Top 10 accomplishments from when Rick Cohen led NCRP

Date: November 18, 2015

Rick Cohen was executive director of NCRP from 1999 to 2006. Like many of you, we’re shocked and saddened by his sudden death on Tuesday. Here are some of his many accomplishments from his years leading NCRP.

1. Improving Understanding of Social Justice Philanthropy

In 2003, under Rick’s leadership, NCRP published “Understanding Social Justice Philanthropy,” which explained to the sector the concept of social justice philanthropy, its elements and its theoretical framework. The definition of social justice philanthropy put forward in that publication has been widely adopted by the sector, and is the definition used by Foundation Center to measure social justice giving by U.S. foundations. During Rick’s tenure, NCRP also published reports on funding for advocacy and social change in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and in California, highlighting models of funding organizing and public policy change for the sector. NCRP also published research that quantified the state of social justice philanthropy in 2005.

2. Watchdogging Conservative Philanthropy

Rick continued NCRP’s already established reputation as a vigilant observer of conservative philanthropy, whose influence had increased dramatically during the 1990s. Reports examined the role conservative philanthropic dollars played in making policy on welfare and entitlement reform, corporate and environmental deregulation, tax policy and education. This research remains today some of NCRP’s most popular and widely recognized work. It is also often credited with motivating progressive philanthropists to step up their game, which contributed to the creation of influential groups like the Democracy Alliance and the Center for American Progress. In memory of Rick, we’re making these reports available for free download:

3. Campaigning to Increase Foundation Payout

In 2003, Rick and NCRP advocated for moving more money to charities as Congress considered removing foundation overhead expenses from the payout calculation for private foundations. If Section 105 of HR 7, the Charitable Giving Act of 2003, had passed, it would have effectively created an all-grants 5 percent payout requirement. The campaign earned NCRP scorn from many foundations, and quiet praise from cash-starved charities. Read NCRP’s A Billion Here, A Billion There: The Empirical Data Add Up.

4. Exercising Power and Influence

Rick was named to The NonProfit Times’ “Power and Influence Top 50” list in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. He was regularly asked to testify on Capitol Hill, especially in the lead up to passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. He also frequently appeared on cable news and was often quoted in mainstream and nonprofit press.

5. Lifting Up Nonprofit Voices

Under Rick’s leadership in 2001, NCRP joined the Center for Effective Government and other allies in commissioning a first-of-its-kind survey of the nonprofit sectors’ needs and recommendations, and presented them in “The Nonprofit Agenda: Recommendations to President George W. Bush to Strengthen the Nonprofit Sector.” Rick also maintained a strong voice for a nonprofit sector actively engaged in civic and political activity, defending our right to engage in advocacy. In 2005, he spoke out strongly against a bill that would have restricted nonprofit advocacy rights, a bill that ultimately did not pass.

6. Demanding Greater Foundation Accountability

During his time at NCRP and as a prolific writer for Nonprofit Quarterly and other publications. Rick was always a voice for foundation accountability and openness. In 2004, NCRP released Standards for Foundation and Corporate Grantmaking, which urged foundations to be more forthcoming with information on grantmaking. The report laid out a vision for good grantmaking that encompassed many of the values that would later be included in Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best.

7. Sending Abramoff to Jail

Corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff went to jail in 2005, and Rick and the NCRP team helped send him there by exposing his abuse of the Capital Athletic Foundation. The foundation used only a pittance of its nearly $4 million in philanthropic grants and expenses for legitimate charities, essentially buying its philanthropic bona fides with tiny $500 grants to legitimate charities. These small grants camouflaged dubious grants to Abramoff-controlled charities and other clearly inappropriate expenditures such as international golfing trips for members of Congress, including Ohio’s Bob Ney. Ney’s committee jurisdiction happened to include oversight of Capitol Hill contracts of interest to Abramoff’s lobbying clients, who also happened to contribute to the Capital Athletic Foundation. See NCRP’s press release on Abramoff’s indictment.

8. Calling for More General Operating Support

Rick’s leadership at NCRP included years-long focus on increasing foundation funding in the form of general operating support. Rick understood that core support was critical for nonprofit sector health and for long-term systemic change. He and his team at NCRP frequently pushed the sector to give more such grants. Check out The Core of the Matter, Not All Grants Are Created Equal and A Call To Action. Since 2000, general operating support by U.S. foundations has increased from 16 percent of grantmaking to 21 percent.

9. Promoting Philanthropy in Rural Communities

Rick’s interest in the issue of rural philanthropic investment, and his tireless pursuit of more foundation dollars for rural communities, informed much of NCRP’s work during his tenure. In 2004, Rick co-authored Beyond City Limits: The Philanthropic Needs of Rural America, which called attention to this pressing issue. He was a major source of knowledge and guidance behind NCRP’s 2007 report Rural Philanthropy: Building Dialogue From Within, which identifies the common reasons that deter foundations from engaging in rural grantmaking and ways to overcome these challenges.

10. Spearheading Effort to Diversify Workplace Giving

During Rick’s leadership, NCRP continued a push to break the monopoly the United Way had on workplace giving by researching and incubating new models. NCRP produced research on the state of workplace giving in 2003, and on innovative models under development in Miami-Dade County and Northwest Ohio. Since then, workplace giving choices have diversified beyond just the traditional United Way, as reported by Nonprofit Quarterly.

Help us celebrate Rick’s accomplishments and contributions to the charitable sector. Share a memorable quote, anecdote or work of Rick’s in comments below.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has served as the voice of nonprofits and the communities they serve in philanthropy since 1976.  Follow @NCRP on Twitter.