What is Giving in L.A.?

Giving in LA Giving in L.A. is a go-to source, an aggregator for strategies and points of view about trends and issues in giving, challenges for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations, tools and techniques for individuals or families, insights and opinions from experts, and more – all centered on Los Angeles County.

November 24, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Exercise Your Philanthropic Brain

Exercise Your Philanthropic BrainPhoto: A Health Blog – https://flic.kr/p/dLSKTQ

by John E. Kobara

This piece originally appeared in Huffington Post Impact: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-e-kobara/exercise-your-philanthropic-brain_b_8614052.html

“The tragedy of life is what dies within us while we live–the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of others.” -Norman Cousins

In high school, I was very busy with school, activities and life. I overdid it, triggering a seizure at school. Many witnesses thought it was a classmate on acid. I was 15 and diagnosed with epilepsy. My regimen of EEGs, daily meds and uncomfortable sessions with neurologists got me interested in the brain.

We know what we do and think affects our brains. Our brains evolve. Contrary to misconceptions, our grey matter continues to shift and change depending on what we experience. The esteemed geneticist and Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard, in his towering work Altruism, asserts his compelling findings on the brain and how compassion can transform it:

“The plasticity of the brain plays a large role in our capacity for individual transformation. For a long time, an almost universally accepted dogma in the neuroscience field stated that once formed and structured, the adult brain doesn’t produce any more neurons and changes only through decline with age.

Today we know this doctrine was completely wrong. One of the major discoveries of the last 30 years concerns neuroplasticity, a term that takes into account the fact that the brain changes constantly when an individual is exposed to new situations. The adult brain in fact remains extraordinarily malleable.”

What keeps our brains growing and evolving? We have our “lizard brain” that is based in the amygdala that regulates our fight or flight instincts. Our executive decision-making function is in the prefrontal cortex. Our self awareness comes from the insula.

I strongly believe there is also a philanthropic center of our brains, which is powered by the production of oxytocin. This is where altruism and compassion live. Where our connection to one another resides. Not just our spirit of giving, but what generates and sustains our generosity and care for one another.

According to the Harvard Business Review: “People have been debating where generosity comes from for centuries–with one side saying it’s not in our nature (i.e., survival of the fittest), and the other arguing that because we’ve always worked in groups, it must be. And each camp makes a good case: different studies have connected altruism with areas of the brain associated with self-control (which suggests it takes more effort to think about others) and with reward (which suggests you’re only being ‘generous’ to make yourself feel good).”

Neuroscience is also showing us that we tend to convert uncomfortable matters, especially those involving humans, into abstract thoughts. This is contributing to the trend I see in the dehumanization of giving.

In Simon Sinek’s wonderful book Leaders Eat Last, he asserts: “The more distance there is between us amplifies the abstraction and the harder it becomes to see each other as human.” In fact, when we see photos of homeless people during an fMRI, our brains don’t light up where it would for people we know or like. It fires up portions of our brains where inanimate objects reside–closer to furniture. Why? Because we can’t invest the time, empathy, energy in thinking about the needy, so we create a mental short cut. Nameless and faceless people can be tidily put aside as things in our cranial hard drive.

Why is it that ZIP codes with high concentrations of families making more than $200,000 a year give at 50 percent less than the average U.S. ZIP code? I don’t believe these people are less generous, just more removed from need.

I have had the privilege and opportunity to meet with hundreds of would-be “philanthropists.” These are smart, well-meaning people who want to address poverty, public education, homelessness, veterans’ issues and so on. Their contact with these populations and issues has been primarily through the news and research. They have not been to the homeless shelter, public elementary campus or interacted directly with the poor and vulnerable.

At the California Community Foundation, we help donors define their philanthropy. Then we take them on tours to meet the leaders, experts, organizations and beneficiaries. We immerse them in the realities to overcome the abstraction. These philanthropists get first-hand experiences that catalyze emotional connections. They move from conceptual charity to concrete change. From remote transaction to real transformation. And most important, from sympathy to compassion.

After seven years, my epilepsy disappeared as curiously as it started and I was declared “cured.” But many brains are still experiencing philanthropic seizures.

I have witnessed the transformation of donors who get out from behind their computers and engage with the people and organizations in their philanthropic fields of interest. No PET scans to prove it, but their hearts and minds grew as well!

The more we test our biases, certainties and assumptions by directly experiencing our feelings and expressing our compassion, the more we energize our philanthropic brains. Our philanthropy gets humanized and embodies the definition of philanthropy–our love for one another.

This giving season, we all need to directly connect to the issues, organizations and people who need our help. Call up your local community foundation and find out how you can be a partner in real, fulfilling and tangible change for both you and the receiver.

John E. Kobara is Executive Vice President and COO of the California Community Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @jekobara.

November 19, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Understanding the Real Cost of Nonprofit Work

Northeast-Valley-Health-Corporation,-doctor-with-two-childrenBy John E. Kobara

This piece originally appeared in Huffington Post Los Angeles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-e-kobara/understanding-cost-nonprofit-work_b_8556918.html

We know that our government depends on nonprofit organizations to sustain critical portions of our safety net through services like shelters, health clinics and foster youth programs. But a recent Urban Institute report highlights the significant challenges nonprofits in California face when managing multiple government and private contracts and grants, including routine underpayment for the full cost of their work.

It found that more than 5,000 nonprofits in California receive an estimated $14 billion in government contracts and grants each year – more than the annual budgets of 18 states. And one-quarter of California nonprofits rely on government funding for 60 percent or more of their budgets. But 70 percent face trouble due to payments not covering the full cost of services, such as administrative and other “overhead.”

It is clear that we have a double standard when it comes to reasonable overhead costs for nonprofit organizations versus for-profit businesses. Every day, we pay for products and services that are almost entirely “overhead costs” without blinking. We accept paying a premium for a cup of coffee that also covers the cost of the actual cup of coffee. Yet we scoff at nonprofits that attempt to cover comparable total costs from donors, grants and contracts. And nonprofits have no stock options, mega bonuses and executive perks.

Lower overhead does not always equal efficiency, either. In fact, quality and efficiency have a price tag. Doing operations and administrative tasks well has real costs.

When it comes to recognizing the real cost of nonprofits doing business, Los Angeles is on the frontlines of leading innovation and change.

This month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors – a five-member governing body serving more than 10 million constituents across 88 cities – approved a resolution that will strengthen the county’s critical nonprofit sector. The aim is to implement new federal rules that remove the long-held arbitrary “ceiling” or limit on allowable overhead costs for nonprofits. This will enable nonprofits and government agencies to negotiate, better understand and mutually agree upon a more realistic rate for overhead on a case-by-case basis. Los Angeles is the first county to begin an official process to implement these mandates.

The motion is a good step toward greater recognition of the actual costs for organizations that are working to provide basic human services. The federal, and now county, government has recognized that overhead or administrative costs can be legitimate expenses that may be paid for an organization to fully comply with contracts and provide quality service to support our region’s most vulnerable residents.

With the Weingart Foundation and California Association of Nonprofits leading the charge, funders in Los Angeles and around the state have also joined together around this pioneering effort. The current system of grantmaking – how grants are given and methods of oversight and accountability – needs reform. Arbitrary limits on “overhead and administrative costs” are not only unsophisticated, but hurt the viability and sustainability of nonprofits. Every funder needs to be more educated about the real and total costs of delivering services.

We all want to help nonprofits continue to deliver measurable and sustainable outcomes. And in Los Angeles, the message is simple and straight forward: value nonprofits by paying them what it costs to provide the vital and essential services we all depend upon.

Everyone involved in this reform work shares the same goal of ensuring nonprofits have the greatest impact possible in our communities and serve those most in need. Reaching that goal begins with more transparent, open conversations around nonprofit financing and making sure the organizations themselves have the support and partnerships they require to do business.

John E. Kobara is Executive Vice President & COO of the California Community Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @jekobara.

October 23, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Beyond the Dollar Sign: Redefining Community Philanthropy

By: Antonia Hernández

This piece originally appeared on the Council on Foundations RE: Philanthropy Blog: http://www.cof.org/blogs/re-philanthropy/2015-10-23/beyond-dollar-sign-redefining-community-philanthropy


We could all name an instance where an act of goodwill impacted our lives or even changed it. Often these reflections aren’t about giving or receiving a significant sum of money. They involve genuine engagement and empathy, especially in a time of need.

For those who lead community foundations, engaging members of our communities should be equally as important as fundraising.

As part of the California Community Foundation’s 100th anniversary this year, we want to involve community leaders and county residents in determining how we can provide more meaningful opportunities to give back that extend beyond writing a check.

To start this dialogue, CCF partnered with the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times to conduct a poll whereby more than 1,500 L.A. County residents shared why they are or are not involved in our community. We found that most people care deeply about their communities and making them better places to live. Eighty percent said they are willing to volunteer more and 65 percent said they are willing to donate more to worthy causes.

The problem isn’t lack of caring, but a lack of knowing how to contribute or how to make a difference. Nearly 2 in every 5 people said one of the main reasons they weren’t involved is they don’t know what they can do to help, while a third of all respondents don’t feel they can make a difference.

These findings show us all that we must start doing more to get people involved and aware of how working together can make an impact. We must show that small commitments are no less Herculean than larger ones.

To do that, we need to redefine what philanthropy means to the community, and who better to lead the charge than community foundations?

Community foundations, often referred to as “the people’s foundations,” have historically worked within their communities to make them better places to live. Estimates report there are roughly 760 community foundations throughout the country that give $5 billion annually to their localities and hold $65 billion in assets from donors large and small.

Community foundations must now expand their approach to shift beyond fundraising and investment to cultivate a sense of belonging and a culture of involvement among their local residents.

This means valuing and encouraging all levels and types of contribution, from all sectors of society. Whether it is volunteerism, involvement on a neighborhood council or a financial donation, no effort is too small. This level of involvement can often be more meaningful, fostering a sustained commitment to giving.

The challenges we face with engagement and belonging are not unique to Los Angeles. Yet our challenges, coupled with great diversity and sheer size, provide us the opportunity to show how foundations can involve a diverse community in making things better for the greater good—both here and elsewhere.

Antonia Hernández is the President and CEO of the California Community Foundation and a Board Member of the Council on Foundations.