7 posts categorized "author-Larry McGill"

Few Large U.S. Foundations Changed Giving Priorities After 2016 Presidential Election

January 07, 2020

White_HouseIn early 2019, Candid asked 645 of the largest U.S. foundations whether they had changed their funding priorities in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the 2016 presidential election. The vast majority (88 percent) of the respondents said their organizations made "few or no changes" to their giving priorities during the two years following the election. About one in eight (12 percent) reported making "some notable changes."

These results differ slightly from a similar survey conducted by Exponent Philanthropy in early 2017. Nearly one-quarter of the participants in that survey — foundations with few or no staff, philanthropic families, and individual donors — said they expected to make some changes to their philanthropic giving as a direct result of Donald Trump's election.

Not surprisingly, foundations reporting "few or no changes to their giving priorities" in Candid’s 2019 survey felt little need to further explain why this was the case.  "Staying the course" was a common refrain.

Foundations that reported making "some notable changes" identified five causes in particular for which they felt additional support was needed, given shifts in the political environment: 1) immigration, 2) civic engagement/democracy, 3) equity/social justice/intolerance, 4) the environment, and 5) health care. In some cases, foundations also established "rapid response" funds to help grantees that might be facing new or urgent challenges in carrying out their work.

Foundations that made "few or no changes to their giving priorities"

Most foundations that made "few or no changes to their giving priorities" following the 2016 election felt no need to further explain why this was the case. Those that did offer explanations tended to refer to factors such as donor intent or unwavering adherence to the organizations’ respective missions or strategic plans.

  • "The foundation follows donor intent, so our grantmaking does not tend to change with political shifts."
  • "The foundation’s funds are committed to funding existing programs in our founders' areas of interest and in areas where they lived during their lifetimes."
  • Community foundation: "Most grantmaking is advised by donors or committees for specific purposes."
  • "The election had no effect on our mission so no need to change the focus."
  • "Strategic priorities are generally set by [the] board for a multiyear (10-12 years) time frame."
  • "It makes no difference which party is in control of the government. Our giving priorities are the same."

Some foundations with mandates to focus their giving within specific regions or whose giving is primarily international felt that the national political climate was largely irrelevant to their ongoing work, as did others with highly specific missions.

  • "We are aware of political dynamics but that did not change our focus on rural Minnesota."
  • "The foundation makes grants for overseas mission activities. Therefore, we are not normally affected by politics in the U.S."
  • "Our tightly defined mission serves the fields of art history and art conservation, training professionals in these fields, and supporting their research. The nature of this work has not been altered by the 2016 election."
  • "The foundation supports STEM research in higher education. Program strategies were set in prior years. Research opportunities are rarely changed by individual electoral contests but are instead shaped by wider societal trends."

For many foundations, staying the course but with an increased sense of urgency was the right course of action.

  • "Our existing priorities became more endangered/underfunded, so we stayed the course."
  • "Our focus on legal services, including immigration and social justice, predates the 2016 election by two years; we have increased funding for immigration legal services but much of what we fund has been in the cross-hairs of the current administration so staying on course is appropriate given the current environment."
  • "Our giving is focused at the state level, and our state for the last several decades has been Republican-led. A change in federal leadership has not changed the issues we have focused on — conservation, public education, and health access — but rather reiterated the importance of our work."

Some foundations noted that "staying the course" was especially important if in fact the priorities of other foundations working in the same area were shifting due to political change:

  • "Our foundation focuses exclusively on international grantmaking. Our grantmaking process is guided by our 2016-2020 strategy, which was set before the U.S. election. While other foundations have pulled their funding from international efforts, we have stayed the course, even more so because of other foundations' shifting priorities within the current political climate."
  • "During challenging political times, with many diverting their funds away from the arts towards more urgent political action, the foundation continued funding according to its mission in recognition of the role the arts play in creating a more just and empathetic society, and to avoid destabilizing grantee organizations."

A couple of foundations noted that if shifts in approach to the work were needed, those adjustments would fall more to their grantees than to the foundation:

  • "[Our] grantees were basically the same — with a couple exceptions. Their work shifted."
  • "Education and climate change remain our areas of focus. Federal policies certainly affect these areas, but they don't change our strategic priorities, so much as our grantees' response and approach."

Finally, the idea that political change could have any bearing on how a foundation sets its giving priorities was received with horror by a handful of foundations:

  • "WE STAY FAR AWAY FROM ANYTHING CLOSE TO 'POLITICS.'"
  • "I can't understand why one would ask this question. Are you suggesting a political motive? This question is an insult to our trustees."

Foundations that made "some notable changes in giving priorities after the 2016 U.S. election"

The 12 percent of surveyed foundations that said they made "some notable changes in giving priorities after the 2016 U.S. election" cited five topic areas in particular that required their urgent attention — immigration (3.1 percent), civic engagement/democracy (1.7 percent), equity/social justice/intolerance (1.6 percent), the environment (1.4 percent), and healthcare (1.2 percent). Many of these initiatives overlapped.

Immigration

  • "Launched an immigrant and refugee funder collaborative with other funders to support response to federal policy changes."
  • "The foundation granted to organizations to support staffing for DACA case management and DACA reimbursements."
  • "Yes! We added community service grants specifically to address new problems facing immigrant and minority communities."

Civic engagement/democracy

  • "We added an initiative around civil engagement to encourage more people to participate in government at all levels."
  • "We created a Democracy & Civil Society area of interest in 2017. It was funded again in 2018 and will continue for 2019."
  • "We created three time-limited 'special projects' to strengthen checks and balances within the government and in civil society. We also expanded existing programs to combat misinformation and promote trust in journalism, protect press freedom, and strengthen the security of elections. Finally, we increased our capacity for research and sensemaking through the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and other efforts."

Equity/social justice/intolerance

  • "After the 2016 elections, the foundation's board authorized the creation of an 'Opportunity Fund' to 'create an enduring portfolio of investments that promote fairness and equity, justice, and opportunity.' The fund has been targeted, in particular, on 'efforts designed to safeguard civility and decency, advance civil rights, counteract hate, support immigrant and refugee communities, and provide legal support to underserved communities.'"
  • "Anti-conservative and anti-free speech bias on college campuses increased and giving changed to support free speech and viewpoint diversity."
  • "New focus on women's rights and social justice."

Environment

  • "Our Environment Program began to fund efforts that could rapidly respond to emergent threats to the U.S. system of environmental and public health laws, regulations, and policies."
  • "It's a temporary surge. Foundation staff have developed three strategic initiatives to which we will target these new dollars in ways that we are confident will build and engage new conservation constituencies, address immediate threats, and seize conservation opportunities across the western U.S. and Canada. In this moment, we trust this surge in funding will accelerate their work."

Health Care

  • "We continued to support organizations that were assisting with enrollment [in ObamaCare] and continued to support advocacy organizations in trying to prevent more Medicaid cuts."
  • "We focused more on policy and advocacy work for mental health and substance abuse."
  • "Due to the threat to reproductive rights and to immigrant women, we added a category for reproductive rights and immigrant women."

Other changes

Some foundations stepped up the level of giving in their existing areas of focus, while others developed "rapid response" funds:

  • "Some additional funding set aside for federal response since the new Administration had an effect in nearly all of our program areas."
  • "The election was one of several factors that indicated a need for greater capacity among some of our partners across the South. Others include policy implications that harm the communities we care about."
  • "The board authorized an increase to the foundation's Presidential Discretionary fund to provide 'additional capacity to make opportunity, one-time investments precipitated by the new political and policy environment.'"
  • "In FY17, the fund conducted a rapid response grantmaking program ($100k total) to assist current grantees to advance and/or defend the social safety net, protect vulnerable immigrants and refugees, prevent violence and hate crimes, with emphasis on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, or respond to government censorship or reputational attack."

Finally, a few foundations said that although they made some notable changes in giving priorities after the election, these actions were not related to changes in the political climate:

  • "The foundation's board approved a new mission in 2017, which resulted in some changes in giving priorities, although there was no direct correlation between this and the 2016 U.S. election."
  • "Reorganization of the foundation, new president in 2017."

Headshot_larry_mcgillLarry McGill is vice president of knowledge services at Candid. This post originally appeared on the Candid blog. For more of his thoughts., click here

Current Trends in Philanthropy: U.S. Foundation Support for Climate Action

November 09, 2018

IStock-470785468Released last month, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report paints a bleak picture of the disastrous consequences facing the planet if the average global temperature climbs 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The authors of the report warn that humanity will have to cut carbon emissions to almost half the 2010 level as early as 2030 in order to avoid long-lasting and potentially irreversible impacts from climate change, including the loss of many important ecosystems.

The issue of climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment has been hotly debated and has received significant attention from U.S. foundations. According to Foundation Center data, the largest one thousand U.S. foundations gave between $232 million and $261 million annually for climate-related issues between 2011 and 2015, with the exception of 2012, when a large infusion of funds into the ClimateWorks Foundation pushed the annual total to $340 million.

This represents about one percent of giving during that period but does not represent all giving that may contribute to the mitigation of climate change and its effects. Indeed, as much as another 3 percent of foundation giving over that period related to energy issues or sustainable agriculture may have supported efforts to address energy usage and current agricultural practices so as to lessen their contributions to global warming.

Fig1.1_climate action

Energy efficiency and electrification, in particular, have been a significant focus of foundation funding for climate action, with 57 percent of all climate change-related grants funded by the largest one thousand U.S. foundations between 2011-15 related to energy efficiency or renewable energy efforts. Food and agriculture, on the other hand, represented only 3 percent of climate action funding over the same period. Increasingly, however, foundations are recognizing the importance of sustainable food production in tackling climate change and are approaching the issue through an intersectional lens, as evidenced by initiatives such as Project Drawdown.

Fig. 1.2_climate action

The year 2015 also saw the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which the United States initially signed but, at the behest of the Trump administration, subsequently withdrew from. Given that the deployment of capital and funding is a critical factor in efforts to de-carbonize the global economy, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the agreement raises the question as to whether and how foundation giving has changed in response.

Detailed grantmaking data for 2016 (and subsequent years) is still being compiled, so it's difficult to draw any conclusions about the immediate response of foundations to the Trump administration’s decision. That said, several major foundations have announced significant commitments since the agreement was ratified in 2015.

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Current Trends in Philanthropy: International Giving by U.S. Foundations

November 01, 2018

Global-giving-report-coverInternational giving by large U.S. foundations reached an all-time high of $9.3 billion in 2015, up some 306 percent, from $2.1 billion, in 2002, when Foundation Center first started tracking it on an annual basis. During the same period, international giving also increased as a percent of total giving, from 13.9 percent in 2002 to 28.4 percent in 2015.

While the number of grants to international organizations and causes has stayed relatively stable, up some 31 percent (from 10,600 to 13,900) since 2002, average grant size has increased more than three-fold, from $200,900 in 2002 to $604,500 in 2015.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which accounted for more than half (51 percent) of all international giving from 2011 to 2015. When Gates Foundation grantmaking is excluded, we see that international giving grew at a somewhat slower rate (21 percent) during the five-year period, reaching a high of nearly $4 billion in 2015.

Like foundation giving in general, international giving by U.S. foundations is largely project-focused: despite continued calls from nonprofit leaders for foundations to provide more general operating support, 65 percent of international giving by U.S. foundations from 2011 to 2015 was for specific projects or programs. (General support refers broadly to unrestricted funding and core support for day-to-day operating costs. Project support or program development refers to support for specific projects or programs as opposed to the general purpose of an organization. For more information, see https://taxonomy.foundationcenter.org/support-strategies.)

Data also show that U.S. foundations continue to fund international work primarily through intermediaries. From 2011 to 2015, 28 percent of international giving was channeled through U.S.-based intermediaries, 30 percent went through non-U.S. intermediaries, and just 12 percent went directly to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented. What’s more, just 1 percent of international giving was awarded in the form of general support grants directly to local organizations, and those grants were substantially smaller in size, averaging just under $242,000, while grants to intermediaries averaged just over $554,000.

It's important to note that these intermediaries vary in type and structure, and include:

  • International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) operating programs in a different country than the country where they are headquartered.
  • U.S. public charities re-granting funds directly to local organizations.
  • Organizations indigenous to their geographic region but working across countries (i.e., not just in the country where they are headquartered).
  • Multilateral institutions working globally (e.g., the World Health Organization, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria).
  • Research institutions conducting public health research or vaccination programs targeted at specific countries that are not the country where they are headquartered.

Unsurprisingly, health was the top-funded subject area supported by U.S. foundations in the 2011 to 2015 period, with grants totaling $18.6 billion accounting for 53 percent of international grantmaking.

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Current Trends in Philanthropy: The Big Picture

October 29, 2018

Thebigpicture"Philanthropy" in the United States is a vast industry composed of individuals, foundations, and corporations that, in 2017, contributed $410 billion to charitable causes, an amount roughly equivalent to 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Of this total, nearly 70 percent is contributed by individuals, with more than half of that comprised of giving to congregations. The second largest source of philanthropic giving (some 24 percent) comes from grants made by private foundations like Gates, Ford, and Hewlett, which, along with a few dozen other major foundations, dominate a diverse ecosystem populated by tens of thousands of foundations of all sizes. Third is bequests, through which people designate universities, hospitals, and other tax-exempt organizations as beneficiaries in their wills. And last comes corporations — a surprise to many observers, who, given the dominant position of the private sector in the U.S. economy, no doubt assume that businesses play a far greater role in philanthropy.

My organization, Foundation Center, compiles comprehensive data on the more than 87,000 active U.S. foundations and, working with partners around the world, a growing number of foundations and foundation-like organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The center envisions a world enriched by the effective allocation of philanthropic resources, informed public discourse about philanthropy, and broad understanding of the contributions of nonprofit activity to transform lives and increase opportunity for all.

We also see U.S. philanthropy as having arrived at a critical juncture. Buoyed by a strong economy, U.S. foundations find themselves navigating a complex landscape in a volatile and highly polarized political environment. Foundations have something valuable to contribute in this environment —  namely, flexible resources free from market, electoral, and fundraising pressures. How they choose to use those resources to advance their work over the next few years is of interest to most Americans.

In a series of blog posts to be published over the next few weeks, we will look at some of the emerging issues that are getting the attention of U.S. foundations and will consider a number of frameworks (e.g., the Sustainable Development Goals) that are shaping the flow of philanthropic resources to different parts of the world. We'll also examine a variety of modalities — from traditional grant funding to experimentation with crypto-currencies — that foundations are using to advance their missions.

As many of you are aware, a growing chorus is questioning the foundation model, even as some donors are looking to experiment with new forms of philanthropy. A handful of younger philanthropists (Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar) have opted to create limited liability corporations instead of setting up private foundations and have declared that their investments in social good will be directed to a broad spectrum of organizations and vehicles, not just tax-exempt nonprofits. Still, the predominant organizational form for U.S. philanthropy is the private grantmaking foundation, followed by corporate, operating, and community foundations. These legal structures and the regulatory framework in which they are embedded provide considerable flexibility for experimentation and innovation, and their continued popularity suggests that, for now at any rate, the "new philanthropy" is more of a rhetorical device than an actual phenomenon.

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Finally! A Global (Data) Language!

October 25, 2017

Trying to get global consensus on anything is nearly impossible. But in collaboration with a dynamic cohort of individuals and organizations, we've managed to develop a new manifesto with respect to the structure and sharing of data about global philanthropy that is valued across contexts. Meet the new Global Philanthropy Data Charter.

GDC_infographic
Philanthropy, and more broadly, civil society, play a large and increasingly visible role in solving complex societal issues around the globe. Over the last twenty years, as private wealth in countries around the world has exploded, we've seen a significant increase in giving by institutions and individuals. At the same time, technology adoption and economic populism have emerged from the shadows while foreign aid to the least developed countries has declined. Established in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals paved the way, in 2015, for the multi-stakeholder Sustainable Development Goals. Each step in this evolution was guided by data. Good data? Not always. But in our rapidly changing world, everyone must tell their own story — or risk having it told for them. The good news? Philanthropy has had to become more transparent, more accountable, and more effective. Rather than siloed efforts, maximizing impact based on smart giving and shared learning has become a collective world-wide aspiration.

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'Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy': What Does the Data Say?

July 27, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

It's no secret that many Americans are wondering whether our democracy is still working. The signs of dysfunction are everywhere — allegations of election tampering, voter suppression, and "fake news" comprise a continuous soundtrack accompanying distressingly low levels of electoral turnout, ever more bizarre examples of gerrymandering, and perpetual government gridlock.

Concerns about U.S. democracy are on the minds of America's philanthropic institutions as well. We know, of course, about the "dark money" that is being pumped into the electoral process in an attempt to influence the outcomes of U.S. elections. But what about the efforts of U.S. foundations who see the task of improving U.S. democracy as an important part of their philanthropic missions? (And which, unlike dark money vehicles, are required to disclose information about their giving in publicly available tax documents.)

In partnership with eight foundations, Foundation Center, in 2014, developed Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a free online portal that tracks the efforts of foundations to improve American democracy. The tool provides detail on more than 35,000 relevant grants, with additional data added regularly. (Next week, I'll be providing a tour of this mapping platform via a free webinar. Register here.)

Since 2011, U.S. foundations have spent more than $3.7 billion on efforts to improve our democracy. Our data show that foundations are almost equally focused on the areas of encouraging civic participationimproving how government functions at the national, state, and local levels; and supporting an accountable and democratic media, with about  a third of their democracy-focused grant dollars going to each area. Campaigns and elections, the fourth major area of foundation funding for democracy, received about 10 percent of democracy-focused grant dollars. (This adds up to more than 100 percent, because some grants address multiple issues.)

US Democracy_funding by category_fb

These findings suggest that important issues need to be addressed in all four areas — civic participation, government, media, and campaigns and elections — and that focusing on any single area isn't sufficient to ensure a well-functioning democracy. Civic participation funders are focused, in particular, on encouraging issue-based participation by the public; government-focused funders prioritize grantmaking in the area of civil liberties and the rule of law; media-focused funders split their grantmaking almost equally on strengthening journalism and improving media access and policy; and those focused on campaigns and elections are primarily funding activities to educate voters and increase voter turnout.

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Do You Know?

November 04, 2013

(Larry McGill is vice president for research at the Foundation Center.)

FCStats_about_illustrationRaise your hand if you know the answer to the following question: How many grant dollars did U.S. foundations award in 2011? Anyone?

Let me ask a different question. If you needed to find the answer to that question, where would you go? Foundation Center? Good -- you're on the right track. So, you visit the Foundation Center's Web site and where do you look? Not sure? In the past, you weren't alone.

But all that has changed. Today, the Center is launching a new, free statistical tool called "Foundation Stats" at data.foundationcenter.org.

The answer to almost every basic statistical question about the collective work of U.S. foundations can be found there. You don't have to buy any publications and you don't have to dig through thousands of static data tables on the center's Web site. Plus, you can download and reuse, for free, any of the statistics you find in Foundation Stats. You can even grab these statistics using an application programming interface (API), if you're so inclined.

Usually, I'm not so shamelessly self-promotional, but I can barely contain my excitement about Foundation Stats. Let me tell you why.

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