Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

As medical director of the Aquilino Cancer Center, Dr. Manish Agrawal has seen the progress made possible by cancer research.
Death rates from cancer have declined steadily among men and women, and for most common cancers, including lung, breast, and prostate cancers.
“The longer you’re in practice. you realize that we do a really good job with cancer-directed treatment,” Dr. Agrawal says.
But Dr. Agrawal has also seen patients struggle with depression and anxiety. Some cannot get the help they need.
“There’s so much emotional and psychological suffering that cancer patients and their families go through,” he says, “We never fully address that.”
Now, a small group of patients at Aquilino, an outpatient treatment center at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, MD, will have the chance to try something new — treatment that combines group therapy with a single dose of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug that is the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms. Psilocybin is illegal, but the government gives select researchers permission to use it in controlled clinical settings.

You can read the rest of this story on Medium

President Barack Obama and family help distribute Thanksgiving food items at Martha’s Table (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Martha’s Table, a widely-respected charity in Washington, D.C., provides healthy food to families and operates preschool and after-school programs for kids. It serves all comers, but many, if not most, are Black people. After all, more than 60% of Washington, D.C.’s poor people are Black people.

Yet a new report from the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) does not consider donations to groups like Martha’s Table to be investments in Black communities. The report is thus able to make a startling claim: That just 3.3% of the grants made by the Greater Washington Community Foundation between 2016 and 2018 went to Black communities, in a region where 27 percent of the population is Black.

Other community foundations fared even worse, according to the NCRP, a watchdog group. Its report, headlined BLACK FUNDING DENIED, analyzed 25 community foundations across the US and found that “only 1% of grant-making by some of the largest local community foundations goes to Black communities.” The NCRP says the foundations gave “13 times more for non-Black communities than they have for Black communities.”

That would be distressing, if true. It’s not.

You can read the rest of the story on Medium.

Alex Hershaft

This should be a moment of opportunity for the animal rights movement. The case against eating animals — for ethical, environmental and health reasons — has never been stronger. Covid-19 may have begun at a live animal market in Wuhan and, so far, the virus has infected more than 41,000 workers at US meat and poultry slaughterhouses, according to the Food and Environmental Reporting Network,

All of that and more could have been fodder for this year’s Animal Rights National Conference, which was going to be held, virtually, in July.

Then it was cancelled — largely because of the behavior of Alex Hershaft, who started the event nearly four decades ago.

That’s a shame for the movement. Conferences are places to learn, to network, to hash out ideas and to rejuvenate. For Hershaft, well, he has no one to blame but himself.

Hershaft, who is 86, is a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and a pioneer of the animal rights movement. He has a powerful personal story to tell. The Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), which he started in 1976, says it is the US’s first organization dedicated to protecting animals raised, abused and killed for food. When VegNews imagined a vegan Mount Rushmore, Hershaft’s face was carved into rock. This summer, Hershaft created his own Animal Rights Hall of Fame and installed himself as a member. Humble, he is not.

Unhappily, Hershaft failed to adapt to the times or listen to multiple warnings about his behavior. He ran FARM out of his home, repeatedly exposing staff members to pornography (and occasionally to his half-clothed torso). He has been hostile to feminists and supported men credibly accused of sexual harassment. He was slow to showcase women and people of color at the conference, and to respond to allegations of sexual harassment at the event.

You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

Veteran psychedelic researcher William A. “Bill” Richards

Pastor James Lindberg was unmoored by his first trip on psilocybin. “I’m a pretty normal middle aged white guy who found myself involved in things that were a bit larger than I intended them to be,” says Lindberg, who leads a Lutheran church in an Omaha suburb. He questioned his place in the church but, after some soul-searching, recommitted “to the tradition that has been entrusted to me.”

Rabbi Zac Kamenetz’s first journey on psilocybin led him to “light, connection, warmth, gratitude and the sense that all is well,” he says. “I left that experience inspired, energized and grounded, in the sense that the path that I was on was a noble one.” His next trip brought “darkness, emptiness and a void.” Nevertheless, Kamenetz, who lives and works in San Francisco, has become an evangelist for psychedelics.

Pastor Lindberg and Rabbi Kamenetz are participants in an FDA-approved study to examine the effects of psilocybin-facilitated experience on the psychology and effectives of religious professionals. The research aims to deepen understanding of what are called mystical, transcendental or awe-inspiring experiences because, some argue, such encounters can have profound benefits for those who experience them, their family and friends and, ultimately, for the world as a whole.

The man helping to guide this mashup of science and the sacred — William A. “Bill” Richards, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research — is uniquely qualified to do so. A clinical psychologist who has investigated psychedelics since the 1960s, Richards is an ordained minister (though he never pastored a church) with advanced degrees from Yale Divinity School and Andover-Newton Theological School. He has for many years been guiding volunteers on drug trips on weekdays at Johns Hopkins and singing bass in the choir on Sundays at the Episcopal church where he worships in Baltimore.

You can read the rest of this story at Medium.

Photo of David Bronner, courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s

Civil rights. Feminism. Gay rights. Environmentalism. Meditation. Yoga. Natural childbirth.

Much of the politics and culture of the 1960s has been absorbed into mainstream America.

Not psychedelic drugs — not yet, anyway.

That will soon change if David Bronner, the CEO of family-owned soap-maker Dr. Bronner’s, has his way.

“Psychedelic medicine is the last and arguably the most powerful gift of the counter-culture that hasn’t been integrated,” says Bronner, who has put millions of dollars of his company’s money behind drug policy reform.

Bronner, who is 47— he came of age in the 1990s, not the 1960s — is a pony-tailed vegan and an enthusiastic user of psychedelic drugs who says his life was transformed by a three-month sojourn in Amsterdam after college. Amidst growing evidence that psychedelic medicines can help alleviate an array of mental ailments, he’d like to see them become more widely available. He also believes that the wider use of psychedelics can help heal the world.

To that end, Bronner recently put $1 million of his family-owned company’s money behind a ground-breaking ballot initiative in Oregon….

You can read the rest of the story here on Medium.


MDMA, the man-made drug often called ecstasy or molly, has a colorful history. It was patented in 1914 by the German drug company Merck, and set aside for decades. The US Army studied it during the Cold War, perhaps seeking a chemical weapon or interrogation tool. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, an iconoclastic chemist, rediscovered MDMA during the 1970s and gave some to a psychotherapist friend, who in turn shared it with hundreds of therapists around the world; some called the drug “Adam” because it returned patients to a more innocent state. Only after MDMA gained popularity as a party drug did the US Drug Enforcement Administration ban it in1985, declaring that it had no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Now MDMA is on the verge of making history again — as the first psychedelic drug to become available as a prescription medicine.

First, though, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science, a nonprofit seeking to develop psychedelic medicines, must raise about $7.5m by September as part of what it calls the MAPS Capstone Challenge. The funds are needed to unlock a challenge grant of $10m and to complete a final round of clinical trials, now underway in the US, Canada and Israel, that are designed to demonstrate that psychotherapy assisted by MDMA is safe and effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

FDA approval, which could come in 2022, is important for two reasons. First, MDMA-assisted therapy will almost surely bring relief to millions of people suffering from PTSD: Military veterans, victims of sexual assault, first responders, perhaps even doctors or nurses who today are treating COVID patients.

Second, FDA approval of MDMA will open the door for other psychedelic drugs, particularly psilocybin, that, when combined with talk therapy, can alleviate the suffering from a remarkable range of mental ailments, including depression and anxiety.


Which donors are stepping up? Which are not? You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation

Foundations are peculiar institutions. They lack competition or meaningful regulation. They are perhaps the least accountable institutions in the US. Many want to live forever.

Last week, the Ford Foundation, which has an endowment of $13.7 billion, said that it has decided to borrow another $1 billion to be able to give more money away now to meet the needs of nonprofits that are struggling during the Covid-19 crisis. The announcement was greeted with near-universal acclaim–no surprise, since much of the praise came from those in a position to benefit from Ford’s largesse.

Ford’s president, Darren Walker, has been an influential leader in philanthropy, and a good one. He put challenging inequality at the center of Ford’s work. He got the foundation to make unrestricted long-term grants to nonprofits, as part of an initiative called Build. He persuaded Ford’s trustees to invest a share of the foundation’s endowment to do good, as opposed to simply investing to maximize returns.

Yet the decision to borrow $1 billion to meet current needs puzzled me. How confident can we be that today’s needs are more important than tomorrow’s? And if a foundation decides to spend more now than the customary amount — legally, they are required to spend or give away at least 5 percent of their assets — why borrow money to do it? Why not just spend some of the endowment, if this, is, indeed, an emergency?

My latest story for Medium, headlined The Ford Foundation and the fierce urgency of now, is my attempt to explore those questions. You can read it here.

This is a strange and deeply disturbing time. I’d like to be writing more about racial justice and Covid-19 and, in an indirect way, I did just this morning, at Medium. My story looks at two progressive, criminal-justice ballot initiatives that are all but certain to be on the November ballot in the state of Oregon. One would decriminalize possession of all drugs–yes, all drugs. The other would make psychedelic medicines available under a tightly regulated regime.

The story is timely because, as most know, the criminal justice system discriminates against people of color, from arrest and conviction through sentencing and parole–and, these days, via the coronavirus. I learned while researching the story that the first federal prisoner to die from Covid-19 was Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old man who was serving a 27-year sentence for selling cocaine. (One reason why his sentence was so long was that he lived within 1,000 feet of a junior college. Really.) Jones had a record of criminal convictions, most for burglarly, but he was not a violent man, by all accounts. Here’s the best one I could find, from the excellent Marshall Project. What’s more, he seemed to have turned a corner in prison. (Some experts say that career criminals age out of crime.) Last fall, Jones wrote a heartbreaking letter to a federal judge seeking release; he was turned down and that decision became a death sentence.

Oregon’s proposed new drug law would not have saved Patrick Jones. It decriminalizes possession of drugs, not the sale. But it is a meaningful step in the right direction. Here’s how my story begins:

Oregon is approaching a milestone in the drug wars: It’s poised to become the first state in the US to decriminalize possession of all drugs, from marijuana and ecstasy to heroin and LSD.

This fall, voters in Oregon will be asked to approve an initiative that would end prison sentences for people who possess drugs for their personal use, and instead offer treatment to all who want it.

Supporters of the ballot initiative, known as IP44, have collected 147,000 signatures, well over the 112,000 signatures need to secure a place on the ballot. Internal polling shows that most Oregonians favor decriminalization, according to Anthony Johnson, a lawyer and one of the chief petitioners for IP44.

“This is a watershed moment,” Johnson told me. “Oregonians — and people nationwide — realize that what we are doing around the drug war isn’t working.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

Every October, Kingston, N.Y., a city of 23,000 people in the Hudson Valley, attracts throngs of visitors to the O + Festival, a weekend celebration of art, music and wellness.

The O + Festival — it’s pronounced O Positive — is no ordinary civic gathering. It is, improbably, an alternative to America’s profit-driven health care system: The artists and musicians who participate can barter their work for medical or dental care. Help paint a mural, get a cavity filled.

In a story about Kingston headlined The US city preparing itself for the collapse of capitalism, The Guardian last fall called O + Festival an “anti-capitalist, anti-establishment healthcare network” and an “example of a model that could supplant corporate America.” The story explains:

Locals have launched a non-commercial radio station, Radio Kingston WKNY, with widely representative, hyper-local programming that broadcasts via power generators if the grid goes dark. A regional micro-currency called the Hudson Valley Current now exists to, according to co-founder David McCarthy, “create an ecosystem that includes everyone.”

Agricultural initiatives like Farm Hub work toward equitable, resilient food systems. A network of bike trails quietly connects local towns to local farms (for the day when there is no more gas for our cars). And organizations like RiseUp Kingston…facilitate civic engagement, combat displacement, and advocate for policies to address an increasingly dire housing shortage.

What the story neglects to say is that all these organizations — the O + festival, the radio station, the farm hub, the local currency project and Rise Up — share a powerful patron: The NoVo Foundation, led by Peter Buffet, the youngest son of legendary investor Warren Buffett, and Peter’s wife Jennifer. In 2010, Peter and Jennifer Buffett bought a 19th century farmhouse for $1.2 million in Kingston, a historic city perched on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 100 miles north of Manhattan.

“What started as a weekend getaway,” Buffett says, “became a core piece of what we’re doing at the foundation.”

You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

Philanthropic dollars helped to create today’s psychedelic renaissance by funding medical research into the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin and LSD. The research has generated a great deal of excitement, as I reported last year in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and in Medium.

Now, startup companies want to bring psychedelic medicines to market. That’s the topic of a story that I posted today at Medium.

Here’s how it begins:

Despite Covid-19, a crashing economy and formidable legal obstacles, a growing number of entrepreneurs and investors are betting that medicines derived from psychedelic drugs can become a real business and heal millions of people. They are joining the researchers,  activists,  philanthropists and journalists who until now have been driving what’s been called the psychedelic renaissance.

A dozen or more startup companies are developing medicines from psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and LSD, all of which are illegal in the US, as well as from ketamine, a legal anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties. They hope to treat a surprisingly wide range of mental conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, addiction, even Alzheimer’s disease.

This is excellent news. Developing new drugs is an expensive proposition. Especially in today’s tough environment for fundraising, nonprofits are likely to have a hard time bringing in enough donations to stage clinical trials, secure regulatory approval, manufacture and distribute the medicines, persuade doctors to use them and convince insurance companies to pay for them.

Investors, by contrast, may be willing to risk their money with the hope of eventually making a financial return. Just this week, Otsuka, a global pharmaceutical company based in Japan, invested in Compass Pathways, a UK-based startup that aims to help people suffering from treatment-resistant depression by giving them psilocybin along with therapy. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the first investment by an established pharmaceutical company in psychedelic medicines.

You can read the full story here on Medium.