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A free roundup of the most important news, opinion, tools, and resources of the week. Delivered every Saturday.

October 10, 2020

From: Dan Parks

Subject: Powered by Small Donors, Giving Is Up

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Good morning. Surprising news this week as giving data shows a 7.5 percent rise in donations in the first half of the year, largely because small donors are stepping up in big ways. Foundation assets are also up sharply, recovering their losses and signaling that grant making may stay stable this year. As Election Day grows closer, we look at how nonprofits and foundations are working to help Americans overcome their political divides. A new Chronicle tally shows that wealthy Americans have increased their racial-justice giving in recent months, while a just-released study shows that nonprofits led by people of color are strained by increased demand for services and tight budgets. And a new poll shows what motivated many young Americans to give in recent days: the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its impact on the Supreme Court.
Stacy Palmer and Dan Parks

Powered by Small Donors, Giving Is Surging

The first half of 2020 was remarkably strong for fundraising, with donations rising almost 7.5 percent over the first half of 2019, writes Eden Stiffman.

Perhaps most surprising is that it wasn’t just the wealthy who were behind the rise: Gifts of $250 or less accounted for a big part of the growth. They rose 19. 2 percent, perhaps due in part to the $300 charitable deduction made available to every American as part of the Cares Act.

“The significant increase in gifts under $250 shows many donors have been moved to give even amid the pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty,” Elizabeth Boris, chair of the Growth in Giving Steering Committee, said in a news release.

What’s happening now: A poll released this week found that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a major motivator for giving to charity in recent days. Eighteen percent of people under 30 gave for that reason while another 16 percent said they gave because they wanted to affect the election, according to a report from Cause and Social Influence.

Where the money for charities is: Assets at private foundations have soared in recent months to about $1.1 trillion, regaining all the ground lost since the market plunge in March, according to new estimates from FoundationMark. The research organization says that means grant making will hold steady at last year’s rates, probably about $85 billion.

The market’s fluctuations are a big reason for grant makers to give generously now, write Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and investment consultant David Salem in an opinion article. “Spending more now is not just the right thing to do,” they write. “It is cheaper than when markets were tanking."

A Sevenfold Increase in Giving for Racial Justice and Equity

In the months since George Floyd was murdered, rich donors have given at least $208.3 million to advance racial justice and support diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, according to a new Chronicle tally of public gifts from individuals.

That 2020 sum is a marked increase from 2019, when affluent philanthropists gave $26.2 million publicly toward such efforts, writes Maria Di Mento. And the tally does not include the many millions big donors have given to top historically Black colleges and universities, which have also seen a significant rise in donations this year.

Among the donors giving generously are Jrue and Lauren Holiday, professional athletes (shown at the top of this morning’s newsletter) who gave roughly $5 million in July to launch the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Justice Impact Fund to fight systematic racism and social and economic inequality in Black neighborhoods.

Other big donors include Gail and Philip Holloman, who provided $1 million this summer to the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio to create its Center for Social Justice.

Philip Holloman, retired president and COO of the Cintas Corporation, says that four years ago he was in his driveway when a police officer drove up to him and asked if he was lost or needed help, implying that Holloman looked like he didn’t belong there.

“I’m in my own driveway and I’m being questioned, and that’s just one example,” Holloman says. “In a different situation with somebody different, that could have escalated."

Ford steps up its racial-justice giving: The Ford Foundation announced Friday $180 million in new funding for U.S. racial justice and civil-rights groups, doubling its existing commitments to $330 million.

The big picture: Donations from the wealthy come as more than $6 billion has been committed by foundations and companies to efforts related to race.

Still, nonprofits led by people of color face significant increases in demand for their services at the same time they have struggled with severe budgetary challenges, according to a survey by the Building Movement Project.

More than a third of the organizations in the survey reported helping individuals who had lost a loved one to the coronavirus, and about 60 percent said they serve people who face unsafe working conditions, writes Jim Rendon.

“This crisis is going to continue to get worse and come in waves,” says Deepa Iyer, a co-author of the study. “These groups have moderate budgets; they have smaller staff. They were already making do with little before the crisis. They are worried about whether they can meet the evolving needs of their communities that are leaning on them even more than before.”

Behind Foundation Efforts to Bridge Political Divides

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Conservative and liberal grant makers are financing a growing array of efforts to help people who disagree politically better understand one another, writes Alex Daniels.

Among them: the Bridge Alliance, a prominent coalition of democracy-focused nonprofits, and the Charles Koch Foundation.

A beneficiary of the donations is Braver Angels, which offers workshops and debates that enable ordinary Americans with different points of view to engage with each other. The debates require participants to stick to the substance of their arguments and respect their opponents' right to speak. “The emphasis is on intellectual humility,” says John Wood, one of the group’s senior leaders.

Bob Boisture, president of the Fetzer Institute, says it will take a sustained effort to make a difference. Encouraging people to overcome their perceived differences relies on changes in emotions and attitudes that take more effort to measure than counting how many people vote.

“This is way deeper than politics,” he says. “Love is the only force powerful enough to overcome those incredibly powerful forces that are pulling us apart. You can’t love the country without caring about all of our fellow Americans.”

Powerful Headwinds for Efforts to Force More Giving

A plan to persuade Congress to make foundations and donor-advised funds direct more cash to charities is likely to be met with strong opposition, writes Alex Daniels.

The policy push by philanthropist John Arnold and Boston College law professor Ray Madoff would enact two categories of donor-advised funds, one that would offer better tax benefits to people who distribute money within 15 years of creating their DAFs versus those who keep the money in longer.

It also would encourage foundations to distribute a bigger share of their assets with a tax sweetener. And it would end the practice of letting gifts to donor-advised funds count as part of a foundation’s pay. Also banned: Family foundations could not count the salary and travel expenses of family members as charitable payments.

Opponents like the Philanthropy Roundtable see the proposal as a threat to philanthropic freedom. “If it is intended to accelerate giving, we are concerned that overregulating donor-advised funds and private foundations will have the opposite effect,” Elise Westhoff, chief executive of the roundtable said in a letter to the editor.

But other philanthropy leaders say it’s time to change the rules.

Ellen Dorsey, president of the Wallace Global Fund, is confident Congress will take a close look at forcing foundations to distribute more of their assets.

“The tide is turning and people are waking up to the practices of philanthropy that have long operated in shadows, outside of public knowledge and free of accountability,” Dorsey wrote in an emailed statement. “We expect the trade associations will fight to retain the status quo that has served many of them so well, but there is a larger, growing constituency for more fundamental reforms — both within organized philanthropy, within the nonprofit sector, and in the general public.”

What charities think about DAFs: Fifty-five percent of nonprofits say they are concerned about the difficulty of soliciting gifts from donor-advised funds, according to a new survey by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

What the wealthy are doing now: The Crisis Charitable Commitment, an effort to encourage wealthy individuals, donor-advised fund account holders, and foundations to give more immediately this week revealed who’s agreed to give more. Among grant makers that pledged to give more: Libra Foundation, Rockefeller Family Fund, and Innovo Foundation. Individual philanthropists include Liesel and Ian Simmons, Barbara Simons, and Cynda Collins Arsenault.

Need to Know

70%

— Share of donors who don’t use charity rating or information services

Only 21 percent of donors always or usually use charity watchdogs to help evaluate nonprofits, says a new report from Grey Matter Research and Harmon Research.

Forty-eight percent of donors had not heard of any of the eight organizations listed by the survey — Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, GiveWell, GuideStar, Great Nonprofits, Ministry Watch, and Wise Giving Alliance from the Better Business Bureau.

More disturbing: When researchers asked donors if they had heard of a group they made up, 14 percent said they had.

College Fundraisers Are Changing Their Priorities

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The recession and the racial-justice movement are re-ordering college fundraising strategies.

In a new study, 87 percent of higher-education fundraisers said they were now more focused on student financial aid, 85 percent said they’d stepped up appeals for social-justice and racial-justice programs, and 77 percent said their search for unrestricted dollars had increased.

What no longer gets as much attention: 44 percent of fundraisers said they were dialing down appeals for support of new campus buildings and other capital projects, in the study from the fundraising firm Washburn & McGoldrick.

What’s getting in the way: While nearly 6 in 10 senior college fundraisers expect to meet their goals in the fiscal year that opened July 1, most still expect the next two years to be tough. And the next month or so will be even more of a struggle. “Donors who postponed closing gifts because of Covid are now waiting for the outcome of the election,” one fundraiser told researchers. “This is pushing back the ‘recovery’ rate for us.”

Notable Gifts and Grants

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Reimagining America’s monuments: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has committed $250 million over five years to create its Monuments Project, which is designed to change the way U.S. history is told in public spaces by building new monuments and memorials, relocating some statues and commemorations, and adding context to existing monuments through installations, research, and education. Read more about this grant and others in our weekly roundup.

$900 million from Nike’s co-founder: Phil Knight has transferred $900 million to the Knight Foundation, which he and his wife, Penelope, established in 1997. Much of their giving has been directed to universities, especially Phil Knight's alma mater, the University of Oregon, Maria Di Mento reports.

Why I Can’t Use the Word 'Program Officer' Without Wincing: Dispatches

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Illustration for Lisa Cowan column.

In the latest installment of her column on grant making in a time of upheaval, Lisa Pilar Cowan writes that she has been exploring ideas about how to reconfigure her institution and help grantee partners do the same. The reason: Today’s structures and systems do little to reinforce the mission of equity.

As a simple example, the language that foundations use to denote their organizational structure, such as calling staff members “program officers,” is problematic, writes Cowan, who is vice president of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

The commonly held understanding of an officer is someone who holds a position of command or authority. Do foundations want their staff to “command” their grantee partners?

"I don’t think I can ever address someone as a program officer again without wincing," she writes. "And I wonder: What else can I change, can we change, if we let our missions guide our organizational structures?"

People on the Move

 

  • Patsy Doerr, global head of diversity and inclusion at Credit Suisse, has been tapped as CEO of Association of Junior Leagues International.
  • Kalipso Chalkidou has been named head of health finance, a new department at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that will develop streams of sustainable domestic funding to fight the spread of infectious disease and develop more-resilient health systems.
  • Carla Eckhardt has been named executive director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, where she will also oversee the publication of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. 

See more in our Transitions column

How to Boost Your Planned-Giving Program

Join Our Webinar — Jump-start your planned-giving program by learning how to create appeals and marketing materials that resonate — even during these challenging times. You’ll learn from a planned-giving director at a nonprofit, a veteran consultant, and a planned-giving director at a financial-services firm. They’ll share:

  • Strategies for strengthening legacy giving (even if you’re just getting started)
  • Tips for developing a planned-giving strategy
  • Real-world examples of how to frame conversations and messages, and
  • Detailed marketing advice and examples

Plus, you’ll get tips on how to recognize these donors and keep them engaged in your work. Register now to get the early-bird rate for this session, which airs Thursday, October 22, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Online Briefing: Promise and Peril: Nonprofits in the Age of Big Tech

Nonprofits are moving more of their work and meetings online, especially since the pandemic struck. And while technology offers opportunities for connecting in ways unimaginable a generation ago, it also presents risks and creates digital divides that exacerbate longstanding societal inequities. Nonprofits are especially vulnerable as they become more dependent on technology. Budget shortfalls can lead organizations to skimp on security or use free software that comes with unfavorable conditions.

In a recent Chronicle opinion series, Lucy Bernholz calls on nonprofits, including foundations, to recognize risks associated with an overreliance on big tech companies, take steps to diminish that dependency, advocate for policies that protect consumers, and invest in alternative solutions. Join us to hear Bernholz’s views and those of other experts who will discuss these issues and innovative approaches that democratize technology. Our panelists also will argue for greater philanthropic investment in nonprofits’ ability to use technology safely and will share resources to help nonprofits better manage digital risk.

Individual Chronicle subscribers are automatically preregistered and will receive an email with a link to join. Non-subscribers, register now to secure a spot.

New Grant Opportunities

Your Chronicle subscription includes free access to GrantStation's database of grant opportunities. Among the latest listings:

  • Health. The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to expand the delivery of health-care services to rural areas, providing new and enhanced services, strong consortiums, and innovative ideas. The application deadline is December 1.
  • Jobs. The Jobs Plus program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development develops locally based, job-driven approaches that increase earnings and advance employment outcomes for residents of public housing through work readiness, job placement, educational advancement, technology skills, and financial literacy. The program seeks to build a culture of work within housing developments and make working residents the norm. The application deadline is December 1.
Dan joined The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2014. He previously was the managing editor of Bloomberg Government. He also worked as a reporter and editor at Congressional Quarterly .
Stacy Palmer has served as a top editor since the Chronicle of Philanthropy was founded in 1988 and has overseen the development of its website, Philanthropy.com. She plays a hands-on role in many Chronicle services, such as its Philanthropy Today daily newsletter and its webinar series offering professional development for people involved in fundraising, grant seeking, advocacy, marketing and social media.