LindsayWuTsai0721_track athlete.jpeg

Good morning.

This was a week when a lot of donors took pains to show they were flipping the script on conventional approaches to giving.

Alex Daniels took us inside a $60 million grant-making effort by Blue Meridian Partners focused largely on helping nonprofits move quickly to close equity gaps as the nation recovers from the health and economic crises.

Blue Meridian’s approach is to help nonprofits test their ideas quickly without a lot of planning so they can move fast to discard what doesn’t work, borrowing heavily on guidance from Ann Mei Cheng, author of Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good.

“The old saying ‘Measure twice and cut once’ doesn’t actually work in the real world,” says Lizz Pawlson, a managing director at Blue Meridian, a collaboration of donors that have pooled billions of dollars to fight poverty. The context is always changing. The environment is changing. What you need to do is employ the scientific method and do short cycles of testing and learning.”

At Grameen America, which is using its Blue Meridian support to figure out how to provide startup loans to 80,000 Black female entrepreneurs by 2030, Alethia Mendez, a division president, says that most foundations don’t give money to test —– and leave little room to risk failure.

“Like many nonprofits, we want to be able to deliver on any types of investments that we have. And so you’re always looking to create the most perfect model — right now,” she says “Before we’ve actually tried something, we’ve run all of these design iterations in our heads.”

What’s also different about the approach at Blue Meridian: It adopted new ways to ensure its grantees had taken steps to make racial equity a core part of their work —– and to eliminate any internal biases at the philanthropy. Jim Shelton, a former official in the Obama administration and at the Gates Foundation who is now a top leader at Blue Meridian, said the work was designed to get far past just counting how many people of color worked at an organization or were served by it.

Education gets a new approach, too: Officials at Chan Zuckerberg, Gates, and Walton explain what’s behind a new $150 million grants program they announced this week to provide educators with something they now lack: the same kind of high-quality research and development that fuels advances in medicine, energy, and even the luxury goods markets. Their goal is to make sure teachers and others work closely with researchers to tackle learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students of all races in poverty.

Medical research also gets a new model: Clara Wu Tsai —— a business executive and co-owner of several professional sports franchises —– this week announced a 10-year, $220 million commitment to reverse-engineer health advances by studying humans at their peak — particularly elite athletes like those in Tokyo for the Olympics.

Normally donors put money into studies of individuals whose bodies are failing because of cancer, heart disease, or other illnesses, notes Drew Lindsay.

But as a co owner of several professional sports franchises, such as the Nets NBA team, Wu Tsai became interested in how the body trains for optimal performance, how it heals, and whether scientists from different fields could pool their knowledge to better predict injuries and speed rehabilitation. “Breakthroughs often happen when you put unlikely people together,” Wu Tsai told Drew.

Here’s what else you need to know:

For charities bracing for a drop-off in giving as the pandemic wanes, a new survey brings promising news. Fifty-three percent of people who made at least one donation to charity in the past two year said their giving in 2021 would keep pace with last year’s, and a fourth plan to give even more, reports my colleague Emily Haynes.

But fundraisers shouldn’t be complacent, Penelope Burk, the report’s author, told Emily. “Donors can’t sustain an emergency mentality for too long,” Burk said. Charities need to create new compelling reasons to give.

Burk is a veteran fundraising researcher who is now retiring, so Emily conducted two conversations to distill what she has learned. Among her observations: “Donors measure their self-worth through their philanthropy. They want to know they’re not just taking up room on this planet.” That means fundraisers “need to understand that and then help them feel good about themselves.”

However, she cautions, “good fundraising never gives into whims of a donor that are not within the strategy that the organization is fulfilling in the first place.”

A campaign to press grant makers to disclose their giving to groups working on racial equity and the climate crisis is gaining traction.

The Donors of Color Network, a group of donors that focuses on funding racial-equity efforts, has been asking climate grant makers to pledge to devote at least 30 percent of their climate grant making to such groups and to be transparent about their climate giving

On Thursday, three more groups announced their climate funding to such groups, reports Haleluya Hadero, who writes for the Associated Press, a Chronicle of Philanthropy partner. Of the top 40 grant makers contacted by the network, five grant makers have now released data from the past two years, four have signed the pledge, and five have declined to sign it.

Hewlett agreed to the transparency part of the pledge but not to a set percentage of giving to those groups. Said Hewlett’s president, Larry Kramer: “We don’t think there are magic numbers. We prefer to do our grant making, be transparent about it, and always be working to improve.”

Nonprofits and grant makers are facing what some call a “trust crisis.” Americans’ faith in charities slipped over the past year as nonprofits wrestled with multiple crises, but trust in grant makers and individual donors slumped considerably, notes my colleague Drew Lindsay who reports on a new study by Independent Sector. Democrats, urban dwellers, and wealthy Americans put more stock in charities than other people do, the survey found.

Nearly three-fourths of nonprofits that received money from MacKenzie Scott have not disclosed how much she gave them, according to an exclusive Chronicle analysis. When Scott gave $8.5 billion to nearly 800 nonprofits starting last summer, she left it up to the recipients whether to disclose the amount they received. More than 200 have released that information publicly or in response to requests from the Chronicle, and my colleague Maria Di Mento has pored over the numbers and come up with an analysis of where the money has gone.

The biggest slice of the pie — $1.5 billion — went to 62 colleges and universities, and two historically black colleges and universities were the biggest winners.

Lenkowsky-072021_IntheHeights_2021_03.jpg

This weekend might be a good time to watch the new Lin-Manuel Miranda movie In the Heights (above). The musical has an important message for people in philanthropy, says our columnist Leslie Lenkowsky, as does the recent giving by the Miranda family to eight groups focused on immigrants.

Donors, he says, might want to “consider following the example set by the Mirandas and directing some of their support to programs that help immigrants join the middle class. Indeed, the obstacles to better policies might become more manageable if recent immigrants were more widely seen as the group of strivers In the Heights portrays — even if they can’t belt out a Broadway show tune.”

We hope this weekend brings plenty of time for humming musical wonders, watching movies or the Olympics, or doing whatever gives you joy — and reading about what’s new and what’s next in the nonprofit world.

Marilyn Dickey and Stacy Palmer

Here’s what else you’ll want to read

What We’re Reading Elsewhere

After a quick jaunt into space, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos gave $100 million each to CNN contributor Van Jones and philanthropist-chef José Andrés.” (CNN)

A decision by the MacArthur Foundation to stop funding arms-control think tanks and nonprofits in the next few years has thrown some of its beneficiaries into an existential crisis. (Politico)

Though tensions were building before the pandemic, last year’s massive layoffs fueled a drive among museum staff to unionize. (Boston Globe)

The Ford and Andrew W. Mellon foundations are extending a program to support artists with disabilities beyond its planned 18 months and its initial support for 20 artists. (New York Times)

Historically Black colleges and universities are making headlines for wooing top talent and raking in major donations, but many smaller Black colleges are struggling (New York Times)

Opinion: Philanthropy Roundtable President Elise Westhoff argues that charitable giving is increasingly directed toward progressive causes, regardless of the wishes of donors, and that the left seeks to police philanthropy in a way that could cripple it. (Wall Street Journal — subscription)

A major donor is suing the University of Colorado Foundation, arguing that it has forfeited about $1 billion over the past decade due to poor money management. (Denver Post)

New Grant Opportunities

Your Chronicle subscription includes free access to GrantStation’s database of grant opportunities. GrantStation is on hiatus, but we’ll share the latest listings when it returns.

Disabilities. The Disability Inclusion Fund, administered by Borealis Philanthropy, supports organizations run by and for people with disabilities to lead transformational change. Priority is given to groups led by people of color, people who are queer or gender nonconforming, and women. The focus is on work that engages with other social movements and works across issues, including racial justice, climate change, immigrant rights, labor rights, racial justice, and so forth. Organizations or projects that provide direct services are eligible only if they also engage in community organizing, advocacy, or policy work. General operating and program grants range from $40,000 to $100,000. Nonprofits, fiscally sponsored organizations, and for-profit organizations with charitable programs are eligible to apply. The application deadline is August 13.

Arts. The Wallace Foundation is launching a five-year, $53 million effort to help arts organizations of color use their experience and histories of community orientation to increase their resilience while sustaining their relevance. Grants will initially go to 10 to 12 organizations, which will receive $2 million to $3 million over five years. Eligible groups must have been in operation for at least 10 years, have an annual budget $500,000 to $5 million, and focus primarily on engaging the public with the arts. The deadline for expressions of interest is August 13.