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

March 13, 2021

From: Stacy Palmer

Subject: A Break From Covid Stress, Stimulus Measure, New Leader for Bezos Earth Fund

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Good Morning.

The past year has taken an enormous toll on nonprofit workers, and the stress is showing no signs of abating. In this month’s Chronicle cover story, our colleague Jim Rendon looks at how charities and foundations are finding creative ways to alleviate some of the strains on the people who power good works.

In New York, Alex Roque, an executive director of a nonprofit that helps homeless LGBTQ youths, found that offering group therapy, counseling, and internal support groups helped ease the challenges his employees were facing.

Roque says simply listening to their concerns without always having a solution hasn’t been easy, but he’s learned to stay calm. “People look at me for answers,” he says. “Our team looks at me. Our senior directors look at me.”

Even as vaccines offer hope for the worst of the pandemic, many nonprofits expect continued pressure as demand for both in-person and online service intensifies, and continued financial worries could lead to more layoffs. Indeed, a new report out Friday shows that nonprofit employment remains exceptionally weak.

Some grant makers are responding to the challenges facing nonprofit staffs by providing flexible money to pay for counseling, raises, and other measures. That’s because the stakes go beyond the individual crises employees are suffering.

Anne Marie Burgoyne, a top official at the Emerson Collective, told Jim she fears “high levels of turnover, difficulty inspiring new talent to join, and people unable to do their best work” will ultimately harm the people nonprofits serve.

Not all the solutions to easing stress are expensive. For instance, Youth Advocates Program asked one of its employees, who is also a yoga teacher, to offer online classes for staff members. It also has a weekly wellness group that just finished a walking competition. Luma Mufleh, head of Fugees Family, a nonprofit that helps refugees, sent staff members small gifts like ice cream and pizza. “One person actually broke down crying,” she recalls, saying “I’m usually the one packing up gifts or stuff for people.” Says Mufleh: “This is the first time in 15 years that someone did it for her.”

Here’s What Else You Need to Know

The new $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law will help millions of people who regularly rely on nonprofits to fill basic needs, while also expanding direct support for nonprofits. The measure President Biden signed on Thursday provides $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans, extends emergency unemployment benefits, and provides significant dollars for food and shelter programs. It also expands a key loan program for nonprofits and boosts AmeriCorps funding by $1 billion over three years. Those extra AmeriCorps dollars mean more people will be available to provide pandemic relief. What’s more, stipends for participants will be increased so more people from low-income families will find it easier to participate, says AnnMaura Connolly, head of Voices for National Service, an advocacy group.

Jeff Bezos’s $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund named its first president as it prepares to spend its assets by the end of the decade. Bezos tapped Andrew Steer, CEO of the environmental think tank World Resources Institute, to lead the Earth Fund. Environmental advocates say they hope an establishment pick like Steer will bring a big dose of strategic vision and more transparency to an organization that badly needs both. Steer said on Twitter that the Earth Fund will focus on social justice, as climate change disproportionately hurts poor and marginalized communities.”

Nonprofits hoping to tap into the growing ranks of donors from diverse backgrounds must look first at the diversity of their own staffs. Raj Asava, a Texas philanthropist from India who, along with his wife, Anna, works to encourage giving by other Indian Americans, told our colleague Lisa Schohl that he might make a first gift to a cause he believes in even if it lacks diversity, but if he doesn’t see more diversity among its leaders over time, he stops giving. Lisa interviewed many other donors, fundraisers, and experts to offer more advice for nonprofits seeking to expand their pool of donors.

Plus, Armando Enrique Zumaya, who helped found Somos El Poder!, a Latinx fundraising institute, urges organizations to invest dollars and talent on efforts to expand fundraising beyond mostly straight, white men.

As you get ready for the week ahead, sign up now so you can join Thursday’s webinar, featuring two fundraising leaders who fought for larger budgets and oversaw major growth in contributions — one at a small nonprofit and the other at a big institution. They’ll argue that now is the moment to make such investments so organizations are ready to seize fundraising opportunities as the economy rebounds.

And as you reflect on the changes that have happened in the past year of pandemic lockdowns, several of us at the Chronicle shared our own thoughts about what has kept us inspired in the past year. Everyone on our staff continues to feel tremendous gratitude and awe for what you have accomplished in these trying times. We’ll do all we can to keep helping you and your organization stay strong.

Stacy Palmer and Dan Parks

More News, Advice, and Opinion
Here’s what else you’ll want to read as you catch up this weekend:

What We’re Reading Elsewhere

Here are some of the articles that attracted our attention in the past week. We provide these summaries every day in our free Philanthropy Today newsletter. (Sign up now)

Goldman Sachs says it will invest $10 billion and donate another $100 million over the next decade toward improving the lives of black women. The effort, called One Million Black Women, will focus on areas such as access to capital, job creation, financial health, and work-force advancement. (CNBC)

Proposals for a new type of public-works corps, possibly patterned after the Civilian Conservation Corps, are proliferating in Washington. President Biden’s executive order on climate change directs cabinet secretaries to plan for a Civilian Climate Corps, while members of Congress are filing bills to create their versions of the program. Goals include patching up the country’s threadbare infrastructure, creating a new green-energy infrastructure, and putting some of the millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Projects would focus on both urban and rural communities, and some proposals even have the backing of Republican lawmakers. (New Yorker)

Doctors at a Philadelphia medical center are objecting to a new fundraising effort that ties some bonuses to patient-donor referrals. Among the factors that go into calculating department chairs’ bonuses at Jefferson Health is now how many potential donors among their departments’ patients they refer to the development office. In addition, last year the system launched a way for physicians to flag the electronic records of patients who could be supporters. A Johns Hopkins bioethicist said mixing fundraising and patient care could damage the doctor-patient relationship. A hospital spokesman said, “It’s important to note that these discussions are always initiated by the patient.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

A nonprofit that claims to rescue trafficked children is actually a bungling organization that has duped its supporters and the media, according to a Vice investigation. Operation Underground Railroad, which raised more than $21 million in 2019, tells donors tales of derring-do in faraway places, but insiders say it uses shaky sourcing and makes tactical mistakes that camouflage its missions. The nonprofit says it recruits former members of law enforcement and elite military units, but critics say its operations lack the discipline and planning of such organizations, including a lack of meaningful surveillance and verifying that its beneficiaries have actually been trafficked. The group is under investigation, reportedly for misleading fundraising appeals, by the attorney general of the county in Utah where it is based. Operation Underground Railroad said it strives to comply with all laws governing nonprofits and that it is transparent about how it uses donor money. (Vice)

New York Times columnist David Brooks has resigned from the nonprofit Aspen Institute over concerns that his position there posed a conflict of interest. Editors at the newspaper said they had agreed to Brooks’s involvement with the institute but did not know that he received a salary from it. Brooks oversaw Aspen’s community-building Weave project, which received money from Facebook, the father of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, corporations, and other wealthy donors. The columnist has recommended that in the isolation of the pandemic, people join the Nextdoor social-media site, which has donated money to support Aspen Institute events. Brooks said he and the institute have behaved with full transparency. (Buzzfeed News)

Plus: See a Chronicle article about the founding of Weave.

New Grant Opportunities

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

  • Technology. The Citi Foundation supports nonprofits that provide direct technical assistance to small businesses owned by people of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the unprecedented health, social, and economic events of 2020. Grantees will receive up to $500,000 in unrestricted support. Applying organizations must have a current portfolio of small-business clients in South Dakota, Puerto Rico, or Washington, D.C., or in certain counties in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Texas, or Virginia. The application deadline is April 12.
  • Recycling. The Can’d Aid Crush It Crusade supplies grants to help get community recycling programs off the ground. Crush It Crusade grants provide recycling bins, training in how to launch and manage a recycling program, and seed funding, typically $5,000 to $7,000. Seed funding can be used for staff and volunteer training as well as various supplies needed to get a recycling program started. Applications may be submitted at any time.
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.
Dan joined the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2014. He previously was managing editor of Bloomberg Government. He also worked as a reporter and editor at Congressional Quarterly.