Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

I started this blog, Nonprofit Chronicles, in 2015. It replaced my first blog, which ran at, for eight years. This is my last post here. (No. 282, but who’s counting.) I’m returning to, where the focus of my writing will be psychedelic drugs, as it has been lately.

I’ve been a reporter for nearly 50 years. I’ve rarely been bored because I’ve changed beats every five to ten years. I’ve written about politics and government, television, the media and entertainment industry, corporate sustainability and the world of foundations and non-profits.

For what I expect to be my last act, I’ll be writing about the business, science, politics, culture and history of psychedelic drugs. I’m super excited. These drugs – or medicines, as many prefer to call them – have the potential to alleviate suffering from mental illness, change the way we understand our brains and connect us deeply to one another and to the earth.

Most of the content at Nonprofit Chronicles has moved to You should in theory continue to get new posts from me. However, the best way to keep up with my work is to subscribe to the new blog here. If you don’t get a post from me in the next few days, please check your spam folder.

Feel free to email me anytime at Marc dot Gunther at gmail dot com. I’m always interested in feedback and story ideas.Thank you so much for reading my work. I hope you continue to do so.

Many startup companies developing psychedelic medicines are struggling to raise money these days. Not Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals. Founded in 2019, Gilgamesh raised $39m in December. Its original investors came back for the Series B round. It participated in the Y Combinator accelerator for startups. Its founder, Jonathan Sporn, who I met briefly at a party during the Horizons conference in New York, has an impressive resume. So I decided to take a closer look.

Lucid News posted my story about Gilgamesh the other day. What’s noteworthy about the company is that it isn’t developing any of the classic psychedelic drugs as medicines. Psilocybin, mescaline, LSD and ketamine have great promise as medicines, when accompanied by talk therapy., but they are all in the public domain. They can’t be patented. Perhaps more importantly, they can almost surely be improved. They can be modified to become safer, or more effective, or longer acting, or shorter acting, or easier to administer.

So Gilgamesh is developing new drugs, and building an intellectual property portfolio that will continue to attract investment, if all goes well. These novel medicines, the company says, will harness the potential of psychedelics to revolutionize the treatment of mental illness. The process is expensive and time-consuming. Chances are, Gilgamesh will need at least seven years before any of its new drugs are commercialized and available to people with depression or addictions. But if its drugs outperform the classic psychedelics, they will be worth the wait.

Here’s a link to my story about Gilgamesh.

Late in 2018, while researching a story about philanthropy and psychedelic medicine for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, I drove up to Baltimore to visit Roland Griffiths, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins. Griffiths was then and remains today one of the world’s leading researchers of psychedelics. Our conversation was one of a number that helped persuade me to make a late-in-life course change: I shifted the focus of my reporting from philanthropy to the business, politics, culture and science of psychedelics. Psychedelics is the most exciting story I’ve covered since the rise of the Internet.

Griffiths, I’m certain, has changed the lives of many others–students, researchers, the philanthropists who kept research into psychedelics alive when neither corporate nor government funding was available. In a story that I just published to Medium, I make the claim that he’s done more than anyone to bring about the mainstreaming of psychedelics.

His long career is now winding down. He’s 76, and has Stage IV colon cancer. The cancer has responded well to treatment.

But, instead of fading quietly into the background, Griffiths is sharing the experience of facing death and seeking to establish a program at Johns Hopkins that will carry on his explorations of psychedelics, spirituality and well-being.

He says: “Unlikely as it may seem, my wife and I have experienced my diagnosis as a gift, a blessing, really, Today, I’m more awake, alive and grateful than I have ever been before.”

You can read my story about Roland Griffith here on Medium.

Since I began reporting on foundations and nonprofits back in 2015, I’ve tried to make a habit of writing once a year about my own charitable giving.

I’ve done so for three reasons. First, I believe in transparency. If I write a story about GiveDirectly, say, readers should know that I’m also a donor. Second, I think it would be helpful if more people shared their giving practices. We might all get smarter about where to give and, perhaps, choose to give more. Third, I have the modest hope that–as someone who has paid careful attention to philanthropy and reported on many charities–my giving might influence others.

Charities to which I donated in 2022 include GiveWell, GiveDirectly, Animal Charity Evaluators, Martha’s Table, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science and the brand-new Roland Griffiths Fund.

I explain my thinking in this post at Medium.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year.

The website Tobacco Tactics calls itself “the essential source for rigorous research on the tobacco industry.” Operating under the aegis of the University of Bath in the UK, Tobacco Tactics is funded by, among others, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the philanthropic vehicle of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg leads a global campaign against the tobacco industry and all its products, including safer nicotine products.

Last month, Tobacco Tactics went after a Norwegian researcher named Karl Erik Lund, alleging that he has “ties” and “connections” to the tobacco industry. This was shameful. Lund has testified against the industry in five lawsuits, and has never taken any money from tobacco companies. His sin, such as it is, is that he has researched the effects of a safer non-combustable nicotine product known as snus, which are popular in Norway and Sweden. Snus, which are oral pouches, create health risks but they are safer than combustible cigarettes; they have helped reduce the prevalence of smoking and smoking-related diseases in both countries. As a result of this unfair attack–and yes, it was an attack– Lund was informed by a French government agency that he could no longer attend a conference on e-cigarettes in Paris that he had helped to organize.

I wrote about this at some length for Medium, here, for a couple of reasons. First, the ban on Lund was outrageous and unjust. Second, because it reflects the utter refusal of Bloomberg Philanthropies and its allies to consider ideas that diverge from its absolutist stance against all things tobacco.

To my delight, the story got a lot of attention, including a tweet that directed me to the small print on the Tobacco Tactic website. Tobacco Tactics says:

Although we work to rigorous standards and adhere to a strict guide to writing, there is no undertaking by either or the University of Bath that any part of this site is accurate, complete or up to date. You use this site at your own risk, and for guidance only.

None of the authors, contributors, sponsors, administrators, sysops, or anyone else connected with or the University of Bath will be responsible for the appearance of any material considered defamatory, offensive, inaccurate, unlawful or misleading, nor will they be responsible for your use of the information contained in these web pages, or the pages TobaccoTactics links to.

Crazy, no? A university-run website calls itself an “essential source” but adds a disclaimer saying, essentially, that the site cannot be trusted to be accurate. There’s a lot more to this story, which can be found here.

Much as I would prefer not to write about smoking and vaping, I can’t walk away from the story. Tobacco control policy is a neglected topic, and it’s too important to leave alone. When people I admire like Ken Warner, the former dean of the University of Michigan school of public health, who is 75 and could be doing anything he likes, devote their time and energy to advocate for a balanced approach to e-cigarette regulation, I believe attention must be paid.

Warner and his U of Michigan colleague Cliff Douglas are trying hard to overcome the polarization that characterizes the great vape debate. On one side are prohibitionists–people like longtime tobacco warrior Matt Meyers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and his patron, billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, whose narrow focus on young people has led them to abandon smokers who could benefit by switching to a safer nicotine product, like a vape. (They are also shockingly unwilling to consider alternative views and meet with their critics, as I’ve written.)On the other side are advocates of tobacco harm reduction, which in this context means encouraging people who can’t or won’t quit smoking to switch to less harmful products to get their nicotine, even if those products aren’t entirely benign.

In a new story for Filter, I take a close look at the efforts by Warner and Douglass to find common ground in the great vape debate. They haven’t made a lot of headway, but they are not giving up.

This week I’ve been in Glasgow, where an organization called Knowledge-Action-Change just released a new report called The Right Side of History: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2022. It’s a thorough and surprisingly readable history of tobacco harm reduction. The authors are optimists: They believe that safer nicotine offerings — the variety of e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products like Iqos and oral nicotine pouches like snus — will over time replace the deadly cigarette. The question is, how much time and how many lives will be lost before that happens?

You can read my analysis of the report on Medium.

I’ve neglected this blog all fall as I write less about philanthropy and more about psychedelics. It is no longer “Nonprofit Chronicles” except in name. I am hoping to start a new website/blog at my old URL,, but haven’t been able to begin that daunting task. If anyone reading this knows a web designer who can help me by building a simple Squarespace site, please reach out to me by email.

Meantime, here are links to stories that I’ve written since last posting here, in reverse chronological order.

My new story for Lucid News looks at Carey Turnbull, who exercises a lot of influence over the psychedelic sector as a philanthropist, the founder of two startups, and the leader (and funder) of a nonprofit that challenges overly-broad patents. He has supported research at NYU and Yale that could pay off big, but some worry that he is accumulating too much power. A former Wall Street trader, Turnbull is also an enthusiastic user of psychedelics.

There’s enormous excitement over the potential of psychedelic medicines to treat a variety of mental health conditions, for good reason. But startups in the sector are struggling to raise money. Consolidation has begun. Eleusis Therapeutics, a promising startup, was recently acquired by a private company called Beckley PsyTech. Here’s my story about the deal, also for Lucid News.

Several weeks ago, I attended the Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference in New York City. The gathering attracts scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, activists, lawyers, therapists and not a few party-goers, about 1,000 people in all; it’s a great place to take the pulse of the sector. I came away more impressed than ever by the work of the scientists who are researching the benefits of MDMA, psilocybin and LSD, but wondering where the money will come from to get these drugs into the hands of people who need them. Here’s my take, published on Medium.

There is one place more people are finding psychedelics: In church. No one is keeping an exact count but the number of churches that offer ceremonies using plant medicines continues to grow apace. Some churches operate openly, with websites and Facebook pages. Others remain underground. My story for Lucid News takes a look at the legal issues raised by plant-medicine churches. The landscape is murky.

While there’s enormous uncertainty about the future of psychedelics will look like, it’s increasingly evident that these drugs are going to enter the mainstream, one way or another — as medicines bearing a stamp of approval from the FDA, as decriminalized drugs in cities like Washington DC where you can now buy psilocybin chocolates online, via healing centers in Oregon beginning next year or as “sacraments” in the churches. A backlash or crackdown is possible, but I don’t see any political appetite for waging a war on psychedelics. Instead, my bet is that more people will try these drugs, more people will understand their benefits and there will be no turning back.

T. Cody Swift

As a young philanthropist who supports research into psychedelic medicines, Cody Swift is nothing if not hands-on.

He has experimented with psychedelics.He has guided clients through trips as part of clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University. He has published in an academic journal. Most important, he has donated millions of dollars. His donations are poised to have a big impact.

He’s also a leader, with David Bronner and others, of efforts to support indigenous peoples who have used these medicines for thousands of years.

Cody is one of a very few private donors who kept research into psychedelics alive before Michael Pollan (and others) arrived on the scene. Even a decade ago, there was essentially no government money or investments from startup companies to support research. My, how things have changed!

Here’s my new story about Cody and his work, published by Lucid News, a website that covers all things psychedelic where I’ve become a regular contributor.

Last week, Filter, a nonprofit journalism website that covers drug policy, published my long (3,000-word) story about the Truth Initiative. Truth Initiative, which was formerly known as the American Legacy Foundation, began in 2000 as an anti-smoking group — by most accounts, a very effective one — and later evolved into a nonprofit that seeks to “inspire lives free from smoking, vaping & nicotine.” My story explains, to the best of my ability, how and why Truth Initiative broadened its mission and, arguably, took a disastrous turn in the wrong direction.

The story is unavoidably detailed and complicated, so I won’t try to summarize it here. Suffice it to say that well-respected senior scientists who left Truth Initiative told me that they are dismayed by the organization’s hard-line stance against vaping and all things nicotine.

“They have spun and ignored the science to cherry pick only information and data that supports the ideology of prohibition,” said David Abrams, a professor of public health at New York University, who previously directed the research arm of Truth Initiative.

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who writes about medicine and culture, told me: “We’re not talking misinformation. We’re talking disinformation. This is willful misrepresentation of facts. It’s mind-blowing.”

Because Truth Initiative has been largely funded by proceeds of a class-action suit against the tobacco industry, the organization is, as a practical matter, accountable to no one but its self-perpetuating board. Its opposition to vaping has meant that smokers who want to quit by turning to e-cigarettes are finding it harder than ever to do so.

I dearly hope that members of the Truth board will read my story and reconsider the organization’s position. Vaping is literally a life-and-death issue.

You can read the story here.

The more I learn about psychedelic drugs, the more I realize how much work lies ahead for researchers who are studying these medicines.

Last week, I watched How to Change Your Mind, the four-hour Netflix adaptation of Michael Pollan’s book, which explores the history and healing potential of four drugs: LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”), MDMA and mescaline. It’s excellent! Aside from Pollan’s book, which goes into the history, culture and psychopharmacology of psychedelics with greater depth, there’s no better way to understand what’s often called the psychedelic renaissance.

But, through no fault of Netflix, Pollan or Alec Gibney, the filmmaker, the series is out of date. Except for the episode on MDMA, which chronicles the long-running effort by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and its indomitable founder Rick Doblin to win government approval for MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for PTSD, Pollan has little to say about the startups and public companies that are trying to turn psychedelic drugs into FDA-approved medicines. By some estimates, hundreds of companies working with psychedelics.

One of the more interesting startups is Eleusis, which was founded in 2013 by a former Goldman Sachs banker named Shlomi Raz. Guiding much of its research is Charles Nichols, a professor of pharmacology at the LSU medical school. (His father David Nichols is a legend in the psychedelic world.) Like other startups, Eleusis believes that psychedelics — in its case, a newly-created drug similar to psilocybin – can alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness. But what sets the company apart is its extensive research into the anti-inflammatory properties of psychedelics. While indigenous people historically have used psychedelic drugs to treat physical ailments, there has been very little contemporary research exploring whether and how psychedelics can reduce inflammation, which is associated with such diseases as arthritis, asthma, Alzheimers disease, retinal disease and heart disease. This is virgin territory for research.

You can learn more in my latest story for Lucid News, which ran under the headline: Can Psychedelics Treat Inflammation and Eye Disease. Eleusis Thinks So. Its research is very early stage, but the possibilities are mind-boggling.