News and analysis
March 01, 2016

Foundations Put Up $150,000 to Highlight Philanthropy’s Successes

Among the stories that debuted on the Successes of Philanthropy website were accounts of homelessness and fighting childhood asthma.

A foundation-sponsored project launched this week by The Washington Monthly magazine aims to plant philanthropies’ good works directly under the noses of influential policy makers.

Successes of Philanthropy will serve as an online catalog of philanthropic wins — something its creators believe Washington power brokers need to hear more about.

So far, nine foundations have contributed a total of $150,000 to support the effort. A wide variety of philanthropies, from corporate, private, and community foundations to grant-making nonprofits, will submit successes stories to be published as part of the project.

The new Successes of Philanthropy website went live Monday with six stories about topics such as combating homelessness and fighting childhood asthma.

"We're not blessed with opportunities to have a television ad during the Super Bowl or a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal," said Doug Kridler, president and chief executive of the Columbus Foundation, which donated to the project and contributed a story about the revitalization of a once crime-ridden neighborhood in the Ohio capital.

"If there are opportunities along the way to tell our story and have it be received by a broader audience, it’s something that we’re willing to take a look at supporting," Mr. Kridler said.

Breaking Through on the Hill

The project is the brainchild of Jeff Hamond, vice president and director of the philanthropy practice at government relations firm Van Scoyoc Associates. Mr. Hamond, who previously served as Senator Charles Schumer’s economic-policy director, said that in his experience, Capitol Hill staffers had little exposure to philanthropy, aside from the annual Foundations on the Hill event. Some were aware of issues affecting the nonprofit world, like the charitable deduction or foundation-excise taxes, but "the work of the sector wasn’t something that really broke through to the Hill," he said.

He cited the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, an effort supported by several big foundations to raise the profile of philanthropy’s work among influential Americans. A 2007 report commissioned by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for the awareness effort found that more than half of "engaged Americans" could not name a single foundation on the first try, and just 11 percent could offer an example of a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about.

Anne Kim, whose website Republic 3.0 was recently incorporated into The Washington Monthly, asked Mr. Hamond to do some writing about philanthropy. He proposed Successes of Philanthropy instead and now serves as the project’s "curator," inviting foundations to contribute stories. Ms. Kim, now policy editor at the Monthly, is heading the effort.

The pieces are meant to be compelling narratives that bring the projects to life, said Ms. Kim, not dry, annual report-type summaries.

With about 30 stories in the pipeline, the leaders plan to publish one story a week for the next year and hope to extend the project if it proves a success.

Fundraising for Nonprofit Journalism

Diane Straus, publisher of The Washington Monthly, sees Successes of Philanthropy "as a way to deepen our relationships with foundations, "some of whom we know, some of whom we don't."

Founded in 1969, the magazine is itself a nonprofit.

"A decade ago, foundations didn’t want to interfere in the market, but [they] have decided in the last decade that they need to for serious independent journalism to survive," she said.

If the magazine is able to double its fundraising for Successes of Philanthropy, the staff will consider publishing a special print issue on philanthropy, Ms. Straus said.

Current donors include JP Morgan Chase & Co., the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Coca-Cola, the Chicago Community Trust, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Columbus Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Contributions range from $10,000 to $32,000.

Ms. Kim and Mr. Hamond call the series a "sponsored project" as opposed to "sponsored content," sometimes referred to as "native advertising" and utilized by some major philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "That's not what this is," said Ms. Kim.

And Mr. Hamond is quick to assert that Successes of Philanthropy is not "pay to play" — an organization does not have to donate to have a story featured. A majority of the content contributors so far are not donors to the project.

Neill Coleman, the Rockefeller Foundation's vice president of global communications, said that by participating, he hopes to inspire others with the ideas and innovations philanthropies can accomplish.

"With this exercise in particular, we saw Washington policy makers and influencers as one of the important audiences for those ideas, and The Washington Monthly bringing a group of those ideas together in one place seemed like a good way to reach them," he says.

Rockefeller's submission highlights its Rebuild by Design competition as an example of collaboration between philanthropy and government after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As part of its greater commitment to building resilient cities, the foundation contributed $4 million in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, bringing together teams of architects, engineers, civic groups, and others to consult with storm-affected communities. The goal was to rebuild in a way that would better prepare communities for future storms. Ten winning teams ultimately received a total of nearly $1 billion in federal funding to support their projects.

"We see it as a great example of philanthropic leverage," Mr. Coleman said.

Each Successes of Philanthropy piece will appear on the website’s home page and will be promoted in the Monthly's weekly newsletter.

While the key audience is Washington decision makers, Mr. Coleman said, he hopes it will serve as a resource that collectively brings more attention to the sector's work.

"I'm sure it will also be useful for us in philanthropy too, for us to be able to learn from our peers."

Note: An earlier version of this article referred to the publisher of The Washington Monthly as Diane Strauss instead of Straus.

Send an email to Eden Stiffman.