Author Archives: Christine Metropoulos

  1. We Need to Talk about Nonprofit
    Job Quality More

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    Photo by Ted Soqui.


     “When I was a nonprofit Executive Director in San Francisco in 2017 I made $80,000. Raising my salary wasn’t a priority for me; it would mean more fundraising and funds were better spent elsewhere. But that also meant I wasn’t prioritizing others’ salaries. Two brilliant staff, a BIPOC woman and gender-expansive folk who I hoped would eventually lead the organization were facing a promotion without appropriate compensation. What’s more, those staff had been participants in our programs years before. They embodied leadership with lived experience. I was not only wronging those staff, but our mission, as we were funneling our youth into a trap: mission-driven values-aligned work that would not pay their bills and allow financial autonomy in adulthood.” — Pui Ling Tam

    The nonprofit starvation cycle threatens organizational sustainability and indirectly constrains the sector’s impact. But it also hurts the very people who make nonprofits run.

    Too many nonprofit jobs lack family-sustaining wages, necessary benefits, worker protections, and advancement opportunities. Instead of enabling economic security, for many, a nonprofit job means sacrificing personal economic security and, in some cases, physical and mental well-being.

    This is self-defeating for philanthropy. As a sector we endorse greater support for other essential occupations like healthcare workers and teachers, yet we are silent when it comes to nonprofit workers. We need to start talking. No matter your philanthropic strategy — from economic justice to climate change to the arts — your work depends on the well-being of nonprofit workers.

    Here’s why it matters:

    It’s about racial and gender equity

    In the Bay Area alone, the nonprofit sector employs close to 800,000 workers, who are predominantly people of color. In San Francisco, 75% of nonprofit workers are people of color and low-wage nonprofit workers are disproportionately Black or African-American. Nonprofit jobs remain some of the most accessible to people of color; yet unlike public sector jobs with strong unionization, nonprofit jobs do not provide a path to economic mobility. To the contrary, under-compensation of nonprofit jobs perpetuates racial and gender inequity.

    The nonprofit sector needs to recruit and retain talent

    Nonprofits take on monumental tasks, like repairing centuries of harms inflicted on people of color, women, and gender expansive people. This work is deeply personal, often relying on individual workers’ hard-earned wisdom gained from decades of experience. It is also hard, under-resourced, and surprisingly thankless. At the same time, organizing wins are driving job quality improvements in other sectors, threatening to widen the gap between private sector and nonprofit employment. This forces brilliant young people and nonprofit professionals alike to choose jobs that pay a living wage over working for social good. With turnover in nonprofits almost double that of other sectors and leaders reporting an acute shortage of talent, this limits organizational capacity and nonprofit (and thus philanthropic) impact. If we want the best and brightest in our communities to join or stay in the nonprofit sector, we must stop expecting people to either have generational wealth that can subsidize their nonprofit career, or that the (often, but not always) rewarding nature of nonprofit work justifies struggling to make ends meet.

    The massive sector needs to focus on quality jobs

    For some workforce development funders, quality jobs are the name of the game. As foundations, we fund a long list of tools that tend to focus on job access in key sectors. But that work seldom focuses on nonprofits, despite the fact that the sector is the country’s third largest and contributes $1.5 trillion to the economy.

    Conversations and early pilots to increase job quality are underway, but progress is not linear. Wage compression, or the decrease in the difference between higher salaries and lower salaries, can leave more senior staff feeling undercompensated. In addition, when one philanthropic funder or stream of government funding raises wages, it can lead to the same role having two different salaries based on funding source alone, eroding equity across the organization.

    How we’re moving from words to action

    These are real challenges, but addressing big problems is what this sector does. Here’s some initial steps we’re taking to address them with real action in support of nonprofit well-being:

    • At Irvine, in Better Careers’ updated strategy, our support of direct-service organizations focuses on those who are led-by and accountable to the communities they serve and who use workforce development as a tool for repair. We are beginning a year-long listening process to understand from leaders and staff what we can do to support better quality jobs. We fully expect that this means our grants will have to be larger and that we will have to choose fewer grantees and potentially serve fewer people in the near-term as a result. We believe the tradeoff is worth it.
    • At ReWork the Bay, a community-led funder collaborative, our funder partners learn from community-centered, participatory grantmaking practices through our ReWork Philanthropy initiative. ReWork the Bay is also partnering with Irvine on a participatory research and capacity building effort to advance philanthropy’s understanding of the needs of client-facing nonprofit staff related to job quality and professional development, and identify and share practical strategies to better address those needs.
    • At the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, we launched the Endeavor Fund, a commitment of seven years-long general operating grants of $3.5 million each to seven organizations. We were transparent with potential grantees that we cared about two things: how they are closing the racial and gender wealth gap, and how they support and increase nonprofit well-being. We understand that it’s our job to amplify what the seven nonprofits are learning, trying, and building, from the mistakes to the possibilities, so that others — other organizations and other funders — can learn and act alongside us.

    And we’re standing on the shoulders of tremendous work of nonprofit leaders. Fund the People and All Due Respect have been part of leading the charge around this work, and we’re pleased to be partnering with them in 2024 to host a convening on this topic. We will bring together funders, nonprofits, supporting organizations, and government leaders to share experiences and think through balanced approaches to progress.

    We hope you will join us by adding your voice to this urgent conversation and taking concrete action. Whether you come to the convening or start a conversation with your grantees or funders about what you need to advance job quality in the nonprofit sector, this work requires all of us.

  2. Shifting Power to Young People:
    Our Journey So Far

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    At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund embarked on a learning journey to explore new pathways for supporting young people in the Bay Area to find the education and opportunities they deserve.

    Our fellow travelers in this work were representatives of a community that philanthropy too often ignores — young people themselves. We wanted to hear from BIPOC-identified public school youth in Oakland and San Francisco about how they were experiencing the shock of the pandemic. More importantly, we knew that young people are the right advocates for shaping the solutions to the immense challenges facing them and their peers at a time of immense uncertainty, inequity, and unease.

    Who Has Power? Who Doesn’t?

    The COVID-19 pandemic and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others have forced philanthropy, along with other sectors of society, to question longstanding practices and assumptions related to power. Who has power? Who doesn’t? And how can we truly shift power to effect change?

    At the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, our answers to these questions have helped shape our decision to center youth in our youth-focused grantmaking. There is no denying the privilege and power that philanthropic organizations like ours have long enjoyed. At the same time, young people (and directly impacted people as a whole) historically have lacked power as decisions about their education, their communities, and their future have been made — and held tightly — by their elders.

    How We’re Shifting Power

    We believe philanthropy has an opportunity to help shift this inequitable balance, and we’re exploring how to do that. We are reimagining how our practices could be different if we took up the values and principles of the nonprofit partners we support. Here’s how we have taken action so far:

    • Hired young people to make grants to support youth-led change because their time and insights are valuable. Through our BAY Fellows program, now in its fourth year, 11 high school and transitional aged youth from across the Bay Area become part of our grantmaking team. We are paying Fellows as they learn about philanthropy and make decisions about how to allocate $1.5 million in Possibility Grants each year. Currently in its pilot/learning stage, Possibility Grants provide general operating support of up to $100,000 each for organizations nominated and approved by young people in our community, with a focus on groups serving BIPOC and LGBTQ+ populations. This grant program prioritizes smaller organizations whose organizational or youth organizing program budget is equal to or under $500,000 annually.
    • Partnered with a youth development organization to support our Fellows to succeed. We partnered with youth development nonprofit Youth Organize! California (YO! Cali) to train and support Oakland and San Francisco young people as part of our grantmaking team. As we entered this work, we recognized that we are not a youth development organization ourselves and have limited capacity and skill in this regard. That’s why we are partnered with YO! Cali. They build youth leadership pathways and serve as a youth organizing hub, with directly impacted young people at the forefront of a bold, multi-issue movement for liberation, healing, collective power, and justice.
    • Organized five learning labs where young people join as equal partners with adults from the community to explore key questions about COVID-19 recovery, reopening and reimagining our schools, and supporting girls of color to find equity, joy and opportunity. Youth are key participants in these conversations; they are neither tokenized nor expected to defer to adults. These learning labs are deliberately structured to drive concrete action by the Fund, educators and others.

    In all of this work, we’re trying to shape a new model for what it looks like to truly engage and support youth — not just as advisors but as full partners and leaders in our grantmaking on issues affecting them and their peers. In the process, we are also exposing young people to philanthropy as a material expression of power in our society and activating them to see how it can be a vehicle for transformation by moving money and resources to communities.

    We’ve been able to gain new connections and fresh perspectives from the Fellows, the questions they’ve asked us, and the teach-ins they’ve led for our staff. We are eager to continue sharing stories and lessons from our ongoing journey in youth-led grantmaking and learn more about how other funders are thinking about this urgent topic for philanthropy. We’re also looking forward to sharing the experiences of the young leaders we’re working with in the months ahead. In 2024, we will be publishing the writings and reflections of young people who have participated in the Fund’s BAY Fellowship; stay tuned.

    Please also join us as we and some of our BAY Fellows reflect on this journey in October at the Grantmakers for Education conference. Two of the fellows will participate in a “Get Ready for Gen Z” panel of youth grantmakers from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and the Skillman Foundation to reflect on their experiences and how philanthropy can lift up the power and voice of young people in our work.

    Together, we can make youth-led grantmaking a new norm across philanthropy and a means for shifting power and voice to young people in our communities.

  3. Operationalizing
    Trust-based Philanthropy:
    A Learning Lab for the Field

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    Endeavor Fund as case study, part two

    Today, we’re continuing the case study of how the Walter & Elise Haas Fund established the Endeavor Fund as one way to operationalize trust-based philanthropy. Part one of this case study walked through the process of establishing the Endeavor Fund, from community-led insight as research, to screening and deeper learning interviews, to W&EHF-led transparent financial analysis, to compensation for community and grantseeker’s time and insights.

    This blog, part two of the case study, offers reflection: to learn out loud and in community with you. This post shares our reasons for some of our key choices, and the mistakes we know we’ve made so far.

    As always, this blog series is an invitation into a learning lab. We want to hear from you. What questions or sparks of new ideas come to mind as you read this blog? What have we missed? What would you add? What have you already done in your own practices? How might we, and all of us, do better?

    Need a refresher? Review the Endeavor Fund process.

    How We Were Trying to Operationalize Trust

    The Endeavor Fund has two central tenets: to close the racial and gender wealth gap, and to improve nonprofit well-being, especially through supporting nonprofit jobs as quality, empowering jobs. That the burden of low-wage and usually front-line nonprofit work — what some call poverty jobs — seems to be carried disproportionately by women of color workers is not lost on us. These tenets inform and are embedded in our choices in establishing the Endeavor Fund with nonprofit organizations.

    We tried to center nonprofit organizations in the process. This means we did the work instead of the grantseeker, including: transcribing the entire interview and sharing it back within 48 hours for them to check; and analyzing financial materials, such as 990s available from the IRS and Candid. We started with a rubric that turned into the eligibility questions, and then the deeper learning interview questions. We sent the 18 interview questions to the organizations at the start of November, in advance of the January interviews. We went to their offices to meet them where they are instead of having them come to us.

    We spoke explicitly about shifting power to them. One of the 18 questions in the deeper learning interview was, “How would you have us be accountable to you?” We invited them explicitly to tell us how they want us to show up for them. We listened carefully to them in order to better serve them and their communities. Most of the 30-minute screening conversation was reserved for their questions, because we already knew the organizations from past grants and from their work in the community. We considered that we didn’t need to learn about them as much as they needed to learn to trust us.

    We were as transparent as possible. We were honest about what we wanted and what we knew, as well as what we didn’t know. We told each organization we spoke to that a key tenet of the Endeavor Fund was to “fund them to win on their own terms,” and it follows that we didn’t, and couldn’t, have answers on details like how we expected the cohort to work together in the future. A key refrain from deeper learning interviews from W&EHF staff was, “I don’t know.” “I don’t know” does not equal “I don’t care.” That answer means we believe that the future must be created together, with patience to be in collaboration together. It means we understand that we need to get out of the way to support the agency, visionary leadership, and creativity of community-based nonprofits.

    What We Didn’t Do

    There are choices we made through this process or things we forgot to do that impacted former or current grantees. You could even argue that some of these choices don’t entirely line up with a holistic trust-based approach.

    For example, the W&EHF did not use an open call, an RFP, nor written proposals for the process. This was a deliberate choice. There are benefits for doing it this way, but we also acknowledge the clear disadvantage to creating a closed grantmaking program — we missed out on brilliant organizations newly introducing themselves to us. What we focused on was the reality that W&EHF’s decision to make larger grants within the same grantmaking budget meant a trade-off to having grantmaking relationships with many fewer organizations. As an organization with ten staff in total, we didn’t think we could take the care needed nor be responsible to people submitting LOIs in an open call. The trade we made was to focus our efforts on known organizations and allow our staff time in cultivating deeper relationships in order to serve Endeavor Fund grantees better.

    Some of our choices were mistakes. We did not share our rubric publicly, nor with the organizations that were under consideration for the Endeavor Fund cohort. This was something we didn’t think about doing until far too late. In addition, we could have had a more individualized approach to communicating the sunset of three program areas — Economic Security, Education, and Safety Net — and the resulting exit of grantees. Though we had one-on-one conversations with approximately 30% of grantees about the details of the transition and exit, and indicated that renewal grants were unlikely, we did not have one-on-ones with 100% of impacted grantees. We wish we had spoken to everyone directly.

    Inviting Your Thoughts

    Frankly, there’s even more to the process than we’ve covered in these two posts, particularly around what we learned from structuring the Endeavor Fund this way, our in-depth interviews, exit conversations with former grantees, and holding a town hall with all former grantees of the closed programs. We plan on sharing some of those learnings in future blogs. These first two posts summarize the broad strokes of our process of intentionally activating the trust-based practices we saw within reach for us. The story, at this moment, is about the choices we’ve made thus far.

    There are tweaks we would make — like share the rubric sooner, be more transparent to all grantees — and, as we take a moment to pause, reflect, and actively learn, there is much we would do again in the same or similar ways. Working as a team across roles was transformational for our organization. Centering grantees in our choices gets another resounding yes. Taking these steps, that were also steps into the unknown — another yes.

    A Philanthropy Learning Lab

    We offer this case study as the first part of a philanthropy learning lab and blog series on how a foundation might operationalize trust-based practices. As W&EHF aims to be in a state of constant public learning, with the mindset that mistakes, just as much as successes, are opportunities for progress as long we are moving forward, thoughtfully, and in community, we invite you to tell us:

    What’s your take? What do you notice? What would you change? What questions to do you have?

    Let us know. We’re here to learn and do better.

  4. Operationalizing
    Trust-based Philanthropy:
    A Learning Lab for the Field

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    Endeavor Fund as case study, part one

    At the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, we’re making shifts in our practice and, at 71 years old, learning new things.

    This blog shares our recent process for establishing the Endeavor Fund, a new $24.5M, seven-year initiative aimed at closing the racial and gender wealth gap that we designed with trust-based practices in mind. We’re offering it here for two reasons:

    1. to share our process in the hopes that you — our peers, our ecosystem, and community — can use it as a case study, perhaps like open-source trust-based philanthropy for you to build and improve upon and;
    2. to get better at using our learning muscle by openly showing, sharing, and reflecting on our work.

    The changes our world needs are urgent, important, and often, massive. We neither have the time nor individual knowledge to work slowly towards creating perfect solutions. To quote our friends at the Stupski Foundation, “change can’t wait.” Thus, W&EHF aims now to be in a state of constant public learning. We’re of the mindset that mistakes, just as much as successes, are opportunities for progress as long we are moving forward, thoughtfully, and in community.

    In other words, this blog is the first of what will become many opportunities to share practice and process, to reflect on lessons learned, and above all, to invite you, our peers in philanthropy, into the work with us.

    This blog is an invitation to join a philanthropy learning lab. We want to hear from you. What questions or sparks of new ideas come to mind as you read this blog? What have we missed? What would you add? What have you already done in your own practices? How might we, and all of us, do better?

    Endeavor Fund: What We Did

    The Endeavor Fund process was focused on deep learning and operationalizing trust-based philanthropy. It was shaped by a decision-making rubric broken into five categories: purpose, practice, ecosystem, financial diligence, and commitment to learning. W&EHF focused on organizations that we were in current grantmaking relationships with, recognizing that we would be exiting 75% of grantees from the former programs of Economic Security, Education, and Safety Net. We listened carefully to how young people from our Learning Labs and BAY Fellows program directed us to act. From there, eligibility for the Endeavor Fund was determined by organizations’:

    • Mission alignment to closing the racial and gender wealth gap
    • Active prioritization of quality, empowering jobs within their organization
    • Geography — hyper local to Oakland and/or San Francisco
    • Service to primarily BIPOC communities
    • Service to/with youth and adults
    • Practice that is a combination of direct services and structural change work
    • Majority BIPOC leadership among at least two of the following three: the executive, senior staff, and board
    • Budget size (organizations with budgets under $5M and no more than $10M)

    These factors affected individual selection as well as group composition.

    Thirteen organizations were invited for an eligibility screening, a 30-minute call conducted by video; ten were invited for deeper learning interviews, three-hour long in-person interviews with teams from the organization and W&EHF staff. Organizations were represented by their leadership, a staff person, and a board member; W&EHF was represented by three or four of our ten-person staff. W&EHF staff transcribed the interviews in lieu of a written application from the organizations. Organizations were asked to submit written consent, to continue in the process. We told organizations that “consent” could simply be one word; most statements were a few sentences. W&EHF staff performed a financial analysis for each organization from public documents, which was shared in the interview to check our understanding. Seventy percent of W&EHF staff were actively engaged in the deeper learning process with the potential cohort.

    Two references — a participant and a collaborator — gave testimony for each organization. What references said about the organizations was prioritized in the review and decision-making process.
    Each reference was compensated for their time; each organization received a $3,000 grant for participating in the deeper learning interview; three organizations received unrestricted operating grants of $25,000 at the end of the process; and the seven organizations selected for the Endeavor Fund received seven-year long general operating grants for a total of $3.5 million, paid out annually in $500,000 installments.

    All along the way, for 18 months, staff shared our thinking with W&EHF’s board so we were all part of the process of developing ideas, asking questions, and acting together.

    A month after the public announcement of the Endeavor Fund grantees, we hosted a town hall for all former grantees of the closed programs. We plan to share a future blog in this series on operationalizing trust on how we exited grantees.

    A Philanthropy Learning Lab

    We continue the case study of the Endeavor Fund in part two in which we reflect on what we were trying to do, and the mistakes we know we made.

    For now, with this case study as the first part of a philanthropy learning lab and blog series on how a foundation might operationalize trust-based practices, we’d like to start hearing from you.

    What’s your take? What do you notice? What would you change? What questions to do you have?

    Let us know. We’re here to learn and do better.

  5. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s
    New Grantmaking Philosophy

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    The impact of philanthropic endeavors is inextricably linked to the health of the nonprofits philanthropy supports. A failure to support organizations’ well-being – their resilience – ultimately hinders their ability to effectively serve the people and communities philanthropy aims to benefit.

    In recent years, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund strengthened our commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion internally through professional development, and externally through trust-based and community-informed grantmaking initiatives like our Racial Justice Cohort and support of community networks in the Bayview District.

    Over the last 18 months, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s trustees and staff have examined our relationship with our most vital partners – nonprofits – and adopted a new objective: Fund nonprofits to win. Directed by young people, community members, and philanthropic peers, we define this as investing in organizations to fully realize their mission, with the agency to determine the path to drive better outcomes for communities they serve, and prioritize the well-being of their staff.

    To demonstrate our commitment to nonprofit well-being, we recently introduced the Endeavor Fund, our most significant philanthropic investment. Seven leading nonprofits have been awarded $3.5 million each, over seven years, for a total investment of $24.5 million, to close the racial and gender wealth gap. This new initiative is a multi-year commitment that enables organizations to determine what programmatic work deepens or grows, to influence systems, and invest in their organizational capacity, including worker pay and the professional development of BIPOC staff and leaders.

    The Endeavor Fund is a marquee example of a larger strategic shift in the Fund’s practice, which establishes us as a more effective grantmaker guided by trust-based philanthropy.

    Reimagining Effective Grantmaking

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is a learning organization, continually reflecting and improving. At the heart of everything are our core values, which include family, possibility, shared responsibility, and belonging. These values guide us in our decisions and provide a framework that aligns to our vision for creating a more prosperous future for everyone.

    With our values and community in mind, we have outlined three significant shifts in our grantmaking approach to better support nonprofits to win:

    silos to integration, symptoms to systems, contributions to commitmentsFrom silos to integration: The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is dedicated to improving community well-being, and has historically spread these efforts across multiple program areas. For example, we had separate program areas focused on: Economic Security, Education, and Safety Net. Recognizing the natural synergies across these programs, we have shifted our approach from three separate areas to a single integrated portfolio called Economic Well-being.

    The Economic Well-being portfolio puts people first and uses trust-based philanthropy practices to amplify the voices of youth and support nonprofits working to close the racial and gender wealth gap. The integrated approach acknowledges that people confront challenges throughout their lifetime and focuses on the interconnectivity of societal structures, policies, and practices, to create a more sustainable economic outlook for future generations. By breaking down silos we believe we can better center the individuals and meet them where they are, while transforming the structures that drive intergenerational poverty.

    The Economic Well-being portfolio represents our inaugural integrated portfolio, as we recognize the urgency to support people struggling to achieve financial security in the Bay Area today.

    From symptoms to solutions: COVID-19 and a national reckoning of systemic racism was a catalyst for conversations about the effectiveness of philanthropy during crisis situations. While we’re proud of the way we showed up to support the community during the tumult of the last two years, we are shifting our approach to be more proactive — seeking solutions to problems before they reach crisis level.

    For example, when we think about how to best support communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color facing intergenerational poverty, we no longer consider it sufficient to simply invest in treating the symptoms of poverty. Instead, we aim to adopt a solution-oriented approach that funds organizations working within the systems that create the cycle of poverty, such as education, criminal justice, government, and workforce. This shift aims to more directly impact policy, create stable services, and address the root causes of inequities.

    From contributions to commitments: Traditionally, philanthropic contributions have served as an important demonstration of support; however, their scope, duration, and impact have been limited. To more effectively support nonprofits to win, we are beginning to shift towards long-term partnerships characterized by shared responsibility. This new grantmaking approach means we will make larger and longer general operating grants, a result that the nonprofit sector has repeatedly identified as critical to their sustainability.

    Establishing committed relationships with organizations gives us an opportunity to build honest, trusting partnerships. Where mistakes are a celebrated part of learning, we can better understand nonprofits’ needs, and work collaboratively to achieve their goals. Leveraging our team’s expertise and connections, we seek to promote the long-term success of our partner organizations and to advance our shared vision of a more equitable society.

    In Collaboration with Our Partners, Always

    We want to thank our community for helping us chart a new path. For 70 years, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has remained committed to acting with purpose, in harmony with nonprofits leading the way, together envisioning a better world. In keeping with this tradition, we embarked on our journey of reimagining our grantmaking practices in partnership with nonprofits and philanthropic peers who inspire new ideas.

    Learning Lab
    Participants in the 2020 Rapid Response Learning Lab

    Our new approach to effective grantmaking developed from what grantees told us mattered, alongside Learning Labs, BAY Fellows, and feedback from youth on the team. Our grantmaking approach deeply benefited from our hearing directly from the communities we support: young people in public high school, older youth striving for a way to fruitfully reach adulthood, adults looking for purposeful work, and parents trying to provide for their families.

    While we are excited about the evolution of the Fund, we recognize these shifts require us to end funding relationships with some partners doing exceptional work. We have profound appreciation for all of the leadership these organizations have demonstrated in our community and are dedicated to maintaining relationships. And, with our strengthened approach to grantmaking, we are more committed than ever to serving as a philanthropic partner to the larger ecosystem working for a thriving Bay Area.

    Looking ahead, we hope to continue to engage in a dialogue with our community and inspire meaningful reflection on how philanthropy can more effectively support nonprofit well-being. Through collective efforts, we look forward to amplifying the transformative power of institutional philanthropy in our society.

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