Finding Affinity

Print More

The foundation world may have trouble promoting and sustaining positive social change, but when it comes to setting up special interest caucuses, it has few peers. The Council on Foundations (CoF) estimates that there are 38 “affinity groups” with official CoF recognition. There are also various semi-official “collaboratives,” “coalitions,” “networks” and “funding groups” satelliting around the philanthropic world. Most operate just one step from the ever-prying eyes of grant-seekers, many of whom are increasingly desperate to keep their painfully built programs from collapsing from a sour economy and shrinking federal spending.

The oldest and most prominent affinity group centered on the youth field is the D.C.-based Grantmakers on Children, Youth and Families (GCYF), founded in 1985. Its mission, says the group of private, corporate and community foundations, is to “increase the ability of organized philanthropy to improve the well-being” of kids and parents. Many small- and medium-sized foundations hand over their children and youth portfolios to junior or newly hired staff, using the dubious “you’re young, so you’re an expert” line of reasoning. For those staffers, GCYF provides a safe forum to acculturate to the ways of philanthropy. And maybe find a better job, too.

Barbara Reisman, executive director of the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, finds GCYF to be an “efficient and cost-effective way” to learn how other foundations work. Reisman says professional contacts she made through GCYF helped Schumann fulfill its mission of expanding pre-school programs. She praises GCYF as “good for start-ups” and for grant-makers “rethinking priorities.” Her remarks are representative of what many grant-makers say about their own affinity group affiliations.

Christine Robinson chairs the 22-member GCYF board. Robinson was formerly with the Fannie Mae Foundation and now works at the Boston-based Brazelton Foundation. (The GCYF newsletter, Insight, chirps that the foundation was created “to assure the continuation and expansion of the work and philosophy of our nation’s beloved pediatrician, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.”) This is one philanthropic board that’s had a real workout. In the fall of 2001, Executive Director Marsha Renwanz was quietly shown the door after two years on the job, which paid $92,685 in fiscal 2001. Over the next three months, GCYF hired three interim directors – including outside contractor Charles Walker – to keep house.

In March 2003, Stephanie McGencey was hired to manage the staff of two. Prior to joining GCYF, she was responsible for training and technical assistance for the Alexandria, Va.-based Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA). Earlier, she staffed the National Prevention Network as director of prevention services within the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, a trade group of state-level public officials who administer substance abuse programs.

Current membership in GCYF is hard to determine. Its membership application form says “more than 250,” while its fall 2002 newsletter says 500. In June 2002, Walker put its foundation membership at 129. Now, says McGencey, it’s “about 400.”

In an effort to raise its budget, GCYF has launched a “membership campaign,” with a formal sliding-scale dues structure. The old just-throw-the-money-in-the pot approach apparently left the group scrambling for an adequate income. In fiscal 2000, the group reported income of $458,986, but expenses ran some $145,125 more than that. In 2001, GCYF ran a deficit of $47,029. The old set-up, says Debra Delgado, a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, was “not a viable way to enter the 21st century.”

McGencey says the current budget is $400,000. Its annual meeting last year in Houston drew 165 people. Its next invitation-only conference will be in Detroit in early October. Contact: 202-962-3940,

No Job Fairs

Sounds like GCYF could have used a little tech assistance from another affinity group of interest to youth-serving agencies: the D.C.-based Grantmakers in Effective Organizations, with four staffers, 550 members and a budget of $870,000. Run by Kathleen Enright, the group’s annual conference is open to all grant makers, including nonprofit intermediaries. Its next gathering is in Seattle in March 2004. Contact: (202) 518-7251,

One affinity group with its work cut out for it is the Berkeley, Calif.-based Grantmakers Forum on Community & National Service (GFC&NS). Headed by Project Director Jill Blair, the group has a $500,000 budget. Blair is a partner in BTW Consultants, which houses GFC&NS, which in turn supports AmeriCorps and other federal and state programs that now face drastic budget cutbacks or even elimination. Begun in 1993, the group says it is supported by 60 to 100 voluntary contributions. Its stated mission: “To provide leadership and information about the value of service and volunteering and to encourage private and public investment in the field as a means of strengthening communities and building a healthy democracy.” Blair cites Chris Kwak of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Nick Bolano, formerly with the Hewlett Foundation, as providing leadership over the past decade. Contact: (510) 665-6130,

Not all affinity groups attract enough support and interest to survive. Grant Makers in Justice, a late-1980s attempt to pull together foundations interested in criminal and juvenile justice issues, died after a few years.

Yet some are prosperous, like the 22-year-old, D.C.-based Grantmakers in Health (2003 budget: $2.7 million). Its 22 staffers, directed by Mary Backley, work with more than 200 funding partners each year. Contact: (202) 452-8331,

Another D.C. group is the Institute for Community Peace (known until recently as the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention), headed by Executive Director Linda Bowen. Before its recent name change, it listed net assets at $2.2 million, and described itself as “a partnership among public and private funders [and] grant makers in violence prevention and community collaborations.” Contact: (202) 393-7731,

In Portland, Ore., Grantmakers for Education, run by Bill Porter, has three full-time staffers and 180 members. Founded in 1994, the group has a budget of $550,000. Contact: (503) 595-2100,

New on the grant-making infrastructure scene is Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), which says it works “to support and strengthen the next generation of grant makers, in order to advance effective social justice philanthropy.” It is not an official CoF affinity group. Housed at the New World Foundation in New York, the 160-member group is run by 27-year-old Rusty Stahl, a former staffer at the Ford Foundation. Ford and the New World foundations, along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Blue Ridge Foundation, provide EPIP’s $170,000 budget.

Stahl says EPIP is not a job fair for careerists and doesn’t even maintain a list of job openings. Rather, its goal is to help novice grant-makers “think of where they fit in” and instill a concern for social justice, business ethics and humility (good luck with this one) in their work. Most members are early-career staffers or young family trustees, but people up to 40 can sign on by paying $50 in annual dues or getting their foundations to pony up more cash for “institutional support.” Partly because many younger staffers aren’t on the philanthropic travel circuit, EPIP is forming regional chapters. Up and running are affiliates in New York and New England, with emerging chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and Indianapolis. Contact: (212) 497-7544,

The Connected 25

The most intriguing and energized philanthropic operation in the youth field today is the Youth Transition Funders Group (YTFG). It’s aimed at the more than 5 million disadvantaged youth and young adults who are not in school and don’t hold jobs.

Formed in 1995, the publicity-shy operation is staffed by consultant Talmira Hill, who previously worked at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Her assignment ended in May. Administrative and substantive support is provided by the Basehor, Kan.-based Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth (CCFY), run by Cindy Sesler Ballard. But YTFG says that it neither “neither maintains an office nor employs administrative staff.” YTFG’s mission, its literature says, is “to improve the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable young people” from ages 14 to 25. Thus, its motto, “Connected by 25.” About 170 foundations are general members. Of those, about 25 also belong to the pivotal YTFG Action Group. Its nine-member steering committee includes Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez from the Omidyar Foundation, based in Los Gatos, Calif.; former Open Society Institute staffer Helena Huang, now a program manager at JEHT Foundation in New York City; Patrick McCarthy from the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore; Chris Sturgis from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Mich.; Rick Williams from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation in San Mateo, Calif.; and Carolyn Young at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Austin, Texas.

Sturgis, who will leave Mott in July to become a senior program officer at Omidyar, has been the group’s real spark plug. Williams and Michael Wald, a senior staffer at the Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are also prominently mentioned as helping to shape what Hill calls “a long-term process” in committing foundations to “results-based

When it comes to advancing the positive youth development agenda, the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth is the conduit of choice for many funders. Technically headquartered in Kansas, the staff of seven is a virtual office spread among five states: Ballard, the executive director, is in Austin, Texas; one associate director, Rebecca Hornbeck, is in Philadelphia while another, Martha Johnston, is in Baltimore; and Director of Operations Deanna Silke is in Kansas City, Kan. The newest staffer is Winsome Hawkins, former vice president of the Community Foundations for Greater Atlanta, who remains in that city.

The group began in 1991 when Rockefeller Foundation Vice President Hugh Price made a grant to the greater Kansas City Community Foundation, run by Janice Kreamer, who is recognized as CCFY’s founder. Her best move was the 1993 hiring of Ballard, then living in Kansas City, Mo. In the past decade, CCFY has dispensed over 350 grants to 100 different community foundations. CCFY’s network of 200 community foundations, says its website, is “dedicated to securing improved conditions for children, youth and families.”

The group, says Ballard, “lives on soft money.” She says CCFY is “more of an intermediary than an affinity group,” and most of its money is passed on to community foundations. Two topics are at the top of CCFY’s agenda: family economic success and civic youth engagement. Contact: (800) 292-6149,

Still another affinity group is the New York-based Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, with an operating budget of $250,000. Three staffers, led by executive director Nancy Cunningham, work with 130 foundation staff members or trustees. The 21-year-old group says its mission “is to increase support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.” Cunningham says that the “largest percentage” of its work involves youth-related issues. The group makes about $250,000 in small grants each year to community foundations, which put up an equal amount to address local concerns that often involve gay youth issues. Contact: (212) 475-2930,

As if good things come in bunches, also in New York is the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO), operated out of the Jewish Fund for Justice. Started in 2000, FCYO has 22 funders, three staff members and a $1.5 million operating budget managed by 27-year-old Project Director Vera Miao. Miao previously worked at the Community Resource Exchange in NYC. Contact: (212) 213-2113,

Ever Alert for Amber

It’s not easy to take an idea that’s been in the public domain for almost two decades, wrap it in the painful memory of the 1996 death of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, and use it to double your guaranteed take from the public treasury. But then it’s not easy to top the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) when it comes to the craven use of kids to build a sinecure for its more than 200 staffers. NCMEC is based in a luminous $11 million headquarters in Alexandria, Va. – worthy of an Amber Room equal to the one missing from the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia, since 1945.

The need for an immediate public response to a child abduction, now known as an Amber Alert, was resisted by NCMEC for more than a decade. (See “Why $44,720,000 Couldn’t Rescue Polly Klaas,” March/April 1994.) But as the common-sense idea spread from Texas to other states, NCMEC saw an opportunity.

Not to search for missing kids, mind you; NCMEC’s website makes clear that its work is limited “to assist[ing] law enforcement and victim families in the search for missing children.” Rather, the opportunity was to double one of its several pots of federal funds from $10 million to $20 million.

That little-noticed provision was tucked into the recently passed Prosecutorial Remedies and Tools Against The Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act) of 2003, popularly known as the Amber Alert bill. The legislation will expand and link state and local Amber Alert systems, which use various forms of communications technology (such as radio and electronic highway signs) to alert the public about a reported child abduction.

In 2002, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, there were 115 “stereotypical” child kidnappings – stranger abductions that, for instance, last overnight or involve ransom – in a nation with more than 72 million children.

Last year, NCMEC spent $33.7 million on a range of quasi-police functions, most of which are best left to official law enforcement. One of several federal funding sources for NCMEC is a $10 million line item in the budget of the Office of Juvenile Justice. The PROTECT Act doubled that authorization to $20 million.

One reason that Amber Alert legislation stalled after its passage in the Senate last year was so the NCMEC funding increase and other dubious additions – some opposed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, no less – could ride along on the popular bill. Lawmakers such as Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and child advocates brave (or foolish) enough to object to provisions of the PROTECT Act risked being tarred as soft on child porn or worse, because of the bill’s anti-porn measures. No wonder the bill sailed through this year by 98-0 in the Senate and 400-25 in the House.

Just to make certain the money will be appropriated, NCMEC has lobbied to merge reauthorization of the Missing Children’s Assistance Act (first passed in 1984) with the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act now moving through Congress. The new title is instructive: the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act. The legislation changes little, except to further blur the important distinction between teenage runaways and homeless youth, and those children of any age taken by a non-custodial parent or a stranger. Runaways give NCMEC the big numbers to feed parental and congressional anxiety, while the rare but well-publicized stranger abductions bring in the big bucks.

So what will the child-rescuing agency that already has everything imaginable do with that extra $10 million? Consider the case of Nancy Dube of Cotuit, Mass. No, she’s not some poor missing child on one of those post cards that show up in your mailbox. She’s a member of NCMEC’s 45-member board of directors, chaired by Boys & Girls Club of America Vice President Robbie Calloway.

NCMEC set up a separate nonprofit known as the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Among its 25 board members is former FBI Director Ray Kelly. This group’s federal tax return says that in 2000, its sole employee, one Nancy Dube, was paid $145,918 for “strategic planning.”

But not to worry about nonprofit board member self-dealing, says the tax document. This salary deal “was approved in advance with the affected board member being out of the meeting room during the discussion and vote.”

Since NCMEC is so fond of counting runaways in its quest for funds and publicity, consider what Dube’s $145,918 salary could buy at the exemplary Bridge Over Troubled Waters program in Boston, which deals with teens most vulnerable to exploitation. That group’s current Basic Center grant – from the runaway and homeless youth part of what will become the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act – is $147,000. With it, says Executive Director Virginia Price, the Bridge has served 350 on-the-loose teens this year.

While Congress and the president are busy cutting the Youth Opportunity Grants programs at the Labor Department, eliminating the much-improved $250 million Juvenile Accountability Block Grant at the Justice Department, and cutting after-school spending through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers by $400 million (or 40 percent) at the Education Department, Congress just can’t resist passing crowd-pleasing, low-cost laws aimed at ending the exploitation of children by the perverts we all love to hate.

As for exploiting children for financial gain, that was on offer at a NCMEC-orchestrated Amber Alert bill-signing at the White House on May 1. It was attended by two girls from California and one from Utah, rape victims all, who were there to draw TV cameras for that day’s titillating photo-op.

Now the newly enriched NCMEC and its director, Ernie Allen, (2000 income: $296,458) can turn their lust for money back to the search for precious amber. As the late Kathleen Windsor, author of the 1944 bestseller Forever Amber, once observed, “adultery is not a crime, it’s an amusement.” Exploiting missing kids isn’t a crime, it’s political theater. Contact: (703) 274-3900,