93 posts categorized "Covid-19"

5 Questions For…Linda Goler Blount, President and CEO, Black Women's Health Imperative

July 08, 2021

Linda Goler Blount joined the Black Women's Health Imperative, the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls, as president and CEO in February 2014.

Since then, Goler Blount has overseen investments totaling more than $20 million in Black women's health and research. She is responsible for moving the organization forward in its mission to achieve health equity and reproductive justice for Black women. BWHI recently announced that it received a $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to improve vaccination rates among Black women and communities of color. The grant, part of the foundation's $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative, supports hyper-local, community-led programs working to improve vaccine access and support educational outreach in five cities. BWHI will convene a Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force to provide high-impact advocacy recommendations to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake. The task force will include the leaders of National Caucus & Center on Black Aging and National Coalition of 100 Black Women, policymakers, disparities experts, and community organizations.

Before joining the Black Women's Health Imperative, Goler Blount served as the vice president of programmatic impact for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, where she led the effort to eliminate inequalities in health, income, education, and housing through place- and population-based work. She was also the first national vice president of health disparities at the American Cancer Society, in which role she provided strategic vision and leadership for reducing cancer incidence and mortality among underserved populations and developed a nationwide health equity policy.

PND asked Goler Blount about the ways in which Black women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force, and how to address the racial disparity in maternal mortality rates.

Headshot_Linda Goler Blount_Black Womens Health ImperativePhilanthropy News Digest: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black Americans are 2.9 times as likely as white Americans to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 1.9 times as likely to die. In what ways have Black women in particular been disproportionately impacted since the pandemic began and what needs to be done to address this disparity?

Linda Goler Blount: The heavy toll of COVID-19 on Black America is sharpened for Black women, who live at the intersection of gendered and racialized oppression and are experiencing disastrous impacts on their health, economic stability, and social well-being. Black women are impacted disproportionately by underlying health conditions linked to severe COVID-19 cases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, the high incidence of which serves as a consequence of America's long history of structural racism and gender oppression. The confluence of the gender pay gap and the racial wealth gap have made economic instability a harsh reality for Black women.

In addition, the physical health impacts of COVID-19 are clear, and the psychological stress of the pandemic is certain to have long-term effects on Black women's mental health as well. Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the same structural racism that produces disease in Black communities is also creating barriers to treatment, care, and comfort — and worsening existing health crises. To address the physical health impacts on Black women, we need policy makers to ensure access to adequate and affordable health insurance, invest in initiatives that address systemic racism within health care; and expand Medicaid coverage in all states.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 extends beyond what many of us could have ever imagined, with 60 percent of Black households reporting severe financial problems and Black women maintaining the second-highest rate of unemployment during the pandemic. Policy makers should implement universal paid sick leave and expand eligibility for family and medical leave, raise the federal minimum wage, establish an independent equity committee to review and revise the eligibility criteria for economic relief programs, and develop a long-term funding strategy to support and increase businesses owned and operated by Black women. It is apparent that the social impacts of COVID-19 and racial injustice are wide-reaching and closely intertwined with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic and racial crisis — all of which affect Black women's quality of life. We believe lawmakers should address those impacts by extending the federal eviction moratorium and canceling debts, increasing the availability of affordable housing, and expanding quality broadband access across the country, with investments in low-income and rural communities to provide resources for quality distance learning and training.

PND: Black Americans report lower levels of trust in the healthcare system as a result of outright abuses like the Tuskegee study and day-to-day discrimination experienced when visiting healthcare facilities. What are some approaches you believe can work to restore trust in the healthcare system?

LGB: Vaccines save lives, but too many Black Americans have vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy is well placed and often rooted in mistrust of the medical establishment and doubts about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. But I would tell those reluctant to be vaccinated that millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in history. COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective. If too many Black Americans put off vaccinations, achieving widespread immunity in this country will be increasingly challenging.

A reassuring aspect the public should be educated about is the vaccine was developed by a Black doctor, vetted by Black physicians, and clinically tested on Black trial participants during the research and development phase. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett stands at the heart of Moderna's vaccine development, and her research was applied to the development of a coronavirus vaccine now distributed around the world.

One thing needed to make this happen is trust — for predominantly white institutions to trust Black physicians and Black researchers to implement the cultural approaches they know will work with Black communities. That is going to mean giving time and resources to those Black institutions and doctors and healthcare providers, so they can go into Black communities and engage in strategies that are going to be really effective. There is also a need for strategic messaging tailored to Black Americans. Because Black communities must seek COVID-19 vaccinations, there is a need to double down on healthcare providers' critical role as trusted messengers in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

PND: The goal of the Rockefeller Foundation's $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative is to ensure that at least seventy million people of color are vaccinated by July. How will BWHI's Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force's work assist in reaching that goal?

LGB: Raising awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine in communities of color and advocating for its equitable distribution is a key 2021 priority for BWHI. Accurate, culturally sensitive information provides Black women with the background and knowledge to advocate for equitable and affordable access to this critical lifesaving vaccine during these uniquely challenging times. To that end, the BWHI Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness & Equity Task Force will provide high-impact advocacy recommendations for community-based tools, resources, and grassroots implementation activities for COVID-19 vaccine education and uptake. This will include CEO leadership of its strategic project partners, as well as a diverse group of leaders, policy makers, disparities experts, and community advocates who will coordinate and consult on COVID-19 community engagements, strategic initiatives, and resources. To close gaps, BWHI will form strategic partnerships with National Caucus & Center on Black Aging, Inc. (NCBA) and National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW) to deploy COVID-19 vaccine and equity initiatives among Black women in five U.S. cities: Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Oakland, CA; and Newark, NJ.  BWHI will also collaborate with several community organizations to encourage vaccinations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Global Policy Initiative (SCL GPI), R.E.A.C.H. Beyond Solutions, New Jersey Department of Health, and the Women's National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA). Now more than ever, it is critical to arm Black women, who are the vital arbiters of healthcare decisions for their families and communities, with culturally relevant and accurate information that they can act upon to reduce the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

PND: BWHI is the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls. After thirty-eight years, are the challenges today the same as when the organization began? What's changed?

LGB: Ironically, the biggest challenge today is the same as when the organization began thirty-eight years ago. Black women's most significant health issue is the system, as it was four decades ago. Deep-seated structural and systematic racism are not just obstacles to addressing Black women's health issues — they are the health issue. What underlies Black women's disproportionate myriad health issues and disparities is the country's long history of structural and systemic racism within social, commercial, and government systems that disadvantage Black Americans. They can be seen through inequities in socioeconomic status, segregated communities, and even how Black women's pain and conditions are disbelieved and dismissed by the medical community. Standard medical practice continues to fail to consider the unique challenges Black women face.

Today, however, there is greater recognition. The CDC declared racism a public health emergency by observing structural inequities that have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable. More than twenty cities and counties and at least three states — Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin — have also declared racism a public health crisis. There is a greater understanding among the medical establishment that Black women are made less healthy by medical racism and biases held by healthcare workers against people of color in their care. Even though the principal challenge remains the same, with the right tools, resilience is possible. BWHI will continue to advocate for advances in health equity and social justice for Black women, across their lifespan, through policy, advocacy, education, research, and leadership development. Since our founding, we have strived to identify the most pressing health issues that affect the nation's twenty-two million Black women and girls and invested in the best strategies and organizations that accomplish these goals and will continue to do so in the future.

PND: Since a maternal mortality checkbox was added to death certificates in all fifty states, the U.S. has better maternal mortality data and we now know that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and to suffer from severe disability resulting from childbirth than white women. What are some of the policies lawmakers should enact that would improve maternal health outcomes for Black women?

LGB: To address maternal health outcomes in Black women, BWHI calls for policy solutions to help us understand why this occurs, through the data and further conversation with Black women, and then fight for change. Our goal is to understand more clearly how racism, bias, and disrespectful care contribute to this tragedy and create a call to action to transform clinical practice and improve healthcare outcomes.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is legislation pending in Congress designed to improve maternal health, especially for Black women most impacted by pregnancy complications. It comprises twelve individual bills that will address issues such as maternal mental health, social determinants of health, and COVID-19 risks for pregnant and postpartum women. It is an important first step toward addressing disparities in maternal mental health care and ensuring that all pregnant, birthing, and postpartum Black women have access to the health care they need. BWHI is also calling for policies that emphasize data collection, including a deeper analysis of data on the lived experiences of pregnant Black women. That data would inform a strategy to examine the underlying causes of poor maternal outcomes among Black women and to develop and implement strategies for policy, practice, and delivery systems to move the needle.

— Lauren Brathwaite

How nonprofits can evolve following a time of uncertainty

July 01, 2021

News_sheet_musicAs the country begins to reopen after more than a year of uncertainty and isolation, the need for a sense of community and belonging is greater than ever. There couldn't be a better time for nonprofit organizations to double down on their commitment to the communities they serve.

According to a recent study commissioned by Fidelity Charitable, 25 percent of current donors plan to increase their donations in the coming year and 54 percent intend to maintain their donation levels. What's more, most donors plan to support local charities. This trend presents a unique opportunity for local organizations committed to purpose-driven work to step up and lead.

For the Brooklyn Youth Music Project (BYMP), a small nonprofit dedicated to teaching and inspiring young musicians from diverse backgrounds, the inability to hold in-person rehearsals and performances caused us to think differently about our fundraising tactics — just as we were coming up on our tenth anniversary. We are certainly not alone in this situation; studies have shown that the pandemic has negatively impacted activities such as volunteering across all sectors around the world.

By changing our perspective on what's possible and staying focused on how to continue serving our community, BYMP was able to evolve and make this a record-breaking year right out of the gate. We did so by employing five principles that can help nonprofits ensure success and sustainability in even the most challenging times:

1. Re-commit. The three part-time employees who make up BYMP — with the support of a committed board of directors — stayed true to our mission despite the challenges we faced.

As an organization that is based on in-person rehearsals and performances, having to shift to a world gone virtual was a daunting task. By keeping our mission of serving the children and families in our community (many of whom had been with BYMP for years) in focus, we were able to find new ways of working and connecting with them. Re-committing to our mission meant doing whatever we could, and had to, to keep the kids connected through music. This also included being fully transparent with our community as to what was, and was not, possible.

2. Shake up the status quo. When faced with unprecedented circumstances, the sooner you acknowledge that old ways of operating need to be upended, the better. We did so by embracing technology that enabled us to leverage virtual events and showcase our students as well as broaden our reach beyond our local community. More on this in Principle 5.

3. Take chances. Unforeseen obstacles presented an opportunity for us to step out of our comfort zones and expand our horizons. We seized the opportunity to dial up our presence by scheduling five concerts over the course of the year — doing virtually something we never could have done in person, even in a milestone anniversary year, due to the resource and logistical needs of staging live events. Taking risks and stepping outside the collective comfort zone is the essential path to organizational growth.

4. Assess your results. Take a thorough inventory of your fundraising tactics and determine what worked and what could have had more impact. Our efforts resulted in record event attendance at virtual fundraisers and performances. Most importantly, donations from our first two fundraisers resulted in a 100 percent increase in donations over 2019. So we will look to incorporate virtual events into our program schedule moving forward, peppering them in with in-person events once pandemic protocols are lifted.

5. Learn new skills. Taking time to learn new skills and programs goes a long way in helping the professional development of your team and strengthening your organization's assets. A win-win for everyone. While it requires an initial investment in time, the long-term results can make for a strong return on investment. For example, the time our staff spent learning video and audio editing for online concerts was substantial, but the skills we gained will continue to pay off for years to come. In addition, by using existing free tools, we expanded our reach and made it easier for both new and existing supporters to donate. With YouTube Premiere, we increased views of a single video by more than 400 percent, and the text-to-mobile feature enabled by Pledge.com helped increase our donations during our concert watch parties.

The good news, as evidenced by the philanthropic community's uncharacteristically responsive, quick, and flexible support for COVID-19 relief efforts, is that individuals and corporations can approach local philanthropy with a sense of urgency. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, one of the keys to ushering in a new era of giving is for large-scale donors to invest in local charities as a way to test and learn and fine-tune their efforts, which in turn can help inform their corporate giving models in advance of supporting national or even global initiatives. So, the task at hand is to make this a long-term reality for nonprofits large and small and those charged with more evergreen, mission-driven programming. Let's keep local charities front and center by re-committing to our missions, shaking up the status quo, taking chances, assessing our results, and learning new skills. These actions will drive forward motion, keep the momentum going, and help develop new ways of connecting with potential donors. This way, smaller charities can become an integral part of ongoing high-impact giving rather than a stepping-stone to larger organizations. There is room for everyone, and the benefits of local giving can be immediately felt within one's own community, which is reason enough to step outside our comfort zones and push through with confidence and conviction.

Every challenge presents an opportunity. In the words of Thomas Edison, "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven't."

Pat Gunther_Brooklyn_Youth_Music_Project_PhilanTopicPat Gunther is managing director of Brooklyn Youth Music Project. She has more than twenty-five years of combined experience in nonprofit arts administration and project management.

The responsibility of nonprofits to take care of staff, now and in the future

June 24, 2021

Office_diversity_creative_GettyImages_scyther5When the pandemic hit, everyone panicked, and nonprofits weren't immune. Organizations like mine, Teen Cancer America (TCA), relied significantly on large in-person fundraising events and activities to support our work, and when such events were no longer possible, our entire donor-relations model was disrupted. And this happened just as demand for our services increased as a result of the acute isolation young cancer patients were experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Nearly every nonprofit has struggled with its own pandemic-related challenges, and while many have found creative ways to keep their heads above water, maintaining and supporting a stressed staff — helping them do their jobs and finding new ways to reward them — has been a challenge. With our operating budgets under pressure, monetary rewards could not be guaranteed. How could I make sure they knew that I authentically cared about their well-being?

I wanted to do something that demonstrated thoughtfulness, truly helped boost team cohesion, and also could signal to donors that TCA was a responsible employer while being fiscally prudent.

The pandemic has highlighted the uncertainty of our futures on a very personal level. I thought about employees like Alec, one of our youngest team members and a cancer survivor: How could I ensure that his and other employees' financial futures were safe? I pondered the responsibility I had to support staff in their future planning and concluded that the charity should investigate 401(k) options, something I hadn't previously considered.

"For people my age, the future of our careers fluctuates, and with that comes financial uncertainty," Alec told me. "Especially with this pandemic and having had cancer myself, I know how important it is to prepare for the future, whatever that looks like for me. I may not be in the same career, I may not have a stable job, or I may not even be able to work for health reasons in the future, but I know I will have this 401(k) account ready for me so I can retire with fewer worries."

Most nonprofit leaders might assume their organizations aren't even eligible for such a plan. I'd assumed that the expense and lack of flexibility would make it impossible for TCA, but it turns out that today's 401(k) plans offer some options.

My criteria had been straightforward: low cost; competent account management; complete flexibility over the level of employer contribution, which would enable me to manage within our means; and simplicity and flexibility for staff to manage their own accounts. I was referred to Human Interest,* and the wealth management company run by one of our board members did due diligence and gave the green light, impressed by its investment philosophy and low fee structure. We also looked into 403(b) plans, but 401(k) plans turned out to be the best option for a nonprofit like ours.

Most of my preconceptions that nonprofits couldn't afford to provide 401(k)s to their employees were smashed: There was flexibility in how much in matching funds I could offer year-to-year, depending on how well our fundraising went. An "auto-enroll" function made sure that everyone in the organization could take advantage of the new benefit right away, and employees could change their contribution level from month to month. And because we had control over the charity's contribution, I could show existing and potential donors that TCA was doing something important to take care of employees both now, during a difficult time, and in the future, as responsible employers.

As someone who has gone through this 401(k) selection process, I want to encourage other leaders to consider what it might mean for their employees' lives. While nonprofits often assume that they can't offer a "full benefits package" that includes retirement plans, many team members under 30 either haven't thought much about retirement or assume it is out of reach because they are used to living paycheck to paycheck. It is our responsibility to help educate them.

The retirement gap (the amount people need to retire comfortably vs. the amount they are currently on track to save by retirement age) is widening into a chasm. This is potentially disastrous for individuals, families, and a society that is ill-equipped to carry the burden of a future aging population. Nonprofits have just as important a role to play as any other employer in closing that gap.

Here are a few practical tips for other nonprofits who may be looking at 401(k) plans as an option:

Communicate with and educate your employees about why retirement matters. Once our staff understood why it was important to save early and, most importantly, why it should be part of the permanent workplace culture at TCA, we had high rates of participation, making it clear the benefit was a worthwhile investment.

Be transparent and communicate to donors about the plan and the reasons behind it. The messaging should emphasize why you are fully committed to helping staff through times like the pandemic and other challenges. Demonstrating that you've chosen a low-cost, manageable plan lets funders — and your board — know that you're controlling costs and using contributions responsibly.

Here are some specific features in a plan that will help in the nonprofit context:

  • Plans with resources to help educate employees and guide their investment choices.
  • Easy initiation, with an option to "auto-enroll" employees. Research has shown that auto-enroll encourages higher participation and savings than the "opt-in" method.
  • Compare fees to get the lowest. Traditional 401(k) providers have tailored their offerings to big companies and often include hefty sign-up, initiation, and termination fees, but now we have far less expensive options to choose from.
  • Make sure it allows for flexibility. Does the plan allow the employer match to change according to a yearly budget? This is a key feature for the sometimes volatile budgetary world we all live in.
  • Think about your employees and the apps they use in their daily lives. Our plan came with a dashboard for millennial and Gen Z staff who are used to managing all things online.

Given nonprofits' often limited budgets, it's easy to ignore what we used to call "nice-to-haves" for our staff, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that well-being matters, and taking our employees' wellness — physical, mental, and financial — seriously is an essential part of keeping our organizations afloat. In the case of a 401(k) or other retirement plan, this nice-to-have should become a must-have. I would like to see this as the universally accepted norm on a global scale.

Simon_Davies_philantopicSimon Davies is executive director of Teen Cancer America (TCA), a nonprofit founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who that helps health providers and systems develop specialized programs and facilities for teenagers.

*Disclosure: TCA is a current customer of Human Interest. However, neither TCA, nor any of its representatives, received compensation for the publication of this article.

It's time to build a better behavioral health system

June 10, 2021

Mental_healthOur nation's collective mental health has been severely challenged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as we begin to envision our post-pandemic future, it's important to take a step back and recognize that our behavioral health system needed improvements even before COVID-19, and that it's time for philanthropy to consider taking new approaches to funding and advocating in this area.

For more than a year, the isolation caused by the social and physical distancing necessitated by the pandemic and the ongoing stress created by the disruptions to our daily routines have impacted all of us — and those conditions have led to a massive spike in mental health issues. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an astonishing 41.1 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder in a January 2021 survey, nearly four times the average seen between January and June of 2019.

The toll has been especially heavy for our most vulnerable neighbors. Isolation has had a tremendous negative impact on the elderly and the young, while the daily stress of living through the pandemic has been especially intense for people of color, families living below the poverty line, the precariously housed, individuals with pre-existing physical or behavioral health problems, and single parents.

Foundations nationwide have recognized these risks and rallied to provide emergency funding to help support many of the urgent mental health needs created by COVID-19. The New York Community Trust (NYCT) — the community foundation where I oversee grantmaking in the areas of health, behavioral health, and biomedical research — has funded efforts to provide mental health counseling to frontline workers and technology to enable mental healthcare providers to connect with patients virtually and ensure that hard-to-reach populations receive the services they need.

These rapid-response efforts were, and remain, critical as we attempt to address the mental health crisis created by COVID-19. But we must now recognize that our system, as currently designed, is not built to accommodate the great need that already existed before the pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, our systems for delivering mental health care were failing to help the majority of those in need of such support. In 2019, an estimated 51.5 million U.S. adults experienced a mental illness — roughly one in five people over the age of 18 — yet only 44.8 percent received mental health services.

This massive gap is largely the result of our healthcare system's lack of capacity to serve those who need help. Compounding the problem is the fact that even if there were enough trained providers to meet the need, many Americans do not have the means to afford it.

The human and economic cost of this failure is substantial. Each person with an untreated mental illness is a person who struggles to maintain steady employment and help support their family. Our criminal justice system is stretched beyond its limits, in large part because of the extraordinary number of incidents involving individuals who are experiencing behavioral health crises — the very challenges that also prevent millions of Americans from taking care of their physical health.

Imagine if we could rebuild our behavioral health system so it provided the ongoing care that's so clearly needed. Not only would we help those 51.5 million Americans with their mental health, we would create a better workforce, strengthen families, lessen the strain on our police departments and courts, incarcerate fewer people, reduce the number of people experiencing chronic physical health conditions, and increase lifespans. In other words, by putting a focus on mental health, we would be taking a critical step in addressing myriad social issues — and equipping our nation for a healthier and more prosperous future.

Yet for decades, despite our support for well-meaning interventions, both philanthropy and government have fallen short in addressing America's mental health crisis. Instead of improving mental healthcare systems, we've mostly invested in programs that address urgent needs and those in crisis — certainly an important aspect of care, but not the only one.

It's time to take a new approach. Philanthropy and government have an opportunity to join forces to make meaningful structural changes that will help millions of Americans who are not receiving the treatment they need to lead healthy, productive lives. And these changes are not as difficult, or as costly, as you might think.

For example, NYCT, along with Well Being Trust and the Sunflower Foundation, commissioned the Bipartisan Policy Center to study how to better integrate primary health care and behavioral health care. By taking steps to diagnose and treat behavioral and physical health in tandem, rather than separately, the center estimates that we can help improve outcomes for as many as a million Americans over the next ten years.

When I joined NYCT more than two decades ago, a mentor shared the adage “form follows finance.” A twist on the early twentieth-century architecture and industrial design principle of “form follows function,” it is perhaps more relevant than ever to the provision of behavioral health services.

The center's take on better coordination of care between behavioral and physical health is a clarion call for philanthropy to push for better coordination of delivery and financing systems. The federal government and several states have begun to advance models of care that prioritize outcomes over volume and pay for care that is delivered with this in mind.

This is a good start. But philanthropy must do more to ensure that its resources — modest as they are, compared with the country's healthcare spending, which by some estimates is almost 20 percent of our pre-pandemic GDP — ensure that financing aligns with a priority focus on coordinated care across all delivery systems, whether they be hospital- or clinic-based, or in community settings.

It behooves philanthropy to continue to pay attention to many of the root causes of mental and emotional distress that is so prevalent in communities across our country, often referred to as the social determinants of health — the conditions under which people live, work, and learn. Because historical inequities across the board — but especially within the context of race — have hampered such an approach, it is important that our funding address the complex challenges of inadequate insurance coverage, a stressed workforce, and the critical role of non-clinical providers in the delivery of services.

Finally, if America is to achieve a behavioral healthcare system that cares for those in crisis and enables them to manage chronic conditions, philanthropy has a critical role to play in advocating to ensure that financing actually supports such a system.

And for those of my colleagues who work at a community foundation or a grantmaking public charity that can legally engage in lobbying efforts, I entreat you to use that option. Let us imagine and work toward a healthcare system that covers the entire person — mind and body — and makes a healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable America possible.

Irfan_Hasan_NY_community_trust_PhilanTopicIrfan Hasan is deputy vice president for grants at the New York Community Trust, where he oversees health, behavioral health, and biomedical research grants.

Venture philanthropy: The secret weapon for unlocking biomedical research's full life-changing potential

June 04, 2021

Eye_retina_gettyimages_batkeMore than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much reflection around "lessons learned" across all sectors. In the biomedical research space, we've seen science meet the urgent need for safe and effective vaccines at miraculous speed to contain the spread of the virus. The mRNA technology used in some of those vaccines has broad implications for future treatments for a variety of other viruses, cancers, and diseases and is a clear indication of how far science has evolved in a short period of time. Imagine what treatments and cures could be unlocked — with the necessary funding.

In the United States, public funding for basic research has long come from the National Institutes of Health, but the U.S. government lags other advanced economies in the amount of funding it provides for the translational research required to convert basic science into tangible patient treatments. And while more public funding for biomedical research at the critical clinical trial stage is essential, it is going to take public, private, and philanthropic dollars to ensure that biomedical research into promising treatments and cures doesn't wither on the vine. Federal programs such as the Cancer Moonshot, state-level initiatives like the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and promising legislation aimed at providing private-sector loans to companies developing novel treatments for disease and disability are all helpful — but still leave a funding gap. There needs to be a third leg to stabilize those public- and private-sector efforts, and we believe that third leg is philanthropy.

As successful entrepreneurs and venture investors, we see our donations as investments in the mission of the nonprofit organizations we support. We each have a personal connection to the mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness: one of us has experienced loss of sight from retinitis pigmentosa as a young adult, and the other has raised two sons with vision impairment caused by Stargardt disease. Based on our personal experiences, we have a keen understanding of what it is like to be a patient or have a loved one waiting for life-changing treatments to become available.

For fifty years, thanks to the generosity of donors, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has successfully funded research in pursuit of treatments and cures for the entire spectrum of inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which together affect more than two hundred million people globally. Yet, more needs to be done. The key discoveries made in labs need to make it into the hands of industry-led therapy developers to conduct clinical testing and win FDA approval. But a gap in funding often prevents this progress, and in this case, the science is now outpacing the funding.

To bridge this funding gap, the Foundation Fighting Blindness created the Retinal Degeneration Fund (RD Fund), a nonprofit, pure-play venture philanthropy investment vehicle designed to help accelerate the technical aspects of the organization's mission and advance its financial goals. Our respective family foundations contributed significant capital to launch the fund, which allowed us to be more involved in the organization's work by funding highly visible activities in biotech startups and spinouts. We've taken concepts and techniques from our venture capital finance and business management experience and applied them to our philanthropic goals of accelerating the progress on treatments and cures, while positioning the organization for long-term sustainability.

Launched in late 2018 with $72 million under management, the first fund is now 90 percent committed, with nine investments plus reserves. This invested capital has attracted an additional $400 million in capital to date from institutional co-investors and has produced its first exit with the sale of Vedere Bio to Novartis for $280 million, enabling the organization to plug a financial gap in its long-range science spending plan and roll over significant funds to seed Fund 2. 

We take comfort in knowing that the venture philanthropy model already has been successfully scaled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, just to name a few. One key element is to manage it professionally and deliberately; one cannot just wander into biotech equity investing without experience, deep scientific know-how, and world-class advice and oversight. The RD Fund has an independent board of directors with expertise spanning retinal biology, clinical ophthalmology, finance, and entrepreneurship, and the board works closely with an executive management team with significant operational, strategic, and leadership experience. Importantly, the fund is able to rely on an international scientific advisory board and leverage the organization's patient registry and clinical consortium. In other words, the brain trust of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and its venture arm have the collective scientific and business acumen to best determine what is or is not an investible mission-related opportunity.

We are encouraged by venture philanthropy's ability to reap a return to be re-invested in furthering an organization's mission, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Most important, our experience has demonstrated that jump-starting the pipeline for treatments and cures through venture philanthropy holds real promise as a viable, scalable approach for addressing other underserved diseases impacting so many.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Batke)

Gordon Gund_Paul_Manning_PhilanTopicGordon Gund is chair and CEO of Gund Investment Corporation; after losing his sight from retinitis pigmentosa in 1970, he co-founded the Foundation Fighting Blindness with his wife, Lulie, and others. Paul Manning is founder, chair, and CEO of PBM Capital; both of his sons were diagnosed with Stargardt disease.

What COVID-19 has taught us about the humanitarian system and women's rights organizations

June 02, 2021

CFTA_feminist_humanitarian_networkWhen the COVID-19 pandemic struck — and with it came public health measures including stay-at-home orders — women's rights organizations (WROs) the world over were quick to sound the alarm: Gender-based violence (GBV) would increase. Women and "marginalized" groups would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and the inequality they already face would deepen. The gendered impacts of crises are well documented, and COVID-19 would be no different.

WROs acted swiftly to address those issues, working to strengthen community-based mechanisms to ensure that women could report GBV and expect a response. Organizations adapted their systems and approaches to ensure that women could continue to access critical services during lockdowns, including psycho-social support, maternal and newborn child health care, and sexual and reproductive health services. WROs also advocated for recognition of the impacts of the crisis on women's rights and called for funding to be targeted to mitigating those impacts.

While responding to the pandemic and its fallout, WRO members of the Feminist Humanitarian Network (FHN), a collective of women leaders working together to transform the humanitarian system into one that is guided by feminist principles, saw an opportunity: Here was a moment to document the essential role WROs play in humanitarian action, to capture the work that they do, any time an emergency occurs, to ensure that women and "marginalized" groups aren't left out of relief efforts.

FHN member organizations — of which 70 percent are WROs working in the Global South and 30 percent are international non-government organizations (INGOs) and organizations based in the Global North — are working to achieve a global humanitarian system that is responsive, accountable, and accessible to women and the diverse organizations that serve them, and that challenges rather than perpetuates structural inequalities. A pervasive lack of recognition of WROs as humanitarian actors and leaders is just one of a number of critical issues that FHN is working to change.

The current humanitarian system and the actors it is comprised of (governments, United Nations agencies, INGOs, and national actors) systematically exclude women and their organizations from all phases of humanitarian action, from funding to decision making. WROs are rarely invited to contribute to national planning processes for humanitarian response or to sit on emergency committees. When a funding call is made, WROs rarely receive the information, and when they do, rarely succeed in their grant applications.

Needless to say, the impacts of this exclusion are enormous. Women's needs — and indeed, the needs of "marginalized" groups, such as people with disabilities, refugees, and the LGBTIQA community — go unaddressed as a result. WROs and women-led organizations, which often represent diverse groups of women and their communities, are uniquely positioned to highlight the needs of those they work with and ensure that they are addressed. When the leadership role of those organizations is undermined, basic requirements like including sanitary supplies in relief distributions and ensuring that distribution sites are accessible to people with disabilities are overlooked.

In addition to presenting an opportunity to showcase the role that WROs working at grassroots, local, and national levels play on the frontlines of humanitarian action, COVID-19 offered a snapshot of the global humanitarian system — how the current system works and the challenges it presents for WROs in the Global South — the patriarchal and colonial practices embedded in the system that are at the root of the lack of recognition, lack of access to resources, and exclusion that WROs experience.

And so FHN members in Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, and South Africa – conducted research to document their own humanitarian leadership, and that of their peers in the response to the pandemic. Their findings have been published in a series of national reports and a global report entitled Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens. The reports highlight multiple critical barriers presented by the humanitarian system that undermine the leadership of WROs, and describe not only their ability to respond to crises but their long-term sustainability as essential women's rights actors working to protect and advance women's rights.

In six of the eight studies, WROs were unable to access donor funding, in large part as a result of excessive due diligence requirements that these organizations, working around the clock to respond to the emergency with limited resources, were (particularly in times of crisis) unable to fill. Instead, WROs undertaking critical work — ensuring that women with disabilities were able to meet basic needs throughout the crisis, for example — funded their efforts with their leaders' personal resources or funds contributed by the community. At the same time, women and their organizations were excluded from decision-making processes — left out of planning undertaken by international and national actors and from emergency response committees at all levels.

And yet those organizations persevered, working collectively in the "spirit of sisterhood" to challenge injustice, demand that their voices be heard, and work to influence the response efforts — and ensure that women's needs were addressed in each context. WROs continue to take action so that women are not left behind in the COVID-19 response and women's rights are advanced through humanitarian action.

For many of us working in the humanitarian sector, the pandemic has re-emphasized much of what we already knew: Emergencies exacerbate gender injustice, in part because the humanitarian system reinforces existing patriarchal social structures by excluding women from funding and decision making. Women's Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens has captured the creativity, resourcefulness, and deep feminist approaches of WROs in the Global South and has presented a powerful argument for why that system must change.

To be part of that change and to create a system that is inclusive of all and creates sustainable, transformative change, humanitarian actors across the system must immediately increase support for organizations advancing women's rights, in the form of direct, long-term, flexible funding. They must recognize their expertise and follow their leadership. A feminist humanitarian system is not only possible; it is critically needed and requires every humanitarian actor — including, importantly, donors — to take action.

Holly_Miller_Naomi_Tulay_Solanke_PhilanTopicHolly Miller is lead at the Feminist Humanitarian Network, a global collective of women leaders working together to achieve a humanitarian system that is guided by feminist principles. Naomi Tulay-Solanke is executive director of Community Healthcare Initiative and a member of the Feminist Humanitarian Network Steering Committee.

How trust-based values can transform philanthropy

May 21, 2021

PhilanTopic_hands_collaboration_trust_GettyImages_Prostock-StudioWinston Churchill is credited with being the first to say, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in immeasurable pain and suffering, it has also inspired action around how philanthropy can better address global crises in the future. At the start of the pandemic, more than eight hundred philanthropic organizations agreed to provide greater flexibility to and eliminate administrative barriers for their grantees. With a pandemic raging, funders who signed the pledge recognized they needed to act swiftly and to lean into the expertise of their nonprofit partners. By committing to the values of trust-based philanthropy, an approach to giving that seeks to address the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits, and the communities they serve, the signatories to the pledge agreed to put faith in and share power with those hardest hit by the crisis.

As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, the philanthropic community must resist the urge to return to the status quo. The need for such a pledge underscored the reality that funders need to do more to make their grantmaking accessible, equitable, and empowering for grassroots leaders. And they can do that by moving to a trust-based philanthropy model.

I know firsthand the power of trust and service. Before taking the helm at The Pollination Project, a micro-granting organization that provides funds to community leaders in support of early-stage projects, I spent a decade as a monk. Four values guided my daily life during that time: faith, humility, relationship, and service. All four show up in the trust-based philanthropy model and offer a framework for how funders — and our grantee partners — can better solve the global challenges of today, and tomorrow.

Here's how those values can reshape philanthropy:

Faith

Monks believe that everything in life is a dynamic proposition of faith. A trust-based funding approach is similar, in that it calls on funders to reevaluate their grant application process to allow more opportunities for smaller organizations. Automatically rejecting volunteer-led organizations or early-stage projects, for instance, closes the door to many deserving recipients.

Over half of the grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations are directed to just 1 percent of recipient organizations. Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders historically have been overlooked by philanthropy and often receive fewer grants, less money, and are given less freedom to decide how to use that money than their white counterparts. We are at risk of perpetuating these inequities unless we lead with faith and understand that those most directly impacted by an issue almost always are in the best position to solve it.

Directly investing in communities isn't just a moral issue; it works. For years, The Pollination Project has supported projects that mainstream philanthropy would likely deem risky, including providing seed funding to grassroots volunteers without a traditional educational background or nonprofit experience. But we go a step further than the current trust-based model by committing to an open application process through which anyone can share their vision for a project and seek funding. By providing grants directly to individuals, we allow those without access to other sources of institutional funding — especially underrepresented groups such as Indigenous people, women in the Global South, and religious and ethnic minorities — to launch impactful, meaningful projects. Take, for instance, a volunteer in Kolkata, India, who mobilized marginalized youth to manufacture hand sanitizer and distribute it to families living in urban slums at the start of the pandemic. Community leaders have the passion, skill, and trust to drive local efforts, and philanthropy should grant them the resources to do so.

Humility

Trust-based philanthropy recognizes that because philanthropic leaders don't have all the answers, they must redistribute and share decision-making power. Too often, those making funding decisions at nonprofits are disconnected from the communities they serve. Paternalism and elitism are deeply rooted in philanthropy, and it takes humility to give back some of that power.

A peer-to-peer giving model is one way to redistribute power. In such a  model, a network of grant advisors — none of whom is paid staff and most of whom are previous grant recipients — decide which projects receive our funding. By democratizing funding decisions, philanthropic organizations can address the inherent power imbalance between funders and grant recipients.

Relationship

The ability to forge meaningful relationships is critical to driving social change; in 2020, however, fewer than a third of foundations provided any assistance to their grantees beyond the grant itself. To make the greatest impact, funders must move from solely providing financial resources to viewing ourselves as a partner to our grantees and ensuring their long-term success by offering non-monetary support such as introductions to other funders, capacity-building training, and promoting their work to our networks.

Monks recognize the power of relationships. We lean into the vulnerability required to develop authentic relationships and find strength in connection. I've used these teachings to foster a global community of four thousand changemakers who share learnings, work to build capacity, and form community with one another. Smaller and people of color-led organizations typically don't have the same resources as larger nonprofits, which in turn drives inequities in the field. Philanthropic leaders can support the long-term success of such organizations by ensuring that their relationships with grant recipients don't end with a check.

Service

The trust-based philanthropy model recognizes that nonprofits currently spend a lot of time completing funder-required application forms and reports, which takes precious time away from their mission.

As philanthropists, we must remind ourselves to whom nonprofits are accountable and consider how we can be of more service to the ones we support. We must ask ourselves how we can minimize bureaucracy and free would-be change agents to do what they are called to do. Putting more value in conversations instead of written reports or applications allows small organizations with limited bandwidth to focus more on their work and on creating a kinder, more compassionate world.

One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that philanthropy works better when power is distributed equitably and those closest to the issues have the opportunity to lead. By embracing trust-based and monastic principles, philanthropic leaders can make a more direct and immediate impact in communities. Crises can be an opportunity to change things that no longer work; let's not waste this one.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Prostock Studio)

AJ Dahiya_PhilanTopicAJ Dahiya is a former monk who is now a writer, speaker, and chief vision officer at The Pollination Project, a global community of four thousand-plus grassroots volunteer leaders in over a hundred and twenty-five countries.

Strategies for nonprofit success in a post-pandemic landscape

May 11, 2021

News_keyboard_donate2A recent survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund found that 60 percent of nonprofits experienced conditions in 2020 that threatened their long-term financial stability. As a result, most nonprofits had to reimagine how they engage with donors and the beneficiaries of their programs and services. Looking ahead, there are several strategies nonprofits can leverage to ensure their success in a post-pandemic world.

The power of storytelling

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of organizations staying connected to their mission and core values. Creativity and innovation are essential to engaging donors effectively, not only in terms of telling the "right story" but also in selecting the best virtual platforms to engage donors, who want to believe their contributions will have a direct impact on the causes they believe in.

Take the Downtown Women's Center (DWC) in Los Angeles. After the pandemic forced most things to shut down, the organization established a series of virtual community meetings to stay in touch with its clients; began to send regular email updates to donors, volunteers, and community stakeholders; and converted its largest fundraising event of the year — its annual in-person gala — into a virtual event. But its best move might have been the decision to adopt a peer-to-peer fundraising strategy. The resulting three-week campaign, Together Housed, encouraged donors and volunteers to leverage their own personal and professional networks on behalf of the organization, with DWC providing step-by-step instructions on how to set up a fundraising page, as well as email templates and social media content. Sure enough, at the end of three weeks the organization had exceeded its fundraising goal for the campaign by 35 percent and had secured support from eight hundred new donors.

Although grants from foundations tend to be top-of-mind for many organizations, the majority of giving to nonprofits comes from individual gifts and donations (Giving USA). No surprise, then, that building successful, long-term relationships with individuals is an important development strategy — and that donor retention strategies, including peer-to-peer fundraising and the use of third-party auction platforms, are critical.

Adaptive leadership is crucial

The pandemic also highlighted the importance of creativity and innovation for every organization. In the months and years ahead, nonprofits need to allocate time for experimentation and learning if they hope to adapt their programs and revenue-generating efforts to changing needs and opportunities. According to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Community Wealth Partners, the organizations that thrive during challenging times tend to have strong and decisive leadership able to make quick decisions in response to evolving challenges.

Nonprofits should also evaluate their boards to ensure that the composition of the board is appropriate for where the organization is in its lifecycle. As BoardSource notes, "High-performing nonprofit boards are both thoughtful and intentional in creating a strategically composed board of directors […] Every board's ideal composition should be considered in the terms of the specific needs, strategies and lifecycle of the organization as the board looks forward several years."

A recent article by sgENGAGE echoes the importance of investing in leadership. Organizations should invest in diverse talent and provide opportunities for employees at all levels to grow and develop.

Modernize to engage donors

Innovative virtual programming is the key to creating new revenue streams. Not only is such programming a good bet to generate additional funds, it also is a wonderful opportunity to reach audiences beyond an organization's traditional geography.

A great example of how it should be done is the Petersen Automotive Museum, which last year launched its first-ever virtual museum and vault tour. The tour, along with a number of other innovative programs designed to keep virtual visitors returning for more, enabled the museum not only to reach a wider audience but to raise much-needed funds from people who had never heard of it.

Do not delay digital transformation

In its most recent Nonprofit Trends Report, Salesforce highlighted the correlation between organizations with high levels of "digital maturity" and those with the most innovative and confident responses to change. According to the report, 85 percent of nonprofits say technology is important to their long-term success, yet only 23 percent have a long-term strategy or vision for how to use it.

In a digital-first environment, nonprofits must be able to leverage data to inform decision making, reach new audiences, personalize communications, and make accurate fundraising forecasts. And with a reasonable investment in a virtual platform, there's no reason to restrict outreach and programming to an organization's local geography.

The thing to remember is that what worked in the past is less likely to work today or in the future, so establishing and tracking key performance metrics and trends across key functions is essential. According to the latest Charitable Giving Report from the Blackbaud Institute, the share of giving done online has grown steadily over the last three years. If they hope to maintain and improve their donor retention rates, nonprofits need to be on board with online giving and other important trends in giving. And if those retention rates are not improving, or are falling, it's probably a sign that the organization is not directing enough resources to its donor engagement efforts.

Seize the day

The pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill, but things are beginning to open up. For nonprofits that took a hit last year, investing in technology to improve program service delivery and impact measurement is a good place to start. Organizations should also evaluate their internal processes to ensure they are as efficient as possible and that their strategic plan is still aligned with their programs and mission. And they should have regular conversations with key funders — not only to keep them engaged, but also to make sure that appropriate actions can be rolled out quickly if a funder decides to shift priorities or cut back on its support.

Community Wealth Partners agrees: "First and foremost, make time to revisit your vision for social impact — the impact you are trying to create and how you plan to create it. This helps ensure that your work remains relevant."

Whether the end to the pandemic comes in two months or two years, the need for the kinds of services provided by nonprofits is not going away. Nonprofits with forward-thinking leadership and staff that can keep up and innovate in an ever-changing digital world are most likely to thrive and create the greatest impact. No one says it's going to be easy, but the alternative isn't really an option.

Wilson_Donella_philantopicDonella Wilson, CPA, leads GHJ's Nonprofit Practice and serves as president and chief philanthropy officer at the GHJ Foundation. She was recognized in 2018 as a "Women Executive of the Year" and in 2017-20 as one of the "Most Influential Women in Accounting" by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

A case for self-support: serving ourselves in a time of great stress

April 30, 2021

Man_on_cliff_David Lusvardi_unsplash"How are you doing?" I asked a donor on a phone call last summer. Her response stayed with me. "I'm doing pandemic fine," she said, before explaining that that was the kind of response one gives during a public health emergency instead of something like: "I'm doing okay. I have my job, and it's stressful, but at least I have work. And the family is fine. No one is sick. Virtual homeschooling is a struggle, but we're fine."

Her response was both amusing and perplexing, because when I ask someone how they're doing, I'm the type of person who wants and expects to hear all the details. In fact, I believe it helps explain why I enjoy working in philanthropy as much as I do, and is one of the main reasons so many of my meetings run longer than scheduled.

Organizational experts Paul Davis and Larry Spears would call my exchange with the donor a "fortuitous encounter — "[t]hose moments where a person, place, or thing causes our lives to change in a more positive direction." While I did not feel all that positive after the exchange, in the months since it has contributed to a transformation in the way I think about taking care of myself, my colleagues, and our philanthropic partners.

Of course, the donor's reply was informed by the unprecedented events of the past year — events for which our sector as a whole was largely unprepared. I live in Houston, where hurricanes and flooding events are commonplace, but once the water recedes, we jump back in our cars and check on our friends, neighbors, and even our donors. The coronavirus pandemic, by contrast, has been a "silent" storm during which we've been encouraged to care for others by literally keeping our distance from others.

What fundraising professionals are doing well…and not so well

From a fundraiser's perspective, the sector's collective response to the pandemic has been something of a mishmash. With respect to day-to-day operations, we're seeing good content related to engaging our supporters, innovating in our programming, and staying the course. I can't say enough about the creativity and resilience of the sector and the people who work in it. And without their advice and knowledge, I know I would have been less effective over the last twelve months in mapping out my own organization's fundraising strategies.

That said, nearly everything I've read over the last year has been focused on practical problems and challenges, things like how to strengthen a pandemic case for support, when to schedule a Zoom meeting with a new prospect, and retaining your supporters after you've made the decision to move your next fundraising event online. Yes, it's important to develop and strengthen our practice in normal times, and even more so during times of uncertainty. But what I'm not seeing are stories about self-care during one of the most challenging periods in recent memory, stories that remind us that if we want to do our best work, we need to make sure we’re well enough to fire on all cylinders. "[J]ust as they tell you on airplanes when the oxygen masks come down,” says Chris Mosunic, chief clinical officer at Vida Health, "we can't help others if we don’t take care of ourselves first."

I’m a realist who knows that a big part of my role as a fundraiser is to deliver maximum net revenue for my organization. I also know that many of us worry about cultivating donor relationships and meeting ambitious goals, but that we are not always honest about how we ourselves are holding up. Sure, I've found a reasonable groove during the pandemic and I'm doing the best I can. But let's face it, the current fundraising environment is different than the one many of us are used to. And, truth be told, it's different for our donors as well.

A practical reason for self-care

You may not know this, but the work of fundraisers is never "done." Between programs, events, and annual reports, the effort to steward and engage donors and prospects is a year-round affair, and at times it can feel like we’re laboring on our own little island, disconnected from the day-to-day work of the organization and with no sign of help on the horizon.

From a purely practical perspective, this has an impact on our work. Leadership guru Kevin Krause suggests that "[e]ngaged employees lead to better business outcomes." And a survey of more than five hundred business leaders by the Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent "rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success."

Also relevant in this context is what Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has to say about an employee-first mentality: "If the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the job they're doing…they're gonna be happy and therefore the customer will have a nice experience."

But how can we expect our donors and supporters to have a "nice experience" if those tasked with engaging them in the work of the organization are struggling?

Doing the work of self-care

The events of the past year are likely to resonate for years to come, and work will continue to be challenging for many frontline and back-end fundraising staff. But there are things we can do for ourselves, and our team members, that will result in a happier, healthier workplace.

First, be mindful of your time. For many, working from home has morphed into living at work. Don't be that person. Instead, set real start and finish times for your workday — and stick to them. It'll be easier to do that if you make the effort to wear work clothes during the work day. And because your day-to-day tasks aren’t going anywhere, unless there's an emergency, don't check your email before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. (Managers, you can help by refraining from the super early/late email messages.) In addition, try to create a schedule for your meals and stick to it. Limiting food consumption to mealtimes can be great for your well-being, and equally beneficial to your waistline.

Second, be mindful of technology. These days, our big, medium, and little screens are where we spend a big chunk of our time. Indeed, Americans spend an average of 2.3 hours a day on social media — the equivalent of roughly thirty-one days a year. To combat screen-induced burnout, try to establish "no glow breaks" throughout the day — on a run, in the bathroom, while out doing errands — where you put the technology in your life on pause. Also, make an effort to incorporate some analog technology like paper into your life. For what it’s worth, Scientific American suggests that our screens "[p]revent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension."

Finally, be mindful of your state of mind. One in six Americans sought counseling in 2020, joining the one-third of Americans who were already receiving some kind of counseling. Perhaps more than at any other time in recent history, we are willing to acknowledge the need for self-care. For those who are feeling stressed, reducing some of the distractions in your life, like  notifications on your phone/tablet, will go a long way to calming an overly busy mind. Similarly, when lodged in your home "spaceship," try to organize your space into discrete areas — a corner of one room for exercise, a certain chair for reading or chatting on the phone — and don’t use your sleep space for other tasks like work or social media.

The last year has been difficult for many. If you find yourself struggling with something more serious than time management or the distractions that come with being plugged in all the time, give yourself permission to talk to a professional or, at the least, a friend. And remember, you may have challenges; but you are not your challenges.

Our colleagues and donors rely on us, but more than anything we are responsible for ourselves.With that in mind, don’t be afraid to take the leading role in your own self-care.

(Photo credit: David Lusvardi via Unsplash)

Evan_Wildstein_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein has served on the fundraising team at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University since 2017.

The next Silicon Valley must-have? A private foundation

April 23, 2021

Layton-diament_yachts_unsplashWhile the pandemic may have shuttered businesses across the country, Silicon Valley tech companies have defied the odds. In 2020, IPO capital raising hit its highest level in a decade. Start-up valuations soared, and blockbuster IPOs, like the one for Airbnb, created a bumper crop of wealth. But unlike previous iterations of newly minted money, the beneficiaries of this recent boom are forsaking the traditional private-island-and-jet splurge. Their new acquisition of choice could be a more charitable one.

Last year my company, Foundation Source, helped set up more new foundations than at any other time in our twenty-year history — many for tech entrepreneurs and business owners planning for a liquidity event. And we expect that the ongoing wave of IPOs could fuel a surge in private foundation philanthropy, even as Brookings, NPR, and others have documented a decline in spending among America's most affluent households during the past year.

What, no gold-plated yacht?!

Boom times in Silicon Valley used to be marked by lavish displays of excess, including the now-legendary wedding of Napster co-founder Sean Parker, whose 2013 "Lord of the Rings" nuptials cost $4.5 million and featured a nine-foot-tall cake and guest apparel by the film's costume designer. So, why aren't the beneficiaries of the current boom acquiring sharks with laser beams and other accessories for their Bond-villainesque subterranean lairs?

One possibility is that economic uncertainty has put a damper on lavish displays of conspicuous consumption. As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, the so-called "smart money" is bearish on companies that have gone public through special purpose acquisition vehicles (SPACs). Short-sellers have increased their bets to more than triple their value at the start of the year, rising from $724 million to about $2.7 billion. And broadly speaking, no one is sure whether the post-COVID economy will be characterized by unprecedented growth or inflation and sluggish employment rates.

Other factors, however, may be inspiring Silicon Valley's latest crop of multi-millionaires to seek gratification in philanthropy instead of consumerism:

Heightened awareness of increased need: While the gulf between America's haves and have-nots has been widening for decades, the gap grew even wider during the pandemic. The weight of the public health crisis fell unequally on the vulnerable, with millions of Americans unable to afford or access essentials such as food, health care, housing, and broadband. Against a backdrop of seemingly endless lines at food pantries — even on military bases — extravagant displays of wealth may seem insensitive as well as immoderate.

An attitude of gratitude: Aaron Rubin, a partner at Werba Rubin Papier Wealth Management, told the New York Times that this boom feels qualitatively different from previous ones. In addition to experiencing unease about the economy, his clients are expressing "more gratitude" and making more plans for charity.

Social crisis: COVID wasn't the only emergency in 2020. Racial equity, social justice, and our polarized political environment — all featured prominently in our national conversation over the course of the year and caused many people to think more seriously about how they could use their assets to influence society positively.

Generational generosity: Many Silicon Valley "techies" are millennials. Fidelity Charitable's Entrepreneurs as Philanthropists survey shows that in comparison to other generations, millennials are relatively more philanthropic, more concerned about using their social capital and purchasing power to improve the world, and more interested in aligning their actions with their ideals. And they've been very responsive to the increased need as of late.

In addition, nearly three-quarters of millennials have sent financial aid to family or friends or donated to a nonprofit since the pandemic began, according to payment app Zelle's September Consumer Payment Behaviors report. That's the highest rate among any of the generational cohorts polled.

The Tesla of charitable vehicles

It's easy to see how the next wave of IPOs could fuel an explosion of interest in philanthropy; what's less clear is how that interest will manifest itself. Although Silicon Valley has a very robust community foundation that serves the surrounding region, not all of the millennial philanthropists in the valley are likely to be content with limiting themselves to meeting local needs. Nor are they likely to be satisfied with giving only through donor-advised funds (DAFs), which, while popular for their tax advantages and easy set-up, do not offer donors much say over their giving.

Consider these critical insights into how millennials approach their giving, as noted in the Fidelity Charitable survey:

  • While they are more likely than other generations to see giving as part of their identity, millennials also may have lower levels of trust in the nonprofits they support and may be more likely to want to be actively engaged in the direction and use of their financial support.
  • Millennial entrepreneurs see charitable giving as a way to build their reputation, with 84 percent saying they value giving as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the community.
  • Seventy-four percent of millennial entrepreneurs value having their contributions recognized publicly, compared with only 19 percent of boomers.
  • Millennial business owners are already planning their charitable legacies; nearly two-thirds plan to leave money to charity after they're gone, versus 46 percent of boomers.

The same study also notes that "[y]ounger entrepreneurs are going beyond simple cash donations — both personally and in their businesses — and are giving in increasingly sophisticated ways."

For all these reasons, a private foundation, which confers complete donor control and offers an almost limitless toolbox for creative giving, might emerge as the preferred charitable vehicle for this new cohort of donors, one that values hands-on, outside-the-box philanthropy. In addition to making grants to publicly supported nonprofits, the type of giving permitted by a donor-advised fund, private foundations are empowered to:

  • Give directly to individuals in need.
  • Make loans to charitable organizations and use the proceeds from the repayments to make other programmatic investments.
  • Invest in for-profit businesses to further a charitable purpose.
  • Conduct their own charitable programs and activities.
  • Give awards and prizes to catalyze progress on an issue.
  • Enter into binding agreements with grant recipients to ensure they use the funds as intended.
  • Dictate naming rights as part of a grant agreement and enforce adherence.
  • Deliver grant checks in person (e.g., at a fundraising gala).
  • Follow any investment strategy that complies with prudent investor rules.

Moreover, because a private foundation can be established to exist in perpetuity, handed down from one generation to the next, it might have a special appeal for techies who are intent on building an enduring personal legacy associated with lifelong philanthropy and social impact.

For some great examples of charitable giving made through private foundations, check out the Foundation Source website.

(Photo credit: Layton Diament via Unsplash)

Hannah Grove_Foundation_Source_philantopicHannah Shaw Grove is the chief marketing officer at Foundation Source, the nation's largest provider of support services to private foundations.

More Americans may be going back to work, but their jobs are getting worse

April 16, 2021

Essential_worker_Christine_McCann_sffLast April, the coronavirus pandemic brought the longest economic expansion in American history to an abrupt and shocking halt. In just a few short months, the unemployment rate shot up from a fifty-year low of 3.5 percent to nearly 14.7 percent. A year later, many people are breathing a sigh of relief as the rate has ticked back down to 6 percent, with some taking it as a sign that America is on track to full economic recovery.

But while recent headlines may be cause for optimism, they don't tell the whole story. Using the unemployment rate to gauge the health of an economy is like putting your hand on someone's forehead to check whether they have COVID-19. It can tell you whether they're running a fever,  but it doesn't provide enough data to make an accurate diagnosis.

The truth is, the unemployment rate tells us nothing about the quality of jobs, making it an inadequate metric to understand the true health of the labor market. Gallup's 2020 Great Jobs Report, which Omidyar Network supported in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and  Lumina Foundation, found that more than half (52 percent) of those who were laid off during the pandemic — even if they were subsequently re-hired — reported a decline in their overall job quality as measured across eleven dimensions, including pay, benefits, stability, and safety.

First commissioned in 2019, the Great Jobs survey was groundbreaking: unlike simple "job satisfaction" metrics aimed at providing an overall sense of job satisfaction, the intent of the survey was to look under the hood of the labor market and identify trouble spots. A diverse group of more than sixty-six hundred working people were asked to define what a "good" job looks like and then assess how their own jobs stacked up against that standard. The original survey showed that less than half (40 percent) of working people in the United States believed they were employed in a good job, while one in six (16 percent) believed they were stuck in a bad job, with significant disparities by race.

The latest survey gives us a window into how the pandemic has impacted job quality. Those who started 2020 in a low-quality or "bad" job — based on their own assessment — were far more likely to have been laid off (36 percent) than those working a high-quality or "good" job pre-pandemic (23 percent). And low-wage workers with high-quality jobs in 2019 reported experiencing much lower COVID-19  risk and better employer-provided protective measures during the pandemic. The fact is, job quality matters, especially when a crisis hits.

Even before COVID struck, the topline numbers masked how unhealthy the U.S. economy really is. The richest 10 percent of Americans control 77 percent of the country's wealth, while for millions of Americans the rising cost of living has skyrocketed, wages have stagnated, and the wealth inequality gap continues to widen. These are not the hallmarks of a healthy economy.

The findings from The Great Jobs Report underscore the mounting evidence that the pandemic exacerbated structural inequities within the U.S. economy. Indeed, job quality in 2020 actually improved for people who avoided being laid off, with many reporting improvements in their compensation, flexibility with respect to where and when they worked, workplace safety, and  a sense of purpose in their work. By contrast, those who experienced being laid off reported lower scores on every dimension of job quality except safety.

But COVID-19 is just the latest driver of worsening job quality in the U.S., with technological disruption leading the list of other threats. While automation may not lead to the mass destruction of jobs — as feared by some — it could lead to deterioration in job quality in many industries and sectors. Meanwhile, the gig economy has made underemployment an acceptable alternative to unemployment. If someone who is laid off starts driving for Uber, they count as employed  — even though it is a more precarious, unstable, and lower-paid kind of work. This also has the effect of skewing the monthly unemployment numbers lower than they otherwise would be. An upskilling and job-matching program won't address these trends; the problem is with the jobs themselves, not the skills of the people in these jobs.

The alarming state of job quality in America reinforces how critical it is to empower working men and women to bargain for a fairer deal and better quality jobs across the dimensions that matter most.

We can create an economy where everyone has a good job. But if we don't start to pay attention to the quality, and not just the quantity, of jobs, we risk creating an economy where major disruptions driven by pandemics or natural disasters, automation, and climate change could lead to continued deterioration in quality of jobs for those who already find themselves in a precarious position. And if we continue to rely on the unemployment rate to tell us what's going on, we risk becoming dangerously out of touch with what's really happening.

We are heartened by the Biden administration's American Jobs Plan and the emphasis it puts on high-quality jobs. But it's going to take a concerted effort across society to detangle the perception that the unemployment rate is the final word on the health of our economy and working Americans. We urge other philanthropists and foundations, experts and economists, advocates, and activists to join the movement to put quality at the center of how we think about jobs and help us find better ways to measure, understand, and fight for quality jobs.

(Photo credit: Christine McCann, San Francisco Foundation)

Tracy_Williams_Omidyar_philantopicTracy Williams is a director at Omidyar Network, where she leads the social change venture's work to reimagine capitalism, build the power of working people, and shape a new economic paradigm.

5 Questions for...Carly Bad Heart Bull, Executive Director, Native Ways Federation

April 13, 2021

Carly Bad Heart Bull joined the Native Ways Federation (NWF) in April 2020 as its executive director. Launched in 2006 in Longmont, Colorado, by the American Indian College Fund, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Association on American Indian Affairs, First Nations Development Institute, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, and Running Strong for American Indian Youth, NWF is focused on activating and expanding informed giving to Native-led organizations through donor education and advocacy. To that end, NWF is working to bring together Native organizations and raise awareness and support for the communities they serve, strengthen Native nonprofits, and ensure the highest levels of ethical standards and fiscal responsibility across the sector.

Prior to joining NFW, Bad Heart Bull, who is Bdewakantunwan Dakota/Muskogee Creek and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, managed the Bush Foundation's work with twenty-three Native nations across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and served on an advisory committee for the Investing in Native Communities portal, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. She holds a juris doctorate and previously served as an assistant county attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in Minneapolis; led a successful campaign to restore the Dakota name of the city's largest lake, Bde Maka Ska; and in 2019 was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a Community Leadership Network Fellow.

PND asked her about the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, Native efforts to address climate change, and the role of language in racial equity efforts.

Headshot_Carly_Bad_Heart_Bull_Native_Ways_Federation_KelloggPhilanthropy News Digest: Native American communities have experienced disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates than the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. To what do you attribute those disparities?

Carly Bad Heart Bull: COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, and Native people are at an especially heightened risk because of numerous factors, including limited access to quality health services, inadequate housing, lack of access to clean and safe water, and other infrastructure issues. Native people are also more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other underlying conditions that put them at significant risk.

All these community issues connect back to the U.S. government's failure to comply with historical treaty obligations to fund basic services in exchange for tribal land. The impacts of colonization continue to have detrimental effects on our nations and our people. Our tribes and Native-led organizations are working hard to address these issues, and many of them are doing amazing innovative work. However, they need increased funding and supports in order to most effectively serve their communities. This need existed before the pandemic and it's even greater now. For example, many of our Native language speakers, the majority being elders, have died in the past year from COVID-19. Our Indigenous languages are central to who we are as Native people; they embody the essence of our cultures and teach us Indigenous worldviews and ways of being that connect us to one another and to the land. Assimilation efforts by the U.S. government, including education policies such as the development and implementation of boarding schools and relocation policies, were aimed at disconnecting our people from these important cultural resources. Language teachers and advocates in our communities have been working hard to revitalize our languages for years. It's imperative that this work continues and grows — now more than ever — as we have even fewer fluent speakers to learn from due to the pandemic.

I would also note that we don't yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, in part because of the issue of inaccurate and misclassified data as it relates to our communities. It's an important story that needs to be better understood and addressed.

PND: How has philanthropy, both Native-based and more broadly, responded to the needs of Indigenous communities during the pandemic? Have you seen an increase in philanthropic investments in Native communities?

CBHB: Philanthropy responded quickly in many respects. Many foundations increased their giving amounts, and we saw a large number of foundations reduce restrictions on existing and new grants, providing opportunities for organizations to adapt appropriately and use their grant funds in ways that best served the people and communities they were intended to serve during these unprecedented times. At the same time, I've talked to Native nonprofit leaders who lost revenue they depended on because they weren't able to host fundraising events, and in many cases increased philanthropic support hasn't made up for those losses.

That said, I do think the data will show an uptick in funding — a response, in my view, not only to the impacts of the virus but to the greater call to action on behalf of Native communities and communities of color sparked by the murder of George Floyd. We are still not where we need to be, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

One thing I am concerned about is whether any increase in funding for Native communities will be sustained, or just be a one-time philanthropic reaction. I hope the answer is the former. I hope that foundations continue to pay attention to the underlying infrastructure issues that resulted in Native people and communities being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and that support for tribes and Native-led organizations continues to increase and not decline as the COVID-19 numbers start to fall. Philanthropy needs to support systemic change efforts that are led and guided by Native people so that our people not only survive, but can thrive in a post-COVID world.

PND: According to data compiled by Investing in Native Communities, large U.S. foundations have allocated just 0.4 percent of their total annual grantmaking to Native American communities and causes since 2006. What, in your opinion, are the factors behind the lack of funding for Native communities, and what is the Native Ways Federation doing to address it?

CBHB: That's correct, and that's also despite the fact that Native peoples comprise 2 percent of the U.S. population and, even more importantly, are the original people of this land. That same analysis found that only 20 percent of large foundations give to Native communities or causes at all. There are multiple factors at play here, and one of the biggest issues is that of invisibility. This country has done a terrible job of educating the broader population about Native history and people. A 2019 NCAI report found that 87 percent of state history standards include no mention of Native American history post-1900, and twenty-seven states don't even mention Native peoples in their K-12 curriculum. According to the dominant narrative, we are a people of the past. But the fact is, we are still here and we matter. There is really important work happening, much of it led by Native nonprofits, to lift up Native visibility and perspectives with a focus on truth-telling and healing.

I've done quite a bit of speaking on the importance of increased philanthropic support for Native organizations and tribes, and one of the responses I've heard too many times to count is, "We'd love to help, but we don't have a program for that." While intentional programs for funding Native communities are great, they aren't always necessary. It's more than likely that any area a foundation is investing in — whether that be education, health, the environment, economic development — is an area where Native organizations and tribes are doing important, necessary work, and that work should be supported.

NWF is working to address these issues in multiple ways. Our seven founding member organizations started coming together a number of years ago in part to address the lack of philanthropic funding for Native-led organizations and the fact that we were seeing a large percentage of funding intended for Native communities actually going to non-Native organizations. It's still a problem. A large part of NWF's work is focused on donor education and advocacy in support of Native-led nonprofits, because we know that we are best situated to effectively serve our communities. And we are further developing our collective voice in philanthropic spaces to hold foundations accountable and to strengthen the Native nonprofit sector on our own terms.

I came to NWF with experience as a Native program officer, and I hope to build on some of that previous work. For example, at the Bush Foundation we did a major analysis of our grantmaking in Native communities and found that our coding practices were inconsistent and that our grantmaking data were not always accurate. This is a bigger philanthropic-sector issue that needs to be discussed more broadly. I actually believe that the 0.4 percent number is inflated — in large part as a result of foundation grant data inaccurately reported as "serving" Native communities. This may not even be intentional, but it needs to be addressed, and it's an area where we at NWF hope to do more work in influencing change within the sector.

PND: You've said that your earlier career as an assistant county attorney taught you "to speak a new language — the language of law and how to navigate systems of power," and that institutional philanthropy needs to develop a common language as it evolves "from a transactional to a relational practice." What kinds of things would such a common language address?

CBHB: For one, the grant coding issue I just discussed; there needs to be a more consistent sector-wide effort toward making sure that grant data is being accurately reported. Current grant reporting by foundations falsely benefit the foundations themselves rather than the communities they are trying to serve, as they may believe they are serving certain demographics at a rate that they are not. Data tell an important story — and there needs to be more conversation and movement toward making sure the story is being consistently and accurately shared.

Also, there needs to be an emphasis on relationship and trust building. That means taking care of one another and recognizing the roles that we each play in the broader effort toward realizing a healthier society. For too long, grantee organizations have been expected to learn the language of institutional philanthropy in order to receive funding, rather than foundations better understanding, and reflecting, the communities they serve. This type of transactional relationship is imbalanced, and it doesn't serve anyone well in the long run.

Native organizations work closely with the communities they serve, and they need to be appropriately resourced to do their work as effectively as possible. That means not only increasing funds but also increasing flexibility in terms of how foundations fund. It means increasing general operating support and trusting that we know best what to do with the funds. And it means reducing extensive reporting requirements — let us focus on the work rather than on writing detailed overburdensome reports. One thing it doesn't mean is that we don't have to communicate — we should be checking in, building relationships, and learning from one another.

PND: You've noted that Indigenous wisdom and ways of being are integral to the vitality of communities and the planet. How do you envision philanthropy's role at the intersection of racial and environmental justice? And what can it do, or do more of, to support Native advocacy for climate action?

CBHB: Philanthropy needs to increase support of Native-led environmental justice efforts — we will all be better for it. Native people are the original stewards of this planet, and the solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues we are facing — such as climate change — can be found within the ideologies and practical applications of Indigenous wisdom.

Yet very little of the philanthropic dollars that go to environmental justice efforts go to Native-led organizations or tribes. That needs to change. A great majority of the wealth in the philanthropic sector was accumulated at the expense of communities of color, Native nations and people, and the environment. The extraction of natural resources, the removal of Native people from their homelands, the use of forced labor — these violent extractive and transactional actions have had a detrimental effect on our communities and on the environment. Philanthropy needs to hold itself accountable for the destruction that has taken place in our homelands and they need to support Native-led environmental justice efforts working to protect, restore, and heal this planet while we still can.

I'm optimistic of the future because I need to be for my son. Our work to restore the Dakota name of the biggest lake in Minneapolis, Bde Maka Ska, was and is important because we are the original people of Mnistoa Makoce (aka Minnesota, or Where the Water Reflects the Sky); I want him to grow up knowing where he comes from and to be proud of who he is and of his people. Creating a better world for him, and for future generations yet to be born, is what keeps me going. My ancestors went through a lot so that I could be here, and now I have the responsibility to carry that legacy forward. It's also past time for non-Native people in this country, including in the philanthropic sector, to listen to and act in support of our Native nations and our Native-led organizations and efforts. We will all be better for it.

— Kyoko Uchida

Supporting the South's small businesses is supporting an equitable recovery

March 26, 2021

Closed_due_to_coronavirus_sign_GettyImagesLike the rest of the nation, small businesses across the South have faced unprecedented challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of them saw demand drop and had to close their doors as their reserves were depleted. The breadth of the impact has been staggering — from industries like travel, food service and hospitality, to dentists, artists, mechanics, and farmers.

While federal relief efforts have been helpful for some, they have been insufficient or inaccessible for many, especially women, people of color, immigrants, and other underbanked populations. To address the gap, a number of philanthropic programs have been launched in states across the country to help small businesses at the back of the line — or not in the line at all.

The South has long suffered from a lack of philanthropic and institutional investment, a trend that has continued through the pandemic. The region benefits from only 56 cents of giving for every dollar granted in other regions. And for every dollar given to address structural change in the rest of the country, just 30 cents goes toward these issues in the South, despite well documented challenges with economic mobility, particularly in communities of color. This lack of investment could mean a slower, more difficult recovery and a deepening of those structural issues in the region.

Now is the time to change that trajectory, and supporting small businesses, including small-scale farmers and critical community organizations, is a place to start. Small businesses create jobs, drive economic vitality in communities, and have a tremendous impact on the well-being of families: entrepreneurship is second only to home ownership as an effective means of building family wealth. Plus, we know that small businesses tend to provide higher-quality jobs and are active participants in their communities.

Given adequate resources to navigate and rebuild from the pandemic, these resilient, creative, and resourceful entrepreneurs can overcome the immense hardships they are facing; in fact, many are already showing their resolve to do so. For countless small business owners, there has been no other option.

Unfortunately, even pre-pandemic, many of these businesses lacked access to affordable credit. NextStreet estimates that the credit needs of un- or underbanked small businesses exceeds $80 billion — and that was before banks pulled back because of the economic uncertainties created by COVID-19. We saw bank lending decline 16 percent during the Great Recession; given the recent trends of bank consolidation and the loss of many community banks, we expect the pandemic-driven decline to be even steeper in low-income, rural, and already underresourced communities across the country.

Luckily, we know — and have seen throughout COVID — that nonprofit community-based lenders certified as community development financial institutions (CDFIs) take the opposite approach. In times of crisis, they lean in. CDFI lending increased during the Great Recession, with many CDFIs doing five to ten times more lending in 2020 than in previous years to support the immediate needs of the small businesses and community-based organizations operating within their footprint.

That is why we are building and supporting the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund alongside thirteen CDFIs across the South. The program was designed to support the needs of local community lenders so they have access to low-cost capital, a technical assistance ecosystem, and a centralized technology platform that helps them find small businesses, including small-scale farmers, and nonprofits who need their help.

The economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19 is going to be long, and support for small businesses will be needed well beyond the administration of vaccines. If we want the post-pandemic recovery to be more equitable than the last one — and be focused on the potential and opportunity in local economies across the South — we need solutions structured to support the scaling of organizations that have been built in and served these communities for decades.

If we want to create asset- and wealth-building opportunities while maintaining the critical cultural fabric of our communities, philanthropists need to come together to support CDFIs and the small businesses they were built to serve.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Beth Bafford_Jennifer_Gadberry_philantopic - CopyBeth Bafford is vice president of syndications and strategy at Calvert Impact Capital, which is acting as the arranger for the SOAR Fund. Jennifer Gadberry is vice president of asset management at Heifer Foundation, an investor in the SOAR Fund.

To save lives, fund syringes

March 15, 2021

SyringesWhen COVID-19 struck, the United States was already facing a number of public health crises, with national rates of overdose, HIV, and viral hepatitis rising due to increases in substance use linked with a surge in prescription opioids.

The pandemic has converged with these crises, worsening health outcomes for people who use drugs — a crisis that is likely to persist unless we change our approach to drug use.

Take overdose deaths, which increased some 20 percent in the United States between June 2019 and June 2020, to more than 81,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the most fatal overdoses ever recorded in a single year.

And while national figures for new HIV and viral hepatitis cases are not yet available, it's likely they are growing, too, given reported spikes in injection-drug use. (Both diseases can be transmitted via the sharing of injection supplies.) From 2014 to 2018, HIV diagnoses increased 9 percent among Americans who use drugs overall, while some 2.4 million Americans had been diagnosed with hepatitis C as of 2016.

Such grim statistics underscore the need for the U.S. to adopt evidence-based drug policies that can save lives and improve outcomes for people who use drugs. The willingness of the Biden administration to think differently about national drug policy and the changing views of Americans present a critical opportunity to do that.

For decades, policy makers and medical professionals have addressed substance use in two main ways: demand reduction and supply reduction. Both approaches treat substance use as an immoral behavior to be eschewed, instead of as a personal response to social factors or difficult life circumstances.

Neither strategy has significantly reduced substance use or its associated harms. Even though drug arrests jumped 171 percent between 1980 and 2016, the price of most illicit drugs fell, while attempts to dismantle the international drug trade have resulted in extreme violence.

Indeed, America's War on Drugs has tyrannized countless numbers of Black and brown families with racialized policies like mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Such policies have resulted in the overcriminalization of minor drug offenses, the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, and fractured communities across the nation.

Meanwhile, Americans are still using drugs.

It is long past time for the U.S. to embrace the principle of harm reduction, which has proven to lower rates of substance use around the world. Harm reduction recognizes the humanity of people who use drugs, acknowledging that people's relationships with substances usually change over time, and aims to minimize the negative consequences of substance use by fostering the inclusion of those who use drugs in an ecosystem of interventions and services.

The most effective harm-reduction interventions are syringe-services programs (SSPs), which were introduced in the 1980s and '90s as a community-based response to injection-drug use amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Today, they provide syringes, overdose-prevention education, syringe-litter cleanup, infectious-disease testing, and — crucially — naloxone, the lifesaving overdose antidote. SSPs also connect their clients to treatment for substance-use disorder, as well as primary care and social services.

Despite this vital work, U.S. laws have long constrained service providers. In 1988, bipartisan opponents of syringe services prohibited providers from receiving federal funds until the government determined they were safe and effective. The ban remains partially in effect, even as reams of research have shown the benefits of syringe services, from reducing emergency medical costs to lowering rates of HIV and hepatitis C. SSPs still cannot use federal funds to purchase syringes, which help prevent infectious disease among people who inject drugs.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've seen a dramatic spike in people receiving syringe services through my work managing AIDS United's Syringe Access Fund, which disburses about $1 million in philanthropic funds to SSPs annually. And it is happening at a time when public and private funding for harm-reduction services was already inadequate.

Although Congress has allocated billions of dollars to combat the opioid crisis, many of those programs stop short of addressing the complex health, psychosocial, and socioeconomic factors underlying chronic substance use. For instance, half of all State Opioid Response (SOR) grants — a major federal initiative designed to help states expand their opioid addiction treatment services over the course of two years — went unspent, a federal watchdog has found, by the time the program was wound down. At the same time, our Syringe Access Fund grantees are struggling to meet their clients' needs and pay their bills. This not only imperils lives and public health but strains local resources.

It is time Americans recognize that the best way to reduce the staggering number of lives lost to overdose each year is to invest in services that support people while they are using drugs. To do that, we need to reach people who use drugs where they are. Syringe services programs are a cost-effective way to serve communities that many see as hard to reach, but which actually are hardly reached, as well as an opportunity to invest in a more holistic and inclusive public health infrastructure.

Without greater investment in that infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to slip through the cracks and die from overdose in the years to come. We have the tools to prevent these deaths, so long as we invest in the lives of people who use drugs.

Zachary_Ford_AIDS_United_philantopicZachary Ford is a senior program manager at AIDS United, where he oversees the Syringe Access Fund, a grantmaking initiative focused on improving health outcomes for people who use drugs.

What COVID-19 has taught us about investing in public health

March 12, 2021

2020_May_Ho Chi Minh City_screening_Operation_SmileCOVID-19 continues to pose novel challenges to health systems around the world. With the rapid depletion of stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and severe shortages of physical space in which to care for those affected by this perplexing and terrible disease, even well-resourced surgical health systems have been pushed to the brink of their capacity.

But in many low- and middle-income countries, the virus that emerged in late 2019 has exacerbated a problem that remains anything but novel in 2021. In places that lack the infrastructure, funding, and healthcare workforce able to cope with the pre-pandemic needs of its citizens, COVID-19 has further limited the ability of public health systems to provide essential surgical care to people who need it.

A study published in the British Journal of Surgery estimates that over a twelve-week period during the initial surge of COVID cases last spring, hospitals in low- and middle-income countries were forced to cancel more than 15.5 million surgical procedures as they prioritized patients infected with the virus. The ripple effect caused by these cancellations has had costly consequences in terms of avoidable human suffering. People who need surgery for trauma, cancer, burns, or congenital conditions such as cleft lip and cleft palate have been forced to wait and grapple with the debilitating effects of their conditions. Lives have been lost.

On a personal level, the coronavirus pandemic has brought back memories of my experience in Liberia leading Africare's response to the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic. During that emergency, all essential and emergency public health services were suspended as the healthcare system struggled to respond to the surge in Ebola cases. As a result of insufficient investment over many years, the country was ill prepared to address the highly infectious nature of the disease, and its response was further weakened by the dearth of critical medical equipment, testing and diagnostic capabilities, healthcare workers with the training needed to respond to the disease, and adequate PPE.

We see many of the same factors at work today, with predictable results, including an erosion of trust and confidence in health workers' capacity to provide adequate care and in patients' ability to receive care without risking their lives. As reported in a Journal of Public Health paper, patients in need of surgery are not seeking care for fear of contracting COVID while in hospital or a clinic. And this is in addition to preexisting structural, financial, and socioeconomic barriers that prevent tens of millions of people from accessing safe surgery.

We must and can do better.

If we are to care for the countless number of people in need of surgery while remaining responsive and resilient when faced with outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19, the global health and international development communities must step up their capacity-building investments in both surgical ecosystems and public health systems.

Early on in the pandemic, Operation Smile made the difficult decision to put all its medical programs on pause. We knew hospitals and frontline health workers would soon be overwhelmed by an influx of desperately sick patients and that we needed to protect the people who turn to us for help, their families, and our staff and volunteers by suspending international travel indefinitely.

These measures resulted in surgery and dental care being delayed for thousands of Operation Smile patients. At the same time, we decided to increase our investment in public health systems in the countries where we work, both in response to the virus and to improve the quality of locally available care after the pandemic was over. To that end, we leveraged our longstanding relationships with various ministries of health and NGO partners to procure and donate PPE, respiratory equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and food and hygiene supplies to hospitals and communities hard hit by the virus.

What has been especially impressive about the global surgery community's response to COVID-19, however, has been its unity. Despite all the challenges posed by international travel restrictions, NGOs have turned to one another for help in overcoming their logistics and implementation hurdles. We experienced this firsthand in our work with organizations like the World Children Initiative, African Medical and Research Foundation, Kids Operating Room, Lifebox, and Medical Aid International, all of which have been instrumental in helping us procure and distribute PPE and medical supplies and equipment across Africa.

And the response extends beyond physical donations. Academic institutions, surgical societies, NGOs, and corporations have also come together to provide virtual training and education opportunities to frontline healthcare providers in resource-constrained settings. Operation Smile today partners with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa, and ministries of health in a number of countries to help thousands of health workers upgrade their skills and address the unique challenges they face.

At the end of the day, investments in public health systems help build confidence among patients, who can see that they will receive care that is safe and effective, as well as health workers, who are empowered with the knowledge, supplies, and skills they need to deliver relevant care safely and in a timely fashion. Indeed, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently affirmed that the time for such investments is now: "Public health is more than medicine and science and it is bigger than any individual and there is hope that if we invest in health systems…we can bring this virus under control and go forward together to tackle other challenges of our times."

In the same essay, however, Tedros warned that the response to COVID-19 is not enough to "address the global under-investment in essential public health functions and resilient health systems, nor the urgent need for a 'One Health' approach that encompasses the health of humans, animals, and the planet we share. There is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, climate change or inequality."

At Operation Smile, we've learned that the time is always right to invest in systems with the aim of making them more resilient and responsive to the needs of the people they are intended to serve. But only a global response will yield the kind of impact we desperately need to stop COVID in its tracks and end the pandemic.

As the old saying goes, "to whom much is given much is required." Today, more than ever, global health stakeholders and international development actors must step up and provide the financial and human capital needed to build public health systems that can respond to emerging health needs efficiently and effectively. There's a not a moment to waste.

(Photo credit: Operation Smile)

Ernest Gaie_operation_smile_philantopicErnest Gaie serves as senior advisor for global business operations at Operation Smile.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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