1787 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

11 questions you should always ask a recruiter

April 06, 2021

Ask a recruiterRather than ignoring the next email or call you get from a recruiter, think of it as a learning opportunity — even if you aren’t seriously considering leaving your current position. In most cases, the experience will help you learn about yourself as a job prospect and give you a sense of what employers are looking for — insights that can be invaluable when it is time to make a move.

Time and again, I've seen job candidates who weren’t even beginning to think about a  career move completely change their perspective — and strategy — when presented with a compelling opportunity.

So, if you are contacted by a recruiter, consider asking the following:

Why is the position open? Find out whether it's a newly-created role or an existing position that has become vacant. If the latter, ask why the person who occupied the position previously left and how long the position has been open.

What are the skills and experiences the hiring manager is prioritizing? Ask the recruiter to list the desired skills and experiences for the position. Having such a list will make it a lot easier for you to compare the employer’s requirements to your own skillset and decide whether it is worth pursuing the opportunity.

What does the day-to-day of the job look like? Asking this is a great way to get beyond the boilerplate of a job description and to really start to understand what the role entails. Is it a meeting-heavy position? Does it require research and/or writing? How much? How closely supervised is the position? Ask questions that will help you understand how you would be spending most of your time.

What can you tell me about the person to whom I would report? Research shows that the biggest reason people leave their jobs is their manager, not the work itself. Your manager is critical to your success and level of satisfaction. Ask the recruiter to tell you what the person who will be managing you is like, what she values, and how she prefers to operate.

Why did you reach out to me? What in my background suggests I'd be a good fit for the position? The answer to this question can help you understand how people outside your organization view your work and accomplishments, as well as how diligently the recruiter did her homework, which might also be an indication of how well they understand the position they've been hired to fill.

Is there anything in my resume or background that could be a concern? This is a great way to get a sense of how competitive you are for the role, and it will also provide information you can use to map out a strategy for addressing any perceived gaps in your cover letter, resume, and during the interview process.

What is the compensation range for the position? Asking about compensation up front shouldn't impact your candidacy in any way. Indeed, the recruiter should be ready for this question and have no qualms about sharing a range. And remember, in many states it's illegal to ask a candidate for a job what her current salary is, so don’t feel you have to share it if asked.

What kind of flexible work arrangements does the job offer? This is especially important information in the era of COVID, when many people have gotten used to working from home and may want to continue to do so. Understanding the range of benefits that come with position more generally is also a good way to learn about the organization’s culture and values.

Tell me about the organization's culture? What are its values and how do they show up in the organization's work? For most people, organizational culture and values are critical factors in deciding whether to accept a position at a new organization. Ask the recruiter to provide details that go beyond what's on the organization's website or in a handbook and show how its values actually manifest themselves in its day-to-day activities. Ask, too, about professional development opportunities, its human resources practices, and all the other things that go into creating a vibrant organizational culture.

What work has the organization done to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable? This is deeply important in 2021 to candidates who are seeking workplaces that are inclusive and equitable. Feel free to ask about the diversity of the staff, senior leadership team, and board of directors. Ask about diversity and equity-focused trainings and development opportunities. And don't be hesitant to ask how the organization has responded to external events that have put a spotlight on racial injustice and equity.

What are the steps in and timeline for the interview process? The answer to this question should give you a sense of how much of a time commitment you’ll be asked to make if you want to pursue the opportunity, and whether it is something that’s worth the investment of your time and energy.

The questions above are meant to be a starting point for determining whether a potential role may be a good fit and deciding whether you want to pursue an opportunity that a recruiter puts in front of you. Be creative and come up with some of your own. Moving to a new organization can be scary, but it's also a great way — maybe the best way — to advance your career. Gather as much information as you can before making a decision and act accordingly.

Headshot_moly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is part of the Diversified Search Group, where she is also the nonprofit practice lead. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan also authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

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

March 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

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

Empathetic leadership during the storm

March 17, 2021

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

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

"You were born to lead," many affirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To save lives, fund syringes

March 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Americans are still using drugs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

We must and can do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Operation Smile)

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

Are you inspiring action for change with both a short- and long-term approach?

March 05, 2021

Protestors_holding_hands_Halfpoint_GettyImagesWhen I talk with organizations about what they are doing to inspire action for change, they often tell me how they use stories about impact to keep their most loyal donors and supporters motivated. Typically, this involves a communication plan that uses storytelling to help donors and supporters understand how their support for the organization positively impacts the lives of the organization's constituents.

But is it the kind of impact that every donor is looking to make with his or her dollars?

When I look at the kind of change that an organization or cause is trying to create, I tend to take a more expansive view informed by two simple questions:

  1. Does the work serve those in need of assistance in the short term? or
  2. Does it support an agenda or series of action that will create longer-term change in the lives of those being served?

In other words, is the organization reacting to a problem or issue or driving an agenda and being proactive with respect to the underlying causes of the issue or problem? The reactive approach is mostly focused on the here and now; the proactive approach is focused on driving progress over the longer term.

To do or not to do (now)

So much of the social issue work happening today is driven by real-world short-term concerns — and for good reason. But the fact of their existence doesn't necessarily mean that addressing them is going to be everyone's first priority — especially when one takes into account the differences in interests, age, and income of your donors and supporters.

The one thing most of your donors and supporters share is a vision of a better future for the people served by your organization, whether that comes to pass today, tomorrow, or both. That said, not every person you are trying to engage (or have already engaged) is as interested in what your organization is doing today as in what it is doing (or hopes to do) to create longer-term solutions to the problem. For this kind of donor and supporter, enthusiasm — and engagement — often is inversely correlated to an organization's focus on short-term needs. At the same time, while the focus on root causes historically has relied on significant investments in advocacy efforts and infrastructure, those kinds of activities often are pretty far removed from the immediate engagement sought by eager marketing and fundraising teams.

The simple fact is that both approaches are necessary.

Without a major investment in donor research and prospecting, who is to say which of your donors and supporters are interested in making a difference today and which will want to see their contributions create more sustainable social change over the longer term? It's a difference in perspective that we, as marketers and fundraisers, often overlook. Instead of segmenting donors and supporters by age or income, we need to pay more attention to their motivations and views with respect to short- and long-term change.

Again, it's no surprise that research — our own as well as research conducted by others — often finds that the campaigns which generate the highest engagement do so by clearly establishing a top-level agenda for a cause or issue while leaving plenty of room for donors, supporters, and the public to determine their own action steps. And by "top level," I mean four or five goals that are relevant and achievable, along with the core beliefs that underlie action in service to the cause or issue.

Black Lives Matter is a great example. The three entities under the BLM umbrella, the BLM Global Network Foundation, BLM PAC, and BLM Grassroots, use both approaches to engage constituents in real social change. Efforts by all three to mobilize protests, register voters, and mount educational campaigns are designed to engage supporters in addressing critical immediate needs and injustices. At the same time, BLM is working hard to advance legislation, policy reforms, and changes at the corporate governance level with an eye to permanently reshaping the political and economic landscape in the United States for Black people.

This isn't an "either/or" choice; it's a "both/and" approach. We need to serve constituents today and drive a longer-term agenda — an agenda that speaks to the current moment while keeping an eye on the bigger prize.

As someone leading a cause or issue, it's your job to define and articulate how your organization can use both approaches to achieve impact. And your planning and decisions should involve both the marketing and communications team as well as program staff in identifying and targeting the motivations of existing as well as potential donors and supporters.

The bottom line: not everyone will be interested in supporting your day-to-day work on behalf of constituents. Instead of increasing your pressure on them and/or writing them off, try to get them involved in your longer-term agenda by giving them opportunities focused on eliminating some of the root causes responsible for the challenges your organizations works hard to address on a daily basis.

And remember, as you tell the stories of what you and your donors and supporters are doing to change lives today, be sure to create an inspiring vision of a future in which your efforts will no longer be needed. You may be surprised at the response.

(Photo credit: Halfpoint/GettyImages)

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 Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Philanthropy is contributing billions to Indian development, but who is counting?

March 02, 2021

Philanthropy_in_india_croppedIt is an exciting time for philanthropy in India, especially institutional philanthropy. The sector has come a long way since 1892, when the Tata group established one of the first philanthropic trusts in the country, the JN Tata Endowment. More recently, a number of Indian billionaires have joined the Giving Pledge started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, and a significant number of high-net-worth Indian entrepreneurs have made significant commitments in support of Indian development.

Thanks in part to a booming Indian economy, another significant trend is the emergence of giving by India's growing middle class. According to some estimates, the Indian economy has created millions of new donors in the last decade. And while many of these donors do their giving through traditional informal channels, a large number have started to adopt more innovative mechanisms for their giving. Retail giving — crowdsourced philanthropic funds from ordinary Indians — is becoming increasingly popular and is helping to support some of the largest NGOs  in the country. Corporations also are playing an increasingly important role in supporting the Indian NGO sector. In fact, India is the first country in the world to make corporate giving mandatory, and total spending by Indian companies has increased steadily since the law came into effect, with spending by the top hundred Indian companies exceeding $3 billion over the last several years.

Taking all these sources together, philanthropy today is one of the largest players in the mix of development actors at work in India. But who is counting its contributions?

It's tempting to think the Indian philanthropic sector is the most data savvy in the world. After all, Indian data and software engineers and programmers compete and innovate at the highest levels. But the country's philanthropic sector suffers from an acute lack of data availability and transparency. Often contained in their own bubbles, India's philanthropic actors typically do not know who is doing what and where, who is contributing how much to which causes and organizations, and where their money could have the most impact in terms of complementing government actions. Similarly, international foundations that fund or want to fund programs in India often are only able to see a partial picture of the philanthropic landscape. The lack of philanthropic data results in inefficiency, redundancy, and lost opportunities for collaboration within the Indian development sector and with other development actors outside the sector. As a result, millions of Indians remain beyond the reach of the benefits that philanthropy can bring.

One might think the overall lack of data on Indian philanthropy isn't a problem when it comes to grants made by international foundations, since under India's Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA) grants made by international foundations to Indian NGOs must be reported through the government's publicly accessible portal. Unfortunately, because of the lack of a data standard, the lion's share of that data is largely unusable. To make FCRA data useful, one must go through a thorny, time-consuming, and expensive data-massaging process. And even then, a large portion of the data remains hopelessly inadequate for any useful analysis.

Although corporate philanthropy, one of the biggest sources of Indian philanthropy data, clears the bar established by FCRA, it falls short in terms of its usefulness for answering critical questions. The very general project descriptions and broad categorizations provided by most Indian CSR operations fail to provide important details that are essential for improving the efficiency of the Indian development sector — for example: Where and how has the money has been spent? Was the recipient an NGO or another type of organization? What thematic area and geographic location do the recipients operate in? Does the corporation run its own programs or does it outsource them?

So what can we do to address the problem? For starters, we could collect all the data available from multiple sources, clean it up, index it using a common standard and taxonomy, analyze it, and then make it available to all for free on a data visualization platform. And that's precisely what Candid has done with the Philanthropy in India portal. The portal includes grants made by both Indian foundations and international foundations, high net-worth individuals, corporations, charities, and official donors. What's more, we've analyzed the grants data in an effort to answer some of the fundamental questions people have about Indian philanthropy, such as who is doing what and where, what problems and issues are getting funded, and where gaps exist.

Dashboard Philanthropy in India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left: distribution of funding by subject focus; right: geographic focus and density of funding.

 

The funding map section of the portal provides access to disaggregated grants data so that philanthropic actors can have a better understanding of how their dollars can have greater impact while helping to minimize redundancy and encourage collaboration between different organizations. The portal also provides access to knowledge created by and for the sector as well as the latest updates from the world of Indian philanthropy. In short, Philanthropy in India is a one-of-a-kind tool that addresses some of the data challenges that have slowed the progress of the Indian philanthropic sector.

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Of course, the portal has limitations, many of which are directly related to the availability and quality of the data we are able to collect. For example, we have very little data on grants made by Indian foundations, while the number of grants reported in a year can vary widely. As a result, we are unable to run many of the analyses we normally run on grants data, including important trend analyses. In other words, the portal is as good as the data put into it. But as more and better quality data becomes available, the more useful it will be for philanthropic actors in India as well as donors outside India who interested in supporting the Indian NGO sector. That's why we are encouraging all philanthropic actors in India to share their data with us. Not only because sharing data will improve the usefulness of the portal for them, but also because it will help the NGO sector in India become a better version of itself.

Headshot_Arif_Ekram_PhilanTopicArif Ekram is a manager of Global Partnerships at Candid.

5 Questions for...Helene Gayle, President and CEO, Chicago Community Trust

February 26, 2021

In Chicago, recovery from the Great Recession was uneven, the lingering economic impacts of the downturn most keenly felt by low-income individuals and Black and Latinx communities. A dozen years on, the COVID-19 pandemic has been equally as devastating for many of those communities, exacerbating disparate economic and health outcomes that all too often are the legacy of structural racism and decades of disinvestment.

To ensure that a post-pandemic recovery does not leave low-income and Black and Latinx communities even further behind, the Chicago Community Trust recently launched Together We Rise: For an Equitable and Just Recovery. Having received more than $37 million in commitments to date, the initiative is working to bring partners from philanthropy, business, government, the nonprofit sector, and local communities together to ensure that those hardest hit by the pandemic are able to build back better and stronger.

PND spoke with Chicago Community Trust president and CEO Helene Gayle about the initiative, some of the lessons we've learned from the pandemic, and what the trust is doing to ensure a more equitable post-pandemic recovery in Chicago and beyond.

Headshot_Helene Gayle Portrait-5QsPhilanthropy News Digest: Tell us about Together We Rise? What is your vision of what success looks like?

Helene Gayle: If you look at the recession of 2007-08, communities of color and communities that were financially fragile and insecure never fully recovered; indeed, they were left further behind. With Together We Rise, we want to make sure those communities don't get left behind this time and that we have a more equitable approach to recovery post-pandemic. We also hope it will be a model for other cities.

Looking at the issue of unemployment, for instance, we are looking at how recovery dollars get distributed to Black and Latinx households and communities, which have been especially hard hit, and at things like small businesses, which, as is painfully clear from the number of business closures in the city, have been disproportionately impacted. Making an impact in these areas means working with communities to build back better than before and helping them develop resilience so that they're better able to weather the next crisis, whatever it might be.

Our vision is to facilitate change that will be noticeable across the community. We want people to see businesses coming back, we want families to be more financially secure and Chicagoans to be able to get jobs that pay well and help them support their families, and we want to stimulate investment in neighborhoods where disinvestment has been the rule. And we hope that we achieve those things in a way that shows members of the community and public officials and other stakeholders that, as a result of the initiative, communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic were able to bounce back in a way that they would not have without our focus on these issues.

PND: What kind of role did the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd play in the decision to develop and launch the initiative?

HG: Although tragic, COVID and George Floyd's death have been pivotal in raising people's awareness of the legacy of racism in this country. The pandemic clearly highlighted race-based inequities in access to jobs that pay a living wage, in access to affordable, quality health care, in the many structural factors underlying poor health outcomes in this country. And the killing of George Floyd and the sense of racial reckoning it catalyzed have amplified people's commitment to doing something tangible about racial inequity, particularly the economic consequences of the pandemic and issues like the racial wealth gap.

Clearly, one of the things to come out of this whole situation is a much greater awareness of systemic racism in the United States, how it's embedded in institutions and policies, and why it's so hard for individuals of color to get beyond all that. I mean, so many of our systems were set up to keep some populations of color back while giving a leg up to others. With Together We Rise, we're trying to tackle some of these issues, recognizing that while individuals are part of the equation, the real problem is at the institutional and systemic level.

PND: In a recent op-ed, you outlined some of the ways we could begin to address historical race-based inequities — for example, by enforcing and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, investing more in public transportation, investing in job creation in low-income communities, and expanding eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit. What can CCT and other philanthropic organizations do to make sure the Biden administration is listening and acts on your recommendations?

HG: We've been working on these issues for a long time, but they are also issues that are important to the new administration. President Biden and his team have put economic recovery post-pandemic at the top of their list of priorities, and we're going to continue to push them to move on things that we think will make a difference in closing the racial wealth gap, help close the gap in household wealth, increase investment in communities that have been ignored, and give communities a greater voice in deciding how federal dollars are allocated. All of these are things we'll continue to focus on, and we know they are priorities for the new administration as well.

PND: With coronavirus vaccines being rolled out in communities around the country, what do you think we might be overlooking in our fight against the virus, and what do you think needs to be done over the coming months to address the continuing damage caused by the pandemic?

HG: What was most lacking in the country's response to the virus in 2020 was a clear, consistent national strategy that gave people the information they needed to protect themselves. That would have gone a long way to getting us all rowing in the same direction and saving an untold number of lives. It's one of the things I expect to see under the new administration, and we're starting to see it with vaccine distribution, that kind of all-hands-on-deck effort coordinated at the national level, in partnership with state and local public health officials. That kind of coordinated effort is critical in rolling out vaccines effectively, and it will also help us in our overall COVID prevention efforts.

PND: What are the lessons we should take away from the pandemic? What have we learned that we shouldn't forget?

HG: We've learned a lot about how to engage communities that are hard to reach. We've learned a lot about how to work with community organizations to build trust and get the support of communities that are used to being ignored or neglected. Building trust is incredibly important if the vaccine rollout is to be effective. We know that 58 percent of African Americans nationally say they won't take the vaccine, even though African Americans have been among the hardest hit by the virus. So we really have to focus on and lean into how we are working with those communities and make sure we're doing so in a way that builds trust, not only for the duration of this pandemic, but for the next crisis and the one after that.

Matt Sinclair

Balancing long-term thinking, short-term metrics, and flexible project planning

February 24, 2021

Balance-scaledOver the past several decades, a number of different critiques of nonprofit work have emerged.  Inevitably, these critiques have a strong basis — they identify real and specific issues in how nonprofits work — but collectively they may present a problem by calling for approaches that aren’t easily reconciled. That's happening in the current moment with the tension between 1) the call of the evidence-based practice approach for rigorous evaluation and theory development; 2) the "new philanthropy" emphasis on trust-based management structures and long-term planning; and 3) the entrepreneurial approach to iterative work. Each of these perspectives brings something valuable to nonprofit work, but they don't sit easily with each other. In the work of our foundation, One Earth Future (OEF), we've developed one way of bridging these three approaches. This model may be useful for other nonprofits, if funders are willing to support it.

One dominant force in modern nonprofit work is the call for strong evidence. Despite its prevalence, the modern focus on "evidence-based practice" is only a little more than twenty years old, growing out of a mid-1990s emphasis on better structuring learning in government and social impact work. The movement has been incredibly impactful, undeniably improving some specific programs and arguably improving the ability of social impact work overall to deliver effective results. The 2019 Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to development economists Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer for their impact in driving the approach.

Alongside these successes, the heavy emphasis on strong theories of change and strict monitoring and evaluation (M&E) structures has been criticized for a funding model that treats nonprofit efforts as bounded and discrete projects that can be quickly started or stopped, rather than as an ongoing engagement that is informed and adapted accordingly by M&E within a complex system. Writing in 2019, Landesa co-founder Tim Handstad characterized this approach as "philanthropy as day trading," pointing out that systemic impact requires systemic engagement over a long period of time. Such impact also often requires both adaptive learning and agile organizations that change as the social contexts change — things that a rigid evidence approach is not always best at delivering.

Other critiques against rigidity and excessive M&E approaches have pointed out how these can reiterate colonial power dynamics and take up extensive staff time that could be better spent on delivering impact. This "new philanthropy" approach has wrestled with questions of how to address these issues and develop long-term thinking and locally-developed interventions based on trusting relationships with funding recipients involving longer-term funding and collaborative projects.

In parallel with these two discussions, an influx of entrepreneurs into funding roles has led to an injection of entrepreneurial models in nonprofit thinking since the 2000s. These models often emphasize a tight feedback loop between goals, evaluation, and strategy, as well as a "fail fast" assumption that initial models will not be accurate, requiring institutional learning to move forward. This model treats evaluation as a learning exercise rather than an issue of accountability, allowing more effective iteration but risking incompatibility with the more rigid terms of traditional funders.

In terms of OEF's work in peacebuilding, each of these perspectives has merit: the need for long-term, systemic intervention is very clear in peacebuilding, as is the need for adaptive approaches that fit changing environments. At the same time, we tend to agree with the criticism that without a feedback loop between plans, activities, and assessment, "most interventions don't work, most interventions aren't evaluated, and most evaluations are not used." In building an operating foundation focused on peacebuilding, we’ve worked to develop an approach that blends a long-term approach with strong measurement and adaptive learning.

We start with a commitment to the long term. OEF is organized as an operating foundation, with core funding that allows us to commit to — and invest in — long-term work irrespective of the demands of external funders. When OEF chooses to invest in solutions for a conflict context, we do so knowing that the work may take decades.

Secondly, we develop our initial projects based on an assessment of where we believe our work can make observable steps forward in addressing underlying issues driving conflict. Our initial program work is supported by an evidence-based theory of change and our impact is measured by multidimensional assessments of our work embedded from the outset. Once our impact has been proven to our satisfaction, we share with our funding partners our theory of change and the evidence of our impact. This means that our projects tend to naturally evolve from initial ideas through rapid iteration and deepening engagement with local stakeholders into more developed (but necessarily more rigid) programs that look more like traditional nonprofit interventions.

Our early work on economic development in Somalia, for instance, began with a relatively small-scale set of loan-based development projects in several of the more stable regions in that country, informed by consultations with local communities but still somewhat as an outsider with respect to local networks. The work contributed to the local economy but by itself wouldn’t lead to peace. However, it did give us an opportunity to learn more about how to work effectively in the region, and as we compiled lessons learned through the intensive evaluation of our work, we were able to grow our networks of local partners and adapt our approach to meet the specific challenges of the local context. Once we had solid evidence that demonstrated we were part of a local community and that our interventions worked, we approached traditional funders to expand our work.

One Earth Future's approach bridges the tensions between the different perspectives in the nonprofit sector. We accept, and weigh carefully, the need for long-term commitment to our engagement when we begin operations. We work with and for local communities. We acknowledge that work toward lasting social impact needs to be evidence-based in both theory and lessons-learned, and that we need to assess interventions systematically to identify how to improve impact. At the same time, we understand that these metrics must be a map and not a straightjacket: their purpose is to inform and improve our strategy, not to limit our work. We regularly "move the goalposts," changing the metrics we use to accommodate dynamically evolved strategic goals that arise from changing contexts and lessons learned.

We're able to operate this way because the funding that supports OEF is flexible enough in its design to allow it. We encourage other funders, even funders interested in more traditional approaches to monitoring and planning, to build more room into their plans for iterative work with local partners over the long-term.

Conor_Seyle_Marcel_Arsenault_PhilanTopicConor Seyle is a senior strategic advisor for the One Earth Future Foundation. His work there supports OEF’s mission to deliver effective evidence-based systems for eliminating root causes of armed conflict and, in particular, to develop better systems for governance and coordination across organizations in peacebuilding efforts globally.  

Marcel Arsenault is the founder and CEO of One Earth Future, the co-founder (with Cynda Collins Arsenault) and chair of  PAX sapiens, and the chair, CEO, and founder of Real Capital Solutions. His philanthropy is focused on engaging long-term global issues, with an emphasis on iterative and evidence-based approaches to improving social impact. 

Climate philanthropy beyond the check: holding banks accountable

February 18, 2021

Pumpjack in Alberta Oilfield_GettyImagesClimate philanthropists are often called on to support grassroots activists fighting fossil fuel projects in their backyards — like the Black community in Louisiana's Cancer Alley that is protesting the siting of yet another petrochemical plant or the Standing Rock Sioux fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. A growing awareness of environmental justice means we look to fund folks who are directly impacted by the project in question, as they're usually the ones with the best solution. That's a positive development.

But philanthropists can do more to support climate action — and they can do it without having to give more dollars. How? By using the clout we have with our banks.

While individuals and foundations give generously in support of frontline climate activists, most of our wealth is parked in banks that use those funds in ways that exacerbate the problems we're trying to address. Big banks like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, and Morgan Stanley are major funders of the fossil fuel industry and provide many of the players in that space with unrestricted lines of credit. That money, in turn, is used to fund the projects our grantees are fighting to stop.

Sound wacky? It is.

Enbridge's Line 3 project is a case in point. In northern Minnesota, Chippewa water protectors have been sitting in trees and in front of bulldozers, fighting to stop construction of what has been billed as a "replacement" tar sands pipeline across three hundred and thirty-seven miles of treaty-protected lands and waterways used by the Chippewa since time immemorial for hunting, fishing, and wild rice gathering. Pipelines leak; sooner or later, they do. The Line 3 pipeline would transport more than 900,000 barrels of diluted bitumen (tar sands) over two hundred different water sources to Enbridge's refinery each and every day. The completion of Line 3 would also lock us into another half century — the lifetime of a pipeline — of tar sands pollution and the further destruction of Alberta's boreal forest. Tar sands are an environmental injustice of historic proportions perpetrated on Canadian First Nations and a climate tragedy for all of us.

Many philanthropists have provided support to the groups that are fighting Line 3 and getting arrested on these cold winter days; they include GINIW, MN350, and Honor the Earth. The work of these activists truly is heroic, and they deserve our support. But we have influence beyond our philanthropic dollars, because Enbridge needs a new loan if it is to complete the pipeline, and that loan likely will be coming from your banks.

Nearly three dozen big banks currently underwrite a $12 billion-plus "credit facility" for Enbridge. One loan is up for renewal at the end of March, another in July. The lead agents in the U.S. are Bank of America, TD Bank (a Canadian bank with a strong U.S. presence), and Wells Fargo. These banks will orchestrate the securitized funding with participation from Citigroup, Huntington Bancshares, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Truist Financial.

What's more, the loan to Enbridge is an unrestricted line of credit, meaning the company can build whatever it wants with the funds. Interestingly, many of the same banks that extend credit to Enbridge have made commitments to align their loan portfolios with the Paris Agreement, including achieving net-zero carbon emissions in those portfolios. JP Morgan has adapted a "Paris-aligned financing commitment" that says, in part,  "[we] will establish intermediate emission targets for 2030 for [our] financing portfolio," while Morgan Stanley has announced that it intends to reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050. Elsewhere, Bank of America has joined the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF), a Dutch organization that measures the financing of carbon emissions, with BofA vice chair Anne Finucane announcing that "we are helping to drive a consistent framework for institutions to measure financed emissions, as well as providing a useful tool in the management of these emissions...."

Despite such statements, participating in an unrestricted credit facility that enables Enbridge to complete Line 3 means these banks have no current plan to meaningfully address or measure financed emissions — let alone  "manage" them. Indeed, by going ahead with the loan, these same banks are increasing their financing for carbon emissions. 

High-net-worth clients of these banks can and should be questioning them about their hypocrisy. We should ask — no, demand — that they not just measure financed emissions but take action to reduce them. Banks listen; they care about their reputations. In response to a spate of negative publicity, demands from the G'wichin people, and much client pressure, all six big U.S. money-center banks and dozens of international ones recently announced they will not fund drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These are just a few of the examples of successful environmental pressure campaigns brought to bear on banks.

It may seem like a tough ask to suggest to your bank how it should conduct its business. It's not. First of all, it's your bank, and it needs your deposits. Second, you're only asking them to observe and strengthen their own commitments to climate action and environmental justice. And third, with "peak oil" upon us, banks will benefit from our prodding, in that the actions they take to address climate change almost certainly will improve their bottom lines. Don't believe me? Consider: the market capitalization of Exxon Mobil (XOM), which peaked above $500 billion in 2007, no longer is large enough for the company to be included in the Dow Jones, while the two best performing equity funds in 2020 were Invesco clean energy funds. The times they are a-changin'.

Foundations and high-net-worth donors can help advance the climate action movement by raising their voices. For some, that might be more difficult than writing a check, but it's really not that hard — and the upside is, well, exponential. Imagine if no one had to chain themselves to an Enbridge bulldozer; imagine if Enbridge couldn't secure the funds it needs to build Line 3. Imagine the impact your action would have on Native communities, ranchers, and farmers — not just tomorrow but for generations to come.

Fellow philanthropists, let's make our voices heard. Starting with Line 3, let's demand that our banks and bankers stop funding the climate crisis.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Jill Soffer_PhilanTopicJill Soffer is co-founder of Our Part, a foundation that funds climate and democracy work, with a focus on movement building initiatives.  She also serves on the boards of the Sierra Club Foundation, the Wilderness Workshop, and the NRDC Action Fund and recently founded Banking for Climate, a campaign aimed at engaging high-net-worth individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to ask their banks to stop funding fossil fuel expansion.

Business must do more to restore our democracy — and philanthropy must help

February 12, 2021

News_capitol_building_from_mallOn January 6, we witnessed an unprecedented attack on American democracy — the culmination of a sustained campaign to undermine the integrity of the November 2020 election and, ultimately, overturn the will of the people. While our democracy withstood the assault, the insurrection revealed its underlying vulnerability.

Now more than ever, we need to defend democracy. The business community bears some responsibility for our current predicament and has an especially important role to play in upholding democratic norms. Philanthropy can help by holding corporate America to account for its role in degrading those norms, and by encouraging reforms that ensure that corporate political activity works for, not against, the public interest.

In the days following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many CEOs, companies, and trade associations responded by condemning the assault and calling for consequences for those responsible. A number of major corporations, including Marriott International, American Express, Dow Chemical, and AT&T, ended their political contributions to members of Congress who voted against the certification of the Electoral College votes. Dozens of other companies temporarily suspended all political contributions.

These statements and actions have been important. Amidst a broader, troubling trend of declining trust, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows business to be the most trusted of our major institutions — and the only one seen by a majority of Americans as both ethical and competent. The same survey revealed that 86 percent of Americans expect CEOs to speak out on social issues and highlighted the expectation among respondents that corporations should work with government to solve problems. Given Americans' generally favorable view of business, business leaders' unambiguous condemnation of the attack was a necessary affirmation of the election's legitimacy.

And yet it is deeply troubling that it took such a profound crisis for a critical mass of business leaders to express their concern about our broken politics and to condemn racist, anti-democratic actions. Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO and current chair of the B Team, said in the Harvard Business Review that CEOs "chose tax breaks and a booming stock market over ethical leadership," and concluded that "this silence — in the face of repeated assaults on common decency, respect and rule of law — helped to create an atmosphere that allowed the recent insurrection to occur."

This abdication of responsibility by business leaders is remarkable given the formidable political power corporations wield. And as large corporations in almost every industry have consolidated their market power, they have also assembled a formidable political advocacy infrastructure to protect and advance their commercial interests.

This power is overwhelmingly deployed to advance specific policies that advance individual companies' commercial interests, but often directly contradict companies' public commitments and stated aims on important social issues.

For example, with respect to racial justice, companies have contributed to state-level 527 organizations that are at the forefront of rolling back voting rights for people of color.

On climate change, many of the companies publicizing the steps they are taking to achieve net zero carbon emissions are contributing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the strongest lobbies opposing major climate reform.

Even during the COVID pandemic, companies have been supporting organizations behind the scenes working to advance litigation designed to weaken unions, or have been engaged in outright union busting.

Such hypocrisy has to stop.

Investors increasingly are demanding greater transparency and accountability from corporations, as evidenced by demands from asset owners for companies to immediately stop funding treason, and by the growing number of shareholder resolutions concerning political spending and lobbying disclosure.

The American public is also demanding greater accountability from corporations with respect to their political activity. According to recent polling from JUST Capital, 78 percent of Americans favor requiring companies to publicly disclose all political donations, while a majority believe corporate political spending is harmful to democracy.

Collectively, these trends are changing the risk-reward calculus for corporations engaged in political activity. Indeed, this could be a moment when norms and standards of corporate political accountability actually shift. But for that to happen, philanthropy needs to be more strategically, deliberately, and forcefully involved in catalyzing the change we need.

First, foundations and family offices that have direct relationships with corporations should explore opportunities for direct engagement and dialogue with respect to corporate political accountability. Through their board members, endowment investments, and/or philanthropic partnerships, foundations can signal how important it is that the positive impact of corporate philanthropic engagement is not offset, undone, or undermined by corporate political activity working at cross-purposes to the public good.

Second, philanthropies can do more to support the advocacy organizations fighting for accountability in corporate political spending and lobbying. These organizations are often small and lightly funded but punch well above their weight and have been highly influential. Look at the impact that data from the Center for Responsive Politics has in the media, or the influence that Wharton and the Center for Political Accountability's Zicklin Index has had on incentivizing companies to voluntarily disclose their political spending.

Third, philanthropies can strengthen their focus on corporate political accountability in their programmatic work and across their influence strategies, from federal and state policy advocacy to grassroots power building. For example, the Action Center for Race in the Economy works with organizations leading local campaigns for racial, economic, and environmental justice. They use their in-depth research capabilities to investigate sources of corporate political influence and dark money in key policy fights and help those campaigns connect the dots between their issues and corporate and Wall Street actors who often operate out of sight.

Finally, the philanthropic community collectively needs to build stronger coalitions to address corporate political influence — coalitions that span different issue areas and deliberately ignore funding silos. Funders approach corporate political influence through multiple frames, including democracy reform, getting money out of politics, climate change, and racial and economic justice, among others.

Now is the time for funders to come together to explore how we can complement and reinforce each other's work and leverage this moment to drive real change in the relationship between big business and democracy.

Chris_Jurgens_Omidyar_Network_PhilanTopicChris Jurgens is a director on Omidyar Network's Reimagining Capitalism team and leads a portfolio focused on how corporations and capital markets can contribute to a more inclusive capitalism.

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

February 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charitable gifts may not actually be gifts...yet

February 10, 2021

BillionaireDonorsMuch is made of large charitable gifts, and sometimes rightly so. But often philanthropists claim to be giving much more than they actually are. Due to a quirk in the tax laws, they can claim their charitable tax deduction long before the funds are distributed to any charity. In some cases, years — or even decades — can pass before a single dollar of a large charitable donation makes its way to a charity. That often gives philanthropists much more credit than they deserve.

To understand this, we need to understand private foundations and their sometimes smaller sister, donor-advised funds, which are like warehouses for funds that a donor is not yet ready to give directly to charities. When donors set up or make payments to these warehouses, they get an immediate tax deduction. And if they make a public announcement, the press release can claim credit for a charitable gift. But in actuality, the funds can stay in the warehouse for years, decades, and, sometimes, forever.

That disconnect between payments made to a warehouse vehicle and direct donations to charities is why Forbes changed its methodology for how it calculates charitable giving by the individuals it profiles. For example, here is Forbes's description of its methodology for its list of the 25 Most Philanthropic Billionaires, published in January.

Our estimates factor in the total lifetime giving of American billionaires, measured in dollars given out the door to charitable recipients — meaning we are not including money parked in a foundation that has yet to do any good. To that end, we also do not include gifts that have been pledged but not yet paid out, or money given to donor-advised funds — opaque tax advantaged accounts that have neither disclosure nor distribution — unless the giver shared details about the grants that were actually paid.

Contrast that with the methodology used by the Chronicle of Philanthropy to create its list, The Philanthropy 50.

A quick glance at the biggest "gifts" the Chronicle counts to establish the philanthropists' standing on this list shows how distorted that standing really is. Instead of counting money that reached charities on the ground in 2020, it counts pledges or money that the donors have stashed away in their own foundations and accounts. And in case after case these enormous pledges or deposits — not direct donations to charity — represent by far the largest contributions the donors made in 2020.

For example, #1 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy list is Jeff Bezos, who gets credit for $10.15 billion in 2020 giving, based on his pledge of $10 billion to establish the Bezos Earth Fund. Yet the Chronicle itself notes that of that $10 billion, the fund has granted out only around $790 million to date.

In a nod to full disclosure, the Chronicle is upfront about this quirk in describing its methodology, noting that its list is based on:

[g]ifts and pledges of cash, stock, land, and real estate to nonprofit organizations in 2020....Gifts made to donors' family foundations and donor-advised funds were counted; however, disbursements from those grant-making vehicles were not included in our rankings to avoid double-counting....

But double-counting is not the problem. Over-counting is the problem. Media consumers who don't understand the functions of family (or private) foundations and donor-advised funds will be misled by the Chronicle's methodology into thinking that a payment of $10 billion to a foundation was actually made to charity. The fact that only 8 percent actually went to charities will be lost on them.

Does it matter? When media consumers see headlines about millions or billions in "gifts" to charity, philanthropists may be rewarded with more praise than they really deserve. And in an economy characterized by extreme economic inequality, that's not good.

Worse, misleading reporting can cloud the way voters view efforts to reform laws to discourage the warehousing of charitable dollars in vehicles like private foundations and donor-advised funds. When voters are asked about changing these laws, they could well be operating from a false sense of just how charitable donors who use such vehicles actually are. In the end, voters may be less critical and less likely to understand that they, as taxpayers, have helped subsidize a tax deduction for philanthropists without the funds actually going to a charity.

Professional journalists can help by explaining these distinctions and by using a methodology like Forbes'. And headline writers can use words like "pledge" and "set aside" for payments made to warehousing vehicles, and reserve words such as "gift” and donation" for actual, direct payments to charities.

Headshot_Chuck_CollinsChuck Collins (chuck@ips-dc.org) is director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Growing pains & possibilities: planning for growth in your foundation

January 29, 2021

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

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

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

The Challenge of Growth

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

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

Gearing Up Grantmaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Way of Operating

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

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

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

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

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

What we know about the nonprofits that received grants from MacKenzie Scott

January 28, 2021

Headshot_MacKenzie_ScottIn December, MacKenzie Scott announced a round of giving that was striking for its scale: $4.2 billion across 384 organizations. It was also striking in its approach: Scott made a set of large, unrestricted — and unsolicited — grants to nonprofits across the United States.

So far, her approach has been met with praise from commentators across philanthropy. (See this tweet by Benjamin Soskis and this Mother Jones article.) While she benefited from the help of sophisticated philanthropic advisors, small foundations and individual donors may find lessons in MacKenzie Scott's approach to grantmaking. Indeed, Scott's grantmaking shows that a simple set of filters can narrow down the universe of potential grantees to a more manageable set. That creates space for giving that is both thoughtful and compassionate. As Scott puts it, "Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft."

At Candid, we wanted to pause and look holistically at the set of organizations that Scott and her advisors chose. My colleagues took the list Scott posted and cross-referenced it with our database. We found 381 matches out of the 384 organizations. Below we offer a general analysis of the organizations included in this particular round of grantmaking — with a focus on four key dimensions: size, geography, issue area, and transparency.

Organizational size

The organizations that received grants from MacKenzie Scott varied from the small (YMCA of Greater High Point Foundation, $53,755 in total expenses in 2018) to the very large (Feeding America, $2.8 billion in total expenses in 2018). But the bulk fell into a middle ground of organizations with budgets over $1 million and under $100 million. And while Scott's grants went to well-established organizations, this portfolio was notable for the absence of "elite" universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions.

JacobH_Fig.1.1

Geography

Scott's grantmaking is oriented to the United States — but, given that context, it is remarkable for its geographic diversity and consistency. All fifty states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are represented. Within that distribution, Scott's grantmaking reflects population. The ten states with the most organizations that received grants from Scott last month are also the ten states with the highest population (albeit in a slightly different order).

JacobH_Fig.1.2

Issue area

The year 2020 highlighted inequities in American society. Across the board, MacKenzie Scott's grantmaking strategy reflected a desire to address those inequities.

JacobH_Fig.1

The categories above are from Candid's Philanthropy Classification System. It is worth highlighting that some organizations fall into multiple categories, so the total across all bars above is greater than 381.

Two specific notes: "Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management" organizations largely represent re-granters like United Ways and community foundations (64 organizations, or 17 percent of the portfolio). The category "Human Rights" includes organizations serving a variety of communities (e.g., Chicanos Por La Causa, Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, Pride Foundation, NAACP Empowerment Programs, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law).

Transparency

The organizations in this portfolio are, in general, more transparent than the average nonprofit. Approximately half have earned a Seal of Transparency from Candid, by claiming and updating their profile on guidestar.org. This is almost ten times the rate of the general nonprofit population.

In addition, 56 of these 381 organizations (15 percent) have proactively shared data with Candid about the race or ethnicity of their staff or board leadership.

Transparency is not a guarantee of effectiveness. But, at its best, it can signal a willingness to be examined, well-organized operations, and clear strategy. In this sense, it a proxy — albeit an imperfect one — for leadership and organizational competence.

JacobH_Fig.1.4

Conclusion

Not every donor has access to sophisticated philanthropic advisors that worked with MacKenzie Scott. Even the smallest donor, however, can emulate Scott's straightforward approach. Anyone can sort through the wide universe of nonprofits to identify a subset of organizations that meet their criteria. Then, they can write a check. It can be that simple.

For more information on identifying organizations that fit with your charitable goals, see Five simple steps to better giving.

Jacob Harold is execuitve vice president at Candid. This post originally appeared on the Candid blog.

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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