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8 posts from June 2021

Talking about social issues with the uninformed

June 29, 2021

Family_meal_table_debate_GettyImages_Thomas Barwick_PhilanTopicMy father always said to avoid controversial subjects like religion at the dinner table. He meant to warn us about introducing potentially divisive topics into an otherwise pleasant evening. Today, though, with social media, a twenty-four-hour news cycle, and cell phones at many dinner tables, social issues have become part of the daily fabric of life. Information abounds, overwhelms, and is tuned out. Causes must find a way to be heard above the noise and misinformation — and need to be heard and understood especially by the people who aren't listening at all.

Communicating about your cause with an audience that lacks knowledge isn't necessarily the same as talking with those who actively oppose you on the issue. The key is not to raise the defenses of the uninformed by being polarizing in your attempts to educate them.

When engaging audiences who have no information about or have taken no stance on your issue, the success of your message lies in its construction and method of delivery.

Let's start with the messenger.

The messenger must hold up under the audience's scrutiny. When we think about the narrative of a cause and how it is consumed, we can no longer think only about the written or spoken word. Today, the efficacy of a narrative depends just as much on who is delivering it as what it says. Can the audience see the messenger as having relevant expertise or authority to make the stated claims? Does the messenger have a reputation worthy of the recipient's trust — a personal connection and a relationship built over time based on consistent support for the individual's interests?

The messenger must also be able to authentically articulate a message, opportunity, or call to action that is relevant to the recipient. In other words, causes must provide a narrative that, when delivered, both feels real to the messenger and makes the recipient feel heard and not judged.

The message must meet four criteria. Once you've found a credible messenger, the message itself must include four crucial elements:

1. The recipient must see the message as objective (no hidden agenda). Construct the message carefully so that any decision to respond is up to the audience. Those who feel you've made their decision for them will not react genuinely.

Nonprofit example: A Truth.com video uses tobacco companies' own words in its messaging to persuade young people to stop using tobacco products: "This is what Big Tobacco said about the Black community, read by the Black community.... 'We don't smoke this sh*t. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the Black, and the stupid.' 'Young Blacks have found their thing. And it's menthol.'"

Corporate example: In 2017, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States. Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh issued a strong message to employees: "If we stay true to our values and support those who champion equality and justice while working with policymakers to ensure our voice is heard, I'm confident our business and our communities will be stronger as a result."

2. The delivery should not polarize but instead show proactive action. Don't use language that drives the audience away before they've heard and digested the message. If you want them to be open to educating themselves about your issue, avoid using snarky, preachy, or blaming language such as, "You might be surprised to learn..." or "You probably didn't know...."

Nonprofit example: Truth.com's messaging is open to people who aren't yet certain they're ready to quit smoking. Their "Growing Wave of Quitters" messaging includes "Meet the Quitters" and "Convince me to quit vaping" graphics, breathing exercises to reduce stress, a "Not sure if 'This is Quitting' is for you?" quiz, and, for those who choose to try to stop, a support-by-text program. Even though the harmful effects of using tobacco are well established, Truth.com doesn't berate its audience for ignoring them.

Corporate example: Bergh's proactive plan was clear: "We will not sit idly by. Because our employees are our first priority, we are reaching out to any employee who may be directly affected. We will stand by our colleagues and their families and offer support to any employee or family member directly affected by the ban."

3. The message should offer a clear, simple opportunity for the receiver to become informed on their own terms. Keep it simple: Don't overload the message with facts or create a long narrative, because the audience may think learning is too much work. Getting them involved in the process of educating themselves will, in turn, support the narrative and make the issue feel real.

Nonprofit example: Truth.com offers a variety of entry points for educating oneself about tobacco depending on interest: Cigarettes, vaping, or opioids; tobacco companies' marketing practices; the health effects of tobacco; quitting alone as opposed to with support; etc. They also offer print, video, audio, and social media resources.

Corporate example: Bergh's letter was straightforward and succinctly set forth a few relevant facts explaining how the country "has benefited immensely from those who have come to the U.S. to make a better life for themselves and their families, and we would not be the country we are today were it not for immigration." He also showed "why the action was consistent with longstanding company policy."

4. The recipients of the message must view themselves as part of the community to which the message is being delivered. Trying to communicate information about something completely unknown to an audience is a waste of time and energy. Your audience must have a point of personal reference if they are to be interested enough to accept your call to learn more and act.

Nonprofit example: Truth.com's messaging is highly visual and features young people across diverse demographics.

Corporate example: Addressed directly to Levi Strauss employees, Bergh's message felt highly relevant to the community to which it was delivered. "We desegregated our factories in the U.S. 10 years before it became the law of the land. We were one of the first companies to offer domestic partner healthcare benefits, long before it was popular. We have been a strong voice for inclusion, diversity, and giving everyone an opportunity to achieve their fullest potential at LS&Co. regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or religious preference. We know, deep in our soul, that diversity of all kinds is good for business and that a diverse organization will outperform a homogeneous one every time."

Communicating effectively about your cause includes assuming good intentions in messaging, stories, and calls to action. You will find yourself more naturally communicating to better inform your audience when you assume that they are interested in doing good — rather blaming them for not supporting your cause already.

Once you know how to approach your audience, you have to plan to get them to take action in support of your cause.

Moving the audience through three phases: intrigue, education, and intentional action. Causes need to work harder to create narratives that build from interest to education to action.

1. The interest phase. This is where you pique your audience's interest so they'll want to learn more. This can require building trust and support — using credible messengers — as well as helping the audience see themselves as part of the community.

2. The education phase. Here you deliver a fact within a story that helps individuals see themselves and their beliefs from a new perspective — likely from that of a person similar to them, a real peer rather than an influencer. Ideally, you will use campaign-themed messages creatively wrapped in claims and stories.

3. The intentional action phase. Now you can help the audience make the decision for themselves whether or not to answer your call to action. The word "intentional" here is built on the decision-making process they go through based on their own interests.

Two years ago, just after the longest government shutdown in American history at the time, Zaid Jilani and Jeremy Adam Smith wrote in Greater Good Magazine: "If Americans don't learn to build bridges with each other, we may see more government shutdowns, lying, segregation — and even violence." Their words were prophetic, but my point has less to do with violence than about understanding. As causes, we can recognize that bridge building is needed not so much because we disagree with each other, but because we may be uninformed. Taking this approach lowers the temperature of conversations around social issues enough that we can even have them at the dinner table.

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.

The responsibility of nonprofits to take care of staff, now and in the future

June 24, 2021

Office_diversity_creative_GettyImages_scyther5When the pandemic hit, everyone panicked, and nonprofits weren't immune. Organizations like mine, Teen Cancer America (TCA), relied significantly on large in-person fundraising events and activities to support our work, and when such events were no longer possible, our entire donor-relations model was disrupted. And this happened just as demand for our services increased as a result of the acute isolation young cancer patients were experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Nearly every nonprofit has struggled with its own pandemic-related challenges, and while many have found creative ways to keep their heads above water, maintaining and supporting a stressed staff — helping them do their jobs and finding new ways to reward them — has been a challenge. With our operating budgets under pressure, monetary rewards could not be guaranteed. How could I make sure they knew that I authentically cared about their well-being?

I wanted to do something that demonstrated thoughtfulness, truly helped boost team cohesion, and also could signal to donors that TCA was a responsible employer while being fiscally prudent.

The pandemic has highlighted the uncertainty of our futures on a very personal level. I thought about employees like Alec, one of our youngest team members and a cancer survivor: How could I ensure that his and other employees' financial futures were safe? I pondered the responsibility I had to support staff in their future planning and concluded that the charity should investigate 401(k) options, something I hadn't previously considered.

"For people my age, the future of our careers fluctuates, and with that comes financial uncertainty," Alec told me. "Especially with this pandemic and having had cancer myself, I know how important it is to prepare for the future, whatever that looks like for me. I may not be in the same career, I may not have a stable job, or I may not even be able to work for health reasons in the future, but I know I will have this 401(k) account ready for me so I can retire with fewer worries."

Most nonprofit leaders might assume their organizations aren't even eligible for such a plan. I'd assumed that the expense and lack of flexibility would make it impossible for TCA, but it turns out that today's 401(k) plans offer some options.

My criteria had been straightforward: low cost; competent account management; complete flexibility over the level of employer contribution, which would enable me to manage within our means; and simplicity and flexibility for staff to manage their own accounts. I was referred to Human Interest,* and the wealth management company run by one of our board members did due diligence and gave the green light, impressed by its investment philosophy and low fee structure. We also looked into 403(b) plans, but 401(k) plans turned out to be the best option for a nonprofit like ours.

Most of my preconceptions that nonprofits couldn't afford to provide 401(k)s to their employees were smashed: There was flexibility in how much in matching funds I could offer year-to-year, depending on how well our fundraising went. An "auto-enroll" function made sure that everyone in the organization could take advantage of the new benefit right away, and employees could change their contribution level from month to month. And because we had control over the charity's contribution, I could show existing and potential donors that TCA was doing something important to take care of employees both now, during a difficult time, and in the future, as responsible employers.

As someone who has gone through this 401(k) selection process, I want to encourage other leaders to consider what it might mean for their employees' lives. While nonprofits often assume that they can't offer a "full benefits package" that includes retirement plans, many team members under 30 either haven't thought much about retirement or assume it is out of reach because they are used to living paycheck to paycheck. It is our responsibility to help educate them.

The retirement gap (the amount people need to retire comfortably vs. the amount they are currently on track to save by retirement age) is widening into a chasm. This is potentially disastrous for individuals, families, and a society that is ill-equipped to carry the burden of a future aging population. Nonprofits have just as important a role to play as any other employer in closing that gap.

Here are a few practical tips for other nonprofits who may be looking at 401(k) plans as an option:

Communicate with and educate your employees about why retirement matters. Once our staff understood why it was important to save early and, most importantly, why it should be part of the permanent workplace culture at TCA, we had high rates of participation, making it clear the benefit was a worthwhile investment.

Be transparent and communicate to donors about the plan and the reasons behind it. The messaging should emphasize why you are fully committed to helping staff through times like the pandemic and other challenges. Demonstrating that you've chosen a low-cost, manageable plan lets funders — and your board — know that you're controlling costs and using contributions responsibly.

Here are some specific features in a plan that will help in the nonprofit context:

  • Plans with resources to help educate employees and guide their investment choices.
  • Easy initiation, with an option to "auto-enroll" employees. Research has shown that auto-enroll encourages higher participation and savings than the "opt-in" method.
  • Compare fees to get the lowest. Traditional 401(k) providers have tailored their offerings to big companies and often include hefty sign-up, initiation, and termination fees, but now we have far less expensive options to choose from.
  • Make sure it allows for flexibility. Does the plan allow the employer match to change according to a yearly budget? This is a key feature for the sometimes volatile budgetary world we all live in.
  • Think about your employees and the apps they use in their daily lives. Our plan came with a dashboard for millennial and Gen Z staff who are used to managing all things online.

Given nonprofits' often limited budgets, it's easy to ignore what we used to call "nice-to-haves" for our staff, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that well-being matters, and taking our employees' wellness — physical, mental, and financial — seriously is an essential part of keeping our organizations afloat. In the case of a 401(k) or other retirement plan, this nice-to-have should become a must-have. I would like to see this as the universally accepted norm on a global scale.

Simon_Davies_philantopicSimon Davies is executive director of Teen Cancer America (TCA), a nonprofit founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who that helps health providers and systems develop specialized programs and facilities for teenagers.

*Disclosure: TCA is a current customer of Human Interest. However, neither TCA, nor any of its representatives, received compensation for the publication of this article.

Unfinished business: Why the social justice movement needs nonprofits

June 18, 2021

BlackLivesMatter_protest_fist_minneapolis_foundationIn 2020, social justice issues moved front and center in ways most of us couldn't have predicted. As some of the largest and broadest demonstrations for racial justice in U.S. history erupted across the country, corporations came under greater pressure than ever before to take an active role in addressing social injustices.

At the same time, the events of 2020 highlighted how essential nonprofit organizations are to efforts to advance social justice.

Understanding equity vs. equality

The ongoing fight for equality in our country has traveled a long and storied road. The related but separate movement for social equity digs deeper into the ways in which opportunities are presented — or are closed — to different groups.

While equality means each individual or faction is given the same resources or opportunities, equity recognizes that each person or faction comes from different circumstances, which may require a restructured allocation of those resources and opportunities. Incorporating those factors into programs serving marginalized populations results in better outcomes; nonprofits make it their business to understand those complexities.

"Equity is a way, not a what," André Ledgister, communications catalyst at Partnership for Southern Equity, told me. "We make sure our efforts reflect equity in that we take into account what specific community organizations need in order to access resources. In that sense, the work of nonprofits is to empower the community to create their own change."

Nonprofit leaders know that fostering allies beyond donors, volunteers, and sponsors is critical to success. Similarly, for social justice activism to effect lasting change, education and advocacy efforts need to cross various divides to become truly multiethnic and multicultural.

"Nonprofit organizations teach, whether the work is relevant in science, in STEM fields, or in humanities and the arts," said Vicki Crawford, executive director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. "The hope is that this type of education will open people up to exploring the ways in which we are inextricably linked; to open up the conversation around the commonality of all humans across the differences of race, class, gender, religious affiliation."

Taking that understanding one step further means recognizing the ways in which we fall on either side of the ally relationship.

"Everyone has multiple identities, some of which can be privileged and some of which can be marginalized," said Sharmila Fowler, founder, coach, and consultant for the Red Lion Institute. "Your particular situation really depends on which room you're in. I could be a woman in a room full of women with very few men, or I could be an Asian American in a room full of many other ethnic identities and few Asian Americans. It's important to recognize that your identity shifts around privilege and marginalization, and to allow for that fluidity of identification."

Connecting the dots

Driving fundamental social change requires multiple levels of expertise and influence. For nonprofits, making connections and appealing to specifically focused stakeholders is a way of life. Already primed to network toward a goal, these organizations know how to pull the right levers to move social justice causes forward in an impactful way.

"For us, relationship acceleration is connecting those philanthropists, policy makers, community organizers, grassroots groups — putting everyone into the same room and saying, 'Okay, this is the problem we need to address,'" Ledgister explained. "They're all coming together from different areas of life, different industries, working together to push for change."

Leadership development

Social justice can't happen in a vacuum, nor can real change be achieved when dictated from outside the communities where the greatest need exists. In addition to creating social equity by clearing access to resources, nonprofits are positioned to build sustainable social change by inspiring community-based leaders and, more importantly, potential leaders.

"Supporting leadership development is so important," said Ledgister. "Making sure community members have the opportunity to be trained on initiatives is essential to progress. They can bring that forward and continue to push for change in the way that best fits. Those in the community are closest to the issue; they are the ones closest to the solution."

Generational mindset

The hard, long-term work needed to move the social justice needle can be daunting. Organizations looking for quick solutions will likely be disappointed and unable to sustain the effort. But nonprofits are used to going for the long game. Change doesn't happen in a funding cycle; it requires unwavering focus on the horizon despite the inevitable setbacks.

"All this work we're doing, this is generational work," said Ledgister. "I may not see results in my lifetime, but my daughter will hopefully see the purpose of this labor — when she goes into the marketplace and she's not looked at as somebody that is 'less than,' when she is looked at in the fullness of her character and has everything she needs to thrive."

Crawford agreed, recognizing that by drawing from the past, nonprofits and allies can better inform the future for the next generation. "It's important to learn the history of a particular era, because that moment speaks to the present moment," she told me. "Because ultimately, it's unfinished business that we're dealing with."

If we are going to finish that business by learning from and improving upon the work of past social justice leaders, nonprofits will have to be at the forefront leading the way. With their boots on the ground and connections to local communities, nonprofits are the heartbeat of the development pipeline for future leaders, the ones who know how to listen as allies, lean on their constituencies, and push new paths forward. We need these leaders now more than ever, and it's more important than ever to support them in every way possible.

Sima Parekh_PhilanTopicSima Parekh is executive director of 48in48.

Funding criminal justice reform in Latin America: Investing in affected communities

June 15, 2021

Casa de las Muñecas_PhilanTopicThere is always a glass-half-full aspect to grantmaking: While we are proud of what our grants have helped accomplish, we recognize that we can always do better. Looking back on the past decade of grantmaking by the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative in support of criminal justice reform, we can draw critical lessons from both our successes and our failures.

We would like to share some lessons learned from our work funding communities affected by over-policing, mass incarceration, and state violence in Latin America.

A bedrock principle for us is that affected communities are the most capable drivers of long-term, sustainable change, and funders need to prioritize providing them with direct support.

There are four fundamental reasons why donors funding criminal justice reform should support leaders of the movement who are directly impacted by the system:

1. Investing in collective organizing and leadership provides affected communities with resources to build their power. It enables them to shape a narrative on public safety that highlights the stories of the victims and exposes the root causes of violence and harm such as social, economic, and racial injustices — and the way the criminal justice system is designed to criminalize and discriminate against marginalized communities. Funding their leaders also empowers affected communities to develop solutions to problems that directly impact them, and funding is critical to effectively challenging structural inequality and injustice through a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach.

2. Investing in affected communities contributes to a more representative, diverse, and inclusive criminal justice movement that nurtures new and emerging leaders. In Brazil, for example, white — and often elite — legal and policy advocacy groups tend to dominate the criminal justice field — but this is changing. More Black activists and Black-led organizations such as the newly formed Black Coalition for Rights, are leading advocacy on criminal justice reform and placing racial justice squarely on the agenda of the broader movement, and more donors are funding racial justice work in the country. In Mexico, the trans-led NGO Casa de las Muñecas is introducing new perspectives in the criminal justice debate regarding discrimination against trans women, which other organizations in this space have not prioritized. Building the leadership of affected communities has a knock-on effect on mainstream organizations as well, motivating them to recruit staff and board members from these communities, diversifying their membership.

3. The strong connection between directly impacted people and their families, neighbors, and/or people with similar experiences gives those leaders and organizations legitimacy in the eyes of their communities and the public. They therefore have a greater capacity to mobilize and galvanize people around their demands. In the United States, as a result of the shift in the profile of its leadership to include more people from impacted communities, the criminal justice movement has pushed new and more radical ideas to the fore, such as "prison abolition" and "defunding the police," and is placing greater emphasis on initiatives dealing with violence prevention, community reinvestments, and reentry. In Latin America, a nascent network of formerly incarcerated women (including Red de Acciones por la Justicia in Mexico, Mujeres Libres in Colombia, and Amparar in Brazil), is developing an advocacy platform to promote transformative justice across the region, a topic that traditional criminal justice organizations, which have been more focused on technical legislative reforms, have not prioritized.

4. While directly impacted individuals are arguably the most capable and effective leaders of the criminal justice movement, they are also the most in need of and the least able to access resources. Groups and movements led by affected communities are typically under-funded and conduct most of their work on a volunteer basis. They lack the vital resources required for organizational and professional development (e.g., fundraising, advocacy) and end up giving their time and energy free of charge, despite precarious living conditions, such as insecure housing, lack of access to basic services (health care, education, etc.), and the stigma that comes with having spent time behind bars or the trauma of having lost a family member to state violence.

Donors have an important role to play in supporting affected communities' efforts to organize, strategize, and develop their own solutions to problems of which they have an intimate knowledge.

Here are four lessons we'd like to share from our experience in Latin America:

1. Funding affected communities requires grantmaking that is flexible, long-term, and premised on trust. Keep in mind that while grantees will choose the path that works best for them, it may take time to figure this out, and results may not be immediately tangible. There may be an advocacy win down the road, but the organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing necessary to make it happen could take years. Results need to be measured against movement-building milestones such as agenda setting, increased visibility of advocates and positions, stronger networks/development of new organizations, and law and policy reform).  

2. Affected communities should make their own decisions, but they need allies and assistance from well-established organizations that can offer respectful accompaniment and technical support. Allies (including donors) must perform a delicate balancing act: committing to nurturing the leadership of affected communities while knowing when to step back to let them make their own decisions.

3. We need to navigate movement dynamics carefully. Funding one set of affected leaders or organizations but not another may pit groups against each other. Donors need to understand alliances and rivalries and asses how best to support the movement as a whole. It is also important to recognize the tensions between movements. For instance, in Colombia, we cannot assume that solidarity is automatic between female coca growers in rural areas and women who use or sell drugs in urban settings, but they could rally around common goals such as the need for economic opportunities.

4. Some communities self-organize to defend their rights and interests but do not focus on criminal justice reform. For instance, while associations of sex workers, people who use drugs, or LGBTQI communities are victims of violence and criminalization, they tend not to operate in the criminal justice field. They could, however, be allies and help break silos between movements.

It's too early to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the impact of this strategic shift on policy and practice and people's lives. Yet, after a few years of funding affected communities in Latin America, we already see changes in the types of organizations and activists present in the criminal justice field across the region: They are more diverse, they have brought new voices and perspectives to the table, and they have given a sense of empowerment to disenfranchised communities. We hope the donor community embraces this approach and understands that systemic change requires a sustained and collaborative effort and a commitment to invest in building the infrastructure for movements that have historically lacked access to resources.

(Photo credit: Casa de las Muñecas)

Soheila Comninos_Nina_Madsen_PhilanTopic Soheila Comninos and Nina Madsen are program officers in the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative.

 

It's time to build a better behavioral health system

June 10, 2021

Mental_healthOur nation's collective mental health has been severely challenged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as we begin to envision our post-pandemic future, it's important to take a step back and recognize that our behavioral health system needed improvements even before COVID-19, and that it's time for philanthropy to consider taking new approaches to funding and advocating in this area.

For more than a year, the isolation caused by the social and physical distancing necessitated by the pandemic and the ongoing stress created by the disruptions to our daily routines have impacted all of us — and those conditions have led to a massive spike in mental health issues. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an astonishing 41.1 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder in a January 2021 survey, nearly four times the average seen between January and June of 2019.

The toll has been especially heavy for our most vulnerable neighbors. Isolation has had a tremendous negative impact on the elderly and the young, while the daily stress of living through the pandemic has been especially intense for people of color, families living below the poverty line, the precariously housed, individuals with pre-existing physical or behavioral health problems, and single parents.

Foundations nationwide have recognized these risks and rallied to provide emergency funding to help support many of the urgent mental health needs created by COVID-19. The New York Community Trust (NYCT) — the community foundation where I oversee grantmaking in the areas of health, behavioral health, and biomedical research — has funded efforts to provide mental health counseling to frontline workers and technology to enable mental healthcare providers to connect with patients virtually and ensure that hard-to-reach populations receive the services they need.

These rapid-response efforts were, and remain, critical as we attempt to address the mental health crisis created by COVID-19. But we must now recognize that our system, as currently designed, is not built to accommodate the great need that already existed before the pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, our systems for delivering mental health care were failing to help the majority of those in need of such support. In 2019, an estimated 51.5 million U.S. adults experienced a mental illness — roughly one in five people over the age of 18 — yet only 44.8 percent received mental health services.

This massive gap is largely the result of our healthcare system's lack of capacity to serve those who need help. Compounding the problem is the fact that even if there were enough trained providers to meet the need, many Americans do not have the means to afford it.

The human and economic cost of this failure is substantial. Each person with an untreated mental illness is a person who struggles to maintain steady employment and help support their family. Our criminal justice system is stretched beyond its limits, in large part because of the extraordinary number of incidents involving individuals who are experiencing behavioral health crises — the very challenges that also prevent millions of Americans from taking care of their physical health.

Imagine if we could rebuild our behavioral health system so it provided the ongoing care that's so clearly needed. Not only would we help those 51.5 million Americans with their mental health, we would create a better workforce, strengthen families, lessen the strain on our police departments and courts, incarcerate fewer people, reduce the number of people experiencing chronic physical health conditions, and increase lifespans. In other words, by putting a focus on mental health, we would be taking a critical step in addressing myriad social issues — and equipping our nation for a healthier and more prosperous future.

Yet for decades, despite our support for well-meaning interventions, both philanthropy and government have fallen short in addressing America's mental health crisis. Instead of improving mental healthcare systems, we've mostly invested in programs that address urgent needs and those in crisis — certainly an important aspect of care, but not the only one.

It's time to take a new approach. Philanthropy and government have an opportunity to join forces to make meaningful structural changes that will help millions of Americans who are not receiving the treatment they need to lead healthy, productive lives. And these changes are not as difficult, or as costly, as you might think.

For example, NYCT, along with Well Being Trust and the Sunflower Foundation, commissioned the Bipartisan Policy Center to study how to better integrate primary health care and behavioral health care. By taking steps to diagnose and treat behavioral and physical health in tandem, rather than separately, the center estimates that we can help improve outcomes for as many as a million Americans over the next ten years.

When I joined NYCT more than two decades ago, a mentor shared the adage “form follows finance.” A twist on the early twentieth-century architecture and industrial design principle of “form follows function,” it is perhaps more relevant than ever to the provision of behavioral health services.

The center's take on better coordination of care between behavioral and physical health is a clarion call for philanthropy to push for better coordination of delivery and financing systems. The federal government and several states have begun to advance models of care that prioritize outcomes over volume and pay for care that is delivered with this in mind.

This is a good start. But philanthropy must do more to ensure that its resources — modest as they are, compared with the country's healthcare spending, which by some estimates is almost 20 percent of our pre-pandemic GDP — ensure that financing aligns with a priority focus on coordinated care across all delivery systems, whether they be hospital- or clinic-based, or in community settings.

It behooves philanthropy to continue to pay attention to many of the root causes of mental and emotional distress that is so prevalent in communities across our country, often referred to as the social determinants of health — the conditions under which people live, work, and learn. Because historical inequities across the board — but especially within the context of race — have hampered such an approach, it is important that our funding address the complex challenges of inadequate insurance coverage, a stressed workforce, and the critical role of non-clinical providers in the delivery of services.

Finally, if America is to achieve a behavioral healthcare system that cares for those in crisis and enables them to manage chronic conditions, philanthropy has a critical role to play in advocating to ensure that financing actually supports such a system.

And for those of my colleagues who work at a community foundation or a grantmaking public charity that can legally engage in lobbying efforts, I entreat you to use that option. Let us imagine and work toward a healthcare system that covers the entire person — mind and body — and makes a healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable America possible.

Irfan_Hasan_NY_community_trust_PhilanTopicIrfan Hasan is deputy vice president for grants at the New York Community Trust, where he oversees health, behavioral health, and biomedical research grants.

What the donor-advised fund payout rate means for philanthropy and how it fits into the bigger charitable giving picture

June 08, 2021

Those of us who work with donor-advised fund (DAF) donors every day know that they are caring, committed, and creative givers. We also know they use DAFs for both their long- and short-term giving. This has never been more apparent than in the past year, when grantmaking from DAFs skyrocketed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While generosity is not a calculation, the DAF payout rate is an important philanthropic benchmark.

What is the DAF payout rate?

The DAF payout rate is a calculation of grantmaking dollars awarded from DAFs to charities relative to the total charitable assets in those DAFs. More simply: it's how much DAF donors granted compared with what they could have granted.

How should we calculate payout rate?

Candid uses a formula to estimate payout from private foundations that National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) replicates in our annual Donor-Advised Fund Report. The Candid formula is:

This year's grant $$ ÷ Previous year's charitable assets = payout rate

For 2019, the latest year for which aggregated data is available, the formula is:

FY19 grants ÷ FY18 charitable assets

or $27.37B ÷ $122.18B = 22.4% payout

NPT uses the Candid formula for several reasons. First, like DAFs, private foundations are widely used giving vehicles for both short- and long-term philanthropy, so using the formula creates a useful point of comparison between the two types of vehicles.

Second, the formula is not just an industry standard, it's practical. The Candid formula reflects common budgeting techniques — that is, plan for the current year based on the prior year's income and expenses and factor in the remaining balance (if any).

Third, other payout-rate formulas ignore certain practical and particular aspects of giving to and from DAFs, such as the time between the date of contribution and the availability of the funds for grantmaking. More on this below.

A look at other ways to calculate payout rate

Since there is no mandatory payout requirement for DAFs, there are several reasonable ways to calculate it.

Thumbnail_DAF Payout Blog_Chart_2

The "Three-Year Average" and "Five-Year Average" methods use the average of the charitable assets held by DAFs over two different periods. These formulas are also allowed by the IRS as a way for private foundations to calculate their payout. Using multiyear averages can smooth out any "lumpiness" in either major contributions or grants. However, for fast-growing giving vehicles such as DAFs, it also generally underestimates charitable assets available, as the year with the highest total — typically, the most recent year for which aggregate data is available — is averaged with lower values from earlier years.

The "One-Year" method, a formula that NPT used to calculate DAF payout in our annual Donor-Advised Fund Report prior to 2014, uses grants and charitable assets (plus grants) in the same year to calculate payout. This formula assumes that every dollar contributed to a DAF can be immediately granted out, which can have the effect of overestimating the value of assets that are truly available for grantmaking.

For example, a donor who contributes to her DAF in the last days of December (and receives her tax deduction at that time) will recommend grants from those DAF charitable assets the following year and beyond.

How do we put the DAF payout rate into context?

The Candid method offers the best point of comparison. As a vehicle for giving, private foundations are similar to DAFs, and this method most accurately represents payout by using numbers that reflect the amount granted relative to what is definitively available for grantmaking.

It's also worth noting that private foundation payouts can include eligible operating and administrative expenses, such as staff salaries, overhead, and administrative expenses. By contrast, DAF payout takes into account charitable grantmaking only and does not include any of the DAF sponsors' operating or administrative expenses.

Using the Candid method, DAF payout is typically at least four times higher than that of private foundations. While foundations typically grant out the legally required minimum of 5 percent of their assets annually, the DAF payout rate has been above 20 percent for each of the last ten years.

All of the proposed formulae show that the DAF payout rate is historically and consistently higher than that of private foundations. And as such, it helps us understand that DAF donors are committed to the charities they support over both the short and long term.

DAFs provide substantial and sustained support

A consistent DAF payout rate is good news for charities. DAF donors have proven that they are a sustainable source of charitable support. They give dependably across economic cycles (yes, DAF donors gave at a 20+ percent payout rate through the Great Recession); through political seasons (no, there's no need to worry that campaign giving reduces charitable giving by DAF donors); and in the face of great challenges (natural disasters, global pandemics, mass social movements, etc.). The data is clear: DAF donors are committed to the long-term viability of nonprofits.

The DAF payout rate is an important metric, and it's not the only way to measure philanthropic activity from DAF donors. Grantmaking from DAFs has nearly doubled over the last five years — a clear signal that DAF donors are active givers. In fact, growth in grantmaking from DAFs (93 percent) has outpaced growth in contributions (80 percent) to them over that period.

DAF donors' response to the COVID-19 global pandemic — which saw grantmaking from DAFs soar 33 percent on a year-over-year basis — is yet another indication of their philanthropic commitment. So is the fact that they have irrevocably donated money to DAFs that can only be used for philanthropic purposes.

While there is no magic formula that can make people give, DAF donors have consistently chosen to do so quickly and generously.

Andrew Hastings_NPT_PhilanTopicAndrew Hastings, chief development officer at the National Philanthropic Trust, the largest national nonprofit manager of donor-advised funds, has twenty-five years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit marketplace. To read NPT's annual Donor-Advised Fund Report or COVID Survey, visit NPTrust.org.

Venture philanthropy: The secret weapon for unlocking biomedical research's full life-changing potential

June 04, 2021

Eye_retina_gettyimages_batkeMore than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much reflection around "lessons learned" across all sectors. In the biomedical research space, we've seen science meet the urgent need for safe and effective vaccines at miraculous speed to contain the spread of the virus. The mRNA technology used in some of those vaccines has broad implications for future treatments for a variety of other viruses, cancers, and diseases and is a clear indication of how far science has evolved in a short period of time. Imagine what treatments and cures could be unlocked — with the necessary funding.

In the United States, public funding for basic research has long come from the National Institutes of Health, but the U.S. government lags other advanced economies in the amount of funding it provides for the translational research required to convert basic science into tangible patient treatments. And while more public funding for biomedical research at the critical clinical trial stage is essential, it is going to take public, private, and philanthropic dollars to ensure that biomedical research into promising treatments and cures doesn't wither on the vine. Federal programs such as the Cancer Moonshot, state-level initiatives like the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and promising legislation aimed at providing private-sector loans to companies developing novel treatments for disease and disability are all helpful — but still leave a funding gap. There needs to be a third leg to stabilize those public- and private-sector efforts, and we believe that third leg is philanthropy.

As successful entrepreneurs and venture investors, we see our donations as investments in the mission of the nonprofit organizations we support. We each have a personal connection to the mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness: one of us has experienced loss of sight from retinitis pigmentosa as a young adult, and the other has raised two sons with vision impairment caused by Stargardt disease. Based on our personal experiences, we have a keen understanding of what it is like to be a patient or have a loved one waiting for life-changing treatments to become available.

For fifty years, thanks to the generosity of donors, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has successfully funded research in pursuit of treatments and cures for the entire spectrum of inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which together affect more than two hundred million people globally. Yet, more needs to be done. The key discoveries made in labs need to make it into the hands of industry-led therapy developers to conduct clinical testing and win FDA approval. But a gap in funding often prevents this progress, and in this case, the science is now outpacing the funding.

To bridge this funding gap, the Foundation Fighting Blindness created the Retinal Degeneration Fund (RD Fund), a nonprofit, pure-play venture philanthropy investment vehicle designed to help accelerate the technical aspects of the organization's mission and advance its financial goals. Our respective family foundations contributed significant capital to launch the fund, which allowed us to be more involved in the organization's work by funding highly visible activities in biotech startups and spinouts. We've taken concepts and techniques from our venture capital finance and business management experience and applied them to our philanthropic goals of accelerating the progress on treatments and cures, while positioning the organization for long-term sustainability.

Launched in late 2018 with $72 million under management, the first fund is now 90 percent committed, with nine investments plus reserves. This invested capital has attracted an additional $400 million in capital to date from institutional co-investors and has produced its first exit with the sale of Vedere Bio to Novartis for $280 million, enabling the organization to plug a financial gap in its long-range science spending plan and roll over significant funds to seed Fund 2. 

We take comfort in knowing that the venture philanthropy model already has been successfully scaled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, just to name a few. One key element is to manage it professionally and deliberately; one cannot just wander into biotech equity investing without experience, deep scientific know-how, and world-class advice and oversight. The RD Fund has an independent board of directors with expertise spanning retinal biology, clinical ophthalmology, finance, and entrepreneurship, and the board works closely with an executive management team with significant operational, strategic, and leadership experience. Importantly, the fund is able to rely on an international scientific advisory board and leverage the organization's patient registry and clinical consortium. In other words, the brain trust of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and its venture arm have the collective scientific and business acumen to best determine what is or is not an investible mission-related opportunity.

We are encouraged by venture philanthropy's ability to reap a return to be re-invested in furthering an organization's mission, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Most important, our experience has demonstrated that jump-starting the pipeline for treatments and cures through venture philanthropy holds real promise as a viable, scalable approach for addressing other underserved diseases impacting so many.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Batke)

Gordon Gund_Paul_Manning_PhilanTopicGordon Gund is chair and CEO of Gund Investment Corporation; after losing his sight from retinitis pigmentosa in 1970, he co-founded the Foundation Fighting Blindness with his wife, Lulie, and others. Paul Manning is founder, chair, and CEO of PBM Capital; both of his sons were diagnosed with Stargardt disease.

What COVID-19 has taught us about the humanitarian system and women's rights organizations

June 02, 2021

CFTA_feminist_humanitarian_networkWhen the COVID-19 pandemic struck — and with it came public health measures including stay-at-home orders — women's rights organizations (WROs) the world over were quick to sound the alarm: Gender-based violence (GBV) would increase. Women and "marginalized" groups would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and the inequality they already face would deepen. The gendered impacts of crises are well documented, and COVID-19 would be no different.

WROs acted swiftly to address those issues, working to strengthen community-based mechanisms to ensure that women could report GBV and expect a response. Organizations adapted their systems and approaches to ensure that women could continue to access critical services during lockdowns, including psycho-social support, maternal and newborn child health care, and sexual and reproductive health services. WROs also advocated for recognition of the impacts of the crisis on women's rights and called for funding to be targeted to mitigating those impacts.

While responding to the pandemic and its fallout, WRO members of the Feminist Humanitarian Network (FHN), a collective of women leaders working together to transform the humanitarian system into one that is guided by feminist principles, saw an opportunity: Here was a moment to document the essential role WROs play in humanitarian action, to capture the work that they do, any time an emergency occurs, to ensure that women and "marginalized" groups aren't left out of relief efforts.

FHN member organizations — of which 70 percent are WROs working in the Global South and 30 percent are international non-government organizations (INGOs) and organizations based in the Global North — are working to achieve a global humanitarian system that is responsive, accountable, and accessible to women and the diverse organizations that serve them, and that challenges rather than perpetuates structural inequalities. A pervasive lack of recognition of WROs as humanitarian actors and leaders is just one of a number of critical issues that FHN is working to change.

The current humanitarian system and the actors it is comprised of (governments, United Nations agencies, INGOs, and national actors) systematically exclude women and their organizations from all phases of humanitarian action, from funding to decision making. WROs are rarely invited to contribute to national planning processes for humanitarian response or to sit on emergency committees. When a funding call is made, WROs rarely receive the information, and when they do, rarely succeed in their grant applications.

Needless to say, the impacts of this exclusion are enormous. Women's needs — and indeed, the needs of "marginalized" groups, such as people with disabilities, refugees, and the LGBTIQA community — go unaddressed as a result. WROs and women-led organizations, which often represent diverse groups of women and their communities, are uniquely positioned to highlight the needs of those they work with and ensure that they are addressed. When the leadership role of those organizations is undermined, basic requirements like including sanitary supplies in relief distributions and ensuring that distribution sites are accessible to people with disabilities are overlooked.

In addition to presenting an opportunity to showcase the role that WROs working at grassroots, local, and national levels play on the frontlines of humanitarian action, COVID-19 offered a snapshot of the global humanitarian system — how the current system works and the challenges it presents for WROs in the Global South — the patriarchal and colonial practices embedded in the system that are at the root of the lack of recognition, lack of access to resources, and exclusion that WROs experience.

And so FHN members in Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, and South Africa – conducted research to document their own humanitarian leadership, and that of their peers in the response to the pandemic. Their findings have been published in a series of national reports and a global report entitled Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens. The reports highlight multiple critical barriers presented by the humanitarian system that undermine the leadership of WROs, and describe not only their ability to respond to crises but their long-term sustainability as essential women's rights actors working to protect and advance women's rights.

In six of the eight studies, WROs were unable to access donor funding, in large part as a result of excessive due diligence requirements that these organizations, working around the clock to respond to the emergency with limited resources, were (particularly in times of crisis) unable to fill. Instead, WROs undertaking critical work — ensuring that women with disabilities were able to meet basic needs throughout the crisis, for example — funded their efforts with their leaders' personal resources or funds contributed by the community. At the same time, women and their organizations were excluded from decision-making processes — left out of planning undertaken by international and national actors and from emergency response committees at all levels.

And yet those organizations persevered, working collectively in the "spirit of sisterhood" to challenge injustice, demand that their voices be heard, and work to influence the response efforts — and ensure that women's needs were addressed in each context. WROs continue to take action so that women are not left behind in the COVID-19 response and women's rights are advanced through humanitarian action.

For many of us working in the humanitarian sector, the pandemic has re-emphasized much of what we already knew: Emergencies exacerbate gender injustice, in part because the humanitarian system reinforces existing patriarchal social structures by excluding women from funding and decision making. Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens has captured the creativity, resourcefulness, and deep feminist approaches of WROs in the Global South and has presented a powerful argument for why that system must change.

To be part of that change and to create a system that is inclusive of all and creates sustainable, transformative change, humanitarian actors across the system must immediately increase support for organizations advancing women's rights, in the form of direct, long-term, flexible funding. They must recognize their expertise and follow their leadership. A feminist humanitarian system is not only possible; it is critically needed and requires every humanitarian actor — including, importantly, donors — to take action.

Holly_Miller_Naomi_Tulay_Solanke_PhilanTopicHolly Miller is lead at the Feminist Humanitarian Network, a global collective of women leaders working together to achieve a humanitarian system that is guided by feminist principles. Naomi Tulay-Solanke is executive director of Community Healthcare Initiative and a member of the Feminist Humanitarian Network Steering Committee.

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