This week we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose teachings have often been beacons of light for our sector. As we transition into something resembling hope and renewal with this incoming presidential administration, I encourage us to reflect on the words Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he warned of the “white moderate” being the biggest barrier toward social justice. He said:
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Happy Monday, everyone! The happiest I can recall in a while! I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in a long time, and my stress acne magically cleared up and has been replaced by hope acne. (Look, even my sense of humor is returning!) Before I forget, Crystal Hayling, ED of the Libra Foundation, and I will be having an informal conversation this week, November 10th at 1pm PT, to debrief philanthropy and anything else that we want to discuss. We didn’t plan any talking points, so half of the conversation may just be about our favorite shows, who knows, join us.
I know that most of us are taking some time to celebrate this political and moral victory. Some of us are still in disbelief, and like a large multi-year pledged donation that hasn’t been paid, we can’t really believe that this is real until our new president and vice president are sworn in on inauguration day. I too am a jumble of emotions: hope, catharsis, joy, but also hypervigilance and fear at the backlash that may be coming.
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.