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21 posts from May 2022

An interview with Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Executive Director, AAPI Equity Alliance

May 31, 2022

Headshot_Manjusha Kulkarni_AAPI_Equity_Alliance_by Myleen HolleroManjusha P. Kulkarni has served since 2017 as executive director of the Los Angeles-based AAPI Equity Alliance (formerly the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, A3PCON), a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations working to improve the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County. In March 2020, Kulkarni, together with Chinese for Affirmative Action co-executive director Cynthia Choi and San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department professor Russell Jeung, co-founded Stop AAPI Hate, which aggregates COVID-19-related hate incidents against AAPIs. Stop AAPI Hate was awarded the 2021 Webby Social Movement of the Year, and the co-founders were included among TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential Individuals of 2021.

Prior to joining the AAPI Equity Alliance, Kulkarni led the South Asian Network, which provides culturally and linguistically specific services to and advocates on behalf of South Asians in the areas of healthcare access, gender-based violence, and civil rights and civic engagement. She previously worked as an attorney at the National Health Law Program, which advocates, educates, and litigates at the federal and state levels to advance health and civil rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families.

PND asked Kulkarni about her organization’s priorities, the launch of Stop AAPI Hate to track hate incidents, the challenges the AAPI community has faced not only since the pandemic began but long term, her outlook on narrative change, and the role philanthropy can play in addressing racism and advancing racial equity for all communities of color.

Philanthropy News Digest: The AAPI Equity Alliance’s mission is focused on civic engagement, capacity building, and policy advocacy. Have your priorities shifted over the last two years?

Manjusha P. Kulkarni: I do think that there’s been a bit of a shift in terms of civic engagement. We’ve been focused for many years, if not decades, on ensuring a robust AAPI vote and representation. You can’t solve what you don’t measure, so with the census, we wanted to ensure a robust count—to know where our communities are, who they are—and with that data, to help ensure that they have a voice in our political system. And that is important now more than ever, given the rise in anti-Asian hate, as well as COVID-19 related impacts around poverty, health, and lack of access to health care. So this continues to be a very significant priority for us, and we’re working with our member organizations to see how we can ensure that representation. We’ve found too often that political parties don’t spend much time or effort in seeking AAPI voters, but now, it’s clear across the country—New Jersey and Virginia in 2017, Georgia in 2020, all sorts of races in California—that AAPIs can make up that margin of victory and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Policy advocacy and capacity building, too, have always been important. In fact, that’s been our role since we were founded in 1975 as the Asian Pacific Planning Council, a group of executive directors who met to discuss their communities’ challenges. At that time there was a burgeoning Asian-American movement coming out of the civil rights movement and the Chicano movement, and the executive directors were seeing trends and patterns in terms of the challenges their clients and community members faced. So A3PCON was there as a policy advocacy organization to advocate for systemic change and as a capacity-building coalition to help strengthen the capacity of member organizations to do the work they needed to do. And during the pandemic, we’ve seen how important our member organizations are in ensuring vaccine distribution, the disbursement of COVID-19-related funds, and state and local moratoria on rent....

Read the full interview with Manjusha P. Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance.

(Photo credit: Myleen Hollero)

A supportive and complementary approach to fiscal sponsorship: A commentary by E. Bomani Johnson

May 30, 2022

Minority_women_owned_business_GettyImages In 2017, the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, in partnership with Race Forward and the Foundation Center, published an infographic showing that, despite population increases, annual foundation funding focused on people of color never exceeded 8.5 percent of total grantmaking between 2005 and 2014. In 2014, foundation grantmaking for people of color only accounted for 7.4 percent. During the same 10-year period, grantmaking targeted to African Americans as a percentage of giving to people of color declined from a high point of 21.8 percent in 2005 to 17.5 percent in 2014. Despite the long track record of Black-led organizations spearheading some of the most transformational culture shifts in our nation’s history, the data show that they are egregiously underfunded.

Among the many things the data reveal about the relationship between Black-led organizations and philanthropy, one thing in particular is very clear: Black-led organizations are not trusted to devise and direct their own healing.

Institutional philanthropy has long relied on the use of fiscal sponsors in awarding grants to smaller organizations regardless of their IRS status, or to groups that do not hold an IRS designation that would allow them to receive tax- or penalty-free grant funding. At Nafasi Fund, our major role as a fiscal sponsor is to provide smaller nonprofits or entities without an IRS-sanctioned designation with the financial management, legal, and administrative backing to make them “less risky” investments for individual donors, public funding sources, and private philanthropy. Given the historical and contemporary manifestations of white supremacy in the field of philanthropy and the numerous efforts to advance racial equity and racial justice to eliminate harmful policies and practices within the field, we need to take a new, supportive, and complementary approach to fiscal sponsorship. So we asked ourselves: What if our fiscal sponsorship approach was intentionally culturally restorative, instead of unintentionally harmful and extractive?...

Read the full commentary by E. Bomani Johnson, executive director of Nafasi Fund.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Investing in BIPOC-led firms and nonprofits with more than a check: A commentary by James Wahls

May 28, 2022

Black_woman_entrepreneur_rawpixel_McKinseyWith Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led businesses and nonprofits attracting increased public attention and large capital investments in recent years, do we still need additional initiatives? The short answer is yes. Society places the burden of success on entrepreneurs of color while often ignoring the systems that continue to cause them to fail disproportionately. We should be talking more about ways to reduce start-up risks and help businesses become sustainable over the long term.

I come to this work with 15 years impact investing, legal, and entrepreneurial experience. Having previously worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, I have managed or co-managed more than $240 million in impact investing allocations in grants, equity, debt, and direct investments. This includes leading or co-leading investments to fund entrepreneurs of color across the United States, along with investments in affordable housing, financial inclusion, job creation, and community development. I have always been passionate about catalyzing investments to people of color-led businesses and nonprofits. It is critical that we not just write the check but position entrepreneurs to continue securing investments and, we should hope, larger ones than what we have provided.

It is no secret that many BIPOC-led firms do not always have the support they need to start or grow their businesses. What most people do not appreciate, however, is the critical role of infrastructure development in enabling a business to grow. It is not just money that would-be entrepreneurs lack. Many need trusted partners who can support them in expanding their networks, conducting market research, solidifying business plans, applying for the requisite licenses and business insurance policies, researching funding streams, setting up payroll systems, etc. As many have shared with me, if you’ve never launched a business or nonprofit before, and no one in your family has done so, you may not know the ins and outs of getting it off the ground....

Read the full commentary by James C.D. Wahls, founder and managing director of Revolve Fund, senior vice president at Mission Investors Exchange.

(Photo credit: McKinsey via rawpixel)

When are we going to show up for working moms?

May 27, 2022

Mother_son_piggybank_GettyImagesWomen are the center of our economy, care systems, and essential work—yet they aren’t at the center of our policies, programs, and pandemic recovery plans. Over the last two years, millions of women have been driven out of the workforce as COVID-19 lockdowns, homeschooling, and domestic duties including caregiving for children and older adult parents took over. The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic has undone more than 30 years of progress toward gender parity. There are policy changes and programs that could be implemented to mitigate this impact, yet there isn’t the political will or private-sector leadership commitment to get us there. The nonprofit and care sectors both acknowledge that women and moms are at the center of our work—so we must ask: Why is this so hard to get done?

In her Marshall Plan for Moms and her latest book, Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work, Reshma Saujani has outlined clear recommendations for  investing in women as we move toward recovery. They include providing caregivers with a monthly cash payment, aka guaranteed income, for their often-uncompensated work and advancing policies that support affordable and accessible quality child care, parental leave, and pay equity. Women make up almost 80 percent of the care sector workforce. Saujani’s recommendations would help the women who work in this vital sector by ensuring that they receive quality wages; predictable, flexible schedules; and stable, quality care for their children so they can be fully engaged in professionally caring for others.

Philanthropy can help fund these programs, and many are already doing so. Providing unrestricted operating supports to nonprofits is especially important, as this type of funding allows for investment in the staff who are providing services in the care sector. Foundations can also spread the word about the impact that direct cash has on individuals, especially women, when speaking with lawmakers and other funders. Advocating for policies to enhance cash assistance such as the advanced child tax credit and to provide universal child care is another area where foundations can help.

Even before the pandemic, Americans struggled to cover basic expenses, secure quality child care, access paid leave, and maintain stable housing. During the pandemic, government responses including COVID-19 supplemental sick leave, child tax credits that put extra dollars in parents’ pockets, and eviction moratoria helped alleviate—temporarily—some of the most dire difficulties. Now the recovery is just beginning, and it will be a long one without significant investments in women. Policy makers must put the experiences of working moms front and center in their policy, program, and budget plans, and nonprofits and foundations must continue to advocate for such efforts on women’s behalf.   

I spoke with Reshma earlier this year and asked her to share three things the philanthropic sector can do now to show up for working moms. One was to raise awareness about the challenges women who are caregivers are facing. Women are the primary caregivers for their children and older parents and also are the majority of workers in the care economy. Together, nonprofits and foundations can work to understand how to provide support and funding to help women stay in the workforce. Child care is often the barrier to staying employed. A recent study by the San Diego Foundation, Workforce, Childcare & Change, confirmed that to address these challenges, working parents are seeking innovative benefits including healthcare and childcare subsidies and flexibility.  

Another was for workplaces to shift from programs, like mentoring, to policies, like paid leave, dependent care benefits, flexible work schedules, and paid or subsidized child care. And it’s important to approach this with an equity lens, including being mindful of supporting the non-birth parent’s paid leave and creating stable, predictable, and flexible schedules that still support employees’ ability to be seen, heard, and valued.

We know working moms have said, “Give me predictability and flexibility, and around 80 percent of us will go back to work.” We need moms to come back to work. The longer someone stays out of the workforce, the harder it is to go back. So, America, this is the moment to act.

While we wait and advocate for the rest of America to show up, nonprofits and policy makers must start showing up for moms now! As you know in your roles as leaders, parents, organizers, and humans—they always show up for us.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Dana Toppel_Jewish Family Service of San Diego_PhilanTopicDana L. Toppel is COO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego and founder of MAKE WORK WORK FOR MOMS.

 

 

How impact investments can support economic development, community change, and corporate purpose: A commentary by Hallie Bradley and Allison Swagler

May 26, 2022

Investment_charts_Nicholas Cappello_UnsplashIt is still relatively uncommon for corporate foundations in the United States to make impact investments, despite the fast growth of investments in sustainable strategies. At Alabama Power Foundation, the corporate foundation of Alabama’s largest public utility, we seek to use our experience to demonstrate how impact investments, in addition to grants, can accelerate economic development, deepen positive community change, and align with corporate purpose.

Our own impact investing journey began with a challenge from the foundation’s leadership in 2017 to partner with Alabama Power’s economic development team and develop charitable strategies that grow the tech sector’s workforce pipelines. That initial challenge sparked a transformative initiative to align the foundation’s social impact aims with the utility’s core knowledge of community needs, economic development, and local leadership....

Read the full commentary by Hallie Bradley and Allison Swagler, strategic initiatives manager and charitable giving specialist, respectively, of Alabama Power Foundation.

(Photo credit: Nicholas Cappello via Unsplash)

The sustainable nonprofit: From transitional to transformative fundraising

May 25, 2022

Man_and_woman_masks_handshake_GettyImages_VioletaStoimenovaWhile today’s modern healthcare organizations can be vastly different in size, specialties, and patient populations, they likely share similar beginnings rooted in transactional philanthropy. Under this model, hospitals rely on donors to provide the initial capital required to construct buildings and infrastructure. Later, donors are tapped to fund everything from lobby furniture and parking lots to the latest medical technology. Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego, for example, relied on money raised by the Kiwanis and women’s auxiliary in 1952 to construct a polio hospital, and then, as the campus grew, sought support from donors to build new patient care structures.

While there are positives to this fundraising approach, it is ultimately a shallow way to connect people to an organization.

Yes, you can raise a lot of money this way. Many small gifts made by donors, often using their current assets or payroll deductions, can collectively add up to significant sums. Some donors of limited means prefer making transactional gifts, and that’s okay; we’re happy to provide them with an avenue to contribute $25 a month. These are important gifts that can help sustain an organization. But they can also short-circuit future engagement.

Ultimately, philanthropy is about generous and thoughtful individuals who want to support people and organizations doing great things. When we take impact into consideration, a one-time transactional gift is simply short-sighted. The potential of visionary donors can only be fully realized through long-term and deep relationships....

Read the full commentary by Stephen Jennings, senior vice president and chief external affairs officer of Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and executive director of Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Violeta Stoimenova)

Information for more impact: An interview with Kat Rosqueta, Executive Director, Center for High Impact Philanthropy and Candid Board Chair

May 23, 2022

Headshot_Kat_Rosqueta_Center for High Impact PhilanthropyIn February 2022, Katherina “Kat” Rosqueta became board chair of Candid, the organization established in 2019 with the merger of Foundation Center and GuideStar, where she had also served as a trustee beginning in 2012. Rosqueta was integral to the planning that led to the creation of Candid and served as vice chair to T. Sylvester John, whom she succeeded this year.

To many, Rosqueta is best known as the founding executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP), a collaboration between the Wharton School—where she received her MBA in 2001—and the School of Social Policy and Practice. Since 2006, Rosqueta has led CHIP’s effort to encourage the practice of an evidence-based approach to philanthropy.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Rosqueta about her career, her work with CHIP, and how it all connects with Candid’s 2030 vision.

Philanthropy News Digest: You’re a Philadelphia native. After earning an undergraduate degree at Yale and working for more than a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area, was coming home, first for an MBA at Wharton and then as a founder of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, inevitable?

Kat Rosqueta: The draw of family was always quite strong, but after a decade in Northern California there was a lot of reinforcement of the same ideas. I considered business school when I was at a point in my career where I needed more tools and a bigger community to figure out how I could make a bigger difference.

At the same time, people around me were saying: “Oh, nonprofits have to be more business-like.” I decided to find out what that means.

To give you some historical context, I left the Bay Area at the frothiest part of the first dot-com bubble. People thought I was insane to leave Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Until that point, I was almost always involved in some sort of startup, and I had a bias—one that I think a lot of entrepreneurs, in my case, a social entrepreneur, had—around any kind of consulting.

But I got recruited to McKinsey & Company during the summer between my first and second year at Wharton. I found really sharp people that I was learning really quickly from and with.

To me, my time with McKinsey—and my earlier work in Wells Fargo’s Corporate Community Development Group—is reflected in our work at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. No single sector—the business sector, the government sector, the nonprofit, philanthropic sector—alone can possibly advance the kind of lasting, positive social change that we all hope for.

You can even look at the origin story of CHIP, which was conceived as a collaborative effort between fellow alumni of the Wharton School and the dean and stakeholders from what was then called the School of Social Work, now Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice.

And while it can be much more challenging and take longer to work in those kinds of collaborative efforts, or even with a really diverse team, that’s the only way to solve these really tough problems....

Read the full interview with Kat Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy and board chair of Candid.

Review: 'Upper Hand: The Future of Work for the Rest of Us'

May 20, 2022

Book_cover_Upper_HandIt is anticipated that over the next decade, over 30 percent of the workforce in the United States will need to be retrained or change jobs due to shifts in technology and automation. With this impeding shift, much needs to be done to ensure that marginalized Black and brown communities, who have already been left behind and disadvantaged by the digital divide, are able to adapt to and navigate this future.

As Sherrell Dorsey argues in Upper Hand: The Future of Work for the Rest of Us, “We’ve made getting into the technology space extremely complex. But it doesn’t have to be…we can include ourselves in the rooms and tables that will carry us into opportunities that enable higher salaries, strategies for navigating an education that won’t leave us in insurmountable debt, and career prospects that allow us to be pillars within our families and communities.”

This is exactly what Dorsey's book aims to do. She crafts a call to action for both individuals and society that uses personal stories, evidence, and clear action items as a guide toward achieving a more equitable future within this shifting landscape....

Read the full review by Kate Meyers Emery, digital communications manager at Candid.

The sustainable nonprofit: Two trends among high-net-worth donors

May 19, 2022

Business_handshake_fundraising_GettyImagesAs the philanthropic landscape evolves, so to do the considerations and values of major donors. At Whittier Trust, our clientele comprises highly affluent individuals and families who are seeking, among other services, ways to align their wealth with their values and leave a lasting legacy.

It is important to remember that philanthropy is advised as a key piece of wealth management. As such, while our clients are looking to contribute to their communities and the common good, a number of other factors help determine where and how much they decide to give. The advisors in our philanthropy department have noticed two relevant trends to consider.

ESG factors

Consideration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, such as supporting land conservation or social movements, is already a primary driver for philanthropy among our clients....

Targeting multiple generations

As advisors, we take a holistic approach to wealth management that looks at a family’s situation as well as its assets, trust, and investment portfolio....This is to say, you should be considering the whole family when a principal gift is up for reevaluation or when soliciting new leads....

Read the full column article by Tim McCarthy, managing director of business development at Whittier Trust.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Remembering Urvashi

May 17, 2022

Headshot_Urvashi_Vaid_The_Laura_Flanders_Show_2014_CCOn Monday, May 16, I woke up to the devastating news that Urvashi Vaid had died. A pioneering LGBTQ+ civil rights activist, she leaves behind organizations, books, networks, movements, and ideas that will continue to inspire for decades to come. At a time when so many of the things Urvashi fought for are under attack it seems unfair that she should be taken from us. Instead, I choose to be grateful for how difficult she has made it for those would seek to walk back all the hard-won rights she dedicated her life to defending.

I knew Urvashi first as a colleague and then a friend. She served as deputy director of the Governance and Civil Society unit of the Ford Foundation from 2001 to 2005, during my tenure there as vice president for peace and social justice. By that time, she had already served as staff attorney at the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, led the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now National LGBTQ Task Force) and authored Virtual Equality. At that moment in her life, coming to Ford was a choice to step back, if only a bit, from the front lines of activism and multiply herself, her values, and aspirations through the work of others. Urvashi fully appreciated the centrality of power and somehow managed to make space, outside of her more-than-full-time job at Ford, to study political philosopher Hannah Arendt at The New School. Her own life experience and activism had taught her that power concedes nothing without struggle, and she used her time at Ford to support nonprofits, movements, and researchers working to achieve human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and how they intersect to create identity.

Following her time at Ford, Urvashi went on to become the first executive director of the Arcus Foundation, devoted to LGBTQ+ social justice around the world, launched LPAC (the first lesbian super PAC), and co-founded the Donors of Color Network, the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network, the National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group, and the Equality, Federation, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable. Any one of these accomplishments would be the crowning achievement of a single lifetime, but for Urvashi they were building blocks for a vision of equality stronger than a single person or organization. Somehow, in the midst of it all, she managed to find abundant time for friends, for the family she dearly loved, and her wife and soulmate Kate Clinton. Even her long struggle with cancer was something Urvashi turned into an organizing opportunity, creating a support group for female cancer survivors, affectionately nicknamed “The Breasties,” of which my wife was a loyal participant through the years.

Urvashi is the only person I have ever known who was radical to the very core of her being. Everything she did, said, and lived for was informed by her values and ideals. But she was also a mensch in the most expansive sense of the word. Her undying commitment to equality was blended with kindness, generosity, and unfailing good humor (it is no accident that Urvashi is caught smiling in so many photos). Though as part of the Ford Foundation hierarchy, I was technically Urvashi’s supervisor, she went out of her way to reach out, listen, and talk at a time when the foundation was being heavily criticized from all sides for its work in Israel and Palestine. She did so out of friendship, solidarity, and a desire to ensure that we would all end up on the right side of history by realizing the long-term implications of decisions made under pressure.

Urvashi’s life and work lives on through everyone she touched.  She taught us that social justice is something for which struggle is necessary, day in, day out, 365 days a year. Changing the world takes power, resources, vision, organizing, even humor, but above all, and this was Urvashi’s true superpower, it takes unlimited love.

(Photo credit: The Laura Flanders Show, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Headshot_brad_smith_for_PhilanTopicBradford K. Smith is former president of Candid.

Belonging and prosperity: A Q&A with Norman Chen, CEO, The Asian American Foundation

Headshot_Norman Chen_TAAFThe Asian American Foundation (TAAF) was launched in May 2021—amid a rise in anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate and violence—to help solve for the longstanding lack of investment provided to AAPI communities and to build the infrastructure needed to improve AAPI advocacy, power, and representation. That month, TAAF announced that through its AAPI Giving Challenge and donations from its board, it secured nearly $1.1 billion in donations and in-kind commitments from partners—the largest philanthropic commitment in history fully focused on supporting AAPI communities—including $125 million from board members to support AAPI organizations and causes over the next five years. TAAF’s work focuses on several priority areas: anti-hate, data and research, education, narrative change, unlocking resources, and racial solidarity.

Norman Chen has served as CEO of TAAF since November 2021. Before joining TAAF, Chen co-founded Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) in September 2020 and created the Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S. (STAATUS) Index, a landmark study of American attitudes toward Asian Americans. Prior to his leadership in AAPI advocacy and philanthropy, Chen spent his career as an entrepreneur, investor, and community leader building innovative life sciences companies and supporting nonprofit organizations in both the United States and Asia. 

PND asked Chen about TAAF’s mission to address the historic lack of philanthropic investment in AAPI communities through key initiatives such as the AAPI Giving Challenge, the factors behind the historic underinvestment in AAPI communities, TAAF’s Anti-Hate National Network and AAPI Action Centers, and key findings from the 2022 STAATUS Index.

Philanthropy News Digest: TAAF’s mission is “to serve the community in their pursuit of belonging and prosperity that is free from discrimination, slander, and violence.” The AAPI community is often seen by other Americans as quickly attaining prosperity—i.e., the model minority myth—while continuing to be perceived as foreign, as other, generation after generation. How does the foundation work to address the tension between those two components of its mission?

Norman Chen: Prosperity is a core piece of TAAF’s mission because we are addressing often overlooked social and economic challenges in AAPI communities—one being that we are the most economically divided racial group in the U.S., with the highest median household income and the highest intra-racial group income disparity. Contrary to the model minority myth, which perpetuates a misguided perception about AAPI socioeconomic success, prosperity is not equally accessible across AAPI communities or to AAPI immigrants who come to the U.S. in pursuit of a better life for their families.

Belonging is part and parcel of our work because AAPIs continue to face other harmful stereotypes such as being seen as perpetual foreigners. For example, according to the 2021 STAATUS Index, one in five Americans agreed with the statement that Asian Americans as a group are “more loyal to their countries of origin than to the U.S.”

For these reasons, TAAF has sought to close critical gaps in support and make strategic investments in our communities. We are committed to accelerating prosperity and creating a greater sense of belonging for all AAPIs by bringing to bear more cross-sector support from partners who are also committed to these efforts....

Read the full Q&A with Norman Chen, CEO of the The Asian American Foundation.

Who is engaging, how, and on behalf of which social issues?: A commentary by Natalye Paquin

May 16, 2022

Young woman_megaphone_protest_social_justice_GettyImages_LeoPatriziFor nearly two and a half years, we’ve shared one collective experience around the world. And while most of us are ready to leave behind the years of fear, uncertainty, and loss, we should think twice before rushing to get back to our “old lives,” and for good reason.  

History tells us that pandemics and other crises can be catalysts for rebuilding society in new and better ways. If we seek to get back to our old ways, we—especially in the nonprofit sector—are missing an opportunity to take this historic moment to address the fractured systems and stark inequities the global pandemic has exposed, exacerbated, and solidified. We cannot be “done” when there is still so much to do.  

At Points of Light, we’ve been shining a light on the organizations and individuals serving as those catalysts for rebuilding society. We continue to uplift hundreds of stories of light so those changemakers who have taken action, supported their communities, and made each day just a little better for others can inspire a movement.

Beyond sharing stories, we also need to take this opportunity to meaningfully study the nonprofit sector and determine how organizations can make an impact amid this “new normal.” We’ve been asking ourselves: Who is taking action? In what ways are they engaging and on behalf of which social issues? And for those who are not engaging, why not?

Points of Light just released Civic Life Today: The State of Global Civic Engagement, a series of five in-depth reports that provide insight into the attitudes and behaviors of individuals and the barriers they face—globally and across the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and India—to help us begin to answer these questions. Here are some of the key findings from our research....

Read the full commentary by Natalye Paquin, president and CEO of Points of Light.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Leo Patrizi)

Organize, mobilize, and train the most affected residents: A Q&A with Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

May 13, 2022

Headshot_Peggy_Shepard_WEACT_for_Environmental_Justice_Allie-HollowayPeggy Shepard is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and has a long history of organizing and engaging Northern Manhattan residents in community-based planning and campaigns to address environmental protection and environmental health policy locally and nationally. She is a national leader in advancing environmental policy from the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities. Previously, she was named co-chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council as well as chair of the New York City Environmental Justice Advisory Board, and was the first female chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She serves on the executive committee of the National Black Environmental Justice Network and the board of advisors of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Shepard has been awarded the Jane Jacobs Medal from the Rockefeller Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment, the William K. Reilly Award for Environmental Leadership, the Knight of the National Order of Merit from the French Republic, the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and honorary doctorates from Smith College and Lawrence University.

PND asked Shepard about the importance of organizing to build healthy communities, sustainable policies that would bring about change, the root causes of environmental racism, the benefits of science and community partnership, nonprofit climate change strategies, the legislative response to environmental justice, and the need for climate migrants from South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa to receive equal attention to the impact of climate change migration in their regions.

Philanthropy News Digest: The lack of power and representation in political and economic systems makes it difficult for communities of color to build climate resilience. What is the importance of organizing low-income people of color to build healthy communities for themselves, and how does your background inform the support communities need in advocating for the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment?

Peggy Shepard: I discovered the power of a well-organized community early on in my career. I had the opportunity to experience the communities that had resources and strong advocacy and those that did not, such as the community in which I lived. I was a Democratic district leader in West Harlem when the North River Sewage Treatment Plant was built in our neighborhood after originally being rejected by other communities that were whiter and more affluent.

Once the plant started operating, the odors and emissions were unbearable. At that time, the facility had open sewage pools, so the odor of raw sewage filled the air in West Harlem. It was so bad that residents had to keep their windows shut, even on hot days. Even motorists along the West Side Highway would roll up their windows as they drove by.

A core group of us began to organize people and develop a plan of action. We learned that the emissions coming out of its smokestacks failed to comply with federal clean air standards and that the air pollution was having an adverse impact on people’s health. We began to share this information with people throughout the community and invited them to join our campaign to force the city to address these issues. It took longer than we expected, but after we sued the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation in 1992, the city committed $55 million to retrofit the facility, and our lawsuit was settled for a $1.1 million West Harlem Environmental Benefits Fund. We decided to create West Harlem Environmental Action, aka WE ACT for Environmental Justice, to institutionalize advocacy in underserved communities of color with low income.

Our theory of change is to organize, mobilize, and train the most affected residents to engage in environmental decision making. We are a base-building organization where our members provide direction to and engage with our campaigns through membership meetings, trainings, and working groups on Climate Justice, Healthy Homes, and Worker Training. As a result, they are able to testify at legislative hearings, lead rallies, and attend lobby days to educate their elected officials. With their support, WE ACT has been successful in contributing significantly to the passage of a dozen or more bills at the New York City Council and the New York State legislature, laws that protect the health of children from toxins, and that support decarbonization and electrification. WE ACT started a 501(c)(4), WE ACT 4 Change, to engage our members and community residents in civic and political engagement through trainings, briefings, and candidate forums. Community-based planning has been a hallmark of WE ACT, and we mobilized 400 of our members and community residents to engage in developing the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan, which prioritized energy security and democracy. We maintain an active and well-organized membership who inform and support our work at the city, state, and federal levels....

Read the full Q&A with Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

How to support human rights, health, and well-being in Ukraine: A commentary by Christian De Vos

May 12, 2022

Migration crisis on the border with Belarus_GettyImages_NzpnIn its violent and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, Russia has launched indiscriminate attacks against civilians and the places where they gather, including hospitals, schools, and humanitarian corridors. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed and many more injured. Thousands more are in danger of dying in besieged areas cut off from water, food, and electricity. Almost five million refugees have already fled the country, while nearly eight million are internally displaced within Ukraine. Millions more remain at grave risk.

The global spotlight on and solidarity with Ukrainians have been inspiring, with governments, organizations, and individuals rallying in support of Ukraine and its vast humanitarian needs. Still, philanthropic funders can do more and do better to alleviate suffering in Ukraine, meet humanitarian imperatives, and support justice and accountability in several key areas of need.

Here we offer six approaches that should guide where and how philanthropic organizations can support human rights, health, and well-being in Ukraine....

Read the full commentary by Christian De Vos, director of research and investigations at Physicians for Human Rights.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Nzpn)

Writing checks isn’t enough: A commentary by Jill Soffer

May 10, 2022

Gas_turbine_power_plant_fossil_fuels_GettyImages_ThossapholI am a climate philanthropist. I write checks to environmental nonprofits and sit on several boards. I grew up playing in the woods of western Massachusetts; now I hike the Rockies. Season by season I’m sadly witnessing the damage wrought by drought and fires, and, like so many others, I hope to protect this planet from the worsening climate crisis.

I’ve learned that writing checks isn’t enough.

In 2020, when I learned about Enbridge’s Line 3, the tar sands pipeline being pushed through northern Minnesota, I eagerly wrote checks to support the Ojibwe water protectors working to stop it. These brave people were camping on the pipeline route in the freezing winter, lying down in front of bulldozers, praying, singing, and getting arrested. I was more than glad to help. But I soon learned the sad truth: While I was writing checks to stop Line 3, my bank, Bank of America, was loaning Enbridge billions of dollars to build it. My money was funding the very projects we need to prevent.

Frustrated, I called my bank and had a respectful conversation with the chief sustainability officer. One person’s phone call didn’t change anything; a few weeks later the credit facility for Enbridge was completed. I also thought of divesting—moving my money out of these banks. The divestment movement is powerful. But I’m not Harvard or a public pension fund—my divestment would be neither newsworthy nor financially impactful enough for my bank to notice. Were I to divest, I would forgo any leverage I have.

So I decided not to divest but to engage, and this shareholder season, a huge opportunity to stop these projects awaits....

Read the full commentary by Jill Soffer, founder of Our Part and Banking for Climate.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Thossaphol)

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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