Early morning light hits the smoke and wreckage of the World Trade Center September 13, 2001, in New York City, two days after the twin towers were destroyed when hit by two hijacked passenger jets.

Good morning.

On this somber day, two decades after thousands of lives were lost in terrorist attacks, all of us at the Chronicle are thinking back to what this moment meant for us and for philanthropy. From our Washington offices, we saw flames and smoke from the plane that flew into the Pentagon just moments after we were absorbing the shock from the scenes at the World Trade Center. Many of us scurried home quickly for safety while we pondered how to cover what the unfolding tragedy meant for the nonprofit world.

What was most notable was how quickly Americans channeled their grief and fears into charitable giving and volunteering.

Many nonprofits sprouted to respond to the tragedy. Among them: Tuesday’s Children, which was created to help youngsters who lost a parent in the attacks. Nicole Wallace checked in with the organization in recent days and learned that because of the unusual expertise it has developed in helping children recover from horrific tragedies, Tuesday’s Children is now working with communities scarred by school shootings and other episodes of violence.


The bigger mark that 9/11 made for all nonprofits was that it ushered in a new era of online fundraising, when hours after the attacks, Amazon turned its website into a donation platform for the American Red Cross, notes Gregory R. Witkowski, a scholar at Columbia University, in a new essay.

“Powerless in the face of devastation, giving provided people with a way to act — and now they had a quick and efficient way to do it,” notes Witkowski.

Just as 9/11 helped change how we give, Covid probably will provide another generational shift, he says.

Eden Stiffman explores one aspect of the likely changes in her new cover story for our September issue: the popularity of person-to-person giving that bypasses nonprofits.

One statistic she found shows why the trend is likely to stay with us — and probably accelerate: Three in four people in their 20s and early 30s say they prefer to give directly to individuals instead of supporting nonprofits, according to a recent survey.

While nobody knows for sure how the interest in direct giving is affecting traditional charitable donations, it could explain in part the stunning decline in middle-class giving, as the share of households donating to charity hits a 20-year low.

But everyone Eden talked to agrees that it’s important for nonprofit executives to keep a careful eye on what is motivating generosity that occurs outside traditional charities. “By continuing to ignore it, the nonprofit sector becomes more and more isolated from the many choices people are making,” says Lucy Bernholz, a Stanford University scholar whose book How We Give Now will be published next month by MIT Press.


The new head of the Philanthropy Roundtable has been lifting the group’s public profile with blunt attacks on what she calls “woke” philanthropy.

Jim Rendon, with reporting help from Alex Daniels, reached out to nearly two dozen people and learned that some prominent grant makers, such as the Barr and Mott Foundations, as well as the Heinz Endowments, have quit the organization, in part because of Elise Westhoff’s direct attacks on Black foundation CEOs. But they also found that Westhoff has strong support in many quarters, and she says fundraising results show the organization’s approach is resonating — the roundtable raised $1 million more last year than it did in 2019.

As the pandemic has pushed nonprofit leaders to their limits, a newly expanded program will provide coaching and other help to nurture charity executives.

Alex Daniels reports on the newly independent effort called LeadersTrust that pairs charity CEOs with coaches who have organizational development expertise to give them a chance to “take a moment and sit back and think about the vision and strategy of their organization,” according to Sidney Hargro its new head. Through the program, nonprofit leaders also get grant money to bolster their organizations, whether by devising new strategies, developing communications plans, refining project management, or something else. The program got its start as an operating effort by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, but it spun out of the foundation when other grant makers were eager to spread the approach to their grantees.

A Giving Pledge member explains why she is pushing Congress to pass legislation to move money faster from donor-advised funds and foundations to working charities.

In an opinion essay. Melanie Lundquist decries the $140 billion sitting idle in DAFs and the $1 trillion in foundations’ bank accounts that could be helping charities deal every day with crushing problems. “The tax laws that govern foundations are antiquated, stretching back to the late 1960s,” she says, when the federal government covered most of society’s needs. As for DAFs, she says: “Once donors get a tax deduction for their charitable dollars, that money belongs to the public good, not Wall Street donor-advised funds.”

We hope you take time to recharge this weekend, but as you plan your calendar for next week, please plan to join Nicole for a panel with three nonprofit leaders who figured out how to meet pressing needs and help more people without spending more. Sign up now so you can join the learning session on Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Most of all, I hope this day of reflection and service reinforces how much people everywhere value the essential work you and your colleagues do every day.

Marilyn Dickey and Stacy Palmer

More News and Opinion


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced a new round of grants worth $203.7 million from his Earth Fund, primarily for groups working for climate justice. (Barron’s)

A handful of aid organizations in Afghanistan, some there before the U.S.-led occupation, have opted to keep working there but face a minefield of risks and complications. (New York Times)

Abortion-rights groups could see a swell in giving after the Supreme Court refused to block a new Texas law that prohibits abortion after six weeks. (MarketWatch and Daily Beast)

Alphonso David, the first Black leader of the Human Rights Campaign, has been fired over his role in helping his former boss Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual harassment allegations. (New York Times)


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