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

November 21, 2020

From: By Stacy Palmer

Subject: Signs of Change in Giving Patterns Abound

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Good morning. Signs of changes in philanthropy abounded this week as a Giving Pledge donor announced her plan to transfer her assets and financial clout to those left behind by injustice, and two big foundations outlined what they’re doing to aid groups fighting racism. Nonprofits are readying their GivingTuesday plans amid new data showing donors are eager to keep giving generously, and we examine the changes nonprofits are making in their fundraising operations to survive the long haul. A prominent nonprofit leader offers a comprehensive plan for how philanthropy can ensure local journalism thrives and shares an idea from scholars on what foundations can do to urge people to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Before you take off for Thanksgiving, we hope you’ll sign up to join me for the second part of our series on what philanthropy can do to reimagine democracy. Most important, as we take next week off, all of us at the Chronicle want to send our thanks for the essential work our readers do every day, especially in these trying times.

Stacy Palmer

A Giving Pledge Donor Commits Even More of Her Assets to Curb Inequality

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The billionaire Kat Taylor announced this week she is turning over a third of her assets to help communities that have been harmed by “an economy that was built on oppression, violence, and theft.”

Her first donations are going to five communities that “are at the beginning stages of building environments that foster social, climate, and economic justice.”

Taylor, who with her husband, Tom Steyer, signed the Giving Pledge, said she is also seeking to inspire four other donors to match her action “both in offering grants that strengthen the ability of nonprofits to successfully absorb large infusions of financial support and in pledging donor-advised assets toward collateralizing low-cost nonprofit bond financing.”

Wealthy Americans, she said, “must do more than grant the earnings of capitalism; we must transfer and return that wealth itself.”

“Together, our transferred wealth can give balance-sheet strength to community efforts that benefit us all,” she writes, “But it will only happen if enough big donors rethink their approach to giving.

Kresge and Hewlett Unveil New Efforts to Fight Racism

As the tally keeps growing of grant-making dollars pouring into causes that work to end racism, two of the nation’s biggest foundations announced their plans this week.

The Kresge Foundation on Thursday unveiled a $30 million commitment to work in four cities to advance racial justice.

And the Hewlett Foundation named the first recipients of its $170 million pledge, awarding a total of $15 million to 15 groups that work in areas such as health care, the arts, and community organizing, each with the purpose of fighting anti-Black racism and building Black people’s political power. 

Kresge waited nearly six months after the mass demonstrations against police brutality to make the grants so it could determine how to make the biggest difference, says Rip Rapson, the foundation’s president. The grant maker decided to concentrate its support in four cities so it could monitor progress.

“There was a huge temptation to get right in the mix when everybody else was sort of making these big honking commitments, which were wonderful and astounding, but they weren’t grounded in specific grants into places that you could actually trace,” Rapson said. “We’d like to be able to show where every dollar is going.”

The dollars that have poured into grant making to deal with race matters this year are substantial. Candid estimates that individuals, foundations, and corporations have provided $10.7 billion just this year. That is three times as much as was donated from 2011 to 2019.

Plus, a corporate grant maker shows how to support groups led by people of color: Daniel Lee, head of the Levi Strauss Foundation, says that when his fund shifted its focus, he learned that aiding grassroots leaders was “profoundly different from working with leaders of well-known, established nonprofits.”

Critical to success he says: “Uncomfortable honesty, radical empathy, and a kind of flexibility not often practiced in philanthropy.

It wasn’t just the foundation that was changed. Levi Strauss and Company enlisted leaders of color it got to know through the program to shape its anti-gun-violence work, and LGBTQ leaders inspired and shaped its first policy that bans discrimination against employees who are transgender.

GivingTuesday Themes: Community and Justice Resonate

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Nonprofits raised more than half a billion dollars online when the organizers of GivingTuesday orchestrated a special emergency campaign in May. Now with the traditional post-Thanksgiving GivingTuesday coming up on December 1, the big question is whether donors are ready to give so generously again, note Emily Haynes and Eden Stiffman.

Woodrow Rosenbaum, who heads the organization that coordinates GivingTuesday, sees signs that donations will boom.

“People are looking to generosity as the antidote to their fear and their isolation and injustice and division,” Rosenbaum says. “That’s how they’re responding.” (Read a Chronicle essay on the reasons he thinks donor fatigue is a myth.)

Why he thinks that is true: Staff members at GivingTuesday analyze conversation on major social-media platforms to see what themes are surfacing among people planning for the giving day. This year, “community” and “justice” are the two major themes. That’s a change from past years, when “donation” and “campaign” were the dominant themes, Rosenbaum says.

“All organizations are in some way both affected and part of the fabric of recovery for communities,” he says. “If you talk about that in an open and authentic way, I think you’re going to find people are very receptive.”

What giving data shows for year-end appeals: Nearly 40 percent of Americans said they’re likely or certain to contribute more to charity this year than they did in 2019, according to a new survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by online gift processor Classy. Just 9 percent said they expect to give less, reports Emily Haynes. The rest said they would contribute the same amount they did the previous year.

But the pandemic economy is taking a toll on those who want to give but are feeling more of a financial strain, according to another study released this week. “Donors are showing some resilience over all — and I don’t want people to misread the data,” Rick Dunham, CEO of Dunham & Company, which sponsored the study by Campbell Rinker, told Michael Theis. “It’s not that donors don’t want to give, it’s just that they are showing a little bit of a drawback.” 

Whom to target: Baby boomers and those who are older are feeling the most financial confidence, Campbell Rinker found.

How Fundraising Is Changing as the World Changes

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Nonprofits are changing their fundraising strategies and how they deploy and evaluate development staff members, Eden Stiffman notes.

One of the key changes organizations are making: helping fundraisers cope with the challenges they face caring for children and others. The Nature Conservancy, for example, adjusted performance expectations for fundraisers who have shifted to flexible or part-time schedules due to care-giving responsibilities brought on by the pandemic.

Some groups are also adjusting their approaches as new donors have been flooding in. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has increased the threshold for what counts as a major gift.

“This shift is helping to focus gift-officer time and energy on those who are most interested in building a deeper relationship with the organization,” says Mark Mathyer, the organization’s director of development services. Additionally, the food depository introduced evaluation metrics to encourage new, increased, and multiyear major-gift commitments.

A surge in bequests and other planned gifts. Donors are showing increased interest in nearly all types of planned giving, and many are increasing the size of those deferred donations, according to a new survey of 328 nonprofits from the fundraising consultancy Marts & Lundy and the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners. Even so, many nonprofits are cutting back on what they spend to solicit such gifts, by cutting program expenses or salaries or by instituting hiring freezes.

How Philanthropy Can Save Local News — and Our Communities

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Foundations need to stop looking at the collapse of local news as primarily a problem for local news, says Steven Waldman. “Any philanthropic institution that is trying to bring about positive change will be increasingly hobbled if it doesn’t attend to this crisis,” he says.

The disappearance of local news “leads to less civic involvement and more polarization, corruption, and pollution.” He adds: “Where there is less local news, people feel more alienated from their communities and their local governments. There is less accountability for all local institutions — school boards, planning commissions, businesses, universities, labor unions, and city hall.”

Some solutions are within easy reach for philanthropy, he notes. “If we added a reporter to follow each municipal government in the country, it would cost about $1 billion,” he notes,

But just as important as cash, he says, is advocacy. Among the ideas donors could encourage: Offer Americans “refundable tax credits that they could use to buy a news subscription or donate to a local news nonprofit.” What’s more, he says, they could help struggling newspapers become community nonprofits or public-benefit corporations.

“The good news is that this moment of fluidity also presents an opportunity,” he writes. “We can build a system that not only fills the gaps but improves upon what came before.”

What Philanthropy Can Do to Stop the Covid Spread


A group of scholars has come together to develop a communications plan to persuade people to take the Covid-19 vaccine, and they urge foundations to invest in efforts to test their plan, refine it, and spread what works.

“Our findings suggest that we must do more than accurately convey the scientific facts about the effectiveness of vaccines, mask wearing, hand washing, and distancing,” they write. Among the steps: “Consider people’s identities, worldviews, and moral values, all of which affect the information they’re willing to accept, and act quickly to get the message out since people are most likely to trust and stick to the version of information they hear first.”

Charles Koch’s Book Urges ‘Bottom-Up’ Approach to Philanthropy

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In his new book, Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World, Charles Koch seeks to share what he has learned through his philanthropic giving, and it looks a lot like what social-justice leaders are promoting. Alex Daniels notes.

Koch thinks big foundations have failed, and he has this message for them:” Stop dreaming up sweeping fixes for society’s big problems. Instead, he says, trust people who have first-hand experience dealing with a problem.

That may come as a surprise to the progressive activists who have been urging philanthropy to do just that — but who also see Koch as the source of many of the problems they are fighting against and are unlikely to want any advice from him.

Koch says he is tired of hearing from foundations that want to measure how many people are helped.

In trying to engineer a broad approach, Koch believes foundations may be missing success stories at the individual level.

“Nobody is average,” Koch said in an interview. “Everybody is unique. That’s our basic assumption. And everybody has a gift.”

Biden Transition Team Signals Big Role for Nonprofits Throughout Government

People from nonprofits like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society, and the Pew Charitable Trusts are on the transition team advising the president-elect, Dan Parks reports.

Grant makers tapped for advice include officials at Arnold Ventures, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Alan Abramson, a longtime nonprofit scholar now at George Mason University, said the appointees to the transition team show “a real sharing of values between these nonprofits and the incoming Biden administration,” and it’s a sign that the new occupants of the White House will see philanthropy as “a storehouse of knowledge and experts.”

Can Philanthropy Make Itself Compatible With Democracy?

Philanthropy, writes British author Paul Vallely, has a “democracy deficit.” But a new presidential administration more supportive of progressive policies provides an ideal opportunity for philanthropists to reform their own practices. That should start, Vallely argues, by taking an honest look at a tax system that benefits wealthy donors at the expense of those they are trying to help.

Vallely, whose new book Philanthropy – From Aristotle to Zuckerberg was just released in the United States, calls for “greater self-awareness of the dangers that come from favoring causes that reflect the interests of the wealthy” and suggests philanthropy “reform its own governance so that it reflects the social, ethnic, and gender balance of the communities it seeks to serve.

To effectively address intractable problems such as economic inequality, Vallely says, philanthropy should borrow from the conservative donor playbook and focus on shifting the political discourse. “Like them, the larger philanthropic world needs to support those seeking to change the public debate on social inequality, racial injustice, and climate responsibility.”

Plus: Learn how philanthropy can bolster democracy in a briefing by three authors of a new collection of essays from the Kettering and Knight foundations. And sign up now to join us for the second discussion in this series.

Sign up today.

2 Worrisome Signs of the Pandemic’s Impact on Nonprofits

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Arts organizations. More people are giving to cultural organizations in the pandemic, but the dollars they are contributing are far smaller, says a new report. A tally of giving to 70 groups found a drop of 70 percent, Michael Theis writes.

Sluggish nonprofit job growth. Even though 38,000 jobs were added to the nonprofit work force last month, the number of employees over all is down 7 percent since February. That is a worrisome sign, Michael says, because recent gains could be erased if a surging wave of Covid-19 cases results in more strict social-distancing measures and economic disruptions.

Celebrity Giving: LeBron James’s Campaign for Justice

LeBron Speaks Basketball

As the NBA picks its new class, it is more important than ever that athletes follow LeBron James’s belief that community service matters as much as playing skills. For your weekend inspiration, see why two Columbia University scholars think he should be the role model for more athletes.

People on the Move

  • Adam Meyerson, who announced in March that he was stepping down as president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, has been tapped as a vice president at Stand Together, a charity founded by the billionaire Charles Koch.
  • Cynthia Friend, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University, will become the next president of the Kavli Foundation.
  • Hanna Skandera has been named president of the Daniels Fund, where she is a member of its Board of Directors. She is also CEO of Mile High Strategies.

See more in our Transitions column

New Grant Opportunities

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

  • Reading. The Big Read, offered in partnership by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest, seeks to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Applicant organizations are encouraged to collaborate with a broad range of partners to offer events and activities that engage the whole community. Each supported program will include a kick-off event to mark the start of the program, book discussions, events inspired by the content and themes from the book (e.g., panel discussions, lectures, or film screenings), and projects that engage the community or respond creatively to the book (e.g., art exhibitions, theatrical or musical performances, poetry slams, writing workshops and contests, or activities related to collecting and sharing oral or written stories from members of the community). The application deadline is January 2
  • Film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provides grants in two areas: The first is FilmWatch for curated screening programs at film festivals, film societies, and other film-related organizations. Programs include those that create culturally diverse viewing experiences, promote motion pictures as an art form, provide a platform for underrepresented artists, and cultivate new and dedicated audiences for theatrical film. The second is FilmCraft, which grants support high-quality educational programs that identify and empower future filmmakers from nontraditional backgrounds. Targeted programs include those that encourage an appreciation of film as both a vocation and an art form and those that provide hands-on opportunities for participants to gain the filmmaking skills they need to tell their stories. The application deadline for both programs is January 15.
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.