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8 posts from December 2019

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts in 2019

December 27, 2019

Happy-new-year-2020-red-text-background_1017-21971We're all living on Internet time these days, which is maybe why 2019 seemed to speed by in record time. Before we close the books on another year — and the decade of the teens — we thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on the blog, as determined by your clicks, over the last twelve months. Included are oldies but goodies by Thaler Pekar, Nick Scott, Allison Shirk, and Gasby Brown; a couple of thirty-thousand-foot views of philanthropic giving by Larry McGill, Candid's vice president of knowledge services; new (in 2019) posts Jessica Johansen and NCRP's Aaron Dorfman; and a great review of Edgar Villanueva's Decolonizing Wealth by our colleague Grace Sato. From the team here at PND, best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic in 2010? We want to hear from you! Drop us a note at Mitch.Naufts@Candid.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 21-22, 2019)

December 22, 2019

48159486-boughs-of-holly-for-christmas-decorationWe're back with a special solstice edition of our roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Animal Welfare

Marc Gunther continues his series of exposes of bad behavior in the animal rights field with a piece about Jenny Brown, the co-founder and former executive director of the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York.

Criminal Justice

In a post that originally appeared on the Heinz Endowments' blog, Heinz Endowment president and Center for Effective Philanthropy board chair Grant Oliphant examines some of the myths and fears behind the system of mass incarceration that has characterized American criminal justice for the last forty years.

Fundraising

With a handful of working days left in the year, lots of folks are feeling overwhelmed, panicky, and guilty. Instead of giving in to negative feelings, Kris Putnam-Walkerly tells her clients "to get clear on their top three priorities, block out time on their calendar to tackle their priorities, and get them done." It's good advice, she adds, any time of the year.

On the theory that good advice is better received late than never, check out Vu Le's sample annual appeal letter before you close the books on 2019.

Health

On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Monica Hobbs Vinluan looks at an RWJF-supported multi-state initiative that explores how programs and policies can be integrated to make it easier for all families to thrive.

Philanthropy

Writing on the HistPhil blog, Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance and the former head of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Foundations and president of Atlantic Philanthropies, reflects on the importance of serendipity in philanthropy.

On the NCRP blog, Walter Howell, a senior consultant, and Lauri Valerio, communications manager at Community Wealth Partners, share four questions that funders should "sit with" as they learn to let communities lead.

Fingertip giving, humane tech, philanthrosophizing, and billionaire are a few of the words on Lucy Bernholz's list of the top buzzwords for 2020. Check out the Chronicle of Philanthropy for the rest and Lucy's always-interesting explanations.

On the Alliance magazine blog, Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde and Cleodie Rickard, policy manager and policy and public affairs executive, respectively, at the Charities Aid Foundation, share highlights of a recent Alliance panel discussion dedicated to feminist philanthropy. Questions discussed at the event included: What is feminist philanthropy? How does it differ from purely funding women and girls? What role do women’s funds play? And how can the sector achieve gender equality?

Transparency

"Strong systems for financial transparency and accountability on both sides of the funding process are critical for organizations to achieve their programmatic goals," writes Skyler Badenoch, CEO of Hope for Haiti, on Glasspocket's Transparency Talk blog. For donors, that means being transparent about what they want to fund, and why; investing in strategic partnerships and giving greater consideration to multiyear funding; and insisting on good governance, accountability, and transparency in the organizations they decide to fund. Check out the rest of Badenoch's post for more good advice.

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. And Happy Thanksgiving to all! We'll be next Sunday with another roundup.

Brand Awareness and Your Nonprofit

December 19, 2019

BRAND-AWARENESSIn 2018, Smithsonian Magazine called March for Our Lives, a student-led mass demonstration against gun violence that took place In Washington, D.C., "the most powerful American youth movement in decades." In 2019, March for Our Lives and the movement it catalyzed could not be found among the top five movements of interest to young Americans in a nationally representative sample of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds (Influencing Young America to Act 2019).

The lesson? Never assume others know about your cause or the work you are trying to promote.

Why is awareness important?

As I often tell organizations, the challenge for cause and movement leaders is not to get constituents to regurgitate a brand statement that reinforces work they're already engaged in; it's to connect a cause to the "zeitgeist" in a way that makes it impossible to forget.

Put another way, the fundamental challenge for any cause leader is to help people understand why it's critical they pay attention to your issue — and to keep them paying attention.

The importance of awareness

It's often the case that our messaging doesn't bring new people to our organization or cause but instead builds loyalty among those who already support it. To bring new supporters to the cause, on the other hand, awareness of the issue is imperative.

Needless to say, the fact that the people with whom we work or who support our cause tend to be passionate about our issue can give us a false sense of its importance to the public. In addition, most of us live in filter bubbles that limit our information consumption to items we completely (or mostly) agree with and/or that are relevant to our work. Which is why we're often surprised when others don’t exhibit the same level of awareness of our issue as we think they should.

It makes sense, therefore, that awareness campaigns are at the top of most organizations' communications wish lists — and why so many organizations get "false positives" when they attempt to measure awareness of their issue or cause.

Simple awareness isn't enough

Iowa Writers Workshop founder and mass communications scholar Wilbur Schramm popularized the idea that a message has no meaning beyond that given it by the sender and receiver. In other words, each person makes it personal to him or herself. The sender’s experience, biases, language, etc. influence the outgoing message, while the same happens on the receiving end. And without feedback from the recipient, the sender cannot be certain the message was received as intended.

The research we conducted for Influencing Young America to Act 2019 confirms that the most successful journey from awareness to action involves the personal. When a cause resonates with an individual in a way that is truly personal, he or she is more likely to take action.

Issue campaigns can (and frequently do) miss the mark, however. Organizations often push out information about their issue in terms that are broad and general: "Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 47,000 people in 2017, and 36 percent of those deaths involved prescription opioids."[1] While interesting from an industry or public-health perspective, this kind of approach tends not to be that effective because it doesn't give the person on the receiving end a reason to take action. To truly be effective, the message should echo the kind of bold messaging deployed by the Truth Initiative in its recent opioid campaign: "You can become addicted to opioids after just three days." The statement makes a direct connection to the receiver's personal behavior with a meaningful, informative fact-based claim: opioid overdoses may happen to other people, but you could become addicted to opioids before you know what hit you.

Informing vs. inspiring

Is there a difference between inspiring and informing donors? You bet.

You inform supporters when you:

  • Connect a message or fact to a personal choice they can make (e.g., changing one's own behavior).
  • Explain how their support (activism, personal behavior, giving, volunteerism) matters to those that are being affected and/or served.

You inspire/empower supporters when you:

  • Persuade them to put themselves in the shoes of a member of the target population and, in so doing, give them a reason to act.
  • Reinforce the "power" the individual has to act and affect change personally, for and with others.

When you first share a message, story, or campaign with the general public, be sure to convey the "relatability" of your issue. Over time, your job will be to move individuals who are interested in your issue along a continuum from familiarity with the issue, to familiarity with your organization, to deeper awareness of your cause and the actions they can take on a regular basis to support it. I'm not saying it will be easy, but the extra work required will pay off in the long run.

From all of us at Cause & Social Influence, we wish you Happy Holidays and a safe and peace-filled New Year!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

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Notes

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/index.html

 

Learning by Visiting: Marguerite Casey Foundation Board Meetings

December 12, 2019

Mcf_logoSunday morning began with a tour through Little Haiti, 3.5 square miles comprising the oldest neighborhood of people of Haitian descent in Florida — and one of the largest communities of Haitians in the United States. Riding in a long yellow school bus, Marguerite Casey Foundation board members listened to Boukman Mangones, a Haitian-American architect, speak about the fight to preserve Little Haiti's heritage and to combat the efforts of real estate developers who could displace the community.

Mangones was joined by Marleine Bastien, the founder and executive director of Family Action Network Movement (FANM), a Marguerite Casey Foundation grantee since 2016. Bastien met the board for the first time that day, in her home community, opening up her organization to ensure that funders know the struggles low-income Haitian families experience daily. When the bus tour ended, board members spent the afternoon in FANM's office — joined by four other grantees — grappling with many of the issues troubling the community, including gentrification, climate change, and immigration.

The Marguerite Casey Foundation works to help low-income families strengthen their voice and mobilize their communities in order to achieve a more just and equitable society for all. The foundation's quarterly board meetings remove "living in poverty" from the sterility of statistics. Since the foundation's founding in 2001, its board has developed a culture that is inquisitive, principled, and clear on priorities. The board understands that families know what is best for their communities and grantee organizations know best how to empower those families. The board sees its role as led by those closest to the issues. They learn by asking, listening, and then acting. That's why the founding board and leadership implemented on-the-ground board meetings starting in 2002, beginning with their first visit to grantee Community Coalition in South Los Angeles — which continues to receive significant, long-term general operating support from the foundation.

"MCF site visits provide board members with an extraordinary level of engagement and interaction with organizers, leaders, and families most directly affected by the issue," says Rami Nashashibi, executive director of Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and an MCF board member. "I've had the honor of working closely with many foundations across the country for over twenty-five years, and I've never witnessed a board as committed to hearing from and responding to its grantees as I have with my dynamic colleagues at the Marguerite Casey Foundation."

The foundation's two-day board meetings focus on learning and directly engaging with the communities where grantees do their work. Sunday is spent with grantees, families, and issue experts in the field. Board members learn about their grantees' constituents firsthand, not from a report. They can ask them directly, "What can we do to help?" Or, "What do we need to know about the issues facing families right now?"

Monday begins with a period of reflection, giving board members time and an opportunity to discuss how to apply what they heard the day before to the foundation's strategy.

 
Reasons This Approach Supports MCF's Work:
  • MCF board members are thought leaders and influencers in their fields and have a set of qualities that allow them to understand the context in which grantees work.
  • MCF's movement building strategy is community driven, not board driven, which creates space for board members to be a part of the conversation as opposed to driving it.
  • MCF grantees partner with foundation staff to put together on-the-ground educational opportunities for the board — a process that lifts up learnings that are beneficial to the board, foundation staff, and grantees.
  •  

The board also creates opportunities for grantees to learn from issue experts, including authors like Ibram Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America), who recently joined a meeting to speak about the history of racism in America. The board centers equity in its work, openly engaging in challenging conversations about how best to nurture families at the intersection of race, gender, and poverty. As a board whose composition is 82 percent people of color, funding mostly organizations led by people of color (more than 86 percent), conversations about diversity and equity aren't just philosophical; they're personal. The board knows that poverty is about more than just money; it's also about education, child care, health care, housing, climate change, transportation, jobs, and justice, or the lack thereof. Families experience poverty as an ensnaring web of interrelated issues that radiate from a center of financial insecurity.

Engaging the foundation’s board of directors in strategic learning allows grantees to take the lead in sharing their innovative strategies and the lessons they have learned. The practice demonstrates a commitment by the foundation to asking the hard questions and, more importantly, to actively listening to the answers.

Zeeba_Khalili_Marguerite_Casey_Fdn_for_PhilanTopicZeeba Khalili is a learning and evaluation officer at the Marguerite Casey Foundation dedicated to finding clear, effective solutions to the complex problems challenging communities of color across the country. This post originally was published on the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy blog.

The Best-Kept Secret: A Strategic ‘Pivot’

December 10, 2019

Greater-Denver-Jewish-Community-Study-2018-300x300There are countless examples of strategic "pivots" to point to in the for-profit world, many of them from the not-too-distant past. Remember when Amazon just sold books, when Netflix mailed DVDs, or when the Gap was a record store that sold Levi's? It's rare, on the other hand, to hear about nonprofits making the same kind of massive changes in strategy. Of course, taking a risk in Silicon Valley (where companies are expected to produce financial returns for their investors) is different than risk-taking in the nonprofit world, where organizations are responsible for having an impact on a social or environmental problem.

But pivoting — a shift in strategy that helps an organization achieve its desired impact — is crucial for nonprofits that want to succeed over the long-term. "Pivot" doesn’t have to be a bad word or signal failure. Think of it, instead, as a natural part of organizational evolution.

Pivots can be large or small, but they should emerge from a clear understanding of what is working and what is not. Using data (e.g., performance metrics, evaluations, and direct observation) to decide whether or not it's time to pivot will ensure that you pivot in the right direction. This kind of intentionality, coupled with the ability to admit what isn't working, makes a strategic pivot different than just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Organizations that don't pivot eventually end up stuck doing the same old thing, even when evidence points them in another direction. In such a scenario, funders often start to wonder about their investment in a "stuck" organization and whether it's truly creating the impact they would like to see. To help nonprofits that are struggling with the pivot issue, as well as funders who may be sitting on the other side of the table, I wanted to share a story about a pivot made by my organization, UpStart, what we learned from it, and how you can benefit from the same kind of thinking and tactics.

UpStart's flagship initiative in Colorado was our Teen Fellowship program, which each year engaged twenty-four fellows in the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship through a Jewish lens. This program was a part of the larger Denver-Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative to increase engagement of diverse local Jewish teens. In the fellowship, teens worked in small teams to solve a particular problem in their respective communities, developing new initiatives and learning key skills that would help them navigate the world. The program was rated favorably by the teens who participated, but from an outcomes perspective it was becoming increasingly clear it was off-strategy.

UpStart had just updated its theory of change (which affected the organization’s national and local programming, including ours in Colorado), and it was clear that our Teen Fellowship program did not align with the framework. Under the updated theory of change, the organization's goal is not to directly provide experiences for people looking to explore their Jewish identity; instead, we work to inspire bold leaders who are building game-changing Jewish experiences — and connect them to each other to amplify their impact. What's more, the fellowship program was too small to really make the kind of impact we were looking for, and in a landscape already rich with opportunities for teens, it was simply one more option in a crowded field.

We knew Jewish teens would be disappointed when they heard about the decision, so after carefully considering our goals for the region, and in consultation with our funder, the Rose Community Foundation, we decided to transition to a program that would have a wider reach, deeper alignment with our regional strategy, and a clearer connection to our tactical goals.

Explaining the logic behind the transition, Vanessa Bernier, Jewish Life program officer for the Rose Community Foundation, said, "Our goal is to be responsive to changing demographics, which means demonstrating an openness to new ideas, strategies, and innovations. We value our long-standing partnerships with grantees and working together to address the evolving needs of the community."

That was the green light we needed to create the Change Accelerator for Teen Educators, an intensive program that equips individuals with the practical skills needed to identify and launch bold initiatives that meet the ever-evolving needs of Jewish teens in the Denver/Boulder region.

Because we are in the business of helping organizations make change, we took a page out of our own book and leveraged adaptive design — a framework authored by UpStart associates Maya Bernstein and Marty Linsky that brings together the fundamentals of design thinking and adaptive leadership.

We also designed the "pivot" knowing we would need to get our funders on board, identify the outcomes we wanted to achieve, and ensure that our messaging addressed key stakeholder concerns.

As your organization is thinking about making a pivot of its own, consider the following three questions, which are informed by the adaptive design framework:

Who needs to be on board? For our pivot, we knew we needed the leadership of our Colorado team to assess the strategy and provide implementation recommendations. We also needed the green light from UpStart's national leadership team, as well as our funders.

Before presenting the details of a pivot to stakeholders, consider carefully what your data, evaluations, direct observations, and experience have to say about how your audience is likely to receive the new program and why a pivot is needed. Then, share that data with those authorized to make the final decision.

How clear are you about your goals and outcomes? Before moving forward with our pivot, we confirmed the primary reason for making the change by looking at both our theory of change and the impact our funders wanted to see: increasing the reach of our programs. Today, our new program directly serves seven teen educators at six different organizations across the Denver/Boulder region, where they are in a position to have a positive impact on dozens, if not hundreds of teens (many more than the original program).

When you're ready to flip the switch on your pivot, be sure to engage your stakeholders in a dialogue around the best path forward. Creating transparency around the process will help ensure that there's alignment between you and your funder(s).

Who will be affected when you make the pivot? Any time a nonprofit pivots, there will be people who are excited about the change and those who aren't. In pivoting away from our Teen Fellowship program, we knew that teens, parents, and several community partners in the region would feel the loss. We also realized we needed to help other stakeholders understand why it was time for a change.

Once you decide to make a pivot, be clear with your stakeholders about the reasons why. When you communicate with them, be sure to paint a picture of the impact you’re hoping to realize, whom you hope to help, and how you plan to achieve your new goals and objectives.

Our pivot represented a risk for us, but we were able to leverage our data and experience to make the case to our funder, the Rose Community Foundation, with transparency and the appropriate level of urgency. The foundation was already invested in our success, and because we had put a significant amount of time into building a relationship with the team there, and they in us, we didn't think twice about approaching them and trusting that they would be a thoughtful partner in helping us settle on our best next steps.

As nonprofit expert Vu Le wrote in a recent post on his Nonprofit AF blog, "The best, most helpful program officers see themselves as partners in the work....Working with them is fun, and I never feel like I have to hide anything, such as when things don't go well. This sort of relationship fosters transparency, trust, and respect, which leads to more effective strategies that benefit the communities we serve."

By fully committing to an intentional, strategic pivot, nonprofits can put themselves in a position to more quickly adapt to the diverse needs of the communities they serve. UpStart, like so many other nonprofits and funders, is striving to create a more just, vibrant, and inclusive future, and increased participation in Jewish life is one part of that bigger picture. Our recent pivot has helped us increase our impact and effectiveness, and as our community and region continue to change, we'll be looking for other such opportunities.

Headshot_Sarah Kornhauser_UPDATEDSarah Kornhauser is Director, Colorado for UpStart, which is part of the Denver-Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative. The initiative is one of ten such initiatives across the country comprising the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative.

What It Takes to Manage Leadership Change in the Nonprofit Sector

December 05, 2019

ChangesEvery organization experiences leadership change. But these days, the nonprofit sector is experiencing a big demographic shift. Which is why it's essential for all nonprofits to start planning for the kind of thoughtful leadership transitions —including those resulting from both expected and sudden departures — any organization needs to survive and thrive.

According to the 2017 BoardSource report Leading With Intent, only 27 percent of nonprofits have a formal succession plan in place. That's unfortunate, because having such a plan in place can help any organization overcome the challenges and bumps in the road that almost always pop up in the wake of a leadership transition.

In the past, the process was commonly referred to "succession planning." However, that term often refers to identifying a successor for a specific leader and, in our view, has outgrown its usefulness. It's more helpful, instead, to think about the work of preparing for and managing leadership change as "intentional pathway planning," a more expansive term that serves as a reminder that leadership change involves much more than thinking about a single role or person; it's a holistic approach and lens that should be applied to every step of the hiring and onboarding process.

While every organization’s circumstances are different (involving things like leadership configuration, organizational goals, skills gaps, etc.), all nonprofits would be well-served to take a proactive approach to building a strong leadership pipeline, developing internal talent for higher-level roles, and making themselves aware of specific knowledge and/or diversity gaps that need to be addressed.

Tips for successful intentional pathway planning include:

Consider the big picture. A critical first step in intentional pathway planning is to understand your organization's leadership needs and mission-focused objectives. What are you trying to do? What type of talent will you need to get there? What are your organization’s knowledge gaps, and how can they be filled?

Plan and train. To ensure there's a robust pipeline of talent available to take advantage of future leadership opportunities, you need to proactively take steps to support talent. Provide employees with ample training and development opportunities — as well as continual mentoring and coaching — to help them learn, grow, and thrive. Check in with individual employees about their goals and aspirations, and then tailor development plans for them as appropriate. To ensure you have a deep bench of future leaders, allow staff at various levels to flex their leadership skills — and assume additional responsibilities. Such an approach is just as beneficial for the organization as it is for individuals on the receiving end of these training opportunities and can be pitched to job candidates as an organizational value proposition.

Look internally first. There are significant benefits to promoting from within, including capturing institutional knowledge, boosting team morale, and increasing employee engagement and retention. It's also less expensive and time-consuming to promote from within.

Know when to look externally. Be mindful about your talent needs and recognize that you might not have the skill sets, experience, diversity, or other key attributes needed to fill certain roles in the organization — in other words, there may be valid reasons to conduct an external search. It can be valuable to bring in outside perspectives and skills, especially if you are trying to address knowledge gaps on your internal team. And if your existing team lacks diversity, now would be a good time to do something about it.  Just make sure you're ready to support people from diverse backgrounds as they are onboarded and begin to acculturate to your environment.

Use consistent systems. We are firm believers in the consistent use of performance management processes to capture personnel assessments and track professional development opportunities. Tools such as StrengthsFinder make it easier to assess the strengths (and weaknesses) of your leadership team, identify where knowledge gaps exist, and train people to fill those gaps.

Prioritize staff development. Healthy, sustainable organizations tend to excel at "growing" leaders and retaining their best talent. Make sure that someone on your leadership team is tasked with championing your pipeline development efforts and has the authority to embed it in the organization’s strategic priorities and budget. Recognize, too, that this needs to be an ongoing effort and remain a priority, even when other tasks and initiatives beckon.

Emphasize where DEI meets pathway planning. In the twenty-first century, it's imperative for organizations to embrace a culture of diversity with respect to race, gender, age, experience, perspective, and so forth. The first step in doing that is to identify and celebrate the various skills, competencies, perspectives, and backgrounds already present on your team. Then take steps to augment those skills and perspectives with external hires that enhance your diversity goals. Among other things, that means making sure a diverse group of candidates is considered for every promotion and leadership opportunity that arises.

Customize your plans. Recognize that your pathway planning needs to address future departures at multiple levels, including president/executive director, senior management roles (e.g., development director, major gifts officer, public affairs director, etc.) as well as board members. Because each of these positions requires different skills, experience, and so on, you'll need to develop specific plans to address each possible vacancy scenario.

Expect the unexpected. In a perfect scenario, your executive director will give the board plenty of notice about their planned departure date and will be willing to help select and train their successor. Unfortunately, departures of key leaders sometimes happen abruptly or unexpectedly (due to health issues, family emergencies, or other reasons). If your organization has a thoughtful plan in place, it should provide the kind of guidance an interim director will need during a difficult, tumultuous, and possibly emotional leadership change. If possible, take the time (with the help of the board) to develop an emergency transition plan that spells out the delegation of duties and authority (even temporarily) in the event of an unexpected transition or interruption in leadership.

Consider your organization's biggest challenges. Identify the current — and potential — challenges your organization faces (or is likely to face in the future). What type of leader will best be able to help the organization overcome these challenges, navigate obstacles, and meet its goals and objectives? What skills, qualities, and personality traits does this individual need to possess? What leadership qualities does your organization most need to bring about positive change?

Communicate wisely. Include a communications plan in your transition plans. While the circumstances of the transition will dictate the specific messages around it, you'll need to communicate any leadership change to internal and external audiences. Identify possible spokespeople, and make sure they're aware of — and comfortable with — their roles. Develop a list of key stakeholders that will need to be in the loop (e.g., board members, major donors, key staff, media, etc.). Recognize that you need to be thoughtful, clear, and concise with your messaging and its delivery.

Leadership transitions — especially when they're unexpected — can leave an organization vulnerable. It's essential to be prepared for a variety of scenarios and have plans in place to manage any change in leadership, regardless of the circumstance. BoardSource’s research shows that most organizations don’t have a formal transition plan in place. Make sure your organization does.

Headshot_miecha_forbes_KoyaMiecha Ranea Forbes is senior vice president of Culture, Inclusion & Strategic Advising at Koya Leadership Partners, an executive search and strategic advising firm guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world.

We Must Act Now to End Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity — Together

December 03, 2019

Food insecurity on campusAs hundreds of thousands of students scramble to submit their college applications, many are thinking beyond the daunting cost of tuition and student fees to how they will pay for their everyday necessities once they've arrived on campus. With nearly half of college students at two- and four-year institutions experiencing food insecurity and more than half struggling with housing insecurity, it goes without saying that gaps in basic-needs provision are a major issue impacting today's college students — one that requires a systemic solution.

Examples of expenses that can derail a student's progression to a degree include emergency car repairs, rent increases, or a sudden illness. Such needs and emergencies often can be addressed, however, by immediate direct supports, including emergency-aid grants, food pantries, rapid rehousing services, and campus partnerships with community and government agencies aimed at ensuring students are supported throughout their academic journey.

Colleges are well positioned to be points of entry to a coordinated suite of social services for students. Working in tandem with community and government partners, colleges can use their own resources and design more student-centered services to cover students’ basic needs and keep them on track to their degrees.

For instance, in Washington state, the United Way of King County is working in partnership with local colleges to develop on-campus Benefits Hubs, which are designed to connect students to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as community partners that can provide immediate resources and financial assistance for housing-related emergencies.

Holistic support provided by colleges and community-based programs also can play a critical role in providing students with a pathway out of their basic-needs challenges. The Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida works with universities and colleges across the state to provide rent-free housing to postsecondary students who demonstrate academic merit and financial need. Having a secure and safe place to return to after school and work is essential for student well-being and academic success and can be the difference between a student graduating or dropping out.

There's no one-size-fits-all in terms of helping today’s college students — many of whom no longer match the traditional description of the 18- to 24-year-old seeking a four-year degree right out of high school. Today’s students are more likely to be over 25 and the first in their family to attend college. Many also often face competing demands for their time, including work and family responsibilities.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that while the population of single-mother students has increased significantly over the years, only 28 percent of single moms who enroll in college will graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 40 percent of married mothers and 57 percent of female students who are not parents. The disparity often is due to the very real challenge of supporting a family, juggling work, and completing coursework. IWPR found that providing students with parent support services, including childcare, goes a long way to helping single moms succeed.

Colleges and universities alone cannot fix the problem. It will take a movement to address students' multifaceted needs and safeguard postsecondary education as a public good. And it will require action and collective investment involving multiple sectors, including institutions of higher education, government, community-based organizations, and research and philanthropic entities.

In October, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law sweeping legislation designed to increase the allocation of funding for emergency-aid grants for community college students in the state, in addition to approving $19 million to address homelessness among students across the state’s community college, California State University, and University of California systems. Both policy actions expand support for students who may otherwise be at risk of dropping out due to financial emergencies and basic-needs challenges. Other states could emulate California and help their most vulnerable students overcome these types of life crises so that they persist through school and graduate with a degree.

Last month, ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative, a $3 million effort to pilot, evaluate, and scale programs aimed at stemming the tide of basic-needs insecurity among college students. Through a national cohort of seven organizations and institutions working with two- and four-year institutions, we will spend the next three years working with grantees to address basic needs issues among students, with a focus on food, housing, child care, mental health, emergency financial assistance, and transportation.

But we can't stop there.

We need others to invest in organizations working to address basic-needs insecurity. We need holistic approaches aimed at increasing academic persistence and graduation rates for the most vulnerable students on campus. And we need to work to eliminate basic-needs insecurity as an issue so that students who complete a bachelor's degree reap the return on investment and the social mobility that comes with it.

Sarah_belnick_for_PhilanTopicTogether, we can reduce basic-needs insecurity for students, today and into the future.

Sarah Belnick is senior program director for College Success at ECMC Foundation, a national foundation working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds.

 

Garifuna and the 2020 Census

December 02, 2019

Garifuna300Gilberto Amaya's career in international development has taken him to more than thirty countries, where he has implemented renewable energy systems, agribusiness projects, and poverty alleviation initiatives. Along the way, he witnessed the post-independence struggles of sovereign states whose names are rarely heard on nightly newscasts in the U.S. — Burkina Faso, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A native of Honduras, he has memories of blending into and being welcomed by communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Central and South America.

Yet, near his home in Fairfax, Virginia, a bureaucracy momentarily stripped him of his identity — and incident that sparked Amaya's quest to have "Garifuna" fully recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"After conducting some public business at a government agency in Virginia," Amaya recalled, "I was leaving the counter, and the Latina clerk heard me speaking Spanish to my wife and called me back."

For ethnicity, Amaya had checked the box next to "black."

"You checked the wrong box," the clerk said. "You can't check black. You speak Spanish. You have to check Hispanic.' "

Today, Amaya is a member of the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC), which solicits recommendations on ways to improve the accuracy of the decennial count in determining ethnic minorities, and is allied with other Garifuna organizations, scholars, and Afro-Latino advocates working to document the heritage and raise the visibility of the Garifuna people.

The Garifuna are descendants of Africans of mixed tribal ancestry who were captured and shipped from Africa to the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Garifuna historians recount on-board insurrections that ran ships aground. The captives escaped inland and intermarried with indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians, who were also subject to forced-labor bondage. Sometimes referred to as the Black Caribs, the Garifuna led and participated in the unsuccessful Carib Wars aimed at overthrowing British dominion, sometimes with assistance of France, England's imperial rival.

Although slavery had been banned in England by the late 1700s, the slave trade continued in the Americas. Given public outrage and the growing political strength of the abolition movement, the British demurred, in the Caribbean, from wholesale execution of prisoners deemed guilty of armed resistance. Although many Garifuna died after being captured, others were transported seventeen hundred miles to the west and abandoned to their fate.

"They put more than two thousand people on ships and transported them across the Caribbean to the Bay Islands of Honduras," Amaya explains. "That's where the Garifuna people first landed in Central America. And after their arrival on the coast, they eventually moved north and west to the rest of Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, as well as south into Nicaragua. Through migration, some large communities also were established in the U.S., for example in the South Bronx."

Amaya says New York's Garifuna population is America's largest, numbering between 70,000 to 100,000. "But that is only an estimate because we don't really show up in decennial census data." Garifuna can also be found in Houston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, both in the U.S. and abroad, albeit in smaller numbers.

The Garifuna are not new arrivals to the United States. "Migration is in our people's DNA," Amaya says. "The earliest Garifuna migration to the U.S. was after World War II, when we were recruited to work on the merchant marine ships supplying Europe during the war against the Axis powers. Garifuna weren't conscripted into the U.S. military, but many chose to remain in America after the war and never returned home. They sent for their families to join them."

Education was Amaya's path to the United States. He grew up on the Honduran coast, an outstanding student who became the first Garifuna to graduate with a degree in industrial-mechanical engineering from the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. There he met and married Rachel, another Garifuna student at the university. They have six children.

"I went to work for the Honduras government for ten years until I was offered an opportunity to work for a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor on projects in Latin America," he says. "Later, they decided I would be more useful to their work in Africa."

The contractor preferred that Amaya be U.S.-based, so the family moved to Philadelphia. He earned his master's degree in international development from the University of Pennsylvania.
 
The dramatic growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States, captured in the censuses of 2000 and 2010, did not go unnoticed by America's political elites. Amaya remembers the raw opportunism and frantic attempts of both the Democratic and Republican parties to tap into what was perceived as a potential source of voters. Likewise, corporations, awakened to an emerging customer base and potential consumer market, began to look for Spanish-language spokespeople.
 
"I remember the lawyers all over the region where I live in Virginia running around, struggling with their broken Spanish to reach out to the Hispanic population because it was growing so fast."
 
According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics in the U.S. today number almost 60 million, more than 18 percent of the population. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to approximately 133 million, and Hispanics will comprise one-third of the population. Hispanics are "the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority," the Census Bureau reports, and ten states already have at least one million Hispanic residents.
 
For many Americans, the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are interchangeable, but for purposes of the census "Hispanic" refers primarily to descendants of people from Mexico or other polities once under Spanish colonial rule, while "Latino" refers to the populations of Central and South America (Latin America), but includes Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese.
 
How the descendants of the millions of Africans forcibly imported into the New World defined themselves is rarely addressed. In some countries, Amaya explained, those who owned slaves included them in census responses as an indicator of wealth. After independence, "governments sought to present a whiter face to the world in order to attract European immigrants." The hierarchical color codes denoting mixed blood and status, with "black" at the bottom, were maintained as a social construct but discarded for purposes of the census.
 
"Wherever you go — and I've been around, in Latin America and Europe and lots of other places — it doesn't matter the type of regime, left  or right, democracy or autocracy or theocracy, black people are always in the same position, at the bottom of the economic ladder.
 
"And in my work, I have to look at those things and say, So why are we being sold the idea in Latin America that we're all the same, that we have the same rights, the same opportunities, yet we're always at the bottom? Nowhere is there anything close to a racial democracy. I came to the realization that it was a deliberate effort by the white Hispanic elite to keep the situation like that, and to inflate its [own] numbers."
 
With guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Census Bureau has tried to address the issue with a linguistic panacea of sorts. Hispanics and Latinos, according to the Census Bureau, are not a race but rather an ethnic group that can be of any race. The bureau notes that, "in 2000 and in 2010, the Some Other Race (SOR) population, which was intended to be a small residual category, was the third-largest race group. This was primarily due to Hispanics identifying with any of the OMB race categories. In addition, segments of other populations, such as Afro Caribbean and Middle Eastern or North African populations, did not identify with any of the OMB race categories and identified as SOR."
 
The 2020 census race categories will be the same as they were in 2010: white, black or Afro American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and as many as eleven boxes to denote Asian.
 
In order to be recognized as Garfuna in the 2020 census, Amaya will have to write "Garifuna" or "Honduran" on the form under origin:Hispanic and then check the box for black or African American. Presumably, he will be counted as both. Amaya estimates that, when adding the Afro Latino population to the black/African American one, the combined percentage of the total U.S. population is probably closer to 20 percent.
 
At the same time, his insistence on raising the visibility of the Afro Latino presence in America has caused discomfort in some quarters. Indeed, he's been accused of being divisive when he points out that the diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S. is not fully represented.
 
Amaya's letter to a Census Bureau director addressed "the concern increasingly voiced by millions in the Afro Latino community, a significant growing segment of the Hispanic population in the United States, which doesn't see itself recognized, equitably represented, and sharing equally in the benefits — including representation in government, employment services, and so on."
 
Locally, Amaya has been working with the District of Columbia's Complete Count Committee to ensure that Afro Latinos are counted in the 2020 census. During the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference in September, he was a key organizer of a panel, "The Decade of the Diaspora: A Conversation on the Afro Descendant Experience in Latin America," hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Actor Danny Glover was a speaker, as were several Garifuna activists. Although the event focused on the challenges and conditions of Afro Latino communities abroad, the question of identity resonated throughout the discussion.
 
In 2001, UNESCO recognized the Garifuna language, dance, and music of Belize and neighboring Honduras as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity." Spoken, Garifuna is a mellifluous tongue comprised of African dialects, Carib, Arawak, and elements of French.
 
Amaya is fluent in Garifuna and cites preservation of Garifuna language and culture as something most Garifuna are committed to. He is heartened by individuals like Ruben Reyes, who co-produced and starred in Garifuna in Peril, a film that portrays how modernity has affected Garifuna communities. Amaya sees the census as a valuable tool to foster Afro Latino and Garifuna unity and prosperity.
 
"We are promoting the inclusion of Afro-Latinos in census work," Amaya said. "I work to get the word out about the differences that exist on the census and the invisibility of the Afro-Latinos within the larger Hispanic population. 
 
"We have our challenges," he adds. But at the same time he trusts that Garifunas' "fierce resilience" will help chart their path forward.

Gilberto Amaya is working to make sure it does.
 
Khalil Abdullah is a former executive director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a former editor/writer for New America Media, and a former managing editor of the Washington Afro Newspaper.

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