Fall 2011

Responsive Philanthropy Fall 2011


Written by: Aaron Dorfman

Date: October 26, 2011

Message from the Executive Director

As this issue of Responsive Philanthropy was going into production, the Occupy Wall Street movement was picking up steam and showing signs it might have some staying power. Will the scrappy protests help ignite broad concern about issues of equity? Will the movement result in actual policy change or have electoral implications? I don’t know the answer to those questions but, like many of you, I’ll be following the situation closely and looking for opportunities for philanthropy to ride the wave.

This fall issue of RP tackles difficult questions related to “strategic philanthropy,” especially as it pertains to efforts to combat homelessness. Should we be concerned that there is too much strategic thinking and collaboration in philanthropy? While the Center for Effective Philanthropy continues to tell us that most foundations aren’t very strategic, nonprofits sometimes feel that the trend over the past decade toward foundations having highly developed theories of change puts funders, not communities, in the driver’s seat and tends to favor linear approaches to solving complex problems. We asked two authors to contribute their perspectives on the issue.

In “Under the Big Top,” Neil Donovan from the National Coalition for the Homeless makes the case that funders who care about homelessness are too narrow in their thinking about how to combat the problem, and that collaboration among funders actually is hurting the cause by reducing the kinds of approaches funders are willing to consider. He argues that homeless people have been left out of the discussions, and that if we hope to succeed, they need to be at the center of the strategy- and decision-making that’s taking place.

In “Maximizing the Impact and Amplifying the Voice of Philanthropy,” David Wertheimer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who also serves as chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness, argues that the affinity group actually is bringing more rigor to the cause while attracting new funders. He makes a compelling case for why funders should care about this issue and for the added value that Funders Together brings to the work.

Also in this issue, we hear from Marguerite Casey Foundation and Foundation for the Mid South about the importance of combining funding for direct services with funding for advocacy and community organizing. They point out that direct services organizations often have a base of clients that can be mobilized for advocacy, and that good service work often contributes to generating practical ideas for policy solutions.

Voting rights are on the minds of many this year, and some in our nation are working to tighten restrictions on voter eligibility. They say they are concerned about voter fraud. In “Strengthening Democracy by Re-enfranchising felons: An Opportunity for Strategic Philanthropy,” NCRP’s Niki Jagpal explores felon re-enfranchisement and argues for greater philanthropic investment in this area. Nearly two million African American former felons are systematically denied their fundamental right to vote, a situation that Jagpal describes as antithetical to the democratic spirit of this country.

Finally, our member spotlight for this issue features the Appleseed Network. Too often, legal advocacy is overlooked by philanthropy as an avenue for reform. Appleseed shows us the tremendous opportunities for impact.

I hope you find inspiration and hope in these pages, and that you think about your work a little differently as a result of something you read. NCRP is working to hold up a mirror to our philanthropic sector. Hopefully, this issue contributes to that.


Aaron Dorfman

Executive Director