Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

A New Interactive Snapshot of the Community Foundation Field

June 22, 2017

Thanks to the efforts of the 250+ community foundations who answered the call to participate in this year's Columbus Survey, the CF Insights team at Foundation Center is ready to share the results of our fiscal year (FY) 2016 annual survey with the field and beyond. I’m thrilled to announce that the findings can be accessed through our brand new, interactive Columbus Survey Results Dashboard.

Known among community foundations as the field’s "annual census," the Columbus Survey provides a current, comprehensive financial and operational snapshot of the community foundations that participated. Their responses, in turn, allow us to report on community foundation activity and general trends in the field over the last year, as well as better understand how community foundations are sustaining their work.

The new dashboard captures the activity of over 90 percent of the estimated asset dollars held by the field and represents an exciting step forward, as it allows community foundation leaders, staff, and others to view snapshot data in a format that’s intuitive and easy to understand. In addition, the interactive environment provides users with greater control over which subsets of data are displayed, while the platform itself makes it easier for us to get the data and our analysis to those who need it, more quickly.

CF_Insights2016_fig1A few key findings did rise to the surface as we were analyzing the 2016 data:

Asset growth across the field was a bit more pronounced in 2016. After seeing asset growth stall in 2015, the 2016 survey results show an uptick in change rates, with the median increase across the entire field of respondents coming in at 5.2 percent, up from a virtually flat 0.7 percent the previous year. Solid stock market returns may be a factor in the increase, and it will be interesting to see whether this is the start of a new trend.

Reported gifts received by the largest 100 community foundations in the U.S. (by asset size) increased to a new high of $8.2 billion. The increase represents a significant recovery from 2015, which saw a decline in reported gifts received for the first time since 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession.

Grantmaking by the foundations in our sample, which has steadily increased for five consecutive years, now totals $6.8 billion. This shouldn't be surprising, as community foundations continue to grow their assets and maintain their payout rates. It should be noted, however, that this figure does not include the several other ways in which foundations invest in their communities. Even while engaging in such activities, traditional grantmaking by community foundations continues to grow.

CF_Insights2016_fig2

There are key differences among community foundations of different sizes. Smaller community foundations, often younger and focused on asset growth, tend to have a much higher proportion of funds that are allocated to growth through investments, while larger community foundations have a far higher proportion of pass-through funds. In addition, the proportion of assets in donor-advised funds tends to increase along with the overall asset size of the community foundation. These two factors also reflect the ability of larger community foundations to provide flexible grantmaking options to their donors.

In addition to key findings from this year's survey, the Columbus Survey Results Dashboard also features our four top 100 rankings lists. Our Top 100 Community Foundations by Asset Size list shows the range in asset size among those ranked, while Top 100 by Distribution Rate, Top 100 by Total (Gift & Grant) Transactions, and Top 100 by Gifts per Capita allow community foundations of all sizes to see how they are positioned vis-à-vis their peers in various ways; determine how their overall strategy aligns with their rankings; and enhance their visibility in their communities by sharing their rankings with stakeholders and the public.

I invite community foundations and anyone looking to learn more about the current state of the field to check out the 2016 Columbus Survey Results Dashboard today!

David Rosado is the member services manager for CF Insights. If you'd like more information about this or any of our other resources, or would like to receive updates related to CF Insights, visit cfinsights.org, or e-mail David (dar@foundationcenter.org) or Diana Esposito (dce@foundationcenter.org).

A Marriage of Commerce and Cause: How Rotary Is Staying Relevant in the 21st Century

June 20, 2017

Time_to_adaptIn 1905, a lawyer, a merchant tailor, a mining engineer, and a coal dealer met in downtown Chicago. Rotary's founders initially were looking for an opportunity to build relationships and promote their businesses. A hundred and twelve years later, Rotary has matured into one of the world’s largest membership and humanitarian nonprofit organizations.

The work of Rotary's 1.2 million members combines the building of community connections with humanitarian efforts such as promoting peace, providing clean water and sanitation, preventing disease, and alleviating poverty — challenges that are just as pressing today as they were when Rotary was founded.

Yet, as is true of many large organizations in the world today, Rotary faces the ongoing challenge of staying relevant at a time when technology and organizations new to the NGO space are changing the landscape of philanthropy.

For example, the number of social sector organizations in the United States has increased some 8.6 percent since 2002, while by some estimates there are now approximately 1.44 million nonprofits registered with the IRS. Part of this growth reflects society's increased reliance on nonprofits to fill service gaps in areas where cash-strapped governments are no longer able to deliver on past promises.

In addition, with a greater range of charitable opportunities and new models for fundraising (e.g., peer-to-peer, mobile, crowdfunding), there is increased competition in the nonprofit marketplace for both supporters and donations.

In the face of these challenges, how can nonprofits like Rotary continue to thrive? Over the past few years, Rotary and its members have been thinking about that question and, after much discussion, have developed a plan to address the challenge. Below are three concrete steps we have taken or are taking.

1. Staying relevant for boomers and millennials. Organizations in the twenty-first century must structure themselves in ways that encourage sustained engagement opportunities, especially with respect to a millennial generation that tends to identify with causes and social impact more than with hierarchically organized institutions. Of the approximately 80 million millennials living in the United States, a recent study showed that 87 percent are interested in volunteering or participating in their company's corporate social responsibility programs, while nearly half have volunteered for a cause or nonprofit in the past month.

At the same time, it is equally important that we engage people at the other end of the demographic spectrum. As the New York Times reported in 2015, organizations like Rotary are an attractive option for the 10.6 million Americans over the age of 65 who want to stay active and engaged and who are eager and in a position to give back to society.

The importance of this change is underscored by the insights of Michael McQueen, an author, business consultant, and Rotary member. In the diagram below, McQueen illustrates the fact that sustained relevance is rarely linear, and that when an organization has passed its peak relevance (the red x), a reinvention is in order if it hopes to remain relevant.

Rotary_Silent Pulse
Fig. 1: What is Your Silent Pulse?, Michael McQueen

 

Organizations can avoid the downward slide by taking appropriate action, which is what Rotary did when a series of independent surveys revealed that many non-members (and even some of our members) could not fully explain our mission, or why people should join.

After lots of analysis and introspection, we began to address these issues by sharpening and strengthening our brand identity. That effort has borne fruit, as we surpassed our target of $1 billion in current and projected endowment assets two years early. We also were recently ranked no.3 in a CNBC and Charity Navigator profile of the top 10 charities changing the world in 2016.

2. A unifying cause: eradicating polio from the face of the earth. Staying relevant in a rapidly changing world also involves setting audacious, transformational organizational goals that serve to engage and motivate members and supporters. In Rotary's case, the big one has been the eradication of polio globally.

In 1985, Rotary, a nongovernmental organization — not a government ministry or multilateral institution like the UN — had the audacity to take on the challenge of eradicating polio. Thanks to our efforts and those of our partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the incidence of polio around the world has been reduced by 99.9 percent over the last thirty years — making it one of the most successful public-private global health partnerships ever.

There were four key factors that enabled Rotary and its large, diverse membership to achieve this goal and stay focused on it for three decades.

The cause was relevant to our members. Polio was endemic in a hundred and twenty-five countries when Rotary announced its goal to eradicate the disease in 1985. Rotary is an international organization, and, as a result, many Rotary members had first-hand experience of the disease and the suffering it causes.

Hands-on participation. The use of the oral polio vaccine made it possible for any Rotary member or supporter to become a vaccinator and forge a deeply personal and emotional connection to a cause that went beyond simply writing a check or attending a fundraising event.

Results were measurable. Success and victory were easily measured — you either had polio cases in the world or you did not. Our members set themselves a concrete and achievable goal with clear metrics for success.

We didn't do it alone; finding good partners is crucial. When Rotary decided to tackle polio in 1985, we knew we couldn't do it alone. So we assembled a coalition in 1988 to achieve the goal — the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joined more recently by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and allowed each to define its role in the effort.

As part of GPEI, Rotary has leveraged its unique strengths in fundraising (Rotary members have contributed more than $1.6 billion to the eradication effort), advocacy, awareness raising, vaccination initiatives, and enlisting the support of governments.

One irony of this incredible project is that we could become victims of our own success. Over the three decades that we have worked to end polio, there was always the danger that the goal would become less relevant to a younger demographic, particularly in developed countries where the virus had been eradicated. To avoid mission fatigue, our response has been to highlight the opportunity of being a part of history and contributing to the eradication of a human disease for only the second time ever, after smallpox in 1980. The approach has resonated.

3. Shifting the paradigm: social good becomes part of the value proposition. As the world rises to the challenge of a new set of ambitious United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, nonprofits able to blend commerce and cause will play a key role. Organizations that do this effectively also will be well positioned to meet millennials’ insistence on integrity, accountability, and social good as core corporate values.

Making these values part of your organizational DNA is critical. At Rotary, the promotion of business ethics and our focus on maximizing positive social good is a core organizational principle. Rotary's Four-Way Test — which asks of the things we think, say, or do: Is it true? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it benefit all? — has guided Rotary leaders and members for more than a century.

In the for-profit sector, however, adding social value is not always embedded in a company's mission, and corporate social responsibility initiatives often can seem like discretionary add-ons to a firm’s business objectives.

If that is to change, the social value of a company's work must become a key performance indicator for executives in the way that share value currently is.

The question, then, is how to unlock the significant potential of the private sector as a key engine of sustainable growth and a force for improving lives globally. This is where nonprofits can lead. NGOs can help bridge the gap between private capital and local causes, providing the capacity, leadership, and experience needed to forge smart partnerships.

For example, Rotary partnered with global healthcare company Abbott to offer Mega Wellness camps in India and Brazil. These are daylong events where doctors and laboratory assistants provide free consultations and healthcare information to all walk-in patients about a range of health issues. Over the life of the partnership, Rotary and Abbott teamed up to provide care to 26,226 people at thirty-eight different events, and Rotary volunteers helped raise awareness of the camps, mobilized support within the various communities, and helped spread the word about the benefits of polio immunization.

Partnerships like this also help Rotary establish a legacy for our flagship polio program by demonstrating to communities in which we work our commitment to public health more broadly and our ability and willingness to provide resources to back that commitment up. Last but not least, they provide a framework for a deeper, more sincere commitment from the private sector beyond the limitations of strategic corporate social responsibility. And that helps advance an ongoing paradigm shift in the for-profit world from a model where shareholder value and the maximization of profit are all that matter to one where creating positive social impact is a core element of every company’s model.

So, as nonprofit leaders, how can you ensure that your organizations are positioned to compete for hearts, minds, and dollars in the twenty-first century? It's pretty simple: Stay true to your DNA but take steps to make sure you stay relevant; identify a big, audacious goal that motivates your teams and mobilizes your supporters; and maximize your impact through smart partnerships. Do all three and your organization is likely to not only survive but thrive in the years to come.

Headshot__John_HewkoJohn Hewko is the general secretary of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation.

Show Me: Why Your Data Should Be Seen (and Not Just Read)

June 19, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

So proclaimed Willard Duncan, a Missouri congressman, in an 1899 speech. Perhaps because I, too, hail from the Show-Me state, I have taken his advice to heart. Now let me convince you of its wisdom.

First let's talk about data. Nonprofit organizations are lousy with it — participant data, program data, financial data, sales data, fundraising data. Nonprofits are drinking from a fire hose and the water pressure is building. We are scrambling just to find enough bandwidth to store our data. And like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little of this data we actually use. We may pay lip service to "evidence-based practices" or "data-driven strategies," or even borrow acronyms like ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicator) from the for-profit world. But, when pressed, many nonprofit managers admit they are not data people. They care deeply about people and programs, but their eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet.

It's okay: we're wired that way. (More on our wiring in a minute.) But for now, let's look at some other reasons why nonprofits may not be making good use of their data.

Top Reasons Nonprofits Avoid Data

Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons. In my experience, the primary causes include:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not "numbers people."

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won't be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

"Dirty" data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be "dirty" data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently. If, for example, Michael Smith is entered twice, once with a middle initial and once without, then tracking his progress through your program will be difficult.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates the positive social impact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students' school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates' wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets. Which means Michael Smith's demographic profile might be captured in one spreadsheet while his attendance in various programs is stored in another, making analysis of, say, age-to-program participation next to impossible.

Why Cave Dwellers Drew Pictures, Not Spreadsheets

Our visual system has evolved over millions of years to process images in parallel. We don't "read" the Mona Lisa from top to bottom or from left to right. We take it all in at a glance and understand, almost instantly, that it is a picture of a woman in front of a landscape wearing a dark dress and an inscrutable smile. The cognitive technology of words and numbers, which is only six or seven thousand years old, requires us to scan individual characters arranged in small groupings and piece them together into words or values and then sentences or equations.

Here's an example: Which image do you "get" first?

Kohm_MonaLisa Kohm_Spreadsheet
Source: GoGuiyan.com and SSuite Accel Spreadsheet

 

Because data is encoded in words and numbers, it can be difficult for us to extract the stories that data tells. But if we use visual elements — solid bars, pie slices, sloping lines — to encode the data, the story comes into focus much more quickly. Data visualizations help us understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context. And if, on top of that, we apply to our data visualizations what we know about how humans process visual cues, they are even easier to digest. Just one example: Humans can discern positions along a common scale more accurately than angles. That's why it is much easier to compare the lengths of several bars on a bar graph than to compare the size of slices in a pie chart.

Florence Nightingale probably wasn't a numbers person, either. She became a nurse to serve others. Yet, she soon realized she could provide care more effectively with the help of data. Working with a statistician named William Farr, Nightingale analyzed mortality rates during the Crimean War. She and Farr discovered that most of the soldiers who died in the conflict died not in combat but as a result of "preventable diseases" caused by bad hygiene.

Nightingale's solution? She invented the polar area chart, a variant of the pie chart meant "to affect thro' the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears." Each pie represented a twelve-month period of the war, with each slice showing the number of deaths per month, growing outward if the number increased, and color-coded to show the causes of death (blue: preventable, red: wounds, black: other). Clearly seeing the importance of hygiene, the Queen and Parliament quickly set up a sanitary commission and, as a result, mortality rates fell.

Kohm_NightingaleChart
 
Fig. 1: Florence Nightingale decided to show (rather than tell) her data
Source: Smithsonian.com

 

Getting Started With Data Visualization

Before designing charts, maps, or graphs, you need to know what you want to know. Perhaps your organization or program already has a logic model. If not, it's worth at least one team meeting to draft one. Logic models, like data visualizations, show rather than tell. They show how resources, programs and services, and desired results relate to each other according to your organization's strategic plan. The graphic below comes from the Pell Institute's Evaluation Toolbook, a site that walks you through logic models, other steps in effective program assessment, and the various types of data you can collect.

Kohm_LogicModel
Fig. 2: The components of a logic model

 

If your organization or program doesn't already have clearly articulated goals, benchmarks, or objectives, a logic model is a good first step toward setting them. You can set goals for any stage of the process (what types and amounts of resources you hope to garner, what types and amounts of services you intend to provide, or what types and amounts or degrees of outcomes you expect to see). The trick is determining which data will be most useful in helping you measure progress toward your goals in a meaningful way.

Once you figure out what it is you need or want to know, don't wait until you have data that supports your logic model to visualize it. It's important to bring the data to life for everyone involved, and that means visualizing it sooner rather than hiding it in spreadsheets and databases.

Even a simple line graph showing progress over time toward a goal will make your data perceptible, prompting you and your colleagues to ask important questions. Is our data accurate? What additional data do we need to better understand the trends we see? What is going on in our program or our community/field that might be affecting these trends? Questions like these can strengthen your resolve to gather new and/or better data — or to make changes designed to enhance the efficacy of your program.

Kohm_LineGraph
 
Fig. 3: A simple line graph showing progress over time

 

There are plenty of software programs out there to help you visualize your data. Excel, which you may already have, is perhaps the simplest to use. Other programs such as Tableau and Qlik Sense allow you to create interactive visuals and "drill down" into your data. If, for example, you see an overall downward trend in program participation, you might want to see if the trend holds for subgroups of participants such as women, men, or those in certain age groups. Free versions of Tableau and Qlik Sense are available as long as you store your data and visuals on the companies' servers. (Both companies give you the option to hide your data and charts from anyone outside your organization.)

Eventually, you'll identify your most important goals, what data to collect and use to track your progress, and how best to visualize that data. Then you can create a data dashboard that everyone in your organization can use to track progress on key goals and ask ever more sophisticated questions about how better to advance your mission.

But first you need to tell a story with an image or picture. Getting that right is the first step toward greater understanding and success.

Amelia_kohm_for_PhilanTopicAmelia Kohm, PhD, is the founder of DataViz for Nonprofits, where she serves as principal consultant. To contact her and learn more about data visualization best practices, visit nonprofitviz.comFor more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 17-18, 2017)

June 18, 2017

Rising-TemperaturesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

On the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies CEO Pam Breaux argues that leaving support for arts to the private sector alone "would leave millions of people behind."

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network site, Na Eng, communications director at the McKnight Foundation, shares some of the best practices that she and her colleagues embedded in the foundation's latest annual report.

Corporate Philanthropy

In the Detroit News, Melissa Burden reports that General Motors is overhauling its $30-million-a year corporate philanthropy program — a decision that has some nonprofits and arts groups in southeastern Michigan worried.

Diversity

"Of all the things philanthropists are trying to fix," writes Ben Paynter in Fast Company, "there's one major issue the sector seems to continually ignore: itself." By which he means the "lack of racial diversity among nonprofit and foundation leaders, an issue that remains unaddressed despite having been well documented for at least fifteen years."

Grantmaking

When are program evaluations worth reading, and when are they not? On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, breaks it down

Grantseeking

Wise Philanthropy blogger Richard Marker has some good advice for nonprofit grantseekers: "Please take funders at [their word]: [they] know [their] role and the vast majority...try to play fair, are sympathetic and caring, and want to use precious resources wisely and thoughtfully. Not taking [them] at [their] word or respecting [their] guidelines or violating [their] space doesn't help your cause, and doesn’t make [them] more sympathetic."

International Affairs/Development

Devex, a media platform for the global development community, has launched a new site, Going for the Goals, that will explore innovative financing mechanisms in support of the 2030 sustainable development agenda (aka the UN's Sustainable Development Goals).

What's the best way to fight poverty in the developing world? Programmatic interventions? Cash? Or neither? In a post for Quartz, Dan Kopf, citing the work of Lant Pritchett, an international development economist at Harvard, suggests that economic growth is the most, and maybe only, effective anti-poverty program.

Nonprofits

In a new post, GuideStar president Jacob Harold shares the thinking behind the organization's decision to add new information to the profiles of forty-six groups in its database designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"[P]eople calling for nonprofits to be taxed usually have no experience or understanding of the nonprofit sector. Or government. Or tax structures. Or irony," writes Nonprofit AF's Vu Le, adding, "There are not many of them, thank goodness, but they seem to be increasing in numbers lately, so maybe we nonprofits need to do a better job preparing counter-arguments" — which he proceeds to do.

Philanthropy

 "Dear Jeff. I’ve been looking at the replies to your tweet and they unfortunately betray the challenge of your approach and the wider problem our sector faces...." Forbes contributor Jake Hayman pens a letter to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who has decided to crowdsource ideas, via social media, for his philanthropy.

Daniel Lurie, founder of Tipping Point Community, a poverty-fighting organization in the Bay Area, wants to reinvent philanthropy. In this video, he explains how he intends to do it.

On the HistPhil blog, Ben Soskis argues that the conceit in David Callahan's new book, The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age (our review here), that "a handful of present-day developments within philanthropy...represent a significant departure from past practice and trends" doesn't really stand up to scrutiny.

"We like to think that the selling of indulgences was an error of the past," writes Nathan Schneider in America: The Jesuit Review,  "yet the practice has passed into secular forms, and there are few Martin Luthers complaining of it. What goes by the name of philanthropy — literally, the love of people — and what the tax code regards as giving can rival the cynicism of the feudal indulgence business."

In a post that mentions Foundation Center president Brad Smith, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther highlights the Knight Foundation's Knight Cities Challenge as an admirable example of a foundation committing a portion of its annual grantmaking budget to "bottom-up" philanthropy.

Public Policy

Remarkable fact of the week: An annual report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds that there is no place in the U.S. where someone working a full-time minimum wage job could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. According to the report, the minimum hourly wage required to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment ranges from a low of $11.46 in some counties in Georgia, to $28.27 in Maryland, $28.08 in New York, $30.92 in California, $33.58 in the District of Columbia, $35.2o in Hawaii, and $58.04 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tracy Jan reports for the Washington Post.

Science/Tech

Last but not least, Beth Kanter continues her series on nonprofit bots with a look at a handful of the best, including Facebook Messenger bots, the Climate Reality bot, the Genius Albert Einstein bot, the Anne Frank House bot, and the Pontifical Mission Societies' Missiobot.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

From New York City to New South Wales: Bringing Evidence-Based Practices to Child Welfare Systems

June 14, 2017

ChildWelfareEvidence-based practices geared toward preventing foster care placements, reducing disruptions to children already in a foster home, shortening the length of stays, and reunifying families are saving many of New York City's most vulnerable children and have the potential to reduce out-of-home-care populations elsewhere.  Indeed, the successful track record of one of New York City's oldest and largest child welfare organizations, The New York Foundling, has prompted it to offer its experience and expertise to governments overseas, even as far away as New South Wales, Australia.

New South Wales' child welfare system closely resembles New York's a decade ago. In New South Wales, the number of children entering foster care has doubled over the past five years; today there are approximately 16,000 children in foster, kinship, or residential care there at any given time — about 8.1 children per 1,000. By comparison, the foster care population in New York City in 2007 totaled 16,911, with a ratio of 8.9 children per 1,000.

Since then, with the help of organizations like The Foundling, New York's Administration for Children's Services has achieved dramatic improvements — leading child care professionals around the world to take notice. In New York, a cohesive family foster care model called Child Success NYC has reduced the number of children in foster care by nearly 50 percent over ten years. In partnership with five participating foster care agencies, the program uses evidence-based models to provide care for children and families (e.g., Keeping Foster Parents Supported and Parenting Through Change [KEEP]). Child Success NYC operates under the philosophy that families possess unique strengths that can be built on to keep their children at home. As a result of the program, the number of children in out-of-home care has dropped to 9,000, a ratio of 4.9 per 1,000, while the average length of time a child stays in care has been reduced to less than two years.

It's this success that persuaded the State of New South Wales to launch a similar initiative with the help of The Foundling's Implementation Support Center (ISC). The center supports providers by training government and non-government agency leaders in the methodology and practical implementation of evidenced-based practices, as well as how to sustain them over time. While years of extensive research and clinical trials have demonstrated the success of evidence-based practices, agencies across the world have struggled to implement them effectively due to systemic barriers, on-the-ground challenges, and organizational resistance to change.

A core piece of what The Foundling does is work with other agencies to overcome these difficulties. Because proven evidence-based models produce the best outcomes, it is our goal to increase the number of children and families who receive them.

In New South Wales, The Foundling is working directly with the government's Ministry of Family & Community Services to show it what implementation looks like and prepare local agencies to pilot their own evidence-based programs.

When the Ministry of Family & Community Service issued an RFP and $90 million-dollar bid earlier this year, The Foundling met with thirteen Aboriginal-owned and -operated non-government agencies, hoping to convince at least two or three to apply. The response to the RFP was enormous. Word of the initiative spread and over seventy agencies applied. In April, the ministry awarded contracts to eleven agencies, with the goal of serving nine hundred families. In addition, The Foundling is mentoring OzChild, an agency that serves high-risk children in Victoria, Australia.

International interest in evidence-based practices is not limited to Australia. The Foundling is meeting with child welfare leaders in the UK who are considering launching evidence-based program initiatives of their own. While we are incredibly proud to be a part of the ongoing transformation of the child welfare system in New York City, we are thrilled by the promise of sharing this work overseas and moving one step closer to ensuring strong outcomes for youth placed in out-of-home care worldwide. Child welfare professionals and policy makers in other jurisdictions should take note of the work being done in communities as disparate as the Bronx and New South Wales and consider the implications for their own populations as they strive to provide children and their families with effective services in an era of limited resources.

Headshot_baccaglini_rowlandsBill Baccaglini is president and CEO of the New York Foundling and Sylvia Rowlands is the organization's senior vice president for evidence-based programs.

‘Justice Matters’ and the Power of Film to Persuade

June 12, 2017

JusticeMattersEach year, Justice Matters, a special series within Filmfest DC, the annual Washington, DC International Film Festival, shines a spotlight on some of the best new social issue films from around the globe. This year, three of the films were judged outstanding by jurors and audience members.

Filmmakers throughout the history of the medium have felt the need to address injustice, poverty, and other social concerns, prodding audiences to reflection and action, a tradition that continues today. As Filmfest DC founder and director Tony Gittens noted in launching Justice Matters in 2010: "What better city to highlight this tradition than our nation's capital, the vortex of ongoing debate on how best to further democracy and equitable treatment for all." And what better time than the present.

I was happy to catch the Justice Matters 2017 program during this year's festival in April. I had attended Justice Matters in 2012, highlighting 5 Broken Cameras in an earlier PhilanTopic post and was eager to see this year's selection of films, especially The Good Postman, an intimate story about the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe set in Bulgaria, where I'd lived for two years.

This year's lineup included eight award-winning films that explore some of the most pressing challenges of our time and some of the most creative and courageous responses to those challenges: corporate corruption (150 Milligrams); corrosion of public trust and the need for a free press (All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone); the privatization of public education (Backpack Full of Cash); refugee integration (The Good Postman); the crisis in Syria (Last Men in Aleppo); and climate change (Tomorrow). Two of the films mined the past for lessons and inspiration: one a personal recollection of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (The House on Coco Road); and a musical quest set during Freedom Summer (Two Trains Runnin’).

(All the films should be available in other festivals, theaters, broadcast, or on the Internet. More information about each is on the Justice Matters site and/or on the films' websites.)

Jurists for the series included Conrad Martin, executive director, the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and executive director of the Fund for Constitutional Government; Montré Aza Missouri, founder and director, Howard Film Culture; and Kathryn Washington, director of diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The impetus for Justice Matters was provided by two Filmfest DC fans. Ken Grossinger, who had a career as a community and labor organizer, and Michelíne Klagsbrun, an artist, have always been deeply concerned about social and economic justice. In 2007, they started the CrossCurrents Foundation to support those interests. A family foundation, CrossCurrents' broad funding interests include civic engagement and the environment, peace and security, civil rights, and public art. Both founders had been attending Filmfest for many years and appreciated seeing films that addressed issues they cared about.

"I always believed in the power of art to inspire social movements, to work toward social change," Klagsbrun told me.

Grossinger came to appreciate that potential through his wife, Klagsbrun. "Organizers know how to move the needle a few percentage points," he said. "But I realized that for shaping public opinion, there is nothing like the arts. There's a transformative power there that penetrates hearts and minds in a way that political discourse doesn't. And film offers visibility to issues on a scale beyond the reach of many approaches to community organizing. Together, a strong film coupled with an organizing strategy can advance social change."

Soon after they created their foundation, the couple contacted Gittens with a proposal to establish the Justice Matters film series and award. Gittens was enthusiastic about the idea and hired Linda Blackaby, a longtime festival programmer whose career has centered around connecting films with communities and who was already advising the festival on its annual lineup. (She's now the festival's senior programming consultant and has curated the Justice Matters series since its inception.)

"Over the past eight years, Justice Matters has featured forty-one films," Blackaby told me. "And thanks to the Wyncote Foundation, we've been able to create that community connection, too: taking films out to schools and other settings, using social media to reach new audiences, and bringing the filmmakers and resource people to post-screening discussions."

That combination of films-plus-impact appealed to Grossinger and Klagsbrun. "We were involved early on with Good Pitch, which really influenced our thinking in this area," said Klagsbrun.

Good Pitch helps filmmakers find financial support for production costs and community engagement activities, connect with nonprofit organizations working on the issues captured in their films, and build relationships with industry representatives. It's supported by a range of funders, and though it now offers a variety of events around the world, its core program remains focused on filmmakers who are trained to "pitch" their films to a select group of potential donors and partners.

"Good Pitch gets it right in their approach to advancing social change," said Grossinger. "They provide support for both production — the making of the film — and for impact. The filmmakers learn through Good Pitch that it is as important to understand organizations and the work they do as it is to produce a film about those same issues. Good Pitch links the two. We've supported the production and subsequent organizing of several films through Good Pitch."

The CrossCurrents Foundation has continued to look for new ways to carry out its mission, supporting a range of projects, including the mural project in Baltimore that helped sustain that community as it was grappling with the death of Freddie Gray. And it continues to look for ways to support film. Grossinger and Klagsbrun are enthusiastic, for example, about a new project: Double Exposure, a three-day film festival featuring investigative journalism-inspired documentaries and a concurrent symposium for film projects developed by teams of filmmakers and journalists. As traditional media has cut back on its coverage of complex issues, and many online media sources offer only superficial coverage of such issues, policy experts and consumers alike recognize the role that serious films can play in sustaining good journalism.

Blackaby's work on the audience-engagement component in Justice Matters relates to that concern and takes advantage of the festival's home base in Washington, as Gittens, from the beginning, hoped it would.

Feras Fayyad, co-director of Last Man in Aleppo, is Syrian; as a filmmaker in that war-torn country he was jailed and tortured. He now lives in exile in Denmark but continues to receive death threats. The film is about two men who work for the volunteer Syria Civil Defense group, or White Helmets, an NGO that became famous for its work rescuing victims of the intensive shelling and bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"We provide links to White Helmets and two other NGOs, and Feras promotes involvement from the audience," says Blackaby. "It's an example of some of the films we show that have a very clear activist agenda. But our aim is also to support these filmmakers in their professional development, to help them continue to bring social issues to the fore. Feras was here for four days, watching the other films, meeting those filmmakers, and making contacts that will continue to sustain his work."

For Damani Baker, the director of The House on Coco Road, the project was personal: his family was living in Grenada when the U.S. invaded the country in 1983. But the film also is an informed exploration of the politics of the Reagan years. Justice Matters set up interviews for Baker with WPFW's "Voices With Vision" host Netfa Freeman, a political analyst at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C, who interviewed him for one of the post-screening discussions, and Kojo Nmandi, host of the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, who interviewed him after a second screening — a more substantive experience for the filmmaker and the audience than the usual post-screening Q&A.

Through a collaboration with DC-based Teaching for Change, screenings and post-screening discussions of The House on Coco Road, Backpack Full of Cash, Two Trains Runnin’, and All Governments Lie also were taken to six local high schools. In addition to conversations with the directors and producers, students met with Judy Richardson, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member and civil rights activist who shared her own personal experiences behind the events depicted in Two Trains Runnin’. (For more details and great photos about those events, check out this report on the Teaching for Change website.)

Not all social issue films have a concrete impact agenda, however. "Sometimes there are short-term measurable outcomes to a film's social change goal," Blackaby says. "But the experience of viewing a film can also resonate over time, deeply affecting one’s consciousness and understanding."

For their part, Grossinger and Klagsbrun see increasing interest in film within the grantmaking community.

"I participated in an arts and social justice workshop some eight years ago organized by Claudine Brown, who at the time worked at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The meeting took place immediately in advance of the annual Grantmakers in the Arts national conference," Grossinger (a GIA board member) told me. "Only fifteen people came. But several years later, we had to close registration for the same event at one hundred. And subsequently, GIA held an all-day meeting designed to bring film funders together with other arts funders to explore possibilities for collaboration. Foundation board members still need to be persuaded, but many grantmakers agree that it's a winning strategy to fund film production and the associated impact campaigns, especially when the film's content lines up with a foundation’s priorities."

At a brunch at the Grossinger-Klagsbrun home in Georgetown, on the next-to-final day of the festival, the filmmakers, the community engagement partners, the Filmfest DC staff and consultants, the award jurists, and funders gathered to celebrate. In thanking everyone and reiterating his vision for the festival, Gittens emphasized the potential of film, even in a time when we're challenged to make sense out of the nonsensical.

"I want the audience to be changed," said Gittens. "I want them to walk out of the screening thinking and feeling differently than when they walked in. And I think Justice Matters makes that happen."

The next day Grossinger announced the Justice Matters jurors' awards: best film, 150 Milligrams, with an honorable mention for The Good Postman and the overall festival audience award for best documentary going to Last Men in Aleppo.

Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Check out her other great posts for PhilanTopic here.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 10-11, 2017)

June 11, 2017

HonnoldOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

On the Annie E. Casey Foundation blog, Tracey Feild, managing director of the foundation's Child Welfare Strategy Group, shares five lessons from the foundation's recent efforts to develop tools to measure and address racial disparities in child welfare systems.

Education

"If Facebook’s [Mark]. Zuckerberg has his way, children the world over will soon be teaching themselves — using software his company helped build." The New York Times' Natasha Singer considers the efforts of Zuckerberg, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, Netflix chief Reed Hastings, and other Silicon Valley billionaires to remake America's public schools.

Giving

In an article for Nature, Caroline Fiennes, founder of Giving Evidence, an organization that promotes charitable giving based on sound evidence, argues that "[p]hilanthropists are flying blind because little is known about how to donate money well." The solution to the problem, she adds, "lies in more research on what makes for effective philanthropy [and donor effectiveness]."

And here, courtesy of the International Council for Science's Anne-Sophie Stevance and David McCollum, research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, is an SDG-related example of exactly the kind of approach and methodology Fiennes would like to see more of.

A recent column by New York Times columnist David Brooks in which Brooks asks, "What would I do if I had a billion bucks to use for good?" raises other interesting questions, writes John Tamny on the Real Clear Markets site, including: Why do the superrich think their skills in the commercial space render them experts at charity? And: Why should the supperrich be expected to do "good" after they have created wealth — and the jobs and social advances that usually come with it?

Reid Hoffman, a supperrich Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of networking site LinkedIn, tells The Atlantic's Alana Semuels that having people who know how to apply capital in the service of getting things done is a good thing for social causes, as long as those same people are careful about big-footing the politics of the issue.

Continue reading »

The Diversity Gap in the Nonprofit Sector

June 06, 2017

Diversity logoThe lack of diversity at the highest levels of the country's corporations has become a popular topic of debate, thanks in part to a number of high-profile stories focused on the technology industry.

If there has been less criticism of the nonprofit and foundation sectors, neither is exempt from the problem. Earlier this year, Battalia Winston analyzed the leadership teams of the largest foundations and nonprofits in the United States and found that they, too, suffer from homogeneity. We found, for instance, that while 42 percent of the organizations we surveyed are led by female executive directors, 87 percent of all executive directors or presidents were white, and that there was only minimal representation of African Americans (6 percent), Asian Americans (3 percent), and Hispanics (4 percent) in those positions.

Our findings, which we've published in a white paper, The State of Diversity in Nonprofit and Foundation Leadership, are similar to those presented in a number of recent studies. A 2015 study by Community Wealth Partners, for example, found that only 8 percent of nonprofit executive directors were people of color, while a 2013 study conducted by D5 found that 92 percent of foundation executive directors were white.

While one would think that nonprofits and foundations — particularly those that support underserved communities and minorities — would prioritize diversity within their leadership ranks, attracting and recruiting diverse talent is easier said than done, especially at the leadership level. If organizations want to create sustained diversity at the top, they need to continuously cultivate a talent pipeline of diverse high-potential candidates, both internally and externally.

For any number of reasons, building a pipeline of diverse talent can be particularly challenging for nonprofits and foundations. First, the talent pool of diverse candidates is still significantly smaller than the pool of white candidates. According to a 2016 study by Young Invincibles, racial disparities in rates of higher education attainment continue to widen: between 2007 and 2015, the gap between the share of white adults with postsecondary degrees and Latinos and African Americans with postsecondary degrees increased by 2.2 and 0.4 percentage points, respectively.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 3-4, 2017)

June 04, 2017

Pittsburgh office media carousel skyline triangle  700x476Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, television personality, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, has some advice for the NAACP, which recently announced the departure of its president, Cornell William Brooks, and its intention to pursue an "organization-wide refresh."

Climate Change

Hours after Donald Trump claimed "to represent the voters of Pittsburgh in his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement," Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering the city entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035. Shane Levy reports for the Sierra Club. (And you can read Peduto's executive order to that effect here.)

Although there's no doubt that "President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on global warming is a short-sighted mistake," writes Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek, the jury is still out as to whether "the decision [will] unravel the entire agreement."

Fundraising

We missed this post by Vu Le outlining the principles of community-centric fundraising when it was first published in the lead up to the Memorial Day weekend. But it is definitely worth your time.

Hey, Mr./Ms. Nonprofit Fundraiser, job got you down and almost out? Beth Kanter shares four warning signs of burnout — and easy ways to make yourself feel better.

On the GuideStar blog, BidPal's Joshua Meyer looks at five unexpected benefits of text-to-give software.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] Navigating the Online World of Nonprofit Storytelling

June 03, 2017

Storytelling is as old as fire. And over the millennia, storytellers have left us a trove of sayings and observations about the power and importance of good storytelling.

"It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling" (Khalil Gibran)

"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all" (Joseph Campbell)

"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell" (Annette Simmons)

Yes, some of the settings in which stories are told have changed, as have many of the techniques. But as this week's infographic, courtesy of the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University, reminds us, "Stories" — the kind that people remember and respond to — "chronicle a character who undergoes some kind of change or transformation." Joseph Campbell couldn't have said it better.

Here at PhilanTopic, we've been exploring the world of stoytelling with the likes of Thaler Pekar (here, here, here, here, and here) for close to a decade. But even we were surprised by some of the findings presented below. (And, yes, in the nonprofit world at any rate, text still rules.) Enjoy!

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2017)

June 02, 2017

Like many of you, we're trying to make sense of all the tweets, charges/counter-charges, and executive orders emanating from the White House. One thing we do know, however: you found plenty to like here on the blog in May, including a stirring call to action from Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits; some excellent grantmaking advice from Peter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children; a new post by everyone's favorite millennial fundraising expert, Derrick Feldmann; posts by first-time contributors Nona Evans and Jaylene Howard; and an oldie-but-goodie by fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. But don't take our word for it — pull up a chair, click off MSNBC, and treat yourself to some good reads!

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Xavier de Souza Briggs, Vice President, Economic Opportunity and Markets, Ford Foundation: Changing the World Through Mission-Related Investing

June 01, 2017

In April, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, the second largest foundation in the United States and one of the most influential in the world, announced a billion-dollar commitment over the next decade to mission-related investments (MRIs). In making the announcement, Walker expressed a belief widely shared within his organization that "MRIs have the potential to become the next great innovation for advancing social good." Walker further suggested that foundations needed to expand their imaginations and tools if they hoped to successfully address "the large-scale problems facing the world today" and added that they shouldn't "neglect the tremendous power of markets, including the capital markets, to contribute."

Ford isn't the first foundation to commit itself in a significant way to mission-related investing, although its commitment would appear to be the largest by a foundation to date. Since the late 1990s, the F.B. Heron Foundation in New York City has distinguished itself as a pioneer in the field, and under the leadership of its president, Clara Miller, has become increasingly willing to challenge others "to jettison outdated operating models that leave resources untapped in the face of systemic social ills." Foundations such as Kresge, Packard, and Surdna have followed suit.

Shortly after Walker's announcement, PND spoke with Xavier de Souza Briggs, vice president for economic opportunity and markets at the Ford Foundation, about the foundation's decision, how and where the funds will be allocated, and what the move means for the field of impact investing.

De Souza Briggs joined the foundation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a professor of sociology and urban planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. An award-winning author, commentator, and educator, he served from January 2009 to August 2011 as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama White House. His most recent book, Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty, was published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

Headshot_xavier-de-souza-briggs_220Philanthropy News Digest: Let's start with a question I'm sure many of our readers are asking.What are mission-related investments?

Xavier de Souza Briggs: MRIs are investments that pursue both attractive financial returns and social impact, also known as social returns, and they are made from a foundation's endowment, rather than counted against its program payout. That's the IRS definition, not ours, and private foundations have been making them for a while, albeit not on the scale of a billion dollars.

PND: Why did Ford decide that this was the right time to allocate a billion dollars to MRIs?

XSB: Well, first of all, we felt it was important, at this particular moment, to align as many of our assets as possible with our mission. That includes our grantmaking, of course, and our program-related investments, which, again as defined by the IRS, is the other kind of impact investment that foundations can make. Our building in Manhattan, where we've convened changemakers and social sector leaders for many years, is an important asset, too. But we've never made investments toward our mission out of our endowment, and we felt that, at this moment, the impact investment market was ready for us to take this step. And the board agreed, which is why it approved MRIs of up to a billion dollars over ten years. Now, we're going to be careful and gradual about how we put those funds to work, but we're quite excited about the opportunity.

PND: Did the board have any reservations?

XSB: The board had a set of smart questions. Are the investable opportunities really there? Are we confident that we can generate social return in addition to financial return, which is better understood and more easily measured? They were good, smart questions, and the board was very prudent in its approach to oversight. But ultimately it concluded, based on the foundation's many years of experience with impact investing, that we were ready and the market was ready, and that by stepping up now we could help catalyze a broader movement in the impact investing field, which includes not only foundations but other major institutional investors such as pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and university endowments. That's where the really big pools of investable capital are, and that's where the larger promise lies.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 27-28, 2017)

May 28, 2017

Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Frog-in-the-Rain

Climate Change

As the Trump administration prepares to exit the Paris climate agreement, a new Global Challenges Foundation poll finds that a majority of people in eight countries — the U.S., China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany — say they are ready to change their lifestyles if it would prevent climate catastrophe — a survey result that suggests "a huge gap between what people expect from politicians and what politicians are doing."

Criminal Justice

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, Kamilah Duggins and William Kelley explain why and how they created a professional development program at the foundation for graduates of the Bard Prison Initiative, which creates the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentence.

Diversity

A new white paper (6 pages, PDF) from executive search firm Battalia Winston sheds light on the lack of diversity within the leadership ranks of the nation's foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Education

Does the DeVos education budget promote "choice" or segregation? That's the question the Poverty & Race Research Council's Kimberly Hall and Michael Hilton ask in a post here on PhilanTopic.

Fundraising

There are mistakes, and there are fundraising mistakes. Here are five of the latter that, according to experts on the Forbes Nonprofit Council, we all should try to avoid.

Continue reading »

President's Budget Proposal Targets Foundations

May 26, 2017

TargetWhile most of the media coverage of President Trump's proposed budget has focused on his plan to eliminate sixty-six programs and slash funding for hundreds more, until now one major aspect of the plan has escaped attention: the White House budget blueprint silently, yet effectively, targets private philanthropy as the fallback subsidy for government programs that would be downsized or eliminated.

For Fiscal Year 2018, which begins October 1, 2017, the Trump budget proposes to cut $54 billion from "non-defense" (mostly domestic) programs that provide jobs, food, housing, safety, health care, education, and more for tens of millions of individuals across the country. Yet, the president's Budget Message to Congress, Budget Summary, Major Savings and Reforms, and Appendices all fail to disclose how the budget would simultaneously cut government spending and address people's ongoing needs. Where will those tens of millions of people turn if these programs are cut on October 1?

As the Washington Post reports, "Trump's plan would put the onus on states, companies, churches and charities to offer many educational, scientific and social services that have long been provided by the federal government."

The White House cannot realistically expect the states to meet the markedly increased unmet human need caused by its proposed cuts to domestic spending. More than half the states have been in deficit mode during the last year, and more than half already are projecting budget shortfalls for their next fiscal year. Compounding the problem: the states, on average, receive 30.1 percent of their revenues from the federal government. When the federal government cuts domestic spending, that includes cuts to the states. For example, the FY2018 budget blueprint proposes eliminating the Community Development Block Grant ($2.9 billion) and Community Services Block Grant ($731 million) programs, which together provide funds for states and localities to spend on anti-poverty programs, emergency food assistance, affordable housing, public improvements, and public services. The proposed budget is rife with recommended cuts that the states cannot absorb, and which would leave tens of millions of people without a safety net.

Contrary to the Washington Post analysis above, anyone thinking that for-profit companies will step in to fill the gap is misguided. The very reason people in need turn to charitable nonprofits and governments is because they cannot afford what for-profit businesses charge.

Continue reading »

Does the DeVos Education Budget Promote "Choice" or Segregation?

May 24, 2017

Public-privateThe American public education system should provide all students with the opportunity to receive a rigorous, quality education — regardless of class, race, or ethnicity. In direct opposition to this goal, the FY2018 budget recommendations issued by the Trump administration would limit and even reduce opportunities, support, and civil rights protections for students across the country.

The proposed Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS), a new Title I program, is a thinly veiled attempt to open the door for the voucherization of all federal, state, and local public schools funding. As such, the push to funnel public money to private schools with the aim of "improving student academic performance" ignores the lessons of the past.

Attempts at voucherization by school districts across the country have resulted in overwhelmingly negative academic outcomes for students and the promotion of segregation. In the District of Columbia and Louisiana, both of which implemented district-wide voucher programs in an effort to "rescue" poorly performing school districts, evaluations of student performance showed a negative impact on student achievement, with students who participated in the Louisiana voucher experiment exhibiting steep declines in math performance — 13 percent lower, on average, after two years — compared to students who attended traditional public schools.

Why would we voluntarily expand a program that has proven to have the opposite effect of what we all hope to achieve?

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council, like other members of the National Coalition on School Diversity, is not opposed to expanding the range of opportunities available to students and their families. In fact, our research advocacy efforts are centered around the thoughtful, responsible expansion of public school choice approaches that bring children together in racial and economically integrated schools.

Continue reading »

Charities Stand to Benefit From Trillions in Mandated Retirement Distributions

May 23, 2017

61mitchmillerThe same generation that sang along with Elvis, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles will be singing a different tune as they pay taxes on trillions in 401(k) and IRA required minimum distributions (RMD) this year.

In January, Edward Shane, managing director at Bank of New York Mellon, told the Wall Street Journal that he estimates boomers have roughly $10 trillion stashed away in tax-deferred savings accounts. As the first generation with 401(k)s, boomers are in a unique position to call their own tune as they decide what to do with that money. How can charities join the chorus and benefit from this potential windfall?

HBO's recent documentary Becoming Warren Buffett highlighted the homespun billionaire's pledge to give away the bulk of his wealth during his lifetime. Buffett is setting a new standard for philanthropy and — more importantly — is encouraging others to do the same. Not everyone is Warren Buffett, of course, but we can all learn from his philosophy of giving.

Boomers can make "giving while living" the norm

My parents, who are among the oldest of the boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), turned 70 last year. According to Pew Research, they are just two in a wave of 74.9 million boomers who will be reaching that milestone over the next decade and a half. Though only second in size (behind the millennials), the boomer generation is the wealthiest on record. That puts them in a position to give more than any previous generation.

My parents will mark another "first" this year when they hit the RMD age of 70½, meaning they will be required to withdraw monies from their retirement accounts (IRAs or other tax-deferred vehicles) or face steep penalties (50 percent of the amount not withdrawn). Of course, these distributions are taxable, and for some boomers they will represent unwanted income, which is where a proactive giving strategy comes in.

Boomers who want to establish a "giving-while-living" strategy (akin to Buffett's, in principle if not size) can take their RMD from their tax-deferred retirement savings plan and allocate those assets directly to a charity through a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). A QCD is a direct transfer of funds from the trustee of an IRA to a qualified 501(c)(3) organization. There are other requirements: $100,000 is the maximum allowed per year, and the IRA or 401(k) holder must be 70½ or older.

The benefits of this type of planned charitable giving strategy are threefold. First, QCDs can satisfy the required minimum distribution. Second, QCDs are excluded from taxable income. And third, studies show that giving back can make you happier and feel more connected with your community.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 20-21, 2017)

May 22, 2017

Pause-button-2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Does your organization have a strategy for dealing with the media? To help its members think beyond the press release, dispel misperceptions about working with the media, and provide practical guidance on how to approach this powerful medium, Exponent Philanthropy has released A Funder's Guide to Engaging With the Media, which includes the five building block of a successful media strategy highlighted in this post on the organization's PhilanthroFiles blog.

"Why do so many nonprofits take on the burden of producing the equivalent of a magazine a month [i.e., your monthly newsletter] that gets an average 1.5 percent click through rate and 14 percent open rate?" That's one of the controversial questions Ally Dommu poses in a post on the Big Duck site. Before you do anything rash, take a look at some of the other questions Dommu poses in her post and read the half a dozen or so comments submitted in response to her post.

Education

Budget documents obtained by the Washington Post offer the clearest picture yet of how the Trump administration intends to shrink the federal government's role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children's schools. Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report

Environment

In his first four months as president, Donald Trump has walked back many of the promises he made to supporters on the campaign trail. One thing is absolutely clear, however: he is committed to rolling back a half-century of environmental regulations and protections supported, at different times, by majorities in both parties. And that, according to the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, puts him at odds with a majority of Americans.

Global Health

On the Devex site, Rebecca Root shares five key takeaways from her conversations with attendees at the recent G-20 meeting on global health innovation.

Continue reading »

3 Ways to Bring Your Work to Your Donors (Instead of Asking Them to Come to You)

May 19, 2017

Mobile_ExperiencesNearly every nonprofit organization I deal with is careful to include an "experiential" touch point somewhere along the donor journey. That is, once they've cultivated a new donor, they spend a considerable amount of time and effort attempting to persuade that donor to volunteer or participate in some kind of hands-on activity at their headquarters or at an off-site location where the donor can experience their work firsthand.

Sound familiar? If your organization does something similar, how often is it successful? (Be honest.)

As nonprofit and cause leaders, we wish every individual had the opportunity, interest, and time to meet the people we serve and see the impact of our work in real time. But let's face it, getting donors to visit your offices or to join you on a site visit usually isn't realistic. Why? Because people are busy.

After my colleagues and I figured that out (it took us a few years), we adopted a number of practices designed to bring our work online: posting photos and videos on social media, sending out a series of emails, and so on. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else adopted the same practices at about the same time. Today, they are so commonplace — and people are so inundated with emails and status updates as a result — that it's hard, if not impossible, to get your message stand out amid all the noise.

What's an organization to do? How can organizations share with donors the important work they are doing in a way that's both meaningful and experiential?

Actually, all it takes is a shift in mindset: Instead of bringing the donor to your work, you have to bring your work to the donor.

Continue reading »

Conscious Collaboration: The New Competitive Advantage for Nonprofits

May 18, 2017

CollaborationWhole Kids Foundation is a nonprofit on a mission to support schools and inspire families to improve their children's nutrition and wellness. We were established by Whole Foods Market in 2011 and operate in the U.S., UK and Canada, supporting more than ten thousand schools and reaching over five million kids. Our staff of six full-time team members is responsible for raising and investing $5 million annually. With such a small team, collaboration plays a critical role in our success.

It's unrealistic to believe that any one organization can solve today’s major societal issues alone, and so from the outset we have viewed the work of improving nutrition for children as a kind of relay. As such, it's imperative that we focus on our leg of the race — the work we are uniquely qualified and equipped to do. To achieve maximum impact, however, it's also critical for us to get to know and build relationships with organizations that are running other legs of the race. And as a leader in our field, it's important that we help other funders think about the quality of collaborations as an indicator of effectiveness.

From our roots in "conscious capitalism," a term coined by Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey to express the generative spirit of business and its capacity to create positive change in the world, we have developed an approach I call "conscious collaboration,” which is based on the idea that the tenets of conscious capitalism are as effective and powerful when implemented by nonprofit organizations.

Conscious collaborations begin with honest conversations, and the most difficult part of such conversations often is having an open dialogue about goals. Every dialogue we have with a potential collaborator begins with a simple question: "Can you help us understand your goals — both for your organization and related to anything we might do together?" If the question is not reciprocated, or if active listening is missing from the conversation when we share our goals, it's usually a good indicator that the organization is not a good partner for us.

Continue reading »

A Call for Inflection Point Funding

May 15, 2017

Broken_ladder"A strategic inflection point is the time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

– Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It's always been important to think about how private philanthropy can fill gaps in the social safety net that government, with its lower risk tolerance, cannot. At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we're increasingly attracted to inflection point funding — not a new concept but an approach that provides a different lens through which to look at our efforts. What makes inflection point funding interesting, in my opinion, is that, in addition to strategic partnerships with other funders, catalytic initiatives, and targeted solutions, it forces us to look hard at the obstacles that keep low-income youth from realizing their full potential.

Inflection point funding seeks to change the course of young people's lives at key junctures. I think of it as a ladder offering underserved children a way out of poverty. A child may move easily through the early stages of development, but at some point a rung in her development ladder will be missing or broken. Then what? In too many cases, she gets tired or discouraged and stops trying to climb.

Most of us are familiar with the ladder metaphor. Less familiar are the challenges so many disadvantaged and underserved kids face when trying to climb the ladder to success. Suppose, however, that with philanthropic support, we could develop solutions that enabled every underserved child to reach the next rung, and the rung after that, and the rung after that (or even the first rung). If you look at inflection point funding as a way to support kids who desperately want to climb the ladder to a brighter future, you'll understand why we're attracted to it as an approach.

That said, it isn't always easy to identify inflection point opportunities. There are no guidelines, only questions in need of answers. My own first question always is: Could our funding for a strategic intervention create opportunities for  young people to reach new heights? And, conversely, could the failure to solve the problem lead to other obstacles and challenges for the young people we were hoping to help?

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 13-14, 2017)

May 14, 2017

Youre-FiredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Although President Trump has signed into law a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, bringing to an end (for now) months of debate over his administration's controversial budget blueprint, the future of arts funding in America remains uncertain, write Benjamin Laude and Jarek Ervin in Jacobin. Critics who accuse the president of philistinism are missing the point, however. "For better or worse," they write, "the culture wars ended long ago. These days, with neoliberalism's acceleration, nearly every public institution is under assault — not just the NEA. If we want to stop the spread of the new, disturbing brand of culture — the outgrowth of an epoch in which everything is turned into one more plaything for the wealthy — we'll need a more expansive, more radical vision for art."

On the Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, the foundation's president, Earl Lewis, explains why the National Endowment for the Humanities is an irreplaceable institution in American life.

Data

In a post for the Packard Foundation's Organization Effectiveness portal, Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, reflects on the process that led to the center's Digital Impact Toolkit, a public initiative focused on data governance for nonprofits and foundations.

According to The Economist, the most valuable commodity in the world is no longer oil; it's data. What's more, the dominance of cyberspace by the five most valuable listed firms in the world — Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — is changing the nature of competition while making the antitrust remedies of the past obsolete. "Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy," the magazine's writers argue. "But if governments don't want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon."

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap report, 42 million Americans were "food insecure" in 2015, the latest year for which complete data are available. That represents 13 percent of U.S. households — a significant decline from the 17 percent peak following the Great Recession in 2009. The bad news is that those 42 million food-insecure Americans need more money to put food on the table than they did before. Joseph Erbentraut reports for HuffPo.

Continue reading »

[Infographic] The Current and Future State of Nonprofit Philanthropy

May 13, 2017

No doubt about it, these are challenging times for nonprofits. Revenues for most organizations are flat, government support for the safety net has been singled out as something we can longer afford (or are no longer willing to pay for), competition for limited resources is increasing, and demand for services continues to grow.

This week's infographic, courtesy of the online Master of Public Administration program at the University of San Francisco, provides a snapshot of a sector poised between the certainties of the past and, well, an uncertain future. And as someone who has covered the sector for years, a couple of things jump out at me. The charitable-giving-as-a-percentage-of-GDP ratio — 2.1 percent — has been stuck right around there for years, despite the efforts of infrastructure groups, activists, academics, and celebrity philanthropists. Might it inch higher in the future, as millennials enter their peak giving years? It's possible, though there's little evidence to suggest that millennials will be more charitable than their parents and grandparents — and some to suggest that, as a group, their giving will be constrained by worrisome economic trends. The infographic includes an oddly specific intergenerational-transfer-of-wealth range — $22.2 trillion to $55.4 trillion — which suggests to me that there will be a wealth transfer of some kind over the next thirty years, but that no one really knows how much wealth will be passed on, how much of it will end up in university and foundation endowments, or how much will end up supporting the work of faith-based and human services organizations. And the number of charitable organizations in the U.S. cited below — 1.5 million — almost surely is overstated, creating a false impression of a sector that is larger and more robust than, in actuality, it is.

Elsewhere, the infographic underscores the still-significant impact of volunteers and volunteering in American society and hints at the rapid growth of online giving. But don't take my word for it. Have a look and then join us in the comments section below for a conversation about what the infographic gets right, what it gets wrong, and what you would change or add if you could.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Donna McKay, Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights

May 12, 2017

Donna McKay is executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using science and medicine to prevent and investigate human rights abuses around the world — with a focus on torture, mass atrocities, rape in war, and the persecution of health workers. A joint recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, PHR has unearthed forensic evidence from mass graves that helped convict former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; mapped attacks on healthcare workers in Syria; and led a campaign against the complicity of health professionals in the United States' post-9/11 torture program.

PND asked McKay about PHR's work, in the U.S. and elsewhere, to end human rights abuses as well as the role of physicians and science, medicine, and technology in advancing those efforts.

Donna_mckayPhilanthropy News Digest: Since you joined PHR as executive director in 2012, conflict and humanitarian crises have dominated the headlines — including the rise of Boko Haram and ISIS, violence against civilians in Burma, and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ukraine. Is conflict, and its attendant human rights abuses, on the rise globally?

Donna McKay: What's striking to me is how many of these crises actually began as human rights crises. In Burma, what started as the marginalizing of a minority group has ballooned into a humanitarian disaster. In Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad mercilessly suppressed an anti-government uprising, those who criticized his government were arrested, tortured, disappeared, and murdered — resulting in a massive refugee crisis. In South Sudan, fighting and forced displacement have caused the world's youngest nation to basically unravel. The list goes on. And each time, the international community has stood by while those human rights violations piled up and became some of the most vexing conflicts facing our generation. If you want to talk about conflict prevention, you have to talk about ending human rights violations and snuffing out larger crises before they begin.

What's heartening, though, is that while crises are on the rise, so too is the notion of human rights more generally. In a number of our trainings, health professionals from other parts of the world have told me that a generation ago, they didn't even have the language of human rights. Indeed, conflict is on the rise, but so is community activism. People are pouring into the streets, demanding their rights. I will never forget the joy I saw on the face of a friend and fellow activist from Egypt describing the first time he voted in an election. There's a thirst out there. And once people are exposed to human rights, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. They're just not going to give up.

PND: You have said that physicians in conflict zones bear witness to atrocities, that they believe in the power of evidence, and that medicine and science are about truth. PHR has documented nearly 800 attacks on medical workers and more than 450 attacks on medical facilities in Syria since 2011. Why are medical workers and facilities targeted in civil wars? And what should the international community be doing that it is not doing to better protect them?

DM: The numbers take your breath away. Doctors not only save lives — they are often on the front lines of human rights violations. Medical professionals adhere to some of the most robust ethical standards and treat those on all sides of a conflict, regardless of their identity, affiliations, or beliefs. They are also poised to speak credibly about the atrocities they see first-hand. Until fairly recently, the world had agreed that health professionals in conflict must be shielded. But we've allowed those longstanding norms to crumble. In Syria, we feared that attacks on hospitals and doctors would become the new normal — and sadly, they have. The conflict has been raging for over six years, and it's really only in the past year that the world has woken up to these atrocities. I think our work has played a part in that awakening.

Now that the awareness is growing, the international community must demand adherence to international law and must not let politics interfere with century-old norms that protect health professionals. At this point, no one can turn a blind eye and say this isn't happening. And yet so far, there has been no justice, no accountability. That must change. And that's why we at PHR are meticulously documenting these crimes. We're hopeful that our work can contribute to future prosecutions for attacks against medical personnel and facilities. It may seem impossible right now — but that's what naysayers said when we were gathering international support for a global landmine ban, an effort that led to the international landmine treaty and recognition by the Nobel Committee. We wouldn't do this work if we didn't have hope.

Continue reading »

[Review] 'The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age'

May 11, 2017

The mega-wealthy have long been celebrated in American culture. Even in the first Gilded Age, when the likes of Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, and Sage were scorned as robber barons, their wealth — and power — were much admired. In their time, these titans of America's burgeoning industrial might determined the economic destiny of millions and set the course of the nation. And their philanthropy — more than a century on — continues to echo with all the force that money can buy.

TheGiversBookShotToday, as we celebrate the dynamos of a new gilded age — their fortunes, in many cases, made younger, growing faster, moving at the speed of light — we're witnessing a second philanthropic boom. And that seemingly inexhaustible river of "private wealth for public good" brings with it the ideas and voices of those who, having made vast fortunes, are now determined to put that money to use. How society responds to and channels that torrent of money while making sure the ideas it funds best serve the interests of the American people is of broad concern.

In The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, David Callahan gives us a grand tour of the philanthropic landscape in the opening decades of the twenty-first century while opening a window on how today's economic winners — having proved themselves in business — are eyeing philanthropy as the ultimate opportunity to convert wealth into power. But where a Matthew Josephson might have distrusted such a development, in Callahan's telling these masters of the universe are thoughtful, broad-minded, and, yes, even likable. He's not interested in taking them down, criticizing their often rapacious business practices, or pointing out the role played by fiscal and tax policy in cementing their status as the .01 percent. Instead, his is a book about the giving away, not the getting, of great wealth.

Founding editor of the Inside Philanthropy website, a founder of public policy think tank Demos, and a former fellow at the Century Foundation, Callahan has a reputation as a keen observer of philanthropy and civil society and it serves him well here. Not only does he know his subject, he's also interviewed many of the people in his book — Priscilla Chan, Eli Broad, Melinda Gates, and John Arnold, to name a few — and is able to support his own judgments with their words. And what both he and they see is a future in which giving by the mega-wealthy is going to be bigger, more sophisticated, and more focused on influencing public policy debates.

Of course, many of today's mega-wealthy, people like Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg, have indicated they have little interest in leaving much of their wealth behind. (In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Bloomberg joked with correspondent Steve Croft about "a guy on his death bed in a hospital with the rails around and his family looking down like vultures. And he looks up and says, 'I know I can't take it with me, but I can take the access code'.") Indeed, in the next decade alone, some $740 billion is likely to be distributed in the form of private philanthropy. And if the Giving Pledge — the Buffett and Gates effort to encourage the uber-rich to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes — is any gauge, we could see another trillion dollars in private wealth making its way to nonprofit organizations and causes over the lifetimes of the one hundred and fifty-eight current "pledgers" who have signed on. (Learn more about that campaign and its signatories at the Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge feature.) How all that money will be used over the coming decades is what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might call a known unknown, but it undoubtedly will have important and lasting effects, and that — as well as who will decide what its impact might be — is at the center of Callahan's inquiry.

Continue reading »

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 6-7, 2017)

May 07, 2017

Macron-victory-celebrationOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Philanthropy

Forbes contributor Robert Reiss profiles five organizations that are redefining corporate philanthropy. 

Environment

The restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the United States, is showing signs of success. So why, asks journalist and Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton on the Yale Environment 360 site, is the Trump administration seeking to eliminate funding for those ongoing efforts?

Lots of people in the climate change community are not happy the New York Times hired longtime Wall Street Journal op-ed writer Brett Stephens as a columnist for its opinion pages. Vox's David Roberts explains.

Inequality

Could persistent disagreements over inequality and opportunity (e.g., "self-made" vs. "takers") be the result of cognitive bias? On the New York Times' Upshot blog, Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard, looks at how our tendency to remember and celebrate the challenges we faced, not the advantages we've had, colors our perceptions of those who are less fortunate — and how we might use that bias to create better public policy.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation

May 04, 2017

Since joining the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia Juech has led the foundation's efforts to identify and assess new, large-scale opportunities for impact across the foundation's priority areas and spearheaded its horizon scanning activities, informing both strategy and programs.

Recently, PND spoke with Juech about Rockefeller's "scan and search" activities, an approach the foundation is using to bring more diverse voices into the earliest stages of its work, ensure that all early-stage decisions are based on the best available evidence, and ultimately do the most good with the resources it has.

Headshot_Claudia_JuechPhilanthropy News Digest: What were the factors that led Rockefeller to adopt the "scan and search" approach? What are its benefits over more conventional approaches to philanthropic investment? And has your background in finance shaped your thinking about what the foundation can and should do to maximize its impact?

Claudia Juech: We wanted to develop a tool that would help the foundation generate the most impact for its investment — and to do that, to truly achieve transformative change, we needed to cast a wider net. That entailed a couple of things: in addition to being guided by our in-house experts, we realized we needed to reach out and listen to a broader spectrum of voices, and to look at problem areas that we hadn't considered previously. And we wanted to find ways to put the "winds of change" at our back — to identify changes that were already happening and could help us achieve our impact goals.

In comparison to more conventional philanthropic approaches, it's very open-ended and opportunity-driven. Rather than settling on a strategy or approach beforehand — say, increasing agricultural productivity — and then doing research to confirm our assumptions, we look at problems affecting vulnerable populations and try to keep an open mind in terms of deciding which issues we want to work on and how.

We're looking at big spaces, big fields, big problems where we want to make big bets. And there are a couple of things from my experience at Deutsche Bank, where I was responsible for trend monitoring, that I've tried to apply to my work here — using futures methodologies, for example, to predict "winds of change" trends. We start by looking quickly at about a hundred options, potential big bets, and then winnow them down to those we think will generate the biggest bang for our buck. I see some similarities with venture philanthropy in the belief that not every investment will have the impact you want, and that you look across a wide range of options and try to place informed bets. We look at a broad range of options, from cybersecurity concerns for the poor, to issues of energy poverty, to urban food insecurity, to neglected tropical diseases, and we ask where we could make the most headway, and what we can bring to the table in terms of our assets and competencies. Eventually we'll move on to dedicated, rigorous research and stakeholder consultation on a short list of options.

PND: What are some of the challenges you faced in shifting to the "scan and search" approach — internally with foundation staff, as well as externally, with grantees? And are there any lessons you could share with the field?

CJ: I think the short answer is that the work is not any easier with this approach. It might provide a broader array of opportunities and in the end lead to better results, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a "silver bullet," any more than other approaches would. We've learned a couple of things, though. Internally, there have been a lot of questions about the staff's "ownership," engagement, and role in shaping these ideas. Typically, our investment ideas had been developed by, for example, someone leading the foundation's agricultural program, so when a separate "scan and search" team was tasked with casting a wider net for ideas, well, it initially created some tensions and challenges. It was a change-management process for the first two years. And in some ways I feel that tensions will always exist around mechanisms designed to ensure that outside perspectives are included in the planning process and that we don't fall into programmatic silos, which is one of the things scan and search is meant to address.

Over the years, we've developed different processes designed to bring in our colleagues and their expertise. We work closely with our in-house experts, who are our partners and advisors in the work of surfacing new ideas, and we use various facilitation methods, internal huddles, ideation meetings, and the like. In fact, some of those methods are now being used after the work has progressed to a later phase. So, we've advanced the work of the foundation not only substantively but also methodologically.

Externally, because scan and search is used in the very early stages of the initiative pipeline, the implications for grantees have not been that dramatic. We reach out to a broader universe beyond our grantees, to experts and people who can provide insights or who are directly affected by the problem. Although often the work we do ends up informing the work our grantees are doing as well.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2017)

May 03, 2017

For those in the Northeast, April was rainy, cool, and dreary. Here on the blog, though, things were hopping, with lots of new readers and contributors. The sun is back out, but before you head outside, check out the posts PhilanTopic readers especially liked over the last thirty days.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

Hands-upThose of you who check in with PND on a regular basis know (here, here, and here) that Viktor Orbán, the illiberal and increasingly authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, and lawmakers from the country's governing Fidesz party have launched a campaign to rid Hungary of liberal (and dissenting) voices. In addition to attacks on the press and political activists, the campaign has targeted nongovernmental organizations operating in the country with the help of foreign funding — with a particular focus on groups backed by the Open Society Foundations and its founder, Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros.

Last week, a group of funders led by the European Foundation Centre, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Stefan Batory Foundation issued a statement in support of Hungarian NGOs and the broader values of "transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations." We are pleased to share that statement, which has been signed by a coalition of more than eighty philanthropic and civil society leaders from Europe and the United States, below.

_______

Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

As the leaders of private philanthropies in the United States and Europe, we are greatly concerned by the repeated efforts of the Hungarian government to restrict and stigmatize nongovernmental organizations operating in the public interest. This includes actions in recent years that have threatened the existence of organizations supported by Norwegian civil society grants and, more recently, steps that may force the closure of the Central European University. We are especially concerned with efforts to require entities that receive even modest international financial support to register as foreign-funded organizations and list this designation on their website and all publications, or face fines and potential closure.

We support transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations, but some of the proposals currently under consideration go well beyond what is reasonable and would have the effect of discriminating against certain organizations and stigmatizing those that operate at world-class levels and are able to attract financial support from private foundations in Europe and globally. Hungarian law already requires all civil society organizations to report their sources of income and other support to the National Office for the Judiciary. We oppose public communications campaigns that undermine public trust in civil society organizations, falsely implying that such organizations in general, and those receiving foreign funding in particular, may be more prone to engaging in illegitimate activities than others. We are especially concerned that listing NGOs in a special registry of foreign-funded organizations may open the door to further, discriminatory treatment of these NGOs.

The ability to source funding from international donors is an important signal of the international quality and competitiveness of Hungarian NGOs, and it reflects Hungary’s solidarity with the European commitment to civil society. We hope the Hungarian government will honor the country’s and Europe’s commitment to the freedom of its citizens to form organizations, debate the issues of the day, and seek financial support from all legitimate sources.

Continue reading »

[Book Review] Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact

May 02, 2017

How can the social sector create lasting impact? By changing the way it thinks about and approaches social change, writes Tynesia Boyea-Robinson in Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact. Drawing on her experience in both the private and social sectors, Boyea-Robinson shares lessons she's learned and strategies she's found to be effective for changing how we think about and create change, how our organizations work, and how we collaborate.  

Book_just_change_3dIt's an approach well worth considering; as chief impact officer at Living Cities, a partnership of foundations, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the federal government that's committed to improving the vitality of cities and urban neighborhoods, Boyea-Robinson is tasked with ensuring that the organization's investments lead to measurable impact. She also has witnessed, both in her own family and in her previous work at Year Up National Capital Region, the barriers that many poor urban children come up against, leading her to acknowledge that the challenge of creating change, let alone lasting change, is daunting.

Something like closing opportunity gaps, for example, is a complex problem, one that involves interconnected relationships unique to each situation, as opposed to a merely complicated problem, the solution to which involves many difficult steps but can be mastered and replicated. And yet, she writes, we can create lasting impact, even around complex problems, if we work together and focus on a problem's underlying cause instead of its symptoms, continually improve our efforts through ongoing feedback, use data to define the impact we are looking to achieve, and align our programs, policies, and funding streams with clearly articulated goals. 

Boyea-Robinson is careful to note that meaningful social change rarely is driven by a single individual, organization, or sector. And while forging cross-sectoral partnerships is just one of the six ways, as she puts it, to "change how you create change" (the others are focusing on bright spots, changing systems through individuals, defining success in terms of people not neighborhoods, engaging the community, and supporting racial equity), it really constitutes the core message of the book. By definition, participation in a cross-sectoral collaboration creates the possibility of achieving something bigger than any one individual, organization, or sector could achieve alone. At the same time, collaborations, if they are to succeed, require solid relationships and a high level of trust, not to mention partners who are willing to commit to a collective goal that transcends their own individual objectives or reputation.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "They were careless people. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...."

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs