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Top 10 Blogs of 2021

by Tory Martin
Top 10 Blogs of 2021

The Johnson Center’s blog has become one of our primary means of connecting with new partners across the field of philanthropy. We’re honored and delighted to be a place where our colleagues and partners come to share their ideas and experiences as guest authors and sit with tough questions and complex data as frequent readers.

I always enjoy compiling our list of the year’s most popular blog posts. It’s a window into what our field is thinking about and reacting to. And, as a communications professional, it’s an opportunity to feed my digital analytics appetite.

We’re always looking for new and recurring guest authors to feature! If you have a topic you’d like to explore with us, learn more and submit your idea here.

To get your creative juices flowing, enjoy this list of our 10 most-read blog posts of the year.


Top 10 Blogs of 2021

1. So, You Want to Start a Nonprofit?

Our most popular blog this year comes from Tamela Spicer. Tamela is out and about in our community every day — and, most days, fields questions from folks interested in starting their own nonprofits to help transform their communities for the better.

Back in February, Tamela decided to compile all her wisdom and answers to frequently asked questions into one, easy-to-access blog post. She offers simplified explanations of the legal process for getting a new nonprofit up and running, and tips for finding resources to help you along the way.

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2. Black Women Face Multiple Forms of Racism in Philanthropy

“To combat racist, anti-Black policies and practices in philanthropy, we must not simply focus on diversity or representation or even racial equity. We must intentionally dismantle white supremacy and the ways we accommodate and privilege whiteness.”

In this article, Dr. Maria S. Johnson — founder and chair of the Black Women and Girls Fund — reflects on her own experiences and those of other Black, female leaders to highlight the multifaceted ways in which racism influences their work in philanthropy.

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3. Philanthropy’s Next Gen is Starting to Make Big Changes

Philanthropy’s next generation is reconfiguring the donor landscape, upending norms in nonprofit organizational practice, and even blurring sector boundaries in ways that are redefining how people think of the best way to “do good.”

As nonprofits, family foundations, and others seek to engage with millennial and Gen Z givers, they’re looking to better understand this rising cohort and connect in new ways.

Next-gen expert Dr. Michael Moody (our Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy) and colleague Kevin Peterson take a closer look in this piece from our 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021.

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4. Four Ways Next Gen Donors Responded to 2020

In 2017, Moody and his research partner Sharna Goldseker, founder of 21/64, published Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving. Moody and Goldseker regularly connect with this cohort of donors and interviewees to learn how their giving strategies are evolving over time.

The last two years have been an inflection point across philanthropy. How did next gen donors shift their giving patterns in response to 2020’s overlapping crises? Moody, Goldseker, and graduate assistant Holly Honig conducted a new survey to find out. Their findings reveal new ventures and family engagements, but also stories of frustration as donors scrambled to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and historic movement for racial equity in appropriate and effective ways.

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5. Giving Circles: A Way Forward for Democratizing Philanthropy

Many of today’s challenges — stark wealth inequality, social isolation, and widespread racial injustice — mirror those of the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century. Philanthropy played a role in bringing us closer together then, and research on giving circles shows they may hold the promise of doing the same thing today.

This year, we teamed up with our friends at Philanthropy Together to publish a short series of articles about the growing giving circles movement. W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair Dr. Michael Layton started the series with this blog post contrasting the influence of giving circles with another popular giving vehicle: donor-advised funds.

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6. Philanthropy and Reparations: Righting the Past

Across our sector, family donors and institutions are wrestling with the roots of our collective inheritance: much of philanthropy’s corpus has its history in exploitative acts. While philanthropy may not be set up to support reparations in the form of direct cash payments, the authors of this piece from 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021 explore some of the steps funders can take — and are already taking — to rebalance that scale.

We’ve been energized to see this topic taking off in national conversations with folks like LeAnne Moss, June Wilson, and Candace Tkachuckour, authors of an early-2021 series on Relational Reparations, published by our friends at Giving Compass.

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7. A Power Reckoning on Trust in Philanthropy, From Both Sides of the Pond

We’ve admired the work of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project (TBP) for years — as field-builders and field-movers. In 2021, we had the great fortune to connect with TBP’s Shaady Salehi.

Shaady, Ben Cairns of the UK’s Institute for Voluntary Action Research, and independent consultant Tanya Beer teamed up to write a two-part series on how funders on both sides of the Atlantic are working to instill and improve trust-based practices. Together they reflect on their parallel journeys, the roadblocks they’re encountering, and the strategies they’ve used to move forward.

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And don’t miss the second part of this series: Levers for Change, Grounded in Trust.


8. Trauma-Informed Philanthropy Builds Community Resilience

Nonprofit organizations have long provided space for healing and resilience-building with the trauma-informed care model. In another piece from our 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021, Mandy Sharp Eizinger explores how foundations, too, are showing up strong, deploying trauma-informed grantmaking and setting in motion cross-sector collaborations and community-centered investments in resilience-building.

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Trends in Philanthropy Collection

Are you sensing a “trend” here?

Much of our most popular content each year comes from our annual 11 Trends in Philanthropy report. Explore every edition of the signature publication in our Trends in Philanthropy collection.


9. The Growth of Social Justice Funding and the Risk of Movement Capture

The year 2020 saw large donors and funders implement a number of policy changes designed to “decolonize” their wealth and hand over more control to the people and organizations receiving that wealth. History, however, presents a caveat: as movements and funding streams formalize, they may experience pressure to tone down or redirect their aims.

Researcher Dr. Aaron Yore-VanOosterhout, graduate assistant Pedro Gomes, and former colleague Leslie Starsoneck explore further in this piece from 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021.

We’d love to hear from organizations and funders on the ground about how this trend is progressing. As we move through another year of near-constant change and upheaval, the work is evolving every day.

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10. It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Distinguish Philanthropy and Business

A trend we first noted in the 2019 edition of 11 Trends in Philanthropy is accelerating beyond even what we were seeing then — perhaps in significant part due to the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. In our 2021 Trends report, Michael Moody shares new examples of how the pros and cons of this blurring boundary are becoming more apparent.

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Other Popular Topics in 2021

Many of the topics and trends we examined in 2020 continued to gain attention and hold relevance this year. Here’s a look at a few more of our most popular articles in 2021.


Tainted Money and Tainted Donors: A Growing Crisis?

New examples of the “tainted donor” or “tainted money” problem seem to keep popping up — the philanthropy of the Sackler family and Jeffrey Epstein, for example. Some even argue that the “cleanliness” of any money gained through capitalist practices should be considered suspect. Yet, all of this puts the nonprofits who depend to varying degrees on private donations in an ethically complicated spot.

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In the Time of Coronavirus: How Many Eligible Nonprofits Benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program?

In this installment of the five-part series, “In the Time of Coronavirus,” from March–July of 2020, Jeff Williams and his team of expert analysts helped demystify the Paycheck Protection Program and its impact on the philanthropic sector.

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Data Science for Social Impact

Philanthropy’s embrace of data science has been slow, held back by limited resources, infrastructure, and staffing. However, a number of philanthropists and nonprofit organizations are using their resources to grow the pool of professional data scientists and support other nonprofits as they adopt data-informed decision making.

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Increasing Critiques of (Big) Philanthropy

It’s an increasingly common topic of discussion about — and within — our sector: has philanthropy has gone awry? These critiques are important and provocative appeals to hold big donors and major institutions accountable in a democratic society. Yet, some critics may run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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