1787 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

Fundraising learnings from social media

January 21, 2021

Social_Media_Platforms_PhilanTopicHanging out on social media can be a remarkable way to spend time, though I acknowledge the word remarkable has more than one definition. In fact, given the unprecedentedly disruptive nature of the past year, I’ve often found myself turning to social media either to brainstorm about fundraising with others or simply to see what other nonprofit fundraising professionals are up to. While there is a lot of clutter out there, there's also a good deal of wisdom to learn from and experience to share.

Here are a few things I've learned over these long months that may be useful for others involved in doing the good work of philanthropy. Please feel free to share lessons and tips of your own in the comments section below.

The meaning of $18 donations

An online fundraising community I follow recently was expressing confusion over a sudden barrage of $36 donations. If you've ever spent time going through your organization's giving history data, you may have come across donations of $18, $36, or other multiples of $18. In Judaism, the number eighteen stands for "chai" ("life"). The word "chai" is spelled with the eighth and tenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which of course equals eighteen, while thirty-six is "double chai." So people for whom Judaism is important often will make gifts in increments of eighteen. But organizations that don't provide services with or for the Jewish community may be unfamiliar with the practice. At an organization where I worked several years ago, we received an online donation of $18 from a donor who had never given before and apparently was not made in response to a recent direct-mail letter, email, or other communication. (Ours was also an organization whose mission was very broad and not centered around a particular religion or cultural identity.) When our database manager sent around a note asking if anyone knew anything about the donor, or why they had opted to donate that amount, I made a chancy assumption about the donor's surname and called to thank the donor personally for making a gift honoring life; suffice to say, the donor was not expecting such a response and, over time, increased their support from a one-time $18 donation to recurring, four-figure gifts — a lovely surprise.

When gratitude gets too tactical

Some readers may know of the anonymous, sometimes-hilarious Twitter personality The Whiny Donor. All we really know about Whiny is that she "used to chair the development committees at a couple of nonprofits" and has some serious opinions about the way philanthropy should, and shouldn't, work. As a fundraiser, I wince at some of her tweets, especially the ones that call out bad or arcane practices in our industry. Recently, for example, she tweeted about nonprofits including too much "mechanical" information in the body of their donor thank-you communications. Acknowledgements, she tweeted, "that include the date when they received my donation in the very first line of the letter stop the flow of gratitude cold. Can't you put that detail in the fine print at the bottom?"

Now, admittedly, this is something we do (or did) at our nonprofit, largely because the tax receipting is handled by a different department, and we always want our letters to be polite yet functional. So I wanted to call Whiny on it. But after a few moments I realized she had a point. If a donor, any donor, is put off by what is supposed to be a thoughtful note of appreciation being interrupted by bureaucratic tax-related information, then we do ourselves a service by moving those details to another, more appropriate part of the letter. Needless to say, the next day we updated our thank-you letter template to better reflect and improve the flow of our gratitude.

Outcomes over outputs

For many of us whose fiscal years don't align with the calendar year, there are always a few conversations with leadership, accountants, and corporate-minded board volunteers that stumble over a question like, "Wait, are we talking about calendar year-end or fiscalyear-end?" On Twitter, the satirical account NonprofitsSay had some fun with the problem, posting: "These are our calendar year accomplishments, not to be confused with the fiscal year accomplishments in our annual report." I had to chuckle, because our organization is finalizing our 2020 (calendar year) annual report while at the same time thinking ahead to our 2020-21 (fiscal year) impact report.

When crafting our 2019-20 impact report, our team struggled with what we should call the document. For years the organization had gone back and forth between "Year in Review" and "Impacts and Benefits," both of which were always met with a mildly positive response from our donors. But given where we were in the middle of 2020 — with much of our work centered on pandemic response, equity, and resilience — we wanted to tip our hats to the donors whose generosity helped make those efforts possible.

Over on Joan Garry's "Your Thriving Nonprofit" Facebook group, I posed my question to the more than thirty-three thousand members of the group and was truly inspired by the responses. Many people suggested thinking less in terms of a catchy title and more about the vision behind the document. After some internal debate, we landed on "How You Helped Build a Better City" in bold letters. The response from our supporters was overwhelmingly positive.

I'll say it again: hanging out on social media can be a remarkable way to spend time. And with so many of us endlessly scrolling through our channels looking for information that can be used to refine our practices, respond to questions, or offer suggestions, there is indeed much to learn and share. Just remember to be patient and open to the views of your virtual colleagues.

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

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

January 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center)

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

5 Questions for...Lisa Mensah, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

January 15, 2021

After serving for two years as under secretary of agriculture for rural development in the Obama administration, Lisa Mensah joined Opportunity Finance Networka leading network of community development financial institutions, as president and CEO in March 2017. In November, with a $100 million investment from Twitter, OFN announced the launch of the Finance Justice Fund, a socially responsible investment fund aimed at raising $1 billion in grant capital to address racial injustice and persistent poverty in the United States. 

PND asked Mensah about the initial response to the fund, the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of community development financial institutions, and the persistent lack of investment in rural communities.

Lisa_Mensah_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of response to the Finance Justice Fund have you gotten from corporate and philanthropic investors since the fund's launch in November? And are you on track to meet your fundraising goal?

Lisa Mensah: It's been wonderful to see the strong interest from both corporations and philanthropies in the work we're doing to finance justice. OFN is in discussion with potential new Finance Justice Fund investors; some of them are new to the CDFI industry and some are longtime partners. All understand that now is the moment to invest in Black and minority communities — the nationwide call for economic justice is louder and stronger than ever. We have a path to meeting our $1 billion goal and expect to announce new investment partners in the first quarter of 2021.  

PND: What was the genesis of the fund? Was it in the works before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and nationwide racial justice protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd last spring, or was it created in response to those twin crises? 

LM: Justice takes money, and CDFIs exist to finance justice. Our field started as a small grassroots movement to counter discrimination in banking and investing — the earliest CDFIs were created to provide financial services and support to people that banks wouldn't or couldn't serve. We've grown into a $222 billion industry that works to address longstanding disinvestment, the racial wealth gap, and persistent poverty by investing in people and communities left behind by mainstream finance. So the roots of the fund are really in our industry's history and unique role as community lenders. 

For years, OFN has been advocating for more public- and private-sector investment in communities underserved by mainstream finance. Since I joined OFN in 2017, we've been listening to our CDFIs and exploring new programs that would help the industry go bigger and bring new partners to our work. Then 2020 happened. 

The overlap of a pandemic-related economic crisis that disproportionally hurt low-income and minority communities and widespread calls for social justice put CDFIs front and center as a way to address both. The forces of 2020 — and interest from new corporate partners like Twitter — accelerated our plans. 

The Finance Justice Fund is just one result. In March 2020, OFN also welcomed Google as a partner: With OFN as the intermediary, the company is investing $170 million from its corporate treasury and $10 million from its philanthropic arm into CDFIs to help minority and women-owned small businesses. This mix of debt and grant capital is the type of investment we need to scale. 

PND: How has COVID-19 impacted OFN's and member CDFIs' programs and priorities? Are there lessons learned that might be applicable to the broader nonprofit sector?   

LM: The communities CDFIs serve are the communities that have been hurt most by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and so they have been very busy. 

From the very beginning of the crisis, OFN — the organization of thirty-five staff members and the network of more than three hundred CDFIs — understood the threat facing our communities and borrowers. In response, our member CDFIs have established new ways of providing services and support to borrowers. They have been proactive about easing the economic disruption for America's smallest, most vulnerable businesses, nonprofits, and homeowners, making loan accommodations, and standing up new loan programs. Many CDFIs have also helped small businesses adjust their business models to meet the new realities of stay-at-home mandates and changes in customer behavior. Our response from the beginning was focused on survival and recovery for our communities. 

One lesson for our industry and the broader nonprofit sector is that recovery from a major crisis demands partnerships, and that when those partnerships are strong we can move America forward. The last ten months have seen new partnerships with philanthropy, impact investors, corporations, and government. Never again should the CDFI field think of itself as insignificant. We must see ourselves as essential partners to the big work of having an economy that works for all. 

PND: The phrases "racial injustice" and "communities with high rates of poverty and disinvestment" are more often associated with urban, rather than rural, areas. What's behind that disconnect, and what are the implications — for rural communities in general, and for BIPOC residents of those communities in particular? 

LM: The truth is that racial injustice and high rates of poverty and disinvestment exist in both urban and rural areas. Persistent poverty in America — extreme poverty rates of more than 20 percent for more than thirty years — exists in more than ten thousand census tracts, roughly 14 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods. It has a strong hold in many rural communities: 19 percent of areas characterized by persistent poverty are rural, and millions of rural people live in persistent poverty. We also don't hear much about the racial diversity that exists in rural America. We don't think of Native communities or Black communities or Latino communities when we think about rural America, but these are vibrant and important populations in rural America.

I've focused on rural development for much of my professional life. One of the key questions is how to alleviate and begin to reverse the economic distress that has been driven by the systemic loss or contraction of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. The community developer's challenge is to find ways to create wealth and livelihoods by reinvigorating local economies and connecting to larger urban/regional markets. CDFIs do this but also retain a racial equity lens and are willing to make loans to the communities and people who have too often been ignored. This is true in both rural and urban areas. 

And, of course, rural and minority communities live under the double-edged sword of poverty and racism — they've suffered the most historically and suffer the most from crises like COVID-19, climate change, and economic upheaval. 

PND: Your career has spanned the private, public, and social sectors, and you've led collaborative efforts across all three sectors. What has been your North Star in your work over the years? And what are your hopes for the incoming Biden administration with respect to policies that support racial and economic justice?   

LM: Economic justice has been my North Star — for me, that means fighting for financial capital to reach all people and communities. Financial capital is the fuel that drives economic opportunity, and I'm on a lifelong journey to help make sure that the allocation of capital is inclusive. 

I have many hopes for the Biden administration. It is exciting to see the administration embrace a goal of advancing racial equity and then to define this goal as spurring investment in small business opportunities, investing in homeownership and access to affordable housing for Black, Brown, and Native families, and ensuring that racial equity is considered in federal procurement and federal investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture. These are all policies to which CDFIs have much to contribute.  

CDFIs understand that government policies helped create the racial wealth gap and government policies must help end it. In the last week of 2020, Congress passed a historic government investment in CDFIs as part of the most recent COVID relief bill: $12 billion for CDFIs and minority depository institutions (MDIs). This is a giant step forward for our industry and the communities we serve. But injustice is persistent and tenacious, and we won't undo it with one bold step.

So, I'm considering that federal investment as a down payment, and I hope we can build on it in the months and years to come.  

— Kyoko Uchida

DAF donors showed us who they were in 2020 

January 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most popular PhilanTopic posts in 2020

December 31, 2020

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

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

Enjoy and stay safe.

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

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

3 ways to decolonize philanthropy right now

December 23, 2020

News_globe_africaThe events of 2020 reinforce how desperately a paradigm shift is needed in philanthropy if it hopes to create more durable solutions to the world's most complex challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how important it is to have agile, innovative organizations capable of responding quickly to shifting local contexts. At the same time, the reawakening of the social justice movement in the United States crystallized what happens when people are chronically underrepresented and left out of decisions that affect their lives.

While addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming, it's clear that one of the most effective ways funders can contribute is to support organizations built around community-driven solutions. Why? Because solutions for the people created by the people have the greatest chance of successfully changing the status quo.

While this may seem obvious, it entails a major shift in the way donors currently approach their giving — indeed, nothing less than a desire to "decolonize philanthropy." Decolonizing philanthropy, a term introduced by writer and activist Edgar Villanueva, requires philanthropists to assess to whom they choose to give as well as how their giving perpetuates the very problems they aim to solve.

Whether in the U.S. or in Kenya, where our organization, RefuSHE, operates, we see countless examples of well-intentioned donors pouring money into solutions they think should solve a problem — without checking whether the solution was created with input from the community most impacted by the problem. In the global development space, this often manifests as NGOs working in the Global South being led by leadership that sits in the Global North, far from the realities of the work and with only an anecdotal understanding of the local context. Too often, this modus operandi funnels money into short-lived solutions that feed an organizational culture of dependency rather than one of sustainability.

The approach itself is rooted in the imperialistic origins of "international development." Following World War II, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, introducing the building blocks for the international and humanitarian aid structure we see today. During the long decades of the Cold War, the U.S. awarded aid to other countries with the understanding that those countries would play by our rules and that the aid itself would be used in ways we approved of. At the other end of the spectrum, private philanthropic giving was driven, in part, by a "savior" mentality and the need to "lift up" poor people in other countries. In both cases, financial assistance was "given" from a place of control by people who thought they knew what was best for the communities they were trying to help. Solutions were parachuted in, communities were forced to adopt new ways, and, in many cases, the improved quality of life that was promised often failed to materialize.

To ensure greater progress toward a shared prosperity, decolonizing philanthropy presents an opportunity to make every dollar go further by centering investment in community-driven solutions. Here are three ways funders can ensure their investments are more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Invest in local leadership and programs co-designed with the communities served

Time and again, we've seen that lasting change arrives when communities have ownership of the solutions to the challenges they face. Interventions that feel forced not only tend to have a short life span but often yield less impact. The stories of PlayPumps and READ Global illustrate the difference well. The PlayPump system, a merry-go-round-like wheel that pumps water from wells as it is turned, was heavily endorsed by the international aid community and quickly scaled to more than fifteen hundred pumps in Zambia without much research or surveying of communities in advance. Not unpredictably, within two years a quarter of the installed pumps were in need of repairs. PlayPumps, it turned out, were fragile and cost four times what a traditional pump costs. What's more, many local women where the pumps had been installed reported feeling embarrassed every time they had to get water for their families, while a report by the Guardian found that children would have to "play" on the pumps twenty-seven hours a day to meet the per-pump target of delivering water to twenty-five hundred people. In short, the pumps failed to improve clean water availability in communities across Zambia, and much money and time was invested with little to show for it.

By contrast, READ Global embraced a community-driven approach that has stood the test of time. For more than twenty-five years, the organization has partnered with rural villages in Nepal, India, and Bhutan to establish community-driven libraries, resource centers, and social enterprises known as READ Centers that are owned and operated by the local community. There are now more than a hundred self-sustaining centers spread across the three countries, and not one center has closed since the first one opened in 1991.

Locally driven solutions are most effective when an organization's leadership team understands the local context first-hand and is strongly connected to the local community. Local leaders have a better understanding of how to create culturally relevant programs, how to optimize operations for the local context, and how to build trusting relationships with and beyond the community. All of which creates more opportunity for partnerships between those providing the service and those using the service.

At RefuSHE, we witnessed this first-hand when we invested in bringing on Geoffrey Thige to lead our Kenya operations as executive director. When COVID hit, having that executive presence in Kenya enabled us to navigate the public health crisis much more quickly and effectively. In fact, we were the first organization serving refugees in Kenya to move to virtual learning. And despite initial concerns that some donors might balk, seeing the tangible benefits of Geoffrey's presence in Nairobi gave us the courage to restructure our leadership and shift the majority of our executive functions to Kenya.

Funding is the biggest hurdle facing NGOs looking to similarly restructure. Donors need to trust local leadership and stop supporting organizational infrastructures that are built to cater to them more than the beneficiary communities they are intended to serve. Having an organization's CEO and "top brass" in the West is a relic of a twentieth-century donor model that has lost much of its relevance. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good solutions. If they truly want to support effective, long-lasting solutions, donors need to move away from creating cultures of dependency that too often are perpetuated and reinforced by a "white guilt" mentality.

Fund collaboration rather than competition

The current donor incentive structure is rooted in competition. Organizations in the same field are constantly competing with one another to secure funds they need to survive. Competition for funding among NGOs working in similar spaces also stifles their ability to share information, data, and learnings. This scarcity model disincentivizes transparency and pushes organizations to keep lessons learned to themselves in order to stand out in the quest for funding.

Real, tangible impact requires collaboration. Our NGO, for instance, equips girl and women refugees with housing, education, counseling, and the vocational skills they need to reestablish some semblance of stability in their lives. While our services are rooted in a holistic approach to the plight of refugees, we don't work on resettlement cases (where refugees are formally resettled to a country like the U.S.); instead, we partner with organizations like HIAS and Refuge Point that specialize in refugee resettlement cases. When funding streams disincentivize an ecosystem of NGOs from collaborating, it is a disservice to the very communities we aim to serve.

Funding — and rewarding — organizations that work together to address the root causes of multifaceted issues enables communities to walk through all the doors of opportunity at once, rather than one door at time. Collaboration also fosters a culture where service providers share learnings and don't waste precious resources repeating mistakes. Above all, it means the people we aim to serve can more easily navigate the various services they need to establish productive, fulfilling lives.

Award unrestricted grants

All too often, funding comes with restrictions on how, when, and where it can be used. This assumes the donor knows best just because they have the money, rather than acknowledging the hard-earned insights of organizations working on the ground every day. Unrestricted funding requires trust in the organizations in which you invest. Unfortunately, this kind of trust too often is awarded to organizations led by leaders in the Global North with whom donors feel most comfortable. While many have good track records, the practice cuts out organizations that may be smaller in scale but that have more depth and experience collaborating with the communities they serve.

It's an open secret in Kenya that if you set up a nonprofit and are hoping for funding from the West, you'll have much better luck if your leaders are white and/or of Western origin. Whether in the U.S. or other developed countries, data backs up the observation that Black and African leaders are not awarded the same kind of trust. This leads to nonprofits where white, often well-connected Western leaders earn the top salaries, sucking up resources that could otherwise be used to attract top local talent that is much better suited for the job but too often undervalued.

Unrestricted funding also has the power to build more durable institutions. It allows organizations to balance how much is invested in program implementation and how much is invested in competitive salaries, technology infrastructure, and/or new facilities that can enhance the organization's operations over the long term. (We should all toast Mackenzie Scott for shattering the philanthropic establishment glass ceiling with her unprecedented giving in the form of large unrestricted grants.)

The time for change is now

As with any change, there will be those who resist it, those who say there isn't enough local talent to fill the available leadership positions, and those who say local leadership team won't get enough face time with donors if those donors are based in far-off countries. We ask those naysayers to take a critical look at how that critique is rooted in an imperialist mindset that blames communities in need for their problems rather than seeing them as the solution to those problems.

The movement to decolonize philanthropy is a big step forward in terms of making the most of every dollar invested in social good and creating inclusive, durable solutions to economic prosperity. We can make the choice to stop wasting money on short-sighted solutions. The time for change is now.

Thige_adly_refuSHE_philantopicGeoffrey Thige is the current executive director and incoming CEO of RefuSHE. Jailan Adly is the organization's outgoing CEO and incoming managing director.

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Amoretta Morris, Director, National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

December 10, 2020

Amoretta Morris joined The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013 as a senior associate responsible for overseeing the Family-Centered Community Change initiative. In 2016, she was named director of the foundation's national community strategies, in which role she leads its efforts to help local partners and community stakeholders strengthen their neighborhoods.

Morris's portfolio includes Evidence2Success, which supports partnerships aimed at engaging elected officials, public agencies, and community members in efforts to improve child well-being; community safety and trauma-response initiatives in several cities, including Atlanta; and nationwide efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

Before joining the foundation, she served as director of student attendance for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw activities ranging from chronic absence interventions and dropout prevention initiatives to services for homeless students. Before that, she was a youth and education policy advisor in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the founding director and lead organizer for the Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, an advocacy group that works to mobilize youth and adults in support of juvenile justice reform.

PND spoke with Morris about how philanthropy can help advance community health and safety during a pandemic.

Headshot_amoretta_morris_aecfPhilanthropy News Digest: How does family-centered community change differ from other types of change strategies, especially with respect to community health and safety?

Amoretta Morris: Unlike other efforts that focus on one specific element, such as education or health, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative took a multipronged approach to improving family well-being in three key areas: family economic stability; parent engagement and leadership; and early child care and education. The initiative was built around the belief that both parents and children will have significantly better outcomes if communities are able to strengthen and combine these services instead of relying on a single intervention.

PND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the foundation's efforts to promote access to education, affordable housing, and employment opportunities? What have you and your colleagues done to adapt existing projects and/or strategies to address the immediate and/or longer-term impacts of the pandemic?

AM: The pandemic has created — and in many cases, exacerbated — educational, employment, and social pressures for young people and families. Knowing this, the foundation reallocated some of our funding, repurposed existing resources, amended grant agreements, and increased general operating support to our grantees so that they had flexibility to address the challenges their communities are facing.

In response, our partners adapted their strategies in creative ways to support kids and families. These efforts have included things like connecting people to health care; helping families access food and other critical resources; providing financial assistance to help keep families in their homes, as well as housing individuals experiencing homelessness and advocating to halt evictions and protect renters; working to prevent violence and support those affected by it; supporting immigrant families, including those who do not qualify for state or federal benefits; and helping students secure computers and the reliable Internet access they need for distance learning.

We know that communities are battling multiple pandemics simultaneously — COVID-19, economic distress, racial injustice, and gun violence — and that most of them, including COVID-19, will not immediately disappear, even with a vaccine. So, we remain focused on our commitment to young people and their families and the structural change needed to help all kids thrive.

PND: In 2012, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative implemented a new approach to community partnerships called strategic co-investing. The approach calls for the awarding of flexible grant funding, "nesting" an issue within an existing community change effort, and a rethinking of the funder-grantee relationship in which the funder serves as more of a strategic thought partner to its grantees rather than as the "buyer" of certain outcomes and deliverables. What are some of the lessons you've learned from the initiative — both for funders and for community partners?

AM: The strategic co-investor role with Family-Centered Community Change was a new way of working for the foundation — one that enabled us to examine the ways we engage with grantees, residents, and other local funders. Among many lessons, FCCC emphasized the importance of both systemic solutions that address structural barriers and targeted interventions with families and their children. Local leaders cannot "service" their way out of poverty — we need comprehensive policy solutions that create more equitable pathways to opportunity, coupled with services and resources that help children and their families achieve stability and thrive.

The strategic co-investor role also confirmed for us the catalytic effect national funding can have. Investment from a national foundation is often seen as a vote of confidence and can help partners secure additional funding from federal and state government, local funders, or other national philanthropies. And I believe that for our community partners, the work highlighted the critical importance of listening to the families they serve, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and leveraging them as partners.

PND: Your program at the foundation is focused on driving community change by providing a holistic suite of services to families. What are some of the things philanthropy can do to better support community members in designing and implementing their own strategies for improving community health and safety? What about gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for young Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 and has been on the rise since the early days of the pandemic in many parts of the country?

AM: At the Casey Foundation, we want all young people to have the power and resources needed to thrive in communities that are strong and safe. The foundation advances strategies to ensure that youth and families of color have what they need to flourish — safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and access to resources that promote children's well-being and positive development. To realize that vision, we, as funders, must be willing to build and share power with communities. Providing tools, resources, and trainings is part of the solution. We must also commit to more authentically engaging with and building the capacity of youth and their families to meaningfully contribute their experience and knowledge in the problem-solving process.

With regard to gun violence, we focus on community safety and violence prevention as part of our national community strategies. That work is rooted in the understanding that violence is a health crisis that must be solved through comprehensive, community-led interventions. For example, in Atlanta, one of our "hometowns," we're partnering with grassroots organizations to equip city residents with the tools and skills they need to be peacemakers and provide pathways out of violence. Our nonprofit partner CHRIS 180 is leading the charge by implementing Cure Violence, a public-health approach to address shootings; it treats shootings like an epidemic that must be stopped before spreading. Under that model, credible messengers — people with strong community ties — act to intervene when violence or retaliation is likely to occur, while community-based organizations that run the programs partner with various local actors like hospital staff, nonprofits, and other organizations to prevent additional violence.

We also invest in national networks focused on promoting solutions in which violence is treated as an urgent public health matter. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, for example, supports hospital-based intervention programs where healthcare staff and community organizations provide bedside counseling to patients who have experienced violent injuries with the aim of steering them away from retaliation. And national advocacy partners like the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute have launched campaigns that promote community intervention strategies and demand accountability from elected officials for ending gun violence in their communities.

But we're not alone in this work. We also invest in these efforts alongside our peers as members of the Fund for a Safer Future, a funder collaborative that supports policy, research, and community-based interventions aimed at preventing gun violence.

PND: You've led a nonprofit coalition that advocates for juvenile justice reform, a municipal government's efforts to support underserved and homeless students, and now a national foundation's strategy to center community change in families. Based on your experience in different sectors, what is the one thing we can do to improve child well-being and flourishing, for all children?

AM: The throughline is equity. No matter where the starting place is, your approach should center the voices and experience of those most directly affected by the issue you are trying to solve. In juvenile justice reform, it was organizing alongside formerly incarcerated youth and their families. In DC Public Schools, it meant listening to homeless students, parents, and the school counselors who were making herculean efforts to support those students and parents. And in philanthropy, it is all about deeply listening to grantees, walking neighborhoods, and having community residents take the lead. When you start with the people closest to the pain of the problem, they will lead you to the solution.

Kyoko Uchida

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

December 08, 2020

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

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

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

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

Stay interviews and donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Businesses must help nonprofits working to address COVID-related needs

December 07, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Career transitions during a pandemic: things to consider

December 04, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

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

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

Allow me to share some of the details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12, 2020

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

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

Contextualizing the rise of learning

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

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

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

Pivoting to learning

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

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

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

Taking stock of learning

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

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

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

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

The next crisis: nonprofit leadership exodus

November 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A conversation with Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

November 04, 2020

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination — and likely confirmation — of Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the court have intensified the debate over women's reproductive rights, while the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and nationwide protests against systemic racism have highlighted the challenges faced by girls and women of color.

Teresa C. Younger has served as president and CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women since 2014 and before that was executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut — the first African American and the first woman to hold that position.

PND spoke recently with Younger about the underfunding of organizations focused on women and girls of color, the impact of COVID-19 and the reenergized racial justice movement on funding for women and girls, and the outlook for women's reproductive rights and equality.

Teresa C. YoungerPhilanthropy News Digest: Before she was named to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the founding director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and an inspiration to gender equality advocates everywhere. What did Justice Ginsburg mean to you, a woman and fellow ACLU alumna, and to an organization like the Ms. Foundation? And what do you think her legacy will be?

Teresa C. Younger: Justice Ginsburg's legacy was being a progressive woman who dedicated her life to making sure the voices of the unheard were heard. She fought every day for equality for all. This fight continues beyond her lifetime.

Justice Ginsburg's work spanned decades. When I started at the ACLU thirty years after her time with the Women's Rights Project, it wasn't surprising that her impact was still felt in that space. And it was an honor to work in a place that had spawned strategic activism for so many. For me, the ACLU fostered a deep understanding of the importance of grassroots organizing, litigation strategy, public education, and legislation on a state and national level.

Her legacy also lies in her dying wish for the American people to have a say in who fills her seat on the court. At a time when millions of people have already cast their ballots, the GOP is rushing a candidate through an illegitimate hearing process in a desperate attempt to hold on to their power. They are doing all they can to erase the powerful legacy of a powerful woman. A legacy that we will carry forward in the fight for racial and gender equity for all.

PND: In August, the Ms. Foundation received a $3 million grant from Twitter and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey's #startsmall LLC in support of women and girls of color-led organizations impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on those in the South. Why are organizations in the South especially vulnerable, and how will those funds be allocated?

TCY: Even before the communities we serve were affected by COVID-19, the Ms. Foundation worked to fund and support capacity building for women-of-color leaders and their organizations. We've developed and implemented strategies that will help mitigate the mounting impacts of the global pandemic on the most underresourced regions of the country, specifically the South.

In our recent report, Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less, we found the total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is just $5.48 a year for each woman or girl of color in the United States. And this meager funding is not distributed evenly, with the South receiving only $2.36 in philanthropic funding per woman or girl of color, the least of any region in the U.S. Given such inadequate investment and the obstacles women and girls have faced in 2020, we see it as our job to safeguard the survival of organizations that build the power of women and girls, specifically women and girls of color, and to make sure women and girls of color receive the resources they need to lead and uplift their communities.

PND: What kind of impact do you think COVID-19 is going to have on the foundation's work over the next year or three? Do you think those changes are temporary or more likely to be permanent?

TCY: To be clear, COVID-19 is not solely responsible for the crises we face today. Instead, it has exposed and heightened systemic inequalities across the United States. Preexisting health, economic, and social disparities have been laid bare as people of color are infected and die at higher rates than other groups, suffer from higher unemployment rates and a corresponding lack of health care, and struggle to secure access to safe and socially distanced housing.

Grassroots leaders and our grantee-partners were already working to address these issues pre-pandemic. COVID-19 hasn't changed the work, but it has increased the urgency behind it. And the longer our political leaders fail to take action to protect the health and safety of struggling Americans, the more this is likely to become the new normal. Given that uncertainty, the leadership of grassroots women of color-led organizations is needed more than ever. The lived experiences and expertise of those most impacted by health and economic disparities is absolutely critical in developing and implementing solutions that best serve our communities.

PND: According to Pocket Change, just 0.5 percent of total foundation grantmaking in 2017 was designated to benefit women and girls of color. In the wake of George Floyd's death and the renewed attention on the long history of racial injustice in the U.S., do you expect we’ll see a meaningful increase in funding for women and girls of color?

TCY: Even as many people are experiencing a social justice awakening, it is imperative that actions go beyond lip service and social media posts. This is a movement and not a moment, and it is critical that we see an increase in funding, especially for women and girls of color. Pocket Change was a call to action; by highlighting the major discrepancies in philanthropic giving, we are calling on everyone, not just philanthropy, to invest in women and girls of color.

Women and girls of color have been on the frontlines of every major social movement in our history, and they are still leading today. This is why I joined the powerful leaders of Black Girl Freedom Fund and was a co-founder of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. When we show up for women and girls of color, we are making the country better and stronger for everyone.

PND: "Intersectionality" has become something of a buzzword in the social sector. Do you think we'll see a shift toward more funding in support of such strategies over the next couple of years?

TCY: In the words of Audre Lorde, there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. As we explained in the Pocket Change report, women of color-led organizations work on multiple issues within multiple movements. As philanthropists, it's on us to understand that organizations employ various strategies to address various systems of oppression. We must trust and understand that the women on the ground doing this work every day know the best way to fight for their communities.

Real progress is realized when it uplifts all communities that exist on the margins. The Ms. Foundation's efforts are actively and intentionally interconnected as it strives to create a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age.

PND: You're a member of the Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, which helped select the ten African American-led racial justice organizations that received multiyear commitments from the collaborative. Can you tell us a little about the criteria and the selection process involved?

TCY: It was an honor to be part of Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, especially in this moment. Together, members of the group are working to push philanthropy to make multiyear commitments and help stabilize grassroots organizations led by people of color at a time when the stability of such groups is in jeopardy.

With the aim of disrupting traditional philanthropy, we identified and vetted ten exemplary Black-led organizations to receive funding. The cohort includes groups committed to building sustainable local power, reimagining safety, amplifying the voices of disenfranchised voters, and prioritizing Black, LGBTQI+, youth, disabled, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated leadership. The DFF slate illustrates that change happens at the speed of trust, and no organization can effectively tackle our society’s problems without including those disproportionately affected by those problems.

PND: In 2018, the Ms. Foundation announced a five-year strategic plan focused on supporting women and girls of color as a means to promote gender equity and advance democracy. The plan called for the creation of a 501(c)(4) fund in support of local grassroots efforts to elect women and advance legislation and policies. Where does that effort stand?

TCY: We created the Ms. Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) that funds grassroots activism in marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities. At a time when our rights and lives are on the line, we are excited about the potential of supporting women candidates across the country who can have an impact at the local, state, and national levels. We'll be kicking off and intensifying our state-level actions in 2021.

PND: The 2020 Social Progress Index from the Social Progress Imperative has the U.S. as one of just three countries whose overall social progress score has worsened since 2011, with relatively low rankings in the areas of women's property rights (fifty-seventh among a hundred and sixty-three countries), early marriage (fiftieth), and equality of political power by socioeconomic position (eighty-fourth), social group (forty-ninth), and gender (forty-fifth). A century after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, what would you tell people who fear that progress toward achieving equal rights and opportunity for women has stalled?

TCY: Let that fear drive you rather than derail you. Let your frustration be your fuel in the fight for equity for all.

When you see injustice, take that moment to consider who you are fighting for and question whether your feminism goes beyond your lived experience. True equality is about making sure everyone has a seat at the table and is listened to when they speak. It's about making sure we all have the same rights, not just on paper, but in practice. It is about making sure we have autonomy over our bodies, the lives we lead, and the opportunities we are afforded. It is about making sure we all have the right to live with dignity. True equality requires vigilance, resilience, empathy and support. It depends on our collective power, because when we take action together, we achieve more than any one person could ever achieve alone.

Kyoko Uchida

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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