110 posts categorized "Public Affairs"

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

PND: Has the current political climate in America changed the fund's priorities or the way it approaches its work?

KS: My co-founders and I established Pillars Fund because we observed that American Muslim communities were underresourced while being disproportionately targeted by harmful policies and widespread stereotyping that was feeding and reinforcing  bigotry and enabling those very policies to take hold in America. Particularly in the years since September 11, our community has been in a constant state of emergency, reacting to and mobilizing against new hate crimes, discriminatory policies, irresponsible news reporting, and biased cultural programming on a daily basis.

All of this work  has been essential to the health of our communities, but we've always known we needed to think beyond to the next twenty to thirty years. How will our communities function then? Are we cultivating the next generation of leaders and cultural producers? This is our focus, and we’ve tried to maintain that focus in the decade since our inception.

That said, the current political climate has changed the reality we're facing. As a young, evolving organization, we've tried to maintain our ability to respond to shifting dynamics. Under the current administration, we've had to contend with family separation and other humanitarian crises caused by the Muslim ban. But we're also looking at ways to support the many Latinx immigrants being rounded up by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their children, and people whose families have been torn apart by other forms of mass incarceration. Family separation is a grotesque policy that we would stand against no matter who was being impacted, but it’s important to recognize that the U.S. Muslim population includes a vibrant and growing Latinx community. No person is defined by their faith alone, and it's important to recognize how the multiple identities each of us carries impacts our concerns and livelihoods.

PND: In 2018, the fund awarded  $800,000 in grants, most of which were less than $50,000. What's the theory of change behind your focus on awarding relatively modest grants to small and midsize nonprofits?

KS: There are hundreds of organizations working in or alongside Muslim communities in the U.S. Part of what makes Pillars Fund effective is our ability to assess the national landscape and identify where investments can accelerate progress toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. We want to give a boost to  organizations we see as doing pivotal work around the country, and this has required us to spread our resources over a relatively wide field.

Many of the nonprofits we work with are very small, and a grant of $50,000, $25,000, or even $10,000 is incredibly meaningful for organizations that are used to working with one full-time employee, an army of volunteers, or a budget of less than $100,000. A lot of our partner organizations are in the earliest stages of their development, and we can support them as they grow. In many cases, they are the people directly impacted by the issues they're working on. This isn't long-distance charity. In many cases we’re simply supporting them in doing the work they’d already be doing anyway.

In addition to awarding grant dollars, we’re always looking for ways to support our grantees' development through capacity building, which has included technical assistance with digital security, workshops and consultations on how to build their board and how to fundraise, communications support, and so on. This kind of wraparound support is something we’re committed to investing in even further in the years to come.

Pillars is building a community of Muslim grantee-partners, storytellers, and investors who share a broad vision, but each bring unique and important perspectives to our collective work. While I always see us contributing to a wide network of groups, I anticipate that the size of each grant will increase as our fund grows.

PND: Before helping to launch Pillars, you were a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and were tasked with helping Chicago nonprofits scale their work at the intersection of racial justice, poverty, and education. As the executive director of an organization that partners with much larger national foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, and Open Society foundations — what is the most important lesson you have learned about collaboration?

KS: That's a great question. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is paramount. Everyone has their own interests and priorities, and it's important that you bring your individual mandates to the table when collaborating. This helps you avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses, and ensures that each organization is better positioned to accomplish its goals. Be transparent and communicate regularly to keep your collaboration on track.

I'll add this: the best advice I ever got about marriage is that it’s not really a 50/50 collaboration. Some days it's 90/10, and on others it's 40/60, and so on. Each organization brings its own value to a collaboration, and it doesn't always appear equal. What’s essential is to recognize what each of you brings, and to leverage and honor that contribution.

Kyoko Uchida

'College Means Hope': A Path Forward for the Justice-Involved

July 12, 2019

Michelson_20MM_smart_justice"Former gang members make incredible students. The same skills that made me a good drug-dealer — resiliency, hustle, determination — I now use on campus to succeed in school," Jesse Fernandez tells the audience attending our panel discussion at this year's Gang Prevention and Intervention Conference in Long Beach.

I was on stage with Jesse as co-moderator for the first education-focused panel in the conference's history. (The Michelson 20MM Foundation convened the panel, tapping Jesse, Taffany Lim of California State University, Los Angeles, and Brittany Morton of Homeboy Industries to share their experiences.) Only 25, he has come a long way from the gang life he once knew. Today, he interns for Homeboy Industries, helping other students on their path to college; has finished an associate's program in Los Angeles; and has studied abroad at Oxford University. He may not look like a typical college student, but he speaks with the certainty and eloquence of someone who has been in school for years.

"College means hope. It means understanding your identity. For me, it was learning about my indigenous heritage, what it means to be Chicano, and how my community has been affected by violence and loss."

I first met Jesse over a lunch of chilaquiles (with salsa verde) and agua fresca (Angela's Green Potion is a "do not miss") at Homegirl Café, an L.A. staple since the 1990s. The café is run by former gang members and offers a safe space for people coming out of prison, providing many of them with their first job and creating a pipeline to sustainable employment. It's so popular that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and other politicians on the national stage have stopped in for a bite while in town.

Jesse is one of thousands of justice-involved students attending college in California. The exact number is unknown, as public colleges in the state do not require the disclosure of a criminal history. Many students choose to self-identify in order to take advantage of resources specific to the justice-involved population. Others, says Morton, academic program coordinator for Homeboy, are still trying to overcome the perceived "stigma" of having been incarcerated.

"Imagine getting released from prison after twenty-plus years on the inside, and you've never used a computer before. Then you get to campus, and every form, assignment, and application is online. It's intimidating for people and there is a lot of shame connected to these experiences."

It's estimated that 53 percent of formerly incarcerated people have a high school diploma or GED, yet fewer than 5 percent have completed college (Vera Institute of Justice). Persistence in postsecondary education is fraught with challenges, especially for non-traditional students. The typical formerly incarcerated person has served more than two years in prison, has at least one minor child, and is over the age of 30. In the year after their release, they earn around $9,000 in wages. A year of community college in California costs around $10,000, putting postsecondary opportunities squarely out of reach for most people who have served time.

Making a Difference

That's where peer-led organizations like Homeboy Industries, Project Rebound, and Underground Scholars come into play. All three not only provide a physical space and financial resources to help justice-involved students graduate, they also cultivate a sense of belonging and deserving that stretches far beyond campus.

"The first thing people think when they hear about college opportunities for 'felons' is, why?" says Morton. "Why waste your resources on people who have messed up time and time again. Why focus on college when people with a criminal record can't even find jobs or stable housing. Why? My response is always, why not? Why not give people who have been let down by our education system a first chance at success? Why not help them become leaders, change-makers, peer mentors. Why not give them a sense of hope that they can strive higher and make an impact."

What's more, the programs have proven to be successful — for students, colleges, and even for taxpayers. Initial outcomes data demonstrates that programs for justice-involved students help keep students enrolled, out of incarceration, and on a path to economic stability. They also save money. For every $1 invested in correctional education, there is a resulting $4 to $5 return in avoided costs from reduced recidivism and increased employment.

While California has led the country in providing resources to justice-involved students, we still have a long way to go. Recent legislative efforts in Sacramento have helped catalyze a new push for expanded postsecondary opportunities. If enacted by the state legislature, the Smart Justice Student Fund would provide an additional $25 million to community colleges in support of justice-involved students both on campus and in prison.

This winter, Jesse Fernandez will be continuing his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to major in Chicano Studies. He says he has already connected with other students on campus who were formerly incarcerated — and that has made it "easier to imagine the day-to-day of being a full-time college student at a place like Berkeley."

In a few years, Jesse will be part of a new generation of justice-impacted college students who strive to become leaders and visionaries in the fight for criminal justice reform in the United States. The first step is helping the public understand that people who are incarcerated deserve opportunities to better themselves above and beyond the limitations and barriers our systems have placed on them.

Headshot_allison_berger_philantopicAllison Berger is program officer for the Michelson 20MM Foundation's Smart Justice program.

A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

For Massachusetts folks of a certain age, the name Filene's Basement evokes memories of a crowded emporium where the hunt for bargains, especially on weekends, often resembled competitive sport. The basement was the brainchild of Edward A. Filene, whose father, William, founded Filene's in 1908. It was Edward, however, who recognized that growing numbers of American factory workers represented a new market and persuaded his father to start selling surplus, overstock, and closeout merchandise in the basement of his flagship Downtown Crossing store.

The experiment was a huge success, and the Filenes soon joined the ranks of America’s wealthiest families. In 1919, Ed Filene, already recognized as a progressive business leader, founded the Co-operative League — later renamed the Twentieth Century Fund — one of the first public policy research institutes in the country.

Mark Zuckerman joined TCF — which changed its name to the Century Foundation in the early 2000s — as president in 2015. A veteran of the Obama administration, where he served as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, leading teams on initiatives to reduce student debt, increase accountability at for-profit educational institutions, reduce workplace discrimination, and expand access to job training, and Capitol Hill, where he served as staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee, Zuckerman has worked over the last four years to bring the organization’s research efforts and policy work into the twenty-first century.

PND spoke with Zuckerman recently about some of those changes, the meaning of the 2018 midterm elections, and TCF’s efforts to advance a progressive policy agenda.

Headshot_mark_zuckermanPhilanthropy News Digest: The Century Foundation is marking its hundredth anniversary in 2019. Tell us a bit about Edward Filene, the man who created it back in 1919.

Mark Zuckerman: Ed Filene was a prominent businessman but also somebody who was deeply engaged in public policy, a rare combination in those days. The era in which he was working was a time when there wasn't strong governmental involvement in the economy, and where it was involved, it was too weak to effectively address the economic chal­lenges of the day. Things like workers' wages and benefits, anti-trust enforcement, and a lack of transparency with respect to Wall Street, something that eventually led to passage of the Securities and Exchange Act.

Ed Filene very much believed in more robust engagement by local, state, and the federal government in people's lives. And he felt that research was a linchpin of good public policy. At the time, there were very few think tanks — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had been started a year earlier and Brookings had been started two years before that. 

So, the idea of a private entity taking on challenges that, in the past, only government had had sufficient resources to address was something new. Today, of course, there are think tanks all over the world focused on many different subjects, but Ed Filene really was in on the beginning of the think tank movement and on think tanks as places where social policy, progressive social policy in Mr. Filene's case, would be discussed and developed.

Like Henry Ford, he believed that paying a decent wage to your employees was good for the overall economy, and in his writings he expressed support for a mandatory minimum wage. He also gave speeches about the importance of supporting the Roosevelt admin­istration in its attempt to get Congress to pass something that looked a lot like Medicare and urged people to call in their support for initiatives Roosevelt and his brain trust were proposing.

One of the public policy innovations he was most interested in was the credit union movement, and for a specific reason. At the time, the nineteen-thirties, financial institutions mostly were there to lend and cater to businesses and wealthy individuals. There simply was no infra­structure in the United States to provide the middle class — never mind lower-income folks — with capital to buy their first home or even to invest in a small business. Ed Filene viewed credit unions as a critical tool for providing Americans with capital that could help them thrive and grow the middle class. And so he embarked on a major effort, not only at the national level but at the state level, including his own state, Massachusetts, to authorize the creation of credit unions, which sort of makes him the father of the credit union movement.

PND: Let's jump ahead a bit. How does the Century Foundation's work support a progressive policy agenda in 2019? And how has the organization's model evolved over the last hundred years to support that work?

MZ: Well, one of the big changes the Century Foundation went through — and I would say it was in keeping with changes in the way policy was made over the decades — is that it evolved over the years from being essentially a book publisher, which was what it was for decades. Back then, it would engage influential thinkers about specific social policy ideas they wanted to promote in book form. Many of those titles were, of course, written for policy elites, with the idea that these ideas would be circulated and eventually find their way into the halls of Con­gress or onto the floor of state legislatures. It was a common sort of model for academic institutions and emerging think tanks during the mid-twentieth century. But over time, and especially as the Internet became more widely used, the model changed. Today, having influence in or impact on public policy requires a lot more than just having a good idea, and too many of these books end up sitting on shelves, unread. Maybe they're filled with great ideas, but there are fewer and fewer people willing to pull those ideas out of those volumes and turn them into policy.

So, the Century Foundation today is very differ­ent than it was seventy or fifty or even twenty years ago, in that we are taking more responsibility — not only for coming up with creative solutions to today's challenges, but for figuring out how to use the resources we have beyond research and the development of policy ideas to create impact.

That's the big shift — the leveraging of intellectual and advocacy resources and institutional relationships to drive policy change. When I joined TCF as president four years ago, I hired a number of people who had recent experience in the White House or in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill, because I wanted people who understood how best to approach those institutions, and how they could have an impact on those institutions. They were also people with a high level of expertise in their particular subject matter. That's been my focus as president — finding people who know who the policy players in Washington are, who have deep expertise in their subject matter and the ability to do good research, and who have wide, influential networks in the advocacy, policy, and academic communities.

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5 Questions for...Jane Wales, Co-Founder/CEO, Global Philanthropy Forum

April 25, 2019

As she was nearing the end of her fourth five-year term heading up the World Affairs Councils, Jane Wales decided it was time to let someone else run the show — an effort that includes organizing the annual Global Philanthropy Forum, which she co-founded in 2001 and which has evolved into a platform where philanthropic practitioners can share their knowledge and learnings with social investors, donors, and funders in other sectors.

PND caught up with Wales, who continues to serve as vice president and executive director of the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation at the Aspen Institute, during the recently concluded eighteenth annual Global Philanthropy Forum conference and spoke with her about the challenges confronting liberal democracy in an era of rising populism, the alarming decline in the public's trust of institutions, and her hopes for the philanthropic sector going forward.

Headshot_jane_walesPhilanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues chose to organize this year's Global Philanthropy Forum conference around the theme "Reclaiming Democracy." Why?

Jane Wales: We're seeing a concerning trend of liberal democracies around the world shifting to illiberalism. These are places in which the vote remains sacrosanct — where citizens have the right to vote — but the protection of individual civil liberties is not. We see this is happening in the Philippines, in Turkey, in Poland and Hungary, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil, and the United States. And you can't say it's all due to a cultural shift or particular event. Clearly, there are underlying trends affecting us all. The question then becomes: How do you push back on those trends? What is the role of philanthropy in building social capital and citizen agency? And what are the most important ingredients of a successful democracy? The theme of the conference is about identifying a big problem, but it’s a problem for which civil society has solutions.

PND: What are those solutions?

JW: The underlying trends being discussed here have to do with the confluence of the information revolution and globalization, as well as the major demographic changes we're seeing in many countries. Conference attendees are looking at each of these powerful trends and trying to figure out what are the upsides, what are the downsides, and how can we mitigate the danger they pose?

When it comes to the information revolution, we're looking at the role of digital media and social media in sowing division. When it comes to globalization, the upside is that it has lifted millions of people out of poverty and created great wealth — and a considerable amount of that wealth has been directed to the public good. But globalization has also created a situation in which the standard of living for the middle class in many countries is declining, and that has contributed to divisions — not just along political and economic lines, but also along educational lines, because the opportunities and outcomes for college graduates and high school graduates are significantly different. Inequity results.

In terms of demographic change, the most powerful concerns are mass migration in the face of deadly conflict or natural disasters on the one hand and normal immigration flows on the other. That begs the question not only of what needs to be done to prevent crises but also what is needed to forge a comprehensive immigration policy that the majority of Americans and other publics will support. We also need to think through what can and should be done to help newly arrived people integrate into the society that will be their new home. Nonprofits are already doing exceptional work in this area.

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5 Questions for...James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures

March 27, 2019

Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) has been a leading supporter of criminal justice reform since 2011. Under the leadership of James Cadogan, vice president of criminal justice, the organization recently launched the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, a community of practice involving more than two dozen Arnold Ventures grantees working to eliminate unnecessary and unjust detention practices, with new investments totaling $39 million.

Cadogan joined the organization after serving as the inaugural director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and as a counselor to the attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped design comprehensive federal reentry reforms; served as a lead staffer on an initiative to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the Federal Bureau of Prisons; developed national community policing initiatives; and supported access to justice programs.

PND asked Cadogan about the initiative's goals, the emerging field of pretrial justice reform, and the role of pretrial justice reform in advancing racial equity.

James Cadogan_PhilanTopic_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: Your organization is on record as saying "money bail obscures legally required risk analyses, traps people in jail, and contributes to unconscionable racial and economic disparities in our justice system." How does the cash bail system exacerbate the mass incarceration of people of color? And how central to the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is the goal of advancing racial and economic equity?

James Cadogan: A fundamental principle of our justice system is the presumption of innocence: the idea that, when accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But across the country — right now — there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in jail who haven't been convicted of any crime, nearly half a million at any given moment. They haven't even been tried. That's because of our current system of money bail.

Generally, after an individual is arrested they go before a judge who reads the charges and sets bail — an amount of money that the arrestee must pay in order to be set free. If you can pay that money, you go free; if you can't afford it, you go to jail. In other words, the size of your bank account determines your freedom. Simply put: that is unjust.

To avoid jail, those who can't afford to pay the bail amount directly might turn to a bail bondsman who can post the amount with the court while charging the individual a fee, often 10 percent of the bail amount. But if bail is set at $2,000, many people are equally unable to afford the $200 fee a bondsman would charge as the $2,000 bail imposed by the court. The money bail system discriminates against the poor — and people of color are disproportionately poor. Research has also shown that people of color are treated more harshly within the money bail system: for example, African-American men on average receive 35 percent higher bail amounts than white men who are arrested for the exact same crime.

PND: Arnold Ventures, formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has supported pretrial justice reform since 2011 — support that has included efforts to increase transparency around and the use of validated, evidence-based risk assessments in judges' decisions to release or detain defendants. Beyond strengthening implementation of the Public Safety Assessment— which was created from a database of more than 1.5 million cases in over three hundred jurisdictions — what is the partnership planning to do to reduce "unnecessary and unjust detention"?

JC: Pretrial detention rates are driven by a number of decisions and processes under the control of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administrators, and other system actors and stakeholders. The National Partnership intentionally connects and elevates partners with different types of expertise — for example, research, policy development, or litigation — and supports them in taking on projects that span a range of pretrial justice challenges such as evaluating the impact of bail practices, working to expand the use of prosecutorial diversion that moves people out of the criminal just system, or undertaking advocacy related to the impossible caseloads many public defenders face.

Pretrial justice practices and operations vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so the breadth of the work we support to reduce unjust pretrial detention is important: National Partnership initiatives span four hundred counties across thirty-five states. At this pivotal time in the pretrial justice reform movement, it's important to understand that even though experts nationwide may have different approaches and don't agree on everything, they're all committed to the same end goal: reducing our unconscionable rates of pretrial detention. By supporting a diversity of efforts, we can help harness that momentum in a variety of places and spaces across the country and give ourselves the best chance of bringing about lasting policy change in pretrial justice. That's where see the biggest value of the partnership.

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How Philanthropy Can Catalyze Private Investment in Opportunity Zones

March 13, 2019

Oppzones_792x800The U.S. Department of the Treasury expects Opportunity Zones to unlock well over $100 billion in private investment in low-wealth communities across the United States. The tax incentive, which became law as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, seeks to encourage patient capital investments in more than eighty-seven hundred designated census tracts across the country by permitting investors to reinvest capital gains in designated census tracts in exchange for tax benefits.

Opportunity Zones represent the first time federal tax policy has sought to tap unrealized capital gains to advance economic and community development. Proponents believe the incentive will help transform low-wealth communities, while skeptics have doubts that funds will flow to the people and places most in need — and, even if they do, that the ensuing transformation will have a positive impact on longtime residents and small businesses.

Against this backdrop, philanthropy should step up and help shape the Opportunity Zone landscape so that benefits of the legislation also accrue to longtime residents and businesses.

Here are six ways philanthropy can help:

1. Shape the rules of the game. Philanthropy can influence IRS guidelines for Opportunity Zones — and, if necessary, follow-on legislation — to ensure that the incentive is implemented in a manner that reflects the interests of communities and the intent of the program. For some foundations, this may include support for developing and tracking metrics, stakeholder interviews to uncover opportunities and issues, and/or deep-dive case studies of specific transactions. The data from these activities can then be used to generate valuable tweaks to the design of the program. As always, data-driven insights will be critical to making the case for modifying, fine-tuning, or extending the incentive.

2. Level the playing field. Foundations are well suited to ensure that communities are poised to attract investor interest and have a seat at the table as Opportunity Zone transactions are negotiated. Organizations such as Accelerator for America are already working with cities across the country to create investment prospectuses, while others such as the Governance Project are working with municipal leadership to develop business cases and strategies for priority projects in communities such as Louisville and San Jose. There is far more that can and should be done, however, and the unique features of rural Opportunity Zones must also be accounted for so that those communities are not left behind.

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Caring for the City’s Caregivers

January 08, 2019

Housing_affordabilityThat wise woman Rosalyn Carter once said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver." We all have a stake, one way or another, in caregiving and in what happens to the individuals who provide that valuable service. And here in New York City, caregivers, quite simply, deserve better care from all of us.

A City in Need of Assistance

New York City turns to its not-for-profit human services sector for essential caregiving for people without homes, parents, or job prospects and, of course, for caregiving services that enable older New Yorkers to age in their communities, living independently with the assistance they need to stay connected to friends and meaningful activity. According to the city's Department for the Aging (DFTA), there are approximately 1.64 million older adults currently residing in the city's five boroughs. As these individuals age, their need for a range of services will grow, and the role that not-for-profits like JASA play in providing those services will become ever more critical.

The continued health of not-for-profit human service organizations relies heavily on employees who interact directly with their clients. Navigating the complexities of the legal, social services, and healthcare systems, not to mention simple life activities, can be challenging at times for any senior, but for those struggling with health, housing, and other issues, it can be overwhelming. There is a real need for the work my organization does, and that need continues to grow.

At the heart of our work are the relationships we build. The key to providing quality services hinges on being able to recruit and retain individuals who genuinely care and are able to establish a connection to the client that fosters trust. Finding skilled individuals is the first challenge. It is not uncommon in 2019 to hear not-for-profit employers say there are more jobs out there than qualified applicants to fill them.

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Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

January 02, 2019

BP+LCF+Siren+Rally059852Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) - Bay Area has spent the last several years building the political power of immigrant and youth voters with the aim of shifting the political landscape in the region and across the state. In 2018, we doubled down on our commitment to building this political muscle by registering more than fifteen thousand new immigrant and youth voters, contacting a hundred and sixty thousand already-registered voters, and mobilizing more than two hundred volunteers. In the 2018 midterm elections, our efforts helped generate one of the highest turnouts in state history for a midterm and resulted in the passage of critical local and state ballot measures, as well as the defeat of House members opposed to immigrant rights. 

One of SIREN's youth leaders, Miguel, participated in phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of Spanish-speaking voters. Although Miguel and his family cannot vote because of their immigration status, the day after the election he told us: "The community was my voice at the polls yesterday. Immigrants and youth came out and demonstrated our power in Northern California and the Central Valley. Through our voting power, we are passing policies in our state and region that are impacting our families, and we will carry our momentum into 2019 to fight for immigrant rights and protections for immigrant youth."

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Don’t Wait Until 2020 to Invest in Youth Leaders

December 13, 2018

Youth_engagementFor anyone interested in increasing youth civic engagement, the midterm elections are a cause for celebration. In the election,
31 percent of youth (ages 18-29) voted — according to at least one source, the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter-century.

Traditionally, support for youth civic engagement declines at the end of an election cycle and resumes as the next cycle starts to heat up — along with thought pieces about why young people don’t vote. To break this pattern, I offer a suggestion: increase investment in youth organizing groups now; don't wait until 2020.

The country is in the middle of a massive demographic shift, with young people of color the fastest-growing segment of the population. The key to developing a robust and inclusive democracy that reflects this shift is to support the active civic participation and leadership of this group. And the best way to do that is not to wait until the start of the next election cycle to pour millions of dollars into advertising to reach young voters.

Instead, we should support organizations led by young people of color that are engaged in year-round organizing around both voter engagement campaigns and efforts to address issues in their local communities. Issue campaigns focused on quality schools, immigrants' rights, ending mass incarceration, and preserving reproductive rights are what motivate young people to become engaged in the world around them and, by extension, the electoral process.

Take the Power U Center for Social Change and Dream Defenders, youth organizing groups in Florida that have been organizing to end mass incarceration and the school-to-prison-pipeline. In the lead up to the midterms, both groups worked tirelessly in support of a ballot measure to restore voting eligibility to formerly convicted persons, and as a result 1.4 million people in Florida have had their voting rights restored. If those ex-offenders are organized effectively, most of them will vote — and in ways, hopefully, that strengthen their communities.

From where I sit, there are three reasons to double down on investments in youth organizing groups:

Youth organizers are good at engaging voters of all ages. Some youth organizing groups have focused on engaging young voters; others are organizing whole communities. Power California, a statewide alliance of more than twenty-five organizations, works to harness the power of young voters of color and their families. Between September and November, the organization and its partners worked in forty counties to get young Californians to head to the polls and make their voices heard on issues that affect them. Through phone calls, texting, and targeted social media, the organization talked to more than a hundred and fifteen thousand young voters and registered and pre-registered more than twenty-five thousand young people of color. Other organizations such as Poder in Action in Phoenix, Arizona, engaged young people in their communities because these young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the issues in play and serve as highly effective messengers. Our takeaway: investing in youth leaders generates results, now and for decades to come.

Engaging the pre-electorate now increases civic participation in the future. Many of the young people organizing and canvassing with grantees of the Funders' Collaborative for Youth Organizing were ineligible to vote because they hadn't turned 18. But while they weren't old enough to cast a ballot, many of them were active in knocking on doors and making calls to encourage others to vote. Today's 16- and 17-year-olds will be voting in 2020, and we should be supporting organizations working to engage them. These organizations are a vital resource for developing the next generation of civic leaders.

Youth organizers play a vital role in connecting issues and voting. Over the last several years, we've seen the emergence of a number of organizations that are organizing young people of color around issues in their communities and helping them engage electorally as part of a broader goal of creating a just and equitable society. These groups are developing the next generation of young leaders, organizing campaigns aimed at improving quality of life in their communities, and encouraging people, young and old, to get out and vote. Recent research shows that this kind of organizing is one of the best ways to support the academic growth, social and emotional development, and civic engagement of young people, and these groups are our best hope for actively engaging young people today, as well as developing a pipeline of leaders equipped to solve future challenges.

Unfortunately, funding for this work has been sporadic, often showing up — in insufficient amounts — just before elections and then disappearing as soon as the last vote has been counted. To build a just and inclusive society, we must make a significant, long-term investment in the leadership of young people of color willing to organize around issues and engage voters, both young and old.

The 2018 election cycle has come to an end. Our investment in youth organizing shouldn't. It is time to get serious about supporting the next generation of leaders.

By 2020, it'll be too late.

Headshot_Eric BraxtonEric Braxton is executive director of the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners that works to advance youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change.

Labor Trafficking — an Immigration Issue

December 12, 2018

Hotel_cleaningConversations about immigration typically center around undocumented immigration, family sponsorship, and refugees. Very little attention is paid to the link between immigration and human trafficking — and that's unfortunate, because it is an urgent problem across the United States. 

While sex trafficking is the most familiar form of human trafficking, labor trafficking is another form of exploitation enabled by glaring defects in our immigration system. A 2004 report from the U.S. State Department estimated that upwards of 17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year, while a more recent report from Polaris, an anti-human-trafficking organization, identified six temporary visas most commonly associated with labor trafficking. These visas tie individuals to their employers or agency sponsors, making it nearly impossible for workers to break free from employers, even when working in conditions that are exploitative or abusive. 

At Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), we work with survivors of labor trafficking who are brought to the U.S. and forced to become modern-day slaves by fraudulent employers. As a member of the California United Fund, a coalition of eight immigrants rights organizations dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants in the state and beyond, we are working to help victims of labor trafficking live dignified, independent lives in the U.S. 

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Philanthropy's Under-Investment in Holding High Finance Accountable: A Gamble We Can’t Afford

October 17, 2018

Monopoly_top_hatTen years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, authorizing $700 billion in federal funding to buy troubled assets from banks deemed to be in danger of failing as a result of the subprime foreclosure crisis.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained the same: progressive philanthropy continues to under-prioritize efforts to hold the financial industry accountable.

It's a choice that risks undermining the headway progressive foundations are making on issues of inequality and wealth building. Placing big bets on policies designed to lift up low- and moderate-income communities while failing to address the accountability of financial institutions is a gamble we cannot afford to take — not least because it puts at risk the very people we are trying to serve.

American households lost $16 trillion in wealth in the years after the 2007-08 financial crisis. And while some experts estimate that Americans have regained $14.6 trillion, or 91 percent, of those losses in the decade since, the collapse affected different segments of society unequally, with the gains just as unequally distributed. In other words, both the crash and the recovery increased inequality in America.

The impact on African Americans was especially profound. Nearly 8 percent of African-American homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in the years after the crisis, compared with only 4.5 percent of white homeowners, and between 2007 and 2010 African Americans saw their retirement accounts lose 35 percent of their value. Indeed, according to the National Association of Realtors, African Americans lost fully half their wealth as a result of the financial crisis.

It's not just the likelihood of future financial crises that should give philanthropic leaders pause; it's also the fact that an under-regulated and unaccountable financial industry will continue to target communities of color and low-income communities with sketchy products and put vulnerable households at risk.

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Philanthropy Delivers an Outcome — and Its Name Is Brett Kavanaugh

October 07, 2018

Kavanaugh_swearing_inWhen the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it was a significant victory for the Federalist Society, and for the foundations that support the organization. It also represented something — an outcome and real impact — that philanthropists of all persuasions crave, and it was achieved through, that’s right, general support grants.

Widely credited for writing the playbook that has guided the Trump administration's judicial nominations strategy, the Federalist Society, by any measure, has been wildly successful. Since Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, the U.S. Senate has approved two of his picks for the Supreme Court and some fifty lower court judges. With an additional hundred and fifty appellate and district court seats to be filled, the administration, with the help of the Federalist Society, is on track to have put in place nearly a quarter of all active judges by the end of 2019.

The organization describes itself as a

group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. [The Society] is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be….This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community....

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the society receives tax-deductible donations from individuals, but foundations contribute roughly one-quarter of its annual funding. Since 2006, 127 foundations have made $39 million in grants to the organization, 53 percent of which has come from five foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley, Templeton, Mercer Family, and Sarah Scaife foundations, in addition to the Searle Freedom Trust. Nearly half of those grants have provided general operating support to the organization, giving it the freedom to use those resources to further its goals without donor-imposed restrictions.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 22-23, 2018)

September 23, 2018

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

Communications/Marketing

"Anyone with a desire to manipulate opinions...knows that our digital dependencies make it easier than ever to do so through supposedly trustworthy institutions," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. What does that mean for nonprofits? "If your communications strategy still assumes that 'hey, they'll trust us — we're a nonprofit' or 'hey, this is what the data say,' " then it's time for your organization to "reconsider both what you say, how you say it, how you protect what you say, and your expectations and responses to how what you say gets heard and gets used."

Democracy/Public Affairs

In a new post on its website, the Community Foundation Boulder County looks at the work of Common Cause to ensure an accurate, representative census count in 2020.

On the Glasspockets blog, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center, chats with Jennifer Humke, senior program officer for journalism and media at the John D. and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation, about how foundation support for participatory media can strengthen American democracy.

Disaster Relief

Roughly 70 percent of the money and resources donated after a disaster like Herricane Florence goes to immediate response efforts, but recovery from such a disaster requires long-term investment. (Just as the folks in Puerto Rico.) Is there a better way to do disaster relief? asks Eillie Anzilotti in Fast Company. And while you're at it, check out our Hurricane Florence dashboard, which is tracking the private institutional response to the storm.

International Affairs/Development

The latest edition of the Commitment to Development Index, which ranks twenty-seven of the world's richest countries by how well their policies help improve lives in the developing world, has Sweden edging out Denmark (which led the index last year) as the top performer. The Center for Global Development has the details

In his latest, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther piggybacks on ongoing assessments of a Catholic Relief Services direct-cash-transfer program in Rwanda to remind people that scale does not always equal impact.

In advance of this year's meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Rockefeller Foundation is asking folks to weigh in on what they think is the most solvable of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 8-9, 2018)

September 09, 2018

6-500x500A weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

It's coming — whether we like it or not. Automation is likely to force a third of American workers  to switch occupational categories by 2030, write James Manyika, Manisha Shetty Gulati, and Emma Dorn in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, with the largest disruption occurring among middle-income workers without a college degree. "[U]nhampered by quarterly earnings calls or the voting cycle," philanthropy can — and will need — to step up. Mantika, Gulati, and Dorn suggest four areas where it can do so.

Education

In The New York Times Magazine, Sarah Mosle reports at length about the many challenges public school administrators face in "finding effective teachers, retaining them and helping those who need to get better."

In a photo essay in the same issue of the magazine, Brian Ulrich looks at the kinds of second jobs that teachers across the country are taking to make ends meet.

Why are many teachers forced to work second jobs? Could it be their wages are lower than ever? Sarah Holder reports for CityLab.

Global Health

On the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Steven Buchsbaum, deputy director of discovery and translational sciences in the foundation's Global Health Program, reflects on the launch, nearly fifteen years ago, and subsequent progress of the foundation's Grand Challenges initiative. 

Nonprofits

With summer a fading memory, Beth Kanter has a timely reminder about the causes and costs of lost productivity in nonprofit workplaces.

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Congress Introduces Bill to Revolutionize Philanthropy

August 27, 2018

When Americans picture a "philanthropist," they typically imagine a very wealthy individual — someone who gives billions of dollars away or establishes their own foundation.

Unfortunately, our tax code reinforces this stereotype by providing only the wealthiest Americans with tax benefits for giving back. Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions — those typically in the highest tax brackets — can lower their income taxes by giving to charity. Currently, about 30 percent of taxpayers fall into this category, but with the recent tax reform this number could drop to as low as 5 percent.

That would leave 95 percent of Americans who are denied the opportunity to lower their taxes by giving to charity. A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives has set out to prevent that.

FGA_image_0

On July 26, 2018, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) introduced a bill along with five co-sponsors that would help redefine the way America gives back by empowering a new class of Everyday Philanthropist.

The Everyday Philanthropist Act (H.R. 6616) seeks to empower working Americans to give back through a Flexible Giving Account (FGA). An FGA is a pre-tax payroll deduction for employee giving. Non-itemizers and itemizers alike would be able to set up an FGA through their employer, set aside a portion of their paycheck pre-tax to be donated to the charity of their choice, and immediately see their taxable income reduced. The employer would benefit as well from a reduction in its payroll taxes.

By empowering millions more Americans to give back, the legislation would dramatically increase charitable giving in the U.S. But the Everyday Philanthropist Act offers more than that.

The legislation represents a chance to initiate a major shift in the way America gives back. The FGA would encourage a culture of shared responsibility in the workplace, one in which employers assume a more impactful role in empowering their employees and the workplace is transformed into a community where employees at every income level feel inspired to give and engage.

With an FGA, tax-deductible giving would no longer be a privilege reserved for a select few. Instead, it would be an opportunity, attainable by all working Americans, to come together and create a positive impact in the communities they care about.

As a champion of the Everyday Philanthropist Act, The Greater Give will continue to work with members of Congress to encourage them to join Representative Paulsen in supporting this legislation and the millions of charities, businesses, and Americans who would benefit from it. The legislation has already garnered public support from many in the charitable sector, including Community Health Charities, America's Charities, and the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network.

To learn more about the Everyday Philanthropist Act and what you can do to support it, visit thegreatergive.org or follow The Greater Give on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Headshot_dan_rashke2_for_philantopicDan Rashke is the Founder of The Greater Give, a 501(c)(6) formed to increase charitable giving by cultivating a movement of shared responsibility between employers and their employees. Rashke also is the CEO of TASC, a third-party benefits administrator based in Madison, Wisconsin.

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