Youth Are Creating Change in Philanthropy

With the holidays in full swing, and Giving Tuesday follow-ups and year-end appeals piling up, it’s clear that the giving season is upon us. Yet, as a mom, I can’t help but worry that kids get a very different message and start to think of it instead as “getting season.” From suggesting gift ideas to parents, extended family, Santa, as well as Día de los Tres Reyes Magos in our family, the giving can sometimes get lost in all the excitement about getting.

While both my kids are socially conscious—they’ve been involved with some organized giving efforts with homeless services and animal welfare organizations—I’m always looking for ways to make sure giving is on their minds. This reminded me of Candid’s, a site that highlights the growing movement in philanthropy designed to nurture our next generation of philanthropists.

The platform includes helpful information for youth, parents, and practitioners alike. Parents like me who are looking for ways to engage their kids in giving will find the ability to explore ongoing youth programs most interesting. You can search for programs by geography, age served, and program type, making it easy to find local programs in which kids can flex their giving muscles. (If you know of a program and it’s not represented here, please let us know and we’ll add it to our growing list.)

Youth and parents can also explore Causes: Youth in Action, which highlight some of the leading program interests for youth philanthropists. Environment, immigration, and mental health represent program priorities for which Candid was able to identify robust youth-led involvement. Each of these issue areas has a dedicated page with key stats about giving to that issue, youth-led organizations that are most engaged in the cause, a road-map for steps to action, and peer advice. Each page serves as an excellent starting point for young donors to think about giving to make a difference. My 14-year-old son also enjoyed poking around the Funding Map to see the full landscape of issues and causes youth are supporting.

The entire platform serves to give young people a real sense of hope and possibility to be part of leading the change instead of just the subject of change. Young people are at the forefront of so much change in today’s world and empowering youth to engage in giving with their communities is helping to diversify and strengthen our field. I am excited to learn more about how the field benefits from youth philanthropy and how philanthropy can invest in building young people’s power.
With that, I wish you and yours a healthy and happy holiday season filled with the promise of hope and possibility!

This letter originally appeared in GrantCraft's newsletter. To stay updated with our newsletter and special alerts, sign up here.

New Scholarship Tool Maps the Landscape of Change

Providing funding for academic scholarships is often the most likely entry point for new philanthropists, and also very popular among small and family foundations. Large international foundations are also significant funders, alongside individual philanthropists, universities, and governments. Collectively, annual expenditures of academic scholarships in the U.S. totaled $2.2 billion (Candid’s 2017 foundation figures).

Perhaps you know someone who benefitted from an academic scholarship, or perhaps you were a deserving recipient yourself. Yet beyond the individual recipients, have you stopped to consider why scholarships are such an enduring staple of most donor’s philanthropic portfolios? Many of us believe in the transformative power of education, realizing that a scholarship will not only increase access to educational opportunities, but that the education may transform the individual, their families, their communities, and their society.

The United Nations agrees with these ideas. In 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals as a global plan of action for economic, social, and environmental improvement worldwide. As part of this ambitious agenda, higher education scholarships were mentioned as a tool to “substantially increase” by 2020, with special focus on the least developed countries and the science and technology fields.

I research international scholarship programs, with a particular focus on the influence of scholarships on social and economic development across systems, countries, and regions. My focus is on the ways that individuals influence societies. Yet in my research and consulting work, I am often asked questions about the programs themselves: How many programs exist? Where is the gap in funding? Aren’t all scholarships the same?

These kinds of questions just became much easier to answer, with the recent launch of the Scholarships for Change portal. Created by Candid, this resource is designed to help donors increase the impact of scholarship giving. The portal is incredibly comprehensive, including over 680,000 grants that result in countless more scholarship opportunities. Moreover, the site provides funding trends data, an interactive grants map, case studies from leading programs, and a curated knowledge center. Since its launch, I have already recommended the portal widely to those who are both looking for a broader view of grantmaking and deeper insight into the more plaguing questions in the field. It is also a valuable resource to scholarship seekers, who have access to insights and strategies from the donors themselves.

There are two aspects of the portal that I appreciate most. First, the funding map! The interactive map allows you to set criteria and search for grants by recipient profiles, funder profiles, specific geography served, or geographic area covered by the award. Even more exciting, you can search based on the “desired change” or outcome desired by the funder, allowing you to see who else is trying to achieve similar goals in the same place.

Based on my research, this aspect could be a real gamechanger. In 2019, Dr. Aryn Baxter at the University of Idaho and I published a study that showed that scholarship alumni associations that existed for 10 or more years shifted into social change organizations. In short, their main focus was on the social or community changes rather than individual recipients, and they had either partnered with other alumni associations or opened their membership to non-alumni to work together to reach these social change goals in their home countries. While the Scholarships for Change portal was not created to build a network for social change among alumni associations, the idea of mapping funders which have similar goals can surely lead to interesting and exciting collaborations and put the goal at the center of the conversation.

Second, the portal has a rich library of materials which include academic books and articles, program evaluations, videos, case studies, and think pieces. I am proud to see some of my own research there, alongside a case study of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and the Ford Foundation’s IFP alumni tracking study reports. To have access to these myriad resources is truly a treasure chest from which scholarship funders—big and small—can benefit.

As a researcher, I have partnered with others who administer, evaluate, and research scholarship programs worldwide to share academic literature and program evaluations through the Scholarship Program Research Network. We were happy to share our list of materials with this portal to bring greater attention and to share the lessons learned across time and organizations in this accessible, free platform.

One final note: Dr. Mirka Martel at The Institute of International Education, Dr. Aryn Baxter, and I started the Scholarship Program Research Network in 2017 (more information here) because as researchers of international scholarships, it was difficult to find materials; many funders do not publicly share their evaluations. I encourage any funders reading this post to consider submitting their materials to the site, so we—funders, administrators, evaluators, and scholars—can learn from each other and continue to improve these programs for future recipients.

Invitation Only: Closing the Door to Equity?

After more than 20 years of grantmaking in Los Angeles County, you’d think our staff at the Durfee Foundation would know all of the eligible nonprofits in our region. But we don’t.

Not long ago, for example, we got a grant request from a car mechanic who had opened his garage to foster youth in the high desert, a couple of hours north of us. Aaron Valencia, founder of Lost Angels Children’s Project, is now among the most innovative and talented leaders in our grant portfolio. But we would never have met him, had we employed an invitation-only application process.  The lesson to those of us in philanthropy: you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Every time Durfee opens an application cycle, we meet eligible nonprofits that we’ve never heard of before.  It hardly seems possible, but it happens, every time. Even with our lean staffing, we think it’s increasingly important to keep the door open, so let me share with you why and how we do it.

As a generalist funder, our grantmaking lens is as wide and diverse as Los Angeles. These circumstances might explain why it would be hard for us to craft a list of ideal grantee partners. But even if we could, we would still prefer the open application process.

No matter how much time we spend on the ground, in the community, we can’t possibly keep up with the goings-on of all worthy, high-performing nonprofits. Plus, we’ve heard from so many of them how much they appreciate the opportunity to put themselves forward, and to state their case directly to us. Nonprofit leaders are active change-makers, and they seek agency over their future.

We also hear rueful complaints by leaders who are frustrated by their inability to get in the line of vision of funders whose mission seems to align with their own.  We field a lot of “do you know anyone there?” calls.

Which makes us wonder—what if we looked at the grantmaking process through an equity lens?

At a time when our field is focused on equity and inclusion, an invitation-only application process seems counter-intuitive. Or worse, it can project autocracy, instead of partnership—a sort of opaque “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Imagine what it would feel like to stand at the door of a windowless, locked building to which you seek entry, with no bell to ring.  And yet, that’s very often how foundations present to would-be grantseekers. Why?

I recognize that sometimes, invitation-only makes sense.  A place or issue-based initiative, with a specific goal and time horizon, might best succeed in a sustained, collaborative model with a set of close, expert partners.  Or, grantmakers in spend-down mode might choose to bring their work to a close in a deliberate fashion with a select few longstanding colleagues. It can streamline limited resources, reduce the demand on nonprofit leaders’ time while increasing their odds of being funded, and reduce the time foundation staff invest in application review.

While all of this seems great for the nonprofits who find themselves in a funder’s favor, what about those who fall outside their line of vision?

What Do Nonprofit Leaders Say?

The opinions above are my own, and I’m a grantmaker. Knowing that we alone shouldn’t be the ones to decide about our process, the Durfee Foundation sent a survey to approximately 100 nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles to ask their opinion on the matter. The leaders surveyed are recipients of the Durfee Sabbatical Award and are arguably among the strongest nonprofit sector leaders in our region.

We asked two questions:

  1. Do you prefer foundation application processes that are open, or invitation only?; and
  2. Do you think “invitation only” processes help or hinder the work of your organization?—and, in both cases, why?

The results were mixed and thoughtful. Overall, 78% prefer open processes, an overwhelming majority.  Not surprisingly, those who tilt in favor of invitation-only represent larger organizations, but even they recognized the challenge of achieving a spot in the inner circle. Almost all acknowledge the dilemma of a Hobson’s choice – invitation-only is always preferable if you are offered an invitation.

“If I’m in,” said one leader, “of course I prefer the invitation-only application because it increases my odds of getting the grants. But if/when I find myself in need of finding new foundations to fund our work, it seems the likely ones are invitation-only, so I’m stuck.”

Other leaders expressed appreciation for the satisfaction they feel when they work in partnership with funders.  “When we are on the ‘inside,’ it’s of course great! The collaboration with a funder is very rewarding.”

Those circling closed shops while looking for entry were incisive and blunt.

“Invitation-only applications further the funder as an all-powerful source,” said one leader. “They exclude small community-based organizations who are doing great work, but don’t have access to the privileged circles big funders run in. My organizations have been in the select group for some of the biggest foundations. It takes years of relationship-building, and the skill and ability to spend time doing that. Often those most impacted by the issues being funded do not have the time or ability to spend in that way. It’s an equity issue.”

“The open process speaks to me about the receptivity of the foundation," said another. “It tells me the foundation doesn’t think they know about everything that’s going on that might be mission-aligned.”

“Invite-only foundations can perpetuate income/gender/racial inequity in the same way as invite-only clubs,” said a third.

In addition to posing a challenge regarding equal access, some see invitation-only as limiting to experimentation: “Invitation-only, it seems, reduces the ability of the nonprofit organization to innovate and move in a new direction. If, say, our board has decided through strategic planning that we need to engage in green infrastructure when we are known for habitat restoration, how can we telegraph that to a funder that funds in this new area?”

So What’s a Funder to Do? Advice on a Hybrid Approach

The survey results yielded lots of practical suggestions, with nuanced perspective.

“More hybrid approaches are needed,” said one leader.  “Open processes should still be focused and targeted. Before applying, I want to know if my organization’s work is a fit for the foundation.  For those that are invitation-only, I would like to see more mechanisms for opening their processes, like polling current grantees for younger, smaller, newer organizations that deserve a ‘look.’ Another idea might be for grantseekers to have an exploratory interaction with the foundation, like an ‘office hour,’ a ‘meet and greet’ or a systematic process by which foundation officers actively seek out new groups to add to their portfolio.”

“I believe that an open process is perceived by the field as being more equitable," said another, “however, I don’t think this is necessarily true. The ways in which the open applications are vetted is where real equity happens or doesn’t. Who’s making the decision? What are the guidelines? These are the real questions when it comes to equity.”

So, my fellow funders, let’s start there—with these simple and complex suggestions that emerged.

Write Clear Guidelines. This may be the most challenging, but essential practice of them all. Clear guidelines may enable a foundation to shift from invitation-only to open application, without opening the floodgates to impossible numbers of applications. Vague or imprecise guidelines generate vast numbers of unsuccessful applications, and waste valuable time for both grantseekers and reviewers. Clear guidelines help nonprofits take agency in determining whether they are a fit for a grant opportunity or not.

Invite a Letter of Interest. Even if your foundation prefers to work with nonprofit partners by invitation only, offer a letter of interest option or an online platform for nonprofits to introduce themselves, and to get in your line of vision.  Acknowledge that you have received the communication, and let them know what you will do with the information.

Explain Your Selection Process. If you are invitation-only, take the time to explain why. Whether you are open or by-invitation, let grantseekers know how decisions are made, by whom, by what timeline. If there are set opportunities to invite newcomers and expand your portfolio, share when and how.

Durfee uses a peer review process for most of its programs. We’ve found this an excellent way to expand the expertise of our small, generalist staff, and to offer some transparency to our process. Our peer panelists, usually alums of our award programs, bring deep community knowledge to our decision making, and subsequently serve as ambassadors in the field, clarifying and demystifying the foundation’s process to their peers.

Be Available by Phone. In our digital age, this practice might seem old-fashioned, but we’ve found it’s incredibly valuable at Durfee for building relationships. One compassionate, articulate staff person on the phone can right-size an applicant pool by helping applicants determine if they’re a fit. When they’re not, we find we can often point them in helpful directions, offer feedback, and provide a heartfelt thanks for the organization’s work. This really can go a long distance. Regardless of the outcome, the cost of this simple strategy yields dividends in goodwill.

List Board and Staff. All grantseekers deserve to know who has decision-making authority at foundations, which are, after all, tax-exempt public entities. It’s reasonable for nonprofit leaders to consider who’s in the room before investing time in an application, so board and staff should always be listed on a foundation’s website or in print materials.

Acknowledge Funder Fragility. Let’s face it, it’s a real thing. Whatever prompts funder fragility—uneasy power dynamics, concern about being overwhelmed by requests, disinclination to express rejection, deference to our boards, fear of criticism—we often work behind a buffer that separates us from the sector we serve. Most of our decision-making takes place behind closed doors, out of public view.

For those who truly seek anonymity in their grantmaking, a donor-advised fund might be a more appropriate giving vehicle than a foundation.  Indeed, a more honorable one. If you choose to hang out a shingle—if you seek and are awarded IRS status as a private foundation—you owe it to the public to make your grantmaking process reasonably accessible and transparent. That’s also one of the reasons that Durfee was an early adopter to participate in Candid’s GlassPockets transparency initiative to encourage greater openness in philanthropy. We hope our profile there signals our ongoing commitment to working in a trusted and transparent manner.

Build Trust. According to Southern California Grantmakers, only about 30% of its members currently offer an open, accessible application process. Let’s collectively inch that number higher!

I’m hopeful that we are trending in that direction. The recently-launched Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, a national initiative spearheaded by the Whitman Institute, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Headwaters Foundation, seeks to rebalance power in philanthropy by promoting trust-based relationships between nonprofits and foundations. Being responsive, streamlining paperwork and seeking and acting on feedback from nonprofits are among the pillars of best practice that they recommend. Other important endeavors, like California’s Full Cost Project and LA’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, prize clarity and candor in nonprofit and funder exchange, and strive to put more strategic decision making in the hands of nonprofit leaders.

It takes two to tango, as they say. But a trusting relationship between nonprofits and funders shouldn’t begin on the dance floor, after funders have chosen their dance partners. It needs to begin much earlier, as they explore shared interests and skills.

And access to the dance floor? The building that houses it needs windows, and a front door with a bell that rings. Or better yet, an open door to a standing invitation.

Case Studies Reveal How Donors are Changing the World One Scholar at a Time An Interview with Author, Jane L. Polin

Scholarships for Change is a new, open-access website created by Candid that explores how donors are using scholarships as a force to accelerate the broader change they hope to see in the world. Though all scholarships can change lives, some scholarships are also designed to improve institutions, communities, economies, industries and even whole regions. Scholarships for Change pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are achieving such change and guides funders in the practice of scholarship grantmaking.

Jane L. Polin authored a series of 12 new GrantCraft case studies for Scholarships for Change, spotlighting established programs with an impressive record of change.  She brings nearly four decades of innovative leadership experience within the nonprofit and private sectors in high-impact investment of philanthropic resources. Now serving as a philanthropic advisor, principally in the fields of the arts, education, and workforce development, she has completed complex assignments for a diverse set of national clients, including field-building initiatives, such as Funding Futures: Scholarships as Agents of Social Change (2016) for The Ford Foundation; Transforming Arts Teaching: The Role of Higher Education (2007) for the Dana Foundation; and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, an award-winning funder collaborative launched in 2007.

In this interview, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Candid, discusses Jane’s insights and reflections about the new Scholarships for Change case study series.

Janet Camarena: Jane, you’ve devoted much of your career to helping donors think through the impact they want to make with their education dollars. Are there any trends you’ve noticed in the field of funding greater access to higher education and how did those trends surface in the case studies?

Jane L. Polin: Yes, several trends can be observed in these case studies.  First, the traditional emphasis on college access has been replaced by a commitment to completion.  Too many students begin college, and do not obtain their degrees. Only 58% of U.S. college students complete their post-secondary degrees within six years. Second, high-need students require much more than financial aid to cover tuition expenses; recognition is growing that they require comprehensive assistance. Third, institutions are changing their practices and policies to better support scholarship students, but a more widespread use of proven practices is still needed. That’s why illuminating real innovations, such as the emergency grant program advanced by Ascendium Education Group, is so important. Fourth, the core issues and needs are global in nature. That’s why the Mastercard Foundation is facing many of the same concerns in African nations as the Kauffman Foundation has encountered in the greater Kansas City region. Making such connections between programs and sharing approaches across geographies are both of immense value to the field. Fifth, in speaking with the program leaders, I found an eagerness to learn from the experiences of others. That’s indicative of a healthy trend to learn from those with experience, a track record of change, and a willingness to share lessons learned.

JC: Since new donors often enter philanthropy by making a scholarship award, what do the case studies have to offer about the best way for these donors to begin to think about the impact they want to make?

JLP: Engaging in a learning process is essential. To begin, I would suggest donors to spend time considering their responses to the 12 questions posed in the Donor Resource Guide we developed for Funding Futures:  Scholarships as Agents of Social Change. The first three questions address donor aspirations: What is your goal? How will you define success? How will you measure progress toward success? These simple but not easy questions demand thoughtful deliberation.

I would then urge donors to explore the Scholarships for Change case studies; they will find both ideas and inspiration. Over 12 weeks or months, they can discuss: What are the key lessons we see here? What are the implications for what we want to do? Do we want to pursue our own program purpose, or perhaps join an established one, such as TheDream.US that’s working to support degree attainment for students with DACA status, or further increase achievement for students of color with The Jackie Robinson Foundation?

Allowing sufficient time for learning, planning, and relationship-building is necessary for success. As the case studies reveal, the donors both “learned by doing” and enabled their efforts to evolve over time. But a substantial investment of time and thought prior to program launch was critical to maximizing impact and minimizing missteps.

JC: The donors profiled in the case studies were intentionally selected to represent a wide cross-section of the field. Despite the variety, did you find any common themes or approaches across the case studies that might be helpful for those entering the field?

JLP: The most critical common denominator across the 12 studies is that careful attention to program design drives impact. Finding, defining, and refining a focus, and making design choices that support that focus, creates a “what” and a “who” for the program. In the LeBron James Family Foundation case study and in other instances, the definition of “where,” or a sense of place, is a primary focus factor. Another feature that distinguishes these cases is their time orientation: the “when” is viewed in terms of decades, not days. After creating consensus for the “why” through a learning process, and the “what,” “who,” where,” and “when” during a planning process, these programs have all excelled at the “how:” high-quality implementation. When challenges were encountered, or results were disappointing, they adjusted their approaches.  They also listened to all of their stakeholders, especially the scholarship students themselves.

JC: One of my favorite aspects of this effort is the many inspiring stories of change you were able to document. Can you pick one or two to highlight that give our audience an idea of the scale of change donors have been able to achieve through scholarships?

JLP: Fully agree, Janet. One of the myths concerning scholarship support is that the impact is limited, and matters only to the recipient. Not true! As with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, program beneficiaries are having a profound “multiplier” effect on other individuals, institutions, and issues. The STEM Scholars we featured are already increasing inclusion beyond the university and throughout the Middle East and North Africa region in ways that impact thousands of lives, yet they are just three of an anticipated 15,000 program participants. A vast scale of change has been well-documented by the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), a global initiative focused on developing social justice leaders. The associated 10-year tracking study is a rarity in the scholarship field. Having reached its mid-way point, the IFP alumni tracking study is documenting how 4,305 individuals, often overlooked by other higher education programs, are now leading change in their communities, nations, and fields of interest. Vo Thi Hoang Yen, the IFP fellow featured in the case study, has become an honored leader in advocating for persons with disabilities throughout southeast Asia. Her example, multiplied by thousands, shows how well-designed scholarship support can yield large-scale, transformational change.

JC: If you were to start a Jane L. Polin Scholarship Program in the future, what might you do differently than might have otherwise been the case, based on what you learned from your case study research?

JLP: Scholarship support is personal for both of us, Janet. I’ll always be grateful for the donors who made my undergraduate and graduate degrees possible. I’ve actually made an initial commitment to funding a Jane L. Polin Scholarship at Wesleyan University, designating my support for a student of independent status. Now, if I had the resources to fund an entire program, I’d put on my professional hat and consider various lessons from Scholarships for Change. For one, donors can influence each other, and leverage can be a powerful tool in creating greater and sustained impact, as we found in the Bonner Program. Among the exciting examples we explored is how the Los Angeles Scholar Investment Fund enabled existing resources to achieve greater impact through more effective use of pooled and aligned funds with a select set of higher education institutions. So, in designing any scholarship program, I’d be even more mindful of how coalitions of donors and institutions can come together to achieve even larger and more lasting impact.

Conducting the interviews and related research revealed the extraordinary range of scholarship program endeavors – they are as varied as the donors themselves. Donors can choose to be visible ambassadors who offer a personal presence, such as the Jonas and Soros families, or they can be unseen partners. Whether the donor is visible or invisible, their stories will be best told through the years by the students and alumni of the scholarship programs created during their lifetimes. As the closing song from the Broadway musical Hamilton asks us, “Who tells your story?”

New Tools to Help You Create Change

The school year is now in full swing, which means as a working mom, when I’m not on Candid duty, I’m staffing my kids’ activities and coordinating carpools with other busy parents. I’m happy to champion their latest interests, but the time and energy I invest makes me aware of the embedded inequities of a system that relies on parental involvement for educational and enrichment activities. From the time and fees involved, it’s easy to see how the paywall to such activities is too high for many families.

This experience and awareness deepens my appreciation for the newest Candid tools that are designed to help philanthropy contribute to a more fair and just society. I’m excited to announce that today we launched Scholarships for Change, a new website that documents how donors are harnessing scholarships as a force for change.

Through scholarships, fellowships, and grants philanthropic institutions can and do work to increase access to enrichment and educational opportunities. As donors become more ambitious in tackling the world’s issues, some have developed strategies to create change that extends far beyond an individual recipient—from increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to creating an economic engine in struggling communities, and more.

Funded by the Ford and Mellon Foundations, Scholarships for Change provides a centralized place for donors to learn from peer strategies and funding trends. The site includes an interactive grants map, a curated knowledge center, and 12 new GrantCraft case studies that together serve to orient, inform, and empower donors with a road map to effective scholarship philanthropy.

The case studies, written by philanthropic advisor and friend, Jane L. Polin, cover the areas of change most frequently addressed by scholarship programs and identify strategies, approaches, and lessons learned by experienced funders. From Ascendium’s provision of emergency financial aid for unexpected student expenses, to the LeBron James Family Foundation’s strategy of engaging whole families in supporting first-generation college students, the case studies provide an inspiring and informative behind-the-scenes look at how funders are enabling transformative change for scholars everywhere.

I also want to highlight another important tool we launched just a few weeks ago, Investing in Native Communities. This interactive site aims to encourage greater philanthropic funding and support to Native American communities. It includes funding data, a new research report, and a GrantCraft case study on improving how we talk about and collect data in Native communities. One particularly unique and inspiring feature of the site is the rich history captured through a historic timeline developed from a Native perspective. This is a tool I look forward to sharing beyond philanthropy, including with my kids so they can understand more about the history of Native Americans and the land we live on.

Both of these sites are designed to support funders who are delving into this work for the first time as well as more experienced funders who want to increase their capacity and knowledge. Each site can help you understand your role in the field and highlight opportunities to collaborate or plug in. Even if scholarships and Native communities aren’t the focus of your work, the strategies and insights shared can be carried across the field.

At a time when institutional philanthropy is grappling with increasing criticism about how it wields its power and influence, both of these new sites present hopeful signals that philanthropy can be part of the solution. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I have.

This letter originally appeared in GrantCraft's newsletter. To stay updated with our newsletter and special alerts, sign up here.

Redefining Accountability to Incorporate Values

When one’s role at a philanthropic organization includes words like “grants management” and “compliance,” addressing tasks that fall under the “how” of organizational life is common. This includes everything from process to procedures to workflows—all of which are emphasized as core drivers of organizational excellence.  But this understanding lacks the acknowledgment that achieving excellence depends on more than just completing the task at hand. The challenge, rather, is focusing on the intentionality with which something should be done, rather than only focusing on how it should be done.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we strive to act with deep kavanah (intention) to foster compelling, effective learning experiences for young Jews. Our professional team focuses on the “how” of grantmaking and evaluation to pursue this mission. More recently, we also created space to focus on the values we hold as we do this work. The staff values below were fomented by the foundation’s culture committee, a diverse cross-section of the foundation team who asserted that how we conduct ourselves matters. Each staff value is linked to a Jewish value that stems from Pirkei Avot, a compendium of ethical texts that are rooted in morality and common decency. A copy of these values hangs on the wall of our office, and each manager now uses these as a core part of performance appraisals. In addition to agreeing to and embracing the staff values holistically, each team member agrees on one or two staff values with a manager at the beginning of each year on which to focus attention.

  • Respect & Humility: We assume positive intent (Tzelem Elohim) We are stewards of a tremendous legacy that began with the foundation’s benefactor, Jim Joseph z’’l. Since his passing in 2003 we’ve assumed the responsibility of positive intent and aim to treat others with uncompromising respect.
  • Learning: We are always developing and growing (Hitlamdoot) Every undertaking has failures and successes and we are compelled to acknowledge them all for personal and professional growth. Further, achievement is not merely about the individual. Collaboration, constructive discourse, and mentorship are necessary components of a shared learning environment. Investment in professional development both internally and for grantees helps accelerate the learning process.
  • Teamwork: We are one team and our teamwork makes us a smarter organization (Areivoot) We aspire to create a team-oriented approach to grantmaking such that grantee partners and foundation partners combine brainpower to solve challenges. We strive for a democratic and sincere approach to establishing our professional team—one that is informed by the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each team member has a unique opportunity to lead and to follow. We continue to make space within all conversations so more voices can be elevated.
  • Integrity: We do the right thing even when no one is watching (Shleimoot) Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are three prerequisites for maintaining trust both internally among co-workers and externally among other colleagues. We embrace and try to live by these principles. Integrity extends to our internal policies (conflict of interest, code of ethics, whistleblower), external requirements (non-discrimination clauses, harassment policies, and general child and employee protection requirements), and regular dialogue with partners and stakeholders in the broader field.
  • Giving Back: We aspire to be good community stewards (Avodah) While giving is the essence of any foundation, this value relates to more than just the stewarding of effective philanthropy. Rather, “giving back” relates to volunteering as individuals and as a team to serve with the broader community. It also relates to acting with compassion. If a potential grantee-partner is not the right fit for the foundation, we strive to be cordial in the process helpful where possible.

The exercise of spending time thinking about and developing our staff values was both rewarding and beneficial to our team. We hope others set aside time to develop staff values, to practice them, and be proud of them. Given the work we do in philanthropy, it’s important we articulate the values of our work and what we stand for.

The Foundation’s Culture Committee is comprised of Nicole Levy, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO; Mallory Morales, Program Assistant; Dawne Bear Novicoff, Chief Operating Officer; Aaron Saxe, Senior Program Officer; Kari Simpson, Human Resources Director; and Sossena Walter, Director of Finance and Accounting. Jeff Tiell, former Program Officer at the Foundation, served on the culture committee too.

Nonprofit CEOs Saw Modest Compensation Growth in FY17, Study Finds

The rate of increase in nonprofit CEO compensation slowed in fiscal year 2017, the 2019 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report (4,893 pages, PDF) finds.

Based on data reported to the Internal Revenue Service by more than a hundred and thirteen thousand nonprofits, the nineteenth edition of the annual report found that in FY17 the median year-over-year increase in compensation for male CEOs ranged from 0.1 percent at organizations with annual budgets of more than $25 million to 2.1 percent at organizations with budgets of between $5 million and $10 million, compared with ranges of 0.0 percent to 4.4 percent in FY16 and of 0.4 percent to 4.7 percent in FY15. Increases for female CEOs in FY17 ranged from 0.2 percent at nonprofits with annual budgets of more than $50 million to 3.1 percent at those with budgets of between $25 million and $50 million, compared with ranges of 1.3 percent to 4.3 percent in FY16 and of 1.5 percent to 4.3 percent.

The report also found that female CEOs' median compensation continued to lag that of their male counterparts, with gaps of between 5 percent at organizations with budgets of $250,000 or less and 20 percent at those with budgets of more than $50 million. Although the gender pay gap narrowed gradually between FY05 and FY16, in FY17 it widened slightly or remained unchanged at organizations in all budget groups except those in the $25 million to $50 million range, where the gap narrowed from 16 percent to 14 percent.

In terms of issue area, CEOs of science and technology research institutes earned the highest overall median salary ($157,700), followed by those at health organizations ($148,880), medical research institutes ($135,818), mutual benefit organizations ($128,395), and social science research institutes ($125,924). The five  areas with the lowest median CEO compensation were religion ($56,034); animal welfare ($65,016); food, agriculture, and nutrition ($70,000); arts, culture, and the humanities ($70,744); and recreation, sports, leisure, and athletics ($73,876).

"With one exception, median compensation increases for incumbent CEOs were lower in 2017 than in the previous two years, sometimes dramatically so," said Jenna Allen, data reporting analyst at Candid, who authored the report. "The exception was for men at organizations with budgets of $250,000 or less. They saw no increase in 2016 and a 1.3 percent increase in 2017. In 2015, however, they saw a 4.4 percent increase. Increases by gender in 2017 also varied from previous years. In 2015, women experienced greater increases than men in six of nine budget bands. In 2016, women saw greater increases than men in seven budget bands. In 2017, men experienced greater increases in six budget bands."

Are You Ready to Become an Activist Philanthropist?

There is an undeniable extractive nature to philanthropy: I’ll give you a grant, if you deliver me detailed proposals and reports proving that you are worthy. And, as put by one program officer at the Open Society Foundations, “There’s a deep distrust of philanthropy, we are a necessary evil for many people.” As part of an effort to learn from our own practice at Open Society Foundations, we spoke confidentially to a group of program officers about what is working and what isn’t—and how we could shift away from practices that feel extractive.

There are entrenched power problems embedded in our practice, processes, and structures. However, as philanthropists, we also have enormous freedom to dismantle these very practices, processes, and structures since they are of our own making. Participatory grantmaking is one way in which we can change the conversation with our partners and allies and shift power in philanthropy. The act of philanthropists transferring power and control over funds to the communities they seek to serve is an unapologetic form of social activism and can lead the field to innovate with bigger and bolder ideas.

A Learning Collaborative

In 2017, Open Society Foundations (OSF) established a learning collaboration between the Open Society Foundations’ Economic Justice Programme (EJP) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) to understand and move toward intentional participatory practice. The collaboration first established conceptual grounding, building on the long history of learning from participation in development to produce support tools such as a Primer on Participation in Economic Advancement and guidance for effective participation in programming.

However, the biggest barriers to moving toward a more radical participatory practice in philanthropy and really shift power are not a lack of tools. It is our mindsets, identities, and learned behavior as grantmakers that can get in the way. We must become “activist philanthropists” to truly enable participatory grantmaking to thrive.

The learning collaboration enabled conversations about these complex dimensions of participatory practice which we at Open Society Foundations have been exploring through multiple program areas. So, what have we learned about how this budding “activist philanthropist” practice works?

Understanding the Enabling Factors

To get started, it’s important to understand that as an activist philanthropist, one must be a reflective grantmaker who seeks to make positive change within their institution. One must also believe that fundamentally, communities thrive when they have the power. In order to be reflective, one needs space, accountability, and a willingness to take risks. Making decisions in a collective, rather than in a silo increases accountability and may help program officers to take more risks and support actions that seek to shift power to the community level. Forming allies with peer foundations is one other strategy to earn internal buy-in as risk is often shared when another donor comes on board.

Another way to get internal buy-in is by being able to articulate the benefits to help justify making a mindset shift. Among all the potential benefits that we learned about from activist philanthropists, there was most enthusiasm around how participatory funds increase the proximity of philanthropists to the real issues they are aiming to address. To be an activist philanthropist, one must go beyond the usual donor-grantee relationship and lean into substantive matters and deal with contextual challenges with understanding and a willingness to let the community guide the solutions. The voice of a participatory fund can be extremely powerful, both in signaling to the community that it can direct its own goals and in the representative nature of the fund. It’s a voice a foundation can never have. When funders and activists work more closely together, then funders are much better positioned to be responsive and supportive of bold, new ideas emerging within the field.

Activist philanthropists must also embrace letting go of control and trusting the community. Often, funders can change their strategy and leave their grantees to grapple with filling a new funding gap, but if structured correctly, a participatory fund can act as a kind of insurance policy since community members have a long-term stake in the work. Further, rather than imposing one’s individual agenda on the field, participatory funds can drive efficiency among funders, reduce duplication and reduce negative impacts on the community, such as repeated requests for reports.

To Be Participatory or Not to Be?

Activist philanthropists also know when and why to make this shift in practice. Participatory grantmaking might not be the right solution for everyone, but you can be an activist philanthropist anyway by recognizing when it is or isn’t an effective option.

And even if it is an option, there are some challenges that make effectively engaging in the practice complex. For example, one program officer questioned whether a participatory fund they were involved in was actually empowering the community or if it was empowering internationally recognized activists who are often already visible—a common issue in ensuring representation through participatory processes. There are also potential concerns of conflict of interest as many of the leading activists end up on decision-making committees, who often lead large organizations that end up getting selected for funding.

Establishing a participatory fund also requires one to consider its sustainability. Funds without a renewal system may operate with a one-year support cycle, and then leave grantees and those involved in a state of uncertainty.

From our learning collaborative, we also found that participatory funds tend to be less effective when the focus is regional, rather than national or local. When there is a regional focus, some countries or localities tend to be forgotten if they are not represented on the decision-making committee.

These issues are much like the ”elite capture” dilemma that has been one of the main critiques of participation in development practice generally—the issue of representation is not a simple one to resolve. It signals a need for activist philanthropists to take seriously and engage directly with power asymmetries—not just between the grantmaker and the grantee, but also between stakeholders in the field. To do this well, there needs to be contextual understanding of the field and stakeholders within it in order to design the central processes of the fund accordingly.

Be An Activist Philanthropist

One thing is for sure, participation isn’t a grantmaking approach, it’s an attitude. You either reflect on your power, or you don’t. The creation of participatory funds within Open Society Foundations has been largely reliant on the persistence and energy of individual program officers that seek to identify ways to shift power to communities.

The OSF program officers considered themselves to be activists within philanthropy and sought to shift the deeply embedded power relations and structures. Many have first-hand experience of what it's like being part of a community with limited power and voice. OSF has increased its efforts to align hiring practices with programmatic objectives and improve staff inclusion. Philanthropy needs these people. Though we take pride in these efforts, when considering the bigger picture, there is still far more work OSF and the field at large to do to advance power and participation at the community level. It's time to ramp this up. Rather than just considering how one is embedding concern for participation in a funded project, let's think about how and why we end up funding that project in the first place, and about intentionally using our grantmaking practice as a platform for social change. The world needs more activist philanthropists.

With thanks to several OSF programs - Public Health Program, US Program, Information Program, Arab Regional Office and Open Society Initiative for Europe, that have each contributed to the shaping of funds such as FundAction, International Trans Fund, Intersex Human Rights Fund, Sex Worker Giving Circle, Red Umbrella Fund, Peer2Peer Exchange Fund, Indela Fund and Rawa Fund.

Don’t Put Your Evaluations Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine

This summer, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to improve the impact of evaluations, particularly those sponsored by foundations. Don’t get me wrong—I also spent time enjoying the summer sun with family, so it hasn’t been all work and no play! But in my work life, helping foundation evaluations also get their moment in the sun has been a recurring goal.

At the start of the summer, I presented Candid’s inaugural #OpenForGood awards at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Learning Conference to the Rockefeller, C&A, and Ian Potter foundations for their commitment to creating a culture of learning by opening up the results of their published evaluations. The winning foundations each demonstrate an active commitment to open knowledge, field leadership, and incorporating community insights into knowledge sharing work.

The award, part of a larger #OpenForGood campaign, includes a set of tools to help funders work more transparently including a GrantCraft guide about how to operationalize knowledge sharing, a growing collection of foundation evaluations on IssueLab, and advice from peers in a GlassPockets blog series.

Some specific practices I’ll share are that the C&A Foundation routinely packages its detailed evaluations into concise bullets and summary blogs for the world to see and they do this for both favorable and unfavorable results. The Rockefeller Foundation has developed an internal practice in which “…the foundation pre-commits itself to publicly sharing the results of its evaluations - well before the results are even known.” This ensures that even if the evaluation reports unfavorable findings, the intent is to share it all. And finally, the Ian Potter Foundation consistently publishes collective summaries from all of its grantee reports for each portfolio as a way to support shared learning among existing and future grantees. It’s a refreshing reinvention of the traditional grantee report, placing priority on collecting and sharing the kinds of information that will be helpful to other practitioners, rather than just being filed away inside the foundation, where the sun doesn’t shine. You can learn more winning #OpenForGood practices in an upcoming webinar we are offering in partnership with GEO.

Post-vacation (after the family wedding, outdoor concerts, and beach time), in partnership with Ashleigh Halverstadt, senior evaluation and learning officer at the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, I’ve had the pleasure of preparing to co-facilitate an “action team” for the Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network, a national network of evaluation professionals working to deepen the impact of evaluation and learning in philanthropic practice. We’re asking questions like:

  • Does your foundation have formal policies in place that support the sharing of evaluation knowledge? If so, what are they?
  • Do you host convenings or gatherings to promote the dissemination of knowledge? If so, what frameworks have worked best for these offerings?
  • How does your institution make a connection between adapting and sharing knowledge and efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy or in evaluation practice?
  • Have you developed a way to measure the impact of the evaluations you commission and share that others could adapt?
  • Do you have any good case examples demonstrating how knowledge that you or someone else shared advanced the fields in which you work?

If these questions resonate for you because your foundation has made strides in sharing evaluations or other forms of knowledge, let me know so that we can give your practices their moment in the sun! Perhaps one of your examples will end up being featured in our toolkit, or in a GrantCraft blog, or both!

With gratitude,


U.S. Community Foundation Asset Growth Stalls While DAF Giving Outpaces Trends

The latest results from the Columbus Survey of community foundations, reflecting fiscal year (FY) 2018, are now live. This annual effort by CF Insights, a service of Candid, establishes a baseline understanding of where the community foundation field is today. It also helps inform those within the field who want to know how they compare with peers. This year, more than 250 community foundations, which together manage over 90 percent of the estimated dollars in this segment of the field, contributed their data to inform our findings, now available on our refreshed Columbus Survey Results Dashboard.

In 2017, a pattern of accelerated asset growth was observed across the field in an economic environment that brought strong investment returns. Due in no small part to 2018’s more volatile investment market, asset growth stalled for a significant portion of Columbus Survey respondents. Following a year in which median asset growth was in the double digits, the median for FY18 was less than 1 percent. The end of 2018 marked a rapid slowdown in the investment market, which is reflected in a split between community foundations with a mid-year fiscal year-end date (or earlier) versus those whose fiscal years ended on December 31. Community foundations whose fiscal years ended in June or earlier saw assets grow 9 percent. Community foundations operating on a calendar-year basis reported a median 3 percent reduction in asset totals for 2018.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs), growing in popularity year after year, continue to be a significant source of activity and growth within the community foundation field. A highly flexible philanthropic vehicle providing an immediate tax benefit for donors, DAFs accounted for more than half of our sample’s collective fundraising and grantmaking totals. Grantmaking from DAFs continue to outpace other fund types as well; for community foundations as a whole, the median payout rate in FY18 was 6 percent, whereas the median payout rate for community foundation DAFs was 10.6 percent.

As in prior years, the Columbus Survey Results dashboard highlights some of the operating model differences between community foundations of different asset sizes. For instance, due to an economy of scale, community foundations larger than $250 million in assets tend to have operating budget-to-asset ratios below 1 percent, whereas ratios hover between 1 and 2 percent for community foundations smaller than $250 million. For almost every asset size cohort except those with fewer than $25 million in assets, the median ratios are slightly higher than they were a year ago, an effect of slowed asset growth, coupled with increasing budgets that reflect many in the field increasing their focus on community foundation-led initiatives and leadership efforts.

In addition to survey findings, CF Insights provides lists that rank respondents in four categories: asset size, distribution rate, total (gift and grant) transactions, and gifts per capita. In the past, these lists only featured the “Top 100” in each category. This year, the Columbus Survey Results Dashboard includes all survey participants on these lists.

These sorted data lists allow community foundations of all sizes to:

  • See how they are positioned within the field in various categories;
  • Examine the relationship between their overall strategy and how they rank in the field; and
  • Enhance overall transparency by sharing their rankings with stakeholders and the public by email or social media channels.

Anyone looking to learn more about the current state of the field is welcome to explore our Columbus Survey Results Dashboard today at!

Join us for a free webinar discussing the results on August 21, 2019 at 2pm ET.

If you’d like more information about this or any of our other resources or would like to receive updates about CF Insights, visit or e-mail me at We invite everyone to join the conversation, and even more community foundations to join the effort to tell your story.