26 posts categorized "U.S. Democracy"

A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PND: Can you give us an example of how that focus has played out with respect to a specific issue?

MZ: So, the day after Barack Obama's second term in office ended, I hired a woman named Jeanne Lambrew who had been President Obama's top healthcare expert. Jeanne came to the Century Foundation for two years to be a resource to us in our efforts to defend the Affordable Care Act, which was under attack by Republican members of Congress. We felt that healthcare advocates needed to have access to someone who knew the history of the legislation, someone who knew how it was being undermined administratively or could be repealed or compromised in a significant way. And for two years, thanks to our investment, Jeanne did just that, making herself available to people on Capitol Hill who had technical questions or questions about strategy, and laying the groundwork for an in-depth analysis of competing proposals that could serve as the basis of the next generation of healthcare reform. Besides Medicare for All, there are four or five other proposals out there that could serve as the basis for a new and improved version of the Affordable Care Act. And through convenings, conferences, commissions of work, and her own work, Jeanne brought attention to those proposals, which, in my opinion, are going to very much be front and center in the next presi­dential election cycle.

PND: In their book The Liberal Hour, MacKenzie and Weisbrot argue that while civil rights activists, New Left dissidents, and student protesters all played important roles in driving social change in the 1960s, it was "the institutions of national politics, and the politicians and bureaucrats who inhabited them, that produced the social and economic changes that became the deep and enduring legacy of that decade." Do you agree with that?

MZ: I think underlying your question is the question of how much government intervention there should be in the economy. Capitalism has great strengths, but as we know, it also tends to leave a lot of people behind. And I think the debates of the last several decades, to a significant degree, have been about what level of government intervention in the economy is appropriate in terms of making sure that the rich and powerful aren't the only ones with the power to make decisions, aren't the only ones who do well, and that everyone has adequate access to the kinds of resources, whether it's education or housing or healthcare or retirement security, they need to realize their full potential.

The Century Foundation and other progressive institutions will say, unabashedly, that in some cases there needs to be significant intervention by gov­ernment to ensure that all Americans have access to the resources they need to realize their full potential. And, of course, there are people on the right who subscribe to the idea that each of us is on our own, that capitalism creates winners and losers, and that if you're a loser in a capitalist system, well, then, you're a loser and that, moreover, government has no role to play in terms of ensuring that everyone has a shot, that everyone gets to participate in our democracy, and that everyone enjoys the full rights of citizenship.

PND: The freshman class elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms includes record numbers of women and people of color. What's your view of what happened in November?

MZ: I think 2018 was one of the most significant midterm elections since 1974, when the first post-Watergate class came in and passed a number of reforms to the way Con­gress does its business, not to mention broader reforms in the economy. In some ways, the 2018 midterms were even more consequential, because of the diversity and energy that the new representatives have brought to Washington. They look a lot more like America looks in 2019, and to my mind they represent what America in the future will look like.

Now, it may take two, four, even ten years to deliver on some of the most progressive ideas that many in this freshman class are pushing and fighting for, but I think they're trying, as a group, to shift where the center is, and that's very important to making progress in public policy — shifting the center of the debate. And I think they're succeeding. As a group, they're expanding the definition of what's possible in terms of government intervention, especially as it relates to the security of the middle class, as well as low-income populations that haven't been given access to the kind of tools and resources and opportunities they need to prosper.

PND: What is the Century Foundation doing in 2019 to advance a progressive agenda in the United States?

MZ: One of the things we're tackling is the college affordability issue. The single most important thing we can do as a country, in my opinion, is to make sure young people have the opportunity to prosper economic­ally, and that simply is not the case right now. There are too many young people who don't have access to a four-year education or even a two-year or vocational education. Or they get to college only to drop out because they don't have the kinds of support, beyond tuition assistance, they need to navigate the college landscape — things like basic living expenses and child care and money for food and transportation. None of that is properly figured into the actual cost of college, and that's a problem, because we have to make it possible for more young people to get the kind of education they're going to need to thrive in the twenty-first century.

So, one of the things we're looking at here at TCF is the idea of debt-free college, with a focus on the kinds of resources and training we can provide to the next generation who are going to college — and who, in many cases, may be the first in their family to go to college. We spend tens of billions of dollars on higher education in this country, and only $5 billion on college-prep training and vocational programs. That's just wrong. And it means we're shortchanging young people who are looking for something other than the traditional college path

None of that is acceptable, and so we're working hard to come up with proposals, especially in the context of federal-state partnerships, that would provide millions of more young people access to college and, when they get to college, make it possible for them not to have to take on backbreaking amounts of debt in order to graduate. I mean, that's just not what the American dream is about. Ultimately, the idea is to have federal-state partnerships that help make college accessible and affordable for every­one, and to invest in alternative tracks like vocational or certificate training for those who feel that that's a better path for them. We have to invest in those individuals as well, and not just people on the four-year college track.

PND: Obviously, there is a lot of anxiety in America about the way the economy has changed and how the nature of work is changing. What is the Century Foundation doing to address those challenges?

MZ: One focus is labor unions. A lot of your readers can recall a time, as recently as the 1970s, when organized labor represented as much as a third of all the people employed in the United States. The simple fact of the matter is that unionization had the effect of preserving good wages and benefits for American workers, and of giving workers bargaining power in their dealings with employers. But in the decades since, we've seen a dramatic decline in union membership in America, especially in private-sector unionization, where today it's only 6 percent of the private-sector workforce. Meanwhile, Congress, for the better part of three decades, has been absolutely stuck in terms of doing what one would like to see it do when it comes to important social legislation, and that is to update and modernize laws already on the books so that they continue to work for the benefit of American workers.

One of the things I wrote about earlier this year concerned the opportunity for the labor movement and its allies to do something that is done in political campaigns, and that, of course, is to promote themselves with modern tech­nology and digital marketing techniques to activists and people who are interested in creating new unions. Technology has been deployed in hundreds of ways and in every area of the economy — whether it's filing your taxes, or booking an airline reservation, or automatically paying a toll with an E-ZPass — to make life easier for the consumer and help individuals work more efficiently. And it's unfortunate that the same technologies have not been marshaled to help people understand their right to form and be part of a labor union.

So what I outlined in my paper is how digital marketing techniques can be used to present the benefits of labor unions to a new generation — a generation, I might add, that is very used to and receptive to these technologies. It gives labor and its allies specific suggestions with respect to how the labor movement could be revived and strengthened because, as I said, it's one of the keys to making the American economy work for all Americans again.

There are also policy changes we need to make, some of which are being discussed at TCF and elsewhere in think-tank land — things like a guaranteed basic income for every American, a higher minimum wage, better overtime protections, an updating of the National Labor Relations Act, putting some teeth into our anti-trust laws, and passing corporate respon­sibility legislation.

All those things — along with better trade policy — play a role in addressing what has become an historic level of inequal­ity in the United States. In the last thirty years, we've seen wages stagnate for the lower quintiles and explode for the very highest quintile. And it's going to take more than one strategy to fix the problem; it's going to take half a dozen strategies to change the trajectory of wage gains for most Americans. If we do nothing, the problem will only get worse, creating greater and greater economic inequality in the country, and posing a real threat to our democracy.

PND: Ed Filene's foundation was an early promoter of public-private partner­ships, and the foundation con­tinues to work very much in that spirit. Over the last forty years or so, however, Americans have been conditioned to believe that government is inefficient and expensive. What can progressives do to change their fellow citizens' view of government and the role it plays in promoting the common weal?

MZ: This is a big chal­lenge for the progressive movement, especially at a time when so many good things have hap­pened in the country with respect to the protection of individual rights. The phenomenon you describe was observed during the debates on the Affordable Care Act, when it wasn't unusual to hear people express the belief that Medicare was a private-sector program. They would slam the Affordable Care Act as a tyrannical federal program and in the next breath say, "And keep your hands off my Medicare," failing completely to make the connection between the two.

So, yes, we face a big challenge around educating people about all the ways in which our investments in the federal government improve their lives, and that those investments have involved decades and decades of hard work aimed at trying to perfect these programs so that they are reliable, efficient, and — no small matter — properly understood and appreciated. Look at Social Security. When it was first proposed, it was bitterly contested and argued about, and for a few years after it was passed into law there were attempts to undermine and repeal it. Eighty years later, it is woven into the fabric of the country — so much so that something like President Bush’s attempt to privatize it was met with massive resistance. By and large, Americans just expect that they're going to get a monthly Social Security check when they reach a certain age, and they don't make the connection between their own reliance on the program and it actually being a big, successful government program that is emblematic of the best of what government can do for them.

Long story short, I think progressives have to do a better job of pointing to the government programs that work and improve people's lives and then make the case that without more interventions in the economy to balance the depredations of global capitalism, they're going to be worse off than they would be with a little more government in their lives. That's what the debate over the last few decades has been about, and it will continue to be what the debate is about for the foreseeable future. Progressives need to fight hard against this philosophy that we're all on our own, and that government is just a big, wasteful bureaucracy with no redeeming value.

That said, I also think it’s important for government to make itself more efficient through the smart use of modern tech­nologies, and to work in a way that is more responsive to individuals who need help. In some cases, that means making more investments in things that it under-invests in, especially K-12 education. That's the challenge for the progressive movement.

PND: What is your take on the new generation of politicians and policy leaders that has emerged in Washington and in state capitals around the country?

MZ: I think it's a fantastic development and the Democratic Party should be very proud of the diversity it represents today, both in terms of people of color and the representation of women. In Congress and in state legislatures across the country, the power structure is more reflective of the citizens it is meant to serve than ever before, and that is essential if our democracy is to thrive.

Beyond that, I think this is a transformative moment in our democracy, and I think this new generation of leaders is already doing a good job of identifying the shortcomings of existing public policy and making it clear what kinds of public policy we need going forward, whether it's universal health care, or action on climate change, or tackling income and wealth inequality. They are successfully engaging the country in these hard-to-solve problems, and they are doing so with specific solutions, in some cases even going around elite power structures and appealing directly to the people. That's probably the only way they will succeed, given the state of our extremely inadequate and counter-productive campaign finance laws.

PND: So, I take it you do not think the United States is a country in decline. If that's not the case, what makes you optimistic about the future?

MZ: No, I don't think we’re in decline, but I do think people are frustrated, because they see we have a set of very big challenges that need to be addressed, and they don't see any evidence that government is willing or able to address them. What they see instead is partisanship and grid­lock, and that causes them to be frustrated.

But what is hopeful about this rising generation is that so many of them are courageous and outspoken and seem to be willing to put their shoulder to the wheel. They are also very clear-eyed about who is blocking progress and the changes that the country wants and needs. Whether it's the Parkland students, or the new generation of legislators in the House who want to open things up and create processes that work better for the American people, or those who think the judiciary needs to be more responsive to ordinary Americans. Whatever the forum, there is this sense, I think, of optimism that new blood can revive our democracy and deliver on its promise — not just for Americans but for the world.

But they need to be sup­ported. That's the reason that the Century Foundation, in honor of our hundredth anniversary this year, launched Next100, a new, independent, and first-of-its-kind pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders. For the next two years, we'll select six emerging policy leaders and give them training, resources, and support to tackle a policy challenge of their choosing, all while providing them full-timed salaried positions and benefits. After we announced Next100 earlier this year, more than seven hundred people applied — from all walks of life and backgrounds, wanting to work on all sorts of challenges. It was an inspiring response to witness, and we just finished interviews and will be announcing the incoming class of leaders in July. Stay tuned.

So that's, in part, what makes me optimistic about the future of America — the next generation of leaders coming up.

Mitch Nauffts

What's New at Candid (April 2019)

April 17, 2019

Candid logoAs Foundation Center and GuideStar enter their third month as a single organization, staff are forging ahead with the work of integrating workflows, sharing ideas, and developing solutions. It's exciting! And like many other nonprofits at this time of year, we're out and about at conferences and events and knee-deep in projects scheduled to launch later this year.

Here are some of the highlights from March:

Projects Launched

  • In partnership with Sustain Arts and See Chicago Dance, we published a new report, Mapping the Dance Landscape in Chicagoland. The Chicago region is a hub for arts and culture and boasts a thriving dance community, and the report can be used to identify trends, opportunities, and challenges facing dancers, dance organizations, and the field as a whole.
  • On CF Insights, our annual Columbus Survey is now open. The U.S. community foundation data collected by the survey provides a snapshot of the field and can be used to inform the financial and operational decisions made by community foundation staff. You can learn more about last year's survey results here — and be sure to check back for the results of this year's survey later this spring.
  • Glasspockets reached a milestone when the Walton Family Foundation became the one hundredth foundation to commit to sharing its transparency self-assessment profile on the Glasspockets website. Janet Camarena and her team also debuted new Transparency Levels (Core, Advanced, & Champion) designed in partnership with active Glasspockets foundations and sponsored by, yes, the Walton Family Foundation.

Data Spotlight

  • As the 2020 U.S. presidential election begins to take shape, we continue to track how foundations are supporting implementation, research, reform, and or/mobilization efforts related to campaigns, elections, and voting on our Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy. According to Candid data, more than $555 million has been granted by 845 funders in support of campaigns, elections, and voting since 2011. Of that total, $136 million has taken the form of general/unrestricted support, while $69.2 million has targeted racial and ethnic minorities.
  • To date in 2019, we've recorded over 5,000 registrations for our webinars and self-paced elearning courses and have handled more than 18,000 questions through our knowledge base.
  • We completed custom data searches for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, Humboldt University of Berlin, Philanthropy Ohio, the Philanthropy Roundtable, and the Walton Family Foundation.

In the News

What We're Excited About

Upcoming Conferences and Events

It's conference season! Candid staff will be attending these upcoming events:

Services Spotlight

  • A total of 231,299 new grants added to Foundation Maps in March, of which 2,665 were made to 1,920 organizations outside the U.S.
  • Foundation Directory Online continues to support everything needed in a fundraising tool. Now you can build more robust prospect lists and see how much funders are giving based on your mission.
  • Candid’s webinar participants continue to gain practical skills and report an increase in confidence after taking one of our webinars. In a recent survey, 88 percent reported that they had gained a specific skill, tool, or strategy that enabled them to advance their work, while 95 percent said they expected to apply what they had learned in the webinar within the year.
  • Twenty-two participants from Northeast Ohio participated in a three-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp. Check out all 2019 boot camp dates here.
  • The Funding Information Network now boasts thirteen training partners. FINs are locations around the country where you can access Candid resources for free and take a scheduled class. Learn more about the Funding Information Network program here.
  • New data sharing partners: Barr Family Foundation, Better Way Foundation, Callison Foundation, District of Columbia Bar Foundation, Hamer D. & Phyllis C. Shafer Foundation Charitable Trust, and Victorian Women's Benevolent Trust. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • New customers: Purposeful is using our data and APIs, the Barr Foundation is using our Premier API, and a UK site called Social Bite is licensing our data to help with their cause (homelessness). We also added North Carolina State, George Washington University, and the University of Richmond to our roster of Library services clients.

Content Published

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email. I'll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

What's New at Candid (formerly Foundation Center and GuideStar) (March 2019)

March 19, 2019

Candid logoMarch brings the first days of Spring and the beginning of new things. At Candid, we've been marking new beginnings with game-changing training programs and convenings, attendance at great conferences, and valuable research. Here are some of the recent highlights:

Projects Launched

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution to capacity building, but a new series of GrantCraft case studies provides funders with networking and collaboration insights that can empower their grantees to invest in capacity building. Each case study has been developed in partnership with Community Wealth Partners and draws on that organization's capacity-building work with funders and grantees. Together, the studies showcase varied approaches to addressing the long-term capacity needs of grantees and provide valuable insights for foundations, consultants, and practitioners. The series also pilots a new approach for GrantCraft in which we tap the wisdom of technical assistance providers in making sure learnings from foundation projects are shared widely.
  • Glasspockets recently hit a milestone, publishing its one hundredth profile of a funder that has publicly participated in the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment. To celebrate, Glasspockets has launched a blog series, the "Road to 100 & Beyond," featuring foundations that have played a part in the site reaching this milestone. In addition to helpful examples, the series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness inside foundations evolves over time, and lessons learned.
  • We added a new infographic to the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy portal which shows the U.S. dropping to #71 on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index — the first time since 2011 the U.S. has fallen out of the top 20. According to the infographic, about 3 percent of overall funding for democracy work goes to open government and transparency efforts. You can check it out and more at foundationcenter.org/infographics.
  • Grantmakers in the Arts published its annual Arts Funding Snapshot in the Winter 2019 edition of the GIA Reader. The snapshot looks at foundation giving for arts and culture for 2016, based on the most recent complete year of data for a set of the largest U.S.-based private and community foundations (by total giving). A webinar that explores the findings is available on the GIA website.
  • GuideStar launched updated APIs with new data and filters, as well as new internal administrative functions, meaning you can now get more data through GuideStar's Premier API that you can't find anywhere else, including nonprofit logos, demographic information, and due-diligence information. You can also search for organizations in new ways, thanks to new filters that enable users to sort by organizations that are in good standing with the IRS and by cause area.

Content Published

In the News

What We're Excited About

  • Out in the community! On March 13, our San Francisco office kicked off a new series of monthly orientations at our nearby Funding Information Network partner location. The staff presentation at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library featured forty minutes of training, twenty minutes of Q&A, and an hour of one-on-one support for those who needed it, drawing a great crowd and generating rave reviews. Candid staff in San Francisco is excited to pilot this new program model, which among other things addresses how we can best partner with our Funding Information Network (FIN) partners in San Francisco (and beyond) in anticipation of our San Francisco library closing for good on June 30.
  • What's that, you say? In 2019, Candid will start shifting its efforts from maintaining regional direct-service locations to focusing more on our 400+ FIN partner sites, which are located in communities across the U.S.as well as several countries. Through deeper and closer collaboration with our FIN partners, we hope to make our Social Sector Outreach services available far and wide — services that include the same great programming and access to tools and expertise you’ve come to expect at our regional locations. Please check out this interactive map to find a FIN location near you. And read the full announcement from VP of Social Sector Outreach Zohra Zori.
  • We are working with Sustain Arts and See Chicago Dance on the first data-driven analysis of the Chicagoland dance sector since 2002.

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Our staff will be attending these upcoming events:

Services Spotlight

  • 252,817 new grants added to Foundation Maps in February, of which 5,762 were made to 4,251 organizations outside the U.S.
  • Leverage insights from Foundation Directory Online to connect to funders: Connect Guide.
  • 12 participants from the Bay Area and beyond participated in a three-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp. Check out all 2019 boot camp dates here.
  • New data sharing partners: Aesop Foundation Australia, Colorado Plateau Foundation, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, InFaith Community Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation, Klein Family Foundation, Massachusetts Medical Society and Alliance Charitable Foundation, St Mary's Medical Center,Notah Begay III Foundation, Scriven Foundation, and the Steele-Reese Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world! Learn more about our eReporting program.
  • New customers: RoundUp APP, Tides Foundation, University of California, Santa Barbara, California State University, Los Angeles,F.B. Heron Foundation, Barr Foundation, Elevation Web, Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Data Spotlight

  • In honor of Women's History Month, we are highlighting data centered around support for women and girls across our research:
    • Funding directed for women and girls made up 23 percent of all foundation funding for human rights, some $2.1 billion, between 2011-15. Over the course of those five years, funding for women and girls increased by 43 percent, representing the greatest share of funding targeted to a particular population group.
    • Of all international giving by U.S. foundations between 2011-15, 13.8 percent, or $4.8 billion, was targeted to women and girls. And while overall giving increased by 36 percent over the five-year period, funding targeted to women and girls increased 77 percent.
    • Between 2014-15, 13 percent of all funding from U.S. foundations directed to Latin America targeted women and girls, including a grant of $1.3 million over three years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to Mexico's National Institute of Public Health in support of research on the promotion of professional midwifery.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email. I'll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

What's New at Foundation Center Update (November and December)

December 18, 2018

FC_logoDoes anyone feel like the end of the year is the busiest time of all? Not only is everyone swamped, but with so much happening in the world and in philanthropy, there's hardly any time to prioritize reflection, learning, and empathy. Here at Foundation Center, we're scrambling to finish this year's projects while also planning some exciting things for 2019.

This is a long update, but I guarantee there's something useful in it for everyone!

Projects Launched

  • In partnership with the Early Childhood Funders’ Collaborative and Heising-Simons Foundation, we launched Funding for Early Childhood Care and Education, an interactive mapping tool that provides a valuable starting place for funders and practitioners interested in supporting the learning and development of young children across the country.
  • In partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we launched the fifth edition of Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy, as well as a revamped website with an updated dashboard. The new report includes a five-year (2012-2016) trends analysis, adding to the information available on disaster giving and enabling philanthropists, government agencies, and NGOs to better coordinate their efforts and make better decisions about support for effective disaster response and assistance. You can view all these resources at: disasterphilanthropy.foundationcenter.org.
  • We launched the Barr Foundation Knowledge Center, which features key learnings and work from the Barr Foundation and their partners aimed at maximizing impact in their issue areas and the field more generally. Powered by our IssueLab service, the collection includes publications and resources that are free to browse and download.
  • In partnership with Hispanics in Philanthropy and Seattle International Foundation, we released a new report, U.S. Foundation Funding for Latin America, 2014–2015. This two-year analysis updates seven years of collaborative research with a multiyear analysis designed to help civil society leaders identify long-term trends in the region and better target their resources. With additional analysis on Central America, the report was highlighted at the 2018 Central America Donors Forum in El Salvador.
  • We added a new feature on YouthGiving.org, Causes: Youth In Action! The new pages provide an in-depth look at how youth funders are approaching critical issues in the world today. And while there are lots of causes around which youth are energized, the new feature focuses on three to start — Environment, Immigration, and Mental Health — with each page showcasing current funding data, ways youth can get involved, and stories from youth highlighting their work to effect change.
  • We released new research in partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that maps the composition of and support for the complex ecosystem of nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world.
  • We launched new dashboards on the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy site, a nonpartisan data visualization platform for anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in funding U.S. democracy. With the new dashboards, the site now provides information on more than 57,000 grants awarded by over 6,000 funders totaling $5.1 billion across four major categories: campaigns and elections, civic participation, government strengthening, and media.

Content Published

Newsworthy Connections

  • In the wake of the midterm elections, we have seen a reinvigorated debate around the role of philanthropy in a democratic society. But what are funders actually doing to support democracy in the United States? At a time of increased scrutiny of foundations, our updated dashboards on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy provide a measure of transparency and a partial answer to that question and complement the broader discussion about philanthropy's role in a democratic society. Learn more at democracy.foundationcenter.org.
  • Teleangé Thomas, director of Foundation Center Midwest, was tapped to moderate a televised interview with Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World at the City Club of Cleveland in October.

In the News

What We're Excited About

  • Shifting from presenting data to sharing insights. A great example is this blog post on PhilanTopic written by our own Anna Koob on the intersection of democracy funding and participatory grantmaking — both recent focuses of our work.
  • Our GrantCraft guide on participatory grantmaking guide has been downloaded more than 2,000 times since it was launched in October! We've also received a number of inquiries from funders interested in adopting the practice and are continuing to advance the conversation through blogs, conference sessions, and webinars.
  • If you haven't already, check out the series in PhilanTopic on current trends in philanthropy by Vice President of Research Larry McGill and our Knowledge Services colleagues Supriya Kumar and Anna Koob. The series touches on big picture trends as well as a few of our recent research projects.
  • Foundation Center has officially joined the United Philanthropy Forum, a network of more than seventy-five regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs). We’re excited about the exciting joint opportunities that lie ahead!
  • Foundation Center's annual Network Days conference for the center's Funding Information Network partners met the expectations of 93 percent of attendees and was attended by representatives of sixty-four of our partners, including a number from outside the U.S.

Services Spotlight

  • In October, we added 178,992 new grants to Foundation Maps, of which 4,665 were awarded to 2,269 organizations outside the United States. In November, we added 218,139 grants, of which 12,716 were awarded to 5,912 organizations outside the U.S.
  • Foundation Directory Online now includes more than 13 million grants. We've also made improvements to its search functionality and added more robust usage reports.
  • New data sharing partners: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; Boyd and Evelyn Mullen Charitable Foundation; Patrick and Aimee Butler Family Foundation; C&A Foundation; Delta Air Lines Foundation; Fichtenbaum Charitable Foundation; New York Women's Foundation, Inc.; People's United Community Foundation, Inc.; People's United Community Foundation of Eastern Massachusetts, Inc.; Pohlad Family Foundation; and David And Claudia Reich Family Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • Thanks to a generous grant from Borealis Philanthropy, we added 97 eBooks to Foundation Center's collection, bringing the total number of eBooks available to the public to 179. Since mid-April, when the collection was first made available online, the most-viewed titles have been The Complete Book of Grant Writing: Learn to Write Grants Like a Professional and Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals. Check out our free eBooks today!

Data Spotlight

  • Since 2001, youth have made 101 grants totaling more than $475,000 in support of issues related to immigrants and refugees. YouthGiving.org's new cause page focused on immigration aims to help youth (and the adults who support them) to be more strategic in their work by highlighting quick facts and resources from organizations that work on these issues every day.
  • In terms of disaster assistance strategies, 42 percent of dollars awarded in 2016 supported response and relief efforts; 17 percent supported reconstruction and recovery efforts, with more than half of that awarded in support of efforts related to the Flint water crisis; 8 percent supported resilience measures; and 5 percent was allocated to disaster preparedness efforts. Learn more about these strategies and trends at disasterphilanthropy.foundationcenter.org.
  • Since 2011, Foundation Center has documented 57,000+ democracy-related grants. Of those, 11.5 percent totaling some $583 million were directed in support of campaigns, elections, and voting, including support for campaign finance reform, election administration, voter education, and voting access efforts.
  • Did you know funding for nonprofit infrastructure organizations averaged $70.4 million annually between 2004 and 2015? Learn more about the ecosystem of organizations working to support nonprofits, philanthropy, and civil society at infrastructure.foundationcenter.org.
  • Thirty-eight percent of the grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations to Latin America went directly to recipient organizations in the region, while the rest was awarded to organizations located outside the region. Learn more about funding for Latin America here.
  • Youth have awarded more than $795,000 in support of the environment, including causes such as climate change, outdoor education, and animal welfare. Explore youthgiving.org/learn/causes/environment to learn more about why young people are taking action around the environment.
  • Since January 2018, Foundation Center has hosted more than 15,000 attendees at our in-person events at our five regional offices and registered nearly 30,000 folks for our online classes and self-paced e-learning courses. Check out our ongoing events calendar at GrantSpace. And browse our self-paced e-learning courses and other on-demand courses here.
  • Through our Ask Us chat service, Foundation Center staff have assisted with or answered more than 130,000 questions from the public on topics related to finding grants, fundraising, and nonprofit management.
  • Lastly, we completed custom data searches for the University of San Diego, Geneva Global, the Center for Evaluation Innovation, and the Educational Foundation of America.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I'll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

Don’t Wait Until 2020 to Invest in Youth Leaders

December 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 2020, it'll be too late.

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

Funding for Democracy and Participatory Grantmaking: Two Sides of the Same Coin

November 29, 2018

In the wake of the U.S. midterms, it's easy to feel good about democracy and democratic practice. For those of us who were able to, exercising one’s right to vote can feel energizing. And the ubiquity of the 'I Voted' sticker on social media platforms offers a nice counterpoint to the all-too-common assertion that democracy is dying.

Trends cited as evidence of democracy's demise — dwindling participation in civic life, attacks on the press meant to undermine its legitimacy, the proliferation of digital disinformation, the rise of authoritarianism in formerly democratic countries — have been joined by renewed scrutiny of philanthropy, which finds itself under fire (once again) for being an anti-democratic tool of wealthy elites intent on shaping the world to their benefit. This criticism, however, exists alongside the reality that there are foundations funding efforts to strengthen democracy and loosen the grip of elite interests on the levers of power.

Democracy_twitter

Indeed, there's a substantial amount of philanthropic grantmaking informed by a belief that democracy is worth saving. At Foundation Center, we've captured this funding for the United States in a data tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, that we developed in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Open Society Foundations, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Democracy Fund, and the Hewlett, JPB, MacArthur, and Rita Allen foundations. The platform makes publicly available information on 57,000+ grants awarded by more than 6,000 foundations since 2011 in support of democracy, including efforts to foster an engaged and informed public and promote government accountability, as well as funding for policy research and advocacy.

Grants that meet Foundation Center criteria are included in the platform regardless of whether a grantmaker self-identifies as a "democracy funder." And grants are not limited to a particular segment of the political spectrum. On the platform, you'll find grants awarded to the Young America’s Foundation, which is "committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values," alongside grants to People for the American Way, which was "founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values under attack, including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy."

Across the four major funding categories represented in the tool — Campaigns, Elections, and Voting; Civic Participation; Government; and Media — you'll also find support for activities that challenge the status quo in the U.S. and run counter to the interests of the power elite.

Continue reading »

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

October 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2018)

May 01, 2018

As not-spring turns into full-on summer, we've been busy rounding up your favorite posts from the past thirty days. Haven't had a lot of time for sector-related reads? Don't sweat it — here's your chance.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Interested in writing for PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Send a few lines about your idea/article/post to mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Facebook, Foundations, and Democracy: Putting the 'R-word' Back Into Philanthropy

April 11, 2018

Risk is back in philanthropy. As populist rage and technological omnipotence sweep the globe, seven American foundations have stepped up in a way that only private philanthropy can.

Early this week, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan, Charles Koch, John S. and James L. Knight, and Laura and John Arnold foundations; the Democracy Fund; and Omidyar Network, announced the launch of a research initiative aimed at increasing public understanding of Facebook's role in elections and democracy. The funder consortium will pay for an "independent and diverse" committee of scholars that invites researchers to conduct research using proprietary Facebook data that “meets the company's new, heightened focus on user privacy.” To ensure an added layer of objectivity, the venerable Social Science Research Council (founded in 1923) will oversee the selection of research proposals and the peer-review process.

Slowing the game down

This is a perfect of example of how private foundations can contribute to the public good. In a volatile, contentious, and partisan time where dialogue (or lack thereof) can be measured in bots, posts, tweets, links, and likes, these foundations are using their resources and independence to declare a collective "time out." Foundations are not political parties, business, or lobbyists. Guided by mission, values, and donor intent, they have the distance and time horizon to be able to take a careful, deliberate look at what is really going on when it comes to media, elections, and democracy. Social science research, with its strict procedures for requesting proposals and conducting peer review of research, is built for methodological rigor, not for speed. In basketball, they teach you that the best way to deal with a running offense is to slow the game down. These seven foundations are doing just that.

Strength in numbers

Were any one foundation to try to do this alone, it would most likely be criticized for some kind of political or partisan bias. But the seven that have banded together on this initiative are a pretty interesting cross-section of the field. Collectively, they hold over $20 billion in assets originating in fortunes derived from technology (Hewlett, Omidyar, and the Democracy Fund), journalism (Knight), energy/finance (Arnold), the automotive industry (Sloan), and oil and manufacturing (Koch). They represent family foundations, independent foundations, and living donor foundations. They all have solid track records of grantmaking focused on improving the functioning of American democracy. But they do that in different ways. See for yourself in the network map below. Click the link and you’ll go straight to an interactive page on the Foundation Funding for American Democracy site where you can explore each and every grant made by these foundations. All these foundations are proud of their work and, unlike Cambridge Analytica, have nothing to hide.

Democracy-maps-constellation

Continue reading »

'Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy': What Does the Data Say?

July 27, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

It's no secret that many Americans are wondering whether our democracy is still working. The signs of dysfunction are everywhere — allegations of election tampering, voter suppression, and "fake news" comprise a continuous soundtrack accompanying distressingly low levels of electoral turnout, ever more bizarre examples of gerrymandering, and perpetual government gridlock.

Concerns about U.S. democracy are on the minds of America's philanthropic institutions as well. We know, of course, about the "dark money" that is being pumped into the electoral process in an attempt to influence the outcomes of U.S. elections. But what about the efforts of U.S. foundations who see the task of improving U.S. democracy as an important part of their philanthropic missions? (And which, unlike dark money vehicles, are required to disclose information about their giving in publicly available tax documents.)

In partnership with eight foundations, Foundation Center, in 2014, developed Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a free online portal that tracks the efforts of foundations to improve American democracy. The tool provides detail on more than 35,000 relevant grants, with additional data added regularly. (Next week, I'll be providing a tour of this mapping platform via a free webinar. Register here.)

Since 2011, U.S. foundations have spent more than $3.7 billion on efforts to improve our democracy. Our data show that foundations are almost equally focused on the areas of encouraging civic participationimproving how government functions at the national, state, and local levels; and supporting an accountable and democratic media, with about  a third of their democracy-focused grant dollars going to each area. Campaigns and elections, the fourth major area of foundation funding for democracy, received about 10 percent of democracy-focused grant dollars. (This adds up to more than 100 percent, because some grants address multiple issues.)

US Democracy_funding by category_fb

These findings suggest that important issues need to be addressed in all four areas — civic participation, government, media, and campaigns and elections — and that focusing on any single area isn't sufficient to ensure a well-functioning democracy. Civic participation funders are focused, in particular, on encouraging issue-based participation by the public; government-focused funders prioritize grantmaking in the area of civil liberties and the rule of law; media-focused funders split their grantmaking almost equally on strengthening journalism and improving media access and policy; and those focused on campaigns and elections are primarily funding activities to educate voters and increase voter turnout.

Continue reading »

What Is at Stake, and Why Philanthropy Must Respond

July 19, 2017

WhatsAtStake240In the months since the 2016 presidential election, philanthropy has begun to respond energetically to real and perceived threats to longstanding American principles of justice, equality, and fairness. Yet more is needed to counter policies and actions that undermine democratic norms, roll back essential safety-net protections, and shrink or destroy government programs essential to the health of the nation and the planet.

For the nonprofit world, the election of Donald Trump as president has raised the stakes in ways the two of us have never seen. Most nonprofits have missions that address inequality, injustice, and fairness in some way or another, whether it’s providing services to poor people and others in need, working to protect and extend civil and human rights, promoting environmental and animal protections, advancing equal opportunity, or enriching arts and culture for all.

We strongly believe these values — and the nonprofit work informed by them — are in jeopardy. And whether Donald Trump is the proximate cause of that danger or merely a catalyst for the expression of years of pent-up frustration, we cannot ignore the problem.

Whether or not you applaud Trump’s campaign promise to "drain the Washington swamp" or Sen. Bernie Sanders calls to fix a "rigged" system, it is painfully clear that many Americans have developed a deep-seated distrust of government and politicians. The populist wave of resentment unleashed by Trump’s election is a manifestation of that disillusionment and anger.

Trump understands that Americans want change, that they want to see the system shaken up in a way that forces politicians to listen to their concerns. But his actions, more often than not, are directly contrary to his words. By not divesting himself of his business interests before taking office, Trump has ensured that his many conflicts of interest (and those of his family) are fair game for watchdog groups and the press. His refusal to release his tax returns and his decision to shut down a website showing who has visited the White House make a mockery of his "draining the swamp" mantra and transparency in government. His condemnation of leaks and willingness to undermine administration officials with his words and tweets, as well as to divulge secrets to the nation's adversaries, has sown fear and confusion where clarity and energy on behalf of the American people are needed.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] How Is Philanthropy Engaging With Legislatures?

November 12, 2016

This week's infographic — the third in our series highlighting Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy — couldn't be more timely. Legislatures, at the federal, state and local levels, are where elected officials write the laws and pass the bills that establish the rules by which we live, work, and play. They are to democracy what the heart is to the human body, the beating, messy source of its vitality and dynamism. 

At the same time, they are, as Tocqueville noted, the American political institution "most easily swayed by the will of the majority," subject, by design, "not only to the general convictions, but even to the daily passions, of their constituents....[N]othing prevents them from accomplishing their wishes with celerity and with irresistible power, and they are supplied with new representatives every year. That is to say, the circumstances which contribute most powerfully to democratic instability, and which admit of the free application of caprice to the most important objects, are here in full operation."

Without well-functioning legislatures, in other words, democracy ossifies and eventually becomes something else. Oligarchy. Monarchy. Autocracy.

In the five years, since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, many have worried that certain critical democratic functions of legislatures are being undermined by an infusion of vast sums of money into federal, state, and local elections — money that often is used to create and distribute political advertising designed to appeal to and stoke voters' anger, fears, and suspicion. As the infographic below highlights, it's a concern many in philanthropy, on both sides of the political aisle, share. In response, philanthropy has dedicated considerable resources in recent years to educating policy makers on a range of issues, including economic and community development, health care, and the environment. 

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2016)

November 02, 2016

Seven... Seven more days of this dumpster fire of an election before (with a little luck) we can all get back to our lives and routines. If that seems like an eternity, may we suggest spending some of it on the great reads below you all voted to the top of our most popular posts list for October. And don't forget to cast your vote, along with the hundreds who already have, in our Clinton/Trump-themed poll of the week....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

[Infographic] Who's Financing the Campaign Finance Conversation?

October 25, 2016

"If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy...."

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, political scientists

"The reality is we that have a corrupt campaign finance system which separates the American people's needs and desires from what Congress is doing. So to my mind, what we have got to do is wage a political revolution where millions of people have given up on the political process, stand up and fight back, demand the government that represents us and not just a handful of campaign contributors...."

— Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

"Legislative action will never bring genuine campaign-finance reform. Consultants will prove endlessly inventive in gaming whatever system the reformers can devise so as to give their candidate an edge and allow the power of massive money to be felt. But reform laws will become irrelevant and redundant as the Internet replaces the special-interest fat cats as the best way to raise money and takes the place of TV as the most effective way to get votes...."

— Dick Morris, author/political consultant

"There are two things that are important in politics: Money, and I can't remember what the second one is..."

— Mark Hanna, Gilded Age fixer/politician

______

Complaints about the influence of money in politics have been around since....well, forever. In ancient Rome, campaigning for political office was expensive, and bribery — both direct and indirect — was common. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, money more or less disappeared from Europe, but with its return in the Middle Ages, the connection between money and politics reemerged with a vengeance, leading no less a personage than Lorenzo the Magnificent, Machiavelli's patron, to adopt as his motto: "Money to get the power, power to keep the money."

America's founders had conflicting views about the role of money in politics. In 1787, Madison conceded "that the chief danger in a republic was the likelihood that a majority of poor men would pass laws that penalized the rich and undermined the nation’s stability," while Thomas Jefferson, thirty years later, declared that the "end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations (sic)." In the 1830s, a period of growing factionalization in American politics, Alexis de Tocqueville was surprised to find that "the wealthy classes of United States society stand entirely outside politics and that wealth, far from being an advantage, has become a real source of unpopularity and an obstacle to the achievement of power." One Gilded Age and three-quarters of a century later, President Teddy Roosevelt found it necessary to declare that "laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes."

In our own time, the post-Watergate zeal for tougher campaign finance laws has given way to a post-Citizens United environment in which corporations and associations are accorded the same right to political speech as individuals and most limits on money in politics, corporate or otherwise, have been obliterated.

With the quid-pro-quo nature of politics more evident than ever and public trust in government at close to all-time lows, organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, with the support of foundations across the country, are working to advance reforms that would reduce the influence of corporations and individual mega-donors in our politics and give "ordinary voters a far louder voice." As the infographic below shows, foundation funding for those efforts totaled nearly $94 million from 2011 to 2016 and included grants from established national funders like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as newer funders such as Omidyar Network, the philanthropic vehicle created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy as if Democracy Really Mattered

October 19, 2016

Infographic-foundation-funding-for-democracyI've been doing quite a bit of traveling overseas recently, and everywhere I go people seem to be scratching their heads at the U.S. presidential election.  Living through it day-to-day via television and radio is challenging enough, but trying to explain it in a rational way to people who know little about the United States but somehow expect more from the self-proclaimed "greatest nation on earth" is close to impossible.

Fortunately, I head an organization in a sector, philanthropy, that is trying to do something to "fix" American democracy. That work has nothing to do with the candidates of the moment, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and everything to do with the system that produces, funds, promotes, nominates, and elects candidates for national office. Even better, that work can be explored in depth through Foundation Center's Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a data visualization platform for funders, nonprofits, journalists, and anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in supporting and improving U.S. democracy. Produced with the support of a group of foundations — Carnegie, Hewlett, Rita Allen, JPB, MacArthur, Open Society, Rockefeller Brothers, and the Democracy Fund (a creation of Omidyar Network), among them — the platform captures more than $3 billion in foundation grants made since 2011 and is refreshingly free from the rhetoric, factoids, and outright lies that have dominated news coverage of this election cycle. It focuses, instead, on important structural issues such as campaign finance, civic participation, open government initiatives, and journalism education and training.

Here are a few examples of what you can find there:

Continue reading »

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