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.

December 1, 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Impact L.A. on Giving Tuesday and Beyond

laworksblogToday, individuals, families, businesses and nonprofits will come together to support Giving Tuesday, a national day celebrating generosity. It’s a day in which all can participate – either by giving financially or through volunteerism.

In Los Angeles County, we found that a staggering 80 percent of residents said they are willing to increase their volunteerism and 65 percent would be willing to donate more money to build a better L.A. County, but are unsure about the opportunities out there.

To help facilitate more involvement today and every day, this December we are featuring CCF initiatives and volunteer opportunities and tips so that you can make an impact in Los Angeles. We’ve partnered with L.A. Works, the largest volunteer network in Los Angeles, to help Angelenos discover the wide array of meaningful opportunities across the county. As L.A. Works Cofounder and Board Chairman Bob L. Johnson said, “service to others is a nonpartisan, cost-effective way of building community and creating tangible change. We can all volunteer.”

We invite you to join us in supporting the funds and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of L.A. residents. We hope these ideas will motivate you to give back.

Five Tips for Volunteers, from L.A. Works

Want to give back to your community this holiday season, but not sure how? This is the time of year when people need help the most. Here’s five tips from L.A. Works project leaders to make your volunteering experience worthwhile — for you and those receiving your generosity. Click here for a list of holiday volunteer opportunities in Los Angeles County.

  1. Go with your heart. “Volunteer for a cause that speaks to you,” says Ed Simon of The Midnight Mission, who oversees craft activities with homeless kids. “The closer it is to your heart, the more fulfilling it will be.”
  1. Know before you go. “Sometimes people sign up unaware we’re a special-needs program,” says Crystal Garcia of KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now), which provides athletics for the disabled. “A little research goes a long way.”
  1. Be flexible. “Volunteer morale could make or break a project,” says Kelly Newman of Aviva Family and Children’s Services, which runs a West Hollywood shelter for at-risk girls. “When trying to motivate our teens to go hiking for instance, everyone needs to be on the same page.”
  1. Don’t flake. “A sorority signed up once to volunteer, and not one showed,” says Bona Tucker, founder of PetSave Foundation, a rescue for abandoned rabbits. “When you’ve got hundreds of rabbits to feed and clean, this could be a disaster. Advanced notice is key.”
  1. Have fun! “Volunteering should be joyful, not a chore,” says Joe Mullich of Children of the Night, an organization that rescues teenagers from prostitution. “Perhaps the greatest thing about it, apart from serving others, is working side-by-side with fun, compassionate Angelenos you might otherwise never meet.”

L.A. Works creates and leads hands-on community service projects throughout the region. You can follow them on social media for all the latest: Instagram: @LAWorksnow | Twitter: @LAWorksNow | Facebook: LAWorks | LinkedIn: bit.ly/LAWorks

As part of Giving Tuesday, consider donating to the Future of L.A. Fund, one of the simplest ways to give to Los Angeles through the California Community Foundation. This fund allows you to make a gift and rely on CCF to make grants to organizations across the county with the greatest need, based on our expertise in the community.

This is the first in a series of Giving Season posts to inspire generosity and positive change in 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.