Hi everyone, apologies for the likely brusque tone of this week’s post. Like many of you, I am shaken by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; may her memory be a blessing. It is hard for us to celebrate the life of an extraordinary (and imperfect) leader when there are so many terrifying implications now that she is gone. Already Trump and McConnell plan to ram a nomination through, despite what they said four years ago about not confirming SCOTUS nominees during election years. The hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy are astounding but not surprising. We need to ensure Biden/Harris are elected and the Senate is majority blue, then expand the Supreme Court, set term limits, grant statehood to DC, pass the Voting Rights Act, end the filibuster, and get rid of the electoral college, among other things.
If you’re asking me why I’m talking about politics on a nonprofit blog, I need you to shut the hell up. Believing that nonprofit and philanthropy are somehow separate from or above politics is how we’ve been complicit in perpetuating unjust systems. And yet we keep doing this. Last week, I gave a keynote virtually where I reminded folks that kids are still in cages, that Black people are still being killed by the police, that Indigenous women are still missing and murdered, and that everything is still being controlled by rich old white dudes and we need to get more women of color elected into office. In the chat stream was a sniveling remark along the lines of “Wow, this presentation did not need to be so political.”
Hi everyone, quick reminder, if you’re free next Monday 9/21 at 11am PT, join me on this webinar to discuss wealth hoarding and tax avoidance. We’ll be focused on these questions: “What are the current rules governing philanthropy, especially foundations and donor-advised funds? How do these operate in practice? Are wealthy people using these vehicles to game the system?”
Happy September, everyone. Holy hummus, it’s September! Fellow parents with school-age children, I hope you are doing ok. Hang in there. We’ll make it through this together. When things get tough with virtual schooling, just remember the old adage: “The days are long, but the years are—You better not be playing Minecraft again! Get back to your Zoom class this instant or no media the rest of the day! And you! Those loose fruit snacks you found under the couch are covered with dust! Throw them away, or at least rinse with water before eating!”
I know we all have a lot on our minds, and unfortunately I must add one more thing for us to think about. Three months ago, I wrote “Have nonprofit and philanthropy become and white moderate that Dr. King warned us about?” Since then, I have been grappling with the question of how effective our work is as a sector. Are we actually doing good in the world, or have we tricked ourselves into believing that we are while in reality we’re allowing inequity and injustice to proliferate? The reality is that we’re doing both, and it’s important for us to untangle these dynamics.
Recently, I read the Gilded Giving report by the Institute for Policy Studies. It examines the trends in giving in our sector and what it means. It paints a picture that is not pretty. Here are several points we should pay attention to:
Starting in 2010, a bunch of billionaires signed a pledge to give away half their wealth. Since then, their combined wealth has actually doubled. From $376 billion in 2010 to $734 billion as of July 18, 2020.
Over the first four months of the pandemic, when everyone has been struggling, the 100 living Pledgers who were billionaires in March actually INCREASED their wealth by $213.6 billion, or 28%, from 758B in March to 972B in July.
Small individual giving has been in decline over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of households giving to charity has dropped from 66 percent to 53 percent.
Large gifts, however, have been increasing. Households making over $1M claimed 33% of all charitable deductions in 2017, up from 12% in 1995.
The number of foundations in existence increased by 68% between 2005 and 2019, from 71, 097 to 119,791. During this period, their assets more than doubled, from $551 billion to $1.2 trillion
Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) have grown even more rapidly in number and assets. DAFs have no legal mandate to pay out anything each year. Donors take tax breaks immediately when they transfer their wealth to DAFs, but they are not legally required to actually distribute those funds to nonprofits.
Happy Monday, everyone, or as happy as it can be given that it’s 2020 and we’re all likely in a computer simulation run by a sadistic toddler. An announcement before we begin today’s serious post: The Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) Slack community is growing and now has over 800 members. People are connecting to one another and starting to form local CCF groups across the world. So join, and I hope to see you there!
Speaking of CCF, since the launch of this movement last month, I’ve been getting requests to be on panels or write articles to defend the community-centric approach against folks who hold traditional donor-centered fundraising philosophies and practices. The framing is that there are two sides to this “debate,” with community-centrism being an uppity challenger to traditional practices so it is time to duke it out Mad Max Thunderdome-style (I may have exaggerated a little).
Sorry, I am not interested in these debates. There are no two sides. Traditional donor-centered approaches have revolved around the comfort of white donors and thus have been allowing them to avoid grappling with systemic injustice rooted in slavery, colonization, and capitalistic exploitation of the poor and marginalized that perpetuates wealth and power hoarding among rich mostly white people, which fuels many of the problems we’re trying to fix. Let’s not waste time with back-and-forth over whether that’s true. There is also no argument that this works to bring in funding. In fact, the issue is that it “works” TOO well. But just because something “works,” doesn’t mean it is the ethical thing to do. We need to collectively explore ways to evolve our fundraising practices to be more ethical.
[Update: After this post’s publication, colleagues pointed out that the term “Highlander Syndrome” is confusing and may negatively affect the work of the amazing Highlander Research and Education Center, so I am temporarily renaming it to “There Can Only Be One” Syndrome, OBO Syndrome for short. Apologies to the Highlander Center, but also it gave me a chance to hear about your incredible work!].
Hi everyone, a couple of announcements before we tackle this week’s topic. Please check out this critical SSIR article written by the team at RVC and me about Transformational Capacity Building. The way our sector has been doing capacity building has been grounded in white philosophies and practices. Thus it has not been working effectively for communities-of-color-led organizations. It is time for a new model and set of practices. The article is long, because we go into details and provide lots of examples, but check it out, because it’s awesome as hell.
Also, Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is now on Slack. We need a way for folks to begin connecting with one another to discuss how to make fundraising more equitable, form local CCF groups, and share successes and failures as we experiment and iterate. Slack was voted as the top preference at the CCF meeting last week. I honestly have little experience using it (*cough* I was rooting for Myspace, but was outnumbered by younger people). I’m going to learn. CCF is a movement; we’re going to learn stuff together! Anyway, join, it’ll be fun! (Slack does not preclude other platforms from being used in the future; it’s just a start)
After the kids went to sleep one day, my partner and I put up “Ugly Delicious,” a show where celebrity chef David Chang explores different types of food and talks to various chefs and restaurant owners. In one episode, he explores Viet-Cajun, the combination of Vietnamese and Cajun. It was great, until he interviewed a Vietnamese shrimp fisherman whose family came over decades ago, who worked hard, overcame racism (including the KKK attacking shrimping boats), and became successful. When Chef Chang asked his opinion on more recent immigrants and whether he could empathize with them, the dude said something along the lines of “Well, we worked hard, but a lot of immigrants these days just want handouts.”