This is the time of year when we write out our respective New Year’s resolutions. We often make modest resolutions, because we know that we humans are just not wired for making big life changes. But behavioral science has shown that there’s one exception to this rule: We’re pretty good at making significant personal change after we experience a big blow, such as the death of a loved one, a financial collapse, or some form of trauma.

These blows are exactly what billions of us have experienced over the past two years—thanks to the historic collision of health, economic, justice, and democracy crises. So how are we going to make lemonade out of two years’ worth of these lemons? We see key opportunities to do so. Here are just a few examples.

  • Public health: Once the acute phase of this pandemic comes to an end in 2022, we hope medical leaders will do more to build connective tissue across institutions, especially connections between elite medical institutions and the community clinics working to increase access and equity. The pandemic-driven surge in telehealth will be a big help.
  • Mental health: Given that so many of us have come by anxiety, depression, and other psychological challenges honestly during this difficult era, we hope we’ll all see reduced stigma around mental health in the coming years—finally breaking down the false divide between physical and mental health.
  • Global health: The global pandemic has done more in two years than Bill Gates has in two decades to demonstrate that in an interconnected world it’s in everyone’s interest to help poor- and middle-income countries in their quest to improve health. We hope this realization translates into more funding to build on one of humanity’s greatest achievements: cutting the child-mortality rate by 60 percent since 1990.
  • Democracy: This year has provided the ultimate wake-up call that our country and Constitution are vulnerable to the same deadly sins as every other country on Earth. That’s why so many funders have stepped up to support remarkable nonprofits protecting free, fair, and well-informed self-government. We hope more will do so this coming year, in advance of the pivotal midterm elections.
  • Equitable Funding: Speaking of funders, our hopes aren’t just for what funders focus on but how—so we’re grateful for the remarkable example being set by philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. We applaud the way they’ve sought to build trust into their gifts and empower leaders who’ve been ignored by other big donors. We hope many more funders show up with this kind of humility.

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There’s a crosscutting theme to these lemonade recipes: a desire to see common crises producing a greater sense of common purpose and resolve.

In a recent New York Times guest essay, Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal peeled the onion to reveal the real reason why there’s vaccine hesitancy in America and around the world: “People are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them, and … public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation.”

This core insight applies to almost every challenge we face this coming year. That’s why our prime directive as a sector must be to use the tools at our disposal—our money, voice, relationships, and lived experiences—to build trust in the communities in which we work. Trust is the gateway to demonstrating the power and possibility of collective endeavor. And collective endeavor is the best path to the “better angels” country and world we all want for our children.

Wishing you healthy holidays and a hopeful new year,

Signatures: Mario and Lowell
Mario and Lowell

Mario Morino is chairman of the Morino Institute, co-founder and founding chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap Ambassadors Community.

Updates From Around the Leap Community

To build on this theme of trust-building, we want to highlight Give.org’s new Donor Trust Report. Sadly, only 18.5 percent of respondents say they highly trust charities. However, there was good news, too: Civil rights, community-action, and environmental nonprofits saw a significant upturn in high trust in the past year.

A friend and colleague recently shared a poignant quotation: “The ability to unlearn things is as valuable as the ability to learn things.” We saw this quotation brought to life through National Center for Family Philanthropy CEO Nick Tedesco’s description of philanthropist Regan Pritzker’s reflective questions for his foundation and others: “What is our permission to operate? Who gives us that permission? How well are we meeting the needs of the people we are in theory serving? And are we the people who feel the most sense of urgency?” For more such insights, see Tedesco’s CEP essay, “Philanthropy with Purpose Drives Lasting Change.”

In the SSIR interview “Bringing an Anti-Racist Approach to Collective Impact,” pediatrician and activist Dr. Zea Malawa explained how she moved from “bearing witness to systemic racism and the toll it was taking on kids” to addressing the root causes across the city of San Francisco. Dr. Malawa, her team, and a very diverse group of advisors have pioneered a series of innovative approaches to reduce inequities in birth outcomes. The most ambitious, called the Abundant Birth Project, is the first guaranteed-income program for those who are pregnant and struggling financially. The program provides $1,000 a month to pregnant Black and Pacific Islander people, starting early in pregnancy and ending six months after they give birth.

Sparked by a question Lowell asked and many experts answered in an online forum, the Leap Ambassadors support team produced “Examine Your Own Equity Principles Before Asking Grantees.” The document offers great insights on how funders can get beyond perfunctory or compliance-driven questions about applicants’ equity values and practices. Leap Ambassadors started by insisting that funders heal themselves and then offered specific suggestions on questions that have been useful to them. For example, Ford Foundation Senior Director for Strategy and Learning Bess Rothenberg suggested asking how organizations are “including the perspectives of those with less access to power in their programming and decision making.”

Our colleague Caroline Fiennes recently launched a project to study how to reduce the costs (in time and money) that funders impose on grant applicants. As Fiennes explained and we’ve seen in real life, “It can happen that a funders’ process creates so much work for other organizations that its costs exceed the amount being given—without the funder even realizing.” Fiennes is hopeful that “now is a particularly good time to work on this topic because many funders changed their practices in response to the pandemic.” Fiennes would like to hear from anyone who has relevant experiences.

Events/Webinars for Raising Performance

Jan 19–Online
Making the Most of Your Leadership Team Meetings This Year” webinar; Bridgespan Group

Jan 25-26–Online
Effective Philanthropy for Advisors” virtual workshop; Stanford PACS

Jan 26–Online
Journeys to Equity: Becoming a Better Ally” virtual series; Exponent Philanthropy

Mar 22-24–Online
Frontiers of Social Innovation” virtual conference; SSIR