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How Foundations Are Supporting Voting Rights

November 24, 2015

The last five years have seen a tug-of-war over the future of our democracy. At odds are forces that want to restrict access to political participation and others who seek to open it in hopes of increasing the number of Americans who cast ballots. After the 2010 election, the war on voting rights intensified with the adoption of laws that curbed participation through voter ID laws in a number of states and cutbacks on early voting opportunities in others. The Supreme Court further complicated the picture by putting money over people in its Citizens United decision and dealing a blow to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which made it easier for states to engage in voter suppression tactics impacting voters of color. At the same time, while some states were rolling back the clock on voting rights and democracy, others were pushing through reforms such as online and same-day voter registration aimed at modernizing their voting systems.

As the battle rages on, nonprofits, think tanks, and universities have received substantial funding from foundations in support of their efforts to advance democracy in America. Foundation Center's new tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, indicates that foundations made grants of almost $299 million between 2011 and 2014 in the campaigns, elections, and voting category, which includes support for implementation, research, reform, and/or mobilizations efforts related to campaign finance, election administration, redistricting, voting access, as well as voter registration, education, and turnout. More than half those grant dollars went for voter registration, education, and turnout initiatives, and, as one might expect, the annual total spiked in 2012, a presidential election year, as did funding for voting rights efforts.


This is information that everyone should pay attention to. In the voting rights and election administration arenas, we often raise concerns that funding for our efforts tends to be cyclical whereas our work is anything but. The data in the center's tool indicates that as the campaign to roll back voting rights intensified in 2011, support for the field was meager, leaving American voters vulnerable to voter suppression efforts. In contrast, in 2012, an election year, foundations significantly increased their support for such efforts, from $5.3 million to $29 million. Unfortunately, scarce resources in so-called "off years" left voters vulnerable because advocates lacked full capacity to litigate, advocate, and educate. Past and recent history make it clear that voting rights is not an election-cycle issue and cannot be ignored during non-election years, lest we slip back into old ways and attitudes.

Clearly, some foundations understand this. The Foundation Center's tool reveals that the Ford and Open Society foundations have been leaders in supporting efforts to protect and extend voting rights, while a relatively new funder, the JPB Foundation, has moved quickly to assist. Nor did foundations shy away from funding an important tactic in protecting our democracy – litigation. From 2011 to 2014, grants of nearly $30 million were earmarked for voting rights-related litigation, which is absolutely needed as a check on partisan manipulation of election laws by various state legislatures. In the face of these efforts, foundations simultaneously supported election administration efforts seeking to modernize our election system, increasing their investment in such reforms from $1.7 million in 2011 to $9.4 million in 2013.

These efforts are paying off with wins in states such as Colorado, Oregon, and others, where laws have been passed increasing access to the ballot box through mail-in ballots, automatic voter registration, and other mechanisms. Still, as history reminds us — and foundations well know — we must always be vigilant and ready to defend government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Headshot_Judith_Browne_DianisJudith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, is a civil rights attorney who has practiced in the areas of voting rights, education, housing, and employment and has served as counsel in major cases under the Voting Rights Act. Advancement Project's Voter Protection Program has challenged voter identification laws in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Wyoming and is counsel for the North Carolina NAACP in its challenge of North Carolina's omnibus voter suppression law, which was passed in 2013. You can follow her on Twitter at @jbrownedianis.

This is the ninth in a series of ten posts about U.S. democracy and civil society that will be featured here on PhilanTopic in the run-up to Election Day in November, and beyond.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 21-22, 2015)

November 22, 2015

Rick-CohenOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Tax documents posted on Monday show that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation "has significantly scaled back its holdings in some of the world's biggest oil, coal and gas companies." The Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton has the story.


Forbes contributor Beth Braverman has some useful advice for your end-of-year giving. And you'll find more good year-end giving advice from Network for Good's Liz Ragland on NFG's Nonprofit Marketing Blog.


The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has announced that it has amended its tax returns for the last four years "to more accurately account for revenue received from government sources." The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman reports.


According to new figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in the U.S. has declined some 2 percent on a year-over-year basis. The Department of Education disagrees. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.


On the Knight Foundation blog, Neha Singh Gohil, a senior media fellow at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, shares four lessons the foundation learned from the Knight-funded  Informed Communities Education Reporting Fellowship, a nine-month project to support ethnic media outlets in their education reporting.


On the Giving in LA blog, John E. Kobara, executive vice president & COO of the California Community Foundation, reports on a resolution approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that will strengthen the county’s nonprofit sector through the implementation of "new federal rules that remove the long-held arbitrary 'ceiling' or limit on allowable overhead costs for nonprofits." 

After reminding her readers that the theme of November's Nonprofit Blog Carnival is how nonprofits can move from a scarcity mindset to a a mindset of abundance, Beth Kanter applies the same lens to the topic of self-care, or lack thereof, in the nonprofit sector.


To mark its seventy-fifth anniversary (1940-2015), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has posted a nifty interactive timeline of its activities and work.

On the HistPhil blog, Ben Soskis checks in with a good synopsis of a recent Hudson Institute event featuring Linsey McGoey, author of the recently released No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy.

Writer and charity strategist Brady Josephson attended nonprofit technology company Blackbaud's annual conference recently and came away "both amazed by the magnitude of the philanthropic sector at this moment [and] incredibly inspired by the ability of our actions to make change possible."

Fidelity Charitable, the largest donor-advised fund sponsor by assets in the world, has announced that it now accepts donations of bitcoin. Veronica Dagher reports.

In a post on the Kresge Foundation website, Rip Rapson, the foundation's president, reflects on the results of the most recent survey of the foundation's grantees by the Center for Effective Philanthropy -- the third time in the past decade that Kresge has commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from CEP -- and reports on some of the steps the foundation is taking to implement the almost two dozen recommendations contained in the report.

With Thanksgiving upon us, Jennifer Rainin and the program staff of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation in Oakland celebrate some of the people and partners for whom they are grateful.


Excellent piece by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic detailing how a series of bad decisions left Syracuse, New York, with the highest concentration of poor people in the country.

Social Good

"[T]here is a vast difference between conscious consumerism and actively fostering social change," write Cinnamon Janzer and Lauren Weinstein on the Fast Company Exist blog, "and confusing them is dangerous...."

The Case Foundation has released a new "Be Fearless" Action Guide. The foundation also has a good list of entrepreneurial "influencers" you should be following on Twitter.

And  two months after Facebook announced that it had created a Social Good team, the social media giant has launched its latest cause-focused products: fundraiser pages and improved Donate buttons for nonprofits. Matt Petronzio reports.

(Photo: Rick Cohen; photo credit: Eleanor Cohen)

That's it for this week. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at or via the comments section below....

5 Questions for...Heather Nesle, President, New York Life Foundation

November 20, 2015

The New York Life Foundation is one of a handful of grantmakers that support childhood bereavement programs for children who have lost a loved one. This year, on Children's Grief Awareness Day, November 19, the foundation launched the Shared Grief Project, a website that seeks to "open up" the dialogue around childhood grief by featuring role models whose "grief journeys" can offer inspiration and guidance to grieving children.

PND asked New York Life Foundation president Heather Nesle about the foundation's grantmaking in the childhood bereavement area, its accomplishments to date, and its hopes for the future.

Headshot-heather-neslePhilanthropy News Digest: Through its Nurturing the Children initiative, the New York Life Foundation has awarded grants to childhood bereavement programs since 2007. How did the foundation come to focus on support for children who have lost a family member or friend?

Heather Nesle: Our dedication to the issue of childhood bereavement began with our support of Comfort Zone Camp, the nation's largest childhood grief camp. Through that relationship, we quickly learned that supporting grieving children was something our employees and agents were particularly passionate about — as well as an issue in urgent need of increased attention and investment.

Like many of our corporate foundation peers, we've looked to integrate our philanthropic strategy with the company's overarching mission and values. Part of New York Life's mission is to provide peace of mind for our policy holders, and we see providing comfort and assistance to children in their time of greatest need as a direct, natural extension of that. We also saw an exciting opportunity to get involved with the issue from the ground up by engaging our extensive agent network.

PND: What kinds of programs and services for grieving children and their families does the foundation fund? And what have you learned about the kinds of support that are most effective in helping children cope with the loss of a loved one?

HN: Our key partners/programs include the National Alliance of Grieving Children, a national network of grief stakeholders whose reach we have helped expand considerably over the past few years; Grief Reach, our program for delivering direct support to childhood bereavement centers and programs across the country through community expansion and capacity-building grants; the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a group of leading K-12 professional organizations that we convened to produce new educator-specific grief resources and training materials; Camp Erin/Moyer Foundation and Comfort Zone Camp, networks of free bereavement camps; the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one who served in our armed forces; and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We also recently sponsored the HBO documentary "One Last Hug," an intimate portrayal of the Camp Erin program that premiered in 2014 and won an Emmy for Best Children's Programming.

We fund a diverse range of programs and organizations, but they all share two basic convictions: that grieving children need to feel they're not alone, and that they need to have outlets to express their grief. Every child is different, so we try to help educate people to better recognize and understand the variety of forms grief can take.

PND: The foundation's total grantmaking in support of childhood bereavement is nearing the $25 million mark, making it one of the largest of the handful of funders engaged in this area. Are you surprised that the issue of childhood bereavement hasn't attracted more support from funders?

HN: Yes and no. On the one hand, childhood bereavement is incredibly pervasive — one in twenty children loses a parent by the age of 16, and the vast majority of children will experience a close loss by the time they complete high school — so it's surprising that this issue remains largely under the radar. Unfortunately, we live in a death-averse society and bereavement isn't something that most people think about until they are personally affected and experience the lack of support structures firsthand.

For many funders, childhood bereavement is still a niche area with limited opportunities for support. Most of the nonprofits in the space are very local in nature, and there aren't many groups working to unite and build the field on a national level. That's why New York Life has made capacity building in the bereavement field one of our key focus areas. We're actively spreading the word about this cause among other corporate and private foundations in an effort to grow awareness of the need and attract more funders to the space.

PND: Launched on Children's Grief Awareness Day, November 19, the Shared Grief Project website shares the stories of athletes, entertainers, and other celebrities who lost a parent or sibling while growing up as a way of letting grieving children know they are not alone. The site also provides discussion guides and other resources aimed at parents, educators, and other adults who work with grieving children. How do the stories shared by athletes and other public figures complement the support children receive from those closer to them?

HN: Our hope is that the Shared Grief Project will get kids to pay attention to this issue by showing them that some of their role models also went through a similar experience and went on to live happy, successful lives. Grief can be an unbelievably isolating experience for children, and our aim is to let them know that many others — including those in the limelight — have been through it and can attest that it does get better over time.

We also want these stories to help encourage broader conversations about grief and loss, not only between grieving children and trusted adults but peer-to-peer as well. As you'll see from the videos, some of the public figures get emotional when they discuss their loss. We want kids to understand that it's okay to show emotion and to share your feelings with your peers.

PND: With so many celebrities sharing their stories of loss on the site, do you expect to see increased awareness of the need for childhood grief support? And what are your goals for the next $25 million?

HN: We certainly hope that the Shared Grief Project will help to open up the dialogue around childhood grief and prompt more people — whether or not they have personally experienced a close loss — to recognize this as an issue that needs greater support.

When we look toward the future, we feel strongly about continuing to support direct service providers in the bereavement field. We also are looking to increase our investment in bereavement research in order to better understand what strategies are most effective for reaching and supporting grieving children. Another important goal moving forward is to continue to elevate the conversation nationally around grief and attract other corporate funders to the space so we can really move the needle on providing more and better assistance to grieving children and their families.

Finally, we want to continue to expand the engagement of our own employees and agents around this issue. So many here at New York Life care deeply about the issue of childhood bereavement — volunteering their time at grief camps, local support centers, and beyond. I think you'd be hard pressed to find another cause that is as integrated in the mission of a company as childhood bereavement is for us.

Kyoko Uchida

Serving the Public Good (by Invitiation Only)

November 18, 2015

Private_party_inviteAmerica's foundations are not particularly interested in receiving your proposal. Earlier this year I did a quick search on Foundation Directory Online (FDO) of the 96,042 independent, company-sponsored, and community foundations based in the U.S. The results were pretty shocking: only 26,663 are willing to accept unsolicited proposals. That's right, 28 percent. True, many of these are the larger, staffed foundations that hold the bulk of the sector's assets. So I took a look at the 967 foundations that have $100 million in more in assets and account for close to half of all foundation giving by U.S. foundations. The results are more encouraging, but only somewhat — 568 (58 percent) of them accept unsolicited proposals.

I find this troubling, on two counts. The first is because of the grand public policy bargain that makes institutionalized philanthropy possible in America: wealthy donors are given significant tax incentives to create and maintain foundations in exchange for providing a demonstrable, long-term contribution to the public good. As much as I understand how small foundations (especially) might not want to spend their resources on creating a bureaucracy whose primary task is to turn down the overwhelming majority of proposals they receive each year, it still bothers me. Somewhere in my heart I believe that, when it comes to foundations, the public good is best served when the public (in the form of social sector organizations) can freely apply for support. I can understand how a foundation may want to have a program or two that does not accept open applications, but to shut out the public entirely from any unsolicited inquiries is something I have trouble accepting.

Moreover, this can further isolate foundations, institutions that are already insulated from the kinds of market, electoral, and fundraising pressures that lead to standardization, transparency, and accountability in other sectors. This is also the source of foundations' most precious asset — the philanthropic freedom that allows them to take risks, stick with difficult issues over the long-term, and make leaps of faith that can spark whole new ways of solving the world's most pressing problems. To the extent that foundations put more emphasis on creating elaborately designed strategies while shutting themselves off from unsolicited proposals, their work can become a kind of endowed activism.

So, what can foundations do?

Keep the door open, even if it is just a crack. No matter how bright a foundation's trustees or staff might be, their networks are necessarily limited. And, as I can attest from long years of experience as a foundation professional, no matter how good your own ideas are, there are many people in the world with better, more creative ones. So it's just good business for a foundation to maintain at least one program area that freely allows organizations to apply for funding. Think of it as a kind of venture window or idea lab for your foundation. Failing that, foundations can signal their willingness to accept brief letters of interest, after which staff can decide whether or not to invite a formal proposal.

Create a website. While a remarkable 93 percent of American foundations do not have a website, there are some countries like the Netherlands where a Web presence is required of all foundations. (But that's a topic for another blog post.) In terms of numbers, the majority of American foundations are very small and have little or no infrastructure. They figure: "If we put up a website, we will be flooded by proposals that far exceed our grantmaking budget and most of which do not respond to our priorities." A simple website can actually help and gives you the chance to be crystal clear about what your foundation will fund and what it will not. Foundation Center has a service that designs and hosts (more than two hundred) foundation websites to make this process as simple and painless as possible.

Do a good job filling out your 990-PF tax return. For that huge majority of foundations that do not have websites, the 990-PF is the principal source of information about them for the public. It is also used by Foundation Center and others to build databases that describe foundation interests, priorities, and limitations. The Internal Revenue Service, in coming years, will require digital filing of 990s and will make them available as machine readable open data for use by anyone with a computer and a good algorithm. In other words, information about your foundation will be everywhere, and it will be based primarily on what you say about yourself in the tax return.

What can nonprofits do?

I once gave a live Web chat with the seemingly contradictory title "How to get a grant from a foundation that doesn't accept proposals." This is one of the most frequent questions posed to Foundation Center staff and the professionals who staff some four hundred and fifty Funding Information Network affiliates in all fifty states. The answer basically boils down to what my mother told me when I was growing up: "It's who you know that counts." In more modern parlance this means networks. If a foundation says it will not accept unsolicited proposals, look for a connection that could lead to an invitation to the party. Use Foundation Directory Online to scour its board and staff lists (if they have staff). Look at all their grants and who is getting them for what purpose. If you or one of your trustees has a connection with someone on the grants list, see if that organization will introduce you to the foundation. Remember, foundations that do not accept unsolicited proposals still make grants. Your task is to find a way on to the invitation list. The good news is that foundations tend to fund organizations consistently over time, so once you get that first grant (and perform well) there is a strong chance that future grants will follow.

Foundation Center sits at the nexus — or, to use the postmodern term, "interstices" — of foundations and the nonprofits they support. Though we know both types of organizations extremely well, we strive to remain religiously neutral by not picking winners or losers or otherwise classifying organizations as good or bad, worthy, or unworthy. Nevertheless, we do see trends, and some of those are worth noting, exploring, and perhaps going public about. As one who has committed his professional life to philanthropy and the social sector I am still wrestling with this one. Help me think it through in the comments section below.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about philanthropy's difficult dance with inequality. 

Taking Civic Engagement to the Next Level

November 17, 2015

Several years ago, a colleague applied for a position at a large foundation that had just launched a democracy program. Ten minutes into the interview, he was told that because of his lack of experience in campaign finance reform and voter participation, he wasn't qualified. Mystified, he replied that he had more than two decades of democracy experience that was about as direct you could get: working with thousands of people in communities to address the same kinds of issues being debated in the halls of Congress.

Luckily he got the job. Still, it underscores how the millions of dollars many foundations have poured into get-out-the vote and electoral reform efforts are often seen as a proxy for democracy. Today, this work is still a top priority for foundations, with almost $300 million going to 738 organizations over the last few years that fall under the “campaigns, elections, and voting” category in Foundation Center's new Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool.

That makes sense. Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. It's a concrete action that people can take to civically engage, and it's measurable.

But what happens after the votes are counted? There's mountains of evidence showing that Americans continue to opt out of the political system; in 2014 alone, voter turnout for the midterm elections was the lowest it has been in any election cycle since World War II.

It's easy to wag a finger at the disengaged and call them "cynical." What's harder is accepting the idea that this "cynicism" represents legitimate frustration over what many Americans see as a broken system that hasn't invited them to participate in meaningful ways. And even when they do engage, many people feel their voice counts for little. As a result, more and more Americans are turning away from traditional political systems and embracing activities where they think they can make at least a small difference such as volunteering, "clicktivism," and charitable giving.

The good news is that foundations appear to be increasing their support for broader civic participation, seeing it as important as elections and voting in defining what constitutes a robust democracy. Indeed, according to the center's database, civic participation receives the majority of democracy-related funding, with more than $853 million in grants made since 2011.


Continue reading »

How Nonprofit Branding Strengthens Impact: Part 3

November 16, 2015

Brand_under_constructionYou probably noticed that it's been a while since the last Cause-Driven Design® article. My apologies! While it is my goal to have a new article for this column every six to eight weeks, in July I decided to rebrand our firm to coincide with its sponsorship of an annual nonprofit conference. Going from a blank slate to a new website in three months meant that, unfortunately, along with my social life, the column had to be put temporarily on hold.

So, after fifteen years, Matthew Schwartz Design Studio is no more. Today, we are Constructive. And the experience of rebranding my own firm has only served to increase my focus on what we do, who we do it for, and why we do it — increased clarity that I hope to put to good use here in our Cause-Driven Design conversations.

Picking up where we left off in July on how branding can help your organization strengthen its social impact, let's now examine how branding theory and process are made tangible.

Improving Nonprofit Brand Alignment

As I noted in an earlier article, maximizing a brand's potential requires "a strategic framework for thinking about, creating, and managing the different ways the brand is understood and expressed." This starts with an organization having a strong understanding of itself and its relationship to the individuals, organizations, and networks that comprise its ecosystem.

Nonprofits typically understand and define themselves through a mission statement and theory of change, using both as a foundation for organizational strategy. Branding is the way this understanding is reinforced and communicated. It both informs and articulates this foundation by establishing conceptual clarity and by creating greater intentionality in the experiences the brand delivers — whether online, in print, or in person.

At Constructive, it's our mission to bridge the gap between branding theory and practice by aligning an organization's ideas, actions, and culture with its use of design, messaging, and technology. We help translate concepts and dynamics into a clear narrative and engaging experiences that reinforce a nonprofit's value. And, like much of the work nonprofits do, this process calls for a systems-based approach.

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

In order to create engaging brand experiences, designers, copy writers, and technologists must apply their skills to the difficult job of translating a complex issue and an organization's efforts to address it into something that resonates with a public that, in most cases, has only a passing knowledge of the issue. To accomplish this, we apply synthetic thinking, uniting the conceptual and tangible elements of a nonprofit's brand to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts — and whose individual parts also function effectively on their own, in any context.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 14-15, 2015)

November 15, 2015

Sydney-tricolorOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

More bad news on the climate change front this week, as the World Meteorological Organization reported that average levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in the early months of 2015, a rise of 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. The Washington Post's Joby Warrick has the details.

Will environmental limits, including limits on the climate system, slow or put an end to economic growth? Not necessarily. Cameron Hepburn, professor of environmental economics at the University of Oxford, explains.

Corporate Philanthropy

As part of its Tech Titans: Community Citizens?, Triple Pundit has a compelling, in-depth look at homelessness in Silicon Valley by Sherrell Dorsey, a  social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social, and economic equity in underserved communities.


The path to college completion for low-income students is a marathon, not a sprint, writes Todd Penner, team lead for the College Preparation & Completion portfolio at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and one of the most important things we can do to help them is to look at each student as a whole, understand the complexities of his/her life, and be thoughtful about the type of support we offer.


During this season of giving, Feeding America suggests that you think about making a donation to one of the hundred and ninety-nine foodbanks in its nationwide network.

"More than $50 billion in charitable assets now course through our country’s economy via donor-advised funds (DAFs) as a result of changes wrought by the [Tax Reform Act of 1969]," writes Lila Corwin Berman in Forward magazine. And in "no small part due to the acumen and persistence of a mid-century Jewish tax lawyer, those dollars function quite differently from other charitable resources...."

How much are baby boomers expected to give to charity over the next two decades? According to a new analysis conducted by Merrill Lynch, the answer to that question is $8 trillion — part of the $59 trillion that boomers are likely to transfer to younger generations over the same period. Gayle Nelson, a development consultant, attorney, and blogger, reports for NPQ.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Crystal Hayling, a former CEO of the Blue Shield California Foundation and current member of the CEP board, argues that picking individual grantees is probably not the best use of foundation board members' time.

Continue reading »

Grantmaker Transparency: The Dawn of a New Age in Philanthropy

November 14, 2015

Time-for-transparency"People tend to be private about love and money, and in philanthropy, it's both," says Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

It's only natural that, traditionally, philanthropy has unfolded behind closed doors. On the one hand, the freedom to make personal funding choices gives grantmakers the ability to stay above the fray, uninfluenced by both market and political pressures. On the other hand, it doesn't allow the public to understand, learn from, or think critically about philanthropy.

"Giving and charitable acts are such private, emotional transactions," says Suki O'Kane, director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. "How do you come from such strong traditions of privacy and intimacy, and bring that out into the open?"

Where do things stand?

Indeed ­– how do we as a sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency? It all comes down to the following questions: What am I funding? Why am I funding what I'm funding? Is my funding making an impact? And perhaps most importantly, how do we improve?

There is good news: transparency in philanthropy is happening, there's no denying it. In fact, it's well under way, with large foundations like Gates, Ford, and Getty, sharing their endeavors with the public, surveying their grantees (and sharing the results), and creating searchable grants databases. Still, transparency can be difficult.

Continue reading »

[Report] 'Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy'

November 13, 2015

Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517aI am pleased to announce that the second annual Measuring the State of Disaster of Disaster Philanthropy report has been released. The report, a joint effort of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Foundation Center, represents a global effort to track, document, and record philanthropic giving to disasters.

Why do this? The answer is twofold. First, we want to more accurately capture how philanthropy currently responds to disasters and encourage philanthropy to support the full arc of a disaster, not just immediate relief needs. And because this second report represents the most comprehensive analysis to date on disaster philanthropy.

This year's report benefits from several enhancements:

  1. The data are drawn from seven different sources – Foundation Center, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System, FEMA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center Disaster Corporate Aid Tracker, GlobalGiving, and Network for Good.
  2. The Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy Dashboard allows funders, practitioners, policy makers, and other stakeholders to interact with the data and hone in on their specific areas of interest. When visiting the dashboard, you can filter the information by disaster type, disaster assistance strategy, geographic area, and data source.

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Donor-Advised Funds at Community Foundations: Connecting Donors & Nonprofits

November 12, 2015

Tree_illustrationA blog post I wrote about our board's recent policy decision on dealing with inactive donor-advised funds generated interest and questions.

  • What prompted us to act?
  • Are other community foundations taking similar steps?
  • What does the growth of donor-advised funds mean for local grantmaking?

What Prompted Us to Act?

Our board's action to address the few (about 5 percent, or fewer than five) inactive donor-advised funds out of the eighty we steward was done to align all the funds at the foundation with our business goal of helping people and businesses invest in our community.

The policy was crafted with sensitivity for our donor advisors and their heirs, real people we know and respect.

After four years of inactivity by a donor advisor, following a process to contact and work with them — and some of whom live out of state or out of the country — we can exercise our variance power and direct the funds toward the closest charitable purpose we have to the donor's original intent.

Are Other Community Foundations Taking Similar Steps?

Yes. There are examples of fund agreements online from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Boston Foundation and the Community Foundation of Collier County in Florida, with similar provisions for addressing dormant donor-advised funds. Community foundations across the country are implementing such policies, not because they are compelled to act by increased scrutiny or regulation, but because they, and almost universally their donors, are genuinely committed to increasing grant dollars and affecting change in their communities.

In crafting our policy, we looked to our colleagues and the Council on Foundations for guidance and best practices.

What Does the Growth of Donor-Advised Funds Mean for Local Grantmaking?

Continue reading »

Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust: Five Lessons Learned From Redefining Our Role

November 11, 2015

Healthy_places_ncWhen we decided to shake up our role as a funder four years ago, the concept of philanthropy took on new meaning at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Our message was clear: "We are moving from grantmaking to changemaking. We will spend less time identifying fundable projects and more time immersing ourselves in the communities we serve." To that end, we charged our program officers with thinking and acting differently — with going beyond the usual partners and funding requests, listening to communities in our state, and exploring new relationships and ideas.

It was a seismic shift, and we experienced some program staff turnover because of it. But those who stayed — as well as those who have joined us since — remain steadfast in their belief that this model is an essential part of how we can impact entrenched, community-wide problems. It also played a crucial role in the 2012 launch of Healthy Places NC, a ten-year, $100 million investment that put the responsibility for improving community health and quality of life squarely in the hands of the communities themselves.

Here are five lessons we have learned in the course of that journey:

1. Give Up Control. At its heart, Healthy Places is about a large regional funder giving up control of its processes in favor of outcomes. The trust works with communities to identify high-level goals but takes a back seat in the discussions of how best to achieve them. There are no specific models and no prescribed solutions. Instead, our program officers focus on helping communities convene discussions; align disconnected efforts; connect with statewide, regional, and national experts and services; and supply funding for many — but not all — projects a community wishes to undertake. The trust is willing to take risks, learning continuously from our successes and from the places where we have stumbled.

2. Invest in Unusual Relationships. A hallmark of Healthy Places is that it reaches beyond the network of "usual suspects" with regard to health. Trust program officers recruit new voices to the conversation and encourage diverse perspectives on community successes and challenges. There are health centers and hospitals engaged in this work, but the vast majority of those working under the Healthy Places umbrella are community organizers, faith leaders, nonprofit organizations, child care centers, housing authorities, local government officials, recreation enthusiasts, school systems, and a wide variety of people from outside the traditional health arena.

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A Look at Three States and the Role of Civic Participation Funders

November 10, 2015

Picture an America where democracy is vibrant because every eligible voter can exercise their right to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Where policy makers at every level reflect the interests of the communities they lead, and justice and fairness rule the day. This is the vision of my organization, the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), home to a national network of grantmakers committed to making democracy work for everyone.

At FCCP's recently concluded annual convening, discussions centered on the need for philanthropy to make long-term, sustainable investments in people-of-color-led organizations and in supporting engagement outside normal election cycles and independent of electoral calendars. Doing this effectively requires a deeper understanding of the groups and dynamics in local communities, funding that goes beyond three-year cycles, robust state-based funding infrastructure supported by national foundations, and a shared vision and understanding of the long-term measures needed to achieve these goals.

So, what does data have to do with this? Conversations at the convening elevated (among other things) the need to use democracy funding data to inform smarter grantmaking decisions that amplify the effectiveness of limited civic participation dollars. Indeed, a look inside the Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool uncovers some important lessons for grantmakers.

The data paints an interesting picture of three states — Arizona, California, and Texas — that share some common elements but are characterized by widely differing philanthropic landscapes. First, none of them is considered a political battleground state. They also comprise three of the top six states with the largest Latino population, a rapidly growing demographic whose voter-participation rates lag behind that of white voters.

A closer look at the data reveals the disparities. Funding for nonpartisan civic participation activities in California significantly outpaces funding for those types of activities in Texas and Arizona. And though Texas edges out Arizona in total dollars contributed in support of civic participation efforts, it has four times the population of Arizona. Thus Texas clearly falls to the bottom in terms of philanthropic investments in a healthy democracy.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 7-8, 2015)

November 08, 2015

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

Climate Change

It would seem as if we have only two unattractive options when it comes to climate change, writes Ross Anderson in The Atlantic. "We can continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We can cross our fingers that we adapt to a warming climate, and that earth's natural systems adapt too. Or we can transition to a cleaner global energy system, at a speed that is unprecedented, across all of history." But what if there's a third option? Anderson talks to Oliver Morton an editor at The Economist and the author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World about what might be humankind's last best hope.


Did the government of Rwanda manipulate data to show that poverty in the small central African country fell, when, it fact, it rose? Humanosphere's Tom Murphy takes a closer look and uncovers a fundamental truth about data: It's not so much having it that matters, it's how you use it.

How important is "open data" to the success of the recently ratified Sustainable Development Goals? Pretty darn important, argue William Gerry and Kathryn Pritchard.

"We spend tens of billions of dollars on social services for low-income households each year, but we have only the vaguest ideas of where those dollars go, what impact they have, and where unmet needs exist," writes Scott Allard, a professor in the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, on the Brookings Institute blog. To address this "information void," the Salvation Army and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University have developed a Human Needs Index drawn from service provision tracking systems maintained by more than seven thousand Salvation Army sites nationwide. With a little luck, adds Allard, the index will be both "a cool data visualization tool or source of information for academic inquiry into the measurement of need" and a  model of "how communities and philanthropy might collect, share, and use data to improve outcomes for clients, organizations, and community residents."


At a panel hosted by NCRP in October, Lori Bezahler, president of the Edward Hazen Foundation, was asked to consider whether market-driven strategies can be expected to drive equity in education. Her thoughts are here.

Higher Education

Findings from the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual report on the fundraising results of the top ten public and private colleges and universities in America are both "sobering and instructive." Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of the Edvance Foundation, explains.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself, has a few suggestions for "ending" the Ivy League and, at the same time, mitigating the inequality that America's favorite "bastion of elitism" contributes so significantly to:

  1. Eliminate the tax deductibility of contributions to schools having endowments in excess of $1 billion.
  2. Require that all schools with endowments of more than $1 billion spend at least 10 percent of their endowment annually on student financial aid.
  3. Require that university admissions be based strictly on objective criteria such as grades and SAT/ACT scores, with random drawings used to cull the herd further if necessary.

Yale has announced that it is committing $50 million over the next five years to diversify its faculty.

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Three Email Tactics to Boost Year-End Donations

November 07, 2015

Nonprofits make a huge chunk of their revenue during the last few weeks of the year – from Thanksgiving until December 31 at 11:59 p.m. So the fundraising strategies you employ during year-end should be rock solid. Careful and thoughtful planning is the key to seizing year-end opportunities.

Here are three email tactics that are relatively painless to implement:

1. Engage subscribers before asking for money. The Jane Goodall Institute asked me to vote for their nonprofit in Animal Planet's 2014 Matching Campaign (see email below). They invited me to show my support without pulling out my credit card. In fact, all they asked for was "just one click."


They've engaged me for two reasons:

  • The barrier to entry is low (just one click).
  • The reward from that one click is high (the good feeling from supporting JGI).

By engaging me emotionally first, they increase the likelihood I'll donate (which I did).

And if you didn't already know it, let me remind you: Opens and clicks are gold!

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5 Questions for…Ward S. Caswell, President, Beveridge Family Foundation

November 05, 2015

Foundation Center Vice President for Development Nancy Albilal spoke with Ward S. Caswell, president of the Beveridge Family Foundation in West Newbury, Massachusetts, about the foundation’s grantmaking to nonprofits working to create opportunity and a more vibrant economy and quality of life in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Nancy’s Q&A with Caswell is part of the Funder's Forum series, which helps foundation leaders exchange ideas and connect with their peers, and is featured, along with other Forum interviews, in the center’s monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter.

Headshot_ward_caswellNancy Albilal: How does the Beveridge Family Foundation's grantmaking honor the legacy of Frank Stanley Beveridge while continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the communities you serve?

Ward Slocum Caswell: When the foundation was started back in the 1940s, Frank Stanley Beveridge was doing quite a bit in the community to give back in those areas he felt had helped him become a success. It's important to understand that Mr. Beveridge was the adopted son of farmers up in Canada. He understood the value of hard work, but also what I like to call putting your fingers in the dirt, understanding man's connection with nature and the environment. So, he established a park in Westfield, Massachusetts, that today is called Stanley Park. In the early days, it was small and used quite a bit for Stanley Home Products company events. But it grew over the years and now is the largest non-government-owned, free-to-the-public park east of the Mississippi. It's very popular with people in Westfield and the Pioneer Valley and includes a large playground, beautiful gardens, lots of rolling paths that wind down to ponds and woods and across fields, and it's a hundred percent handicapped accessible.

So the Beveridge Family Foundation exists primarily to fund the needs of the park, which have evolved. Following Mr. Beveridge’s death in 1956, the foundation benefited from growth in its primary investment, the stock of Stanley Home Products. When we exited the stock in the 1980s, we invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and, well, it was the 1980s, and our corpus continued to grow into the late nineties. Of course, as anyone who reads the business news knows, the markets since the late nineties haven't been that productive. At the same time, costs have risen for lots of things, so we took a pause in 2009 and asked ourselves, "What would happen if the needs of the park eventually exceeded the ability of the foundation to fund it?" As a result of that process, we did two things. First, we started to fund raise within the park, and then we began to require public support for anything over and above how the park looked in 2009, including endowing any new structures or additions. And I am pleased to say that we are finishing up a new pavilion to replace one built sixty years ago that had been ruined by beetles and had to be removed. Not only is the new pavilion much nicer than the old one, its construction was also made possible through the support of the community, which is very different from the way we used to do things. It used to be that if the park needed something, we wrote a check. But the new approach allows us to continue growing the legacy of the foundation, which supports a host of nonprofits, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties in western Massachusetts. At this point, we give about $2 million a year, a third of which supports Stanley Park, with the rest going to a range of environmental, social, and other organizations, and all of it in keeping with the interest Frank Stanley Beveridge had in promoting culture, education, and the general enjoyment of the community.

NA: How has the foundation's investment in environmental issues developed over time? And how do you position your work on this issue given your primarily local focus?

WSC: You know, sometimes when people invest in the environment, it's to say "no" to things — to developers, to pollution, et cetera. And saying no to things can create difficulties for people who are trying to earn a living or looking for an affordable place to live. We believe there needs to be an intelligent balance between conservation and the needs of local communities. The park is a great example. It's a large park with very few buildings. A lot of woods, a lot of open fields, and a lot of well-tended gardens, as well as a few facilities that allow people to get out of the rain, to have a wedding or family reunion or hold a concert or any of the hundreds of events we host there every year. When we fund environmental issues in western Massachusetts, we tend to spread that funding across a variety of different activities. Twenty years ago, it would have been for the Connecticut River watershed group that was working to clean up the river after the removal of a lot of paper pulp factories. Thirty years ago, the river I fished as a kid was a mess. You'd pull out your fishing line and it would be covered with strings of paper pulp, and the only fish you could catch were carp and other kinds of junk fish that dug up the bottom. Today the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is beautiful. It's clean. It's clear. There are all kinds of different fish coming back up the river. And for the first time in many years, people are using it. They hold dragon boat races to raise funds for breast cancer research and crew practices and regattas for people of all incomes and from every socioeconomic background. It's a vibrant resource again. And that happened in part because of the work that was funded twenty and thirty years ago, the shutting down of large polluters and the removal of some of the heavy metals and toxins, the replanting of littoral grasses, and so on.

Today the funding we do in the environmental area is a little different. We're strong supporters of the Center for EcoTechnology, for example, and their work in helping make Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state in the nation. We've achieved that not by having crazy restrictions on emissions from cars, which you see in California and which means auto manufacturers have to make special versions of their cars just for California. What the center does instead is to go door-to-door and help people understand the ways in which their homes and businesses are energy inefficient and what they can do with tax rebates and other kinds of programs and incentives to remedy those inefficiencies. The great thing about it is that it actually saves the homeowner or business owner money by lowering their energy bills while making Massachusetts a much more energy-efficient state and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels. It's a win-win.

Another thing we do is fund trusts that help people put agricultural or low-density deed restrictions on their properties as a way to conserve open space in Massachusetts where wildlife can continue to flourish and people can enjoy nature. Often, these trusts also benefit the owners of the property by enabling them to reduce their tax bills and, occasionally, to receive actual funds from a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay the property owner for effectively reducing the economic utility of their properties while preserving the property in perpetuity in a way that benefits the public and is sustainable.

That said, we recognize that one of the greatest needs in Massachusetts is affordable housing. So we do quite a bit of work in trying to help people find effective and efficient ways to build, maintain, rent, and sell affordable housing. We're strong proponents of an east-west high-speed rail line to connect the economic engine that is Boston with the tremendous opportunities in the western part of the state. If you look at the economic cycles that seem to run on a seven- to ten-year basis — think of a sine wave — Boston is interesting in that it is always flattened on the top. Because housing costs are so high in and around Boston, making it increasingly difficult to hire and house employees in up cycles, the city's economy tends to flatten out before the rest of the nation's economy. When the economy is booming, people find it increasingly difficult to live and work within reasonable commuting distance of the city. Meanwhile, Springfield, Holyoke, and the entire Pioneer Valley is full of intelligent, hardworking, experienced people who would love to be earning a higher wage but are reluctant to move from the Pioneer Valley because of its affordability and the quality of life there. Unfortunately, the Mass Pike, along with Logan Airport, is owned by a private corporation that really seems to have no interest in expanding those key transport hubs for the benefit of the state. CFX, which owns the freight lines that run east-west, also is reluctant to give up its rights, which are crucial if we ever hope to connect the two parts of Massachusetts for the long-term economic health of the state and its residents. So we try to work with different groups to understand those problems and find ways to help more people understand the situation and what can be done to address it.

Last but not least, we're involved in a group called City2City in the Pioneer Valley that was incubated by the Federal Reserve and studies what the Fed calls "resurgent" cities. The Fed looked at seventy-five post-industrial cities across the U.S. and found that twenty-five or so of them had actually come back nicely, while the rest had not. Springfield was one of the ones that has not. And so each year, we visit other cities to try to learn what they have done to revitalize themselves and bring those lessons back to Springfield. Next week, we're going to Chattanooga!

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Multi-Generational Models That Work

This is the third post in a three-part series. Click here for part one, "Going Long: Building a Legacy of Family Philanthropy," and part 2, "Raising the Next Generation of Givers."

Multigenerational_philanthropyIf you have not read the first two posts in this series, I encourage you to take a few minutes to do so now. In this final post, I will compare three alternative models for structuring family philanthropy, each of which — properly planned and managed — can produce meaningful and satisfying long-term results, and will conclude with a few practical tips. But before diving in, allow me to note the obvious:

The information provided here is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal or tax advice, neither of which the author is qualified to provide. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with their tax advisor or attorney before making significant charitable decisions or establishing a charitable giving program.

Now that we've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let's compare some of the key features and benefits of donor-advised charitable funds, private/family foundations, and supporting foundations — three popular structures for managing current giving and/or multi-generational family philanthropy.

Donor-Advised Charitable Funds

A donor-advised fund is a charitable savings account of sorts, established within and managed by either a traditional public charity, community foundation, or, more recently, a nonprofit subsidiary of a commercial financial institution (Vanguard and Fidelity being among the largest in this category).

Donors can brand their donor-advised fund and name successors or charitable beneficiaries, while contributions are placed into separate donor-advised fund accounts where they can be invested and grow tax free.

The donor-advised fund allows individuals to make charitable contributions, receive an immediate tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. (More on that later.)  Contributions are irrevocable, and donors can contribute to the fund as frequently as they like and then initiate grants to their favorite charities when they are ready, with no minimum annual distribution requirement.

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Voter Turnout: A Linchpin of American Democracy

November 03, 2015

Voter turnout in the last midterm election was embarrassing, hitting the lowest levels since World War II, while statements like "the game is rigged" and "why bother" could be heard in conversations around the country.

But it does matter. It matters to the effectiveness of our democracy if the majority of people stay home on Election Day. And it matters to the future of our democracy if most Americans think of government as an inefficient "other" rather than something we create.

While running an organization focused on engaging young people in politics, I was privileged to be able to travel the world and speak with other organizational and state leaders on the topic of democracy. Those trips never failed to remind me that, in the U.S., we are lucky to have a robust nonprofit sector with nongovernmental and nonpartisan organizations dedicated to promoting the health of the country and democracy, as well as an equally robust foundation community that supports them. Collaboration among foundations supporting democracy-focused work in the U.S., combined with creative and rigorously evaluated work by nonprofits, is a critical part of solving the crisis that faces our nation as citizens stop participating and give up on — rather than try to improve — the government we have created over the last two hundred and twenty-eight years.

So, I was struck by the data I turned up when searching Foundation Center's Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool. For example, funding for the entire category of "Campaigns, Elections, and Voting" lagged far behind funding in any other category, making up only 8 percent of the total funding for U.S. democracy in 2011 and 14 percent in 2012. The three other main categories (Media, Government, and Civic Participation) comprising the U.S. democracy funding landscape (as defined by the tool) received 41 percent, 30 percent, and 31 percent of funds, respectively, in 2011 and similar percentages in 2012. And this was during a presidential election cycle. (Note: grants may support democracy work in more than one area; therefore, totals for the major areas of activity exceed 100 percent.)


Break it down further and you find:

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2015)

November 02, 2015

To quote the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro: "You are a New York Mets fan...and you know nothing is guaranteed." Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on a spectacular season and a truly memorable World Series victory, their first in thirty years. If you're a Mets fan...well, you don't have to wait that long to revisit some of the winning content we posted in October.

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that had you cheering? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Raising the Next Generation of Givers

This is the second post in a three-part series. Click here for part one, "Going Long: Building a Legacy of Family Philanthropy."

Sapling-1In my experience, accumulated over the course of a professional career working with and observing philanthropy and philanthropists, I believe there is a strong argument to be made for multi-generational philanthropy based on the notion that wealth accumulated over multiple generations or through the extraordinary success of one generation ideally should be used to build social capital with long-term, recurring benefits.

Paraphrasing Warren Buffett, a philanthropist-friend once told me that he intended to leave enough for his children and grandchildren so that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.

Creating a legacy of shared family giving is one of the best available ways of preparing future generations for leadership roles in their communities, based on an understanding that inherited wealth is not only a means for personal gratification but carries with it a responsibility for advancing the public good.

There are of course legitimate first-generation concerns about whether their children's values and charitable priorities might well diverge from their own. And the jury is certainly out as to whether members of the "entitled generation" now coming into their own will share their postwar, baby boomer parents' commitment to collective responsibility and sacrificial giving.

There is reassuring news, though, for those concerned about passing on charitable assets for their children to steward. Not only is there much that can be done to train the next generation in the art of philanthropy and social responsibility, but the process can produce enormous psychic benefits for both generations and bring families together around a core of shared values while respecting diverse generational interests and priorities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 31-November 1, 2015)

November 01, 2015

Vote-buttonOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.

Arts and Culture

"Since the time of Alexandria, libraries have held a symbolic function. For the Ptolemaic kings, the library was an emblem of their power; eventually it became the encompassing symbol of an entire society, a numinous place where readers could learn the art of attention which, Hannah Arendt argued, is a definition of culture." Sadly, writes Alberto Manguel in the New York Times, that function is being diluted by the demands of a society "too miserly or meet [its] essential social obligations...."

Climate Change

On the Transformation blog, the Kindle Project's Arianne Shaffer and Fatima van Hattum argue that the grantmaking strategies of the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation illustrate in a profound way the "ongoing limitations and contradictions of conventional philanthropy" with respect to the threat of global climate disruption.

Corporate Philanthropy

Corporate Responsibility Magazine has announced the winners of its 2015 Responsible CEO of the Year Award.


Should Angelenos be troubled by the fact that the Los Angeles Times ' new education-reporting project "is being funded by some of the very organizations the new education-reporting project is likely to be covering"? Paul Farhi, the Washington Post's media reporter, tries to get some answers.


Just in time for the holidays, "Bloomingdale’s is selling philanthropy as a lifestyle," writes Amy Shiller in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Through its new Icons with Impact campaign, the upscale retailer, says Shiller, is positioning philanthropy as "a meta-brand, uniting retailers, spokesmen, and consumers in a transaction where ethics and esthetics — that is, doing good and looking good — are synergistically reinforcing, apparently without any sacrifice or conflict in fundamental aims...."

Charitable giving in the U.S. over the next two decades could reach $8 trillion — $6.6 trillion in cash contributions (much of it to family foundations) and $1.4 trillion in volunteer services (calculated at $23.63/hour). Forbes staff writer Ashlea Ebling reports.

Who are the twenty people who have given the most to charitable/philanthropic causes? And how many of them are under the age of thirty-five? Business Insider has the skinny.

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Nonprofit Sponsorship: A Key Ingredient to Your Fundraising Recipe

October 31, 2015

Spices jpgOne of my leisure activities is grilling and smoking. For me, it all starts with the rub — a combination of ingredients I apply to beef, pork, poultry, or fish. Salt and pepper, garlic powder, paprika, brown sugar, and chili powder are all staples in my homemade rubs. I rarely use prepared rubs, as I like to experiment and discover for myself what works.

The same goes for my awareness-building campaigns: a bit of this, a pinch of that, a scoop of something else.

In past years, we used to call this the "media mix." Today, with the emergence (dominance?) of digital media, we've redefined this mix as multi- or cross-channel marketing. But at its core is what I have for many years described as a multi-arrow approach to marketing predicated on the idea that no single arrow hits the target every time. Rather, a mix of media/channels almost always is the right recipe if you hope to raise awareness and, ultimately, funds.

In the space where I spent about twenty years of my career — marketing and public relations for small and mid-size nonprofits — the organizations I typically worked with often had limited resources. So these multi-arrow options frequently were limited. Some options were eliminated early on, while others didn't even make the initial list of options. One such option frequently ignored was sponsorship.

Sponsorship as a Marketing Tool

While social media, advertising, promotions, and the like are on the short list of awareness-building channels, sponsorship usually isn't. This is because nonprofit organizations look at sponsorship almost always as an extension of fundraising: as a means to generate revenue. But there's the other side of sponsorship, the side that can expand an organization's reach to their audiences through:

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Isn't Our Research Already Free? Why Open Access Matters for the Social Sector & How You Can Get Involved

October 30, 2015

Open_repositoryLast week individuals and organizations across the globe, including Foundation Center's own open access repository IssueLab, celebrated Open Access Week. This annual event/celebration puts the spotlight on a concept that is of terrific importance to those of us who produce knowledge but also to those of us who rely on it to do our jobs.

According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC): " 'Open Access' to information —  the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need  —  has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole."

Many of us who work in the social sector — who fund, produce, use, share, and safeguard research and knowledge about social issues and social change  —  already know that open access is incredibly important. Why? Because we live that last bit about "direct and widespread implications...for society as a whole." We're the people who grapple with social issues that impact all of us, all over the globe, every day. Through our work we research, implement, and share strategies that attempt to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, conquer inequality, abolish injustice, and so much more.

Free and immediate access to information about social change strategies, and unfettered use and reuse of the results of that information, just makes sense. It lines up with why we produce knowledge in the first place: to build awareness about tough social problems and the creative and persistent solutions that are making the world a better place.

In the spirit of both Open Access Week and of the purpose and principles that drive us to produce knowledge in the first place, we invite our social sector colleagues to learn more about what open knowledge sharing means for our sector. To get you started, we'll explore two concepts you can implement today: open licensing and open repositories.

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Going Long: Building a Legacy of Family Philanthropy

October 29, 2015

For a substantial number of wealthy Americans, establishing charitable foundations and family funds has become an attractive and tax-effective way of channeling their philanthropy, and as a result the proliferation of such vehicles has reached unprecedented levels.

Hourglass-moneyIn the United States alone, roughly 100,000 private foundations and 250,000 donor-advised funds today hold some $1 trillion in assets. (For perspective, that's more than $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in America.)

The bulk of these assets typically are set aside in long-term portfolios whose income underwrites charitable grants in — their founders hope — perpetuity. Let's call this the going long strategy. Increasingly, however, spending down of charitable assets during one's lifetime — going big — has become an attractive option for growing numbers of philanthropists.

"Like Bill and Melinda Gates, some believe they can make deep investments to address today's biggest problems," says Elliot Berger, managing director at Arabella Advisors in New York City, "and that other donors will emerge in the future to tackle the problems of tomorrow." Or so the argument goes.

Hundreds of Google citations on the subject testify to the increasing frequency with which family and public foundations, large and small, are deciding to "go big" and spend down their charitable assets rather than entrust future generations with the keys to the "philanthropic safe."

"Going Long" or "Going Big"?

As reported by the Bridgespan Group, only about 5 percent of the total assets of America's largest foundations historically has been held by entities in the process of spending themselves out of existence. By 2010, that number had climbed to 24 percent — and, presumably, has grown since.

What are the implications of this shift? What might it mean for the long-term well-being of society if some of the great philanthropic fortunes of our day were to spend themselves out of existence? Is there evidence that accelerated spending today can solve social problems to a degree that will reduce future funding needs?

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[Review] Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World

October 28, 2015

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau tells readers that "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." It is the same kind of hopeful advice that social sector veteran Paul Shoemaker offers to readers in his new book Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World.

Cover_cant_not_doShoemaker, founding president of venture philanthropy network Social Venture Partners International, argues that the book's intentionally ungrammatical title captures a sentiment that is ubiquitous among people working to create social change. It is not "a self-help book," he writes; "it's a help-the-world book." And whether one has just a few hours a week to devote to change work or is determined to devote a lifetime to it, everyone can do their part.

Can't Not Do opens with a call to action inspired by the loss of a good friend of Shoemaker's who died in a plane accident. "[H]is life, and even the loss of him," he writes, "galvanized my personal mission in a way I never expected." Indeed, the theme of the intensely personal serving as motivation for making the world a better place is carried through many of the stories of change presented here.

Those stories are organized around a handful of big questions: Are you a determined optimist? Who are you at your core? Are you willing to go to hard places? Can you actively listen? Do you believe 1+1 = 3? And: What is your can't not do? Shoemaker devotes a chapter to each question along with an exemplary story or two of how someone has answered that question. My favorite was, Are you ready to be humble and humbled? As Shoemaker notes, we often are humbled by our failures, and this is especially true of social change work, where the complexity of most problems is both frustrating and daunting. This shouldn't drive us to despair, but rather serve to remind us that the work is hard. "When we get humbled, really knocked back on our heels," writes Shoemaker, "it means we've gotten close enough to the real problem to truly learn what matters, to feel the problem enough that it hurts, and to show our authentic commitment to the cause." It's also important to realize the power inherent in humility. Shoemaker explores this seeming paradox by looking at a number of successful businesspeople who have focused on social change — and the power dynamics inherent in philanthropy — arguing that humility expressed as inclusivity, authenticity, and inquisitiveness is key to overcoming the challenges of social change work.

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Philanthropic Dollars Also Shape Electoral Outcomes: Here's How…

October 27, 2015

With another presidential campaign season under way, we're again hearing a lot about the mega donors and Super PACs that fuel modern politics. But this isn't the only stream of money that influences how elections unfold in the U.S.; philanthropic dollars also play a key role, with foundations supporting a range of activities that affect how our democracy functions and what happens at the polls.

Understanding the flow of these grants isn't just helpful for nonprofits hoping to get a piece of the pie. It's also super useful for journalists or others keen to see how foundations — which, by law must be nonpartisan — are deploying funds in ways that can sway electoral outcomes.

Let's take the area of voter education, registration, and turnout as an example. It's no secret that who turns out to vote, and where, can make a big difference in determining which candidates win on Election Day. If more African Americans turn out in swing states like Florida or North Carolina, for instance, that's good news for Democrats. If the electorate tilts toward older and white voters, Republicans stand to gain.


Campaigns and Super PACs spend mightily to shape who votes. But what have foundations been doing? Well, Foundation Center's newly launched Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool offers some answers to that question.

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5 Reasons the Public Is Losing Interest in Your Cause

October 26, 2015

StethoscopeWhat can you do when interest in your cause begins to wane?

It's a scary question, and one that many fundraisers and nonprofit marketers will face at some point.

Perhaps you're already familiar with this scenario: Your fundraising results are okay, but the number of individual donors making gifts to your organization is beginning to decline. Your biggest donors may be giving a little more, but you're left to wonder why many others are giving less – or aren't giving at all.

This kind of situation is usually the result of bigger, deeper problems. So, before you rush to launch your next big campaign or event, take a step back and think long and hard about whether any of the things below could be causing you to lose traction when it comes to generating awareness for your cause.

1. You've become too focused on internal stakeholders. I've run into several nonprofit organizations that had cultivated a highly professional mentality over the years, causing leadership to take a blinkered approach to their organization's relationship with its stakeholders. Often their strategy involves putting highly experienced staff to work on problems with little input from the community. Unfortunately, an all-too-common outcome of this approach is the loss of external engagement, which is critical to your long-term sustainability.

If the number of closed-door meetings at your shop is going up while public engagement in your services is declining, it may be because you and your colleagues are shutting out the community you're supposed to be supporting. The solution: Always make sure your staff is looking beyond the walls of the organization and involving your constituents and outside stakeholders in its work. The more voices you allow to be heard around the table, the stronger your organization will be.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 24-25, 2015)

October 25, 2015

Hill_Benghazi_Prus-2fOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.


Is there such a thing as too much data? Indeed, there is. The Center for Effective Philanthropy's Kevin Bolduc explains.


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have announced that they plan to open a private comprehensive preschool and K-8 school linked to health services for children and families in East Palo Alto, the San Jose Mercury News reports. "Set to open in August," Sharon Noguchi writes, "the project stems from Chan's passion to alleviate the effects of poverty on children — something she's witnessed while tutoring  inner-city Boston and now working as a pediatrician at San Francisco General Hospital...."

And on the Aspen Idea blog, Rachel Landis details the lessons learned, as recounted by Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff in her book The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?, from Zuckerberg's failed $200 million effort to transform the public school system in Newark, New Jersey.

Higher Education

If current trends persist, California will fall about 1.1 million college graduates short of economic demand by 2030. Here's what the Golden State should do to address the situation.


"[E]ven in times of low economic inequality only a few people have had abundant money. And a bag of that money in an empty room is nothing but paper," write Janet Topolsky, executive director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, and Deborah Markley, co-founder and managing director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, in the Huffington Post. "[And what] turns that money into real value is what truly constitutes wealth: skills, creativity, health, experience, agglomerations of knowledge, natural resources, infrastructure, political savvy, relationship networks, and cultural ways of making and doing...."


Americans for the Arts' Stacy Lasner reports on the growing number of organizations that are embracing the arts as a way to foster a culture of innovation.

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Interview Strategies for Hiring Managers

October 24, 2015

Interview-strategies-for-hiring-managersNot all interviews are equal. There are great interviews and great interviewers, and then there are not-so-great interviews and interviewers. The tips below will ensure that you are in the great camp.

1. Make time to prepare. Don't go into an interview without a plan of action. This includes taking the time to review the resume of the candidate carefully and preparing a list of thoughtful questions in advance. Going into an interview with a comprehensive list of questions will ensure that you don't forget to ask anything and that the interview will move along smoothly. Make sure, too, that you have some generic questions, as well as questions tailored to the open job position itself.

2. Include other colleagues in the process as appropriate. It's always a great idea to bring other colleagues into the interview process. For starters, they can be an invaluable source of feedback as you evaluate candidates, and they also can provide candidates with a more nuanced and layered understanding of the organization. Take the time to prep your colleagues and make sure they have all the relevant materials (including the job description!) and a clear idea about what you'd like them to ask. Don't feel as if you have to include a large number of people, as that can be overwhelming for a candidate and make it more difficult for you to absorb and assess feedback. But do aim for a cross-section of people likely to interact with a new hire on a regular basis.

3. Use the opportunity to shed light on your organization’s culture. If the candidate doesn't ask, be sure to share aspects of your organization's culture so that both of you are able to evaluate whether he or she is a good "fit." You can talk about values, how people communicate with each other, whether or not attendance at a retreat is part of the job (and what the retreats are like), how big decisions get made, what people do for fun — anything that will provide a sense of the overall culture at your organization.

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Philanthropy University? It Really May Be the Next Big Thing…

October 23, 2015

Especially here in Silicon Valley, there are many who believe technology is a silver bullet for social problems large and small. In the Valley, technology is looked to as THE source of innovation and the key to making solutions better, faster, cheaper. Sometimes that is in fact the case; most of the time it is not.

Take the example of PlayPumps, a technology that was designed with children in mind and was supposed to make pumping water in remote villages in the developing world easy and fun. Instead, today, in many villages, the pumps sit broken and idle. Or the soccer ball that was supposed to generate energy when kicked, serving double duty as a toy and a lamp for households without electricity. The balls, praised as ingenious when they first appeared, soon proved to be a bust. And the list goes on.

Sometimes, however, technology can provide exactly the right tool for the job. Philanthropy University would seem to be such a case. In partnership with the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, Philanthropy University offers free online courses taught by top instructors. In the process, it greatly expands access to the knowledge, wisdom, and best practices social sector leaders need in order to improve human and social service delivery around the globe. (Full disclosure, I serve on Phil U’s curriculum advisory committee.)

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To Solve the Succession Crisis, Invest in Homegrown Leaders

October 22, 2015

Tree_handsimage-970x1024The social sector faces a crisis in succession planning. In a 2015 survey of 438 nonprofit C-suite executives, we found that top talent is leaving at an alarming rate. Over the past two years, one in four C-suite leaders departed, and nearly as many told us they were planning to do so in the next two years. If this continues, the equivalent of every C-suite position in the social sector would need to be replaced in the next eight years. No wonder succession planning has been the number one concern of boards and CEOs for more than a decade.

If you are a funder invested in helping an organization achieve impact, this treadmill of turnover should be a cause for concern. Beyond the significant costs and loss of productivity of departures, when leaders go, they also take expertise and stakeholder relationships with them. This directly undermines the ability of organizations to achieve their mission goals.

Just as troubling, when a leader leaves, management teams and boards typically look outside the organization for a replacement. A C-suite officer in a volunteer service organization explained that nonprofits "often start with the assumption that the perfect person is outside their organization." For funders, this should also raise alarm bells. For-profit research indicates that external hires typically take twice as long to become productive as people who have been internally promoted, and as many as 40 percent of externally hired executives fail in the first eighteen months. In the words of the same C-suite officer, hiring externally "often leads to challenges around cultural fit and loss of institutional knowledge."

Fortunately for America's nonprofits, the answer to this succession crisis is right under their noses: invest in the development of homegrown leaders.

In our study, while compensation was important in leadership departures, half of all survey respondents also cited a lack of career development investment as forcing them to leave. For funders, this means that investments in capacity-building activities that can support internal leadership development is key. With an approach that's grounded in academic and corporate research into adult learning, leadership development can be built with time and dedication, rather than expensive trainings or programs.

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Quote of the Week

  • "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why...."

    — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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