525 posts categorized "Nonprofits"

Nonprofits Need Certainty in Uncertain Times

April 30, 2020

People_connectedThere are people who thrive on uncertainty — people who enjoy the rush of facing challenges with limited information and even less planning. I'm the other sort of person.

For those of us who prefer process over improvisation and who like to base strategy on data and experience, this is an especially difficult moment. The COVID-19 crisis has upended just about every part of our work. Nonprofit staff suddenly have to figure out how to work remotely, donors are dealing with an extremely precarious economic environment, in-person events are canceled, and that's not even the half of it. We are surrounded by uncertainty.

And yet so much of what we've learned about sound strategy and effective direct response is just as relevant now as it always has been. Our nonprofit partners are adapting to this moment in all sorts of creative ways, from virtual events to TikTok engagement to Zoom trainings for organizers. This kind of nimble adaptation is inspiring, but the most successful efforts share a few things in common.

For all the volatility and uncertainty in this moment, the latest edition of our annual Benchmarks Study identifies long-term trends that can ground nonprofits' strategy and guide their decisions.

Let the data guide your response in this moment

Given the challenges of suddenly working remotely and the overwhelming nature of the current crisis, many nonprofits are scaling back on their communications. Don't. Your cause still matters, even if it's been pushed off the front page. And your supporters still need to hear from you, to know that you value them, and to provide guidance in stressful times.

If you are a social media manager, that means you should be posting more, not less. Consider starting a social media group to help supporters maintain a sense of community — anything from a weekly Zoom check-in to a What's App group for your top donors. Do whatever it takes to stay connected: collect stories, bring joy, reach out to your influencers and ask them to do something meaningful. And there's plenty they can do — the nonprofits in our recently-released study reported that Facebook accounted for 3.5 percent of all online revenue last year and nearly 10 percent of all online giving to health nonprofits.

If you are a fundraiser, by all means, fundraise! Be transparent about how COVID-19 is affecting your cause, your nonprofit, the people you serve. Be honest about your fears for the future and about how much your donors matter. Consider going beyond simple mobile optimization and start looking at tools that make mobile donating easier and more attractive such as Apple Pay and PayPal. As the share of desktop users relative to mobile continues to decline, the average value of a mobile user increases. In fact, users on mobile devices accounted for half of all nonprofit website traffic and a third of all online donations in 2019.

Before the crisis, the key to effective digital fundraising was to communicate timely, emotionally relevant appeals designed to motivate supporters to feel like they can make a difference. That hasn't changed a bit. With many corporations scaling back on digital ads due to COVID-19 disruptions, there is even more space and opportunity for nonprofits to reach bigger audiences. Nonprofits invested 17 percent more in digital ads in 2019 than in 2018. That growth reflects a shift in priorities as well as the effectiveness of digital ads for lead generation, new donor prospecting, retention, and re-targeting.

Find ways to take your offline efforts online. Your annual gala is canceled? You can postpone or skip it this year — or you can find creative ways to let donors mingle, celebrate, and be inspired from the safety of their own homes. Your canvass operation is temporarily derailed? Double down on peer-to-peer texting.

With many in-person events canceled and supporters looking for ways to do socially-distanced good, the Facebook Fundraisers peer-to-peer platform, which generated 97 percent of all Facebook revenue for nonprofits in 2019, could be just what you're looking for to supplement lost revenue. The May 5 #GivingTuesdayNow event is the perfect moment to experiment, but nonprofits should consider creating their own peer-to-peer moments. Just don't forget that if you rely on Facebook Fundraisers, Facebook keeps most of the data, not you.

Remember: you know what your supporters respond to, you know why your cause matters, you know how to do good. Don't let logistics and tech get in the way of applying that knowledge and experience.

Plan for a return to "normal"

This is where we worriers, we planners, we lovers of certainty can really shine. Because while we don't know how much longer we'll be sheltering at home, we know that eventually it will end. Use the time now to be ready for that day.

For many nonprofits, long-term planning is the hardest thing to do well. There's always so much going on now that it's nearly impossible to make a long-term plan, let alone stick to one. But with so many limits on what we can do in this moment, this is the perfect time to re-articulate your vision, create your checklist, and commit to making real progress on the other side of this crisis.

That may mean developing a road map to optimizing your homepage for donor conversion. It may mean a shift toward a fundraising model that prioritizes monthly giving and long-term retention over short-term acquisition. Whatever the big, scary, complicated problem you've been waiting for a chance to address — now is the time to tackle it.

None of us know what the future holds. Right now, most of us don't even know what tomorrow holds. But we don't have to be helpless in the face of uncertainty. We have the power to leverage what we know, to inspire the people who are looking to us for hope and guidance, and to create certainty in this most uncertain of times.

 For more free resources designed to put your nonprofit on a firmer footing, see the complete 2020 Benchmarks Study at mrbenchmarks.com or visit our blog at mrss.com/lab.

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Sarah DiJulio is managing partner at M+R.

5 Questions for...Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund

April 29, 2020

Ellen Dorsey has served since 2008 as the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, where she helped launch Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a coalition of more than two hundred foundations that have pledged to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel companies and deploy their investments to accelerate the clean energy transition. Dorsey and Divest-Invest Philanthropy signatories were awarded the 2016 inaugural Nelson Mandela – Graca Machel Brave Philanthropy Award.

Earlier this month, the fund announced that it would pay out 20 percent of its endowment this year in support of COVID-19 relief and ongoing systemic change efforts and called on other funders to increase their grantmaking. 

PND spoke with Dorsey about the fund's decision-making process, the moral obligations of foundations in a time of crisis, and the longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dorsey_EllenPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the impetus behind the fund's decision to commit 20 percent of the endowment to grantmaking in 2020, and how did you and the board arrive at that amount? 

Ellen Dorsey: We have said for a while now that philanthropy cannot engage in business as usual, either by failing to align our investments with our missions or not giving at a level commensurate with the seriousness of the many challenges we face. Before COVID-19, we were already calling for philanthropy to declare a climate emergency and increase giving levels over the next ten years. COVID-19 was yet another overlapping shockwave added to the list of threats that compounded our sense of urgency.  

For too long, philanthropy has been content to give the bare minimum — the 5 percent required by law — while growing its endowments. Even before COVID-19, the Wallace Global Fund felt it was unethical for any foundation to grow its endowment during a five-alarm fire, particularly given the many financial and logistical challenges faced by our grantees. 

As for the percentage decision, it happened organically. We were already planning to spend a significant percentage of our endowment this year on critical work being done within our core priority areas, and we invested 100 percent of our stock market gains — close to 22 percent — in 2018. Keeping our investments aligned with our mission is something that has long been a board priority. We see this as consistent with the legacy of our founding donor, former U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, and his warning that democracies must put people before profits if they plan to survive. 

PND: In a joint opinion piece with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Aaron Dorfman, you argued that "it is no time for philanthropy to think about cutting back...[instead, it should] give more to address the public-health crisis while continuing to fund existing social and systemic change efforts." You've said elsewhere that preserving foundation endowments instead of boosting granmaking was "both immoral and a failure to honor the mandate that foundations have to serve society." Have you received any pushback from CEOs at other foundations? And do you think philanthropy will take this "opportunity to fundamentally rethink past practices and upend the status quo," especially with respect to the mandatory 5 percent payout requirement?

ED: Ultimately, it's an empirical question. We will see. Right now, many foundations are stepping up and making significant pledges to address COVID-19 and the related economic crisis. Will enhanced giving continue as the reality of reduced endowments sinks in later this year and persists into 2021? The fallout of COVID-19, coupled with the spiraling climate catastrophe, requires dramatically more funding, not less. We have a decade to fundamentally reduce emissions and change the energy base of our global economy while creating more sustainable and equitable systems.

What we need from philanthropy goes beyond simply spending more. Frankly, if ever there was a time to fund system change work, it is now. We need to break the corporate capture of democracy, create new patterns of ownership, change the growth-only measures of economic and societal success, level patterns of inequality, and meet the basic human needs of billions, all while reversing the climate catastrophe barreling down on humanity. Philanthropy needs to support movements that are advancing new paradigms, support systemic theories of change that confront our unjust system, and invest its money in a way that is consistent with these values.

PND: As you've acknowledged, some foundations have taken steps to provide more — and more flexible — support for nonprofits, while more than seven hundred foundations have signed on to the Council on Foundationspledge to do so. Are we seeing a shift among foundations toward more grantee-centered practices? Or will things revert to the status quo after we get to the other side of this crisis?

ED: History shows that there is a tendency among philanthropy to scale back when times get tough. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, philanthropic grantmaking dropped by 15 percent. We've been really encouraged to see the groundswell of statements calling for philanthropy to use this moment to break that bad habit. It is particularly important given the unique vulnerabilities faced by nonprofits, movements, and the communities they serve. 

It is hard to say right now whether the status quo will fully return in any sector, but I will say that philanthropy has an obligation to resist it. Getting rid of COVID-19 will do nothing to stop the dire consequences we were already facing as the result of a number of threats, most notably climate change. In fact, if society returns to its established habits of emitting more carbon into the atmosphere, damaging or destroying ecological habitats, and giving corporations free rein to pursue the myth of limitless economic growth, the consequences of climate change will only continue to worsen.

The same could also be said for economic inequality, the rising privatization of public resources around the world, gender-based violence in the Global South, and the rise in misogyny faced by women around the world. There is no vaccine for social injustice. We cannot allow ourselves to be so relieved once the COVID-19 crisis has passed that we ignore the fissures in society it has exposed. Philanthropy has both an opportunity and a duty to partner with people-centered movements that are fighting for systems change and broad, structural reform today, and we must continue to support them in the aftermath of this pandemic. 

PND: This is not the first time the Wallace Global Fund has used its investment portfolio to boost the impact of its grantmaking; in 2018, the fund pledged to invest all its gains from the previous year into organizations working to advance social and environmental justice. Have you seen tangible returns on those investments?

ED: Yes, without a question. We have already seen positive impacts from our funding and there are results to come that we cannot yet see. We fund progressive social movements and systemic change work both globally and in the U.S. We believe building people power is the necessary ingredient to challenging entrenched economic and political interests. We have been funding the fossil fuel divestment movement for over a decade and, to date, there are more than a thousand institutions  around the globe that have divested — institutions with a combined $14 trillion under management. We have funded the youth climate movement, the so-called climate strikers, and those calling for a Green New Deal. They are changing the debate on climate in truly significant ways. We're also supporting groups around the world that are challenging authoritarian governments and defending basic human rights.  

Often those fights seem insurmountable, but defending the front lines is often the only antibody to the virus of authoritarianism and is essential if we are to preserve our democratic ideals and way of life. In the U.S., our grantees are working to transform conditions of inequality, defend democratic institutions, get toxic money out of our political system, and break up monopolies. These are big and audacious goals, not easy to measure in the near term, but they absolutely are critical in terms of the system change work we need. I think it's fair to say we would rather invest in deep change than obsess about lowest-common-denominator metrics. 

PND: What, if anything, do the systemic social change efforts you've urged your philanthropic peers to support — climate action, defending the rights of marginalized populations, strengthening civil society and democracy — have to do with the public health and economic emergencies caused by COVID-19?

ED: It's true that all those issues were issues before COVID-19. For example, we know that seven hundred people a day were dying from poverty in the U.S. before the virus ever reached our shores. But COVID-19 has laid bare the many ways in which it is not the great equalizer many claim it is.

Communities of color have been disproportionately devastated by the virus. Places with higher levels of carbon-based pollution are seeing corresponding spikes in death rates. Voting rights are under increasing threat from a lack of contingency planning and stalled efforts to expand vote-by-mail nationally. And as millions of small businesses were forced to close their doors — many for the last time — American billionaires made more than $300 billion.

These injustices are all interconnected. One of the movement leaders who inspires me most, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign, has built a movement on the simple yet profound notion that the struggles against systemic racism, inadequate health care, poverty, voter suppression, ecological devastation, environmental injustice, and human rights abuses are not separate struggles at all. We are dependent on each other in our quest for liberation, and our narratives must be bound together if we hope to win.

— Kyoko Uchida

The Nonprofit Sector and the 'Shake Shack Effect'

April 27, 2020

Diversity-inclusion-292x300These days, we're hearing a lot about how federal legislation passed in response to the coronavirus public health emergency is bailing out big businesses at the expense of small restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and immigrant-owned stores. When big chains like Shake Shack and universities with large endowments such as Harvard receive millions of dollars in federal loans, we shouldn't be surprised that the news is greeted by demands the funds be returned.

Inequities in the administration of such programs aren't just a public-relations concern for well-endowed institutions and big businesses, however. At a time when they are desperately needed, historically-underresourced organizations in the nonprofit sector led by people of color and working closely with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic are concerned about their own survival. Indeed, the pandemic has revealed many of the long-standing structural disparities that exist in the United States. If, as a society, we are serious about addressing such disparities, then funders and donors who support nonprofits must step up to ensure the long-term survival of groups advocating for the needs of vulnerable communities.

As the COVID-19 emergency unfolds, smaller community-based and people-of-color-led organizations are serving as a lifeline for black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian communities, undocumented immigrants, and queer and trans communities. Domestic violence agencies are supporting survivors, organizations serving Indigenous and African-American communities are ensuring their access to water and health care, neighborhood-based providers are helping people with limited-English proficiency complete government forms, and immigrant-serving groups are ensuring that undocumented people are able to secure legal advice and protections. Beyond these frontline providers, people-of-color led organizations are taking the lead in building power and making demands for structural change, ranging from universal basic income to decarceration to migrant justice.

Even before the pandemic, many of these nonprofits were facing challenges. According to a survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund conducted in 2018, 65 percent of nonprofits who serve low-income communities were worried they couldn't meet demands for their services, while 67 percent said that federal policies were making life harder for their clients. Our own surveys on race and leadership consistently reveal that nonprofit executives of color face more funding challenges than white executive directors and CEOs, while our 2019 survey found that more than a third of leaders of color (compared to less than a quarter of their white counterparts) reported that they never or rarely get "funding that is comparable to peer organizations doing similar work."

For these and other reasons, community-based nonprofits working closely with those disproportionately affected by the virus should be prioritized in future federal stimulus packages, state supplemental funds, and philanthropic initiatives. Federal and state recovery packages should create carveouts for underresourced organizations working in vulnerable communities so that they do not have to compete with larger, historically-well-funded groups for a limited pool of funds. Given that many small organizations do not have relationships with banks due to historic barriers in accessing loans and because lenders tend to prioritize bigger-budget organizations, the process of accessing loans also should be opened and made more accessible. While efforts are under way in the nonprofit sector to secure expanded access to the Paycheck Protection Program for larger groups and pass a universal charitable deduction, a true racial equity framework requires us to center the needs of organizations working in and closely with the most vulnerable communities. In addition, nonprofit organizations with large reserves that don't need an immediate loan could follow the lead of the #ShareMyCheck effort and opt not to compete with smaller nonprofits and underresourced groups with manifestly greater needs.

For their part, foundations can do more to address the racial disparities laid bare by the pandemic by scaling organizations that are most proximate to needs in vulnerable communities while increasing their support for organizing and power-building strategies. It's also important that foundations review their grantmaking through a racial equity lens to determine whether dollars are actually going to organizations serving the communities most affected by the virus. Foundations such as the Boston Foundation, the Emergent Fund, and the Groundswell Fund have all launched initiatives focused on supporting organizations led by people from and working with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

It's true that most nonprofits find themselves overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the crisis. But not all nonprofits are created equal or have equal access to the resources they need. As a sector, we cannot ignore people-of-color-led community-based groups working to meet urgent needs during this crisis. To close the nonprofit racial equity gap, we must do everything we can to ensure that these groups not only make it through this national emergency but are positioned to thrive. In doing so, we will be sustaining the communities that depend on them and helping to ensure that they, too, come out of the crisis stronger.

Deepa_iyer_frances_kunreuther_for_PhilanTopicDeepa Iyer is senior advisor at the Building Movement Project, director of SolidarityIs, and the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Communities Shape Our Multiracial Future.

Frances Kunreuther co-directs the Building Movement Project and is co-author of two books, From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership.

Why Philanthropy Can't Forget About CBOs in a Public Health Crisis

April 21, 2020

Gathering_for_justice_march_kidsIt's become clear over the past few weeks that these are unprecedented times. And the fact that philanthropy has stepped up quickly to fill gaps and protect vulnerable populations — the homeless, farm workers, day laborers, people who are incarcerated — is testament to the increased diversity, in terms of both background and experience, inside our philanthropic institutions.

It shows, among other things, that the hundreds of foundation staff members across the country who once worked at community-based organizations (CBOs) before making the transition to philanthropy are being heard. That said, it's critical right now that philanthropy engage with CBOs, bringing us into planning conversations as thought partners who can help reframe who is considered "vulnerable" in an even more inclusive way.

We are still in the phase of this public health crisis in which "vulnerability" is framed in terms of who is getting sick and who is not. Such framing is necessary if we want to "flatten the curve" and prevent the exhaustion of our healthcare resources. But "sick or not sick" does not capture the full scope of the problems people are, or will be, facing. Because of the intimate, community-focused nature of the work we do, CBOs are uniquely positioned to help philanthropy as it thinks about and continues to provide resources to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

In our community of Stockton, California, CBOs have taken up the calls of community members and pushed for their concerns in a coordinated way. For instance, Justice League CA, a volunteer organization powered by The Gathering for Justice, advocated forcefully for the city to close its schools in response to the spread of COVID-19 but urged it to continue to provide free lunch and work plans to students and families who needed them. The Gathering also is one of the CBOs working with Mayor Michael Tubbs on Stockton Strong, a city-sponsored webpage that is constantly updated with information about mental health, housing, and food assistance resources, emergency funds, and other critical services. We've also led calls for San Joaquin County to release youth held in juvenile facilities for low-level offenses, as well as adults held in jails and prisons, in order to reduce density among the county's incarcerated population, and we continue to advocate for additional funding of reentry services.

We've always been intentional about making our work accessible to the communities we serve. But CBOs like ours urgently need philanthropy's consistent support as we work to meet communities' short- and long-term needs. Even as the number of COVID infections nationally rises, staying at home is not an option for many Americans — whether it's because their economic situation forces them to live in cramped quarters with others, they are victims of domestic violence, or they must navigate stressors such as drug abuse. Similarly, many of the outlets that young people take for granted like playing sports or music have been put on hold. This can lead to an increased risk of encounters with police as structured time turns into unstructured time — encounters that often are dangerous and even deadly for young black and brown people. Individuals who cycle through our jails, detention centers, halfway houses, foster care group homes, and other institutional environments — where frequent handwashing or keeping a safe distance from others is difficult if not impossible — also are more likely to come into contact with the virus.

Unfortunately, it's becoming clear that, as resources are prioritized for and shifted to address the public health emergency, CBOs aren't going to receive the same amount of funding they've come to rely on. Most CBOs operate on extremely lean budgets, stretching dollars and regularly "making miracles happen" as they work to meet needs in their communities. During the 2008 financial crisis, many CBOs went under, resulting in adverse consequences for low-income people, migrants and undocumented individuals and families, LGBTQIA+ young people, people formerly or currently incarcerated, people with disabilities, and other groups often struggling on the margins of society.

Now, as then, COVID-19 is forcing us to look at how we show up for each other. What does dignity look like when parents working two and often three jobs have to scramble to replace the child care and nutrition provided by local schools, or are forced to stand in line outside a food pantry as bags of desperately needed staples are passed through a door? What does community healing mean when a public health crisis leads to the mass closure of "mom-and-pop" businesses that millions rely on? What does "beloved community" and restorative justice look like as we all try to navigate a period of increased social and economic stress?

As the Federal Reserve and federal government move to support small businesses with lower interest rates and paycheck protection programs, it's essential that philanthropy step up to support CBOs struggling to keep their heads above water. At this critical moment in our history, we urge philanthropic organizations to think of us as not only as vital community resources but as thought partners who know what vulnerable populations want and need. We will do more with less if we have to, but our capacity to help is critical if marginalized communities are to survive this public health crisis. In the coming weeks and months, we need to be with at the table with philanthropy so that the strategies it crafts to help these communities survive are more comprehensive, holistic, and just.

Carmen Perez_Jasmine_Dellafosse_for_PhilanTopicCarmen Perez is president and CEO and Jasmine Dellafosse is senior regional organizer at The Gathering for Justice.

Philanthropy's Moment: Advocating for and Funding What's Essential

April 14, 2020

5710857_origAs history has shown, crises can present moments of opportunity for bold action while also creating new perspectives and priorities. This is one of those moments for philanthropy.

Right now, what matters most is to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. If we fail to do that, we run the risk of overwhelming our health systems and putting additional pressure on frontline responders, direct service providers, and other critical organizations and systems.

That is why we, as a nation, need to expand the definition of who is "essential" to include nonprofit service providers — and why philanthropy needs to step up and take action, with both its dollars and influence, immediately. Countless lives, and our future, are at stake.

What is essential?

The answer to that question is food, shelter, and staying safe — basic needs most of us take for granted. These are now the first line of defense against the virus. And while that's true for everyone, it's especially true for the most vulnerable in society, who were already facing daily challenges before the emergence of COVID-19. With current shelter-in-place policies, these challenges could quickly become devastating outcomes.

Right now in Massachusetts, where I am sheltering in place, nonprofit service providers large and small are scrambling to figure out how they can protect our state's most vulnerable people and populations. Many of them — such as food banks and homeless shelters — are trying to address supply chain and distribution challenges. Others are working to solve access problems.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

For years, Boston Cares — the largest volunteer agency in New England — has been filling more than twenty-five thousand volunteer spots annually in support of nonprofit agencies in the greater Boston area. As the coronavirus crisis began to unfold, the organization changed its programming to create new opportunities for volunteering and to train volunteers virtually.

Next, the organization partnered with Boston Public Schools — a district in which 78 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — to implement a citywide distribution of free breakfast and lunch for fifty-four thousand students at risk of going hungry while schools in the district are closed. It's essential that this partnership continue for as long as it takes for the crisis to play out.

The work of the Justice Resource Institute also is essential. JRI provides foster care to about five hundred kids on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. But it also serves another twenty thousand families by keeping the kids in those homes safe. These days, COVID-19 has forced the suspension of home visits, and so the organization has had to shift to telephone appointments, which makes it much more difficult to assess the risks kids might face in a home.

Many of these kids suffer from mental health problems and are living in potentially risky environments. Without JRI's continued support, things might happen to these kids that normally would have been prevented. What if one of these kids gets hurt or is subjected to violence? If that child makes it to a hospital, what will caregivers there do? What are they able to do? Hospitals are already functioning at near capacity, and emergency rooms are finding it necessary to implement triage protocols that end up with some people being turned away. The last thing our hospitals need is an influx of kids who aren't suffering from COVID-19 but instead are the collateral damage of a broken social services system.

The solutions to these and countless other COVID-related impacts require money — and this is not a time for essential  nonprofit service providers to be worrying about money. That's where philanthropy comes in. I urge all foundations to communicate to their grantees that you are committed to maintaining your funding for an extended period of time and will even tap your endowments to provide support for frontline responders and direct service providers.

Philanthropy also should use whatever influence it has with state and municipal governments to ensure that contract funding continues to flow.

In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order on March 30 urging the state's Department of Health and Human Services to "extend financial relief," including "supplemental payments," to all nonprofit health and human service providers in the state and to pay out state monies to these organizations "that reflect the modified ways services are being delivered." Sure, it's a lot of legalese, but the bottom line could not be clearer: in this time of "extraordinary demand" and reduced revenues, "providers that are necessary to keep vulnerable individuals safe in their homes or residences and out of more acute settings like hospitals" deserve our support.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed in stark ways what is truly essential. As we go through this crisis together, ideas about need and what is important are sure to change. Undoubtedly, we'll also begin to realize that the most vulnerable in society have needs beyond food and shelter — that go beyond ensuring mere survival and, instead, speak to what people who are desperate to build lives of security and fulfillment require.

In this anxious and uncertain time, we have an opportunity, as a society, to establish some new priorities. Although it might not always be obvious, we have the collective imagination and wherewithal to create genuine progress for people across the United States. A newly committed and energized philanthropy is crucial to that future.

Headshot_Andrew WolkAndrew Wolk is the CEO of Root Cause, a Boston-based nonprofit consulting firm, and produces the blog and podcast Finding Common Purpose.

Nonprofits and COVID-19: No Money – No Mission

April 09, 2020

Foodbank_feeding_americaWith more than 12.5 million employees and over 1.3 million organizations, the nonprofit sector is the third largest private-sector employer in the United States, after retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits touch the lives of one in five Americans, helping to feed, heal, shelter, educate, nurture, and inspire them. 

Over the last month or so, however, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality of the nonprofit mantra "No Money – No Mission." In our current volatile environment, some nonprofits will thrive, some will be forced to close, and some — with the help of smart, speedy planning — will survive.  

Nonprofits on the front lines of the coronavirus response, including nonprofit hospitals, social service providers, and food banks, need immediate funds to scale their operations. The good news is that many of these nonprofits will come out of the crisis stronger than ever. 

Other nonprofits are at real risk. Smaller, local nonprofits that have meager or nonexistent reserves are already feeling the strain — especially museums, performing arts groups, botanical gardens, and other cultural organizations that depend on ticket sales and walk-in donations for revenue. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on galas, special dinners, and events such as walkathons, bikeathons, "mudfests," and other large-scale gatherings are in trouble. 

Even before the emergence and spread of COVID-19, the situation for most nonprofits was fairly dire. In 2019, the vast majority (92 percent) of nonprofits in the U.S. had revenues of less than $1 million, while approximately half (50 percent) had operating reserves of less than a month. These small and often local nonprofits are especially vulnerable to the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that have been imposed by governors and mayors across the country — and the deep recession  likely headed our way.

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Creating Symbiosis Between Marketing and Advocacy

March 26, 2020

Stickers-yin-yang-sphereHow many times have you had to make a strategic decision designed to generate (or replace) critical support for your organization or cause? Maybe you lost the support of a key funder, or something happened in your issue area that required a decisive response.

Let's face it: even when things are calm, your organization is competing with dozens of other organizations and causes for public mindshare. Which is why I'm sure you've tried all sorts of traditional and digital methods designed to amplify your organization's message so that it stands out from all the "noise." 

Of course, generating any kind of action in our over-saturated media environment requires the efforts of two of your most critical teams: marketing and advocacy. It’s the job of marketing to acquire and recruit people to your cause, while advocacy works at the other end of the spectrum to activate those who are most likely to support — or are already involved at high levels with — your cause.

How do organizations achieve that happy state?

Successful cause leaders have discovered that the secret is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between your marketing and advocacy teams.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Often, when I sit down with cause leaders and ask about an upcoming event or campaign, I'm told (in so many words) that the organization is trying to expend as little of its limited resources as possible — and doing so in a siloed way. Sometimes, the marketing team will say, "Oh, it’s the advocacy team’s job to create passionate supporters and fight the good fight on the policy front," while the advocacy team members will say, "It's not our job to fill the room or make sure our message is getting to the right people. That’s marketing's job."

As anyone responsible for building a movement or a brand tied to a cause or issue knows, however, the sweet spot for any organization — the place where all its resources are used so as to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts — requires everyone, on every team, to work together.

Where am I going with this?

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Advice to Funders in the Covid-19 Era

March 18, 2020

For people born after November 23, 1963, 9/11 was an emotional and psychological shock unlike any we had experienced. The financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed were a shock of a different kind: slower, murkier, more abstract — until, that is, people we knew and loved started to lose their jobs. In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote a number of posts for PhilanTopic (here, here, and here) aimed at helping my social sector colleagues navigate the difficult funding environment in which we suddenly found ourselves.

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of a different sort — both a biological threat as well as a threat to our economic security, stunning in its scope and the rapidity with which it has unfolded. In other words, existential.

Given the seriousness of the threat and the urgent need for a rapid, coordinated response, I offer these suggestions, with humility and deep respect, to my colleagues in the funder community. 

  1. Be flexible with your grant support.
  2. Endeavor to fast track your grants.
  3. Use community-based vendors whenever possible.
  4. Facilitate online meetups for grantees where they can air their concerns and share best practices and resources.
  5. Do not assume that your current grants are sufficient to cover the extraordinary demand, costs, and burdens that many nonprofits will be faced with over the coming months.
  6. Allow grantees to alter the budget terms of grants they have already received so as to maximize their flexibility.
  7. Be prepared to make long-term commitments and be in it for the long haul.
  8. Understand that while the virus is first and foremost a public health emergency, its impact will extend to a host of other  areas.
  9. Do your utmost to support local, culturally competent organizations, which are often the first point of access for at-risk individuals and groups.
  10. Remember the bigger picture and be generous with grantees with respect to your reporting requirements.

Michael Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York, board  chair of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa-USAand a long-time contributor to PhilanTopic. To read more from Michael, click here.

Economic Democracy: A Conversation With Funders

March 12, 2020

Diane_Ives_Scott_AbramsThe Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI), in partnership with the Kendeda Fund and the Open Society Foundations (OSF), recently hosted a funder briefing on economic democracy. In the lead-up to the briefing, Sandra Lobo, BCDI board vice president and executive director of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition — a founding member organization of the BCDI — sat down with Diane Ives from the Kendeda Fund and Scott Abrams from OSF to better understand how economic democracy became a priority for their foundations and the opportunities and challenges ahead. Ives has served since 2003 as fund advisor for the Kendeda Fund's People, Place, and Planet program, while Abrams is director of special initiatives for OSF's Economic Justice Program, where he focuses on early-stage high-risk bets aimed at advancing the concept of economic advancement globally. 

In a wide-ranging conversation, Lobo, Ives, and Abrams discussed their respective decisions to invest in BCDI, what funders need to do to support one another in this work, and why there is a need to create a collective consciousness around economic democracy. Economic democracy is a framework in which people share ownership over the assets and resources in their communities and govern and steward them democratically for a shared purpose. It's not just about more participation; it's about sharing power.

The transcript below, provided by BCDI, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sandra Lobo: You all have funded a number of different kinds of work in your tenure. How did economic democracy become a priority for you and your respective programs, and given what you've seen and learned, why do you think it's important?

Diane Ives: When I first started at Kendeda, we didn't even call it the People, Place, and Planet program. It was an environmental sustainability program. We were using the very familiar Venn diagram of sustainability, economics, and equity, and we realized that we were funding in all three of those areas but not where the overlap was, which is really what we were trying to get at. So we made a shift in 2012 toward a vision of "well-being for all within the means of the planet." Once we made that shift, it was easier for us to explore what we call "community wealth-building," which is this notion that communities should have agency around the decisions about their neighborhood and that they're able to retain and build the wealth they need to activate what they really want their neighborhoods and communities to be. So that was the shift we went through between 2012 and 2014.

Scott Abrams: A lot of what Diane just said in terms of community wealth-building resonates very strongly, but let me take a step back and explain how we came to this body of work. The first is widening inequality around the world — in terms of wealth and income — and a second is the way in which the structural deficiencies with the economy have been a driving force for populism and autocratic government we've seen all over the world. Part of our diagnosis is that so many people feel they've lost all control over the economy, and their role within it. This feeling of precariousness and vulnerability has fed a host of unsavory, radical, and regressive political outcomes.  

Questions of redistributive policy are difficult to grapple with in today's political climate. One of the ways in which we think about addressing these issues is to try to build models or spotlight examples of where democratic forms of economic activity are taking root. And a part of that for us is, of course, advancing shared ownership at the firm level and supporting ecosystems that enable more democratic forms of economic activity. Our larger, longer-term hypothesis is that some of those examples could help inspire replication, upscaling, et cetera, which would then impact the way people think about the economy more generally.

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4 Design Essentials to Spark Lasting Change

March 11, 2020

Top_hands_inAmerican corporations, individuals and foundations gave over $425 billion to universities, cultural institutions, hospitals, and other nonprofit organizations last year, including significant funding hoping to address some of the biggest challenges we face across the country and around the globe — from climate change to homelessness. And yet, we have not made substantial progress on most of these systemic issues. That has to change.

The truth is the most critical and pressing systemic challenges our nation and our world are facing are too large and too complex to be solved by any individual organization working alone. But most funding flows to individual organizations. This mismatch is a key reason why progress too often stalls. To effect lasting, system-level change, funders must increase their support for coordinated, collaborative efforts — and demand no less from their grantees.

With decades of grantmaking experience between us, we decided to do the research to find evidence-based essentials that networks and coalitions need to make real progress toward meaningful, sustainable goals. Dell Technologies and 100Kin10, a network focused on addressing the nation's STEM teacher shortage, partnered to examine how to create and fund the kind of collective or networked efforts that can spark lasting change. This extensive analysis of successful, coalition-based social change efforts uncovered four "design essentials," elements that each effort needed to succeed.

Here is what we learned:

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Five Strategies for Advancing Your Mission in 2020

March 04, 2020

Social_media_icons_for_PhilanTopicThe months leading up to the presidential election in November are a critical period for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interested in shaping public discourse around a range of issues. It promises to be a period when Americans weigh everything from plans to make health care and college more affordable to new ideas for addressing the opioid crisis, climate change, national security, and economic growth. It's also likely to be a period when philanthropy is called on to highlight important issues, contribute to and inform the national dialogue, and advocate for the public interest.

In the coming weeks, leaders at private and corporate foundations, NGOs, and nonprofits will have an opportunity to leverage the presidential election cycle to raise awareness of — and drive engagement with — their issues. From the debates and primaries still to come to the party conventions and the election itself, the moment is ripe for action.

For social-sector leaders inclined to act, there are five key elements to effective issues advocacy:

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Digital Accessibility: The Path to Nonprofit Engagement Online

March 02, 2020

Accessibility_lamarWe live in one of the most remarkable eras ever, a time when a tidal wave of technologies and digital information is opening up limitless opportunities and empowering society like never before. But as innovation moves faster, we need to make sure that these advances empower everyone, equally. For nonprofits in particular, a strong commitment to digital accessibility is a perfect opportunity to engage audiences online and reinforce your organization's commitment to equity and inclusion.

Here's an example. While I was commuting by bus to the office one morning, an announcement came over the intercom notifying passengers that another bus was disabled on the road, causing delays into Manhattan. The majority of people on the bus groaned and proceeded to take out their phones and notify their employers of the delay. But that wasn't true for the man sitting next to me; in fact, he didn't react at all. After he noticed the look of concern on the faces of the people around him, he politely tapped me on the arm and said, "I'm deaf. What happened?"

Similar situations happen all the time online. And while digital experiences often do take into account the user experience, too many nonprofits don't pay as much attention as they should to the different capabilities of their of online users.

The good news? The Web is made up of websites, and the more that organizations commit to accessibility online, the more progress we'll make — as a sector and a society. But before we look at what we can do to ensure equity and inclusion online, we need to understand the history of Web accessibility standards (or the lack thereof).

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5 Questions for...Justin Steele, Director, Google.org Americas

February 24, 2020

Growing up, Justin Steele was "a sensitive, brainy kid" who spent a lot of time thinking about what he could do to improve people's lives. After earning an engineering degree from the University of Virginia, he received a master's in urban social policy and nonprofit management at Harvard and went to work in the nonprofit sector full-time. Since 2014, he has held senior positions with Google.org, where he's taken a lead role in the organization's work on inclusion, education, and economic opportunity.

PND recently spoke with Steele about Google.org, its efforts to develop AI tools for nonprofits, and what it is doing to address homelessness in the Bay Area.

JustinSteelePhilanthropy News Digest: What is Google.org, and how much does it award annually to nonprofits here in the United States and globally?

Justin Steele: Google.org is Google's philanthropic and charitable arm. We support nonprofits that are working to address challenging problems and try to apply scalable data-driven innovations in support of those efforts. What's unique about Google.org is that we were established when the company went public with a commitment of 1 percent of its equity and an ongoing commitment of 1 percent of its net profit for charity. Google.org is the biggest beneficiary of that 1 percent ongoing net-profit commitment, and we currently award more than $300 million in cash grants to nonprofits globally each year, roughly split 50/50 between the U.S. and internationally.

PND: Can any nonprofit apply for a grant?

JS: We are predominantly invite-only in our philanthropy, but we do have a model called the Impact Challenge where we invite nonprofits to participate by sending us their ideas. Sometimes the challenge is topic-based, sometimes it's based on geography.

In the U.S., we are currently running Impact Challenges in a number of geographies. We have a $10 million Impact Challenge open in the Bay Area and $1 million challenges open in Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio. A panel of local experts who have influence in the states where the challenge is occurring help us narrow down the candidates. The panel chooses the finalists who receive funding, but we also open it up to a public vote. The People's Choice winners get extra funding at the end.

The state-level Impact Challenges change from year to year, although this is the third time we've run a challenge in the Bay Area, which is where we’re headquartered. Last year, we ran challenges in Illinois, Nevada, and Colorado, and we expect to launch new challenges in other states in 2020.

We also opened up the AI Impact Challenge globally in 2018 and 2019 for organizations that are working on interesting applications of artificial intelligence for social good.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 15-16, 2020)

February 16, 2020

Diamond princessOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Fundraising

Everything in the world of fundraising is based on relationships, or should be, right? Well, sort of, writes Vu Le on his Nonprofit AF blog. "[O]ur reliance on relationships is...problematic, as it often creates and enhances inequity and thus undermines many of the problems we as a sector are trying to address" — for example, by further marginalizing people and communities that don't have the same access to relationships as better-resourced communities and nonprofits, or by reinforcing our natural bias toward people who look, think, and act like us. 

Giving

On the Alliance magazine blog, Alisha Miranda, chief executive of I.G. advisors, considers the pros and cons of curated approaches to giving.

Grantmaking

PEAK Grantmaking has released a set of resources designed to help grantmakers operationalize the second of its five Principles for Peak Grantmaking: Narrow the Power Gap. Within that frame, the organization has three very specific recommendations: build strong and trusting relationships with your grantees; rightsize the grantmaking process and implement flexible practices that reduce the burden on your grantees; and structure grant awards to be more responsive to grantee needs. Elly Davis, a program manager at the organization, shares more here.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2020)

February 09, 2020

1203880819.jpg.0Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

The stock market is up and inflation is muted. It's the story of the last ten years. Or is it? In The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey reports on the affordability crisis breaking the back of America's middle class.

Global Health

The novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, dominated headlines for much of the last week, leading to a spate of all-too-predictable scare stories and conspiracy theories. For a solid statistical breakdown of what is actually happening, in Wuhan and the twenty-seven other countries and territories in which the virus has been detected, check out this useful site created by the folks at World-o-Meter.

Grantwriting

On the Candid blog, Susan Schaefer, founding partner of Resource Partners LLC, looks at three of the core skills needed by a grant writing professional in 2020.

Health

More than fifty years after the civil rights movement changed the way Americans think about race, there is still much to do to reduce discrimination and increase health equity. On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Dwayne Proctor, a senior advisor to the foundation's president, reflects on the role of stories in the search for solutions.

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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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