Category: Philanthropy & the Economy

Funders collaborate to bring Richmond-based budget advocacy group to NoVA

Today, we want to share with you a collaboration between WRAG members designed to take a successful District model and replicate it in Northern Virginia.

With the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s excellent results advocating on behalf of nonprofits in mind, Rubie Coles from the Moriah Fund and Sarah Oldmixon from the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative at the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region developed a plan to expand the similarly-focused Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis to Northern Virginia.

The Commonwealth Institute is based in Richmond, but Rubie and Sarah recognized that Northern Virginia has distinct differences from the state as a whole – and needs affecting the Greater Washington Region. In a video interview, they talk about the initiative and their interest in bringing other funders to the table.

The video also features the Commonwealth Institute’s president and CEO, Michael Cassidy, and Reston Interfaith’s Kerrie Wilson, a Nonprofit Roundtable board member, discussing the value proposition of the new endeavor.

A Region United: We’re All in This Together

Throughout the course of the year, A Region United: A Continuing WG Conversation will explore topics and themes relevant to the dialogue started at Washington Grantmakers’ 2010 annual conference.

We’re All in This Together
By Carolynn Mambu
, Vice President

While I will not deny that the economic downturn has been difficult, I believe there is a silver lining. It has forced us all to think more creatively about how and why we do our work.

Our friends from the Monitor Institute tell us that “the status quo is not an option.” In his presentation at our Annual Meeting in November, Gabriel Kasper suggested that effective funders are moving away from evaluating a single grant as a measure of success. Instead, they are looking to knit together the sum of the parts in their effort to move the needle on complex social issues.

As a membership organization representing our region’s philanthropic community, Washington Grantmakers is well positioned to work with our members in a way that can have impact far beyond the success of any one grant, grantee, or donor. A quick look through our publication, Beyond Dollars, will illustrate that our community already knows this and has a track record of success. Still, we think we can act bigger.

This year, WG will coordinate a series of meetings with public officials around the region to build and strengthen relationships, share priorities, and identify opportunities to work together on shared goals. In December, a small group of WG Board members met with then DC Mayor-elect Gray’s staff and offered to serve as a resource to the administration as they develop their priorities. This month we will meet with Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett and next month with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

As local governments struggle with budget deficits and foundation assets are still recovering, it seems to me that we have a unique opportunity. By leveraging our relationships, we can maximize the impact that philanthropy can have on a wide spectrum of issues.

At the same time, we can educate public officials about the local philanthropic network that may serve as a knowledge resource, a natural collaborator, and a committed supporter of innovation. Ultimately, public officials and the philanthropic community share a common goal – creating vibrant communities where all residents are allowed to thrive.

We’re all in this together. With better communication, collaboration, and coordination with local governments, among others, we have the potential to work together to change the status quo immeasurably.

Thinking like a region–and acting like one

By Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers

Margery Turner

Last month at WG, the Urban Institute’s Margery Turner touched on a dilemma for those working in the social profit sector:

“If you don’t focus, you may just scatter your efforts. But if you focus myopically on one thing—say, education—and you don’t focus on connecting issues, you’re not going to make real headway on education.”

To some extent, scattered efforts are inevitable. Thousands of groups are experimenting with solutions; coordination among them will never be perfect. However, there is plenty of room for improvement—and improve we must, given our post-recession state of heightened need and reduced assets. To that end, Ms. Turner made one suggestion that stood out:

“It’s conceivable that COG could become stronger. I think the way COG could get stronger would be through a small ‘p’ political process in which private sector, philanthropic, and community-based organizations… [push] for solutions that engage all the jurisdictions of the region [and] have a regional framework. That is not easy, but I think in regions where we see some action happening, it’s the nongovernmental forces pushing the political leadership of individual jurisdictions towards thinking and acting like a region.”

Goals outlined in
Region Forward
[click to enlarge]

“Thinking like a region” is how the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition created Region Forward* (pdf). The report sets goals and targets in nine major areas—Land Use; Transportation; Environment; Climate & Energy; Economic; Housing; Health & Human Services; Education; Public Safety.

However, thinking like a region is not the same as acting like one. This COG-spurred initiative will amount to little unless, as Ms. Turner suggested, private sector, philanthropic, and community-based organizations pick up this ball and run with it.

What might that look like?

Let’s take, for example, the Defeat Poverty DC Campaign. It has three over-arching themes:

  1. make work possible;
  2. make work pay; and
  3. make basic needs affordable.

Do you hear those themes echoed in the following targets from Region Forward?

  • “Sustain an annual 1 to 3% increase in the number of new jobs”
  • “Improve access to vocational training and educational options throughout the region”
  • “Annual rate of growth in median wages will exceed the rate of inflation”

By explicitly connecting the goals, targets, communications, and alliances behind Defeat Poverty DC effort to those of Region Forward, the region would have a bigger stake in the outcome. We would give ourselves the opportunity to discover and realize the economies of scale hiding among our collective efforts.

By making Region Forward the first stop in our individual planning processes, the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition could serve as the connective tissue that binds our efforts together.  We could reduce duplication among our various action agendas, messaging campaigns, advocacy efforts, and multi-point plans. We would have the opportunity to reinforce and build upon each others’ work.

I encourage you to read Region Forward and think about your organization. Where do you fit? Who else has the same goals? How can we work together to achieve them?

Washington Grantmakers convened funders at the Case Foundation on May 18 for a post-recession update on the region and to discuss how funders are adjusting to the “new normal.”

* Region Forward was endorsed by the WG Board of Directors on April 21, 2010.

Announced — May 18: “Philanthropy and the Economy: Shifting Strategies to Sustain Impact” (WG event)

Funders onlyclick here to register
May 18 – 9:30am to noon
Location: Case Foundation, 1717 Rhode Island Ave NW, 7th Fl.

There might be light, but we aren’t out of the tunnel yet. The economy bottomed out: millions of jobs lost, foreclosures skyrocketed, poverty shot up and foundation assets and government budgets plummeted. It may be some time before we see giving occurring at the pre-2008 level. How has the recession changed our giving priorities and the ways we are working to make an impact?

Join us for a high-level overview of the economic state of the Washington metropolitan region, followed by a discussion about how the current climate has led funders to find new ways of working to achieve impact. The Urban Institute’s Marge Turner will provide an overarching regional context. Following, Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, will moderate a panel featuring:

  • Sarah Oldmixon, Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative, to discuss shifting grantmaking strategies
  • Rubie Coles, the Moriah Fund, and Ed Lazere, DC Fiscal Policy Institute to discuss the Defeat Poverty campaign to and how advocacy can be used as a tool for leveraging limited resources
  • Christa Velasquez (invited), Annie E. Casey Foundation, to discuss the More for Mission campaign and how mission consistent investing is a way to use all foundation resources toward addressing social change

Nationally, foundation assets down 17% in 2008; giving down 8.4% in 2009 [News, 4.16.10]

The Foundation Center just released new estimates for 2009 showing an 8.4% decrease in foundation giving nationwide, with the value of foundation assets having dropped by 17% in the prior year.

Several factors helped to moderate the overall decline in 2009 foundation giving. Principal among them were the decision of a significant number of funders to reduce their operating expenses and/or draw upon their endowments to shore up their giving during the crisis…”

These findings align with the results of an Oct. 2009 Washington Grantmakers survey (.pdf), which found the recession serving as a crucible for grantmakers in the Greater Washington region, providing an impetus to reduce expenses, reevaluate priorities, and promote and engage in collaboration.

“Economy prompts changes in how foundations aid charities” [News, 3.23.10]

PHILANTHROPY | Economy prompts changes in how foundations aid charities (Chronicle, 3/21 — subscription) – “more foundations are making grants to help charities diversify their sources of revenue and otherwise bolster their finances” … “seeking new ways to strengthen nonprofit groups” … “have become more selective” … “holding charities to higher standards…”  Article quotes WG Board members Viki Betancourt (World Bank Group), Rick Moyers (Meyer Foundation), and WG President Tamara Lucas Copeland.

GOOD. IDEA. |American University students are teaching English to the workers who clean their dorm rooms and cook their meals.” (WaPo, 3/23) I love a great, simple idea. Funding provided by Students Serve.

TOO MANY NONPROFITS? | Or is that the wrong question? From yesterday’s Bisnow: “There are 38,558 non-profits in the DC metro area, but only 9,532 are public charities focused on serving the region. That’s one charity for every 562 people or 18 per 10,000—similar to low-populated states like Alaska, Maine, and Montana. The non-profit sector has grown over the past five years, says Elizabeth [Boris, director of the Urban Institute’s Center of Nonprofits and Philanthropy], with the exception of human services—the only segment with negative growth. She says the real question should be whether non-profits are adequately serving the populations in need.” [emphasis mine]

EDUCATION | New report: Advanced Strategies for Influencing Education Policy ( Feb. 2010)

Rhee Attempts Contract With Washington Teacher’s Union (WAMU, 3/23)
– Katherine Bradley’s donation is allowing the hire of Anita Dunn “to help tell the school reform story more effectively.” (WaPo, 3/22)

COMMUNICATIONS | From 10 Take-Aways from SXSW for Nonprofits (Matt Koltermann, 3/17): “Get your message across in as few words as possible… [N]othing’s important if everything’s important.” True. Many good reminders here.

Neighbors in Need Fund: Safety-net/direct services RFP

The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region is accepting proposals for The Neighbors in Need Fund Safety-Net /Direct Services RFP. Grants up to $25,000 will go to nonprofit direct service organizations that help low-income and disadvantaged children and adults meet basic needs.
– Guidelines and RFP available here.
– Deadline: March 31, 2010.
– Grantseeker conference call: March 17 at 2pm. Register here.

Bigger nonprofits have smaller operating reserves [News, 6.25.09]

OPERATING RESERVES | Several eye-openers in the Urban Institute report (funded by WG member Meyer Foundation) that spurred yesterday’s Post article on the precarious situation of our region’s nonprofits:
– “The percentage of organizations with less than three months in operating reserves increases with size.”
– “Arts, culture, and humanities organizations had the highest percentage of groups with less than the minimum reserve (62%)”

HIV/AIDS | High-Profile Help Offered Against AIDS In the District (WaPo, 6/25) – “A coalition of major corporations announced yesterday that the District is one of three cities in which it will help fight the spread of HIV and AIDS with better marketing, appearances by professional basketball players and financial donations to city health departments.” “Pfizer, the National Basketball Association, Facebook, Nike, Nokia and many others…”

MADOFF LESSONS | Study Ties Madoff Loss to Charity’s Board Size (NYTimes, 6/24) – “We think part of what’s going on here is small, homogenous boards where someone knew someone who trusted Bernie Madoff and that was enough.” Here’s the NCRP report that prompted the article.

PHILANTHROPY 101 | For philanthropy courses, students become the givers (BostonGlobe, 6/25) – “a growing national movement”

LOCAL BUDGETS | Fenty orders $35M in cuts for D.C. agencies (Examiner, 6/24)

I was going to watch The Philanthropist, but instead I cleaned the basement. Funniest thing I’ve read concerning the show: “Did doctors get this excited about the debut of “Scrubs?” See below for more impressions of the show and the premiere.

Charitable giving down for the first time in 21 years [News, 6.10.09]

Charitable giving in the U.S. fell for the first time in 21 years in 2008–down 2 percent (WaPo, 6/10) – Chuck Bean: “I’m just pleased it wasn’t worse.” “Some experts said they were surprised the drop was not even bigger, given that endowments fell by as much as 40 percent.” (NYTimes, 6/9)

HEALTH | Racial Disparities in Illness Highlighted (WaPo, 6/10) – Kaiser Family Foundation study (with fact sheets for states and DC) finds that “black women’s poor health is tied to low education, poverty, unemployment, stress, bad living conditions and poor health care coverage.”

DC SCHOOLS | WaPo: “The public deserves a look at what is holding up education reform in the District.” (6/10)

Foundations Should Fund Risk and Growth (Dan Pallotta, 6/9)
– Adventures in Philanthropy: To Merge, or Not to Merge? (Minyanville, 6/9)

DC VOTING RIGHTS | Supporters Defer Fight In Congress (WaPo, 6/10)

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES | Montgomery County planners are proposing a new vision for managing the county’s growth (WaPo, 6/10)

RECESSION | Economic downturn hits world’s richest foundation (AP, 6/9) – BREAKING! The Gates Foundation’s endowment shrank along with everyone else’s. It’s AP, and will likely be widely read.


COF: We’re not in Kansas anymore

By Katy Moore, Washington Grantmakers, Director of Member Services

COF’s 60th Annual Conference is taking place in a different world than last year’s conference. On Day 1, traditional conversations have given way to more urgent discussions about how we can collaborate, support each other (and our grantees),  and make strategic decisions about the short-term crisis while also setting the stage for longer-term solutions.

I was just involved in one such conversation, as representatives from the various “philanthropic infrastructure” organizations (regional associations, affinity groups, COF, ASF, etc) gathered to explore how to work together to reduce duplication, support one another and move our field forward in a more strategic way. As one participant put it, “we can use this economic downturn as an opportunity to be proactive about working together or we can wait until our hand is forced by our members and funders.”

Themes of the conversation included:

1) The potential for program and content collaboration is great. There’s no reason for us ALL to design a program on X. It is neither cost effective nor field-building. Reinventing the wheel is wasteful and working in isolation, inevitably, results in the creation of a cadre of mediocre programs.

2) The current revenue model in place at many philanthropic support organizations (i.e. membership dues + grant dollars) does not foster collaboration. Rather, the current model  (especially when coupled with the economic downturn) increases competition and territory. The suggestion was made to conduct a financial feasibility study of deep organizational collaborations, curriculum sharing and even, potentially, joint memberships.

3)  If field-wide collaboration is to be a reality, we will need some pretty strong “glue” to keep the work moving forward.  Proposed solutions included a commitment from session participants to meet at least annually face-to-face, creating a steering committee to ensure the conversation continues in a meaningful way, and using social network to keep folks tied together over time and distance.

I don’t know how this important conversation will play out, but, one thing’s for sure…we’re not in Kansas anymore! If you have suggestions or comments on how your infrastructure organizations can work together, please let me know! Post back here or contact me directly at

Cross-posted at Tactical Philanthropy blog.