There are many resources available that help open a window into the world of philanthropy from many diverse perspectives. The links provided can offer fresh insights to conventional (and perhaps no so conventional) schools of thought regarding contemporary issues affecting philanthropy and the nonprofit sector more generally.Opinions expressed are of the authors alone and offered here to encourage thoughtful and informed discussion about the charitable sector more broadly.
Food typically plays a prominent role in year-end holiday festivities, so it seems like a particularly appropriate time to look at the growing crisis of hunger and food insecurity here in Florida.
The statistics are grim. Florida ranks fourth among the 50 states and D.C. for the rate at which families were unable to afford enough food in 2010, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) increased 111% in Florida between 2007 and 2010 – the third-highest increase of all states – according to a recent analysis by the Urban Institute. A record 3.1 million Floridians – one in six residents – received food-stamp aid in September, according to new figures released by the Agriculture Department, a number that has nearly tripled since the Great Recession.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that high-net-worth donors and their trusted tax and financial advisers are a critical element toward ensuring long term charitable investment in our communities. The Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties is an important partner in that process because we are a center of knowledge for opportunities for giving. We offer a variety of charitable avenues for giving now and in perpetuity that are tax smart, professionally managed, and accomplished with integrity and the accountability characterizing the very highest standard of ethical stewardship. Our mission as a charitable institution is in service to promoting philanthropy and investing in communities locally. However, we provide flexibility toward accomplishing a donor’s charitable goals, and flexibility is an asset toward encouraging a culture of giving, no matter the place or the cause.
With an economic recession in full bloom and deep worry about the implications for both giving and receiving charitable gifts, the Community Foundation is gathering intelligence about the status of nonprofits in our own backyards, and also tracking numerous studies on the impact of the economic recession on philanthropy more broadly. We sponsored this past week, in association with Bank of American Merrill Lynch (BAML), an event featuring a presentation and review of findings of the BAML 2010 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy. David Ratcliffe, Managing Director and Head of U.S. Trust Philanthropic Solutions Institutional Sales presented the findings before a packed room of nonprofit leaders from throughout the region.
Nonprofits came to learn more about high net worth donors, what motivates their philanthropy, what drives their expectations for nonprofit performance, and why they may increase or stop writing checks. Traditional private and public sources are drying up that fund nonprofit activities. The incentive is high to find alternatives for shoring up existing sources of charitable capital and also attract new donors. The event provided nonprofit staff an opportunity to better understand high net worth donor attitudes and behaviors and get a better read on what motivates their impulse for giving.
There was some good news in the study that high net worth households haven’t stopped giving. The pattern of current giving is similar to donation levels as far back as 2005. A whopping 98% of wealthy households donated to charities in 2009, and slightly more than half of those households sustained giving to organizations that had earned their loyalty and trust, despite the economic recession. The proportion of giving as a percentage of income was also sustained at fairly steady levels in 2009, with high net worth families contributing slightly more than 9 percent of their income to charity, a little less than the approximate 11 percent in 2007.
What has changed, according to the study, is the that wealthy families are weighing more carefully the dollar amounts being given to charitable causes, with an overall decline in the average size of gift amounts trending downward by 35 percent from amounts recorded in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. Some causes fared better than others and some organizations actually experienced increases in the average amount of the gifts received from high net worth donors but there were few locals at the meeting reporting anecdotally they had been the beneficiary of such gratuities.
While there are few surprises in the study, one shoe waiting to drop is whether high net worth families will have as much incentive to give if the charitable deduction goes on the chopping block when Congress reconvenes to consider budget issues. Says the report, “In a shift from the previous studies, wealthy households reported being more sensitive to the effect of tax policy on their giving. About two-thirds (67 percent) of wealthy households would somewhat or dramatically decrease their charitable contributions if they received zero income tax deductions for their donations; 47 percent responded this way in 2007. If the estate tax were repealed, 43 percent of wealthy households would somewhat or dramatically increase the amount they leave to charity in an estate plan, compared to 36 percent in 2007.”
The nonprofit sector has already been transformed by the realities of an economic recession but elimination of the charitable deduction is a game changer, especially now that so many charities are serving as first responders to meet urgent needs of those increasingly abandoned to foreclosure, job loss, unemployment, and a bleak economy. If you are not paying attention to this issue, you should be. It could be a tipping point for philanthropy from which there will be no return.
The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Foundation.
The economic recovery predicted for 2011 has left many wondering when or if it will ever arrive. Unemployment hovers at around nine percent and housing prices are predicted to fall another five percent in the coming year. Many economists remain optimistic, but as we wait for a real recovery, our local nonprofits deal with the reality of today. Shrinking savings, lower or non-existent real estate equity, and unemployment have put an obvious strain on many neighborhoods, placing significant pressure on organizations trying to effectively meet the needs of the community.
Your Community Foundation is a big stakeholder in the health and well-being of our region’s charitable sector, investing a total of nearly $90 million over our almost forty year history of grantmaking. We have long understood how important it is to have effective, well-managed nonprofits in our midst that address issues and meet needs that government may be stretched to support or unable to provide. Nonprofits serve an exceedingly diverse population of residents, relying principally on grants and contracts to fuel their activities. When those dollars began to dry up three years ago, we and other grantmakers felt it urgent to understand how the sector was being affected. The result was the launch of an annual survey among nonprofits to assess the impact of the economy on their operations and services. This past week we released our third annual report in partnership with Allegany Franciscan Ministries and the Quantum Foundation.
The survey is a “temperature check” rather than a scientific undertaking. We ask straightforward questions about outlook, staffing, budget, challenges, successes, and what grantmakers might do better or differently to address the challenges that come with leaner times. Survey participants are located in, or provide services across, a broad geographic area inclusive of Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties. This area also overlaps where our grantmaking partners focus their grantmaking.
It’s always a revelation when we run the data to find that such a modest sampling from among the thousands of nonprofits that exist has, nonetheless, a Texas-sized footprint. Taken as a whole, survey respondents report an impressive tally of nearly 3 million volunteer service hours orchestrated this past year by their organizations. The total dollar value of that volunteer time is calculated at nearly $63 million. It is clear that the ability of nonprofits to leverage human capital is remarkable. This army of the willing multiplies many times over the limited staff capacity that is characteristic of many smaller nonprofit organizations.
The snapshot the report provides has some of the feel of the nonprofit sector being on a slow train toward destinations we don’t fully know. The findings conclude that the status of the nonprofit sector seems relatively unchanged from the 2010 survey, but leaves little doubt that the recession continues to adversely affect sources of public and private funding and erode revenue streams. Despite the struggle of social services agencies to sustain quality of services at present levels, the trajectory of need threatens to swamp the boat with ever increasing demand. The survey confirms the obvious - the effects of the economic recession have been devastating to many and the face of poverty is no longer limited to those chronically at risk but now includes formerly middle income families. Nor is it surprising that agencies continue to report this year that individuals and families are facing economic difficulties on multiple fronts, including unemployment, underemployment, lack of access to educational opportunity, and increasingly, the loss of access to healthcare.
Despite diminishing sources of funding, an important take-away from the report is that nonprofits are again proving themselves to be resilient, resourceful and creative in their effort to explore and identify the options and alternatives of doing business in drastically changed circumstances. We deeply respect and appreciate as grantmakers all that these organizations contribute and accomplish toward improving the quality of life for so many. So should we all.
You can find the full report here: Nonprofits in the Economy Study
The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Foundation.
Over the past few weeks, there has been little good news to take to bed with sweet dreams in mind. Being an eternal optimist, pessimism does not come naturally. Having spent ten years in Mississippi, you learn that dwelling on an endless supply of deficits does not create a climate of hope. The burdens borne in that state by history and inheritance are deep still, no matter that it is the 21st century and civilized society is supposed to have fully arrived. Regrettably, there and elsewhere, civility has not risen to the plane of us living and getting along together just fine. Having yet again thought and voiced this gloom only illustrates that desultory thinking is a cul-de-sac from which escape is difficult - which got me to thinking about our need for good news.
Recently, I watched on YouTube a short video clip of the release of “Andre”, a sea turtle that underwent a long
rehabilitation at the Juno-based Loggerhead Marine Life Center. Our staff met there in July to do some future year planning. The place was abuzz with kids and filled with the energy of doing something worthy and measureable, one turtle at a time. What stirs the heart about this place is the sum of all the Center represents to our region, oceans, and marine life. Having had the opportunity to encounter this deep sea creature on the eve of its release, I found myself, tears welling up, watching the video of Andre’s trundle off into the ocean. I felt the same ripple of joy of those on the beach who cheered and applauded. Afterwards, I thought sheepishly to myself that things must really be bad when all it takes is a turtle’s release to provoke weeping. Something stirred that hadn’t been touched in too long a time- a moment made poignant by the recognition that something is inherently right and wonderful in the world when the survival of even a lowly sea turtle matters.
Calling forth and savoring those things all about you that offer strength and solace is an important exercise in a troubled world. Si Kahn, a colleague and songwriter, describes this as being able, in the face of great challenges, to “keep on keepin’ on”. We live in an era of forbidding and recalcitrant gloom, driven there by winds of uncertainty that are changing the world we thought we knew. To retreat from that ledge, we need the reassurance that, even in the midst of a stampede toward the unknown, beauty can be found in how we choose to see the world. Seeing beauty is redemption from pessimism. Release from pessimism is how we build with hope, brick by brick, a better future. Here are two more things I would nominate as “Right in the World” that measure on the scale of awesome that is proportionate to saving Andre, the sea turtle:
The quality and commitment of our communities’ nonprofit leadership and the tremendous asset these individuals represent toward achieving, in our time, a more just, humane and caring world. Call me prejudiced but anyone who is engaged in the nonprofit sector these days has to have nerves of steel and the courage of a lion. Our region profits enormously from an abundance of seasoned nonprofit professionals that are accomplishing important milestones toward improved quality of life in our local communities. They make this commitment of vocation by choice and with a fierce loyalty to serving those who often need societies’ help the most. They don’t just make lemonade out of lemons; they transform lemons into stars on a dark night.
Advocates working to protect and sustain now and for future generations, conservation of Florida’s unique environmental resources: in Florida, growth to prosperity is as ketchup is to fries. How many times is it necessary to stand in front of a metaphorical bulldozer, to challenge and question, the wholesale destruction forever of what cannot be put back or replaced? “Economic Progress” and its evil twin, “Progress-at-Any-Cost”, are how we continue to frame unacceptable choices with no terms of escape and a tiger behind every door. With all the hindsight of which Florida ought to have plenty, we deserve a more intelligent discourse on issues of sustainability. The Floridians who raise their voices and bring vision, passion, and their reasoned intelligence to protection and conservation of the environment are today’s wilderness warriors. We can be thankful that caring did not stop with Teddy Roosevelt, as it’s very likely there’d be no Andres left.
The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Foundation.
Philanthropy takes many forms these days, from the change jars located at the checkout at local hardware store, to the full color brochure appearing in your mail box, to a text message on your cell phone to prompt a gift. Volunteering, making in kind gifts, and check writing are the means through which time, treasure and talent are devoted to many charitable purposes. But now all the new digital forms of social media are creating many more avenues to promote giving. These new tools are multiplying so fast, it is hard to keep up with what is the most recent “new new” thing. Still, looking at all these changes, the one that stands out as a genuine watershed moment predates cell phones, Twitter, and all the rest: the short hand I use for this is what I call the advent of the “philanthropy for what” question.
Beginning in the early 19th century, the conventional wisdom was that charity’s purpose was to alleviate symptoms of poverty, making life, at least in the shortest of terms, less cruel and punishing. Two titans of commerce, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, changed all that by establishing private foundations, in 1911 and 1913 respectively, which pursued charitable goals based on intellectual principles of self-described “scientific philanthropy”. Accustomed to doing big things in the private sector, the two men advanced a practice of philanthropy that challenged giving as primarily a strategy of providing alms to the poor. The scale of their philanthropic ambition was matched by the pile of money each was prepared to devote to their vision. Their approach was to focus private giving for public purposes in addressing the root causes of poverty.
Both men commonly shared a dark reputation associated with the ruthlessness with which they pursued their for-profit endeavors. So this recast wasn’t necessarily all about a rebirth of moral purpose. Their view was that charity may help ameliorate conditions of poverty, but it also discouraged poor people from engaging in the kind of self-help that would help them transcend their circumstance. Their vision of the role of philanthropy was transformational. With their foundations they sought to remove barriers they surmised were impediments to an individual’s access to opportunity, beginning first within the realm of education, and then later, onward to issues of public health.
While this approach moved the ball down the field and away from the prior circumstance of philanthropy as largely a passive act, this new form of philanthropy stopped short of challenging the social order which served to create and sustain many social inequities. Neither Rockefeller nor Carnegie sought to unravel with philanthropy the conventions of class, race, and gender that were foundational to a system of free enterprise that was an engine of both great wealth as well as grinding poverty. Said Carnegie, “It is criminal to waste our energies in endeavoring to uproot, when all we can profitably or possibly accomplish is to bend the universal tree of humanity a little in the direction most favorable to the production of good fruit under existing circumstances.”
This notion of philanthropy “going this far… but no further” in advancing social change has been a tension within philanthropy’s purpose for a long time. Because philanthropy is, in effect, social venture capital, it is an important resource absent many of the encumbrances associated with a government bureaucracy. Philanthropy can be entrepreneurial in spirit, posses the flexibility to course correct for changing circumstances, and seek creative solutions on comparatively nimble feet. Its capacity to leverage the potential for social and economic change has redemptive power when focused upon improving the quality of American life for a wide swath of the poor and disenfranchised. Someone once described this capacity as “America’s passing gear”, a rather apt description in the context of building momentum quickly when other ingredients are present that support social progress.
If American “philanthropy 1.0” is philanthropy as charity, then “philanthropy 2.0” was, as one Foundation leader described, the era of building the infrastructure for the charitable sector that exists today. She ventures further that “philanthropy 3.0” is all about philanthropy emerging as “interdisciplinary, problem-focused” and concerned with ”seeking innovation, influence and impact.” As we ponder the “philanthropy for what” question today, the reply might well be leadership on behalf of promoting solutions to urgent problems in today’s society that produces change on a systemic scale. On that measure, Carnegie and Rockefeller may be judged as having been only right by about half.
I love Florida summers. That statement is counter intuitive to many folk who would just as soon as abandon the state on the advent of summer and head to New England or seek cooler climes in the higher elevations where a chilly mountain night invites a light sweater, fuzzy slippers and a small fire to take the off the chill. Having been raised in Florida, the summers were always a time when expectations were high to be out and about in the great outdoors, often at the beach or lakeside, riding horseback in the back country under great live oaks, bicycling to the movies, dissolving into the plush, velvet seats, and enjoying the cold dark and an all day movie-thon. Now and then, something in the intensity of the cool-down at night, walking the dogs, the street lights dimly glowing, I hear the sound of children playing in the twilight, sprinklers refreshing the exhausted plants, and the flutter of wings on the rise to find their roost, transports me back to my childhood. Summer nights were perfumed then with honey suckle. I would lie in bed, savoring the sweet breath of a slight breeze, and drift off to sleep, glad to be still and quiet on the descent into night.
Summers were also a time to spend hours at the library, relishing the feeling of being unspeakably rich with shelf upon shelf of books. The feeling of indulgence and pleasure has always been inspired by the gift of abundance of books that are available to all. You walk through the doors of your local library and leave with an armful of wealth that nourishes the life of the mind and it’s made possible because commonwealth is a democratic ideal. It hasn’t always been that way. It took centuries and technological advances to multiply the availability and breadth of the printed page, from the invention of the printing press, to the advent of moveable type. The further development and proliferation of vast systems took root to support publishing and distribution of the printed page. Today, libraries have modernized and are one of the only agencies that provide residents free access to computer training and information technologies, encouraging and promoting literacy in the new digital forms that are taking the place of more traditional print communications and publications.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the enthusiasm for libraries became a movement in support of truly public institutions that served as a lighthouse for cultural and educational enlightened among the masses of individuals whose opportunities were otherwise limited by their modest means. Women, children, and the poor and enslaved had little or no hope of literary self-improvement. Libraries for the many satisfied a deep and terrible hunger that threatened the pastoral calm of a highly borne and privileged class for whom a literary life was as cake. In this context, the notion of “letting them eat cake” became a politically acceptable idea so the movement caught on.
Philanthropy helped spur the adoption and spread this most basic of public institutions. Libraries were started with contributions and charitable endowments that put the bricks and mortar into place and allowed libraries to grow like wild flowers in churches, schools, public halls, and throughout villages and townships. One of our country’s most famous philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie accomplished in his time what today would have been the equivalent of a moon shot.
According to Wikipedia, the Scottish-American entrepreneur and philanthropist offered an opportunity for grants that few towns and villages would refuse. Through his charitable foundation, Carnegie’s philanthropy financed over 2,500 public libraries across the nation. From the coal camps of West Virginia, to the dusty towns of the American West, libraries became evidence of the advance of civilization on the nation’s trek toward greatness.
Carnegie was a tough businessman. He was a smart philanthropist, too, leveraging his charitable capital with the challenge that his investments be made conditional on communities’ willingness to secure a stream of tax revenue to support and sustain their libraries on-going operations. In Carnegies’ time, the intellectual life a library represented to a community’s residents was inseparable from the value given to the importance of democratizing access to intellectual opportunity. It may not remain so going forward given the acidic nature of “less-is-more” that elevates stinginess as the cause célèbre. Yet libraries are but one of those foundational cornerstones upon which a community’s aspirations rest to provide quality of life to all of it citizens. As a democratic society, to live life to its fullest, we must have bread, and we must have roses, too.
As the drought intensifies in South Florida, every drop of rain brings with it a glimmer of hope that the rain cycle is resetting to “normal.” This cautious brightening is followed by a cynic’s pause that the new “normal” has a long way to go if the summer rainy season deluge - long presumed as a no brainer in our tropical paradise - is to refill South Florida’s empty cup. This assumption of an endless cycle of replenishment is just one of multiple, free passes to promote South Florida’s unsustainable march toward infinite growth. You might say the wood storks have come home to roost - that is, were there any watery roosts left to come home to in Palm Beach County.