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8 posts from April 2021

Social issues are getting personal

April 21, 2021

I’ve talked in this space about how social issue engagement builds from what interests and engages us: we educate ourselves, get motivated to act, then look for like-minded people to join in pushing for change. In the recent past, research conducted by the Cause and Social Influence research team I lead has revealed that young Americans (ages 18-30) are concerned about social issues that impact others, including racial equity, climate change, hunger, and animal rights. But a third of the way into 2021, we're seeing a new twist.

Findings from the first Cause and Social Influence survey in 2021 reveal that the issues of most interest to young Americans right now are those that directly and personally affect them.

Empathy is a normal human trait

Being concerned about the well-being of others is the definition of empathy. Learning that countless number of our fellow Americans go to bed hungry each night motivates some of us to do what we can to address the immediate need and prompts others to do something to eliminate the root causes of hunger in America. Both reactions are normal and a necessary component of action for change.

Having empathy means we put ourselves in the place of another and try to share the feelings he or she is experiencing. But when an issue is relevant to our own situation — when we're the ones sharing, feeling, and experiencing the issue as our own — our empathy deepens to another level. We begin to understand what someone else is feeling because we've been or are in the same situation.

This is where many young people find themselves today. Previous research has shown that millennials and Gen Z are especially empathetic, and that their empathy leads them to be socially aware and active. In 2020, they (like many of us) took action on a range of social issues, including racial injustice, social isolation, and voting rights. Now, in 2021, they are finding that some of those issues have more personal relevance than others and have entered the stage of engagement where an issue's relevance to one's own situation is driving their engagement.

Empathy is directed inward

The biggest indicator of the shift? According to Influencing Young America to Act, Spring 2021, healthcare premiums now rank among the top three issues of interest to millennials and members of Gen Z. Given the pandemic's effect on healthcare systems, joblessness, and most every other aspect of life, that makes sense. And it certainly makes sense that it has raised concerns among young Americans about their own ability to be and stay healthy while financially supporting themselves.

Given that young people were already dealing with high levels of student debt and job insecurity, the pandemic and the health concerns it poses has underscored the precarity of their personal situations. And while healthcare premiums may not be a burning social issue, it is a very personal issue.

Fig.1.1_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Indeed, while healthcare reform as a general concept was of concern to young Americans in 2020, healthcare premiums only showed up in the top tier of issues for the first time in March 2021. Two weeks after President Biden expanded health insurance premium subsidies as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, 60 percent of our survey respondents said they believed the country was on track/totally on track -- though they were less hopeful about where things would be a year from now.

Fig.1.2_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Fig.1.3_Cause and Influence_1Q201

As young Americans look to a post-COVID economy, their own well-being and that of others appears to be top of mind. And while they are still deeply engaged in helping others, especially when it comes to racial equity and animal rights, their own changing health and economic situation cannot be ignored.

Causes must recognize how other issues affect them

Causes always have had to pay attention to how their issue can be made relevant to target audiences. Typically, they do this with campaigns featuring compelling images, videos, and stories crafted to help supporters and potential supporters feel what people most impacted by the issue are going through. So what does a cause do when its target audiences and people impacted by the issue are one and the same?

For starters, their campaigns need to encourage those who are impacted by the issue to talk to their peers about their own experiences while also standing up in support of the issue. This goes beyond people impacted or interested in an issue looking to recruit like-minded people to the cause. It means getting individuals with the same lived experience to join forces as a collective and share their hard-earned insights to bring about change.

It also means causes must intimately understand how they relate to the young people they’re trying to reach. The best way to do this is to interact with them and help them understand the interconnectedness of your particular issue with the issues young people are dealing with at the moment.

Finally, causes need to encourage supporters to elevate their voices in a way that directly and personally communicates the relevance of their individual experience. For example, while petitions continue to be popular, causes should start to think about augmenting them with personal stories. Rather than simply asking members of your target audience to sign a petition, package it with a story of someone impacted by the issue that potential signers of the petition can relate to.

The shift in how empathy is being channeled as the pandemic begins to wind down is something we all need to pay attention to. COVID impacted all of us, one way or another, and issues that once may have been seen as only involving certain groups or populations have changed and, in many cases, broadened out. As nonprofit leaders, we need to recognize that yesterday's supporter may also be today’s beneficiary.

Heashot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

5 Questions for...Pete Gurt, president, Milton Hershey School and Catherine Hershey Schools

April 19, 2021

Unable to have children, chocolate magnate Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, established the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1909 as a boarding school for orphaned boys. A decade later, Hershey created a $60 million endowment for the school – an endowment which today has grown to more than $17 billion.

In the more than hundred years since it was established, the Hershey School has changed its admission policies to allow girls, students of color, and children whose parents are still living. This past fall, the school committed $350 million over six years to establish six learning centers in Pennsylvania that will serve disadvantaged and at-risk youth from birth to age five.

In March, MHS announced plans to open its first Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning (CHS) in 2023 and a second by 2024. Philanthropy News Digest spoke with MHS president Pete Gurt about the initiative and the organization’s goals in the area of early childhood education.

Headshot_Pete_Gurt_MHS_CHSPhilanthropy News Digest: You're investing a lot of money, $350 million, to create six Catherine Hershey centers in Pennsylvania over the next decade or so. How did you and the board arrive at the amount? And how will the centers build on and advance the mission of MHS?

Pete Gurt: The mission of MHS is to educate low-income children so they can lead fulfilling and productive lives and escape the cycle of poverty. MHS currently serves two thousand children in pre-K through twelfth grade. Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning represent a tremendous opportunity for us to further our mission and help disadvantaged and at-risk children who are younger — from birth to age five. We believe the program at CHS will give low-income children the foundation they need to become kindergarten-ready and ultimately reach their full potential. And just like at MHS, there will be no cost for children to attend.

PND: What exactly will that investment support and how many students will the centers serve?

PG: Over approximately six years, the $350 million investment will go toward the construction and operations of up to six centers in Pennsylvania. CHS is a privately funded project that does not draw from tax dollars or other public sources of income. The first center, scheduled to open in 2023 on the MHS campus in Hershey, will serve a hundred and fifty local-area children from low-income backgrounds.

CHS plans to have up to eighty employees and volunteers at the first school. Once all six centers are open, about nine hundred children will be supported by the initiative.

PND: What inspired your decision to do this now?

PG: The boards and management of MHS and the Hershey Trust Company underwent a comprehensive, multiyear study of potential ways to serve more low-income children. After careful consideration, our leadership recognized the extraordinary opportunity that CHS represents.

The centers will provide a quality educational program to some of the youngest and most vulnerable kids in Pennsylvania. And while the COVID-19 pandemic didn't directly inspire our decision to move forward with CHS, it’s made the challenges that children living in poverty face clearer than ever. The child poverty rate in the U.S. rose to nearly 20 percent during the worst months of the pandemic, underscoring just how many kids are in need. We believe CHS is the right initiative at the right time and are confident it will have a positive impact on children, their families, and our communities at a moment when that is what we need.

PND: The kids at MHS come from low-income backgrounds. What do you hope the new Catherine Hershey schools will be able to do to build stability for the kids they enroll?

PG: For more than a hundred and ten years, MHS has been serving children from economically disadvantaged and at-risk backgrounds by providing a quality education and home life experience. Those lessons will be applied to CHS, while also being age-appropriate for the children who attend them.

The CHS curriculum will focus on the child’s educational, social, emotional, and cognitive development — supporting the "whole child." Children also will be provided nutritious meals, transportation, and the supplies they need to succeed. Each center will have a dedicated staff member to connect parents to resources that will assist families in building and maintaining stability. Those resources will include parenting and educational information, housing services, healthcare referrals, and job training.

In developing the CHS program, we were guided by research from leading early childhood education experts. We hope the result will help more children escape the cycle of poverty. We encourage readers to visit www.chslearn.org to learn more.

PND: Do you think the model you've developed for CHS is replicable nationally?

PG: We certainly hope our whole-child education program will be replicated around the country. Part of our goal in creating the CHS initiative is to develop best practices that can be shared with other educators. Research shows participation in quality early childhood education programs can directly improve kids’ learning and development. Much of the school readiness gap between low- and high-income students is created — and can be prevented — before formal schooling begins through early childhood education.

We believe CHS is an important starting point for changing the trajectory of children from low-income families. This is critical work, and we want to set an example that would make our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey, proud.

Matt Sinclair

More Americans may be going back to work, but their jobs are getting worse

April 16, 2021

Essential_worker_Christine_McCann_sffLast April, the coronavirus pandemic brought the longest economic expansion in American history to an abrupt and shocking halt. In just a few short months, the unemployment rate shot up from a fifty-year low of 3.5 percent to nearly 14.7 percent. A year later, many people are breathing a sigh of relief as the rate has ticked back down to 6 percent, with some taking it as a sign that America is on track to full economic recovery.

But while recent headlines may be cause for optimism, they don't tell the whole story. Using the unemployment rate to gauge the health of an economy is like putting your hand on someone's forehead to check whether they have COVID-19. It can tell you whether they're running a fever,  but it doesn't provide enough data to make an accurate diagnosis.

The truth is, the unemployment rate tells us nothing about the quality of jobs, making it an inadequate metric to understand the true health of the labor market. Gallup's 2020 Great Jobs Report, which Omidyar Network supported in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and  Lumina Foundation, found that more than half (52 percent) of those who were laid off during the pandemic — even if they were subsequently re-hired — reported a decline in their overall job quality as measured across eleven dimensions, including pay, benefits, stability, and safety.

First commissioned in 2019, the Great Jobs survey was groundbreaking: unlike simple "job satisfaction" metrics aimed at providing an overall sense of job satisfaction, the intent of the survey was to look under the hood of the labor market and identify trouble spots. A diverse group of more than sixty-six hundred working people were asked to define what a "good" job looks like and then assess how their own jobs stacked up against that standard. The original survey showed that less than half (40 percent) of working people in the United States believed they were employed in a good job, while one in six (16 percent) believed they were stuck in a bad job, with significant disparities by race.

The latest survey gives us a window into how the pandemic has impacted job quality. Those who started 2020 in a low-quality or "bad" job — based on their own assessment — were far more likely to have been laid off (36 percent) than those working a high-quality or "good" job pre-pandemic (23 percent). And low-wage workers with high-quality jobs in 2019 reported experiencing much lower COVID-19  risk and better employer-provided protective measures during the pandemic. The fact is, job quality matters, especially when a crisis hits.

Even before COVID struck, the topline numbers masked how unhealthy the U.S. economy really is. The richest 10 percent of Americans control 77 percent of the country's wealth, while for millions of Americans the rising cost of living has skyrocketed, wages have stagnated, and the wealth inequality gap continues to widen. These are not the hallmarks of a healthy economy.

The findings from The Great Jobs Report underscore the mounting evidence that the pandemic exacerbated structural inequities within the U.S. economy. Indeed, job quality in 2020 actually improved for people who avoided being laid off, with many reporting improvements in their compensation, flexibility with respect to where and when they worked, workplace safety, and  a sense of purpose in their work. By contrast, those who experienced being laid off reported lower scores on every dimension of job quality except safety.

But COVID-19 is just the latest driver of worsening job quality in the U.S., with technological disruption leading the list of other threats. While automation may not lead to the mass destruction of jobs — as feared by some — it could lead to deterioration in job quality in many industries and sectors. Meanwhile, the gig economy has made underemployment an acceptable alternative to unemployment. If someone who is laid off starts driving for Uber, they count as employed  — even though it is a more precarious, unstable, and lower-paid kind of work. This also has the effect of skewing the monthly unemployment numbers lower than they otherwise would be. An upskilling and job-matching program won't address these trends; the problem is with the jobs themselves, not the skills of the people in these jobs.

The alarming state of job quality in America reinforces how critical it is to empower working men and women to bargain for a fairer deal and better quality jobs across the dimensions that matter most.

We can create an economy where everyone has a good job. But if we don't start to pay attention to the quality, and not just the quantity, of jobs, we risk creating an economy where major disruptions driven by pandemics or natural disasters, automation, and climate change could lead to continued deterioration in quality of jobs for those who already find themselves in a precarious position. And if we continue to rely on the unemployment rate to tell us what's going on, we risk becoming dangerously out of touch with what's really happening.

We are heartened by the Biden administration's American Jobs Plan and the emphasis it puts on high-quality jobs. But it's going to take a concerted effort across society to detangle the perception that the unemployment rate is the final word on the health of our economy and working Americans. We urge other philanthropists and foundations, experts and economists, advocates, and activists to join the movement to put quality at the center of how we think about jobs and help us find better ways to measure, understand, and fight for quality jobs.

(Photo credit: Christine McCann, San Francisco Foundation)

Tracy_Williams_Omidyar_philantopicTracy Williams is a director at Omidyar Network, where she leads the social change venture's work to reimagine capitalism, build the power of working people, and shape a new economic paradigm.

The 7 Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Boards

April 15, 2021

Board-member-serviceThe challenges of governing a nonprofit are often more complicated than those faced by board members of similar-sized for-profit entities. This is because nonprofit board members are called upon to be trustees of the public good, voices for their communities, advocates of their cause, and ambassadors eager to build a band of true believers, giving their organizations the best chance to create the greatest impact for the most people.

Attending to the seven principles of highly effective nonprofit boards can help your organization set the stage for success:

Principle #1: Culture. Every board has a culture — either by default or intention. Culture is the foundation on which sound governance is built. Healthy cultures are inquisitive and invite diverse perspectives and debate. They embrace generative and strategic thinking. Innovation is valued. In healthy cultures, board members work collaboratively and with humility to solve problems. Members understand their governance oversight responsibilities. They respect the role of management and form a constructive partnership with the CEO. They are intellectually and emotionally invested in the cause they serve and are its champions. Reorienting or reinventing a productive, conscious culture does not happen overnight. It requires board members to recognize the problematic culture and, once they recognize its consequences, accept that it must change and commit to implementing that change.

Principle #2: Character. The time to screen for character is before a board member is seated. Too often, assumptions are made about a person's character based on first impressions or just because they are willing to serve on your board. It's important, therefore, to screen for character during the board member recruitment process. Yet how many boards do? Asking sitting board members to assess character in the recruitment process may feel like too much of a hassle, or they may be embarrassed to check up on someone they know socially or through business. Nevertheless, it is a critical step in the process. When done well, investigating character won't upset a prospective member; instead, it communicates that serving on your board is serious business.

Principle #3: Competence. It is vital for a sitting board to genuinely examine the board member competencies it may be lacking and needs in order to become a highly effective board. There is a significant difference between competence and credentials. A credential is a certification of sorts for which an individual has successfully completed training or course work. The value of that credential is dependent on the credentialing agency, its reputation, and the rigor of the course work. But a credential on its own is not a guarantee  of competence. By contrast, competence is the mastery of knowledge and/or a skill that enables one to consistently deliver high-quality results. Competence is assessed by an individual's performance and success in the field in which he or she endeavors.

Principle #4: Connections. Being connected to your constituency is fundamental to a nonprofit's ability to achieve its mission. When organizations fail to achieve the levels of support they need to thrive, they often assume it's because they lack  visibility. The truth is, they need to develop a band of believers among a cross-section of constituencies. To thrive, nonprofits need to have healthy relationships with at least four types of constituencies: those served by the organization, those who are influential within the community, well-heeled philanthropists, and those who possess unique skills or insights that can fuel an organization's success.

Principle #5: Composition. Building strong boards that embody the character, competence, connections, and diversity organizations need to thrive is not a complicated process. Indeed, the process is pretty straightforward, but it takes time and discipline to do it right. To truly represent the communities they serve, nonprofits must have individuals on the board able to appreciate and artriculate the perspectives and concerns of the people who live in those communities. Diversity, inclusion, and equity are essential values for nonprofits — and boards are the trustees of those values. Even beyond the obligation to champion governance that is truly representative of a community, research shows that boards are more effective when diversity and inclusion are seated at the table along with competence and character.

Principle #6: Continuity. Knowledge of how a nonprofit is organized, functions, and performs over time is critical to sound governance and decision-making. In a nonprofit organization, staff are the fuel that make things go. They are the source of the passion (competence and commitment) and reputation (authority and action) all organizations need to function effectively. And they power every critical function of the organization, from program management to fundraising to administration.  So it's imperative that members of the governing board know how the organization is wired, and they have a special responsibility to ensure it continues to run, and run well, over time. While steering clear of meddling in day-to-day management of the organization, board members must understand how staff are deployed, how things work, and which policies guide them.

Principle #7: Collaboration. Collaboration is the mindset that enables people to work together cooperatively to advance a cause. A collaborative mindset also creates places where ideas can be shared and explored safely and environments that are conducive to respectful inquiry. It is a kind of give-and-take attitude grounded in trust and the pursuit of mutually satisfying goals. But true collaboration is difficult to achieve. Creating a truly collaborative mindset requires a constant, concrete commitment to the cause the nonprofit serves. And that commitment needs to resonate in the hearts and minds of the organization's leaders if they hope to overcome the hurdles and pain points that so often scuttle its realization.

Have a board member recruiting tip of your own? Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Heashot_James Mueller

James Mueller is president of James Mueller & Associates and author of the new book Onboarding Champions: The Seven Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Boards.

5 Questions for...Carly Bad Heart Bull, Executive Director, Native Ways Federation

April 13, 2021

Carly Bad Heart Bull joined the Native Ways Federation (NWF) in April 2020 as its executive director. Launched in 2006 in Longmont, Colorado, by the American Indian College Fund, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Association on American Indian Affairs, First Nations Development Institute, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, and Running Strong for American Indian Youth, NWF is focused on activating and expanding informed giving to Native-led organizations through donor education and advocacy. To that end, NWF is working to bring together Native organizations and raise awareness and support for the communities they serve, strengthen Native nonprofits, and ensure the highest levels of ethical standards and fiscal responsibility across the sector.

Prior to joining NFW, Bad Heart Bull, who is Bdewakantunwan Dakota/Muskogee Creek and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, managed the Bush Foundation's work with twenty-three Native nations across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and served on an advisory committee for the Investing in Native Communities portal, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. She holds a juris doctorate and previously served as an assistant county attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in Minneapolis; led a successful campaign to restore the Dakota name of the city's largest lake, Bde Maka Ska; and in 2019 was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a Community Leadership Network Fellow.

PND asked her about the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, Native efforts to address climate change, and the role of language in racial equity efforts.

Headshot_Carly_Bad_Heart_Bull_Native_Ways_Federation_KelloggPhilanthropy News Digest: Native American communities have experienced disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates than the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. To what do you attribute those disparities?

Carly Bad Heart Bull: COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, and Native people are at an especially heightened risk because of numerous factors, including limited access to quality health services, inadequate housing, lack of access to clean and safe water, and other infrastructure issues. Native people are also more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other underlying conditions that put them at significant risk.

All these community issues connect back to the U.S. government's failure to comply with historical treaty obligations to fund basic services in exchange for tribal land. The impacts of colonization continue to have detrimental effects on our nations and our people. Our tribes and Native-led organizations are working hard to address these issues, and many of them are doing amazing innovative work. However, they need increased funding and supports in order to most effectively serve their communities. This need existed before the pandemic and it's even greater now. For example, many of our Native language speakers, the majority being elders, have died in the past year from COVID-19. Our Indigenous languages are central to who we are as Native people; they embody the essence of our cultures and teach us Indigenous worldviews and ways of being that connect us to one another and to the land. Assimilation efforts by the U.S. government, including education policies such as the development and implementation of boarding schools and relocation policies, were aimed at disconnecting our people from these important cultural resources. Language teachers and advocates in our communities have been working hard to revitalize our languages for years. It's imperative that this work continues and grows — now more than ever — as we have even fewer fluent speakers to learn from due to the pandemic.

I would also note that we don't yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, in part because of the issue of inaccurate and misclassified data as it relates to our communities. It's an important story that needs to be better understood and addressed.

PND: How has philanthropy, both Native-based and more broadly, responded to the needs of Indigenous communities during the pandemic? Have you seen an increase in philanthropic investments in Native communities?

CBHB: Philanthropy responded quickly in many respects. Many foundations increased their giving amounts, and we saw a large number of foundations reduce restrictions on existing and new grants, providing opportunities for organizations to adapt appropriately and use their grant funds in ways that best served the people and communities they were intended to serve during these unprecedented times. At the same time, I've talked to Native nonprofit leaders who lost revenue they depended on because they weren't able to host fundraising events, and in many cases increased philanthropic support hasn't made up for those losses.

That said, I do think the data will show an uptick in funding — a response, in my view, not only to the impacts of the virus but to the greater call to action on behalf of Native communities and communities of color sparked by the murder of George Floyd. We are still not where we need to be, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

One thing I am concerned about is whether any increase in funding for Native communities will be sustained, or just be a one-time philanthropic reaction. I hope the answer is the former. I hope that foundations continue to pay attention to the underlying infrastructure issues that resulted in Native people and communities being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and that support for tribes and Native-led organizations continues to increase and not decline as the COVID-19 numbers start to fall. Philanthropy needs to support systemic change efforts that are led and guided by Native people so that our people not only survive, but can thrive in a post-COVID world.

PND: According to data compiled by Investing in Native Communities, large U.S. foundations have allocated just 0.4 percent of their total annual grantmaking to Native American communities and causes since 2006. What, in your opinion, are the factors behind the lack of funding for Native communities, and what is the Native Ways Federation doing to address it?

CBHB: That's correct, and that's also despite the fact that Native peoples comprise 2 percent of the U.S. population and, even more importantly, are the original people of this land. That same analysis found that only 20 percent of large foundations give to Native communities or causes at all. There are multiple factors at play here, and one of the biggest issues is that of invisibility. This country has done a terrible job of educating the broader population about Native history and people. A 2019 NCAI report found that 87 percent of state history standards include no mention of Native American history post-1900, and twenty-seven states don't even mention Native peoples in their K-12 curriculum. According to the dominant narrative, we are a people of the past. But the fact is, we are still here and we matter. There is really important work happening, much of it led by Native nonprofits, to lift up Native visibility and perspectives with a focus on truth-telling and healing.

I've done quite a bit of speaking on the importance of increased philanthropic support for Native organizations and tribes, and one of the responses I've heard too many times to count is, "We'd love to help, but we don't have a program for that." While intentional programs for funding Native communities are great, they aren't always necessary. It's more than likely that any area a foundation is investing in — whether that be education, health, the environment, economic development — is an area where Native organizations and tribes are doing important, necessary work, and that work should be supported.

NWF is working to address these issues in multiple ways. Our seven founding member organizations started coming together a number of years ago in part to address the lack of philanthropic funding for Native-led organizations and the fact that we were seeing a large percentage of funding intended for Native communities actually going to non-Native organizations. It's still a problem. A large part of NWF's work is focused on donor education and advocacy in support of Native-led nonprofits, because we know that we are best situated to effectively serve our communities. And we are further developing our collective voice in philanthropic spaces to hold foundations accountable and to strengthen the Native nonprofit sector on our own terms.

I came to NWF with experience as a Native program officer, and I hope to build on some of that previous work. For example, at the Bush Foundation we did a major analysis of our grantmaking in Native communities and found that our coding practices were inconsistent and that our grantmaking data were not always accurate. This is a bigger philanthropic-sector issue that needs to be discussed more broadly. I actually believe that the 0.4 percent number is inflated — in large part as a result of foundation grant data inaccurately reported as "serving" Native communities. This may not even be intentional, but it needs to be addressed, and it's an area where we at NWF hope to do more work in influencing change within the sector.

PND: You've said that your earlier career as an assistant county attorney taught you "to speak a new language — the language of law and how to navigate systems of power," and that institutional philanthropy needs to develop a common language as it evolves "from a transactional to a relational practice." What kinds of things would such a common language address?

CBHB: For one, the grant coding issue I just discussed; there needs to be a more consistent sector-wide effort toward making sure that grant data is being accurately reported. Current grant reporting by foundations falsely benefit the foundations themselves rather than the communities they are trying to serve, as they may believe they are serving certain demographics at a rate that they are not. Data tell an important story — and there needs to be more conversation and movement toward making sure the story is being consistently and accurately shared.

Also, there needs to be an emphasis on relationship and trust building. That means taking care of one another and recognizing the roles that we each play in the broader effort toward realizing a healthier society. For too long, grantee organizations have been expected to learn the language of institutional philanthropy in order to receive funding, rather than foundations better understanding, and reflecting, the communities they serve. This type of transactional relationship is imbalanced, and it doesn't serve anyone well in the long run

Native organizations work closely with the communities they serve, and they need to be appropriately resourced to do their work as effectively as possible. That means not only increasing funds but also increasing flexibility in terms of how foundations fund. It means increasing general operating support and trusting that we know best what to do with the funds. And it means reducing extensive reporting requirements — let us focus on the work rather than on writing detailed overburdensome reports. One thing it doesn't mean is that we don't have to communicate — we should be checking in, building relationships, and learning from one another.

PND: You've noted that Indigenous wisdom and ways of being are integral to the vitality of communities and the planet. How do you envision philanthropy's role at the intersection of racial and environmental justice? And what can it do, or do more of, to support Native advocacy for climate action?

CBHB: Philanthropy needs to increase support of Native-led environmental justice efforts — we will all be better for it. Native people are the original stewards of this planet, and the solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues we are facing — such as climate change — can be found within the ideologies and practical applications of Indigenous wisdom.

Yet very little of the philanthropic dollars that go to environmental justice efforts go to Native-led organizations or tribes. That needs to change. A great majority of the wealth in the philanthropic sector was accumulated at the expense of communities of color, Native nations and people, and the environment. The extraction of natural resources, the removal of Native people from their homelands, the use of forced labor — these violent extractive and transactional actions have had a detrimental effect on our communities and on the environment. Philanthropy needs to hold itself accountable for the destruction that has taken place in our homelands and they need to support Native-led environmental justice efforts working to protect, restore, and heal this planet while we still can.

I'm optimistic of the future because I need to be for my son. Our work to restore the Dakota name of the biggest lake in Minneapolis, Bde Maka Ska, was and is important because we are the original people of Mnistoa Makoce (aka Minnesota, or Where the Water Reflects the Sky); I want him to grow up knowing where he comes from and to be proud of who he is and of his people. Creating a better world for him, and for future generations yet to be born, is what keeps me going. My ancestors went through a lot so that I could be here, and now I have the responsibility to carry that legacy forward. It's also past time for non-Native people in this country, including in the philanthropic sector, to listen to and act in support of our Native nations and our Native-led organizations and efforts. We will all be better for it.

— Kyoko Uchida

Getting rid of standardized testing will penalize kids from underserved schools 

April 09, 2021

SatFor the first time in half a century, the University of California will admit thousands of high school seniors who did not take the SAT or ACT. With the coronavirus pandemic impeding students' ability to safely sit for the exams, many colleges — including the California system's public universities as well as elite private schools such as Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago — announced they'd forgo the testing requirement.

This came as welcome news to critics of standardized testing, who have long denounced the SAT and ACT as being racist, irredeemably biased, and poor at predicting collegiate success. Add to that the surge in the number of college applications this past fall once the tests were abandoned — Harvard alone received 42 percent more applicants than in a normal year — and the future of the tests doesn’t look bright.

My organization has been preparing low-income students to take the SAT since 2013.  I take the tests myself on the three occasions a year that adults are allowed to do so. Those experiences — and eight years' worth of data we've gathered on test-takers — have convinced me that, despite their flaws, standardized tests are a vital tool for low-income students and students of color seeking to earn admission to elite colleges and universities. What's more, the tests can be mastered, and that process can help students from underresourced schools strengthen their critical thinking skills as well as their content-related educational chops.

Initially, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds find standardized tests to be mysterious and impenetrable. But as they practice taking the test, they improve — and not just their overall scores. As they master more of the SAT math questions, they learn  math basics they may have missed in the classroom; as they improve their scores on the reading comprehension part, they become better readers. Test prep helps them hone their critical thinking skills, fill knowledge gaps, and manage test anxiety, while eliminating many of the imperceptible barriers that keep low-income students from educational success. By the end of three weeks, my students typically improve their SAT scores by 130-180 points (the single highest score improvement was 710 points!) and have built a solid foundation for future educational success. 

That's not reason enough, perhaps, to keep standardized testing. But there's another factor: selective colleges often use the tests as a gauge of a student's ability to complete a four-year degree. Just months before the University of California system made the tests optional, a UC task force found that the elimination of the test requirement would deny automatic entry to 40 percent of African-American students and more than 25 percent of low-income and first-generation students admitted to UC. Standardized tests, in other words, are their ticket to a four-year degree and a brighter future.

The same test score-based sorting takes place at private colleges and universities. "If the student can't break a combined 1000 on the SAT," an elite college admissions officer once told me, "no matter how much support we give, that student is unlikely to graduate." The inverse of her statement is also true: A student who can match or surpass that score is much more likely to complete their degree. In its concreteness, the test can signal to an admissions officer that a student has the raw material she/they/he needs to thrive in a four-year college setting. 

Indeed, the less we rely on standardized testing, the more unequal higher education is likely to become. And the most worrisome aspect of that reality is that the change will largely escape the notice of those who don't work with underserved populations. Here's why: Elite institutions like the Ivies have admission quotas for members of historically underrepresented, socioeconomically marginalized groups (primarily Black and Latinx). By scoring above 1000 on the SAT, low-SES students show that they are "college-ready" and can succeed at a highly selective institution. If we take away one of the few avenues these students have to demonstrate their mettle and readiness to undertake a rigorous academic program, my students' odds of attending an Ivy or other elite institution are going to go down, not up. If test scores are eliminated from the equation, those schools will simply take kids who tick off a particular race or ethnic box — and many will be international students who can afford full tuition. Very few people look at the number of Pell-eligible students a college accepts/graduates, but that's where you’ll see the change.

Elite institutions are not wrong to think that students from underserved schools struggle more than students from well-resourced schools. They know — and our partner organizations know — that students from underserved schools often are four to six grade levels behind their better-resourced peers and can struggle with significant content gaps. It can be particularly hard for underserved students to hit the ground running in freshman year (something all would-be STEM majors must do). Many need some remediation or time to adjust to an unstructured academic workload that's far more demanding than what they experienced in high school. An SAT score of 1000 is enough for Harvard to take a chance on such a student. Without that score, and given the grade inflation that prevails at many underserved high schools, Harvard has no reliable way of knowing which students are (and are not) likely to persist.  

Standardized testing's many outspoken critics point to the tests as a symptom of a racially biased system, which they are:  underresourced schools do a poor job prepping primarily Black and Latinx students for college. Standardized tests correctly diagnose that failure, but that doesn't mean we should throw away the tests; instead, we should focus on fixing the unequal educational system. 

In making the test the enemy rather than focusing on fixing the problem, critics also overlook the ways in which standardized tests can help reduce systemic inequities as a key to privilege: higher college graduation rates are correlated with greater college selectivity, which is correlated with higher SAT scores, which means that raising Black and Latinx kids' SAT scores (those most affected by undermatching) and getting them into an Ivy or other elite institution is both a path to graduation and — through lower student debt, higher post-graduation salaries, and the power of college networks/name recognition — a more economically secure future. 

Despite their many failings, standardized tests are among the most powerful levelers in society and, if approached with a clear understanding of their benefits as well as shortcomings, can help us close the all-too-persistent opportunity gap in higher education. The answer is not to throw them away, but to keep them and invest more in preparing students —all students — to excel in the skills they measure.

Headshot_alyssa_bowlbyAlyssa Bowlby is  co-founder and executive director of the Yleana Leadership Foundation.

What does ‘Jumanji’ have to do with advocacy?

April 08, 2021

Burn_pitsReleased in movie theaters twenty-six years ago, Jumanji became an instant classic. In the movie, an ominous drumbeat called to unsuspecting players as they neared the mysterious game, drawing them into its world. In 2017, the movie’s success was rebooted with mega-star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but this time as a video game. The franchise had changed with the times, but one thing remained the same: the drumbeat drew the interest of the unsuspecting, drawing them into playing a game they had been completely unaware of.

What does Jumanji have to do with advocacy? If you think about it, advocacy is like a steady drumbeat, one that draws the people who hear it to a cause. It is the art (and science) of leveraging awareness to create positive social change. But while awareness-raising is a critical component of any advocacy effort, every once in a while we need to roll the dice and bring people together to hammer home the urgent need for change for the nearly four million veterans who have served in the U.S. armed forces since 9/11.

Just as Jumanji evolved from a board game into a video game, the fundraising events mounted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have also changed. Late last month, instead of flying veterans to Washington for our annual fly-in event (as we've done every year since 2004), we sought to create the same kind of impact with a series of virtual meetings between the veteran community and members of Congress. Despite the change in format, we were able to share stories from the veteran community, encourage lawmakers to serve as our allies, and advocate for change.

During the virtual meetings, veterans from around the country met with elected officials to persuade them to co-sponsor legislation that can help veterans. Over the past four months, IAVA has worked hard to advocate for legislation that will help curtail the suicide epidemic among veterans, support and recognize women veterans, advance post-service training for veterans to improve their reintegration into civil society, and protect the appropriation of GI Bill benefits for post-9/11 veterans. We have had a lot of success, but there's work to be done.

Most importantly, there are two pieces of veterans-related legislation, the TEAM Act and the WARFIGHTERS Act, both of them related to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic exposures, that must be passed. When our veterans signed up to protect the country, they didn't expect to be exposed to toxic substances and practices overseas that often lead to long-term ailments. Veterans who are suffering need these bills to be passed into law, and they need other veterans and civilians to join them. Nearly four million veterans have served since 9/11 — 1 percent of the U.S. population fielding the brunt, and the harmful side effects, of military service. Our veterans need the other 99 percent of the population to empathize with their plight and advocate on their behalf. Grab a drum and start banging until others are listening. Help us help our veterans tell their stories and educate decision makers about the most important issues facing the military community.

And when you hear that drumbeat, don’t run away. Join in and help us win this fight.

Heashot_Sean-UllmanSean Ullman is chief operations and chief revenue officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a veterans service organization representing four hundred thousand veterans nationwide. 

11 questions you should always ask a recruiter

April 06, 2021

Ask a recruiterRather than ignoring the next email or call you get from a recruiter, think of it as a learning opportunity — even if you aren’t seriously considering leaving your current position. In most cases, the experience will help you learn about yourself as a job prospect and give you a sense of what employers are looking for — insights that can be invaluable when it is time to make a move.

Time and again, I've seen job candidates who weren’t even beginning to think about a  career move completely change their perspective — and strategy — when presented with a compelling opportunity.

So, if you are contacted by a recruiter, consider asking the following:

Why is the position open? Find out whether it's a newly-created role or an existing position that has become vacant. If the latter, ask why the person who occupied the position previously left and how long the position has been open.

What are the skills and experiences the hiring manager is prioritizing? Ask the recruiter to list the desired skills and experiences for the position. Having such a list will make it a lot easier for you to compare the employer’s requirements to your own skillset and decide whether it is worth pursuing the opportunity.

What does the day-to-day of the job look like? Asking this is a great way to get beyond the boilerplate of a job description and to really start to understand what the role entails. Is it a meeting-heavy position? Does it require research and/or writing? How much? How closely supervised is the position? Ask questions that will help you understand how you would be spending most of your time.

What can you tell me about the person to whom I would report? Research shows that the biggest reason people leave their jobs is their manager, not the work itself. Your manager is critical to your success and level of satisfaction. Ask the recruiter to tell you what the person who will be managing you is like, what she values, and how she prefers to operate.

Why did you reach out to me? What in my background suggests I'd be a good fit for the position? The answer to this question can help you understand how people outside your organization view your work and accomplishments, as well as how diligently the recruiter did her homework, which might also be an indication of how well they understand the position they've been hired to fill.

Is there anything in my resume or background that could be a concern? This is a great way to get a sense of how competitive you are for the role, and it will also provide information you can use to map out a strategy for addressing any perceived gaps in your cover letter, resume, and during the interview process.

What is the compensation range for the position? Asking about compensation up front shouldn't impact your candidacy in any way. Indeed, the recruiter should be ready for this question and have no qualms about sharing a range. And remember, in many states it's illegal to ask a candidate for a job what her current salary is, so don’t feel you have to share it if asked.

What kind of flexible work arrangements does the job offer? This is especially important information in the era of COVID, when many people have gotten used to working from home and may want to continue to do so. Understanding the range of benefits that come with position more generally is also a good way to learn about the organization’s culture and values.

Tell me about the organization's culture? What are its values and how do they show up in the organization's work? For most people, organizational culture and values are critical factors in deciding whether to accept a position at a new organization. Ask the recruiter to provide details that go beyond what's on the organization's website or in a handbook and show how its values actually manifest themselves in its day-to-day activities. Ask, too, about professional development opportunities, its human resources practices, and all the other things that go into creating a vibrant organizational culture.

What work has the organization done to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable? This is deeply important in 2021 to candidates who are seeking workplaces that are inclusive and equitable. Feel free to ask about the diversity of the staff, senior leadership team, and board of directors. Ask about diversity and equity-focused trainings and development opportunities. And don't be hesitant to ask how the organization has responded to external events that have put a spotlight on racial injustice and equity.

What are the steps in and timeline for the interview process? The answer to this question should give you a sense of how much of a time commitment you’ll be asked to make if you want to pursue the opportunity, and whether it is something that’s worth the investment of your time and energy.

The questions above are meant to be a starting point for determining whether a potential role may be a good fit and deciding whether you want to pursue an opportunity that a recruiter puts in front of you. Be creative and come up with some of your own. Moving to a new organization can be scary, but it's also a great way — maybe the best way — to advance your career. Gather as much information as you can before making a decision and act accordingly.

Headshot_moly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is part of the Diversified Search Group, where she is also the nonprofit practice lead. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan also authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

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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