Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

This blog isn’t about politics. But because I find it hard not to obsess over politics these days, I want to say that, like many of you, I’m feeling troubled and worried at the moment. I’m troubled by the election of a president who is a brazen liar, a serial harasser of women, a bully, a narcissist and a know-nothing; this man is perhaps uniquely ill-equipped by training, temperament and character to occupy the White House. And even as someone whose political views are well to the right of Hillary Clinton (who I nonetheless supported), I’m worried about what this new administration will mean for immigrants, Muslims, poor people who may be left without health insurance, blue-collar workers, civil liberties, democracy and the rest of us who are going to have to figure out how to live on a warming planet. It’s depressing.

So let’s do something about it.

Some people will dive back into electoral politics. Others will organize in their communities. Others will respond through philanthropy. That’s where Angela Rastegar Campbell comes in. Campbell, the founder and chief executive of a startup company called Agora for Good, wrote by email last week: “While many feel worried about human rights, equality and the environment, now more than ever is when we need to act and fight for the world we want.”

So Campbell and her colleagues at Agora For Good put together what they call the 2020 Vision Fund, a group of six nonprofits chosen in response to threats posed by a President-elect Trump. They are:

Planned Parenthood, providing reproductive health services in the US and globally.

Trevor Project, supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people.

Environmental Defense Fund, addressing the most urgent environmental issues.

Council on American Islamic Relations, challenging stereotypes of Islam and Muslims.

Urban Justice Center, supporting asylum seekers, international refugees and New York’s most vulnerable residents.

American Association for the Advancement of Science, supporting scientific education and science outreach.

Donors can give as little as $5 and their funds will be spread equally across the groups, all of which, most likely, will have more than ever to do under a President Trump.

Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and ProPublica have reported a surge in donations since the election. As an editor of the left-wing magazine The Nation once said, “What’s bad for the nation is good for The Nation.”

A mutual fund for nonprofits

Recently, I wrote about Agora for Good and a similar startup, called Bright Funds, for the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Both seek to steer donors towards effective nonprofits. Here’s how my story (it’s behind a paywall) begins:

Mutual funds have attracted billions of dollars from investors since the first one was established a century ago. They allow small-time savers to diversify their investments and manage risks just like the big shots.

Can mutual funds work for nonprofits? Two early-stage efforts based in San Francisco, Agora for Good and Bright Funds, aim to find out. They select charities that they deem effective, assemble them into themed funds, and market them to donors. Those donors can choose funds to alleviate poverty, improve health, or protect the environment, among other causes.

Agora for Good wants to “make the philanthropic marketplace more efficient and make it easier for exceptional nonprofits to scale,” says Angela Rastegar Campbell, the fund’s chief executive. “We’re trying to build a culture of effective givers.”

San Francisco-based Agora for Good does research that few individual donors have the time to do, largely by tracking what smart foundations like Mulago, Omidyar and Segal Family Foundation are doing. It then creates funds around such causes as poverty alleviation, global health, education or the environment. The 2020 Vision Fund takes a similar approach, which is designed to appeal to those worried about four years of Trump.

photo_79060_landscape_650x433The election results were “really shocking and upsetting to us,” Campbell told me by phone this week. “We try to keep our personal views out of the platform,” she went on. “But this time we thought, hey, this is a space that we know a lot about and if people are looking to take action, we should step up and help them.”

“The worst thing we can do when we feel hopeless or upset about the world is to step out,” she went on. “We wanted to find a way to lean in.”

Campbell, who is 32, started Agora for Good in 2014. The daughter of immigrant parents, she grew up in Hawaii and studied studied global and reproductive health as an undergrad and MBA student at Stanford. Women’s issues are close to her heart. “I always felt very viscerally the privilege that I had growing up as a woman in America,” she said. After grad school, Campbell went to work at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a consultancy that specializes in global development, where she saw that the knowledge generated by foundations was not widely disseminated. “Most of their work was done in silos,” Campbell said. Meantime, she said: “Individuals struggled to find information about how to give effectively.” 

“We have a clear social mission,” Campbell told me. “We’re trying to encourage effective giving.” That said, Agora For Good takes about 5 percent of the money it collects to cover the services it provides as well as the credit-card processing fees it must pay.

I’ve got mixed feelings about Agora for Good. Because the organization is small, it doesn’t have the resources to do the kind of independent, deep research carried out by GiveWell, which evaluates nonprofits. Some of its recommendations are little more than guesswork: Does Environmental Defense, part of its 2020 Fund, have more impact than Greenpeace or No one knows, in part because advocacy is hard to measure.

Then again, Agora for Good, like the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (which I blogged about last week), has the potential to appeal to a broader spectrum of donors than does GiveWell, which recommends just a handful of nonprofits, all operating outside the US. Agora For Good is currently available to users of Betterment, an online investing platform, and it will soon be distributed by Amalgamated Bank, a values-driven bank. At the very least, it encourages people to think harder about their giving.

Just the other day, one supporter of the 2020 Fund wrote on her Facebook page:

Our president-elect has a #100dayplan. So do I, and here’s where it starts: For the next 4 years, I have pledged 5% of my salary to organizations who #fightlikehell for equality – organizations who stand to lose critical funding in a climate when their work is needed more than ever. I’m doing so through the Vision 2020 Fund, a portfolio of organizations supporting reproductive rights, LGBTQ youth, the environment, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, and scientific research.

That sure beats sitting around and feeling low.

2 thoughts on “The world turned upside down

  1. Chuck Palmer says:

    Love that first paragraph-sums up how I’m feeling.
    Thanks for coming up with something constructive.


  2. Lori Captain says:

    Thanks Marc. This feels like something concrete and constructive we can do to make a difference.


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