Supporting Social Justice Through Giving Circles

A nationwide wave of protests has generated an unprecedented number of donations to Black-led organizing groups, bail and mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizations. To inspire even more giving and to sustain giving over time, Amplifier, one of FJC’s fiscally sponsored projects, has been focused on providing resources and tools to organizations and people to inspire them to give.

Since 2014, Amplifier has helped launch over 125 giving circles, creating a community of educated, empowered, values-driven givers. A giving circle is a group of people who pool their charitable donations and decide together how to allocate the combined funds. Amplifier has learned that givers are transformed by being part of a giving circle: they have more meaning and purpose in their giving; they understand how they can most influence and create change they want; and they build meaningful relationships with others. The giving circle platform amplifies the impact an individual can have with their giving.

To confront inequity within philanthropy, Amplifier is leveraging its role in the Jewish community to ignite and uplift racial justice giving and working closely with diverse giving circles and giving circle networks through the United States. As a member of the co-design team, Amplifier played a key role in founding Philanthropy Together, a new initiative that diversifies philanthropy by developing leadership among giving circles led by people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, different giving capacities, youth, people in rural communities, religious minorities, and many, many more. Amplifier has also partnered with the Community Investment Network, a network of giving circles of particularly focused on strengthening African-American communities.

Diversifying philanthropy is a key component to building a more equitable society, explains Fisher. “Giving circles tend to be local, focusing on recognized leadership in their communities,” she says. “As giving circles become more diverse, we believe that more resources will be directed toward organizations led by people of color that might have been overlooked by traditional philanthropy.”

As a participant in FJC’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program, Amplifier uses FJC’s 501(c)(3) status to collect tax-deductible contributions and foundation grants. Supporters have included the Natan Fund, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose funding supported the building of the Philanthropy Together initiative.

For more information about giving circles, and opportunities to match fund giving circles led by people of color, please visit or email

Tackling Racial Disparities in Mental Health

They came together this summer virtually, with expertise pulled from public and private universities, finance and health care companies, the technology sector, mental health and other disciplines. Their mandate? To outline ways that higher education, along with a range of stakeholders, can promote the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people of color and mitigate the mental health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Steve Fund COVID-19 Task Force is one of several initiatives of The Steve Fund, the nation’s leading organization focused on supporting the mental, social, and emotional health and well-being of young people of color. “Among communities of color, there has often been a stigma about accessing mental health services,” explains Evan Rose, President of The Steve Fund’s Board. “We were committed to ensuring a safe journey to adulthood for youth of color.”

FJC is honored to have incubated The Steve Fund as it grew from its early
days, when the organization was born of personal tragedy. The Fund is named for Stephen Rose, an African-American graduate of Harvard and City College, who died from mental illness in 2014. In the grief and shock following this tragic event, Mr. Rose’s family was determined to help other young people to achieve mental and emotional wellness. They chose to do so by working with higher education institutions to better recognize the particular challenges faced by young adults of color, and design proactive strategies to support them.

“We have been on a journey with FJC,” said Mr. Rose. “FJC made it easy and straightforward to get started, so that we could focus on our mission without worrying about the administrative details.” The initiative started with a Collective Giving Account at FJC, which raised over $120,000 from 60 donors in its first year. As the ambitions of the initiative grew, the family started the organization under FJC’s fiscal sponsorship and subsequently spun off into its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The organization has grown significantly from its early days.

The task force is just one of many strategies The Steve Fund uses to drive long term culture change in colleges, universities and the organizations that support young people of color to pursue and succeed in higher education. The Steve Fund has held nine conferences on higher ed campuses—from CUNY to Stanford, provides mental health resources and expertise, and forges alliances across mental health professionals who provide culturally sensitive support to students from Black, Asian American, Latinx, Native American, Muslim and other ethnic groups. Their networks include historically Black colleges, community colleges, Ivy League universities like Harvard and Brown, and community based organizations.

“There are two crises plaguing America right now – coronavirus and racial injustice – and both are adding a perilous layer of stress and distress, especially for young people of color,” says Sandra Timmons, Interim Executive Director at The Steve Fund. “Fostering resilience among young people of color caught in this current quagmire of the COVID-19 pandemic, associated devastation, and racial trauma warrants deliberate and intentional investments and support services across sectors that remove young people of color from harm’s way.”

For more information about the Task Force, see their press release.

A DAF Sponsor Mobilizes Resources for the Nonprofit Sector

Part Two of the Nonprofit Lowdown podcast featuring CEO Sam Marks (air date: March 12, 2020)

In November 2019, Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer of FJC, was interviewed for the podcast Nonprofit Lowdown with Rhea Wong. The interview was a reunion of sorts for these two, as Sam was Rhea’s first boss in 1999 when she worked at Summerbridge at the Town School (now known as Breakthrough New York, an organization Rhea later ran for over a decade).

Part One of this interview focuses on Sam’s professional journey from his early years in youth development and education to “the dollars and cents side” of the nonprofit sector.

Part Two of the interview focuses on his particular vantage point at FJC, and covers Donor Advised Funds, nonprofit lending, and fiscal sponsorships.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

So now you’re the CEO of FJC.  What is that and what do you do?

FJC is a foundation, primarily comprised of Donor Advised Funds or DAFs.  The way a DAF works is, you set up an account, you move money into it.  That money becomes legally the asset of FJC. The donor gets the full tax benefit of making that donation.  But the donor can recommend two things: how that money is invested over time, similar to a foundation endowment.  We provide donors with a menu of investment options like stocks and fixed income. They can also recommend how those funds are turned into grants to nonprofit organizations they care about.

“The [DAF] donor can recommend two things: how that money is invested over time, similar to a foundation endowment, and how those funds are turned into grants to nonprofit organizations they care about.”

You have another part of the house so to speak.  Explain the investment side.

The investment side is how we steward the assets of our donors over time.  Donors can choose to put it in stocks or bonds. There are some donors, if they’re  big enough, they can bring a hedge fund or an alternative investment onto our platform.  But one of the most popular ways is our impact investing opportunity, FJC’s Agency Loan Fund, which is a pool of donor capital that is deployed as loans to nonprofit organizations. So it’s great for the donors, because their money can be put to work in the community, supporting the missions of organizations.  The principal and interest payments come back to their accounts, so those accounts can grow.  They can still make grants with them, but in the meantime, that money is being lent to a full gamut of organizations. Our borrowers are making energy efficiency improvements in buildings, doing homeless services, arts organizations, and more.

Why would a nonprofit organization be interested in taking out a loan?

It’s typically to bridge some kind of commitment.  If you have a city or state contract for services, and you’re working with youth afterschool or doing foreclosure counseling, it’s great to have that contract but you can’t pay the bills with a contract.  You can only pay the bills with cash. Many city and state contracts for various reasons take a long time to pay. So many of the nonprofits that come to us have an urgent cash flow need, and we’re a pretty nimble, flexible organization.  We can turn a decision around about a loan in just a couple or three weeks. A lot of nonprofits find that to be a critical service to even out their cash flow, make payroll, or pay their vendors.

What do you look for when you’re making a loan?

The types of organizations we work with are a range of sizes and missions, but they have to be credit-worthy. That means they have to have some experience, not necessarily being a borrower (a lot of our borrowers have never borrowed money before), but they have to have some ability to have an informed conversation about their finances and their plan to repay the loan. Typically, we’re bridging a city or state contract, or a capital grant.  They have to be able to understand their business well enough to say how they are going to pay it back.

They will also need some kind of collateral. In some cases that can be a piece of real estate that we can secure the loan, but other times they may be able to provide a guarantee. Perhaps a guarantor on their board or some other asset that can serve as collateral.

Is there a general size of loan that you’re looking at?

It runs the gamut. We’ve made loans as small as $10,000 and as high as $4 million.  Above $4 million we sometimes work with a co-lender or two. So we’re pretty flexible.

“[FJC’s Agency Loan Fund] is great for the donors, because their money can be put to work in the community, supporting the missions of organizations. The principal and interest payments come back to their accounts, so those accounts can grow.”

What other lending options are there out there for nonprofits?

There are banks and credit unions.  There are banks with very focused nonprofit business lines like Amalgamated Bank or M&T.  There are also community development financial institutions, or CDFIs. Examples include LISC, where I used to work, Nonprofit Finance Fund, Low income Investment Fund, and many others.  These are specialized nonprofit lenders.  They are nonprofits themselves, and they lend to nonprofits.  They tend to focus more on capital projects, like affordable housing or community centers.  They tend to lend secured against real estate, though not always. The Fund for the City of New York will also lend against city contracts. So there is an ecosystem that serves this niche.

“We’re a good [lending] option for organizations whose needs are maybe a little bit more urgent, and we can be pretty flexible and nimble about getting to yes.”

Why would an organization choose to approach you for a loan, as opposed to getting a line of credit from a bank?

Bank loans are probably going to be a little bit cheaper, if you can get one.  The reason we are competitive is that we are very fast and nimble in terms of our decision making. We’re a pretty small outfit.  A bank or larger institutions may have credit committees and layers or approval processes, and they may have people making decisions about loans that don’t particularly know about the nonprofit sector. They might not be comfortable with a city or state contract acting as repayment source. But we know the nonprofit sector really well, and we can get to a decision pretty quickly.

If a nonprofit has enough lead time and relationships at a bank, maybe they keep their deposits there, if they can make a line of credit work, they should definitely do that. We’re a good option for organizations whose needs are maybe a little bit more urgent, and we can be pretty flexible and nimble about getting to yes.

What else should nonprofits consider if thinking about taking out a loan?  What else do you look for in deciding if a nonprofit is ready for a loan? Do they need to have a CFO?

Nonprofit organizations can get to that level of sophistication in a lot of different ways.  It can be an Executive Director or a Board Member where that expertise sits. There are organizations that become big and complex enough, where the business fundamentals include different revenue sources like earned revenue, grants and multiple city and state contracts. Then the cash flow forecasting gets to be more complicated.  You might have an investment portfolio.  In those cases we often see organizations with CFOs. We see a lot of organizations starting to outsource their CFO function. There are companies like BTQ Financial that work with a lot of organizations we know.  FMA is another one. So there are a lot of different solutions that are tailored to nonprofits.

I should mention also, another part of our business is fiscal sponsorships. These are with organizations that are earlier in their life cycle. These are organizations that don’t have their own 501(c)(3) status. They want to get donations but they don’t have that IRS determination letter yet. We can act as the 501(c)(3), we can accept grant payments, we can pay their vendors and provide them with some pretty basic accounting of their income and expenses. We have about 160 organizations we work with. We are set up to do that because having DAFs, we’re set up to be accepting money and getting payments out in a pretty rapid way, so those capabilities fit well with a fiscal sponsorship program.

“[Our fiscal sponsorship program works with] organizations that are earlier in their life cycle. They want to get donations but they don’t have that IRS determination letter yet.  We can act as the 501(c)(3).”

What’s the cost of your fiscal sponsorship program?

Our fiscal sponsorship program is pretty reasonably priced.  It’s generally 4-6% of inbound donations (plus 1% annually on the average daily balance).  And the reason why we’re reasonable is that we’re a pretty bare-bones fiscal sponsorship program. Other organizations will provide a lot more types of services or technical assistance.  We engage with our organizations a lot and give them a lot of advice and contacts but it’s done in a more informal way.

Part One of this interview focuses on Sam’s professional journey from his early years in youth development and education to “the dollars and cents side” of the nonprofit sector.

For an audio version of this interview (and dozens of others with nonprofit leaders), check out Nonprofit Lowdown, Rhea Wong’s fabulous podcast, where she reviews and recommends the best ideas, resources, tools, tricks and tips to “run your nonprofit like a pro!”

Photo courtesy of DreamStreet Theatre Company

2019 Year in Review: Fiscal Sponsorship

FJC welcome 14 new organizations to our fiscal sponsorship program, providing our tax-exempt umbrella to new partners who do not have their own 501(c)(3) status.

Bronx Eats makes healthy cooking and eating a community habit through hands-on food education…Changing Ground Project is an urban development initiative that uses land readjustment strategies, combined with a community land trust model to assist communities in redeveloping existing suburban areas…Columba Leadership Trust partners with schools serving economically disadvantaged communities in South Africa to ensure that large numbers of young people are empowered to bring change to their own communities…The District 13 Fund for Equity taps the philanthropic opportunities of the real estate industry by offering brokerages, individual brokers, and developers the opportunity to make tax-free donations that support neighborhood schools in Central Brooklyn…DreamStreet Theatre Company provides education and inspiration for adults with special needs who have a passion for the performing and creative arts…GenTech works to educate senior citizens about technology and social media in order to positively impact their lives and feelings of connectedness…Les Amis de la Maison Baldwin is a nonprofit arts and culture association that remembers and celebrates James Baldwin in St. Paul de Vence, France…Mt Carmel Teen Project serves the community in the Belmont area of the Bronx through intensive after-school programming for teens as well as workshops and services for the general community… Museum of the Courageous celebrates our shared humanity by documenting interventions and practical responses to hate crimes and acts of hate, with the aim of inspiring and empowering everyone to stand up to hate, from generation to generation…myPadilla leverages technology to provide technical assistance to criminal defense attorneys in Texas regarding the immigration consequences of contact with the criminal justice system so that their immigrant clients are empowered to make informed decisions and meet their immigration goals…Oligophrenin Foundation supports patients and families with OPHN1 syndrome and promotes clinical research aiming to develop treatments for this rare genetic disorder…Spruce Street Minyan is a vibrant, traditional, and egalitarian minyan for young professionals and graduate students living in Philadelphia…Supplies for Success provides backpacks to low-income students filled with age-appropriate school supplies before the first day of school so children can start school prepared to learn…Welcome Baby provides low-income families with one package containing all of the items they’ll need for their newborn in the first four weeks of life.