199 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

'Tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic': A commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods

October 18, 2021

News_mental_health.2Five tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic: Lessons learned supporting adolescent mental health organizations during COVID-19

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread losses people have suffered — of loved ones, jobs, safety, and a sense of normalcy — community-based organizations are stepping up to bridge the gaps in social services. While government agencies are slower to move resources in response to real-time and evolving needs, philanthropy can act quickly and mobilize resources through rapid-response grantmaking.

At the Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, we've seen firsthand the challenges of reviewing high-volume, short-turnaround proposals. The initial concept for the fund was proposed in July 2020 as a collaborative COVID-relief fund at Panorama to focus on adolescent mental health and well-being, and was seeded by Melinda French Gates' Pivotal Ventures with additional support from the Klarman Family Foundation. Over the course of three months, we developed a grantmaking and implementation strategy supported by an advisory committee of practitioners, policy experts, and researchers, and issued a request for proposals in late October, with applications open for six weeks. The fund received 485 proposals from forty states and the District of Columbia, and to date has awarded more than $11 million to ninety-two organizations.

We'd like to share five considerations for rapid grantmaking that were critical to our process and designed in the spirit of advancing trust-based philanthropy. Some validated our own grantmaking principles at Panorama, such as the importance of giving general operating support grants, while others were unique to processes required to execute on an expedited timeline....

Read the full commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods, a program officer for Panorama's Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health.

 

How do we ensure that the largest transfer of generational wealth in history will be put to charitable use?

October 12, 2021

Bundles_of_money_$100_bills_Pictures_of_MoneyFor the past seven years, I have had the incredible privilege of running my family's foundation. Spending my working hours leading a team that makes decisions about how to give away funding, I am in the unique position of seeing up close the instrumental work nonprofits are doing to address the needs of our communities. From housing our unsheltered neighbors to connecting vulnerable young people with caring mentors, nonprofits ensure that donated dollars reach the people who need them most.

Yet charities doing this important work continue to face financial hardship. One report found that more than a third of nonprofits across the country are at risk of closing within two years. In addition, the nonprofit workforce has lost nearly nine hundred and sixty thousand jobs, a devastating blow to local economies and the most vulnerable in our communities. 

While the outlook is uncertain for nonprofits, the baby boomer generation is in the midst of planning the largest generational transfer of wealth in both U.S. and world history. At the federal level, we have long-established charitable tax deductions as a tax policy to incentivizes us to give. Now is the time to restart a public conversation about what we mean by charitable giving.

I am a proud Minnesotan. Minnesotans are generous people — setting aside money for the public good is in our DNA. Our largest corporations led the nation in charitable giving in the latter half of the twentieth century. Over the next two decades, Minnesotans will act on their generosity by setting aside money to support those charities we all understand to be both essential and in a precarious financial position. Yet the fact is that our current charitable giving laws no longer work as intended to increase the flow of resources to charities — at a time when they urgently need help.  

Currently, donors can set funds aside in charitable intermediaries — private foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs) — and claim the full tax benefits of charitable giving. However, there's no guarantee that these funds will ever be put to charitable use; the connection between charitable tax benefits and benefits to charities is tenuous at best. Taxpayers are left footing the bill without any certainty of receiving the public benefits that working charities provide.

The data make clear that we need to modernize our charitable tax policy. Over the years, there has been a substantial shift in giving towards DAFs and private foundations and away from direct contributions to charities. According to a report released in May, charitable giving by individuals as a share of income has hovered around 2 percent over the past forty years, while contributions to DAFs and private foundations have grown from 5 percent in 1991 to 28 percent of all individual giving in 2019. Today, more than $1 trillion sits in private foundations and DAFs combined.

All this charitably directed wealth could do tremendous good, but in order to protect the vitality of the nonprofit sector, policy changes are needed to ensure that DAFs and private foundations distribute funds to working charities more quickly. Community foundations and other public intermediaries can play a unique role by educating newer donors about pressing issues and connecting them with community leaders. No matter how it happens, donors who claim the full tax benefits of charitable giving need to feel the urgency of actually giving that money away.

My family created our foundation as a way for us to work together to professionally give money away. We have grown closer by building working relationships with community leaders and investing in transformational ideas. But the most important and fulfilling part of my job is very simple: making sure we meet our annual giving budget with fidelity so that the foundation's endowment is spent down by 2044. So much of our society is focused on the efficient accumulation of wealth; it is my hope that charitable giving laws encourage DAFs and private foundations to make charitable distributions that meet or exceed their endowment's long-term financial returns.

Having lived through the last year as a resident of Minneapolis, I know all too well that we face compounding social issues that cannot be left unaddressed one more day. Today's philanthropists should be helping to advance solutions to today's problems by shifting our attention and resources away from private control and toward community.

(Photo credit: Pictures of Money)

Headshot_Bill_Graves_PhilanTopicBill Graves is founding president of the John and Denise Graves Family Foundation. An earlier version of this article was published in Worth.

'Philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as government': A commentary by AJ Dahiya

October 06, 2021

Globe_Afghanistan_India_WorldMaps_via_StockSnapWhat philanthropy can learn from Afghanistan:

I recently read the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from 20 Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction to try to understand how the investment of $145 billion in reconstruction dollars over two decades could be so decisively and spectacularly undone in a mere ten days. 

The section that stood out the most for me was titled "The US Government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly." It details how the Americans tried to superimpose Western models onto Afghan institutions, unintentionally empowering corrupt power brokers and unwittingly supporting projects that were meant to mitigate conflict but often exacerbated it. In large and small ways, this lack of cultural context extended to all they did. For example, the new schools being constructed were designed to American standards, with a heavy roof that required a crane to install, yet cranes could not be used in the mountainous terrain of much of the country. 

Reflecting on these tragic lessons in hubris, money, and power, I see so many important lessons for our own work. 

In truth, philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as governments. How often do we assume that because we have the resources, we also have the solutions? Do top-down attempts at movement building make any more sense than attempts at nation building? How do we shift our ways of thinking and doing to move from saving those in need to a focus on serving them? 

Read the full commentary by AJ Dahiya, chief vision officer of the Pollination Project.

'Building political power at a grassroots level': A Q&A with Romilda Avila, CEO, Tides Advocacy

September 22, 2021

Headshot_Romilda_Avila_Tides_croppedRomilda Avila is CEO of Tides Advocacy (formerly the Advocacy Fund), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization working with a network of fiscally sponsored 501(c)(4) projects and funds to strengthen political infrastructure and support power building and policy reform led by those most impacted by injustice. To that end, the organization provides capacity-building support, grantmaking support, and advising services to incubate advocacy initiatives. Avila served as Tides Advocacy's deputy director from 2017 to 2019 and as interim CEO before being appointed CEO in April 2020; she previously worked as a social impact consultant advising national foundations on grantmaking strategies for advancing social justice and equity.

PND asked Avila about Tides Advocacy's commitment to and process of becoming a pro-Black organization, the Political Movement Infrastructure Project, and the role of grassroots organizations in power building. Here is an excerpt:

Philanthropy News Digest: You were officially appointed CEO not long after the COVID-19 crisis began in the United States. How did your priorities for the organization shift as a result of the pandemic and its economic fallout?

Romilda Avila: Last year, when the pandemic hit, movement folks had to restructure in the moment; in the middle of organizing in the field, they had to transition to lockdown and figure out technology and community engagement. We rallied and were able to give $150,000 through our internal Resilience Fund to highly impacted partners to make sure that they were able to sustain themselves and their salaries and support healing justice and programming while facing an uncertain future. It was the first time that Tides Advocacy has done this type of grantmaking.

We're also supporting more organizations in terms of (c)(4) funding and inspiring folks to do more political work in the off-season. Through our Healthy Democracy Action Fund, during an important election year, we had an opportunity to work with a great donor who allowed us to support almost fifty organizations through nearly $6 million in grants. Almost $2.1 million went to Black-led organizations organizing in the South and the Midwest, and the rest went to Native, Latinx, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities. We're also looking to go deeper with leaders and organizations working on LGBTQ rights — particularly trans issues — and immigrant rights, disability rights, and more, so we can support all people directly impacted by injustice in organizing and building political power at a grassroots level....

Read the full Q&A with Romilda Avila.

'What happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making': A commentary by Hannah Lee

September 07, 2021

Headshot_Hannah Lee_Cognizant_FoundationIt's time for philanthropy to trust and listen better to grantee partners

When Ralph Hoagland, the founder of CVS, recruited three hundred of his neighbors from the wealthy, liberal, and largely white Boston suburbs to donate to the Fund for Urban Negro Development (FUND) to support Black entrepreneurs, he promised a “no strings attached” approach to philanthropy. The group's aim was to support Black businesses and community organizations, build Black wealth, and foster community development across the city. FUND emphasized that Boston's Black leaders already had "the ability to solve the problems” facing their communities but just lacked the necessary resources to do so.

Importantly, the group promised not to interfere through "white controls, advice, or helpful hints." At the same time, FUND's white members did expect to serve as coaches and mentors. When Black leaders rejected some of the mentors' advice, members began pulling their support to FUND — and just four years after its launch, the group disbanded.

The story of FUND, more fully detailed in a research paper, took place more than half a century ago. But the rhetoric and eventual outcomes feel all too familiar. It serves as a powerful reminder about what happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making. And it remains a cautionary tale for those working in philanthropy today — especially in the wake of COVID-19 and our nationwide reckoning around racial justice....

Read the full commentary by Hannah Lee, a director at the Cognizant Foundation.

 

 

Private foundations and DAFs: Short-lived synergy?

July 22, 2021

Laptop_charts_graphs_gettyimages_SamuelBrownNGWhen families and their advisors contemplate establishing a charitable vehicle, they often compare and contrast the advantages of private foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs). However, for many donors, the best choice isn't either a private foundation or a DAF — it's both. When used in combination, the advantages of a private foundation and a DAF can be synergistic, providing donors with a full spectrum of options for their philanthropic and wealth-management goals.

These options will change, however, if the recently announced Accelerating Charitable Efforts (ACE) Act becomes law. But for the time being, here are some of the benefits of using these two vehicles in tandem.

Philanthropic benefits

While a private foundation offers more control over grants and almost limitless flexibility for out-of-the-box giving, a donor-advised fund enables convenient, anonymous grantmaking. When donors have both vehicles, they have a complete toolkit for achieving their philanthropic goals.

Major gifts. Making a major gift to a favored charitable project or institution represents a significant commitment. To ensure that funds are used according to their wishes, which can include naming rights, donors may want to draw up a grant agreement — a legally binding document — to reflect those details. Because private foundations are independent legal entities, they can enter into such agreements, setting forth the purpose, terms, and conditions of their grant, with subsequent payments often tied to progress milestones. This option usually is not available for donor-advised funds because account holders are not agents of the sponsoring organization and cannot enter a legal contract on its behalf.

Balancing transparency and discretion. Private foundations cannot give anonymously because they are legally required to record their grants on their tax returns, which must be available for public inspection. In most instances, this transparency is an advantage: In addition to contributing vital financial resources to an organization or cause, foundations can attract public attention (which, in turn, can attract more resources), building awareness and support.

There are situations, however, when giving publicly does not serve the best interests of the donor. Sometimes funders prefer not to have their names associated with a grant, such as when the issue in question falls outside the usual scope of their foundation's mission. (For example, a funder might want to support a local school even though the foundation's mission is global.) To avoid confusing grantees, the philanthropist may elect to contribute from a DAF, which provides flexibility and discretion. And some philanthropists are concerned about having their business or professional reputation linked to a controversial or politically charged issue. Because the sponsoring organization is not required to show which grants are associated with each DAF account, a DAF is ideal for making gifts that require absolute anonymity.

Infinite giving options. Whereas gifts from a DAF are typically restricted to straightforward donations to U.S.-based 501(c)(3) public charities, a private foundation provides donors with many more giving options, including:

  • Making grants directly to individuals and families facing financial hardship, emergencies, or medical distress
  • Giving to foreign charitable organizations
  • Making loans, loan guarantees, and equity investments in support of charitable purposes
  • Providing funding to for-profit businesses that support the foundation's charitable mission
  • Setting up and running scholarship and award programs
  • Running their own charitable programs

In addition, private foundations can reimburse members for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in pursuit of their charitable purpose, including board meetings, administration, site visits, travel expenses, and even costs associated with starting the foundation.

Options for enabling discretionary grantmaking. Many philanthropists establish a charitable vehicle for the express purpose of uniting their family in shared, purpose-driven work. But what happens when members either can't agree on an objective or want to fund their own areas of interest? In addition to granting as a group, some families give their members a portion of funds to donate as individuals. A private foundation can facilitate this practice of discretionary grantmaking. Alternatively, the family could set up a donor-advised fund that members could use to fund their side projects. Because neither the discretionary grants nor the grants made from the DAF would be subject to approval by the full foundation board, they each could serve as "pressure release valves" when individual interests threaten to derail mission and unity.

Financial benefits

While private foundations can be funded with and hold a wide array of assets, DAFs provide a higher tax deduction for contributions as well as a higher total limit for combined annual contributions. Combining the two can return the best possible financial outcome for the donor.

Maximizing tax deductibility. The maximum that a donor can contribute to a foundation is 30 percent of one's adjusted gross income (AGI). However, donors who have had a significant liquidity event may want to exceed that limit. Because contributions can be made both to a private foundation and to a public charity in a single year, additional cash contributions of up to 30 percent of AGI can be made directly to one or more public charities, including DAFs. By "stacking" contributions to a DAF and a private foundation, donors can effectively maximize their deduction. Note that the temporary suspension of the AGI cap on charitable deductions that applied in 2020 has been extended through 2021.

Funding with alternative assets. Private foundations can own nearly any type of asset, including partnerships, real estate, jewelry, closely held stock, stock options, art, insurance policies, and other valuables. A DAF may limit investment options to cash equivalents, publicly traded securities, and shares of mutual funds. Donations of real property and nonmarketable securities typically are sold or liquidated by the sponsoring organization.

A DAF offers fair-market value for a donation of long-term capital assets (e.g., real property, notes, and privately held stock), whereas a private foundation provides cost basis. However, because a private foundation can hold onto these assets and even put them to charitable use, there are other possibilities to consider.

Sustainable benefits

Because no one can predict their future needs with certainty, establishing both a private foundation and a DAF provides maximum flexibility. Whereas DAF-sponsoring organizations' policies typically ensure that family control over a DAF eventually sunsets, a private foundation is an independent legal entity, and control of its assets can be transferred from the founding generation to the next in perpetuity.

Finally, having both a private foundation and a donor-advised fund is ideal for donors to future-proof their philanthropy. Should a private foundation prove too cumbersome over the long haul, the assets can be transferred to a DAF. However, should a DAF prove too limiting, it's all but impossible to do the reverse. Although DAF-sponsoring organizations are permitted to make grants to private foundations, most have internal policies prohibiting such distributions. By having both, should donors "outgrow" their DAFs' philanthropic and investment options, they can turn to their private foundation. And should their initial forays into philanthropy, typically begun with DAFs, turn into either a "second act" for a retired donor or a family enterprise that includes the next generation, their foundations can serve as an enduring legacy.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/SamuelBrownNG)

Mary Ann Stover_foundation_source_philantopicMary Ann Stover is the chief revenue officer at Foundation Source, which provides comprehensive support services for private foundations. The firm works in partnership with financial and legal advisors as well as directly with individuals and families.

Funding criminal justice reform in Latin America: Investing in affected communities

June 15, 2021

Casa de las Muñecas_PhilanTopicThere is always a glass-half-full aspect to grantmaking: While we are proud of what our grants have helped accomplish, we recognize that we can always do better. Looking back on the past decade of grantmaking by the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative in support of criminal justice reform, we can draw critical lessons from both our successes and our failures.

We would like to share some lessons learned from our work funding communities affected by over-policing, mass incarceration, and state violence in Latin America.

A bedrock principle for us is that affected communities are the most capable drivers of long-term, sustainable change, and funders need to prioritize providing them with direct support.

There are four fundamental reasons why donors funding criminal justice reform should support leaders of the movement who are directly impacted by the system:

1. Investing in collective organizing and leadership provides affected communities with resources to build their power. It enables them to shape a narrative on public safety that highlights the stories of the victims and exposes the root causes of violence and harm such as social, economic, and racial injustices — and the way the criminal justice system is designed to criminalize and discriminate against marginalized communities. Funding their leaders also empowers affected communities to develop solutions to problems that directly impact them, and funding is critical to effectively challenging structural inequality and injustice through a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach.

2. Investing in affected communities contributes to a more representative, diverse, and inclusive criminal justice movement that nurtures new and emerging leaders. In Brazil, for example, white — and often elite — legal and policy advocacy groups tend to dominate the criminal justice field — but this is changing. More Black activists and Black-led organizations such as the newly formed Black Coalition for Rights, are leading advocacy on criminal justice reform and placing racial justice squarely on the agenda of the broader movement, and more donors are funding racial justice work in the country. In Mexico, the trans-led NGO Casa de las Muñecas is introducing new perspectives in the criminal justice debate regarding discrimination against trans women, which other organizations in this space have not prioritized. Building the leadership of affected communities has a knock-on effect on mainstream organizations as well, motivating them to recruit staff and board members from these communities, diversifying their membership.

3. The strong connection between directly impacted people and their families, neighbors, and/or people with similar experiences gives those leaders and organizations legitimacy in the eyes of their communities and the public. They therefore have a greater capacity to mobilize and galvanize people around their demands. In the United States, as a result of the shift in the profile of its leadership to include more people from impacted communities, the criminal justice movement has pushed new and more radical ideas to the fore, such as "prison abolition" and "defunding the police," and is placing greater emphasis on initiatives dealing with violence prevention, community reinvestments, and reentry. In Latin America, a nascent network of formerly incarcerated women (including Red de Acciones por la Justicia in Mexico, Mujeres Libres in Colombia, and Amparar in Brazil), is developing an advocacy platform to promote transformative justice across the region, a topic that traditional criminal justice organizations, which have been more focused on technical legislative reforms, have not prioritized.

4. While directly impacted individuals are arguably the most capable and effective leaders of the criminal justice movement, they are also the most in need of and the least able to access resources. Groups and movements led by affected communities are typically under-funded and conduct most of their work on a volunteer basis. They lack the vital resources required for organizational and professional development (e.g., fundraising, advocacy) and end up giving their time and energy free of charge, despite precarious living conditions, such as insecure housing, lack of access to basic services (health care, education, etc.), and the stigma that comes with having spent time behind bars or the trauma of having lost a family member to state violence.

Donors have an important role to play in supporting affected communities' efforts to organize, strategize, and develop their own solutions to problems of which they have an intimate knowledge.

Here are four lessons we'd like to share from our experience in Latin America:

1. Funding affected communities requires grantmaking that is flexible, long-term, and premised on trust. Keep in mind that while grantees will choose the path that works best for them, it may take time to figure this out, and results may not be immediately tangible. There may be an advocacy win down the road, but the organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing necessary to make it happen could take years. Results need to be measured against movement-building milestones such as agenda setting, increased visibility of advocates and positions, stronger networks/development of new organizations, and law and policy reform).  

2. Affected communities should make their own decisions, but they need allies and assistance from well-established organizations that can offer respectful accompaniment and technical support. Allies (including donors) must perform a delicate balancing act: committing to nurturing the leadership of affected communities while knowing when to step back to let them make their own decisions.

3. We need to navigate movement dynamics carefully. Funding one set of affected leaders or organizations but not another may pit groups against each other. Donors need to understand alliances and rivalries and asses how best to support the movement as a whole. It is also important to recognize the tensions between movements. For instance, in Colombia, we cannot assume that solidarity is automatic between female coca growers in rural areas and women who use or sell drugs in urban settings, but they could rally around common goals such as the need for economic opportunities.

4. Some communities self-organize to defend their rights and interests but do not focus on criminal justice reform. For instance, while associations of sex workers, people who use drugs, or LGBTQI communities are victims of violence and criminalization, they tend not to operate in the criminal justice field. They could, however, be allies and help break silos between movements.

It's too early to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the impact of this strategic shift on policy and practice and people's lives. Yet, after a few years of funding affected communities in Latin America, we already see changes in the types of organizations and activists present in the criminal justice field across the region: They are more diverse, they have brought new voices and perspectives to the table, and they have given a sense of empowerment to disenfranchised communities. We hope the donor community embraces this approach and understands that systemic change requires a sustained and collaborative effort and a commitment to invest in building the infrastructure for movements that have historically lacked access to resources.

(Photo credit: Casa de las Muñecas)

Soheila Comninos_Nina_Madsen_PhilanTopic Soheila Comninos and Nina Madsen are program officers in the Open Society Foundations' Human Rights Initiative.

 

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.

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.

Empathetic leadership during the storm

March 17, 2021

Texas storm capture"Lead with an iron fist," said some.

"Never let them see you cry," others recommended.

"You were born to lead," many affirmed.

Countless people have offered advice and encouragement to me as a leader over the years. Yet the idea of empathy in leadership has rarely been addressed.

As a Black female nonprofit executive in Texas who earlier this winter found herself in a vulnerable moment, I feel compelled to record some of my struggles. First there was the pandemic, followed by the killing of George Floyd and heightened racial tensions, and then — boom! — a winter storm with near-zero temperatures that collapsed the state's power grid and left millions of Texans in dark, unheated homes. Even as it was happening, I knew it was going to be bad, and most likely deadly.

My first instinct was to reach out to my staff and inquire about their housing, food, and other needs. In my experience, employers in times of crisis rarely do wellness checks on their employees (other than to inquire whether the employee will be coming into work or not). While nonprofits are quick to respond to community needs during a disaster, how many organizations offer direct support to their own staff? As an empathetic leader, I was concerned first and foremost that those closest to me were safe and out of harm's way.

During the deep freeze, I considered my teams' mental health and reminded them of our EAP program and insurance plans that could assist with counseling. With a team comprised largely of women of color, I understood how responses to crisis and trauma live in our bodies. But in my role as executive director of Faith in Texas, I also knew I had to consider all the harms suffered by the communities my organization serves.

Where did that leave me? Self-care seems to be the rage these days, but it's much easier said than done. Infuriated by the lack of accountability on the part of Texas officials, ERCOT, and electric companies serving the state, I decided to take a break from the news. But within an hour, an employee texted me asking if we could help dozens of families that had been locked out of their hotel rooms and had nowhere to go.

It was then that the magnitude of the crisis became apparent. This wasn't a time for self-care. As a single mother, my heart ached for the displaced mothers and their children. I imagined them trying to survive the freezing cold, dealing with harsh conditions as they scrambled to find public transportation to the suburbs, where mutual aid groups could secure them rooms. I imgained them trying to find food to eat, water to drink, hygiene products, even underwear for themselves and their kids.

It was more or less the same thing the employee who texted me was experiencing. A Black woman and mother of small children, she, too, was scrambling to find temporary housing. And yet she was advocating for others in crisis; self-care would have to wait.

In the days that followed, family and business colleagues from around the country reached out to check on me and my sons. And my answer to their first question was always, "I'm fine. Grateful to be safe, warm and healthy." But I was numb.

Through my contacts, I began to hear about helpers on the front lines — heroic individuals, small nonprofits, and local Black churches that were doing crucial, in-the-moment work to help people survive. I knew their names wouldn't be mentioned during funder calls. And while local and national media outlets were making an efort to highlight the work they were doing and individuals around the country were responding to calls for donations, I realized I had a responsibility to elevate all the organizations and people who were selflessly neglecting their own self-care to provide critical services. Truth be told, I wasn't sure if every organization had 501(c)(3) status, but that hardly seemed to matter. They needed — and deserved — all the resources they coud get. And they deserved to be trusted to use the money — not just in-kind donations —  in an effective manner. Standing up for grassroots organizations is another role I embrace.

Leading with empathy probably isn't the best long-term strategy for a Black female nonprofit executive looking to impress large funders and donors, but, inspired by John Hope Bryant's Love Leadership, it's the legacy I prefer to leave. Like Bryant, I recognize that there can be no strength without suffering, no power without vulnerability. As Black women calling for equity and healing, my sisters and I speak out of love and respect, from a history of suffering, and mindful of our own vulnerability. All we ask is that you give us an opportunity to show our greatness.

(Photo credit: Mario Cantu/Cal Sport Meia via AP Images)

Headshot_Akilah Wallace_cropAkilah S. Wallace is executive director of Faith in Texas. This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of  Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy.

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.

[Review] 'It's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York'

February 11, 2021

Cover Its a Helluva TownIt's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York by Roberta Brandes Gratz tells the story of how one person and a small family foundation were able to create outsize impact in the nation's largest city and make it a more vibrant, equitable, and sustainable place to live and work. As cities across the country wrestle with unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gratz' "case study" on the power, and limits, of philanthropy could not be more timely.

Founded in 1945 by Jacob "Jack" Merrill Kaplan, the J.M. Kaplan Fund today distributes more than $6 million in grants annually and has approximately $140 million in assets, a legacy of the sale of the Welch Grape Juice Company, which Kaplan headed for many years, to a grape growers' cooperative in the 1950s. In 1977, Kaplan's oldest child, Joan Davidson, was named president of the foundation he had created. As Gratz details in the book, Davidson took the responsibility seriously and, with the relatively modest resources of the J.M. Kaplan Fund at her disposal, played an outsized role in transforming New York during the latter half of the twentieth century. 

For Gratz, Davidson and the Kaplan Fund embody an important philanthropic principle: solutions to some of our most urgent social problems do not necessarily have to come with a big price tag.  Indeed, because foundations and philanthropists tend to be risk-averse, moving early and decisively to address a problem can yield impressive results. By way of example, Gratz quotes Aryeh Neier, a co-founder of Human Rights Watch, who credits the Kaplan Fund as  "the first significant funder of Human Rights Watch at $200,000 a year before [the] Ford Foundation came in" and goes on to say "[the fund] was crucial in launching us." To put that in perspective, HRW today has a budget of $75 million, a staff of four hundred and fifty people, and is widely considered to be one of the most effective human rights organizations in the world.

In an entirely different arena and on a smaller scale, the fund awarded a $1,500 grant in 1992 to the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association in Far Rockaway, Queens, to plant thirty trees and other site-appropriate vegetation as protection against potentially devastating storm surges. Twenty years later, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, the area's bungalows and their residents were largely spared.

One of Davidson's most remarkable accomplishments as leader of the fund was her willingness to support institutions and social movements unafraid to question the paradigms and narratives that others took for granted. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance, the fund supported the efforts to landmark and save the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters in Manhattan's Theater District from demolition. Legal action seemed to be the only way to save the theaters, and for help Davidson turned to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a young environmental organization and an unlikely ally. Davidson had been a board member of NRDC, however, and understood how it could be useful in this particular fight. Though getting NRDC to take up the cause was a "hard sell," it eventually agreed. Ultimately, the theaters fell to the wrecking ball, but the case was pivotal in defining the strategies employed by the organization as it grew to become a leading player in the environmental advocacy movement — and, as Gratz writes, expanded the boundaries of that work so that "[e]nvironmental issues would never again be limited to the natural; the built and the natural were seen as symbiotic and forever joined." Today, cities and the urban ecosystems that grow up around them are widely regarded as critical components of the "environment," and NRDC has gone on to build an important and impactful urban program focused on putting resilient, sustainable cities at the center of the climate change conversation.

The success of an initiative often is judged by the extent to which it prevents harm. By empowering grassroots activism, philanthropy can play a critical role in stopping projects that pose threats to the environment, communities, and/or the very fabric of society — an idea that has significantly shaped both the historic preservation and environmental movements. As Gratz writes, "Preservation is never about historic buildings alone; it is about urbanism — preserving the whole city — which is simply the sum of its diverse and very interconnected parts." In the 1970s, she adds, "intelligent people had good reason to think that New York was doomed, and that making it more accessible to suburbia (and cars) and easier and safer as a venue for nighttime entertainment (via Lincoln Center) was the way to save it."

One of the linchpins of that vision was Westway, a proposed twelve-lane highway to be built from 42nd Street to Battery Park on land partly reclaimed from the Hudson River. The project, if completed, would have ceded primacy to the automobile in Manhattan — at the expense of mass transit and the ecologically important Hudson River estuary. Thanks to successful litigation supported by Davidson and the Kaplan Fund, however, the project was defeated, and the federal funding that had been allocated to it was used instead to support the city's public transit infrastructure, a critical building block of New York City's comeback in the 1980s and '90s. The book details several such fights against pernicious projects and proposals, some of them more successful than others. But the common thread in all is the emerging power of grassroots activism, which Davidson and the fund were critical in nurturing and sustaining.

More recently, the economic model that propelled New York City to new heights in the opening decades of the twenty-first century has been overturned by COVID-19. Every day during this seemingly endless pandemic, New Yorkers have been challenged to re-conceptualize how they work and live. At the same time, the virus has highlighted the unequal, unjust, and often-racist systems that marginalize communities.  The lesson is clear: now is the time to develop new models and paradigms for cities that give all people who call them home a chance to flourish. It's A Helluva Town reminds us that this isn't the first time New York has found itself at such a crossroads. But, as in the 1970s, headlines like "Is New York City Over?" and "400,000 people flee from the city" obscure the fact that major urban centers like New York are hard to keep down as long as visionaries like Joan Davidson call them home. She, and the people who supported her at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, are proof, as Margaret Meade famously said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Nick Opinsky is a senior development officer for institutional giving at American Jewish World Service.

Growing pains & possibilities: planning for growth in your foundation

January 29, 2021

Your-money-growingLet's imagine a typical foundation started by successful businesspeople in order to make charitable contributions each year to a small constellation of nonprofits in their community.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and the founders have achieved more financial success than they ever expected. While undertaking their estate planning, they have ascertained that even after they take care of their children and grandchildren, there will be a substantial amount left from their holdings to donate to the foundation. In fact, the founders anticipate that upon their death the foundation's assets will increase from $3 million (current value) to approximately $40 million. The founders realize that this eventual windfall merits advanced planning to best meet the opportunities that come with such a large increase.

If, like the founders in this hypothetical example, you should find yourself confronting an almost-overnight jump in your foundation's assets, what should you do? How should you plan for such an event and carry your foundation into the future?

The Challenge of Growth

One of the immediate outcomes of explosive growth is a dramatic increase in a foundation's 5 percent minimum distribution requirement (MDR). The MDR is based on the average value of foundation assets in the previous year, so as assets grow, foundations are required to increase their charitable activities accordingly. Although the increased MDR won't impact the foundation immediately, a major infusion of capital provides ample reason for the foundation to develop a plan for programmatic growth alongside its financial growth.

Let's go back to our example above. The foundation had an average of $3 million in assets throughout 2020. Therefore, it has an MDR of $150,000 for 2021. If the foundation were to receive a contribution of $37 million in January 2021, bringing total assets up to $40 million, the MDR for 2022 would be $2 million that would have to be distributed by the end of the year.

Gearing Up Grantmaking

Even though foundations are given some time to ramp up their distributions as a result of sudden growth, they eventually need to bring their grantmaking strategy in line with their new assets. These are questions to guide the development of such a strategy:

What do we want to accomplish as a foundation? This is an ideal moment for board members to consider the foundation's history and explore the increased opportunities that accompany financial growth. With additional financial assets, the programmatic possibilities open up to tremendous innovation, creativity, and potential impact.

What are our unique qualifications for making a difference? When it comes to achieving impact, dollars aren't the only important asset. As board members contemplate the foundation's future, this is an ideal time to take stock of the entirety of resources that the family and its network of contacts might be able to command. Specifically, the board should ask:

  • What expertise, skills, and special talents do we bring to the table?
  • How much time and energy do we have to devote to our cause?
  • What important contacts and connections do we have that can help us?
  • What's our name recognition/credibility/reputation?
  • What level of assets can we afford to commit?

Should we expand our scope? With increased assets, some foundations choose to continue supporting their existing areas of interest but expand their geographic focus. So, instead of restricting funding to their hometown, they adopt a statewide or even national agenda. Other foundations have opted instead to widen the scope of their areas of funding. So, in addition to funding a program that provides meals for homeless individuals, a foundation may choose to start fighting homelessness itself by funding research and advocacy, thereby increasing the opportunity for impact.

Where can we achieve the greatest impact? As your foundation ramps up its grantmaking, devoting resources to research and analysis would be money well spent. If you want to build on your foundation's previous work and expand locally, you might invite local funders or community leaders to help identify unmet regional needs. If you want to pursue an entirely new area of interest, you'll want to know who else has been working on the problem, what has already been done, and what impact that work has had. In that case, you could hire an outside expert to undertake a "field scan" detailing what other funders and nonprofits have accomplished on that issue to date, whether their efforts have met with success, and where your foundation might achieve the most impact going forward. Not only will this help you avoid directing funds toward ineffective approaches or duplication of other efforts, it might also reveal potential new partners and allies. Because the IRS recognizes that private foundations incur expenses in the pursuit of their charitable purposes, tax law allows foundations to count such expenditures toward fulfilling their minimum distribution requirement.

Can we fund things that fall outside of our mission? With a growth in assets, you can have a separate bucket of funds for grantmaking outside your stated mission. This would enable the foundation to fund exciting programs that either present themselves or are uncovered in the course of executing the planned grantmaking strategy. Setting aside a portion of funds can also serve as a laboratory, enabling the foundation to experiment with promising programs before making a more significant or enduring commitment.

A New Way of Operating

A growth in assets provides you with an opportunity to deepen your commitment to the funding priorities your foundation has previously championed. But such an event also affords you an opportunity to break with the past and chart a new course. Regardless of the path you choose, you would be well served to assess whether the moment necessitates a new approach to foundation operations, including:

Guidelines and applications. To attract more targeted and relevant grant requests and to meet an increased MDR, you may want to solicit proposals from more nonprofits. You also might want to develop funding guidelines and a grant application form.

Detailed budgeting. If your growing foundation ventures into a new funding area, implements a new grantmaking strategy, and incurs additional expenses, an ad hoc approach to budgeting may no longer suit the organization's needs. With increased size and complexity, it will likely become harder for your foundation to simply make grants until the MDR is fulfilled. At this point, you may want to create an annual budget, allocating specific dollar amounts to key funding areas, ongoing historical interests, and administrative costs.

A growth in assets provides an opportunity to deepen and expand your philanthropic agenda. Establishing clear objectives and taking the time to plan will help you successfully meet that opportunity.

Headshot_Elizabeth WongElizabeth Wong is national director of philanthropic advisory services at Foundation Source, which provides comprehensive support services for private foundations.

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

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