Hi everyone, thank you to all of you who expressed concerns for my sister on her COVID recovery, which I mentioned last week. She’s getting well enough for us to resume our ongoing sibling bickering over inane things, so I think that’s good.
Before we get into today’s post, on December 10th at 11am PT, there is a free webinar on Transformational Capacity Building, led by my brilliant colleagues April Nishimura, Roshni Sampath, and Anbar Mahar Sheikh, based on this article I helped write. Fellow organizational development nerds, I hope to see you there so we can explore a more equitable model of doing capacity building. Or at least figure out how to explain what the hell it is to our families over virtual holiday dinners.
As I drove to my sister’s to deliver groceries and minestrone soup, I passed by a home improvement store and noticed the dozen folks standing out in the cold, waiting for construction or landscaping day jobs. As the pandemic progressed, day laborers have been hit hard. Gigs have been drying up, and many workers have families to support.
This year has been a nightmare, but I don’t think the majority of us really understand what is coming. Moratoriums on evictions are ending soon, and 40,000,000 people face being kicked out of their homes. As winter arrives, the levels of poverty, homelessness, pain, and trauma will reach levels we may not be able to grasp and our sector is not equipped to handle.
Hi everyone. Quick reminder: The second part of the Philanthropic Reforms town halls is today, 10/5, at 11am PT, where several prominent sector leaders will be exploring policies and strategies on foundations and Donor-Advised Funds to prevent wealth hoarding and tax evasion. This is the follow-up from the first town hall, which I moderated. Here’s the recording.
Durfee Foundation President Carrie Avery and I were discussing over email the power dynamics between funders and nonprofits. While there is much to talk about, Carrie brought up a really good point that I had not considered before—the term “Foundation Program Officer” is weird:
“Why an officer? An officer makes me think of a police officer, a probation officer, someone in a position of power whose judgment can have a devastating and decisive effect. If foundations want to work with their ‘nonprofit partners’ then why is the person on the foundation side of that relationship called an officer? Language matters. Let’s start a movement to rename this role!”
I agree, and while we’re thinking about new titles, let’s completely reimagine what the role entails. It should be less micromanagey—like a boss who constantly watches over you to make sure you don’t steal office supplies—and more expansive, like a favorite colleague that you can commiserate with and occasionally play pranks on.
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.
I’ve been spending a lot of time flossing while thinking of how to categorize the challenges in our sector (What, like your quarantine activities are so much more interesting). Many of the stuff we deal with falls under the category of “well-meaning people inadvertently making nonprofits’ jobs harder.” Here are a nine. I’m going to call them paradoxes, though some of these are not paradoxes exactly, but are more like dilemmas, conundrums, or shenanigans. I’ve written about a few of them, but they keep coming up and remain a problem, so it’s good for us to review and have common language to push back. If we want our sector to succeed, we need to be aware of these paradoxes and control for them.