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9 posts from September 2019

Memo to Foundation CEOs: Get a Youth Council

September 30, 2019

Calendow_presidents_youth_councilSeven years ago, we launched a President's Youth Council (PYC) at the California Endowment, and it seems like a good time to tell you that the young people who've served on the council over those seven years have significantly influenced our programming as a private foundation, been a source of reality-checking and ground-truthing on how our work "shows up" at the community level, and have substantially increased my own "woke-ness" as a foundation executive.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to briefly share why we decided we needed a President's Youth Council and how it works: In 2011, our foundation embarked on a ten-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities campaign that was designed to work in partnership with community leaders and advocates to improve wellness and health equity for young people in California. We had already been using a variation of a place-based approach in our work, and so we selected fourteen economically distressed communities to participate in the campaign — some urban, some rural, and all, taken together, representing the complex diversity of the state.

At the time, I was aware not only of the privileged position I occupied outside my organization, but also of how sheltered I was as a chief executive within my organization. More often than not, I received information about the effectiveness and impact of our work in the form of thoughtfully crafted memos from staff, PowerPoint presentations, and glossy evaluation reports filled with professionally designed charts and graphics. Even when feedback in the form of recommendations from consultants or comments from the community came my way, it was all carefully curated and edited. As I had learned — and this is especially true at large foundations — when members of the community get "face time" with the CEO, it is a carefully managed and considered process.

Being at least vaguely conscious of these issues early on in our Building Healthy Communities work, I wanted to ensure I would have some regularly calendared opportunities to meet face-to-face with young leaders from the communities we were serving. So, we solicited nominations from grantee-leaders in each of the fourteen program sites, and a President's Youth Council, featuring mostly young people of color between the ages of 17 and 21 and of varying sexual/gender orientations, was born.

Seven years later, here's what it looks like.

We meet three or four times a year (just like our board of directors), beginning with an informal dinner on Friday evening and continuing with breakfast and lunch conversations on Saturday. Then I excuse myself so that members of the council can have their own "executive session" and social time in the afternoon. They then de-brief each other over breakfast on Sunday before making their way home. The foundation pays their expenses and also provides them with a modest stipend — a welcome bonus, as many of these young people come from economically struggling families and communities. Between year three and six of their tenure, members rotate off and new young leaders are recruited to replace them. Two foundation staff members provide support with PYC meeting logistics and structure.

It's been a richly rewarding experience for me, and both I, as a foundation president and CEO, and the foundation — have learned a lot:

  • PYC members have pushed me and the foundation out of our strategic comfort zones. With respect to social justice, social media, youth-led and -shaped narrative change, youth empowerment, and governance, we are in many ways a different foundation than we were a decade ago. My young colleagues also have pushed me to be more courageous about using our foundation's brand and voice in the advocacy arena and to speak out more boldly.
  • Council members — and hundreds of their activist colleagues around the state — have helped us see how connecting young leaders across geographies can lead to policy change at the state and national level. Especially in the area of school discipline reform, the voices of young people engaged in "schools not prisons" and "health for all" campaigns have translated into meaningful impact.
  • I have learned a great deal about the intersection of childhood trauma and adversity in the battle for social and health justice. Our PYC leaders are exceptional — but they also carry an enormous burden of trauma and anxiety as a result of family and community stressors, economic distress, stigmatization in school settings, and adverse experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. One of our PYC leaders was murdered two years ago, others have been subjected to police violence, still others have had family members deported or have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. The trauma they experience is quite real, and over time we have learned to embrace the use of healing and spiritual supports when these young leaders gather and have built in "how are you doing" sessions on Saturday mornings.
  • We have learned — and are still learning — how to leverage PYC members specifically, and young people more generally, as thought leaders. At the moment, for example, I am asking them to give me their best thinking as we consider investments in grassroots leadership development in the years ahead.

We continue to think about how we engage with young people as authentic — and not "tokenized" — thought partners. For example, our board of directors has considered inviting a young leader or youth representative to sit on the board — although care must be taken when considering what it might be like for a young person (or two) to share his or her thoughts about complicated issues with fourteen or fifteen civic leaders in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We haven't ruled it out and will consider the possibility more thoroughly with members of the PYC in the year ahead.

We've also commissioned an evaluation of our PYC experiment by Professor Veronica Terriquez of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based on a survey, a focus group, and interviews with PYC members and PYC coordinators and foundation staff, the evaluation found that nearly four in five PYC members "strongly agree" (while the rest "agree") that they had further developed their leadership skills as a result of their involvement in the council. They also cited as a plus the various opportunities they have received, including participation in a support network, professional development and skills coaching, and an investment in healing and self-care.

So let me leave you with this: investing in activist, community-engaged young people has a triple-bottom-line impact: it generates positive benefits in terms of a young person's well-being; it generates positive benefits for his or her neighborhood; and it can result in positive policy and systems changes with respect to social justice and health equity.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about creating your own President's Youth Council.

Robert_K_Ross_2019_for_PhilanTopicRobert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Overcoming the Risk of a Rural Census Undercount

September 18, 2019

062319NorwoodColo_008The 2020 Census is the single most important event for rural America in recent history. Its impact will be felt for decades to come. And while most of the focus of the public discussion around the census has been on the prospective citizenship question (rightfully so), there also are fundamental changes in census methodology hidden in the weeds of the process that have the potential to diminish federal and state investment in rural America by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Below we address some key engagement factors: community trust and online versus in-person census data collection, and examples of private foundations working on a complete count.

Hundreds of billions of dollars reflect the enormous importance of the census for apportionment of everything from congressional seats, to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocations, to Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) payments.

As an example, just six modestly sized federal programs under HUD and USDA that currently represent $25 billion in federal investment might change dramatically based on 2020 Census counts. A rural undercount will also reduce funding for foster care, Title 1 grants, and free or reduced lunches for high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, energy assistance for low-income households, and much more.

There are roughly sixty million Americans living in rural regions of the country, and it is not a homogenous group: the total includes thirteen million people of color, two million immigrants, and three million members of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the country's tribal members live in rural regions. And while many urban-centric thinkers and policies tend to overlook rural places, the vast majority of our nation's food, water, and energy is produced there. The investments we make in rural people and places are investments in equity, diversity, and economic stability for the entire nation.

Rural advocates and rural policy watchers are deeply concerned about two important dimensions of rural life that are currently being overlooked by census planners and may therefore negatively affect an accurate rural census count.

First, a new emphasis on online census completion ignores the fact that rural America suffers from significant broadband deficits. One-quarter (25 percent) of rural Americans have no access to broadband services whatsoever. Many others have access but can't afford the hookup. And one-third of tribal members have no access to broadband (per the recent annual Federal Communications Report on broadband penetration). These rural deficits are particularly profound in the South and West, where significant numbers of rural people of color reside. Without online access, many rural residents simply will not be able to complete the census.

Second, funding for door-to-door census workers — often people who working in their local communities and calling on their neighbors — has been cut dramatically. This surfaces a deep-running absence of trust between rural places and the federal government.

Whereas rural residents may be willing to share their personal information with a trusted community member in a face-to-face conversation, these same residents may be reluctant to provide personal information to the federal government through an impersonal online or paper form. If a process doesn't feel trustworthy, what reasonable person would participate? As a result, that absence of trust may very well translate into an undercount and associated reductions in future funding and representation.

How Can We Combat a Rural Census Undercount?

Efforts are under way in some states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico to fund an enhanced ground game to get out word about the importance of participating in the census, with a focus on rural areas. Much of this work is being funded by private foundations that recognize the inherent benefit to their own missions if federal and state funding are maximized for the rural communities they serve:

  • In New Mexico, the state most vulnerable to undercount, more than a dozen funders have joined ranks with the New Mexico Civic Engagement Table and a tribal coalition to create NM Counts! 2020, a collaborative effort to ensure that all New Mexicans — particularly those in hard-to-count communities — are included in the census count.
  • In Georgia, the Sapelo Foundation has made an accurate rural count a key priority and has partnered with other funders to spread the word and solicit the active engagement of locals. (The top photo shows a small store in rural New Mexico with a broadband-linked computer system on the rear counter.)
  • In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is leading the conversation and offering resources through its website, while its CEO, Kathy Annette, co-chairs the state's Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind in the nation). Another funder group under the umbrella of Funders for Civic Participation is leading the push to secure additional foundation support across the country.

Like the federal government, however, state governments and private funders can be disconnected from rural communities and fail to see how the true return on rural investment is often obscured by questions of scale, political partisanship, and  inaccurate myths about rural America.

To these funders, we'd like to point out that even a modest investment to help ensure an accurate rural census count can deliver enormous return in the form of federal dollars to address the very issues and challenges that are core to their work. The public dollars that will flow into rural communities to support food security, education, health care, and community development will enable both public and private funders to move from triage to transformation. For those who profess to focus on "upstream" causes rather than "downstream" symptoms, an investment in an accurate census count is about as "upstream" as you can get.

The question, then, is are you willing to invest the time and effort to ensure it happens?

Allen Smart (@allensmart6) is a veteran philanthropist and principal of consulting firm RuralwoRx. After being a funder for almost twenty-five years, he now focuses on writing, presenting, and provoking thinking about rural philanthropy.

Betsey Russell (@BetseyPR) is a philanthropy writer and researcher who works with foundations, philanthropic affinity groups, and philanthropy consultancies. She recently developed a series of case studies about successful rural funding approaches. This post originally appeared on the University of North Carolina School of Government blog and is republished here with the permission of the authors.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

PND: How does Kresge apply an equity lens to its environmental and climate resilience work?

CR: Lois DeBacker, the managing director of our Environment program and a person who has spent much of her career working in philanthropy on climate issues, often says that the climate question is everybody's question. Not so long ago, the foundation's Environment program employed an adaptation and mitigation frame, but when the foundation rolled out its urban opportunity framework, the program had to re-situate itself within that frame. So, today, our work in this area is about resilience, although there is still space for adaptation and mitigation.

For example, in the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative, which is about centering people in their communities, one of the cities is Miami, where some neighborhoods are affected by flooding even on sunny days when so-called king tides are an issue. We're working with Catalyst Miami, a human services organization that has seen the effects of climate change on a regular basis, to bring together people who are most affected by the problem and have them help solve it along with government and business and community-based groups. That work is also pushing us into areas like public health and to say that climate change is a legitimate public health concern.

PND: You were a program officer in the foundation's Education program and, before that, ran an education nonprofit in New York City. What changes have you seen in the education field with regard to equity over the past decade? Are we making progress, and will we be able to sustain it?

CR: For me, the question about equity and education is largely about the narrative about who education — especially higher education — is for. I refer to it as education for liberation, by which I mean the freedom to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to be curious, to hear oneself in the next person. I think that's the biggest gift education can give us.

Fewer than 60 percent of Americans — and this includes folks in states that are doing pretty well — have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential. And I think the narrative around who higher education is for and what is supposed to happen when you get to college or university has shifted. Part of that shift is thanks to philanthropy, and a big part of the credit belongs to the Obama administration, particularly Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign. Today, many colleges and universities are making student success their number-one priority. So, are we making progress? Yes, definitely, but we still have a long way to go.

What keeps me up at night is the continued segmentation in higher education that we see. By that I mean we have made it okay for people in this country who do not come from wealth or affluence — first-generation Americans, members of low-income households — to attend institutions that institutions that have the least resources and are asked to do the most for their students. And their social and economic mobility later in life often looks very different than it does for students from affluent families who attend elite institutions.

PND: These are challenging times for people working to advance a progressive social or environ­mental agenda. Do you ever find yourself getting dis­couraged? And what do you tell the people, both inside the foundation and your grantees, to keep them from getting discouraged?

CR: Last year, I was able to attend a fiftieth commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was grateful and moved to be sitting outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and to hear from folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and faith leaders from different religions and faith traditions. And part of what stood out for me was how young so many of those civil rights warriors in the 1960s were at the time. As a person who comes from a faith tradition, it reminded me of why I do what I do.

I think about my grandmother, who had an eighth-grade education. She lived well into her nineties, and she used to say that the race is not won by the swiftest or the strongest but by the one who holds on.

It's discouraging to see that our urban public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the years after Brown v. Board of Education became law. It's a reminder for me that our work is both about today and about the past. The freedom struggle we are in is much bigger than the current moment. It is a movement that has unfolded over decades and continues to unfold, and we need to do our best to contribute to it what we can. The struggle is much bigger than we are.

In my role at the foundation, I recognize the importance of cultivating a radical social imagination. We have to attend to that sense of possibility, we have to let ourselves be curious, we have to be free to dream. I think john a. powell, who leads the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, is brilliant at cultivating and expressing a radical social imagination. Not only in the way that he describes othering and belonging for the many of us yearning to truly see ourselves, but in the way he brings his team together with truly inspiring people every two years for the Othering and Belonging Conference. The conference is a great example, for me, of what I mean when I say, "What does radical social imagination look like? Who are the best and brightest thinkers out there who can give us an answer and show us how to dream and imagine? What are the lessons we need to learn and share with others?"

There are times when I think rage and anger are important. Sometimes we have to call upon those feelings and take that energy to the streets. Sometimes we have to pick up pen and paper and write. Other times, it's a combination. But we owe it to ourselves to breathe through the work, to integrate those lessons into our own work, and to take to heart the charge that previous generations of leaders and activists put out there for us. As Martin Luther King said, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

— Matt Sinclair

Museums Should Lead in Socially Responsible Investing

September 11, 2019

Plant-Growing-In-Savings-CoinsMuseums and galleries all over the world have been grabbing headlines lately as a result of controversies over the source of funding from donors and trustees.

Artists and members of the public have objected to sponsorship from companies and individuals linked to the sale of opioids, tobacco, fossil fuels, private prisons, or the manufacture of tear gas. But the outcry overlooks a bigger opportunity for endowed cultural institutions to signal their values: how they invest.

The financial investments of four museums that have been criticized — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art — total more than $6 billion. Turning down a few million dollars in individual donations because of where the money comes from might feel good. But it ignores how these institutions invest the billions of dollars they already control.

Cultural institutions generally invest in public equities. It is reasonable to assume at least a portion of their public equity allocation is in an index fund, such as the S&P 500, which includes the very same types of companies — tobacco, weapons manufacturing, and fossil fuels — that are objected to in connection with controversial donors.

Yet there are hundreds of alternative vehicles that could allow for values-driven investing — including index funds such as the MSCI KLD 400 Social index and the S&P 500 ESG index. These exclude companies that produce negative social and environmental impacts. Then there are exchange-traded funds aligned with issues of race and social justice, gender equity, alternative energy production, and the UN sustainable development goals. In fact, in the U.S., $12 trillion is currently invested for positive environmental and social impact through funds such as these — one-quarter of all assets under management. So why aren't cultural institutions investing in these opportunities?

Mention the topic of socially responsible investing and people often ask whether investors sacrifice financial returns when they introduce factors such as environmental stewardship and good governance into investment decision making. The answer is no.

In fact there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that socially responsible investments outperform conventional ones. Wealth advisers such as Perella Weinberg and impact investors as diverse as the state of North Carolina and the Russell Family Foundation are sharing their evidence and portfolio experience to prove it.

Cultural institutions should be at the forefront of socially responsible investing, and this is where their boards can help. So far, it is small arts organizations that are leading the way. Over the past few months, Building for the Arts and Creative Capital each invested in the NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund, the first impact investment vehicle targeting low-income communities. And in June, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation committed its entire $1 million endowment to an impact investment strategy focused on promoting racial and social justice and economic opportunity in the arts.

These three organizations see their investment portfolios as another tool to advance their mission. Larger operations such as the Ford Foundation, the Heron Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have also demonstrated how to align the endowment of a nonprofit institution with its values.

Science and natural history museums including the Field Museum and the American Museum of Natural History have divested from fossil fuels in alignment with their stance on climate change. The time has come for our largest cultural institutions to demonstrate similar leadership.

Let's bring the best of Wall Street and Museum Mile together.

Headshot_laura_callananLaura Callanan is founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Maxwell Anderson also contributed to this article, which originally appeared in the Financial Times and is republished here with permission.

ADA and Web Accessibility Guidelines for Nonprofit Websites in 2019

September 10, 2019

Ninth_circuit_court

Signed into law in 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and is aimed at making all public spaces inclusive and accessible to everyone. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 later clarified the "definition of 'disability' to ensure that [it] would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis."

Let's take a look at how the ADA has affected websites in recent years, as well as what compliance entails for nonprofit organizations.

Until recently, organizations with websites were encouraged to comply with established Web accessibility standards, although compliance is not mandatory. The details of compliance were a hot topic of discussion as recently as June 5, 2018, within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private organization that recently released updated guidelines for its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The primary goal of WAI is to make the Internet a place where anyone can get involved "regardless of cognitive, neurological, visual, speech, physical, or auditory disabilities they may be burdened with." The guidelines developed by the initiative — with the help of disability organizations, government resources, and research labs — are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the latest version of which is WCAG 2.1.

A Top-Down View of What WCAG Compliance Entails

Adoption of WCAG includes providing text options for non-text content, clear titles for Web pages, "disability-considerate colors," and straightforward site structure so that people with focus-related disorders can navigate the site. It's worth noting that many websites were already compliant with the guidelines.

WCAG 2.0 outlined three additional levels of compliance. From low to high: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Compliance at the lower levels is independent of compliance at the highest level, and WCAG does not recommend making AAA compliance a general policy requirement — for the simple reason that not all content can be modified to satisfy the criteria.

WCAG 2.1 builds on WCAG 2.0 guidelines and includes seventeen new criteria related to:

  • technological advances in mobile devices
  • visual disabilities such as color blindness and low vision
  • learning and cognitive disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or age-related cognitive decline

WCAG 2.1 added five new success criteria to Level A, seven to Level AA, and another five to Level AAA. It's recommended that WCAG 2.0-compliant sites review WCAG 2.1 and make adjustments where possible to ensure that the site remains compliant with the latest guidelines. Though some of these new criteria require fairly serious programming knowledge, others involve simple formatting changes that can be performed with basic text editing tools.

An example of a text-related addition to Level AA is Success Criterion 1.4.12. Intended to ensure that readers "can override author specified text spacing to improve their reading experience without any loss of content or functionality," the criterion details the minimum amount of available adjustments for line height (line spacing), spacing after paragraphs, letter spacing (tracking), and word spacing. An example of non-compliance with the spec would be if a portion of text were to get cut off or become no longer visible when the page was enlarged.

As of July 24, 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had not yet adopted WCAG 2.0 as the standard for the private sector, despite numerous private and governmental plaintiffs urging the government to make Level AA WCAG 2.0 compliance the standard for website accessibility.

ADA and the Ninth Circuit: The Most Recent Case With Big Implications

Since the inception of the ADA, numerous claims of inaccessibility have been brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Although many of the rulings against websites and the companies that operate them eventually are overturned, the process is time-consuming and costly, both financially and in terms of public sentiment.

It's been especially tricky since DOJ — after nearly eight years of review — decided to withdraw its proposed ADA rulemaking, leaving all ADA-related decisions up to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts. The department's reasoning was based on the general sentiment that waiting for a DOJ ruling would cause plaintiffs "undue delay" and that "courts are perfectly capable of interpreting the meaning [of] 'equal' and 'effective.'"

Indeed, the Ninth Circuit court decision in Robels v. Domino’s Pizza was a boon for ADA website accessibility suits. After a California district court initially dismissed the case, stating that company websites cannot be deemed to have violated the ADA before the DOJ provides specific guidelines, the case was taken up by the Ninth Circuit for the previously stated reasons regarding "undue delay."

While the Ninth Circuit didn't rule that failure to comply with WCAG necessarily violates the ADA, its ruling did state that "the district court can order compliance with WCAG 2.0 as an equitable remedy, if after discovery, the website and app fail to satisfy the ADA." The Ninth Circuit does hold that covered sites be granted "maximum flexibility" in terms of meeting the requirements. Practically speaking, this means that any ADA-covered website could be ordered to become WCAG-compliant.

How Does This Affect Nonprofits?

Because courts cannot agree on whether a public accommodation refers only to a physical location, cases like Robels v. Domino's Pizza could mean increased risk for nonprofit websites. In fact, some courts deem websites to be public accommodations, even if they are not associated with an actual physical location. Until DOJ provides detailed guidelines, it seems these matters will be left entirely to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts.

Although it's not technically required that nonprofits fully conform to WCAG guidelines to receive a Level AAA rating, investment in achieving Level AA compliance has considerable potential for saving organizations time and legal fees. This is especially true while we continue to wait on DOJ to specify legal requirements for ADA-covered organizations, companies, and websites. For the typical nonprofit, reaching the broadest possible audience is key to advancing its mission and goals. And the best way to do that is to ensure that anyone and everyone is able to actively engage with your content online.

Headshort_eric_van_buskirk_philantopicEric Van Buskirk is the publisher of Dopa, a W3C accessible website focused on mental health and psychological disorders. An expert on Internet search engines, he also oversaw some of the largest big-data studies on how Google ranks webpages.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2019)

September 06, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone, the days are getting shorter, and you're probably feeling the urge for goin'. Before you do, check out some of the posts that were popular with our readers in August. Enjoy!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

Charitable Gift or Bribe? Lori Loughlin's Legal Case Rests on Dubious Claim

September 04, 2019

USC_gateLast week, Lori Loughlin, the actress, and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli, may have provided a glimpse of their defense strategy when they appear in court in October in connection with payments they made, say prosecutors, to help their daughters gain entrance to the University of Southern California. Their likely argument: the money wasn't a bribe; it was an act of altruism.

Loughlin's case is part of a larger — and by now, infamous — scandal involving thirty-four parents who were charged last March with paying money to a third party to "facilitate" their kids' admission to elite universities. Fifteen of those parents have pleaded guilty to fraud. One of them, actress Felicity Huffman, has pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to have her daughter's SAT exam score artificially inflated and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13. Unlike Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli, who parted with $500,000, are planning to fight it out in court.

Loughlin's attorney, William Trach of Latham & Watkins, contends the money the government calls a bribe was really a charitable donation. "Checks were made out to USC Athletics and to a fund at USC," he says. "Those checks were cashed by USC." Trach’s logic, apparently: the money was sent to a tax-exempt charitable organization, and the organization put the money into its bank account; therefore, it was a charitable contribution. (Yes, the University of Southern California, with its $5.5 billion endowment, is a tax-exempt charitable organization.)

Money also traveled through another charity, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), which was established by William "Rick" Singer, the man behind the admissions scheme. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is now cooperating with prosecutors. We will likely hear more about KWF during the trial, but one question the prosecution should ask is how much Loughlin and her husband donated to entities not caught up in the scandal. Since their lawyer contends that their donations — that's plural — were in support of opportunities for underprivileged students, it might be helpful to know if the couple supported other, similar causes. In fact, it would provide context for their claim of generosity to know how charitable in general the couple has been over the years.

Clearly, a pure heart isn't the only thing driving many charitable contributions. Buildings and programs, for example, are often named for donors, a public recognition of their generosity. And there's no problem with that — not from the perspective of the IRS or the public. But where do we draw the line between a public accolade and a more tangible quid pro quo — a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. If the defense goes down the road of altruism, it will have to explain both the timing of the payment — at this point it's difficult to call it a gift — and the quo relative to the quid.

And what of Key Worldwide Foundation? Its mission statement is almost laughable in the context of the scandal: its website says the organization "endeavors to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students, not only attainable but realistic. With programs that are designed to assist young people in everyday situations, and educational situations, we hope to open new avenues of educational access to students that would normally have no access to these programs." One might wonder how wealthy celebrities come to see their children as underprivileged. If Laughlin and Giannulli's response is that payments to KWF were meant to help others, that would mean it was mere coincidence that their daughters were accepted to USC. (And bear in mind they were accepted as recruits to one of the top Division 1 women's crew teams in the United States — even though they had no rowing experience.)

Then there's this: in addition to the colleges and universities involved in the scandal, the recipients listed on KWF's 2015 and 2016 IRS information returns include a nonprofit called Friends of Cambodia (FoC). On those forms, KWF claimed it donated $19,200 in 2015 and $18,550 in 2016 to FoC. But NBC’s Bay Area affiliate KNTV spoke to Elia and Halimah Van Tuyl, the couple who founded FoC, who told the station they were "stunned" to learn their organization is listed on KWF's tax returns; the VanTuyls further claimed they had never heard of KWF or received any money from it. "There's no record of any of these donations," Halimah Van Tuyl said. "I would have noticed — we're not that big," added Elia Van Tuyl.

At this moment, it appears that in the gift vs. bribe argument, the evidence in support of the latter is stronger. And for reasons beyond bringing a group of parents trying to game the system to justice, it's important to know the difference. Philanthropy has entered an era of unprecedented scrutiny at the same time that nonprofits increasingly are being asked to demonstrate their impact. Our sector must be vigilant; we cannot afford to let charlatans, without charitable motive, falsely define the narrative of what doing good really means.  

Doug-White-headshot_optDoug White is an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists and an author and a teacher. His most recent book, to be published in October, is Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis.

What's New at Candid (August 2019)

September 03, 2019

Candid logoAlthough it’s still officially summer, we've been busy here at Candid, releasing new research, continuing the consolidation of our regional offices, expanding our Funding Information Network, and more. If there's anything you'd like me to cover in these monthly updates, shoot me an email. My colleagues and I are anxious to hear your thoughts!

Project Highlights

  • In the wake of tragic mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio and newly urgent conversations about gun control and the Second Amendment, understanding the full impact of gun violence in America is imperative. Our IssueLab colleagues have created a Gun Violence Special Collection that brings together evidence and insights from nonprofits, foundations, and research organizations working to understand that impact. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to a spending bill that banned the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from using any of its budget for gun violence research, leading to a dearth of data that could help inform the gun control debate. In the more than twenty years since, the social sector has produced over two hundred reports that explore policy models, provide data and statistics, and examine a range of sub-topics. Feel free to reach out to the IssueLab team if you have questions about the resources in the collection.
  • The surge in fires in the Amazon basin is a fresh reminder of the destructive impact that humans can have on ecosystems that are critical to life on the planet. Philanthropy continues to support efforts to ensure the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, including the rights of Indigenous, marginalized, or other communities to the unspoiled natural resources that enable their survival; the right of Indigenous and marginalized communities to share in and determine the distribution of lands, territories, and resources; and the protection of these natural resources from destruction, overdevelopment, and/or pollution. To learn more about what funders are doing to support the environmental and resource rights of Indigenous and marginalized communities, check out this dashboard courtesy of the Advancing Human Rights initiative, a collaboration between Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network, in partnership with Ariadne: European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera: International Network of Women's Funds.
  • Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network also have released a report that details foundation grantmaking for human rights globally. Conducted in partnership with Ariadne and Prospera, Advancing Human Rights: 2016 Key Findings highlights the scale and scope of funding for human rights, and sheds light on tough questions such as: Where is the money going? What are the gaps? And who is doing what?
  • CF Insights, a service of Candid, has launched the 2018 Columbus Survey Results Dashboard — the most up-to-date, comprehensive data set focused on financial trends and operational activity among community foundations in the United States. The data and findings provided in the dashboard are based on FY2018 survey responses provided by 251 community foundations and are supplemented by publicly available data.
  • Be sure to check out the new infographic on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy that looks what foundations to combat the decline in local journalism.

You can learn more about other projects we’ve been working on in the Gain Knowledge section of our website.

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Data Spotlight

  • Funding by a matched subset of grantmakers for environmental and resource rights grew by 39 percent in 2016, a sign of growing international pressure to address the challenge of climate change.
  • We completed a number of custom data searches for the University of New South Wales.
  • New data sharing partners include: Alzheimer's Disease Research Foundation, American Friends Service Committee, the Cape Cod Foundation, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, the Goizueta Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Libra Foundation, the New Coast Foundation, the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, the Washington Square Health Foundation, the Wettenhall Environment Trust, and the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Candid.

Beyond the Dollar: Catalytic Philanthropy = Funds + Leverage

September 02, 2019

Coins-and-seedlingsFor as long as I have been working in the philanthropy field, New Zealand has been regarded domestically, and in international polling, as one of the most generous countries in the world. Based on comprehensive data captured in the Gallup World Poll for the period 2013-2017, last year's CAF World Giving Index placed New Zealand third on the list of most generous countries, behind Indonesia and Australia and ahead of the United States (fourth place) and the United Kingdom (sixth).

Each country is ranked for three behaviors:

  • Helping a stranger
  • Donating money
  • Volunteering time

Historically, these have been the ways we think about charity and philanthropy: giving by way of money or service, either in an immediate sense or, using a vehicle such as a charitable trust, donating money to specific causes or recipients in perpetuity.

Catalytic philanthropy is different, both more sophisticated and more focused on collaboration and measurement of return on investment, and is based on maximizing positive impact. Here is what it means for people and organizations in New Zealand:

1. Catalytic philanthropy represents a new approach to an age-old practice. The term describes the use of influence and leadership to leverage every dollar to the max. For instance, an organization with a corporate social responsibility program (say, an annual campaign in support of a bold-name charity) could be more strategic about increasing the impact of its giving by engaging with government and pressuring it to invest more in the charity’s area of interest, or by working harder with partners to garner more support for the charity.

In 2019, the scale of social need and urgency of the global climate crisis demands that we leverage our ability to give in much more practical and commercial ways than we have before. This is where catalytic philanthropy comes in: going beyond money to bring to bear every resource and partnership available to advance a cause or address a problem.

2. Silos are so twentieth century. The traditional model of philanthropy was adapted from the conduct of dynastic families like the Fords and Rockefellers in the early twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, the transparency demanded of charitable activity, combined with clear-cut social and environment concerns, gives the advantage to philanthropists and organizations that can think laterally and find inventive ways to extend their reach.

An example of this model is Foundation North, which employs what it calls "venture philanthropy" to engage other interested organizations and communities in finding solutions to complex social challenges. No longer is a single charity "responsible" for raising cancer awareness or cleaning the Hauraki Gulf; these days, we understand that we’re all in it together and that answers and funding have to be leveraged from a range of players to create long-term and sustainable impact.

Innovation is key to continually improving the impact philanthropy has on its intended cause or recipient. Under our founder Andrew Barnes' leadership, Perpetual Guardian established its own foundation, enabling donors, including those with more modest resources, to amplify the impact of their giving.

3. Money isn’t the be-all. Again, the old model was all about money: the more, the better. What we now understand through complex analyses such as those provided by JBWere is that the best social impact is not necessarily tied to the amount of money dedicated to a cause or issue but how adroitly it is used and tied to strong, measurable results. Catalytic philanthropy posits that the smartest giving is not the "biggest" giving; it’s the most strategic. And the most promising opportunity for today’s high-net-worth individuals is to build on the established charitable trust/foundation model to structure their giving in a highly strategic way.

4. Traditional trusts are becoming more sophisticated about ROI. New Zealand has over twenty-seven thousand registered charitable trusts, many of them set up decades ago by settlers who have since passed. In our business, we are starting to guide interested trustees toward a catalytic philanthropy model that follows the terms of the trust deed while taking advantage of progressive, collaborative developments in the sector.

An interesting impact investing example of this is the Stout Trust, which is well known for its work in the arts, heritage, and environment fields. This year, the trust will distribute $1.2 million to related causes, including predator-free work. Going beyond straightforward grant awards to investments that intentionally seek social or environmental impact alongside financial returns has become an increasingly important tool for trusts and foundations.

Impact investing has already demonstrated an impressive ability to harness the collective power of philanthropy, the private sector, and government at all levels. A prime example from the U.S. is the Detroit Home Mortgage Program, a collaborative effort between the Kresge and Ford foundations, a cadre of local banks, the City of Detroit (which was hard hit by the great financial collapse and the subsequent near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry), and the state of Michigan. The program is reviving the city’s decimated single-family housing market through a mix of grants, loans, and loan guarantees that ultimately enable buyers to purchase and renovate once-vacant homes.

Here in New Zealand, the NEXT Foundation established the Tomorrow Accord with the Government’s Department of Conservation. NEXT is a spend-down philanthropic fund of $100 million, and with the accord it is front-footing investment into pest eradication, with DoC agreeing to continue to fund those efforts in the future.

5. Businesses can define philanthropy in creative ways. Returning to the idea of creating a sphere of influence, business executives should be thinking outside the box in terms of creating social value alongside their immediate financial goals. Here at Perpetual Guardian we are working to advance the idea of a four-day, productivity-focused, reduced-hour model of work, which we regard as more suited to the demands of the twenty-first century workplace and lifestyle. In addition, we require each staff member to use, once a quarter, one of their personal days to engage in charitable or volunteer work. We’re also analyzing how staff can volunteer in ways that help them achieve even more for New Zealand communities.

Our efforts in this regard are about being strategic as an organization and leveraging the influence we have to increase our impact. There are many ways to do this, procurement being an obvious one; it is now commonplace for public- and private-sector organizations to seek out "green" options in technology, transport, and other services, which incentivizes service providers to think about and invest in climate-friendly initiatives.

Ultimately, catalytic philanthropy is a more comprehensive, encompassing, and sophisticated approach to a practice people have been engaging in for centuries. As experts in the field, we are enabling clients and communities at large to use resources in creative ways and to look beyond money to a more astute calculation of ROI – one that leverages the combined efforts of people and organizations to do the maximum amount of good at all levels of society.

Headshot_Liz GibbsLiz Gibbs is head of philanthropy at Perpetual Guardian. Over a career spanning twenty-five years, she has served as chief executive of Save the Children New Zealand and Philanthropy New Zealand and as head of foundation for Te Papa Tongarewa. Her current governance roles include deputy-chair of UNICEF New Zealand and board member at the Mediaworks Foundation.

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    — Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

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