Category: tamara copeland

From Vision to Reality

by Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

It feels good to have a good news story every now and then. Here’s one.

Over the past year, we have provided periodic updates on the planning phase of the Metropolitan Washington Community Wealth Building Initiative (CWBI) led by City First Enterprises (CFE); however, none of those updates compares to this one.

Late last year, the CWBI incorporated its first company, the Community Clean Water Management Group (CCMG). Based in Prince George’s County, Maryland, CCMG will provide stormwater management maintenance and monitoring services to both anchor institutions and private clients. Within the next few months, CCMG will announce its founding Chief Executive Officer and will begin identifying, interviewing and hiring employee-owners.

Now that’s a success story.

So how did it happen?

Almost four years ago, grantmakers in our region learned of an initiative in Cleveland focused on getting people out of poverty. The local grantmakers met with leaders of the Cleveland initiative to learn more. Based on those conversations, a feasibility study was commissioned to determine the viability of launching, and the interest in participating in,  a community wealth building initiative in our region. And now, that dream has come to life: a CWBI-inspired business created initially to serve an anchor institution, Prince George’s County, is now reality.

While the first business is focused on clean water and is located in Prince George’s County, the CWBI is neither a Maryland initiative, nor is it a clean water initiative. It is a regional initiative focused on creating quality, wealth-building opportunities – through either the creation of businesses or the provision of goods or services to existing businesses — for harder-to-employ people.

If you are an anchor organization – a government, a hospital, a university – interested in learning more about CWBI opportunities, contact Andria Seneviratne at City First Enterprises.

This is the catalytic role that philanthropy often plays. Congratulations to the grantmakers who had a vision and made it a reality.

From Walking to Marching

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In nine months, I will put on heavily cushioned socks and my best walking shoes and challenge myself to the most rigorous walk that I’ve ever done – 60 miles in three days.

I started walking – really walking – in March of this year. At first I was just trying to get to that magical 10,000 step marker, or about 5 miles a day. My goal was personal. I simply wanted to lose weight and be healthier. Now, my goal is bigger.

I want a healthier social profit sector. So I have signed on to walk in the first Charity Defense March.

This journey began in 2008 when I read Dan Pallotta’s book Uncharitable. It crystalized what I had been thinking for years, but was never able to articulate. Why did the environments in which I worked to address the horrible rates of infant mortality in the South, poor school success rates for vulnerable children, and the tragedy of the foster care system always struggle to raise the funds necessary to do this work? Societally, we didn’t want these situations to exist, right? I believed that they were issues to be solved with enhanced public will and the right resources. The problem: we never had the right resources. I finally came to understand that a key contributor to our lack of resources was general ambiguity about where these organizations fit in the social contract.

The organizations that I worked for were routinely given contradictory messages. “Be more business-like,” we were told, “but don’t forget that you are the NON-profit sector.” We were urged to be “outcomes-driven” while never having sufficient revenue to fully engage in the work to demonstrate real, tangible, game-changing outcomes. The social profit sector, as I prefer to call it, is expected to address huge societal problems – homelessness, bigotry, hunger – with limited resources and inherently skeletal infrastructures.

I want to change that. I believe that an important first step in that change lies in making more people understand that we inhibit the capacity of the social profit sector.

I believe that the manner in which the social profit sector is expected to underwrite the costs of doing its critical work hasn’t been truly thought about much by the sector or by the proverbial powers that be. It just is.

As an African-American, the issues of segregation and inequality have always loomed large in my life. They form my frame of reference for many things, and I think they apply here.  For decades, segregation just was. White America didn’t think about it too much and many in black America believed that they could only tinker around the edges of change.  The civil rights movement changed that and marching became a hallmark of the movement, as people quietly walked to their jobs during the Montgomery bus boycott or rallied at the larger 1963 March on Washington. Marching became a profound, visible way to elevate an injustice to a larger societal conversation and action.

So, I am walking June 26-28 as part of the inaugural Charity Defense March. Improving the world in which I live has been my calling throughout my professional life.  Now, I realize that in order to address those problems that I care so much about, I must first address the infrastructure in which social change agents work. I believe this March is a big step toward making a difference.

Trayvon Martin, Silent. We Must Speak.

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

By now, you have heard about the 17 year old, African-American boy who was killed tragically on February 26th by a neighborhood watch captain. According to reports, Trayvon was on his way to his dad’s home in a gated community after going to a nearby convenience store. George Zimmerman, the watch captain, saw him and perceived him as a threat to the neighborhood.  He said he thought Trayvon was going for a gun. Trayvon only had Skittles and an iced tea in his hand.

As the mother of an African-American male teenager, this event has sickened me. For days, I put it out of my mind. I couldn’t think about it or talk about it.  I know what it’s like to have to talk to your teenage son about walking-while-black, driving-while-black, shopping-while-black … simply what it means to be a black male in America. Today, I decided that I had to talk about it. Today, I decided that I had to use my voice to talk about something that too many of us don’t want to talk about or don’t know how to talk about: race and racism.

Last week, Jim Johnson, a noted demographer spoke about what he calls “disruptive demographics” at a Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ event.  He talked about the growing number of interracial marriages and increases in immigrants of color in our country. He spoke of multiple ways in which the U.S. is “browning” and suggested that visual racial cues may become less pervasive  … over  time.  This African-American academician also spoke poignantly about being a well-dressed, polite, Ph.D. from a renowned university who was recently stopped while speeding and asked how he could afford the BMW he was driving.

Not two months ago, an African-American, female colleague and her white male companion were confronted as an “N word” and an “N-word lover” as they left a nonprofit organization in nearby northern Virginia.  Some would say, well that’s just an ignorant person yelling a hateful word. Was George Zimmerman hateful or ignorant or did his fear of someone who didn’t look like him lead to the death of this 17 year old?  We don’t know yet.

What we do know is that while we have legislated racial equality in this country, issues of race and racism still plague us, often hidden, rarely discussed. Racial equity and social justice still elude us. We must change those policies, for example, that enable more toxic waste sites in places where low income people, often people of color, live. We must determine why the education achievement gap has remained the same for decades and fix it.  We have to work at changing how we perceive each other, how we understand people who are different from us.  This will be hard work – work in which all Americans must play a part.

As nonprofit leaders, we must go deeper than discussions about diversity in staff leadership and in board composition, topics with which we have developed some comfort, to conversations about the impact of race and racism.  We must understand that today people are discriminated against based on race, assumptions are made based on race, and treatment is unequal – today in our region, not 60 years ago in another part of the country.

As leaders, we must start what might be difficult conversations in order to uncover truths that can lead to powerful change. I look forward to starting this discussion here on the Daily, and I hope you will share your thoughts by commenting below.

Racism is a reality that permeates and weakens our society. It affects every person in our region, in our country.  We want to think it is behind us. It isn’t. Each of us can, and must, help to put race on the table.  Let that be Trayvon Martin’s legacy.

What is Philanthropy?

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

What is philanthropy?

The easy answer is that philanthropy is the awarding of grants to worthy individuals or causes. That answer is clear, concise and incomplete. It captures the facts, but not the soul of philanthropy. The best definition I’ve ever seen is from Paul Ylvisaker, a legendary program officer with the Ford Foundation. He said “philanthropy is America’s passing gear.” Philanthropy is just that. It is the spark that leads to change on a level that is often transformational for society. Consider a few noteworthy examples:

A white line on the right side of the road was an idea from the Dorr Family Foundation. In 1953, John Dorr received permission to fund the addition of outer lines on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. His wife had mentioned that at night the headlights of oncoming traffic caused her to drift toward the shoulder. Today, we take for granted a simple line that defines a space and has probably saved thousands of lives. Dorr was the spark.1

Sesame Street was born in the late 1960s through a collaboration between Joan Ganz Cooney, an award winning documentary film producer, government, and philanthropy. Carnegie started with a $1 million investment, then the Ford Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Office of Education joined. Today television, when used properly, is widely accepted as a viable component for the education of young children. The Carnegie Corporation was the spark. 2

Hospitals in rural areas were severely lacking in the 1920s. In fact, more than one-half of the counties in the US didn’t have one. The Commonweal Fund recognized the problem and began to establish rural hospitals. Ahead of their time, they required the hospitals to serve any person, regardless of “race, color, creed or economic status.” That program led to the 1946 passage of the Hill-Burton Act for hospital construction. The Commonweal Fund was the spark.3

911, the professions of nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant, multiple think tanks and over 2800 public libraries built in the late 1800s and early 1900s had their genesis – their spark – from philanthropy.

This month as the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers joins others across the country in celebrating the 100th anniversary of institutional philanthropy, it is important to remember that philanthropy can’t do it alone. While philanthropy might be that spark that engages the passing gear, it takes others to keep the engine roaring. Only when government, business, nonprofits and philanthropy join forces do we experience the social change that benefits us all.

WRAG is a member of 8 Neighbors, a regional collaborative composed of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Nonprofit Roundtable, the United Way of Greater Washington, the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, Leadership Greater Washington and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. 8 Neighbors is working to make  metropolitan Washington a region in which all have the opportunity to succeed.

Learning some new steps in 2011

By Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

I hope that everyone who attended our 2010 annual meeting was able to keep a paper dancer as a souvenir. Did you notice that each dancer’s core is a map of some part of our region? Mine is from DC, around the Tidal Basin. Yours might be from Gaithersburg or Chantilly or Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield.

Like the paper dancers, each part of our region is unique, but all have much in common. Our challenges are shared challenges. And we need to come together as a region to address these challenges–the way our real-life dancers [roll the tape!] came together in response to that initial call–“I need help!”

How can we fulfill the potential of a region united? Our network of givers is in the process of answering that important, fundamental question. In 2011, we look forward to learning some new steps with you–and to making great

We need you in the picture!

by Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Our Annual Meeting festivities will start early this year! We invite all member CEOs and Trustees to join us for a cocktail reception at the Phillips Collection on Wednesday, Nov. 17—the evening before the meeting. Allow me to boldly predict a gathering as enjoyable as the one in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, the Phillips Collection’s most popular and best known work.

As our staff was chatting about this painting, it came out that Katy Moore, our director of member services, has a degree in art history. Another thing to know about Katy is how much she enjoys making connections—between people, between organizations, and, as it turns out, between art history and philanthropy.

Katy Moore:

“Think about the joy in this painting. How might it have turned out if Renoir had decided to paint just a single patron at the Maison Fournaise? Without the inclusion of many subjects interacting in such a lively, vibrant way, it is likely that Renoir’s painting would have faded into the tomes of art history rather than becoming one of the most well-known paintings of all time. Now–how will our work be remembered? Will we work alone towards small victories or come together to achieve greatness?”

Is Katy onto something? Has Katy been working too hard? Perhaps it’s a bit of both!

Our special guest at the Wednesday, November 17 reception will be Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, formerly of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and our very own Board of Directors. We are grateful to the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation for sponsoring the event.

Our 2010 Annual Meeting may be sold out, but the reception will be a chance for our community’s leaders to meet, talk, and strengthen the connections that can lead to great things. I hope that your organization will be represented on Nov. 17. As an important part of our lively community, we need you in the picture!

Notes from yesterday’s briefing on Haiti

By Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers

Here are some of highlights and tangible recommendations from yesterday’s briefing on Haiti, co-sponsored by Leadership Greater Washington and the Board of Trade:

  • Money is still the number one need. Coordinating the delivery of specific goods is very difficult.
  • Haitian students at colleges and universities in our area will be impacted in many ways. In addition to the potential mental health issues of being away from their homeland during this time, they may be unable to continue their education. Summer internships for these students would be helpful.
  • Creole speakers are needed in Haiti to serve as translators for American relief workers. (If a grantee has Creole speaking staff willing to travel to Haiti, a funder might consider supporting that cost/the cost of a replacement staffer).
  • Immigration legal guidance is needed. Families are trying to get to the U.S. and children who have been orphaned, some in the midst of adoption procedures and others potentially available for adoption, will need legal support. Grantmakers might consider supporting legal aid organizations, which are already operating on low funding.
  • Give blood. Linda Mathes from the Red Cross commented on the quantity of blood that had been sent to Haiti and the ongoing need. (Only 5% of those eligible actually donate blood.)

We heard from presenters from the Salvation Army and the Greater Washington Haitian Relief Organization. Ambassador Raymond Joseph of Haiti stopped by briefly, first to thank Americans for their generosity and responsiveness and then to comment on the massive long term needs of his country.

Stanley Lucas of the Greater Washington Haitian Relief Organization reminded us that Haiti has suffered devastation on the magnitude of Europe following World War II. The infrastructure of the country has been largely destroyed. He called for a new Marshall Plan to help them to rebuild and recover.

Jim Dinegar of the Board of Trade challenged the corporations in the region, particularly those with strong organizational management consultancy practices, to offer assistance. He reminded the audience that while many types of volunteering are helpful, what is sorely lacking right now is infrastructure coordination at the macro level.

But again, money is the number one need. Congress is considering legislation that would allow donations to Haitian relief made between January 12 and February 28, 2010 to be tax deductible for 2009.

Update: The House votes in favor. Quick Senate action expected.

Immigration legal guidance is needed. Families are trying to get to the United States and children who have been orphaned, some in the midst of adoption procedures and others potentially available for adoption, will need legal support.  Legal aid organizations are already operating on low funding. This is another area of support that grantmakers might consider.

Your Summer Reading List?

By Tamara Lucas Copeland, president, Washington Grantmakers

Remember when you’d leave school in June ready to enjoy the summer and then your mom or dad would remind you of the dreaded summer reading list?

Now that we’re adults, summer reading is a luxury that we look forward to as we lounge at the beach or the pool. WG’s Health Working Group has taken summer reading to another level. They have identified various articles — from the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Health Affairs, and others — that they feel are important background reading to advise their work. And, later this month, the HWG Book Club will hold its first meeting.

I recently finished Platforms for Collaboration, by Satish Nambisan in the Summer issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Networked Nonprofit, by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano from the Spring 2008 issue of the Stanford Review, and Uncharitable, by Dan Pallotta. I commend all three to our membership. What have you read recently that you would recommend as we continue to think about the future of philanthropy?

Let us know in the comments!

Can you collaborate more?

By Tamara Lucas Copeland



That’s a question that nonprofits say they hear frequently from grantmakers, particularly in the current environment. Some probably think, “If it’s so easy, why don’t funders do it more often?”

Well, we’re working on it. On Friday, March 6th, 40 CEOs of Washington Grantmakers member organizations sat down for a frank discussion. With most of their organizations’ assets having shrunk considerably, they spoke about how to accomplish more with less–how to work together to be more effective, more strategic and more efficient.

Those meetings usually happen at the program officer level, in WG’s Working Groups. On Friday, one attendee questioned why CEOs hadn’t met previously on the topic of collaboration. “Scarcity begets innovation” was the reply.

And it must. Our grantees are making major sacrifices to avoid cutting services; grantmakers are making changes to keep funds flowing. Some of these measures are not ideal and will not be sustainable. But others will be the time-saving, money-saving, and game-changing steps needed to improve philanthropy and the social sector in the long run.

Shortly after the election, Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Washington Grantmakers CEOs are taking this idea to heart.

“Coming Together in Tough Times” (Save the Date: Dec. 15)

– SAVE THE DATE: Dec. 15, 9 am to 11 am –

Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers

According to our recent survey of members, grantmaker assets are declining. This should surprise no one. Fortunately, many grantmakers will continue to give in the same amounts, some will decrease their giving only slightly, and many plan to shift towards providing more general operating support. But overall, funders are very concerned about 2009 and even more concerned about 2010. The fragile social profit community is becoming even more fragile.

Meanwhile, community needs are rising. Local service organizations are wondering how to meet the increased demand when they already see their resources dwindling. Many rely on the continued charitable giving of our region’s top two corporate givers, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. While we believe that their giving is likely to continue, the amounts and areas of focus are still unknown.

Change often waits until something just has to give.

What does it all mean? That we will have to do more with less. Grantmakers will have to be even more strategic, effective and efficient. Efficiency will involve looking beyond the walls of our own organizations and understanding that this downturn, like any other difficulty our region ever faces, is a shared problem.

So that’s what we’re doing. The coalition* that formed to work to preserve Fannie’s and Freddie’s charitable giving for the region has now grown to include the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region and has broadened its focus. We are preparing to lead an assessment in our respective communities of the impact of a changed fiscal reality. The discussion begins with a summit on Dec. 15. We know it’s a busy time of the year, but we have to start the conversation. Then, within our respective communities, we will hold small group discussions that will evolve into larger group explorations and finally into a plan of action.

Many of these conversations are overdue, but change often waits until something just has to give. Sometimes turmoil is an opportunity—a catalyst for new insights, new strategies, and better ways of doing business. I hope to see you on the 15th.

* The original coalition of membership-umbrella organizations included the Board of Trade, the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, the Council of Governments, Leadership Greater Washington, the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, the United Way of the National Capital Area, and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.