Altruism Today

Clinton Foundation prepares to scale down operations

November 7th, 2016  |  Source: Philanthropy Daily

In a public letter to leaders in the foundation and nonprofit world, Clinton Foundation chief Donna Shalala announced recently that the organization will significantly scale back much of its programming. “Regardless of the [election] results in November,” Shalala wrote, the Foundation will suspend the Clinton Global Initiative and, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, the Foundation is prepared to “transition [international] projects to partner organizations […] or spin them off into independent entities.” In addition, the Foundation will stop accepting foreign and corporate donations and former president Bill Clinton plans on resigning from the board. 

Speaking with the Chronicle of Philanthropy shortly after the letter went public, Ms. Shalala explained that many foundations do something similar when scaling down operations, alerting colleagues ahead of time so that gaps in the institutional landscape might be more effectively filled in. She added that her counterparts have generally been “very supportive” of the Foundation’s plans. A number of the Foundation’s flagship programs—combating childhood obesity and opioid abuse, for instance, or expanding health access—will live on as autonomous operations. 

This announcement raises the troubling cynicism which has for so long bedeviled the Clintons’ philanthropic efforts. Certainly those critics who allege that Clinton has used the massive foundation as a vehicle for fundraising, favor-dealing, and reputational rehabilitation gearing up to her inevitable presidential run will not be reassured by the news that the former Secretary of State is phasing down operations now that that goal seems within reach. The point of Shalala’s letter seems on some level to be merely to dispel this idea: the Foundation boss repeatedly stresses how painful the transition has been while reaffirming the group’s “dedication to the people who benefit from our work.” 

Of course, we mustn’t nitpick. If Clinton were to win the election, the Foundation would obviously need to undergo some significant restructuring one way or another. But perhaps the lesson of the Clinton Foundation’s scale-down is that ‘personality foundations’ such as these are inherently unstable, tied as they are to the ups and downs of their namesake’s fortunes. In philanthropy, as in theater, the show must go on; but things would be going a bit more smoothly now if the Foundation weren’t so closely associated with Mrs. Clinton, and all the political baggage she brings to the picture. 

Chobani CEO Takes a Powerful Stand on Immigrants and Refugees

November 4th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the yogurt giant Chobani, and an immigrant himself, has been under siege of late for his advocacy and employment of refugees.

Ulukaya, who founded Chobani in 2007, has been a strong advocate for refugees from his native Turkey as well as other countries reeling from the impact of recent crises, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been outspoken on immigrant rights in highly public spaces such as the World Economic Forum. He founded The Tent Foundation to mobilize corporate leaders, and has committed most of his wealth to addressing the refugee crisis.

He has also put his advocacy into practice at Chobani. When Chobani opened a new factory in Twin Falls, Idaho, Ulukaya partnered with nonprofit resettlement centers in the area to recruit its new employees—a common hiring practice for the company. Once recruited, refugees were paid above the minimum wage, provided transportation, and equipped with translators to help them realize success in their new roles.

“The minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee,” Ulukaya has said.

But this move agitates far-right politics. An increasingly nationalistic movement within the country mobilized by the upcoming presidential election is confronting Ulukaya’s empathy and compassion with anti-Muslim hate speech and death threats. The controversial website Breitbart, for example, published a story that attributes the rise of tuberculosis in Twin Falls, Idaho, with Chobani hiring refugees.

The mayor of Twin Falls, Democrat Shawn Barigar, has also come under attack, including death threats, for supporting Chobani in what some are calling the “Islamification of the United States,” a response he calls “crazy.” Barigar points to the anti-immigration rhetoric made popular through Donald Trump’s campaign as the culprit. “Donald Trump really fueled a sentiment about immigration that is shared by a very small part of our community,” he said. “We are an agricultural center. We’ve depended on immigrants for a half-century or more.”

The counter-response in support of Chobani has grown increasingly strong. Chobani’s Twitter feed, for example, surges with gratitude and encouragement.

The New York Times reports that Chobani’s example as a corporate leader is being noticed and admired by his peers.

Chobani’s work with refugees went largely unnoticed until this January, when Mr. Ulukaya spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His message—that corporations needed to do more to assist refugees—broke through the high-minded rhetoric.

“He was quite a sensation there,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who attended the event. “Here was someone who went beyond the well-meaning chatter of Davos and was walking the walk.”

Source; New York Times

Trump Shows the Gap Between Pledge and Gift Can Be a Gulf

November 1st, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Washington Post

The good news is that most pledges eventually become completed gifts from most major donors. However, this fact often seduces charities and the media to breathlessly report pledges as though they are gifts already made. The Washington Post’s James Fahrenthold’s recent article in the series covering the Trump Foundation illustrates the importance of separating the appearance of a gift from an actual gift.

Those familiar with Fahrenthold’s coverage and NPQ’s coverage of the Trump Foundationwon’t be surprised that there are several cases where the current Republican presidential candidate claimed to have made charitable gifts, or “gate-crashed” events assuming a major donor role when it turned out not to be true. The new Post story also describes additional gifts made by the Trump Foundation that appear to have benefitted Trump and his family personally. Two examples are the foundation’s use of $100 to purchase a two-person membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a $7 gift to the Boy Scouts. The $7 gift raises questions because it represents the cost to register a child as a scout at the time Trump’s eldest son was 11 years old. The new allegations of “self-dealing” involving Trump’s private foundation (regardless the amount of money in question), if true, could subject the foundation to IRS penalties and even revocation of its tax exemption.

One example of “gate-crashing” involved Trump turning up uninvited at an event celebrating the opening of a nursery school for children with AIDS, where he claimed a seat designated for a major donor on the stage (between then-current NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Mayor David Dinkins) despite never having given to the organization. The donor whose seat Trump took was awkwardly relegated to sit anonymously among the audience. It was an insult aided and abetted by the charity’s desire to avoid a scene. Instead of standing up for itself and its donor at the time, the nonprofit spent several months working with their major donor to salvage the relationship.

GoFundMe Is Changing The Way People Give To Causes Big And Small

October 31st, 2016  |  Source:

Late in 2012 Eliza O’Neill, a lively, talkative 3-year-old growing up in Columbia, S.C., started stumbling over her words. “Something was just not right,” recalls her father, Glenn, then a procurement manager for a data-storage company. A series of tests brought devastating news. Eliza had Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare and incurable disease that would erase her ability to speak, destroy her motor function and kill her before she reached adulthood.

Desperate, Glenn and his wife, Cara, a pediatrician, discovered that a hospital researcher was working on an experimental gene therapy that had shown promising results in mice. But the trial needed funding. The O’Neills quickly set up a tax-exempt foundation and, at no cost, posted a fundraising appeal on a three-year-old crowdfunding site called GoFundMe. Anyone moved to contribute could click a big rectangular “Donate Now” button and share the good deed on social media.

The O’Neills’ funding goal was $1 million. Three years later, spurred by a three-minute video about Eliza that has been viewed on Facebook and YouTube nearly one million times, 37,000 donors around the world have given the O’Neills’ foundation more than $2 million via GoFundMe. This May Eliza became the first child to receive the experimental therapy, and her parents are hopeful her condition will improve. “It’s a miracle that this happened,” Glenn says.

It has also been very good for GoFundMe, which takes a 5% cut of the money raised on the site. For hosting the O’Neills’ appeal, it has reaped more than $100,000. GoFundMe is not a philanthropy; it is an increasingly valuable for-profit business prominent on FORBES’ 2016 list of next billion-dollar startups. After achieving a reported valuation of $600 million in a July 2015 venture capital deal, it hit a growth spurt. In its first five years before the deal it channeled $1 billion in donations. Then it took just nine months to hit the second billion and only seven months to move a third billion in donations. For 2016 GoFundMe is projecting revenue of $100 million and an operating profit margin of more than 20%. GoFundMe is more than twice the size of the world’s next-largest crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, which focuses on artistic projects and new products. Like GoFundMe, Kickstarter takes 5% of the money it raises, though it doesn’t collect if campaigns don’t reach their goals. GoFundMe collects no matter what. It also imposes a 2.9% credit card processing fee plus 30 cents per donation.

GoFundMe’s brass are unapologetic capitalists who see the profit motive as perfectly aligning with the company’s objective: getting more people to give more money more efficiently to a vast array of “personal causes.” Because GoFundMe’s profits directly correlate with how much money it can persuade others to give away, the business is highly incentivized to increase the total amount people donate to others. The one million fundraisers pumping away on the site run the gamut from the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation to disaster relief for victims of the August Baton Rouge floods (6,400 GoFundMe campaigns have raised $11.2 million) to a couple who want help paying for their Prague honeymoon.

“Nobody’s been able to really harness the power of the people to raise funds,” says CEO Rob Solomon, 49, a UC Berkeley grad who grew up in Manhattan and Miami while his activist mother protested anti-gay-rights proponent Anita Bryant. “A for-profit in this space will perform better than a nonprofit. You need a modern Internet company to do that.” GoFundMe already channels more than twice as much as the Red Cross, which collected contributions of $604 million last year. The 135-year-old charity, where 90% of spending goes to programs, has only praise for GoFundMe’s winning formula. “If GoFundMe can make money and do good deeds at the same time,” says Neal Litvack, the organization’s chief marketing officer, “that’s probably a good thing.”

At GoFundMe’s headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., 60 staffers in jeans and sneakers spend their days the way many other Silicon Valley startup workers do, tapping away at workstations spread out in a 9,000-square-foot, open-plan office inside a gleaming glass-and-steel building set back from a leafy street. Meetings happen in conference rooms named for successful campaigns like Saving Eliza and Ibra’s Chair, which raised $33,000 for a Kenyan-born high school student with cerebral palsy who needed an electric wheelchair. Solomon, who has no office and works instead at a standing desk next to a window, says the developers and designers are devoted to “optimizing for conversion.” That includes refining the website’s user interface to make it more likely to drive donations. Those who start campaigns can share them across multiple social media platforms with a few clicks. A mobile app lets campaign organizers create videos from photos on their phones, and the company is working on a tool that will enable live video streaming.

GoFundMe has big expansion plans. It opened a Dublin office in July to service Ireland and the U.K. It’s up and running in Canada and Australia and hopes to open in several European countries Solomon isn’t ready to name. Annual donations will hit between $5 billion and $7 billion by 2020, he predicts.

How the Trump Campaign Exposed America’s Sleeping Authoritarianism

October 25th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

A new analysis of American values reveals a deepening philosophical divide among voters. And this election’s outcome may offer a breaking point.

Almost exactly four years ago, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter offered a dire warning to the crowd of nearly 1,300 people assembled in Concord, New Hampshire: America’s civil religion, built on an abiding devotion to Republican principles, is on the verge of collapse.

“If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible,” Souter said, speaking of voters and the democratic process, less than two months before Barack Obama would defeat Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls. “If we don’t know, we will stay away from the polls. We will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, ‘Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do.’ That is the way democracy dies. And if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night.”

When considered in the context of Donald Trump’s campaign, Souter’s warning is eerily prescient (as, to her credit, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow astutely observed first observed last week). Of course, democratic societies have always struggled to nurture Republicanism; just consider Benjamin Franklin’s famous assertion that the nascent United States would be “a Republic … if you can keep it.” But after 240 years, America’s extraordinary experience is showing signs of wavering: New data on American values suggests the 2016 campaign has forced civil society to an unprecedented breaking point.

On Tuesday, the Public Religion Research Institute released its annual survey of American values since 1950. Culled from a sample of 2,010 voters, the PRRI data paints a picture of a body politic evenly divided on whether the country has changed for the better or worse (48 percent to 51 percent) since the end of World War II, splitting Americans across ethnic, racial, religious, and sociopolitical lines.

Not surprisingly, it’s primarily white, working-class Christians who believe the U.S. has been in decline for years. They are pessimistic about a political system and remain concerned that their values are “under attack,” a finding bolstered by other polls. This can’t all be traced to economic anxiety: The election is about the future of American whiteness.

“This election has become a referendum on competing visions of America’s future,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones in a statement accompanying the report. “Donald Trump supporters are nostalgic for the 1950s, an era when white Christians in particular had more political and cultural power in the country, while Hillary Clinton supporters are leaning into — and even celebrating — the big cultural transformations the country has experienced over the last few decades.”

Conservative malaise has now transformed into a subtle rejection of Republicanism.

Even as faith in American institutions remains at historic lows, white anxiety has been on the rise since the political turmoil and social liberalization of the 1960s and 1970s started chipping away at the idea of the post-war nuclear family. According to the PRRI data, some 72 percent of likely Trump voters say American society has worsened since the 1950s (compared to 70 percent of Clinton voters who say it’s improved), as do 56 percent of white Americans, mostly due to the usual socio-economic anxieties of working-class whites (65 percent hold this view compared to 56 percent of college-educated whites). It’s those relatively religious working-class whites who believe “America’s best days are behind [them],” and are deeply pessimistic about America’s financial future, the threats posed by immigrants, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Perhaps the most alarming revelation of the PRRI survey data is that conservative malaise has now transformed into a subtle rejection of Republicanism. There’s obviously a marked increase in frustration with the U.S. political system: Sixty-one percent of Americans reject both political parties (up from 48 percent in 1990), and both Trump and Hillary Clinton have historically high unfavorability ratings among voters, 65 and 57 percent respectively.

That frustration has extended to the electoral system, the very lifeblood of Republicanism, itself. Consider that, while African Americans are generally more skeptical than whites that their votes will be counted, only a third of white, working-class Americans have confidence in the system. Additionally, 64 percent of white, working class Americans believe elections “ are controlled by those with money so it doesn’t matter if they vote,” a belief that precedes Trump’s claims of vote-rigging by several weeks. And consider that, while only 45 percent of white Americans believe the country needs an authoritarian leader (defined as someone “who will break rules because things have gotten so off track”), it’s a majority of working-class whites in favor of one.

The tendency toward authoritarianism among this subset of American society was documented well before Trump’s rise. In Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler observed that the political philosophy undergirding far-right conservatism that evolved after the relative homogeneity of the 1950s is less about “conservative” principles (small government, free markets, etc.) and more about order.

Although their analysis was published in 2009, it feels as relevant as Souter’s 2012 warning: Authoritarianism “is fundamentally motivated by desire for order, support for authorities seen as best able to secure that order again a variety of threats to social cohesion … to stave off the chaos that often appears to be just around the corner. Emanating from such a conception is a suspicion of ideas that appear to pose a threat to such authorities and of groups that may, by their very nature, unravel the social fabric.” Trump’s ostracization of immigrants and Muslims, his demonization of the “rigged” media and elections, and his law-and-order battle cry of “I alone can fix it” aren’t just brilliant rhetoric—they’re the stuff of democratic nightmares.

This isn’t to say that there’s an apocalyptic, democracy-ending civil war brewing between a faction of conservative Trump supporters and the rest of the country as some worrywarts in D.C. might have you believe. But the sociopolitical malaise that Trump has summoned certainly experience doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy.

The conservative exploitation of Tea Party anxiety after Obama’s election in 2008 and Trump’s utilization of white anxiety in 2016 may have fanned the flames, but the authoritarian sickness has been festering among working-class whites for decades.

The best response to civic ignorance, Souter said in 2012, was to engender a knowledge of (and respect for) Republicanism beyond the cheerleader-like patriotism that accompanies fear and panic. “What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible,” he said in Concord. “And when the problems get bad enough … some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’”

It’s the right proposition, but it’s likely too late. Consider that a 2012 Xavier University study showed that two out of three Americans who take a citizenship test offered to immigrants fail (some 97.5 percent of the immigrants applying pass). And in an age of fact-free governance and campaigning, where Trump can construct an entire universe of falsehoods and lies and sacrifice long-term civic solidarity in favor of a short-term profit, it may be a bit too late for civics.

An armed revolution will not come to the U.S. anytime soon. But if Franklin’s (and Souter’s) biggest fear was that Americans would voluntarily surrender their liberty, the PRRI’s report shows that a growing bloc of voters are increasingly ready to do just that.

Clinton and Trump: A Tale of Two Foundations

October 17th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

The 2016 presidential race has focused unprecedented attention on the charity and philanthropy of the candidates. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump started charitable foundations many years ago that continue in operation today. Unfortunately for the nonprofit sector and those who advocate for its beneficiaries, most of the stories printed about both foundations have been negative, not only injuring the reputations of the foundations and their founders, but also harming the credibility of the nonprofit sector as a whole.

Both Clinton and Trump have been accused of using “their” foundations for personal gain in violation of their fiduciary duty and, in some cases, in potential violation of state and/or federal law. Both candidates have placed family members and close confidantes in foundation leadership positions. Both candidates and their foundations have resisted media inquiries and left significant questions about foundation operations and governance unanswered.

Whether one foundation or the other is more culpable, more suspect, or more dangerous to civil society is a question with an answer usually heavily influenced by one’s political leanings. Trump supporters, Republicans, and conspiracy theorists point to the Clinton Foundation’s large size, complex structure of interrelated yet independently organized nonprofits and for-profit corporations, network of wealthy donors which includes multimillionaires, billionaires, transnational corporations, and many foreign governments, and the correlation of Clinton Foundation projects with support of Bill and Hillary Clinton in their private careers. Clinton supporters rail against the Trump Foundation’s haphazard and poorly documented support of charities, its having collected other people’s money while Donald Trump himself hasn’t given anything since 2009, the federal penalty paid for sending a $25,000 check to support the legal defense fund of the Florida Attorney General, purchase of at least one charitable auction item (possibly three or more) by the foundation that Trump used personally, and generally poor foundation administration and record-keeping which might be either lackadaisical or intentional.

One key difference between the two foundations is that while both are tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code, the Trump Foundation is a private foundation and the Clinton Foundation is a public charity. The distinction is important because IRS regulations governing private foundations are generally stricter than those applicable to public charities. The reason is that, usually, private foundations receive their support from a small group of people (e.g., an individual or family) and are more susceptible to poor governance and breaches of fiduciary duty than public charities, which receive support from broader sources and are more likely to have broader independent representation in leadership.

In some important ways, it’s easier to follow the dealings of the Trump Foundation because it’s a private foundation. Unlike a public charity, it is required to disclose its donors to the public. Also, the corporate structure of the Trump Foundation is simple. There are no related nonprofit or corporate entities, where the Clinton Foundation has several related charities, initiatives, and structures in the U.S. and several other countries—often, but not always, including the Clinton name in their identity.

With no paid staff and virtually no claimed overhead, all actions of the Trump Foundation are assumed to be taken under the direction and control of Donald Trump. The Trump Foundation’s annual budget over the past eight years has averaged less than $1 million, while the Clinton Foundation and its related organizational structures have both annual revenue and assets of more than $300 million and employ more than 1,000 people.

The two foundations couldn’t be more different when it comes to overhead. As stated, the Trump Foundation has no paid staff. Its only expenses claimed on its Form 990 for 2014 are IRS filing fees and the cost to prepare the Form 990. The Clinton Foundation itself, exclusive of related entities, has $86 million in expenses, only $5 million of which were grants paid. In fact, its professional fundraising expense of $850,000 exceeds the total 2014 Trump Foundation budget.

The Clinton Foundation appears to be awash in overhead, while the Trump Foundation is so starved for managerial support that its board appears to desperately need a lesson in what nonprofit sustainability and capacity building are all about. Both perceptions may be deceptive due to how the foundations are managed. The Trump Foundation appears to receive services through the Trump Organization, Donald Trump’s multibillion-dollar for-profit corporation. The Clinton Foundation, on the other hand, has an unusual approach to service delivery.

The Clinton Foundation’s primary program service expense is for conferences, conventions, and meetings—items that would be considered overhead for most nonprofits but which are central to the Clinton Foundation’s mission to bring world leaders together to address global needs and secure multiorganizational commitments to meet those needs. Regardless of the value of these conferences, it doesn’t help public perception of charity that these charitable programs and services are delivered in the world’s most luxurious locations with the international intellectual, business, and political elite in attendance.

Some have said, based on press reports and tax filings, that the Trump Foundation’s problem is that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Conversely, the Clinton Foundation suffers from a structure so complex and interwoven that it requires extensive nonprofit tax and legal expertise to operate, resulting in a situation that its managers and advisers know all too well where the boundaries are and how they might be blurred or breached with a minimum of risk. It’s a tale of The Trump Foundation’s iron-fisted approach to fiduciary duty versus a Clinton Foundation velvet-gloved practice of orchestrating a Byzantine bureaucracy where the principals seem to be doing very well for themselves because of, rather than in spite of, their charitable activities.

Warren Buffett Responds to Trump’s Charge: Of Course I Paid My Taxes

October 12th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Washington Post

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump did not know about Warren Buffett’s history of tax advocacy when he declared during Sunday’s second presidential debate that Buffett, a Clinton supporter, took “massive deductions”?

Buffett has made plenty of noise about what he sees as the inequities of our system of taxation, once revealing that in 2010 he paid only 17 percent of his taxable income in federal taxes—lower than the 25 or 30 percent rate that more than twenty of his employees paid. Buffett wrote at the time:

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for ten minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors. These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

This led to President Obama’s proposal for the “Buffett Rule,” based on the principle that no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay. Buffett, a philanthropist who, in contrast to Trump, gives away his own money and gave an amount equal to 75 percent of Trump’s entire estimated net worth last year alone, responded in a statement that he in fact does pay taxes, and he is more than willing to meet “any place, any time” to swap returns with the now-unshackled Donald.

“I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited,” Buffett wrote. “I have no problem in releasing my tax information while under audit. Neither would Mr. Trump—at least, he would have no legal problem.”

It’s certainly not a new thought, that before anyone goes around promoting themselves as a philanthropist, they should first pay their taxes. As a sector, we should be adamant about that. In 2010, NPQ published an article by Karen Kraut, Shannon Moriarty and Kim Klein called “Talking About Taxes,” where they wrote:

A simple, easy-to-understand beginning frame also begins and ends with the common good. Peter Maurin, a teacher of Dorothy Day who also founded the Catholic Worker Movement, said that our job is to “create a society in which it is easy to be good.” Such a society has many elements, but it presumes a commitment to a rough social equity that is partly achieved by a progressive tax system. The nonprofit sector is key to insisting on this, or it will be the primary victim of its absence. It is our choice, and it must be made quickly.

I Used to Be a Human Being

October 11th, 2016  |  Source: NY Magazine

An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.

I was sitting in a large meditation hall in a converted novitiate in central Massachusetts when I reached into my pocket for my iPhone. A woman in the front of the room gamely held a basket in front of her, beaming beneficently, like a priest with a collection plate. I duly surrendered my little device, only to feel a sudden pang of panic on my way back to my seat. If it hadn’t been for everyone staring at me, I might have turned around immediately and asked for it back. But I didn’t. I knew why I’d come here.

A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long/
Read the rest of AndrewSullivan’s NY Magazine here:

A Blended Fund That Helps Social Enterprises

October 3rd, 2016  |  Source: Forbes

There are a great many fledgling social enterprises that don’t qualify for regular bank loans. Maybe they need to build a new and expensive supply chain. Or their margins are relatively low. Or  they want to remain in a particular community, instead of engaging in rapid-fire expansion. Or they’re small sustainable farmers  who can’t find someone to move or process their  product.

That’s why, about four years ago,  RSF Social Finance, a nonprofit that makes loans, grants and investments in social enterprises, launched its integrated capital blended funds, two of them focused on farmers. The most recent of those two, Soil Health Capital Collaborative, a $1 million blended fund for sustainable farming ventures, was introduced about a year ago. The oldest: the four-year-old Local Food Capital Collaborative, a $6.45 million fund for farming infrastructure, like moving and processing meat raised by farmers using sustainable methods.

Now, RSF has announced its first Soil Health Capital disbursement, a $200,000 loan package to the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative in Clinton, Arkansas, to finance the farmers’ purchases of feed and animals to be raised and then sold back to the co-op. There also was a $400,000 line of credit through the Local Food Capital Collaborative aimed at helping the co-op buy animals from member farmers and process them.

“As we go deeper in working with organizations with impact, we’ve realized that a standard bank-like loan is not what these enterprises need,” says Kate Danaher, senior manager, social enterprise lending and integrated capital. “This helps us work in a deeper way in all our focus areas.”

SOCAP16 and the Continued Evolution of Impact Investing

September 26th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Hat tip to Kevin Jones, SOCAP Founder 

For 2,500 social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and others passionate about the intersection of money and meaning, September’s SOCAP16 was the place to be. SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) is an annual gathering in San Francisco started in 2008 by a small group of investors focused on promoting a double bottom line—social and financial. Its stated mission is to create a platform where investors willing to put money into enterprises focused foremost on social return can meet the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

This year’s iteration revealed both the growing popularity of the field and the growing tension between those focused on financial returns and those focused on social returns. In an article published on the SOCAP blog at the start of the gathering, Jed Emerson, a pioneer and one of the most familiar names in the field, reflected on last year’s SOCAP and more broadly on the mainstreaming of impact investing:

It was great, because one could not help but feel we—as an increasingly diverse set of actors promoting a very nontraditional understanding of capital—had arrived!

And it was disillusioning in that it was also clear we are, as a community, still coming to grips with many fundamental questions with regard to who we are, what we believe and how best to be positioned to move forward to capture the possibilities before us.

Emerson was disappointed that much of the conversation at SOCAP15 had focused on the strategy and tactics of impact investing (the “how”) instead of on a deeper understanding of the purpose of capital (the “why”). He made a point of stating that there were people presenting themselves as impact investors “who clearly don’t get what this is about.” He explained, “It is not a conversation about tradeoffs and compromise and marginalizing profitability in order to create some fuzzy concept of charitable good.”

At SOCAP16, Jason Jenkins, CEO of Social Investment Business, felt a shift toward the why:

People are no longer asking how the metrics should fit mainstream expectations. People are asking why we should fit the mainstream expectations when many of those are entrenched to only consider risk and return, not impact?

In contrast to Emerson’s perception of SOCAP15, Jenkins perceives the emergence of a more mature field, one that has enough grounding to know where it’s going instead of wondering whether and how it will gain momentum. This confidence allows thought-leaders like Emerson to go “full circle” and question whether the community has focused enough on impact, instead of appeasing groups that have entered the impact space for a lucrative financial return above all else.

One of the most talked-about speakers at SOCAP16, Matthew Weatherley-White, managing director of The CapROCK Group, questioned why ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing had not become the default, despite the positive benefits these non-financial metrics have on portfolios. Weatherley-White argued that instead of asking investors to opt in to ESG criteria, investors should have to opt out if they want to broaden their investments to include companies that, for example, exploit workers and corrupt the market.

Weatherley-White opined that asking investors to opt out of ESG investing would be transformational. He explained the advantage of framing the ESG option as the norm, rather than a choice investors might otherwise view with cognitive bias as extraordinarily altruistic. As an analogy, he pointed to a study of organ donation policies across different countries; countries where persons had to opt out of donating organs had donation rates of 90 percent, versus rates lower than 15 percent in countries where people have to opt in.

Despite the excitement generated by Weatherly-White’s proposal, some attendees, like consultant Jean-Louis Robadey, left SOCAP16 “with the uncomfortable impression that impact is the junior partner [to investing] in these conversations.” Robadey dared impact investors to be humble, to lead with impact, and to stay on the cutting edge of innovation even as the field grows. On that last point, he recalled a particular panelist’s response to his own question, “Is Tesla an investment opportunity for impact investors?”

“I don’t think it is. Maybe five, ten years ago. But today? Do we really believe impact investors bring any additionality to Tesla’s business model?”

Uber also attracted controversy, as its head of economic research served as a panelist on investing in quality jobs in under-served communities. Martin Montero, another familiar name at SOCAP, tweeted. “So #Uber is on a panel about good job creation at #SOCAP16??? Their model: Exploitation, tax evasion & machismo. #Fail.”

But others noted the social benefit companies like Uber and Airbnb create by tapping into underutilized assets. Recognizing the diverse motivations in the field of impact investing, Emerson concluded:

As we move to scale our impact and continue to embrace the ongoing mainstreaming of our vision and practices, we need to create a truly big tent that may simultaneously hold all our various parts while also ensuring we’re all a part of the same gathering and overall movement committed to impact, equity and the effective deployment of diverse types of capital in pursuit of multiple returns.

For true impact investors, managing capital is simply the means to achieving impact and equity. The next phase in the evolution of impact investing and SOCAP will rise from a better understanding of the impact and equity that is both desired and necessary.

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Value is the only commonality in an increasingly complex, challenging and interdependent world.
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