Addressing Racial Equity With an Organizational Change Lens

May 21, 2018

Racial equity treeOrganizational change efforts can be daunting, even when the organization and its leaders know that such an effort will lead to a stronger, more sustainable organization in the long term. When it comes to racial equity, such efforts often carry an extra level of pressure. That's because change efforts seeking to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can trigger both conscious and unconscious anxieties when staff and leadership are required to examine personal and organizational values, norms, behaviors, and perceptions. No matter what you do to create and communicate a compelling story and adjust policies and procedures, it all comes down to employee engagement, especially when it comes to "unfreezing" behavior and modeling change, both of which are key to ensuring employee buy-in and setting the stage for a successful change effort.

When tackling racial equity, the amount of individual energy and effort required to achieve a truly equitable and inclusive workplace can create stress at all levels of the organization — particularly for people of color. As with other change efforts, racial equity work requires staff members to personalize the process in order to find their own entry points into the work, and as each of us reflects on our own identity and what it means in both an individual and organizational context, frictions can arise. If not tactfully managed, issues of intersectionality, power dynamics, personal and work-related boundaries, and unconscious biases can become barriers that stand in the way of progress. But when implemented effectively, racial equity change initiatives can spark an examination of our lived experience, both at work and in our personal lives — as well as individual transformation. Not surprisingly then, if organizations can create a culture in which individuals are able to express and work through their own unconscious biases, uncertainty, and shame, they will experience a greater rate of change.

CRE's nearly four decades serving the nonprofit community has taught us that organizations ready to address and embrace racial equity must first examine how race interacts with all aspects of organizational culture, from board governance, to leadership and management, to staffing and talent management, to day-to-day work flow. While not an exhaustive list, below are four simple strategies for moving the needle on organizational change efforts intended to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion based on what we have learned from our experience promoting racial equity in our own organization and with our client partners.

Understand that each individual will experience this differently. As with many change initiatives, leaders (both of the organization and of the initiative) must give staff the tools and opportunity to create a shared vision that everyone can buy into. This may sound simple, but values, lived experience, and personal understanding of structural and systemic racism, among other critical factors, vary widely from individual to individual and can surface disagreement, blind spots, and resentment about what racial equity means. To help with that, we have found it essential to approach the work as an iterative process that requires paying close attention to how each person in the organization understands the larger racial equity journey. Once you begin to understand what each individual brings to that journey, you can begin to set smart goals that serve as "small wins" for all and create a shared sense of inclusion in, and ownership of, the effort.

Acknowledge that emotions matter. In their article "Reimagining Cultural Competence: Bringing Buried Dynamics Into the Light," authors Erica Gabrielle Foldy and Tamara R. Buckley make a strong case for the value of intentionally surfacing and processing emotions within an organization as a way to enhance cultural competence and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here at CRE, we have an opt-in racial equity working group that encourages staff to engage with difficult topics in a more curious and reflective way as we implement our racial equity work plan. It's a space where each of us can openly share our feelings, frustrations, and even fears at a personal level in relation to the overall effort, and we've found it to be critical in supporting the broader effort because it enables honesty and trust building among staff across varying identities, and beyond race.

With our clients, we notice again and again that providing individuals a space where they can share feelings and emotions during interviews and focus groups can make all the difference in the success of an organization's change efforts. It encourages individuals to listen with empathy to the challenges and insecurities that surface during diversity, equity, and inclusion change efforts. And it enables the kind of trust, vulnerability, generative disagreement, and innovation that is needed for long-term organizational transformation. While it is helpful to have an outsider facilitate these conversations, it is also true that over time enough trust and ownership can be built for these efforts to become self-sustaining.

Pause when needed. Dialogue that places conversations about race within the long history of white supremacy in America and the current political moment is important for ensuring that all staff members have a shared understanding of the context of (and need for) the organization to have a racial equity vision. However, focusing solely on the long-term impact of the change effort can sometimes lead staff feeling overwhelmed by the work. To balance the need to establish concrete long-term goals with short-term wins, we have found that pausing and making space for immediate action (and reaction) is a powerful way of maintaining and reinforcing staff engagement, stamina, and buy-in.

Distribute leadership. For us at CRE, one of the most important pauses we took came in August 2017 in conjunction with the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. When those events created a feeling of despondency among staff, white allies on staff led an optional session in which all were encouraged to share and process their feelings and thoughts about the events of that weekend. Having white allies lead one-off sessions and also be active in leading and facilitating the process that followed helped distribute responsibility for our racial equity vision to every member of staff and ensured that ours would be an organizational culture in which people of color were not expected to do all the emotional heavy lifting. It also helped create more authentic buy-in from white staff members, as they worked to create sessions and work plans that took into account the emotions and viewpoints of all staff members.

While more and more organizations are dedicating resources and demonstrating a greater commitment to equity, it is still too soon to see — or even expect — big successes or even point to an established body of best practices. Addressing racial equity within an organization requires multiple levels of simultaneous interventions that consider the past, present, and future, as well as intensive (and often anxiety-provoking) work at the individual level. That's a big ask from staff members, but organizations can make headway toward it by leveraging proven change management and transition planning tools. Such tools and strategies can help organizations overcome the structural racism that exists in society and establish truly inclusive, anti-racist organizational cultures in which differences are seen as assets and lead to even greater, more sustainable impact.

Headshot_yaro fong-olivaresYaro Fong-Olivares is a consultant at Community Resource Exchange, where she focuses on transformational leadership, team effectiveness, diversity, inclusion, and organizational development and change.

Heroes, Collectives, and 'The Black Panther'

May 18, 2018


In the classic monomyth, or hero's journey, an individual goes on an adventure, faces and overcomes a challenge, and, as a result of that confrontation, returns home transformed. But the monomyth has long had its critics, who cite its misogyny, imperialistic slant, and tendency to exacerbate division through its focus on lone heroes and isolated villains. It's time to reconsider its ubiquitous use.

For some time now, I've warned activists and communications professionals that their well-meaning use of the monomyth framework can backfire. The familiarity of hero and villain, and of an easy-to-follow storyline, can be comforting. But people can tune out (if not actually resent) such pat and seemingly unrepresentative plots. Indeed, the embrace of simplicity and failure to honor diversity, complexity, and ambiguity can be counter-productive.

For example, elevating someone who has escaped a situation of intimate partner violence into a hero may cause those who remain trapped in such situations to feel like hapless victims. Likewise, pro-choice activists who choose to portray women who have had abortions as heroes may cause some women who are ambivalent about their decision to feel like a villain in their own stories.

While there are often good reasons to share a story that elevates a protagonist to hero status — and by extension, invites listeners to imagine themselves as heroic protagonists — the technique should be carefully deployed.

Even if we acknowledge that the hero is one person among many, and that the focus on her story is meant to be emblematic of a larger story, we are still categorizing her as good or bad, heroic or villainous.

By portraying a successful client as a hero, could you be alienating potential clients who find it difficult to see themselves as heroic? By congratulating the user of your program or service as a warrior, might you be implying that those who don't benefit are losers? And by focusing on the heroic individual, might you be marginalizing other players in the story? As my creative partner Jay Rhoderick points out, "The spotlight inherently creates a shadow — and who's left standing in the shadows, unheralded?"

So maybe the hero's journey framework isn't your best option. Communicating success stories about your programs or advocacy may not require an individual hero. Maybe, instead, the focus should be on the collective. Might the success you envision for your organization be the product of many actors, impacting a multitude of people?

I recently met and heard Eric Motley, executive vice president of the Aspen Institute, speak about his memoir Madison Park, A Place of Hope. Founded by a group of freed slaves in 1880, Madison Park is the small community in Montgomery, Alabama, where Motley grew up. Although ostensibly the story of his upbringing, Madison Park itself — the place and its people — is the main character in Motley's memoir.

As Eric explained at our luncheon, the community rallied around him when he was a young boy and adolescent, investing its time, money, and attention in his future. His is a story not of individualistic triumph, but of grace, gratitude, and collective action. As a listener, I was invited not to merely identify with the young Motley, but to imagine myself as a member of the collective and a contributor to its success.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and co-author of The Startup of You blurbs Motley's memoir with this: "Whatever attributes we ourselves bring to the table, our networks propel us further." And promotional materials for the book note that "[t]hrough the belief, persistence, faith, and support of his community, [Motley] improbably made his way to the Oval Office as special assistant to President George W. Bush."

A different example of heroic collectivism was evident in my recent work with the harm reduction community. The women I worked with, all of whom have been impacted by drug use, chose upon reflection to move away from simple, stigmatizing, and individualistic stories and focus instead on shifting the public discourse to complicated, respectful, and collective stories of pain existing alongside love.

Individualistic stories about drug use and recovery can be shaming and, ultimately, victimizing and disempowering. Liberation is best provided through stories of heroic communities. As one woman in the group said: "We need stories of people who love us and how we love other people."

A fictional but fun and somewhat more complicated example is presented in the blockbuster film The Black Panther. Unlike other superheroes, the Black Panther's backstory is about Wakanda the place. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is the literal embodiment of the nation of Wakanda, his power coming from the land.

Alonso Duralde, in his review of the movie, explains:

What [stands] in T’Challa's way are the harsh realities of politics and statesmanship, as he learns a dark secret from his father's past that casts a pall over a land that is a paradise on Earth. Wakanda, you see, was built on the site where a meteorite made of pure vibranium (the metal from which Captain America’s shield was forged) crashed. It's made the Wakandans technologically advanced, but they’ve kept their wealth and wizardry a secret from the world.
One of the most dramatic — and relevant — storylines the film explores is whether or not advanced societies owe it to the global community to share their discoveries rather than keep their bounty to themselves. (Or as one character asks, putting none too fine a point on it, do we build bridges or erect barriers?)...

Classic literary analysis teaches that all stories contain one of three core conflicts:

  • Personal / Internal
  • Conflict between two people (a protagonist and an antagonist)
  • External (such as a natural disaster)

In fact, as the "creative collaboratory" Intelligent Mischief points out:

Most Western made movies that depict blackness shed light on black people's oppression, or black people succeeding in the face of oppression, or black people succumbing to oppression. Our movies are about black people escaping slavery, escaping poverty, shifting narratives, defying stereotypes. Essentially we are depicted as a people who are inherently in struggle....

In the movie The Black Panther, the conflict is Wakanda versus Wakanda: the community reckoning with its own isolationism. The most advanced nation on earth questions whether it has abetted injustice through secrecy. It's a story about collective action.

#MeToo, #NeverAgain, #BlackLivesMatter — these, too, are all narratives of collective action.

In "Breaking Free of the Hero Myth," Maya Zuckerman writes:

In a world where we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on…the challenges we face — from runaway climate change to poverty and inequality — the paradigm of the hero-savior, endlessly repeated across all of our media, can actually disempower us. We need alternative narratives that show us empowered, diverse people taking on the biggest challenges and coming together to transform a situation, not just "save the day." …We are looking far beyond the individual hero, who in reality so often fails us, and now we cheer on the collective....

Unlike the journey of an individual hero, a collective journey allows for diversity and multiple heroes. And, in a chaotic, unpredictable world, stories about collective journeys are amenable to non-linear storytelling. There are many heroes among us, some recognized, some awaiting recognition, and all contributing to a collective goal: think Emma Gonzalez, the tens of thousands of #NeverAgain marchers, and the individual marchers themselves.

This story — our story — of moving from individualistic hero journeys to journeys shared by the collective tracks Marshall Ganz's organizing strategy for the soliciting and sharing of stories. Ganz advocates first sharing The Story of Me, followed by The Story of Us, and ending with The Story of Now. Through such a process, the "story of self" becomes "the story of us" — the collective — and the "story of now" becomes the call to action on behalf of the collective.

In our work together and with our clients, my partner Jay encourages us to "widen the wash of our spotlights, our way of looking, and to get more curious as audiences and more generous as storytellers." We can all join in doing that by broadening our notions of individualistic heroes and appreciating the complex, multi-character stories of heroism existing all around us. Let's listen for, invite, and amplify the stories of our supporting and heroic collectives.

Headshot_thaler_pekarThaler Pekar, CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partners, is an internationally-recognized pioneer in organizational narrative, leadership storytelling, and persuasive communication. Click here for more by Thaler.

What's New at Foundation Center Update (May)

May 17, 2018

FC_logoThe flowers are blooming (and allergies raging!), and Foundation Center work is springing ahead through conferences, webinars and trainings, and new data collection efforts. I’m back in NYC for a few days to catch my breath, enjoy the noisy (in a good way) birds, and fill you in on the many exciting things we were up to in April:

Projects Launched

  • As part of our ongoing #OpenForGood campaign, we launched a new GrantCraft guide, Open For Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmaking, which explores how funders can open up and share their knowledge with the rest of the social sector, and beyond. And to recognize funders that are already knowledge sharing champions, we also launched the inaugural #OpenForGood Award at the recent GEO conference. (Congrats, GEO, on twenty years of strengthening the philanthropy field!) To nominate a foundation for our new award, visit:
  • Foundation Center's Knowledge Services staff continue to help the Council on Foundations field its annual Grantmaker Salary & Benefits Survey, which provides the sector with data on staff composition and compensation of U.S. grantmakers. Council members and non-members with paid full-time staff are invited to complete the survey by May 25, so there's still time to participate and receive access to salary benchmarking reports generated from the data collected.
  • We released our second Ghana report, which synthesizes the key outcomes from the Ghana Data Strategy and Capacity Building Workshop hosted by Foundation Center and the SDG Philanthropy Forum in November 2017. The meeting was part of our broader agenda to support the Ghanaian philanthropic sector in the areas of data capacity, collaboration, and effective grantmaking.
  • We launched two leadership series papers on GrantCraft about where power sits in philanthropic practice — From Words to Action: A Practical Philanthropic Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, by Barbara Chow; and How Community Philanthropy Shifts Power: What Donors Can Do to Help Make That Happen, by Jenny Hodgson and Anna Pond. Both papers encourage funders to rethink their relationships with grantees, partners, and each other and consider what they can do to foster greater inclusivity and give more power to those who lack it.

Content Published

What We're Excited About

  • We closed our annual CF Insights Columbus Survey. Look for the report coming this June. Learn more about the survey here.
  • We just relaunched our beloved website for the social sector,! The site’s new and improved design makes it easy to navigate to trainings and find Foundation Center locations in your region, and you can also explore hundreds of free topical resources to build your own knowledge and capacity — from anywhere in the world!

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Our staff will be speaking at these upcoming events:

Data Spotlight

  • 356,898 new grants added to Foundation Maps in April, of which 14,423 grants were made to 2,444 organizations outside the U.S.
  • New data sharing partners: Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc.; Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; Fay Fuller Foundation; Deaconess Foundation; Otto Bremer Foundation; and Stranahan Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • Year-to-date we’ve answered more than 3,000 questions via our live Online Librarian chat service.
  • Foundation Directory Online recently launched new Recipient charts! Quickly gain key insights on more than 500,000 individual Recipient profiles. You can also search 140,000 foundation profiles and over 11 million grants.

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.

It’s Time to Invest in Youth Leaders

May 16, 2018

DCPSWalkout_AFA-1024x681In the months since the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the response of youth activists has captured the attention of the nation. What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is that across the country a dynamic youth-organizing field has emerged. Over the past twenty years, groups — many of them led by low-income young people of color — have been organizing to improve education, end the school-to-prison pipeline, protect immigrant rights, and address other critical issues.

New research demonstrates that not only does youth organizing result in concrete policy changes, it also promotes positive academic, social/emotional, and civic engagement outcomes. Yet despite recent investment in youth organizing from funders like the Ford Foundation and the California Endowment, overall funding remains modest. That's unfortunate, because even as a new generation demonstrates its willingness to take on some of our toughest issues, the need for investment in the leadership of young people, especially those most impacted by injustice, has never been more important.

According to the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing's National Youth Organizing Landscape Map, there are more than two hundred youth organizing groups across the country, the majority of them focused on middle and high school students of color. These groups support the development of young leaders and organize campaigns to address inequity in their communities. In Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle and Community Coalition led the campaign to ensure a rigorous college preparatory curriculum for all students. Groups such as Communities United in Chicago, Padres y Jovenes Unidos in Denver, and the Philadelphia Student Union have gotten their school districts to create policies that address racial disparities in school discipline, resulting in changes that have benefited hundreds of thousands of students. 

A new report summarizing the findings of multiple studies suggests that not only does this kind of organizing drive positive change in communities, it is also one the best ways to support the healthy development of young people. Contrary to the common misconception of organizing as rabble-rousing, researchers found that organizing engages young people in a cycle of research, preparation, action, and reflection, while providing them with many opportunities to develop critical thinking skills. Researchers also found that youth organizers engage in "emotional work" that supports the development of the social and emotional skills which experts believe to be among the best predictors of future success.

Indeed, a study of more than three hundred youth organizing alumni found that they were nearly twice as likely to attend a four-year college, more than three times as likely to attend a top college, and seven times more likely to belong to a political organization than peers from similar backgrounds. Researchers also found that youth organizing is especially relevant for low-income young people and young people of color because of the way it speaks to their lived realities. 

Part of the power of youth organizing is that it connects individual transformation to systemic change. Too often, funders and community leaders feel they must choose between these very different outcomes. But the reality is that we cannot achieve one without the other. While some young people faced with adverse circumstances will develop the resilience to succeed, there is a direct relationship between young people's development and the quality and health of their schools and communities. To create real transformation, we must develop strategies that connect individual and community change. 

We find ourselves once again in a moment where young people are demonstrating that they are the most effective drivers of change. The post-Parkland movement is turning its attention from marches and walkouts to engaging young voters. Collaboration between the young people inspired by the Parkland tragedy and those organizing around racial justice could create a powerful force for good. A generation of civically engaged young people with the skills to bring people together across lines of race and class may be our best hope for creating a just and democratic society. For this to become a reality, however, philanthropy must invest meaningfully in the leadership of young people, especially those from communities most impacted by injustice. 

Despite the many benefits of youth organizing, less than one percent of the money invested in youth development goes to organizing. This must change. Engaging young people in organizing is a three-for-one investment: it creates real change in communities, supports young people's healthy development, and trains the next generation of community leaders. Youth organizing develops productive, empowered young people while also creating societal conditions in which they can thrive. This generation of young people is ready to lead. It's time for philanthropy to get behind them.


(Photo credit: Allison Fletcher Acosta)

Eric 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.

Engage From the Inside! How Internal Branding Strengthens Nonprofits (Part 1)

May 15, 2018

Brand-graphicImagine you work at a nonprofit or a foundation with a decent-sized staff (a few dozen to as many as a hundred employees). It might be a national research institute or a local community development organization. It has several departments focused on different issues or areas of operation. There may be physical offices catering to different needs or populations. It might even be part of a larger network of organizations.

Whatever the situation, each day everyone comes to work and does his or her best to contribute to the organization's mission. But while there's a sense of what you're all working towards, there are disconnects. Silos and knowledge gaps are stifling innovation and affecting results. New funding streams have led to mission creep. The organization has grown, added lots of new faces, and its strategic plan needs revisiting. Staff have very different ways of talking about the organization's work.

The result is fragmentation that's making people inside the organization less effective — and is confusing lots of people outside the organization. So leadership decides it's time to address the problem by working on the organization's branding with the goal of creating clarity and getting everyone on the same page.

Falling Short of Our Goals

Branding is important to the success of any organization, but it's particularly important for those in the nonprofit sector. Social impact work is complex and often abstract; results can be more difficult to measure (and achieve) than in the for-profit world; and the temptation of new opportunities for impact (and the funding that comes with them) means mission creep is always a concern.

The struggle to channel the passion and complexity (and opinions!) associated with social impact work is real. But branding offers a way forward — a process that, when executed well, aligns a nonprofit's aspirations, operations, and communications.

Too often, however, the results, while useful, fall short of expectations. Instead of creating the strategic focus and clarity leadership had hoped for, a process filled with research, soul-searching, and valuable insights results mostly in carefully crafted content and a new visual identity. Both important things! But…the ultimate goal of strategic brand development should be more than just a new logo and improved communications materials. The real goal should be to dramatically increase an organization's ability to lead in its area(s) of focus by increasing its cohesion, capacity, and impact.

So what are the roadblocks to developing a brand that significantly improves your organization's capacity to lead on the issues it cares about most?

EBB (External Branding Bias) Syndrome

What comes to mind when we talk about branding? For most people, it's external things like reputation, messaging, design, and experiences. That makes sense. How a brand is both projected and experienced is essential to engaging the people outside an organization who benefit from and support its work. External branding is how organizations manage their relationships with people, and it's how people relate to them. Every external brand experience — online and in person — contributes to generating (or reducing) trust in, support for, and action on behalf of an organization.

Nonprofits often have a particularly strong bias towards external branding. Perhaps it's because nonprofits direct so much of their energy to collaborating with and serving others. In addition, until about a decade ago, branding was mostly viewed in the nonprofit sector as something that only applied to communications and fundraising. And most nonprofits are understandably reluctant to spend limited resources on themselves when the needs outside the organization are so pressing.

As the saying goes, "culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." Brands are created from the inside-out, so while it's essential to use strategy to drive your external branding, using it to focus the mission and cultivate the right kind of internal behavior, actions, and, culture matters even more. After all, how can we expect people on the outside to believe in an organization's ability to make a difference if its own people don't have (and exude!) the same kind of clarity and conviction?

 It's What's Inside That Matters

We tell our children not to judge others by how they look (or sound). But we're social and visual beings, and appearances do matter. Brands use design and messaging to turn what's on the inside (ideas, intentions, and abilities) into something tangible that others can experience (communications and interactions). The sum of those experiences is what people think of us. Assets like brand architecture, positioning platforms, and design systems are great for helping organizations influence the appearance of their brand and create meaningful experiences. But as we tell our kids, it's what inside that really matters.

When it comes to rebranding a nonprofit organization, in my experience leadership usually embraces this value, but only to a degree. And that’s understandable — it's hard to get too involved when there are more pressing concerns to worry about. There’s also the reality that legacy perceptions of branding as a tool for communications and development, rather than a strategic asset for mission implementation, persist. The result often is a "skin-deep" approach to brand development that leaves a lot of value on the table.

Of course, even that level of branding produces insights that can help nonprofits create more effective communications. Unfortunately, too often the work fails to go beyond the surface. Strategy stays locked-up in documents that gather dust on a shelf, momentum is lost, and the work never becomes the broader catalyst for greater impact that it was intended to be.

Nonprofits that want to use their brand to increase their impact need to design it into their organizations, not just their communications. That's how you increase the organization's perceived and actual value. And the key is a brand development process that focuses and aligns your aspirations, operations, and communications — one that improves the organization's capacity for strategic thinking, more effectively engages stakeholders both inside and outside the organization, and leads to greater impact.

After all, isn't this what most of us are looking for when we decide to work on our brand?

In Part 2, I'll go into greater detail about the benefits of an effective internal branding process and what they mean for social impact organizations. In the meantime, you can check out other articles in our Cause-Driven Design®series here.

Headshot_matt_schwartzMatt Schwartz is founder and executive director at Constructive, a New York City-based brand strategy and experience design firm dedicated to helping social change organizations achieve greater impact. He can also be found on Twitter at @matt_schwartz_.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 12-13, 2018)

May 13, 2018

Pexels-photo-414659Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Power is shifting at the top of U.S. museums — and that's a good thing. Nadja Sayej reports for the Guardian.


If the latest Atlas video released by Boston Dynamics hasn't got your attention...well, take a look. But before Atlas and his pals decide that we're all so much useless wetware, you might be wondering what the implications of AI for nonprofit marketers are. Forbes contributor Dionisios Favatas, digital lead for the award-winning Truth Initiative, a youth tobacco prevention campaign, shares some thoughts.

Google has rather sneakily announced significant changes to its popular Google Ad Words program. In a post republished on Beth Kanter's blog, Whole Whale's George Weiner fills in the details.


New menu labeling rules that require chain restaurants and other food retailers to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information to their customers are about to go into effect. How did we get here? And how do the guidelines connect to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health vision? The foundation's Jennifer Ng'andu explains

Higher Education

"Anyone who believes that public higher education is crucial to our democracy should be alarmed by the recent suggestions by George Mason University’s president that donations to the institution from the Charles Koch Foundation have had 'undue influence in academic matters,' " writes Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor emeritus of economics at Wright State University and president of the American Association of University Professors, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Why? Because such donations threaten the twin principles of shared governance and academic freedom that "ensure that institutions of higher education serve the public interest, as opposed to the narrow special interests of big corporations, wealthy donors, or powerful politicians." 

The 18-year-olds graduating high school this spring have known schools as sites of violence their entire lives. How can higher education support them and help advance the movement they have started to prevent gun violence in schools? On the Inside Higher Ed site, Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, shares some thoughts.


Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther profiles Leap of Reason author, philanthropist, and social sector thought leader Mario Morino as the tireless Morino sets his sights on "build[ing] a movement to improve the performance of America's charities." 

Nonprofit AF's Vu Le is trying to work less — and explains why you should, too.


A "toxic culture of fear, blame and intimidation” reinforced by the "inaction" of senior leadership and HR was how a July 2017 letter to the board signed by sixty-five employees of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation characterized the workplace there.  New York Times' reporter David Gelles looks at how one of the biggest "success" stories in philanthropy unraveled.

In the New York Times, Harold Pollack, a professor of social service administration and public health science at the University of Chicago, has some thoughts about how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has amassed a $131 billion (with a "b") fortune and finds himself in a position where he can spend more than $6 billion every year, pretty much indefinitely, can use some of that wealth to help people here on Planet Earth.

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington poses a question that many others were asking at the recently concluded Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference: Is philanthropy disrupting or perpetuating the system of inequality from which it was born? 


And on our sister Transparency Talk blog, Melissa Moy announces the release of a new GrantCraft guide, Open for Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmakingpart of the center’s #OpenForGood campaign, as well as details about the inaugural #OpenForGood Award, which aims to bring recognition and visibility to foundations that share their challenges, successes, and failures with the goal of strengthening how we all think and act as a sector.

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at

Acknowledging Power Isn’t Enough — Dig Deeper!

May 11, 2018

3-teardrop-illustration-300x256Earlier this month, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) released Power Moves: Your Essential Philanthropy Assessment Guide for Equity and Justice, a comprehensive resource for foundations that explores the role of power and privilege in advancing equity and justice. Acknowledging my own bias as a project advisor, I'm beyond excited to see all the different ways this assessment tool will be used to influence philanthropy, because, let's face it, our sector has a power problem.

"The power dynamic" often comes up in conversations among philanthropoids as "something to watch for" or "be mindful of." But seldom do I see that acknowledgment lead anywhere. From burdensome (and sometimes inaccessible) grant application processes and site visits, to restricted short-term investments, to truncated feedback loops, to the composition of staff and boards, to public silence on too many issues, we're slow as a field to move from acknowledgment to action. Power doesn't have to be negative or something we tiptoe around; indeed, intentionality around knowing where power sits and then building, sharing, and wielding it thoughtfully can be a powerful lever for smarter work and better results. The NCRP guide allows foundations of all types and sizes to explore these topics holistically through both internal reflection and outward-facing learning, and offers a series of actions they can take to advance their equity and justice efforts.

Over the last few years, I've teamed up with various colleagues to lead workshops using improv comedy to talk about power dynamics with the intent of diving deeper into a subject that often makes people uncomfortable. These sessions are fun and usually successful, but they present a two-fold challenge: they're "opt in," which tends to attract people who are ready to step out of their comfort zone, and they're small, which means that all that good reflection, learning, and conversation usually isn't documented. How is an attendee at a session like that — or in any conversation that digs deeper into power and its connection with equity — supposed to bring her learnings back to their workplace? It's hard, and we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't acknowledge our own internal power issues as part of that challenge.

A big part of my enthusiasm for the new NCRP tool is that it provides a transparent, shared way for staff to interrogate this topic, as well as a sample six-month timeline to guide your use of the tool. What it doesn't do is prescribe a single set of answers or solutions (and it's my belief that good tools shouldn't — unless, of course, that prescription is for more long-term general operating support!); instead, it raises necessary questions designed to help foundations arrive at their own answers. These provocations are often hard for foundation staff to raise (I know a few who have tried and been shut down), and having a trusted resource to back you up can be hugely beneficial.

At Foundation Center, we aim to democratize data about philanthropy and social sector knowledge, in the belief that they shouldn't be privileged. When mission-driven organizations pay attention to — and share — knowledge, it inevitably leads to better outcomes. Knowing what others have learned and understanding the broader landscape in which we all work can help bring us together and wield our power and privilege in ways that create equitable, catalytic change. Our eReporting initiative and #OpenForGood campaign are just two (among many) ways that you can get involved, and I encourage you to think about how greater sharing and transparency play into your own social change efforts.

Headshot_Jen_BokoffTo learn more about the Power Moves toolkit, join us for a free webinar on May 30.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.


[Review] Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn

May 08, 2018

More than fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson launched a War on Poverty in America, an estimated forty-five million Americans still live below the poverty line, and many critics of government have declared its efforts in this area an utter failure. At times, the scope and persistence of the problem can cause even the most committed anti-poverty activist to despair. But what if the solution to poverty was as straightforward as putting cash directly in the pockets of the people who need it?

Book_Fair-Shot-coverThat's what Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and an Obama campaign aide who in 2016 co-founded the Economic Security Project — a group committed to advancing the debate around unconditional cash transfers and guaranteed basic income in the United States — proposes in his new book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We EarnOr as Hughes puts it boldly at one point: "Government should provide a guaranteed income of $500 a month to every adult who lives in a household making less than $50,000 per year and who is working in some way."

It's not a new idea. In August 1969, having narrowly defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey in one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history, President Richard Nixon unveiled a vision for welfare reform that included a guaranteed income. "What I am proposing," Nixon told his fellow Americans in a televised speech, "is that the federal government build a foundation under the income of every American family with dependent children that cannot care for itself — and wherever in America that family may live." The Family Assistance Plan that emerged from the administration a few years later proposed using a negative income tax to guarantee an income floor of $1,600 ($11,000 in today's dollars) for a family of four. But while the bill passed the House with bipartisan support, it failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee, leading its chief architect, future New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to later observe: "The program was both too much and too little; too radical, too reactionary; too comprehensive, not comprehensive enough."

The failure of the plan wasn't a complete loss. In 1974, as Hughes reports, Nixon signed a bill that created a guaranteed income for the elderly and disabled; today Supplemental Security Income provides nearly nine million Americans with a monthly income of $735. And a few years after that, Congress passed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides a refundable credit on a sliding scale to low- and moderate-income working individuals and families. Over the years, lawmakers on both the right and the left have praised the EITC, which annually provides $70 billion in cash to 26 million working families and individuals and has helped lift 10 million people out of poverty. Indeed, every president since Gerald Ford has "signed a bill to significantly increase the benefit."

Hughes is aware, of course, of the success and popularity of the EITC, which is why he and his colleagues at the Economic Security Project believe a tax credit should be the basis of any new policy to guarantee a basic income for Americans. But there's a crucial difference between his proposal and the Earned Income Tax Credit: how it's paid for. Hughes proposes a solution that, in his words, is "more directly tied to the problem" — namely, to have "the top earners in our country, people like me who have benefited massively from…new economic forces, to pay a small part of our fortune forward." And his rationale is straightforward: the growth of companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google — and the wealth amassed by the one percent at the top of the income pyramid — have come at the expense of ordinary working Americans. He argues, for example, that Facebook's incredible success and exponential growth was the direct result of rapid advances in technology, the globalization of trade and financial flows, and the rise of finance/venture capital. Those same forces, in turn, resulted in the loss of millions of American jobs to automation and the transformation of mid-century America's world-beating industrial economy into a "gig economy" that generates lots of poorly paid part-time positions that leave too many hard-working Americans struggling to get by.

Hughes is a progressive idealist, and it should come as no surprise that he believes wealthy Americans should pay their "fair share," or that "we all benefit from a society that is more just and fair." Morality aside, however, there's also a demand-side economic argument to be made: when low- and middle-income Americans have extra cash in their pockets, they're more likely to spend it in the short term than are one-percenters who don't need and wouldn't particularly miss the extra dollars they would pay in higher taxes.

At the same time, Hughes is careful to note the objections wealthy people and critics on the right often have to a guaranteed basic income, the most common of which might be stated as: "How much is an extra $100 or $200 a month really going to help anybody struggling to get by?" But as a woman in Ohio told Hughes as he was researching his proposal, "[A]nyone asking that question has never had to choose between buying groceries and making rent."

Beyond the economic case, Fair Shot argues that readers from all backgrounds — but especially those in the social sector — need to reexamine their objections to giving cash directly to those who need it. Hughes is puzzled by such objections and admits that at times in the past he struggled to formulate an intellectual justification for the approach. But after a couple of trips to Africa, where he witnessed firsthand the often-disappointing results generated by top-down anti-poverty interventions, he had an epiphany: "Why was my default to trust an educated outsider or nonprofit executive with resources rather than the poor themselves?" And why does the "idea that the poor might know the best way to solve their problems" seem so radical when, in reality, it isn't?

While many have proffered "solutions" to the problem of income inequality, few come to the issue with the kind of the perspective that Hughes, a co-founder of one the world's largest and most powerful companies, has. What makes Fair Shot so inspiring isn't its bold and straightforward approach to the problem of poverty in America. It's Hughes' open, honest, and refreshingly human exploration of how his own background, upbringing, and experience led him to advocate for a guaranteed income for low-income and working people, paid for by people like himself. Fully aware of the role chance has played in his own good fortune, he sincerely believes it is his obligation and moral responsibility to pay forward that success. America in 2018 is not the America of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, or even the relatively liberal America of the early 1970s. But as the title of the book's final chapter suggests, Americans owe each other something. A basic income seems like a good place to start.

Nick Opinsky is a development assistant at Foundation CenterFor more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 5-6, 2018)

May 06, 2018

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

Arts and Culture

Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which twice has been targeted for elimination by the Trump administration, is stepping down from her position on June 4. Peggy McGlone reports for the Washington Post.

Criminal Justice

Is America ready to rethink the mass incarceration policies of the last thirty years. The results of a new poll by the Vera Institute of Justice hints at the possibility. CityLab's Teresa Mathew spoke with Jasmine Heiss, director of outreach and public affairs strategist at Vera, about what the new data means and how it might lead to changes in policy.


"The concept of 'fairness' is easy for people to understand, and on a superficial level it seems good and something we should aim for," writes Nonprofit AF blogger Vu Le. "But 'fairness' guarantees the status quo. 'Fairness' eliminates qualified candidates and perpetuates the lack of diversity in our sector. 'Fairness' continues to ensure the communities most affected by systemic injustice — black communities, Native communities, immigrant/refugee communities, Muslim communities, communities of disability, rural communities, LGBTQIA communities — continue to get the least amount of resources."

Food Insecurity

In a new post, Fast Company contributor Ben Paynter profiles Goodr, a food-waste management company (and app) that redirects surplus food from businesses to nonprofits that can share it with those who are food insecure.

Global Health

Former junk bond king and philanthropist Michael Milken has come out in support of the World Bank's forthcoming Human Capital Index project, which will rank countries according to how much they invest in the health and education of their people, and is due to be released later this year. Lila MacLellan reports for Quartz.


In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day (May 3), a new report (32 pages, PDF) from IFEX, a global network dedicated to defending free expression, finds that the press in the United States is facing unprecedented challenges. They include: record numbers of prosecutions against whistleblowers; the restriction of public information on the grounds of national security; the direct stigmatization of media workers by politicians; physical attacks and intimidation; and arbitrary arrests of journalists by law enforcement officials. 


According to Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther, the recent resignations of two high-ranking executives at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation likely spells the end of CEO Emmett Carson's tenure at the foundation. Gunther, who played a role in exposing the toxic workplace culture at SVCF, minces no words as he shares his own view of the controversy: "As I've written before, foundations are the least accountable institutions of American society. I hope the events at the SVCF  will encourage others to take a close look at what foundations do and how they do it. They are too important to be left alone."

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI has released the 2018 Global Philanthropy Environment Index (GPEI), an initiative aimed at "equip[ping] policy makers, philanthropic and nonprofit leaders, the business community, and the public with a clear understanding of the environment for global philanthropy."

On Tuesday, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released Power Moves: Your Essential Philanthropy Assessment Guide for Equity and Justice, a self-assessment toolkit "centered on the role of power and privilege in advancing equity" in philanthropy.

Blogging a day after the conclusion of the 2018 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference,  Whitman Institute co-executive director Pia Infante shares half a dozen ways that grantmakers can move from "uncomfortable truths to courageous action." 

Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, has decided that the best use of his vast fortune is to make space travel a reality. Not everyone is happy with his decision.

And on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Grace Nicolette, CEP's vice president for programming and external relations, finds a lot to like about Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms’s new book New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You. 

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at


A Quick Guide to Digital Marketing for Nonprofits

May 02, 2018

Dig-marketingDonating to charity has changed for the better over the last few years. These days, pretty much everything takes place online, and giving to charity or supporting a good cause is no different. Which is why charities and nonprofits hoping to stand out had better have a robust online presence.

There are lots of ways to do that, but here are a few basics your organization should be thinking about:

1. Email marketing. Email is one of the best ways to reach supporters and potential donors. Whether your goal is to boost the number of subscribers to your newsletter, keep supporters and volunteers up to date on recent developments, or kick off a fundraising campaign, email is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to do it.

But it's important that your email content and presentation be engaging. Emails that consist of big chunks of dry text and cliched images are more likely to hurt than help. Try to send two but no more than four emails a month — and don't forget to include a CTA (call to action)! (You’d be surprised how many organizations don't.)

One good solution for those just getting into email marketing is MailChimp, an email marketing platform/service that makes it easy to format and structure your email newsletters for maximum impact.

2. Social media presence. Social media has changed the world — mostly for the better. It's a great tool for charities and nonprofits, not least because platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest make it easy to share all sorts of campaign materials. With a few lines of code, you can also add social sharing buttons to your website and emails. Why is that important? The more people who follow you, the more donations you're going to receive!

3. Donation pages. Your organization's donation pages should be clear and to the point. People just don't have the time to comb through paragraphs of information and instructions — you want to make it as easy for them to donate to your organization online as it is to purchase a book or a buy pair of socks.

Make sure you also provide a recurring donation option for people who are willing to commit smaller amounts on a monthly basis. They're not likely to notice the extra $5 or $10 out of their budget every month, but over time your charity or nonprofit will. Making it easy for supporters to donate to your organization on a recurring basis also helps keep supporters connected to your organization and cause over the longer term.

Lastly, don't forget to make it easy for others to share your donation page with friends, family members, and their social networks.

4. Content. The more content you put out, the more you'll be seen as an organization with something to say. That means creating informative articles, fact sheets, and other digital resources on a regular basis. If your organization can demonstrate that it knows what it's doing, is a great source of information about its particular cause, and gets results, donors with an interest in that cause are going to want to support you.

The quality of your content also is important. Make sure your copy is concise and professionally edited — and try to break it up with powerful images. Images that highlight your organization's activities are great, as are those that depict the people and places you're having a positive impact on. )

Your goal is to tell the story of how your organization does good in the world. When told well, others will want to be a part of that story. And don't forget to optimize your content for mobile.

5. Regular engagement with supporters. Rule No. 1: Don't forget to say thank you. Nonprofits and charities that acknowledge every donation are much more likely to receive follow-up donations from their supporters than nonprofits and charities that don't. And when you thank your supporters, ask them to share the fact they supported you via their social networks. Believe it or not, most people will be happy to do so. You can even create automated email responses that reduce the amount of work required on your part.

6. Your website. I probably don't need to remind you that your website should be as clear and easy to navigate as your email and other marketing materials.

That said, there are a few things you can do on a website to maximize lead generation and gift revenue that you can't do with email. For example, adding pop ups to your site is a good way to get people to sign up for your newsletters and to collect the contact information of folks who may become donors down the road.

By paying attention to all of the above, your organization will improve its chances of securing new and recurring gifts from supporters and potential supporters. Those same supporters will be more receptive to hearing about your recent activities and successes. And when you acknowledge their support, they'll be more likely to share your content via their social media channels and to remember you the next time you ask them to make a gift or donation.

Headshot_daniel_rossGood luck!

Daniel Ross is part of the marketing team at Roubler, a scheduling and payroll software platform whose mission is to change the way the world manages its workforce.

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

How to Fix Our Food System

April 30, 2018

AgorecologyA good idea doesn't stay buried forever. Even with a $5 trillion agrochemical industry shoveling their propaganda on top of it.

Ten years ago, the World Bank and the United Nations initiated an assessment of the state of global agriculture by some four hundred experts around the world. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IASTTD), as the final report was titled, concluded that gains in agricultural productivity have come at a high cost, including "unintended social and environmental consequences," and that investments in biological substitutes for agrochemicals, and in programs that support agroecology, are needed to address the situation.

At times oversimplified as "sustainable agriculture," or confused with organic agriculture, the definition of agroecology is found in in its constituent parts — agro and ecology. Agroecology puts ecological science at the center of food production. With a focus on the stewardship of soil, water and biodiversity, agroecology seeks to heighten soil fertility and moisture and regenerate ecosystems by encouraging farmers to reduce their use of chemical inputs — a leading source of pollution, soil degradation, and farmer debt.

And yet, despite lifting up the many benefits of agroecology in terms of food safety and watershed health, not to mention endorsements from fifty-eight governments, implementation of the IASTTD report has been slow, at best. Whatever the cause, many of us within the growing agroecology movement are disappointed, and angry.

Earlier this month, however, there was a glimmer of hope. At the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Second International Symposium on agroecology, change was in the air.

The symposium was attended by more than seven hundred participants representing seventy-two governments around the globe. After three days of discussion and keynote addresses from global leaders in the field, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva concluded that "it is time for agroecology to receive greater attention on the world stage....It's time to scale up the implementation of agroecology."

What had changed over the last decade to cause one of the leading multilateral agencies focused on food and agriculture to embrace agroecological practice? While it's hard to point to a single explanation, certainly climate change has played a role. Droughts, floods, extreme weather events, and pest explosions have got farmers around the globe worried and asking, "What do I do when the crops I'm used to growing fail?" And consumers are just as worried — or should be.

Ironically, although industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, the agrochemical industry has adopted the term "climate-smart agriculture" to market tech-heavy packages of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides “engineered” to help farmers cope with climate uncertainty. But at the FAO symposium, no one spoke about those solutions. Instead, case after case presented to attendees underscored the fact that agroecology is the climate-smart solution. When farmers diversify the crops they plant and return moisture and nutrients to the soil, the entire system becomes more resilient and less likely to fail. It's no wonder La Via Campesina, an international movement of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities, has successfully organized millions of people under the banner "Small farmers cool the planet."

Mounting proof of the effectiveness of agroecology also helps explain its growing popularity. In the ten years since the release of the IASSTD report, several studies have deepened the evidence base. A final report issued in 2010 by Olivier De Schutter, former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, found that "[a]groecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within ten years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty." And in June 2016, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES) issued From Uniformity to Diversity, which many consider to be the best report to date on the shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecology systems.

But perhaps the strongest driving force behind the accelerating shift to agroecological practices has been the persistent advocacy by farmer organizations, consumer groups, and researchers debunking the claims of the agrochemical industry that only industrial farming can feed the world.

At the FAO symposium, many grassroots organizations — some of which have received grants from my organization, the AgroEcology Fund — were able to share their experiences with strategies designed to amplify the agroecology message. In Ghana, for example, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD), part of Groundswell International, is working to revitalize arid landscapes in that country through a program known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. In Ecuador, the Agroecology Collective links consumers to agroecological farmers. And in South Africa, the African Centre for Biodiversity seeks to turn traditional agricultural subsidy programs on their head by shifting that support to agroecology.

Given sufficient resources, these and other programs can scale agroecology across the world. At the moment, however, the financing simply isn't there. While multi-donor funds like mine are by no means a replacement for essential public funds, private support can help grassroots advocacy organizations demonstrate how efforts to create more resilient food systems can be scaled and, at the same time, advance progress on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Those same groups also can exert pressure on donors and governments to increase funding for agroecology practice and research, and to pass pro-agroecology legislation.

The official summary document from the FAO symposium calls for "transformative change towards sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology." While undoing the damage caused by our present unsustainable agricultural practices and shifting investment toward agroecology will require much time, money, persistence, and, yes, courage, that transformation is gaining momentum and closer to becoming a reality than ever.

I urge others to join us in supporting the agroecology movement. The sustainability of soil, our sources of fresh water, and our climate depend on it.

DanielMossDaniel Moss is executive director of the AgroEcology Fund, a multi-donor fund that supports agroecological practices and policies. Since 2012, AEF has awarded $4 million to more than two hundred collaborating organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

In the Wake of Tax Reform, Nonprofits Are Counting on Strong Economic Performance

April 26, 2018

Fotolia_5090081_SAs soon as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law, companies, nonprofit organizations, individuals, and accountants began to scramble to determine what it meant for them. Coming at the end of an historic year for the stock market, the legislation was expected to further fuel the market's dramatic rise — and it did, for a time. Whether the trend will continue through the end of 2018 remains to be seen.

One way or the other, one sector that will be affected is philanthropy. On its face, the near doubling of the standard deduction for individuals and couples means that significantly fewer filers will itemize their deductions, reducing an important incentive to give. We may not know the full impact on charitable giving for several years, but for 2018 and 2019 philanthropic organizations could certainly benefit from greater clarity with respect to the legislation and its provisions.

If the economic momentum we saw in 2017 continues through the end of 2018, it will be tough to argue that tax reform had nothing to do with stepped-up economic growth and strong fundraising results. The doubling of the standard deduction and the loss of the tax incentives that come with itemization undoubtedly will dampen giving by some households, but the overall economic gains will offset those losses. Furthermore, as corporations benefit from substantially lower tax rates and foundations' endowments benefit from stock market gains, their grantmaking is likely to remain robust and even increase. So in this “high growth” scenario, philanthropy is likely to be unaffected.

If, the market stumbles, however, the old saw that "a rising tide lifts all boats" will no longer apply, as predictions that changes to tax rates could end up concentrating most of the benefits at the top end of the income scale come to pass, resulting in widely uneven economic impacts across different sectors.

In this "muddle-through" scenario, organizations that rely on smaller donations from less wealthy donors are likely to be hurt the most, as middle-class economic gains from the tax bill fail to materialize and a decline in itemizing by individual tax filers who opt to take the doubled standard deduction leads to a decline in giving by this population. Indeed, if the benefits of the bill accrue disproportionately to the wealthy, as some have predicted, nonprofits that depend on gifts and donations from high-net-worth individuals could very well flourish, while those relying on smaller donations may see their fundraising revenues stagnate or decline.

An increase in corporate giving also is far from a given if economic growth isn't enough to offset the decrease in tax-incentivized giving, or if overall consumer sentiment weakens. Foundations are likely to hold their own in this scenario, but nonprofit organizations will want to track their fundraising streams closely to make sure that decent (but not necessarily robust) economic growth and middling market returns don't sneak up on them.

In the worst case for charities and nonprofits, uncertainty and unintended consequences stemming from the swift pace at which the legislation was moved through Congress could result in a flat-growth scenario. In such a case, full implementation of the legislation gets bogged down in the IRS, the Treasury Department, and/or the courts. Having been written and passed quickly, the legislation creates an unexpected amount of confusion and nobody is able to provide a satisfactory level of clarity.

In such a case, individual giving is likely to be muted, at least temporarily, with already strapped households exploiting loopholes that lower their marginal tax rate and/or delaying some of their giving until the process works itself out. Additional unintended consequences (unforeseen at the moment) could create other challenges, with the confusion surrounding the bill likely to dampen giving not just by households and individuals but across the entire philanthropic sector.

Now, I understand that philanthropy and charitable giving are not solely driven by tax incentives. But for many households, businesses, and foundations, the ability to write off a charitable donation and receive a tax benefit is part of the calculus that governs when and how much they give. Nonprofit organizations that depend on the generosity of others may indeed come out of 2018 stronger, but that is likely to depend on multiple factors all breaking in their favor.

It is still too early to tell, but everyone in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors would be wise to plan ahead with each of these scenarios in mind. Philanthropically minded donors and foundations and the organizations that rely on them have much riding on the economic performance of the U.S. economy over the next couple of years. Organizations that are able to adapt will be the ones most likely to thrive, while those that don’t will not be so lucky.

Headshot_phil_hillsPhilippe G. Hills is president and CEO of Marts & Lundy, an international fundraising consulting firm. Working with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Marts & Lundy recently presented The Philanthropy Outlook 2018 & 2019.

Tips for Finding the ‘Perfect’ Board Member

April 25, 2018

Man-wearing-a-leather-jacket-holding-a-clapperboardOne of the questions we get a lot from our nonprofit clients is: How do we find passionate, engaged, committed board members? Putting together a high-functioning board isn't just about recruiting the "right" people. It's about having the proper mindset and a good plan. Here at Envision Consulting, we often describe the search for the perfect nonprofit board member as a bit like looking for romance, complete with angst-ridden courtships, elaborate proposals, occasional heartbreak, and, with a little luck, true love at the end of your search.

Still with me? Here are some tips to make your search a lot less Romeo and Juliet and a little more The Wedding Singer:

1. Have a "Wish List." You're more likely to find board members who add value to your organization if you understand (and can articulate) beforehand what it is you're looking for. Broaden your wish list beyond skills/expertise (yes, every board should have a CPA) and financial clout (believe it or not, wealthy board members don't always equate to well-resourced nonprofits). Think about the personal characteristics, perspectives, experiences, and networks a candidate is able to bring to your organization. When we have this conversation with our clients, they often tell us they want board members who are available to participate in board meetings and organizational events, have the ability to think strategically, and hold themselves (and others) accountable — the kind of intangible qualities that are difficult to quantify but can have a huge impact on the success and productivity of a board and the broader organization.

2. Fools Rush In. It takes two to tango, right? Too often, nonprofits are overly focused on finding the perfect new board member and neglect to properly "court" candidates by listening to their concerns and answering their questions — only to be shocked (shocked!) when the relationship doesn't pan out. Good board candidates will want to evaluate your organization as much as you want to evaluate them — and they're likely to be selective about which boards they agree to join. Beyond just making a good impression on the candidates you're interested in, you also may need to address how you plan to provide (in an authentic way, of course) the experience the candidate is hoping to gain by joining your board. We strongly encourage our clients to tell candidates in detail about the orientation process and other ways they support new board members.

3. Check Your Friends List. It's so When Harry Met Sally, but that 1989 film is a classic for a reason. The people you know (and who already like you) are the people most likely to be interested in and ready to make a bigger commitment to your organization. Nonprofits often look at major donors as potential board members, but what about loyal volunteers, younger supporters who have served energetically as ambassadors, and corporate supporters with a pool of skilled in-house professionals looking for community leadership opportunities? In most cases, people who are invested in your mission will check the "passion" and "commitment" boxes, but too often nonprofits don't go deep enough into their databases to find those hidden gems. Remember, it's far easier for a new board member to dive into board service with an organization he or she already is familiar with.

4. Swipe Right., Tinder, 2018, there are no lack of tech tools to help you find that special someone. Unfortunately, the options for nonprofits and potential board candidates aren't as extensive (yet!). But there are some very solid tools that can be used to support your search. VolunteerMatch offers postings for board positions, and it also has options to connect those postings to LinkedIn at no cost. (If your organization isn't already using LinkedIn, start by creating an organization profile page and ask your current board members to list their board service in the "volunteer experience" section of their personal profiles.) Nonprofits can also use the LinkedIn platform to post a board position and to search for professionals who have indicated an interest in "board service.” Dubious about how many folks actually check that box? A recent search for people in the greater Los Angeles area who indicated an interest in board service in their LinkedIn profile yielded 95,871 results. Of course, like all search technology, you have to filter your results to find the best candidates.

5. Fish Where There Are Fish. It's one of those annoyingly obvious dating clichés, but if you're trying to find love, you have to go where single people hang out. In the search for new board members, nonprofits have to go beyond their regular circles and reach out to people in the community with different backgrounds, skills, and perspectives that could be valuable to the organization. In our experience, Chambers of Commerce, local leadership programs, young professionals groups, and alumni associations are all excellent places to meet individuals with an interest in seeing their community thrive and a desire to give back.

6. Lean on Your Cupid. Sometimes we all need a little help finding romance. For nonprofits, one way to broaden your pool of board candidates is to use the "blue ribbon nominating committee" idea that Jan Masaoka came up with and brilliantly explained in her classic Blue Avocado article. The essence of the strategy is to bring together influential people who are NOT candidates for your board and ask them to introduce you to people who MIGHT be candidates for your board. Another approach is to participate in board match programs through one of your local leadership programs.

We're here to help too: at Envision Consulting, we recently rebranded our longstanding board matchmaking mixers as CauseCupid, relaxed events that introduce nonprofits to professionals interested in board service. We also host dedicated "cupid events" for organizations seeking to substantially build their boards and companies interested in leadership opportunities for their employees.

We hope to see you at an upcoming event. And if we don't, good luck in your hunt for active, experienced, and passionate board members! May your efforts result in many beautiful friendships — and a minimum of swipe lefts.

Headshot_suzanne_elliottSuzanne Elliott, a principal at Envision Consulting, specializes in organizational strategy, board development, succession planning, and group facilitation.

What’s New at Foundation Center (April)

April 20, 2018

FC_logoI'm currently in New Orleans at the EDGE Funders Conference and am delighting in the stories and wisdom of bold, understated leaders from around the world who are pushing the traditional boundaries of philanthropy. Through conferences like these and our regular scanning and conversations, my colleagues and I have been busy keeping up with data trends and tracking philanthropy's engagement on a variety of issues. Here's a quick update:

Project launched

  • We added a new Open Knowledge Feature to Glasspockets Profiles to showcase the knowledge each foundation has contributed to Issuelab. Learn more.

Content published

What We're Excited About

  • Learning about and participating in global philanthropy conversations. Our director of global partnerships, Lauren Bradford, had this to say about Russian philanthropy.
  • Our FDO at Foundation Center YouTube channel! Have questions about how to use Foundation Directory Online to identify funding sources, build your prospect network, and win funding to support your mission? Our YouTube channel has all the answers.

Upcoming conferences and events

Our staff will be speaking at these upcoming events:

Data Spotlight

  • Funders have granted over $644 million to libraries since 2015. Learn more about funding for libraries at
  • We reached more than 1,500 people in March through our eLearning and webinar programming on fundraising and nonprofit management.
  • 736,055 new grants added to Foundation Maps in March, of which 6,101 grants were made to 3,724 organizations outside the U.S.
  • New data sharing partner: Hugh J. Andersen Foundation
  • Foundation Directory Online currently has 140,000 foundation profiles, more than 11 million grants, and over 500,000 recipients profiles.

Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

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 Is That Noise?

April 19, 2018

NoiseHow many times have you been startled by a noise and thought: What in the world?

You try to ignore it, but it won't stop, so you decide to take action. You go looking for the source, find and disable it, and sigh as you walk back to your chair.

I know the feeling. It's a feeling of exasperation, the feeling you get when someone or something absolutely insists you pay attention, whether you want to or not.

It's the feeling many of us have after we've been exposed to nonprofit marketing.

Hey, I get it. Marketing is noise to some and the stuff of life for others. It can inspire, persuade, and make us fall in love. It can move us to action or dissuade us from taking a stand. It can be something we welcome into our world — or something that intrudes on us when we least expect it.

The question you need to ask is: Is our marketing something our supporters want, or is it the noise in the background they wish would stop. Based on my experience, there's too much of the latter happening in our space.

Let me explain.

When I'm asked by nonprofit organizations to evaluate or design a strategy to raise awareness of their cause or help them build a movement, the first thing I ask them is to share their marketing materials with me. I then go through those materials with an eye to identifying common themes and key messages. Often, however, my review ends with the thought, What was that noise?

Don't get me wrong. In most cases, the materials tell a good story. Many tend to feature a "heroic" individual or individuals, and almost all end with a call to action involving a donation.

Why are "hero" stories so common? And are they effective? I'm skeptical. And the reason for my skepticism is that, in most cases, the target audiences for those stories had no role in creating them.

Still with me? Let's try a thought experiment.

On a piece of paper, answer the following questions:

  • What is the real purpose of your organization?
  • Why should I care about it?
  • Who benefits from its efforts, and how am I connected to them?

I'm willing to bet the questions above caused you to sit back and spend a few minutes thinking about your answers. I'm also willing to bet your answers included some version of the following:

  • Non-specific concepts like the all-too-familiar "e" words (empower, educate, engage).
  • Statistics related to the problem your organization is working to solve or address.
  • The "hero" typically featured in your marketing materials and promotions.

Now let's try a different thought experiment. On a piece of paper, answer the following:

  • Whom do you admire at work and why?
  • Who made a difference in your life?
  • Tell me about a person you know who is going through a personal or professional challenge at the moment?

As you were writing, I'm willing to bet your fingers could barely keep up with your thoughts. Why? Because you were prompted to think about a person or persons whom you admire and have a deep affinity for. In effect, it was an exercise about first "listening" to your audience — i.e., you — before "talking" to it.

In my opinion, the exercise above underscores a real problem with the marketing materials so many of us create and use. The stories we share with supporters and potential supporters tend to be inauthentic — not because our intentions are bad, but because they have very little relatability to the individuals with whom we are communicating. They are not of the audience, by the audience, or for the audience. They are what we think our audience wants to hear.

Here's the thing: the difference between the kind of messaging our audiences want to hear and are likely to respond to and plain old noise is that the former must be created with our intended audience's participation and permission.

So don't be a noise-maker. You want the members of your audience to care about and share your marketing messages with others. And for that to happen, you need to get their input before you sit down to create a marketing campaign. But most of all, you need to be with them — authentically — before you get down to the business of talking to them.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change and the founder and lead researcher on the Millennial Impact Project.

[Review] Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference

April 18, 2018

While all founders of social startups believe their organizations do important work, some startups thrive while others flounder and eventually disappear. What distinguishes the runaway successes from the enterprises that never move beyond survival mode? In her new book, Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference, Kathleen Kelly Janus argues that the difference involves more than luck or chance. 

Social-startup-successAs a social entrepreneur herself and a lecturer in the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University, Janus long recognized that "the struggle to scale is the most pressing challenge for the social entrepreneurship community." Over time, she writes, she "became obsessed with understanding how nonprofits can get off the treadmill and attain organizational sustainability," which she defines as being able to consistently raise $2 million in annual revenue. Faced with a lack of data, Janus and her team created "the most comprehensive survey of seed stage social entrepreneurs ever conducted," surveying scores of founders, donors, and experts, and packaging the results into a book organized into five sections that explore the elements of social startup success: Testing Ideas, Measuring Impact, Funding Experimentation, Leading Collaboratively, and Telling Compelling Stories. In the process, she came to understand that social startups that manage to get off the treadmill excel in all these areas.

In taking a data-driven approach to nonprofit success, Janus examines a number of assumptions about the sector — for example, that admitting failure is something nonprofits are reluctant to do. That's a problem, she writes, because it means too many organizations end up putting resources into programs that don't work rather than programs that do. But for Janus, those kinds of data-driven shifts are absolutely essential, in that they can serve as a "catalyst to an organization really hitting its stride and creating a distinctive identity and mission." While it can be difficult for nonprofit leaders to be open with stakeholders and donors about failure, such "radical transparency" ultimately will inspire trust on the part of funders, who respect (or shouldrespect) "thoughtful, open communication about how organizations test and monitor various approaches to maximize impact."

Ah, impact. We know it when we see it, but how does one actually measure it? First, writes Janus, we need to drop our fixation on "outputs" and start defining and tracking desired "outcomes." Lots of organizations measure outputs (e.g., how many individuals participated in a program, how many meals were served), but according to Janus, such metrics provide little or no indication of whether a program has changed someone's life for the better. After highlighting the outputs-outcomes distinction, she then walks the reader through the process of creating a theory of change, a (sometimes controversial) "tool showing the causal links between an organization's vision and its programmatic activities, detailing the intermediate outcomes and assumptions that must occur to achieve success."

Developing a theory of change forces an organization or entrepreneur to home in on the hoped-for impact of their program or intervention, enumerate the preconditions for success, and link both in a logical, measurable series of steps to the proposed intervention or program. Data collected along the way can be used to demonstrate causal relationships between actions and outcomes and course correct, if needed. Similarly, if not enough time has passed for a new program or intervention to generate the sought-after impact, one can outline "proxy indicators of impact." Janus provides an example of the latter: Aimée Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of the organization Braven, researched literature in the field to shore up her theory of change and analyzed the intermediate outcomes of Braven's efforts to teach "soft" and networking skills to low-income college students as a way to help them secure well-paying jobs after graduation. As a result, she was able to make the case that because her program doubled participants' chances of landing an internship, it would also give them a leg up in securing a good job after graduation — on the strength of which the Peery Foundation awarded the organization a $50,000 grant well before its first cohort of students had graduated.

Like the Peery Foundation, more and more funders are coming to recognize the power of impact measurement that goes beyond the de facto "vanity metrics" of program outputs. And, according to Janus, it's critically important they do so — and that they encourage their grantees to focus more on impact than on "boosting" their existing metrics. 

Janus also addresses the idea popular among some funders that over time a greater and greater fraction of a nonprofit's revenue should come from earned income. While earned income comprises a significant share of organizations' budgets in some sectors (health, arts), it's unrealistic, in her view, to expect that all nonprofits can become self-sustaining (or even sustainable) through earned income. Writes Janus:

"The argument that nonprofits should function more like businesses…has often been pushed to the extreme....Social entrepreneurs are, by definition, working to solve problems resulting from market and government deficiencies....If bringing clean water to the 800 million people who don't have access to it, or selling mosquito nets to the 200 million suffering annually from the scourge of malaria, were profitable ventures, private companies would be doing it. Expecting social entrepreneurs to figure out how to devise profit-making solutions to such problems, when even the behemoths of modern-day capitalism can't do so, is misguided wishful thinking...."

That doesn't mean a nonprofit leader or social entrepreneur shouldn't think big when it comes to raising funds or honing their vision. For example, Laura Weidman Powers co-founded Code2040 with the goal of creating a more diverse and equitable tech industry. Powers told Janus that, even before she secured major partners like Google, she began to suspect that Code2040 was "a huge organization living in the body of a small organization." In Janus's view, that kind of attitude is exactly what a founder (and her stakeholders) needs to have if she hopes to make headway on the problem she's trying to address.

Social Startup Success won't tell founders or social entrepreneurs where to find that attitude, but it will embolden them to start thinking about how they can create smart and meaningful goals, meaningfully engage their funders and beneficiaries as partners, and make brave, strategic decisions that drive an organization's growth from the start and with the expectation that the venture will eventually scale and make a difference in the lives of many more people than it might have otherwise.

Mirielle Clifford is program officer for online resources at the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Time's Up for Philanthropy, Too

April 16, 2018

Me-too-blogAs someone who has spent the last thirty years working to end violence against girls and women, I have never been more hopeful. Women and girls are being believed. Abusers are being held accountable. Sexual violence, so long invisible, is finally becoming visible.

Yet, amid the remarkable momentum of the last six months, it is important to remember what got us here — and to consider how much more philanthropy can and must do to help ensure that all girls and women, and all people, live and work in safety and dignity.

Almost ninety years ago — twenty-four years before she sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott — Rosa Parks survived an attempted sexual assault by her white neighbor. The experience launched her activism — and led her to her role as a sexual assault investigator for the NAACP. Sixty years later, the brave, steady voice of a law professor from Oklahoma riveted a nation, as Professor Anita Hill opened a new conversation about sexual harassment and abuse.

Sixteen years after that, an activist named Tarana Burke gave voice to millions of survivors of sexual violence with two words: me too.

Today, #MeToo is fueling a national reckoning with sexual violence, as women from all backgrounds and industries come forward to share their experiences of harassment and abuse. Their testimony has been a powerful wake-up call, from Hollywood to the nation's factory floors to its farm fields. It should be a wake-up call for philanthropy, too.

#MeToo is a reminder that violence against girls and women pervades every aspect of our society. But the fact that this recognition took decades to break through in pop culture — and still has not broken through in our sector — should give us pause. What is taking so long?

It is philanthropy's role — and our unique opportunity — to seek out and support activists like Rosa Parks and Tarana Burke who are pioneering change in their communities, and whose transformative work is often overlooked and undervalued by the rest of society. Yet, for too long, foundations have treated the work of ending violence against girls and women as a niche category — separate from ambitious efforts to end racism and inequality, improve education, strengthen public health, and expand economic opportunity. As a result, according to a 2008 study, less than 2 percent of all foundation funds go toward addressing gender-based violence. We don't have that data broken out by category, but anyone working in this field can attest that only a fraction of that funding goes to support girls and women of color and transgender women, despite the fact that they suffer violence at higher rates than white and cisgender girls and women.

This failure reflects a broader misconception in our industry — that we can achieve social justice without ending gender-based violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, making the world safe for girls and women is inextricable from every one of our missions. We can't talk about fixing disparities in education without talking about the disproportionately harsh discipline girls of color face in our schools. We can't talk about improving our immigration system without talking about the tragic double bind aggressive law enforcement creates for victims of domestic violence. We can't talk about pay equity without understanding the role that sexual harassment plays in maintaining the wage gap for women. If we care about making progress on these issues, and so many others, we have to care about sexual violence.

That means every foundation needs to be asking tough questions about how it is addressing violence across its work, and where it can do more. It means we need to listen to and learn from survivors of sexual violence and design funding strategies based in their knowledge.

It's not enough just to reexamine the work we do externally. We also have to take a hard look at our own institutional cultures — at who holds power in our organizations and in our industry, and who is systematically excluded. Until more women, particularly women of color, are elevated to positions of power in philanthropy, we will not be able to move past our sector's — and society's — patriarchal and white supremacist roots. To do this, we need to ensure that work spaces are safe, equitable, and just; that they value, support, and promote women; and that they are committed to rooting out deep-seated racism and sexism.

As grantmakers, we have a key role to play. If we don't model these priorities ourselves, we can't effectively support them in others. So time's up on pretending that sexual violence is someone else's problem. #MeToo has opened the floodgates for more of these courageous conversations to take place, and for decisive action to follow. It's philanthropy's turn to reckon with its past and commit to a better future. We can begin by changing ourselves. And then start funding the activists who are making sure that all women and girls, and all people, can live in safety and dignity.

Headshot_pamela_shifmanPamela Shifman is the executive director of the NoVo Foundation.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 14-15, 2018)

April 15, 2018

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

Arts and Culture

Lincoln Center president Deborah L. Spar, who left the top job at Barnard College to helm the performing arts mecca, has decided to step down after only a year. Robin Pogrebin and Michael Cooper report for the New York Times.

And across the East River, the Brooklyn Museum has come under fire for its decision to hire a white woman, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, as a consulting curator for African art. Alex Greenberger reports for ArtNews.

Civil Society

Writing in openDemocracy's Transformation blog, Vern Hughes, director of Civil Society Australia, suggests that the problem with the public and private sectors' "embrace of ‘civil society’ is that it bears little resemblance to what civil society actually is or means. Most of civil society is not constituted formally or headed up by a CEO," adds Hughes. Indeed, "[j]ust 40 years ago, very few not-for-profits or charities had CEOs at all: that term was associated with the corporate sector, and few community groups or charities had even contemplated mimicking the language and culture of such a different sphere. But in just four decades all this has changed, and it has changed at an extraordinarily rapid rate, with very little public discussion or scrutiny of the enormity of the organizational transformation involved and its social and political impact."

Roused by certain statements made by Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Congress earlier this week, Philanthropy 2173 blogger Lucy Bernholz shares some thoughts about the often-unappreciated role that civil society organizations and nonprofits play in curating and moderating content for the Facebooks of the world.

Climate Change

The Atlantic Ocean's meridional overturning circulation — which brings warm water from the equator up toward the Atlantic's northern reaches and cold water back down through the deep ocean — hasn't been this sluggish in a millennium — a sign that "one of the most feared consequences [of climate change] is already coming to pass." Chris Mooney reports for the Washington Post.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy bog, Miriam Heyman, a program officer at the Ruderman Family Foundation, urges funders to "prioritize disability inclusion within their own walls... [to] promote a holistic approach to inclusion...[and to] do [their] best to model that holistic approach by hiring employees with disabilities and prioritizing accessibility at all of [their] events...."


Wynne Chan, GuideStar's manager of strategy and finance, shares some thoughts about why we all should care about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) — and what can we do to model it, both personally and in our organizations.


Smart machines, artificial intelligence, and global competition are disrupting and reshaping the nature of work in ways both profound and worrying. According to The Work Ahead: Machines, Skills, and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, an independent task force report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States needs to create new work opportunities, better career paths, and higher incomes for its people, while developing a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, if it hopes to avoid destabilizing political consequences. 


Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks shares a Zen-like insight and a couple of useful things it teaches us about donor behavior.


After noting that in the age of "bots" human interaction increasingly is being replaced by automation, Allison Fine and Beth Kanter argue in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that it "is incumbent upon those of us in the nonprofit and social-change sectors to start a discussion on how we both hold on to and lead with our humanity, as opposed to allowing the bots to lead." 

Congratulations to our own Sandy Pon, who has been recognized as a digital development mover and shaker by Library Journal for her work on GrantSpace, Foundation Center's online library of resources for nonprofits. Well deserved, Sandy, well deserved!


Here on PhilanTopic, Robin Snidow, board of the General Service Foundation, and Dimple Abichandani, the foundation's executive director, share some of the challenges they faced and lessons they learned after Lani Shaw, GSF's longtime executive director, passed away suddenly.

Billionaire private equity titan Stephen Schwarzman wanted to give his old school, Abington High, north of Philadelphia, $25 million. He also had a list of requests. The Abington school board and parents in the district decided it was a deal they could refuse. Kathy Boccella and William Bender report for 

And Washington Post News Service editor Robert Mitchell has a fascinating piece about American attitudes to Carnegie Library philanthropy in the early twentieth century, which many applauded and others rejected as plutocratic encroachment on their values and way of life.

Social Good

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, David S. Meyer, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of California, Irvine, poses the question: Are the protests sparked by the Parkland teens after the massacre of seventeen of their classmates a social movement or a short-lived response to a flash of youthful passion and grievance? And does it matter?

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at

Embracing Leadership Transitions

April 13, 2018

Top_hands_inLeadership transitions happen all the time in philanthropy, but we rarely talk about the challenges and lessons they reveal. For the most part, our inclination is to try to keep the internal dynamics of our institutions private and (often) separate from our grantmaking. But because organizational change happens to all of us, we have come to see leadership transitions as offering lessons that can be illuminating not just to us but to our grantees and colleagues in other organizations as well.

Three and a half years ago, Lani Shaw, the longtime executive director of General Service Foundation (GSF), passed away suddenly. During her twenty years as GSF's first executive director, the foundation transitioned from being staffed by family members to having a full-time professional staff. Lani's passing put into motion a number of additional changes.

We know from experience that embracing change can be hard. But change can also propel an institution forward, because when it is embraced, it can be an opportunity to connect with our values and work in new ways. This is why, as we mark the two-year anniversary of a new executive director joining General Service Foundation, we wanted to share what we have learned on our journey.

1. Expectations: Transitioning to new leadership is just the beginning.

Robin Snidow (GSF Board Chair): It was a wake-up call when I realized that the hiring of a new executive director was only the beginning of the transition. I had my nose to the ground and was focused on the day-to-day business of keeping the foundation functioning. However unrealistic it may have been, I thought my work would be done once we hired the new ED.

That was not the case, and board chairs need to be aware. Transition means change, and change is dynamic. I wasn't trying to change anything while the executive director position remained vacant. But once Dimple [Abichandani] was hired, I knew we had to be open to changing if we wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities her hiring presented.

Lesson learned: Prepare the board for change. As board chair, don't assume your job is over or that it will get easier when you fill an executive position. That's when the fun starts!

Dimple Abichandani (GSF Executive Director): I remember a staff member saying at one point during my first few weeks here how happy she was that the transition was over and things could "return to normal." Her statement captured just how taxing it can be for an organization to go through the uncertainty of an executive transition. It took us all time to recognize that while the search process had ended, the transition was only beginning. When I look back on that period, I realize now how important it is for leadership to manage expectations.

It is also important for staff and board to be aware that a new leadership perspective may lead to opportunities to build a stronger container for the organization's work. It may also be an opportunity to build on the efforts of previous team members in new ways. All this takes time to figure out and implement.

Lesson learned: Be realistic and clear with expectations. Acknowledge that when a new leader joins a team, things will shift and evolve.

2. Culture: Change is hard because most change involves changing culture.

DA: When I started to understand that every change, big or small, represented a culture change for the organization, I started to talk explicitly about the culture I was trying to create. In the early days, I characterized changes such as moving our team to shared electronic calendars as being no big deal. When these seemingly "small" changes were not met with universal enthusiasm, I was initially baffled by why they should be difficult to implement. Slowly, I realized that what I saw as "small" changes represented a bigger cultural shift — and pain point — for the organization. So I started to be more explicit about the kind of organizational culture I was trying to foster — one that emphasized greater collaboration and integration across programs — and to connect changes, big and small, to that vision.

Lesson learned: Explicitly name culture changes as such and put them into a broader context of the culture you want to co-create.

RS: It's helpful to understand when you have a new leader in place that change is inevitable. We had to remind ourselves of this, particularly because we have a culture that we'd been building for decades. Lani was very much a part of that culture. Hearing that things needed to change is hard when you've been doing things a certain way. It can feel like a criticism and, while building trust helps, it can be difficult. However, there are ways to approach change that can make it feel less threatening and help ease the tension between preserving existing systems and being open to new ways of doing things.

Lesson learned: An attitude of "Let's try this" is important. Know that things are going to change and be open and transparent in your efforts to change longstanding culture.

3. Relationships: In your first year, focus on building relationships and establishing trust.

RS: My number-one job in the first year was to support and create the conditions that would enable our new executive director to be successful. I needed to have her back, to trust her, and to be her thought partner. Successful leadership is the foundation of a successful organization. We established trust by making sure that nothing was off limits. I encouraged Dimple to share any struggle or problem with me, and together we worked to find solutions. It was not only a way to try to solve an issue but good practice for us to learn to work together and to count on each other. Even when we could not come up with an immediate solution, we still had the confidence that we would in time because we had become a team.

Lesson learned: It's okay to go slow and focus on relationship building, which often requires time and patience. The bond between ED and board chair is a critical one, so bringing an intentional focus to that relationship is important. The foundation for a successful transition rests on creating strong internal relationships.

DA: During my first year, my number-one priority was relationship building. I was joining a foundation that had experienced a long period of stability and little change. Lani had been at GSF for more than twenty years, and we had board members who had been serving the organizations for decades. I knew that if staff and board members didn't trust or know me, then nothing would work, so I prioritized building these relationships, spending one-on-one time with board members to learn what was important to them and to get grounded by their stories and GSF's history.

My relationship with Robin was pivotal. She was a great sounding board, and I often drew on her deep knowledge of the organization, the board, and the staff. Early in my transition, I shared a challenging situation with her, and hearing her say "I have your back and I know this is hard" was wonderfully reassuring. It affirmed for me we were in this together. We got into the practice of solving problems together, which became the foundation of a positive and productive relationship — not just for us but for the entire organization.

Relationship building with the staff was also key. In my first two months, I traveled with each program officer to a gathering of grantees or fellow funders to get to know them, understand how they work, and witness how we as an institution were showing up.

Lesson learned: You can't move forward together if you don't have trust.

4. Internal Support: When a leadership transition involves a longtime executive director, an interim executive director can play an invaluable role.

RS: The decision to hire an interim executive director was based on my need to have a sounding board, a listening partner, someone to strategize with during the time GSF was without a full-time ED. I soon saw how an interim executive director can help bridge the uncertainty of change. Our interim ED was brought on with two main purposes: to support the chair in running the foundation and to help with the search for a new executive director. The unintended benefit was the support the new ED already had in place when she began her new job.

Lesson learned: Have an outside voice to support the board chair during this challenging time. A trusted interim director can help ease potential tensions between staff and board.

DA: Two years into my role, I still often think of our interim ED with gratitude because her work made my transition smoother than it might have been otherwise. Our entire team had only worked with our previous ED; having an interim ED gave them an opportunity to experience a different leadership style. Our interim ED was also very involved in the hiring process. I had the luxury of overlapping with her for almost a month, and part of her task was to structure a transition plan and facilitate an orientation retreat. Her coaching and advice as we went through the transition were invaluable.

Lesson learned: In a transition following a long-serving executive, an interim director can help prepare staff for change.

5. External Support: Find your people — your co-conspirators and confidants.

RS: It is so important to find your people and draw support and lessons from those relationships. As board chair, it was important to engage other members of the board so they were fully bought into the transition and the prospective changes that might come with it. Speaking to peers in philanthropy and nonprofits can also help answer questions and overcome challenges that may come up.

Lesson learned: Draw support and lessons from trusted partners, including board members.

DA: I have found so much joy in finding co-conspirators and confidants to lean on, getting their perspectives and learning from them. Being able to reach out and build confidential supportive relationships with other executive directors, particularly the new generation of leaders of color in philanthropy, has provided an important community for many of us, a space where we can align our work with partner organizations in ways that have a broader value and benefit.

Lesson learned: Build community with your peers. It makes the work more fun and impactful.  

Final Thoughts

The main lesson we learned from our journey is that leadership transitions are a work in progress requiring intentional focus for as long as it takes to cultivate the relationships and culture necessary to make the transition successful. From speaking to peers in philanthropy, we know that most leadership transitions involve challenges. But transitions can be joyful, too, because they enable us to connect with one another and our work in new ways. For us, taking the time to develop openness and trust meant that when challenges arose, we were more effective in coming up with solutions together. It also meant we were both in a better position to think boldly, take risks, and be brave alongside each other and in partnership with the organization as a whole.

Dimple_Abichandani_Robin_Snidow_for_PhilanTopicNo two transitions will be the same, but we can all find our own ways to embrace change and see leadership transitions as opportunities for reflection and strengthening our organizations. A successful leadership transition matters not just to the organization undergoing the change but to all of us working in the social justice ecosystem. When a transition fails, it hurts our collective efforts on behalf of equity and justice. And when transitions are successful, we are able to move closer toward our shared goal of transforming the world.

Dimple Abichandani is executive director and Robin Snidow is board chair of the General Service Foundation, which is dedicated  to building a more just and sustainable world.

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.


Man the battle stations

Risk is dangerous, which is precisely why it is relatively rare in our field. It is particularly dangerous in the current environment in which even a reasonably broad-based coalition of foundations could be labeled as "partisan," "politically-motivated," "globalist," "deep state," or anything else in the growing lexicon of epithets used to discredit purveyors of information. As venerable as it is, the Social Science Research Council might also come under attack for its very commitment to social science, which some see as being dominated by a "leftist" agenda. Earlier in my career, I worked as a “social science analyst” for a government-sponsored foundation and had to survive an ideologically-motivated attempt to re-classify our positions as "small-business specialist" because social science was presumed to be dangerous. To the extent it reveals truth that people do not want to hear, maybe it is. Nevertheless, SSRC will need to be careful that none of the research funded under the initiative is obviously influenced by the political concerns or bias of the researchers.

The Icarus effect

Working on such an innovative initiative with one of the most successful technology companies on the planet has got to be heady stuff for these foundations. However, in flying close to the sun, they need to be careful not to get their wings burned. Individually, these foundations are all recognized as leaders in our sector, and collectively they constitute an impressive coalition. But their combined resources pale in significance to Facebook's, with its $484 billion market cap and 2.2 billion monthly users. Eventually, this very asymmetry could lead to the charge that the foundations are being used by Facebook as part of a multi-faceted PR campaign to polish its image as it goes through the gauntlet of congressional scrutiny, press attacks, and the regulation likely to follow.

Different concepts of time

Facebook and its fellow tech giants live in a very different world than the one inhabited by foundations and social science researchers. Exposed by the minute to competition and disruption, they are constantly evolving — adding new features, adjusting algorithms, and trying to solve the mysteries of user behavior on their platforms. They voraciously acquire patents that often provide the only reliable clue to where they are headed in the future and lock them away under layers of intellectual property protection. There is a real risk that the research supported by this initiative will turn out to be largely historical, lending deep understanding to what happened, after the fact, at a particular moment in American political history. By the time the research is approved, carried out, peer-reviewed, and published — all of them essential steps in guaranteeing fairness and objectivity — Facebook and the tech world will have mutated several times over. In other words, the challenges that this research is intended to address will have long since been superseded by challenges we can't even imagine today. Perhaps the best of the research can transcend the temporal nature of technological change and explore the underlying issues of privacy, algorithmical bias, and the hacking of public opinion that are at stake here.

Undoubtedly, the seven foundations spearheading this effort thought of all of the above —  and more — as they carefully weighed the pros and cons of taking on this important work. This is philanthropy at its best — exercising independence, applying flexible resources, collaborating across sectors, and striving to shed light on a crucial societal issue where, at the moment, there is only heat. Is it just a courageous one-off initiative by seven foundations? Or is it a sign that risk is back in philanthropy? Only time will tell.

Headshot_brad_smith_for_PhilanTopicBradford K. Smith is president of Foundation Center.

The First Year of a New Presidency Moves Philanthropy to Action

April 10, 2018

Unprecedented_Coverpage-232x300The speculation for most of us began on Wednesday morning, November 9, 2016.

Regardless of political affiliation, the election win by a presidential candidate who promised dramatic changes in governing style and policies from the prior administration meant that grantmakers might have to rethink their current strategies and, quite possibly, fundamental priorities. As the new administration's policy agenda rolled out over its first year in office, the interest areas of more and more funders were touched by the shifting political landscape.

Beyond the impact of these policy changes on individual grantmakers, we began to ponder what this meant for the field of philanthropy as a whole; not just grantmaking institutions, but also the many philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) and funder collaboratives that exist to strengthen funder effectiveness through joint learning, alignment, and action. We wondered whether the initial flurry of conversation had led to more formal engagement and even collaboration in responding to the evolving policy priorities. And, if it had, what was the type and scale of their responses? Were they timely? Did they have the potential for catalyzing longer-term changes in the sector?

To begin to answer these questions we talked with nearly thirty leaders of PSOs and funder collaboratives in advance of the first anniversary of the new administration. Frontline partners for grantmakers and close observers of trends across the sector, these leaders described a philanthropic field demonstrating flexibility, nimbleness, and a willingness to collaborate that can serve as a model of creative adaptation for the sector going forward. They also identified enduring challenges for the sector that have been amplified in these unpredictable times.

We've documented our findings in a new report, and key insights include:

PSOs played a critical role in enabling funder learning, dialogue, and action. The speed of policy change in the new political environment intensified the need for funders to be well-informed. PSOs were often the first call for grantmakers and have since engaged in supporting funder learning, facilitating funder networking and aligning support, enhancing opportunities for collective response, and supporting efforts to help bridge divergent perspectives among staff and boards.

The new environment accelerated important funder conversations. At least three ongoing conversations in the field of philanthropy have received an explicit boost from the current political environment. These include the importance of continuing to grow the sector's focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion; the need to think beyond issue silos and employ intersectional approaches; and the foundational benefits of creating space for dialogue across political and ideological divides through support for nonpartisan civic engagement.

While some funders remained cautious, others embraced their public voice. According to PSO leaders, not all funders expressed a need for immediate engagement in the new political environment. A few interviewees described funders who had taken a "wait and see" approach. Yet, the impact of rapidly changing policies led a greater number of funders to consider aligning their "institutional voice" with other grantmakers to maximize their potential impact. Several PSOs referenced taking the lead in crafting and coordinating shared funder statements, which created a certain measure of "strength in numbers" and undoubtedly contributed to the willingness of some to lend their name to a public position.

Not all of our questions, or those of the leaders we spoke with, could be answered through these conversations. Arguably, the most salient questions still to be addressed are:

  • Will the philanthropic sector demonstrate a sustained commitment to shared learning, collaboration, and speaking up in response to the evolving policy environment?
  • Will these practices permeate grantmakers' other funding priorities?

Melinda_fine_steven_lawrenceThroughout 2017, more funders showed themselves to possess the adaptive abilities necessary to make a difference in the twenty-first century. The years 2018, 2019, and beyond will show just how pivotal this political epoch will ultimately be for how grantmakers do their work and make a difference going forward.

Melinda Fine is director of philanthropy & strategic partnerships at TCC Group, where she leads the firm's engagements with private, family, community, and public foundations, funder collaborations, and affinity groups. Steven Lawrence is a senior research affiliate with TCC Group and a former director of research at Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on the TCC Group blog and is republished here with the permission of Fine and her colleagues.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 7-8, 2018)

April 08, 2018

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


The Hewlett Foundation's Ruth Levine argues (persuasively) that "the benefit/cost ratio for [nonprofit] annual reports is pretty unfavorable" and that "[t]they are more trouble than they're worth." 

Reinvent the wheel. Close the loop. Onboarding. Vu Le has gathered nineteen of the most annoying phrases used in the nonprofit sector.


On the BoardSource blog, Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation since 2008, shares five recommendations for foundations that want to do something about the lack of board diversity in the field. 


When should you start teaching your kids about charitable giving. Forbes contributor Rob Clarfeld shares a few thoughts.

Higher Education 

After a lifetime working in and around students and public schools, Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and a former chancellor of the New York City public school system, reflects in an op-ed in the New York Times on the "troubling fact" that "[d]espite the best efforts of many, the gap between the numbers of rich and poor college graduates continues to grow."

The Times' Kyle Spencer reports that, with the price of higher education soaring, middle-class families increasingly are looking to community colleges as an option.

"For years, researchers have highlighted the vast inequities that persist in the country's K-12 education system with students of color disproportionately enrolled in public schools that are underfunded, understaffed, and thus more likely to underperform when compared with schools attended by their white peers," writes Sara Garcia on the Center for American progress site. "What has received less attention is the fact that these inequitable patterns do not end when a student graduates from high school but persist through postsecondary education."

International Affairs/Development

On his Gates Notes blog, Bill Gates reviews his late friend Hans Rosling's new book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think — and explains why he's decided to stop talking about the "developing" world.


In a Q&A with  Anders Hofseth on the Nieman Lab site, Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, avers that with the collapse of ad-supported models for quality journalism, public service media hasn't been this important since World War II.

How biased are your favorite sources for news? You probably won't agree with the conclusions of patent attorney Vanessa Otero, who has updated a chart she first created for the Marketwatch site back in 2016.


In a post on her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington looks at half a dozen of the key strategic questions facing nonprofits. 


Is philanthropy driven by morality or markets? That's the question Eric Michael Johnson, a historian of evolutionary biology, asks — and tries to answer — in an essay on the Evonomics site.

In response to a recent paper ("What Makes a Strong Ecosystem of Support to Philanthropy") authored by Barry Knight and published by WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support), Foundation center's Larry McGill argues that "there are no good reasons why philanthropy should not strive to maximize its effectiveness through appropriate forms of strategic cooperation and action, on scales that go beyond the unconnected efforts of single organizations and individuals."


Poverty in America increasingly is a suburban affair — but government programs to combat it have not changed to address it. Aaron Wiener reports for the Washington Post.

Public Affairs

Two recent op-eds — one by Jonathan P. Baird in the Concord (NH) Monitor and the other by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the New York Times — remind us that the road to fascism unfolds in incremental steps.

On a somewhat brighter note, the Hewlett Foundation's Daniel Stid is cautiously optimistic about the future of American democracy — and, in a short piece on the Hewlett site, explains why you should be, too.

Social Media

And what does the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica controversy mean for your nonprofit's digital strategy. Beth Kanter breaks it down.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock/tungtopgun)

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at

Leading Narrative Change

April 06, 2018

BigDipperActivists, philanthropists, and social entrepreneurs increasingly are focused on influencing people and shaping opinions, behaviors, and policy through narrative. There's also an increased focus on culture change through narrative.

Although the definition of the word can be nuanced, narrative generally refers to the big, overarching stories that result from the amalgamation of smaller stories. As the Narrative Initiative puts it: "What tiles are to mosaics, stories are to narratives."

Liz Manne and Erin Potts, co-founders of A More Perfect Story, offer another practical analogy to guide our understanding:

  • Stories are stars.
  • Narratives are constellations of stars.
  • Culture is the galaxy which contains the stories and narratives.

Just like constellations are groupings of stars that help us organize our understanding of the night sky, stories are assembled into narratives to more efficiently transmit our beliefs and collective meaning.

Brett Davidson, in "The Role of Narrative in Influencing Policy," offers this explanation of narrative change work:

Narratives embody fundamental assumptions by which we interpret and understand the world. Because they constitute the culture in which we live, we are often unaware of these assumptions and the narratives through which they are conveyed. Therefore we need to find ways to reveal, challenge and change them....

Working with story and narrative is different than working with messages. Working with story and narrative is multi-directional and requires active listening, a willingness to invite participation, and comfort with complexity. Today, leaders of nonprofit organizations have multiple channels for both communicating and listening, and audiences are increasingly distracted and fragmented. Working with story and narrative therefore requires leaders to be intentional about which stories to look for and share, and to select for the narratives they want to influence.

If you already are, or are interested in, leading an effort to create change through narrative (either within an institution or in the larger culture), you need to model sincere respect for the hard work involved in finding, making sense of, and sharing stories. You must demonstrate your commitment to narrative change. And, to be a true narrative leader, you must uphold the highest ethical standards.

Here are some questions to guide you, and your teams, as you engage in story and narrative work on the road to becoming "narratively" competent:

  • Do you appreciate the fact people around you make sense of their world through story? Are you committed in your own efforts to see your world through a narrative lens?
  • In your own work, are you focused on both the aspirational Big Story (i.e., the narrative), as well as the smaller stories that reinforce the narrative and help drive the movement for change? How are you inviting and motivating people to participate in and contribute to your preferred or chosen Big Story?
  • How are you listening — and making sense of what you hear? What themes are emerging in your listening? What stories are leading to engagement?
  • What are you doing to make sure you're not ignoring what is being said, or voices that may not be coming through in your listening? What are your checks for ensuring that you are not listening only to what you want, or think you need, to hear?
  • How do you include, invite, and encourage participation in your organization's narrative and story work — from participants at every level of power and access?
  • What is your understanding of how narrative is woven through complex systems? Are you recognizing, encouraging, and evaluating cultural, structural, and community narrative efforts?
  • Have you clearly articulated your organization's understanding of and commitment to ethical approaches to inclusion, representation, and permission?
  • Are you taking a long view to narrative change and cultural shift, realizing that stories and narratives are constantly emerging?
  • What does it mean to you to be leading an organization committed to narrative change?
  • Are you committed to the journey and not the product?

You want to picture your organization, its work, and the work of your allies (and opponents) as facets to be assembled, kaleidoscope style, into compelling patterns. As a change leader, you have the opportunity, responsibility, and power to influence how they come together. 

Headshot_thaler_pekarThaler Pekar, CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partners, is an internationally-recognized pioneer in organizational narrative, leadership storytelling, and persuasive communication. Click here for more by Thaler.

Going Far Together: Lessons From Convening the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative

April 04, 2018

Food insecurity_nycEach year, nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food assistance. The delivery of that assistance requires a complex network of food suppliers who distribute food to a thousand neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens.

Until recently, however, there was little coordination between those suppliers. Indeed, no one really knew what food was going where, much less whether it was reaching neighborhoods where it was needed. Even had suppliers wanted to, coordination would have been nearly impossible: each supplier tracked food in different ways, and some pantries had only pen and paper sign-in sheets to record how many people they were serving.

Over the years, the key players involved in emergency food assistance in New York would gather to discuss potential projects and information they wished they could share more easily. Good intentions notwithstanding, they simply did not have the resources or incentive to follow through on this work.

In short, it was clear to all that for collaboration to happen, strategic investment was needed.

When trying to solve a complex issue, it can be tempting to identify and tackle one part of the problem — funding a simple increase in emergency food supplies, for example – without getting to the root of the problem. That's something my colleagues and I at the Helmsley Charitable Trust wanted to avoid. So in January 2015, working with the New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy, we convened the key players in emergency food assistance in the city and invited them to create a unified strategic plan that didn't just fund their work but also aligned everyone's incentives to change and improve the system. In the years since, the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative has made a number of investments to build the capacity needed to distribute millions of pounds of food to neighborhoods where it is needed most.

None of this could have been accomplished without the eager participation of all those involved: City Harvest, United Way of New York CityNew York City Human Resources Administration, and the New York State Department of Health-Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP).

Of course, success wasn't guaranteed, and we learned some valuable lessons along the way. It wasn't enough to simply gather everyone in the same room and offer to provide the funds needed to get the process started. Instead, the following elements were critical:

1. Conditional payments. Helmsley had to establish the framework for success. We offered the funds to get the process started — and the promise of subsequent funding was conditioned on achieving future goals and milestones agreed on at the outset by members of the group.

2. An honest broker at the head of the table. In this case, the honest broker was Mayor Bill de Blasio's director of food policy, Barbara Turk. Turk had no loyalties other than to the people of New York City, and she was perfectly positioned to facilitate the group's efforts and keep the work focused on helping New Yorkers in need.

3. Consensus on a set of measurable goals. Initially, the group talked about the results of their work in terms of meals, dollars, nutritional and meal factors, and so on. Eventually, it agreed on a single shared metric that translated well across all suppliers — pounds of food. And it similarly coalesced around a shared goal — making sure that food-insecure New Yorkers have equitable access to emergency food no matter where they live. Every time the group meets, it receives reports that break down the deliveries over the past month in terms of this metric — and on the progress made toward the shared goal.

4. Resources to carry out plans. Helmsley realized significant resources were needed and provided $15 million in grants over four years in support of pantry expansions, staff salaries, and costs associated with a dedicated support team. This substantial outlay drove the necessary commitment from participating organizations' staff to engage in the difficult work of collaborative decision-making.

5. Reliable structure to support implementation decisions. The collaborative set up working groups on different topics staffed with relevant experts from each organization and assembled CEO-level representatives and private funders to oversee the work. Working groups meet every six weeks and are provided with opportunities to review data, make decisions, and get out into the field to visit neighborhoods and local pantries. In addition, the group developed standard decision-making processes around its core operations, including goal setting, data sharing, and grantmaking.

By setting the stage for stakeholders to come together and decide collectively on actions to be taken, and by providing conditional capital and critical support every step of the way, Helmsley made it possible for the major charitable food players in the city to change their emergency food delivery system. Working together, these stakeholders have:

  • built a revamped central database,, that has complete data on all the food moving through the system, as well as the capacity of the agencies responsible for distributing it;
  • used new data to identify eighteen severely underserved neighborhoods where hyper-targeted investments could make the biggest difference;
  • added the capacity to distribute fifteen million additional pounds of food annually to these underserved neighborhoods by expanding existing pantries or starting new ones where none existed; and
  • developed Plentiful, the first-ever OpenTable-style app for pantry clients, enabling users to schedule appointments so as to avoid having to wait in line. Best of all, the app is available in nine languages.

The collaborative's biggest success, however, may be the fact that collaborative members have taken on new challenges beyond the scope of the original action plan and have chosen to keep working together, extending their efforts to build pantry capacity to an additional set of underserved neighborhoods, pioneering new models for large-scale just-in-time delivery, working with a set of strategically important providers on how to survive as independent nonprofits, and looking at opportunities to scale the Plentiful app to other cities.

Ultimately, Helmsley's greatest contribution was to forge a process that helped strengthen ties and relationships among all stakeholders. Whether elbow-to-elbow around conference tables or piling into vans for pantry site visits, these relationships have inspired an ongoing exchange of ideas and mutual goals that are paving a path to future collaboration — collaboration that will continue long after we have expended our last grant dollar in support of these efforts.


(Photo credit: John Moore/Getty)

Tracy Perrizo is program officer for the Helmsley Charitable Trust's New York City program.

The Changing Landscape of Russian Philanthropy: Growth Spurts and Growing Pains

April 02, 2018

Philanthropy-in-Russia-cover-1-724x1024Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, in association with Alliance magazine and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), recently launched the second report in its Philanthropy Bridge Series — this time in partnership with CAF Russia — on the world's largest country. Russia isn't just large in geographical size, it's also large in terms of complexity. It's a country about which many of us know little yet find ourselves reading about on an almost daily basis, in turn creating curiosity and intrigue. So, what does the end of the Iron Curtain mean for philanthropy in Russia?

Russia to me is challenging to understand despite having traveled to its major cities and enjoyed its delightful culture and hospitality. This is true for understanding philanthropy there as well. Philanthropy in Russia is a working paper rather than an attempt to describe the sector in its entirety; it begins to distill what is known to create meaning. Here are some of my takeaways:

You can't understand Russian philanthropy without understanding its context. Despite the country's long and chequered history, philanthropy in Russia is relatively young, both the sector itself and even the notion of giving. Whereas philanthropy is embedded in the cultural context of many other countries, its emergence in Russia over the last three decades creates a distinction between a time in which philanthropy existed there and a time in which it did not. CAF's 2017 World Giving Index, which measures individual giving in terms of money, time, and helping a stranger (an awesome measure, by the way), ranks the Russian Federation 124th out of 139 countries surveyed. In terms of giving money, Russia ranks 104th. As the report describes it, "Russia does not appear to be a nation of givers." There are cultural and historical reasons for this. During the Communist era, public well-being was considered the responsibility of the state alone. This reinforced the notion that private charitable work should be considered a private affair and was not to be talked openly about. This may be a difficult notion for many Western philanthropists to understand, given the often default position of self and organizational promotion. Think, for example, about the purpose of a "top funders list" or the Giving Pledge page. Neither approach is right, good, or bad — just different. Twenty-seven years later, though, this does appear to be changing in Russia.

Who's giving, and how, are changing. Once thought of as a "demeaning, manipulative capitalist practice" that was forbidden (Jamie Gambrell), attitudes to philanthropy seem to be becoming more positive. Oksana Oracheva, general director of the Vladmir Potanin Foundation, believes that people are more supportive of philanthropy now, particularly as they become more involved themselves through corporate volunteerism, community philanthropy, and small individual donations. As was also the case with the Philanthropy in India report, small donations by the middle class have led to significant increases in giving in both countries. Although members of the middle class often don't give large sums, they can give smaller amounts more often (especially due to technology).

When did you last give by way of an SMS donation, particularly one that you were encouraged to make by an advertisement on television? For many of us, probably never. For a Russian, it may have been today. Numerous causes invest in storytelling through the media with a call to action to give any amount, which culturally makes philanthropy quite visible. Pretty cool.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 31-April 1, 2018)

April 01, 2018

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

Arts and Culture

"Attaching a donor’s name to a building, courtyard, hallway, gallery or even a restroom in return for a significant contribution has been a growing practice since the 20th century, primarily influenced by the philanthropy culture of the [United States]." And today the practice is pervasive. But what does it mean to put a wealthy donor's name on a museum's door? Linda Sugin, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at Fordham Law School, explores the question.

In The Politic, Jack McCordick looks at how recent changes in the admission policies of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art may be changing it's role as "a place of refuge, a sanctuary in a city that also pledges to be one.”

Congratulations to Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Agnes Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA); and sculptor Richard Serra, winners of this year's J. Paul Getty Medal.


Forbes Nonprofit Council member and president/CEO Art Taylor explains the benefits of spreading your giving efforts over the full calendar year.

We promise you'll enjoy this conversation between Marc Gunther and fundraising consultant (and DAF critic) Alan Cantor about whether giving is an affair of the head or the heart.


Inequality won't solve itself. "Societies tend to become more unequal over time, unless there is concerted pushback," writes Sarah van Gelder in Yes! magazine. "Those who accumulate wealth — whether because of good fortune, hard work, talent, or ruthlessness — also accumulate power. And over time, the powerful find ways to shift the economic and political rules in their favor, affording them still more wealth and power...."

How much does luck have to do with the "logic and morality of inequality"? More than you think, argues Kaushik Basu, former chief economist at the World Bank, in an opinion piece on the Project Syndicate site.

Continue reading »

A Challenge to Philanthropy: Expand Health and Educational Opportunities for Native American Youth

March 30, 2018

Native_american_youth_standing_rockThese days, everyone is looking for new thinking about the tough challenges we face as a country. But perhaps what we need is not new thinking but the wisdom to revisit older approaches that have stood the test of time.

A value shared by many Native Americans is that all suffering is reciprocal, as is all healing. Each of us can only thrive when everyone does well.

The power of this wisdom is enormous. And it has endured despite a long history of genocide and racism toward Native Americans, helping our communities remain resilient in the face of tragedy, discrimination, and neglect.

For instance, Native American activists recently led one of the most galvanizing environmental justice campaigns in years — and it all began with a group of Native American youth leaders. Images of young people chanting "Mni wiconi — Water is life" showed up in mainstream news for the better part of 2016 in what became popularly known as the Movement at Standing Rock.

The leadership, conviction, and voices of these young people spoke to the hearts of millions of people around the globe. And their message was profound: We are protecting the most precious source of life — water. Not just for Native people, but for all humans and living beings. By having the guts to challenge the power and prerogatives of the oil industry, these youth — alongside an intergenerational community of "water protectors" — stood up for the inherent right of Native peoples to exist and determine their future.

Standing Rock showcased the power and potential Native American youth have as drivers of social change — both in their communities and across the nation.

Continue reading »

'100&Change' Solutions Bank: A Unique Resource for Funders

March 28, 2018

100&Change_Solutions_BankOur original goal for 100&Change, an open competition for a single $100 million grant, was fairly simple: identify a project outside our usual networks that with substantial resources disbursed over a compressed time period (three to five years) could make significant progress in addressing a critical problem. And we succeeded. In December 2017, MacArthur's board of directors selected an early childhood intervention project, a collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee, as the recipient of the $100 million grant. The other three finalists — Catholic Relief Services, HarvestPlus, and the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health (Rice University) — were each awarded grants of $15 million and a commitment from MacArthur to help identify additional sources of funding.

After we launched the competition, however, we realized that 100&Change's open call had an important side benefit: the surfacing of a wealth of ideas for solving problems around the globe, ideas at various stages of development but good ideas nonetheless. We were logging those ideas into a database here at the foundation but soon recognized the database could be a public resource serving other funders who might find interesting projects to support, communities looking for innovative solutions to their challenges, and problem-solvers and researchers looking for others with similar interests. So, after a number of conversations and phone calls, we found ourselves collaborating with Foundation Center on the 100&Change Solutions Bank, a searchable (by geography, subject area, keyword, and Sustainable Development Goal) repository of submissions to the 100&Change competition.

Interesting, right? But maybe you're not sure how the Solutions Bank can help you. No problem. Here are four sample use cases:

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Is Your Nonprofit Leery of Lobbying? Now’s the Time to Get Over It

March 26, 2018

Advocacy-button-770-RSWhoever said "Good things come to those who wait" has never advocated for a cause, shepherded a policy through the legislative process, or run a nonprofit organization. That's especially true if your nonprofit's mission is issue-driven, and it's even more true now, when political upheaval in the Trump era and a looming election put the future of many organizations' missions in question — whether those missions are related to the arts, science and technology, feeding the homeless, fighting for workers’ rights, or another worthy cause. This year, sitting out legislative policy fights is just not an option.

Enter the question of lobbying and some timely new research from academics at George Mason University and the University of Miami. Lobbying is an uncomfortable topic for many nonprofits, but the study's authors challenge the pervasive view that the often-maligned practice is nothing more than a quid pro quo exchange of money for votes. In a piece describing the research, study co-author Jennifer Victor maintains that lobbying is about relationships and is in fact an essential part of our democracy. "[L]obbyists," she writes, "provide an efficient, effective, and knowledgeable source of high quality information that gets injected into the policy making process at all stages. This is generally a good thing, because it can significantly help lawmakers fill gaps in their knowledge base."

By now you can guess where we're going with this: not only should nonprofits revisit their thoughts on lobbying, they should also seriously consider getting in the game. Lobbying is entirely consistent with public charities' charitable and educational missions because it deals directly with the regulatory and statutory context in which groups function. And if nonprofits won't speak for the people they serve when fundamental decisions are being made, who will?

So if it's clear nonprofit groups have every incentive to lobby, we then need to ask: Can they? The good news is that there's no reason why any charitable organization should not have a robust lobbying and advocacy strategy in place.

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Quote of the Week

  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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