550 posts categorized "Nonprofits"

How human services charities stepped up and filled the gap in 2020

January 18, 2021

Sharp_chula_vista_medical_centerHuman services charities provided an essential lifeline in 2020 to millions of Americans grappling with the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Indeed, the unprecedented events of the year reinforced the deep-seated value and tangible impact of organizations that support populations in need, from nonprofits operating homeless shelters and food banks to those providing services to the disabled and elderly.

This was especially true of populations supported by the Gary Sinise Foundation, a 501(c)(3) serving veterans, first responders, service members, and their families.

When the economy cratered and the unemployment rate soared in the spring, the foundation quickly saw an uptick in requests for financial assistance — an uptick that became a tsunami by the fall. Their stories were heartbreaking: many had fallen behind on their rent, mortgage, or car payments and were facing eviction or repossession. For others, purchasing groceries for their families came at the expense of making payments on already-overdue bills.

The employment picture for many was similarly bleak. Some of the people we heard from had been furloughed indefinitely or let go from their job, while others were unable to enter the job market because of family obligations at home.

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we responded to the growing number of requests for help by launching a campaign focused on our constituents.

During a four-month span beginning in April, the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service campaign delivered 60,795 free meals to hospitals, Veterans Affairs medical centers, and military bases in the U.S. and overseas. At 313 locations across the country, including 273 hospitals and 145 Veterans Affairs sites, pre-packaged meals nourished overworked doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. American troops and their families stationed in Germany and Korea were among those who received meals.

Grant funding distributed through the campaign also provided a lifeline for first-responder departments — particularly those in rural America and volunteer departments supported by a small tax base — enabling them to purchase protective equipment, including N95 face masks, face shields, and gloves. All told, more than $480,000 in grant funding was distributed to fire and police departments in twenty-seven states.

In a relatively short period of time, more than $1.4 million was raised by the campaign despite a raging pandemic and a battered U.S. economy. And those weren't the only challenges. A polarizing U.S. presidential race and bitterly contested election saw donations to the campaign ebb and flow, much as they had in the summer in the wake of racial justice protests sparked by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Still, the campaign went on, enabling the foundation to consistently deliver financial aid and other forms of support to veterans, Gold Star families, first responders, and others impacted in one way or another by COVID-19.

No year in recent memory has presented as many challenges as 2020 to the institutions and core identity of the United States. And yet no year has been as rife with opportunity for human services charities to step up in new and creative ways to help millions of Americans who are struggling.

Given the critical role these organizations play in their communities and the void they fill when resources and funding at the local, state, and federal level are stretched, it's clear they must continue to adapt their services in 2021 to the economic and political realities stemming from the ongoing public health crisis. They will need our support to do so.

There really is no choice. Too many people are counting on us.

(Photo credit: Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center)

Brandon_black_gary_sinise_foundation_PhilanTopicBrandon Black is senior communications writer at the Gary Sinise Foundation.

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.

DAF donors showed us who they were in 2020 

January 11, 2021

Money_seedlingGrantmaking from donor-advised funds (DAFs) is up — and it's up enormously. At National Philanthropic Trust, our grant dollars doubled in 2020. Other DAF sponsors reported a similar pattern. What is it about DAF donors that makes them respond so robustly to a crisis? And is this pattern of giving sustainable?

Here are three important lessons we learned about DAF donors in 2020 and why they should matter to nonprofits in the coming years:

1. DAF donors mobilize quickly. Americans have always had a giving impulse; they want to help in the face of challenges such as natural disasters, community emergencies, and neighbors in need. Giving in 2020 was marked with a different kind of urgency and qualifies as the most widespread and sustained form of "disaster giving" I've witnessed over more than four decades working in philanthropy.

The first COVID-specific grant recommendation at NPT came in early March. Within days there were dozens more, and after a few weeks we'd sent out millions of dollars in grant checks. The ability to recommend grants quickly has made an enormous difference in our donors’ philanthropic response and their willingness to support more causes than ever before.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: Swift and impactful grantmaking is certainly a credit to our donors' generosity, but it's also a testament to the organizations that are effectively communicating and addressing critical community needs.  Anecdotally, we know that donors respond to appeals that help meet a specific need — the more hyper-local or hyper-targeted, the more donors understand the impact their support will have.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw unrestricted grants flowing to emergency funds at community foundations, hospitals, and research institutions. Those organizations were communicating specific needs: assisting out-of-work hospitality workers in the community, providing childcare for nurses, funding treatment and prevention research. The summer surge of grants in response to calls for social justice mirrored the same sense of urgency, whether it was bail funds at established organizations already engaged in social equity work or racial literacy programs in schools. Organizations large and small continue to communicate what they need and highlight the impact donor dollars are having, attracting even more of those dollars and earning donors' trust.

2. DAF donors are committed to the long-term viability of nonprofits. DAF donors are committed philanthropists. We see this in the grants they recommend. In the aggregate, DAF grant dollars have increased nearly 100 percent in the last five years. We also see it in the payout rate from DAFs. Grant payout, which is a function of how much donors grant from their DAFs relative to total assets, has been above 20 percent for the last fifteen-plus years. This means DAF donors give generously and consistently — across economic cycles, election cycles, and in the face of great challenges.

This was true in 2008 when charitable giving writ large dropped but DAF grantmaking increased, and we are seeing it again in 2020-21. Other signals of long-term commitment? More donors than ever plan recurring grants — whether monthly, quarterly, or annually — to their favorite organizations. Over 15 percent of grants from NPT in 2020 were part of a recurring grant structure, a 34 percent increase from 2019. Recurring grants are a sustainable and predictable way to support nonprofits over the long term. Donors are making unrestricted grants more than ever, too. The number of unrestricted grants  NPT made was up 56 percent in 2020 and the dollar value of those grants jumped a whopping 254 percent. These increases are elements of what is known as "trust-based philanthropy," in which donors understand that charities know their constituents and causes better than anyone and trust them to do what is best to meet their immediate needs.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: To keep those regular, unrestricted dollars flowing, charitable organizations have to continue making their case for support. Communicating with donors — not DAF sponsors — to thank them and keep them engaged is critical. Although DAFs can technically give anonymously, the vast majority (at NPT, it's 97 percent) are made with the donors' names included. It's also good practice to engage every DAF donor, regardless of the size of the grant you receive. The most recent data shows that the average DAF account size is around $166,000, meaning today's sustaining donors could be tomorrow's major-gift donors.

3. DAF donors are "AND type people." DAF donors don’t look at their philanthropy through an either/or lens. They don’t choose either their longstanding favorite charity or a new one; they tend to support both. They don't have to choose either giving today or leaving a legacy tomorrow, they recommend grants now and invest for more grantmaking later. This year has highlighted exactly how important flexibility in philanthropy can be. Instead of making trade-offs, our donors recommended more grants — by volume and dollar value — in every interest area.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: If DAF donors are part of your donor base already, keep them informed and continue to solicit them for support. If they’re not, include them in your regular communication. DAF donors are open to supporting new charities and are upping their grants dollars in the face of today's challenges. The two most important ways to appeal to DAF donors are:

Make it easy. Include DAF language on your website and in your appeals like "send a check or recommend a grant from your donor-advised fund." Not only does this remind donors that your organization is eligible for support from DAFs, but it also suggests sophisticated fundraising knowledge and strategy.

Don't feel constricted by time or season. DAF donors have already signaled their commitment to philanthropy just by having a DAF — every dollar in their fund must go to charitable purposes. They've also already received their tax deduction when they made a contribution to their DAF. This means you can appeal to them whenever your organization's need is greatest. They're positioned to respond and often do so quickly.

DAFs are sometimes called the "rainy day funds" of philanthropy because DAF donors actively use their DAFs to support today's charitable priorities while saving for future needs. Dominated by a global pandemic, a renewed and intensified fight for social justice, and a deeply polarized political environment, 2020 was a year of great need. DAF donors, once again, stepped up to address those simultaneous challenges in creative, generous ways.

Headshot_eileen_heismanEileen Heisman is the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust, the largest national, independent donor-advised fund public charity. Heisman is one of the authors of the annual DAF Report. More at NPTrust.org.

Most popular PhilanTopic posts in 2020

December 31, 2020

DownloadMost of us are beyond relieved that the end of 2020 is in sight, but when historians, artists and writers, and grandparents sharing stories of the good old days look back on it, this longest of years is likely to be remembered as one of the more consequential in American history.

In that spirit, we present the ten most popular posts on the blog posted over the last twelve months. A global pandemic, racial injustice and systemic racism, deepening inequality, climate change, democratic decay, the often timid response of philanthropy and the social sector to urgent challenges — they were the proverbial canaries in the coalmine and will continue to demand our attention and best thinking in 2021.

Enjoy and stay safe.

  1. Funding in the time of COVID-19: questions to deepen racial equity (April 4, 2020) — Michele Kumi Baer
  2. Remote onboarding: set up new hires for success (September 11, 2020) — Molly Brennan
  3. Silence in the social sector (June 24, 2020) — Maria Vertkin
  4. Women and the changing face of philanthropy (July 29, 2020) — Shira Ruderman
  5. Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities (October 27, 2020) — Eddy Zheng
  6. The solution for saving mon-and-pop businesses (May 18, 2020) — John Hamilton
  7. The reinvention of the nonprofit (May 14, 2020) – Derrick Feldmann
  8. Leading in solidarity to reshape the nonprofit ecosystem (July 1, 2020) — Allandra Bulger, Shamyle Dobbs, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, Donna Murray-Brown, and Madhavi Reddy
  9. Philanthropy's moment: advocating for and funding what's essential (April 14, 2020) — Andrew Wolk
  10. What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning (August 31, 2020) — Garrett Zink

Happy New Year from PND and the folks at Candid. See you in 2021!

The 'stay interview': how an HR practice can help nonprofits engage their supporters

December 08, 2020

Allen-interviewMy primary responsibility at the nonprofit where I work is to raise philanthropic dollars for our work, though I've also become deeply interested in the concept of organizational development — what we can do as an organization to foster the professional growth of the people who lead our programs (and not just the programs themselves).

One of the techniques I've learned from my colleagues in human resources is the "stay interview," a sometimes transformative practice for staff that also works well when adapted to interactions with donors.

If you've ever left a job, you've probably been asked by HR to agree to an exit interview. The questions you're asked are familiar and expected: What did you like about working here? Which of the projects you were involved in were most impactful? What could we have done better as an organization? They're all fine questions but they share a fundamental problem: they're backward-looking. And when the interview is over, you — and your feedback — are gone.

Stay interviews, on the other hand, are active, present-tense dialogues that give employees a chance to talk about the things that keep them at the organization and that, when done well, can elicit valuable feedback with respect to systems, processes, and personnel — certainly not a novel or profound approach but far more useful, I would argue, than an exit interview.

Stay interviews and donors

Stay interviews are a great way to boost the morale of staff and improve organizational effectiveness, and for those of us in the business of managing relationships with external stakeholders, they can also be used to great effect with donors and funders. You can find several examples online, including interviews used by the Society for Human Resource Management, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Balance Careers, ALTRES simplicityHR, and TLNT.

If you've been involved with a capital or other large-scale campaign, you may have heard these types of inquiries referred to as "discovery" questions. Below, I've distilled a few examples that I've found to be useful in my own conversations. Feel free to build on them or look for others that better suit your organization's specific needs.

Why do you support our organization? This is an important question to ask early in the relationship — and equally important to continue asking. If it helps, think of your conversations with donors and potential donors as a developing relationship (friendly, romantic) in which the spark from your first few interactions/dates may be different (and better!) months or years down the road. People — and donors — change, as do their interests. Over time, their wealth and propensity to support may also deepen.

What do you like most about engaging with our organization? It's a positive frame, non-guiding, and I'm often surprised by what the answers reveal. One year, I learned that several donors loved calling the organization and interacting with our receptionist because he was so wonderfully helpful and kind. We knew this as a staff, but we had no idea of his impact on our supporters.

What might you suggest we enhance at our organization? I've found this to be more useful than asking "What can we do better?" because it's open and comes from a perspective of enhancing rather than fixing. Once, a donor made a suggestion that simply hadn't occurred to me — that we make our email signature text bigger and include our direct phone numbers, because as an older person she had a difficult time reading them and hated fishing around the website for contact information when she needed to reach us. The fundraising team shared an exasperated "Oh, my gosh..." because it was such a simple, useful, and logical thing for us to have done — but hadn't.

What might make the time you spend with our organization more meaningful? I can't tell you the number of times I've learned that a donor was a great fit to serve as a volunteer or board member after asking this question. While you might hear "Nothing, it's all great," often the responses can be surprising and even powerful. One important caveat: make sure you have a response ready for donors who say, "I love writing you all a check once a year, but is there a way I might be more useful?" Some of them might be a good volunteer or board prospect, while others might enjoy serving as an organizational ambassador and sharing news and program highlights with others.

How do you prefer to be recognized? For organizations that are in the habit of raising up supporters, this is a really important question. Donors (people, companies, foundations, other institutions) give for myriad reasons, and while some are perfectly fine simply making a gift, others are grateful to have their name, logo, or likeness shared with the public. But please, if you do ask this question, be prepared to take careful note of the response. I once worked with an organization that was recognizing a husband and wife in print materials as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" — only to realize later that the couple had different last names. As soon as the couple became aware of the mistake, they stopped giving, and that was that. The organization never followed up, and its silence spoke loudly.

Who do you see as our biggest competitor(s) and/or potential collaborator/partner? This is a great question, though it should be asked of the right donor at the right time. By asking it, you can learn who your donors have on their radar when they survey the field and can also tell you where their support might go if, or when, they stop supporting your organization. You can then use that information to do an audit of your programs or other offerings to see how they compare and might be improved.

You may not be able to explore every one of these questions in your conversations with donors, but if you can ask a few, I'm confident that it, and having a stay interview mindset, will help encourage your funders and supporters to stick with you for the long haul.

(Photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash)

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

Businesses must help nonprofits working to address COVID-related needs

December 07, 2020

Handshake_over_table_PhilanTopicjpgNonprofits are a key part of the U.S. economy — collectively, the third biggest employer by sector. And when the nonprofit sector is healthy and functioning, it benefits the for-profit sector as well. A recently published report found that nonprofits contribute more than $77 billion annually to the New York City economy — more than 9 percent of the city's total economic output.

But as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the U.S. economy, and millions of Americans are suffering — especially Black and Latinx Americans. Despite the many challenges they face, nonprofits are stepping up to fill the gaps. Food banks are distributing 38 percent more food than they did in 2019. Charities are providing computers to students who need them. Unemployed Americans, many of them well aware of the kind of assistance ordinary Americans need and are not receiving, have founded nonprofits to bring volunteers together to meet those needs.

While there has been amazing progress on the vaccine development front, the crisis is likely to drag on for months and the outlook for additional federal assistance is uncertain. Complicating the situation, many of the newest nonprofits aren't eligible for support via the federal Paycheck Protection Program or other government programs. Business leaders can debate the extent of their ethical responsibilities, but in a crisis, putting aside any concerns they may have and doing the socially responsible thing almost always works to their advantage. All the more reason, then, for businesses and individuals to step up at this critical moment and support nonprofits that are being buffeted by the pandemic.

The situation is dire. Even as they scramble to ramp up their services to meet growing demand, many nonprofits are barely hanging on, and nearly a third are at risk of going under. A recent survey by BryteBridge found that among new nonprofits, 79 percent have experienced a drop in revenue, with 38 percent reporting revenue losses of 50 percent or more. Nonprofits established in the last five years are four times as likely to say they are close to not being able to cover their operating expenses than those in business for six or more years, while almost 60 percent of new nonprofits have had to furlough staff and more than 20 percent have had to implement layoffs.

As the president of BryteBridge, I've seen a dramatic increase in requests for support over the last ten months, whether it's help with fundraising, compliance issues, or newly formed organizations looking to apply for 501(c)(3) status.

If they aren't already doing so, businesses and individuals in a position to support nonprofits financially should look hard at where and how they can make the biggest impact with their donations. And they mustn't overlook grassroots and newly established nonprofits, which are less likely to have built up reserves for a rainy day. Supporting organizations that are struggling with capacity constraints — whether through employee volunteer programs or pro bono business support — also can make an enormous difference. By eliminating some of the burden of administrative and compliance requirements, we can ensure that nonprofits are better able to serve their constituents and focus on their mission.

The need for the services delivered by nonprofits right now is enormous, and many organizations are working creatively to rise to the challenge. Many more are running on fumes. It’s time for individuals, businesses, and the private sector to step up.

Brian_Davis_BryteBridge_philantopicBrian Davis is president of BryteBridge, a provider of nonprofit services.

Career transitions during a pandemic: things to consider

December 04, 2020

Career_woman_mask_laptop_home_GettyImagesAs an executive recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I can definitely say that along with everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on recruiting and hiring. When the pandemic was first declared in March and April, we saw an immediate slowdown in hiring. Clients paused active searches to focus on supporting their current teams through the transition to remote work, and many candidates were so focused on staying safe and navigating the challenges of remote work and home schooling that they were unable to even think about making a career change.

That changed a bit over the summer. Our nonprofit clients resumed hiring at a rapid clip and candidates became more willing to consider new opportunities. But thinking about making a career change during a pandemic can be complicated. Candidates often need to explore their personal tolerance for risk, want to think about what it would be like to start a new job virtually, and/or worry about whether they can manage kids who are schooling from home while diving into a new professional challenge. All these are legitimate concerns that can only be answered by the individual looking to make a move.

Below are five things to consider if you're contemplating making a career move right now.

Take time to reflect on what's driving your interest in a change. Is your interest in making a move about advancing your career? Aligning your work life more closely with your values? Are you feeling stagnant in your current position? Could that have something to do with you feeling stuck in your personal life because of COVID-related restrictions? Being clear from the outset about your motivation can help you stay focused on what you really want and drive your decision-making throughout the job search process.

Focus on technology as you begin to interview. Learn what you can about what a future employer is doing to create a productive virtual workplace experience for its employees. What platforms is it using for communications and collaboration? How does the organization's IT staff support employees working virtually? Does it offer any support to employees looking to set up a home office? Understanding how an organization has adapted to the pandemic can provide insight into how adaptable the organization's culture is (or isn't).

Be sure to ask about the onboarding and transition process. Many candidates — as well as hiring managers — treat onboarding and the transition to a new job as an afterthought in the search process. But onboarding someone into a new role when s/he can't come into the office can be challenging in all kinds of unexpected ways. Ask about how the organization has onboarded other new employees during the pandemic. What worked and what didn't? What will the organization do to help set you up for success as a new employee?

Be explicit about your needs, particularly when it comes to balancing work and family. Right now,most of us are stretched more than ever. Whether it's caring for an older parent, helping our kids homeschool, or just figuring out how to manage having multiple family members working and learning from home, these are challenging times. As you consider transitioning into a new role, be clear with yourself — and your potential manager — about what you need in order to be successful. This could be flexible scheduling, a specific piece of equipment or technology, or, if you're relocating, help with finding accommodations. Be prepared to talk about your requirements in a straightforward and transparent manner.

Try to be flexible and nimble. As you think about the next phase of your career, you may find that the number of and/or rate at which opportunities present themselves feels different than it has in the past. Here at Koya Partners, we've seen that some searches are moving more slowly than they might have a year or two ago, while others are advancing faster than they might have pre-pandemic. Try to remain open and responsive to opportunities and understand that the amount of time an organization needs to conduct and close a search will differ from organization to organization.

Recognize that due diligence is more important than ever. Not being able to actually visit the office where you may end up working definitely makes it more challenging to get a feel for an organization and assess its culture, so think about other things you can do to learn about the organization. Take advantage of your networks to connect with current or former employees, read everything you can find about the organization online, and go through every page of its website. It's also critical that you ask questions and get information about the organization's financial health as it relates to the pandemic. Nonprofits that traditionally have relied on events for revenue, for example, may need to pivot quickly to other sources of revenue, or face an uncertain future.

Indeed, if we've learned anything over the ten months, it's that uncertainty is the only certainty. But even with all the unknowns out there and the new ways of working and living we've adopted since the spring, opportunities to advance your career exist. You just need to know where to look for them and act.

Molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

Heckscher_homeIf there has ever been a time when we need to embrace bold solutions in education, especially to the challenges faced by the underserved, now is the time. And at this critical juncture, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and foundations should lead by doing what we do best. We need, as Michael Bloomberg wrote, to "embolden government" by investing in innovation and demonstrating what works, even if that means assuming more than a normal amount of risk.

At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we support programs and partnerships that transform specific inflection points into paths toward success. This year, we have distilled that approach into a focus on three critical areas: early childhood literacy, college access and success, and, in what has become a kind of pandemic throughline connecting kindergarten to college, remote learning.

Allow me to share some of the details:

1. Focus funding on early literacy, where learning loss is most critical. We focused on early literacy in 2020 because we know that kindergarten through second grade are among the most critical years in a child's formal education, years in which the prevention of learning loss is crucial. During a normal year, K-3 students from underserved communities lose three months of reading knowledge over the summer; COVID-19 has exacerbated those losses. Even though school is technically in session for many, look at what's happening in California. The California Department of Education recently reported an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among students in the elementary grades, with the highest increase in grades two through four and among Black and Hispanic students, reinforcing what we already knew: remote learning disproportionately hurts students of color. In New York City students who are completing an assignment or a check-in form for the day but who may not be attending classes are counted as present for full-day instruction.

To help address the problem, we are supporting multiple projects that address early literacy learning loss and are urging other funders to do the same. This fall, we developed a project that enlists Brooklyn College students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate early childhood literacy courses to serve as literacy tutors for students in the New York City public school system. Participants in the program are being trained in Reading Rescue, a one-on-one research and evidence-based intervention targeted to high-need first-grade students who are reading below grade level. The program ensures that students receive explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics using techniques determined to be most effective by experts in the field of reading science. We are also funding Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, all of which have been proven to work, and have provided a third year of funding for EarlyBird, a targeted solution to the current problematic state of dyslexia diagnosis.

We cannot allow our most vulnerable children to fall further behind in the fundamental area of literacy. With that in mind, education funders should pay special attention to proven early literacy programs, today and in the years to come.

2. Supporting teachers who do not have the skills needed to teach remotely. Remote learning does not work for poor kids, particularly poor kids in elementary school. In fact, remote instruction is far from ideal for any student, and most teachers lack the skills needed to teach remotely in an effective way. In a national survey of more than twelve hundred K-12 teachers conducted by ClassTag in March, more than half (56.7 percent) of the teachers who responded said they are "not prepared to facilitate remote learning," while a somewhat smaller percentage (42.8 percent) said they alone are responsible for deciding which remote/online tools they use. We know teachers are in need of support, yet not enough attention has been paid to helping them learn how to teach online.

Now, we have never been fans or successful funders of professional development for teachers, for any number of reasons, including difficulties in measuring its impact on student achievement, but desperate times demand desperate measures and have led us to re-examine our position and ask whether there is an opportunity here to support professional development with respect to the skills teachers need to teach online effectively. Many of these skills are basic and easily learned — how to engage students while conducting a Zoom session, how to use tools like Nearpod, how to manage breakout rooms — and all are crucial in keeping students engaged.

With our support, Doug Lemov and his team at Teach Like a Champion offered synchronous webinars for teachers and school leaders at our grantee schools and organizations. The webinars were predicated on the idea that to truly understand the content they were delivering online, educators needed to both absorb it and experience it as participants in synchronous sessions. They needed, as Lemov explained, to be “cold called,” to share short written responses with their peers, and to participate in online discussions. In short, they needed to be fully engaged in an online session for ninety minutes in order to understand how digital tools shape a learning culture. The results of the initiative have been impressive, and classes were oversubscribed as word of the value of the experience spread.

We’ve also provided funding for the Relay Graduate School of Education in support of a series of synchronous online professional development trainings for teachers, school leaders, and alumni of Teach for America. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Relay has run workshops for more than fifteen hundred school leaders and teachers across the country, including over thirty workshops delivered directly to schools and school networks.

The skills needed to teach effectively have changed over the past few months. It is incumbent on us as funders to help teachers learn the basic tech skills that allow them to do what they do best: connect with their students.

3. Increasing investments in college access and success programs — because the best leg up and out of poverty is a college degree. College access and success for underserved students is still the surest path out of poverty. This year, we focused on enabling inner-city high school students, regardless of their achievement level, to earn early college credits, even when their courses were remote. To that end, our staff came up with a way to broaden the appeal of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams by encouraging students to take courses and the exams via ModernStates.org. Underwritten by philanthropist Steve Klinsky, the site funds the production of online courses taught by college professors designed to prepare students for the exams; it also covers test fees so that students can earn up to a year of college credit without the added cost of tuition or textbooks. At a time when the cost of college is an ever-increasing burden to matriculation and persistence, we see this as an important lever to keep college-going students not just on track but ahead of the curve.

We also envisioned and funded a strategic partnership between two of the best college access and success programs for high-achieving youth Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet) — focused on building up the path from college to a career. While an impressive 90 percent of SEO Scholars earn a college degree, the organization identified a gap in its services: adequately preparing students for the transition from college to employment. Enter OppNet, which teaches career-readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students who have a similar profile to SEO Scholars. OppNet uses a train-the-trainer approach to improving student career competencies and outcomes, and the partnership ultimately enables both programs to better and more broadly serve underserved kids.

Last but not least, we doubled down on our college-success initiatives: we continued our support of intensive career development and leadership training for low-income, first-generation college students via America Needs You; we underwrote the development of a software solution (by Overgrad) that provides counselors and students, in New York, with a localized approach to the college access process; and we increased support for our own transfer credit initiative, resulting in the development of Transfer Explorer, a revolutionary tool for CUNY students. This free, searchable, user-friendly database offers information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions in the CUNY system — the first time such information has been made publicly available. Thanks to the database, CUNY students can avoid the loss of credits when they transfer between schools in the system, increasing the likelihood they will graduate. 

We are all struggling to find a way out of this mess. I don’t have a clue as to when it will end or how, but I often find myself returning to that old, old saying, “this too shall pass.” While we look forward to that day, let’s embrace our obligation now, today, to take bold action that helps level the playing field for underserved youth.

Headshot_peter_sloane_heckscher_foundation_philantopicPeter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, is deeply committed to enhancing educational opportunities for young people.

Learning as compromise: a hard look at evaluation in today’s nonprofit sector

November 12, 2020

Girl-writing-at-deskThe past two decades have witnessed a shift in the nonprofit sector with respect to the practice of evaluation, from evaluation as outcome assessment toward evaluation as part of a broader goal of "learning." Perhaps by design, philanthropy has not embraced a single definition of learning, settling instead on a general understanding of learning as any activity designed to foster insights about and responsiveness to stakeholders, thereby leading to program improvement. Despite the ambiguity, the growing importance of the learning paradigm is hard to ignore; from how advisory firms describe their services to revised staff titles, it is clear that evaluators have expanded their understanding of their work beyond the measurement of goal-attainment.

Practitioners like us celebrate the learning paradigm for extending our scope of concern beyond narrow performance metrics and for encouraging ongoing reflection about practice. But while we tend to agree that these are important benefits, we also favor a more critical framing based on years of dissertation research on consulting and the development of evaluation in the nonprofit sector. In our view, evaluators have pivoted to learning not only because it adds value for clients, but also because economic and historical factors have made it professionally advantageous to position evaluation as something more than the measurement of outcomes. Specifically, we highlight two trends: 1) the transformation of evaluation into a routine management function; and 2) the persistent shortage of funding for evaluation. Because of these trends, learning for evaluators themselves is often a compromise between facilitating data-driven insights for clients and managing the considerable barriers to rigorous evaluation of complex social interventions.

Contextualizing the rise of learning

The history of the evaluation profession is fairly well chronicled. The field began as applied social science aimed at assessing the outcomes of large-scale and replicable social interventions. Evaluators focused on the effectiveness of methods and protocols rather than the effectiveness of specific organizations implementing those methods and protocols. Notions of accountability began to change toward the end of the twentieth century with the rise in the social sector of business-oriented performance criteria, leading to more evaluative focus on individual organizations as drivers of social outcomes. Funders began to incorporate evaluation requirements directly into contract terms and grant guidelines, demanding evidence of impact directly from service providers.

As evaluation moved from episodic and large-scale research projects to more routine performance measurement, the demand for evaluation services grew dramatically. This demand fueled a burgeoning and heterogeneous social impact evaluation profession consisting of both in-house evaluation staff and consultants. Many of these professionals conceptualize evaluation quite differently from the traditional social scientific rendering, and some lack the training for comprehensive outcome evaluation. As a result, evaluation has become less about uncovering evidence of causal links between interventions and outcomes and more about giving an organization a scorecard with which to monitor its operations and bolster its case for funding.

Insufficient financial support for rigorous outcome analyses has further fragmented approaches to evaluation. While funders want nonprofits to evaluate outcomes, they commonly fail to provide adequate funds to do such work with conventional rigor. The Center for Effective Philanthropy calls this the paradox of performance assessment, a substantial mismatch between expectations and resourcing for evaluation. Even routine data collection on service volume and client satisfaction can be time-consuming and costly, while the trappings of more comprehensive evaluation designs — psychometrically validated scales, long-term follow-up, the construction of a control group — are out of reach for the vast majority of nonprofits.

Pivoting to learning

In the context of capacity and funding limitations, learning serves as a more flexible form of evaluation practice than traditional outcome evaluation, in that it addresses clients' needs and funders' expectations while remaining feasible within existing constraints. Consider, for example, a hypothetical effort to evaluate a new high school curriculum. A conventional outcomes-focused evaluation might aim to determine whether the curriculum improves academic achievement, while a learning-oriented evaluation would be open to a wider set of practical questions: Did the school have sufficient resources to implement all of the lessons? Did teachers find the curriculum responsive to student needs and abilities? How did students rate the relevance and value of the course material?

While all these considerations are important, pinning down whether and to what extent a curriculum yields academic gains is especially difficult for evaluators without enough funding, time, or (in some cases) training for thorough sampling, extensive statistical analysis, and rigorous causal inference. By comparison, answering learning-oriented questions makes for a more feasible scope of work. Accordingly, evaluation consultants frequently suggest more economical and open-ended methods of impact analysis — collecting stakeholder feedback data, developing theories of change, emphasizing program fidelity assessments — to fit within their core competencies and tight budgets.

Beyond representing an evolution in evaluation practice, then, the spread of a learning paradigm in the nonprofit evaluation world is a reflection of systemically insufficient funding and capacity to conduct extensive and rigorous outcome evaluation. It is, in part, a compromise that smart and dedicated professionals have struck in order to promote data-driven decision-making while managing significant constraints.

Taking stock of learning

The learning paradigm in the nonprofit sector has prompted important conversations and innovations in the evaluation field. It has caused funders and service providers alike to think about effectiveness more broadly and holistically, and to embed reflection in daily practice. It has also challenged evaluators to reflect on the merits of different kinds of questions, evidence, and methodologies.

At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the need for robust outcome analysis. Testing programs for positive outcomes remains indispensable to building best practices, advancing good policy, and improving public well-being. Learning works best when it book-ends and informs outcome analysis, ensuring that the results of evaluation are used, not just cataloged. The broader questions prompted by the learning paradigm should be complements to, not substitutes for, a sector-wide commitment to thorough and rigorous outcome evaluation.

Maoz_Brown_Leah Reisma_philantopicMaoz (Michael) Brown completed a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 2019 with research on the history of social welfare policy in the United States. He regularly provides research-and-evaluation consulting services to funders, social enterprises, and advisory firms.

Leah Reisman received a PhD in sociology from Princeton University in 2020 with research focused on strategy consulting in the nonprofit sector and cultural philanthropy in the United States and Mexico. She works in immigrant serving organizations and as a research consultant to foundations and nonprofits.

The next crisis: nonprofit leadership exodus

November 10, 2020

Let's get realNonprofit leaders are exhausted. Indeed, many were planning to leave their jobs even before 2020 happened. They include white boomers looking to retire, young leaders of color trying to navigate cultures not ready to accept them in positions of power, and the many in between ready to cry uncle because of the neverending uphill climb they face.

These are the people on the front lines of your mission, people whom philanthropy and society need. So, in addition to providing emergency COVID funding and supporting longer-term recovery efforts, you need to be thinking about what you can do to support the people leading this work so that they rise, stay, and thrive. Here are five ways — none of which involves money — taken from my new book Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change and What They Can Do to Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020).

1. Lead with an abundance mindset. The philanthropy sector generally leads with a scarcity mentality that hinders talent, stalls creativity, and hijacks opportunities to create systemic change. And it seeps into just about every aspect of philanthropic giving. A scarcity mentality leads to reports like the Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, which found a majority of responding organizations experiencing a rising demand for services, struggling to offer competitive pay to their employees, and citing "financial stability" as a "top challenge." With that kind of climate prevailing in 2018, how can we expect nonprofits to deal with the challenges dished out by 2020? Instead of expecting everyone to get by on a shoestring, nonprofits need funders who lead from a mindset of abundance. And that means focusing on relationships, talent, technology, capacity, and operations. It means offering unrestricted, multiyear funding. It means understanding that it's not just about spending money. Funders need to think big and foster cultures of generosity and mutual support.

2. Embrace inclusion. Solving entrenched social problems requires that we come together to identify common goals, include voices and solutions from and across a broad spectrum of perspectives, and do it with an abundance of empathy, trust, and tolerance. But we won't succeed if leaders of color feel underfunded, underrepresented, and undervalued. Carly Hare is the executive director of CHANGE Philanthropy, a coalition of philanthropic networks that challenges philanthropy to embrace and advance equity, support all communities, and ignite positive social change. As she says, "We need to remember that we are all entering conversations about inequities from different places on our life journeys. We need to allow people the grace to be themselves, be vulnerable, feel discomfort, and heal so that together we can have courageous conversations. If we don't do that, we stay in a delusional state. We stay ignorant." And effective and diverse leaders will continue to leave.

3. Build trusting relationships. As human beings, we rely on trust to guide us in new relationships and help us see things through when the going gets tough. That mutual willingness to see things through is both the reason to establish trust and the reward for doing so. But before you get there, you'll need to do what you can to eliminate the pernicious influence of unequal power dynamics. Even if you aren't aware of their existence, you can bet your grantees are. Donors get to choose which causes they support, whom they fund, and what they expect to happen as those funds are spent. Getting beyond those dynamics takes time and a willingness to be open, vulnerable, and willing to admit mistakes. There's a kind of intimacy that comes from admitting weaknesses or failures to others, and a type of honesty that emerges when funders and grantees explore those weaknesses and failures in ways that allow them to learn and change together. Establishing more effective partnerships with grantees also will put you in an excellent position to tackle another insidious and far too common power dynamic: abusive board members. An article by Joan Garry published last year in the Chronicle of Philanthropy details how this dynamic harms people and the nonprofit sector more broadly.

4. Invest in talent and racial equity at the same time. A donor once told me she would not allow grant dollars to pay for her grantees' personnel costs. You read that right. She was willing to fund programs, but not the employees who run the programs. She would fund a tutoring program, but would not provide funding to pay for tutors. She would support policy advocacy, but her grant dollars could not be spent on the advocates working to advance policy. She's not alone. Only about 1 percent of foundation dollars are allocated to nonprofit talent and leadership development. That puts way too much pressure on executive directors and leaves up-and-coming leaders in the organization unsupported. Equally important (and related) is the need to invest in the recruitment and advancement of people of color at every level. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you do that, including Fund the People's Talent Justice Report and Toolkit.

5. Leverage untapped resources. Start by checking out the Billionaire Census 2020 released by Wealth-X earlier this year. The report reveals that just over 10 percent of the world’s billionaires have donated or pledged support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That leaves about 90 percent that haven't! What if many of those billionaires want to do something but haven't been contacted by an organization with a clear call to action? Who better than well-connected philanthropies to effectively tap this group or their financial advisors? Sure, their net worth undoubtedly took a hit earlier in the year, but most of them have seen it recover, and, if nothing else, 2020 has given them a much clearer sense of their privilege and the many problems crying out for solutions.

Unfortunately, just when we need effective leadership the most, the exodus of nonprofit leaders is likely to accelerate. As NFF’s Bugg-Levine told the Wall Street Journal in the spring, "the system sets them up to be fragile." With over half of nonprofits not having more than three months of cash reserves on hand, Bugg-Levine fears that many aren't going to make it. That shouldn't come as a surprise. COVID-19 has made nonprofits' normal uphill climb that much steeper. But the solutions to the impending crisis are right in front of us. The pandemic has laid bare deep, systemic wrongs, as well as how things can be made right — including putting marginalized people and social justice at the center of everything we do. It is time to acknowledge the unequal power dynamics in our sector and change our cultures to address them. We must disrupt longstanding patterns and habits of scarcity. By changing, in fundamental ways, how the philanthropic sector operates, we can ensure that nonprofits don't just limp along in a state of near-failure, bleeding leaders as they go. By acting forcefully to address this crisis, we can position a new generation of leaders and the many critical organizations they lead to succeed and thrive.

Headshot_Kris_Putnam-WalkerlyKris Putnam-Walkerly is a a sought-after philanthropy advisor and award-winning author. This article is reprinted here with permission and appears on the Putnam Consulting blog

Why regulatory modernization is essential to a nimble human services system

October 30, 2020

Food_bank_central_eastern_north_carolina_philantopicOver the last eight months, we've all watched as existing health inequities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also learned that social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, and play — put people of color and low-income Americans at greater risk of infection than others, and that those communities are more likely to be negatively impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic. The supports that normally help families meet such challenges are delivered through the collaborative efforts of America’s health and human services infrastructure, including public-sector agencies, philanthropic entities, and community-based organizations.

COVID-19 has turned everything we know about how to deliver these critical services on its head. The way people apply for help, the ways in which the human services workforce carries out essential duties, and even how clients engage in program activities are being redesigned and -imagined. As a result, public agencies and their community partners have had to accelerate the modernization of their business processes to preserve and expand access to the services that undergird an effective health and human services ecosystem.

Even as we carry out this work, however, organizations on the ground must operationalize these changes within a local, state, and federal regulatory framework that is in desperate need of remodeling. Congress and federal agencies have taken emergency actions since the pandemic hit to give more flexibility to service providers. One such agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, relaxed its payment rules so that medical practitioners can be reimbursed for the purchase of remote communications technology. While the change is temporary, it underscores the long-term need to simplify rules and regulations in ways that enable organizations to prioritize outcomes over process. There are similar opportunities across the health and human services sector.

In 2018, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association released the National Imperative Report: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, which identified overlapping, conflicting, and outdated regulations as one of the major barriers to successful service delivery. The report recommended that regulators at all levels of government commit to a fundamental review and reform of human services CBO regulation. The pandemic underscores that need.

One example of needed regulatory modernization is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Unlike block grant programs, SNAP, the largest nutrition program in the country, operates within a highly regulated framework, with detailed rules that dictate how various agencies can administer their respective programs. As the pandemic has revealed, such a framework is particularly challenging for service providers to adapt to during a crisis. From March through June, states submitted more than five hundred and sixty waiver requests across seventy-nine different waiver categories related to SNAP. Approval or denial of these waivers repeatedly came just days before, or even after, states were required to implement changes and often required further guidance, clarification, or re-issuance at a later date. The constant state of uncertainty created inefficiencies and sub-optimal outcomes in service delivery at a time when providers should have been empowered to take decisive action to maintain critical services.

The pandemic also reinforces the need to review and modernize regulations to better reflect what is currently working. Rapid scaling of remote benefit processing functions suggests that agencies can reduce their reliance on onerous interviews in the application process and still maintain the integrity of their programs. Similarly, policies that support expansion of online purchasing options can have a major impact in reducing barriers to food access for individuals and communities. There's also a need to evaluate current and proposed SNAP regulations that restrict the strategies states can use to support households facing barriers to employment and to better align the program with other systems to create pathways that lead to greater economic mobility.

The child welfare system, which often relies on in-person visits and interventions, is another system that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, it became apparent that the system could not continue to operate normally and that changes were needed to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children, staff, and families. The U.S. Children's Bureau was extremely responsive to these challenges, issuing modifications to allow monthly caseworker visits by video conference and later providing funding flexibility under existing federal law for the purchase of cell phones and equipment for birth parents and foster kids. This kind of flexibility with respect to technology has allowed those in the system to better meet the needs of the children and families they serve and to maximize the efficiency with which interventions are delivered. Given the ever-increasing role of technology in society, these changes should be made permanent.

The pandemic has underscored the need for a more flexible, nimble regulatory environment that enables state and local agencies and CBOs to creatively engage in experimentation and innovation, embrace technology, and improve outcomes for individuals and families in their communities.

The time is ripe for more permanent regulatory modernization in the health and human services space. We urge federal, state, and local policy makers to embrace such a paradigm shift, building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and providing the kind of regulatory flexibility that fosters innovation and, ultimately, leads to better outcomes for all.

Headshot_ilana_levinson_matt_lyons_philantopicIlana Levinson is a senior director for government relations for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Matt Lyons is the director of Policy and Research with the American Public Human Services Association.

Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities

October 27, 2020

Stop_AAPI_hateAs the nation grapples with its legacy of systemic racism and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poor people and communities of color, philanthropy needs to take a stronger stand for a community that too often is overlooked: the 22.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who call the United States home.

As a formerly incarcerated immigrant who is now leading a foundation, I am acutely aware of the need for increased philanthropic support targeting marginalized AAPI communities. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic dollars goes to funding AAPI causes. At a time when AAPIs are facing a new wave of discrimination and hate and, like other communities of color, are suffering disproportionately from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, that's not enough.

Why are AAPI causes so underfunded? Partly because of the false perception that Asian Americans don't face the same kinds of structural racism and discrimination as other communities of color. But a quick tour of American history reveals that AAPI communities have always had to contend with racist policies driven by anti-Asian sentiment — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the Immigration Act of 1924, to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s.

Sadly, the tradition of scapegoating and discrimination against Asian Americans has once again reared its ugly head, with people in power spreading racist characterizations of the pandemic as the "China virus" and the "Kung Flu." In July, Stop AAPI Hate — an initiative launched in March by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University reported 2,583 incidents of discrimination and harassment against Asian Americans in the three months between March 19 and August 5, 2020.

Even before COVID-19, Asian Americans were facing significant challenges. When people think of Asian Americans as a single monolithic group, they are ignoring the appreciable diversity of AAPI communities, as well as the many disparities in education, income level, health outcomes, and other measures. Pew Research reports that Asian Americans are the most economically unequal group in the country and, as a group, have seen a dramatic increase since the 1970s in the number of its members living in poverty.

We can thank popular culture for perpetuating the myth of a monolithic "Asian" community. It is often the wealthy, successful Chinese- or Japanese-American professional or whiz kid who comes to mind, not the persecuted refugee from Southeast Asia whose pending deportation is a likely death sentence, or the poverty-stricken Pacific Islander caught in the net of mass incarceration. But as long as this "model minority" myth persists and people in power continue to use it as a wedge to seed hate and division, those of us not living the stereotypical "model" life will remain invisible.

I started the New Breath Foundation in 2017 in an attempt to address the lack of funding for AAPI immigrants and refugees, with a focus on those most likely to be impacted by incarceration, the threat of deportation, and violence. As a formerly incarcerated "juvenile lifer," I wanted to stand up for marginalized AAPI populations in the same way that many people stood up for me. People like Anmol Chaddha, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who, over the span of seven years, organized campaigns to support my release from prison and then from immigration detention. There are thousands of other AAPI immigrants and refugees in detention who deserve the chance at a decent life I got as a result of Anmol's efforts.

We support grassroots AAPI organizations that don't currently have a seat at the funding table. And we have connections to and trusted relationships with smaller, less-resourced, community-grown nonprofits that provide a lifeline to people who have nowhere else to turn. For example, without financial support from the New Breath Foundation, Sok Khoeun Loeun, a single father of three who was wrongfully deported to Cambodia, might not have received the legal advocacy and grassroots support that led to his being reunited with his family in the U.S.

Foundations must fund intersectional work that builds power and voice across all Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. To effectively build equity and address the harmful disparities affecting communities of color, philanthropy must look beyond stereotypes and public misconception to see the individuals whose lives are full, complex, and valuable. When we, as donors, take the time to get to know the unique and varied challenges that Asian Americans face and, more importantly, include them in our giving, we are modeling a fuller understanding of racial justice and our commitment to a truly pluralistic, multi-ethnic America.

(Photo credit: Stop AAPI Hate)

Headshot_eddy_zheng philantopicEddy Zheng is founder and president of the New Breath Foundation.

For organizational resilience and impact, focus on business model not overhead

October 21, 2020

Conflict dynamics brainstormIt has always been a source of angst for ambitious not-for-profit organizations: how to ensure they can sustain and scale up impact while also building resilience to weather financial or other shocks. Often the focus is on increasing core or unrestricted funding and covering general operating costs through grant overhead.

The COVID-19 pandemic and national responses to it have exacerbated this challenge and, in doing so, have brought into stark relief important structural problems within the not-for-profit sector. What have been perennial issues for many not-for-profits — sustaining impact, financial resilience — are now existential ones.

In recent years, even prior to the pandemic, governments, private foundations, and other donors have openly recognized the need to cover a greater portion of not-for-profit organizations' general operating costs through grant funding. That in itself is a good thing. But I do not believe this approach, on its own, will lead to the long-term resilience of ambitious not-for-profits, nor will it enable them to effectively scale impact.

What will ensure more resilience and the ability to scale up not-for-profit organizations is the pursuit of new and creative business models that fit with their missions and activities.

In this article, I draw on my and colleagues' experiences of growing Conflict Dynamics International, a sixteen-year young not-for-profit working to prevent and resolve violent conflict and alleviate human suffering arising from conflicts.

Common not-for-profit business model

A common business model for not-for-profit organizations is that the organization secures contributions from donors to fund its charitable work. This support can be for the core operations of the organization or it can be for particular programs or projects. In either case, it can be restricted or it can be unrestricted in terms of intended use. Let's call this the Contribution-Based Business Model.

With this business model, not-for-profit organizations must fund their non-program expenses through a combination of: (i) contributions for general operating support; (ii) restricted core funding; and/or (iii) institutional overhead applied to program direct costs. [1]

In Conflict Dynamics' experience, the institutional overhead on grants from non-United States governmental sources has been in the range of 7 percent to 13 percent (see below). Many private foundations allow for institutional overhead in this range also, while a few support overhead costs at a higher level (e.g., MacArthur Foundation, up to 29 percent). In our area of practice, for organizations receiving funding from U.S. government agencies, the Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA) can cover overhead, as I understand it, up to 22 percent.

From the not-for-profit's perspective, the core value exchange through the Contribution-Based Business Model goes something like this: "We (not-for-profit) will deliver social impact; you (donor) will provide funding and other resources to support the activities towards that impact."

Challenges with this business model

In our sixteen years of working in some of the most challenging conflict situations in the world, we have learned that the Contribution-Based Business Model is not sufficient to scale the impact of our organization and ensure its resilience. Perhaps it is better suited to not-for-profit organizations working in less-volatile situations, or those that deliver predictable program services, or have reached a higher level of annual revenue.

The types of shocks we have to insulate ourselves from are generally funding shocks. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique, seismic shock. We have been able to adapt our program activities, and at the same time we have seen the funding shock from the pandemic. Conflict Dynamics is fortunate to have many wonderful supporting partners; however, even in normal times we have on occasion experienced U-turns on donor pledges, long delays in the disbursement of funds, and non-renewal of grants when the political situation changes unexpectedly (either at source or country of implementation!).

Back to the Contribution-Based Business Model, I see a number of challenges:

  1. In recent years, many governmental donors in particular have been reducing the percentage and scope of coverage of allowable institutional overhead on grants. For the types of grants we secure for our work, the following donors allow these overhead percentages: Sweden Ministry for Foreign Affairs (13 percent); Switzerland Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (10 percent to 13 percent); United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (10 percent); European Union (8 percent); Netherlands Ministry for Foreign Affairs (7 percent); etc.
  2. Many institutional donors have pulled back on the amount of general operating support and other core funding they are providing to not-for-profit organizations, preferring instead to fund projects. A colleague recently referred to this as the "projectization" of funding. This has direct tangible impacts on the ability of the organization to grow its infrastructure, as well as impacts in terms of staff retention, professional development opportunities, staff morale, and so on.
  3. When organizations are funding their core operations through heavy reliance on program-related overhead, the organization becomes vulnerable if its programs do not continue or face funding gaps. If experienced program staff and institutional memory are lost, this places additional demands on the organization.
  4. Whether for core- or program-specific funding, this business model requires the organization to proactively pursue new grants on a near continuous basis to ensure its sustainability. The transaction costs for securing a large number of smaller individual contributions are very high, and so that generally requires that the organization first reach a certain level of revenue and capacity.
  5. The fixed overhead on program grants induces dependency on this type of funding, because organizations get stuck in a Catch-22 of having to invest significant time in program fundraising, especially when scaling, which takes away from efforts to secure the resources to sustain the core of the organization.
  6. This business model makes it difficult to break through the small- to middle-size stage of growth. This is the "too small to be big, and too big to be small" range of $2 million to $8 million in annual revenue. At $3 million to $4 million average annual revenue, Conflict Dynamics is in this range. The reason for this difficulty is that economies of scale only kick in when the organization exceeds approximately $8 million to $10 million annual revenue. At $8 million in annual program revenue and 10 percent average overhead rate, the overhead amount would be $727,272 a year.
  7. Scaling impact may require upfront investments in new programs or new geographic areas. When there is high reliance on grant-related overhead, there are generally not a lot of funds available to invest in exploring new opportunities.

Ultimately this business model on its own results in constrained and unreliable funding for not-for-profit organizations. That reality, and the consequences for intended impact have been well recognized. Several institutional donors have made commitments to provide more general operating support or restricted core funding, both prior to and during the pandemic:

Much of these commitments and intended actions focus on what donors can do to help non-profits, and they also generally focus on the same business model. Some of the proposed arrangements for donors to help grantees cover overhead costs include outcome-based funding and all-in-one project pricing.[5]

Moreover, some donors are pursuing an approach based on equity philanthropy, whereby loans and investments are made to fund not-for-profit programs. This seems best suited to organizations offering program services that generate predictable revenue streams.

Conflict Dynamics' experience of donor funding flexibility during the pandemic has been mixed: in general, there has been a marked slowdown of decision-making on new funding; one private foundation partner has provided significant grant flexibility in light of the impact of COVID-19; and most governmental donors have not afforded much flexibility with their existing grants.

A constellation of business models

If the Contribution-Based Business Model is not the way to go, then what is?

I believe that for ambitious not-for-profit organizations to build their resilience and scale impact, they need to operate with a variety of business models. This means going further than the obvious strategy of diversifying sources of funding, to diversifying the actual business model itself.

Conflict Dynamics has been exploring an approach based on a "constellation" of five inter-related business models, all oriented toward realizing greater social impact.

Business model 1: Contribution-based. I am not suggesting "throwing out the baby with the bath water"; a contribution-based business model will continue to be an important model for not-for-profit organizations. But organizations need to push for more realistic overhead percentages on program funding, longer grant periods, more funding for core expenses, and so on. In its last three fiscal years, our grant revenue for programs averaged approximately 98 percent of our total revenue....so we have more work to do here.

Business model 2: Monetization. The second component of the constellation of business models focuses on monetizing something that the organization already does. This is about extracting added value from the organization's expertise, analysis, networks, and so on. For example, Conflict Dynamics has gained a lot of experience in the monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding programs and is in a position to offer monitoring and evaluation services, for a fee, to other organizations.

Business model 3: Unrelated business income. In certain circumstances, tax exempt not-for-profit organizations can generate revenue from unrelated business income. In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service has stringent criteria for what constitutes unrelated business income, which can be subject to tax.[6]  There are exemptions. One area of interest is rental income. During FY2018–19, Conflict Dynamics had total office lease expenses of $109,429, of which $26,782 was covered out of institutional overhead. With an approximate average overhead rate of 10 percent on program grants, we had to bring in roughly $294,600 in program grants just to cover this single expense. Ownership of a larger office property can reduce or eliminate rental costs and generate income through the subleasing of office space.

I realize the pandemic is not an ideal time to get into commercial real estate; looking to the future, however, there will be opportunities in certain areas and locations to provide other not-for-profits with co-working spaces.

Business model 4: Investments. The fourth business model focuses on investment income. Organizations can approach donors to make an initial short-term investment for the purposes of kick starting an endowment. With a one-year investment of $100 million and a fairly conservative return, the organization could realize revenue of, say, $7 million over twelve months. That would provide the initial funding for an endowment for the organization, which would in turn could provide roughly $490,000 of unrestricted revenue a year. For an organization with an annual  budget of $5 million, that represents nearly 10 percent of its total revenue.

This level of investment is not implausible; recently, the MacArthur Foundation adopted an approach in one of its program areas, the 100&Change initiative, where it makes a very large investment in a single organization over three years. Through the initiative, in year one, it made an award to Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee in the amount of $100 million.

Business model 5: For-profit feeder. Not-for-profit organizations can set up separate for-profit ventures with the aim of funneling the profit from the venture into the not-for-profit entity. Many large corporations have charitable foundations, and the approach here is to do the same in reverse. This assumes that the not-for-profit can design and execute a profitable business model.

This business model also affords the opportunity to seek equity investments. In addition, certain types of entities, including public benefit corporations (B Corp) in the U.S., are eligible to receive program-related investments (i.e., low-cost loans) from private foundations.

All these components should be viewed as building blocks that can be combined in different configurations, depending on the needs and capacities of the organization; they are not mutually exclusive. In other sectors, governments and foundations facilitate reduced-risk "sandboxes" to experiment with business/regulatory models. Perhaps it's time for the social sector to test these and other components in a sandbox environment designed for its own unique needs.

Where does this leave us?

When I visited the Palais des Nations — the seat of the United Nations Office in Geneva — in late 2019, I was surprised to see the direct effects of the cash-flow crisis that the UN has been battling. To cite just one small example, some elevator banks were intentionally closed to save money, and some meeting rooms were out of use. The lesson is that when it comes to business model vulnerability, size really doesn't matter.

Covering more core costs through more unrestricted funding may be necessary, but it won't be sufficient to guarantee greater resilience and enable not-for-profit organizations to scale their impact. That requires the adoption of diverse and overlapping business models. The COVID-19 pandemic surely provides added impetus for moving quickly in such a direction.

Headshot_Gerard McHughGerard McHugh is founder and president of Conflict Dynamics International. A serial entrepreneur with more than thirty years' experience in international conflict resolution, humanitarian affairs. and health care, he recently founded a new venture, AidX, to help ordinary people achieve the extraordinary. This post originally appeared on Conflict Dynamics' Medium channel and is reprinted here with permission.

Notes:

1. In this article, the term "general operating support" relates to unrestricted funding for the operations of the organization. The term "core funding" refers to funding for the core activities of the organization and can be restricted or unrestricted.

2. For more information on the Grand Bargain, see https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/about-the-grand-bargain [Accessed October 12, 2020]

3. Maria Di Mento, "Five CEOs of Wealthy Foundations Pledge to Do More to Help Charities Pay Overhead," The Chronicle of Philantrophy, September, 4 2019. Available at: https://www.philanthropy.com/article/5-CEOs-of-Big-Foundations/247063 [Accessed October 12, 2020]

4. James B. Stewart and Nicholas Kulish. "Leading Foundations Pledge to Give More, Hoping to Upend Philanthropy." The New York Times, June 10, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/business/ford-foundation-bonds-coronavirus.html [Accessed October 12, 2020]

5. These are some of the approaches identified in the work of the Bridgespan Group’s "Pay What It Takes" initiative. See: https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/library/pay-what-it-takes/pay-what-it-takes-philanthropy [Accessed October 12, 2020]. See also: Jeri Eckhart-Queenan, Michael Etzel, & Sridhar Prasad, "Pay-What-It-Takes Philanthropy," Stanford Social Innovation Review Vol. 14 №3 (Summer 2016).

6. United States Dept. of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Tax on Unrelated Income of Tax Exempt Organizations, IRS Publication 598 (February 2019). Available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p598.pdf [Accessed October 12, 2020]

The role of offline and online behavior in advancing social causes

October 15, 2020

In May, when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in police custody, igniting protests across the country decrying police brutality against African Americans, the research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence was already tracking the response of young Americans to COVID-19. As spring turned into summer and the two issues merged into a nationwide movement centered around demands for racial justice, our researchers were able to observe in real time the forces that motivated individuals, nonprofits, companies, and allied causes to take action.

Indeed, it was an unprecedented opportunity for us to study how online and offline behavior feed off each other to create and drive a movement. And while we aren't claiming to show definitively that one kind of activity led to another, we were able to identify a number of patterns and connections among certain kinds of online and offline actions.

Looking more closely at the response to the virus and the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, we noticed some commonalities:

The power of corporate influence. Our research revealed that 80 percent of young Americans believe corporations can influence attitudes toward the virus through their actions*, while 75 percent believe they can have a "great deal" or "some" influence on mitigating racial inequality‡. As we were fielding our survey, for example, Nike’s "Play for the World" campaign was encouraging Americans to stay indoors and social distance; by the time Nike ended the campaign, it had generated 732,000 likes on Instagram and a total of about 900,000 social media engagements (Instagram, Twitter).

Lack of trust. Our research revealed that, in June, nearly 50 percent of young Americans thought President Trump was addressing racial issues "not well at all," with only 12 percent of respondents overall (and 16 percent of white respondents) saying he was handling the issue "moderately well." The same month, messages out of the White House or from Trump related to racial inequality or the pandemic were followed by spikes in social media activity*‡. An interview the president gave to FOX News' Chris Wallace that zeroed in on the administration’s response to COVID generated millions of tweets and retweets on Twitter. Tweets put out by the president calling an elderly protester "an antifa provocateur" generated a combined 531,000 responses; similarly, a Twitter announcement of a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, the site of a notorious race riot in 1921, generated 3.6 million tweets.

Fig1.1_Trump Perf on Racial Issues

Our analysis also revealed some differences in activism around the two issues:

Social media played a larger role as an information source for racial justice activists than as a source of information about COVID-19. According to our research, young people initially relied on local government (37 percent) and family members (30 percent) for information on COVID-19*, while 76 percent said they turned to social media "often" as a source for news and information related to racial equity‡. At about the same time, the first week of June, the hashtags #BLM and #BlackLivesMatter generated more than 1 million tweets, while across all social media platforms hundreds of thousands of individuals shared updates containing references to Black Americans who had died in police custody.

Young Americans are more likely to turn to celebrities and online influencers for information about racial equity than for information about COVID-19. Our research revealed that in the first month of the pandemic, 40 percent of young Americans said they took some kind of action related to the pandemic because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did, while in the  month following George Floyd's death, 52 percent of all respondents (and 58 percent of Black respondents) said they took action because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did. In early June, a Black Lives Matter special featuring comedian Dave Chappelle garnered 22 million YouTube views. Later in June,  #ObamaDayJune14 generated more than 500,000 tweets, while a tweet by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stating that "The United States of America should not have secret police" generated nearly 500,000 likes and was the #3 trending tweet that day.

Different immediate responses. Our research also found that, initially, young people were inclined to shop locally as the best way to help out with the pandemic, and that only 25 percent said they were sharing COVID-19 information via their social media channels*. In the week after George Floyd's death, however, the top actions taken by young people in response to his death were posting on social media and signing petitions,‡ including 2 million social engagements featuring a #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and 1.6 million using the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday.

Our conclusion: Social media tends to bring together both like-minded people and people with polarizing views across all types of divides — including income level, geography, age, education, work experience, etc. — for "conversations" that unfold in real time. The impacts of the COVID pandemic and calls for racial justice will continue to overlap in the lead up to the election in November; what happens after that is anyone's guess. But by examining offline actions and online engagements and conversations, we can begin to understand the interplay of dramatic events and social movements in real time and how each contributes to, and reinforces, action to advance a cause.

To see all the research and sources referenced in this article, visit: causeandsocialinfluence.com/ActionsAndOnlineDiscourse.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. Read more by Derrick here.

_______

* Influencing Young America to Act, Special COVID-19 Research Report - Spring 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research.

Influencing Young America to Act, Special Report - June 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research-june.

Evaluation has a key role to play in racial equity work

October 13, 2020

EvaluationAs a woman of color, evaluator, and nonprofit leader for more than ten years, I am encouraged to see a growing number of foundations and nonprofits embrace efforts to advance racial equity and justice.

At this uncertain moment in our history, we have an opportunity to heal, restore, and create a more inclusive and abundant future for all. It is an opportunity, however, that could disappear as quickly as it emerged — if we don’t seize it.

As we have learned over the last six months, efforts to address racial tensions and inequities and promote healing and narrative change are desperately needed. Those efforts can and should be evaluated.

The good news is that foundations and nonprofits can build on work that is already under way. Through its $24 million Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) initiative, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is one of the foundations leading the way in investing in and evaluating such efforts.

Last year, my firm worked with a client to evaluate a TRHT program whose objective was to ease racial tensions and promote healing and narrative change among young people through book groups. In the process, we learned some surprising things.

A number of participants had "aha" moments — like the European-American youth who came to realize that saying the n-word, even in a song, was problematic. But there was another, more common outcome: Adult book group leaders were among those who most benefited from the program, with many saying the program helped them recognize their own implicit biases and understand what systemic racism really looks like at the level of the individual.

That unexpected outcome highlighted the need for more training and support for adult group leaders. Based on our findings, in year two of the program the client was able to enhance both the value it delivered and to foster more healing and peace-building in the community. Our big takeaway was this: nonprofits and foundations working to advance racial equity can be more effective by rigorously evaluating those programs.

Foundations and nonprofits should also foreground long-standing inequities in their evaluation efforts — inequities that often obscure root causes underlying the problem we are trying to address. A skilled evaluator can help surface such complex dynamics.

For example, when BECOME was asked to evaluate a first round of grants awarded by the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities in support of innovative approaches to neighborhood safety in Chicago, we started with a literature review of violence prevention programs in other jurisdictions.

In the process, we discovered that interventions such as job programs or social and emotional skills training focus on the immediate needs of individuals. But adult violence also is linked to factors more distant — such as redlining or trauma due to heightened exposure to violence. Community violence too often is the legacy of policies that, over time, forcibly segregated communities by race and income, tilting the playing field against Black, indigenous, and other people of color. No matter how well designed an intervention might be, if it fails to address such root causes, it is unlikely to succeed.

One of the key findings we were able to share with the team at the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities is that interventions delivered in a consistent fashion and coordinated with other actions had the most impact. That kind of approach is now a feature of the current iteration of the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities initiative.

Last but not least, we have learned that evaluation is most effective when it is culturally responsive and engages multiple stakeholders — especially those likely to be impacted by the intervention — in the process of developing questions, designing solutions, and recommending next steps based on lessons learned.

The resulting combination of learning, engagement, informed design, and collaborative implementation is much more likely to lead to programs that deliver safety and security, health and well-being, and education for all.

To create a society in which thriving communities of color and economic opportunity for all is the norm, we need to take steps now to address the root causes of poverty and racial injustice. Evaluation can help us do that.

Headshot_dominica-mcbrideDominica McBride, PhD, is the founder and CEO of BECOME, a nonprofit organization that uses evaluation as a tool to advance social justice and thriving communities.

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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