Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today marks a new day in the life of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy in DC. A newly-minted Steering Committee, guests from EPIP's national leadership and dozens of young philanthropic leaders in the DC metro area gather tonight to announce a new agenda for the next generation of grantmakers in DC.

The event marks the latest advance for the national organization as EPIP chapters around the country continue to build momentum. EPIP welcomed two new chapters in Michigan and Seattle this summer, and the Philadelphia chapter re-launches today with a similar celebration of emerging leadership.

Declaring "philanthropy as usual is dead," EPIP-DC hopes to build something new while maintaining EPIP's long-standing commitment to strengthening networks, supporting leadership, and advocating for social justice philanthropy.

We'll have more from the event later tonight.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BREAKING: Beloved Benefactor Philanthropy A.S. Usual Passes Away

Philanthropy A.S. Usual passed away this morning after a long struggle with a number of social ills. He was more than a century old.

His heirs will be celebrating his life and legacy Tuesday, September 15, 2009.

“Phil,” as he was known to friends and colleagues, began his beneficent life in the latter part of the nineteenth century, during which he pioneered the use of endowed funds for charitable causes.

At the time of his death, Phil’s successful empire represented more than 75,000 foundations, 122,000 donor-advised funds, 45,000 supporting organizations, and countless other grantmaking institutions, supporting a nonprofit sector of more than 1 million charitable organizations, employing about 7 percent of all Americans.

Critics charged that Phil’s generosity often got in the way of larger social change, saying that it was no longer suited to the challenges ahead. Others disapproved of Phil’s more “strategic” projects, noting that they excluded or disempowered some groups with little to show for their intrusive ambition. Those who knew him, however, found inspiration in all his efforts, however imperfect, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Phil is survived by four generations of grantmaking professionals and volunteers. Experts estimate that, in a historic wealth transfer, some $41 trillion will pass from one generation to the next before 2052. It is unclear what Phil intended for this money. His last will and testament is deliberately vague, though Phil seemed excited by the potential of those who would care for his legacy.

“If you are reading this, Philanthropy A.S. Usual is dead,” he wrote to his successors. “I am certain that I leave a world slightly better than the one I entered. I am not as certain that my descendants will enjoy the same fate if they attempt to do exactly as I have done. Do not be afraid to do things differently. I put fires out all my life. If you find you need to start a few, remember to use long fuses and to strike a match for me. I’ll be watching for the fireworks.”

Additional excerpts from the last will and testament of Philanthropy A.S. Usual will be read at the reception. In lieu of flowers, please send your contributions to the next generation of grantmakers in DC: Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Eleventh

Today, in a special event for summer interns and young nonprofit staff members, the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal hosted a literary discussion of Henri Barbusse's short story "The Eleventh."

From the Hudson Institute:
On Wednesday, August 5, Hudson Institute's Bradley Center invites summer interns and young staff members to a panel discussion we'll launch in an unusual way - with a story. In Henri Barbusse's 1918 short story "The Eleventh" (required reading - click here to download), a young administrator at a luxurious high-end sanitarium is tasked with its most honored charitable tradition, admitting ten AND ONLY TEN "vagabonds" off the streets to enjoy its lavish accommodations for thirty days. He must turn the eleventh away. Is this task charitable at all, or is it part of some "evil deed," the young man asks himself.

On August 5, the Bradley Center will ask a panel of young "experts": What's it like to be young and on the front in the nonprofit sector? What should this young man do? The panel will feature MINDY HERNANDEZ, formerly of the Carnegie Corporation and currently with Ideas42; EVAN SPARKS of the Philanthropy Roundtable; MELISSA JOHNSON of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; and the Bradley Center's own KRISTA SHAFFER. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow AMY KASS will serve as the discussion's moderator.
I've read "The Eleventh" before, and I really enjoyed the discussion. Read the story, and look for the forthcoming transcript of the event. What follows is my own take on the story and the resulting discussion.

It's a wonder to me sometimes why we call them grantmakers. A colleague once described the incredible amount of proposals her foundation receives. In a given grant period, the foundation might see several thousand requests. Many will be rejected outright. The program may not fit the fund's mission. The organization may not be a 501(c)3. Many will be more extensively reviewed. A comparatively lucky few will be funded. I thought about this, and realized that the foundation will always decline more proposals than it accepts, so foundations are as much or more grant-deniers than they are grantmakers. The protagonist of "The Eleventh" is so uncomfortable with turning people away that he finds himself unable to continue in his post.

The story is a terrific choice for young professionals in the sector because it's about the struggle for authenticity amid an idealistic young professional's (first?) encounter with a world that is not only unfair but makes him complicit in its cruelties. Like the protagonist, I find my sympathies pulled in a number of different directions and fumblingly try to find a way to honor them in action.

On the one hand, I'm surprised at how much, on successive readings, I actually like what this palace-hospital does. They admit the first ten vagabonds that come to them. They don't pretend to be picking the best supplicants, the most deserving, or the most effective. There's no grant process, no monitoring, no reporting, and no evaluation. In the time it often takes us to find out if we're really effecting social change, the opportunity to do a tremendous amount of good for the people right in front of us passes by. Comfort, solace, rest, these things matter. Participants in today's discussion pointed out how palace-hospital doesn't provide opportunities for long-term change. By the same principle, we'd dispense with the fine arts.

Even as I look to become a greater advocate for the causes I believe in, I wonder sometimes how much social change might be effected if we all just actually took care of the first ten that came our way. And I wonder how much of our bleating about strategy, theories of change, and logic models is a futile attempt to rationalize what this young man finds himself unable to explain - why some people get money and others don't. Better then, the Master may have reasoned, to help those who come to our door as best we can. On some level, that's no more arbitrary than the "strategic" alternative.

But this approach has its own dangers. The choice to admit the first ten is itself a strategy, another pretension that the Master and his staff can easily hide behind. Why ten? Why not eleven? Why does the house never lack for ten? Is there something that can be done for the eleventh? Are we doing enough for the ten? Most of today's panelists agreed that more could be done, and that they would advise the assistant to investigate the values of the institution and see what could be done.

I don't find anything wrong in what the hospital does, but a great deal more good can, indeed, be done. They could campaign for a change in house policy. They could fundraise among their richer patients to double the number of vagabonds they can take in every month. They could start another sanitarium in a neighboring town and help the next ten. The assistant could just admit the eleventh and the twelfth next month, and see what the Master does. He could even start organizing the vagabonds!

There are endless possibilities, but I have a feeling that none of them will satisfy the assistant. He doesn't want to be the one who turns another away. Despite having seen and been haunted by the faces of those he cannot help, it's still the "idea" of injustice and his part in it that bothers him the most. This is to turn the moral and professional problem of "how do I help more people?" into a self-absorbed existential drama about God, the universe, and human limits. There is always going to be an eleventh, in some sense. If it wasn't the eleventh, it'd be the hundredth. To want to help everybody is to be philanthropic. To help somebody is to be a philanthropist.

That means making choices, sometimes awful, sometimes arbitrary. That certainly doesn't excuse our choices. It merely gives us the agenda for tomorrow: to try and make things better.

We can't lean on tradition, authority, and the unseen wisdom of the Master's plan either. Traditions can evolve. High-minded defenses of one's duty and one's place are too often excuses for protecting only those like us, for doing what comes naturally and easily, for the path of least resistance, for doing the minimum the way we've always done it, and for our own baseless choices and preferences. Young leaders should be ready to spot these instances and to stand up, where possible, for a better alternative.

The assistant in the story isn't prepared for that. If he can't provide comfort and solace to some and look the eleventh in the eye and maybe do better tomorrow, then how is he ever going to be capable of the great systemic changes that are necessary and face the 11 million still to be helped?

Everybody at some point learns that the world isn't fair. Those of us concerned with social justice know that there are a lot of things in this world that aren't fair. That injustice isn't a permanent feature of our universe but the creation of thousands of individual human decisions. However awful or arbitrary our choices, our organizations, our jobs, our world may seem today, that may change for the better tomorrow. The lesson for the assistant is this: if we're brave, and a little lucky, we can be a part of that. Is he up for it?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Spirit of Philanthropy Yet to Come

The EPIP pre-conference is dubbed "Innovation and Legacy: The Place of the Next Generation in Philanthropy" to evoke both the great changes a new generation of grantmakers will bring to the sector and the storied tradition they inherit and will eventually pass on to others. It's a look at philanthropy from a generational perspective, past, present, and future, so it's only fitting we next gens were visited by three spirits.

(My philanthropic education thus complete - and "A Christmas Carol" is nothing if not a man's philanthropic education - I plan to call room service tomorrow and demand the turkey as big as me.)

Host Committee Co-Chair Ann Cramer, Director of the Americas at IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, is every bit the gracious host in her thirty-second hello. Noting her affiliation, she reminded the up-and-coming EPIP attendees, some of whom are high school students, that philanthropic opportunities are available in the corporate world.

Cramer promised anything we might need for a successful pre-conference. She is, she said, "a voice, an advocate, and a friend" to the next generation.

In candid comments, Conference Committee Chair Kathy Merchant, President and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, marvelled at the diversity present in the room, remarking that one could put a similar number of people of her generation in the room "and we wouldn't look like you."

History's most diverse generation has come of age and not a moment too soon. As someone who has worked in the nonprofit world her entire professional life, Merchant noted the incredible challenges ahead for our nation and our world and wondered if the structures we have built would be sufficient to handle them.

"We've installed a lot of fences," added Council Board Chair Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Smith noted his admiration for how EPIP has been able to use generation to unite young people across the barriers erected between different types of grantmakers and between funders and nonprofits.

"It augurs well for our field," he said. "These barriers are not natural, and they're not inherent [to this work]."

Whether these obstacles remain a part of philanthropy will rest with those with the courage and the wisdom to break down the walls that keep those in the sector apart from one another.

"Not many in my generation know how to do that," Smith said.

All in all, this visit from the Council's leadership was both an impressive vote of confidence in the next gens assembled and a recognition of the power of the next generation's collective voice. It wasn't long ago that programs like this were unheard of. And if they did occur, they didn't always receive the welcome we did. That's an innovation I would like to see passed on.

The Panel is Dead

Rusty Stahl, Executive Director of EPIP, and Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, put a call out for potential next gen bloggers and kindly included me. I thought that I'd take notes and post my thoughts during the breaks or in the evenings.

Silly Kevin. That's how people blogged in the Stone Age, in like, oh, 2006 maybe. These days, you've got to be a media empire of one. Arriving at the EPIP pre-conference, several folks came armed with laptops, digital cameras and recorders, the whole shebang.

I was a little overwhelmed. Here I am thinking, "I've joined the new media!" only to discover I'm publishing a zine. Remember those?

But do you know who I really feel bad for? The panelists.

Dear Panelists, Blackberries, laptops, and digital video aside, your audience is paying attention. It's just also grabbing photos, typing out what it thinks about what you just said, reading what that guy three rows back just said about what you just said, and responding for their Twitter followers and the whole Internet to see. By the way, when you're done, you have 16 new Facebook Friend requests. Don't ignore them.

The conversation used to be between the panelists. It's not even in the room anymore.

Of course, if the panelists weren't in the room to begin with, we wouldn't have them and their opinions to blog about - which is another way of saying:

The Panel is dead. Long live the Panel!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blogging the 2009 COF Annual Conference

Capital Epiphanies has joined the EPIP motherblog in blogging the Council on Foundations' 60th Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this week. I have no idea what the traditional media presence is going to be at this event, but conference-goers will be blogging, tweeting, and otherwise drumming up an online storm.

EPIP joins New Voices, Tactical Philanthropy, and Perspectives from the Pipeline, among others, in covering the conference.

I know I'm forgetting some people. If you're here in Atlanta, send links and come say hello. And if you'd like to join the blog army, send word to one of us. Folks are forming teams, and encouraging others to post.

Things got rolling today with EPIP's much-anticipated pre-conference "training and retreat": Innovation and Legacy: The Place of the Next Generation in Philanthropy.

Tune in for session recaps, opinion, and conversation from this yearly gathering of grantmakers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How Much Stays Local?

Released last month, a study from the Foundation Center revealed that one-third of the grant dollars awarded by Washington-area foundations in 2006 went to locally-focused organizations. The remaining two-thirds went to Washington organizations with a national or international focus or to organizations outside of Washington.

The study, "Giving By Foundations in the National Capital Region: How Much Stays Local?" is the "Foundation Center’s first-ever examination of locally-focused giving within a specific metropolitan area." As a report of giving in 2006, the report presents an interesting snapshot of the local funder community before the recession and raises an important question for the DC philanthropic sector: how much stays local?

As DC and its nonprofits look out for the nation, who's looking out for DC? Fannie and Freddie, for instance, were the second- and eighth-largest foundations, respectively, in the area in 2006, and they were taken over by the government in September of last year, leaving charities to wonder who would fill the vacuum.

A June 2007 report from the Foundation Center "Key Facts on Washington, DC Area Foundations," noted that "foundations in the area targeted a larger share of their funding than U.S. foundations overall for the economically disadvantaged" and that "foundations in the area also gave more for the benefit of ethnic or racial minorities." The report attributed this to "regional demographics." But, when this new study shows that fully two-thirds of DC funders' attention is focused elsewhere, that critical support for economically disadvantaged and minority communities goes with it at a time when it's most needed.

Perhaps, the urgency of the times will encourage new donors to step up or urge current funders to look locally. Perhaps, the Foundation Center report on DC for 2009 will paint a different picture, but the tension between local ties and national focus will always be with those living in and near the nation's capital.

This morning's Washington Post chronicles the latest instance of these conflicting impulses:
A D.C. fund created to improve the city's neglected neighborhoods is being divided among several agencies and funneled to big-budget nonprofits such as the Kennedy Center in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's new proposed spending plan.
While it's comforting to think that our nonprofits can be both local and national, that funders can fulfill their missions elsewhere and be engaged local citizens, the economy will push many to make difficult choices. A recent Washington Grantmakers survey captured the economic catch-22: 86 percent of respondents reported a decrease in assets in 2008, and four out of five grantmakers reported receiving more grant requests in 2008 than 2007. Appealing to funders already caught between increasing needs and declining financial resources, will local nonprofits survive? How much will stay local - and how much of what's local will stay?