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9 posts from December 2020

Most popular PhilanTopic posts in 2020

December 31, 2020

DownloadMost of us are beyond relieved that the end of 2020 is in sight, but when historians, artists and writers, and grandparents sharing stories of the good old days look back on it, this longest of years is likely to be remembered as one of the more consequential in American history.

In that spirit, we present the ten most popular posts on the blog posted over the last twelve months. A global pandemic, racial injustice and systemic racism, deepening inequality, climate change, democratic decay, the often timid response of philanthropy and the social sector to urgent challenges — they were the proverbial canaries in the coalmine and will continue to demand our attention and best thinking in 2021.

Enjoy and stay safe.

  1. Funding in the time of COVID-19: questions to deepen racial equity (April 4, 2020) — Michele Kumi Baer
  2. Remote onboarding: set up new hires for success (September 11, 2020) — Molly Brennan
  3. Silence in the social sector (June 24, 2020) — Maria Vertkin
  4. Women and the changing face of philanthropy (July 29, 2020) — Shira Ruderman
  5. Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities (October 27, 2020) — Eddy Zheng
  6. The solution for saving mon-and-pop businesses (May 18, 2020) — John Hamilton
  7. The reinvention of the nonprofit (May 14, 2020) – Derrick Feldmann
  8. Leading in solidarity to reshape the nonprofit ecosystem (July 1, 2020) — Allandra Bulger, Shamyle Dobbs, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, Donna Murray-Brown, and Madhavi Reddy
  9. Philanthropy's moment: advocating for and funding what's essential (April 14, 2020) — Andrew Wolk
  10. What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning (August 31, 2020) — Garrett Zink

Happy New Year from PND and the folks at Candid. See you in 2021!

3 ways to decolonize philanthropy right now

December 23, 2020

News_globe_africaThe events of 2020 reinforce how desperately a paradigm shift is needed in philanthropy if it hopes to create more durable solutions to the world's most complex challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how important it is to have agile, innovative organizations capable of responding quickly to shifting local contexts. At the same time, the reawakening of the social justice movement in the United States crystallized what happens when people are chronically underrepresented and left out of decisions that affect their lives.

While addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming, it's clear that one of the most effective ways funders can contribute is to support organizations built around community-driven solutions. Why? Because solutions for the people created by the people have the greatest chance of successfully changing the status quo.

While this may seem obvious, it entails a major shift in the way donors currently approach their giving — indeed, nothing less than a desire to "decolonize philanthropy." Decolonizing philanthropy, a term introduced by writer and activist Edgar Villanueva, requires philanthropists to assess to whom they choose to give as well as how their giving perpetuates the very problems they aim to solve.

Whether in the U.S. or in Kenya, where our organization, RefuSHE, operates, we see countless examples of well-intentioned donors pouring money into solutions they think should solve a problem — without checking whether the solution was created with input from the community most impacted by the problem. In the global development space, this often manifests as NGOs working in the Global South being led by leadership that sits in the Global North, far from the realities of the work and with only an anecdotal understanding of the local context. Too often, this modus operandi funnels money into short-lived solutions that feed an organizational culture of dependency rather than one of sustainability.

The approach itself is rooted in the imperialistic origins of "international development." Following World War II, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, introducing the building blocks for the international and humanitarian aid structure we see today. During the long decades of the Cold War, the U.S. awarded aid to other countries with the understanding that those countries would play by our rules and that the aid itself would be used in ways we approved of. At the other end of the spectrum, private philanthropic giving was driven, in part, by a "savior" mentality and the need to "lift up" poor people in other countries. In both cases, financial assistance was "given" from a place of control by people who thought they knew what was best for the communities they were trying to help. Solutions were parachuted in, communities were forced to adopt new ways, and, in many cases, the improved quality of life that was promised often failed to materialize.

To ensure greater progress toward a shared prosperity, decolonizing philanthropy presents an opportunity to make every dollar go further by centering investment in community-driven solutions. Here are three ways funders can ensure their investments are more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Invest in local leadership and programs co-designed with the communities served

Time and again, we've seen that lasting change arrives when communities have ownership of the solutions to the challenges they face. Interventions that feel forced not only tend to have a short life span but often yield less impact. The stories of PlayPumps and READ Global illustrate the difference well. The PlayPump system, a merry-go-round-like wheel that pumps water from wells as it is turned, was heavily endorsed by the international aid community and quickly scaled to more than fifteen hundred pumps in Zambia without much research or surveying of communities in advance. Not unpredictably, within two years a quarter of the installed pumps were in need of repairs. PlayPumps, it turned out, were fragile and cost four times what a traditional pump costs. What's more, many local women where the pumps had been installed reported feeling embarrassed every time they had to get water for their families, while a report by the Guardian found that children would have to "play" on the pumps twenty-seven hours a day to meet the per-pump target of delivering water to twenty-five hundred people. In short, the pumps failed to improve clean water availability in communities across Zambia, and much money and time was invested with little to show for it.

By contrast, READ Global embraced a community-driven approach that has stood the test of time. For more than twenty-five years, the organization has partnered with rural villages in Nepal, India, and Bhutan to establish community-driven libraries, resource centers, and social enterprises known as READ Centers that are owned and operated by the local community. There are now more than a hundred self-sustaining centers spread across the three countries, and not one center has closed since the first one opened in 1991.

Locally driven solutions are most effective when an organization's leadership team understands the local context first-hand and is strongly connected to the local community. Local leaders have a better understanding of how to create culturally relevant programs, how to optimize operations for the local context, and how to build trusting relationships with and beyond the community. All of which creates more opportunity for partnerships between those providing the service and those using the service.

At RefuSHE, we witnessed this first-hand when we invested in bringing on Geoffrey Thige to lead our Kenya operations as executive director. When COVID hit, having that executive presence in Kenya enabled us to navigate the public health crisis much more quickly and effectively. In fact, we were the first organization serving refugees in Kenya to move to virtual learning. And despite initial concerns that some donors might balk, seeing the tangible benefits of Geoffrey's presence in Nairobi gave us the courage to restructure our leadership and shift the majority of our executive functions to Kenya.

Funding is the biggest hurdle facing NGOs looking to similarly restructure. Donors need to trust local leadership and stop supporting organizational infrastructures that are built to cater to them more than the beneficiary communities they are intended to serve. Having an organization's CEO and "top brass" in the West is a relic of a twentieth-century donor model that has lost much of its relevance. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good solutions. If they truly want to support effective, long-lasting solutions, donors need to move away from creating cultures of dependency that too often are perpetuated and reinforced by a "white guilt" mentality.

Fund collaboration rather than competition

The current donor incentive structure is rooted in competition. Organizations in the same field are constantly competing with one another to secure funds they need to survive. Competition for funding among NGOs working in similar spaces also stifles their ability to share information, data, and learnings. This scarcity model disincentivizes transparency and pushes organizations to keep lessons learned to themselves in order to stand out in the quest for funding.

Real, tangible impact requires collaboration. Our NGO, for instance, equips girl and women refugees with housing, education, counseling, and the vocational skills they need to reestablish some semblance of stability in their lives. While our services are rooted in a holistic approach to the plight of refugees, we don't work on resettlement cases (where refugees are formally resettled to a country like the U.S.); instead, we partner with organizations like HIAS and Refuge Point that specialize in refugee resettlement cases. When funding streams disincentivize an ecosystem of NGOs from collaborating, it is a disservice to the very communities we aim to serve.

Funding — and rewarding — organizations that work together to address the root causes of multifaceted issues enables communities to walk through all the doors of opportunity at once, rather than one door at time. Collaboration also fosters a culture where service providers share learnings and don't waste precious resources repeating mistakes. Above all, it means the people we aim to serve can more easily navigate the various services they need to establish productive, fulfilling lives.

Award unrestricted grants

All too often, funding comes with restrictions on how, when, and where it can be used. This assumes the donor knows best just because they have the money, rather than acknowledging the hard-earned insights of organizations working on the ground every day. Unrestricted funding requires trust in the organizations in which you invest. Unfortunately, this kind of trust too often is awarded to organizations led by leaders in the Global North with whom donors feel most comfortable. While many have good track records, the practice cuts out organizations that may be smaller in scale but that have more depth and experience collaborating with the communities they serve.

It's an open secret in Kenya that if you set up a nonprofit and are hoping for funding from the West, you'll have much better luck if your leaders are white and/or of Western origin. Whether in the U.S. or other developed countries, data backs up the observation that Black and African leaders are not awarded the same kind of trust. This leads to nonprofits where white, often well-connected Western leaders earn the top salaries, sucking up resources that could otherwise be used to attract top local talent that is much better suited for the job but too often undervalued.

Unrestricted funding also has the power to build more durable institutions. It allows organizations to balance how much is invested in program implementation and how much is invested in competitive salaries, technology infrastructure, and/or new facilities that can enhance the organization's operations over the long term. (We should all toast Mackenzie Scott for shattering the philanthropic establishment glass ceiling with her unprecedented giving in the form of large unrestricted grants.)

The time for change is now

As with any change, there will be those who resist it, those who say there isn't enough local talent to fill the available leadership positions, and those who say local leadership team won't get enough face time with donors if those donors are based in far-off countries. We ask those naysayers to take a critical look at how that critique is rooted in an imperialist mindset that blames communities in need for their problems rather than seeing them as the solution to those problems.

The movement to decolonize philanthropy is a big step forward in terms of making the most of every dollar invested in social good and creating inclusive, durable solutions to economic prosperity. We can make the choice to stop wasting money on short-sighted solutions. The time for change is now.

Thige_adly_refuSHE_philantopicGeoffrey Thige is the current executive director and incoming CEO of RefuSHE. Jailan Adly is the organization's outgoing CEO and incoming managing director.

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Amoretta Morris, Director, National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

December 10, 2020

Amoretta Morris joined The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013 as a senior associate responsible for overseeing the Family-Centered Community Change initiative. In 2016, she was named director of the foundation's national community strategies, in which role she leads its efforts to help local partners and community stakeholders strengthen their neighborhoods.

Morris's portfolio includes Evidence2Success, which supports partnerships aimed at engaging elected officials, public agencies, and community members in efforts to improve child well-being; community safety and trauma-response initiatives in several cities, including Atlanta; and nationwide efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

Before joining the foundation, she served as director of student attendance for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw activities ranging from chronic absence interventions and dropout prevention initiatives to services for homeless students. Before that, she was a youth and education policy advisor in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the founding director and lead organizer for the Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, an advocacy group that works to mobilize youth and adults in support of juvenile justice reform.

PND spoke with Morris about how philanthropy can help advance community health and safety during a pandemic.

Headshot_amoretta_morris_aecfPhilanthropy News Digest: How does family-centered community change differ from other types of change strategies, especially with respect to community health and safety?

Amoretta Morris: Unlike other efforts that focus on one specific element, such as education or health, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative took a multipronged approach to improving family well-being in three key areas: family economic stability; parent engagement and leadership; and early child care and education. The initiative was built around the belief that both parents and children will have significantly better outcomes if communities are able to strengthen and combine these services instead of relying on a single intervention.

PND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the foundation's efforts to promote access to education, affordable housing, and employment opportunities? What have you and your colleagues done to adapt existing projects and/or strategies to address the immediate and/or longer-term impacts of the pandemic?

AM: The pandemic has created — and in many cases, exacerbated — educational, employment, and social pressures for young people and families. Knowing this, the foundation reallocated some of our funding, repurposed existing resources, amended grant agreements, and increased general operating support to our grantees so that they had flexibility to address the challenges their communities are facing.

In response, our partners adapted their strategies in creative ways to support kids and families. These efforts have included things like connecting people to health care; helping families access food and other critical resources; providing financial assistance to help keep families in their homes, as well as housing individuals experiencing homelessness and advocating to halt evictions and protect renters; working to prevent violence and support those affected by it; supporting immigrant families, including those who do not qualify for state or federal benefits; and helping students secure computers and the reliable Internet access they need for distance learning.

We know that communities are battling multiple pandemics simultaneously — COVID-19, economic distress, racial injustice, and gun violence — and that most of them, including COVID-19, will not immediately disappear, even with a vaccine. So, we remain focused on our commitment to young people and their families and the structural change needed to help all kids thrive.

PND: In 2012, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative implemented a new approach to community partnerships called strategic co-investing. The approach calls for the awarding of flexible grant funding, "nesting" an issue within an existing community change effort, and a rethinking of the funder-grantee relationship in which the funder serves as more of a strategic thought partner to its grantees rather than as the "buyer" of certain outcomes and deliverables. What are some of the lessons you've learned from the initiative — both for funders and for community partners?

AM: The strategic co-investor role with Family-Centered Community Change was a new way of working for the foundation — one that enabled us to examine the ways we engage with grantees, residents, and other local funders. Among many lessons, FCCC emphasized the importance of both systemic solutions that address structural barriers and targeted interventions with families and their children. Local leaders cannot "service" their way out of poverty — we need comprehensive policy solutions that create more equitable pathways to opportunity, coupled with services and resources that help children and their families achieve stability and thrive.

The strategic co-investor role also confirmed for us the catalytic effect national funding can have. Investment from a national foundation is often seen as a vote of confidence and can help partners secure additional funding from federal and state government, local funders, or other national philanthropies. And I believe that for our community partners, the work highlighted the critical importance of listening to the families they serve, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and leveraging them as partners.

PND: Your program at the foundation is focused on driving community change by providing a holistic suite of services to families. What are some of the things philanthropy can do to better support community members in designing and implementing their own strategies for improving community health and safety? What about gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for young Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 and has been on the rise since the early days of the pandemic in many parts of the country?

AM: At the Casey Foundation, we want all young people to have the power and resources needed to thrive in communities that are strong and safe. The foundation advances strategies to ensure that youth and families of color have what they need to flourish — safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and access to resources that promote children's well-being and positive development. To realize that vision, we, as funders, must be willing to build and share power with communities. Providing tools, resources, and trainings is part of the solution. We must also commit to more authentically engaging with and building the capacity of youth and their families to meaningfully contribute their experience and knowledge in the problem-solving process.

With regard to gun violence, we focus on community safety and violence prevention as part of our national community strategies. That work is rooted in the understanding that violence is a health crisis that must be solved through comprehensive, community-led interventions. For example, in Atlanta, one of our "hometowns," we're partnering with grassroots organizations to equip city residents with the tools and skills they need to be peacemakers and provide pathways out of violence. Our nonprofit partner CHRIS 180 is leading the charge by implementing Cure Violence, a public-health approach to address shootings; it treats shootings like an epidemic that must be stopped before spreading. Under that model, credible messengers — people with strong community ties — act to intervene when violence or retaliation is likely to occur, while community-based organizations that run the programs partner with various local actors like hospital staff, nonprofits, and other organizations to prevent additional violence.

We also invest in national networks focused on promoting solutions in which violence is treated as an urgent public health matter. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, for example, supports hospital-based intervention programs where healthcare staff and community organizations provide bedside counseling to patients who have experienced violent injuries with the aim of steering them away from retaliation. And national advocacy partners like the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute have launched campaigns that promote community intervention strategies and demand accountability from elected officials for ending gun violence in their communities.

But we're not alone in this work. We also invest in these efforts alongside our peers as members of the Fund for a Safer Future, a funder collaborative that supports policy, research, and community-based interventions aimed at preventing gun violence.

PND: You've led a nonprofit coalition that advocates for juvenile justice reform, a municipal government's efforts to support underserved and homeless students, and now a national foundation's strategy to center community change in families. Based on your experience in different sectors, what is the one thing we can do to improve child well-being and flourishing, for all children?

AM: The throughline is equity. No matter where the starting place is, your approach should center the voices and experience of those most directly affected by the issue you are trying to solve. In juvenile justice reform, it was organizing alongside formerly incarcerated youth and their families. In DC Public Schools, it meant listening to homeless students, parents, and the school counselors who were making herculean efforts to support those students and parents. And in philanthropy, it is all about deeply listening to grantees, walking neighborhoods, and having community residents take the lead. When you start with the people closest to the pain of the problem, they will lead you to the solution.

Kyoko Uchida

The 'stay interview': how an HR practice can help nonprofits engage their supporters

December 08, 2020

Allen-interviewMy primary responsibility at the nonprofit where I work is to raise philanthropic dollars for our work, though I've also become deeply interested in the concept of organizational development — what we can do as an organization to foster the professional growth of the people who lead our programs (and not just the programs themselves).

One of the techniques I've learned from my colleagues in human resources is the "stay interview," a sometimes transformative practice for staff that also works well when adapted to interactions with donors.

If you've ever left a job, you've probably been asked by HR to agree to an exit interview. The questions you're asked are familiar and expected: What did you like about working here? Which of the projects you were involved in were most impactful? What could we have done better as an organization? They're all fine questions but they share a fundamental problem: they're backward-looking. And when the interview is over, you — and your feedback — are gone.

Stay interviews, on the other hand, are active, present-tense dialogues that give employees a chance to talk about the things that keep them at the organization and that, when done well, can elicit valuable feedback with respect to systems, processes, and personnel — certainly not a novel or profound approach but far more useful, I would argue, than an exit interview.

Stay interviews and donors

Stay interviews are a great way to boost the morale of staff and improve organizational effectiveness, and for those of us in the business of managing relationships with external stakeholders, they can also be used to great effect with donors and funders. You can find several examples online, including interviews used by the Society for Human Resource Management, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Balance Careers, ALTRES simplicityHR, and TLNT.

If you've been involved with a capital or other large-scale campaign, you may have heard these types of inquiries referred to as "discovery" questions. Below, I've distilled a few examples that I've found to be useful in my own conversations. Feel free to build on them or look for others that better suit your organization's specific needs.

Why do you support our organization? This is an important question to ask early in the relationship — and equally important to continue asking. If it helps, think of your conversations with donors and potential donors as a developing relationship (friendly, romantic) in which the spark from your first few interactions/dates may be different (and better!) months or years down the road. People — and donors — change, as do their interests. Over time, their wealth and propensity to support may also deepen.

What do you like most about engaging with our organization? It's a positive frame, non-guiding, and I'm often surprised by what the answers reveal. One year, I learned that several donors loved calling the organization and interacting with our receptionist because he was so wonderfully helpful and kind. We knew this as a staff, but we had no idea of his impact on our supporters.

What might you suggest we enhance at our organization? I've found this to be more useful than asking "What can we do better?" because it's open and comes from a perspective of enhancing rather than fixing. Once, a donor made a suggestion that simply hadn't occurred to me — that we make our email signature text bigger and include our direct phone numbers, because as an older person she had a difficult time reading them and hated fishing around the website for contact information when she needed to reach us. The fundraising team shared an exasperated "Oh, my gosh..." because it was such a simple, useful, and logical thing for us to have done — but hadn't.

What might make the time you spend with our organization more meaningful? I can't tell you the number of times I've learned that a donor was a great fit to serve as a volunteer or board member after asking this question. While you might hear "Nothing, it's all great," often the responses can be surprising and even powerful. One important caveat: make sure you have a response ready for donors who say, "I love writing you all a check once a year, but is there a way I might be more useful?" Some of them might be a good volunteer or board prospect, while others might enjoy serving as an organizational ambassador and sharing news and program highlights with others.

How do you prefer to be recognized? For organizations that are in the habit of raising up supporters, this is a really important question. Donors (people, companies, foundations, other institutions) give for myriad reasons, and while some are perfectly fine simply making a gift, others are grateful to have their name, logo, or likeness shared with the public. But please, if you do ask this question, be prepared to take careful note of the response. I once worked with an organization that was recognizing a husband and wife in print materials as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" — only to realize later that the couple had different last names. As soon as the couple became aware of the mistake, they stopped giving, and that was that. The organization never followed up, and its silence spoke loudly.

Who do you see as our biggest competitor(s) and/or potential collaborator/partner? This is a great question, though it should be asked of the right donor at the right time. By asking it, you can learn who your donors have on their radar when they survey the field and can also tell you where their support might go if, or when, they stop supporting your organization. You can then use that information to do an audit of your programs or other offerings to see how they compare and might be improved.

You may not be able to explore every one of these questions in your conversations with donors, but if you can ask a few, I'm confident that it, and having a stay interview mindset, will help encourage your funders and supporters to stick with you for the long haul.

(Photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash)

Evan_Wildstein_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein has served on the fundraising team at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University since 2017.

Businesses must help nonprofits working to address COVID-related needs

December 07, 2020

Handshake_over_table_PhilanTopicjpgNonprofits are a key part of the U.S. economy — collectively, the third biggest employer by sector. And when the nonprofit sector is healthy and functioning, it benefits the for-profit sector as well. A recently published report found that nonprofits contribute more than $77 billion annually to the New York City economy — more than 9 percent of the city's total economic output.

But as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the U.S. economy, and millions of Americans are suffering — especially Black and Latinx Americans. Despite the many challenges they face, nonprofits are stepping up to fill the gaps. Food banks are distributing 38 percent more food than they did in 2019. Charities are providing computers to students who need them. Unemployed Americans, many of them well aware of the kind of assistance ordinary Americans need and are not receiving, have founded nonprofits to bring volunteers together to meet those needs.

While there has been amazing progress on the vaccine development front, the crisis is likely to drag on for months and the outlook for additional federal assistance is uncertain. Complicating the situation, many of the newest nonprofits aren't eligible for support via the federal Paycheck Protection Program or other government programs. Business leaders can debate the extent of their ethical responsibilities, but in a crisis, putting aside any concerns they may have and doing the socially responsible thing almost always works to their advantage. All the more reason, then, for businesses and individuals to step up at this critical moment and support nonprofits that are being buffeted by the pandemic.

The situation is dire. Even as they scramble to ramp up their services to meet growing demand, many nonprofits are barely hanging on, and nearly a third are at risk of going under. A recent survey by BryteBridge found that among new nonprofits, 79 percent have experienced a drop in revenue, with 38 percent reporting revenue losses of 50 percent or more. Nonprofits established in the last five years are four times as likely to say they are close to not being able to cover their operating expenses than those in business for six or more years, while almost 60 percent of new nonprofits have had to furlough staff and more than 20 percent have had to implement layoffs.

As the president of BryteBridge, I've seen a dramatic increase in requests for support over the last ten months, whether it's help with fundraising, compliance issues, or newly formed organizations looking to apply for 501(c)(3) status.

If they aren't already doing so, businesses and individuals in a position to support nonprofits financially should look hard at where and how they can make the biggest impact with their donations. And they mustn't overlook grassroots and newly established nonprofits, which are less likely to have built up reserves for a rainy day. Supporting organizations that are struggling with capacity constraints — whether through employee volunteer programs or pro bono business support — also can make an enormous difference. By eliminating some of the burden of administrative and compliance requirements, we can ensure that nonprofits are better able to serve their constituents and focus on their mission.

The need for the services delivered by nonprofits right now is enormous, and many organizations are working creatively to rise to the challenge. Many more are running on fumes. It’s time for individuals, businesses, and the private sector to step up.

Brian_Davis_BryteBridge_philantopicBrian Davis is president of BryteBridge, a provider of nonprofit services.

Career transitions during a pandemic: things to consider

December 04, 2020

Career_woman_mask_laptop_home_GettyImagesAs an executive recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I can definitely say that along with everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on recruiting and hiring. When the pandemic was first declared in March and April, we saw an immediate slowdown in hiring. Clients paused active searches to focus on supporting their current teams through the transition to remote work, and many candidates were so focused on staying safe and navigating the challenges of remote work and home schooling that they were unable to even think about making a career change.

That changed a bit over the summer. Our nonprofit clients resumed hiring at a rapid clip and candidates became more willing to consider new opportunities. But thinking about making a career change during a pandemic can be complicated. Candidates often need to explore their personal tolerance for risk, want to think about what it would be like to start a new job virtually, and/or worry about whether they can manage kids who are schooling from home while diving into a new professional challenge. All these are legitimate concerns that can only be answered by the individual looking to make a move.

Below are five things to consider if you're contemplating making a career move right now.

Take time to reflect on what's driving your interest in a change. Is your interest in making a move about advancing your career? Aligning your work life more closely with your values? Are you feeling stagnant in your current position? Could that have something to do with you feeling stuck in your personal life because of COVID-related restrictions? Being clear from the outset about your motivation can help you stay focused on what you really want and drive your decision-making throughout the job search process.

Focus on technology as you begin to interview. Learn what you can about what a future employer is doing to create a productive virtual workplace experience for its employees. What platforms is it using for communications and collaboration? How does the organization's IT staff support employees working virtually? Does it offer any support to employees looking to set up a home office? Understanding how an organization has adapted to the pandemic can provide insight into how adaptable the organization's culture is (or isn't).

Be sure to ask about the onboarding and transition process. Many candidates — as well as hiring managers — treat onboarding and the transition to a new job as an afterthought in the search process. But onboarding someone into a new role when s/he can't come into the office can be challenging in all kinds of unexpected ways. Ask about how the organization has onboarded other new employees during the pandemic. What worked and what didn't? What will the organization do to help set you up for success as a new employee?

Be explicit about your needs, particularly when it comes to balancing work and family. Right now,most of us are stretched more than ever. Whether it's caring for an older parent, helping our kids homeschool, or just figuring out how to manage having multiple family members working and learning from home, these are challenging times. As you consider transitioning into a new role, be clear with yourself — and your potential manager — about what you need in order to be successful. This could be flexible scheduling, a specific piece of equipment or technology, or, if you're relocating, help with finding accommodations. Be prepared to talk about your requirements in a straightforward and transparent manner.

Try to be flexible and nimble. As you think about the next phase of your career, you may find that the number of and/or rate at which opportunities present themselves feels different than it has in the past. Here at Koya Partners, we've seen that some searches are moving more slowly than they might have a year or two ago, while others are advancing faster than they might have pre-pandemic. Try to remain open and responsive to opportunities and understand that the amount of time an organization needs to conduct and close a search will differ from organization to organization.

Recognize that due diligence is more important than ever. Not being able to actually visit the office where you may end up working definitely makes it more challenging to get a feel for an organization and assess its culture, so think about other things you can do to learn about the organization. Take advantage of your networks to connect with current or former employees, read everything you can find about the organization online, and go through every page of its website. It's also critical that you ask questions and get information about the organization's financial health as it relates to the pandemic. Nonprofits that traditionally have relied on events for revenue, for example, may need to pivot quickly to other sources of revenue, or face an uncertain future.

Indeed, if we've learned anything over the ten months, it's that uncertainty is the only certainty. But even with all the unknowns out there and the new ways of working and living we've adopted since the spring, opportunities to advance your career exist. You just need to know where to look for them and act.

Molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya 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.

Challenging ableism through language justice

December 03, 2020

Disability_word_cloud_GettyImages

Social justice movements have long recognized the power of language. The idea of language justice — "the right everyone has to communicate in the language in which we feel most comfortable" — has helped bridge the equity gap when people who speak different languages work together. Multilingual spaces can connect movements across language barriers and build shared power across language differences. Below, we argue that the concept of language justice needs to be enlarged to other contexts and forms of communication — in particular, that by and about disabled people.

In 2017, we launched the Open Society Community Youth Fellowship Program, with a focus on engaging young people as individual grantees through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens. Through this experience, we learned that certain words can have unintended and damaging consequences and can reinforce stigmas related to oppression and ableism. We also learned what it means in practice to apply language justice to all stages of grantmaking, centering disabled people in these processes. Here we want to share these lessons, which both involve listening to and learning from disabled people, in accordance with the disability movement's key principle of "Nothing about us without us."

Shifting power through word use

Discriminatory and stigmatizing words are often used in everyday exchanges. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and with the current political instability in the U.S., there has been widespread use — in emails, tweets, and mainstream media — of expressions such as "You're not nuts. This is a really crazy time!" or "I hope this finds you well during these crazy times," "falling on deaf ears," and "interrogating our blind spots." Politicians are referred to as "mad," "psycho," or "narcissistic." These everyday uses of language can reinforce stigma, implying, even when it is not the intention of the speaker or writer, that people with mental health conditions never make sound judgments, that being deaf means being stubborn, or that being blind means being unaware. Terms like "crazy," "nuts," and "insane" can be especially discriminatory and offensive, particularly when metaphorically used to mean "bad," "bizarre," or "very unusual" (as in "these crazy times").

In applying a language justice approach as funders, we also learned to be intentional in analyzing the words we use to talk about disability. In some parts of the world, disability rights activists tend to prefer "person with disability" to "disabled person," which, they argue, can suggest that one's identity is wholly defined by one's disability, perpetuating stigma and discrimination. In the United Kingdom, however, "disabled person" is widely used by activists due to the stronger prevalence of the social model of disability, according to which a person is disabled not by their sensory, motor, intellectual, or other impairments but by physical barriers, gaps in provision, and social attitudes that marginalize or exclude them. Adherents to the social model prefer "disabled person" because it emphasizes the disabling effects of society and they do not see such phrasing as discriminatory. It needs to be recognized that both of these naming conventions — "person-first" and "identity-first" — are widespread.

The example of autism highlights a different dimension of this debate. The term "neurodiversity" stresses that all people are different in terms of their expectations and identities, and moves us away from pathologization. It was once considered appropriate to say "people with autism," using person-first terminology. But some with lived experience have stated that autism is part of their identity, not an addition, and therefore prefer "autistic person." Disability activists often emphasize a point that Tom Shakespeare has succinctly stated: "[I]t is a good principle to call people by the names they themselves prefer."

Judgments about what terms are acceptable or discriminatory change over time. Many words referring to people with intellectual disabilities that are now regarded as highly stigmatizing were once used in scientific communities, as well as in official medical and educational policy documents, as legitimate descriptions of certain individuals and their genetic conditions. This does not mean that those words were not already problematic; it just means their connotations and the extent of their social acceptance changed over time until they eventually became unacceptable and taboo.

The word "cripple," and in particular its shortened form "crip," is a particular case. In the last two decades, disability activists have reclaimed "crip" and "cripple" as positive terms, as a badge of identity, flipping their connotations against their oppressive usage in much the same way "queer" was reclaimed by the LGBT movement. As an article written early in that process explained, "by reclaiming 'cripple', disabled activists take the image in their identity that scares outsiders and make it a source of militant pride." It remains problematic, however, for non-disabled people to use the term, even if their intention is to express solidarity with the disability rights movement. Here, too, people with disabilities must be in control of decisions about language that refers to them.

The point is not to "police" or "cancel" certain ways of talking, to ban certain words and elevate others, but to argue that we all need to be aware that expressions like these carry considerable power and can reinforce negative narratives, stereotypes, and discriminatory attitudes. Prejudiced language is endemic in society. As funders working through a language-justice approach, we need to recognize this and be guided by what disabled people themselves feel and say is discriminatory, stigmatizing, offensive, and/or hurtful. This is a basic principle of language justice in relation to disability.

Shifting power with language justice in grantmaking practices

In a grant-giving context, as elsewhere, a language-justice approach can help shift power and challenge ableism at each stage of a grant cycle. We learned that implementing these approaches meant rethinking timelines and systems based on notions of urgency and perfectionism. It does take longer to create the conditions and the spaces where people can exercise their power in their own language and in ways that are accessible for them. Looking, even inadvertently, for conventional kinds of "perfection" in applicants or our own operational processes can reinforce existing power relations and made us reflect on the intersections between ableism and other forms of discrimination, as highlighted by the Disability Justice movement. Based on our experience, we offer some suggestions on how language justice can be implemented through grantmaking practice.

First, reduce barriers and widen participation, calls for proposals must be accessible. This means application materials should be translated into the languages used by potential applicants' communities and also re-worked into Easy-to-Read, a format that conveys information in short sentences with widely used and easily understood words in combination with images, or Plain Language. Word, PDF, and Power Point documents should use accessible document formats. Informational webinars or events should be conducted in the languages used by applicants (with interpretation for the funder, if needed), as well as offered with sign language interpretation and Communication Access Real-Time Transcription to enable better information access.

Second, applicants should be given the choice to submit their materials in different communication formats (written, video, audio, etc.). No one method of communication should be imposed. For example, requiring only written submissions — even for only one part of the application — could exclude some signing Deaf people. If interviews are conducted, simultaneous or consecutive interpretation should be made available.

Third, once the successful applicants have been selected, welcome documents and other important information should be provided in Plain Language, and in the languages and formats used by the communities they represent. The same applies to reporting requirements, which are often daunting and technically complex. Grantees should have the option of submitting reports in their language or format of choice (video, audio, etc.). In our case, this then meant transcribing reports to meet the required formats of our institution. When grantees come together for virtual or in-person meetings, they must be asked well in advance what accessibility and accommodation supports they will need. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and European Disability Forum offer excellent guidance for accessible meetings.

Final thoughts

Language justice is about challenging a widely accepted and internalized reality of exclusion and the dominance of institutionally powerful cultures and people. For us it has meant checking our own privilege as people holding particular kinds of institutional power. It has also meant acknowledging that we need to learn from the communities we want to support. Listening carefully is just as important as speaking.

Rachele_tardi_zachary_turkRachele Tardi is the director of and Zachary Turk is a program officer with the Youth Exchange at the Open Society Foundations.

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

Heckscher_homeIf there has ever been a time when we need to embrace bold solutions in education, especially to the challenges faced by the underserved, now is the time. And at this critical juncture, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and foundations should lead by doing what we do best. We need, as Michael Bloomberg wrote, to "embolden government" by investing in innovation and demonstrating what works, even if that means assuming more than a normal amount of risk.

At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we support programs and partnerships that transform specific inflection points into paths toward success. This year, we have distilled that approach into a focus on three critical areas: early childhood literacy, college access and success, and, in what has become a kind of pandemic throughline connecting kindergarten to college, remote learning.

Allow me to share some of the details:

1. Focus funding on early literacy, where learning loss is most critical. We focused on early literacy in 2020 because we know that kindergarten through second grade are among the most critical years in a child's formal education, years in which the prevention of learning loss is crucial. During a normal year, K-3 students from underserved communities lose three months of reading knowledge over the summer; COVID-19 has exacerbated those losses. Even though school is technically in session for many, look at what's happening in California. The California Department of Education recently reported an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among students in the elementary grades, with the highest increase in grades two through four and among Black and Hispanic students, reinforcing what we already knew: remote learning disproportionately hurts students of color. In New York City students who are completing an assignment or a check-in form for the day but who may not be attending classes are counted as present for full-day instruction.

To help address the problem, we are supporting multiple projects that address early literacy learning loss and are urging other funders to do the same. This fall, we developed a project that enlists Brooklyn College students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate early childhood literacy courses to serve as literacy tutors for students in the New York City public school system. Participants in the program are being trained in Reading Rescue, a one-on-one research and evidence-based intervention targeted to high-need first-grade students who are reading below grade level. The program ensures that students receive explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics using techniques determined to be most effective by experts in the field of reading science. We are also funding Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, all of which have been proven to work, and have provided a third year of funding for EarlyBird, a targeted solution to the current problematic state of dyslexia diagnosis.

We cannot allow our most vulnerable children to fall further behind in the fundamental area of literacy. With that in mind, education funders should pay special attention to proven early literacy programs, today and in the years to come.

2. Supporting teachers who do not have the skills needed to teach remotely. Remote learning does not work for poor kids, particularly poor kids in elementary school. In fact, remote instruction is far from ideal for any student, and most teachers lack the skills needed to teach remotely in an effective way. In a national survey of more than twelve hundred K-12 teachers conducted by ClassTag in March, more than half (56.7 percent) of the teachers who responded said they are "not prepared to facilitate remote learning," while a somewhat smaller percentage (42.8 percent) said they alone are responsible for deciding which remote/online tools they use. We know teachers are in need of support, yet not enough attention has been paid to helping them learn how to teach online.

Now, we have never been fans or successful funders of professional development for teachers, for any number of reasons, including difficulties in measuring its impact on student achievement, but desperate times demand desperate measures and have led us to re-examine our position and ask whether there is an opportunity here to support professional development with respect to the skills teachers need to teach online effectively. Many of these skills are basic and easily learned — how to engage students while conducting a Zoom session, how to use tools like Nearpod, how to manage breakout rooms — and all are crucial in keeping students engaged.

With our support, Doug Lemov and his team at Teach Like a Champion offered synchronous webinars for teachers and school leaders at our grantee schools and organizations. The webinars were predicated on the idea that to truly understand the content they were delivering online, educators needed to both absorb it and experience it as participants in synchronous sessions. They needed, as Lemov explained, to be “cold called,” to share short written responses with their peers, and to participate in online discussions. In short, they needed to be fully engaged in an online session for ninety minutes in order to understand how digital tools shape a learning culture. The results of the initiative have been impressive, and classes were oversubscribed as word of the value of the experience spread.

We’ve also provided funding for the Relay Graduate School of Education in support of a series of synchronous online professional development trainings for teachers, school leaders, and alumni of Teach for America. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Relay has run workshops for more than fifteen hundred school leaders and teachers across the country, including over thirty workshops delivered directly to schools and school networks.

The skills needed to teach effectively have changed over the past few months. It is incumbent on us as funders to help teachers learn the basic tech skills that allow them to do what they do best: connect with their students.

3. Increasing investments in college access and success programs — because the best leg up and out of poverty is a college degree. College access and success for underserved students is still the surest path out of poverty. This year, we focused on enabling inner-city high school students, regardless of their achievement level, to earn early college credits, even when their courses were remote. To that end, our staff came up with a way to broaden the appeal of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams by encouraging students to take courses and the exams via ModernStates.org. Underwritten by philanthropist Steve Klinsky, the site funds the production of online courses taught by college professors designed to prepare students for the exams; it also covers test fees so that students can earn up to a year of college credit without the added cost of tuition or textbooks. At a time when the cost of college is an ever-increasing burden to matriculation and persistence, we see this as an important lever to keep college-going students not just on track but ahead of the curve.

We also envisioned and funded a strategic partnership between two of the best college access and success programs for high-achieving youth Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet) — focused on building up the path from college to a career. While an impressive 90 percent of SEO Scholars earn a college degree, the organization identified a gap in its services: adequately preparing students for the transition from college to employment. Enter OppNet, which teaches career-readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students who have a similar profile to SEO Scholars. OppNet uses a train-the-trainer approach to improving student career competencies and outcomes, and the partnership ultimately enables both programs to better and more broadly serve underserved kids.

Last but not least, we doubled down on our college-success initiatives: we continued our support of intensive career development and leadership training for low-income, first-generation college students via America Needs You; we underwrote the development of a software solution (by Overgrad) that provides counselors and students, in New York, with a localized approach to the college access process; and we increased support for our own transfer credit initiative, resulting in the development of Transfer Explorer, a revolutionary tool for CUNY students. This free, searchable, user-friendly database offers information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions in the CUNY system — the first time such information has been made publicly available. Thanks to the database, CUNY students can avoid the loss of credits when they transfer between schools in the system, increasing the likelihood they will graduate. 

We are all struggling to find a way out of this mess. I don’t have a clue as to when it will end or how, but I often find myself returning to that old, old saying, “this too shall pass.” While we look forward to that day, let’s embrace our obligation now, today, to take bold action that helps level the playing field for underserved youth.

Headshot_peter_sloane_heckscher_foundation_philantopicPeter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, is deeply committed to enhancing educational opportunities for young people.

Quote of the Week

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


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

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