Clockwise: Chris Jensen, Google News Initiative; Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, National Trust for Local News; Sam Marks, FJC; and Lillian Ruiz, National Trust for Local News.

Google News Initiative Celebrates Milestone for Local Ownership of Local News

Key practitioners forming a new model of community media ownership reflected on a critical milestone: the acquisition of 24 local newspapers in Colorado by the National Trust for Local News (NTLN).  Staff from NTLN and its financing partner FJC discussed the origins of this unique partnership during a breakout session at the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference, which was hosted and sponsored by The Google News Initiative.  [VIDEO]

The acquisition of Colorado Community Media (CCM) represents a first-of-its-kind partnership to preserve local mission-focused community ownership. The Colorado News Conservancy, a public benefit corporation jointly owned and operated by NTLN and The Colorado Sun, acquired CCM, an independent, family-owned group of 24 community newspapers and websites.  The acquisition was financed with a $1.5 million loan from FJC, alongside a coalition of local and national impact investors. 

Chris Jansen, the Head of Local News, Global Partnerships at Google, framed the conversation, describing this acquisition as “unlocking a new path forward for acquiring—and financing transformation of—local newspapers, and bringing in both local and national funders.”  He said that the innovative partnership attracted the interest of the Google News Initiative, which aims to help journalism thrive in the digital age and is a seed funder of NTLN. 

“Patient mission-aligned capital is necessary for these organizations.  When we’re talking about community media, it’s completely necessary.”

Lillian Ruiz, Co-Founder & Managing Director for Portolio, The National Trust For Local News

Asked about the origins of NTLN, co-founder Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro said that she and her co-founders intended to create an organization that was “like a nature conservancy for local media.”  The media landscape has evolved rapidly in recent decades, putting strain on traditional news business models.  She noted that public broadcasting companies had benefited from a combination of pooled investment along with technical assistance, and NTLN was formed to provide a similar series of supports to preserve trusted local news titles.  The acquisition of CCM is a model that NTLN intends to replicate across multiple markets across the United States.

Lillian Ruiz, NTLN co-founder and Managing Director for Portfolio, described how local newspapers can benefit from increased operational and business discipline. “From our expertise, partnerships and relationships, we can elevate the operational soundness, the efficiencies in how local newspapers look at innovation and revenue experimentation, and give [local newspapers] the headroom to get there. That’s where we see our opportunity and impact.”   She also noted the role of impact investment in the model.  “Patient mission-aligned capital is necessary for these organizations.  When we’re talking about community media, it’s completely necessary.” 

“Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector working together can figure out governance and financing [approaches] to make something that works for the public interest.”  

Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer, FJC

Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer of FJC, noted the underwriting challenges in financing the acquisition, since NTLN was a start-up nonprofit without significant assets to provide collateral for the loan.  FJC was able to get comfortable making the loan because three funders provided guarantees: The Colorado Trust, Gates Family Foundation, and American Journalism Project.  Mr. Marks noted the replicability of this approach to other new mission-based industries.  “Private foundations typically spend down around 5% of their assets per year on grants; the rest of their balance sheet could theoretically be put to work as guarantees for innovative structures like this, where it’s something new and impactful but the actors don’t have the balance sheets to stand it up.”

Mr. Marks noted that many local newspapers are being acquired by private equity firms whose profit motivations can run counter to the mission of having a thriving, well-resourced, independent press. “Philanthropy and the nonprofit sector working together can figure out governance and financing [approaches] to make something that works for the public interest.”  

A video of the webinar can be found at this link.

Discussing innovative and responsive uses of DAFs on the EPCNYC webinar: Mark Cohen (FJC), Sam Marks (FJC), Dolores Kordon (Brighter Tomorrows), Hank Snyder (JP Morgan, moderator), and Annie Polland (The Tenement Museum)

Innovative, Revolving Uses of DAFs Featured in Webinar

Leaders of two nonprofit organizations whose urgent financial needs were met by innovative FJC donors were featured on a webinar hosted by the Estate Planning Council of NYC (EPCNYC), titled “Multiplying your Impact: Innovative Approaches to Revolving Philanthropic Dollars”.  The nonprofit Executive Directors, Annie Polland of The Tenement Museum and Dolores Kordon of Brighter Tomorrows, were joined by members of FJC’s leadership, CEO Sam Marks and Chief Legal Officer Mark Cohen, who described the foundation’s role executing the transactions.  The event was moderated by Henry Snyder, Executive Director of JP Morgan’s Private Bank, and a member of EPCNYC.

While most holders of Donor Advised Fund (DAF) accounts use their philanthropic funds for grants, the webinar highlighted cases where donors identified financing gaps in the organizations that could be addressed with solutions that combined philanthropic intent with investment strategies.

“We’re trying to inspire more of our donors to approach philanthropy in this way, and bring new donors that are inspired by examples like these.”

Sam Marks, Chief Executive Officer, FJC

In the case of Brighter Tomorrows, a domestic violence nonprofit serving women and families on Long Island, the donor was solving for a cash flow problem.  As Ms. Kordon explained, the majority of the organization’s work is funded with government contracts.  These contracts, typically administered through the state or county, are notoriously slow to pay even during normal times and are typically paid on a reimbursement basis.  During the pandemic, when the needs of clients for shelter, food, and emergency assistance were at an all-time high, the public agency offices administering payments on the contracts were also facing major capacity issues.  “Payments slowed to a snail’s pace,” Ms. Kordon lamented. “With the pandemic came all sorts of additional emergency costs, and we had to still keep the lights on and pay rent.”

Enter Sandy Wheeler, one of Brighter Tomorrows’ most steadfast donors.  Ms. Wheeler worked with FJC to deploy $100,000 in her DAF account as a 0% interest revolving line of credit.  This cash resource allowed Brighter Tomorrows to continue meeting the urgent needs of clients, even in the face of slower contract payments.  In the year since the loan was closed, the funds have been fully drawn, repaid, and drawn again. “I can’t say enough about the importance of having a donor provide this resource,” says Ms. Kordon. “It was a godsend for us.” 

“I can’t say enough about the importance of having a donor provide this resource. It was a godsend for us.”

Dolores Kordon, Executive Director, Brighter Tomorrows

FJC facilitated a more complex transaction with The Tenement Museum, a vital organization that has been researching and telling the stories of immigrant New Yorkers for the past 25 years. In the early days of the pandemic, the organization faced significant financial distress, as documented in an New York Times article, “A Museum Devoted to Survivors Faces Its Own Fight for Survival” (April 24, 2020). The article noted that 75% of the museum’s revenue came from earned income, reflecting admissions and gift shop revenue of its 285,000 annual visitors.  As a result of the pandemic their visitors (and attendant revenue) had dried up, but the museum carried significant fixed costs due to its mortgage, which cost the museum $585,000 per year.

One of FJC’s donors read the New York Times article and reached out to inquire whether he could refinance the museum’s mortgage with funds in his DAF account.  Upon further conversation with the Museum’s leadership, it was revealed that the mortgage was in the form of a tax-exempt bond, issued by the City of New York through its Build NYC Resource Corporation, a division of the NYC Economic Development Corporation.  In coordination with the donor, FJC purchased the bond from the bondholder, and amended the terms to interest-only at 1% per year, reducing the museum’s annual debt service payment from $585,000 per year to $80,000.  “We are paying $2.5 million less out of pocket for debt service over these five years,” explains Ms. Polland. “This has bought us time to figure out how we manage through this pandemic year, but it also freed us up to think of creative ways to operate.” Ms. Polland noted that the museum has been able to develop distance learning modules that have engaged students virtually from as far away as California.  She also noted its new exhibit focusing on a Black family and a walking tour called “Reclaiming Black Spaces,” which explores sites connected with nearly 400 years of African-American presence on the Lower East Side.  “The Museum is not just pausing,” she said. “We’re taking on new and addressing the questions important to this country.  How does learning our history help us move forward?”  The Museum’s new programs and strong emergence from the pandemic were featured again in the New York Times this month, a story that Ms. Polland describes as a “bookend” to the previous year’s story on the organization’s distressed financial picture.

“We are paying $2.5 million less out of pocket for debt service over these five years. This has bought us time to figure out how we manage through this pandemic year, but it also freed us up to think of creative ways to operate.”

Annie Polland, Executive Director, The Tenement Museum

Mr. Cohen explained that after five years, FJC intends to sell the bond back to the bond market, and will aim to recoup the $9.5 million face value of the bond for the donor’s account.  These funds can then be recycled as grants or additional loans or impact investments.

The moderator Mr. Snyder noted that customized transactions like these do not appear to be standard offerings at most DAF sponsors.  Mr. Marks noted that philanthropic lending and impact investing are more common at the more sophisticated, professionalized foundations and that FJC had a long history of applying best practices from philanthropy more broadly to their DAF account holders.  “We’re trying to inspire more of our donors to approach philanthropy in this way,” says Mr. Marks, “and work with new donors that are inspired by examples like these.”
 

A public space revitalized by Doh Eain, a social enterprise active in Yangon, Myanmar.

Webinar Recap: Promising Models of Heritage Investing

April 21, 2021 (New York, NY) – FJC hosted a webinar to highlight its strategic partner the Cultural Heritage Finance Alliance (CHiFA), a new initiative that promotes heritage-led regeneration through collaborative and innovative financing solutions.   The event was moderated by Sam Marks, FJC’s Chief Executive Officer and highlighted two promising examples of organizations that embody CHiFA intends to support: Doh Eain and Turquoise Mountain.

A full recording of the webinar is available at this link.

“Our goal is to bring the public sector and private sector together in joint initiatives.”

Bonnie Burnham, Co-Founder, CHiFA

Mr. Marks kicked off the event by explaining FJC’s role providing operational and fiscal support to CHiFA.  As a foundation of philanthropic funds that brings economies of scale to philanthropists (by sponsoring Donor Advised Funds) and organizations (through fiscal sponsorship), FJC will provide operational and administrative support, including servicing CHiFA’s loan fund.  CHiFA is currently raising $3 million to provide catalytic, early stage capital to heritage regeneration projects around the world.  With FJC administering the loan fund, CHiFA will be able to stay lean and focused on mission.

CHiFA Co-Founder Bonnie Burnham described how CHiFA evolved out of her many decades of experience at the World Monuments Fund.   Her previous work was largely focused on revitalizing individual sites, using philanthropy to leverage public sector.  Her work at CHiFA has a more intentionally broader economic and social impact in mind, through nonprofit partners that facilitate investments in enterprises and the urban fabric.  “We’re trying to create a methodology that can be widely applied,” Ms. Burnham explained.  “Our goal is to bring the public sector and private sector together in joint initiatives.”

Aurora Kazi Bassett, the Director of Outreach & Policy for Doh Eain described a promising model of the type CHiFA has in mind: her organization’s work in Yangon, Myanmar.  Doh Eain is a social enterprise that uses private investment (and some grants) to restore and maintain small and medium sized, privately owned historic residential buildings, and also improve public spaces that can be used by the community.  “These are not the big, beautiful palaces that we go to visit on holiday, but the shops, houses, and office buildings that have been used by normal people’s homes.” Doh Eain’s model does not purchase the properties outright, but takes on the risks of revitalization during a discrete leasehold period and returns ownership back to the original owner-residents.

Shoshana Stewart, CEO of Turquoise Mountain, presented another model of heritage-led regeneration.  After describing some of the organization’s successes in the Old City of Kabul, Afgahnistan, Ms. Stewart described their vision for Umm Qais in Jordan, a unique architectural site at the crossroads of the Middle East, adjoining Syria, Lebanon and Israel.   With layers of architectural and cultural assets, including Roman ruins, Byzantine period mosaics, and a ruined Ottoman period village, Turquoise Mountain intends to leverage tourism, which a cornerstone of country’s economy. “Typically when international tourists come, they come to the big sites: Petra, the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum.  In the north of Jordan you’ve got a number of sites, but there is nowhere to stay.  If we can get the accommodations right, we have the potential for both international and domestic tourists. There’s significant potential.”

Common across the Doh Eain and Turquoise Mountain examples is an enterprise model that combines some philanthropic grant resources with more conventional investments that offer a return to investors.   In Doh Eain’s case, rental income from the residential and commercial, properties covers the cost of the physical revitalization, and also provides an income stream to the building owners and a return to impact investors.  Doh Eain uses some of the profits, along with grants, to implement public space work that is more purely subsidized.  Turquoise Mountain will seek investment capital to develop the ruined Ottoman village into accommodation (which will ultimately generate revenue).  Simultaneously, they work with a range of grantmaking partners, including development agencies and philanthropy, for the pieces of the project that are critical to its ultimate success but not expected to generate revenue.

In advance of their capital raise, CHiFA has documented the emergence of heritage regeneration NGOs with investable business models in their recently published white paper Impact and Identity, Investing in Heritage for Sustainable Development. Says Ms. Burnham, “We have to convince impact investors that heritage is a missing link in the circular economy strategy, bringing human environments into compliance with meeting our goals for sustainable development.  This is where there’s a tremendous opportunity.”

FJC’s Webinar with UN Foundation: “Global Health in the Pandemic Age”

In times of global crisis, philanthropy can play a critical role in deploying resources quickly as governments and multi-lateral organizations mobilize for action. In our latest webinar, “Global Health in the Pandemic Age,” Kate Dodson, VP of Global Health at the UN Foundation spoke about how individual donors came together with corporate, foundation, and others to enable to the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to over 173 countries. “We used a nimble mix of partnership to get this done,” said Ms. Dodson, which included over 631,000 individuals from 193 countries (FJC donors among them!). The conversation was moderated by FJC’s Chief Executive Officer, Sam Marks. See the full recording here.

FJC Donors Join Forces to Battle COVID-19

FJC’s first-ever Collective Giving Campaign, focused on addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, raised over $147,000 for six outstanding organizations that are tackling the impacts of the pandemic in a range of ways: food security, employment, grassroots organizing, small business support, public health, and research and development. During the campaign period in May 2020, donor contributions were matched dollar-for-dollar by FJC’s Special Initiatives Fund.

Over 90 percent of participating donors who responded to a post-campaign survey found many compelling reasons to participate, such as the elevation of strong, effective organizations (many of which were new to them); the ability to align their resources with other donors at FJC; and the opportunity to have their gifts matched, effectively doubling their giving. As one donor said in her survey response, “Let’s do more work together!”

The Center for Effective Philanthropy published a blog post by Sam Marks, CEO of FJC, with further reflections on the successes and challenges of the campaign. “The initiative suggests the power that DAF sponsors can bring when they provide focused guidance to rally disparate donors around a common cause,” he writes.

FJC also hosted a subsequent webinar highlighting the work of Food Bank for New York City, the top choice among FJC donors. Food Bank CEO Leslie Gordon spoke of the operational and logistical challenges of keeping food flowing where it has been needed most during the pandemic, and cautioned that the economic fallout of the crisis may create even greater need. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” See a summary and link to the full webinar recording here.

Table of funds

Highlights of FJC’s Webinar with Leslie Gordon, CEO of Food Bank for New York City [VIDEO]

Leslie Gordon, CEO of Food Bank for New York City, joined FJC’s CEO Sam Marks and dozens of FJC donors for our first-ever “Lunch and Learn” webinar on June 30 to discuss Food Bank’s extraordinary work during the Covid-19 pandemic. Food Bank was the most popular choice by FJC donors during its recent Collective Giving Campaign, receiving over $85,000 from FJC and its donors to mitigate the effects of the pandemic among New York City’s most vulnerable.

Gordon placed her own professional journey in a multigenerational family context, contrasting the informal approach to voluntary food delivery service in her grandfather’s day with the scale, sophistication and data driven approach of the Food Bank. Food Bank’s network of food pantries, community kitchens, and local, civic, and religious organizations are committed to preserving the dignity and choice of the individuals and families they work with, and they address food insecurity with the larger goal of developing New Yorkers’ self-sufficiency with other programs and services. Across all the partners, she said, “This is a human-centered problem, we want to treat people with respect and care.”

She also spoke of the operational and logistical challenges of keeping food flowing where it has been needed most during the pandemic, and cautioned that the economic fallout of the crisis may create even greater need. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

See the full webinar recording here.