Even Inmates Pitch In
Everybody’s getting in on the giving act—and we do mean everybody. “From death row inmates at San Quentin State Prison to minimum-security inmates fighting on fire lines,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports, thousands of convicts are donating money to help victims of terrorist attacks. A California corrections official has already received over $22,000 from prisoners in Sacramento. A hat passed among prisoners at Wasco State Penitentiary yielded over $2,000, and the good ladies at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla have vowed to donate all the proceeds from this year’s candy sale—expected to be $16,000—to victims’ families.
Doing Good for a Song
It’s the song on everybody’s lips these days. According to the Washington Post, “God Bless America” has become more popular than the national anthem. (It can’t hurt that it’s easier to sing.) But did you know that the copyright to the Irving Berlin classic is owned by a nonprofit? The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America have netted more than $6 million from “God Bless America” since the composer donated the song to them in his will.
Paving the Way to Better Schools
The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation has given its largest gift ever: $20 million over five years to Partners in Advancing Values in Education (PAVE) to create a fund that will help inner-city schools expand and renovate their facilities. Schools, including private schools in the Milwaukee choice program, charter schools, and some Milwaukee public schools, will be given planning grants and be allowed to draw loans from the fund at low interest rates—in some cases, below prime. PAVE officials hope to double the fund’s size by “leveraging” the Bradley grant with other private investors, says Dan McKinley, the group’s executive director, who calls the grant “a win-win-win for parents, schools, and kids.” McKinley noted that PAVE has been a longtime supporter of the Milwaukee school choice program, which was strongly supported by grants from the Bradley Foundation. This new grant looks toward increasing the supply of choice schools, rather than creating demand for them. At the press conference announcing the grant, Allen M. Taylor, chairman of the Bradley Foundation, called school choice in Milwaukee “a real and effective tool in the hands of low-income parents, giving them an opportunity previously reserved for the affluent—an opportunity that they have seized—to decide how, where, and by whom their children will be educated.”
Ambushing Afghan Philanthropy
Abdul Haq, a leader among Afghans struggling against the nation’s Taliban regime, was ambushed and killed recently as he sought to contact potential defectors among the Taliban, the Washington Post reports. For years his efforts to unite Afghans against the Taliban were aided by two American supporters, James and Joseph Ritchie of Chicago. The brothers grew up in Kabul before moving to Chicago, where Joseph eventually used the proceeds from the sale of his financial firm to establish the Ritchie Brothers Foundation, whose main mission was to aid Afghanistan. Among the foundation’s advisers is former presidential national security advisor Robert McFarlane. When Haq and his companions were ambushed in Afghanistan last Thursday, his cousin called James Ritchie in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Ritchie in turn called McFarlane, who contacted the U.S. military, but American planes arrived too late to save Haq.
One Man=50,000 Diplomas
Known simply as “that man who gets people into college,” Silas Purnell has helped over 50,000 disadvantaged black kids in Chicago go to college, a recent CNN profile revealed. Before his recent retirement at 78, he worked seven days a week for 34 years with the Ada S. McKinley Community Services’ education division. His office was a converted storage room in the basement of a public housing high rise on Chicago’s South Side. Purnell would “pick up the phone and cajole a college administrator into accepting a bright but untested teen and wheedle some scholarship money out of them, too; dig into his own wallet to help pay for books, bus fare to school, or a pair of glasses; load up his station wagon with teens whose world view didn’t extend beyond their gritty Chicago neighborhoods and drive them to distant campuses.” He says he never urged schools to accept unqualified students but rather “worked with the schools and students to find appropriate situations.” And he kept after his kids even after they were attending classes, often driving to see them, encouraging stragglers not to quit while urging others to pursue graduate studies. “The ticket they got was one way,” Purnell says. “If you didn’t make it, you had to walk home.” One of his kids is now dean of undergraduate studies at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, while William Sullivan, who says his grades were “awful” when he met Purnell, directs the center for academic enrichment and outreach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “There are kids out there who couldn’t add two and two who became doctors, engineers,” Purnell observes. “You can’t tell what’s going to happen with kids. The important thing is to try.”
Remember the demise of GreaterGood.com and Charitableway, the Internet giving portals whose deaths last year spelled ruin for the e-philanthropy boomlet? Well, you may not want to give up on the field just yet—on September 12, electronic donations to the Red Cross averaged three per second, threatening to crash the group’s site. That’s when AOL, Amazon.com, Cisco, and Yahoo saved the day, reports the Newhouse News Service: “They essentially showed up and said, ‘What do you need?’” says Phil Zepeda, the Red Cross’s director of online media. The companies’ techies quickly strengthened the Red Cross site and also transferred donation processing tasks to other sites, like Yahoo’s, that could ease the load. Every charity “is very aware now that online fund raising is here to stay and it’s time to adopt it,” says consultant Eric Smith of GivingCapital. And quick money isn’t the only reason: When giving to the Red Cross, donors also were offered the opportunity to save time with online scheduling of blood donations. And the San Jose Mercury News reports that online auction site eBay has kicked off a massive September 11-related fund raising effort. People are already donating all kinds of goods to be auctioned off, and eBay has agreed to waive all transaction fees. The goal is to raise $100 million in 100 days.
Health Care Remains Hale
Most hospital fund raising departments report donations have risen in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, according to Modern Healthcare. Donors say that watching the news coverage “re-emphasized to them how important it is to have really good health care close to home,” says Gene Attal, president of the Austin, Texas-based Seton Fund. The latest developments follow a trend: Health care organizations raised $6.9 billion in 2000, up 22 percent from 1998, a member survey by the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy revealed.
Rethinking Charitable Tax Breaks?
The British Government is considering a complete overhaul of tax breaks given to charities, reports London’s Daily Telegraph. Spurred by a review from the nation’s new Institute for Philanthropy, officials may change a legal definition of charity that dates back to Elizabeth I in 1601 and restricts tax breaks to groups that benefit the public by such means as relieving poverty, advancing education, or fostering religion. British groups that currently enjoy tax exemptions but only “benefit their own membership,” including some private schools and religious organizations, would lose their exemptions, while groups not now recognized as charities, such as sports clubs, would gain exemptions.
A “less radical option” also being discussed would leave currently recognized charities alone but expand exemptions to other nonprofits. The newspaper says officials “believe that reform is particularly important because the Government wants voluntary organizations” to help deliver public services.
For its part, England’s Institute for Philanthropy has a simple mission: “to make it easier for philanthropy to thrive.” And so it undertakes research, puts on workshops, studies tax policy, “and acts as a link with the super-efficient world of U.S. philanthropy,” as the Observer puts it. Part of the motivation comes from Britain’s relative lack of generosity: the per capita giving of Her Majesty’s subjects amounts to only about 40 percent of what Americans give to charity, and giving has not kept pace with increases in national wealth.
Giving State by State
The first comprehensive study of Pennsylvania’s philanthropy finds that the state ranks third nationally in total assets. Commissioned by Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, Community Foundations for Pennsylvania, and Delaware Valley Grantmakers, Common Wealth: Giving in Pennsylvania found statewide grant making increased 86 percent from 1992-1999 to roughly $1.3 billion. The state’s community, corporate, independent, and operating foundations grew in number from 1,979 to 3,005. The Pew Charitable Trusts were the largest single grant maker, handing out $211 million in the latest year available. The state’s citizens did not match the foundations in generosity: Pennsylvanians ranked 38th nationally in individual contributions, giving away roughly 1.7 percent of income.
In Wisconsin, foundation giving has almost tripled in the last decade, while the number of foundations has risen by roughly half. The state’s foundations gave $361 million in grants in the last fiscal year on assets of more than $5 billion, reports the annual directory produced by the Marquette University Funding Information Center. In the last fiscal year, foundation assets rose over 10 percent, but grants outpaced them with 21 percent growth. The state’s 30 or so community foundations are among the fastest growing, the largest being the Greater Milwaukee Foundation with more than $300 million in assets. The state’s largest foundation overall remains the Bradley Foundation, which gave away almost $45 million last year. One expert, however, cautioned the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in the wake of September 11, foundations would likely “give fewer multiyear grants in coming months and attach increasing importance to finding evidence that their giving is making a difference.”
A recent survey by the nonprofit tracking group Independent Sector reports that seven in ten Americans donated money, time, or blood in response to the events of September 11, but one in five said they would reduce or stop their giving if the economy takes a downturn. Sara Melendez, president of the Independent Sector, told the Newhouse News Service that nonprofits are concerned about “a slowdown in the economy, a decline in tax revenues from a slowdown, and the government’s shifting resources toward terrorism.” America’s one million nonprofit groups receive about 31 percent of their support from government funds, compared to 20 percent from donations.
American Dreams on the Web
When Stacey Davis became president and CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation two years ago, she concluded that the $100 million foundation wasn’t doing enough to leverage its most important asset: years of experience in the fields of affordable housing and community development. “We had developed a tremendous expertise about what works,” says Davis, formerly a public finance investment banker and a vice president at the Fannie Mae corporation. “But we weren’t sharing with our grantees in San Francisco what we had learned in Philadelphia, and vice versa.”
On October 30 of this year, the foundation took the first step toward meeting that need by launching a daily updated Web site, Knowledge-Plex.org, in partnership with 19 research and public information organizations, including the Brookings Institution, the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We wanted to tap into the power of technology to organize the knowledge and expertise in the affordable housing field, and to exchange ideas and information on a real-time basis,” Davis tells Philanthropy.
Most of the foundation’s partners in this venture favor active involvement by the federal government in housing and community development. But donors need not share the Fannie Mae Foundation’s public policy perspective to learn from Davis’s emphasis on knowledge and technology.
Davis hopes that KnowledgePlex will achieve three objectives. The first is to advance knowledge in the affordable housing field. The Web site will include: breaking news on legislative and regulatory issues affecting housing; a library of news articles and research reports on homelessness, mortgage lending, community and economic development, and other subjects; and discussion forums where people in the field can communicate with each other. Information will be provided mostly by partner organizations, but the site will be managed by the Fannie Mae Foundation. The main intended audiences are the policy community, nonprofit community development groups and other practitioners, aca-demics, and the media.
The second objective is to gain daily feedback from the affordable housing community. By tracking visits to different parts of the site and to different issue categories, the Fannie Mae Foundation will be able to monitor what most interests the different parts of its constituency and how that changes daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. “This feedback will be very important for us in determining what kinds of research we should sponsor, and what kinds of grants will meet the greatest needs,” explains Davis.
The third objective is to strengthen a culture and system of learning within the affordable housing community and within the Fannie Mae Foundation itself. “It’s the responsibility of each of our 100 employees to be a knowledge leader in their part of the field,” says Davis. “KnowledgePlex will focus this responsibility, because I want every employee to be a contributor to KnowledgePlex.” For her part, Davis has contributed about 25 percent of her own time as president and CEO to developing KnowledgePlex.