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9 posts from February 2020

5 Questions for...Justin Steele, Director, Google.org Americas

February 24, 2020

Growing up, Justin Steele was "a sensitive, brainy kid" who spent a lot of time thinking about what he could do to improve people's lives. After earning an engineering degree from the University of Virginia, he received a master's in urban social policy and nonprofit management at Harvard and went to work in the nonprofit sector full-time. Since 2014, he has held senior positions with Google.org, where he's taken a lead role in the organization's work on inclusion, education, and economic opportunity.

PND recently spoke with Steele about Google.org, its efforts to develop AI tools for nonprofits, and what it is doing to address homelessness in the Bay Area.

JustinSteelePhilanthropy News Digest: What is Google.org, and how much does it award annually to nonprofits here in the United States and globally?

Justin Steele: Google.org is Google's philanthropic and charitable arm. We support nonprofits that are working to address challenging problems and try to apply scalable data-driven innovations in support of those efforts. What's unique about Google.org is that we were established when the company went public with a commitment of 1 percent of its equity and an ongoing commitment of 1 percent of its net profit for charity. Google.org is the biggest beneficiary of that 1 percent ongoing net-profit commitment, and we currently award more than $300 million in cash grants to nonprofits globally each year, roughly split 50/50 between the U.S. and internationally.

PND: Can any nonprofit apply for a grant?

JS: We are predominantly invite-only in our philanthropy, but we do have a model called the Impact Challenge where we invite nonprofits to participate by sending us their ideas. Sometimes the challenge is topic-based, sometimes it's based on geography.

In the U.S., we are currently running Impact Challenges in a number of geographies. We have a $10 million Impact Challenge open in the Bay Area and $1 million challenges open in Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio. A panel of local experts who have influence in the states where the challenge is occurring help us narrow down the candidates. The panel chooses the finalists who receive funding, but we also open it up to a public vote. The People's Choice winners get extra funding at the end.

The state-level Impact Challenges change from year to year, although this is the third time we've run a challenge in the Bay Area, which is where we’re headquartered. Last year, we ran challenges in Illinois, Nevada, and Colorado, and we expect to launch new challenges in other states in 2020.

We also opened up the AI Impact Challenge globally in 2018 and 2019 for organizations that are working on interesting applications of artificial intelligence for social good.

PND: You and your colleagues recently issued a paper titled "Accelerating Social Good With Artificial Intelligence." What does AI have to do with social good? And can you give us an example of an AI-driven project that has delivered real results in terms of social good?

JS: AI is an emerging field. It's obviously transforming a lot of Google's tools, and we use it internally every day, which is why we call ourselves an AI-first company. But Google.org also wanted to make sure we're thinking through how AI can be used to solve some of our biggest social challenges. The AI Impact Challenge generated over twenty-six hundred applications from a hundred and nineteen countries, lots of them interesting, especially in the areas of the environment, conservation, and energy. If nothing else, it showed us that there are a lot of nonprofits and social enterprises eager to use AI tools in their work.

Google itself has used AI in its flood-forecasting tools, with interesting results, especially in places like India, which is prone to devastating and deadly flooding. We take historical data and look at areas that have been impacted by flooding in the past. Then we use real-time river-level data, take Google maps data with topography and elevation profiles, pump that into the models, and run thousands of simulations. Based on that information, we're able to issue alerts to warn people where and when flooding might occur.

We've also seen a number of AI-driven applications submitted through Impact Challenges focused on similar issues such as rainforest health and irrigation in Africa. One of our grantees — Thorn, a nonprofit in the U.S. that works to stop the trafficking of children — has seen particularly strong results. We gave them a $2.5 million grant and sent a team of five Googlers to work with them for six months to improve their models. The result was a spotlight tool that uses clustering algorithms to find victims faster. Every year, more than two hundred thousand escort ads are posted daily in the U.S. across different platforms. Because traffickers often move their victims across state lines, the same ads tend to pop up across different geographies. The algorithms we were able to develop with Thorn examine information in posts such as phone numbers, location, linguistic style, and image similarities. Using that information, law enforcement can triangulate the location of a trafficked person. Today, more than seven thousand law enforcement agencies in all fifty states and Canada are using the tool and have identified and located more than twenty-eight thousand trafficked individuals.

We're still in the early days, and the technology is developing rapidly. That's partly why we launched the Impact Challenges. We're curious and eager to help develop and train more nonprofits to use technology to advance their missions.

PND: Your background is in engineering. Has that training been helpful in terms of your role at Google?

JS: Google's obviously an engineering company, so it's definitely helpful to have that background. On a practical level, engineering helped me lose my fear of complexity. In college, I studied chemical engineering and did insanely difficult problems. That experience taught me how to break a problem into its component pieces and get down to first principles. You learn that you can break any problem into its component pieces and build back to the solution. I took a lot of that approach with me when I went to grad school and then when I started to work for nonprofits trying to understand the factors driving complex social problems.

For example, in criminal justice reform, where we've awarded $40 million over the last five years, we took a data-driven approach to finding solutions. We initially invested in a broad theory of change focused on advocacy and job creation and other things. But we ended up putting most of our resources into efforts to understand, from a data-science perspective, what's happening in policing, what's happening in sentencing, what's happening in jails and prisons.

For instance, the Vera Institute of Justice recently published a major report on rural incarceration. We gave them $5 million and sent an engineering team to help them build data tools that would help them understand what's happening in jails at the county level across the country. There are thousands of counties in the U.S., and it's really hard to get a handle, especially in real time, on what's happening there. One hypothesis was that incarceration was growing faster in rural counties than in urban areas, but it was unproven. With the resources and engineers we sent them, Vera was able to demonstrate that incarceration in rural areas is in fact increasing at a very significant rate while urban incarceration is actually decreasing. You see cities like New York trying to close its Rikers Island facility, but in rural areas the number of people who are being jailed is spiking. The opioid crisis is a significant driver of the increase. And the way our carceral system works, a lot of people end up being held in jail because they can't make bail. Parole violations are another significant driver of why people are incarcerated in rural areas. As I say, it's an emerging picture. But Vera's report is driving a lot of policy makers to think about what we, as a society, can do to address some of the challenges we're seeing in these areas.

PND: Last spring, Google.org awarded grants totaling $50 million to address homelessness and displacement in the Bay Area, while your parent company committed $1 billion to build affordable housing in the region — with other tech giants announcing similar pledges. Are efforts by private employers sufficient to solve the Bay Area's homelessness and affordable housing crises, or does a real solution lie elsewhere?

JS: I don't think there's a solution to housing in the Bay Area that's independent of the public sector. We see our role as a philanthropic entity supporting innovative ideas that the public sector might not be able to support in the short term. But if you want to solve it at the systemic level, it really requires partnerships with the public sector.

One example I can give is our work with Hamilton Families, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that works with homeless families. Back in 2014 they had an idea to partner with the San Francisco Unified School District to identify students who were experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Obviously, homelessness is really disruptive for kids who are trying to succeed in school. So SFUSD decided to create a rapid response team to prevent families from losing their homes and rehouse them when they did. We invested $1 million in that project, which helped lead to a 40 percent reduction in the average wait list for family shelters in the city. The City of San Francisco subsequently invested $4.5 million in the organization's Project Every Home, which was an outgrowth of its work with SFUSD. And there was an additional $20 million of private capital that eventually flowed in as well.

We know we're not going to solve this alone. But we do have flexible philanthropic resources we can use to take risks and look for things that might take longer to generate results. Plus, we can invest in innovation, create proof points to demonstrate outcomes, and then have the public sector and other private investors come in and fund some of those ideas.

As you noted, Google itself has committed $1 billion to address the problem, and those resources will help build twenty thousand additional housing units in the Bay Area. But we need more than twenty thousand. Again, that's why partnering with the public sector is critical.

As far as developing a more diverse workforce here at Google, I'm not sure we can go anywhere but up. I'm optimistic we'll have a more diverse workforce in ten years, but it's certainly not going to happen on its own.

One of the initiatives we announced a couple months ago with SFUSD Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurman was a $10 million rising STEM scholars initiative. With our partners, we did some research and found there were three thousand low-income students of color in the Bay Area who were qualified and capable of succeeding in advanced placement STEM courses but who were not currently enrolled in those courses. That's a huge missed opportunity for Google and other technology companies in the Bay Area. And that’s why we’re investing $10 million in five nonprofits that are working to identify those students, work with the schools directly to get those students into AP classes, support those classes with resources to make sure the schools are prepared to teach that content, and, maybe most importantly, invest in the teachers who teach those classes. A lot of times, students are interested in taking AP courses, but especially in the case of AP computer science, we find a dearth of qualified teachers who are credentialed to teach the subject at the high school level. In the first year, we piloted the initiative at sixteen schools, and we've already doubled the number of black and Latinx students in those schools taking AP STEM classes. So the next step is to scale that across the whole Bay Area.

So we're investing significantly in initiatives that are designed to strengthen the pipeline of local talent into places like Google. It's tough, and it's really tough to do it at scale. It's going to take a concerted effort. And it's going to take more than just Google. But we're confident that, working with others, including the public sector, we can figure it out and disrupt the status quo.

— Matt Sinclair

Frequently Asked Questions on Census 2020: Census Identities Still Confound

February 18, 2020

2020-census-logo-sliderEveryone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card at some point, or at least everyone who responds to the decennial census. Despite the scientific consensus that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you?

Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing, or by telephone, one question you'll be asked to answer is how, racially speaking, you self-identify. What follows are answers to some frequently asked questions to help guide you through the process.

Q: What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?

A: Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian — with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks separately if the respondent is "of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin," but instructs that "for this census, Hispanic origins are not races."

Q: What if I'm not White or Black? I'm Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?

A: You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.

Q: So, if I'm MENA, what box best describes me?

A: That's a personal choice. Many MENA residents, and others, end up checking "Some other race," the third-largest race category after White and Black or African American.

Q: But I thought Hispanics and Latinos were now the second-largest racial group in the United States. So how do you get "Some other race" as the third-largest group?

A: As far as the census is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos are ethnic classifications not racial classifications. Some will check the "White" box and some will check the "Black" box or write in "Afro Latino," for example, as an addition. Many will check the "Some other race" box. MENA respondents also frequently check the "Some other race" box as well. They don't see themselves as Black or White, and in most cases they are not of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Q: Have census categories changed over time?

A: Yes. Mulatto, octoroon or quadroon once were options on the census form used to describe African Americans of mixed heritage. One estimate calculates that 500,000 of these individuals checked the "White" box on the 1920 form. In later years, public pressure resulted in the OMB removing "Negro" as an option for American-born residents of African descent. The term still appeared on the 2010 decennial census, but on the 2020 form the choices are "Black" or "African American."

Q: What if I was born here, but my parents are from Africa?

A: There is a lot of subjectivity involved in making these choices. For some, Black has come to mean anyone who is a descendant of the African diaspora, regardless of where they were born or live. One Somali man, a longtime resident and U.S. citizen, married an American woman who identified as Black. When asked how he describes his U.S.-born children, he said, "Well, now that I think about it, I guess they are African American."

Q: What if I am of mixed heritage? My parents are African American, but I know some of their ancestors were from Europe. They were Irish, for example, Dutch or German. Other ancestors, we think, were Native American.

A: The questionnaire is set up so that you can "Mark one or more boxes AND print origins." We know America has had a complicated history, as more people are discovering through genomic testing. One adult census respondent recalls discouraging his mother, who identifies as Black, from checking every major race category box on the form.

Q: Why would it have mattered if she had? What difference does the box I check make or any information I may add?

A: For one, you have a better chance of "owning" who you are. Therefore, you are less likely to be misrepresented by a census employee who, without that information, would make a determination about your identity. So, in that sense, checking every box would be a more accurate contribution to understanding our country's history. Individual census data is sealed for seventy-two years, but in the future your descendants or distant relatives will be able to look you up by name on the census form you fill out in 2020. In fact, the census is among the primary tools genealogists and researchers use to trace family histories. You might also reflect on that first constitutionally mandated census in 1790. To achieve a political compromise, those held in bondage were counted only as three-fifths of a person and their names were not recorded on the census. Even as late as 1860, the last census before the Civil War, some owners reported the age and sex of their captives but not their names.

Q: But how does filling out the census or not filling out the census affect my immediate financial or economic condition?

A: For practical purposes, as a measure of population, census data is used to determine how the federal and state governments allocate funds and resources, in addition to determining the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives. Data can be a double-edged sword. Some data are critical to attempts to address structural disparities among within American society, but data also can be used as a guide to steer resources away from those deemed political adversaries. How and why data are used is an important conversation, but it's a different conversation from whether it's in your interest to respond to the census. However, unless you are clear about who you are by identity, you may be grouped with a different race than your preference. That was why the individual discouraged his mother from checking every box. He wanted to make sure that if there were resources linked to her identity, those resources would be allocated to and benefit the community with which she primarily identifies.

Khalil Abdullah is a writer for Ethnic Media Services.

Weekend Link Roundup (February 15-16, 2020)

February 16, 2020

Diamond princessOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


Everything in the world of fundraising is based on relationships, or should be, right? Well, sort of, writes Vu Le on his Nonprofit AF blog. "[O]ur reliance on relationships is...problematic, as it often creates and enhances inequity and thus undermines many of the problems we as a sector are trying to address" — for example, by further marginalizing people and communities that don't have the same access to relationships as better-resourced communities and nonprofits, or by reinforcing our natural bias toward people who look, think, and act like us. 


On the Alliance magazine blog, Alisha Miranda, chief executive of I.G. advisors, considers the pros and cons of curated approaches to giving.


PEAK Grantmaking has released a set of resources designed to help grantmakers operationalize the second of its five Principles for Peak Grantmaking: Narrow the Power Gap. Within that frame, the organization has three very specific recommendations: build strong and trusting relationships with your grantees; rightsize the grantmaking process and implement flexible practices that reduce the burden on your grantees; and structure grant awards to be more responsive to grantee needs. Elly Davis, a program manager at the organization, shares more here.


Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), whose "AmeriCare legislation, first introduced in 2006, would have provided every American with a basic level of health coverage, and is the framework for Medicare for All and other comprehensive health reform proposals being discussed today," passed away on January 24. The Commonwealth Fund remembers Stark, "a champion for health care access for all," on its Turning Point blog.

More than 98 percent of American births and 97 percent of births in Colorado take place in hospitals. And yet outcomes for mothers and babies are among the worst of any high-resource country, and outcomes for African American and Indigenous families look more like they do in much poorer countries. Kristin Jones, associate director of communications at the Colorado Trust, reports.


On the Candid blog, Laurel Molloy, founder of and chief consultant at Innovations Quantified, offers a brief primer on the difference between a theory of change and a logic model. And India Pierce Lee, senior vice president for program at the Cleveland Foundation, shares details of and lessons learned from the Greater University Circle Initiative, a public-private partnership focused on lifting up the neighborhoods surrounding Cleveland's University Circle district — neighborhoods where more than half the residents are living in poverty and the median household income is less than $19,000 per year. 

February is the perfect time to reinforce, reestablish, and recommit to those big goals you dreamed about as the ball was dropping on New Year's Eve, writes Common Impact's Danielle Holly, before sharing five things you and your colleagues can do in 2020 to make sure you achieve them.


Great interactive from the folks at the New York Times illustrating how Michael Bloomberg has used his philanthropy over the years to extend his "brand" and boost his influence.

"The philanthropic sector is stuck in old paradigms, and several common, critical issues are preventing [it] from making real and sustainable progress," writes Mike Wilson, deputy director of education grantmaking at Ascendium Education Group. Although philanthropy "is uniquely positioned to lift up disenfranchised populations, people of color, and underserved communities, and to help transform our nation into a stronger, more just, and more equitable society," he adds, "it must undergo serious self-examination and advance substantive change for [those goals] to be achieved."


Rutger Bregman, the Dutch academic who caused a stir at Davos a few years back with his suggestion that billionaires should be taxed more — a lot more — than they are currently, shares a post on the Correspondent blog with a very simple thesis: poverty isn't caused by a lack of character; it's the result of a lack of cash.


And in a new post on her blog, Beth Kanter reports from the Google Impact AI Summit, where human-centered design was a hot topic.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share.

50 Years of Southern Philanthropy

February 11, 2020

In November, I had the pleasure of speaking at SECF50, the 50th annual meeting of the Southeastern Council of Foundations. Using Candid data, I compared philanthropy in the South fifty years ago to philanthropy in the region today. Here are some of the key points I shared with the SECF50 audience.

Philanthropy has grown tenfold


To put these findings together, I had the distinct, old-fashioned pleasure of turning to one of our earliest editions of the Foundation Directory (published in 1971), an actual book, to research the state of institutional philanthropy in the South at the time of SECF's founding. Information was a lot sketchier back then and we had to collect everything by hand, so our totals in 1969 are probably not as accurate as those we have today. Still, I believe it's safe to say philanthropy in the South has grown tenfold after inflation.

Back in 1969, only three states in the 11-state Southeastern region had more than 75 foundations of any size (Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida), and no state had more than 107. Now, there are more than 18,000 foundations across the region, and more than half are located in just two states: Florida (6,452) and North Carolina (3,139).

Asset distribution has changed


In 1969, two-thirds of the region’s philanthropic assets were concentrated in Georgia and North Carolina (40 percent and 26 percent, respectively). Since then, assets have grown tremendously in Arkansas, Florida, and Virginia, changing the picture quite a bit. Arkansas held 1 percent of the region's assets in 1969; it now holds 7 percent. Florida went from 8 percent to 29 percent. And Virginia increased from 6 percent to 10 percent.

Foundation types have grown


Family foundations have dominated philanthropy in the South throughout the twenty-first century. As of 2017, family foundations accounted for more than 40 percent of all foundation giving in the SECF region, about the same as in 2003, which is the date from which we're able to track this kind of information.

At the same time, the South has also seen a great deal of growth in community foundations, with community foundation giving having grown faster than any other type of foundation giving since 2003, up more than 220 percent, while family foundation giving grew by more than 160 percent.

Philanthropy subject area has shifted


As in the rest of the country, the two subject areas that receive the greatest amount of funding are education and health. Education received 30 percent of total giving in 2017, while health received 16 percent. These figures stand somewhat in contrast to national giving patterns in the two areas. At the national level, health received 30 percent of total giving, while education received 25 percent.

Giving for arts and culture, the environment, and education have increased relative to other topics since 2003, while there have been declines in the proportion of grantmaking for health, human services, philanthropy and nonprofit management, and religion.

Sources of philanthropy have remained the same


In 2003, Foundation Center (now Candid) found that about half of all foundation support for Southern recipients — some $927 million — came from foundations located outside the region, compared to $944 million coming from Southern grantmakers. The ratio has not changed much in fifteen years. In 2017, grantmakers outside the South provided $1.9 billion in funding, whereas Southern grantmakers made $2.1 billion in grants.

(For some fascinating insights on how the types of support provided by Southern grantmakers compare with those of grantmakers outside the region, see chapter two of Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise, on the SECF website.)

There's more to learn


In honor of SECF’s 50th anniversary, Candid was  pleased to announce the launch of a new feature on the Southern Trends Report website, "A History of Philanthropy in the South." This timeline documents the important work of SECF since 1969 and the context in which that work took place.

What the data suggests about the future of Southern philanthropy

I'll close by mentioning a few trends in the field that appear to be gaining some traction, or at least generating a great deal of conversation.

  1. General operating support — I wouldn’t describe it as a major change yet, but our data shows Southern foundations are increasingly providing more funding for general operating support, which has grown from about 16 percent of total giving to about 19 percent in recent years.
  2. Democracy — If you aren't already familiar with it, I would encourage you to take a look at Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy to see what kinds of work foundations are doing in this space. Foundations have a critical role to play here.
  3. Participatory grantmaking — Funders are increasingly engaging the communities they serve in the grantmaking process.
  4. Collaboration — This is where the promise of true impact lies. Use the laboratory for knowledge sharing and experimentation that SECF and similar associations provide to leverage your collective strength to make a difference.

Headshot_larry_mcgillLarry McGill is vice president of knowledge services at Candid. This post originally appeared on the Candid blog. To read more of his data-driven commentary, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2020)

February 09, 2020

1203880819.jpg.0Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


The stock market is up and inflation is muted. It's the story of the last ten years. Or is it? In The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey reports on the affordability crisis breaking the back of America's middle class.

Global Health

The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, dominated headlines for much of the last week, leading to a spate of all-too-predictable scare stories and conspiracy theories. For a solid statistical breakdown of what is actually happening, in Wuhan and the twenty-seven other countries and territories in which the virus has been detected, check out this useful site created by the folks at World-o-Meter.


On the Candid blog, Susan Schaefer, founding partner of Resource Partners LLC, looks at three of the core skills needed by a grant writing professional in 2020.


More than fifty years after the civil rights movement changed the way Americans think about race, there is still much to do to reduce discrimination and increase health equity. On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Dwayne Proctor, a senior advisor to the foundation's president, reflects on the role of stories in the search for solutions.

International Affairs/Development

"For a private foundation engaged in global development, the quality of the partnership between the INGO and in-country partners is a fundamental determinant of whether and how dollars turn into results," writes Ruth Levine, formerly of the William and Hewlett Foundation and now a policy fellow at Stanford University, on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. "Unfortunately," she adds, "the nature of the relationship between an INGO and its local partners — whether good, bad, or just plain ugly — [often] goes unobserved by funders. It's time for that to change."


In a new post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz shares a provocative thesis: changes in the news media landscape in the USA over the last fifteen years portends the future of nonprofit organizations in the country.

As part of their organizational development and nonprofit management courses, a lot of college professors ask students to interview a nonprofit leader or three and then have them develop a series of recommendations on how the organization can improve. Vu Le's advice to those professors. Don't.


In the wake of the Supreme Court's recent decision to let stand the Trump administrations recent "public charge" immigration rules, writes NCRP's Stephanie Peng, philanthropy must ramp up its support for communities and organizations working on behalf of immigrants and against nativism and xenophobia.

In the first post of a new series on the Alliance blog, Cassie Robinson, head of the Digital Fund at the UK's National Lottery Community Fund, shares a video that considers the role philanthropy might play in forging a new social contract between civil society and big tech. (Click here for the second post in the series.)

On the HistPhil blog, Thomas Adam, associate director of the International and Global Studies Program at the University of Arkansas, reexamines the Tocquevillian idea that civil society only flourishes in democracies.

Private equity mogul Stephen A. Schwarzman, whose total compensation in 2017 ($785.68) and 2018 ($567.8 million), according to Bloomberg, exceeded $1.3 billion, has joined the Giving Pledge.


Even though they lack pews and parishioners, a growing number of tax-exempt faith-based groups are asking the IRS to recognize them as churches. And the IRS is complying. Samuel Brunson, professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, reports for the Conservation.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share.

Tips to Help Make Your Organization More Inclusive

February 07, 2020

Diversity_1Recruiting and retaining employees is a top priority and challenge for most organizations. But many fail to take even the basic steps needed to attract and retain candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This is unfortunate, for many reasons, but especially because the benefits of diversity in the workplace are significant and numerous, and because research shows that the workforce of the future will be diverse.

Creating an inclusive organizational culture requires commitment. The goal should be to ensure that everyone in an organization feels welcome, valued, and supported. This is how you strengthen employee engagement and retention, and how you create a stage for teams that perform at a high level. On the flip side, organizational cultures that are not inclusive are more likely to experience negative outcomes in terms of employee satisfaction and retention, resulting in higher turnover rates and lower organizational performance.

Below are a few things you and your colleagues can do to create a more inclusive organizational culture. Note, however, that the suggestions are only a starting point. Building a truly inclusive culture requires deep commitment to change at every level of the organization as well as a willingness to model and sustain that change through shared values, the actions of leadership, and effective accountability mechanisms.

Highlight your organization's commitment to inclusivity. Make sure employees are aware of your organization's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and any inclusive benefits it offers (e.g., parental leave or flexible work arrangements). Also be sure to include a robust equal opportunity statement highlighting your organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion in all job descriptions and on your website. Beyond those simple steps, make an effort to provide regular trainings to employees on DEI-focused topics and encourage them to work with diverse partners, vendors, contractors, etc.

Facilitate collaboration across the organization. In too many organizations, departments are "siloed" and rarely given the chance to share ideas with other departments and functions. In contrast, inclusive workplaces encourage organization-wide collaboration. Because different employees with different skill sets (e.g., accounting, HR, fundraising, marketing) tend to bring different (and often fresh) perspectives to the table, such collaborations represent a new and creative way to problem-solve. The key to inclusive collaboration is to ensure that voices and ideas from across the organization are solicited and considered. For instance, all-staff meetings where employees at every level of the organization are encouraged to participate (and acknowledged for their participation) can be an effective way to "walk the talk" when it comes to collaboration.

Pay attention to your job descriptions. In many cases, a job description is often a candidate's first exposure to your organizational culture and values. The way a position is scoped, the words used to describe the ideal candidate, and the information that is (and is not) included — all speak volumes about the organization to a prospective candidate (as well as current staff members). Here are a few tips on how to make the language in your job descriptions more inclusive:

  • Pay attention to gender pronouns. When crafting a job description (and other organizational communications), pay attention to both pronouns as well as "gender-coded" words. A growing number of progressively minded organizations are eliminating gendered pronouns altogether and using "they" instead of "he or she" or "s/he" in their job descriptions, newsletters, and emails. By avoiding gendered pronouns, you send a clear message to team members (and job candidates) that your organization is a place where LGBTQ+ employees and/or those who do not identify in a binary gender structure are welcome and supported.
  • Be mindful of word choice. Words matter. Whether you're holding a staff meeting, recruiting a new candidate, or tapping an employee for a promotion or new project, focus on avoiding gender-coded words or words that are biased toward a specific gender. Words and phrases that many hear as male-gendered include "rock star," "home run," "guru," "competitive," and "dominant." Words that many hear as female-gendered include "collaborative," "patient," and "supportive." Research shows that such words and phrases really do influence whether people feel comfortable in a workplace and often are a significant factor in whether they even apply for a job, vie for a promotion, or ask to work on a special project.
  • Celebrate the capacity to grow. Make it clear that your organization welcomes employees who have the requisite skills for a position AND the capacity to learn and grow. Then back it up with professional development and training opportunities. Encourage employees to take classes, participate in webinars, and work with mentors. Organizations that are dedicated to growing their employees and offer them opportunities for advancement are more likely to attract diverse people from underrepresented groups, retain those employees, and deliver more successful outcomes overall.

By committing to diversity and inclusion, your organization will position itself to reap a variety of benefits, including higher employee morale, loyalty, retention, and productivity. The above tips should help as you begin the journey to building a more welcoming culture centered around diversity, inclusion, creativity, and teamwork.

Have a tip of your own you'd like to share? We'd love to hear it!

Headshot_Molly_BrennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

5 Questions for...Bernie Michael, President and CEO, Center for Jewish History

February 05, 2020

"Never forget."

For Holocaust survivors who gathered on Monday in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Nazi concentration and death camp, the horrors of World War II will never be forgotten. But as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles — at Monday’s ceremony, there were two hundred survivors in attendance, compared to the fifteen hundred who attended ceremonies marking the sixtieth anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 1945 — and with anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews once again capturing headlines in Europe and the United States, the two-word admonition has assumed fresh meaning and significance.

At the Center for Jewish History in New York City, the past, five thousand years of the Jewish past, is very much alive. Established twenty years ago and celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2020, the center is a place where scholars, researchers, graduate fellows, high school students, and others gather to do research, attend seminars and symposia, and celebrate the remarkable achievements of the Jewish people.

PND recently spoke with Bernie Michael, the center’s president and CEO, about the organization’s mission and collections, history as story, and the reasons why he remains an optimist.

Headshot_bernie_michaelPhilanthropy News Digest: Tell us about the Center for Jewish History. When was it established, what is its mission, and what does it do to advance that mission?

Bernie Michael: The Center for Jewish History is located in Manhattan on 16th Street off of Fifth Avenue. We are home to five partner organizations — the American Jewish Historical Society, which was established in the 1890s to foster an appreciation of American Jewish heritage and which has a huge archive of materials relating to American Jewish history; the American Sephardi Federation, which preserves and promotes the history, traditions, and culture of Jews from Sephardic lands; the Leo Baeck Institute, a research library and archive focused on the history of German-speaking Jews; the Yeshiva University Museum, which, unlike our other partners, is more of a traditional museum in the sense that it has artworks and three-dimensional objects; and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which was established in the 1920s and focuses on the history and culture of Eastern European Jews and Yiddish-speaking people.

The center brings all these organizations together under one roof, and we also have our own archives and mount our own exhibitions and offer our own programming. It's a place, really, for people to learn about the history of the Jewish people and all of its many different aspects.

PND: For a lot of Americans, history is little more than a dry recitation of dates, names, and long-forgotten events. What are they missing?

BM: History starts with dates and names and facts, and making sure all that is verified and correct is important. But what's really important about history is that it tells a story, and it's the job of historians to bring those stories to life. The ideas that make history important are almost always animated by individuals, and the individuals that history remembers usually are embedded in a fascinating story. Historians take those stories and connect them to the present. That's what we do here at the center. How do all those stories in our archives reflect who we are today, and what can they tell us about where we might be headed?

PND: Does the center have a crown jewel?

BM: That’s a tough one. We have five miles of archival material on site in fifty different languages going back some five thousand years. To single out any part of those archives above the others would be difficult, if not impossible. But, you know, at different times, different pieces in our collections speak to me, and I think that says about as much about the collections as it does about me, and where I am in my life, and where we are in the world.

Right now, the thing that is in my mind a lot is also one of the more important objects in our collections, which is an original, handwritten copy of the poem "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus. In it, Lazarus champions the idea of America as a refuge for the downtrodden with her famous line "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." These days, understanding the history of immigration in this country is important to understanding who we are as a nation and how we got here.

PND: In October, we marked the first anniversary of the horrific mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a painful reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and well, here in the United States and in many other countries. To what do you attribute that troubling development?

BM: Well, it is a troubling development, and many people see a connection between the reemergence of anti-Semitism and the illiberal pushback against democracies happening around the world. I agree with them and think both are part of the same phenomenon. It’s a characteristic of anti-Semitism that it tries to frame the Jew as "the Other," a person who is outside the "nation," who doesn't belong. And, of course, democracy is about inclusion, minority rights, extending the franchise, and making sure all people are included and protected. In contrast, wherever illiberalism and anti-democratic sentiment have been embraced, we also see a rise in anti-Semitism.

It's an important connection to make, because until we have a clear understanding of the root causes of anti-Semitism — and there are many — we can't begin to know how to address it and try to put a stop it. The importance of this can't be overestimated, and what we as a center for Jewish history can do is, first and foremost, try and look at the problem and understand it for what it is. Some people think the problem is nothing more than people not understanding who Jews are, what their history is, and how they've been demonized. I'm not sure that's true, because if it were true then our job would simply be to get the facts about Jews and Jewish life out there. But I don't know if that's really the solution. I think the problem has got to be attacked on many fronts, not least of which is looking at what the remedies for anti-Semitism might be. What we do here is provide a place for discussion — a place for politicians, scholars, researchers, archivists to look at how anti-Semitism has waxed and waned over the decades and try and understand where things stand in the world today so that people don’t overreact or underreact.

The other thing we do here is contextualize anti-Semitism in terms of what it means for the Jewish people. We are a people with a long and storied history, and we have experienced absolutely dark, terrible periods over that long history. But there are so many wonderful parts of Jewish history, as well. And an important part of what we do here, as opposed to, say, what other museums focused on our darkest periods, like the Holocaust, do — as important as those museums are — is to focus on the entire history of the Jewish people, both the bad and the good.

PND: I recently came across an interview in which the inter­viewer drew a distinction between optimism and hopeful­ness. Is that a useful distinction?

BM: I've been accused of being an optimist, and I won't deny it. For me, optimism is a way of being in the world. You either are one or you're not; it's in your DNA. Hopefulness, to me, is more strategic. I have a plan, I want to get something accomplished, and I'm hopeful I can get it done. And you know what? Sometimes you don't. But if you're an optimist, your optimism remains intact.

Let me give you an example. You asked about the crown jewel of the collections here at the center. Well, maybe it's not a crown jewel, but one of my personal favorites is a Juicy Fruit gum wrapper, and I'll tell you why I love it. Back before the Soviet Union collapsed, and before Jews were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union in significant numbers, non-Soviet Jews traveling to the Soviet Union often would be asked to sneak a message in with them. "I want to get a message to my grandmother in Minsk. I can talk to her, but we have to be careful, and I can't send her a letter, for obvious reasons. Would you mind sneaking in a little message?" So the sister or granddaughter or whomever would buy a package of gum — for some reason, it always seemed to be Juicy Fruit — and when she got home would carefully open the package, take out a piece of gum, unwrap it, and on the inside of the wrapper, in tiny handwriting, write a message telling her sister, say, how much she missed her, how the family outside the Soviet Union was doing, all the little chit-chat and gossip that weaves families together. And when she was done, she would take the wrapper, re-wrap the piece of gum, re-seal the package, and off it would go with the person traveling to the Soviet Union, at no small risk, I might add, to that person. If you got caught, you were in serious trouble. And these packages of gum with their secret messages inside would go back and forth from families both outside and inside the Soviet Union. And I just find that to be wonderful and moving.

A small thing, perhaps, in the larger scheme of the Soviet Jewry movement. But on a very human scale it shows you how, even when faced with adversity, even when oppressed, people don't give up, they make plans, they buy their packages of gum and look to the future. And the moral of the story is that you can and should be hopeful about your individual plans, even knowing that sometimes they will not work out. But at the end of the day it's absolutely critical that you remain optimistic. I remain optimistic. Things will get better; I believe that. And those gum wrappers are there to remind me why.

— Mitch Nauffts

Addressing Student Debt Through Philanthropy

February 04, 2020

GettyImages-1042539442_student_debt_piggybankIn an age of mega-donors and flashy facilities, higher education philanthropy increasingly is about bigness. Philanthropists and foundations scramble to put their names on buildings, endow chairs in popular departments, and fund the next scientific breakthrough.

Investing in higher education often is a great use of philanthropic dollars. But high-dollar gifts aren’t the only big figures in higher education. These days, too many college students are burdened by the millstone of unconscionable debt. Indeed, as we begin a new decade, cumulative student debt in the United States has reached $1.6 trillion.

And debt is not the only financial challenge college students face. Once you factor in the supplementary or "incidental" costs of attending college, today's college students face a kind of death by a thousand cuts. Textbook costs are up 87 percent since 2006 — more than any other college-related expense. The cost of essentials like laptops, transportation, and living expenses often outstrip students' ability to meet them. Students are encouraged to prepare for the real world after graduation by taking low- or unpaid summer internships — another expense many simply cannot afford. As higher ed technology and course software changes, the costs add up.

Expenses like these are no big deal for students from affluent backgrounds, but for those from low- and middle-income families, and especially for first-generation students, they can be a major obstacle to college completion.

Recently I made a gift to my alma mater, Ursinus College, targeting what I see as an urgent issue within higher education. Tucked away in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Ursinus has been educating students for a hundred and fifty years, preparing them for careers in business, civic life, service, the arts, and sciences. The liberal arts model is alive and well at Ursinus, but it is not immune to the cost-creep affecting higher education nationwide.

The gift will be used to expand Ursinus's Abele Scholars program, which is open to promising students from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The program provides each young scholar with $53,000 in funding to cover tuition, provide debt relief, and, more specifically, help them deal with the barrage of incidental expenses they will encounter over their college career. Abele Scholars do not have to worry about $200 textbooks. They start school with a brand-new laptop. They can accept a summer internship, however little it  pays, with the same confidence as their peers from wealthier backgrounds.

Taking care of these expenses allows Abele Scholars to use their time and energy to build their social capital and form professional connections, which are just as valuable upon graduation as academic experience.

At a time where nearly every avenue of American life has become more expensive, we have to do something about the cost of college — not only in the months and years after students after graduate, but throughout the entire college experience. I hope my gift challenges and encourages other alumni to think about the costs today's college students face, to donate to their alma maters in a similar fashion, and, more generally, to think creatively about how they can pay forward the rewards they have received from their own education.

Headshot_Will_Abele_for_PhilanTopicWill Abele is a 1961 graduate of Ursinus College, a member of the college's board of trustees, and chairman of the Abele Family Foundation. Before retiring, Abele was the owner and president of Henry Troemner LLC, a manufacturer of precision weights and laboratory equipment. Through his foundation, he and wife Joan gave $11 million — the largest gift in the school's history — in January in support of the Abele Scholars Program, which they established with an earlier gift in 2018.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2020)

February 02, 2020

Novel-coronavirusA verdict in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, the growing threat of a global coronavirus pandemic, and the much-anticipated results of the Iowa caucuses — there'll be no shortage of news or headlines to track in the week ahead. But before we turn the page on January 2020 (already?), we thought we'd take a last look at the most popular posts on the blog in the month just passed. Be safe out there.

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


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  • "Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense...."

    — Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

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