Rockefeller Foundation and NY Times Win "Just Awards"

Other industries have their "Worst Dressed" awards, the "Golden Fleece" awards for public waste, and the Ig Nobel Prizes for dubious science-related achievements that "first make people laugh, then make them think." Until now, the nonprofit sector has lacked its own such award program. The new Just Awards have announced the "winners" for the first year's awards: one for Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector, and the other for Narcissism in Philanthropy.

Award for Abominable Press Coverage

For Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector the Just Awards panel of judges chose Stephanie Strom's November, 2009 article in the New York Times: "Charities Rise, Costing U.S. Billions in Tax Breaks."

The article reported that the I.R.S. approved 99% of applications for charity status last year, and picked some easy targets to suggest that there are too many nonprofits, and that many or most of them are frivolous. The article asserts that the U.S. government lost $50 billion in taxes due to donations given to nonprofits . . . making the false assumptions that a) contributions to the nonprofit sector would remain the same without the tax exemption, and b) government could ignore the enormous financial impact of demand for services (such as emergency room visits) that would inevitably follow from fewer nonprofit programs. A better headline: "Charities Rise, Saving U.S. Billions."Furthermore, the article neglected to provide, as a basis for comparison, information on the many billions more in tax breaks provided to the commercial business sector. The article can be found here.

In making the Award, the judges did praise the New York Times for covering the nonprofit sector, and Stephanie Strom as "generally a very good reporter." But judges felt this story was the "worst story of the year" and that its lack of research led to "bad journalism." A better headline, said one of the judges, would have been, "Charities Rise, Saving U.S. Government Billions."

Award for Narcissism in Philanthropy

For the much-anticipated Narcissism in Philanthropy Award, the Just Awards panel of judges chose the Rockefeller Foundation, citing the "overwhelming and relentless promotion" of its president, Judith Rodin.

Additional research confirmed this consensus among the expert judges based on their experiences and observations. A comparison was made of online mentions of three top foundations and their presidents: the Ford Foundation and Luis Ubinas, the Kellogg Foundation and Sterling Speirn, and of course, the Rockefeller Foundation and Judith Rodin. Looking only at mentions since 2008 (when Ubinas, the newest of the three, started his tenure at Ford) we find that, in proportion to their online mentions in general, Rockefeller promotes its president more than 12 times as often as Ford and more than 176 times as often as Kellogg.


As a runner-up to the Abominable Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector Award, the panel chose to cite "all of journalism" for the coverage of ACORN over the past several months. "It was a giant frame piece," commented one of the judges.

And the judges chose two funders as runners-up for the Narcissism in Philanthropy Award. One is a California community foundation that gives out approximately $4 million in grants each year, and is building an "$8 million plus headquarters." The nominating statement commented, "They are openly touting the building and have architects' plans displayed in their offices for nonprofit grantees to see as they grovel for grants of $5,000 and $10,000."

The other runner-up is a large bank that gives out funding based on American Idol-like popularity contests where nonprofits must urge their supporters to vote for them on the bank's website. Judges noted wryly that this type of giving is a demonstration of "successful corporate philanthropy," which inherently involves large doses of self-promotion.

The Just Awards are sponsored by Blue Avocado and Nonprofit Online News. Nominations were received from the public; a nominator was required to submit his or her name to the sponsors, but could request anonymity in public. Winners were notified of their upcoming selection but did not respond by press time. For a complete description of the awards and a roster of the panel of judges, please see

For more information or to share a laugh, contact:

  • Michael Gilbert of Nonprofit Online News: info at gilbert dot org or 206-201-1726.
  • Jan Masaoka of Blue Avocado: jan at blueavocado dot org, at 415-722-4703 or click here.

Comments (51)

  • Great idea - the JUST Awards ... as well as providing a 'wry smile' for the winners (?) it helps to personalise the industry, create awareness of the industry's work and helps to guide the CSR activity of corporate giving programmes.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Thank you for the much needed laugh, and reality check...glad to read my
    Fund was not at the top, but then we ourselves have to grovel for money
    from the big fish

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Thank you for organizing the JUST Awards. Perhaps the New York Times may want to write a feature story on the awards and the winners? Actually, I think the Wall Street Journal would love to do an article on this. It's about time that the spotlight illuminate the rampant incompetence of foundations juxtaposed with the public's trust to appropriately and effectively steward philanthropic dollars. If only their donors as well as legacy donors knew.
    BTW, I highly doubt that there has ever been a foundation to grovel.

    Apr 20, 2010
  •  I had a good laugh reading the Just Awards this morning. I often feel that myself and other fundraisers are in a tough spot when it comes to complaining about the behavior of some funding entities in anything but whispers amongst ourselves. I, for one, was very amused to see a few of them rightly called to the curb. Might I suggest you send them a trophy for their efforts? Perhaps a bronzed copy of the tree that had to be hacked down and converted to 3 copies of a 50+ page proposal (replete with holes in specific spots, random margin settings and tabbed with dividers) just to make a $1,000 ask to some of these foundations?

    Apr 20, 2010
  • You are now my new favorite Web site. Thank you! One question, why not name the "large bank" or the "California community foundation?" Or, perhaps more fun, have a contest where readers guess! My guess is that the large bank is Chase, but the California community foundation is stumping me.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I think the large bank is American Express

    Apr 26, 2010
  • It's about time. The New York Times "expose" was unbelievable. Fox news loves to complain about the nonprofit sector but never acknowledges the tremendous amount of social service support they offer and SAVE the federal and state governments. This is especially the case for faith-based agencies who use volunteers to deliver much of the direct service. Shame on them. Good for you for actually speaking up. Loved this.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Did I miss something or did you deliberately not name the runners-up?

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Well, we decided not to name the runners-up by name in order to keep the focus on the main winner. We felt it would dilute the impact to have several foundation names available. Our original idea was only to name one winner, so deciding to mention the runners-up but not name them was an effort to draw some lessons without diluting the power of "winning."

    This is also the first year we've done them . . . so we're still experimenting and learning, too! 

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Can you tell me who the two runners up were?

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Anonymous

    What a great idea! No foundation and its president could be more deserving!

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Silly. And why the obsession with foundations who constitute a grand total of thirteen percent of total giving? Maybe if those of us who raised funds spent as much time worrying about the other eighty seven percent, our organizations would be in better shape.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • I love this!
    I'd like to add that I enjoyed the idea that one could submit a Just Awards nominee without having to fit our words in a box the size of a postage stamp that ends up being attached to fifty forms requiring fifteen reams of recycled paper (gotta think about the environment) because they need seven copies for the trustees!
    On the flip side, it is unfortunate that many of us know of a few folks who are begging for dimes for their not for profit cause while driving around in an expensive company car...too sad.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • please name the runner up! what's the point of keeping their names in the dark?

    Apr 20, 2010
  • is it possible the two awards are linked?: that the NY Times article by Strom on Rodin was never published because they have even more in common?

    Apr 20, 2010
  • KUDOS ON THE just AWARDS. Will there be any national publicity on this? I strongly believe that ALL OF JOURNALISM for their shoddy treat of ACORN should have been at least a tie for second. Unfortunately, except for a few news blurbs, little has been done to show how staged the ACORN "news" items were staged and misrepresented. An organization of its size will always have a few problems but they are being shut down due to the machinations and lies of outside sources.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Dear Blue Avocado Editor, Thank you very much for your nice and lifting publication, some times I feel lost in the non-profit world wondering why we have to go through all the stuff we have to… then I receive your publication and once again confirm that I am not alone.
    Talking about self-promotion and narcissism, what about Pepsi with their “refresheverithing” idea.  Now, even if we care about nutrition and health since funds are so scarce we have to promote them and see if we can get some dollars out of it… 
    Apr 20, 2010
  • I enjoyed your awards article...however, if you are going to all the
    trouble of naming names, then why leave out the runner ups?? seems a
    little like junior high gossip to me. Who is the nonprofit who is
    building an 8 million dollar facility? If knowledge is power, then
    empower us so we can advocate for and against those who need some help!

    Apr 20, 2010
  • I've always wanted to see the value of corporate and foundation philanthropy analyzed in this way: amount awarded to the community - (number of applicants*hours for application process*average hourly rate of grant preparer)In other words: dollars given away - cost to the sector.Let's take Chase Community Giving for example. They gave away $4,000,000, but over 500,000 nonprofits participated. That means that 500,000 nonprofits allocated at least some of their staff of volunteer time on promoting the contest. Let's give Chase the benefit of the doubt and say that each participating nonprofit only spent 1 hour of time. Multiply that times $10 per hour (a very low ball number). What is the result? Looks like Chase Community "Giving" siphoned off $1 million dollars from the nonprofit sector to promote their business! This isn't just narcissism - it is robbery!

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Woops, it was not my intention to post this Anonymously. My name is Sabrina Qutb, and I work as a development director in the Bay Area. If Chase or anyone wants to get mad at me because of my posting, they are welcome to google my name and give me a call. I'd love to chat!

    Apr 21, 2010
  • Brilliant analysis, Sabrina! In other words, it COST the nonprofit sector this much to enter the competition. Kind of like the lottery. Plus, as fellow-awardee Stephanie Strom wrote in one of her good articles, Chase also disqualified some nonprofits at the last minute such as those advocating for marijuana legalization, that were clearly in the lead to win.

    Apr 22, 2010
  • All I can say is that you certainly got the choice of most narcissistic foundation president correct. Hands-down, Rockefeller/Rodin - sorry, I mean Rodin/Rockefeller - have to take that category.
    What lies beneath the smirking humor in this selection, however, is the tragic demise of one of America's great humanitarian institutions, sacrificed slowly over these past seven years or so on the alter of celebrity and selfishness.
    Maybe this form of "recognition" will go at least part of the way toward bringing back the old Rockefeller Foundation, which, through its relentless commitment to "the betterment of humankind" did change the world in many positive ways over the course of the 20th century.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • Just Awards is a great idea, one that reveals the chasm between what we despair of in foundation culture and what we dare utter about it.
    The (also great) warm up piece from a few weeks ago (Jan's sampling of bad foundation behavior) tied in to the Just Awards at the end. So a lot of us were thinking, wow, finally one of these guys is going to be outed.
    But the award went to a foundation for one aspect of their practice that is based on publicly available information. And the runner up was not named, even though its own narcissistic plans apparently are on display.
    The irresistible opportunity and the gnarly dilemma of the Just Awards are one and the same: what most needs it change about the foundation sector are things that we cannot state for the record because of our sector's "green code" of silence.

    Apr 21, 2010
  • Thank you Sabrina for quantifying those ridiculous "charitable" giving programs that are just shameless marketing strategies.

    Apr 21, 2010
  • About time that some one called out Judith Rodin for her shameless self promotion. From stealing the ideas of others, to faking her research results, Judith Rodin is one of America's most dubious successes. And she is not a nice person either!

    Apr 21, 2010
  • I agree with you 100%!

    Apr 21, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the awards.

    I am particularly glad that you highlighted the competition award. It is not just Chase. I am so tired of getting emails asking me to vote for a project so they can get the money they need. Now giving is becoming a popularity contest.

    Apr 21, 2010
  • Now........ when will the members of the Board of Trustees at the Rockefeller Foundation come to their senses and understand the damage Judith Rodin has done to this noble old foundation?

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Is someone suggesting that the ACORN staff featured on some grainy video last year were posed? As much as we might want to blame last year's scenario completely on staging and framing, the ACORN organization has to answer for having its associates so freely dismissing child prostitution, defrauding a government assistance program, and aiding and abetting the trafficking of illegal immigrants for monetary gain. If an organization has grown too large to keep each representative focused on the mission, then it has a model that doesn't work. There are numerous articles from the Board Cafe archives that ACORN could benefit from.

    Apr 22, 2010
  • For some reason I'm on a list of people that Rockefeller's publicity people send press releases t0. They're all about "Under the leadership of Judith Rodin  . . . " and "Judith and her team . . . " and "Judith is eager to ..."  It's shocking and I'm glad someone's talking about it in the open. 

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Judith thanks you for your concern........

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Love the Just Awards! … More of that, please!!

    Apr 22, 2010
  • If you ever plan to expand the categories, may I suggest:

  • The Self-Congratulatory CEO Article or Monograph Award
  • Let’s Hire Another Retired College President Award: For the foundation board that eschews good sense and hires a CEO with no grantmaking experience
  • The Hair-Raising Leap in Logic Award: For the most twisted grantmaker logic out there
  • Anyway, thanks for the good laugh. Keep ‘em coming.

Apr 22, 2010
  • Ed Skloot's having Surdna Foundation publish a book of his speeches as he left the Foundation was extraordinary. Probably he was ineligible because this was a few years ago. Doggonnit!

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Great ideas. How about Worst Logic Model?

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Congrats on a successful launching of the “Just Awards”. I just read through the responses and clearly you’ve tapped something huge here. Really very cool. And what a great way to build awareness.

    Apr 22, 2010
  • Man I wish I knew who that community foundation was - I really think it might be our local regional would sure help us shake some funds loose if you release the name!!!

    Apr 23, 2010
  • There can't possibly be TWO California community foundations with $4 million in annual giving building new $8 million-plus headquarters, so I think it must be our county's:
    The link will take you to the Web cam showing progress on the new building, and from there you can also check out their annual report, entitled (I'm not kidding) "Building the Future Together."

    Apr 23, 2010
  • Bravo! It's about time someone poked fun at some of these overly self-important individuals and institutions. Here's to increased accountability and (thank god!) sense of humor, courtesy of the Internets!

    Apr 24, 2010
  • Too sweet

    Apr 24, 2010
  • You are very gutsy to take this risk of offending the grantmakers!

    Apr 29, 2010
  • Blue Avocado Readers: Yes, we're the community foundation cited as one of the runners-up to the Narcissism in Philanthropy Award.
    So does this puts in the same boat with the winners of worst dressed celebrities, Razzie Award winners for worst movies, etc?
    I received an email on 4/27 from Jan letting me know, saying "I'm sure you're very annoyed," then adding "I'm hoping you are glad, anyway, that your foundation's name doesn't appear directly in the release on the site." She also suggested one of our board members might want to post an online comment defending our decision to build and I could contact her if I wanted to vent.
    While I don't feel a need to vent or defend our decision to build, I am happy to share some background information with you on what we're doing and why.
    First, no grant funds earmarked for nonprofits at the Community Foundation have been used in the construction of the new building. Our total grantmaking dipped last year, not because of our building efforts, but because of the recession.
    Over 50% of the new facility will be dedicated to community use and available to nonprofits. This includes an expanded resource library, meeting rooms and event space.
    We are also working to achieve Gold LEED certification as a green building. We hope to have an electric car charging station, as well as a power generator that will allow us to serve as meeting place in the event of a major power outage like the one following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake—its epicenter was just up the hill from our new site.
    Our current rent and occupancy costs have grown to $100,000 per year. Anyone who knows Santa Cruz County understands the cost and difficulty of finding working space in this county.
    In 2005, we began this project after the last recession and after a cost/benefit analysis where the board targeted finding ways to save on facility costs as a priority for sustainability. It didn't make sense for us to continue to rent space if we had other options, and we did.
    With the majority of our donor funds held in permanent endowment, we are here for the long haul. This facility sets us up for the future. With our founding board members committed to this ideal and growing into their 80s, it was the right time to move forward.
    The majority of the $7.8 million in cash and commitments raised so far has come from these founders, as well as our current board and honorary trustees. These individuals have been giving for years to various local causes and continue to do so now.
    Some other things to know about us.
    During this current recession, like many of you, we trimmed our operating costs—by about 6%. All staff, including me, have taken two weeks of furlough time, with another planned for later this year.
    In recent years, as we planned and then launched our building effort, we also made time to work with community members in creating a $1 million endowed fund to support local LGBT projects in perpetuity; we worked with local artists and arts groups to launch the Rydell Visual Arts fellowship program for individual artists; we regularly shuttle donors out into the community to tour and meet local nonprofits; and we continue to offer free and low-cost workshops and resources for local nonprofits. We are also about to release a survey report of the county's nonprofit sector that had design input from a number of local nonprofit leaders.
    We are proud of all these efforts and believe it contributes to a better future. One, yes, that we are building together.
    You can find our grants list, financials, board and staff roster and other information about us online at The webcam showing our building progress is at
    I can also be reached at (831) 477-0800 or at
    Lance Linares
    Executive Director
    Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County

    Apr 29, 2010
  • Lance, thank you for this thoughtful and responsive reply. It shows a willingness to engage the nonprofit community in dialog that is valuable and meaningful. If only all foundations were willing to see critiques as the beginning of discusion. Thank you for this post. Jan

    May 16, 2010
  • Delighted by your new awards and impressed by the panel of judges you assembled.

    Apr 29, 2010
  • Congrats on the awards (great idea), but also congrats to Mr. Linares and his thoughtful response to his organization's runner up status. If nothing else is gained, hopefully he and his board are more aware of the need to educate their grant recipients (and most likely the public) about their new facility.
    I think Chase Giving comes off much worse, too. Am I the only one who thinks perhaps someone asked how Chase could get some GOOD attention rather than more attention regarding how Chase used their bailout money?

    Apr 30, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I think this is awesome! Nonprofits need recognition and lets face it, everyone else has awards. Foundations are not as widely known as one would think. For example, I recently had someone recommend that we apply to the Carnegie Foundation because they support libraries. Not so clear cut, they do support libraries outside of the US, but for our needs, it didn't apply. Awards of this kind that generate an interest in nonprofits and philanthropy raise awareness and helps the general population learn more about a topic that they do not necessarily understand.

    Jun 18, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I don't know if this particular bank is the runner up - but I do know that 'Bangor Savings Bank' in Maine is guilty of hosting an American Idol-like contest. Pepsi is of course doing something very similar - at least they have a really catchy song.

    Jun 25, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Nice try, but you miss the point of the award. Building a new building with half the space for non-profits sounds nice but it's really just a way to position the case. I'd love to know if any of the non-profits in Santa Cruz County were surveyed to determine how this met their needs. I can't imagine that any of them would put a new center for philanthropy at the top of their needs list. Not when they're working SO HARD JUST TO SURVIVE.

    Imagine if the foundation engaged those same founders in a campaign to raise $8,000,000 for direct support to our non-profits, say to be used for projects to train non-profit leaders to enhance their board and fund-raising capacity. While understandably it would not be easy to raise those funds (but neither was the case for a new building an "easy sell"), the $8,000,000 would provide 400 grants @ $20,000/grant. By distributing them to 80 non-profits a year for the next 5 years you could assist nearly half the non-profits in the County. Or the $8,000,000 could be placed in an endowment whose earnings could generate $400,000/year and when distributed @ $20,000/grant would directly benefit 20 non-profits a year IN PERPETUITY.

    This, in addition to the all the other grant making being done by the foundation, would TRULY create the core of a “Center for Philanthropy”. It would provide resources to our philanthropic community that could have long-lasting effect on the people of our county that would be much, much more important than any physical structure.

    Jun 26, 2010
  • Anonymous


    The SC Community Foundation capital project was originally promoted as being funded by philanthropists who have since defaulted on several regional for profit projects without being publicly faulted. Regardless of how much the donors actually ended up contributing (or not), the building is far from a trophy! It is one of the ugliest buildings imaginable in a hole of a site; it resembles a bunker more than anything. Perhaps some non-grantee can post a photo?

    Oct 06, 2010


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