Thursday, October 16, 2008

Changemakers - R. I. P.

Changemakers is probably not the first nonprofit to close its doors since the economy went belly up (and it won't be the last) but it is the first in the immediate circle of organizations I have supported. Here is some of what was said as they shut the doors and turned off the lights:
"...Changemakers is closing. It is with regret, but also with unanimity and clarity that we made this decision. The economic downturn, combined with our fundraising outlook, has made our course of action clear.

Changemakers burst on the scene a decade ago, not to build an endowment or another entrenched institution, but to awaken the country to social justice philanthropy as a field unto itself. Our intent was to ignite a passion for social change in donors everywhere, and to help build a powerful infrastructure for funding social movement organizations of the future.

Our work as an ongoing institution is done. We step aside to allow the seeds we have sown to take root, grow, and blossom in new and innovative ways. Together we can take profound, collective pride in our decade of accomplishment:
  • We granted over $2 million to community-based social change philanthropies. These investments helped scores of organizations position themselves for the future and build lasting organizational capacity.
  • Our guiding principle has been that social change philanthropy is defined not merely by where money is directed, but by how it is given. We spotlighted how the grant-making process itself could be a means of empowerment, constituency engagement, and could shift the balance of power between grantor and grantee.
  • In the spirit of advancing diversity in philanthropy, we created a groundbreaking curriculum for donors of color that honors the unique contributions of different cultures to the American tradition of giving and inspires them to take a seat at the organized philanthropy table.
  • We continually asked donors and foundations across the nation: "What are you doing with your philanthropy to achieve deep and lasting social change?" and many now have engaged deeply with that question.
The groundwork laid by our grant-making, education and advocacy will be a rich part of our legacy. But what we most want to leave as our legacy is a call to action for social justice philanthropy for the 21st Century that includes:
  • Investment in the essential work done by Changemakers' past grantees;
  • Support for our colleagues working tirelessly to strengthen the infrastructure for social justice philanthropy. For more information, please visit

  • Support for the organization that will house the Essentials for Diversity in Giving (EDG) curriculum, to allow it to continue to build the capacity of the community-based philanthropy field.
As Changemakers works to finalize this transition, you can find the latest news and view our last video on Reimagining Philanthropy by visiting"
Letters like this raise some serious questions for all of us in all of our roles - as donors, residents, direct service users, indirect service beneficiaries, board members, volunteers, voters* -
to consider.
  • What was getting done that will no longer get done?
  • How will our lives be affected by the loss of organizations we have supported in the past?
  • What will we do with that support? Find new issues? New organizations? Give up?
  • What have we learned from this?
  • What can I do better/differently/more of for the other organizations I support?
  • How do I advance the issues and solutions I care about, when the organizations I've known and worked with no longer exist? Are there other organizations, other strategies, new partnerships, new resources?

*Here's another thought I've been noodling on for a while. I've given more money to political campaigns this year than I ever have before. Judging by the size of the funds raised through primaries and general elections, I'm not alone. Lots more people have been giving money to candidates (and propositions, initiatives, etc) than ever before. What will be the impact of all this political giving on people's budgets for year-end giving? I don't know the answer to this question and we may not know until well after the election and after Giving Season? My hunch is that, as our wallets have grown thinner in recent months and our anxiety has increased, the "average" person's budget for year-end giving is going to move in the same direction as their budget for holiday shopping - down. Consumer companies and investors are planning on lower spending. Nonprofits are girding for it. Some research says this isn't the case. But that research was done in July 2008, back when folks had jobs, some had 401K plans, investment banks still existed, and banks themselves were independent. Now more than ever we will be making decisions about where and how to allocate our dollars and what lever - charitable, political, investment - will make the change we seek.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My take is that the social justice community has always favored putting resources into work on the ground and underinvested in "infrastructure" groups like NNG and Changemakers and, as a result, they have always been forced to operate on skimpy budgets.

Rockridge Institute, too, bit the dust recently. From their post-mortem --- "The Progressive Funding Problem: The 1997 Covington Report [Sally Covington, Moving a Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations] observed that conservative foundations tend to give large, multi-year block grants to promote conservatism in general. By contrast, progressive foundations tend to give small grants for a short time over a short list of specific issue areas. This results in small nonprofits having to constantly spend a lot of time and effort raising money, and all too often failing to raise enough."

I think these recent developments are part of this overall pattern - it's no wonder to me that they're dying off.