Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

Igor Kurganov

Poker has been called a very dark game. Especially at the highest levels, the best professionals can prey upon weaker foes, taking millions of dollars from amateurs.

Igor Kurganov, who earned $18.7m as one of the game’s top players before before retiring last year, says: “It definitely bothered me a little bit.”

He need not feel bad. Most of his winnings came at high-stakes tournaments, played against other professionals or well-to-do business people who could afford to lose.

More importantly, Kurganov and three poker-playing friends, including his partner, Liv Boeree, started an organization called Raising for Effective Giving — “raising,” get it? — that has persuaded poker players to give nearly $15m to charities since in 2014.

Not just any charities, though — REG, as it’s known, is shaped by the principles of effective altruism. It supports only those charities that have been vetted by others aligned with effective altruism, including GiveWellAnimal Charity Evaluators, the Open Philanthropy Project and the Foundational Research Institute.

You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

There’s lots of conversation about “best practices” in philanthropy and some about “worst practices,” but almost no one who writes about worst practices is courageous enough to name names. (The invaluable Vu Le of Nonprofit AF is an exception.) This is a problem for the sector. In my latest story for Medium, I write that “some foundation leaders could benefit from a good old-fashioned public spanking.” You can read the story here.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund can say, with little fear of contradiction, that all its clients are innocent. It has sued a California dairy farm, alleging that Dick Van Dam Dairy treated cows and calves cruelly. It has sued the owner of an eight-year-old horse named Justice, accusing her of neglecting the animal. It has served notice that it intends to sue a Pennsylvania roadside zoo that is confining wild animals, including a ring-tailed lemur, black leopard and gray wolves,. For four decades the nonprofit ALDF has pioneered the field of animal law, using the courts to go after people who abuse animals.

Now the tables have turned. A majority of the 70 or so staff members at the ALDF have signed up to form a union, putting the organization’s leaders on the defensive. The union, called ALDF United, has affiliated with a small but fast-growing union called the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), which, as its name suggests, represents professionals at nonprofits. In December, ALDF United filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board after Stephen Wells, the nonprofit’s executive director and CEO, told the staff that management would not recognize the union.

You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

Photo by John Englart (Takver) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This fall, just in time for the giving season, two groups of independent researchers set out to identify the most effective nonprofits that are working to curb climate change. Their findings may surprise you.

Giving Green recommends five organizations: the Clean Air Task Forcethe Sunrise Education Fund, which is the 501(c)(3) arm of the Sunrise Movement, ClimeworksBurn and TradewaterTop charities selected by researchers at the Founders Pledge are the Clean Air Task Force (again), Carbon 180 and Terra Praxis.

You’ll immediately notice one thing about these recommendations, which reflects thousands of hours of careful research. With the exception of the Sunrise Movement, these are small, underfunded and not especially well known groups. There are other common themes here, too. Several recommended groups work on removing carbon emissions from the air, which is a crucial but neglected climate solution. These recommendations also reflect a recognition of the vexing problem of energy poverty — that is, the fact that more than a billion of the world’s people lack access to modern energy and deserve to get it; any climate solution that asks people around the world to use less energy is going to fail. Finally, Clean Air Task Force, the only nonprofit to make both lists, supports advanced nuclear power and the capture of carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants — technologies that fall outside the conventional wisdom held by climate activists that solar and wind energy can provide all the reliable, affordable, low-carbon power that the world needs. They can’t, at least not for a very long time.

You may also note that none of the world’s best-known environmental groups — not the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund — appears on either list.

You can read the rest of this story at Medium.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Jon Lubecky

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive champion. Matt Gaetz is a conservative firebrand. They don’t agree on much — except psychedelics.

Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, and Gaetz, a Florida Republican, have joined forces in Congress to try to make it easier for scientists to research marijuana and psychedelic drugs, including MDMA and psilocybin.

Such bipartisan cooperation will be needed to support the growth of psychedelic medicines and end the drug war, says Jonathan Lubecky, a retired Army sergeant and Iraq war veteran who now lobbies on behalf of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS.

“This isn’t a party line issue,” Lubecky says. “The polar opposites in the House came together on psychedelics.”

Voters are coming around as well. Last week, Oregon became the first state in the US to legalize a psychedelic medicine; about 56 percent of the state’s voters supported a ballot measure that will allow the medical use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms. Washington, D.C., decriminalized the growth and possession of psychedelic mushrooms.

You can read the rest of this story here at Medium. I am planning to stop posting to this blog at the end of the year, so please follow my work at this link at Medium.

It is hard not to feel despair this morning, but there was some good news out of the election. Drug reform is the rare issue that can bring the left and right together, as I wrote on Medium:

Led by voters in Oregon, Americans from coast to coast voted by decisive margins to take steps to end the war against drugs. We’re moving closer to making this a country where people are no longer punished for what they put into their bodies.

Oregon voters approved two historic ballot measures. One will decriminalize the possession of all drugs, from marijuana and ecstasy to LSD and heroin — a model pioneered, mostly with good results, in Portugal, which treats drug addiction as a disease, not a crime.

Oregonians also approved a measure that will allow the medical use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. This creates an opportunity to show that psychedelic drugs can help treat mental disorders.

New Jersey, Arizona and Montana all voted to legalize marijuana. You can read the rest of the story here on Medium.

The Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, which consists of two foundations with assets of more than $7 billion, is based in Eden Prairie, MN, a well-to-do suburb of Minneapolis. When Minneapolis was shaken by protests after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died at the hands of police, the Cargill Philanthropies, like so many others, felt a need to respond.

“The senseless killing of George Floyd is evidence of the underlying inequities and racism that continue to exist in our community and our country more broadly,” the philanthropies said.

Margaret Cargill Philanthropies promised to look at “equity and inclusion” in its grant-making and later directed more than $2 million to communities of color in the Twin Cities.

It did not, however, add any people of color to its all-white board of directors. The five board members are an insular group: An accountant, a financial advisor, an investment manager, a lawyer and an Episcopal bishop, most with ties to Margaret A. Cargill, an heiress whose wealth funded Cargill Philanthropies. Ms. Cargill died in 2006.

Cargill Philanthropies is by no means the only large foundation with an all-white board. Of the 40 biggest private, grant-making foundations, a dozen — that is, 30 percent — appear to have no BIPOC board members. [BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.] It’s hard to be certain because no one collects data on the racial makeup of foundation directors, and most foundations approached for this story did not reply.

You can read the rest of this story at Medium.

Steve Wymer was fired from eBay for misconduct.

Last year, staff members who worked in “corporate security” at eBay set out to harass a husband-and-wife team who publish a newsletter that criticized the company. Things got ugly in a hurry.

The security staff sent them boxes of live cockroaches, a bloody Halloween mask, a funeral wreath and a book on how to survive the death of a spouse. They spied on the couple, had pizzas delivered to them in the middle of the night and tried to discredit them with neighbors. David Streitfeld, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, detailed these exploits in a long, colorful story last week.

When federal prosecutors charged six former eBay workers with cyberstalking and witness tampering, the arrests were reported widely and in great detail. Steve Wymer, eBay’s senior vice president, chief communications officer and board chair of eBay’s corporate foundation, was not charged with a crime, but the company says it fired him because of his role in the scandal. Published emails made clear that he encouraged the security team to intimidate newsletter publisher David Steiner and his wife, Ina.

“I want her DONE,” Wymer told eBay’s former senior director of safety and security. “She is a biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”

So why, for goodness sake, was Wymer hired last month as the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Silicon Valley?

You can read the rest of this story on Medium.

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