Funding Journalism

Funding Journalism

How Individuals and Foundations are Helping Deliver the News

ProPublica’s president, Richard Tofel, says classical music and journalism have something in common.

“We know that classical music was once popular music,” he says. “It is no longer popular music and it does need philanthropic support. We need to explain to people that an analogous transformation has occurred in journalism.”


Staff of the New York Daily News and ProPublica, and Lee C. Bollinger (4th R), president of Columbia University, are seen on the stage during the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Award Ceremony in New York, the United States, on May 22, 2017. The New York Daily News and ProPublica won the prize for public service for uncovering how police abused eviction rules to oust hundreds of people, mostly poor minorities, from their homes. Pulitzer Prize Administrator Mike Pride announced the winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes in the World Room at Columbia University on April 10 in New York. (Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images)


Without philanthropy, certain important kinds of journalism will disappear, Tofel says. At ProPublica, an independent, Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit newsroom, philanthropy accounts for more than 95 percent of the funding. The 2016 Presidential election led to most of the 26,000 donors who gave last year, a sharp increase from 2015, when 3,400 donated. Tofel believes that the key now is to ensure this is not a short-term phenomenon.

“Journalism needs to go on the list of charitable options that people consider when they think about how they spend their charitable funds,” Tofel says. “We’re trying to build a new class of cultural institutions in this country, and just as people need to support private universities, hospitals, art museums, history museums and theatres, they’re going to need to support some kind of journalism.”

The 2016 presidential campaign put a spotlight on how fast inaccurate news can spread, and the challenges in correcting that. And the current administration has been openly attacking the media, creating tension that only seems to be escalating. Several foundations have recently stepped in to support journalism by funding projects in areas such as fact-checking, journalism ethics, and investigative reporting. But even beyond grant-making, those in the journalism field are hoping for a major shift, where the public starts to see journalism as a regular charitable option.


Henderson, Nevada, A Future to Believe In, Press Pass for Presidential Candidate, US Senator Bernie Sanders.. (Photo by: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)


Donations in the news business are not new – journalism has long been seen as the bedrock of democracy, and press freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment. Journalism serves a critical role in ensuring the public’s access to information and holding the government accountable. Still, Rodney Benson of New York University estimated early last year that foundations only gave about $150 million directly to news organizations. Inside Philanthropy lists more than 30 foundations that fund various journalism projects.

It is difficult to measure the impact of philanthropy on the news business, but there have been some notable efforts recently to bolster the field by supporting investigative and local reporting, countering fake news, and funding ethical journalism practices. Here are some examples:


Pierre Omidyar, 2011 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy honoree, Founder and Chairman of eBay and the Omidyar Network (Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)


• E-bay Founder Pierre Omidyar announced in April that his philanthropic firm would donate to $100 million to address the “global trust deficit,” which includes strengthening independent media and supporting investigative journalism. For example, up to $4.5 million will go to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, which produced the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Panama Papers” series about how politicians and others participate in corruption.

• Along with Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network also announced a $1.3 million grant to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies to expand its work through the International Fact-Checking Network.


Founder of Craigslist Craig Newmark attends IAVA 7th Annual Heroes Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on November 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for IAVA)


• Craig Newmark, founder of the Craigslist website, has supported journalism for years and in December 2016, his foundation donated $1 million to Poynter to fund a faculty position focusing on journalism ethics. The gift was Poynter’s largest single donation from a foundation since its founding in 1975. Indira Lakshmanan, who recently started the job, said she hopes to examine issues that include fake news; she pointed out that the 20 most popular hoax stories during the 2016 election campaign were shared and liked on Facebook 1.3 million times more than the 20 most popular real news stories.

• The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation announced in June they were distributing $1 million for 20 projects that aim to improve the flow of accurate information. Some projects focus on engaging the public in news gathering, while others zero in on issues such as media literacy and tools for better fact-checking. Also in June, Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund announced a $2 million pledge to kick off a campaign to support nonprofit journalism.


Jerry Lenfest talks with the media preview of the new LOC Experience, which will feature interactive exhibits and touch-screen technology in the Jefferson Building on April 9, 2008. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)


• The Philadelphia-based Lenfest Institute for Journalism said in June it will distribute $1 million to support local news projects. The institute was founded by H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest. He and his wife, Marguerite, are among this year’s Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy honorees.

There are other examples of how philanthropy is helping deliver the news, including supporting non-profit and for-profit news organizations, as well as helping start new ones. In his book “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age,” David Callahan lists such examples, including Robert Wood Foundation giving more than $10 million to National Public Radio since 2008, and Ford Foundation funding coverage of inequity issues at the Los Angeles Times and Minnesota Public Radio.


The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy forum on the challenges facing the philanthropic sector featured: David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy; Sacha Pfeiffer, investigative reporter at the Boston Globe covering wealth, nonprofits, and philanthropy; and Karl Zinsmeister, vice president of The Philanthropy Roundtable. Moderated by Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the June 22 forum was held at Carnegie Corporation of New York’s headquarters in New York City.


Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice-president, says the organization has had some longtime funders, including the Knight Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Tegna Foundation, Gannett Foundation, and the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation. But there have definitely been some new players in the space, including a number from Silicon Valley, she says.

“I think all of these organizations recognize that journalism is vital to democracy,” she says, “and if you care about democracy, there are very few places to actually put your money. You can put it into voting efforts – efforts to get people to register to vote and educate them about voting issues – or you can put it into journalism.”

Many U.S. news organizations now find themselves in confrontation with the new administration. President Trump has called the media the “opposition party,” and “the enemy of the American People,” and the White House has sometimes blocked or limited journalists from covering certain events and press briefings. Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said the organization is very concerned about Trump’s “hostile rhetoric toward the media,” and CPJ has documented a series of recent incidents, including arrests of reporters covering protests and the president’s inauguration in January.

Some media outlets also continue to struggle financially as they adapt in the digital age and cope with mergers and other challenges. In 2016, print and digital circulation of newspapers fell by 8 percent from the previous year, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines, according to Pew Research Center. Newspaper advertising revenues dropped by 10 percent from 2016 to 2015. This year, several outlets announced layoffs. In June, Time Inc. said it would cut about 300 jobs and The Huffington Post announced 39 layoffs. The New York Times said in March it was offering buyouts and potentially laying off people in an effort to reduce editing staff and add more reporters.

McBride, of Poynter, says journalism remains under duress, but there are plenty of ways for individuals to help, including becoming a paid subscriber, a member of a journalism organization, or a regular supporter.

“Individual citizens are going to have to step up more in their giving,” she says. “One of the messages we are trying to get out is that if you support journalism, you should pay for journalism. We have not traditionally thought of journalism as a cause worthy of charitable giving, but I think you can definitely make that argument now in the United States.”

That way, journalism can continue to thrive and enrich the lives of new audiences for many years to come, just like classical music.

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Jeff Skoll: A Philanthropist for the Connected Generation

Jeff Skoll: A Philanthropist for the Connected Generation


Jeff Skoll with the Waura people in the Brazilian


There is a new type of philanthropist on the scene. Thanks to the fortunes made in Silicon Valley, there is a fresh crop of billionaires who are eager to, in tech-parlance, disrupt the current system. Many are starting their own foundations, looking for new ways to give, and even seeking out suggestions from the public.

As the first full-time employee of eBay, Jeff Skoll found his wealth before the turn of the century, and has been one of the most prolific and successful philanthropists to emerge in recent years. His approach, which is both pragmatic and eye-catching, should be at the top of the list for other new philanthropists who want to ensure impact.

Within a year of making his fortune, Jeff set up the Skoll Foundation, and two years later he left his job to focus entirely on the best way to use his wealth. His efforts have been lauded both within the worlds of Silicon Valley and philanthropy. And you’re probably more aware of Jeff Skoll’s work than you realize. With a diverse set of foundations and projects, his impact has been felt far and wide.


(L-R) Jeffrey Skoll, Bonni Cohen, Al Gore, Jon Shenk, Diane Weyermann, and Richard Berge attend the ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power’ press conference during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Paramount)


Through the Skoll Foundation, as well as the Skoll World Forum, Participant Media, and many others, Jeff Skoll has led the way in creating a new form of effective philanthropy. As he told the New York Times “We began to build the organization, focused on investing in and celebrating social entrepreneurs. Not long after that, we realized there was another opportunity to help bring them together and tell their stories.”

Going strong for nearly two decades, the Skoll Foundation aims to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity by focusing on innovation and creativity to tackle large-scale problems. It is through the Skoll Foundation that many of his future efforts begin to take flight, including the World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and Participant media. In fact, Jeff has probably done more to raise the awareness of social entrepreneurship than anyone else on this planet, with his foundation locating those who seek to change old systems and create innovative new ones. The foundation finds people and programs that are already bringing positive change to the world and does everything in its power to provide a chance to extend their reach and deepen their impact. And they have seen great success, investing over $400 million and giving out over 100 Skoll Awards to social entrepreneurs who are making a lasting impact.


2017 Skoll World Forum


And Jeff continues to provide opportunities for social entrepreneurs to flourish, thanks in no small part to the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, and the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. These programs are a critical opportunity for social entrepreneurs and partners to connect, learn, and develop the burgeoning area of philanthropy. As a new approach to the world of giving, social entrepreneurship is still finding its way, and with the help of the Skoll Center, people are quickly learning and adapting. It is through these connections that large-scale social change is able to happen. The connections that are made are an excellent reflection of Jeff Skoll – both emotionally inspiring and cerebrally innovative.

Of all the projects Skoll has begun, the one that is most revolutionary is Participant Media. While not everyone is familiar with the production company, the films they have produced have been blockbusters and world-changers. Dedicated to entertainment that inspires and compels social change, Participant Media has produced such films as Beasts of No Nation, Denial, An Inconvenient Truth, Lincoln, The Help, and over 70 others. This is where Jeff Skoll truly shines, recognizing the importance of storytelling in bringing about change, and producing it on a scale that no other philanthropist or organization has ever imagined. It is testament to his efforts that he has achieved an extraordinary eleven Academy Award wins.

Jeff is a mix of contradictions, an empathetic pragmatist and an interview-averse storyteller. He cites former Carnegie Corporation president John Gardner as a chief role-model, providing the Skoll Foundation with their mantra – “Bet on good people doing good things.” Hopefully this new generation of philanthropists will follow Jeff’s inspirational lead.

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Millennial Shift

Millennial Shift

Generation Y is Tapping into its Power as Consumers, Employees and Citizens

Most of them are charitable and have volunteered. They use their cell phones to donate, and see their workplace as somewhere they can make a big difference. They will account for half the workforce by 2020, and outnumber everyone else by 2030.

They are millennials – and foundations, non-profits and others interested in philanthropy are paying close attention to their charitable giving and engagement. Millennials – or Generation Y – are the first group to embrace mobile giving, and are not afraid to support international causes, or use their consumer and political power. But most of them are still at early points in their careers, and their full impact on philanthropy will not be known for years.


Children’s Literacy Center volunteer tutor from East High School, Clare Curwen, left, works with Jaydan Guzman at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library November 20, 2014. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)


The term “millennial” is used for those born between 1980 and 2000 (some researchers use the early 1980s as a starting point, and the early 2000s as the end point). Their sheer numbers are prompting the philanthropy world to track them closely – in less than 15 years, they are expected to outnumber non-millennials. They are the first cohort to grow up with cell phones and social media, which has greatly influenced the way they approach charity.

“They’re the first generation to realize that the minute they make a gift, they can tell 1,000 of their friends in a nanosecond,” says Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. “The idea that you’re going to tell the world immediately is a way to invite people to give, a way to highlight a cause.”

In 2014, 84 percent of millennials made charitable donations, and 70 percent said they spent at least an hour volunteering, according to research by the Achieve group. Millennials are particularly interested in giving to marginalized or disenfranchised groups, and supporting causes that promote equality, equity, and opportunity, the study found.

They are also very engaged in global causes and the environment, says Una Osili, research director at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“Those are two sectors that are relatively new to charitable giving and relatively small compared to say, religion or education giving,” she says. “But that’s an area that they’ve shown a lot of interest in.”


What Three Social Issues Interest You Most?

Source: 2016 Millennial Impact Report


Experts say millennials also know how to leverage their consumer power. They are more likely to buy brands they believe are giving back, whether that be TOMS shoes or Warby Parker eyeglasses. Osili and others point out it is important to research how effective such companies are in giving back, however, and evaluate the impact of their claims.

“Some ‘cause’ marketing campaigns have been less effective and there is also a question about how much actually goes to charity versus the company,” she says. “But overall, the idea that you can have impact, not just through charitable giving, but through a range of consumption and investment decisions, is very attractive to millennials. They want to work in companies that are involved in social good and buy from companies that are good corporate citizens and good community members.”

Millennials will make up half the workforce by 2020. They see their workplaces as the arena where they can be most influential, according to a Deloitte survey. Another study found 64 percent of millennials will not work for an employer that does not have strong corporate social responsibility values. Derrick Feldman, who founded Achieve and is the lead researcher of the Millennial Impact Report, says millennials have put pressure on companies not only as consumers, but as employees.

“Millennials are looking for companies to stand up for something and to make it clear that they should be standing up for certain issues and rights of individuals,” he says, “not just for their consumers, but for the betterment of their communities, neighborhoods and employees who live in those neighborhoods.”


Wheelock College student volunteers, or corps members, part of the Jumpstart early education program, work with pre-schoolers at the Crittenton Center at the Madison Park complex. Here, they lead kids in a dance. (Photo by George Rizer/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)


Researchers say millennials are also exercising their power as citizens, and engaging in philanthropy in response to political events. The 2016 Presidential election prompted many of them to get even more involved, they said. The 2017 Millennial Impact Report found their cause engagement increased in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the last quarter of 2016.

“I think charitable giving is a manifestation of how you look at the world and your political views,” Heisman says. “You are supporting what you believe in.”

Feldman, from Achieve, says another key characteristic that distinguishes millennials is that they view all of their assets equally, whether that be their money, their time, or their networks. They do not see themselves as donors or volunteers, but as supporters of a particular cause or issue, he says. Organizations such as the ACLU, Amnesty International and ONE are aware of this, and incorporate grassroots movement building and participation into their strategy before ever asking for money, he says.

Most millennials are still early in their careers, so their long-term impact is yet to be determined. Many are getting jobs and building families later than the previous generations, and have not reached their peak income. The jury is still out on what impact they will have – but the philanthropy field is watching with close attention.

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Julian Robertson Jr.: An Opportunity to Inspire

Julian Robertson Jr.: An Opportunity to Inspire

Unlike many a millionaire, Julian Robertson Jr. has been enjoying the opportunity to give away his wealth. He made his money in the finance world, where he is still regarded as a wizard of Wall Street. But the impact he has had on the philanthropic world is hard to overstate, and is likely to reverberate for many years to come. He brings his hedge fund acumen to non-profits, placing his money in successful and diverse programs, ensuring he gets maximum bang for his buck.


The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, New York City, 1971. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)


Much of Robertson’s work revolves around opportunity. And while many philanthropists lament getting started later in life, he has a different take, saying, “Once you get into the giving game, it is so much fun that you give all your money away. If I had started younger, I wouldn’t have anything left to give.” He views his wealth as a unique opportunity, and happily uses his money to provide opportunities big and small to others. His efforts have gone to small towns and big cities, art museums and stem cell research facilities, public parks and military families. The variety is nearly overwhelming. And he has used his stature in the finance community to bring new recruits to the world of philanthropy.

Robertson’s efforts show his ever-growing list of interests. Like many philanthropists, much of his money goes towards projects and programs that are connected to his life. The Blanche and Julian Robertson Foundation, named after his parents, is concentrated on his home town, the city of Salisbury, North Carolina. Quite simply, its aim is to improve life there – revitalizing neighborhoods, helping families in crisis, giving access to art, and supporting at-risk young people. In addition, Robertson Scholars Leadership Fund provides scholarships to North Carolina University and Duke University. Of course, he has not forgotten where he made his money either, providing both funding and help to various New York programs, including the Boys Club, Central Park, and Lincoln Center. And having fallen in love with New Zealand after his first visit in 1978, he set up the Aotearoa Foundation (Aotearoa being the Maori word for the country), having a big enough impact to earn him an Honorary Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.


New Zealand. Wellington. Oceania. (Photo by: Hermes Images/AGF/UIG via Getty Images)


But with such a wide variety of works, how is Robertson most likely to be remembered? Often times a philanthropist will hone in on one particular topic, and build a single foundation with a relatively narrow area of focus. Clearly this is not Robertson’s way. He may be starting a new foundation to tackle a new issue as you read this. Such a wide net makes it easy to overlook what might be his biggest impact – getting others involved. Awards like the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy and programs like the Giving Pledge go a long way toward keeping the conversation about philanthropy going, but Robertson goes one step further. While the Robertson Foundation is the most visible of his efforts, the lesser-known Tiger Foundation could have the biggest impact on the future. Focused on breaking the cycle of poverty in New York City, it is notable not so much for its aims, but for its engagement. As Robertson says, “I started the Tiger Foundation because I knew we had so many talented people.” By bringing aboard top employees from his extraordinarily successful hedge fund, Tiger Management, the Tiger Foundation is stocked with top-level talent. More importantly, it is bringing new blood into the world of nonprofit work, perhaps laying the groundwork for the next Gates, Bloomberg, or Carnegie. The Tiger Foundation continues to thrive, and multiple new foundations have sprung up from it, including the Lone Pine Foundation, the Blue Ridge Foundation, and the Shumway Foundation.

“Give talented people the opportunity and they will make the most of it.” Julian Robertson Jr.’s lesson has been proven true time and time again. And that bodes well for the future of giving.

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Azim Premji: Pledging to Give in India

Azim Premji: Pledging to Give in India


Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd was an undeniably successful company. Successful enough that it allowed Azim Premji to live a comfortable life as a child in India, and later to have the enviable experience of studying engineering at Stanford University. But when his father suddenly passed away in 1966 during Azim’s senior year, it fell upon him to pick up the mantle and ensure that the company’s success would continue unabated. There was a need for leadership, and Azim quickly proved that he understood what had to be done. He used the opportunity to find more success than his father could ever have imagined.

Despite taking the reins at the young age of twenty-one, Azim had a head for business, and a sixth-sense for the best way to leverage a new opportunity. Immediately the company began to diversify, creating a portfolio that included toiletries, lightbulbs, and hydraulic cylinders. There was no reason to limit themselves to vegetable-based business – Western Indian Vegetable Products became Wipro, and Azim would soon become the “Indian Bill Gates” in more ways than one.


Bill Gates, Azim Premji , Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet during a press conference in New Delhi, Thursday, March 24, 2011. (Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)


As the 1970’s drew to a close, Wipro focused more and more on computer hardware and software, in time becoming the IT consulting and systems integration company it is today. It became not just any tech company, but one of the largest in the world. And from early on, Azim had one eye toward giving back, years later telling the Associated Press, “I strongly believe that those of us who are privileged to have wealth, should contribute significantly to try and create a better world for the millions who are far less privileged.”

Through Wipro, Azim has been able to have a massive impact both philanthropically and culturally. Some Wipro initiatives, such as Mission 10X, which aims to increase the abilities of Indian engineering students, clearly fits with the company’s own interests. But there are also programs such as Wipro Cares, which works with employees to help provide disaster relief after devastating earthquakes or floods. The culture of responsibility pervades everything at Wipro, which is one of the reasons for both the company’s success, and its position as one of the top places to work in India.


‘Make in India’ initiative on September 25, 2014 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)


Azim’s generosity is not limited simply to the work done through Wipro, however. Founded in 2001, the Azim Premji Foundation is Azim’s way to pursue his non-profit passion, providing high quality universal education to all Indians. The Foundation works closely with the government in rural areas to improve the school systems, readily taking the opportunity to try new programs and projects that the government would never be able to fund on its own. This is no doubt a reflection of lessons learned from his upbringing. Azim told the India Institute of Management Bangalore, “My mother, a doctor, did not practice medicine. But she founded the children’s orthopedic hospital in Bombay, a one of its kind hospital in South East Asia, and devoted her life to raise funds to run it because government grants never came on time.”

So the “Indian Bill Gates” born in Bombay found massive success in the tech world and in quick succession became one of the world’s richest men and one of the world’s biggest philanthropists. He said that being rich ‘did not thrill’ him, and became the first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge, committing most of his wealth to charity. And while he knows his money will have an impact, he hopes that his example does too. After all, this is a man who changed a vegetable oil company into a wildly successful tech giant. Is it too hard to believe he might also change the face of philanthropy in India?

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Philanthropy’s Fight Against Climate Change

Philanthropy’s Fight Against Climate Change

Where there is a will, there is a way. The U.S. federal government recently announced it will pull out of the landmark Paris agreement, but environmentalist Carl Pope remains hopeful. Cities and states give him hope, he says, as does philanthropy.

“We have a huge coalition of states, cities, private businesses, universities and churches that have said they want to do the right thing,” says Pope, who, along with the former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, authored the book “Climate of Hope.” “Philanthropy now has to shift its vision from how to persuade the federal government, to how do we enable local sectors – whether public or private – to implement changes that will reduce emissions.”


Michael Bloomberg at the C40 Cities climate summit in Johannesburg on February 5, 2014.


Pope, the former head of environmental organization the Sierra Club and a senior advisor to Bloomberg, says that philanthropy can show why clean energy is not only good for the environment, but is profitable.

“Philanthropy now has to be more in the business of enabling pilot projects to demonstrate how profitable all this is,” he says, “rather than persuading people to make a sacrifice based on the risks if we don’t act.”

There are many examples of how philanthropy has done this, Pope says. In India, U.S. philanthropists partnered with the private sector and the government to encourage production of energy-saving LED lights. Not only did the lights become cheaper as a result, enabling more people to access electricity, but India became a major producer of this technology. The market is the driving force now, he says, “but philanthropy had to prime the pump.”

President Trump announced in June that the United States would withdraw from the historic Paris agreement, the world’s commitment to reduce harmful carbon emissions. The same day, Bloomberg pledged $15 million through his foundation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Bloomberg, a 2009 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy recipient, has been instrumental in getting others to commit to reducing carbon emissions. The list of more than 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, investors and universities who have signed up to the We Are Still In open letter supporting the Paris agreement keeps growing.

Pope says that there are countless cities on all sides of the political spectrum taking the lead on clean energy. Houston – the natural gas capital – gets nearly 90 percent of its power from wind and solar energy. Salt Lake City plans to transition to 100% renewable energy sources by 2032, and Portland is committed to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum recently announced it was switching to solar power.

Nick Nuttall, a spokesperson and director of communications and outreach for the UNFCCC, says there is a growing need for the UN to work with foundations and the private sector to fight climate change.

“Philanthropy can, by its very nature, sometimes do things and take risks that business itself doesn’t want to take in the absence of certainty, or maybe because of a policy vacuum,” he says. “Philanthropists can also operate in ways which aren’t just brutally financial. They may have other reasons for wanting to support climate change; it may be for social values, or gender, or women’s issues.”

John Coequyt, director of federal and international climate campaigns at the Sierra Club, says philanthropists like Bloomberg, Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen and Virgin Group’s Richard Branson play a critical role that goes beyond dollars.

“There is definitely an element of actually being advocates for the changes that they want to see, whether that’s divestment on their side, or using their influence to get companies and governments to make decisions,” he says. “These are people who have influence and it’s really important that they use their influence to advance the goals their philanthropy is trying to achieve.”

Some philanthropists have been encouraging others to get involved. The presidents of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation – which are among the biggest funders in the climate change field – wrote an op-ed in 2015 urging philanthropists to step up, and pointing out that less than 2 percent of philanthropic dollars go to climate work. Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer recently outlined ways philanthropy can do more, such as by supporting nations and networks committed to the Paris agreement, rallying support from business associations, and working with banks and finance ministers to make investing in clean energy easier.


2016 contributions: $390.05 billion by type of recipient organization (in billions of dollars – all figures are rounded) Source: Giving USA 2017


One recent example of a philanthropic effort in this area is Oak Foundation’s six-year, $20 million grant to help communities in Africa and the Arctic adapt to climate change. And in May, MacArthur Foundation announced $19 million to support cleaner and cheaper energy in the United States, bringing the total amount in its Climate Solutions program to $120 million.

Still, the money goes both ways. A 2015 report found U.S. donors gave more than $125 million over three years to spread disinformation about climate change and curtail progress.

It is difficult to say how much is going towards climate change today. But the latest Giving USA report found giving to causes supporting the environment and animals saw the largest increase among the various categories in 2016, at 7.2 percent.

Coequyt, from Sierra Club, says the day the United States announced it was withdrawing from the Paris agreement was the organization’s biggest online fundraising day of the year. But the need remains immense because the current administration may try to rewrite codes that protect everything from water, to air, and endangered species, he says.

“There is definitely need for federal defense and the scale of that is daunting,” he says, “but it is also true that no one should think that because of that attack, there isn’t an ability to make progress on climate change.”

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H. F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest: Finding Opportunity in Challenges

H. F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest: Finding Opportunity in Challenges

H. F. (Gerry) & Marguerite Lenfest

Classes, tests, applications, planning – a lot time and effort goes into preparing for college. H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest took a different route, leaving high school and hitting the high seas for a job on an oil tanker before starting his first semester at Washington and Lee University. There was no doubt he was ready after the exhausting months on the Atlantic. But the time aboard the ship left an impression; after college he joined the Navy, serving for two years and remaining in the Navy Reserves for over two decades. And that trajectory encapsulates Gerry’s approach; challenge, opportunity, and sacrifice can all be indistinguishable if you approach them with the right attitude.

Throughout his life, Gerry’s ability to make the most of his opportunities have made him a very wealthy man. And thanks to his current plans, he is working on a different trajectory, doing his best to give away the vast majority of his wealth. He once said, “The ultimate achievement in life is how you feel about yourself. And giving your wealth away to have an impact for good does help with that feeling.” He has shown this propensity for generosity throughout his life, he solid his media company, Lenfest Communications, setting aside $60 million of the profits as bonuses for all the employees. He was sure to share the opportunity with all those who helped with the success.

Soon after this sale was when Gerry and his wife, Marguerite, decided that they would use their riches to ensure their children were provided for and give almost everything else away to good causes. The couple is not only donating money through their Lenfest Foundation, but are also personally involved with many of the causes, making it feel a little less like giving donations and more like expanding their family. Starting with the Lenfest Scholars program, they provide money to students in rural Pennsylvania to go to college. But more than just the funds, there is great emphasis on creating a network of Lenfest Scholars, ensuring that there is support and enthusiasm to see these students succeed.



Much of the work that the Lenfests have supported has been in the Philadelphia area, continuing the feeling of an extended family. They still live in the same house in the Philadelphia suburbs that they bought in 1966, and have been major patrons of the arts in their city. They also started the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a unique nonprofit corporation devoted to local journalism. With this, Gerry was able to provide a support system for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and to remain independent and connected to their hometown. The news industry faces unprecedented challenges, and the best journalism is an invaluable resource to the public and a critical part of the country as the fourth estate. The Lenfest Institute is ensuring opportunities to make an impact through reporting continue to exist.

The Lenfests’ philanthropy shows their commitment to those who work hard for the good of the country. As a former naval officer, Gerry knows sacrifice, and honors those who have done the same. He’s helped fund the Museum of the American Revolution and sits on its board, saying, “The lessons of the revolution, I think, are important to young people today. It shouldn’t be just a museum of artifacts, but of the principles of the founding. Liberty is not just liberty; it’s responsibility. You have to have a responsible citizenry.”

Gerry has been able to capitalize on his opportunities, and his legacy will be giving others a chance to do the same. Thanks to the Lenfest Foundation, schools in Philadelphia are given a boost, out-of-school programs have flourished, and young adults are getting career planning advice. The Foundation won’t last forever, but there is a good chance someone who got an opportunity thanks to Gerry will be around to give the next generation a leg up.

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Joan and Sanford Weill: Raising the Stakes

Joan and Sanford Weill: Raising the Stakes

Over six decades into their marriage, Joan and Sanford Weill remain a philanthropic powerhouse. UC San Francisco just experienced their largesse firsthand, receiving a $185 million gift for the Weill Institute for Neuroscience. But that is only the very latest in a long line of generous gifts that the couple has bestowed on the world. Separately, each of the Weills has done an astounding amount of good, but together they have really raised the stakes on what it means to be a philanthropic couple.


Sanford “Sandy” Weill in 1991, when he was CEO of Primerica. (Photo: Rob Kinmonth/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)


Sanford “Sandy” Weill made his fortune as a banker and financier, but history suggests that his name will be remembered first and foremost as a philanthropist. His first foray into that realm was a unique melding of the nonprofit and banking worlds. The Academy of Finance, founded by Sandy in 1982, is a network of business/school partnerships that prepares young people from high-need communities for careers in the corporate world through a combination of school-based curricula and work-based experiences. The concept seemed obvious to Sandy, providing tangible benefits for both the business community and the students, and helping to shape the future workforce of America. This first venture in philanthropy impacted him profoundly. As he later told Philanthropy Roundtable, “Philanthropy kept me busy through that uncertain period and showed me that there was something more to life than just business.” He has been a critical part of the rebirth of Carnegie Hall over the past thirty years, helping raise funds and restoring it to its former glory. His success as chairman of the board of the world-famous concert hall has earned him a rare distinction: Sandy Weill is the recipient of two different Carnegie medals—the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy and the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence.


In 2008 Joan Weill, then chairman of the board of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, speaks during the dance company’s 50th anniversary celebration at the Joan Weill Center for Dance in New York City. Joan’s husband, Sanford “Sandy” Weill, applauds to her right. (Photo: Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images)


For Joan Weill, a spirit of giving and dedication to service has run throughout her life, and while the choices have been quite different from those of her husband, her career as a philanthropist has been no less illustrious. A volunteer in the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Joan used to joke that she was “in charge of the streets” while her husband was “in charge of culture.” But this vastly undersells the variety of projects that Joan has taken on, from helping the homebound elderly in New York City as president and board member of Citymeals on Wheels, to spearheading, as chair of the board, the transition of Paul Smith’s College from a 2-year to 4-year institution. As board member of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, Joan brought music education to students and, perhaps most notably, under her guidance as chair, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater grew substantially, and is today ranked as one of the premier companies in American dance.


The great Chinese pianist Lang Lang performing at Carnegie Hall in 2008. Joan and Sanford Weill both serve as board members of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which they have been involved with since its inception in 2008. (Photo: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)


In philanthropy, as in marriage, two successful individuals working together jointly become greater than the sum of their parts, the one complementing but also bringing out the best in the other. The whole world should be thankful that Joan and Sandy Weill found each other. The couple’s belief in medical science as a true catalyst for changing lives has led them to give over $600 million to the Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University. And what is more, it is the Weills who make Cornell’s efforts to open a medical school in Qatar a reality, making it the first American school of medicine overseas. The international impact of their giving is probably best represented by the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Center at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel.


Sandy Weill, chairman emeritus of Citigroup and founder of the National Academy Foundation, talks on Fox Business News about his legacy in philanthropy, especially about NAF’s efforts to improve high school education in the United States.


The Weills are consistently creating opportunities for humanity to heal and grow, whether through medicine, education, or the arts. Their donations have left a lasting impact on major scientific and cultural institutions, and, perhaps just as importantly, have inspired others to recognize what they themselves can accomplish. And it is clear that for them, their philanthropy, much like their marriage, is a source of great joy. As Sandy has said, “Joan and I have been partners in everything that we’ve done and we have learned a lot from one another. . . . Joan, to my good fortune, still puts up with me!”

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Giving, Without Opening Your Wallet

Giving, Without Opening Your Wallet

What do knitting, running and playing games have in common? Philanthropy.

© Amy Berman/Mother Bear Project

Got knitting skills? You can make hats for premature babies or teddy bears for children living in HIV/AIDS-affected areas. Like taking photos? Snap one and with a click on your phone, money will be donated to charity. Do you enjoy playing vocabulary games? One of them will donate 10 grains of rice for every correct answer.

Money is the backbone of philanthropy, but there are plenty of ways to give that don’t involve pulling out your wallet. A proliferation of websites, apps and organizations is making it easier than ever to convert your skills, interests and hobbies into charitable giving, whether that’s your knitting products, photos or even the miles from your morning run.

Sometimes, determination is all you need.

Fifteen years ago, Amy Berman came across an article that led her on a journey of giving that is still going strong. Berman, who lives in a Minneapolis suburb, read about children in Africa contracting HIV/AIDS because some men falsely believed that having sex with virgins would cure them of the disease. The article mentioned that a child protection unit in South Africa was looking for items of comfort for the young victims.


Amy Berman, © Amy Berman/Mother Bear Project


“My kids were young at the time, 8 and 11,” Berman says. “I knew I couldn’t just pick myself up and go to Africa and roll up my sleeves. But instead, I thought, ‘O.K., let’s think here. What in the world can I do to send comfort?’ I thought about my kids and what brought them comfort, and I thought about how every single night they slept near teddy bears that my mother had knit for them.”

Berman did not know how to knit, nor did she consider herself crafty. But she asked her mom to teach her, and she eventually taught hundreds of others to do the same. Fifteen years after reading that article, Berman has helped get more than 135,000 teddy bears into the hands of African children in 26 countries. She eventually founded a non-profit organization, Mother Bear Project. Every week, Berman and a volunteer ship 250 teddy bears, and she has made a handful of trips to Africa to meet some of the young recipients. Some of them are orphans, some – but not all – have HIV/AIDS, and some haven’t been tested, but all live in HIV/AIDS-affected areas.

“There are a lot of grants out there for people who are doing feeding, educating, housing,” Berman says. “But comfort is not included. And as a mom and a human being, I know that every child needs comfort, and that’s why I just keep doing it.”

Mother Bear Project is just one example of using knitting to give. One 86-year-old man learned to knit so he could make hats for premature babies. But if you have no desire to grab your knitting needles, there are plenty of other ways to become philanthropic, whether through volunteering, or donating everything from your clothes to your blood.


You can use web browsers to donate to charity through sites such as Tab for a Cause. Another easy way to give is to donate your photos through Johnson & Johnson’s Donate a Photo app, which has given more than $2.3 million to over 130 causes. You can play a simple vocabulary game, and for every correct answer, 10 grains of rice will be donated to the World Food Programme. Runners can become philanthropic while on the move; Charity Miles has donated more than $2 million on behalf of those who use their app to track their steps.

“This idea of philanthropy being more than dollars is very important,” says Sheila Herrling, senior vice president of social innovation at Case Foundation. “Do not underestimate time and talent, along with treasure, when you think about giving. When you’re giving, you’re declaring your case, you’re investing your time, you’re part of that cause – and there is something important about that.”

About a quarter of American adults volunteer their time, talents and energy toward making a difference, according to data compiled by the National Philanthropic Trust. In 2015, the value of volunteer time exceeded $23 an hour, which equates to about $184 billion in contributions. Fundraising or selling items were the most popular activities, followed by food collection or distribution, then general labor or transportation.


Berman says she never set out for philanthropy to play such a central role in her life, but her desire to contribute simply led her there.

“I don’t believe people have to be directly impacted by something to care, because we’re all part of this humanity,” she said. “And we need to take care of each other. If people don’t step up, what kind of a world is this?”

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Sending Hope to Syrians: Philanthropy’s Role in the Refugee Crisis

Sending Hope to Syrians: Philanthropy’s Role in the Refugee Crisis

© Jason Florio/ 2016. All rights reserved. Visit here for more.

Christopher Catrambone’s foundation runs on a simple, but critical belief: no one deserves to die at sea. His organization, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, or MOAS, has rescued more than 30,000 people over the last three years, many of them from Syria.

Catrambone and his wife founded MOAS shortly after an incident in October 2013, when a boat carrying about 400 children, women, and men from Africa sank off an Italian island. The Louisiana native, who has been living in Malta for the last decade, said he felt compelled to address the growing number of such tragic deaths. He estimated that so far he and his wife have given $8 million to the cause.

“I have so much satisfaction because the reward is making a difference,” said Catrambone, a philanthropist and entrepreneur who also runs a multimillion-dollar insurance company. “It’s not money that’s the reward. And the awesome feeling of helping people in their most dire moment is great satisfaction.”

MOAS has served as a model for many organizations that have since started their own search and rescue operations at sea, including Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, Catrambone said. MOAS has rescued people from all walks of life, including the elderly and children. One Syrian girl arrived as an unaccompanied minor after her mother was killed on the route to the boat.

“There are a lot of terrible stories and this is what keeps us going,” Catrambone explained. “We rescue them, we talk to them, we document their stories. Because their stories are the most important message they can get out—why did they decide to get in a rickety boat and flee?”

After six years, the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 470,000 lives. About 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance and over half the population has been forced from their homes. More than 5 million people have fled Syria since 2011, and millions more are displaced inside the country.

The United Nation’s funding appeal for Syria remains unmet. And in early June, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, warned that unless urgent funding is received, some 60,000 Syrian refugee families in Jordan and Lebanon will be cut from a vital monthly cash assistance program as early as next month.

But philanthropy is making a notable difference in some areas. MOAS is an example of how it has saved lives, after thousands of refugees set out on dangerous journeys in hopes of reaching safety. As the refugee crisis spilled into the Middle East and Europe, a growing number of individuals, foundations, and businesses responded by helping refugees access everything from cell phones and electricity, to housing and educational opportunities.

In April Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp started using a solar plant—the first ever built in a refugee setting—thanks to the IKEA Foundation. The plant supplies electricity to 20,000 camp residents (construction of the plant provided income for more than 50 refugees).

Some tech companies have also stepped in. Google supports Project Reconnect, which is providing 25,000 Chromebooks to organizations serving refugees in Germany. Google also recently created the Searching for Syria website to inform people about the crisis. Microsoft Philanthropies has a number of initiatives, just last month signing an agreement with the UN to help with job creation in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, the countries that have absorbed most of Syria’s refugees.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in grants and recently approved another $1 million for Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Airbnb aims to provide temporary housing to 100,000 refugees over the next five years. UPS, Uniqlo, H&M, and the United Nations Foundation have also donated, as have many individuals and organizations from the Gulf and the Middle East, said Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, emergency response coordinator with UNHCR in Geneva. The need is still enormous, she said, but unlike other crises, such as that in Yemen, the media and the public are still paying close attention.

“With the Syrian crisis, what we’ve seen, even six years into it, is it’s one of the emergencies that is most supported,” she said. “And by that I mean not only financially, but emotionally, morally, and in terms of public support.”

Ghedini-Williams said there are many benefits to building partnerships, including innovation and increasing awareness. For example, IKEA helped create freestanding refugee housing units that have locks and solar panels, which are critical for girls and women’s safety, she said. And through its in-store campaign that donated money for every light bulb purchased, more people have become informed about issues facing refugees, she said.

“This situation just continues to get more politicized,” Ghedini-Williams said, “so it’s about how do we reach new ears and wallets and feet that are going to march to their countries’ parliaments or to their mayors’ offices and really advocate for better asylum and protection and assistance for refugees.”

In addition to the vast humanitarian needs, the Syrian conflict also created an educational crisis, said Hillary Wiesner, program director for Transnational Movements and the Arab Region at Carnegie Corporation of New York. The foundation has supported such programs as the International Institute of Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, which helps threatened scholars, as well as the Global Platform for Syrian Students.

The conflict also illustrates the need to ensure that cultural preservation is funded, as many museums and cultural heritage sites of great value have been damaged or destroyed. “I do think Syria has changed philanthropy more than philanthropy changed Syria,” Wiesner said. “Syria highlighted, among many other things, the need for more focus on preserving higher education in emergencies, and cultural preservation as part of the first-wave of humanitarian relief.”

In 2016, for the second year in a row, the Syrian crisis was the largest recipient of private humanitarian funding, with $223 million going towards the crisis and the neighboring refugee-hosting countries. That is no small feat, as private donors do not typically fund crises resulting from conflicts, said Sophia Swithern, head of research and analysis at Development Initiatives, a U.K.-based organization that analyzes funding for poverty and development-related projects.

“Private donors have traditionally stepped in for high-profile natural disasters, but they didn’t really respond to complex crises,” she said. “What we’ve noticed over the last two years running is that Syria bucks the trend on that.”

A recent survey found that donations to the refugee crisis vary greatly by country. Turkey led the way, with nearly 3 out of 10 of participants saying they donated to refugees, according to the Tent Foundation. Swedish and Greek respondents were also more likely to donate, while French, Hungarian, and Serbian participants were the least engaged.

Tent, which aims to improve the lives of those who are forcibly displaced, was founded by Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani yogurt. He is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, has hired many refugees, and donates to organizations such as UNHCR and the IRC.

Catrambone, from MOAS, said philanthropists like Ulukaya will likely continue to give in order to ease the pain the Syrian crisis has inflicted on so many families. But he said it is unfortunate that many others view the situation first and foremost as a political issue. He said he and his wife have been criticized, even threatened for helping refugees, and MOAS has had to defend against allegations that it was colluding with human traffickers. According to Catrambone, many individuals and organizations have not donated to the Syrian crisis because they do not want to take any political risks, but he has no regrets about helping save lives.

Letting people get involved in different ways may help. Catrambone recalled a conference he hosted that featured the Syrian-American pianist Malek Jandali. Many participants told him afterward that they were impacted more by Jandali’s performance than by anything else at the conference.

“I saw more people engaged because they were moved in a different way,” he said, stressing the need to use creativity to motivate people to get involved.

People from all walks of life have found ways to give to Syrian families. One Canadian couple canceled its wedding celebration and instead donated money to Syrian refugees, and a Canadian man gave his car to a Syrian refugee family settling in his city. A San Francisco woman is sending 5,000 teddy bears to Syrian children through her organization. A Quaker woman in Pennsylvania helped raise $30,000 for UNHCR.

Catrambone said he agrees to some extent with Andrew Carnegie’s comments about the need to educate yourself in the first part of your life, earn money in the second, and give it away in the third. But for those who have made their money at a younger age, there is no reason to wait. Catrambone and his wife were in their early 30s when they were sailing near Italy and she saw a life jacket floating nearby. At that point, there had already been news reports about migrant deaths at sea. They founded MOAS a few months later.

“I looked at my wife and said, ‘We’re so young, we [made money] so early, let’s give it back now. What if we give it all away?’” he recalled. “We’ll have been so enriched with this great feeling of helping people and helping with the most core principles of humanity.”


For more information:

To learn more about the Syrian conflict, check out Searching for Syria, a project by Google and UNCHR.
Check out Charity Navigator’s list of charities working on the Syrian conflict.
Learn about MOAS.
Learn about IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign.

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