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6 posts from January 2022

We have good tools to address the pandemic in youth mental health. Let’s use them.

January 25, 2022

Adult_and_child_hands_mental_health_GettyImages_fizkesWe are just beginning to appreciate the long-term impact of the past two years on mental health—and especially for children and adolescents. But we already know that lockdowns, isolation, and uncertainty have contributed to increases in anxiety and depressive symptoms and that parents have been pushed to the breaking point as the crisis disrupts their fragile support networks.

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic caused mental health symptoms—it has revealed the lack of basic support for the emotional health of our children, who as a group are underserved by current systems. In a recent report on the state of youth mental health, noting the disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, the Office of the Surgeon General encourages responding with a “whole of society” approach.

We, who are working at the forefront of philanthropy and child mental health, urge our peers across sectors to embrace this call to action and come together in a “whole world” approach. We need to be able to give our mental health the same attention we give our physical health, recognize that this is a universal problem, and finally remove the stigma that hinders healing. The single most important takeaway from the COVID mental health crisis is the need to build capacity to support children’s emotional health.

This isn’t an easy task. In the United States, deficits in training and workforce development in children’s mental health at all levels—at school, in the pediatrician’s office, and in mental health care settings—has been a persistent barrier to access and utilization. Seventy percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single child and adolescent psychiatrist. (The same is true for most rural areas in Greece, where we are collaborating on a mental health initiative.)

And that was before the pandemic. In the same way that COVID revealed weaknesses in our pandemic preparedness, it also revealed weaknesses in our mental health care system, which has historically ignored children almost completely and is still woefully underdeveloped. The risks of untreated mental health problems are significant and long-lasting—including higher rates of continued mental health disorders, school dropout, family dysfunction, social isolation, and suicide. Yet two-thirds of individuals with mental health disorders never get the treatment they need.

The mental health crisis shares another similarity with the coronavirus pandemic: It is global and has a disproportionate impact on marginalized and underresourced communities. According to the Child Mind Institute’s 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report, Black and Hispanic/Latinx teens are more likely than white teens to express concerns about pandemic-related mental health challenges. In Greece, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s (SNF) Health Initiative has seen that households in remote areas, refugee and migrant populations, and Roma are less likely to have access to adequate mental health care. There is a critical, global need to invest in access to evidence-based mental health care for all children and adolescents—particularly those most at risk.

When we listen to the needs of the people on the ground who are awake to the barriers and inequalities present, we hear calls for capacity building. The Child Mental Health Initiative (CMHI), a new joint initiative between the Child Mind Institute and SNF that is part of the latter’s Health Initiative in Greece, hopes to do just this: to expand capacity for mental health support for children and youth in Greece.

The CMHI aspires to reinforce and extend the critical work done by mental health and child protection providers across the country. Through a collaborative, interdisciplinary model between the institute and regional teams of Greek professionals specializing in child mental health and psychosocial care, the program aims to increase care access, capacity, and resources while developing a country-wide network and improving mental health literacy and awareness. By collaborating and bringing together international and local expertise, our initiative is using field-leading research to build robust and accessible mental health support for young people across Greece.

We see this capacity-building effort in Greece as a blueprint that can be applied across Europe and potentially around the world.

This work is not optional. Organizations like ours must recognize that addressing challenges facing children and young people is both an immediate priority and a long-term commitment. Governments and NGOs can play their part by sharing best practices and openly communicating with the local professionals and communities who utilize this care.

Whether it’s COVID or mental health, public health crises require sustained international collaboration to determine the best ways to direct resources and build capacity for preventing further harm. We need to demonstrate a common will to come together across borders and agree that access to mental health care is an area we cannot be divided on. As Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy writes: “It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place.”

Andreas_Dracopoulos_Harold_Koplewicz_philantopicAndreas Dracopoulos is co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), and Harold S. Koplewicz is founding president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute. A version of this post originally appeared on the Child Mind Institute’s blog.

(Top photo credit: Getty Images/fizkes)

(Harold S. Koplewicz photo credit: Brian Marcus/Fred Marcus Studio)

How funders can assess nonprofit effectiveness for investment

January 19, 2022

Minority_women_owned_business_GettyImages As with any investment, the decision to support a nonprofit should be grounded in empirical evidence. An organization is worthy of investment if it’s having a concrete, positive impact in the community and it’s run well enough to maintain operations sustainably. Exceptions include startups that have exciting potential but may not be far enough along in their lifecycles to show trackable, long-term impact or demonstrate sustainability. Organizations launched by, from, and in the communities being served are often the most deserving of investment interest and consideration.

There are many ways to determine the effectiveness of nonprofits (in terms of their impact and internal capacities), from reviewing their tax documents to observing their work directly. Funders should be well acquainted with a nonprofit’s leadership team, its strategic plan and the KPIs it uses to track progress toward its goals, and its culture. Lived experience among staff and board leadership is also an important ingredient in the mix. Instead of viewing support for effective nonprofits as mere charity, funders should view it as an investment in the communities and mission areas they care about. When they focus on culture, capacities, and impact, they’ll ensure that their investments are being put to good use.

Learn all you can about the organization’s culture

While donors can learn a lot from tax documents (such as the Form 990, public documents that the IRS and nonprofits are required to share with anyone who asks), impact reports, and the media, there’s no substitute for in-person engagement with an organization. Funders should get to know the teams they’re investing in, which means they need access to meetings in person or via Zoom, site visits, and other interactions that can illuminate how nonprofit employees communicate and collaborate with one another, address disputes, execute their mission, interact with stakeholders, and so on.

According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor, more than three-quarters of workers say they consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there. The nonprofit workforce is no different—an unhealthy organizational culture can have a significant impact on morale, productivity, turnover, and other issues. Donors should also be on the lookout for management and leadership skills, relevant expertise (including business experience), and diversity at the staff and board level. When nonprofit leaders have lived experiences that help them understand the challenges communities face, they won’t just have a perspective that many others lack—their communities will also feel authentically represented.

Although it’s essential for nonprofit leaders to prioritize results and push employees to do their best work every day, they should also show genuine concern for their colleagues, welcome contributions from diverse voices, and establish norms of open communication to make sure their teams feel heard and appreciated.

Focus on nonprofits’ capacities

Before investing in a nonprofit, funders need to have a thorough understanding of the organization’s capacities—an assessment which should encompass everything from financial management to personnel to the execution of programs. There’s a reason more and more funders are providing capacity-building support to their nonprofit partners: When organizations are capable of deploying resources more efficiently, tracking performance, managing personnel, and maintaining a healthy culture, they’ll be more effective and less susceptible to risk.

Funders should be especially interested in security and stability on nonprofit leadership teams, diversity, and expertise among the staff, the relationship between staff and leadership, how sustainably the organization has been able to scale, the organization’s financial health, and how long it has been in operation. Considering many of the problems endemic to the sector, from a lack of revenue to insufficient cash reserves, it’s no wonder that funders increasingly are creating or funding programs that hire third-party experts to provide grantees with training in capacity building. Many funders also offer assistance to help nonprofits improve their internal capacities before they become eligible for funding, or after funding as part of their ongoing partnership.

When funders are well acquainted with the nonprofits they want to support—from the people running the programs to the infrastructure of support for their staff to the execution of programs—they can confirm that they’re investing in strong and sustainable organizations that will be capable of scaling impact for many years to come.

Outcomes over outputs

Capacity building, culture, and the other elements funders examine when deciding which organizations to fund ultimately converge on one overarching priority: impact. In assessing impact, funders have to go beyond superficial indicators of success and determine whether organizations are making a measurable difference in the communities they serve. Given that a majority of nonprofits say they have no consistent framework for measuring and reporting impact, this is clearly a major issue in the sector that funders can’t afford to ignore.

First, funders have to understand the mission and goals of a nonprofit, which will help them determine if they’re aligned with that mission, whether those goals are being achieved, and, when applicable, the nonprofit's theory of change and how it's executing that strategy. Next, funders should prioritize outcomes over outputs. The number of textbooks a nonprofit delivers to a school and the number of hours volunteers spend mentoring or teaching students are outputs, while potential outcomes would be the percentage of students who got on the honor roll, graduated, went to college, helped others in their communities, etc. Nonprofits should be able to provide information about the outcomes they’ve achieved, as well as tell a compelling story about the cohesion between these outcomes and their overall mission.

When funders invest in a nonprofit, they have one central goal: to help an effective organization scale its impact. By analyzing the culture, capacities, and outcomes of potential partners, they will simultaneously hold nonprofits accountable and direct their investments toward organizations that are doing the most good in their communities.

Philantopic_headshot_Marta Ferro_Starfish_ImpactMarta Ferro is founder of Starfish Impact and a managing director at Angeles Wealth Management.

(Photo credit: Starfish Impact)

Funding nonprofits’ cybersecurity, protecting donors’ investment: A commentary by Michael Tanji

January 18, 2022

AI_digital_data_GettyImages_Tanawat ThipmonthaProtecting donor impact by funding cybersecurity

Consider this scenario: A nonprofit organization known for its ability to deliver lifesaving resources mobilizes in response to a natural disaster, but supplies do not arrive as scheduled. Attempts to remedy the situation are thwarted because the organization’s IT systems are inaccessible due to a ransomware attack. What should have been a straightforward solution is suddenly a quagmire that wastes money, costs lives, and tarnishes the organization’s reputation.

Cybersecurity is rarely a priority for those who make generous contributions to charities. Yet cybersecurity is not a nice-to-have feature but an essential risk-reduction effort that protects the donors’ investment in the organization they support, improves its resilience against malicious activity, protects its employees and those they serve, and helps ensure its viability in the face of growing threats.

The scourge of ransomware illustrates the importance of ensuring that nonprofits have adequate cybersecurity resources. For example, ransomware attacks against hospitals are commonplace, putting patients at risk, sometimes gravely so. Other nonprofit organizations are not immune from such attacks, and neither are companies that support nonprofits....

Read the full commentary by Michael Tanji, chief operating officer at the Global Cyber Alliance.

(Image credit: Getty Images/Tanawat Thipmontha)

Going beyond community engagement, building community power: A commentary by Aditi Vaidya

January 14, 2022

Hands_collaboration_trust_GettyImages_Prostock-StudioWhy does the country’s largest foundation dedicated to health and health equity care about community power? I get that question a lot when discussing our support of Lead Local, a collaboration funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to advance our understanding of the role community power plays in catalyzing, creating, and sustaining conditions for healthy, equitable communities.

In its nearly fifty-year history, RWJF has long valued and invested in efforts focused on community engagement to improve health. Through our own analysis and evaluation, we’ve come to recognize that community engagement is critical but in and of itself not enough to create systemic and enduring change. We’ve learned that community power can be designed to specifically target the root and structural causes of health inequities — racism, sexism, and classism within the structures and systems that govern our lives. We know what the social determinants of health are, and now we also know that community power-building strategies developed and led by those communities most impacted by structural inequities are critical to addressing all determinants.

RWJF funded Lead Local nearly three years ago to learn what the sector could teach funders like us that are committed to dismantling structural barriers to health such as powerlessness, housing segregation, and lack of access to quality jobs, food, or medical care....

Read the full commentary by Aditi Vaidya, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Prostock-Studio)

The connection between charitable tax benefits and benefits to charities has been broken: A commentary by Thomas Vozzo

January 10, 2022

Money_hundred_dollar_bills_GettyImagesStalling charitable dollars hurts marginalized Angelenos

...As a former corporate executive and current CEO of Homeboy Industries, I have witnessed the impact of investing in the most marginalized members of our communities and helping them reenter society with the wraparound support they need. Unlocking charitable dollars means more comprehensive mental health services, workforce development programs, housing initiatives, and access to education, among other services critical to meeting those needs and truly making a difference in the lives of thousands of Angelenos. For nonprofits likes ours and many others, it is critical to ensure that charitable funds actually reach nonprofits in a timely manner.

The fact is, however, that tax rules once designed to get resources to charities now facilitate warehousing resources in charitable intermediaries instead. What used to be a simple connection between charitable tax benefits and benefits to charities has been broken.

Through donor-advised funds (DAFs), donors are now afforded upfront charitable tax benefits — with no assurances that the donation will ever reach working charities. Private foundations, which are required to pay out 5 percent of their assets annually for “charitable” expenditures, can now circumvent the intent of this rule by paying the salaries of family members or putting their funds in a DAF. Rather than distributing these resources to charities, private foundations hold $1.1 trillion while $160 billion sit in DAFs, a report from the National Philanthropic Trust finds. According to the California Association of Nonprofits, the state loses more than $340 million each year as a result of deductions related to DAF donations alone. This matters because warehousing these donations means less money and fewer resources for charities on the front lines of tackling society’s compounding issues such as homelessness, climate change, and massive inequality....

Read the full commentary by Thomas Vozzo, CEO of Homeboy Industries.

Funding international dialogue, peace, and security: A commentary by Frank Giustra

January 05, 2022

Yemen_war_Belal Al-shaqaqi_iStock _Getty Images PlusThe cost of peace

War is expensive. Bloody and expensive. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, conflict violence cost the world $519 billion in economic activity in 2019 alone. Add to that the human cost — some seventy-six thousand lives lost that same year and millions more fleeing their homes, bringing the total number of displaced persons globally to nearly eighty million — and you begin to get the picture of the true cost of war. The United States has spent and obligated $8 trillion (including veterans care, nation building, interest payments, etc.) on the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere through 2021. These are monies that could have gone to education, infrastructure, health care, and job creation. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military expenditure rose to a staggering $2 trillion last year, with the U.S .leading the way by a wide margin. All of which leads one to wonder why more is not being done to remedy this tragic situation. Where are the peace-mongers?

Well, they do exist. The good news is that there are numerous organizations dedicated to the advancement of dialogue, peace, and security. The much less good news is that these organizations collectively receive barely 1 percent of all philanthropic funding, according to a report from the Peace and Security Funders Group and Candid — and a lot less, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Global philanthropic support for efforts to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts totaled $376 million in 2018. Yes, millions, compared with the trillions in military expenditures. There has always been something perverse about the imbalance of resources dedicated to war versus those that are dedicated to peace. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in, and undoubtedly, the propensity for conflict will always be with us in one form or another.

Aside from the horrific human cost and the gargantuan economic costs, there is another important reason why more philanthropic funding should be directed to peace and security: Without peace and security, you can forget about advancing any of the other social issues that philanthropy is trying to address....

Read the full commentary by Frank Giustra, co-chair of the International Crisis Group and founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, Giustra Foundation, Acceso, and Million Gardens Movement.

(Photo credit: iStock/GettyImages Plus/Belal Al-shaqaqi

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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