Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact


Here’s some of my freelance writing about philanthropy and nonprofits for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Yale Environment360, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Ensia and Fortune. You can find much more of my journalism at Medium.

Here Comes Trouble: An Anti-Tobacco Hero’s Complicated Legacy. (August 2021) A deeply-reported story about Stanton Glantz, a lauded tobacco scientist whose crusade against vaping has turned former allies against him. This was commissioned by Undark, a science website, and republished by Mother Jones and Salon.

Bloomberg’s Millions Funded an Effective Campaign Against Vaping. Could It Do More Harm Than Good? (March 2021) An deep look into the way anti-tobacco nonprofits, led by the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, have crusaded against the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers–an effort that could keep a tool for quitting out of the hands of millions of today’s smokers. A special report for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Psychedelic Revolution in Mental Health (Spring 2021) Rick Doblin launched the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in 1986 to research and advocate for the use of LSD, magic mushrooms, and Ecstasy to treat mental illness. After more than three decades of labor, he has found his moment. A case study for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

A Newly Hot Approach on Loans Seeks to Close the Racial Wealth Gap (December 2020). Corporate foundations, Silicon Valley tech companies, banks, retailers, and private foundations are pumping money and fresh ideas into community-development financial institutions, or CDFIs. A feature for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

‘Fund Us Like You Want Us to Win’ (September 2020)  Foundations are putting unprecedented billions into racial equity, but some grant makers worry that too little is going to grassroots movements. Why have big foundations been so slow to fund protest? The September cover story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Bay Area Activist Enlists Tech Giant to End Homelessness (July 2020) A profile of Jennifer Loving, the executive director of Destination: Home, who says the only answer to homeless is to build more homes. A feature for The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Novo Foundation, Led by a Buffett Son, Criticized for Staff and Program Cuts. (May 2020) A change in direction at Novo, a leading funder of social justice organizations, many focused on women, disturbs many – and points to a problem with “elite philanthropy.” An online news story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

A Test of Leadership (April 2020) Nicole Taylor is trying to turn around the Silicon Valley Community Foundation after a workplace scandal — and now she must deal with the coronavirus scare and economic downturn. A feature for the Chronicle of Philanthropy

Silicon Valley’s Mega-wealthy Join to Raise $100 Million for Local Charities. (November 2019) A story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy about Magnify Community, a new project of six foundations in Silicon Valley that aims to inspire and equip donors to invest in local charities on a much bigger scale.

A Foundation Collapsed. Its Money is Gone. What Happened is Shrouded in Mystery (September 2019) My story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the abrupt collapse of the ZeroDivide Foundation, which misspent at least $600,000 in donor money and then disappeared. No one has been held accountable.

Praised for Pathbreaking Grants, Marguerite Casey Foundation CEO Said to Foster a Culture of Fear by Staff Members (June 2019) Luz Vega-Marquis promoted social-justice grantmaking at Marguerite Casey. Inside the Seattle-based foundation, the story was very different. An online story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Has the Giving Pledge changed giving? (June 2019) My cover story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, examining the impact of the Giving Pledge campaign launched nearly a decade ago by Bill Gates and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Is cash better for poor people than conventional foreign aid? (September 2018) US AID 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. A story for the New York Times’ Fixes column.

Billions, squandered (September 2018) Foundations are coming up short by relying on active money managers and exotic financial instruments, new data shows. A story about how foundation endowments are managed, and mismanaged, for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Former Tyson Foods CEO brings chicken farming to Rwanda–but can it last? (August 2018) A project funded by USAID and the foundation formed by Donnie Smith, the former CEO of Tyson Foods, teaches rural farmers in Rwanda to raise chickens for profit. It’s not going according to plan. A story for the The Salt, NPR’s online site about food and agriculture.

Giving in the light of reason (Summer 2018) A long case study of the Open Philanthropy Project, the $14-billion philanthropic project of Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tune, for the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It’s the world’s biggest experiment in effective altruism.

The Impact Evangelist (May 2018) Entrepreneur Mario Morino, a venture-philanthropy pioneer, leads an invitation-only group crusading to improve charity performance. It’s not easy. A story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy

A star performer created a ‘toxic culture’ at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, say insiders.  (April 2018) My investigation turns up evidence of bullying, sexual comments, and an oppressive office culture at a California community foundation where the quest from growth trumped all over values. Co-written with Megan O’Neil for the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Our reporting eventually led to the resignation of the SVCF’s chief fund raiser and its CEO, Emmett Carson.

Foundations are losing the fight against climate change (February 2018) An essay for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Humane Society CEO under investigation for sexual relationship with an employee. (January 2018) This story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy broke the news of a #metoo scandal at the Humane Society of the United States that shortly afterwards led to the departure of Wayne Pacelle.

The charity that big tech built (Fall 2017) A critical case study of the fast-growing Silicon Valley Community Foundation, for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Nonprofit Applies Behavioral Science to Nudge Giving (April 2017) A feature story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy [paywall] about  Ideas42, a fast-growing nonprofit that uses the insights of behavioral scientists to attack problems in health, education, criminal justice, global development, and charitable giving.

Immigration and Environment Are Big Themes at Skoll Forum (April 2017) President Trump’s name was barely spoken during the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, but his long shadow was everywhere. A news report [paywall] for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Climate Converts: The Conservatives Who Are Switching Sides on Warming (March 2017) Despite the current political atmosphere in Washington, a small yet growing number of Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians are starting to push for action on climate change. Think tanks leading the way include the Niskanen Center and the R Street Institute. A story for YaleEnvironment360.

Why Won’t American Business Push for Action on Climate? (February 2017) A story for YaleEnvironment360 about the reluctance of corporate America to push back as the Trump administration prepares to roll back environmental protections. Big business is remaining silent despite decades of partnerships between companies and environmental NGOs like Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

Humane Society Notches String of Big Wins Under Aggressive Leader (November 2016)  A story for the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the Humane Society of the U.S. HSUS and its leaders have deployed a variety of strategies and tactics to make major gains for animals in the last decade.

Data at the Speed of Life (July 2016) The nonprofit IDInsight aims to do high-quality, low-cost research fast enough that charities can adjust their programs and learn how to be more effective. A feature story (behind a paywall) for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

New Crop–the vegan venture fund fighting for animal rights (April 2016). New Crop Capital is a venture capital fund started by animal-welfare activists to support entrepreneurs whose products will save the lives of cows, pigs, chickens and fish. For Guardian Sustainable Business.

Yale Scholar Releases First Four ‘Impact Audits’ in New Bid to Identify What Works (December 2015) Dean Karlan’s startup, called ImpactMatters, aims to audit nonprofits and identify those that actually make a difference. A story (behind a paywall) for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

These cheap, clean cookstoves were supposed to save millions of lives. What happened? (October 2015) A story for The Washington Post Outlook section about the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which was launched in 2010 by Hillary Clinton, who was then Secretary of State. Most of the cookstoves that it endorses fail to meet World Health Organization standards for indoor air pollution.

How good is that environmental nonprofit, anyway? (May 2015) No independent organization has made a serious effort to evaluate the performance of environmental organizations. Nor, for that matter, do many environmental nonprofits report publicly on their effectiveness or admit their errors. The result? Many green groups lack the accountability they demand from business and government. A story for Ensia.

Behind one of the Nature Conservancy’s largest forest purchases (January 2015): To capitalize on the growing business of impact investing, The Nature Conservancy formed NatureVest to raise money from institutions and individuals to invest in conservation. One early investor: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. A story for Guardian Sustainable Business.

Where corporate initiatives flounder, sustainable enterprises thrive (December 2014): How an unusual conservation partnership among Rare, Environmental Defense Fund and the University of California, Santa Barbara, works with small-scale fishers to protect marine life and maintain sustainable livelihoods. A story for Guardian Sustainable Business.

Why NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs (July 2014): Nonprofits engender more trust that business or governments. But when it comes to the battle over genetically-modified crops, some resort to scare tactics and refuse to accept the findings of mainstream science. A story for Guardian Sustainable Business.

Should Environmentalists Just Say No to Eating Beef? (December 2012): This story for the Yale Environment 360 website asks why green groups “that readily fight coal plants or suburban sprawl have for the most part shown little desire to do battle with meat.” Instead, groups led by the World Wildlife Fund, which takes grants from the industry, work to make beef more sustainable.

The Mosquito in the Tent (May 2004):  A FORTUNE magazine feature story with a clever headline, about the tactics and effectiveness of the Rainforest Action Network. The story described RAN as “a hard core band of rabble rousers” who are “getting under the skin of corporate America.”

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