Los Angeles Nonprofits to Receive $1 Billion in Grants

To honor its hundredth year, The California Community Foundation has announced that it will distribute a whopping $1 billion to Los Angeles nonprofits within the next ten years.

The foundation is leveraging its wealthy supporters as well as discretionary funding it has acquired over the past decades to make the new push, which represents a sizable increase over recent activities. Over the last decade, The California Community Foundation dispersed $700 million dollars to support a wide variety of nonprofits.

In order to execute on its promise, the foundation will actually have to kick into fundraising overdrive. According to staff, however, the added work will permit the organization to pursue its mission and principles.

The California Community Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Antonia Hernandez told reporters that the organization is prepared to accomplish this formidable project:

For us, it’s a stretch and we will have to go out there and work more with our donors, but we feel that we will be able to meet that commitment. We didn’t want to make a statement or commitment where we felt it was not doable.

It is unclear whether or not the foundation will follow in the footsteps of other high-profile grant-providers, such as The Ford Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, which have both shifted their priorities to tackling inequality, as well as to providing more overhead funding that gives nonprofits breathing room to cultivate staff and capital assets.

In the past, The California Community Foundation has awarded funding to all sorts nonprofits, including arts groups and basic needs assistance organizations.

Nonprofits and individuals can apply for grants on the foundation’s website. Applications are reviewed by a 20 person advisory board that makes the final decisions on which applicants will receive funding.

Help Afghanistan Earthquake Victims

Disaster struck Central Asia on Monday. A magnitude-7.5 earthquake rippled throughout northeastern Afghanistan, stretching across the region and impacting India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan as well.

In Taluqan, Afghanistan, 12 schoolgirls died in a stampede following the onset of the earthquake. Nearly 150 deaths were reported in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Officials expect the death toll to rise, reaching into the hundreds. Dramatic images appeared on Twitter depicting destroyed structures. The impact will be especially hard for the region, which already suffers from underdevelopment and poor infrastructure.

A number of first-responder organizations are on the scene and could use your help.

Doctors without Borders announced that they will be providing medical supplies and personnel to cope with the earthquake’s aftermath. UNICEF is highly active in the region. The Afghan Red Crescent Society is also accepting donations in their ongoing efforts to aid those impacted by the disaster.

Detroit: Leader in Philanthropy Innovation

Detroit’s economy has long been in the doldrums. The slow decline of the city’s once-great auto industry – along with the deleterious effects of the housing bubble and 2007 economic crash – rendered Michigan’s largest metropolitan area perhaps the poorest of its size in the United States.

Adversity, however, can breed innovation. With a little assistance, Detroit is quickly becoming a laboratory for community empowerment and grassroots organizing. The city’s nonprofits are benefiting immensely from these trends, and could point the way to the future for the nation’s philanthropy sector in addition to revitalizing this great U.S. city.

The Ford Foundation – the nation’s largest grant-maker and beneficiary of Michigan’s historically dominant economy – made waves earlier this year when it announced that it would revamp its guiding principles for awarding grants, directing all of its efforts toward combatting economic and racial iniquities as well as committing more funding toward nonprofits’ overhead as opposed to programmatic funding. This underutilized funding methodology itself could revolutionize the way that nonprofits succeed. With actual investment and the ability to acquire capital assets, nonprofits can hire, develop, and retain staff as well as grow operational capacity without having to worry about rigid line items delineated by myopic grant conditions.

The Ford Foundation’s scope, while including Detroit, is national. Detroit-focused foundations and initiatives are also similarly rethinking the game, and are generating an innovative philanthropy climate as a result.

A collection of stakeholders called Detroit Future City offers an exciting vision: unity between business, community, and philanthropy groups working to produce a just environment that improves quality of life and increases economic opportunity. The ad hoc organization grew out of the technocrat-authored Detroit Future City Strategic Framework. The document explores what assets the city of Detroit has, and expounds on possible ways to utilize them with the ultimate goal of pulling Detroit and its citizens out of the morass of economic depression and urban blight.

According to the group’s website, Detroit Future City is predicated on a holistic approach to addressing the city’s ills:

It’s not based on a vision of only how the city looks, but also how it works. It is based on a realistic understanding of current resources; is flexible enough to respond to changing needs and opportunities; and can evolve over time as it’s used and conditions change.

A look at the organization’s list of chartered initiatives yields an impressive array of ongoing and completed programs ranging from small business development to neighbood solar initiatives. A number of foundations – including The Kresge Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – have pooled millions of dollars to distribute to the various initiatives, which involve nonprofit, business, and community partners working together.

Looking to grow both businesses and community groups through joint charters, Detroit Future City heralds an interconnected local economy that strives toward the greater social good. This trend may be catching on, evident in Philadelphia’s pro-start-up climate. In the City of Brotherly Love, new businesses can defer certain taxes by contributing to local nonprofits. These initiatives spread the benefits of economic development, grow local philanthropy cultures, and create essential ties between private and nonprofit entities that benefit the community.

A number of businesses from the private sector are also stepping up to help nonprofits improve the quality of life in Detroit. This month, J.P Morgan Chase announced that it would continue offering its support to a number of area nonprofit organizations. Twelve managers from different sectors of the company’s operations – divided into four teams – will assist four organizations in their areas of expertise. The recent round of advisors will assist Eastern Market, EcoWorks, Greening of Detroit, and TechTown.  Executives from J.P. Morgan Chase have committed to sending two sets of teams to assist Detroit nonprofits per year through 2018.

While there is still a great deal of hard work to do, Detroit is making great strives towards revitalization. Part-and-parcel with this process is the growth and success of the city’s philanthropy sector – a fact that is not lost on those leading the charge for Detroit’s rebirth.

Funding for Philly Rail Park Grows

(The Reading Viaduct as it currently stands)

The drive to construct a public park on top of the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia appears to be picking up steam.

The project – in part inspired by the popular High Line in New York City – has been in discussion for over a decade. Now, it may finally become a reality.

A diverse group of funders are making great headway toward raising the projected $29 million necessary to construct the park. From the Fox Chase Bank-affiliated Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors to the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, the business sector is stepping up to help cultivate the public life of Center City.

Grassroots funders are also playing a big role. Friends of the Rail Park – a nonprofit that arose from the merger of two separate organizations both advocating for the elevated park – maintains a donation portal that has enabled individual Philadelphians to contribute to the fundraising efforts.

The studio of landscape architect Bryan Hanes received the commission to design the park, and the initial renderings are stunning. Running through 50 blocks of multicultural neighborhoods, the Reading Viaduct was constructed 1893, and remained in operation for nearly a century before falling into disuse.

Early this year, foundation support gave the project a massive boost. The William Penn and Knight Foundations have contributed $1 million toward the park as part of a larger $11 million package given to improve and expand the Philadelphia park system.

Even if construction is far off, the fundraising activity over the last year has shown immense interest and support behind the project. If the popularity of the city’s Indego bike share program is any indication, New York City urban policies are adaptable to Philadelphia. The park’s eventual construction will certainly contribute to Philadelphia’s ongoing ascent as a national and global cultural center and exemplar of a rich and open public life.

The Chicago Community Trust Follows Ford’s Lead

(The Chicago Community Trust President Terry Mazany)

The Ford Foundation appears to have struck a nerve.

Following the grant-making giant’s announcement in June to provide more funding for nonprofit operations support, other groups are following suit. Terry Mazany – president of The Chicago Community Trust – announced that his organization will begin offering grants from between $35,000 to $300,000 to Chicago’s “anchor organizations.” The grants are designed to explicitly fund operations budgets.

Mazany acknowledged the shortcomings of hitherto applied grant-making criteria in a speech at his foundation’s “State of the Community” event:

As foundations, we have been rightfully accused of creating too much administrative work that takes nonprofit resources away from their mission and establishing grant requirements that distort a nonprofit’s mission in order to satisfy funder priorities. Some of the things we do actually undermine your ability to be successful.

It may take years before this new framework proves its worth, but the logic behind it is predicated on basic business concepts. When invested with unrestricted capital, businesses can grow dynamically. Nonprofits, however, have long been bogged down by onerous requirements attached to their funding. The results-based, programmatic approach that demands concrete reporting on the progress of carefully delineated line items does not typically give nonprofits flexibility.

No-strings-attached funding provides nonprofits with breathing room, allowing them to accrue staff, make technology improvements, and increase overhead with the goal of improving overall efficacy as opposed to supporting individual projects.

Mazany also announced that, like the Ford Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust will begin focusing inequality and social justice causes. In strong words, he remarked: “We must stop kicking the can of racism down the road for the next generation to resolve.”

Key Elements Group LLC will continue reporting on this trend in grant-making.

Kickstarter and UNHCR Team Up to Help Refugees

In recent weeks, Shaping the Story has looked at the ongoing refugee crisis stemming from the conflict in Syria. Relief agencies are struggling to cope, having raised only a fraction of the funding necessary for the massive scope of operations required to deal with the situation.

A new partnership is looking to buck the trend, raising money from U.S. citizens to help support the millions impacted by the intractable Middle East conflict.

After being contacted by the White House, crowdfunding website Kickstarter has teamed up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to raise money on behalf of Syrian refugees. The Guardian will contribute video reporting on the crisis to be featured on the campaign page.

The alliance correlates with the Kickstarter’s new socially oriented direction. Recently reincorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation, Kickstarter possesses a charter requiring it to invest in nonprofits and expend resources on social good causes. The partnership will surely satisfy a portion of the company’s obligations.

It remains unclear if Kickstarter will profit from the campaign, or if all resources raised will go to relief efforts.

As governments in Europe struggle to produce a unified response and raise the requisite funding, this development is a welcome addition to humanitarian relief efforts. The world is witnessing the single greatest displacement of people since World War II. Many countries receiving massive influxes of refugees – from Turkey to Greece, Italy to Lebanon – are so cash-strapped that they cannot provide meaningful unilateral assistance.  The situation is exacerbated by xenophobic tension in host countries, evident in the hostile reception of refugees in countries such as Hungry.

Desperate people are also subjected to risky, potentially lethal migrant routes. Mediterranean raft travel has grown in frequency, as refugees try to land in European Union nations. This has resulted in a number of tragedies, including drownings. This horrific reality was documented in the widely circulated image of a drowned Syrian boy discovered on the coast of Turkey.

While a truly impactful approach will require the collaboration and robust efforts of world governments, the Kickstarter-UNHCR partnership will at least get the ball rolling. Visit the campaign page to learn more about how you can help make a difference.

U.S. Planes Bomb Doctors Without Borders

A catastrophic bombing in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province claimed the lives of 12 staff members of the international humanitarian nonprofit Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières). Carried out by U.S. aircraft on October 3 in the midst of the ongoing conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the attack also killed 10 civilians, including three children.

A nurse who worked at the hospital and was present at the time of the bombing recounted the horrific events in a post featured on the organization’s website:

These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

The nonprofit – founded in Paris in 1971 – provides medical services to war-torn and poverty-stricken regions around the world. The organization is a nobel peace laureate.

In a statement following the bombing, the non-governmental organization labeled the attack a war crime, demanding an independent probe into the bombing.

The details of the U.S. decision making leading up to the attack are currently unknown. Doctors Without Borders had, on multiple occasions, relayed its location to all belligerents in region’s conflict. Despite this awareness – and the fact that the organization notified U.S. authorities immediately after the bombing commenced – the raid lasted for thirty minutes, terrorizing the staff and civilians inside. The hospital provided the only trauma care in the province. Locals will now have to travel hours to neighboring provinces in order to receive life-saving treatment.

U.S. and Afghan officials allege that Taliban fighters had entered the perimeter of the hospital. Even if this were the case, the incident could still qualify as a war crime under internationally recognized definitions of the term.

While Doctors Without Borders is yet to announce a widow’s fund, you can still help. The organization fundraises around its work assisting regions damaged by aerial bombing campaigns. It is a tragedy that courageous nonprofit workers perished in such a manner, but a fitting tribute is to give to the group’s invaluable mission providing for people around the world whose lives are caught up in the awful grind of war.

You can find more details on how to give to Doctors Without Borders here.

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