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21 posts from November 2014

Funding to Strengthen Democracy Is Critical to Long-Term Foundation Success

November 08, 2014

Ruth_holton_hodson_for_PhilanTopicMany in the progressive foundation community are wondering how the results of the midterm elections will affect their funding areas, be it health, education, the environment, income inequality, or civil rights. What will become of our hard work to move a progressive agenda forward? How far will that agenda be set back? Let me suggest one area that has an impact on every one of the issues progressives hold dear, an area that could sorely use some funding — the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy.

Contrary to what many have said, the midterm elections weren't determined by the vast sums spent (mostly) on negative campaign ads (though, of course, money played a role in the outcome). They were determined by people who made their way to a polling place and cast a ballot — the most sacred act in the democratic canon. It's simple. Who votes determines what government looks like, the policies it pursues, which programs are funded or are cut, which regulations are written or are dropped. Who votes is a critical factor in determining who is appointed to the Supreme Court and who heads the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services. In other words, who votes determines whether our elected officials will or won't champion a progressive agenda. What does that mean for foundations with missions focused on social justice, health and welfare, and education? It means that they are unlikely to realize their long-term goals of a better and more just society without also supporting efforts to strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy.

Take a moment and reflect on whether your foundation has ever considered supporting organizations working to ensure that young people, low-income people, people of color — people in society who are marginalized and stand to benefit the most from implementation of a progressive agenda — vote. I'd wager that more than a few foundations don't or won't because, as the saying goes, "That's not our issue." That's like a homeowner who decides to paint over serious cracks in her ceilings and walls without bothering to fix the problem in the basement that's causing the cracks. Our democratic infrastructure is in serious need of fixing, and the more it deteriorates, the harder it will be for progressive-minded foundations to achieve their agendas and the more money they will end up spending on short-term fixes.

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How to Help Low-Income Students Cross the Finish Line

November 07, 2014

Headshot_jessica_pliskaLast week Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a new partnership to help ambitious low-income students get into and graduate from top colleges and universities. This historic investment in college access is the latest initiative to expand opportunities for low-income students and is a big step forward.

I also know from hard experience that there is a next step.

For every hundred students from low-income families that start college, fewer than eight will graduate and secure jobs. So, if our goal is to enable these young people to take charge of their futures, we need to move the finish line: college graduation is not the final destination — launching a career is.

We need to integrate career education into our college access and success programs if we want to maximize the hundreds of millions of dollars we are investing in these students. College and career readiness cannot operate in separate, parallel dimensions, with career readiness as an implied outcome. Low-income students need interventions that are intensive, sustained, and rigorous.

My organization, The Opportunity Network, levels the playing field for high-achieving, low-income high school and college students by creating access for them to career opportunities and professional networks while they are still in school. Our curriculum builds what we call "career fluency." In addition to preparing students for college, we teach them how to build and leverage professional relationships for academic and professional success. One hundred percent of our students graduate from college, and 85 percent start career-track jobs or graduate school within six months of college completion.

I've seen firsthand that education is essential, but it isn't enough.

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Losing the Red Cross Would Be the Real Disaster

November 05, 2014

Headshot_beth_gazleyAs a disaster researcher and scholar of nonprofit management, I've followed the (well publicized) travails and (hardly publicized) successes of the American Red Cross over the years.

I've met its national staff at research conferences and local staff at state and county emergency management meetings, where I've served on the board of my local Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). I participated with hundreds of other invited experts in the governance audit that resulted in the "American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007." I’ve monitored the commentary after a ProPublica/National Public Radio exposé of the Red Cross appeared last week. And based on my observations, I have developed a healthy respect and sympathy for the Red Cross.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

There's no disputing the fact that the public needs better results from the Red Cross. The organization has been essential to our welfare since the day it was chartered by Congress to be our national disaster response agency — primus inter pares among hundreds of agencies known collectively as voluntary organizations active in disaster. In fact, the Red Cross predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by seventy-nine years.

Congress has entrusted a good part of disaster-related mass care and sheltering to the Red Cross. Somewhat less rationally, Congress imposed this public mandate on the Red Cross without much aid; the agency is expected to meet our nation's disaster relief needs largely through the philanthropic generosity of Americans.

Further complicating matters, the Red Cross has been plagued for years by leadership issues — issues that aren't easy to resolve because they are rooted in a number of larger, systemic problems:

Greater forces of nature. Climate change makes it harder for all disaster relief agencies to achieve their mission. In the ProPublica/NPR story, a Red Cross executive observes the challenge of "scaling up" for Sandy, a storm that covered an area half the size of Europe. The organization's inability to do that was due to climate change, not internal organizational problems. In 2005, disaster relief agencies reached the same conclusion when they reported that the impact of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina was many times larger than their capacity to deal with back-to-back disasters. The lesson is clear: As disasters get larger and more complex, we all have to work together to scale our disaster response capacity.

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5 Questions for...Moukhtar Kocache, author, ‘Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture’

November 03, 2014

Headshot_moukhtar_kocacheEarlier this year, the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace issued a report, Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work: Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture, that highlighted the synergy between the arts and social movements around the globe — and the general reluctance among funders to fund arts initiatives with a social justice component, and vice versa.

Recently, PND spoke with Moukhtar Kocache, the report’s author, about some of the challenges foundations face in funding "social-change-through-arts" initiatives and what can be done to change the existing dynamic. Kocache is an independent civil society, nonprofit, and philanthropy consultant whose areas of expertise include arts and culture, media, gender equity, social justice, and cultural activism and change. From 2004 to 2012, he was a program officer in media, arts, and culture at the Ford Foundation.

Philanthropy News Digest: What are the arts uniquely able to do in situations where liberties have been eroded and freedoms suppressed that more traditional advocacy activities are unable to accomplish?

Moukhtar Kocache: The arts are ubiquitous wherever human beings come together in common cause. I have yet to see, in our own time, a social movement that did not sing, dance, paint, make theater, and record its activities. The arts are closely associated with our notions of identity, self-determination, and healing. The challenge is how to develop the strategies, mechanisms, and tools needed to get to the next level, the level at which targeted interventions that amplify the role of the arts in social change processes are conceived and implemented. So, rather than ask what the arts can do that traditional advocacy can't, I would suggest thinking about questions such as, What forms of art are most suited for a particular type of social change cause? And at what stage and through what process can the arts help people coalesce around and amplify their response to a specific social issue or reality?

Today, artistic creation and artistic processes are extremely responsive to the challenges confronting all of us as citizens of a global village; rarely these days do we see art that does not, in some way, address a social or political issue that resonates with a broader constituency. Indeed, the arts often play a role before, during, and after periods of social change, informing and galvanizing communities and even societies through the various stages of social transformation. So, it's important to think more broadly about how we as a society understand the realm of art, because that will help us tailor and design social interventions with more nuance and precision.

Consider, for instance: civil rights-era protest songs; an artist-organized campaign to shut down a supermax prison; young women learning to make and screen short films about their marginalized role in society; a community working with artists and architects to redesign and rehabilitate public housing; victims and perpetrators of genocide engaged in making theatre together; children creating art in refugee camps; and so on. It's a short list, but it demonstrates how diverse activities that fall under the rubric of "art" can be, and how, at various times and through specific mechanisms, these activities help communities to heal, feel proud, build social cohesion, create new narratives, and mobilize for or against an issue.

PND: You write in the report that, despite growing interest in "the symbiotic relationship between art, self-determination, cultural democracy and social justice," arts funders and social justice funders remain reluctant to support "social-change-through-arts" initiatives. What are the reasons for that reluctance?

MK: Arts funders would say, "We do not fund social change," while social justice funders would say, "We don’t fund the arts." But this binary dynamic has meant that a wealth of learning and opportunities for impact has been missed and that a lot of grassroots creativity in marginalized communities is not being harnessed for social change. Part of the problem has to do with limited resources and capacity at the funder level where, for many grantmakers, supporting something new often is seen as too experimental, too risky, and/or a distraction from more "serious" and conventional funding strategies. Foundation staff also tend to feel ill equipped to venture into fields where they have little expertise, even though most people understand, at both a visceral and intellectual level, the power of the synergy between the two types of funding. I believe, however, that with time, foundations will become more versed in both the arts and social justice traditions, and that that will lead to more knowledge and a greater willingness to experiment among funders on either side of the funding divide we are talking about.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 1-2, 2014)

November 02, 2014

Your-vote-counts-buttonOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On her Social Marketing blog, communications consultant Julia Campbell has some advice for the American Red Cross, which again finds itself in the middle of a controversy over its response to a disaster (Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy).

Environment

In the fifth part of a seven-part series on the State of the Union offered by Stanford University, Farrallon Capital founder and philanthropist Tom Steyer and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu talk about the environment and climate change. (Running time: 1:33:37)

On the Al Jazeera America site, author and freelance journalist Nathan Schneider (Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypsereports on the return of an old concept, the commons.

Fundraising

In a link-filled post on her blog, Beth Kanter explains how #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, can help your organization reach Generation Z donors (kids born after 1995).

International Affairs/Development

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Andrew Grabois, manager of corporate philanthropy at Foundation Center, breaks down trends in funding for Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.

Bill Foege, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, argues on the Humanosphere blog that the public health response in the U.S. to Ebola "has been far better than we could have expected, given the cutbacks in the public health infrastructure of recent years [and] by the private care system sometimes making decisions based on cost or insurance status rather than health needs."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2014)

November 01, 2014

Lots of good posts here on PhilanTopic in October. Didn't catch them all? No worries. Here's a look back at the posts that were especially popular during the month. Have a post you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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