1695 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

Five Things Your Agency Can Do to Deliver Results for Families

January 17, 2020

Sykes_foundation_whole_familyIndividuals are whole people made up of a rich mix of physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual parts. Individuals exist within families, and families are the heart of our communities. In many ways, working families earning low wages are the backbone of our country, working the jobs that keep America running.

But many American families are struggling. Despite an uptick in the economy, more than 8.5 million children currently live in poverty, and they are often concentrated in neighborhoods where at least a third of all families live in poverty. Others are just a paycheck away from falling into poverty. For these families, a simple change in circumstance for a family member — a reduction in working hours, an illness, even the need for a car repair — affects the entire family's long-term well-being.

At Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Pascale Sykes Foundation, we collaborate with families, nonprofits, government agencies, advocacy groups, and others to advance family well-being through a whole family or two-generation (2Gen) approach. Such an approach addresses challenges through the lens of whole people living in intact families, equipping children and the adults in their lives with the tools to collectively set and achieve goals, strengthen relationships with each other, and establish the stability of the family unit so that every member is able to reach his or her full potential.

In our work every day, we see the many meaningful ways in which a whole family approach benefits families and creates opportunities for service organizations to reach vulnerable populations, scale their work, and fulfill their missions. Here are five things your agency can do to shape its work in ways that will benefit families and support family members as they define, create, and realize the futures of which they dream.

1. Recognize the multi-faceted nature of human aspirations. Issues affecting family well-being such as economic stability, educational success, housing security, and health all overlap and impact one another. For instance, parents may notice that the financial challenges they struggle with are affecting their performance at work, their relationships with each other, and their children's school performance. Developing a plan to improve a family's financial stability in such a scenario must also factor in how parents or caregivers manage their careers, relationships, and time spent with their children. The tools and services designed to support families must look at parents and caregivers holistically, as both individuals and as members of a family.

2. Be intentional about working with every member of the family. Outdated models of service provision that require, say, a constituent to be an unmarried female or have an income that falls below a certain threshold tend to result in a crisis-oriented approach to service delivery. Too often with these models, a family doesn't qualify for help unless it is coming apart or has fallen into poverty. But because families are comprised of individuals, individual family members' challenges (and successes) are often a function of the dynamics in the larger unit. When we encourage members of a family to work together to support each other’s goals, we are helping to strengthen the bonds within the family and, in doing so, facilitating long-term family stability before a family falls into crisis.

3. Tailor services and support to families' goals. After working with families to establish goals, service providers should work together to equip each family with the tools and social supports needed to reach those goals. But remember, an approach to service provision that works well for one family may not work for a different family. Families know themselves and what they hope to achieve better than anyone else, which means service providers need to listen to families if they hope to effectively support those families as they work toward their goals. Again, when families are encouraged to plan their own future, they are more invested in the steps needed to get there.

4. Prioritize relationships between family members to create lasting results. Young people perform better in school and later in life when they have a reliable network of people in their lives — peers, family members, teachers, coaches, mentors — whom they can tap for advice and support. Our work has shown this is also true for families. For example, in interviews we conducted with formerly incarcerated women, the women often stressed the pivotal role of relationships with members of their extended families in helping them navigate the transition from incarceration back into society, pursue college or a credential, and persist in the face of challenges and hardship. As they succeeded and rebuilt their lives, many of the women also became a source of social capital in their families and communities. The same is true of a family we worked with that wanted to develop a healthier lifestyle. Once goals had been established and family members had agreed to them, family members held each other accountable for achieving them, providing support and encouragement to each other along the way. And once family members started to see improvement in their own health, they decided to give back some of what they had been given by serving as mentors for other families with similar aspirations. Bottom line: Social capital is a resource that grows.

5. Emphasize collaboration. In our work, we've seen how separate funding streams for service providers tend to create a fragmented approach to the provision of services that is not only detrimental to providers but also weakens families. Whether related to health care, housing, or school, families often have to travel from location to location to receive needed services. This can put a heavy and sometimes insurmountable burden on people who work full-time, or who face transportation or language barriers, preventing them from seeking support. What's more, the advice they receive often is not coordinated and may even conflict with the advice received from another agency, be impractical, or just plain overwhelm them.

At the Pascale Sykes Foundation, we believe strongly in the value of formal, collaborative partnerships among service providers that support a whole family approach and encourage multiple agencies to come together to provide a full spectrum of services designed to move families closer to their goals. In such a model, agencies meet regularly to manage and modify plans, share data, and synchronize their efforts to better serve families. They also work together to measure behavioral outcomes for the adults and children they serve — a crucial component of any whole family approach. Instead of operating individually, service providers in a collaboration are freed from seeing one another as competitors and instead value each other as teammates who share resources, discuss and set priorities, and accomplish goals together. Indeed, preliminary evidence shows that the stronger the collaboration between service providers, the greater the chances their collective efforts will lead to family success.

Frances_sykes_marjorie_simsWhole family approaches have demonstrated that families living in poverty can succeed despite the obstacles they face. Organizations that adopt such an approach can expect to make a bigger, more meaningful difference in their communities. To do so, however, service providers, government agencies, and funders must work collaboratively — with one another and the families they are trying to support. It's the best way to advance our respective missions and create lasting change for the communities we serve.

Frances Sykes is the president of the Pascale Sykes Foundation and Marjorie Sims is the managing director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

Reimagining Power Dynamics From Within: How Foundations Can Support Child and Youth Participation

January 16, 2020

Youth_climate_activists_350orgInvolving children and young people in our work — as grantees, consultants, researchers, and/or key informants — helps support their right to shape how the issues that affect their lives are addressed and makes our work as funders more impactful. Philanthropies should consider the right to participation — a key right in democracies — an important aspect of their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

The climate movement, for instance, has been very successful in drawing critical attention to the power of children and young people to organize and pressure governments to take action on an issue of urgent concern to them. Other examples include mobilizing support for the Sustainable Development Goals, gun violence prevention, and the rights of working children.

If, as funders, we are committed to supporting young climate activists at the local, national, and international levels, we also need to create spaces within our organizations for them to influence our thinking and ways of working. At the Open Society Foundations, the Youth Exchange team strategy refers to this as "modeling behavior," a form of "prefigurative politics": creating, here and now, in our organizational practices, the change we want to see more generally in society. While many in the philanthropic space already support young activists and guidelines already exist as to how to provide financial and non-financial support to child and youth organizers and child- and youth-led organizations, there are many others who wonder how they can do that.

The Open Society Youth Exchange team thought the start of a new year would be a good time to share some best practices — drawn from our own experiences as well as literature in the field — with respect to engaging children and young people in donor spaces and conversations and giving them the space to tell us how best to support their movements generally and the climate movement more specifically.

While recognizing that young leaders can benefit from specific types of support, we would emphasize that it is important to help create a broad base of support that transcends constituencies, movements, and generations. In addition, some of the recommendations shared below to support child and youth participation can also be made for or adapted to other groups, who may also experience similar barriers.

Nine Basic Requirements for Child and Youth Participation

To create effective and sustained participation, funders need to move away from one-off consultations and engage children and young people in ongoing processes and governance structures. Those who are in charge of organizing opportunities for children and young people as part of a strategic planning process, convening, or less formal conversation can use the "nine basic requirements for effective and ethical participation" outlined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (General Comment no. 12) on "the right of the child to be heard." These basic requirements are the gold standard for youth and child participation and can help funders plan and monitor participation processes. According to the principles, participation should be transparent and informative, voluntary, respectful, relevant, child-friendly, inclusive, supported by training, safe and sensitive to risk, and accountable.

The power of personality is evident in the youth climate movement, in which inspiring young problem-solvers have emerged as highly visible and effective leaders. But when inviting children and young people to join conversations, it is important to look beyond charisma to make sure they legitimately represent their constituencies and are already situated within strong networks. The best approach, we have found, is to ask network leaders to nominate the individuals who will represent them. It's also important to support platforms that help child and youth representatives from different groups connect with one another and build trust. The latter can take time, so it's important to build some extra time into your planning.

To identify representatives who are most likely to be effective, network leaders must have a clear understanding of the aims, nature, and scope of the engagement: Are children and young people being invited to share their views on an issue area in which the foundation as a whole would like to engage? Are they being asked to help shape something more specific, like a portfolio of work? Are they being asked to comment on the best tools for supporting the movement (e.g., grantmaking, fellowships, or advocacy)? Funders need to be clear and share details about the role that children and young participants are likely to play.

Participation must be transparent, informative, and relevant. It is acceptable, for example, to tell participants that what they have to say will be considered, but that it will be considered in the context of other conversations. It is not acceptable to invite children and young people to the table without having any intention to act upon their ideas and suggestions.

Participation must be inclusive. Funders must include young activists from diverse backgrounds, with an additional focus on groups that have experienced various forms of discrimination. "Youth" is a large and heterogeneous demographic. Funders need to recognize that layered and intersecting identities are at play in everyone's life and that "young" is only one identity, age only one indicator. For many young people, age does not even register among the aspects of identity they consider most important (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation). We therefore feel that the "youth lens" needs to be combined with additional lenses to create the necessary conditions for meaningful engagement. For example, children and youth from Indigenous communities and from the Global South should be front and center, since they are the cohorts most likely to be affected by the climate crisis. When engaging young people in the United States, funders need to remember the importance of engaging young activists of color, including those with a disability. Disability inclusion reinforces the message that spaces in which conversations take place are accessible for all participants. We also make a point of using the phrase "child and youth participation" to highlight the importance of including those who are younger — not least because the climate movement is full of very young organizers, organizers who may feel they are being ignored when only the word "youth" is used.

If we want to include young people in meaningful and respectful ways, we need to make adjustments to our own processes. Ideally, that should begin with the involvement of young people as early in the process as possible. It's not enough to give them a seat at the table; we need to make sure they are involved in setting up the table and are taking part in the journey from the very start. At the same time, it also means being clear that young participants have the choice to limit or step away from their responsibilities, as participation always needs to be voluntary.

Participation should be respectful, relevant, and take into consideration children's and young people's own priorities and interests as well as their existing commitments to study, work, and free time. This may require funders to be ready to organize meetings during "after-school" evening or weekend hours. It may also necessitate efforts to inform and get permission and support from parents and caregivers.

Participation should be youth- and child-friendly and respectful of the skills, experiences, and competencies of young people. Respect also needs to be shown in the scheduling of the convening itself and any preparation work. By involving children and young people in the early stages of planning, tasks and planning sessions can be made more participatory, allowing everyone to engage to their maximum potential. During the planning process, funders should also ask young people to identify in advance which sessions they feel most equipped or excited to contribute to, rather than assuming they will be interested in and available to attend every session. While some young activists are experienced public speakers, all participants should always be given the support and tools they need to feel comfortable when faced with new situations and public responsibilities. For instance, the young people who do choose to speak at convenings almost always appreciate being shown around the venue beforehand so they can familiarize themselves with the space — a very simple yet important recommendation. And, of course, when inviting children and young people to be part of our processes or conversations, we always need to be mindful of the inherent power dynamics at play, due not only to differences in age but also to our status as donors.

For full-day meetings, agendas can be designed to highlight sessions that are more "participatory." Depending on the intended outputs of the convening (e.g., a summary or action document prepared by participant groups), it can be helpful to connect with young people in advance to ask them how they might best contribute. In some situations, young people may prefer to present their ideas or stories in creative visual ways. We need to schedule time for those visuals to be shared and commented on by all participants, rather than limiting the discussion to a few minutes during a break.

Because their role is crucial, adult collaborators need to be confident, supportive, and skilled at facilitating intergenerational dialogues. For example, if a young person is part of a panel presentation, the facilitator can make sure that any questions addressed to that individual can be answered by any of the young invitees who are present. Also, questions from young people to other panelists can be prioritized to ensure that their voices are heard. Young people can also be skilled facilitators and conveners, especially if provided with training, mentoring, and experiential opportunities. In sum, participation should be supported by training in facilitation, effective communication, and children's rights for both adults and young people.

Whenever young people are involved in an activity, it is of utmost importance to conduct a risk assessment and develop a safety plan that includes clear safeguarding procedures: participation always needs to be safe and sensitive to risk for participants. This is particularly important when engaging young people under the age of 18, who are, from a legal point of view, minors. In such cases, the organization should make child protection a priority, and young participants and their accompanying adults should know how to report their concerns if anything problematic occurs. Similarly, if there is a videographer, or if video or photos are taken, it is imperative to obtain informed consent from the young participants and their legal guardians in advance.

Lastly, funders and conveners should be accountable to participants, which means children and young people should be given feedback about the degree to which their views were taken into account and have the opportunity to share feedback about their experience. While this can be done in a post-event debriefing session, anonymous feedback opportunities sometimes elicit more detail. In addition, longer-term planning with and by young people and adults is encouraged as a way to support more sustainable opportunities for young activists to be engaged in governance processes that affect them.

Rachele_tardi_zachary_turkAll of us in philanthropy should remind ourselves that including children and young people in conversations about issues of importance to them is a key aspect of DEI and should keep in mind the principles behind and best practices for engaging young activists in our work. It is up to us to mirror and model the processes of inclusion and the participation of children and young activists whom we seek to support through our grantmaking and advocacy efforts. In many areas, they are already leading the way. It's important we initiate and sustain, within our own organizations, an ongoing dialogue with them about the systemic change we all want to see.

Rachele Tardi is senior program manager and Zachary Turk is a program officer in the Youth Exchange program at the Open Society Foundations.

How Philanthropy Can Benefit From Tapping Into Instagram Communities

January 13, 2020

Instagram_logoJudging from media coverage and online conversations, it's clear we're living in a time of heightened social consciousness ("wokeness"). Whether that sentiment is driven by genuine concern for the fate of the planet and the welfare of others or a simple desire to be part of a collective is unimportant: people being willing to live less selfishly is a good thing.

That said, changing attitudes and ways of seeing the world don't automatically translate into economic or cultural impact. If we hope to drive meaningful action and change the world, this emerging way of seeing things needs to be broadened, deepened, and communicated as widely as possible. And the key to all that is social media.

When you strike the right tone and activate the right influencers, social media can transform a disparate group of strangers into a unified force for good. And if you were asked to pick one social media platform to focus your organization's resources on, it would have to be Instagram. While the image-friendly platform doesn't have the broad reach of Facebook, it's a powerful platform in its own right and has been growing in popularity, especially among millennials and their younger siblings.

Intrigued? Here are some things to keep in mind as your organization starts to think about using  Instagram to bolster its social-change efforts:

Images drive emotion. Fundraising campaigns typically struggle to gain traction when they rely on text-based messaging alone: even the most persuasive prose can feel removed from matters of life and death, and while it's possible to read about and empathize with the plight of someone living in poverty, too often most of us simply read those appeals and put them aside before getting on with our business.

Knowing this is how most people respond to text-based appeals, charities have learned the value over the years of incorporating imagery into their appeals, whether still photos, videos, or both. If a picture is worth a thousand words, just one powerful photo of a person in need can spark the kind of emotional response from a potential supporter that ultimately leads to action.

Imagery can also be used to illustrate data points and key statistics in ways that make often lifeless material come alive. One of the classic techniques is to combine an affecting image with a dark overlay and an associated statistic rendered in bold text. When done well and shared on Instagram, such an image can easily go viral and spread to other social media platforms.

Community = donations. As persons of average means in an era of billionaire philanthropy, many of us feel disaffected and powerless. Yes, we might have the resources to help one person, but what can any of us do about the root causes of urgent social or environmental problems? It can be all too easy to throw up our hands and trust (or hope) that folks with the money to make a big difference will do so.

In recent years, however, we've seen crowdsourcing emerge as a an important fundraising tool — and a way to bring lots of geographically dispersed individuals together to change things for the better.

On Instagram, crowdsourcing campaigns should focus on the simple experience of supporting a cause and sharing it with others. The best way to do that is to use engagement-building posts designed to get your followers invested in watching the campaign grow as more people get involved. When someone on Instagram sees people they're following donating to and supporting a cause, it makes them want to jump on the bandwagon. Rare is the person who doesn't want to be known as and acknowledged for being compassionate, so take advantage of your followers' generosity and be sure to amplify their posts in support of your cause.

Live video can humanize your supporters. Thanks to Instagram Live (live streaming on the platform) and IGTV (an associated app that allows you to save hour-long videos to the platform), Instagram has become a useful tool for the production and distribution of live video, which  can go a long way in terms of communicating authenticity. After all, prerecorded videos with high production values and a lot of polish look great but often feel cold and soulless.

Presented in the right way, live video pushes social media users to see your donors and supporters as people like them. It favors unscripted testimonials over canned statements and formulaic pledges — spontaneity instead of contrivance.

It's also great for answering questions from a curious (and relatively young) follower base. Because there are so many outlets and options for charitable giving, people will always want to know one thing above all others: Why should I support your charity or cause instead of another? Hosting a live Q&A gives you an opportunity to tell people, face-to-face, why your organization or cause is deserving of their support and develop a personal connection to them at the same time.

For anyone with an important message to convey, social media in general, and Instagram in particular, is the place to be in 2020. With its tremendous reach, focus on strong visuals, and robust support for live video, Instagram is a fantastic tool for  creating engagement with your issue or cause and mobilizing supporters. If you're not using it, now is the time to get started!

Rodney_Laws_EPIO_for_PhilanTopicRodney Laws is an editor at Ecommerce Platforms, a website that evaluates ecommerce platforms and provides ecommerce business advice.

Few Large U.S. Foundations Changed Giving Priorities After 2016 Presidential Election

January 07, 2020

White_HouseIn early 2019, Candid asked 645 of the largest U.S. foundations whether they had changed their funding priorities in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the 2016 presidential election. The vast majority (88 percent) of the respondents said their organizations made "few or no changes" to their giving priorities during the two years following the election. About one in eight (12 percent) reported making "some notable changes."

These results differ slightly from a similar survey conducted by Exponent Philanthropy in early 2017. Nearly one-quarter of the participants in that survey — foundations with few or no staff, philanthropic families, and individual donors — said they expected to make some changes to their philanthropic giving as a direct result of Donald Trump's election.

Not surprisingly, foundations reporting "few or no changes to their giving priorities" in Candid’s 2019 survey felt little need to further explain why this was the case.  "Staying the course" was a common refrain.

Foundations that reported making "some notable changes" identified five causes in particular for which they felt additional support was needed, given shifts in the political environment: 1) immigration, 2) civic engagement/democracy, 3) equity/social justice/intolerance, 4) the environment, and 5) health care. In some cases, foundations also established "rapid response" funds to help grantees that might be facing new or urgent challenges in carrying out their work.

Foundations that made "few or no changes to their giving priorities"

Most foundations that made "few or no changes to their giving priorities" following the 2016 election felt no need to further explain why this was the case. Those that did offer explanations tended to refer to factors such as donor intent or unwavering adherence to the organizations’ respective missions or strategic plans.

  • "The foundation follows donor intent, so our grantmaking does not tend to change with political shifts."
  • "The foundation’s funds are committed to funding existing programs in our founders' areas of interest and in areas where they lived during their lifetimes."
  • Community foundation: "Most grantmaking is advised by donors or committees for specific purposes."
  • "The election had no effect on our mission so no need to change the focus."
  • "Strategic priorities are generally set by [the] board for a multiyear (10-12 years) time frame."
  • "It makes no difference which party is in control of the government. Our giving priorities are the same."

Some foundations with mandates to focus their giving within specific regions or whose giving is primarily international felt that the national political climate was largely irrelevant to their ongoing work, as did others with highly specific missions.

  • "We are aware of political dynamics but that did not change our focus on rural Minnesota."
  • "The foundation makes grants for overseas mission activities. Therefore, we are not normally affected by politics in the U.S."
  • "Our tightly defined mission serves the fields of art history and art conservation, training professionals in these fields, and supporting their research. The nature of this work has not been altered by the 2016 election."
  • "The foundation supports STEM research in higher education. Program strategies were set in prior years. Research opportunities are rarely changed by individual electoral contests but are instead shaped by wider societal trends."

For many foundations, staying the course but with an increased sense of urgency was the right course of action.

  • "Our existing priorities became more endangered/underfunded, so we stayed the course."
  • "Our focus on legal services, including immigration and social justice, predates the 2016 election by two years; we have increased funding for immigration legal services but much of what we fund has been in the cross-hairs of the current administration so staying on course is appropriate given the current environment."
  • "Our giving is focused at the state level, and our state for the last several decades has been Republican-led. A change in federal leadership has not changed the issues we have focused on — conservation, public education, and health access — but rather reiterated the importance of our work."

Some foundations noted that "staying the course" was especially important if in fact the priorities of other foundations working in the same area were shifting due to political change:

  • "Our foundation focuses exclusively on international grantmaking. Our grantmaking process is guided by our 2016-2020 strategy, which was set before the U.S. election. While other foundations have pulled their funding from international efforts, we have stayed the course, even more so because of other foundations' shifting priorities within the current political climate."
  • "During challenging political times, with many diverting their funds away from the arts towards more urgent political action, the foundation continued funding according to its mission in recognition of the role the arts play in creating a more just and empathetic society, and to avoid destabilizing grantee organizations."

A couple of foundations noted that if shifts in approach to the work were needed, those adjustments would fall more to their grantees than to the foundation:

  • "[Our] grantees were basically the same — with a couple exceptions. Their work shifted."
  • "Education and climate change remain our areas of focus. Federal policies certainly affect these areas, but they don't change our strategic priorities, so much as our grantees' response and approach."

Finally, the idea that political change could have any bearing on how a foundation sets its giving priorities was received with horror by a handful of foundations:

  • "WE STAY FAR AWAY FROM ANYTHING CLOSE TO 'POLITICS.'"
  • "I can't understand why one would ask this question. Are you suggesting a political motive? This question is an insult to our trustees."

Foundations that made "some notable changes in giving priorities after the 2016 U.S. election"

The 12 percent of surveyed foundations that said they made "some notable changes in giving priorities after the 2016 U.S. election" cited five topic areas in particular that required their urgent attention — immigration (3.1 percent), civic engagement/democracy (1.7 percent), equity/social justice/intolerance (1.6 percent), the environment (1.4 percent), and healthcare (1.2 percent). Many of these initiatives overlapped.

Immigration

  • "Launched an immigrant and refugee funder collaborative with other funders to support response to federal policy changes."
  • "The foundation granted to organizations to support staffing for DACA case management and DACA reimbursements."
  • "Yes! We added community service grants specifically to address new problems facing immigrant and minority communities."

Civic engagement/democracy

  • "We added an initiative around civil engagement to encourage more people to participate in government at all levels."
  • "We created a Democracy & Civil Society area of interest in 2017. It was funded again in 2018 and will continue for 2019."
  • "We created three time-limited 'special projects' to strengthen checks and balances within the government and in civil society. We also expanded existing programs to combat misinformation and promote trust in journalism, protect press freedom, and strengthen the security of elections. Finally, we increased our capacity for research and sensemaking through the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and other efforts."

Equity/social justice/intolerance

  • "After the 2016 elections, the foundation's board authorized the creation of an 'Opportunity Fund' to 'create an enduring portfolio of investments that promote fairness and equity, justice, and opportunity.' The fund has been targeted, in particular, on 'efforts designed to safeguard civility and decency, advance civil rights, counteract hate, support immigrant and refugee communities, and provide legal support to underserved communities.'"
  • "Anti-conservative and anti-free speech bias on college campuses increased and giving changed to support free speech and viewpoint diversity."
  • "New focus on women's rights and social justice."

Environment

  • "Our Environment Program began to fund efforts that could rapidly respond to emergent threats to the U.S. system of environmental and public health laws, regulations, and policies."
  • "It's a temporary surge. Foundation staff have developed three strategic initiatives to which we will target these new dollars in ways that we are confident will build and engage new conservation constituencies, address immediate threats, and seize conservation opportunities across the western U.S. and Canada. In this moment, we trust this surge in funding will accelerate their work."

Health Care

  • "We continued to support organizations that were assisting with enrollment [in ObamaCare] and continued to support advocacy organizations in trying to prevent more Medicaid cuts."
  • "We focused more on policy and advocacy work for mental health and substance abuse."
  • "Due to the threat to reproductive rights and to immigrant women, we added a category for reproductive rights and immigrant women."

Other changes

Some foundations stepped up the level of giving in their existing areas of focus, while others developed "rapid response" funds:

  • "Some additional funding set aside for federal response since the new Administration had an effect in nearly all of our program areas."
  • "The election was one of several factors that indicated a need for greater capacity among some of our partners across the South. Others include policy implications that harm the communities we care about."
  • "The board authorized an increase to the foundation's Presidential Discretionary fund to provide 'additional capacity to make opportunity, one-time investments precipitated by the new political and policy environment.'"
  • "In FY17, the fund conducted a rapid response grantmaking program ($100k total) to assist current grantees to advance and/or defend the social safety net, protect vulnerable immigrants and refugees, prevent violence and hate crimes, with emphasis on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, or respond to government censorship or reputational attack."

Finally, a few foundations said that although they made some notable changes in giving priorities after the election, these actions were not related to changes in the political climate:

  • "The foundation's board approved a new mission in 2017, which resulted in some changes in giving priorities, although there was no direct correlation between this and the 2016 U.S. election."
  • "Reorganization of the foundation, new president in 2017."

Headshot_larry_mcgillLarry McGill is vice president of knowledge services at Candid. This post originally appeared on the Candid blog. For more of his thoughts., click here

Weekend Link Roundup (January 4-5, 2020)

January 05, 2020

5W4htUpm6GwJkWfemfytV4-1024-80Happy New Year! Before you get back to work for real, check out our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

To see what climate change could portend for ordinary Americans, look no further than California, where over the last decade, as the Los Angeles Times' Deborah Netburn writes, "[t]he wildfires were more destructive. The drought was the longest on record. And the storms, when they finally came, unleashed more water than [the] dams could contain."

Fundraising

Ready for another year of fundraising? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks wants to help and has pulled together a list of his favorite fundraising blogs

And fundraising expert Pamela Grow shares eleven things you can do to make 2020 your most successful fundraising year yet.

Giving

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther shares the thinking behind the charitable donations he and his wife, Karen, made in 2019.

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit CEOs Alejandra Castillo, Susan Dreyfus, James Firman, Brian Gallagher, Gail McGovern, and Jonathan Reckford make the case that, after nearly two years of data, the evidence is clear: charitable giving is down, and changes in the 2017 tax law are to blame.

Global Health

There are only eight organizations on charity rating site GiveWell's list of top global charities and one of them is the San Jose-based Fistula Foundation. In a new post on the GiveWell blog, Catherine Hollander updates the organization's work on the foundation, which it continues to consider "a top charity contender."

Health

Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal (with research help from Gabriella Aboulafia) reviews the top developments in health care in 2019 on the fund's To The Point blog. 

Higher Education

"In the modern university, all sources of money, be they gifts from donors, corporate grants, or investments, can be tainted in some way.... [And] students, faculty members, and alumni...are demanding that universities take responsibility for their role in laundering wealthy philanthropists’ reputations and allowing outside influence on research." But are they? Nell Gluckman, a senior reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, takes a closer look.

International Affairs/Development

On the HistPhil blog, Álvaro Morcillo Laiz, a scholar of international relations, considers "U.S. foundations’ funding of education, the elaboration of statistics, and human rights activism in Latin America as producing public goods." 

Nonprofits

In a post on the Charity Navigator blog, Michael Thatcher, the nonprofit ratings organization's president and CEO, looks back at the things he and his team achieved and learned in 2019, and what they have planned for 2020.

Philanthropy

On the Candid blog, Larry McGill, our vice president for knowledge services, shares findings from a survey of six hundred and forty-five of the largest U.S. foundations conducted in early 2019 that asked if they had changed their funding priorities in 2017 and 2018 as a result of the 2016 presidential election. Check out Larry's post to learn more.

Social Good

And writing on the Equities.com site, Thomas Kostigen explains why he thinks impact investing is likely to become a bigger fact in the financial services and  money management worlds in 2020.

(Image: @ NASA EOSDIS)

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. And Happy Thanksgiving to all! We'll be next Sunday with another roundup.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts in 2019

December 27, 2019

Happy-new-year-2020-red-text-background_1017-21971We're all living on Internet time these days, which is maybe why 2019 seemed to speed by in record time. Before we close the books on another year — and the decade of the teens — we thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on the blog, as determined by your clicks, over the last twelve months. Included are oldies but goodies by Thaler Pekar, Nick Scott, Allison Shirk, and Gasby Brown; a couple of thirty-thousand-foot views of philanthropic giving by Larry McGill, Candid's vice president of knowledge services; new (in 2019) posts Jessica Johansen and NCRP's Aaron Dorfman; and a great review of Edgar Villanueva's Decolonizing Wealth by our colleague Grace Sato. From the team here at PND, best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic in 2010? We want to hear from you! Drop us a note at Mitch.Naufts@Candid.org.

We Must Act Now to End Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity — Together

December 03, 2019

Food insecurity on campusAs hundreds of thousands of students scramble to submit their college applications, many are thinking beyond the daunting cost of tuition and student fees to how they will pay for their everyday necessities once they've arrived on campus. With nearly half of college students at two- and four-year institutions experiencing food insecurity and more than half struggling with housing insecurity, it goes without saying that gaps in basic-needs provision are a major issue impacting today's college students — one that requires a systemic solution.

Examples of expenses that can derail a student's progression to a degree include emergency car repairs, rent increases, or a sudden illness. Such needs and emergencies often can be addressed, however, by immediate direct supports, including emergency-aid grants, food pantries, rapid rehousing services, and campus partnerships with community and government agencies aimed at ensuring students are supported throughout their academic journey.

Colleges are well positioned to be points of entry to a coordinated suite of social services for students. Working in tandem with community and government partners, colleges can use their own resources and design more student-centered services to cover students’ basic needs and keep them on track to their degrees.

For instance, in Washington state, the United Way of King County is working in partnership with local colleges to develop on-campus Benefits Hubs, which are designed to connect students to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as community partners that can provide immediate resources and financial assistance for housing-related emergencies.

Holistic support provided by colleges and community-based programs also can play a critical role in providing students with a pathway out of their basic-needs challenges. The Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida works with universities and colleges across the state to provide rent-free housing to postsecondary students who demonstrate academic merit and financial need. Having a secure and safe place to return to after school and work is essential for student well-being and academic success and can be the difference between a student graduating or dropping out.

There's no one-size-fits-all in terms of helping today’s college students — many of whom no longer match the traditional description of the 18- to 24-year-old seeking a four-year degree right out of high school. Today’s students are more likely to be over 25 and the first in their family to attend college. Many also often face competing demands for their time, including work and family responsibilities.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that while the population of single-mother students has increased significantly over the years, only 28 percent of single moms who enroll in college will graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 40 percent of married mothers and 57 percent of female students who are not parents. The disparity often is due to the very real challenge of supporting a family, juggling work, and completing coursework. IWPR found that providing students with parent support services, including childcare, goes a long way to helping single moms succeed.

Colleges and universities alone cannot fix the problem. It will take a movement to address students' multifaceted needs and safeguard postsecondary education as a public good. And it will require action and collective investment involving multiple sectors, including institutions of higher education, government, community-based organizations, and research and philanthropic entities.

In October, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law sweeping legislation designed to increase the allocation of funding for emergency-aid grants for community college students in the state, in addition to approving $19 million to address homelessness among students across the state’s community college, California State University, and University of California systems. Both policy actions expand support for students who may otherwise be at risk of dropping out due to financial emergencies and basic-needs challenges. Other states could emulate California and help their most vulnerable students overcome these types of life crises so that they persist through school and graduate with a degree.

Last month, ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative, a $3 million effort to pilot, evaluate, and scale programs aimed at stemming the tide of basic-needs insecurity among college students. Through a national cohort of seven organizations and institutions working with two- and four-year institutions, we will spend the next three years working with grantees to address basic needs issues among students, with a focus on food, housing, child care, mental health, emergency financial assistance, and transportation.

But we can't stop there.

We need others to invest in organizations working to address basic-needs insecurity. We need holistic approaches aimed at increasing academic persistence and graduation rates for the most vulnerable students on campus. And we need to work to eliminate basic-needs insecurity as an issue so that students who complete a bachelor's degree reap the return on investment and the social mobility that comes with it.

Sarah_belnick_for_PhilanTopicTogether, we can reduce basic-needs insecurity for students, today and into the future.

Sarah Belnick is senior program director for College Success at ECMC Foundation, a national foundation working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds.

 

Weekend Link Roundup (November 23-24, 2019)

November 24, 2019

Cornucopia-166186079-592c3f2b3df78cbe7e6c4135And...(long pause)...we're back with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Democracy

It’s been thirty years since the Berlin Wall fell, inspiring a democratic awakening across Central and Eastern Europe. What lessons does the end of the Cold War offer for the next generation of reformers? On the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Tim Judah reflects on his own experience and talks to activists in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic about where they were in 1989 and their hopes for the future

Diversity

What is "equity offset" and why should you care? Nonprofit AF's Vu Le explains.

Education

On the GrantCraft blog, Anne Campbell, an assistant professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, finds lots to like about Scholarships for Change, a new online resource created by our talented colleagues here at Candid.

Fundraising

If you're still fundraising on bended knee — well, stop it. Social Velocity's Nell Edgington explains why in the new year you need to think about "making your ask from a place of true worthiness, true value, and true equality."

Giving

Effective altruism site GiveWell is offering matching funds to any donor who hears about the organization's work via a podcast ad campaign it is running. Learn more here.

Grantmaking

As she prepares for the next stage of her career in philanthropy, Michelle Greanias, who recently ended her tenure as executive director of PEAK Grantmaking, reflects on what she has learned over the last eleven years.

On the Transparency Talk (Glasspockets) blog, Claire Peeps, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation, explains why its important for a foundation, even a leanly staffed foundation like hers, to keep the door open to all kinds of nonprofits.

Health

Citing research and resources that demonstrate the critical connection between health and rural economic development, Katrina Badger, MPH, MSW, a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Katherine Ferguson, MPA, associate director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG), argue that we need to rethink how we invest in rural America and the way we approach health and equity across its diverse communities.

Nonprofits

Is your nonprofit measuring the things it should be measuring? Is it measuring anything at all? On the Candid blog, Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang and executive director of Launch Cause, walks readers through the five key performance indicators that every nonprofit should be measuring.

Over the last three weeks or so, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has been announcing the winners of its 2019 Impact Awards. Check out these links to learn more about the Emergent Fund, Unbound Philanthropy, the Libra Foundation, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. And congrats to all!

Philanthropy

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy and the author of Giving Fingerprints, regrets the fact that too many donors seem not to understand the importance of the relationships they have (or don't) with the nonprofit organizations they support.

Science/Technology

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, technology fellow Michelle Shevin and Michael Brennan, a program officer in the foundation's Technology and Society program, explain why this is a critical moment for open-source digital infrastructure.

Social Good

Did you know that by 2025, millennials will comprise three-quarters of the American workforce? What are the implications of that for capital providers, asset managers, social enterprise founders, foundations, corporations, and impact funds looking to leverage their assets for social good? On the Alliance magazine blog, Christina Wu, community and impact measurement manager at European Venture Philanthropy Association, shares some thoughts.

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. And Happy Thanksgiving to all! We'll be next Sunday with another roundup.

Fit to Fund: Who Should Pay to Raise Standards for Good Financial Grant Practice?

November 08, 2019

Global standardsFunders have a right to expect that their nonprofit grantees have systems and structures in place to manage grants effectively and ethically. But does that right also imply that funders have a responsibility to invest in the grant management capabilities they expect from organizations they entrust with funds?

In the production of French cognac, nearly twenty million bottles, or 8 percent of the country’s annual production, is lost to evaporation after the distilled spirit has been put up in oak barrels; this is known, rather romantically, as "the Angel's Share."

A similar but far less romantic phenomenon occurs in the nonprofit sector. According to Caroline Fiennes, author of It Ain't What You Give, It's The Way That You Give It, roughly $125 million in the United Kingdom alone is "lost" by grant recipients in the production of reports required by funders and government agencies; much of that is spent on duplicate assessments as part of the submission of multiple grant proposals.

Rather than going to the angels, this $125 million could be seen as the "admin share," with both funders and their nonprofit grantees spending significant amounts of time and money on multiple due diligence assessments, diverting funds to needless administrative tasks that could be used to change lives for the better.

Most grant proposal forms use different criteria, leaving many would-be grant recipients unclear about what funders expect of them. This also means that many nonprofits end up spending hundreds of hours a year filling in different forms that ask for the same basic information in slightly different ways.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than when it comes to filling in forms designed to assess a nonprofit's grant management practices. In part, this is because funders are under increasing pressure from watchdog groups, the media, and taxpayers to demonstrate that the funds they award are being spent effectively and ethically.

In addition, different ideas about what constitutes good grant management practice have led to lower levels of trust in grant management capabilities across global funding supply chains. As a result of this breakdown, nonprofits find themselves having to jump through ever more complex and costly assessment hoops in order to reassure funders of their reliability.

The Global Grant Community (GGC) was established to address this broken model and reduce the "admin share" of funds being lost to paperwork. Its mission is to enable more money to flow to the people who need help by using standardization and the disruptive power of technology to reduce the cost, in time and dollars, currently entailed in connecting funders with potential nonprofit partners.

Our antidote to "admin share" is the world’s first international standard for Good Financial Grant Practice (ARS 1651:2018). For the first time ever, there is now a global standard for good grant management practice that CBOs, CSOs, NGOs, and higher educational and research institutions can adopt, bringing rigor and trust to even high-risk funding environments and creating a level playing field between state and philanthropic funders and their beneficiaries.

Streamlining and stripping out the cost of due diligence by standardizing and digitizing the due diligence process also means a greater comfort level for funders — and more money for organizations that are working to create greater impact for people across Africa and the world — a win for both funders and recipients.

The new standard was developed at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, with support from some of the world’s largest public- and private-sector funders, including UKAID, USAID, Wellcome, UK Research and Innovation, the UK Department of Health and Social Care, the IKEA Foundation, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the African Union, and the New Partnership for Africa's Development and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD).

Developed in partnership with the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), the standard was piloted and road-tested by more than three hundred organizations around the globe and was formally adopted (ARS 1651:2018) by ARSO in June 2018. As such, it sets out more than two hundred and eighty clauses stipulating what major funders expect from their grantees with respect to grant management practice. The practices are organized into four broad organizational areas — financial management, human resources, procurement, and governance — and four tiers of compliance — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (depending on the scale and complexity of funding and the size of the nonprofit, NGO, or research institution).

The GFGP standard is not meant to replace existing audit and assessment processes but instead provides a strong and consistent belt for a funder's braces. Because grant recipients are assessed against common standards of grant management practice, funders can have greater confidence that their funds will be spent effectively, responsibly, and free from corruption. Working with certified Global Grant Community organizations also reduces funders’ risk and the cost of audits and compliance, ensuring that more of their funds support government policy objectives, Sustainable Development Goals, and Grand Bargain targets.

At the same time, a global standard benefits grant recipients. Because the standard clearly sets out the grant management and risk mitigation procedures funders are looking for before awarding grants, nonprofits can use the standard as a tool to improve their grant management capabilities.

The journey for a nonprofit to world-class grant management practice begins with a simple GFGP Pre-Certification Assessment that measures its capacity to comply. Organizations can improve their funding prospects further by opting for an independent audit by a licensed GFGP Standard Certification Body and earning a Certificate of Compliance, which can be displayed as a quality mark on a searchable database used by funders, where it is seen by many funders. This "provide once – share with many" functionality reduces the time and money that grantmakers spend on finding and verifying reliable partners.

Critics of the standard may point out the irony of yet another new form that needs to be filled out. However, we believe that over time the GFGP standard will be the only form a nonprofit ever needs to complete. Still, there is a short-term cost for nonprofits, and while the costs are far lower than the price charged by external audit firms and other third-party verification bodies, they do represent a barrier for many organizations, which in turn limits the ability of those organizations to improve their grant management capabilities and attractiveness to funders.

That raises an interesting question about whether the world's biggest funders should subsidize the cost of completing a GFGP assessment for underresourced organizations. We say "yes." By making the cost of an assessment and certification an allowable grant expense, funders would be acting in their own self-interest while strengthening the ability of their nonprofit partners to spend the grant funds they receive responsibly and ethically. If you decide to give someone a car, the first thing you probably want to know is whether person has a driver’s license. The same principle applies here.

As well as making a GFGP assessment an allowable expense, we are calling on funders to provide small grants through a special fund to pay for assessments for the smallest CSOs as a way of ensuring that no organization is left behind. It's our belief that the GFGP standard will become an international standard on which all grant funding, and the way funders fund, is based. It is long overdue, and we look forward to the many positive changes its adoption will bring.

Headshot_michael_kilpatrickMichael Kilpatrick is senior advisor to the Global Grant Community at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya.

When Less Is More: Cities Unlock the Potential of Micro-Philanthropy

November 05, 2019

Love Your Block_NewarkIn their 2017 book The New Localism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak make the case that we're at the beginning of a new era: one in which cities and counties must take the lead on new strategies to address pressing social and economic challenges.

But if they hope to be successful, city leaders cannot take on this burden alone: they need to unleash the collective power of their communities. The good news is that a growing number of cities are finding that supporting communities in small ways — for instance, with microgrants — can deliver outsized impact.

Consider the case of the Denver Foundation, which has kept its Strengthening Neighborhoods initiative going for nearly two decades. The initiative provides grants ranging from $100 to $5,000 to fund community-driven solutions that take advantage of the skills and resources already present in a community. Similarly, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation's Spark Grants program relies on a grassroots leadership model to bring diverse groups together to strengthen local neighborhoods.

The power of small grants to drive change has not been lost on city leaders, many of whom are embracing the potential of micro-philanthropy — and pairing it with a citizen-led ecosystem that supports the effective implementation of those grants. In Newark, we've taken these lessons to heart and are eager to share some of what we've learned about how small grants can help lay a foundation for improved social and economic mobility.

First, cities need help in creating the infrastructure that will ensure success. In addition to providing cities with a $25,000 grant, the Love Your Block grant program — a program of Cities of Service, part of Bloomberg Philanthropies' American Cities Initiative — supports cities with two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members who assist the mayor's office in the areas of capacity building, information sharing, and community engagement. At the point where the cities start to divvy up their Love Your Block grant into micro-grants, the VISTAs also assist community members with their grant applications. And it works. In two targeted neighborhoods in Newark, thirty-four residents submitted project proposals totaling $42,518 for community clean-ups, minor home repairs, and vacant lot activation.

Second, cities need to learn from others who are working to get individuals involved in similar ways. Cities of Service has created a blueprint for action and provides ongoing technical assistance that includes advice about troubleshooting challenges as well as tips on making connections with other cities working on similar initiatives (including using both formal and informal communications channels, from webinars and e-newsletters to Slack). In Newark, our Love Your Block grant was implemented by the city's Office of Sustainability, which works to make Newark a healthier, cleaner, and greener city — and which relied on resources provided by Cities of Service to ensure that implementation of the grant went smoothly.

Third, cities need to create opportunities for continued collaboration in order to reap the longer-term benefits of micro-philanthropy. When the Urban Institute recently studied the value of the Love Your Block program, it found that, in addition to revitalized neighborhoods, Love Your Block projects led to increases in both social cohesion (the level of connectedness individuals feel to their neighbors and surroundings) and social capital (as a result of relationships built with city leaders over the course of the project). That social capital then becomes a catalyst for even deeper work and collective action. Newark is taking collaboration a step further by committing public dollars to continue the Love Your Block program. To ensure that philanthropic resources are aligned with the priorities of city leadership and, ultimately, the city's residents, it is also one of the few state or municipal governments in the country to have created the position of philanthropic liaison, thanks to a unique public-private partnership between city government and the local funding community under the auspices of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers.

Cities have a unique opportunity to drive big returns on investment from small grants. A citizen-led microgrant program allows for a more accurate identification of the challenges that people in the community want to see addressed. Engaging community members in this way can create long-tail benefits such as increased social cohesion and civic engagement that can be channeled into other community needs. When these three pieces — microgrants, technical assistance, and human connections — come together, the impact is greater than the sum of its parts.

Comp_ras_baraka_myung_j_leeWith the right support networks in place, hyper-local microgrants can accelerate city leaders' efforts to not only meet the short-term needs of their communities but also strengthen the networks and relationships that drive long-term outcomes. The result? Stronger connections between citizens and municipal leaders — and stronger cities overall.

Ras J. Baraka is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Myung Lee is executive director of Cities of Service, a national nonprofit based in New York City.

Changing the World One Scholar at a Time: New Free Resource Launches

October 29, 2019

Today's donors and institutional philanthropists have become more ambitious in their aim to address the world's most pressing problems. How is this trend affecting the world of scholarship philanthropy? At their core, all scholarships aim to change the lives of recipients for the better. Some donors, however, have been able to leverage scholarships to impact society more broadly while improving whole institutions, industries, or communities. From increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to creating economic opportunity in struggling communities, scholarship programs can be designed to create positive societal change that extends far beyond the individual recipient.

Earlier this month, Candid marked the launch of Scholarships for Change, a website and set of tools designed to help donors increase the impact of scholarship giving. Funded by the Ford and Mellon foundations, Scholarships for Change provides funding trend data, an interactive grants map, GrantCraft case studies, and a curated knowledge center that together serve to orient, inform, and empower donors with a road map to effective scholarship philanthropy.

Scholarships for change

Although supporting scholarships is often one of the first activities a new philanthropist undertakes, there has been no publicly available centralized source of knowledge about who has funded such programs and what they have learned. Scholarships for Change fills this gap by pulling together knowledge and data to guide funders in the practice of scholarship grantmaking and tells the story of how philanthropic dollars are supporting transformative scholarships. Scholarship seekers will benefit from the open access to insights into donor strategies that the platform provides.

Visitors to Scholarships for Change can access:

  • Information about nearly 680,000 scholarships for change made between 2006 and the present. A funding map displays aggregate trend data and scholarship-focused grants with a specific change agenda. You can use the map to identify funding concentrations and gaps as well as key actors in the field, and learn more about what the data has to say about the types of social change most frequently supported by scholarship funders.
  • Lessons learned by others, as captured in a dozen new GrantCraft case studies filled with insights from experienced scholarship funders, including the Ford Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
  • A searchable resource center with research and news providing up-to-date access to knowledge about change-oriented scholarships.

Scholarships have the power to create greater access to education, fuel economic mobility, and lift up communities. We invite you to explore and learn from Scholarships for Change and welcome your suggestions for additions to the site.

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Candid. Headshot_janet_camarena

5 Questions for...Bill Cummings, Co-Founder and President, Cummings Foundation

October 18, 2019

Bill Cummings thinks of himself as a serial entrepreneur. At the age of six, he would venture over to a construction site near his parents' house and sell bottles of soda. Decades later, after having worked in sales for a number of national consumer product firms, he bought his first "real" business, a century-old fruit juice syrup manufacturer, for $4,000. Five years later, he sold the company and used the seven-figure proceeds to establish Cummings Properties, which today manages more than ten million square feet of debt-free real estate in suburban Boston. Nearly all the properties are owned by and operated for the benefit of the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, which was established by Cummings and his wife, Joyce, in 1986, with a focus on providing support for small nonprofits in the counties surrounding Boston. Much of the couple's giving over the years was done quietly and under the radar — a fact that changed when the couple decided to sign the Giving Pledge in 2011.

PND recently spoke with Cummings about his journey from entrepreneur to philanthropist, the evolution of the foundation's $100k for 100 program,  and the impact of the Giving Pledge on his thinking about and approach to philanthropy.

Bill_cummings_square_jpgPhilanthropy News Digest: Your foundation launched the $100k for 100 initiative in 2012 with the aim of providing a hundred nonprofits in the Massachusetts counties of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk with grants of $100,000. Did you have any models in mind when you designed the program?

Bill Cummings: No, we had nothing in mind. We had operated independently for a long time, and we had a policy of reaching out to nonprofits that weren't high profile, groups that typically found it difficult to secure foundation support. I suspect it's that way wherever you go in the U.S, and it's a shame, because there are so many small, obscure nonprofits doing marvelous things in their communities. We try to give a few of them in our neck of the woods more visibility. That was our initial goal, at any rate, and it eventually evolved into what, for several years, was known as the $100k for 100 program.

We have since combined that program with our Sustaining Grant program to create what is now a $20 million annual grantmaking program. Separately, both were extremely successful, but we came to realize we were doing two sequential programs to be included in our Sustaining Grants Program, organizations needed to have been included in one of the $100k for 100 cohorts and so we decided it would be better to streamline them. By combining them, we also eliminated the gap year that had been programmed into the Sustaining Grants effort. Under the new model we're able to provide longer-term grants of up to ten years.

PND: What do smaller, local non­profits need to do to prove to the foundation that they're able to handle what, in many cases, is likely to be the largest gift they've ever received?

BC: The $100,000 we awarded through the $100k for 100 program typically was awarded over a period of three to five years. Under the new model, if an organization has an annual budget of $50,000, we can make a big difference in their sustainability if we give them even $10,000 a year over ten years. We're talking about things like food pantries or afterschool day care. Once we know them a little better, we can then determine how much of the overall grant amount should go out at any one time. Initially, we committed to giving out $10 million a year, and it took a while for us to scale up. But now we're paying out considerably more than that.

PND: You and your wife signed the Giving Pledge in 2011. Did that have anything to do with your decision to scale up your philanthropy and be more public about it?

BC: Yes, but it didn't really change our approach or philosophy. Making one's philanthropy more public is one of the goals of the Giving Pledge, and when we joined it wasn't long before an editor at the Boston Globe called and said, "I've never heard of you. How can you be doing all this, and I never knew you existed?" Then she called the Boston Foundation to see what she could learn about us, and they hadn't heard of us, either. She was a little skeptical about us for a while, but we steered her to a few people who knew us, and she did her due diligence. At one point, I recall her saying that she was thinking of calling our foundation "The Billionaires Next Door."

By Giving Pledge standards, we're small. The Cummings Founda­tion has about $2 billion in assets, compared to, say, the more than $50 billion in assets held by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first Giving Pledge meet­ing my wife and I attended was a strange experience for us. We looked around the room and at the sixty or so other couples who were representing different foundations and organiza­tions and pretty quickly realized we were probably the least wealthy people there.

After we visited Africa for the first time, we decided we wanted to expand our philanthropic work beyond the three counties here in Massachusetts and decided to support some things in Rwanda. It was reassuring to be able to talk to other Giving Pledgers and be told that what we had seen and learned while we were in Rwanda was accurate, and that it was a good place in which to invest philanthropically. It's that kind of access to smart people, people who have done this and are happy to have us run ideas by them, that makes the Giving Pledge so valuable .

PND: Are you looking at other opportunities in Africa, or anywhere else, for that matter?

BC: For now, we're limiting our international giving to Rwanda. But we've learned about other organizations there through members of the Giving Pledge, and we've encouraged some of them to support organizations there that we're familiar with organizations like Uni­versity of Global Health Equity, which opened its new campus in January. We're also looking at expanding our activities in Rwanda in ways that better connect them to each other. The organizations we support there really could do more working together than alone, and we've encouraged them to apply to us for joint grants. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is one example.

PND: This is a moment of pretty intense political polarization in the United States. Do you have any thoughts about where we are as a country and how we got here? And are you optimistic about the future?

BC: I wish I were more optimistic than I actually am. In general, I'm an optimist, but I'm beside myself with some of the things I see going on in Washington these days. In our company and our foundation, we have always worked to build trust and accountability. Sadly, our country has a chief executive who openly talks about how one can profit from bankruptcy and how it's easy to cheat people. That's not good; that's discouraging. But I'm hopeful we will get beyond that.

I've been traveling a lot over the past year to promote my book. And that has led to some interesting opportunities. For instance, we worked with Harvard Business School recently on a Cummings Properties case study. I applied to the business school as a 21-year-old just out of Tufts and was effectively rejected and told to reapply in two years. So it's great fun, as you might imagine, to have a case being studied at Harvard.

Recently, I gave a book talk to a thousand people in Rwanda. I didn't sell a lot of books, but I was able to give audience members free access to a copy of it on the Internet. I also spoke at the Saïd School of Business at Oxford University and to another eight hundred people at the University of Alabama. Giving a talk like that is a lot of fun, and it helps to promote philanthropy. It's been an interesting sidebar to my career. Yes, the runway is getting shorter, but I don't see any reason to stop looking forward.

Matt Sinclair

Memo to Foundation CEOs: Get a Youth Council

September 30, 2019

Calendow_presidents_youth_councilSeven years ago, we launched a President's Youth Council (PYC) at the California Endowment, and it seems like a good time to tell you that the young people who've served on the council over those seven years have significantly influenced our programming as a private foundation, been a source of reality-checking and ground-truthing on how our work "shows up" at the community level, and have substantially increased my own "woke-ness" as a foundation executive.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to briefly share why we decided we needed a President's Youth Council and how it works: In 2011, our foundation embarked on a ten-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities campaign that was designed to work in partnership with community leaders and advocates to improve wellness and health equity for young people in California. We had already been using a variation of a place-based approach in our work, and so we selected fourteen economically distressed communities to participate in the campaign — some urban, some rural, and all, taken together, representing the complex diversity of the state.

At the time, I was aware not only of the privileged position I occupied outside my organization, but also of how sheltered I was as a chief executive within my organization. More often than not, I received information about the effectiveness and impact of our work in the form of thoughtfully crafted memos from staff, PowerPoint presentations, and glossy evaluation reports filled with professionally designed charts and graphics. Even when feedback in the form of recommendations from consultants or comments from the community came my way, it was all carefully curated and edited. As I had learned — and this is especially true at large foundations — when members of the community get "face time" with the CEO, it is a carefully managed and considered process.

Being at least vaguely conscious of these issues early on in our Building Healthy Communities work, I wanted to ensure I would have some regularly calendared opportunities to meet face-to-face with young leaders from the communities we were serving. So, we solicited nominations from grantee-leaders in each of the fourteen program sites, and a President's Youth Council, featuring mostly young people of color between the ages of 17 and 21 and of varying sexual/gender orientations, was born.

Seven years later, here's what it looks like.

We meet three or four times a year (just like our board of directors), beginning with an informal dinner on Friday evening and continuing with breakfast and lunch conversations on Saturday. Then I excuse myself so that members of the council can have their own "executive session" and social time in the afternoon. They then de-brief each other over breakfast on Sunday before making their way home. The foundation pays their expenses and also provides them with a modest stipend — a welcome bonus, as many of these young people come from economically struggling families and communities. Between year three and six of their tenure, members rotate off and new young leaders are recruited to replace them. Two foundation staff members provide support with PYC meeting logistics and structure.

It's been a richly rewarding experience for me, and both I, as a foundation president and CEO, and the foundation — have learned a lot:

  • PYC members have pushed me and the foundation out of our strategic comfort zones. With respect to social justice, social media, youth-led and -shaped narrative change, youth empowerment, and governance, we are in many ways a different foundation than we were a decade ago. My young colleagues also have pushed me to be more courageous about using our foundation's brand and voice in the advocacy arena and to speak out more boldly.
  • Council members — and hundreds of their activist colleagues around the state — have helped us see how connecting young leaders across geographies can lead to policy change at the state and national level. Especially in the area of school discipline reform, the voices of young people engaged in "schools not prisons" and "health for all" campaigns have translated into meaningful impact.
  • I have learned a great deal about the intersection of childhood trauma and adversity in the battle for social and health justice. Our PYC leaders are exceptional — but they also carry an enormous burden of trauma and anxiety as a result of family and community stressors, economic distress, stigmatization in school settings, and adverse experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. One of our PYC leaders was murdered two years ago, others have been subjected to police violence, still others have had family members deported or have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. The trauma they experience is quite real, and over time we have learned to embrace the use of healing and spiritual supports when these young leaders gather and have built in "how are you doing" sessions on Saturday mornings.
  • We have learned — and are still learning — how to leverage PYC members specifically, and young people more generally, as thought leaders. At the moment, for example, I am asking them to give me their best thinking as we consider investments in grassroots leadership development in the years ahead.

We continue to think about how we engage with young people as authentic — and not "tokenized" — thought partners. For example, our board of directors has considered inviting a young leader or youth representative to sit on the board — although care must be taken when considering what it might be like for a young person (or two) to share his or her thoughts about complicated issues with fourteen or fifteen civic leaders in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We haven't ruled it out and will consider the possibility more thoroughly with members of the PYC in the year ahead.

We've also commissioned an evaluation of our PYC experiment by Professor Veronica Terriquez of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based on a survey, a focus group, and interviews with PYC members and PYC coordinators and foundation staff, the evaluation found that nearly four in five PYC members "strongly agree" (while the rest "agree") that they had further developed their leadership skills as a result of their involvement in the council. They also cited as a plus the various opportunities they have received, including participation in a support network, professional development and skills coaching, and an investment in healing and self-care.

So let me leave you with this: investing in activist, community-engaged young people has a triple-bottom-line impact: it generates positive benefits in terms of a young person's well-being; it generates positive benefits for his or her neighborhood; and it can result in positive policy and systems changes with respect to social justice and health equity.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about creating your own President's Youth Council.

Robert_K_Ross_2019_for_PhilanTopicRobert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Overcoming the Risk of a Rural Census Undercount

September 18, 2019

062319NorwoodColo_008The 2020 Census is the single most important event for rural America in recent history. Its impact will be felt for decades to come. And while most of the focus of the public discussion around the census has been on the prospective citizenship question (rightfully so), there also are fundamental changes in census methodology hidden in the weeds of the process that have the potential to diminish federal and state investment in rural America by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Below we address some key engagement factors: community trust and online versus in-person census data collection, and examples of private foundations working on a complete count.

Hundreds of billions of dollars reflect the enormous importance of the census for apportionment of everything from congressional seats, to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocations, to Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) payments.

As an example, just six modestly sized federal programs under HUD and USDA that currently represent $25 billion in federal investment might change dramatically based on 2020 Census counts. A rural undercount will also reduce funding for foster care, Title 1 grants, and free or reduced lunches for high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, energy assistance for low-income households, and much more.

There are roughly sixty million Americans living in rural regions of the country, and it is not a homogenous group: the total includes thirteen million people of color, two million immigrants, and three million members of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the country's tribal members live in rural regions. And while many urban-centric thinkers and policies tend to overlook rural places, the vast majority of our nation's food, water, and energy is produced there. The investments we make in rural people and places are investments in equity, diversity, and economic stability for the entire nation.

Rural advocates and rural policy watchers are deeply concerned about two important dimensions of rural life that are currently being overlooked by census planners and may therefore negatively affect an accurate rural census count.

First, a new emphasis on online census completion ignores the fact that rural America suffers from significant broadband deficits. One-quarter (25 percent) of rural Americans have no access to broadband services whatsoever. Many others have access but can't afford the hookup. And one-third of tribal members have no access to broadband (per the recent annual Federal Communications Report on broadband penetration). These rural deficits are particularly profound in the South and West, where significant numbers of rural people of color reside. Without online access, many rural residents simply will not be able to complete the census.

Second, funding for door-to-door census workers — often people who working in their local communities and calling on their neighbors — has been cut dramatically. This surfaces a deep-running absence of trust between rural places and the federal government.

Whereas rural residents may be willing to share their personal information with a trusted community member in a face-to-face conversation, these same residents may be reluctant to provide personal information to the federal government through an impersonal online or paper form. If a process doesn't feel trustworthy, what reasonable person would participate? As a result, that absence of trust may very well translate into an undercount and associated reductions in future funding and representation.

How Can We Combat a Rural Census Undercount?

Efforts are under way in some states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico to fund an enhanced ground game to get out word about the importance of participating in the census, with a focus on rural areas. Much of this work is being funded by private foundations that recognize the inherent benefit to their own missions if federal and state funding are maximized for the rural communities they serve:

  • In New Mexico, the state most vulnerable to undercount, more than a dozen funders have joined ranks with the New Mexico Civic Engagement Table and a tribal coalition to create NM Counts! 2020, a collaborative effort to ensure that all New Mexicans — particularly those in hard-to-count communities — are included in the census count.
  • In Georgia, the Sapelo Foundation has made an accurate rural count a key priority and has partnered with other funders to spread the word and solicit the active engagement of locals. (The top photo shows a small store in rural New Mexico with a broadband-linked computer system on the rear counter.)
  • In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is leading the conversation and offering resources through its website, while its CEO, Kathy Annette, co-chairs the state's Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind in the nation). Another funder group under the umbrella of Funders for Civic Participation is leading the push to secure additional foundation support across the country.

Like the federal government, however, state governments and private funders can be disconnected from rural communities and fail to see how the true return on rural investment is often obscured by questions of scale, political partisanship, and  inaccurate myths about rural America.

To these funders, we'd like to point out that even a modest investment to help ensure an accurate rural census count can deliver enormous return in the form of federal dollars to address the very issues and challenges that are core to their work. The public dollars that will flow into rural communities to support food security, education, health care, and community development will enable both public and private funders to move from triage to transformation. For those who profess to focus on "upstream" causes rather than "downstream" symptoms, an investment in an accurate census count is about as "upstream" as you can get.

The question, then, is are you willing to invest the time and effort to ensure it happens?

Allen Smart (@allensmart6) is a veteran philanthropist and principal of consulting firm RuralwoRx. After being a funder for almost twenty-five years, he now focuses on writing, presenting, and provoking thinking about rural philanthropy.

Betsey Russell (@BetseyPR) is a philanthropy writer and researcher who works with foundations, philanthropic affinity groups, and philanthropy consultancies. She recently developed a series of case studies about successful rural funding approaches. This post originally appeared on the University of North Carolina School of Government blog and is republished here with the permission of the authors.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

PND: How does Kresge apply an equity lens to its environmental and climate resilience work?

CR: Lois DeBacker, the managing director of our Environment program and a person who has spent much of her career working in philanthropy on climate issues, often says that the climate question is everybody's question. Not so long ago, the foundation's Environment program employed an adaptation and mitigation frame, but when the foundation rolled out its urban opportunity framework, the program had to re-situate itself within that frame. So, today, our work in this area is about resilience, although there is still space for adaptation and mitigation.

For example, in the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative, which is about centering people in their communities, one of the cities is Miami, where some neighborhoods are affected by flooding even on sunny days when so-called king tides are an issue. We're working with Catalyst Miami, a human services organization that has seen the effects of climate change on a regular basis, to bring together people who are most affected by the problem and have them help solve it along with government and business and community-based groups. That work is also pushing us into areas like public health and to say that climate change is a legitimate public health concern.

PND: You were a program officer in the foundation's Education program and, before that, ran an education nonprofit in New York City. What changes have you seen in the education field with regard to equity over the past decade? Are we making progress, and will we be able to sustain it?

CR: For me, the question about equity and education is largely about the narrative about who education — especially higher education — is for. I refer to it as education for liberation, by which I mean the freedom to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to be curious, to hear oneself in the next person. I think that's the biggest gift education can give us.

Fewer than 60 percent of Americans — and this includes folks in states that are doing pretty well — have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential. And I think the narrative around who higher education is for and what is supposed to happen when you get to college or university has shifted. Part of that shift is thanks to philanthropy, and a big part of the credit belongs to the Obama administration, particularly Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign. Today, many colleges and universities are making student success their number-one priority. So, are we making progress? Yes, definitely, but we still have a long way to go.

What keeps me up at night is the continued segmentation in higher education that we see. By that I mean we have made it okay for people in this country who do not come from wealth or affluence — first-generation Americans, members of low-income households — to attend institutions that institutions that have the least resources and are asked to do the most for their students. And their social and economic mobility later in life often looks very different than it does for students from affluent families who attend elite institutions.

PND: These are challenging times for people working to advance a progressive social or environ­mental agenda. Do you ever find yourself getting dis­couraged? And what do you tell the people, both inside the foundation and your grantees, to keep them from getting discouraged?

CR: Last year, I was able to attend a fiftieth commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was grateful and moved to be sitting outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and to hear from folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and faith leaders from different religions and faith traditions. And part of what stood out for me was how young so many of those civil rights warriors in the 1960s were at the time. As a person who comes from a faith tradition, it reminded me of why I do what I do.

I think about my grandmother, who had an eighth-grade education. She lived well into her nineties, and she used to say that the race is not won by the swiftest or the strongest but by the one who holds on.

It's discouraging to see that our urban public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the years after Brown v. Board of Education became law. It's a reminder for me that our work is both about today and about the past. The freedom struggle we are in is much bigger than the current moment. It is a movement that has unfolded over decades and continues to unfold, and we need to do our best to contribute to it what we can. The struggle is much bigger than we are.

In my role at the foundation, I recognize the importance of cultivating a radical social imagination. We have to attend to that sense of possibility, we have to let ourselves be curious, we have to be free to dream. I think john a. powell, who leads the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, is brilliant at cultivating and expressing a radical social imagination. Not only in the way that he describes othering and belonging for the many of us yearning to truly see ourselves, but in the way he brings his team together with truly inspiring people every two years for the Othering and Belonging Conference. The conference is a great example, for me, of what I mean when I say, "What does radical social imagination look like? Who are the best and brightest thinkers out there who can give us an answer and show us how to dream and imagine? What are the lessons we need to learn and share with others?"

There are times when I think rage and anger are important. Sometimes we have to call upon those feelings and take that energy to the streets. Sometimes we have to pick up pen and paper and write. Other times, it's a combination. But we owe it to ourselves to breathe through the work, to integrate those lessons into our own work, and to take to heart the charge that previous generations of leaders and activists put out there for us. As Martin Luther King said, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

— Matt Sinclair

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