part of the fabric of the communities they are working to improve.

When I'm not meeting with grant partners, much of my time is spent with business and government leaders trying to identify collaborative approaches we can take to tackle the complex issues facing our communities. In early April, for instance, I met with Dave Bing (the former mayor of Detroit, retired Hall of Fame basketball player, and respected businessman) to brainstorm strategies focused on addressing the summer employment crisis that affects many teenagers and young adults in the region.

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5 Questions for...Pamela Shifman, Executive Director, NoVo Foundation

April 01, 2016

Of the 1.8 billion young people in the world, approximately half — some 900 million — are adolescent girls and young women. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before the age of 15, 38 percent are married before the age of 18, and more than half never complete their primary school education. In the United States, girls and young women, especially girls and young women of color, face a different but related set of challenges. African-American girls are suspended from school, sent to foster care, and incarcerated at rates higher than other girls. Latina girls have the lowest four-year high-school graduation rates and highest pregnancy rates. And Native-American girls are two and half times more likely to experience sexual assault.

In response to these challenges, the NoVo Foundation, a private foundation created in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett that has long worked in the U.S. and Global South, last week announced a $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color here in the U.S. The day after the announcement, PND spoke via email with Pamela Shifman, the foundation's executive director, about the investment, the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color, and how the initiative complements NoVo's ongoing support for girls and young women in the Global South.

Philanthropy News Digest: I think a lot of people were surprised by the size of the investment NoVo has decided to make in improving the lives of girls and young women of color in the United States. In fact, it's the largest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color. In going "big," is the foundation making a statement about what it elsewhere calls the "invisibility" of girls and young women of color?

Headshot_pamela_shifman_philantopicPamela Shifman: We're making a major investment in this work because it is central to our mission. NoVo has always worked at the intersection of racial and gender justice, and we've included a focus on adolescent girls going back to our inception in 2006. We are a social justice foundation, with a deep commitment to dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate inequality, so it's always been clear to us that we needed to focus on girls. To date, much of our work with adolescent girls has focused on the Global South. That work is essential to our foundation and will continue to be a significant focus of ours.

But the need is also great in the United States. We began working with girls and young women of color in the U.S. over four years ago and launched an initial strategy in 2014. We've been guided by the groundbreaking work of partners like Sister Sol, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, The Beautiful Project, Young Women Empowered, and many others. Our new commitment will allow us to deepen this work.

As we've pursued grantmaking in this area, we've been struck by the pervasive and deep-seated myth that girls, including girls of color, are doing fine. By being public about our commitment, we hope to join with others in sending a clear message: girls and young women of color face specific disparities that are holding them back. Women of color activists have led a national movement to name and address these disparities, and there is a huge opportunity for philanthropy, government, and others to step up and support this work.

PND: What kinds of structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color do you hope to address through the initiative?

PS: If you look at the lived experience of girls and young women of color, you'll find structural inequities almost everywhere. Let's start with education. According to a landmark report from the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy, across the nation black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. Among indigenous girls, almost half, 49 percent, do not finish high school.

Safety — both inside and outside the home — is a huge issue. According to Black Women's Blueprint, 60 percent of black girls experience sexual abuse by the age of 18. Sixty-two percent of Latina girls report not feeling safe in their communities, and indigenous girls are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other girls. Twenty-two trans women and girls were murdered in the US in 2015, with women and girls of color making up a disproportionate number of the victims. The fear and threat of violence shapes every aspect of a girl's life, impacting her mobility, sense of safety, and bodily integrity.

Barriers to economic security also are very real. Thirty-five to 40 percent of Asian-American/Pacific Islander girls, for example, live in poverty, despite a widespread perception that suggests otherwise.

These disparities are deeply unacceptable in their own right, but they're even more troubling when you see how they combine into new disparities in adulthood. Today the median wealth for single black women is just $100, compared to $44,000 for single white men. Inequality starts early, and it must be addressed early if we want to create lasting change.

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What We Learned About Collective Impact Through Raising the Blended Catalyst Fund

March 31, 2016

Community_building3At Living Cities we are looking beyond grants to focus on blending all types of capital to get better outcomes for low-income people, faster. One of the primary tools we have is the Catalyst Fund, a pool of philanthropic capital that we have used to fund the acceleration, scaling, and replication of promising practices. Based on what we learned from the Catalyst Fund, we recently raised our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund, which blends grants, philanthropic debt, and commercial lending from ten different investors. It's exciting to be able to bring together a diverse set of investors for a common purpose. But the diverseness of our investors also meant they each came to us with a different set of goals and restrictions, and as a result we had to overcome some challenges before we could close our fund. The challenges were similar to those faced by many organizations leading a cross-sector partnership.

Here are four things we learned about collective impact through raising our newest fund:

1. Be clear about the "why." What are you hoping to do collectively that participants can't do on their own? In our case, we assumed that because of our investors’ involvement in Living Cities, they already intuited our why. It wasn't until we were able to articulate what we wanted to do together that our investors fully bought into the idea of a new fund. We realized that you're never really past the why. The why is the shared end-game that we all want to achieve, so articulating it is the most crucial component to getting everyone on the same page and the key to keeping all your participants engaged. When we bring potential investments for the Blended Catalyst Fund to our investors now, we are purposeful about emphasizing the impact and innovation, because that is our why.

2. Allow and expect your partners to articulate their own positions and concerns. When we first started building our fund, we — like many "backbone" or intermediary organizations at the center of cross-sector partnerships — believed we had to be the main interpreters and speak for our investors. We were operating in a hub-and-spoke manner. Instead of acting as a network, we were having one-on-one conversations to understand individual investor concerns. As we saw two groups of investor interests emerging, we continued the individual relationships and acted as a messenger between the groups, negotiating with each party, controlling the conversation and what was happening. When we opened up the process and asked our investors to voice their own opinions and concerns, it not only helped build trust within the group, but it also built our investors' trust in us. After the change in our approach, we had valuable discussions with investors setting expectations for what each wanted out of the fund, discussing how much risk each was comfortable taking on, and pushing each other to stretch.

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Measuring Outcomes Across Grantees and Over Time

March 22, 2016

Results1When the Jim Joseph Foundation's evaluators’ consortium met last November, the overall focus was on the long road ahead toward developing a common set of measures — survey items, interview schedules, frameworks for documenting distinctive features of programs — to be used as outcomes and indicators of Jewish learning and growth for teens and young adults. Consortium members and the foundation were especially excited to learn about the work led by George Washington University to develop a common set of long-term outcomes and shared metrics to improve the foundation's ability to look at programs and outcomes across grantees and over time. A key part of this endeavor will be an online menu — developed in consultation with evaluation experts and practitioners — from which grantees can choose to measure their program outcomes.

Already, the GW team is making significant progress toward this end. As part of foundation efforts to inform and advance the field, we think the process and lessons related to these efforts are important to share.

To begin, the GW team reviewed the desired outcomes and evaluation reports from a dozen past foundation grants representing a variety of programs. Six grants address the foundation's strategic priority of providing immersive and ongoing Jewish experiences for teens and young adults. Six others address the strategic priority of educating Jewish educators and leaders.

For this latter strategic priority, the GW team offers a welcome "outsider" perspective, bringing strong expertise on outcomes in secular education and teacher training to the development of common outcomes for the foundation's Jewish educator grants. How, for example, do other programs measure quality and teacher retention? Both of these qualities are desired outcomes for the foundation's grants. Yet, if these qualities are not measured with common metrics, the foundation will never be able to properly determine whether its grantmaking in this area is successful. GW's expertise and strong relationship with the foundation are beginning to provide important answers to these challenges.

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A Conversation With Fred Ali, President/CEO, Weingart Foundation

March 18, 2016

Fred Ali is president and CEO of the Southern California-focused Weingart Foundation, where he is drawing on past experience as a nonprofit executive to recast the relationship between a foundation and its grantees and has become a champion of the movement to cover full costs and provide nonprofits with unrestricted flexible funding. In this latest installment in a series of conversations with foundation leaders, Ali and Nonprofit Finance Fund CEO Antony Bugg-Levine discuss money, power, influence, and outcomes.

Antony Bugg-Levine: The Weingart Foundation is known for providing unrestricted support — a rarity in the world of philanthropy. What led you down this path?

Headshot_fred_aliFred Ali: My own experience as a nonprofit executive has always guided my thinking. When the financial crisis hit, I remember the board meeting where I was asked, "What do we do now?" I made the argument for unrestricted support, and it really made sense to the board. We brought in some of our grantees, as well, to help design our approach. Our board has always appreciated when they hear from the field.

A lot of people said that nonprofits would just take the unrestricted money and invest it in programs, because demand was growing exponentially and it is in nonprofits' DNA to put programmatic needs first. And in our first round of unrestricted grantmaking, that's exactly what we saw. Then we started to see a shift. Based on the questions our program officers were asking, what we started to see — and what we continue to see — is that nonprofits recognized that these were very special dollars. We started seeing organizations use these dollars to invest in their infrastructure, to bring back the financial management position that was lost or the development person they needed, and it was heartening.

ABL: How do you balance the philosophy behind giving grantees the autonomy to do what they know how to do best while at the same time meeting your own need — and your board's need — to know the impact of those dollars?

FA: When we made our decision to devote the bulk of our funding — now over 60 percent — to unrestricted funding, it immediately raised the question of impact measurement. After a few years of hard work, we recently announced a new assessment framework for our grantees that evaluates organizations on nine functional areas, including board governance, financial operations, fund development, staff and infrastructure, client and constituent engagement, diversity, cultural competence, organizational strategy and adaptability, and executive leadership. With the assistance of Paul Harder and Company, we co-created the framework with our grantees. We wanted a framework aligned with our core values as a responsive grantmaker. We wanted a process that maintained a commitment to transparency and practical, actionable learning. And we wanted something that would not create undue burdens on grantees or on our own staff but that would provide us with useful information. Our theory of change is that if you give a reasonably managed, well-governed, strategically focused nonprofit organization flexible, unrestricted dollars, good outcomes will follow.

ABL: The framework gives you a way to determine whether an organization is more effective over time, but how do you measure the contribution your grant made to that effectiveness? Many funders are concerned about attribution versus contribution if they were to move to more general support. How do you and your board approach that issue?

FA: The system we have designed understands the complex nature of assessing contribution to impact. We've developed a process to understand the growth in organizational effectiveness over time. And it starts with the questions we ask in the application process. Then, when a program officer makes a funding recommendation, they complete a detailed assessment based on their perception of where the grantee is against the nine functional areas of our framework. That provides a baseline. At the conclusion of the grant period, we ask the grantee to complete an online assessment, which gives them the opportunity to talk about where they are on those nine areas, and about big-picture organizational goals, and whether or not they are able to attribute the use of our unrestricted funds to any movement in those areas. The program officer receives that information, compares it with his or her initial perception, and then has a discussion with the grantee around the growth that has been achieved and areas of continued need. Last but not least, the program officer completes a closeout report that serves as the application for a new grant. Although it’s still early in the process, things seem to be going well for both grantee and program staff.

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Expanding the Social Impact Toolbox

March 15, 2016

Hammer-and-nailsIn 1964, the Beatles famously sang, "Money can't buy me love." In philanthropy, the refrain frequently goes: "Money can't buy me impact." Like love, impact — the tangible (and sometimes intangible) outcomes we seek as philanthropists — isn't something that can be bought; it's created. And while money can buy a lot of things, it actually does very little. As such, money isn't the solution that grantmakers often imagine it to be. At Open Road Alliance, we are learning to think about money not as the solution to problems but as a fungible resource that can be shaped into tools and used to help solve problems.

It's easy to see how philanthropists have (mistakenly) come to view money as the solution to most problems. Let's try a little thought experiment. Ask yourself: What would it take to vaccinate every child in a rural area of a developing country? Your answer might be $10 million. Or ask: What would it take to scale a successful afterschool program to three adjacent counties? Your answer might be $750,000. Neither is the correct answer. The correct answers are fifty thousand doses of the vaccine, and fifty trained nurses employed for twelve months (plus a long list of supplies and other inputs required to secure the success of the effort). Yes, all that costs money, but money is just the middleman. It can buy, but it can't do.

If we accept that premise, then it is incumbent on us to fashion different financial instruments — tools — to accomplish different tasks. Unlike the examples above, successfully deploying money to create impact rarely is a one-dimensional transaction. Take, for example, a donor who wants to boost access to high-quality education by paying for a new charter school. The simplistic calculation puts the cost of the building at X dollars, so X dollars donated will lead to Y outcome, with Y being the new school building. The reality is a little messier. Funds need to be allocated for permits and raw materials, for labor, and, eventually, for faculty, supplies, and other administrative costs. Even within this simplified example, the types of capital needed fall into multiple categories: permits and raw materials are a one-time cost, labor is a contractual cost (and subject to change as construction progresses), and hiring staff, purchasing supplies, and administrative expenses are recurring expenses. Understanding the nature and duration of each of these costs is essential to the success of the project. When money is viewed as a tool, you start with the ultimate objective — a new charter school building — and work backward to see what type of funding will work best for each cost category.

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The Three Sources of Foundation Influence

March 09, 2016

Infleunce_magnetMoney, convening power, and knowledge give philanthropic foundations enormous influence and underlie their unique position in our socioeconomic ecosystem. Endowed by a wealthy family or individual, foundations are blissfully free from the kinds of pressures that drive short-term behavior in other sectors. They don't have to raise money from venture capitalists, the financial markets, or other foundations. They never awake to the terrifying news that that their business is threatened by a new competitor. And they don't have to kiss babies in order to garner votes.

Like grizzly bears, lions and tigers, foundations have no natural predators.

Despite this enormous freedom, many foundations traditionally have professed humility and maintained a low profile — either because of their donor's wishes, a belief that it's their grantees that do the real work, or because of the personality of their leader. Increasingly, however, foundations are waking to the enormous potential they have to wield influence in their home cities, countries, and around the world. And encouraging others to adopt their causes, strategies, and ways of working is coming to be seen as the way foundations can increase their impact many-fold.

Let's look more closely at the three sources of foundation influence.

Flexible money

First and foremost is money. Foundations have an abundance of what nonprofit organizations, social entrepreneurs, and the social sector writ large chronically lack. Nonetheless, they tend to be conflicted about their wealth: foundations will tell you without much prompting how many millions or billions in assets they have, only to claim in the next sentence that their resources are small in relation to the world's problems. Collectively, the nearly $800 billion held by American foundations pales in significance to the hundreds of trillions coursing through the international capital markets. But that misses the point.

Foundation money is one of the last remaining sources of capital on earth without a significant claim on it. As a result, the dollars granted, loaned, or invested in social and environmental causes have tremendous potential for leverage. Public institutions may have large budgets, but in most cases those funds are so thoroughly earmarked that they are left with virtually no "risk capital." Talk to any foundation professional who has answered a call to form a partnership with a government agency, the World Bank, or any other large multilateral institution and she inevitably will express surprise about being asked for a grant. Indeed, many of the private-public partnerships that are viewed as the key to impact and bringing an initiative to scale began with a small foundation grant that served to lever more significant public funding.

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Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s New Paradigm for Community Philanthropy

February 18, 2016

Fairfield_county_cf_for_PhilanTopicHistorically, community foundations have worked to create change by making grants to local nonprofits, advocacy groups, and other organizations.

But a new breed of funders is showing how, by serving in a different role, community foundations can foster change that is more comprehensive, more responsive to residents' needs, and, hopefully, more enduring. This new role involves reaching into the very roots of the community and engaging and empowering the people who call it home.

That's the approach Fairfield County's Community Foundation (FCCF), based in southwestern Connecticut, is taking with its PT Partners initiative. Our goal is nothing less than to create a national model for engaging and training public housing residents to lead change in their neighborhoods.

Jointly funded by the Citi Foundation, the Low Income Investment Fund, and FCCF, PT Partners is housed at PT Barnum Apartments, a 360-unit public housing development in Bridgeport situated next to a notorious brownfield and, incongruously, not far from a yacht club. Long known for unacceptable levels of crime and poverty, PT Barnum is home to more than eleven hundred children and adults. The goal of the initiative is to make the complex a safer, healthier, and overall better place for its residents — or, as we like to say, to transform it into a community of equity and opportunity. And as part of that process, we are working to turn PT Barnum residents into majority stakeholders of the effort and hold them responsible for driving change; after all, they're the experts on the needs and hopes of their community.

But in order to have a chance to succeed, PT Barnum residents first needed two things: to understand their own power — and to learn how to use it.

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

February 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2016)

February 02, 2016

Not even an epic mid-month nor'easter could keep January from flying by. Not to worry. For those who blinked and missed all the great content posted here during the month just passed, we've got you covered....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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

January 05, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (2015)

January 02, 2016

Here they are -- the PhilanTopic posts you selected, by virtue of your clicks, as your favorite from the year just passed. Stay tuned in 2016 for more great content from our contributors. To join the lineup, drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org. And from all of us here at PND and the Foundation Center, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Tips for Working With a Recruiter

December 31, 2015

Dream-job-next-exitAs a recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I've interacted with thousands of candidates over the years. And I've often wished that more people understood how to fully leverage the recruiter-job candidate relationship. To that end, here are some tips for working with a recruiter that will help you land your dream job in the new year.

Return our calls! A recruiter could be reaching out to you to tap your network or to see whether you're interested in a particular position. While you might not be looking for a job today, taking five minutes to return the recruiter's email or call will help you establish a relationship that could lead to your next professional opportunity. It's worth the time and effort.

Be honest and open about your compensation requirements, whether you are willing to relocate, and other potentially sticky issues, including whether you have been contacted by or are working with other recruiters. A good recruiter will be able to guide you through those issues to a satisfactory outcome – but only if you're honest and up front with her.

Leverage your recruiter's experience to help you navigate the hiring process. When working with a recruiter, be sure to ask questions about what you should emphasize, what you should downplay, and how to manage questions about gaps in your experience. It's in a recruiter's best interests to help his or her candidates shine, and you might be surprised at how effectively we can help you do that.

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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.

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Taking Civic Engagement to the Next Level

November 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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