136 posts categorized "Community Improvement/Development"

Rooted Communities: Placemaking, Placekeeping

December 06, 2018

IRetail for rentn Seattle's Central District, or "CD," gentrification and rapid development are displacing the largest African-American community in the state, reducing opportunities for wealth creation and accumulation among thousands of lower- and middle-class people and threatening the black community's political representation in city government, as well as its social, cultural, and economic capital.

In just a single generation, the African-American share of the neighborhood's population has fallen from 70 percent to under 20 percent, creating a cultural "diaspora" from what had been a diverse, welcoming neighborhood for more than a hundred and thirty years. Shaped early on by racist housing policies that pushed families of color into the neighborhood and limited their access to economic opportunity, African-American members of the community responded by building powerful neighborhood businesses and institutions. Now, those businesses and institutions are being forced out by surging rents and taxes, eroding the sense of community in the district.

Nationally, African Americans have a homeownership rate of 42 percent, a rate virtually unchanged since 1968 and a third less than the 70 percent enjoyed by whites. In Seattle, the home ownership rate for African Americans is just 24 percent. Low rates of home ownership, in both Seattle and nationally, increase African Americans' vulnerability to gentrification, which inevitably leads to rent increases, reduces the stock of affordable housing, and decreases economic opportunity for long-time members of the community.

As the growing un-affordability of housing — coupled with historically low incomes in black communities — continues to drive displacement, Seattle's African American Financial Capability Initiative (AAFCI), a coalition of African-American organizations motivated to find long-term, community-based solutions to racial economic inequality, has recognized the need for a more synergistic approach to the problem. Seattle's AAFCI had its genesis in Creating an Equitable Future in Washington State: Black Well-Being & Beyond(42 pages, PDF), a 2015 report from the African American Leadership Forum–Seattle, Byrd Barr Place, and the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. The report was generated as part of a three-year, $4.35 million investment by the Northwest Area Foundation in an AAFCI initiative aimed at establishing African-American communities of practice focused on racial economic inequality in six cities within its footprint, with technical assistance provided by the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now. In Seattle, the CoP comprises Byrd Barr Place, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, and the Africatown Community Land Trust (CLT).

CLTs, legal structures of communally owned property that are formed with the intent to preserve long-term control of land — often for the purposes of preserving a cultural and/or economic mission such as affordability for businesses and housing — have proven effective in slowing the negative impacts of gentrification and provide a mechanism for more equitable land development and ownership. While there are hundreds of CLTs in the United States, relatively few exist in urban areas, and even fewer work to address the racial disparity of gentrifying cities. Those that do, however — including Dudley Street in Roxbury, Massachusetts — are proving to be successful.

In Seattle, Africatown CLT is actively involved in two commercial development projects — the Liberty Bank Building and Midtown Plaza — which will provide more than two hundred and fifty affordable housing units in the heart of the city. And it is working on three additional projects, with the goal of ensuring that African-American families in Seattle most threatened by displacement can live and thrive in the city.

Drawing on the strength of the culturally-anchored land trust model, AAFCI's SeattleCoP is developing a twenty-first-century African-American Community Land Trust blueprint. Building on the success of the Africatown CLT, the CoP is finalizing a replication model, Rooted Communities, to help communities of color across the nation who are grappling with the negative effects of gentrification. The goal of the model is to enable local communities in mid-tier metropolitan areas where land is still readily available to understand, form, and run CLTs.

The Seattle CoP also plans to include a culturally responsive financial education program focused on short-term personal finances as well as long-term wealth-building at the individual and family levels, and it is exploring how to augment existing programs and community development networks to more consistently deliver content and technical assistance in ways that are motivating and actionable.

Next steps for the pilot phase project include working with other similarly situated communities across the state and nationally to implement land trust models with a similar mission. AAFCI hopes to officially launch the blueprint before the end of the year, and communities interested in participating are encouraged to check out www.ourrootedcommunities.org after December 10 for more information.

As Seattle moves to identify and build upon what works for African-American communities, we are hopeful that the community engagement and CLT model we develop here can serve as an example for communities of color nationally that are dealing with issues of gentrification and displacement. It is our belief that we are stronger together, especially when that work builds on a rich history and powerful traditions.

AndreaCaupain 2Andrea Caupain Sanderson is CEO of Byrd Barr Placeformerly Centerstone, a nonprofit that works for a more equitable Seattle by providing lifeline services to the poor.

Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

The resulting Agenda for a Just Future aims to:

  • End youth incarceration as we know it.
  • Fight for a roof over every head.
  • Eliminate oil drilling near homes and schools.

The foundation does not compete with its grantees but instead looks for ways to exercise its power in roles that support grantees. For example, it has organized pooled funds to advance policy initiatives. Foundation staff have met with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times to influence the coverage of issues that are important to grantees. And staff are working to leverage longstanding relationships with public officials, advocate around grantee issues, and organize wealthy progressive philanthropists to move more of their funds to grassroots groups.

The foundation's long-term investment in building relationships with grassroots leaders makes it easier for it to be effective in the face of urgent threats. It's also why community organizers are willing to provide forty hours of their time over a four-month period to serve on a community funding board and help Liberty Hill’s staff and board make grant decisions. While they can ask for reimbursement for their service, very few do. The advisory board, in turn, helps build accountability within the foundation and fosters stronger ties to and trust among members of the community.

Funders in communities less progressive than Los Angeles can have the same kind of impact by adopting two practices modeled by Liberty Hill:

  1. Invite grantees to inform your strategies, decisions, and practices via surveys, grantmaking and advisory boards, and ongoing conversations.
  2. Keep asking, "How can we help?" and use your foundation's power to play an advocacy role that complements your grantees' strategies.

Liberty Hill Foundation did not panic in the face of systemic attacks on the communities it is committed to serve. Instead, the foundation's leaders, informed by the deep relationships they had forged  over decades, made an honest assessment of the foundation's role in the social justice ecosystem in Los Angeles. Our current social and political climate requires other funders to do the same: recognize and step into your power and, in partnership with marginalized and underrepresented communities, use it to move our economic, legal, and educational systems toward greater equity.

Headshot_jeanne_islerJeanné L.L. Isler is vice president and chief engagement officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

Woods Fund Rejects Notion of Philanthropic Risk, Acknowledges Risk of Status Quo

December 03, 2018

Grantees of Woods Fund Chicago are working to move $25 million from Chicago's operating budget to support trauma-focused and mental health services for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable residents of the city. Without the investment, people in areas without city-run clinics may lose access to much-needed healthcare services. Winning the budget fight will save people's lives.

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineSouthside Together Organizing for Progress, better known as STOP, is one of the organizations working to secure the $25 million, and it knows what it takes to win. In 2016, the organization was part of the Trauma Care Coalition, a group of community-based organizations that mounted a campaign demanding that the University of Chicago open a Level 1 adult trauma center in its South Chicago neighborhood.

When one compares the value of an adult trauma center (not to mention a $25 million investment) for a community like the South Side with the $30,000 general operating support grants the Woods Fund has awarded to STOP annually since 2005, one quickly realizes that any risk for the funder is slight.

Yet many funders look at community organizing and advocacy as something too risky for them to support. Yes, strategies that seek to change systems and advance equity can create conflict and challenge powerful individuals and institutions, but they are also the drivers of the kinds of long-term solutions that philanthropy considers its raison d'être. Funders must always remember that the perceived risk of investing in systems change strategies led by marginalized people cannot compare to the actual physical, financial, and emotional risks of grassroots leaders.

The Woods Fund makes a habit of the kind of "risky" grantmaking so many other funders avoid. Its 2013 NCRP Impact Award acknowledged its support for grantees like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the SouthWest Organizing Project, which helped win policy changes allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

And the foundation not only shares its power and resources with marginalized leaders through its grantmaking but also in the way it goes about its work. For example:

  • It contracted with three of its grantees to test and evaluate a new online grantmaking system.
  • It launched a pilot to support small, emerging grantees and hired a consultant to help the organizations navigate the new system and complete their applications.
  • Its leadership commits at least 30 percent of the foundation’s investments to socially responsible businesses led by marginalized people.
  • One of its core strategies is to invest in people and then get out of the way – behavior that invariably makes some funders uncomfortable.

After a convening of the foundation's grantees in 2017, grantees wanted to continue to share wisdom and advice with each other about how to best leverage community benefits agreements. Woods Fund staff did not attend the convening, but they supported the grantees that organized the event, and the foundation subsequently committed to organizing more of these "peer-shares" in the future.

Another important milestone for the foundation was the decision by its leaders, almost ten years ago, to make a commitment to racial equity. Once the board made clear its decision to commit to goals and practices that advance equity, the rest was relatively easy. The NCRP Impact Award in 2013 merely inspired the foundation to push ahead with its already impressive record of innovative grantmaking.

Based on its record of impact, Woods Fund Chicago's rejection of the notion that investing in grassroots groups equals risk has served it well. Our advice to other funders? Don't be afraid to reframe your idea of risk and acknowledge that, sometimes, it goes hand in hand with movements and community organizing. Think about what you're willing and able to do to ensure that the communities in which you work are health and thriving. And remember: grassroots groups are just as committed to their neighborhoods and communities as you are, if not more so.

Headshot_jeanne_islerJeanné L.L. Isler is vice president and chief engagement officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

5 Questions for… David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

November 27, 2018

Established by the late owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills with more than a billion dollars in assets, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation plans to spend those assets down, with a focus on western New York state and southeastern Michigan, by 2035.

David Egner was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2015, having served prior to that as president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson Webber Foundation. A fixture in Michigan philanthropy for decades, first as an executive assistant to longtime W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby, then as director of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and executive director of the New Economy Initiative, Egner is using his extensive knowledge, experience, and connections to make the Detroit and Buffalo metro region better places to live and work.

PND recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Headshot_david_egnerPhilanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

PND: The foundation is in the process of ramping up its annual grantmaking to $100 million or more. What are some of the challenges you've faced in going from a modestly sized regional foundation to a pretty large foundation with a lot of money to grant out over a limited lifespan?

DE: A major challenge we face as an organization is determining where we fit in the philanthropic marketplace. Given our somewhat unique life cycle, we're focused on identifying how we can add value, fill gaps, and exit gracefully.

Our team knows that philanthropy is an inherently collaborative endeavor. And we strive to operate within the values identified by our trustees as defined by Mr. Wilson — innovation, collaboration, and focus on outcomes.

That's why we’re so committed to working as a partner with local organizations and funders that have already been doing important work in Detroit and Buffalo. We want to support and work with organizations that are aligned with our key program areas. We can direct resources to initiatives, help them scale ideas and programs that are already working well, help them surface new ideas and approaches, and, hopefully, together have a lasting, sustained impact in both regions.

PND: Earlier this year, the foundation announced the launch of an afterschool initiative that is designed to boost the number of girls and students of color with an interest in STEM fields. How did you land on STEM education? What will success look like for that program? And how will you measure it?

DE: One of our interest areas is to help young adults and working families succeed in the workforce. As technology continues to advance, it is important that all communities have the opportunities and tools necessary for success when entering the workforce.

STEM education is a pillar of that focus. To prepare the next generation for the workforce, we not only need to close the gaps in STEM knowledge, we need to close the gaps that keep underrepresented youth from pursuing an interest in STEM subjects. Afterschool STEM programs also help build teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills, which are the kinds of skills that our fast-changing economy increasingly requires.

In the short-term, success will be measured by the quality and variety of the programs in the two regions, as well as the number of kids participating. Ultimately, success will be measured by job readiness and the employability of kids graduating from those programs. We likely will be measuring that in the latter stages of our lifespan.

PND: What are you and your colleagues doing to ensure that the foundation has a lasting impact in Detroit and Buffalo?

DE: Our team has had an ongoing dialogue about that. We're less than four years into our twenty-year lifespan, but the topic of how we exit and ensure that the work continues is always top of mind.

Mr. Wilson gave us a tremendous opportunity in setting up the foundation as he did. Because of its limited lifespan, there's an ever-present urgency to act, to "throw the ball," as he used to say. As a team, we have to balance that urgency with data and thoughtful partnerships.

We're hopeful that the scans and studies we have and are conducting will influence others to address the challenges and opportunities we’ve identified, now and as we exit different program areas. We are really focused on empowering key organizations and building sustainable leadership in each of those areas, and it's likely we will endow a number of initiatives toward the end of our lifespan. But, ultimately, it will be the empowerment of community leaders and the creation of a shared vision of progress that will determine whether we were successful.

— Matt Sinclair

A Conversation With Dee Baecher-Brown, President, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

September 18, 2018

Scenes of catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Florence are a painful reminder of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, one of the deadliest and most destructive on record. After an earlier-than-usual start, the season took a turn for the worst in August when Harvey became the first major hurricane since 2005 to make landfall in the U.S., submerging large swaths of the Houston metro area and southeastern Texas. Then, in September, Irma became the first Category 5 hurricane to impact the northern Leeward Islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Barbuda, which was flattened, before making landfall in the Florida keys with sustained winds of 130 mph. A few weeks later, Maria became the first Category 5 hurricane on record to strike the island of Dominica, causing catastrophic damage there, before striking Puerto Rico and leaving that U.S. territory a shambles.

Recently, PND spoke with Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, about the progress made in the year since Irma and Maria pummeled the islands and what donors in a disaster situation can do to balance the urgency of immediate needs with longer-term recovery goals and objectives. A full accounting of the donors who stepped up to help the Virgin Islands in the wake of the hurricanes will be included in CFVI's year-end report.

Headshot_dee_beacher-brownPhilanthropy News Digest: It's been a year since Hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled the Virgin Islands. Now we’re watching as Florence, another powerful Atlantic hurricane, brings catastrophic flooding to the Carolinas. What are your thoughts as you watch footage of the destruction and displacement caused by Florence?

Dee Baecher-Brown: My first thought is concern. Many of our friends and family are in harm's way, and we're hoping for the best. We don't want anyone to have to experience what the Virgin Islands experienced with Irma and Maria. As the extent of the damage caused by the storm becomes clearer, we just want the folks in the Carolinas to know that we are there for them, because we know firsthand what a difference the outpouring of concern and support in the days immediately following those storms meant to us.

PND: Take us back to weeks just before Irma and Maria hit the Virgin Islands. Was your community as prepared as it could have been?

DBB: You know, that's something we've discussed many times over the course of the last twelve months. Obviously, two category 5 storms in a two-week period was unprecedented, and even though we got a little tired of that word, it does capture something people sometimes forget — namely, that it's hard to prepare for something that hasn't happened before. And the fact that we are small, fairly remote islands in the Caribbean didn't help matters.

That said, I felt CFVI was as prepared as we could have been. We had spent the last twenty-five years supporting the thoughtful, gradual growth of our community, and in terms of our own capacity we had arrived at a point where we had solid financial systems in place and were working with an amazing network of community organizations — organizations that, in my opinion, were key to our being able to help after the storms hit. In September, for example, just days after Maria hit, we were already making grants to our partners, and we were able to do that because we knew who was out there, we knew the kind of work they would be doing, and we knew they needed our support. So, yes, I felt we were as ready as we could be for something that had never happened before.

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Baltimore Children and Youth Fund: Community-Based Grantmaking Comes to Baltimore

August 08, 2018

BCYF-logoThe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Riots are the cry of the unheard." If that maxim is true, Baltimore children, youth, and young adults were crying out long before the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray, Jr. sparked demonstrations and unrest in the city.

Gray’s death was the tipping point, but it was not the cause of the unrest, which was driven by a decades-long pattern in Baltimore of divestment in education, affordable housing, employment, and recreational outlets for children and youth. Whether by intent or impact, young people were not being heard.

Fortunately, while a broad-based coalition of young people, youth-centered organizations, and community leaders had been working to address the vacuum in opportunities for children, youth, and young adults, Baltimore City Council president Bernard "Jack" Young, a longtime advocate for children and youth, was focused on increasing investments in future leaders. His vision eventually spawned the creation of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, which distributes grants ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 to persons and groups with a passion for, or a track record of, authentic engagement with young people.

BCYF was a long time coming. Young twice wrote legislation intended to create such a fund, and his dream was finally realized when voters approved a 2016 ballot referendum to create the fund. That it was established by referendum is key; politicians don't necessarily get what they want absent public support. And everything from the inception of the fund to its day-to-day management is a testament to end-user demand and public support. In this case, the support isn't just for getting resources to the community but doing so in the most inclusive and transparent way possible.

To achieve that goal, several individuals and groups have agreed to partner with BCYF. My organization, Associated Black Charities, is the fiscal agent charged with managing the fund. Frontline Solutions International and UPD Consultants are technical assistance partners, with the former covering everything from consultant collaboration to community engagement, and the latter charged with providing strategic thought-partnership throughout the design, planning, and proposal review and grantee administration processes. Kinetics is the strategic communications partner covering everything from social media engagement to online marketing to media relations.

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CBMA Turns 10: A Decade of Daring Work for Black Male Achievement

June 26, 2018

Campaign_for_black_male_achievementThis month, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) marks ten years of progress: catalyzing more than $200 million in investment in black male achievement while building a national movement to eliminate barriers to the success of African-American men and boys.

From the beginning, we committed to building beloved communities across America where black men and boys are healthy, thriving, and empowered to achieve their fullest potential — that is our core mission and rallying cry.

Leaders in philanthropy, government, and business were not always as focused on mobilizing the necessary investment to ensure that black men and boys — and boys and men of color more broadly — were recognized as assets to our communities and country. That's why in 2008, at the Open Society Foundations, we launched CBMA in response to the growing need we saw in cities and communities across the nation where outcomes for black men and boys lagged far behind those of their white counterparts in all areas, including education, health, safety, jobs, and criminal justice involvement.

Over the last decade, together with our partners, we have catalyzed multiple national initiatives, including the Executives' Alliance for Boys and Young Men of Color, the BMe Community, and Cities United. We played an instrumental role in helping former President Barack Obama launch My Brother's Keeper, an initiative developed in the wake of his speech in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin — asking ourselves, "How should philanthropy respond to Obama's speech on black men and boys?"

CBMA was spun off from OSF as an independent entity in 2015, and today our work resides at the intersection of movement and field building, bolstered by a membership network of more than five thousand leaders and three thousand organizational partners. Our network includes inspired individuals like Robert Holmes, who directs the Chicago Aviation Career Education Academy at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. In partnering with CBMA, Holmes has widened the reach of his efforts to create an educational pathway for young black men interested in becoming pilots, helping diversify a critical industry that has little to no black male representation.

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5 Questions for...Maurice Jones, President/CEO, Local Initiatives Support Corporation

June 05, 2018

Raised by his grandparents in rural Virginia, Maurice Jones knows from personal experience how challenging it can be to live in an underresourced community. Encouraged by his family and teachers, Jones was awarded a full merit scholarship to attend Hampden-Sydney College, a small liberal arts school in Virginia, and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, enabling him to earn a master’s degree in international relations at Oxford University.

Jones went on to earn a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law; worked in the private sector at a Richmond law firm;  became a Special Assistant to the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he helped manage the nascent Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund; and followed that with a stint at a private philanthropy that invested in community-based efforts focused on children in Washington, D.C. Subsequently, he spent time as the deputy chief of staff to Virginia governor Mark Warner, as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, and as general manager of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk (before becoming president and publisher of the paper's parent company). From 2012-2014, he served as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And, immediately prior to becoming president and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in 2016, he served as secretary of commerce and trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed thirteen state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state.

PND recently spoke with Jones about LISC's work in underresourced communities, the power imbalance inherent in such work, and his vision for unlocking the abundant talent and creativity that exists in those communities.

Headshot_maurice_jonesPhilanthropy News Digest: LISC works to equip underresourced communities with the resources — capital as well as knowledge and information — they need to thrive. In 2018, what is the one thing underresourced communities in America need more than anything else?

Maurice Jones: They need more investment in the talent that can be found in all these communities. And this investment needs to come in many forms.

We need to prepare people with the work skills and competencies they need for the work opportunities that already exist, as well as for the new opportunities that will be created over the coming years. This is true in every community we work in, whether it's urban or rural, large city or small municipality, town or county.

We also need to help people in these communities master the basics of finance — what people often refer to as "financial literacy," so they can break out of the cycle of debt and build wealth.

People also need to be better informed about the supports available to them. For example, a parent needs child care in order to devote hours to a job or to skills acquisition. That parent needs to know there are childcare funds they can take advantage of so that he or she can take the steps they need to achieve financial security and the kind of economic mobility so many of us take for granted.

We also need to develop more quality, available housing, and we need to find ways to attract more employers to more areas.

Everything I just mentioned is true in both the urban and rural areas in which we work, but there is one thing that is more acute in rural areas: a significant lack of development when it comes to broadband. In this day and age, if a community is going to grow in all the ways we want communities to grow, it's got to have this critical infrastructure. Broadband is like oxygen is to breathing. There are still significant swathes of rural America, however, which are inadequately supplied with high-speed broadband, and it's a problem. This underdevelopment of broadband is a huge barrier and challenge in terms of making both wealthy states and less wealthy states economically viable in the twenty-first century.

PND: What can we do to fix that?

MJ: We, as a country — the private sector, the public sector, states, localities, and companies — have to commit to getting broadband into rural areas. It's a commitment issue. And it will require significant investment. We all know that the market for broadband favors places that are densely populated. So, the economics of broadband are not favorable to rural areas. But we've simply got to figure out how to subsidize broadband in those markets and forge partnerships of providers schools, businesses, and other stakeholders to make the economics work and get that infrastructure laid. We just need the will to do it. If we commit to it, we can make it happen.

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A Conversation With Nicky Goren, President and CEO, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

March 06, 2018

Founded in 1944 by investment banker and Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer — who later served as head of the War Finance Corporation, chair of the Federal Reserve, and founding president of the World Bank — and his wife, Agnes, a journalist, author, literary translator, and activist (President Lyndon Johnson credited her for helping build public support for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965), the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C., has supported efforts over the years to address racial inequity, urban poverty, and government funding (or lack thereof) for critical needs.

Nicky Goren was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2014, succeeding Julie L. Rogers, who had served in that position for twenty-eight years. Before joining the foundation, Goren had served as president of the Washington Area Women's Foundation and acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 2015 the foundation unveiled a new strategic plan focused on achieving greater racial equity in housing, education, employment, and asset building.

PND recently spoke with Goren about the process the Meyer Foundation initiated in 2014 to develop and implement a racial equity agenda, the importance of doing that work "authentically," and some things foundations new to the space should keep in mind.

Headshot_nicky_gorenPhilanthropy News Digest: While the Meyer Foundation has long supported efforts to advance equality and break the cycle of poverty for individuals and families, the foundation's 2015 strategic plan zeroes in on the "structural and causal" link between poverty and race. How did the focus on poverty and race come about? Were those discussions already happening at the foundation when you were appointed president and CEO in 2014?

Nicky Goren: At the organizational level, the conversations about race, about racism and its connection to poverty, were not yet happening when I got here. I think individual program officers from time to time had incorporated that connection into their portfolios, but it was not an organizational priority at the leadership level.

I came to the foundation with the point of view that those of us who work in philanthropy really needed to move out of our silos, move beyond thinking about grantmaking as a largely transactional activity, and think differently about how we do our work. And in my initial listening sessions as the new CEO, I was trying to understand where the opportunities were for us to deepen our impact and partnerships in the community and what the big issues were. It became clear to me pretty quickly that the big issue at the meta level was wealth inequality, and that the drivers of inequality in the region were disparities in housing, education, workforce skills, and asset building, and that the through line in all those areas was the history and legacy of systemic racism. From those community conversations it was clear that people were eager to move beyond incremental change to real transformation, which meant looking at things at the population level, which meant looking at root causes, which meant embracing systems change — and confronting racism and its role in creating and perpetuating these disparities. There was no way around it: to do our work authentically, we would have to address systemic racism.

PND: You came to Meyer from the Washington Area Women's Foundation, which focuses on improving the economic security of women and girls in the D.C. region. Did your work there inform the things you are doing at Meyer to advance racial equity?

NG: Definitely. That was the first time I was part of an organization that was using any kind of an equity lens, in that case a gender equity lens. And I was energized by what I learned in terms of the barriers to equality that women face. But in this region, low-income women are most often women of color, and the question started coming up more and more, from both funders and the communities we were working in: "Do you look at the work of the Women's Foundation through an intersectional gender and racial equity lens?" Well, it got me thinking and really helped me ask the right questions when I got to Meyer.

As for the intersectionality of economic and racial equity, at Meyer we've come to understand that the main reason for the persistent economic disparities in our region — and in other urban areas across the country — is racism. And if we don't name it and tackle the systems that perpetuate it — the institutions, policies, practices, and norms around race that lead to these economic disparities — we'll never be able to really address the challenges that low-income communities of color are facing. Naming it and looking at those challenges through a racial lens forces you to ask different questions and come up with different solutions, solutions that are more focused on the long-term and persistent barriers faced by people of color. It's about understanding the role race has played in our region's history and in our country's history so that the solutions you put in place really do make a difference in terms of addressing those disparities.

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A Cooperative, Comprehensive Approach to Saving African Elephants

February 06, 2018

Elephant_cooperation_500I fell in love with wildlife as a child when I traveled to Africa with my father, who was a biologist. Back then, the beauty of the continent was difficult for me to put into words, and it stayed with me. But if I was in awe of all the different species I saw on that trip, I was overwhelmed by the elephants — so much so, that when I became a father myself, I wanted to share their beauty and majesty with my daughter. I had to wait a few years, but when she turned 15, we traveled together to the continent that had captured my imagination many years earlier.

It was not what I had expected, and my heart almost broke when I saw firsthand the devastation local elephant populations had suffered in the years since my last visit. I explained to my daughter that these magnificent creatures were being killed for their tusks — which would be smuggled out of country and turned into trinkets and bogus medical remedies to satisfy the growing consumer market in far-away countries such as China and Vietnam. What's more, at the rate they were being killed, African elephants might become extinct in my lifetime, and that her children — my grandchildren — might never have the chance to see one in the wild.

As a co-founder of a hundred-million-dollar company, I had long felt the need to give back, and when I got back to the U.S., I decided I would dedicate myself to saving the African elephant from extinction. It soon became apparent, however, that I would have to embrace unconventional strategies if I hoped to have the slightest chance of succeeding. As I returned to Africa several times over the next few years to learn about amazing organizations already working toward this goal, I realized I didn't need to start another NGO to bring a new approach or project to the table. Instead, I could create a nonprofit organization that would fund established projects and organizations already making a difference and use my connections and influence to bring those projects and organizations to the attention of donors and activists here in America.

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At What Cost 'Mission'?

January 15, 2018

Why_are_whereWhen an exempt nonprofit organization's single-minded pursuit of funding for its mission threatens to damage the broader common good, many in the larger community will question the tax advantages that enable that organization to thrive while others suffer. And so they should.

Recently, this tension was underscored by a situation in our nation's capital, where tax-exempt American University's activities as a commercial real estate developer have led to the loss of local businesses much valued in (and beyond) adjacent neighborhoods — and raised additional concerns about the sometimes-harmful practices of "charitable" entities. While local residents around the country have been doing what they can to maintain the increasingly fragile business mix that reflects the often-historic and unique character of their neighborhoods, too many exempt organizations ignore such concerns and go about their business with a blatant disregard for the consequences of their actions on others.

We've all become familiar with the egregious practices of commercial real estate owners who double, triple, or quadruple a small business owner's rent when a lease expires, forcing the business to vacate the space and leaving it empty for years in hopes that, at some point down the road, it can be combined with adjacent properties to create an attractive parcel for luxury development or perhaps a national chain tenant, even as the surrounding neighborhood retail ecosystem withers and dies.

And when ostensibly nonprofit organizations get into the game, it adds more than insult to injury. Indeed, in the recent case involving American University, which is taking steps to force out a popular family-owned garden center from one of the commercial properties it owns, it heightens the scrutiny on all exempt organizations.

Our current tax code allows exempt nonprofit organizations and institutions to maximize the revenue they generate by mimicking the often-rapacious behavior of commercial real estate developers. While some defenders of exempt organizations’ commercial real estate ventures believe that income from such activities are subject to Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), they are wrong.

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[Review] What Matters: Investing in Results to Build Strong, Vibrant Communities

January 09, 2018

For public- and private-sector leaders working to develop and implement solutions to the challenges — inequality, racism, gaps in educational outcomes and health status — that have vexed American society since the country's founding, the last few decades have been especially frustrating. As Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and one of the editors of this volume, notes in his Introduction, despite collective investments in the trillions, "over 45 million Americans still live in poverty, more than half a million remain homeless...unemployment among young African American men stubbornly persists around 30 percent in many cities, an opioid abuse epidemic [rages] across [the] country," and the United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, "hold[s] 25 percent of the world's prisoners in a system that tends to warehouse rather than rehabilitate."

Book_what_mattersIn the latest addition to the What Matters series, Bugg-Levine and more than seventy-five contributors — including Peter Long, president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation; David J. Erickson, director of community development at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Zia Khan, vice president for initiatives and strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation; Jacob Harold, president and CEO of GuideStar; and Andrea Levere, president of Prosperity Now — make the case that progress on these and other fronts will only be achieved by shifting the collective mindset of community leaders from a short-term focus on outputs (e.g., the number of beds in a shelter occupied every night) to longer-term investments in outcomes (e.g., the number of people successfully transitioned to permanent housing).

In the area of health care, for example, Long argues that nothing short of a fundamental rethink of the nation's approach to health outcome management is needed. But despite ongoing efforts by stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to adopt electronic health records, develop health exchanges, and focus on interoperability, Long worries that "we are building a measurement system that resembles the Winchester Mystery House…[one] that contains hundreds of rooms, designed individually without relation to one another, and many staircases that lead to dead ends." What is needed instead is a clear vision for the U.S. healthcare system and a national infrastructure that supports a better, more coherent outcome measurement system. Unfortunately, Long writes, "in the current political environment, it [is] incredibly challenging to have a candid conversation about our national health values and priorities."

While that assessment might be overly bleak for those who see outcomes-oriented social impact investments as the key to "affordably address our most vexing social challenges," it is impossible to read this volume without recognizing how difficult bringing about such a fundamental shift is likely to be.

Of course, none of the book's contributors argues that such a change will come easily. Indeed, in essay after essay, the chief rationale for adopting an outcomes-oriented approach is the positive effect it can have on people living on the margins. "Across the country, extraordinary leaders are overcoming the status quo, making change happen in their communities, and pushing through the challenges," writes Bugg-Levine. Isn't that enough? Or as Bugg-Levine puts it in one of two essays he's written for the book: "Don't we already provide funding to hospitals to keep people healthy, to homeless shelters to end homelessness, to childcare centers to prepare children for a fruitful life, and to job training programs to find people permanent employment?"

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Catalytic Philanthropic Capital Can Supercharge Affordable Housing Nonprofits

January 05, 2018

Hoousein-affordabilityThe housing crisis in the United States is getting worse. What was already a challenging situation has been compounded by the increasing frequency of severe weather events like hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as by proposed federal budget cuts for fiscal 2018 that would slash HUD programs by $6.2 billion. These and other factors are putting great strain on the insufficient resources set aside to help low-income people maintain an adequate standard of living.

This crisis cannot be solved by the public, private, or government sectors alone. A problem of this scale requires innovative, multisector solutions designed to preserve affordable housing, drive system change, and create economic opportunity for those who need it most.

Rising real estate prices and job growth are not signs of housing stability

Rising real estate prices aren't a solution to the problem; if anything, they're exacerbating it. According to a 2017 report by the Urban Institute, the market provides only twenty-one adequate, affordable, and available (AAA) units for every hundred renter households with income at or below 30 percent of the area median income.

Even in places where job opportunities are improving, the housing crisis is worsening. One-third of all U.S. households are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, yet between 2005 and 2015 the number of rental units costing less than $800 per month declined by 2 percent, while the number of units costing more than $2,000 increased 97 percent. Cities like Boston have witnessed a booming job market, leading to a population spike, followed by a development boom. Investors are buying land and sitting on it, waiting for values to rise even higher and leaving little to no property for affordable housing. Naturally occurring affordable housing — housing that is affordable without public subsidy — is at risk for acquisition and flipping, resulting in higher risk of eviction for people already living on the edge.

This scenario is playing out all across the country. Naturally occurring affordable housing is being lost at an alarming rate to developers with deep pockets who acquire the properties with plans to raise rents.

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Thoughts on ‘As the South Grows’

December 27, 2017

As-the-South-Grows-cover-232x300As someone who has shed plenty of blood and tears after almost twenty years living and breathing Southern philanthropy, I am thrilled with the deep and committed work of Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) on the As the South Grows series of publications. The writers — Ryan Schlegel and Stephanie Peng — spent a great deal of time outside the walls of their offices to capture the authentic voice of residents of six Southern sub-regions that have had small to middling philanthropic investment over the years.

My experience as a locally embedded Southern funder — first with the Rapides Foundation and then the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust — over the past couple decades prompted a reaction to both what is presented and what I hope will be addressed in future reports. The following observations come from a same church/different pew perspective of someone who has spent the bulk of his professional career trying to get philanthropic activity connected to local champions in a way that makes sense to funders and communities alike.

1. Large regional or national funders increasingly want long-haul relationships. For decades, I have observed the lack of large funder investment in the South. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some particularly underresourced and isolated places in the region have never had any formal funder investment — ever.

Southern communities can certainly use financial resources focused on locally produced efforts to drive community development and improvement. But it is just as, if not more, important that large funder involvement focus on: 1) the inclusion of these places as part of national learning platforms; and 2) enabling these communities to tap into the wealth of intellectual and social capital that national funders can access on their behalf.

For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health prize recognized the small town of Williamson, West Virginia (population 3,100), in 2014 with a $25,000 award. The award paved the way for government funders to support new work around built environment, healthy foods, economic development, and other initiatives designed to benefit this coal-country town.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2017)

October 03, 2017

September 2017. A month most of us would like to forget. But while folks in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands were being pounded by Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, our colleagues here at the Foundation Center were doing yeoman's work tracking the hundreds and millions of dollars (more than $300 million at last count) in corporate, foundation, and individual commitments for relief and recovery efforts. For folks interested interested in doing a deeper dive into who gave what, we posted (and regularly updated) some great tables during the month (see below) — as well as great posts by Michael Seltzer, Surina Khan, Tracey Durning, and Chris Kabel (Kresge Foundation), Amy Kenyon (Ford Foundation), and Sharon Z. Roerty (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Check it out...and RIP Tom Petty — our hearts are broken.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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  • "Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated...."

    — Kofi Annan (1938-2018)

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