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Obama and foundations

Many in the foundation sector see a “natural ally” in President Obama, who served on the boards of the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund (and whose mother worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia), American Prospect reports. 

The return of an activist, expansive vision within the federal government could herald the restoration of philanthropy to its role as incubator for innovation and problem-solving, according to this view.  (Foundations have hatched reforms ranging from the War on Poverty to PBS and the 911 emergency system.) 

But “the big unknown is how the economic crisis will affect collaboration,” notes the Prospect’s Lauren Foster. “Will it put greater emphasis on partnerships?  Or will innovative ideas flounder without funding as the government is forced to focus on repairing the economy?  Already, some privately funded programs are struggling” — notably the Harlem Children’s Zone, previously held up by Obama as a national model.

 [More on this in June, when the Donors Forum‘s annual luncheon features Ralph Smith of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, described as philanthropy’s lead voice in the Obama administration, speaking on “Partners in Challenge and Positive Change.” Also invited is Valerie Jarrett.]

Among economic uncertainties, Foster notes the controversy between the National Committee for Reponsive Philanthropy, which has urged foundations to increase annual giving above the 5 percent of their endowments required by law, and the Council on Foundations, which has resisted such calls.

Meanwhile, federal courts are just beginning to consider civil liberties concerns in several cases where American Islamic foundations have had their assets frozen for years — without any due process or charges of wrongdoing — based on US Patriot Act provisions.   More from the Nation’s legal affairs correspondent David Cole, who represents three of the charities.  One case was heard Friday in Toledo.  A federal prosecutor argued that “the government does not need to show probable cause or seek a warrant to freeze assets,” the Toledo Free Press reports.

Nonprofit innovators

Two Chicago nonprofits on the cutting edge of creating green communities are among eight organizations from around the world receiving a MacArthur Foundation award for creative and effective institutions.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology will receive $650,000 and the Chicago Community Loan Fund will get $500,000 with the award.

“These organizations may be small but their impact is tremendous,” said MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton in a statement.

An innovator in research and practice on urban sustainability for over three decades, CNT is now seeing many of its ideas emerge as policy proposals under the administration of President Barack Obama — who once served on CNT’s board of directors.

The administration’s stimulus bill included money for energy conservation, for greening water infrastructure, and for a smart electric grid, all areas where CNT has been a pioneer, said Nicole Gotthelf.

CNT’s work since it helped found the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership in 1990 is reflected in new federal support for high-speed rail, and the recent announcement that HUD and the U.S. Department of Transportation will work together on transit-oriented housing development cited CNT’s groundbreaking Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

CNT projects which promote urban sustainability include the I-GO car-sharing program and the Energy Smart Pricing Plan. An Energy Savers Program provides energy audits and financing to reduce energy use (and maintain affordability) in multifamily buildings — a CNT effort that goes back more than two decades.

The Chicago Community Loan Fund promotes sustainable building practices by nonprofit and for-profit development groups — a focus it took up several years ago, when spiraling energy costs challenged affordable housing developers and tenants, said executive director Calvin Holmes.

Founded in 1991, CCLF provides low-cost financing and technical assistance to nonprofit community development organizations for affordable housing, economic development, and social service initiatives. The Fund backs small and emerging groups in low-income communities, providing predevelopment financing not generally available from banks.

Now CCLF helps clients achieve greater energy efficiency and utilize environmentally-friendly building materials. The group publishes a guide to Building for Sustainability, sponsors an information exchange working group of affordable green builders, and holds an annual workshop on sustainable development for community development corporations, contractors, and others.

With the MacArthur award, CCLF plans to expand its technical assistance and add resource fairs and more targeted workshops, in order to help community development groups, contractors, and architects stay on top of rapidly-advancing green building technology, Holmes said.

“We want to be part of the knowledge transfer, to keep our clients current on what’s new, what’s best-in-class, and what’s becoming obsolete,” he said.

The awardees will be honored in a ceremony at the MacArthur Foundation’s Chicago office on June 11.

Olympic giving

“Private philanthrophy for public purpose is just alive in this wing, because it’s just short of $400 million that was contributed by the private sector.” 

“This wing” is the Art Institute’s new wing, where Chicago 2016’s Patrick Ryan was addressing the IOC’s evaluation committee on Monday.

“And then, as you all know, Millennium Park right next door, another $200 million — a statement of Chicago’s belief of helping out really important efforts and initiatives and working on behalf of the general public to make life much better in this city,” Ryan told the committee, according to a pool report provided by Chicago 2016.

The day before, in a thorough reality check on Olympic boosterism, Steve Chapman framed the same issue differently:

“Has anyone considered all the institutions that will suffer because donations and entertainment outlays will be diverted from them to the Olympics?”

Nonprofiteer has a full discussion.

Education astroturfing?

Is tomorrow’s Citywide Education Summit an example of “astroturfing,” as per PURE?  (Or as Mike Klonsky puts it, “Power philanthropy still rules the roost of top-down school reform.”)  Several well-regarded community organizations are participating in the effort, which is funded by the Joyce and Gates Foundations, which are major proponents of charter schools and “turnarounds.”

Many if not all of the community groups participating are recipients of Gates Foundation money, including through Communities for Public Education Reform (pdf).  One of them, Target Area Development Corporation, launched an education campaign called Parents and Residents Invested in School and Education in 2007, planning to work in the Far South Side area where they’re based. But Gates provided funding, and directed them to the West Side, to build support for the “turnaround” at Orr High being undertaken by another Gates fundee, Academy for Urban School Leadership, as Catalyst reported last year.

Now PRISE seems to have morphed into the Citywide Education Organizing Campaign.  (Is this the Gates Foundation’s response to the Grassroots Education Movement, which mobilized parents against school closings last month?) They’re releasing the results of a survey of parents tomorrow.

Interestingly, several years ago Gates funded a parent survey by PURE (pdf), which found a high level of interest in involvement among parents of both traditional and non-traditional schools.  It also found a correlation between higher student achievement and greater opportunities for parents to volunteer and to participate in decision-making in their kids’ schools. 

That report recommended more suport for home learning activity, for school volunteer programs, and for parent involvement in school governance.

Tomorrow’s report is less likely to stress the last point — given the lack of response from Orr/AUSL to attempts by parents there to get an elected LSC, according to  Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together.

With reports of declining enrollment at Sherman Elementary (20 percent) and Harper High (30 percent), both AUSL “turnarounds,” Carroll says parents are concerned about “push-outs” at Orr.

Don’t imagine that will show up in tomorrow’s report, either.

Check GatesKeepers, a blog featuring “civil society voices on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”   Via GatesKeepers, here’s a Seattle Times piece on the foundation (and Seattle knows Gates), gently suggesting a need for greater accountability.

Nonprofit woes

One expert predicts that “at a minimum” more than 100,000 nonprofit organizations will be wiped out in the next two years, according to a recent Nation article.

“With foundations watching their endowments shrivel, many individual donors maxed out and states across the country staring at massive budget deficits, nonprofits across the country are scaling back their services at the very moment when the need for them is escalating,” writes Eyal Press.

Some foundations are calling for a nonprofit bailout — a revolving-loans fund backed by the government to help social services and cultural institutions get through the current crisis.

Most oppose suggestions of raising the legal requirement of annual foundation giving from 5 percent to 6 percent of their endowments, though endowment losses have translated that into a much smaller amount.

But the MacArthur Foundation has stepped up giving, including $68 million on foreclosure prevention in Chicago and more funding for arts and human rights organizations, despite losses to its endowment. (Chicago Community Trust is stepping up, too; see December’s Newstip.)  “Maybe if other foundations did the same, it would begin the ease the fear and panic,” MacArthur president Jonathan Fanon tells Press.

One big question: “how much even a wealthy society like the United States can realistically expect of the nonprofit sector,” recently touted as the alternative to the big-government welfare system. Despite spiraling unemployment, the number of Americans getting help from what remains of the welfare system is at a 40-year low.

“Now more and more people who lose their jobs turn to charity because we’ve off-loaded the responsibility to nonprofits,” says David Jones of the Community Service Society.

One million meals

The Chicago Community Trust announced the first round of grants in its new Unity Challenge (see December’s Newstip).  Grants throughout the six county region will provide an addition 1 million meals at food pantries and soup kitchens, an additional 2,100 beds at 25 area shelters, and stepped-up homelessness prevention. 

United Way goes viral

United Way has launched an online campaign using social networks with the goal of expanding its base of small donors in response to the growing crisis of human need in the region.

The Young Leaders Society of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago is spearheading the new Give5Here campaign, using Facebook and other social networks to encourage friends to give at least $5 — and to encourage their friends to do the same.

The campaign was launched on February 2, in 26-degree weather, when 65 United Way volunteers stood in Daley Plaza and shed their coats for 120 seconds (it “seemed a lot longer,” one participant remarked) to dramatize the vulnerability of families in need.

They held signs with statistics on growing needs. Requests for assistance at food banks are up 33 percent in Chicago and 50 to 90 percent in the suburbs, said April Redzik. One in five Chicagoans lives in poverty, she said. On any given night, 20,000 people in Illinois are homeless.

Requests from service agencies for assistance from United Way are twice as high as they were last year, Redzik said; this year the group is getting $6 in requests for every $1 it has to disburse.

The economic crisis has a multitude of impacts, she said. Domestic violence shelters are getting more requests for service, not because incidents of domestic violence have increased, but because victims have fewer resources available.

The campaign features a dramatic video which makes the case that a large collective effort to gather small donations can make a signficant difference. The video can be e-mailed to friends or posted on Facebook and other personal sites.

“It has been a tough fundraising year,” Redzik said. “People who have been past donors are being laid off. One of the reasons we’re doing this is that we’ve seen such an increased need, and we want to make sure that every option to provide shelter and food for families in crisis is available.”

Foundation challenge

In the Nation, Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice urges foundations  to “seize the moment” and its new “opportunities for progress.” She offers suggestions including “think big,” moving beyond the small-bore, defensive strategies of recent years to bold, transformational approaches; and “invest now,” while agendas are being shaped, by maintaining funding levels (despite shrinking endowments) — and providing more unrestricted support to allow organizations to respond to unexpected opportunities. 

And if you’re in Washington next week, the Alliance is sponsoring a forum on Driving Change: The Role of Activists during the Obama Administration, with Van Jones of Green For All and Eli Pariser of MoveOn on Monday morning.

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