Oct 9, 2012

Authored by: Pat Macdonald, Assistant Vice President, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation

Here at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Greater Horizons we make it our business to help donors connect to the community and social issues that are important to them. So, as climate change remains a robust international debate and helping urban households and schools increase access to healthy foods takes its place in the national spotlight, it hasn’t surprised us to see a steady uptick in the numbers of our donors who are interested in environmental sustainability.

Green Giving

To help us connect to current information and trends on this subject, we participated in the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s (EGA) 25th Annual Fall Retreat in New Palz, N. Y. this week. EGA convened some 350 grantmakers from around the country to exchange innovative practices, lessons learned, and progresses made in resource conservation and use through philanthropy.

A Royal highlight (literally speaking!), facilitated by GRACE Communications Foundation, was a congratulatory address to EGA given by HRH, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales for EGA’s 25 years of promoting effective environmental philanthropy. An outspoken advocate of sustainable farming practices for 30 years, and author of On the Future of Food, Prince Charles underscored the complex and interrelated environmental impact of industrialized food production on local ecosystems. He contrasted the outcomes against the benefits to public health and employment safeguards provided by sustainable food production systems such as locally, organically grown foods.

Giving GreeA retreat field trip visited Brooklyn Grange (pictured here). It is one of more than 700 registered urban commercial gardens in NYC. It is located on the rooftop of the Brooklyn Naval Ship Yard and covers the full 65,000 square foot building, with over 45,000 square feet of cultivated space. Brooklyn Grange has supplied more than 40,000 lbs. of organic vegetables to NYC restaurants since 2010.

Attendees of the 25th Environmental Grantmakers Retreat left fully affirmed and evermore committed to philanthropy that facilitates education and implementation of effective forms of resource conservation and healthy, sustainable systems for food production. We look forward to sharing what we learned with our donors who have a passion for green living (and green giving)!

Jun 21, 2012

If one can accept that mega confabs such as Rio+20 are inevitably about more talks, then the text (outcome) of the negotiating document that was finalized at about 3 AM on Tuesday, June 19th, will not be surprising (or shocking). At yesterday’s breakfast briefing for funders on inside strategies and groups, organized by the Consultative Group on Biodiversity (CGBD), Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and the Funders Network for Transforming Globalization (FNTG), we heard an excellent overview from the South Center.

Key Issues & Outcomes

1. Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)
CBDR is one of the fundamental principles of sustainable development and International Environmental Law for addressing equity that was formulated specifically in the context of the 1992 Rio/Earth Summit. CBDR affirms that all countries have a common responsibility to protect our environment, but these responsibilities are also differentiated. Industrialized countries have a greater responsibility because of their greater contribution to the environmental crisis and because of their higher economic status. The basic premise of CBDR is that if you treat “unequals” equally, you exacerbate inequality.

Twenty years later, almost all the rich countries, including the EU and the U.S are asserting that no single Rio principle should be singled out and a general reference to the full set of Rio principles is sufficient. In the end, it was mentioned twice, once less than in the original 1992 text.

2. Green Economy
Both the term and interpretation of the “green economy” remain highly contested. The green economy, as the roadmap to the future with clear targets was favored by the EU, while the U.S vacillated on their position. The G77 and China have moved from opposing it to questioning it to taking a “need to discuss it more” approach. The outcome for now is that the concept needs to evolve further through more engagement.

3. Sustainable Development Goals
SDGs are supposed to carry forward the Millennium Development Goals, which end in 2015, as well as integrate sustainability into the MDGs. The EU, UAE and some of the poorer countries favor it. The U.S views it as aspirational. The G77 and China agree on the concept as long as it explicitly advances the three pillars of sustainable development, i.e., economic, social and environmental benefits for all. They want SDGs to be determined through the intergovernmental process in the context of a post MDG era and a report in 2014 at the UN General Assembly. They oppose creating SDGs outside of the intergovernmental process. SDGs are a potentially important mechanism for addressing the implementation gaps of the last 20 years (i.e., the unmet goals of 1992).

4. The Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development
IFSD is basically about how to enable a strong compliance regime and meet the governance gap with respect to the current structure of the UN. African countries favor strengthening the UNEP in its home base in Nairobi. The U.S Canada, Australia and Japan oppose specific commitments for UNEP, largely because they don’t want to commit additional dollars during uncertain economic times. The EU supports it. Since the U.S is the biggest financial contributor to the UN, the politics of who pays is viewed as the explanation for the difference in position between the U.S and the EU. In the end, the agreement was to open the intergovernmental process to all stakeholders and form a high level forum of 30 representatives nominated by member states, which will make recommendations in 2013 on how to strengthen compliance with respect to existing institutions and bring coherence to the overall system.

5. Means of Implementation
MOI refers to implementing sustainable development by breaking the link with the fossil fuel based model of development by providing the necessary financing and technology transfer from rich to poor countries. The rich countries not only opposed making any commitments about the means of implementation but wanted it deleted it or have any reference to MOI taken out of the text altogether. The rich countries also wanted to delete language that call for a balanced treatment of intellectual property rights. It should be noted that in 1992 the UN Secretariat estimated that the rich countries needed to provide $100 billion per year to the poor(er) countries. The poor countries feel that they are being asked to take on more financial and other obligations through the concept of the green economy and sustainable development goals, and that there is backsliding on the commitment for technology transfer. In the end, there has been no commitment on specific dollar amounts or on technology transfer.

Thoughts Going Forward
Rio+20 has not saved humanity and our planet but the dialogue must continue. The world is very different compared to 1992 – carbon emissions have increased dramatically as has inequality. But technology, particularly connecting technologies and advances in renewable energy can be game changers for sustainability and democracy. Stakeholder engagement, capacity building, public education and new ways of organizing, mobilizing and communicating are all essential for negotiating power, resources and rights in an unequal world and for finding common language for a shared vision of the future we want.

Written by Mafruza Khan, EGA

Jun 19, 2012

As expected, the official Rio+20 conference ( and the People’s Summit ( are vast and challenging to navigate. In addition to these, there are over 500 side events to the official conference. That’s why the orientation webinar (June 11) and the breakfast briefings organized for funders in Rio de Janeiro organized by the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD), the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and the Funders Network for Transforming Globalization (FNTG) are helping us to get the 30,000 foot view of what’s at stake, progress made on negotiations and what’s important outside of the official process. Equally importantly, we are hearing points of views on what philanthropy needs to do going forward.

At yesterday’s briefing, Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation and the Better World Fund, drove home the point that it’s all about politics and that equity has to be front and center! In his words, “You can’t square the circle of inequities by thinking of the U.S and Bangladesh in the same way.” But there are game changers – and access to sustainable energy for all is one. As an American and a Bangladeshi, I couldn’t agree more. Yesterday’s New York Times’ op-ed contributors ( make the same critical point about renewable energy being a game changer though more from a sustainability perspective than an equity perspective.

So, if the future is (almost) here, how do we get to the tipping point to make the shift to a renewable energy-based economy through incremental processes such as Rio+20 and the systemic changes that are needed, given the polarized political environment in the U.S? Tim reiterated what most of us know. It’s back to basics of building and strengthening social movements. To win, philanthropy must invest in building coalitions across movements and sectors and the environmental community needs to connect to other movements. And, a game changer in this arena is support for campaign finance reform. For Tim, philanthropy needs to become bold again, as it was in the 1960s when supporting the civil rights movement. Foundations and NGOs with 501(c)3 status have the ability and the responsibility to act now so that by Rio+30 we are closer to the future we want and can have.

All this and more will be the focus of our conversation at EGA’s Annual Retreat (, September 30-Oct 3) at Mohonk this year. If you are a funder, don’t miss the opportunity to join us in the Fall and contribute to this critical movement building event.

Written by Mafruza Khan, EGA

Apr 10, 2012

The webinar "Strengthening Green Economy Communications," co-hosted by Surdna, Living Cities, and EGA, was a useful and engaging account of research conducted by Surdna and Spitfire Strategies.  Danielle Lewis (Spitfire Strategies), the main presenter, provided some excellent examples of both the challenges and the opportunities for communicating a stronger and more effective message around the green economy. 

If you missed the webinar, you can listen to the full recording here.  Or click here to read a summary and highlights.

Mar 29, 2012

San Diego recently played host to the 2012 EGA State of the States. I was very excited to see that it was one of the larger State of the States gatherings organized by the EGA in recent years, with more than 100 funders and over 40 speakers from all over the country. In light of the inside-the-beltway discourse centered on job-killing environmental regulations, funders like me came together to learn more about how states and regions are innovating around sustainability and shared prosperity.

At a time when basic protections to our air, land and water are under fire from many directions, the State of the States gathering featured many promising efforts to re-energize the environmental movement at the grassroots and broaden the base for civic engagement by connecting environmental concerns with those of democratic participation, our energy future, community health and well-being, and sustainable food systems.

Many funders were looking for new approaches and opportunities (and, frankly, some inspiration) to rebuild the environmental movement from the ground up by helping to give voice to politically, economically and racially disenfranchised communities that often bear the disproportionate burden of dirty air and water, lack of access to green space, and the like. What I found most inspiring were the many organizations (People for the American Way Foundation, Asian Pacific Environmental Network,, and CREDO Action, to name a few) – and funders (many civic participation funders joined us) – finding common cause across constituencies to foster civic engagement, protect our natural resources and public health, and grow our clean energy economy.

While there has been some recent news about declining interest among millennials in becoming civically involved to safeguard our planet, I must say that I took great comfort in listening to the passionate, creative, energetic efforts of the youth organizations such as Student Public Interest Research Groups, Sierra Student Coalition, and New Era Colorado working across the country to protect our natural assets and the public trust. They are definitely a beacon of hope for a brighter future.

Written by Emily Young, San Diego Foundation

Feb 22, 2012

Those of us who work for foundations want our grantees to invest in core activities that more efficiently and effectively contribute to desired outcomes. Yet funders may make it harder for grantees to do so, often by focusing exclusively on specific grant-funded activities — as opposed to outcomes — and by underinvesting in core organizational needs.

The National Bureau of Economic Research pegged the official end of the 2008/2009 recession in June of 2009. That may be true, but many foundation leaders recognized then that battered stock market valuations were only the start of what would likely be a multi-year drop in grant making, since payouts were tied to a rolling average of diminished investment portfolios.

That year, I heard far too many colleagues casually suggest that we needed to help our grantees “do more with less.” That remark has been echoed at conferences and convenings ever since. At a foundation event this fall, I challenged a colleague who expressed surprise that grantees still seemed to be doing too little to embrace the fundamental wisdom captured by this phrase. I think I understood the intent behind his lament. But the message he and others may be unintentionally conveying to grantees is unfortunate: that we believe that nonprofits have substantial resources that are being inefficiently deployed, and those of us who work for foundations would do a better job of managing the stress of decreasing revenues and increasing demand for services.

At Wilburforce Foundation, we work with grantees over the long term to protect wildlife habitats in Western North America. Investing in and disseminating science, working with local communities to build support, and convincing policymakers to endorse durable conservation solutions takes time, often years.

Many of our grantees are highly dependent on foundation grants, and we have seen firsthand the consequences of their attempts to do more with less. We’ve been tracking financial data for all of our grantees, including annual revenue and expenses, cash holdings, and net assets. Since the recession began in 2008, more than one third of the groups we support have experienced decreases in net assets of 10 percent or more, and many more have cash-flow cushions that can be measured in weeks, not months.

One of our grantees nearly collapsed in the aftermath of the recession. Many of its programs were funded by restricted grants, and foundations invariably wanted their grant-funded activities to be part of the “more” this group should sustain with “less.” This grantee was shoveling increasingly scarce general support dollars to these programs. The organization only recovered after it jettisoned underfunded projects and sacrificed the foundation grants that had ultimately harmed the organization.

Another grantee relied heavily on one foundation for significant support of its largest program, subject to an arbitrary cap of 15 percent of overhead expenses. The true cost of its organization overhead was closer to 25 percent, and its net assets plunged as the group tapped unrestricted funds to pay for its core needs.

In fact, I see far too many organizations trying to do “more” by sacrificing living wages for its staff, shifting the cost of benefits to employees, cutting professional development budgets, and working with obsolete technology.

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2009 described what they called the nonprofit starvation cycle, and attributed much of that problem to funders:

“The first step in the cycle is funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much it costs to run a nonprofit. At the second step, nonprofits feel pressure to conform to funders’ unrealistic expectations. At the third step, nonprofits respond to this pressure in two ways: they spend too little on overhead, and they underreport their expenditures on tax forms and in fundraising materials. This underspending and underreporting in turn perpetuates funders’ unrealistic expectations. Over time, funders expect grantees to do more and more with less and less—a cycle that slowly starves nonprofits.”

So, let’s dispense with tired clichés. Jan Masaoka, director and editor-in-chief of Blue Avocado and former executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, has better advice for nonprofit leaders: do less with less.

“Of course there is more need, more demand, and we probably have less money. And we love the gritty heartfelt nature of the cry, “We need to do more with less!” Pause. But it’s not only unsustainable, it probably means you will be able to do even less in the future. If a program’s funding has been cut by 30%, you may need to do 30% less.”

The trick, of course, is figuring out which programs are most effective, and make those as sustainable as possible. As funders, we can help our grantees do this in several ways by:

1.More clearly communicating with grantees about our own strategies as funders, and the outcomes we hope to achieve. These conversations have the potential to surface more creative, efficient and effective alternatives to the projects or activities that we may have historically funded.
2.Forging stronger relationships with grantees, so that they feel comfortable approaching us when trouble arises and before the organization’s financial situation becomes dire.
3.Understanding and supporting the real costs associated with running an effective and sustainable organization, including livable wages and quality benefits to recruit and retain quality staff, maintaining adequate facilities with current technology, and building sound financial and fundraising infrastructure.

Written by Paul Beaudet

Paul's blog was originally published at

Feb 22, 2012

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) defines foundation strategy as “a framework for decision-making that is 1) focused on the external context in which the foundation works, and 2) includes a hypothesized causal connection between use of foundation resources and goal achievement.”

Loosely restated, this says 1) foundation strategy should focus on the change that you are trying to make in the world, and 2) any logical person should be able to see the connection between how you spend your time and money and that change.

Most foundations are able to articulate one or more goals– ending homelessness, building a more just and sustainable world, eradicating disease – to name a few examples. Many also acknowledge that these goals are ultimately achieved individually and/or collectively by the grantees in which we invest. But very few foundations explicitly include grantee-specific outcomes in strategic plans, outcome maps, logic models and theories of change.

In our early years, Wilburforce didn’t do that either. We do now, and it has transformed that way we approach our grantmaking.

Wilburforce Foundation was founded in 1991, addressing a variety of environmental causes. In 1998, we created a strategic framework to prioritize the protection of specific, critical habitats in Western North America. Our plan focused on audacious long-term goals, such as protecting the last remaining pristine places, and assuring strong and lasting public support for wilderness preservation. We assumed that if we picked the right grantees and they reported the right types of short-term successes, we could make a leap of faith and assume we were having a longer-term impact. This approach was dissatisfying to our staff and board. We knew we could do better.

So, in 2004, we decided to refresh our strategy and develop deeper understandings of the ecological, social and political contexts of the places we were striving to protect. We realized that the vast majority of our grantees were receiving consistent annual support from us. We were increasingly relying on these grantees to provide on-the-ground wisdom that informed our work. And we were stepping up our investments in capacity building to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these partners.

We began scanning for the latest thinking on foundation effectiveness, and encountered a monograph that led to a “Eureka!” moment. The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership’s report Agile Philanthropy: Understanding Foundation Effectiveness, included a logic model that showed a causal relationship between a foundation’s investments and its desired social change linked to grantee relations, grantee capacity and grantee outcomes:

The Wilburforce outcome map and logic model was built on this framework, and describes the causal links in our strategic plan by more clearly highlighting the importance of grantees in achieving our goals:

By organizing our work in this way, we are better able to describe the logic of our approach to long-term social change:

  • Grantee relations: Since grantees are partners, we must communicate clearly, consistently and frequently to better understand each other’s goals and strategies, develop trust, and address opportunities and/or threats that inevitably arise. We often learn more about issues, strategies and tactics from our grantees than they do from us. We hired additional staff to ensure that our foundation had sufficient capacity to nurture grantee relationships, and we developed processes to shift from transaction-based to interaction-based grantmaking. We also consistently use CEP’s Grantee Perception Reports to provide feedback about how well we’re doing.
  • Grantee Capacity: Using what we learn from our grantees, we feel better equipped to make smart investments in their programmatic and operational capacity. We invest heavily in capacity building service providers that offer customized consulting, coaching and training in leadership development, fundraising, financial management, human resource management, strategic planning, and engagement technology. We also underwrite and share conservation and social science.
  • Grantee Results & Sustained Social Change: If grantees are receiving the support they need to sustain their operations and programs, these organizations will likely be better able to engage in effective work that creates change. Wilburforce also has a better sense of the return on our investments since we can make a logical connection between what we do and what our grantees achieve.

In practice, Wilburforce starts with the change that we desire, which, stated simply, is to create a network of protected habitats that sustains wildlife populations. We select priority regions based on conservation science, and work to identify the local advocates who have, or can develop, the capacity to respond to opportunities and threats to these ecoregions.

One of the earliest places that we fully embraced the Agile Philanthropy model was in the Great Basin. Nevada and Oregon sit at the heart of this remarkable landscape, which contains some of the wildest, most remote lands in the continental U.S.

When we began funding in the Great Basin, there were a few underfunded organizations with passionate leaders working in a region with enormous opportunities and not much history of public lands conservation. As we refined our strategy and shifted to more “interactional” (and less transactional) grantmaking, foundation staff attended science and strategy meetings, grantee events, and field trips to increase our knowledge of our grantees, their work, and the landscapes they are protecting.

As we forged stronger working relationships with our grantees, we learned about their need for:

  • Greater inter-organizational collaboration;
  • Scientific identification of on-the-ground priorities;
  • Leadership development;
  • General support funds;
  • Membership development and fundraising skills;
  • Board capacity;
  • Technological capacity.

We brought in a team of talented capacity builders at Training Resources for the Environmental Community (TREC), whose associates have deep experience in conservation advocacy and are trusted by our grantees. TREC developed a Regional Conservation Initiative of coaching and training opportunities that targeted services to four organizations with tremendous potential to advance a conservation agenda.

We also brought together a blue-ribbon panel of science experts from academia, federal agencies, and grantee organizations to develop a useful tool for our grantees to prioritize landscapes. And we provided significant, multi-year general support funding, affording the organizations greater stability and staff retention, and the ability to sustain long-term relationships with important constituencies and decision-makers.

Since Wilburforce began funding in the Great Basin, our grantees have helped protect millions of acres of federally designated wilderness. Wildlife refuges have been expanded, new National Conservation Areas have been established, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated for private lands acquisition and habitat improvements on our public lands. And they’re not done yet. Our grantees are ready to use the relationships they’ve built to ensure that renewable energy development on public lands protects wildlife habitat while decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Wilburforce can only succeed if our grantees succeed. And our grantees can succeed only if they are given the funding, tools and resources they need to do their work. By placing grantees at the heart of our outcome maps, we can focus on strengthening relationships and building capacity to empower grantees to achieve the outcomes that ultimately contribute to our shared goals.

Written by Paul Beaudet

Paul's blog was originally published at