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From: Stacy Palmer

Subject: Takeaways From the Pandemic, Future of Grant Making, Nonprofit Financial Outlook


Good Morning.

It’s time for grant makers to do another reset, three of the most prominent philanthropy leaders in the nation declared in the Chronicle this week.

This week marked the first anniversary of one of the most stunning moments in philanthropy, when grant makers joined forces to pledge to provide greater flexibility, general operating support, and other aid to help nonprofits get through the worst of the unfolding health and economic crises. Over the past year, as the gravity of the pandemic and other threats became clearer, more than 800 foundations signed the pledge.

The anniversary prompted Tonya Allen, Kathleen Enright, and Hilary Pennington to take to our pages to suggest that a stronger commitment is needed now — and to outline what foundations need to do in 2021 and beyond.  Most important, they said, was to add an explicit commitment “to addressing anti-Black racism and elevating the leadership of people of color.”

“Too often, philanthropy lacks the accountability structures necessary to prompt growth and change, “ they wrote. “But critiques of concentrated wealth and power are growing into a loud crescendo — and Congress is listening. Let’s use this moment of converging crises to impose excellence upon ourselves for the long-term benefit of philanthropy, our own institutions, nonprofits, and the communities that need us more than ever.”

We wanted to know more about what foundations did this year — and what comes next — so Alex Daniels and Michael Theis have been spending the past few weeks seeking details from the nation’s 10 wealthiest foundations. None of the foundations except Kellogg would commit to an increase in giving in 2021, and Ford and Kellogg were the only ones that firmly promised continued flexibility, but others are considering permanent changes.

At Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for instance, grant making increased $100 million last year, with the bulk providing much-needed funds to community-organizing groups. The foundation dropped many of its reporting requirements and, except for grants to colleges and universities, has increased the amount grantees can use for overhead from 12 percent to 20 percent.

The foundation considered an even bigger bump in grants but decided $100 million struck a balance between the enormous needs of the nonprofits it supports and the ability both of nonprofit workers and the foundation’s own staff to make a difference, says Julie Morita, executive vice president at Robert Wood Johnson.

“We could throw a bunch of money out the door, but if it’s not strategic, then what difference does it make?” she told Alex and Michael. “Because it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars that have been mobilized by the federal government.”

Here’s What Else You Need to Know

Five economic indicators that are most valuable to forecasting the nonprofit financial outlook are mostly positive, Dan Parks learned after talking to numerous experts. The most important measure is the gross domestic product. The annualized rate topped 4 percent at the end of last year — a strong rate of growth historically — and many economists expect it to easily eclipse that mark this year.

Donations and pledges to Asian American and Pacific Islander groups have spiked since last month’s shooting in Atlanta that killed six women of Asian descent, reports Haleluya Hadero, who writes about philanthropy for the Associated Press, a Chronicle partner. About $25.8 million has been pledged in the aftermath of the shooting, a little less than half of the total pledged in all of 2020, according to a preliminary analysis by the philanthropy research group Candid. “Our challenge, not only in fundraising but across our programmatic work, is to keep interest in our cause high,” Sung Yeo Choimorrow, of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, told Haleluya. “This is the first time Asian American and Pacific Islander women are being heard, and we don’t want to relinquish that megaphone.”

Philanthropy needs to get up to speed on artificial intelligence and act to ensure that it benefits the social good. That was the key conclusion of 20 senior philanthropic leaders at a World Economic Forum gathering that led to the launch of a new Global AI Action Alliance — a coalition of philanthropic and technology leaders. Among the questions foundations need to grapple with, write Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, and Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of A.I. and machine learning at the World Economic Forum. “Who should control the creation and use of these tools? Are we comfortable handing a small group of technologists the keys to our social and economic development engine? And what role should philanthropy play in protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring that A.I. benefits the greater good?

What was also notable this week on our site were the number of letters about our recent stories on topics like vaping, philanthropy regulation, and fighting racism. I hope you’ll see what readers had to say and drop us a line if our pieces provoke new ideas worth sharing.

And I hope you have a peaceful weekend.

Stacy Palmer

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.)

Minnesota's Bush Foundation will invest $100 million in efforts to close the wealth gap between whites, on the one hand, and Black people and Native Americans, on the other. By making grants so people can start a business, buy a home, or attend college, the foundation hopes to build wealth in communities living with the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and land confiscation. On average, the net worth of Blacks and Native Americans amounts to pennies on the dollar of the net worth of white people. The foundation is looking for organizations to distribute the grants, which will go to people in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and 23 Native nations. It is committing another $50 million to a broader range of racial or minority groups to address systemic issues that feed the wealth gap. (Pioneer Press)

Food banks, which have faced the Herculean task of feeding the surge of people in need during the pandemic, warn the hunger crisis will persist longer than the scourge of Covid. Amid challenging new safety protocols and logistical complications, food banks handed out about 50 percent more food in 2020 than in 2019. Feeding America's 200 food banks gave away 6.1 billion pounds of food from April through December last year, compared with 4 billion in the same period in 2019. Along with sending food, many food banks made grants to smaller distributors, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, for new refrigerators and the resulting higher utility bills, for example. The Greater Chicago Food Depository kept its network of 700 sites running this way, but the organization's director worries that donors will drift away once the immediate crisis seems to have passed. (New York Times)

Forty percent of American voters think billionaire philanthropists are doing more good than harm. That’s the key finding from a new Vox poll released today. “But at the same time, when asked if the better solution to inequality is more philanthropy or higher taxes, 52 percent chose taxes and only 38 percent favored charity,” Vox noted. The positive feelings about big philanthropists vary. Bill Gates has 55 percent approval while Mark Zuckerberg has 31 percent approval, the poll found. Part of that appears to be the role Gates played in public health while Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan drew more headlines for their donations to secure American elections. (Vox)

The federal and local governments have started leaning hard on nonprofits to help deal with a surge of migrants heading into the country from the southern border. Amid the pandemic, officials need places for a record number of unaccompanied children and a growing wave of families. The federal government is giving $110 million to nonprofits for Covid-19 testing for migrants, even as some migrants sleep under a bridge while shelters are trying to expand their space and officials plan for their transport elsewhere in the United States. In McAllen, Tex., Catholic Charities runs a testing site, rents hotel rooms for those who need to be quarantined, and offers a rest stop for migrant families across from the bus station. In San Diego, Calif., a shelter run by the Jewish Family Service has received more than 2,000 people this month, more than four times as many as stayed there in February. (Wall Street Journal — subscription — and San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Biden administration has recruited scores of community groups for its efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The 275 organizations, chosen mostly for their expertise or their access to groups with lagging vaccination rates, include Planned Parenthood, the American Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and groups working with veterans and Blacks, Latinos, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders. (HuffPost)

New Grant Opportunities

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

Landscape conservation. The Network for Landscape Conservation supports efforts to advance Indigenous leadership in landscape conservation. One- or two-year grants of $10,000 to $25,000 will be provided. The proposal deadline is April 23.

Pet shelters. The Meacham Foundation Memorial Grant program, administered by American Humane, provides support for shelter expansion or improvement. Grants must be used to increase or improve the quality of care given to animals. Examples of supported projects include animal environment enrichment, equipment for veterinary care or for spay or neuter procedures, kennel or cattery renovation, capital campaigns, and equipment that improves the welfare of animals in the shelter. Grants range up to $4,000. The application deadline is April 30.

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, 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.