184 posts categorized "Science/Technology"

Calling all science funders: biomedical research needs a lifeline

July 16, 2020

Women_medical_research_scientists_GettyImagesWhen research institutions and universities were forced to shut down in March, clinical trials, therapeutic development, and discovery science ground to a halt. While researchers are slowly returning to their labs and restarting their experiments, the scientific world is contending with a loss of productivity and funds that cannot be addressed by simply restarting the stopped clock.

Years of research designed to advance treatments and cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, and depression have been compromised. Researchers at public institutions have reported that critical tools in the development of medical therapies have been lost. Clinical research for diseases other than COVID have seen dramatic setbacks because patients have been unwilling or otherwise unable to assume the risk associated with in-person evaluation for a clinical trial. Some funders are helping researchers address these problems by rearranging budgets and awarding no-cost grant extensions. But such approaches do not take into account the extent of the losses incurred by the shutdown.

Personnel needed to be paid throughout the closures. Re-establishing animal and cell models to replace those that had to be destroyed requires new funds, not just an extension of funds. To make an analogy with the private sector, if science were a business, the last three months would be seen as a series of grievous losses, with the threat of bankruptcy always in the background. But scientific experimentation is not the same as business. The closures weren't just setbacks: our loved ones live with diseases that science is trying to find cures or treatments for, and the COVID-related setbacks of the last three months have resulted in slower development of — and, in some cases, a complete abandonment of — treatments with the potential to save lives.

Layered on top of the very real losses in the lab are the impacts on people — the dedicated researchers who quietly drive scientific progress. Academic science is a notoriously difficult career path: pre-COVID numbers suggest that just 23 percent of biomedical PhDs pursue a career in academic science. But since March, many scientists have seen their job security and long-term prospects thrown into question. Early-career scientists about to move into new faculty positions have had job offers rescinded or delayed, or are competing for fewer available openings. New faculty report struggling to collect sufficient data to be competitive in the federal grants process. Those who are parents may not be able to return to work, given the impact the pandemic has had on child care. This translates into fewer women in the lab, when there are already too few.

At this critical moment, the biomedical research community urgently needs philanthropists to take three steps:

1. Increase budgets for currently funded projects. Science funders know how important flexible funding is. Increasing grant budgets now not only will help mitigate some of the research setbacks of the last three months, it also will underwrite the additional personnel time and equipment needed to get back to square one on experiments that were abandoned.

2. Modify policies and programs to support vulnerable scientists. Science needs scientists. In order to provide those who are brave enough to pursue a career in scientific research with a fair shot, it is important to recognize that certain groups of scientists are more at risk of losing their funding, abandoning the field, or both due to COVID-related pressures. Postdoctoral fellows and newly minted research faculty need stable funding in order to establish their ideas. Female scientists who are also parents are facing greater childcare responsibilities — a fact that is already showing up in fewer grant submissions by women scientists, falling publication rates, and reduced participation in COVID research. And Black and brown scientists who face persistent roadblocks to advancement in their careers need support now more than ever to help them overcome decades of discrimination in funding as well as fewer publication and job opportunities.

3. Strengthen the health research sector. Finally, philanthropy must do more to ensure that organizations working to advance and support biomedical research stay afloat. These organizations play a key role in driving patient-focused progress and accelerating therapeutics in specific areas. Support for organizational overhead — keep-the-lights-on funding— is hopelessly "unsexy" but massively important, in that it keeps experts on the job who are critical to vetting and shepherding good science in its journey from the lab to real-world applications.

In a recent discussion about the actions needed to overcome COVID-19, Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "People keep asking me, 'What's the one thing we have to do?' The one thing we have to do is understand that there is not one thing."

This is just as true for science in the context of the pandemic. COVID-related impacts on biomedical logistics, funding, and human talent have put the entire biomedical research ecosystem at risk. Without immediate attention and support for that research and the scientists who work to advance it, there is little hope we will develop new and improved treatments for the thousands of diseases that annually impact millions of people around the globe.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Altimus-Cara_PhilanTopicCara Altimus, PhD, is a director at the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.

The Reinvention of the Nonprofit

May 14, 2020

Communications_treeLike many of you, I've learned new ways of doing things over the last month and half. For instance, I have:

  • participated in a virtual board meeting with a nonprofit that, pre-pandemic, would not allow board members to call in to board meetings — a significant obstacle to participation for me and many of my fellow board members;
  • attended a virtual event for a nonprofit I support;
  • toured a museum gallery (virtually, of course); and
  • designed a new movement strategy with a tech team for an organization seeking to move in-person engagements to a virtual model. 

Some of these innovations had been on the back burner for some time at the organizations in question. But they hadn't been operationalized because nothing at the organization or in its operating environment was forcing a change in the organizational mindset. Even when pitched by bright, forward-thinking staff, innovative ideas were often shelved in favor of more pressing  programmatic needs and strategies. 

Then COVID-19 happened, and, like that, everything changed. Ideas that sounded good but didn't seem necessary a year or two ago were suddenly thrust to the forefront. Almost overnight, the attitude of nonprofits shifted from "Let's not rock the boat" to "What can we do to keep ourselves afloat and/or make a difference, and how fast can we do it?"  

While there is never a bright side to a pandemic, it's true what many pundit-types have said: crises tend to accelerate trends that were already in place, and things that seem new and innovative today are likely to be widely embraced and taken for granted before you know it. 

That said, let me add a note of caution: nonprofits' embrace of innovation and technology should not merely be focused on substitution — Zoom events for in-person events, for instance — but should aim instead to develop entirely new experiences. They should expand the engagement we already have with our constituents and supporters, giving them more ways to be a part of our work and to keep that work relevant and impactful for even more people. 

I was reminded of that recently by three conversations I had with funders about a virtual conference I created ten years ago. MCON, the Millennial Impact Conference, was a day-long virtual event sponsored by the Case Foundation to bring together individuals in the nonprofit sector who were starting to focus their engagement efforts on the huge, rising millennial cohort. The convening was the signature event of a larger initiative, the Millennial Impact Project, a decade-long research effort designed to help nonprofits, causes, and companies engage what was then America's largest and youngest adult generation.

People signed on to that first event in 2010 not really knowing what to expect — and neither did we. As it turned out, some twenty-five hundred people attended (virtually), an astonishing number as far as we were concerned, having no benchmarks against which to measure. And when it was over, we heard from dozens, if not hundreds, of attendees who, while they might have had a hard time articulating why, simply loved it. "I don't know…you just had to experience it," was a common refrain. In the years that followed, attendance at MCON continued to build, peaking at twenty thousand for the 2018 event, at which point we sunsetted the initiative and the event.

What the three funders I spoke to wanted to know was how we managed to create a virtual conference before people really knew what a virtual conference was. And my answer was simple: when we created MCON, we didn't try to replicate something that already existed. We came up with a model for what we hoped to achieve, and then refined it. It was never intended to replace an in-person gathering; instead, we created a standalone experience through which guest speakers from across the country and many different industries and disciplines could share their research and knowledge and, crucially, interact with attendees in new and different ways. 

Virtual events shouldn't be about forcing grantees, constituents, or supporters to make a choice between engaging virtually or in-person. They should be about creating something new. In my experience, that means they should be shorter and move more quickly, be peppered with stimulating visuals, and feature plenty of opportunities to engage with both presenters and other attendees in short bursts. Don't expect see a lot of backroom networking, as you would at an offline event. And don't worry, that's okay! Use the opportunity to ask the most creative members on your staff to create something special that serves not as a replacement for the event that would've been but as a unique complement to your usual communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. 

Of course, every cause and nonprofit will have to decide for itself how to do that. That  said, here are some things for you to keep in mind as you look to innovate and start to plan to bring back your in-person events/programs:

  • A virtual event is just a new way to move constituents and supporters from point A to point B.
  • Your event should focus on new and different opportunities for constituents and supporters to engage with your organization or cause.
  • Adopt a digital perspective focused on delivering experiences and helping attendees learn things, in real time, that wouldn't be possible in an offline setting.
  • Think "small," and use the tools at your disposal to let your virtual attendees drive the bus. 
  • Create small breakout groups for each main content block to make it easier for attendees to compare notes, share ideas, and meet new people.

I urge causes and nonprofits to refrain from returning to business as usual after this crisis is over (and who knows when that might be). What you are learning and doing today to reach constituents and supporters absolutely must inform your future communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. As a wise person once said, never let a crisis go to waste. Good luck and stay safe!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Digital Accessibility: The Path to Nonprofit Engagement Online

March 02, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

February 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

PND: Can any nonprofit apply for a grant?

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

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 15-16, 2020)

February 16, 2020

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

Fundraising

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

Giving

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

Grantmaking

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2020)

February 09, 2020

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

Economy

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

Global Health

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

Grantwriting

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

Health

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

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Bias and Language in Behavioral Sciences Research and Analysis

November 25, 2019

Funder_biasIn our previous post, we discussed the principles of ethical research and the importance of disclosing funding sources. Now let's explore how you can avoid funder bias and why you should use inclusive language in your research and analysis.

Guard Against Funder and Other Biases

Just as reporters should be committed to objective journalism, behavioral scientists have the professional and moral obligation to conduct fair, unbiased research and analysis.

In the health services industry, research findings can educate funders, practitioners, and potential patients of the effectiveness of a new treatment or prevention regime and/or used to develop more effective programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes companies and institutions fund research with the expectation that the scientists doing the research will "steer" the study toward results that put the funder in a positive light.

To avoid funder bias, researchers should only participate in research projects where there is no pressure on them to coerce participants, design tests to generate positive results, or alter their conclusions. They also need to eliminate their personal beliefs and values, perceptions, and emotions from the study, so as not to produce a biased outcome. As a researcher, you have a responsibility to be honest and objective and not give colleagues or the scientific community a reason to distrust your work.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 23-24, 2019)

November 24, 2019

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

Democracy

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

Diversity

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

Education

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

Fundraising

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

Giving

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

Grantmaking

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

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

Health

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

Nonprofits

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

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

Philanthropy

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

Science/Technology

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

Social Good

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

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

Donor Dollars Into Dividends: The Past, Present, and Future of Nonprofits Aiding the Private Sector

June 20, 2019

TreeForkIllustrationBleeding plant-based burgers were last month’s biggest financial news. Beyond Meat had the most successful initial public offering of any startup since the 2008 crash, and Impossible Foods raised $300 million in venture capital. Both burgers can hold their own in the meat aisle or a fast food restaurant.

Clearly, there's a lot of money to be made by making meat without animals. So why are nonprofits spending donor dollars to support the industry?

It's no secret that nonprofits have a strained relationship with the private sector. All too often, it falls on us to clean up the messes businesses make — or to stop them from making those same messes again.

But when there's an urgent need for new entrants to transform an industry, nonprofits can play a pivotal role in making that transition happen — and happen fast.

Consider the industry producing antiretroviral drugs (ARV) for HIV. When the lifesaving treatment was first invented, it was produced in small quantities and sold for $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Most patients, especially those in AIDS-ravaged Africa, literally couldn't afford to survive.

To ensure that everyone could access treatment, activists knew they would need a pharmaceutical industry that could make up for low margins by selling in huge volumes. They encouraged new entrants, pressured incumbent companies, brokered purchase agreements, and funded scientific research. Prices dropped a hundredfold in less than a decade.

Today, incumbent energy producers are making fat profits by pushing us to the brink of climate disaster. Producing clean, renewable energy will be an uphill battle as long as existing infrastructure, government policies, and economies of scale make fossil fuels cheap and convenient.

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'Future-Fit' Philanthropy: Why Philanthropic Organizations Will Need Foresight to Leave a Lasting Legacy of Change

April 10, 2019

Future_start_gettyimages_olm26250To be considered transformational, any philanthropic organization should aim for lasting impacts that go beyond their immediate beneficiaries. Yet, in the face of what the UK's Ministry of Defense recently characterized as "unprecedented acceleration in the speed of change, driving ever more complex interactions between [diverse] trends," the longer-term future of philanthropy, and the success of individual programs, are at risk as never before.

Philanthropy is already trying to deliver on a hugely ambitious vision of a better future. Taking the Sustainable Development Goals as one marker, this includes, within just over a decade, ending poverty, ending hunger, and delivering universal healthcare. Progress is struggling to match aspirations: the UN has found that globally, hunger is on the rise again and malaria rates are up due to antimicrobial resistance.

With the accelerating pace of change, new trends are set to bring huge opportunities — and threats — often both at once. Two examples: new technologies in the field of synthetic biology, and the fourth Industrial Revolution. Other trends — climate change, demographic shifts, democratic rollback — may be familiar, but their pace, trajectory, and impact remain radically uncertain.

The trends of the coming ten to twenty years have the potential to reverse hard-won progress, distort the outcomes of interventions, radically change the geography and distribution of need, and outpace the philanthropy business model altogether.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 23-24, 2019)

March 24, 2019

Robert-mueller-gty-ps-190212_hpMain_16x9_992A 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

On the Communications Network blog, Katie Smith Milway, principal at Milway Media and a senior advisor at the Bridgespan Group, and Rick Moyers, director of communications at the Fund for Shared Insight, explore four lessons in effective storytelling they have learned while shepherding a campaign to encourage client feedback as a measurement norm.

Current Affairs

"Thirty years from now, a majority of Americans believe that the U.S. will be less globally important. They believe that the inequality gap between rich and poor will have widened. And they expect that there will be even more political polarization. That future sounds pretty bleak, especially given the fact that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans are at least fairly worried that current politicians aren’t capable of changing it." Fast Company's Ben Paynter talks to Brookings' David Wessel about what can be done to shape a brighter future for all Americans.

Health

On the Robert Wood Johnson's Culture of Health blog, Dwayne Proctor, a senior advisor to the foundation's president, speaks with Yolo Akili Robinson, a 2018 Award for Health Equity winner, about how the stress of being black in America leads to physiological responses that raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Nonprofits

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther continues his series on workplace problems at the Humane Society of the U.S. and concludes that the organization's efforts to hold itself accountable for the actions of its former leader, Wayne Pacelle, are "unsatisfying."

Yes, the doubling of the standard deduction poses real challenges for nonprofits. But the challenge s also an opportunity, writes Social Velocity's Nell Edgington, to embrace — truly embrace — change. 

Can Marie Kondo help you "tidy up" your organization? Definitely, says Nonprofit AF's Vu Le, who then shares ten lessons derived Kondo's method guaranteed to make you more joyful at work.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 9-10, 2019)

February 10, 2019

Homepage-large-fc-and-gs-are-candid_tilemediumA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

"Someday, perhaps, an entire nation could be powered by renewable energy, but that day is too far off to deal with the climate threat," say Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist in a new book called called A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow. Instead, Goldstein and Qvist tell Marc Gunther, countries should be looking to nuclear as the short-term answer to the problem. For many in the environmental community, that is a non-starter. Gunther explores the dilemma.

Governance

Writing on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Kim Williams-Pulfer, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, shares some thoughts on nonprofit boards and the diversity imperative.

International Affairs/Development

On the OECD Development Matters site, Benjamin Bellegy, executive director of the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), shares his thoughts on how philanthropy can best contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Journalism/Media

Journalism and the news media in the U.S. are in trouble, the traditional business model for news threatened with extinction by the consolidation of eyeballs and ad dollars on a few mega-platforms. Forbes contributor Michael Posner looks at the conclusions of a new report funded by the Knight Commission on Trust, Media, and Democracy and finds that while the report diagnoses the problem well, "its recommendations do not go far enough."

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5 Questions for...Rebecca Masisak, CEO, TechSoup

December 22, 2018

For more than thirty years, TechSoup has facilitated product donations and technical assistance to nonprofits and NGOs with the aim of helping them implement technology solutions that drive social impact.

With the goal of raising $11.5 million over the next three years to sustain and expand that work, the organization recently announced a direct public offering (DPO) through impact investing platform SVX.US. The DPO offers three tiers of debt security investments — risk capital notes, with a minimum investment of $50,000 and a 5 percent interest rate; patient capital notes, with a minimum investment of $2,500 and a 3.5 percent interest rate; and community capital notes, with a minimum investment of $50 and a 2 percent interest rate. TechSoup is the first nonprofit to be qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission to raise funds through a Regulation A+ / Tier 2 offering.

PND asked TechSoup CEO Rebecca Masisak about the genesis of the DPO, as well as her views on the role of technology in building a more effective philanthropic sector and driving social change.

Headshot_rebecca_masisak_techsoupPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the thinking behind the decision to launch a direct public offering on an impact investing platform? Is there a broader goal beyond the immediate one of funding TechSoup's work and outreach?

Rebecca Masisak: Throughout our history, we've achieved scale and reach with the direct support of NGOs that wanted to use technology to achieve their missions. They have been investing in us — in the form of their administrative fees. The DPO takes that principle to the next level. It's important that those individual organizations from our community have a voice in what we do and have a way to vote — not just with a "like" on Facebook or a retweet — but with an expression of faith that comes with an investment in our DPO.

The direct public offering reflects our belief that TechSoup's stakeholders come from a range of economic backgrounds but share a common belief in the importance of a strong infrastructural backbone for civil society. The DPO enables us to offer a debt investment with interest as an impact investment, not just to institutional funders but also to U.S.-based individuals and smaller organizations in our community, with meaningful but relatively low investment minimums of $50. We want all these stakeholders to play a role in our future, not just those who have a larger budget to invest.

From the beginning, we knew we wanted to work with a platform provider in order to securely manage the investment transactions. We also needed a provider that could specifically support a Regulation A+, Tier 2 Offering in all U.S. states, so we looked at a few different options before making our choice. SVX has a strong track record as an impact investing marketplace in Canada and met all our technical platform requirements. Equally important, however, was that the SVX team shared our values and belief in democratizing access to impact investments. They have become a true partner to us, and I'm confident they will do an excellent job supporting the community engagement we seek.

PND: What has been the response to date from investors and other nonprofits?

RM: We get a lot of questions: Can nonprofits do this? What do you mean I get my money back? Why are you making the minimum investment so low?

This is a new way of doing investment in nonprofits — we are the first nonprofit qualified by the SEC to have this type of offering in all fifty U.S. states — and there are a lot of technical questions. We also know people are curious about how it turns out, not only because they want to see us succeed but also because they're thinking about doing it themselves. We're glad to be in a position to learn for the sector and to share our experience as the campaign progresses.

Since the launch in mid-November, the response has been incredibly positive. This includes those community-level "Main Street" investors who have had very limited opportunities to invest in this kind of security offering before. We see that the ability to invest this way feels empowering. Based on preliminary conversations to date, we also anticipate receiving significant support from larger entities at the Risk Capital note tier and look forward to making some announcements in the near future.

We're excited that other nonprofits have expressed interest in learning more about this approach, and we're committed to sharing what we are learning. We want others in the sector to benefit from our experience and have already started to publish updates on our blog and recently hosted a webinar along with the SVX team and our legal counsel from Cutting Edge Capital.

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5 Questions for… David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

November 27, 2018

Established by the late owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills with more than a billion dollars in assets, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation plans to spend those assets down, with a focus on western New York state and southeastern Michigan, by 2035.

David Egner was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2015, having served prior to that as president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson Webber Foundation. A fixture in Michigan philanthropy for decades, first as an executive assistant to longtime W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby, then as director of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and executive director of the New Economy Initiative, Egner is using his extensive knowledge, experience, and connections to make the Detroit and Buffalo metro region better places to live and work.

PND recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Headshot_david_egnerPhilanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

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Philanthropy and Cyber-Security  

October 01, 2018

CyberSecurity-796x532With more than a trillion dollars flowing last year from donors and government agencies to grantees in the United States alone, online thieves have discovered fertile hunting ground. In the three years since hackers stole usernames, passwords, IP addresses, and other account data from some 700,000 nonprofits that used the Urban Institute’s online tax filing system, cyberattacks have only gotten more clever, and the stakes higher.

To thwart hackers, organizations in the philanthropy space need to focus on both common security practices and their special vulnerabilities, from the bottom to the top of the organization.

Foundations and nonprofits have the same security concerns as any business, but they also have particular needs based on their mission-driven orientation compared to, say, a retailer or bank. "You often have part-time or volunteer employees, and they like to be helpful," says Mark Walker, knowledge management and technology officer at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. "And many philanthropic workers wear multiple hats, which means the person responsible for watching over security may not have time to be as thorough as they'd like."

Philanthropy often involves large transfers of money between organizations or people who don't interact daily. That gives hackers an opportunity to trick inexperienced employees who are unfamiliar with how cyber-crooks operate. "They'll contact you with a sense of urgency to act," says John Mohr, chief information officer at the MacArthur Foundation. "If the president of your foundation asks you to wire money quickly, you might not stop to wonder if it's really her."

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Quote of the Week

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


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

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