With the approach of the 2020 census, philanthropists and foundations may already be anticipating how to reevaluate their giving strategies in response to the country’s changing demographics. But several groups are working to engage funders with the census itself, stressing how devastating the consequences of an inaccurate or biased census could be for political enfranchisement, government funding, private sector investment, and all forms giving. The Funders Census Initiative (FCI) 2020, an organization “committed to stimulating interest in the census among funders and their grantees” notes that at $415 billion in federal grants alone are allocated each year using census data. Historically, the census has been criticized for overlooking members of lower socio-economic groups, people of color, immigrants, and children. Many of these critics are especially concerned about how this bias will affect the 2020 census because federal funding is much lower than in the past. In response, members of the Funders Census Initiative and the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, are throwing their support behind “get-out-the-count” campaigns on both a state a national level and stepping up their efforts to engage their partner organizations.
Donors on both an individual and institutional level have become increasingly responsive with their giving over the past ten months, often reacting swiftly to policy changes and public statements made by members of the Trump administration. The year began with the January travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations, which prompted a surge of $24 million in donations to the ACLU over a single weekend. The Trump agenda has faced similar push-back from donors following the announcement to exit the Paris climate accord, proposed budged cuts to public arts funding, and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to a survey from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, close to 30 percent of foundations have shifted programmatic goals in response to the new administration.
This trend has continued into more recent months, as philanthropists mobilize against the administration's decision to end DACA protections for immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors. The affinity group Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), which has received support from the Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, and Open Society Foundations, is directing emergency funding toward extending work permits that would allow DACA recipients to remain in the country for an additional two years. The upcoming October 5th DACA deadline has served as a challenge for larger institutions, such as the Carnegie Corporation. As director Geri Mannion explains, Carnegie has made a deliberate effort to “directly support many litigation and legal services organizations with general support so that they can be nimble in responding in times like these.” The Sobrato Family Foundation recently announced that it would also also be creating a $150,000 fund dedicated to covering DACA application fees for their existing grantees: "Our staff and board members do not want local nonprofit partners and people you serve to feel pressure to compete for national funds... We are upholding the bond of community by making sure you have local resources for this critical work.”
Read more at Inside Philanthropy.
As we approach the one-year mark since the election of Donald Trump, several key trends have become clear regarding donors’ response to the new administration and changes in public policy. According to recent survey data from Cygnus Applied Research and PMX Agency, nearly one third of nonprofit supporters plan to give more in 2017, with half of those donors citing the election of Donald Trump as a key factor toward their change in giving. The shift has been especially apparent for millennials, with fifty-two percent planning to increase giving in 2017 compared to thirty-seven percent of donors aged 35 to 64 and twenty-four percent of donors 65 and up. Although younger donors give less on average, fundraisers are beginning to focus on establishing a millennial donor base as they consider their long-term giving potential.
The increase in 2017 giving has largely been directed toward contentious issues that have been the target of Trump administration policies, including health care, the environment, and immigration. Over the past year, nonprofits at the forefront of these issues such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, and Planned Parenthood have seen a rapid surge in support. This influx of donations has often been in response to specific policies or statements, as we have seen following the January travel ban, the decision to leave the Paris climate accord, and the GOP health care bill. Similarly, the proposed spending cut to Meals on Wheels in March generated national attention and led to more than $170,000 in new donations that week.
In response to these shifts in giving practices, some organizations are making a deliberate effort to attract new donors and resources. Black Lives Matter, for example, announced last month that it would begin searching for its first development officer. Prentis Hemphill, a director for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, explained that the organization would like to channel the spontaneous giving patterns into a more focused strategy: “Most of the time we’ve gotten donations when big things happen or when people are feeling compelled about what’s happening in the world. But we haven’t had anyone dedicated, coming up with a plan… Now more than ever, we need folks’ support so that all our wins don’t get rolled back.”
Read more at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) recently announced that professor Marc Edwards and pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, who were both instrumental to discovering the high amounts of lead in Flint, Michigan tap water, are the winners of its first “Disobedience Award.” The $250,000 prize was created by Ethan Zuckerman (director of the MIT Center for Civic Media), Joi Ito (director of the MIT Media Lab), and Reid Hoffman (cofounder of LinkedIn) with the goal of supporting “effective, responsible, and ethical disobedience across disciplines.” In its inaugural year, the prize received close to eight thousand submissions over a six-week period from applicants all over the world. Three finalists also received prizes of $10,000: a group of Native Americans who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock; the founders of Freedom University, a free program for undocumented students at the University of Georgia; and Columbia University climate scientist James Hansen.
Although the Disobedience Award was launched in 2016, co-creator Joi Ito explains that the planning had begun long before Donald’s Trump presidential bid and that the prize intends to have a global focus. Ito has acknowledged, however, that the election has indeed changed the current landscape: “We’re now seeing a wider range of people who are resisting, dissenting, and disobeying.”
In a recent webinar from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, grantmakers and recipients of “big bets” discuss the criteria that donors are looking for and the steps that grantees can take to prepare for heightened levels of funding. The webinar was moderated by Mark Edwards (Co-Founder of Upstream), William Foster (Partner and Head of Consulting at Bridgespan), Chuck Harris (Managing Director and COO of Blue Meridian Partners), and Eric Nee (Managing Editor at SSIR).
The market for big bets has increased dramatically over the past decade, with more than double the number of billionaires and triple the number of $25 million gifts. However, there is a significant gap between the eighty percent of philanthropists motivated by social change and the twenty perfect of big bets that go to social change organizations. Part of the challenge, as explained by William Foster, is that few of these nonprofits are ready with $10 million “investment concepts,” where funding is the only missing component. Further, donors typically make big bets after four previous, smaller donations — a prolonged period of trust and relationship building. Bridgespan has found that most nonprofits can successfully explain the compelling nature of their focus issue and how their efforts stand out, but they often face challenges in connecting the two.
Blue Meridian Partners, a collaboration of funders with the capacity and willingness to invest as much as $200 million in a single organization, focuses their big bets on six criteria: proven empirical results, strong leadership, a compelling vision, a track record for growth, a pathway to scale, and a sustainable economic model. The group plans to award $60 million over seven years to the nonprofit Upstream, which was successful in demonstrating how reducing unplanned pregnancy through IUDs and other forms of contraception has a measurable impact on reducing intergeneration poverty. Developing their explicit vision and scaling strategy required a year-long planning process with Bridgespan, a process which provided the framework for both their operational success and ability to secure funding. Both Upstream and Blue Meridian Partners consider the strength of their funding relationship to be founded upon the articulation of an achievable set of outcomes and a clear plan to get there.
Learn more at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.