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Giving is the New Getting (it Done)

Or why you should give to at least one of these amazing orgs

This giving Tuesday, as you’re deciding which organization to donate to or pondering the effectiveness of encharging your hard earned dollars to non-profits to begin with, we thought it to would be timely to discuss the role of not for profit advocacy groups and philanthropic agencies in citymaking. Our friend, colleague, and overall one of the smartest people in any room in which he graces his presence, Calvin Gladney (now at the helm of one such non-profit organization, Smart Growth America) was ahead of the curve, proclaiming that the prevailing P3 - the public, private partnership was obsolete and that navigating the complex maze of placemaking required a new paradigm - the P5.

Indeed, two of these new players Calvin outlined, were non-profits and philanthropic organizations (the fifth, by the way, was the people - but we’ll tackle that part of the fantabulous five in a future blog post). So why the P5? According to Calvin, today’s regeneration projects are more complicated than ever before. Not only do you need the Public to create a vision and plan for its implementation and the Private sector developer to execute the nuts and bolts of said vision, you now often need the backing of philanthropic money (think Kresge in Detroit) as well as the community engagement capacity and placemaking skillset of non-profit organizations (think, well, Smart Growth America itself or one of our other favorites, Project for Public Spaces). Without these two additional players, speaking the other needed “dialects” of the citymaking language, the Public may not have the internal resources or skillsets to effectively prioritize their efforts and make the most of their budgets that many Non-Profits can offer and/or the Private sector may not have sufficient “patient” capital or financial reach that a Philanthropic agency can provide. It is absolutely critical for these four Pillars (see what I did there ;)) in the citymaking space to come together to rise communities up to where they aspired and deserve to be. Of course, we’re also partial to the role of startups…but can’t quite think of a P word to describe our little community…for now, let’s just take the S as a way to enable and scale up many more P5-S! ;)

So now, without further ado, please do consider giving, and giving often, on this GivingTuesday (and all other days that end with a Y) to any and all of the amazing Philanthropic and Not-for-Profits playing a Pivotal (man, I’m on a roll) roll in the citymaking process all year round! We’ve also included our original list - this is the third year we make a list and check it twice RE urban-focused non-profits deserving of our collective love - for you to check out!



Smart Growth America is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring smart growth practices to more communities. Americans want to make their neighborhoods great, and smart growth strategies help make that dream a reality. Smart growth is about creating local jobs and protecting the environment; being able to safely walk to a park close by; spending less time in traffic and more time doing what’s important to you. They’ve also more and more “into” design - YAY! - and we’re super keen to work with them, like ASAP, especially with the aforementioned Calvin at the helm (ahem, cough, nudge ;))!

2. Project for Public Spaces

Since 1975, with on-the-ground impacts in more than 3,000 communities across 48 countries, Project for Public Spaces has been the leading resource, organizer, and advocate for building our communities around safe, accessible, inclusive public spaces. Plus, I’ve been obsessed with PPS ever since I watched William Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and made him my permanent “substitute teacher!” Seriously, PPS has been ushering forward placemaking before anyone knew this word (pretty sure they coined it!).

3. Strong Towns

For the United States to be a prosperous country, it must have strong cities, towns and neighborhoods. Enduring prosperity for our communities cannot be artificially created from the outside but must be built from within, incrementally over time. The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient. In Addition, Strong Towns features a great podcast about cities and resiliency!

4. Center for Neighborhood Technology

CNT delivers game-changing research, tools, and solutions to create sustainable + equitable communities. They help neighborhoods, cities, and regions work better, for everyone. Your gift helps support CNT's work in improving urban economies and environments across America. Help CNT achieve impact in climate resilience, economic development, and urban analytics (we do love us some analytics!).

5. Urban Land Institute (Foundation)

This one is a no-brainer, hello, our founder was part of their inaugural 40 under 40 in real estate and there’s no denying ULI’s role in her story (it’s why she was compelled to tie urban design to economic value to begin with!). The ULI Foundation works to make the world a better place by supporting the research and programs of the Urban Land Institute, which includes advising communities facing critical land use challenges; fostering the planning and development of vibrant, competitive metropolitan areas; creating learning experiences that develop professional expertise and personal leadership skills; driving innovation in real estate and urban development; and clarifying the connections between responsible use of resources, the built environment, and long-term environmental health, and demonstrate a compelling business case for resource efficiency.

Philanthropic Agencies

6. Bloomberg Philanthropies

Adopting a data-driven approach to global change (you had us at data!), Bloomberg Philanthropies focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: public health, environment, education, government innovation, and arts & culture. While Bloomberg Philanthropies works on a wide range of issues within each focus area, we apply a distinctive approach to all of our undertakings. Most central for us is their focus on cities: The change that happens in cities can change the world. Cities are the global centers of communication, commerce, and culture. And whether it is facilitating the spread of good ideas between cities to help mayors tackle some of their toughest challenges, or leading a global coalition of large cities to take real action against climate change, Bloomberg Philanthropies leverages the power of cities to create lasting change – especially when national and international bodies refuse to act.

7. Kresge Foundation

A values and purpose-driven organization, Kresge believes cities are powerful vehicles of change.They offer a concentration of activities, skills and ideas that can circulate, ricochet and recombine to create the preconditions for innovation. The complex, integrated networks and diverse subcultures in cities are conducive to dismantling tired approaches to problems in favor of new or reimagined approaches. In collaboration with our nonprofit, public, private and philanthropic partners, we help create pathways for people with low income to improve their life circumstances and join the economic mainstream.

8. Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation believes in the inherent dignity of all people. But around the world, too many people are excluded from the political, economic, and social institutions that shape their lives. In addressing this reality, the Ford Foundation is guided by a vision of social justice—a world in which all individuals, communities, and peoples work toward the protection and full expression of their human rights; are active participants in the decisions that affect them; share equitably in the knowledge, wealth, and resources of society; and are free to achieve their full potential. Across eight decades, their mission has been to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.

8. Surdna Foundation

The Surdna Foundation supports social justice reform, healthy environments, inclusive economies, and thriving cultures across the United States. Through their investments, they dismantle the barriers that limit opportunities to create more prosperous, enriching, and sustainable communities. Taken together, their investments build capacity, spark innovation, and connect stakeholders while encouraging lesson-sharing between grantees.

9. Knight Foundation 

Knight is a national foundation with deep local roots. We have offices in eight cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers, and work through community foundations in 18 others. We work to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. Our work in community focuses on attracting and nurturing talent, enhancing opportunity, and fostering civic engagement. Rather than a single approach, we seek to support efforts authentic to each community.

10. Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission—unchanged since 1913—is to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot. Since funding Jane Jacobs to write “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961, The Rockefeller Foundation has long-viewed cities as places of ingenuity and innovation. Just as we fought urban poverty and helped shape the emerging fields of urban design throughout the 20th century, today, we work to make cities around the world more resilient through our 100 Resilient Cities initiative which is now helping cities worldwide build better and build back to improve the lives and well-being of an urban population expected to reach 75 percent of humanity by 2050.

11. The Summit Foundation

The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population and yet uses nearly a third of the its resources. In the United States, 80% of  the population lives in urban areas. These urban areas and the people who live in them play a crucial real role in achieving sustainability. As complex systems of infrastructure, cities can address the efficient conservation of energy and water, management of waste, and movement of people, goods and services while creating the foundations for  a more sustainable and equitable future. The Summit Foundation believes that the pace and impact of current efforts must be dramatically increased if we are to achieve a world where people can thrive and nature can flourish. We aim to support cities’ efforts towards effective and efficient sustainability through our Sustainable Cities Program.


12. NRDC

The Natural Resources Defense Council works to safeguard the earth and the natural systems on which all life depends. NRDC addresses a variety of issues, such as climate change.

13. Nature Conservancy

Stand up for nature world with The Nature Conservancy. Your support will help take action on-the-ground in all 50 states and 69 countries!

14. Greenpeace

Greenpeace is an independent organization that does not take money from corporations or government. The NGO relies entirely on financial support from people to do the important work of  preserving the earth since 1971.

15. Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth understand that the challenges facing our planet call for more than half measures, so they push for the reforms that are needed, not merely the ones that are politically easy. 

16. WWF

The world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by more than one million members in the United States and close to five million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. 



663 million people still live without clean water in developing countries around the world. Many walk 2-4 hours a day to swamps and rivers to gather dirty water for their families. You can donate anytime or start a birthday donation campaign. 84,894 people have already pledged, including Depeche Mode and Tony Hawk, so can you!

18. The Ocean Conservancy

The Ocean Conservancy works with partners and donors to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. They help to create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it.

19. Urban Waters Federal Partnership

This partnership reconnects urban communities, particularly those that are overburdened or economically distressed, with their waterways by improving coordination among federal agencies and collaborating with community-led revitalization efforts to improve our Nation's water systems and promote their economic, environmental and social benefits.


20. DC UrbanGreens 

At DC UrbanGreens, their mission is to feed bodies and nourish minds by increasing accessibility of affordable healthy foods to residents of food desert neighborhoods. They employ innovative and scalable methods, techniques and business models to implement small-scale urban agriculture in a fiscally and environmentally sustainable way. By reducing reliance on industrial food sources, we lessen household food insecurity, strengthen community self-reliance and increase our children’s ability to grow and learn. Operating as a non-profit organization east of the Anacostia River in DC's Ward 7, we strive to produce chemical-free fruits and vegetables on underutilized urban land. Our food is grown right in the neighborhoods that need it most - low income areas lacking easy access to grocery stores.

21. Sustainable Northwest

Sustainable Northwest is a non-profit based in Portland, Oregon. Our work to forge solutions for people and natural systems places Sustainable Northwest at the intersection of community, economy, and ecology. Successfully bringing local interests together to pioneer balanced community-driven solutions in the face of change and conflict requires extraordinary patience, grit, and commitment.

22. Green Chamber of the South

The Green Chamber connects sustainable businesses, clean technology companies, corporations with sustainability programs, nonprofits and government organizations throughout the Southeast so that they may create enduring business connections, share best green practices, learn from one another and grow both their own bottom lines as well as create new green jobs.

23. Invest in Place

 Investing in Place advocates for safer and livable communities in LA area. They work to promote aligning public investments and policy goals to create walkable, bikeable streets and sidewalks with access to high quality transportation options for people of all resources and abilities.

And More 

24. The Urbanist

25. Sierra Club

26. Ceres

27. Conservation

We will continue to add to this list. Please feel free to suggest other great organizations that deserve to be profiled. Thanks!