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Is “Go Slow” the New Norm For Private Foundations?
Sept 30, 2009; Trusts & Estates | Trusts & Estates is asking whether recession-oriented foundation grant attention to emergency social and community needs—and supporting nonprofit capacity with increased operating support—is a short term policy or a long term change in foundation practice. The problem is that the magazine is relying on responses of 430 foundations to a survey of the Council on Foundations, suggesting that two-fifths of foundations have maintained or increased their grantmaking in 2009, more than 80% are providing general operating support, and significant numbers are providing grant support for food assistance (two-thirds), emergency housing (more than half of survey respondents), and job training (over 40%). First question: will those two-fifths of foundations saying that they intend to maintain or increase grantmaking actually succeed in doing so? We’ll know better in 2010 or later. And based on rolling averages of foundation endowments, all indications are that 2010 grant totals will be lower than 2009. When 80% say they are providing general operating support, what portion of their grant portfolios are actually gen-op grants? One suspects that these foundations are in general far short of 100% gen-op grantmaking. And are the 92% of foundation respondents that report that they are providing grants that will “aid families directly or indirectly, provide human services, assist low-income populations, or support economic development” actually doing that much more of this than they used to? One might hope that in terms of helping low-income people and fighting poverty, increased grantmaking in those directions would be a positive. And if foundations were actually substantially increasing their gen-op grantmaking, that would be worthy of nonprofit hosannas.—Rick Cohen

Picower’s Madoff Take Now Estimated to be $7.2 Billion
Oct 1, 2009; ProPublica | The Picower story is a good reminder for all of us in the nonprofit sector to take a deep breath for a second thought before jumping to conclusions. When the Madoff scandal hit, we all fretted over the losses suffered by the Picower Foundation of secretive financier Jeffrey Picower. For the past few months, we’ve all learned that rather than being victimized, Picower was a major beneficiary of the Madoff scandal. Now comes word that Picower was no victim. Rather, according to the Madoff trustee, Picower made more money off Madoff than anyone else, roughly, oh, say, $7.2 billion directly and through entities he controlled. Yep. His foundation may have supported some nice nonprofits, but if the trustee’s allegations are correct, Picower made off much like Madoff did.—Rick Cohen

UCF gets $1M stimulus grant
Sep 30, 2009; Orlando Business Journal | We’re trying to track exactly what the national training and TA intermediaries receiving Strengthening Communities Fund support got funded to do. Here’s some coverage of what the various press releases have reported on individual groups. According to the Orlando Business Journal, in Florida, the LEAD Brevard got $249,915 for leadership development and citizen engagement, and the University of Central Florida got $1 million to help nonprofits deliver better job training and economic development services (basically the general functional description of the purpose of the Fund). credited new senator Al Franken for having requested the grant of $879,000 that went to the Northland Foundation serving nonprofits in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region (around Duluth), expanding the foundation’s capacity-building programs for economic development nonprofits. In a nod to President Obama’s commitment to bipartisan programs, the Fund is channeling $250,000 to the OneStar Foundation in Austin, Texas, created by the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry. According to a OneStar executive, the money will be used for nonprofit capacity building, meaning “improving a nonprofit’s internal financial controls and ability to evaluate programs.” The anomaly of course is that Perry was vocally opposed to the stimulus, though his position (and OneStar’s) is that while they oppose the stimulus funds as bad money, they’ll fight to get a fair share of that money for Texas so long as it is “without strings.” In Kenosha, Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnership is receiving $1 million to deliver training and technical assistance to workforce development nonprofits (the Center is already on the last year of a three-year Compassion Capital Fund grant from the Bush Administration). The United Way of Kenosha and the Kenosha County Extension will be partners with the Center in this program. Most of the other press reports on specific grantees that we’ve seen (from the Providence Journal, the Duluth Weekly, etc.) simply reprint the language of the HHS press release that was described in yesterday’s Newswire. We’ll keep monitoring, and we’ll be asking how much these capacity-building grants lead to improved and expanded programs for economic development.—Rick Cohen

Biden Sets Goal for Spending Stimulus Money
Oct 1, 2009; Wall Street Journal | We’ve been hearing for a while that Vice President Biden has been a bit distressed at the slow pace of stimulus spending. He has now set a goal for federal agencies to get 60% of the stimulus money, about $299 billion, out the door by the end of the year. The target appears to be states (though the relaunched website apparently no longer displays ARRA funding amounts by state), but everyone knows that nonprofits are also under scrutiny for how well and how quickly they deliver on the funds they receive. The Obama Administration knows that it is going to get skewered by critiques if the ARRA moneys languish unspent. Nonprofits should be part of the stimulus success story, not one of the examples that critics can use to point out its shortcomings.—Rick Cohen


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