Posts filed under ‘Commentaries’

Year of awareness

2016-treye-johnson-blog-photoThis week we welcome Treye Johnson, program officer at the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, as guest blogger.

In the summer 2016 edition of Philanthropy Review, I wrote an article about a racial equity training session Burton D. Morgan Foundation co-sponsored. The article highlighted a few points from the training, which presented an abundance of statistical data to demonstrate the widespread nature of racial inequality in the United States. Since then, Northeast Ohio leaders have continued to explore the topic in conjunction with the Racial Equity Institute (REI). More trainings have been hosted and discussions held about how we might begin moving forward collectively.

Deciding on next steps proved to be challenging as each person had a different opinion on what to do. Additionally, the organizations they represented each had their own goals and motivations, connected back to their missions. The recommendation from REI was to continue building awareness within our community. While introducing nearly 500 Northeast Ohio leaders to REI’s trainings during 2016 was a noteworthy accomplishment, the number still needs to grow significantly before we will be able to meaningfully address racial equity in our region.

reilogoAs a result, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will be coordinating monthly REI training sessions throughout 2017 in Cleveland, meant to increase our shared understanding of racial inequality, foster productive dialogue among community stakeholders and civic leaders and determine strategies. In addition to the REI sessions, the awareness building will include efforts to compile and present local data related to racial inequality. Lastly, individuals and organizations will be encouraged to host their own equity-focused activities for our community.  Events such as movie screenings, book clubs and discussion groups are easy yet much needed ways to further the discussion about racial inequality. This issue is too complex and entrenched to be solved by any singular method. It will take a truly multi-faceted, cross-sectoral collaboration – in which everyone takes some ownership – to create real change.

CNP hopes to raise enough funding that the trainings can be provided at no cost. In the meantime, individuals and/or organizations can pay on a per capita basis to participate in the training sessions. For more information about the 2017 training dates or to support this effort, please visit

Treye Johnsonrei-training-sessions


January 17, 2017 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Remembering John Glenn

headshot of claudia smilingI spent Saturday afternoon watching the memorial service for John Glenn, televised from OSU’s Mershon Auditorium, as did many others around the country and here in Ohio. I thought back to the time I met him and got his autograph on a dinner napkin after his election to the U.S. Senate. And, I thought back just a few years to when we presented our annual Ohio Philanthropy Award to him and Annie, and was sorry that not one of the many eloquent eulogists mentioned his deep commitment to philanthropy.

I went back to the press release we sent in 2012, announcing John and Annie Glenn’s selection for that year’s award by our Board of Trustees to remind myself of their philanthropy:

“When Ohioans think of who best represents the highest values of philanthropy and community service, two names are universally recognized: John and Annie Glenn. Their records of selfless service are unsurpassed in this generation, as exemplified by:

  • Their support of alma mater Muskingum University;
  • Establishing scholarships for needy students;
  • Creating the John Glenn School for Public Affairs at The Ohio State University;
  • Glenn’s outreach to people with speech and hearing difficulties; and
  • Glenn’s 24 years of U.S. Senator.

In 2012, the Philanthropy Ohio Board of Trustees awarded John and Annie Glenn the Ohio Philanthropy Award, recognizing their philanthropic spirit, generosity and dedication to strengthening individuals and communities.

A hundred years from now, when Americans think of great Ohioans, the names of John and Annie Glenn will come to mind. They humble us by the example they set of lifetime service to Ohio and America.”

In addition to his space flights and years in the Senate, these are the accomplishments I will remember.

Claudia Y.W. Herrold

December 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

Before You Go: Robert Eckardt

2016-bob-eckardt-blog-photoWe caught up with Robert Eckardt, retiring Cleveland Foundation executive vice president, before he wraps up his tenure at the foundation at the end of the month. Bob shared what led him to the philanthropic field as well as advice for new practitioners. 

What was your career path to the position you are leaving?
I moved to Cleveland in 1977 to run a project funded by a Cleveland Foundation grant looking at health care needs of the growing elderly population. After five years in Cleveland, I almost moved to Connecticut for a job but was asked to join the staff of the (much smaller in those days) Cleveland Foundation as a program officer to handle grants in the areas of health and aging. I thought I might work there for 4-5 years. However, over the years my roles changed at the foundation with growing levels of responsibility, culminating with my current position as executive vice president. This opportunity for growth kept me at the foundation. So, I have been at the foundation more than 34 years in a variety of roles, but all with significant focus on grantmaking.

Ohio, Cleveland, wind driven power generator, downtown skyline, Key Tower,What advice would you offer to someone just entering the field?
Philanthropy is a wonderful field, with the opportunity to work with many interesting people on important issues. But there are several dangers as well. The power differential between the applicants and the foundation can be a challenge. It can lead to arrogance on the part of funders, with poor customer service and worse. A second danger is to think that money is the resource in short supply. You learn that managerial talent and the ability to implement funded projects are also resources. This means you need to focus as much on organization capacity and the ability to implement as on the idea. In a way, ideas are much more common than is the ability to actually implement. Finally, you also have walk the fine line between trying to be helpful to your grantees but not muddling in their work and becoming a burden by unrealistic expectations. The grantee always knows the work better.


Bob Eckardt speaks at the 2014 Summer Institute in Columbus.

What would you change if you had a chance for a “do-over?”
Not sure I have a great answer to this question. Of course there were individual grants that did not meet expectations, but if properly structured they become fodder for learning and for improvements in the future. If I could do anything, I would probably devote more resources on the back end of the grants, trying to learn from the successes and failures.

What’s next?
I’m still working to fully define that. I plan to stay in Cleveland and will stay on a number of current boards, both locally and nationally. I am interested in getting more engaged in some of the health and aging issues that animated my early career, but the specifics are still being finalized

What will you miss (if anything) about your position?
I’ll miss the opportunity to work with so many committed people who are striving to make the community better. Many are working against incredible odds and clearly not for personal enrichment.

December 12, 2016 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Foundation leader struck by disparities data

2016-christine-amer-mayer-blog-photoThis week we welcome guest blogger Christine Amer Mayer, president of the GAR Foundation in Akron, reposting her recent blog, Systemic Inequity: An Honest Reckoning.

And, check out a recent report from Kris Putnam-Walkerly, The Road to Achieving Equity, a field scan of foundations embracing equity.

My friend and colleague Brian Frederick referenced in his recent blog post the Racial Equity Institute (REI) “Groundwater” training session. I attended that powerful session as well, and I was struck by the questions it raised related to the growth and opportunity challenges we face. REI suggests, and indeed proves with a hefty catalog of research, that it is no coincidence that white people do better than black people in virtually every arena of American life.

We use different language to describe disparities in each setting – the “achievement gap” in education, “health disparities” in health care, “disproportionate representation” in incarceration rates. But the trend is the same everywhere, and the words that best describe the real phenomenon are, sadly, “systemic racism.”

While some would like to believe that racism is a “Southern problem,” the data show otherwise. In my hometown of Akron, Ohio, black babies are twice as likely as white babies to be born very premature. Black children are three and a half times more likely than their white classmates to fall below 3rd grade reading proficiency levels. In adulthood, black people in Akron are three times more likely than whites to be on food stamps, and four and a half times more likely than whites to be incarcerated. (Source: The Fund for Our Economic Future).

Writing her first book.

I suspect Brian Frederick wished, as I did, that the REI training would give us the answers, would arm us with the “five simple steps to end systemic racism in your community.” Sadly, no such simple steps exist. On the contrary, our nation has some hard work ahead of it.

Only after that honest reckoning can we begin to strategize on how we can create different, more equitable outcomes.

baby_babiesIn the area of economic development and community building, we need to double down on a Growth & Opportunity agenda. This agenda begins with the premise that the only economic growth worth having is the kind that intentionally connects wealth and opportunity to all members of our community. When we truly embrace a Growth & Opportunity agenda, we will see the choices before us with new eyes. We will understand that some so-called “economic wins” only serve to exacerbate income inequality, overwhelmingly to the detriment of people of color. We will also see that we can be intentional about pursuing economic growth strategies that are structured around opportunity, and that by doing so, we will simultaneously construct future prosperity and deconstruct the systemic inequity that has plagued us for so long.

The challenge is daunting. But we have to start somewhere. Pursuing a true Growth & Opportunity agenda is as good a first step as any.

Christine Amer Mayer

November 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Hit the pause button on Head Start funding change

headshot of claudia smilingHead Start programs that asked for clarification about their ability to continue “layering” federal dollars to provide more services to their young students were told by the Kasich administration that the practice would not be allowed as of September 6. The change will result in Head Start providers in Ohio losing $12 million in federal funding.

The rule promulgated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in June makes Ohio an “extended hours” state. This means that federal funds for early childhood education and Head Start programs can’t be used to provide additional or enhanced services but only to serve these students for additional hours. The rule changes the practice that has been in place for the last 15 years.

girl_reading education.jpgSenator Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee and with whom Philanthropy Ohio has worked on a number of education policy reform issues in recent years, explained “It’s going to have a significant impact. It’s actually going to cause a number of children to be dropped from programs, a number of high-quality teachers that are more expensive than others to be let go and I can’t begin to overplay the impact that this decision is going to have on the quality of programs for us in the state of Ohio.”

child plays with cubes 1

We sent the following letter to Governor Kasich last week, as part of our ongoing Education Initiative’s focus on increasing access and quality in early childhood education.

Dear Governor Kasich,

For over a decade, Philanthropy Ohio has been steadfast in its commitment to ensuring all of Ohio’s children have access to high-quality education opportunities. As the state’s only association that provides the network, tools and knowledge to help people engaged in philanthropy become more effective, powerful change agents in their communities, we have worked with members of our Education Advisory Committee to advocate for policies that positively impact Ohio’s youngest, most vulnerable learners and improve early childhood education.

I am writing to you to express Philanthropy Ohio’s concern regarding the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ recent decision to prohibit the layering of federal and state funds for early childhood education programs in Ohio. While we are not taking a position on whether the layering of Head Start funds on top of Child Care funds is an appropriate practice, we strongly encourage you to pause the administration’s decision and more fully study the potential impacts before the current proposed changes take effect on September 6, 2016.

Given the profound impact this decision will have on the lives of our teachers, children and families in Ohio, potentially leading to less access to high-quality programs for those most needing such services – and given your passionate support for early education – I urge you to devote the time necessary to collaborate with stakeholders and come to an informed decision about what is best for our children and families.

Claudia Y.W. Herrold

September 1, 2016 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Collaboration and philanthropy

2016-lisa-courtice-blog-photoThis week Philanthropy Ohio welcomes guest blogger Lisa S. Courtice, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for The Columbus Foundation, sharing her expertise on collaborations. 

Why is collaboration, or working with others to achieve something, important to Philanthropy?

Collaboration is important to philanthropy because the issues we help address are too big to tackle alone and because the risk factors of collaboration help keep us (professionals in philanthropy) real.

I believe that it is a privilege to work in philanthropy and to be charged with helping to tackle some of our community’s most pressing problems and to be effective, collaboration is essential. Even the largest philanthropists today are too small in relationship to the really serious problems that we have in central Ohio, let alone our country or world.

IMG_1518I will never forget hearing Melinda Gates speak at a conference in California.  She talked about people thinking that the wealth of the Gates Foundation could solve big problems.  She reminded us that the assets of the Gates Foundation, $40 billion…indeed, an enormous about of wealth, could not fund one year of operations for the California Public Schools.

For most of us, our ambitions and those of our respective organizations, outstrip our resources.

Collaboration has many benefits, one of the greatest being it helps to keep us real.  I believe that those of us who work in philanthropy are at great risk of contracting the professional disease known as insularism. While we would like to say that we are truly effective in the pursuit of our work, there are increasing numbers of individuals questioning the role philanthropy plays and whether it is achieving its true potential.  In the words of one grantee, “Foundations are like the building ledge on which nonprofit pigeons sit—not the wind under their wings that make them fly, but a helpful something, nevertheless.”

And yet, we are needed aren’t we?  What would nonprofits do in our absence?

We sometimes fail to remember the most significant contributor to the sustainability of the nonprofit sector is indeed public funding, not philanthropy.

A number of foundations in northern California commissioned a market survey (involving interviews with grantees, government officials, and other stakeholders) to assess how foundations are viewed and what beneficial roles they are thought to play. Interestingly, the response to the survey was a complete absence of any positive assessment of the work of foundations.

Think about this statement. There are over 56,000 foundations in our country and the majority operate without staff and simply direct financial support to nonprofits. Yet the feedback from this survey was that the contributed values of these philanthropy players is at best NEUTRAL. This should give each of us reason to step back to think about the real value of our work.

For me, the most interesting findings from this study were the phrases most often used to describe foundation staff and board members. We might hope these words were efficient, helpful, supportive, or high value-added. But those foundations that underwrote the survey were surprised to find the terms to describe both them and their colleagues were:  arrogant, heuristic, full of hubris, self-confident to the point of overpowering, and having a complete inability to listen.

People in philanthropy are used to being flattered and told just how critical their support is to the work of nonprofits. Despite this sense of valuable self-worth, there is the very real possibility that many of those we actually seek to support view us through a much different lens and experience our efforts at contributing to their work as little more than a necessary force to be tolerated.

We may be tempted to say this could possibly be true of other grantmakers, but certainly our own grantees would respond differently.  And while we would all like to believe our work is of the highest value, in fact that actual perceptions of those who should know, our customers, could well be completely opposite from our own.

If we are to move towards greater effectiveness within philanthropy, we must first acknowledge that there is both the need and opportunity for improvement. One way to make a meaningful commitment to the pursuit of philanthropic effectiveness is to begin to re-vision the role of “grantmaker…….. to investment collaborator in community well-being.”

I suggest collaboration — collaborating with a variety of stakeholders in the development of our long-term investment strategies — helps to mitigate insularism.

When we seek to become consumer of ideas and experience from other players and other sectors.  When we engage in dialogue with these stakeholders, our own strategies will be more realistically grounded in what is happening in the market as opposed to what we perceived to happening in the market.  This will then give us a greater likelihood of being more effective in our work.

Our connecting with the field in a more direct manner facilitates a flattening of the hierarchies in knowledge sharing and in that way promises to enhance not only our own understanding of the challenges at hand, but also to participate in building this shared knowledge base.

cols_fdn_media_rgbDo we run the risk of projecting the image that we actually know what we are doing when, in point of fact, we may know less than we care to admit?   The insular nature of the philanthropic community combined with the power dynamics, may lead us to overstate our knowledge regarding the right thing as well as our capacity to do it.  Collaborating helps bring us back to reality.

Collaborations and collaborating is important for philanthropy because the help keep us real.  They keep us real because they are risky.

Inherently, collaboration says something is happening outside of one’s immediate control.   The various dynamics that make it risky include:

1.    Not knowing the answer. The fundamental premise of collaboration is that you can use it to solve complex problems that are beyond the function of one domain or expertise.  That means each participant needs to be comfortable with a certain amount of     ambiguity. Most people have built their careers — perhaps even their identity — on being the expert.  Feeling ignorant is not a comfortable feeling.

2.    Unclear or uncomfortable roles. Role and responsibilities in the collaboration space tend not to be hierarchical; they are often fluid, changing from phase to phase of the work. This can be especially hard for senior leaders, because it means being a team member, not the team leader.

3.  Too much talking, not enough doing. Collaboration means a shift from thinking big ideas alone, and more into the real-time mess of problem solving with others. Shifting work from “I tell, they do” to a “We think together” approach will appear at first to be all about talking. But thinking together closes a gap.

4.  Fear of fighting. Collaborating means dealing with conflicting priorities. “Turf” isn’t always clear. If you avoid conflict, or don’t know how to fight effectively, nothing will happen. Knowing how to debate the tradeoffs between many viable options means knowing how to argue with each other about the business in more open and visible ways. Not doing it well, or doing it wrong — or simply losing?  Very risky.

5.    More work. Collaboration happens on top of other work. Participants are already plenty busy with their “day job” and the new project may be especially stressful because of this. Until the problems that any collaboration project is aimed to fix gets solved, a collaboration project can often be overwhelming. Most people describe collaboration with rose colored glasses: If they would just collaborate, then they would do better! But collaboration is about the friction of ideas and the forging of new ways of working. That is not easy. And it makes new demands on all of us.

IMG_0834And finally,
6.  It’s hard to know who to praise and who to blame. Collaborative projects are judged on the outcome, more than the individual efforts than went into them. Leaders have less visibility into who did what. If things go right, they worry about rewarding the wrong people. If things go wrong, they complain about no longer having a single point of accountability.

Collaborating…working with others to develop strategies, to align resources…is essential to be the most effective grantmaker possible.  Navigating these risk factors makes us vulnerable and helps to keep us real.  And collaboration increases the likelihood that we develop greater effectiveness not at doing what think is right from an insulated perch, but doing what we have experienced and learned together is right.

Lisa S. Courtice

July 18, 2016 at 9:52 am 1 comment

Is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Good for Philanthropy?

headshot of suzanne allenRecently, Philanthropy Ohio’s President & CEO Suzanne T. Allen, Ph.D., wrote a guest blog that was featured on The City Club of Cleveland’s website about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Please see below for a re-post of that blog.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative introduced by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, has the philanthropic and business communities talking. But they aren’t talking about the fact that two people are giving 99 percent of their Facebook shares worth $45 million to support efforts over the coming decades to advance human potential and promote equality. No, the conversation is because of the three letters that appear after the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s name: L.L.C.

“What could they be thinking?” asked some leaders in the philanthropy world, because traditionally the wealthy have set up nonprofits, donor-advised funds or foundations to make their charitable donations.  The use of an L.L.C. is a radical, new idea for high-net-worth donors seeking flexibility, autonomy and privacy in their investments.  It’s structured partly like a corporation and somewhat like a business partnership and it gives the owners more control over their assets and grants (expenditures) than a private foundation would.

They can have much more flexibility when investing in for-profit social enterprises and supporting political causes. They won’t have the private foundation’s 5 percent payout requirement and they won’t have to disclose their tax documents publicly. They also will not have to disclose any contracts they might have with for-profit businesses or nonprofits.

Chan Zuckerberg InitiativeWhile Chan and Zuckerberg won’t receive an immediate charitable tax deduction for any shares they give to the initiative now, as they would with a foundation or public charity, they will see the deduction when the initiative makes grants to nonprofits.

After the initial announcement, Zuckerberg wrote a follow-up post on Facebook. “By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation, we receive no tax benefit from transferring our shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In fact, if we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not.”

In a New York Times article, GuideStar CEO Jacob Harold said, “It’s buying optionality, so that down the road they could still decide to direct money to nonprofits or they could choose to invest in really cool solar energy companies that are doing a lot of good… and it will enable the creative and flexible use of capital over time.”

It makes me wonder what people in Cleveland were talking about 100 years ago when a man named Frederick Goff said that his vision was to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, great, and permanent endowment for the betterment of the city. According to the Cleveland Foundation’s history, “Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue to fund such charitable purposes as will best make for the mental, moral, and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland.”  This had to be just as radical as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is today.  And look where Goff’s vision is today…

suzanne signed in blue ink

Suzanne T. Allen

January 5, 2016 at 8:52 am 1 comment

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