A Vision of Hope for Philanthropy in 2019

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, greeted the new year with a letter in which he reflects on the foundation’s hopes for its grantees, the communities it impacts, and the world.

We know that the communities most proximate to the problems possess unique insight into the solutions. That is why, in everything we do, we ought to ensure that the people affected by our work are guaranteed a voice in its design and implementation. To this end, diversity and inclusion must be priorities throughout our organizations—and especially at the top of them. One recent BoardSource survey suggests that the boards and leadership of foundations are remarkably homogeneous. We must work to become more heterogeneous in an increasingly diverse world or we risk cynicism and backlash from stakeholders who don’t see themselves represented in our institutions.

Walker also makes the case for believing in those the philanthropic field funds:

Finally, we must trust those we fund, and fund them adequately to do what they believe is best, not what we think is best. This means putting ourselves in the shoes of prospective grantees and communities, treating them like partners rather than contractors, and entrusting organizations with long-term general support funding and project grants that provide adequate overhead. It means acknowledging the power imbalance that often makes our grantees reluctant to engage honestly and authentically.

According to Walker, there is “a movement of philanthropists not merely concerned with funding good works but also with improving how we fund them.” He says that he is inspired, among others, by Agnes Gund’s leadership in creating Art for Justice.

I believe they and many other philanthropists represent a movement from generosity to justice. To me, this is the best response to philanthropy’s deepest flaws and inherent contradictions.

Read the full letter here.

“Coming Together in Community is the Cure”: Grant Oliphant Writes After the Tree of Life Shooting 

One of philanthropy’s responses to the horrific Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that left 11 people dead came from

We are becoming so inured to these moments that we risk forgetting the totality of what is happening around us. Violent, right-wing extremism is on the rise in America. Just now, in the days before this attack, a white supremacist murdered two elderly black shoppers at a grocery store in Louisville. Another white supremacist mailed bombs to multiple current and former elected and government officials and wealthy donors critical of the President. The tale of terrorism in America today is the tale of armed white supremacists increasingly emboldened to commit acts of brutal violence.

Embracing each other in all our differences as one people—that, most assuredly, is the cure. But love comes with accountability. It demands more and better of us than indifference and silence.

Read the full post here.

 

GIA’s Board Writes to Congress Expressing Concerns on the Proposed Changes to the 2020 Census

Grantmakers in the Arts, the national association of private and community foundations, corporate funders, and government agencies that support communities across America by funding nonprofit arts organizations and artists, is writing to express our strong concerns about the proposed changes to the 2020 decennial census, including the Administration’s addition of a question on citizenship status. The 2020 decennial Census, if conducted improperly or incompletely and with the harmful impact of a citizenship question, will severely hamper the ability of our nation’s citizens to fairly benefit from Federal and State programs which support the arts and arts education. The question on citizenship status alone is especially troubling given the impact it will have on the ability of the census to accurately count all those living in and contributing to our nation.

Read the full letter here. 

ArtPlace Presidents Write a Joint Letter in Support of the NEA

Following the Trump Administration’s 2019 budget request that proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), among other cultural agencies, the foundation presidents who fund ArtPlace released a statement in support of cultural federal agencies and their role in strengthening communities.

“If we lose federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, we will not only lose significant direct investments in communities across all 50 states, we also lose the infrastructure that brings us together as one United States of America,” write the letter’s authors.

This statement follows a letter sent by the Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) board of directors impressing upon Congress the urgent need to support appropriations funding for the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) at the highest levels proposed by either the House or Senate’s 2018 appropriations bills, and to reject outright the elimination of these agencies as proposed by the budget request.

Read the full letter here.

Read GIA’s letter.

GIA’s Board Asks Congress to Support Cultural Agencies at Risk in the President’s 2019 Proposed Budget

The board of directors of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) has requested that Congress support appropriations funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) at the highest levels proposed by either the House or Senate’s 2018 appropriations bills, and to reject the elimination of these agencies as proposed by the Trump Administration’s 2019 budget request.

Read GIA’s letter here.

Larry Kramer, President of the Hewlett Foundation, Ponders on Today’s Philanthropy

Larry Kramer, president of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, penned a letter in which he reflects on philanthropy after, what he calls, “a year as tumultuous and unsettling as 2017.” Kramer points out the spirit of a funder’s work, the responsibility to steward tactfully a foundation’s resources, and the adaptations and responses required to navigate changes in the political landscape in the US and abroad.

Read GIA’s news post on this letter.

It has not been my usual practice to write annual letters—they feel at odds with the foundation’s commitment to “operating in the modest, low-key style of our founders.” But after a year as tumultuous and unsettling as 2017, a few words seem appropriate. Not to cheerlead or sound a clarion call to the barricades; everyone working in the social sector understands that extraordinary events are afoot and fundamental values are being tested. What matters now, is not rhetoric, but how we meet these tests—substantively, and on the ground.This is especially true for a funder. We don’t do the work that matters: we support other people and organizations who do. Yet that must be balanced against our responsibility to steward the foundation’s resources wisely—a duty that lies here, with us, and that cannot be outsourced to others. How, then, should we weigh what our grantees say and want against our own best judgment about what’s happening and what we should do? How do we find the right balance between change and continuity? That’s a difficult question in the best of circumstances, so the very least we can do is to explain clearly the adjustments we’re making, and why.

We did a lot of adjusting on the fly this past year, learning and adapting to changes in the landscape while trying not to lose sight of principles that have guided us well for more than 50 years. That’s particularly challenging at times like these, when so much that we have taken for granted—shortsightedly it seems—is under threat.

I am thinking especially of democratic institutions, both in the United States and abroad. Having spent most of my adult life studying and writing about U.S. constitutional history, it’s hard to watch the cracks that have emerged continue to widen, even harder to stomach the hate-filled tribalism that passes for public discourse these days. That much, ironically, seems to be shared across the political spectrum. Sometimes, it feels like it’s the only thing shared.

When cynicism or hopelessness creeps in, I remind myself of what inspired Bill and Flora Hewlett to create this charitable foundation: their belief in the capacity of people to do good and to become better. Certainly there is evil in the world, and people can do incomprehensibly awful things. Institutions run by individuals acting in complete good faith can commit, or ignore, terrible wrongs. Our task is to help rectify these wrongs—something we do motivated not by anger, an understandable but unhelpful reaction, but rather from a firm conviction that we can all learn, can all change, can all become better. The work of philanthropy rests, and in the end depends, on this abiding faith in the dignity of individuals and the possibility of progress.

The Hewlett Foundation’s approach to philanthropy flows directly from this hope and ethos. The Hewletts may not have foreseen things like climate change or the rise of social media, but they built into the DNA of their foundation some enduring values that continue to guide us and to which we continue to aspire.

Topping the list, our first Guiding Principle, is a commitment to “seek to bring about meaningful, socially beneficial change in the fields in which we work.” That principle was on my mind a great deal in 2017. As I have written elsewhere, when it comes to complex social problems, meaningful social change is not achieved by quick fixes. Effective philanthropy requires becoming part of and helping to nurture an ecosystem of grantees, beneficiaries, and other funders whose efforts, cumulatively and over time, can deliver lasting impact. This means making long-term commitments, while leaving room for goals and strategies to adapt and change with the times.

Our emphasis in 2017 was heavy on the adaptation side of that equation. Changes in the political landscape, both in the U.S. and abroad, threatened progress and exacerbated problems we’ve been working on for years. We responded by allocating more than $60 million in available flexible funds to bolster our most vulnerable strategies. These extra funds, spent on top of ongoing grantmaking of roughly $400 million, enabled us to pivot responsibly and try new things while our grantees adjusted, altering their own strategies or making new efforts.

As 2018 begins, I want to talk about strategic adjustments we made, and what lies ahead, in three areas: women’s reproductive health in the U.S.climate change, and democratic dysfunction. After that, I’ll close with a few words about developments in a fourth area—diversity, equity and inclusion—that was a matter of concern long before the events of last year but that has become ever more meaningful in their wake.

 

Read the full letter here.

Open Letter from Tim Delaney: Tax Bill Will Hurt Nonprofits and Communities

Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, has published an open letter against the tax bill currently under consideration in Congress:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes personal exemptions and the standard deduction in a way that effectively denies 95 percent of taxpayers any tax incentive for giving back to their communities. The amount to which tax incentives drive donations can be disputed, but surely it will cut revenues some. Indeed, economists at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute report that the tax change would reduce giving by $13 billion to $20 billion every year. The same group estimates that changes in the estate tax will reduce giving to charitable purposes by another $4 billion.

Read the full letter from Tim Delaney.

Senate Appropriations Bill Recommends Continued NEA, NEH Funding at 2017 Levels

On Monday, November 20, the US Senate Appropriations Committee released a 2018 spending bill that would fund the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities at 2017 budget levels, $150 million for each agency. Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch released a statement Tuesday in response:

This action is in stark contrast to President Trump’s call for full termination of these agencies. I thank the strong leadership of Senate Subcommittee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM), both of whom were awarded our Congressional Arts Leadership Award in 2017 and 2015, respectively.

The Senate Appropriations bill is $5 million higher than the $145 million funding level allocated by the House of Representatives in July. As the Senate and House will need to reconcile to reach a final funding decision, Americans for the Arts is urging support for the Senate version.

Read the full statement from Robert Lynch.

Arts and Culture in Dangerous Times: Rip Rapson’s Address to the 2017 GIA Conference

At the closing plenary of the 2017 GIA Conference, Rip Rapson spoke on how The Kresge Foundation has reasserted its values and called on arts funders and cultural workers to continue to put their own values into action.

“In no time in my memory has it been more important for arts and culture to become part of a larger movement of social justice — helping strengthen the alliances necessary to speak and advance those truths of equity, fairness, and justice that we know to be inviolable.”

Read the full transcript.