Nonprofit Chronicles

Nonprofit Chronicles Nonprofit Chronicles is a blog by journalist Marc Gunther about nonprofit organizations and their impact. Nonprofit organizations do vital work.

They aim to alleviate poverty, save the environment, cure disease, promote social justice and protect human rights. In the US, the nonprofit sector accounts for about $2 trillion in economy activity and employs nearly 10 percent of the workforce. There are about 1.1 million nonprofits in the US, and another 80,000 foundations. Remarkably, the sector added nearly 50,000 new nonprofits every year between 2000 and 2010. How are nonprofits performing? Which are effective? Which are not? That’s hard to say. And that’s what this blog is about. Unlike public companies, which report quarterly earnings—a rough measure of whether they satisfy their customers—nonprofits typically do not rely on the people they serve for their financing. They lack the feedback loops that discipline business. As a result, the manager of a Starbucks, whose performance is measures and compared with peers, is arguably more accountable than the head of CARE, the Boy Scouts of America or The Nature Conservancy. In a modest way, Nonprofit Chronicles will try to remedy that, by reporting on the effectiveness of nonprofits, spotlighting leaders and prodding laggards—much as Fortune or the Wall Street Journal do with business. Nonprofit Chronicles is written by Marc Gunther a veteran journalist based in Bethesda, Md. His writing about business and sustainability can be found at marcgunther.com.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Medicines has been trying for years to turn MDMA, aka molly or ecstasy...
06/25/2020
At a pivotal moment for psychedelic medicines, a need for $7.5 million

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Medicines has been trying for years to turn MDMA, aka molly or ecstasy, into a medicine that, with therapy, can help treat PTSD. It's important work, but it has yet to win much support from institutional philanthropy. My latest for @Medium

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is moving close to turning MDMA into a medicine. Will donors step up?

Ten environmental nonprofits have joined together to ask companies to advocate for climate change. Most big companies ha...
02/26/2020
The Climate Crisis Won’t Get Fixed Unless Big Companies Step Up

Ten environmental nonprofits have joined together to ask companies to advocate for climate change. Most big companies have failed to make their voices heard in Washington and state capitals. This is an important step, as I explain in this story for Marker, a business publication of Medium.

https://marker.medium.com/the-climate-crisis-wont-get-fixed-unless-big-companies-step-up-ffbae30f37da

It’s up to companies and their employees to stop paying lip service to the environment and get serious about the climate crisis

The San Francisco-based ZeroDivide foundation collapsed abruptly in 2016. What went wrong? Where did missing money go? W...
09/12/2019
A Foundation Collapsed. Its Money Is Gone. What Happened Is Shrouded in Mystery.

The San Francisco-based ZeroDivide foundation collapsed abruptly in 2016. What went wrong? Where did missing money go? Why has no one been held accountable? My latest story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Ford and other big grant makers that supported ZeroDivide have a lot of questions. So does California’s attorney general.

Social-justice grantmaker Marguerite Casey Foundation and its CEO, Luz Vega-Marquis, have earned praise for supporting g...
06/27/2019
Praised for Pathbreaking Grants, Marguerite Casey CEO Said to Foster a Culture of Fear by Staff Members

Social-justice grantmaker Marguerite Casey Foundation and its CEO, Luz Vega-Marquis, have earned praise for supporting grass-roots activist groups that serve the poor and people of color. The experience of working for Vega-Marquis, though, was terrible, former staff members say. My latest story for The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Luz Vega-Marquis, who announced this week she will retire in 2020, has faced turnover from employees who say they felt mistreated, diminished, and even traumatized.

In my latest for @Medium, I look at the potential of psychedelic drugs to alleviate suffering from a range of mental ill...
05/21/2019
Philanthropy, psychedelics and effective altruism

In my latest for @Medium, I look at the potential of psychedelic drugs to alleviate suffering from a range of mental illnesses. They also appear to be a gateway to meaningful experiences that could benefit all of us.

Psychedelic drugs are having a moment in the sun. Donors are stepping up to support research and advocacy on their behalf.

The Humane Society of the US has named a new CEO and replaced its board chairs, but there's more work to do to regain th...
02/25/2019
The Humane Society of the US: Still reckoning with #metoo

The Humane Society of the US has named a new CEO and replaced its board chairs, but there's more work to do to regain the support and trust of donors, allies and staff. My latest for Medium.

For more than a year, the Humane Society of the United States, the US’s most powerful animal-welfare group, has been trying to recover…

A new book argues that nuclear power is the only proven way to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the experienc...
02/06/2019
Nuclear power: A dilemma for climate change philanthropy

A new book argues that nuclear power is the only proven way to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the experiences of Sweden, France and Ontario have shown. So should foundations support climate activists who stand in the way of nuclear? My latest story for Medium

Climate change is “the slow-motion equivalent of a large asteroid heading to earth,” writes Joshua S. Goldstein, in a new book about…

Stanford prof Rob Reich challenges people to reconsider the way they think about philanthropy. "Philanthropy, especially...
01/30/2019
Rob Reich: Philanthropy needs a fix

Stanford prof Rob Reich challenges people to reconsider the way they think about philanthropy. "Philanthropy, especially big philanthropy, is an exercise of power,” he says. “Any exercise of power deserves our scrutiny, not our gratitude. It deserves rigorous attention.” My new blogpost

Most PTAs hold bake sales and car washes to help out their local schools. But in some well-to-do communities, PTAs have turned themselves into “local education foundations,” the biggest of which r…

My latest blogpost, about the MacArthur Foundation, a major funder of environmental groups that persists in supporting t...
01/09/2019
The MacArthur Foundation invests in climate solutions–and in fossil fuels.

My latest blogpost, about the MacArthur Foundation, a major funder of environmental groups that persists in supporting the fossil fuel industry.

Eighteen months ago, the people who manage the endowment at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation got some bad news: Investments they had made in funds managed by EnerVest, a Houston-ba…

My latest for the Chronicle of Philanthropy: A package of cover stories on foundations and impact investing. The bottom ...
01/08/2019
Impact Investing Struggles to Gain Traction Despite the Hype

My latest for the Chronicle of Philanthropy: A package of cover stories on foundations and impact investing. The bottom line: There's been lots of talk, not nearly as much action and most foundations continue to invest the old-fashioned way--to make money, regardless of the consequences. But a few that have embraced impact investing report very good results.

There’s been lots of talk, but the vast majority of foundations are sticking with a century-old, bifurcated model of philanthropy: Money is given away on one side of the house, invested on the other, and never the twain shall meet.

My new blogpost explains why I gave to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, GiveDirectly, GiveWell and Animal Cha...
12/23/2018
My charitable giving in 2018

My new blogpost explains why I gave to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice,
GiveDirectly, GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators this year.

My wife Karen Schneider and I gave about eight percent of our pretax income to charity in 2017. The Life You Can Save, a nonprofit inspired by the moral philosopher Peter Singer, has a calculator t…

The US uses more energy to power holiday lights than other, poor countries use in an entire year. So it seems unfair to ...
12/10/2018
Todd Moss: When it comes to energy, big is beautiful

The US uses more energy to power holiday lights than other, poor countries use in an entire year. So it seems unfair to deny the world's poor people the benefits of energy--even if that energy comes from fossil fuels, argues Todd Moss, a former state department official who has started the Energy for Growth Hub. My new blogpost explains.

Who could object to efforts to bring clean, renewable energy to people without electricity? Donors and investors love social enterprises (D.Light, Greenlight Planet, BrightLife) and nonprofits (Sol…

A veteran entrepreneur named Eric Reynolds moved to Rwanda in 2010 and has been trying ever since to build a sustainable...
12/02/2018
Smoke alarm: Eric Reynolds, a founder of Marmot, wants to build the world’s first truly clean cookstove company. Millions of lives are at stake.

A veteran entrepreneur named Eric Reynolds moved to Rwanda in 2010 and has been trying ever since to build a sustainable cookstove company. It's not easy to build businesses that truly serve the extreme poor, as my new blogpost explains.

This special report was made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Journalism. * * * Eric Reynolds was despondent. He had poured his heart and soul, his best ideas and a chunk of h…

My new blogpost, following up on an investigation by ProPublica, looks at the foundations, companies and media outlets w...
10/22/2018
More Than Me: A tragic failure of philanthropy

My new blogpost, following up on an investigation by ProPublica, looks at the foundations, companies and media outlets who supported Katie Meyler, the founder of a school in Liberia, where vulnerable young girls were raped. Her enablers stayed with Meyler even after the rapes became known. This story will make you sad and it should make you angry.

This is an image from the Facebook feed of a man named Macintosh Johnson. Pictured is Katie Meyler, the founder of a charity called More Than Me that operates schools for poor, vulnerable girls in …

Inspired by effective altruism, Vox launches a reporting project about big issues, and the successes and failures of phi...
10/17/2018
Journalism about changing the world, effectively

Inspired by effective altruism, Vox launches a reporting project about big issues, and the successes and failures of philanthropy. It's supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. My new blogpost.

Can journalism supported by a traditional foundation ask tough questions about what foundations are doing right–and doing wrong? Future Perfect intends to try. It’s off to a promising start. …

Hard to believe. My new blogpost.
10/11/2018
Yet another #metoo stumble for the animal rights movement

Hard to believe. My new blogpost.

Last Chance for Animals says that it is dedicated to ending the exploitation of animals. The exploitation of women? Not so much, it seems. Otherwise, why would the Los Angeles-based animal advocacy…

09/18/2018
goalkeepers-september

This report from the Gates Foundation offers great perspective on global poverty, and explains why the problems and opportunities are greatest in about a dozen countries in Africa.

A USAID-back evaluation of a nutrition program in Rwanda found that it doesn't do much good. Nor do small amounts of cas...
09/17/2018
A lesson from Rwanda: Don’t confuse scale with impact

A USAID-back evaluation of a nutrition program in Rwanda found that it doesn't do much good. Nor do small amounts of cash. The problem? Trying to serve too many people with too few resources. My new blogpost explains.

Ah, scale. Foundations, nonprofits, anti-poverty programs all pursue scale. Advice on how to scale abounds, in reports and articles like Getting to Scale, Strategies to Scale Up Social Programs and…

My story for the New York Times looks at a USAID program to benchmark conventional aid programs against cash. It's the f...
09/13/2018
Opinion | Is Cash Better for Poor People Than Conventional Foreign Aid?

My story for the New York Times looks at a USAID program to benchmark conventional aid programs against cash. It's the first time that the US government has given cash, with no strings attached, to poor people in the developing world.

U.S.A.I.D., the American foreign aid agency, is conducting a trial that measures the impact when poor people abroad are simply given money with which to decide what’s best for themselves.

People don't pay enough attention to the way foundations invest their money. Critics say they make a mistake by pursuing...
09/10/2018
Why do foundation endowments underperform?

People don't pay enough attention to the way foundations invest their money. Critics say they make a mistake by pursuing market-beating returns and paying high fees to Wall Street. That's the topic of my new blogpost and a story in the current issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Culture trumps strategy, it’s often said in business. At companies and nonprofits alike, culture can be defined as “the way we do things around here.” It’s tough to change culture. Culture helps ex…

Americans are eating more meat than ever, despite years of advocacy by animal rights groups, health experts, foodies and...
08/24/2018
Faunalytics: Does farm-animal advocacy work?

Americans are eating more meat than ever, despite years of advocacy by animal rights groups, health experts, foodies and celebs. What's gone wrong? A small nonprofit called Faunalytics does research to try to improve advocacy on behalf of animals, as my new blogpost explains.

Again and again, Americans have been told to eat less meat, or to stop eating meat altogether. The message has been delivered by doctors at the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Socie…

In a story for The Salt, NPR's food website, I look at an effort to create a chicken farming industry in Rwanda, funded ...
08/11/2018
Former Tyson Foods CEO Brings Chicken Farming To Rwanda — But Can It Last?

In a story for The Salt, NPR's food website, I look at an effort to create a chicken farming industry in Rwanda, funded by USAID and the former CEO of Tyson Foods. The story points to the problems that can arise when western "experts" without a lot of grounding in the local economy or culture devise a plan to help poor Africans

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/08/09/634351544/former-tyson-foods-ceo-brings-chicken-farming-to-rwanda-but-can-it-last

In February, Wayne Pacelle left the Humane Society of the US under a cloud, amidst charges of sexual harassment. The HSU...
07/19/2018
The return of Wayne Pacelle

In February, Wayne Pacelle left the Humane Society of the US under a cloud, amidst charges of sexual harassment. The HSUS board mishandled his departure. Now he's back.

Well, that didn’t take long. Less than six months after stepping down as CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle is returning to the animal welfare movement, this time as a pa…

Emmett Carson finally stepped down as head of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. He tolerated abuse in the workpla...
06/28/2018
Emmett Carson: The end has come

Emmett Carson finally stepped down as head of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. He tolerated abuse in the workplace, a new investigative report says, and took no responsibility on his way out. My new blogpost.

Emmett Carson’s reign atop the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the US’s biggest community foundation, came to an end today. The foundation’s board, which hired a law firm to …

We're losing the battle to curb climate change. Yet no one is holding foundations and environmental groups accountable. ...
05/22/2018
Philanthropy, groupthink, and climate change

We're losing the battle to curb climate change. Yet no one is holding foundations and environmental groups accountable. My new blogpost looks at a new study about the climate movement, from Matt Nisbet, and the continuing failure of climate philanthropy.

Fact: Nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of all the electric power in the US, more than hydropower (7.5%), wind (6.3%) and solar (1.3%) combined, according to the US Energy Information …

With, roughly, $14 billion to give away, the Open Philanthropy Project is going to be a force in US philanthropy. The fa...
05/21/2018
The most unorthodox big foundation in America

With, roughly, $14 billion to give away, the Open Philanthropy Project is going to be a force in US philanthropy. The fact that it is guided by the principles of Effective Altruism make it, in my view, the most interesting foundation in America. I wrote about OpenPhil on my blog as well as in the Stanford Social Innovations Review.

The Open Philanthropy Project funds an array of causes that would seem, at first glance, to have little or nothing in common. OpenPhil, as it’s known, gave away about $240m last year, making major …

Mario Morino is at the heart of the Leap Ambassador community, which is trying to improve the performance of the nonprof...
05/11/2018
Mario Morino: Fixing nonprofits

Mario Morino is at the heart of the Leap Ambassador community, which is trying to improve the performance of the nonprofit sector. The community is doing important work that I reported on for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and in this blogpost.

Some people who start out poor and then make a lot of money forget their roots. Not Mario Morino. In a speech to the august City Club of Cleveland in 2012, Morino talked about growing up in one of …

05/09/2018
A little bit of heaven in Rwanda

I returned home from a 10-day reporting trip to Rwanda last week. Had a fascinating trip. Here's my first blogpost about what I learned.

Josh Ruxin had big plans when he moved to Rwanda in 2005. He was running an NGO that built and improved health clinics, and he launched a Millenium Village project, with support from Stephen Lewis,…

Last week, I wrote this story for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, with help from news editor Megan O'Neil. Based on 19 in...
04/23/2018
A Star Performer Created a ‘Toxic Culture’ at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Say Insiders

Last week, I wrote this story for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, with help from news editor Megan O'Neil. Based on 19 interviews with former employees of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, It details more than a decade of noxious workplace behavior by Mari Ellen Loijens, the foundation's head of fundraising. The day after the story ran, Loijens resigned.

https://www.philanthropy.com/article/A-Star-Performer-Created-a/243159#comments-anchor

An investigation is looking into reports of bullying, sexual comments, and an oppressive office culture.

Should your donations to charity be drive by analysis or emotion? Al Cantor, a nonprofit consultant, and I disagree. We ...
03/27/2018
Charitable giving, from the head or the heart? Discuss…

Should your donations to charity be drive by analysis or emotion? Al Cantor, a nonprofit consultant, and I disagree. We hash out our differences in my new blogpost.

Until recently, Al Cantor and I had never met. We connected on Twitter, traded emails, talked by phone and enjoyed our interchanges. Al has spent more than three decades in the nonprofit world, as…

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