Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
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
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.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.
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.
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
(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.
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
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
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?
Monday, February 23, 2009
EPIP-DC kicked off the return of its Emerging Leaders Salon with a conversation with Virginia Esposito, Founder and President of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. February's well-attended discussion had participants talking about careers in philanthropy, the world of family giving, and the economy.
Esposito began the discussion with some of DC's emerging leaders by telling the story of her own 29-year career in the field. She had started out as a schoolteacher before arriving, partly by chance, at the Council on Foundations. It was there that she discovered a fascination with the contributions of philanthropic families.
"All I hear about is how family detracts [from giving]," Esposito said, relating the story of one philanthropy professional who wanted to work for "families - but families without issues."
"That's just sad because, 'issues' and all, family adds so much to the process," she said. "Giving families embody the central democratic principle of personal initiative for the public good. Their work is as much an act of citizenship as their industry, their vote, and their taxes."
That passion for family philanthropy encouraged Esposito, along with other leaders in family giving, to create the Council's Program on Family Philanthropy and, in 1997, the independent National Center for Family Philanthropy.
She spoke of the roots and traditions, the values that transcend generations, that families bring to their philanthropy, and called attention to the commitment, passion, and responsiveness that families' giving reveals.
"We haven't done a good job of increasing understanding about what it is that foundations and, more specifically, family foundations do," she argued, pointing to NCFP's recent initiative to combat public misperceptions by articulating the "value of family philanthropy."
She encouraged emerging leaders to follow their own passions and to be open to new opportunities and the chance to do something different.
"When I first started out, we didn't even use the phrase 'family foundation,'" Esposito said. "Now there's the National Center, and family giving has its own department at the Council and at community foundations and organizations around the world."
Esposito also acknowledged a debt to her many mentors, among them foundation trustee, educator and former dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University Paul Ylvisaker.
"I think any career in philanthropy takes passion, commitment, and a willingness to take the long view," she said. "But it also takes a group of mentors that inspire, teach, and encourage. I am the product of so many people who took the time to teach me – to invest in my knowledge and, consequently, my career. They daily play some part in who I am and what I do and I remember each one with enormous respect and gratitude."
The conversation then turned to the topic of philanthropy and the economy as giving families struggle to keep up with rising needs amid declining assets and the added tragedy of the Madoff scandal.
"Foundation assets are down as much as 30 to 40 percent over the last year," Esposito said.
She noted that families were getting creative to meet growing needs: renegotiating grant agreements, convening nonprofit groups, collaborating, giving access to professional and technical assistance, and offering lines of credit and no-interest loans.
Esposito contended that the crisis was an opportunity for reflection, for foundations to ask themselves: "What are we really doing here?"
"You don't have to give up your dream of perpetuity to step up," she said. "It's gotten to the point that we boast of our investment returns as much as we boast of impact. Payout should be a function of what you're trying to do - not what you're trying to make."
She encouraged grantmakers to see how they might help both with grants and beyond grants.
Of particular concern to some members was the loss of some well-known social justice grantmakers.
"We're losing foundations that were willing to go into places and be advocates that others weren't, like the JEHT Foundation," Esposito acknowledged. "It's a real loss."
"There seems to be a new awareness that government isn't taking care of the vulnerable," Esposito said, pointing to the aftermath of Katrina and the more recent housing and credit crises. "Social justice may be at the forefront of people's minds in a new way."
"I was concerned about speaking to the 'Emerging Practitioners' because I feared it implied I better have already emerged or, at my age, had little chance of doing so!" Esposito explained. "What I realized is that EPIP-DC is an impressive group of leaders – nothing 'emerging' about them. The great delight I took in spending time with them was enhanced by the opportunity to pay tribute to my own leader-mentors."
Special thanks to Ginny Esposito and the National Center for Family Philanthropy for hosting this event.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I found it all very unfortunate.
I thought to myself, "'Safe space?' I don't need 'safe space.' I have plenty of 'safe space.' I call it 'daily life.'"
As a straight, white male, I have safe space to spare. It's what being privileged is all about. I'm safe everywhere. I don't get a double-take or a repulsed gasp when I tell people about my wife because people expect my spouse to be female. I've never been denied a loan, a job, a friendship, or a hello because of the color of my skin because that doesn't happen to people that look like me. I don't have to worry about whether people take me seriously at work because I'm a card-carrying member of the boys' club. Safe space? It's my home address.
So I can spare an hour or four at 3 AM to listen without judging because I can talk pretty much whenever I want. And I can take a conversation or a convening that makes me a little uneasy because, at the end of the day, I could tear down a wall or four and still be safe in my own skin. The way I figure it, a difficult conversation now and then is a small price to pay to make somebody else feel safe. Some people don't have safe spaces to return to. I might even learn something.
So if you need safe space, people, please don't expend time and energy creating it. Just borrow mine.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
According to The New York Times, foundations who invested with Bernard Madoff may be subject to additional loss in the form of an excise tax. This tax is meant to ward off potentially risky investments by funders and to encourage exercising a thorough vetting process for identifying investors.
The financial implications can be huge. For example, if the IRS enforced this tax in the current scenario, the following could happen:
"The penalty can equal 10 percent of the amount invested during the tax year in question. If the foundation fails to try to recover the funds, there is an additional 25 percent penalty. The foundation’s officers, directors and trustees also face a 10 percent penalty, and a 5 percent additional penalty if they ignored red flags or did not thoroughly vet Mr. Madoff’s investments and proposals."
But with the huge losses of many foundations, particularly those that invested heavily with Madoff, what's 25% of $0?
Though the IRS has yet to make a definitive decision on whether or not to enforce this tax, I can only hope that this situation is given special consideration. This scandal was clearly a huge shock to everyone involved and seems to be a fairly isolated one.
Point blank: The philanthropic community is in need of redemption. And additional slashes to what little assets remain is not the solution...
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
If you're an aspiring leader in philanthropy, join us for our signature conversations with leaders and thinkers in the field.
This month features a discussion with Ginny Esposito, president and founder of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. Ginny will discuss her own career path in the field, the world of family foundations and funds, and how they're meeting the challenges of today's economy.
Date: February 19, 2009
Time: 12:00 - 1:30 PM
Place: National Center for Family Philanthropy, 1818 N St NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC, 20036
As with most of our salons, it's brown-bag lunch, but refreshments will be provided.
Click HERE to RSVP for this event.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Nonprofits have long been known for their poor staff compensation, not only with respect to yearly salary but retirement benefits. And the solution has been to create more attractive compensation to compete with the for-profit industry. Yet, with our current economy, does this practice still make sense given the increase of competition for foundation funds?
Since salaries are included as overhead in organizational budgets, many grants that will be awarded in the coming year will undoubtedly cover a portion of this. In this economic recession, should funders take into account higher than average executive salaries when considering whether to award a grant?
What do you think?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Ah, yes. It is done. Change has finally come to The White House.
For millions of Americans, our country's shameful legacy of racism and inequality was effectively muted at 12pm on January 20, 2009, when a man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama was elected to the highest post in the land. As President Obama so eloquently stated in his inaugural address, "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed...and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” Yet, while significant progress has been made in reforming the face of our political system, the work is far from over in ensuring equality for all.
African American and Hispanic students still lag behind their white counterparts in obtaining their high school diploma. The foreclosure crisis and environmental pollution continues to disproportionately impact communities of color. Subtle bias in hiring decisions effectively limits minority populations from attaining meaningful employment. Unfortunately, the list continues.
These are all issues that President Obama's administration is undoubtedly aware of. Various nonprofit civil rights groups have already reached out to him, highlighting the work that still must be done to improve the lives of disenfranchised communities. For social justice funders, now (more than ever) is the time to stand firm with these groups to fight for equality.
We all know the scale of the current economic crisis, enhanced for many by the Madoff scandal. Several foundations and community organizations have had to close their doors as a result.
Yet, the philanthropic community must stay the course in supporting social justice programs.
As changes are occurring at the national level, we must continue to mirror these changes on the ground. And let's not look at the solution to this problem as simply a monetary one. Funders have various levels of capacity. Below are my thoughts on how philanthropy is uniquely situated to continue addressing civil rights issues in the Age of Obama.
1) Funder Collaboratives. Many grantmakers have realized the power of pooling their money in addressing social ills. This format not only allows likeminded funders to share strategies with each other but it reduces the amount of time that nonprofits spend approaching these grantmakers for support.
2) Knowledge Management. Grantmakers have done an excellent job of sharing best practices. Whether it’s online through a foundation's Web site or convening grantees, funders are already highlighting the wealth found in peer learning circles.
3) Harnessing the Power of Peer Pressure. Funders that support social justice and advocacy efforts are already aware of the importance of using their resources to address inequity. However, there are others that do not for a variety of reasons. Through organizations like EPIP, grantmakers can continue to highlight the need for social justice funding within the philanthropic community.