Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Philanthropy in These Unsettled Times

   Penelope Cagney / CEO The Cagney Company  

Published with permission:

What is the state of philanthropy in these unsettled times? What we know to date is that $11.9 billion was given globally for Covid-19 relief in the first half of 2020 according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. We also know that many funders--individuals, corporations and foundations--changed the way they are doing business. 

-Many leading foundations loosened funding restrictions, and some increased their payouts. More than 775 foundations globally committed to flexible funding in response to Covid-19. As the crisis draws to a close, some foundations will return to former giving restrictions, but others will continue their successful new practices of less funding restrictions and direct payouts. And some foundations will shift their programmatic priorities, giving more to promote social equality and/or justice for instance, and they may retain the new focus.

-High-net-worth individuals contributed vast amounts for the pandemic, with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledging $1 billion to pandemic relief and Jeff Bezos giving $100 million  to Feeding America. Like the foundations, some donors will keep the new and others will revert to former programmatic interests.

 -Corporations accounted for nearly two-thirds of Covid-19 funding. This figure includes funding through both corporate foundations and corporate giving.* It will be interesting to see how the path of economic recovery affects their giving in 2021.

Here’s some encouraging news for the US in particular. According to a news release in early October,  the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, giving was up overall in 2020 by 7.5% in Q3. The number of small donations increased 19.2% over the first six months of last year. That may be due in part to the $300 universal charitable deduction that was enacted as part of the Cares Act. (You may want to remind your donors of this as the end of the year draws near).


Thursday, June 18, 2020


In 2019, Giving USA Foundation reported substantial growth in charitable contributions increasing to $449.64 billion, up from $427.71 billion in 2018. The ten key giving sectors– Religion, Education, Human Services, Foundations, Health, Public-Society Benefit, Arts and Culture, International Affairs, Environment/Animals, and Individuals– all saw increases. Strong philanthropic results were driven most by a strong stock-market, a robust economy, full employment and consumer confidence.

That was then: this is now. The full effect of Covid-19 is still unknown. Though the stock market has so far mostly rebounded from a full-on crash a few months ago, the stock market does not define the economy. Staggering unemployment, and economic collapse marked April. May and June. Though there has been some recovery in soft goods consumer spending, and better unemployment figures for May, the charitable sector is, for the most part, struggling. It is well to remember that the US charitable sector, overall, is almost inevitably, a trailing, not a leading edge.

Though the nation is slowly re-opening, the triple whammy of the coronavirus; the long overdue reckoning with racism in America; and the absolute craziness of this election year – each a black swan event on its own – combined with the time lost, all makes for a stiff wind. We know that around 40% of giving is generated in the last quarter of the calendar year. That 40% may hold: but the it’s other 60% that’s rocky. Expect a dip. If the sector makes the 2018 number 0f $449 billion, that would be a huge win. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020


- Hank Goldstein, CEO, The Oram Group, Inc.

Oram was founded by Harold L. Oram in 1940, and has been in continuous operation since, making us one of the oldest firms of its type: management consultants to nonprofit organizations. Originally established to help nonprofits in their fundraising, Harold Oram pioneered direct mail campaigns for progressive organizations. Many of today’s best known and robust civil rights, environmental, health and educational institutions were among our clients. The ACLU, naacp-Legal Defense Fund (now just LDF), Sierra Club, NRDC, World Wildlife Fund, and Planned Parenthood are just a few (among many hundreds) of early clients, still around, still doing exemplary work.

Over time, our services expanded – we developed competencies in every aspect of fund development: special events, estate giving, major gifts, corporate and foundation grant-writing, communications, marketing, earned income, etc. As growth continued, we took on broader issues of nonprofit management: e.g., strategic planning, governance and board development, best practices, program effectiveness and executive recruitment. I joined Oram in 1964. I worked at first on a capital campaign for Hampton Institute (now University), and in 1967 was assigned other clients. I began to move up in the company, bringing in several clients on my own, and always seeking to broaden the services we could offer. 

In 1978, Harold was ailing. Fortuitously, Stewart Rawlings Mott, an heir to GM, and Robert Wallace Gilmore, who had married into the Publishers Clearing House family, stepped in – great men Harold and I had worked with through our civil rights, population and peace movement clients – and they financed my purchase of the company. Oram died in 1990. In 1992, with around 30 employees, the company broke up in the acrimonious departure of three colleagues in a dispute over money. Nothing new there. But by virtue of an artful non-compete agreement each had to buy out their client contracts from Oram, which they did. I was left with the buyout proceeds, a half dozen of my own clients, and of course, I owned the Oram name and the brand.  

I dithered for a few months weighing the upsides and downsides of rebuilding the company, or just hammering on, as a much smaller entity. Given that overhead and payroll are killers, and that if one serves 501-c-3s, profit margins are razor thin anyway, I opted to continue as a ‘boutique’. I’ve done that ever since, with never more than a few employees, doing better than when I had to meet a payroll of $100-150,000 a month. I developed a strong, flexible network of specialists upon whom I still call for whatever services a client might require. As I aged, younger professionals moved up; my universe of contacts and new business slowed. I embraced the inevitable.

Though we no longer actively seek paid work, it finds me, and actually, it is quite liberating not to be hunting all the time, or even at all. In late 2018, I set up a pro bono consulting practice to serve smaller nonprofits (<$1 million operating budget) who cannot pay the market rates my competitors and I charge. This keeps me in the game and is a lot of fun. Any 501-c-3 can apply.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


We are very pleased to offer a limited pro bono consulting service to qualifying nonprofits and NGOs. Over the last few years, we have observed, with increasing concern, the difficulty start-up and low-budget nonprofits and NGOs face in an increasingly fractionated, high-cost, competitive marketplace. I have worked with a few excellent, small groups, offering my experience and tradecraft. None could afford consulting services at prevailing rack rates. There are many more out there in the same situation.

To accept you as a client, will be looking for:

-       Why you think I could help
-       Clear objectives and expected outcomes
-       Commitment of board and staff 
-       A current operating budget below $750,000 

Our arrangement will:

-       Be covered by a Memorandum of Understanding
-       Be cancellable at any time by either party
-       Be time-limited
-       Carry no fee; expenses only, if any. (Lunch appreciated.)

Feel free to call me at 212 481 0149 or email hankus@oramgroup.com

Hank Goldstein

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Six months of the Trump presidency have been a godsend to the left: environmental organizations, civil rights groups, and above all Planned Parenthood, are choking on contributions. His and his administration's threats to shutter NPR, NEA and other liberal darlings, though quite worrisome, are of slightly less moment. NPR nationally does not rely on federal money for most of its revenue; local stations are strong fundraisers. NEA is but a pimple on the great backside of government. The real fright is that cutting or eliminating it will have a terrible effect  in small or mid size communities with less fundraising capacity or opportunity.

An upside, though, is that many state legislators at local, state and federal levels will fight for those funds. They are very well attuned to the effect of bad news on incumbency. Cutting and slashing are great - in someone else's district.

Meanwhile, we now live in an alternative universe: Robin Dooh steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Repealing Obamacare and giving a tax cut to the super wealthy has -- for now -- been sent down the Ganges. But as always in Republication administrations, whether one calls it the Laffer curve voodoo economics, or the supply side market at work  -- coupled with a refusal to ever learn from what came before -- punishing the poor for being poor is a blood sport. The difference this time is that Trump's fixation on erasing Obama from the collective memory puts his overt racism, his birtherism obsession, his anti-Muslim travel ban and his hatred of the poor (losers) in one steaming cauldron of know-nothing hate.

Yet, the fight over health care reform has overshadowed a larger crisis: federal, and by devolution, state and local support of human services is tanking. There is no way the whole of private philanthropy, even if it were totally directed to relief of the abject poor -- which it is not and never has been -- can take up the slack.

In 2016, Giving USA Foundation reports charitable contributions totaled $395 billion. A bit over 12% went to human services. Typically, social service budgets are 80 to 90% government funded; the rest is endowment income for the lucky few, maybe a bit of earned income for others - and philanthropy. Most social service agencies are small, lack powerful boards and the attending cachet that attracts money. Plus, as pass throughs for government money, many have not been incentivized to raise private dollars; many don't know how. In 2015, 45 million Americans, 14.5%, lived below the poverty line. That percentage, according to the US Census Bureau (whose funding is being cut), is not going down.

Recently, Amazon's Jeff Bezos asked how he should direct his philanthropy to maximum effect. Scores of well intended multibillionaires have pledged to give at least half their fortunes to philanthropy; younger, hipper donors have ideas (some strikingly original, others not so much) for structural change in how to give, to whom to give, and how to measure results.

However, in my opinion we cannot simply give our way out of the profound imbalance in American society, exacerbated by the Trumpeters. The industry trade associations lack the convening power this situation demands and they (we) are a pretty cautious bunch, afraid to stand up, fearful of offending or antagonizing anyone, suffering in whispers. To the extent that there is a leadership cadre out there: the Pledgers, the next several levels down of high impact donors, the large foundations, community leaders, etc. we need to get together and sound the tocsin. The message is simple: our federal government needs to be back in the game. Philanthropy is a partner not a solution.

The good news is that our democracy is not fragile. It is resilient. I believe the extraordinary genius of checks and balances will prevail.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Race to the Finish!

If my present prognostications hold 2016 will be a banner year for philanthropy in at least four  ways:

1.  The $375 billion contributed in 2015 will be surpassed.

2.  Foundation philanthropy, a modest percentage of all giving, is nonetheless an important trend-setter. Many large, medium and small foundations are now beginning to see that there is is  no such thing as "no overhead." Nonprofits incur annual, routine operating expenses for labor (the greatest cost); occupancy; materials, and often, debt service. The idea that only supporting "program" (read labor and materials) is somehow more efficient and effective than general operating support is gaining traction. Finally.

3.  My view: Neither major party candidate is going to disturb the charitable contribution deduction, throat clearing noises in Congress to the contrary.

4.  Donor advised funds will continue to grow apace. Depending  on your perspective this may or may not be a good thing. The good thing is that it has brought many new high net worth people into philanthropy (not necessarily altruistically. But still.) This The not-so-good result is that much of that money sits, tax-free and tax-deductible to the donor, undistributed to charities.

This election is a dreadful distraction from our country's real problems, for example, the relentless intractability of  poverty in the world's wealthiest nation. Fueled  by network and cable TV whose interests in creating tension and protracting the agony so they can sell us more stuff is not pretty.

Despite that, the generosity and optimistic spirit of the American people continues to amaze and inspire me and keeps me at this work. What I have learned from my fellow Americans is that  the world can indeed be a better place.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Contributions rise 4% from 2014 to 2015

Giving USA Foundation today (June 14, 2016) reported that in calendar 2015 $373.25 billion was contributed to charity in the US. Gifts from living individuals, and bequests, remain the single largest category of combined support at 80% -- consistent with decades of past reporting. Bequest giving is likely underreported because many estates are too small to be taxed and therefore don’t show  in the IRS data on which Giving USA depends.


Religious giving continues to lead the way as the largest recipient of charity at 32%. But over time religious giving has been declining. Data aside what the numbers tell us is first that US philanthropy is historically robust; even in hard times (2008-9), philanthropy dips less than other sectors of the economy. Second, Americans may or may not be more generous than others; that is not quantifiable. But for sure US taxpayers subsidize giving through the charitable deduction. In most economies, people get more back from their governments in services, support of health, education, welfare, the arts and so on in exchange for the higher taxes they pay. Accordingly, in this nations, there is less incentive to make charitable donations. In recent years, in many key economies, this has changed as governments have been pulling back on traditional support.

Though there is no reliable giving data yet for 2016 this year, our market sense is that this will be a strong year for charitable giving. May it come to pass.