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16 posts from May 2022

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)

The future of philanthropy: A commentary by Keith Leaphart

May 09, 2022

Keyboard_red_donate_button_GettyImagesThe concept of “philanthropy” has long been synonymous with large foundations, corporations, the wealthy, and black-tie galas and other big events. However, in recent years, I’ve been seeing an ongoing shift—a shift that is going to create a new era of philanthropy that will involve more people and celebrate the collective impacts of everyday donors.

When the pandemic hit, organizations had to adapt their fundraising and outreach efforts. It was no longer possible to bring people together for in-person events or rely on the same strategies. While this drastic change was initially devastating for the sector, many charities quickly learned how to leverage technology and social networks to reengage donors and raise funds.

The future of philanthropy, which I believe is already here, is about connecting a greater number of people with the causes they care about through technology and the social ecosystem. We’ve already seen this concept emerge—especially among younger generations. On popular social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, users can actively encourage their friends and followers to donate to causes in their profiles or for their birthdays through a single post or link. These capabilities make it easier for ordinary people to give and amplify their charitable impacts—which is key to the sustainability of philanthropy....

Read the full commentary by Keith Leaphart, founder and CEO of Philanthropi and board chair of the Lenfest Foundation.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The sustainable nonprofit: Optimizing operations for community impact

May 06, 2022

News_globe_keyboard_solution_GettyImages.jpgThe past two years have been defined by disruption, and for many individuals and organizations, the prospect of more change may be intimidating. In fact, half of respondents to a recent Innovation Process Design (IPD) survey of community foundations said they worry about overwhelming staff with process changes. In reality, however, thoughtfully examining and optimizing operations—the day-to-day organizational activities that define how an organization achieves its objectives—can actually help philanthropic and nonprofit organizations recapture time, improve accuracy, increase coaching, and otherwise enhance their community impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant driver of change over the past two-plus years, as organizations scrambled to adjust to a rapidly evolving work environment and shifting community needs. According to the IPD survey, 92 percent of organizations installed virtual meeting systems to support a remote workforce, and 66 percent went paperless. Further, 66 percent of survey respondents reassigned job responsibilities and 61 percent overhauled operations.

Now, with two-thirds of organizations anticipating appreciable growth as the pandemic eases, changes are likely to continue through 2022 and beyond. Quite simply, organizations will have to make changes if they hope to keep up with demand. In light of that anticipated growth, 65 percent of organizations plan to bring in a major new operation in the coming year, 83 percent plan to expand or add programs, and 43 percent plan to create or execute a new strategic plan....

Read the full column article by Lee Kuntz, founder and president of Innovation Process Design Inc. 

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The consequences of climate change: A commentary by Kathy Stevens

May 05, 2022

Cricket_Photo by Janet Holmes_Catskill Animal Sanctuary At Catskill Animal Sanctuary, we’re deeply connected to the 150 acres that have been our home for the past 21 years: warm pastures where contented cows sunbathe, ponds where ducks swim for hours, fields for horses to run and roll in, and graceful willows dipping their branches low for goats to nibble on.

Each year, Earth Day invites us all to reflect on our relationship to the land—particularly as we see the impact of human activity on our beloved planet. And at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, the evidence is all around us.

Our vanishing trees

The consequences of climate change are being felt across the globe, with climate refugees (often already vulnerable people) at the forefront of this emergency. While we are more geographically fortunate than many, we, too, are experiencing changes at our Hudson Valley refuge that can’t be chalked up to the vicissitudes of “weather”....

Read the full commentary by Kathy Stevens, founder and executive director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

(Photo credit: Janet Holmes)

A Just Transition: A Q&A with Ozawa Bineshi Albert, Monica Atkins, and Marion Gee, Co-Executive Directors, Climate Justice Alliance

May 04, 2022

Headshots_ozawa_bineshi_albert_monica_atkins_marion_gee_climate_justice_alliance_PhilanTopicLaunched in 2013, Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is an alliance of 82 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations, and supporting networks working to advance a Just Transition away from extractive systems of production, consumption, and political oppression and toward resilient, regenerative, and equitable economies. Ozawa Bineshi Albert, Monica Atkins, and Marion Gee have led the organization as co-executive directors since July 2021.

Albert joined CJA from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)—a founding member of CJA—where she was a founding board member and helped create an Indigenous Feminist Organizing School and an International Feminist Organizing School. She began her organizing career with the Coalition for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Native Lands’ Toxics Campaign at Greenpeace and has held leadership positions at SAGE Council, the Center for Community Change, the SouthWest Organizing Project. Atkins, who previously worked for Cooperation Jackson as well as several labor organizations, became CJA’s southeast regional organizer in 2017 and organizing director in 2020. She has helped advance the organization’s Black Caucus in its efforts to engage frontline Black communities and to hold spaces for and center Black leadership within the climate justice movement. And Gee, who served as managing director at CJA from 2015 to 2021, previously worked as a fundraising, events, and communications consultant for social and environmental justice organizations, as development and communications director at Rose Foundation, and as interim climate program director at Sierra Nevada Alliance

PND asked the co-executive directors about what a Just Transition entails, the organization’s priorities, the shared leadership structure, the importance of centering BIPOC communities within the climate justice movement, and the climate solutions announced at COP26.

Philanthropy News Digest: What does a Just Transition look like, in concrete terms?

Marion Gee: When we think of a Just Transition, we think of the transition that many of our members are already bringing to life in their own communities. That is because first and foremost, Just Transition is a local, place-based vehicle to move away from the harmful dig, burn, dump, fossil fuel economy—what we call the extractive economy—to one that is grounded in communities’ well-being and livelihoods. For example, in the neighborhood of Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York, on an industrial waterfront that has been historically polluted, over half of the residents are people of color and immigrants and largely working class. The poverty rate is above the city average and affordable housing is out of reach for many. This community was one of the many that was hit with flooding after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

A local community organization, UPROSE, organized with their neighbors and other partners to spearhead what would become the first community-owned solar cooperative in New York State—an 80,000-square-foot rooftop solar garden that residents of Sunset Park can subscribe to own— and which is set to be up and running next year. This will save around 200 households and small businesses on their utility bills and will provide clean energy for the first time to these families. Essentially, the community found a way to transition to an energy source that would lessen the fossil fuel pollution they had been exposed to for decades—which had caused high rates of asthma and other disease—and built a community-owned and designed alternative that would ensure community empowerment, health, and wealth. That is what we mean by a Just Transition....

Read the full Q&A with Ozawa Bineshi Albert, Monica Atkins, and Marion Gee, co-executive directors of the Climate Justice Alliance.

Three things you can do instead of founding a nonprofit

May 03, 2022

Hands_collaboration_trust_GettyImages_Prostock-StudioSome years ago I was teaching an undergraduate class on fundraising at a local university. Courses like that didn’t exist when I was a student. That would’ve been game-changing, considering that I had to cobble together learnings from macroeconomics, microeconomics, accounting, and business pedagogy for a senior project intended to translate those learnings into the nonprofit sector.

The students were bright and asked great questions. After one session, a student approached with an inquiry, and when I asked him to clarify, he responded with enthusiasm: “Because I want to start my own nonprofit.” He explained that this new nonprofit would provide hyper-specialized care to a hyper-select population of women in need.

In his words: Kind of like Planned Parenthood, but totally different. In my words: Identical to Planned Parenthood, with a different logo.

We see a lot of this energy for something new right now—in light of the pandemic, ongoing reckoning with and efforts to address racial injustice and inequity, and all the residual traumas of the past few years —much like we often do after natural disasters, economic downturns, and other national or global experiences. But “new” isn’t always “improved,” and there is something to be said for the experience of experience.

Through experience, we often learn that we can do our best work by being part of something, rather than being our own something.

“It’s never been easier to start a business. That is true,” entrepreneur Greg Hartle said over a decade ago. “But, no one ever tells you the rest of that statement. It’s also never been harder to succeed.” Hartle was talking specifically about the challenges of new startup businesses, especially in an already-crowded field. In the U.S. social sector, there are roughly 1.8 million nonprofits—that’s roughly one organization per 183 Americans.

Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole truth. Many of these institutions are doing fine work. However, unless the aforementioned student—or any future nonprofit leader—has the solution for the specific cause, it’s best to spend time working within the field before making the leap to incorporating, identifying a board, filing with the state agency and the IRS, putting together an inaugural fundraising plan, crafting a marketing/branding strategy, and so on.

To be sure, there are some fabulous new nonprofits out there. Some have found a niche, aren’t duplicative in their efforts, and have gained traction. I volunteer on the boards of several such organizations because of the founders’ passions. These businesses did it the right way by putting together strong teams that play the long game. Yes, I said businesses. A dangerous number of nonprofit founders don’t fully realize (or choose not to realize) that their burgeoning organization is a business and not simply a weekend passion project. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  only about half of new businesses survive for five years; just 36 percent make it a decade.

The reasons why so many organizations fail are myriad, such as offering services that overlap with other nonprofits, being slow to leverage technology and sustainable systems, or failing to stay focused on the original impetus for the organization (mission creep).

There are a few alternative options for well-meaning go-getters, and these can be as fulfilling as starting your own organization—without adding to the millions of nonprofits that already exist.

First, volunteer. So many organizations out there need your help and support, and sources like VolunteerMatch, AllForGood, and Idealist can help you find opportunities in your neighborhood. Volunteering is a really great way to learn about what it actually takes to make an organization run, and run well—things like budgeting, internal/external communication, and fostering an inclusive organizational culture.

Then, consider group giving. Get some family, friends, colleagues, and others together and donate funds as part of a giving circle. Sometimes one way we can change the world is not by injecting a new business into the environment but by corralling people—and their financial resources—together to invest in change.

Finally, raise resources as a guest. If neither of the options above are for you, you might consider partnering with a fiscal sponsor that can help you raise tax-deductible resources for your project or cause. Fiscal sponsors can accept donations on your behalf (for a small fee) and get those funds to you without your having to go through the arduous process of founding a nonprofit.

Our sector is crowded and growing—there were 40 percent fewer organizations only a decade ago. And although it’s inspiring to see so many do-gooders committing to social good, competition is real. “As more and more organizations enter the nonprofit arena,” Spencer Creal mused, “attention from donors and volunteers becomes increasingly precious.”

There are many ways to focus and contribute our energy that doesn’t distract and dilute the good work of our sector. And for those who wish to dive further, there are plenty of great resources to help you assess where you are in your process and learn about what makes for an effective nonprofit.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Prostock Studio)

Headshot_Evan_Wildstein_2021.2_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein is a fundraiser and nonprofiteer in Houston, Texas.


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