184 posts categorized "Strategies"

International grantmaking during COVID: a focus on equitable access to education in Latin America

August 12, 2020

International grants_tinker foundationIt’s safe to say that no person or organization is having the 2020 they expected. At the Tinker Foundation, the pandemic has caused us to shift course significantly as Latin America, the region central to our mission, struggles with a once-in-a-century health, economic, and social crisis. And while our home base is New York City, we are challenging ourselves to put our assets to work for the organizations and communities at the epicenter of the pandemic there.

Like many other foundations, when the coronavirus emerged we reached out to our current grantees to offer support. At that point, in mid-March, we questioned whether it might seem "U.S.-centric" to send a communication about a virus that had not yet reached large swaths of the hemisphere. In retrospect, that concern seems quaint. By mid-May, a New York Times headline, "Latin America’s Outbreak Rivals Europe’s. But Its Options Are Worse," was sounding the alarm. As of this writing, the region leads the world in deaths from COVID-19.

As we talked with our grantees, we noted how quickly many were mobilizing amid the uncertainty (and despite, in some countries, official denials that the virus was a problem). One grantee, the Argentine fact-checking and investigative journalism organization Chequeado, repurposed travel funds from a grant to prototype a website dedicated to combating misinformation about the virus. Within weeks, they had secured additional funding and launched a regional effort with more than twenty other organizations.

Within Tinker, we recognized the need to begin taking action — just as our grantees had — while at the same time laying the groundwork for more substantive grantmaking. We started small, reallocating funds from other budget lines to support rapid-response grantmaking. These early grants prioritized the immediate needs of vulnerable populations, including the millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees unable to work as stay-at-home orders rolled out across Latin America. Two small grants to Tinker grantee partners in Central America focused on vulnerable children affected by school closures. Another sought to support civil society organizations working to shift strategies in response to the crisis.

As we began making plans for the remainder of the year, the scale of the COVID catastrophe in Latin America became clearer. Ecuador experienced a devastating early wave of infections that collapsed the health system in Guayaquil, its largest city. Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru all appeared in the list of seven countries with the highest incidence of COVID. A virus first introduced to Latin America by international travelers returning home from abroad was now tightening its grip on vulnerable populations across the region, from residents of crowded informal settlements, to migrants and refugees, to Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities.

As a midsize foundation, we knew we had to make the most of our grantmaking resources. But we had other important assets we could draw on, too, including longstanding relationships and networks, operational flexibility, and an engaged board willing to operate differently in response to a crisis. In addition to maintaining some longer-term grantmaking across our program areas, we decided it made sense to identify one COVID-related priority to focus on in the remainder of the year and give it our all.

Discussions with grantees, staff, experts, and board members all pointed to the impact of the pandemic on education, an existing Tinker program area. We learned, for instance, that by June, 95 percent of students in the region were out of school. As in other parts of the world, ministries of education, administrators, and teachers had quickly shifted gears — introducing online instruction strategies meant to replace classroom instruction. And yet past crises suggested that students would incur significant learning losses, and that many would not return to school at all, with the impacts likely greatest among students who had faced barriers to equitable education pre-pandemic.

In late June, Tinker launched a $500,000 funding initiative to help address the specific educational challenges generated by the pandemic. Over the coming months, we will partner with Latin America-based civil society organizations working to address the near-term effects of school closures. Many of these organizations have already hit the ground running, using their own resources to fill gaps, pilot innovative approaches, and support teachers and students. Additional funding can enable further experimentation and help consolidate and scale what is already working. Critically, the initiative will seek to complement and build on the priorities and initiatives of public education systems in the region.

The enormous response to our initiative highlights the urgent need for more funding for education as the virus continues to upend systems and the status quo. We received more than five hundred letters of inquiry, approximately five times what a typical call for applications from our Education program attracts. Following a review of a subset of full proposals, we will announce grants in September.

The applications we’ve received speak to the predictable but profound challenges of ensuring equitable access to education in a pandemic context — particularly in rural and low-income urban areas where students have limited access to the Internet or Internet-enabled devices. The proposed projects also demonstrate the resilience and creativity of schools, teachers, and civil society organizations, all of whom are imagining new ways to reach and engage students, as well as reinvigorating older tools like community radio. A number of applications call for investment in social-emotional learning and other efforts to address the trauma occasioned by the pandemic as a critical enabler of continued learning.

Following this round of special grants, we will work closely with our partner organizations to learn from their work and identify broader areas for research and innovation, larger-scale funding, and policy change. As a foundation that works across Latin America, we also hope to connect and convene local actors that share a commitment to protecting access to education throughout the crisis.

COVID-19 has created profound challenges across many domains — all of them competing for policy makers' and the public's attention. But when we look back on this challenging time, it may well be disruption to education that casts the longest shadow over Latin America. If millions of students fall behind or become permanently disconnected from school, the impact could last at least a generation. At Tinker, we will continue to support those in Latin America who are imagining and taking action to ensure a better future for the region’s children and young people.

Headshot_caroline_kronley_squareCaroline Kronley is president of the New York City-based Tinker Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation, she worked as managing director for strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, leading the development of new programmatic initiatives, and before that she was a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners and at Booz & Company, where she served a broad range of clients on strategy and organizational performance.

What grantees need most — a partner

July 21, 2020

NorthBergen_Healthy_Places_by_DesignFor better or worse; for richer, for poorer; through sickness and health.

You may not associate this vow with your typical funder — unless you've had the good fortune to partner with New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI).

Among the many things that make NJHI unique is the value it places on shifting power to communities, making longer-term commitments so that grantees have the time needed to achieve community transformation, and forming authentic relationships with grantees and partners.

NJHI was established in 1987 as a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). In New Jersey, RWJF's home state, NJHI plays a leading role in advancing the foundation's efforts to build healthier communities through grantmaking and investments. Since its inception, NJHI has supported more than forty statewide funding initiatives encompassing over five hundred grantees across all twenty-one counties in the state, making grants in support of youth-led initiatives, health and well-being, mental health, and community-based capacity development.

Recognizing that the communities it supports are best positioned to create the most impact and sustainable change, the organization strives to be flexible, nimble, and innovative. "We allow community partners to determine the best use of grant funds based on their specific community needs," says NJHI director Bob Atkins. "We have focused our grantmaking on engaging more voices and stakeholders in the communities in which we work, and to have them inform our thinking and approaches to making their communities healthier and more equitable."

As a community-led funder and partner focused on a single state, NJHI can make multiple investments in the same communities in ways that are strategic and complementary, rather than duplicative. "It has been exciting to see past and current grantees weave in elements of what they first received funding for five or ten or fifteen years ago," says NJHI deputy director Diane Hagerman. "We know that changes to health outcomes may not be seen for five or even ten years, so seeing work that was funded in the past resurface in a more current context speaks to the commitment of communities to make lasting change."

NJHI also recognizes that needs and context are not the same across communities, even within a single state. "We've analyzed our approach and become increasingly aware that some of our more distressed communities want help to build their own organizational and collaborative capacity," Hagerman notes. To address those requests, NJHI increased the amount of technical assistance it provides to applicants from distressed communities, many of which don't have a paid grant writer on staff.

More recently, a reimagining of NJHI's approach put greater focus on how it works with communities — as opposed to for communities. "One of the most valuable roles we can play," says Atkins, "is to set the table for grantees and community partners while they decide and create buy-in around what will help them achieve their goals." As such, NJHI leverages its influential role as connector and convener to help its community partners expand their networks and access additional resources, including coaching and collaborative learning and networking opportunities. Such investments provide exceptional returns in terms of building capacity at the community level.

"NJHI not only invests in communities, it invests in leaders and has built a movement across the state of people passionate about health equity," says Mary Celis, director of health initiatives at United Way of Passaic County. "Being a part of the NJHI family means you always have thought-leaders to problem-solve with and learn from."

NJHI's responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic provides another example of how it has grounded its investments in relationships. The large number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the state have underscored the important policy and systems work NJHI grantees do to address health disparities in their communities. NJHI was quick, for example, to provide timely funding resources and other critical information to grantees, and it devoted its April monthly Learning Collaborative session to an open discussion about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in grantee communities. It was reassuring for NJHI grantees and partners to hear a funder be transparent about the ways in which the crisis has impacted the work it funds, and that the funder was committed to providing maximum flexibility in terms of its current grants.

The focus on developing meaningful partnerships has been critical to NJHI's efforts to reduce health disparities and create healthier communities in New Jersey. "This work cannot be accomplished alone or in silos," Atkins says. "To be effective in what we are trying to achieve requires partnering with our communities and other organizations. We don't want to simply be seen as 'the funder' — we are their partners, committed to learning from and alongside them."

That strategy serves NJHI, its grantees, and their communities well — and New Jersey is a healthier state because of it.

(Photo credit: New Jersey Health Initiatives/North Bergen Municipal Alliance)

Joanne Lee_PhilanTopicJoanne Lee is collaborative learning director at Healthy Places by Design, an organization that serves as a strategic partner for communities and those who invest in them.

Participatory design approaches to impact investing

July 15, 2020

Diversity_participants_around_table_GettyImagesAcross the social sector, impact investors are assessing the grave threats posed by COVID-19 — both the existential risk to the global economy and to the companies and funds in which we have invested. More than anything, we are aware of the need to listen, learn, and adapt to this moment.

Philanthropic funds have been investing for social impact since at least the 1990s, but it is only recently that the idea has caught on in the wider world. A 2019 report by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) found that some two hundred and fifty institutions, mostly in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, manage more than $239 billion in social impact investments around the world. At the end of 2018, GIIN estimated the full impact-investing market at $502 billion.

That's a lot of money, but who determines how it gets invested?

While the modern development-aid community places a premium on consultation with those who receive aid, impact investors do not necessarily do the same. Yes, most of the GIIN survey respondents link their declared objectives to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but conspicuously missing from their responses is any exploration of the question: How are affected workers, communities, and consumers involved in deciding where and how investments are made, in implementing the process, and in assessing the results? In other  words, can impact investing be made more democratic?

Currently, it is impact investors themselves who control the decision-making process, and the linchpin of their approach is an often-untested assumption that the benefits of the investment will trickle down to workers, communities, and/or consumers. That approach needs to change. While impact investing, with its profit imperative, is not the same as development aid or conventional grantmaking, it still seeks to deliver and measure social good. That's why we believe impact investors could take a few cues from philanthropic funds.

An effective participatory approach, which some call "user-design" or "co-design," could be integrated throughout the life-cycle of an investment — and the Open Society Foundation's Economic Justice Program has been supporting research by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex to map out how it might be done.

Our research team identified four key stages in which a participatory approach can make a difference:

Sourcing and approval: A number of impact investments made by OSF's Soros Economic Development Fund are testing out a participatory approach. In some cases, we have supported workshops, focus groups, and surveys through which the targeted community can outline its hopes and concerns. Impact investors can also require that assessment of community members' perspectives be included in all investment recommendations, while investment committees at funds focused on particular geographies or issues can include members of the community.

Managing: Impact investors can require that community members sit on an investee's board; or that communities be given some ownership of the investment through mechanisms such as "golden-share" arrangements (which come with enhanced voting rights); or that employees be offered stock ownership plans that give them a meaningful stake in both the operation and governance of the company. Investors could also consider adopting a participatory budgeting strategy that allows the targeted community to democratically allocate a portion of the intended investment.

Monitoring: There's a wide array of participatory methods for monitoring projects, including approaches involving "participatory statistics," in which local people generate their own data, or the "Most Significant Change" technique, which regularly asks those targeted by a program about its impact on their life. Such methods can be a complement to more traditional monitoring methods such as consumer surveys, town hall meetings, and focus groups.

Exit: The potential positive social impacts of an impact investment can easily be lost when an investor decides to pull out. To ensure the sustainability of an investment, investors should take steps to build a decision-making process that involves community members during a major transition such as a sale, an acquisition, or the bringing in of new investors. They can also think about offering the target community a say in any changes to the by-laws and/or a veto over any sale of the enterprise.

Many of these ideas are untested, but the field is changing fast. One of the most developed examples is the global Buen Vivir Fund, which was founded in 2018 by Thousand Currents, a nonprofit in California. Among its innovations, the fund invites local grassroots leaders to serve on the board with fund members and gives them equal voting rights in the fund's governance and management.

Clearly, a participatory approach can add costs and time for those on both sides of a deal. And it often makes an already difficult task even harder. We also understand that even in fields where it is standard procedure, community participation, when executed poorly, can amount to little more than expensive and time-consuming consultation. On the other hand, when done well it can leverage local knowledge in ways that benefit the investment process at every stage.

Despite the recent proliferation of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) funds, the potential costs of a participatory approach mean we should not expect the for-profit investment world to take the lead. But if philanthropy can show that such an approach actually generates positive impacts, we believe it's only a matter time before private funds take notice — and a participatory approach to impact investing becomes a differentiating factor they cannot afford to ignore. After all, isn't that what happened with social impact investing itself?

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Sean_Hinton_John_Gaventa_PhilanTopicSean Hinton is co-director of the Economic Justice Program at the Open Society Foundations and CEO of the Soros Economic Development Fund.

John Gaventa is a professor at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Background research was provided by Peter O'Flynn, now with New Philanthropy Capital, and Grace Higdon, IDS.

How to work effectively with an outside consultant

July 13, 2020

Working with a ConsultantAs your nonprofit adapts to new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, strategic guidance from expert consultants can provide invaluable insights for refining your strategy planning, revamping your brand, or rethinking your fundraising strategy. There are a few considerations to keep in mind, however, to ensure that any relationship with an outside consultant produces outcomes that meet your needs.

Here are some tips for working with a consultant or consulting firm:

Don't be stingy with information. Hiring a consultant can provide expertise you may not have in-house, but that doesn't mean you can take a hands-off approach to the project. No one knows your organization as well as you do. To ensure that a consultant fully understands your organization, you'll want to share as much information with him or her as is reasonable. While a good consultant will elicit ideas from team members and pull information together in new ways, he or she will want to review lots of organizational documents and talk to lots of people, from frontline staff to board members. Make sure the relevant documents are ready to go, and be sure to ask key stakeholders to set aside time for a sit-down.

Have a clear process in place. Whether developing a strategic plan or a brand revamp, it's important to know what you're aiming for and how you'll get there. A good consultant will be able to provide a plan for engaging your team that includes stakeholders. That plan should include the key activities, milestones, and outcomes for each step in the process. It should be clear, too, who will be involved in each phase, the decisions that need to be made, and what the deliverables are. Your job is to provide appropriate information, context, and ideas to inform the plan; provide feedback on the work presented; and make the decisions needed to keep the project moving forward.

Understand how decisions will be made. Decisiveness is essential to keeping projects moving forward. Put a plan in place that ensures decisions are made in a timely manner. That means deciding in advance who will give feedback and through what mechanism, who makes the final decision, and how that decision will be made (including considerations with respect to the board's engagement). You'll also need to determine whether key decisions can be made if not all stakeholders are able to present at a critical meeting and what a quorum might look like in such a situation.

Presenting to the board. Even if midstream decisions have been delegated to a committee or staff, keeping the board involved as the project moves forward increases buy-in and will help pave the way for final approval. At Red Rooster Group, our clients have found it helpful to have us make a presentation to the board at key points in the project. Getting information from an outside expert can help busy board members focus on the problem or issue at hand.

There's a flipside to this. For some organizations, the better choice is to have members of the project committee, not the consultant, make presentations to the board, the idea being it will help build trust between board members and staff. Having a board member who has bought into the concept present to the board can also be an effective way to demonstrate stakeholder support for a project. You know your organizational culture and board better than anyone, and a good consultant will defer to your recommendations when it comes to building trust and securing buy-in.

Build your project team. For small nonprofits, a project team may be one or two people. For larger organizations, team members should be drawn from different organizational levels and functions (e.g., executive-level staff, board members, frontline staff members). Members of the team should understand and support the overall goals of the project and be willing to express their ideas and listen to those of others. Meetings and material reviews will take up time, so make sure every team member is given the time needed to do the work.

Designate a point person. At the beginning of the project, decide who will be your organization's liaison to the consultant. The point person may be asked to contact people who are to be interviewed, provide background information and documents, arrange meetings, and make sure that information is shared with key stakeholders.

Establish a schedule. A consultant will need to know in advance about events that may affect the availability of team members. Organizational events, board meetings, vacations, maternity leave, and so on can all affect project workflow and timely feedback and approvals. Working out a schedule in advance will go a long way to eliminating delays and reduce stress for both your team and the consultant.

Have a plan for communicating progress. To facilitate a smooth process, determine who will be included on the project and how you'll communicate with your group — email, phone calls, a project management system, Zoom, Skype, etc. — and how you'll exchange documents and comments on the documents (whether PDFs, Google docs, or Word documents). It's also a good idea to schedule a weekly standing call for quick status updates. This can help reduce the kinds of meeting scheduling problems that often delay the completion of a project.

Avoid stumbling blocks that raise costs. Delaying feedback or reversing decisions can stall or even sink a project. And rethinking or revising decisions that have already been made can lead to additional costs and even undermine a project's viability. This often happens when the plan calls for the executive director to make the decisions but, come time for final approval, board members jump in and start to second guess or reverse decisions made earlier in the process. To avoid those kinds of costly delays, provide the board or a committee with regular updates and lots of opportunities to provide feedback. Any serious concerns should be discussed with the consultant and team so a satisfactory resolution can be reached to avoid costly backtracking later.

The consultant is your partner. Defining how that partnership will work can make it — and your project —more successful.

(Photo credit: Red Rooster Group)

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is the president of Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

Sharing power, getting results: engaging community in foundation decision-making

June 22, 2020

HelpingadiversetalentthriveWe are living in a singular moment, one with little precedent. A global pandemic followed by an economic recession followed by nationwide protests against police misconduct and systemic racism — all of it occurring in the span of a few short months. In many ways, philanthropy has responded nimbly and creatively to the moment, setting up response funds, easing application and reporting requirements, and even tapping new models of funding.

But what of philanthropy's response beyond this moment? Will the response we've seen translate into fundamental changes in foundation practice — changes in the way philanthropy shares power and thinks about sustainable community change?

One of the most meaningful changes foundations can make in their practice and decision-making is to directly engage those impacted by racism and race-based inequity.

We know that Black, Latinx, and Native communities have been particularly hard hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Likewise, the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd are shining a light not only on inequities in policing, but on racial inequities in every area of American life.

By failing to tap the expertise of the people it is trying to help, philanthropy — which remains largely white and unrepresentative of the communities it serves — risks overlooking much-needed solutions and insights that could catalyze the transformative social change required in this moment.

Indeed, foundations that have engaged community constituents in their decision-making say that doing so helps them get better results, enabling them to center their work in the realities faced by the communities they seek to serve and heightening their accountability to those communities. Community input also helps foundations identify critical funding priorities, infuse cultural competency into program design, and enhance their communications and evaluation and learning processes.

While foundations often engage grantee partners in their work, research shows they are far less likely to engage community members themselves. Here are three steps foundations can and should take on their equity journeys:

1. Take a close look at your existing practices and protocols. Is there room to be more inclusive? Can you engage community members in grant reviews? Is it possible to conduct a brief survey of community priorities before making final decisions about resource allocations? If you're working on an evaluation, are there ways to engage community members in data collection and/or in helping make sense of the findings? Reinventing processes from scratch can feel like a mountain too high, but tweaking existing practices can be a way to test out new ways of doing things, learn from missteps, and build on those learnings over time.

2. Determine whether it would be helpful to have intermediaries or partners broker relationships with constituents. Many foundations, especially larger ones that work nationally, do not have particularly strong community-level relationships and may not have made an effort or had the time to establish trust among community members. By partnering with a trusted local or regional organization (e.g., a regional association of grantmakers, regional foundation, or community development finance institution), foundations can get closer to the ground, develop stronger relationships with community members, and gain a better understanding of the priorities in the community.

Articulate organizational values for engaging those directly impacted by inequities in decision-making. As foundation embark on their equity journeys, it's important they not only articulate their organizational values but are clear about how those values will be operationalized. To the degree there are shared expectations about how to partner with communities and create more responsive philanthropy, organizational culture will follow.

To be sure, there are no shortcuts when it comes to partnering with a community. It is not easy work, and for many foundations it will require a fundamental shift in how they operate. To get started, we've provided a roadmap as a resource for foundations, one that recognizes that short-term shifts in practice coupled with longer-term changes in culture are both needed to truly embed shared decision-making in foundation practice.

We hope funders have the clarity and courage to challenge the status quo. This is the moment for philanthropy to reflect on how it can share power and, in doing so, make a deeper impact on the communities it strives to serve.

Headshot_seema_shahSeema Shah, PhD, is founder and principal of COMM|VEDA Consulting, which provides research, evaluation, writing, and project management services to mission-driven organizations. She is the author of two recent reports, Partnering with Community for Better Philanthropy and A Foot in Both Worlds: Working with Regional Organizations to Advance Equity, both developed with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

COVID-19 Is Prompting a Global Response From Impact Investors

May 13, 2020

Impact investing_610x308For most of us, the coronavirus pandemic is the first truly global crisis of our lifetimes. But while signs of progress against the virus have emerged from parts of Asia and Europe, infections and virus-related deaths continue to climb in the United States, and it seems as if large parts of the Global South are still in the early stages of their infection curves.

Our extensive webs of human connection are the proximate cause of the virus's rapid spread around the globe, highlighting, like nothing in recent memory, our global interconnectedness.

Ironically, those same links are also critical to the solution to the problem.

Across the impact investing community, COVID-19 is prompting a global response that those of us in the impact investing community have been proud to witness. Impact investors are doing what they do best: leveraging the power of finance to address the world's biggest challenges. It is already becoming clear that the ripple effects of the pandemic intersect with many of the goals impact investors have focused on for years: broadening access to affordable health care and housing, creating quality jobs, and building more sustainable agriculture and energy systems.

Among the hundreds of member organizations in the Global Impact Investing Network, tangible actions aimed at changing the course of the pandemic are unfolding. At the GIIN, we see those actions falling into three primary phases: a response phase, with a focus on immediate health and financial needs; a recovery phase, with a focus on rebuilding and tackling the social and economic impacts of the pandemic; and a resilience phase, with a focus on long-term systems change.

In many cases, impact investors are adjusting financing terms for existing investees as a first and immediate response. By making debt repayment terms more forgiving, impact investors are ensuring that social and environmental enterprises can continue to provide critical services — even as many struggle to overcome virus-related cash crunches.

Many impact investors also are offering bridge loans to their investees. Such loans are meant to help businesses cover expenses like payroll, rents, and other operational costs until emergency government aid arrives or consumer demand revives. Others in the GIIN network are expanding microfinance eligibility criteria and loan size, while still others are actively seeking out new investments that can help the world address the global public health emergency — proving, if nothing else, that not all liquidity has dried up.

Development banks across nearly all continents are issuing new bonds at a rapid clip. The proceeds will finance projects with broad COVID-related impacts. These projects are focused on things like improving the efficiency of healthcare systems, supporting the unemployed, and reducing friction in disrupted supply chains.

While we expect the near-term response by impact investors to the pandemic to grow in volume, actions by development finance institutions indicate that many in the impact investing community are thinking a step ahead to the medium-term investments needed to address a host of issues, including global under- and unemployment and inadequate health care, during the post-pandemic recovery phase.

As these efforts take shape, a central theme is becoming clear: in order to be truly effective, the global post-pandemic recovery will require the full spectrum of capital — from philanthropic to commercial. As things stand, we are seeing signs that blended-finance structures — long noted for their potential to bring different types of investors together to address urgent challenges — could rise to a new level of prominence. Such structures use philanthropic grants or concessionary capital to reduce investors' risk and catalyze the entry of larger pools of market-rate-seeking capital into investments with the potential to drive deep impact.

Just as we need to rely on one another more than ever during this crisis, we also need investors and grantmakers to work together as never before. But as we work together to respond to and recover from the impacts of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of our longer-term goals. The crisis is laying bare deep inequities in our healthcare and financial systems and causing the most harm to those who were already the most vulnerable: the poor, the ill and elderly, minority communities, women and girls. As we strive to become more resilient in the years after the crisis has passed, we must do everything in our power to prevent those inequities from taking hold again.

Our collective efforts over the coming months are likely to shape the way we approach the biggest global challenges we face for decades to come — challenges such as the climate emergency, which, like COVID-19, ignore international borders.

Headshot_giselle_leungAs you begin, in the coming months, to chart your "new normal," I urge you to remain mindful of that broader perspective and to hold tight to a shared vision of a more just, equitable, and resilient future — and to invest in it.

Giselle Leung is managing director of the Global Impact Investing Network.

Funding in the Time of COVID-19: Questions to Deepen Racial Equity

April 02, 2020

RacehandWe are witnessing a proliferation of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from the philanthropic sector, as private foundations, other grantmaking institutions, and philanthropy-serving organizations design and launch a variety of efforts.

For those funders that have articulated a commitment to racial equity in their work, the call to prioritize equity is all the more imperative during times of crisis. We know from experience that when institutions act fast, they are more likely to act on biases that reinforce, generate, and/or exacerbate inequities that negatively impact people of color, disabled people, and queer people.

In order to curtail the harmful impacts that acting fast often has on communities of color, in particular, I offer a list of questions that funders prioritizing racial equity should be asking. These speak to common racial biases often observed among grantmaking organizations — biases the sector should be more aware of and skilled at addressing as it designs, implements, and evaluates its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is your response race-silent or race-explicit? Experience tells us that race-silent analyses and strategies often reinforce and exacerbate racial inequities. Race-silent language in philanthropic work also tends to reinforce racial biases among staff, grantees, donors, and organizational partners. A better strategy is to name race and racism in your diagnosis of the problem and the design of your response to it. Are you clear about the root causes of racial inequities at play? Do you understand how the problem is negatively impacting Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and Arab/Middle Eastern people? Do your strategies address the specificities and nuances of the increased threats communities of color are facing?

Continue reading »

4 Design Essentials to Spark Lasting Change

March 11, 2020

Top_hands_inAmerican corporations, individuals and foundations gave over $425 billion to universities, cultural institutions, hospitals, and other nonprofit organizations last year, including significant funding hoping to address some of the biggest challenges we face across the country and around the globe — from climate change to homelessness. And yet, we have not made substantial progress on most of these systemic issues. That has to change.

The truth is the most critical and pressing systemic challenges our nation and our world are facing are too large and too complex to be solved by any individual organization working alone. But most funding flows to individual organizations. This mismatch is a key reason why progress too often stalls. To effect lasting, system-level change, funders must increase their support for coordinated, collaborative efforts — and demand no less from their grantees.

With decades of grantmaking experience between us, we decided to do the research to find evidence-based essentials that networks and coalitions need to make real progress toward meaningful, sustainable goals. Dell Technologies and 100Kin10, a network focused on addressing the nation's STEM teacher shortage, partnered to examine how to create and fund the kind of collective or networked efforts that can spark lasting change. This extensive analysis of successful, coalition-based social change efforts uncovered four "design essentials," elements that each effort needed to succeed.

Here is what we learned:

Continue reading »

Coronavirus Highlights the Gaping Holes in Our Healthcare and Labor System

March 05, 2020

FastFoodWorkersMaps and daily counts of the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world have become a staple of television, the Internet, and print media. Not unreasonably, Americans fearful of contracting the virus have emptied their local supermarkets and drugstores of masks, soap, and hand sanitizers in hopes that simple measures will protect them. Meanwhile, concerned officials are telling people they should speak to their employers about their work-from-home options and, if they begin to exhibit flu-like symptoms, to stay home.

Unfortunately, this latest global pandemic throws into stark relief the status of our broken healthcare and labor systems. Low-wage workers who care for our children, staff our hospitals, and work the kitchens and cash registers in our fast food restaurants cannot work at home. Nor, in the event they get sick without adequate insurance, can they afford to get tested for COVID-19 or obtain medical care. For them, and many others, missing a day's pay almost always results in dire financial consequences. Many have no paid sick days or family care days; they live in constant fear of losing their wages or, worse, their jobs. And if schools are closed, who will care for their own children when they report to work?

The all-but-inevitable spread of the virus in the United States is about to bring us face-to-face with a simple fact: masks (as the surgeon-general reminded us in a tweet!) and hand sanitizers will not make us safe; only fair wages, a strong social safety net, and universal paid family and medical leave will protect Americans from the worst consequences of the virus. In a quote that has circulated widely across social media, journalist and author Anand Giridharadas observed, "Coronavirus makes clear what has been true all along. Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst-cared-for person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling."

Continue reading »

Five Things Your Agency Can Do to Deliver Results for Families

January 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

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

January 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

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

November 05, 2019

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

Museums Should Lead in Socially Responsible Investing

September 11, 2019

Plant-Growing-In-Savings-CoinsMuseums and galleries all over the world have been grabbing headlines lately as a result of controversies over the source of funding from donors and trustees.

Artists and members of the public have objected to sponsorship from companies and individuals linked to the sale of opioids, tobacco, fossil fuels, private prisons, or the manufacture of tear gas. But the outcry overlooks a bigger opportunity for endowed cultural institutions to signal their values: how they invest.

The financial investments of four museums that have been criticized — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art — total more than $6 billion. Turning down a few million dollars in individual donations because of where the money comes from might feel good. But it ignores how these institutions invest the billions of dollars they already control.

Cultural institutions generally invest in public equities. It is reasonable to assume at least a portion of their public equity allocation is in an index fund, such as the S&P 500, which includes the very same types of companies — tobacco, weapons manufacturing, and fossil fuels — that are objected to in connection with controversial donors.

Yet there are hundreds of alternative vehicles that could allow for values-driven investing — including index funds such as the MSCI KLD 400 Social index and the S&P 500 ESG index. These exclude companies that produce negative social and environmental impacts. Then there are exchange-traded funds aligned with issues of race and social justice, gender equity, alternative energy production, and the UN sustainable development goals. In fact, in the U.S., $12 trillion is currently invested for positive environmental and social impact through funds such as these — one-quarter of all assets under management. So why aren't cultural institutions investing in these opportunities?

Mention the topic of socially responsible investing and people often ask whether investors sacrifice financial returns when they introduce factors such as environmental stewardship and good governance into investment decision making. The answer is no.

In fact there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that socially responsible investments outperform conventional ones. Wealth advisers such as Perella Weinberg and impact investors as diverse as the state of North Carolina and the Russell Family Foundation are sharing their evidence and portfolio experience to prove it.

Cultural institutions should be at the forefront of socially responsible investing, and this is where their boards can help. So far, it is small arts organizations that are leading the way. Over the past few months, Building for the Arts and Creative Capital each invested in the NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund, the first impact investment vehicle targeting low-income communities. And in June, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation committed its entire $1 million endowment to an impact investment strategy focused on promoting racial and social justice and economic opportunity in the arts.

These three organizations see their investment portfolios as another tool to advance their mission. Larger operations such as the Ford Foundation, the Heron Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have also demonstrated how to align the endowment of a nonprofit institution with its values.

Science and natural history museums including the Field Museum and the American Museum of Natural History have divested from fossil fuels in alignment with their stance on climate change. The time has come for our largest cultural institutions to demonstrate similar leadership.

Let's bring the best of Wall Street and Museum Mile together.

Headshot_laura_callananLaura Callanan is founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Maxwell Anderson also contributed to this article, which originally appeared in the Financial Times and is republished here with permission.

Three Shifts Philanthropy Needs to Make to Better Design and Evaluate Social Change

June 28, 2019

Chalk-board-paradigm-shiftGood strategy-making and evaluation sit at the heart of philanthropy. Yet as a sector, we continue to struggle with how to design strategies, how to understand our impact, and how to use that understanding to drive stronger strategies. While we've made progress in using theories of change, logic models, indicators, and various types of evaluations in our work, we are often still stuck in more traditional, linear paradigms of thinking that do not lend themselves to the complex, ever-changing contexts in which we work.

I believe there are three key shifts that philanthropy needs to make to more fully embrace a complexity-friendly approach to designing and evaluating social change:

From...   To....
Projects Systems
Results Hypotheses
Planning Learning

From Projects to Systems: Most foundation staff tend to think of their work in terms of programs, projects, or even specific grants. There is value in opening up the aperture and examining the whole system, with all its interconnected components.

At the Democracy Fund, we created elaborate "systems maps" to explore the connections and dynamics that characterize the systems we seek to influence and created strategies that utilize specific "leverage points" in the system. While evaluating the impact of our strategies, we look not only at indicators of program impact but also at a set of "system impact indicators" that track system-level variables.

For instance, while our Elections program tracks how many jurisdictions are adopting a particular tool (program impact), it also tracks how voter confidence in elections is shifting overall (system impact). The point is not to attribute causality, but rather to situate and understand our impact in the broader context of how systemic variables are moving. (To learn more about taking a systems and complexity approach to evaluation, check out Evaluating Complexity.)

Continue reading »

Collaboration Versus Competition: Funders Should Shift Their Giving Models to Better Support Families

June 25, 2019

Familia_adelantePicture this: In the New York City borough of the Bronx, Marlena and Jose Reyes had worked hard to provide for their family of four, often getting up before the sun rose to feed and get their children off to school before heading out to work. But their family hit hard times when Jose was injured on the job. The medical bills quickly added up, and, lacking disability coverage, he began to worry his family wouldn't be able to make ends meet. Soon, the family fell into financial crisis, and the threat of eviction became a very real and frightening possibility.

Fortunately, Marlena learned about a service provider collaborative in the community called Familia Adelante that could help.

Stories like those of the Reyeses are common inside the walls of Familia Adelante, which connects families with a range of services, from health care to educational support to job training, all in a single location.

Comprised of three organizations — Mercy Center, the Fiver Children's Foundation, and the Qualitas of Life Foundation —as well as Tanya Valle, a mindfulness practitioner, Familia Adelante helps low-income families access services based on goals they set with the help of a coach. Each of the three agencies focuses on its area of expertise, and together they meet regularly to evaluate families' progress. In the situation in which the Reyes family found itself, Familia Adelante was able to help the Reyeses prioritize their short-term needs, establish a plan to get out of debt, and, because the organization has access to a full range of basic-need services, keep their home and maintain family stability.

Unfortunately, for many families and service providers, the reality is much different. Rather than collaborating, many nonprofits compete fiercely with other nonprofits for resources. With a limited amount of charitable dollars available, nonprofits tend to view each other as competitors rather than as allies working toward a common goal. It's a model that hurts nonprofits — and the people they are trying to serve.

Continue reading »

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

Subscribe to PhilanTopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Filter posts

Select
Select
Select