Farewell to Niki Jagpal

Written by: Aaron Dorfman

Date: May 26, 2016

I’m sad to report that Niki Jagpal, NCRP’s senior director of research and policy, has decided to move on and seek new opportunities. Yet I’m excited to see what she’ll do next and what new contributions she will make to help build the progressive movement this nation so desperately needs.

Niki was my first key programmatic hire as I began rebuilding NCRP. She joined the team late in 2007, shortly after the board adopted a new strategic plan.

Niki is the primary author of Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact, which remains one of NCRP’s signature publications. Criteria caused a real stir in philanthropy when we released it in 2009. The 18 months Niki, I and the board spent developing it were incredibly intense. We were attempting to synthesize 30 years of NCRP’s work, and the best research available in the field, into a relatively easy-to-follow set of benchmarks and recommendations. Paul Brest, then CEO of the Hewlett Foundation, widely circulated a critique of Criteria. But the publication succeeded beyond our greatest hopes in sparking debate in the sector about what matters most. And despite his critique, Brest acknowledged that in Criteria “NCRP makes the most comprehensive case I’ve seen for what might be called ‘progressive’ or ’social justice’ philanthropy.”

Niki was the lead on our incredibly popular High Impact Strategies in Philanthropy series. We produced five reports in that series from 2010 to 2013. The first four reports were intended for issue-specific audiences of education funders, health funders, arts and culture funders, and environment and climate change funders, respectively. Each report was authored by an external thought leader, working under Niki’s guidance. One report from that series, Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change, authored by Holly Sidford, is still being used and talked about nearly five years after its release. The series culminated in a piece that Niki co-authored with Kevin Laskowski titled Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy is Social Justice Philanthropy. Real Results synthesizes lessons from the first four pieces and argues that to truly have lasting impact, those who practice strategic philanthropy must adopt some of the approaches traditionally used in social justice philanthropy.

More recently, Niki co-authored both reports in our two part series about how to break down silos in philanthropy. Smashing Silos in Philanthropy: Multi-Issue Advocacy and Organizing for Real Results makes the case for the importance of funding multi-issue grassroots organizing, noting the crucial role those groups often play in advancing particular issue campaigns. Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed ?) Philanthropic Opportunity explores the importance of investing in leadership.

Niki curated last year a special issue of our quarterly journal, which focused entirely on implicit bias in philanthropy. That issue of Responsive Philanthropy is one of the most popular in recent years, and we’ve received feedback that grantmakers and others found it helpful to their work. For example, Philanthropy New York asked her and Dr. john powell to lead a training for its members and key stakeholders. Other regional associations have also requested staff training in tackling implicit bias.

Niki was the staff lead as NCRP sought to evaluate the impact of its work. She worked closely with Jared Raynor of TCC Group to help TCC produce rigorous evaluations in 2010 and again in 2014. Each has been essential to our strategies and implementation of our work.

At conferences, webinars and other public forums, Niki always represented NCRP excellently. Those of you who have co-presented or attended events she was at know that her passion for social justice and the progressive movement is impossible to miss at these forums.

Her commitment to ensuring that the movement have excellent new leaders is evident in her mentoring of several newer movement members, including current and former NCRP staff.

The list of Niki’s contributions to NCRP could go on and on. She did amazing work for us, and we will miss her. Please join me in thanking her for her service to NCRP and to the field. Feel free to add your own stories or notes of appreciation in the comments section.

Aaron Dorfman is executive director of NCRP.