Shark Month: Covid-19 Edition

The amazing Amanda Ripley earned my undying respect with her research, “Complicating the Narratives,” — about how journalists can help bridge divides by asking questions as mediators in high conflict zones have learned to do. Her newest piece, “How to cover uncertainty and statistics in a pandemic, without making things worse,” is equally important. She writes, “If you are going to report the number of deaths, you should report the number of lives saved. Why? Because one shows the threat, and the other shows our control over the threat. Millions of human beings are working on managing this threat, including nurses, scientists, doctors and sick people and their families. Where is their scoreboard? This is not about making people feel good or minimizing the seriousness of this threat. It’s about telling the truth.” Her work is always so measured, thoughtful and so important.

“Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

I’m obsessed with “Whitman, Alabama,” a sensational project from that uses documentary and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together—as people, as states, and as a nation. For two years, filmmaker Jennifer Crandall crisscrossed Alabama, inviting people to look into a camera and share a part of themselves through the words of Walt Whitman. Start with verses 39 and 37 and experience for yourself the beauty of this extraordinary project.

Beautiful News

Happy to share an uplifting project: Beautiful News Daily is a collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful. Every day for a year there will be a new graphic celebrating trends and developments that are typically unreported in the headline news. As the site says, “Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.”

Empathy and compassion receive support

Read today about a $100 million gift to UCSD to study empathy and compassion and to cultivate those qualities in physicians. The donor, Denny Sanford, said his donation was influenced by a private meeting he had with the Dalai Lama when His Holiness visited UCSD in 2017 to give the commencement address. “I have been inspired by the work and teachings of the Dalai Lama, whose interest in the intersection where science and faith meet is deep and profound,” Sanford said, “I have had the opportunity to see how grace, humanity and kindness can change people and the world. This gift extends that vision.” Sanford grew up during the Great Depression, lost his mother to breast cancer when he was four, and began working in a warehouse when he was eight. Today, he is a philanthropist billionaire. Mr. Sanford’s total giving to date worldwide is over one billion dollars, demonstrating his commitment to his own humble motto: “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

Gender Bias in Grant Making

In the June 4 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Alex Daniels reports on efforts by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to find out whether their own team’s evaluation of grant applications was colored by gender bias. To answer that question, researchers performed a review of 6,794 proposals from the foundation’s Global Challenges (2008 to 2017). Their finding: Women applicants were 15 percent less likely than men to receive a “silver” rating and 20 percent less likely to receive a “gold” rating from the reviewers. A big reason was that the men tended to use “broad” words to describe the sweep of their work, while women researchers stuck close to “topic-specific” vocabulary to describe how their work would advance causes like agriculture, nutrition, and disease research. I so appreciate the Gates’ Foundation’s reflective efforts to address gender bias internally as well as globally.

Volunteering in orphanages: more harm than good

Eight million children live in orphanages and other institutions globally. More than 80 percent are not orphans but have been separated from their families, in part to attract volunteers who also donate money and in part to feed an insatiable demand from traffickers and human slavery supply chains. “Orphan tourism” has been called the “perfect 21st-century scam,” attracting visitors who believe they are doing good, when in fact their good deeds are fueling an industry based on child exploitation. To learn more about the need to end the systematic institutionalization of children worldwide, visit Lumos (co-founded in 2014 by J.K. Rowling) and ReThink Orphanages, a coalition founded in 2013 to share information about the impact of international volunteering in orphanages and raise awareness about the negative effects of volunteering in these settings.

An Unconventional Guide to Making a Meaningful Gift

The 2018 Unconventional Guide to Making a Meaningful Gift from California Association of Nonprofits is a good basic primer for giving this holiday season, particularly for its cautionary information about where and how not to give this time of year. And for the philanthropy nerd on your list, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas offers a thought provoking perspective on how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” preserves the status quo and obscures their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve. Agree or disagree, it’s sparking an important conversation.

Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age

Are today’s donor classes solving problems—or creating new ones? “We live, it is often said, in a new Gilded Age—an era of extravagant wealth and almost as extravagant displays of generosity. In the past fifteen years, some thirty thousand private foundations have been created, and the number of donor-advised funds has roughly doubled. The Giving Pledge—signed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, and more than a hundred and seventy other gazillionaires who have promised to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy—is Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel” stripped down and updated. And as the new philanthropies have proliferated so, too, have the critiques.” This is a quote fron a thought provoking article in the New Yorker that is worth a read.

Love Heals

I’ve just returned from two days at Thistle Farms in Nashville, TN, where female survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution heal, recover and gain economic freedom through job training, employment and the power of unconditional love. Thistle Farms is uniquely successful and powerful – beginning with a proven residential recovery model that informs a national network of sister organizations and then multiplies its impact by inviting survivor-led organizations worldwide to join in a shared trade marketplace. Shop for the freedom of women at their amazing online store and let the love heal you too.



Don’t believe it

There’s a lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen to charitable gifts in 2018 when fewer people itemize deductions on their tax returns. Much of the reporting about this issue has asserted that the nonprofit sector is headed for a big loss; as if America’s safety net sector needed more reasons to feel overburdened and under-appreciated. Perhaps these prognosticators are correct. But perhaps not. The vast majority of donors with whom I work give because they are committed to creating a more just and sustainable world. These generous souls will continue to invest in their favorite causes with or without a tax deduction because they believe in the work and receive value from being aligned with morally courageous endeavors. Let’s not contribute to the echo chamber prematurely spreading news of our demise. Instead, let’s be clear about our own narrative. Our nonprofit sector is uniquely American, uniquely powerful and uniquely positioned to be a force for good in 2018.