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Foundations Will Contribute $364 Billion to SDGs

May 24, 2016

And that's a conservative number. Though they may not have internalized all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals yet, foundations will contribute more than $360 billion toward their realization between now and the year 2030. Estimates as to the total volume of resources required to succeed on the ambitious global agenda run as high as $3.5 trillion, a sum far too large for bilateral and multilateral aid to cover alone. The remainder will have to come from private investment and philanthropy — and according to initial Foundation Center projections, foundations will do their part.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

Commonly known as "the SDGs," they are a set of seventeen universal goals for global dignity, prosperity, cooperation, and justice covering the period 2016-30. Different than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs address additional challenges such as climate change, growing inequality, and sustainable use of the oceans and are goals to which all nations, rich and poor, should aspire.

SDGs

Why are there seventeen SDGs?

The goals are the product of a United Nations-led negotiation process culminating in approval by 193 member nations last September. The goal process was further informed by the direct participation of over eight million people around the world through an online campaign. Beyond the seventeen goals, there are 169 targets and more than 200 indicators (i.e., "proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services") by which to measure progress. Skeptics often complain that seventeen goals is way too many, but think about it for a moment. If you put 193 foundations in a room, could they agree on as few as seventeen goals? Any way you look at it, the SDGs are remarkable: as a global consensus-building process, as one of the most participatory processes in human history, and as an integrated, future-oriented roadmap leading to a better world.

$364 billion is a conservative number

Foundation Center has the world's largest databases on the giving of philanthropic foundations. Recently, we looked back at historical data from 2010-13 and coded it as if the goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals were already in effect. That exercise yielded a total of $97.3 billion in philanthropic giving for the SDGs over the four-year period. Projecting forward, we can say with some confidence that foundation funding between 2016 and 2030 — the fifteen years covered by the actual SDG campaign — will conservatively amount to more than $364 billion. Why conservatively? Because over the next fifteen years three factors are likely to push the amount higher: 1) the continued growth of philanthropy around the world; 2) greater access to philanthropic data as the sector modernizes; and 3) increasing awareness among foundations as the SDG framework is embraced by governments, NGOs, and the private sector.

Haven't foundations already embraced the SDG framework?

Not really. While foundations like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have clearly articulated their commitment to the SDGs, the vast majority of foundations rarely think about them. This is more a product of the gap between an ambitious overarching global agenda and the kind of thematically or geographically focused work in which most foundations are engaged. Foundations are, for the most part, private institutions, endowed by wealthy families or individuals to serve the public good. They are not inter-governmental organizations that pursue grand plans to advance or accelerate global development. But that doesn't mean their work is unrelated to the SDGs. Indeed, Foundation Center is tracking philanthropic giving in support of the SDGs precisely to demonstrate to individual foundations, their membership associations, and the international community that foundations are already an important part of the equation when it comes to achieving the goals and have the potential to do far more.

The SDG Philanthropy Platform: Helping philanthropy engage in the global development agenda

To see how foundations are helping to create the world we want, check out SDGfunders.org , the web portal of the SDG Philanthropy Platform, a joint initiative of Foundation Center, the United Nations Development Program, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Supported by the Hilton, Ford, and MasterCard foundations, the SDG Philanthropy Platform is dedicated to providing accurate information about the work of foundations while facilitating partnerships between foundations, government, and the private sector in "pilot" countries such as Colombia, Kenya, Indonesia, and Ghana. Recognizing the comparative advantages of each sector will be crucial to making real progress on the SDGs. Our hope is that the kind of information made available through the SDGfunders site will help potential partners find each other while powering existing and future multi-sector partnerships.

What's in it for our foundation?

To repeat something I noted above, the Sustainable Development Goals are universal: they are as relevant to Detroit and Baton Rouge as they are to Dhaka and Bamako. The power of the SDGs can also be the power of your foundation: the promise of seeing the work you do locally as relevant to similar work around the world, and the opportunity to learn from new partners while contributing to a global agenda. Take the time to read the goals and targets embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals. They are as broad as they are ambitious, but above all they are incredibly inspiring.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he blogged about the three sources of foundation influence.

Native Voices Rising: Critical Leadership in Institutional Philanthropy

May 23, 2016

NAP-Logo1Earlier this year, I received news that Valorie Johnson, a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was planning to retire. As one of the few Native Americans working at a foundation, I celebrated her many accomplishments in the philanthropic sector. But I also grieved the impending loss of one the few Native influencers in philanthropy.

Why are there so few of us working in philanthropy? Who's addressing the issue? And, most importantly, why is the inclusion of Native voices so critical to effective philanthropic leadership?

A recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly described philanthropy's disappointing attempts at diversity: "[N]either the numbers in terms of diversity of staffing and governance nor the dynamics of this landscape has changed much since 2008. The pipeline is still not working to move people of color into philanthropy, or to move women and people of color up in hierarchies, as quickly as white men…."

Philanthropy has invested millions of dollars in various initiatives to increase diversity in the field, including the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the philanthropic sector. Eighteen affinity groups and organizations, including Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), founded the coalition in 2010, and while there has been progress in tracking much-needed data and advocating for increased Native representation in philanthropy, a significant amount of work remains to be done.

It's true that the small number of Native Americans working at foundations is related to the broader barriers to diversity in the field. But I would like to offer a few additional insights for your consideration:

  • When foundations seek to diversify their staffs, they often look to hire talent from the populations that benefit from their funding. Very few foundations focus their giving on Native American populations, so hiring Native staff may not be seen as a priority.
  • Native Americans are still dogged by stereotypes and myths. For example, some of you might be thinking: "Wow! I didn't know Edgar was Native American. Does he live on a reservation?" A foundation leader even confessed to me her fear of hiring Natives because she believed Natives were incapable of getting along with members of other minority groups.
  • Philanthropy is hardly a new concept for Native communities, many of which embrace a culture of reciprocity (as opposed to professionalized giving). As a result, Natives may not seek out foundation jobs. And many Natives prioritize working within our own tribes or communities instead of large, mainstream, and mostly white-led organizations.
  • Institutional philanthropy for the most part is the product of affluent white men, some of whom earned their wealth through business practices and/or policies that were harmful to Native populations. The lasting impact of colonization has resulted in the majority of Native families in the United States living in dire poverty far from the ivory towers of philanthropy.

The ugly cycle of philanthropic divestment has been compounded by the lack of Native representation in the field, which only serves to exacerbate the lack of understanding between foundations and the communities they aim to support.

Despite these disparities, I'm excited about the inclusion of Native voices in philanthropy and the growing availability of philanthropic resources to support funders, as well as efforts to increase Native representation in the leadership pipeline.

Thanks in part to the good work of Native Americans in Philanthropy, there is a growing awareness among funders of the significant disparity in support for Native communities. We know, for example, that an abysmal 0.3 percent of all foundation funding is directed to organizations that work on behalf of Native American communities. NAP also has been an invaluable resource in terms of convening funders on key issues, as it will be again this week during its 11th Annual Philanthropy Institute, a three-day conference that brings together Native and non-Native philanthropists, funders, tribal, and nonprofit leaders to discuss opportunities to support and advance Native causes.

Others are actively working to improve the funding landscape as well. Native Voices Rising is a grantmaking collaborative jointly led by the Common Counsel Foundation and Native Americans in Philanthropy that supports organizing, advocacy, and civic engagement activities involving American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations. In addition to producing research on the state of Native-led organizing, the collaborative has developed one of the best grantmaking mechanisms for funders interested in investing in Native-led organizations led by decision makers from Native communities.

Headshot_Edgar_VillanuevaSo, yes, it's true that a growing number of us can be found in the sector actively working to increase funding for Native communities. However, this work can be improved, across the board, if other leaders in the sector put aside preconceived notions about Native people and instead celebrate and embrace the values shared by Native communities and traditional philanthropy. Investments in diversifying philanthropic leadership are imperative not only for the health and well-being of Natives communities going forward – but for our idea of America as a place that provides opportunities for all.

Edgar Villanueva is  vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter @VillanuevaEdgar.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 21-22, 2016)

May 22, 2016

Arthur-conan-doyleOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Just as we often hear that it's easier to make money than to give it away, it seems as if donors and foundation leaders are learning that it's easier to divest from fossil fuel companies than it is to invest in clean energy. Fortune's Jennifer Reingold reports.

Economy

America's middle class is shrinking. The Pew Research Center lays it out in depressing detail.

Giving Pledge

So you've amassed a few hundred million or even a billion dollars and now want to help those who are less fortunate. A good place to start, writes Manoj Bhargava, founder of Billions in Change and Stage 2 Innovations, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is to understand the problem before funneling money into a solution, stop relying on traditions and assumptions, and make your philanthropy about serving, not helping.

Health

In a post on RWJF's Culture of Health blog, the foundation's Kristin Schubert says it's time for public health officials, school administrators, and parents to reframe the way we think about the links between health, learning, and success in life.

International Affairs/Development

Why should U.S. foundations take the global Sustainable Development Goals seriously? Because, writes NCRP's Ed Cain, they "constitute the broadest, most ambitious development agenda ever agreed to at the global level for getting the world off of its self-destructive, unsustainable path. [They] reflect the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental challenges and solutions. [And they]...tackle inequality, governance and corruption."

Nonprofits

On the TechCrunch site, Kevin Barenblat, a co-founder and president of Fast Forward, looks at three ways tech innovations are helping to reinvent how nonprofits address social problems. 

On the Forbes site, five nonprofit leaders from the Forbes Nonprofit Council pinpoint some of the challenges that may be holding you back from making your organization a success.

Nell Edgington has a good interview on her Social Velocity blog with Isaac Castillo, director of outcomes, assessment, and learning at Venture Philanthropy Partners. 

In the Harvard Business Review, Charities Defense Council founder Dan Pallotta argues that the decentralized structure of the charitable sector is undermining its effectiveness -- so much so, in fact, that what the sector really needs is the mother of all mergers.

In the first installment of a two-part series for the Nonprofit Quarterly, Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, looks at the recent data on funding for nonprofit infrastructure organizations (the organizations that Pallotta would like to see united under a single banner) and asks three questions: Why has overall infrastructure funding fallen from 0.85% of total giving in 2006 to just 0.60% in 2012? Why the pronounced bias for philanthropy-specific infrastructure versus the essentially stagnant support for nonprofit infrastructure? What's at risk if support for nonprofit infrastructure continues to be tepid in the face of vastly greater policy threats to the work of foundations and charities, and vastly greater numbers of entities for nonprofit infrastructure to support?

And here on PhilanTopic, GuideStar's Jacob Harold and the Center for Effective Philanthropy's Phil Buchanan explain why all foundations need to support nonprofit infrastructure. 

Philanthropy

What will it take to reverse the chronic under-investment in rural communities by philanthropy. NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman has a few ideas.

As media coverage and public awareness of philanthropy have increased over the last decade and a half, so has criticism of it. In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Karl Zinsmeister, creator of The Almanac of American Philanthropy, reviews a dozen common criticisms of philanthropy -- and offers a spirited defense.

Social Good

After taking a pounding from the Wall Street Journal for a single "CGI commitment, made six years ago...[that]  involved a private company...performing a social good," the Clinton Foundation responds on Medium with an explainer that details how the CGI model and impact investment work.

Transparency

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther looks at what Russian-born Daniil and David Liberman are doing to bring radical transparency to the nonprofit sector.

And Carnegie Corporation Vartan Gregorian explains what a commitment to transparency looks like for a large, stablished foundation.

Women/Girls

In a sponsored piece for the New York Times, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explains why and how efforts to collect data about women and girls drives social progress, and what it is doing to support those efforts.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments section below....

Africa’s Hunger Challenge

May 20, 2016

African_smallholder_farmerAfrica is the most undernourished region in the world. Even in the best of years, the continent is unable to feed itself. Despite decades of massive development aid aimed at making African countries food self-sufficient, more Africans go hungry today than did thirty years ago. And while the main culprit is a fast-growing population that has outstripped the continent's ability to produce more food, a number of other factors also contribute to growing hunger there.

The current population of Africa is 1.2 billion, twice what it was in 1985 — and it is projected to double again by 2050, surpassing the populations of both China and India by 2023. At the current rate of growth, Africans will comprise half the world's population by 2035.

Higher population densities increase pressure on the land, reducing farm sizes, soil fertility, and the quality of pastures. Today, one in four Africans, or nearly three hundred million people, are hungry, their lives impaired by poor diets. A fast-growing population combined with stagnant food production only means more hungry people in the future unable to enjoy healthy and productive lives.

Another contributing factor to hunger on the continent is rapid urbanization. While most Africans still live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture, urbanization on the continent is occurring at an unprecedented rate — indeed, half of Africa's population will be living in towns or cities by 2030. Unfortunately, these new urban dwellers will only exacerbate the rapid expansion of impoverished slums on the continent.

The challenge of addressing Africa's exploding population and the profound changes in its demographic landscape — the average age of an African is 19 — is complicated by extreme poverty. Africa is the world's second-largest but poorest continent, with 40 percent of its population living on less than $1.25 per day. Thirty-seven of the forty-two countries listed at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index are in Africa.

In African nations, chronic hunger kills more people than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. More than 30 percent of African children are stunted, and a third of the deaths of children under the age of five, or about three million children annually, can be attributed to hunger. No country can advance in terms of social and economic development so long as a large percentage of its population is poorly nourished. And yet, that is the situation on the continent, where too many children fail to get a healthy start in life because of low birth weight and/or undernourishment during the critical early years of their lives. That, in turn, leads to negative consequences for their growth, immune systems, and neurological and cognitive development.

If Africa is to feed its people, its farmers must raise the yields of their main staple crops and diversify the crops they grow. The challenge is formidable. Average crop yields in Africa are one-third what they are in other regions and one-fifth what they are in the United States. Remarkably, African farmers' fertilizer use is only one-tenth that of the global average. Fertilizer in Africa is expensive, costing a multiple of what it sells for elsewhere in the world. And African farmers, who are mostly women, simply cannot afford or do not have access to the improved seeds and other inputs they need to raise crop yields. Moreover, while Africa has 60 percent of the world's agricultural land, up to 65 percent of its currently cultivated land is considered degraded and less than 4 percent is irrigated. To feed its people, Africa simply must find ways to improve its soils and increase irrigation.

Unsurprisingly, as Africa's per-capita food production has declined over the past decade, its imports of food have nearly tripled. African nations spent nearly $37 billion in 2013 on food imports — an amount that is projected to rise on a year-over-year basis for the foreseeable future — while, on a per-capita basis, its food import costs are the highest of any region on the planet.

So, what can be done to address Africa's hunger challenge? For starters, African governments must give agriculture higher priority and invest a larger percentage of their resources in improving soil fertility and crop yields.

At the same time, greater efforts must be made to reduce the fertility rate of women and slow population growth on the continent. The average fertility rate in Africa is 5.2 children per woman (compared to 1.9 in the U.S. and 1.6 in Europe). One important step in reducing that rate is satisfying the large unmet demand among women for modern contraceptives. Lowering the fertility rate and achieving a demographic transition to a more stable population are central challenges facing African leaders.

Humanitarian appeals to feed the hungry in Africa will continue to stretch the world's available surplus food resources. Food aid helps, but it will not eliminate the challenge. The key to feeding Africa’s fast-growing population over the long run is for Africans themselves to find ways to reduce dependence on external aid and focus, in a consistent way, on increasing domestic food production.

Africa also needs peace and stable civil conditions, as well as good governance and competent managers. Most of all, it needs visionary leaders who put the best interests of their people first and commit themselves fully to ending hunger on the continent.

Headshot_mark-wentlingEnough words. An African woman once told me she was tired of reading report after report about Africa's food problems. "If words could be eaten, there would not be any hunger in Africa," she said. "We need food, not words."

Mark Wentling is the regional director for Africa at Breedlove Foods, a Lubbock-based nonprofit processor of food products developed for humanitarian relief efforts. Over a forty-year career as a humanitarian assistance specialist in Africa, he has worked for the Peace Corps, USAID, CARE, World Vision, and Plan International.

A New Power Grid: Reflections on 'Building Healthy Communities' at Year 5

May 19, 2016

Health_exercise_for_PhilanTopicSystems change, policy change, narrative change, and people power are terms we use often at the California Endowment.

Together, they represent what's happening in fourteen geographically diverse communities across the state thanks to our Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative. Just as important is the state-level systems and policy change work we've supported to help strengthen local efforts. Taken together, they represent the comprehensive vision behind BHC, a ten-year, $1 billion initiative launched in 2010 to advance statewide policy, change the narrative, and transform communities in California that have been devastated by health inequities into places where all people have an opportunity to thrive.

As 2015 came to a close and we reached the halfway point of BHC, we thought it important to look back at the first five years of the initiative and document what we've learned to date. And because transparency in philanthropy is critical to the growth and effectiveness of the field, we want to share those insights with others.

A significant portion of the BHC plan involves a "place-based" focus on fourteen communities. Of equal importance is how the collective learning and energy generated by those communities help promote health, health equity, and health justice for all Californians. In other words, BHC is a place-based strategy with a broader goal of effecting statewide change.

So, what we have learned? It starts with this: BHC will be successful when three things happen to benefit the health of young people in lower-income communities:

  • 100 percent coverage of and access to health-promoting health services for young people is the norm;
  • 100 percent of California schools have wellness and school climate policies and practices; and
  • 100 percent of California cities and counties have established local health-promoting policies.

The thinking behind these three targets is simple: the wellness of young people is optimized when the "systems" they encounter on a regular basis — the healthcare system, their schools, their neighborhoods — support what families want and need for their children's health and well-being. And while those targets are critical to the success of BHC, the ultimate goal is for the power dynamics in the fourteen communities to shift to such an extent that families are able to hold local officials accountable for full ongoing implementation of family- and youth-friendly policies.

That's not to say we haven't made progress on accountability. Residents of the fourteen communities are working hard to hold local officials accountable across a wide range of issues, including access to safe, clean water; parks equity; living wage laws; common sense school discipline that keeps kids in school; fair school funding practices; and access to health care and coverage for all Californians regardless of immigration status.

Already, thousands of residents from BHC communities, young and old, are standing shoulder to shoulder to address these challenges. They are demonstrating courageous leadership. What they are accomplishing in their neighborhoods and at the state level exceeds all our initial expectations. They are the heroes of the unfolding story that is Building Healthy Communities.

In the five years since we first launched the BHC initiative at an event in City Heights with First Lady Michelle Obama, our board, staff, and community partners have been working hard to catalyze the kind of change needed to bring us closer to the goal of health and justice for all. We also commissioned three independent reviews of our progress, lessons, and mistakes. Over this past year, we reviewed the reports with our board and staff; we listened to and learned from our community partners; and then we got busy making needed adjustments.

Robert_k_rossIn the spirit of transparency and accountability, we share what we've learned with our colleagues in philanthropy. The report, A New Power Grid: Building Healthy Communities at Year 5 (28 pages, PDF; or Executive Summary, 8 pages, PDF), documents our progress, lessons learned, and key changes we are making at the midpoint of the initiative. I welcome and encourage your feedback. Email us at PowerGrid@CalEndow.org.

Robert K. Ross, M.D., is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Investing in Infrastructure for Impact

May 18, 2016

Abstract_tree_vector_imageThe U.S. nonprofit sector is in many respects the envy of the world for its strength and diversity. And it continues to grow in scale and complexity. But investments in our shared infrastructure are not yet sufficient to meet the challenges ahead

"Like a body without a backbone, a sector without a strong infrastructure will crumble," wrote Cynthia Gibson, then of the Carnegie Corporation, and Nonprofit Quarterly Editor-in-Chief Ruth McCambridge in a 2008 special issue of that magazine dedicated to infrastructure. Eight years later, with the level of investment essentially flat, we are echoing that sentiment with a renewed call for foundations to invest in strengthening the sector.

Nonprofits and foundations have, among many achievements, helped citizens secure their human rights, responded to domestic and international crises, fed the hungry, cured diseases, offered a rich array of arts and cultural programming, and protected our environment.

Yet we all aspire to see the sector be much more effective tomorrow than it is today. That can only happen if we invest in strengthening it, and that's not happening to the degree that it could or should.

We need the data systems and technology platforms that fuel communication and learning. We need training programs that support the growth of staff and volunteers. We need the research to understand what works and what doesn't. And we need advocacy for new levels of excellence and for policies that support our work.

This work is being done, but not with the level of support it should have. The organizations we lead, GuideStar and the Center for Effective Philanthropy, are among more than twenty "infrastructure organizations" that are formally calling on foundations to step up their level of support for infrastructure. We ask them to consider dedicating at least 1 percent of their grantmaking budgets to strengthening the sector.

These organizations represent a diverse coalition that also includes BBB Wise Giving/Give.org, BoardSource, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, D5, Exponent Philanthropy, the Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers, Foundation Center, Global GivingGrantmakers for Effective Organizations, Media Impact Funders, the National Council of Nonprofits, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, Nonprofit Quarterly, the Philanthropy Workshop, Social Finance, Stanford PACS, Stanford Social Innovation Review, TechSoup, and VolunteerMatch.

All of us are very grateful to the handful of funders that have made significant investments in "infrastructure" organizations. But as Lindsay Louie, program officer at one such foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, noted last year, citing Foundation Center data, "Philanthropy is growing, but infrastructure funding isn't keeping pace." (Disclosure: Hewlett has supported both our organizations and one of us used to work there.)

That needs to change. In a letter the organizations sent this month to all U.S. foundations making more than $2.5 million in grants annually, we argue that "civil society needs infrastructure to ensure that nonprofits and foundations can act with integrity and impact." Because, while much has been achieved, much more can be done.

"Collectively, we waste hundreds of millions of dollars in a fundraising process that is full of duplication and confusion," we argue. "Nonprofits struggle to find the right staff with the right skills. The power imbalance between foundations and nonprofits dampens the honest conversations that are so critical to any partnership. Too often nonprofit leaders do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Too few organizations admit failure; and, thus, few learn from it."

No one of our organizations is addressing all these issues. But, collectively, we're working on them all. And we all believe that, while the sector has done much good, it can do much better. We won't get there without paying attention to strengthening the sector. Simply importing frameworks or approaches from business or government doesn't work. The challenge of nonprofit effectiveness is unique, requiring its own dedicated infrastructure.

We know foundations often hesitate to support infrastructure organizations because they see such grants as coming at the expense of support of the "core work" of their programs. But that's a false choice.

How does strong infrastructure make a difference? The lines are not actually hard to draw. Take VolunteerMatch, for example, which has connected more than ten million individuals to volunteering opportunities, providing nonprofits with crucial resources to help them achieve their goals. Or BoardSource, which has helped thousands of nonprofits improve their board governance. These organizations provide resources and insight that nonprofits need – and can't find elsewhere.

But we have come together not to make the case for specific, individual organizations. We have come together instead to seek a stronger network of infrastructure organizations that, working individually and collectively, can help strengthen the sector. That includes the signatories of the letter to funders, but also many, many other organizations. We don't speak for anyone but ourselves, but we also know we represent just a slice of the infrastructure.

Each foundation will make its own choices about what slices appeal to them. Some foundations may seek to target their infrastructure support to organizations working to increase diversity of leadership in the sector. Others may focus on improvements in technology to increase nonprofit efficacy. Others might focus on policy-oriented efforts. Still others might do a little of everything.

We're asking foundations to support organizations whose work is focused on creating the conditions in which nonprofits across programmatic areas and communities can thrive, making quicker progress toward the achievement of their goals. An investment in the right infrastructure really is an investment in impact.

Jacob Harold is president and CEO of GuideStar and Phil Buchanan is president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. (Ed note: PND is a service of Foundation Center, one of the signatories to the "investing in infrastructure" letter mentioned in Harold and Buchanan's post.)

[Review] American Generosity: Who Gives and Why

May 17, 2016

Imagine a snapshot of American giving. What would it look like? Would it portray an abundantly generous America, or show a dismal lack of involvement in charitable causes and civic society? In American Generosity: Who Gives and Why, sociologists Patricia Snell Herzog and Heather E. Price address this question using a variety of methods with the goal of both broadening and deepening our understanding of how generosity is expressed, what fuels it, and what can be done to encourage more of it.

Book_american_generosityTo write their book, Herzog and Price drew on the results of Notre Dame's Science of Generosity Initiative, a Templeton Foundation-supported effort to promote interdisciplinary approaches to the study of generosity in all its forms. The initiative's findings, and Herzog and Price's presentation of those findings, offer valuable insights for the individual giver as well as scholars, religious leaders, and nonprofit practitioners and fundraisers.

The book, which draws much of its data from a nationally representative survey of more than a thousand people, is organized into a "who, what, where, why, and how much" structure. Herzog and Price begin by defining generosity as "giving good things freely to enhance the well-being of others." Although they identify nine such forms of giving, the "Big 3" are: donations of cash, time spent volunteering, and political or civic activity. (The other six encompass a wide range of actions, including the donation of one's blood or organs, estate giving, environmentally sustainable consumption, the lending of one's possessions, and "relational" giving to friends and family.)

Having defined generosity and identified its constituent forms, Herzog and Price then look at how generous Americans are, and how social and demographic factors — age, race, gender, education, income level — and regional characteristics influence generosity — "zoom[ing] out," as they put it, "from the frame-by-frame snapshots [in the earlier chapter] and survey[ing] the overall landscape of American generosity with a wide-angle lens." It's a view, they add, that lends itself to a "glass half-full perspective," in that it allows us to "see that Americans are generally quite active in working to help others."

One of the ways Herzog and Price add nuance to their portrayal and "breathe life into" the "static quantitative snapshots" is by including in-depth interviews from twelve survey participants. And one of the most interesting aspects of their analysis is the finding that while resources such as time, money, and connections do influence whether and how much someone gives, they are hardly the only factors that shape individual generosity — and don't explain why individuals with few resources often give more generously than those who have more to give. Why that might be the case is the subject of the second half of the book.

Herzog and Price find that givers generally fall into four categories ("giver types"): Planned, Habitual, Selective, and Impulsive (and some, whose survey answers are inconsistent or don't jibe with the patterns predicted by their framework, who are grouped as "Atypical"). The four types differ widely in how they choose to donate. Planned givers (about 16 percent) "have a regular, established routine for giving, and they spend time consciously deciding on their donations, allowing their giving amounts or the targets of their giving to adjust and change"; Habitual givers (6 percent) "put some thought into developing their…system, and then…tend to let it run on autopilot" (the religious tithe exemplifies this kind of giving); Selective givers (17 percent) "make conscious decisions about where and how much to give, but they do so with a spontaneous, non-routine approach"; and Impulsive givers (40 percent) "have no sustained, regular, or conscious involvement with giving," but respond when "presented with an immediate situation" such as an emergency relief appeal that involves texting a $10 donation by smartphone.

Herzog and Price next explore how the social and demographic factors discussed in an earlier chapter apply to their giver types and then look in some detail at how various personal and social orientations — the extent to which people aspire to own material things, the extent to which people believe there are no hard-and-fast rights/wrongs in life, the extent to which people feel grateful for what they have — influence giving. After identifying seven principal factors representing a range of social psychological characteristics (social solidarity, life purpose, social trust, prosperity outlook, etc.), they then address "the billion-dollar question": To what extent do these orientations explain philanthropic behavior? The answer? "On the one hand, the reasons [for giving] cannot be reduced to a simplistic formula shared by all American givers. On the other hand, the story is not so complicated that we cannot make sense of it. People act in patterned ways, and adequate, non-reductionist explanations of giving outcomes entail combinations of personal orientations and approaches to giving."

The authors then adjust their lens to include an individual's socio-relational context using Georg Simmel's Webs of Affiliation theory, which posits that the modern individual, instead of belonging to "concentric" social circles (as was customary in the past), is embedded in a spoke-like web of group affiliations that sometimes reinforce and sometimes conflict with each other. These include personal affiliations — spouses, parents, friends, and religious calls to action — as well as local and national giving contexts. Herzog and Price consider each of these affiliations in relation to levels of "generous self-identity," and conclude that people with generous self-identities are more likely to be givers, and to give more, if their social circles are also generous. Conversely, people who find themselves in social circles that aren't very generous will tend to give less.

In accordance with this finding, Herzog and Price offer one of many useful tips in the book for increasing giving by Americans: feel free to talk about your own giving (without bragging, of course). If Americans spent as much time talking about their volunteer activities or the fact they donate blood as they do about pop culture or their own hobbies, they write, people around them would be inspired to give more. Elsewhere in the book, they share a number of techniques designed to help fundraisers and development professionals appeal to the various giver types. For example, planned givers, as part of their systematic approach, value feedback about "what their donations accomplished" from the organizations to which they donate.

Perhaps more significantly, the authors warn against "focusing on only one of expression of generosity" (e.g., donating money) and broaden their definition of giving to more fully encompass the generosity of, for example, lower-income Americans and people who often are just trying to get by. "To limit our understanding of generosity to giving away resources" without taking into account relational giving or a low-income individual's efforts to become self-sufficient, they write, "necessarily makes giving something that can be done only from [a position of advantage]." Insights like that — which is hinted at early in the book but is only fully articulated toward the end — makes one wish that Herzog and Price had spent more time discussing the ways in which we all could work together to highlight the value and impact of charitable giving, regardless of the form it takes.

That said, American Generosity is only a starting point; indeed, Herzog and Price close with a call for additional multidisciplinary research into this broad and important topic. And while a cynic might point to the relatively low charitable involvement of many Americans and argue that nothing anyone does will change the basic fundamental equation of generosity in America, the authors end their book on a more hopeful note, saying there's a great deal of potential in the American giving landscape waiting to be tapped. 

Mirielle Clifford is an online resources program associate at the New York Foundation for the Arts. For more great reviews, visit our Off the Shelf section.

 

 

Philanthropy's Role in Creating Tomorrow

May 16, 2016

Globe_hands_for_PhilanTopicChange in the world and our communities is happening at breathtaking speed. This accelerating rate of change makes the challenging work of doing good even more difficult. Foundations are trying to make the world a better place, but we are often using yesterday's information to do so.

When deciding what we will fund next year, we look at six-month-old grant applications, year-old grant reports, and six-year-old census data. But these methods are no longer up to the task. The Institute for the Future held a wonderful training last fall on the future of philanthropy in which the guiding question was: "Foundations will exist in ten years, but will they be relevant?"

Relevancy is not a question that foundations are used to asking themselves. But as we watch Mark Zuckerberg avoid the traditional structure of a foundation and, instead, opt to set up an LLC for his community impact work, it makes many of us pause and ask, "How do our institutions, which look almost the same as they did in Andrew Carnegie's time, need to adapt to meet the challenges of tomorrow?" That question has led me to an interest in futurism and interviewing leaders who are thinking differently about making the world a better place — individuals like Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Unite, Dr. Eric Jolly from Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, StartUp Box founder Majora Carter, and Obi Felten of Google X.

Based on these conversations, I believe it is our responsibility, as philanthropic leaders, to learn the skills needed to understand and create the future we want for our communities. And to that end, I’ve developed a three-step process to help philanthropic leaders escape from the busy-ness of today to create the better world of tomorrow.

Step One: Stop Loving the Problem. Those of us in philanthropy spend a lot of time studying the problems we seek to address. Knowing the scope of an issue is helpful, but it is not an end in itself. It is counterproductive to spend so much time and mental energy on understanding what isn't working. Instead of thinking more deeply about a problem, think of what the problem would look like if it was actually solved. It might bring you to new solutions.

Step Two: Look. You can't be flexible only when change comes; you need to anticipate change and prepare for it. How do you do this? Set aside 5 percent of your time each week — preferably in a single two-hour block — to think about what the issues or communities you care about will look like five, twenty, and even fifty years in the future. Pay attention to trends in your field and innovations outside your field that may have an impact. TED Talks are a wonderful resource for this.

Step Three: Go. Across many of the issues that our philanthropic organizations fund, we are seeing worse outcomes for children and communities. It's clear in many cases that our current methods aren't working, but we still seem to have a fear of trying something unproven. While this may feel counterintuitive, as a field we need to learn to fail faster. That means learning how to quickly prototype, pilot, and implement new ideas and ways of working on the issues we care about (see Step Two: Look). This will enable us, in turn, to more quickly figure out what does and doesn't work.

Then you need to share what you’ve learned with the field — the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can't be afraid of failure; it is the only way we will get to new, transformative solutions.

Trista_harris_for_PhilanTopicAbraham Lincoln said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." So let's get started!

Trista Harris is a philanthropic futurist and the president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, an organization that works actively to expand and strengthen a vibrant community of diverse grantmakers who individually and collectively advance the common good. MCF members represent three-quarters of all grantmaking in the state, awarding more than $1 billion annually. Follow Trista on Twitter at @TristaHarris.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

Joe-dimaggio_display_imageOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.

Data

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.

Education

How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

Continue reading »

Blind Spots No More: Introducing Transparency Trends

May 13, 2016

There are some lessons you learn that you never forget. "Mirror, signal, blind spot" is one of those lessons for me, dating all the way back to driver's ed when I was equal parts excited and horrified that someone was handing me the keys to a moving vehicle. I still recall the teacher emphasizing how important it is when changing lanes to first check the mirror for what is behind you; signal to let others know you are entering/exiting a lane; and then to check your blind spot, assuming there is someone invisible to you that only looking over your shoulder and out the window will reveal.

So, is our new Glasspockets' Transparency Trends a mirror, a signal, or a viewer for revealing the blind spots a foundation may be creating? It actually serves all these purposes. Transparency Trends, created with support from the Barr Foundation, aggregates the data we have collected from all foundations that have taken and publicly shared their "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment transparency profiles and allows the user to interact and display the data in a variety of ways.

The default view displays data about all 77 participating foundations, and users can perform a number of helpful transparency benchmarking activities with the tool, including:

  • Learn which transparency elements are most and least commonly shared online;
  • Access lists of which participating foundations share each transparency indicator;
  • Access statistics about the sharing frequency of each transparency element;
  • Compare a specific foundation to a select peer group by region/asset/foundation type; and
  • Download a customized report detailing suggested improvements for a particular foundation.

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5 Questions for...José García, Program Officer, Strong Local Economies, Surdna Foundation

May 12, 2016

You don't need a political scientist to tell you something is amiss in America. It's there, lurking, in the presidential primary campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in our social media feeds, in between the lines of recent reports detailing falling mortality rates and rising rates of opioid addiction among working-class Americans. It's part frustration, part anger, but mostly anxiety about the economy and our economic future. Where have good jobs for average Americans gone? Are technology and globalization benefiting or hurting the economy? And where will new good jobs — the kind that make it possible for young Americans to pay off their student loans, buy a home, raise a family — come from?

Through its Strong Local Economies program, the New York City-based Surdna Foundation supports the development of a robust and sustainable economy in three ways: encouraging business development and acceleration, fostering equitable economic development, and working to improve job quality and career pathways. Recently, PND spoke with Surdna's José García about Ours to Share: How Worker Ownership Can Change the American Economy (50 pages, PDF), a new report published by the foundation that examines the potential of worker-owned firms and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) to create a more productive, stable, and equitable economy.

Headshot_jose_garcia_blogPhilanthropy News Digest: What big macro trends is the Ours to Share report responding to? And how does it fit into the broader Strong Local Economies portfolio at Surdna?

José García: Our interest in fostering a strong local economy is one of the reasons we released the report. It responds in part to the growing number of low-quality jobs generated by the U.S. economy. We recognize that it's important for the economy, for workers, and for our shared prosperity to increase the number of well-paying jobs. These are good jobs, jobs that give people a chance to move into the middle class and a chance at a better future. We're in a period in which wages have stagnated while at the same time debt levels, for most Americans, have increased. Meanwhile, the top fraction of a percent has seen its wealth soar, resulting in a significant increase in inequality. Of course, growing inequality has an impact on economic growth, in that it leads to a decline in the number of people with discretionary income to spend. Here at Surdna, we believe the creation of good jobs is a critical factor in wealth creation and a key component of any agenda aimed at strengthening local economies. It's not a panacea, but we do see it as essential.

PND: It's a coincidence that the report is being released in the middle of a presidential primary season that has seen a self-proclaimed democratic socialist on the Democratic side make a serious run at his party's nomination. But the timing is kind of perfect, isn't it?

JG: I would love to say we planned to release the report during primary season, because you're right, the timing couldn't be better. And one of the reasons is because worker co-ops are a bipartisan idea. From the bipartisan passage of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), legislation that created employee stock ownership options for workers, to the more recent creation of a bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, both sides of the aisle have favored and continue to support actions to increase the levels of ownership in society. And that is what worker co-ops and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) do — they create good jobs for workers and, at the same time, they give workers a piece of the ownership pie.

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Turning a Visit Into an Immersive Experience

May 11, 2016

Immersive_learningThe Jim Joseph Foundation invests in curated immersive learning experiences and the training of talented educators who facilitate them. From a pedagogical view, these kinds of experiences stand in contrast to the simpler "trip to the museum," which by itself typically lacks the educational component needed to catalyze learning. In contrast, an immersive learning experience provides an opportunity for a participant's growth in terms of knowledge, character, and identity.

One example of the value of such an opportunity is found in a 1970 study of Sesame Street[1] (which premiered in 1969). The study sought to determine whether socioeconomic status (SeS) was a determining factor in whether young children (ages 3 to 5) benefited from watching the program. In the study, there was a difference in baseline performance between those with low SeS and high SeS, although both segments exhibited material improvement on assessments after regularly watching the program.

In a subsequent study that examined the same age group[2], however, researchers noted a profound divergence and determined that certain children not differentiated by SeS excelled at a far greater rate than other participants. The X-factor? Parents. When one or more parents collectively watched episodes with their children, researchers noticed that children’s measurable skill sets increased more than the skills sets of those whose parents did not. The result pointed to the "curated experience" as an important and defining one.

This idea of curation permeates each of the Jim Joseph Foundation's strategic priorities: Increase the Number and Quality of Jewish Educators and Education LeadersExpand Opportunities for Effective Jewish Learning, and Build a Strong Field for Jewish Education. Three grants — to George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the American Friends of the Israel Museum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum's Innovation Fund — represent the symbiotic actualization of these strategies.

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[Review] The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century

May 10, 2016

To critique a critic: that is the task before me. In The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century, David Rieff offers an erudite and well-researched analysis of the problem of world hunger and the challenges associated with international development. While occasionally dense, his book both exposes the contradictions of the philanthrocapitalist dogma currently in vogue and challenges readers to reexamine the causes of growing development inequality among countries.

Bookcover-the-reproach-of-hungerIn outlook, Rieff, whose previous books include Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (1997), A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2003), and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (2006), is unapologetically pessimistic. "Hunger and poverty are inseparable," he writes, "and despite the many real successes in poverty reduction in many parts of the Global South, it is highly unlikely that these gains will be sustainable if rises in the price of staple food significantly outstrip the rise in incomes of the poor as a result of sound development policies." Due to the 2007-08 global economic crisis, recent extreme weather events, commodities speculation, and the diversion of corn to ethanol production, he notes, there is a "new normal" for global food production characterized by high prices and surging demand. And "[i]f significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050…when the world's population will have risen…to nine or perhaps even ten billion."

Central to Rieff's critique is what he sees as philanthrocapitalism's unquestioning adherence to the secular faith of progress first promoted by eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, subsequently nurtured by Gilded Age capitalists, exalted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and promoted today by their neoliberal acolytes. The intellectual embodiment of this hope, says Rieff, can be found in the thought and work of Bill and Melinda Gates, the development economics of Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama's triumphalist "end of history" thesis that capitalism and democracy were inevitable following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While Rieff seems to delight in putting a few dents in Sachs's worldview, his real aim here is to carve out space for a thoughtful critique of the historical, economic, and social forces underpinning international development as it is presently understood and practiced. To that end, he frequently challenges the "impatient optimism" advocated by the Gateses as well as their foundation's technocratic approach to the problems of global poverty and hunger. Similarly, he has little patience for those who insist that the line between the public and private sectors has been "blurred" — a trope, he says, that disingenuously ignores the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal system, resulting in impoverished dialogue and the dismissal of intellectual alternatives.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 7-8, 2016)

May 08, 2016

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

Civil Society

"Digital data are different enough from time and money — the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed — that it's time to redesign those institutions."  In a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why and how.

Community Improvement/Development

We didn't catch it in time for last week's roundup, but Forbes contributor Ruchika Tulshyan's profile of the Detroit-based New Economy Initiative, a startup entrepreneurship fund focused on inclusive economic development, is well worth a read.

Also in Forbes, the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock argues that "a Detroit-style 'grand bargain' approach could — with the same level of financial contributions from both big philanthropy and organized labor — break stalemates and allow [other Rust Belt] cities to restore funding for the city services on which their economies depend."

Education

In Inside Philanthropy, Mike Scutari shares highlights of a new case study, Dancing to the Top: How Collective Action Revitalized Arts Education in Boston (48 pages, PDF), written by sector veteran Cindy Gibson for Boston Public Schools Art Expansion (BPS-AE), a multiyear effort to expand arts education in schools across the district. Gibson calls the initiative described in the study "one of the most strategic initiatives" she's ever seen and praises the funding collaborative behind the efforts as "really collaborative." Definitely worth a read.

Environment

Long considered a disaster when it comes to pollution and environmental degradation, China is beginning to appreciate the seriousness of the situation -- and its responsibilities as the second-largest economy in the world -- and is pursuing a number of solutions to environmental challenges at home and beyond. The Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek reports.

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[Review] Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

May 06, 2016

Global health volunteering — medical missions, health brigades, "flying" surgeons — is a huge and growing enterprise. An estimated two hundred thousand Americans engage in such activities each year, and their time is valued at more than $750 million — not including the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs such as air travel, administration, and supplies.

Book_hoping_to_help_for_PhilanTopicDespite this enormous investment of resources, very little is known about the actual benefits of short-term volunteer service trips, of which the vast majority last less than two weeks. Volunteer trips are seen as opportunities to "make a difference" or to "give back," and most people who engage in such activities intuitively believe they accomplish some measure of good. Yet whether these efforts actually benefit the host communities, how those benefits are measured, and what other objectives are involved are rarely discussed or considered.

As they have grown in popularity, such activities — often grouped under the heading of "voluntourism" — have become a target of criticism. In a scathing critique in the Guardian a few years back, Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud wrote: "Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis-à-vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals' history, culture, and way of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering that seems to be enough."

Judith N. Lasker engages this debate with her latest book, Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering. A professor of sociology at Lehigh University, Lasker examines the landscape of short-term volunteer trips; the benefits and drawbacks of such activity from the perspective of the sponsoring organizations, the volunteers, and the host communities; and what can be done to make such activity more effective, particularly for the latter. The research on which the book is based includes a national survey of a hundred and seventy-seven U.S.-based sponsor organizations, more than a hundred interviews, and participant observation by the author on two short-term trips.

To assess effectiveness, one has to identify program goals, and in the case of voluntourism that ends up being more complicated than simply saying "improving the health of host communities." Indeed, sponsoring organizations — which include churches, universities, hospitals, and NGOs, as well as large corporations and other profit-making companies — often state that providing health services and building public health capacity in underresourced communities is one of their primary goals. However, organizations oftentimes have other, competing interests, including their ability to recruit talented professionals and their own financial sustainability. "[E]nhancing the organization's reputation" and "promoting volunteers' personal growth," writes Lasker, "are often considered just as important [as any benefits created for the host community], raising questions about whether a focus on them might reduce the effectiveness of a group in promoting health."

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4 Performance Measurement Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

May 05, 2016

Warning-286x300Performance management can be a tricky beast — hugely important, but difficult to get right. Here are four common mistakes my team and I see made by social, government, and nonprofit organizations trying to measure their impact, and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Measuring too much. By far the most common problem we see is that most organizations try to measure too much. Every additional measure you track uses up precious staff time for collection, aggregation, and analysis. In some cases, tracking too many measures is as almost as bad as not tracking at all. One client we served had a list of more than eight measures it was trying to track. Managers and the board were so overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that their eyes tended to glaze over when the data was presented, and little or nothing happened as a result. We helped them whittle the list down to just a few outcome measures for each client group, and that enabled them to focus their energy, track their efforts in a meaningful way, and improve their outcomes.

2. Underutilizing what you have. Many organizations are so busy worrying about measurement that they don't realize what a trove of information they may already be sitting on. One national nonprofit I know had been working on putting together a measurement system for three years, engaging external consultants, and doing a lot of hand-wringing about their lack of a large-scale control study. Its senior leaders, like those at many other organizations, found themselves overwhelmed by choices, confused by terminology, and with little to show for their hard work. Yet in the background, the organization had been collecting all kinds of information. With an infusion of new energy, leadership took stock and found that simply by undertaking an audit and tidying up the organization's data they were able to tell a compelling story to current and potential funders. The moral of the story? Before you do anything else, investigate what you have at hand. What information are you already collecting that measures outcomes for your clients?

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Philanthropy as a Platform for Civic Leadership

May 04, 2016

Civic-Engagement-Green-ShootsPhilanthropy often is the tie that binds communities together. From city to city, state to state, country to country, the vast majority of people benefit from andor participate in philanthropy. The true power of philanthropy, however, lies beyond the art and practice of grantmaking and is tied up with its ability — and responsibility — to equip and empower communities to move forward on their own.

As an institution, philanthropy is uniquely positioned to meet the ever-changing needs of communities, empowering them to drive a variety of projects, programs, organizations, and campaigns that serve hundreds and, at times, thousands. The work we do is, in many ways, the secret sauce — although the recipe for change doesn't always come in the form of a check. Indeed, while our financial capital is important, equally as important is the reputational, social, and intellectual capital we bring to the table. Just as communities are powered by the residents that live and work in them, foundations are powered by the people within them. And, in many cases, those people are very much a part of the fabric of the communities they are working to improve.

When I'm not meeting with grant partners, much of my time is spent with business and government leaders trying to identify collaborative approaches we can take to tackle the complex issues facing our communities. In early April, for instance, I met with Dave Bing (the former mayor of Detroit, retired Hall of Fame basketball player, and respected businessman) to brainstorm strategies focused on addressing the summer employment crisis that affects many teenagers and young adults in the region.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2016)

May 02, 2016

The 2016 presidential primary races are heading into the homestretch, and for the first time in half a century the contests in California may actually help determine the winner(s). In the meantime, we've already tallied your votes for the most popular posts on PhilanTopic in April. Take a look and let us know what you think (or write in your favorite) in the comments section below....

It's a new month and we're looking for new contributors. Got a submission you'd like to share with our readers? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 30-May 1, 2016)

May 01, 2016

Munich-May-dayOur weekly round up 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 Americans for the Arts blog, Sharbreon Plummer offers some "suggestions for ways that employers can support emerging leaders...of color, along with ways that individuals can begin to explore self-care and agency within their institutional structures and everyday lives."

Climate Change

The Paris Agreement to limit emissions of global greenhouse gases will go into effect when 55 countries  —  comprising at least 55 percent of annual global emissions — ratify it domestically. Making sure individual countries live up to their commitments is going to be a challenge. Pacific Standard's John Wihbey explains.

Community Improvement/Development

"In the wake of Freddie Gray's fatal encounter with the police, subsequent tumultuous protests, a mistrial for one of the officers charged in connection with [his] death, and a crime spike, Baltimore, for better or worse, has become a poster child for government failure," writes Clare Foran in The Atlantic. With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake having announced she will not run for reelection, what happens in the city's Democratic primary "could shed light on the complex challenge of how to rebuild a fractured city — or how not to."

Corporate Philanthropy

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther considers the growth of global pro bono programs and argues that, as well intentioned as they may be, "without independent evaluations, feedback from clients and transparency about results, [such] practices won't do nearly as much good as they could."

Education

On the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, Frederick James Frelow, a senior program officer in the foundation's Youth Opportunity and Learning program, looks at some of the restorative justice practices the New York City Board of Education has implemented to help address "the root causes of the conflicts and misunderstandings that undermine trust and respect between youth and adults in school as well as in the world at large."

Environment

A massive 40,000-acre seagrass die off in the waters of Florida Bay is raising alarms about a serious environmental breakdown. The Washington Post's Chris Mooney reports.

In the first post of a four-part series, Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world's biggest conservation groups have embraced an approach known as "new conservation" that is roiling the field.

Continue reading »

[Review] Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change

April 30, 2016

When I think back to the social movements I learned about as a kid — from women's suffrage to civil rights — I picture grainy, black-and-white photos of people, young and old, with picket signs marching through the streets. While social movements today share many of the same elements, they would be largely unrecognizable to the early to mid-twentieth century leaders and social reformers who paved the way for today's activists. In Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, Derrick Feldmann adeptly dissects many of the social movements we've become familiar with, distinguishing them from movements of the past and, in so doing, reveals how contemporary social movements emerge, gain momentum, and, in some cases, sustain themselves long enough to change the world.

Bookcover_social_movements_for_goodFeldmann, the founder of cause engagement firm Achieve (and a regular contributor to Philanthropy News Digest), begins by drawing a distinction between the social movement traditionally understood and social movements for good. The latter, argues Feldmann, "establish a platform of awareness, individual action, outcomes, and sustainable change beyond initial participation and triumph," in contrast to social movements "focused solely on injustice and policy change in the immediate term." The ultimate outcome of a social movement for good may not be policy change but rather continued support and awareness at the level of the individual, as is the case with the "Movember" prostate-awareness campaign that takes place during the month of November.

In addition to this difference in end goals, the vehicles through which social movements for good tend to disseminate their message also differ from those used by more traditional social movements. In an age in which technology affects nearly every aspect of our lives, it shouldn't surprise anyone that it has become a key driver of the way we champion the issues we care about. In fact, our ability to reach potential supporters and champions for the causes we care about has never been greater, thanks to the virtual social networks that connect us. More than mere distribution channels, those networks and platforms have changed the nature of how we communicate. And yet, as Feldmann notes, social movements today "are more challenged than ever to get to the viral stage, given the rise in mass media outlets and the onslaught of shorter messages."

What makes Feldmann's narrative believable is his inclusion of first-person accounts. His interviews with individuals who have actually succeeded in catalyzing social change range from social sector celebrities such as Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, to passionate millennials on college campuses. And while they've all managed to garner a fair amount of public attention and inspire individuals to take action, their narratives also demonstrate that there are many ways to get there. Indeed, their stories reinforce a point that Feldmann makes from the beginning: empathy — a trait we all possess, regardless of age, race, or gender — is at the heart of all social movements.

To illustrate his point, Feldmann tells the story of a marketing campaign that asked Alaskans to donate some of the annual payout they receive from the Alaska Permanent Fund, an endowment funded by the state's mineral royalties, to a nonprofit of their choice. The campaign featured two different messages: "Make Alaska Better" and "Warm Your Heart." The latter resulted in a higher response rate of more than 30 percent than the former and a donation rate of 55 percent — proof, of sorts, that the "warm glow" feeling one gets from helping others isn't just something concocted by fundraising professionals to separate you from your hard-earned cash, but rather one of the key building blocks of any social movement.

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5 Steps to Help Turn Interest Into Action

April 29, 2016

Steps-to-successHere's a situation: A few hundred people, maybe more, start acting like they care about what you do, decide to follow you on social media, and/or sign up for your email list. But when it comes to needing them to actually take action for your cause, they pretty much disappear.

Sound familiar?

It's a scenario I hear a lot from frustrated fundraisers and nonprofit marketers who struggle to convert fans and followers of their organizations into supporters and champions. In part, that's because the idea of "doing good" has never been more popular. But actually doing something to make a difference is a different story.

What can you do you to change this dynamic?

First, let's take a step back and examine the way the average person engages with a cause he or she cares about.

Because humans are inherently empathetic, when we see suffering, injustice, or an opportunity to make a difference, our brain tells us to do something. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that we're ready to go all in for the cause. Instead, most of us will opt for a lower-cost option like signing up for a newsletter, following an organization on social media, or signing a petition. These kinds of "actions" satisfy our impulse to do something without committing us to do more (like making a donation or volunteering our time).

When we opt for this kind of low-level, low-cost action, we are signaling to people or an organization working to address a cause that it's okay to communicate with us. As a result, the development and marketing folks at the organization will begin to send us information about the organization, fundraising solicitations, and even requests to volunteer or organize an event or activity.

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Why Fund 'Insignificant' Populations?

April 28, 2016

Two-spirit-LGBTRecently, I was invited to speak on a panel concerning the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and Two-Spirit Native peoples at a grantmakers conference co-sponsored by Funders for LGBTQ Issues and International Funders of Indigenous Peoples. When we entered the Q&A portion, someone in the audience stood up and asked, "Given that LGBT people are a small minority and Native Americans are an even smaller one, isn’t the population of LGBT Native Americans statistically insignificant?"

The attendee then added, "Why would you say to a foundation that they should fund statistically insignificant populations when they want their funding to have a big impact?"

It's a fair question.

On a strictly mathematical basis, the questioner is right: we are talking about small populations. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2.9 million people identified as Native American/Alaska Native (AI/AN) alone. This puts the percentage of solely AI/AN people at approximately 1 percent of the total U.S. population. Unfortunately, the Census does not officially collect data on the number of LGBT people, but outside surveys peg the number around 6 percent of the total population. So if we are talking about absolute numbers, the questioner is technically right.

That said, I would argue that the question misses the point for three reasons:

Disparate impact. Seemingly small populations can be over-represented when it pertains to issues of particular concern to funders. Take homelessness. While LGBT-identified youth make up only 6 percent of the general population, they also constitute about 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Another fitting example would be educational outcomes. In South Dakota, which is home to a relatively large Native population, 91 percent of white fourth-graders are reading at grade level compared to only 34 percent of Native American students. How are we going to solve problems like homelessness and poor educational outcomes if we are not willing to address why some populations are faring more poorly than others? If you do not address the over-representation of so-called "insignificant" populations within larger, systemic issues, you’re less likely to make a significant dent in solving them.

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Helen Brunner, Founding Director, Media Democracy Fund

April 27, 2016

Helen Brunner, founding director of the Media Democracy Fund and an advisor to the Quixote Foundation, recently was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her efforts to protect the public's basic rights in the digital age and to secure universal access to a free and open Internet. Central to that work was funding and organizing the successful campaign to preserve net neutrality that culminated in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 decision to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or "throttling" — intentionally slowing — the flow of legal content or services and from offering "fast lanes" for a fee.

PND spoke with Brunner about the role of philanthropy in the ongoing debates over freedom of expression, data privacy, and the impact of social media on civic discourse.

Helen_brunnerPhilanthropy News Digest: The supporters of net neutrality seemed to have won a decisive victory last year, but the issue is being adjudicated again, with Internet service providers suing the FCC over the rules it issued in 2015 to protect the "open" Internet. Given that the court hearing the complaint is the same one that blocked the commission's earlier rules on net neutrality, how hopeful are you the new rules will be upheld?

Helen Brunner: I'm extremely hopeful they will be upheld, because I think this time we got it right. One of the things the commission didn't do in 2010 was to actually reclassify the Internet so that it could be regulated the way the commission regulates telephony. The Internet originally was regulated as a telecommunications service, but then the FCC decided, for a brief period, to regulate it more as an information service. But then they realized the Internet was far too important in terms of driving the economy — and innovation — to hamper it in that way, that the openness and innovation engendered by the Internet wasn't as well protected as when it was regulated as a common carrier. So they switched back, and that is, in fact, the current classification that enabled us to argue for "open" Internet, or net neutrality rules, under the rule of law properly.

So I'm hopeful the court will come back with a positive ruling. We had an extraordinarily good attorney arguing in court for the public interest petitioners, but the one thing that might come back for further review is mobile, which we care very much about because so many vulnerable populations rely on it for their Internet access. If the court feels that adequate notice wasn't given for that rule to be tasked, then the FCC will just go through the procedure again and get it right. That might be a concession the court would make in order to give more time for the big mobile companies to respond as to why they think it's a bad idea. And, of course, it would also give advocates of net neutrality another chance to respond as to why it's so important for the public interest and vulnerable populations for mobile to be neutral. There's a great deal of sympathy at the commission for that position.

PND: Social media played a major role in galvanizing public calls to preserve net neutrality and keep the Internet open. At the same time, social media seems to have had a pretty corrosive effect on civic discourse and the expectation of a right to privacy. Are those the kinds of inevitable trade-offs we all must accept as the price of the democratization of communication in the digital age? Or can something be done to slow or even reverse those trends?

HB: These are societal issues as well, whether we're talking about the coarsening of civic discourse or the aggressive tone of pundits in mainstream media. Social media is indeed amplifying all that, but I think we see polarized discourse everywhere, so it's something we need to address on a broader level. That said, there are some technical innovations that can cause social media to go off on a bad track, including something called "bots" on social media that can be used to drive discourse in a highly polarized direction, as well as techniques that enable companies to create false narratives. Now that isn't to say there aren't real dialogues and genuine arguments on social media, but there are things we can do to address the problem of bots, and there are several projects that different people are working on with the goal of at least eliminating the artificial hyping of phony debates.

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Why and How Do Nonprofits Work Together?

April 25, 2016

Collaboration_comp_imageNonprofit collaborations are at an all-time high. Recent surveys conducted by the Bridgespan Group and the Patterson Foundation reveal that 91 percent of nonprofits engage in some form of collaboration. In turn — and contributing to some of the confusion around collaboration — a number of terms have emerged that attempt to capture these complex relationships: from formal partnerships and mergers to collective impact efforts, there are more than a few ways to approach collaboration.

What seems to be missing from the discussion, however, is a fundamental understanding of why and how nonprofits collaborate. In an effort to shed light on the answers to those questions, we interviewed thirty U.S.-based and international nonprofits — across the fields of health, education, civic engagement, social services, arts, and the environment — with a strong reputation for working well with others. Their stories provide some insight, which we share here, into the strategic intent and different approaches to collaboration in the nonprofit sector.

Why Do Nonprofits Collaborate?

Although nonprofits choose to work collaboratively for a wide range of reasons, we found that most nonprofits team up for one of three main reasons: to boost organizational efficiency, increase organizational effectiveness, or drive broader social and systems change.

Organizational efficiency. An increase in organizational efficiency means an organization is able to accomplish its work more quickly and with fewer resources. For example, OpenGov Hub's co-working space in the District of Columbia allows for the creation of economies of scale and shared resources, resulting in lower rent and overhead costs for the thirty open-government organizations that use the space.

Organizational effectiveness. An increase in organizational effectiveness means an organization is able to advance its stated mission more successfully. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, for instance, trains congregational leaders and uses its collective influence to build "people power" in the service of social justice reforms. The result is a stronger group of organizations that are able to advance their stated missions and common objectives more effectively.

Broader social and systems change. In contrast to nonprofits focused on boosting their organizational efficiency and effectiveness, many nonprofits embrace collaboration as a way to leverage their own efforts to achieve broader systems change. Such an approach, when executed successfully, allows the collaborating organizations to experiment with different solutions to a problem in pursuit of social and systems change, and to position their activities and efforts relative to and in conjunction with other players. Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (PCYC) brings together seventy-plus organizations to support comprehensive "cradle to career" development pathways for youth in Rhode Island — in the process, linking a variety of education, public health, and child welfare issues into a comprehensive framework. Collective impact and networked-based approaches often guide these efforts.

How Do Nonprofits Collaborate?

The 3C Model (Cooperation, Coordination, Collaboration) — a commonly used model in the for-profit sector — categorizes organizational efforts to work with others along a spectrum of increasing intensity, starting with cooperation and progressing through to collaboration:

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 23-24, 2016)

April 24, 2016

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

Arts and Culture

Americans for the Arts has released the sixth and final edition of the National Arts Index, its annual report the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. This edition, which covers the years 2002-13 and includes data on eighty-one national-level indicators, provides "provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts — before, during, and after." You can download the full report (4.38mb, PDF) a one-page summary, and/or previous reports from this page.

Climate Change

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther suggests that is we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we not only have to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we'will also need to figure out how to pull vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. It's a daunting challenge, but we've got "a decade or two, perhaps" to figure it out, Gunther adds, and philanthropy, which has yet to devote much money to research on these technologies, has a real opportunity to make a difference.

In a Q&A here on PhilanTopic, the United Nation Foundation's Reid Detchon explains the significance of the Paris Agreement, which representatives of more than a hundred and seventy countries signed at a ceremony at the UN on Friday. And in a post on Medium, the National Resource Defense Council's Reah Suh argues that the accord represents the greatest opportunity the world has had to shift "from the carbon-rich fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy options that can power our future." home and abroad.

Disabilities

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has just awarded $20 million to thirty nonprofits working to engineer a better life for the disabled around the globe. Wired's Davey Alba has the details.

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss shares key takeaways from Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation, a new report written by a team of teachers and administrators headed by veteran educator Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and education historian and activist Diane Ravitch.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has launched an initiative called the Better Math Teaching Network. Learn more here.

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Paris and the Way Forward: A Conversation With the UN Foundation's Reid Detchon

April 22, 2016

It's been an unsettling couple of months for people who worry about the climate. As Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write in the Washington Post, "The first three months of 2016 have been the hottest ever recorded, and by a large margin. Greenland's massive ice sheet melted more this spring than researchers have ever seen. Warming seas are turning once-majestic coral reefs into ghostly underwater graveyards. And scientists are warning that sea levels could rise far faster than anyone expected by the end of the century, with severe impacts for coastal communities around the globe." Throw in the monsoon-like rains that have swamped Houston and the record heat baking the Pacific Northwest, and you're probably starting to think maybe it's time our elected officials took action. (Or not.)

In December, representatives from a hundred and ninety-five countries convened in Paris for the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), an annual gathering under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where they negotiated the so-called Paris Agreement, a non-binding pact to slow and, ultimately, reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. On April 22, Earth Day, the agreement will be opened for signing by countries that support it.

For most people, what that means — in terms of its impact, if any, on their lives and the future of the planet — is a mystery. To help shed light on these issues, PND spoke with Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate strategy at the United Nations Foundation, about the agreement, the significance of the signing ceremony, and whether the global community can slow and reverse emissions of greenhouse gases before it's too late.

From June 1999 through December 2001, Detchon served as director of special projects in Washington, D.C., for the Turner Foundation, managing a portfolio of grants aimed at increasing the effectiveness of environmental advocacy and encouraging federal action to avert global climate change. Before that, he spent six years at the Podesta Group, a government relations and public affairs firm in Washington, D.C., and from 1989 to 1993 he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for conservation and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. Detchon also worked for five years in the U.S. Senate, advising Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) on energy and environmental issues and serving as his legislative director, and was the principal speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Headshot_reid_detchonPhilanthropy News Digest: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on April 22, where they will have the opportunity to sign an agreement that was reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December. Before we get into the details of the agreement, what does the UN hope to accomplish at the ceremony on the 22nd?

Reid Detchon: The significance of April 22 really goes back to the Paris Agree­ment itself. And what's so remarkable about that is that previous disagreements fell away, and the agreement was signed by virtually every country on the planet. For each country to agree to participate and make a nationally determined contribution to limit climate change over the coming years — that consensus is, I think, the larger significance of Paris, and bodes well for the process going for­ward.

So, on April 22, as you noted, there will be a signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. And it's expected that a larger number of countries will sign the agreement, in a single day, than has ever happened with any previous treaty or agreement. Again, it's an indication of the universality of the agreement and of the excitement and momentum that was created in Paris, and we need to carry that forward into the implementation phase. The signing ceremony is the first step in that process, and I expect it will be a great launch pad for future action.

PND: Will President Obama be in New York on the 22nd to sign the agreement? And which other world leaders of note will be there?

RD: The United States will be represented by Secretary of State Kerry. That's my understanding. And we've heard that Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of China will be present as well. As you probably know, the U.S. and China issued a statement ten days ago reaffirming their support for the climate agreement and their intention to move forward with implementation of the agreement.

Among heads of state, I believe the presidents of the current and upcoming COPs  — that is, French president François Hollande and Mohammed VI of Morocco — will be in New York for the ceremony, and I believe there will be at least forty other heads of state there, principally from developing countries and the small island states. But, of course, we'll have to see.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Celebrate Experimentation in Environmental Grantmaking

April 20, 2016

News_tropical_andes_for_PhilanTopicAs we near the forty-sixth anniversary of Earth Day, let's all take a moment to celebrate the diversity and breadth of approaches to conserving this special planet we call home. Like so many other organizations in the conservation field, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grapples with the question of how to make sure — while there is time — Earth and its vital ecosystems flourish long into the future.

When Gordon and Betty Moore established the foundation in late 2000, they asked us to find ways for humans and other species to share the limited resources of our small but amazing planet. Fifteen years in, we've been both encouraged and humbled by how much our grantees and others working alongside them have accomplished — whether it's conserving wild salmon ecosystems across the North Pacific, the long-term health of the Amazon basin, or North America's marine environments.

As much progress as we have made, however, we also recognize that we need to scale and accelerate these gains. By reducing the mounting pressures on natural resources, we can help sustain the most critical ecosystems worldwide and, by extension, those who depend on them for their livelihoods. Put simply, those of us who work in environmental conservation must embrace the challenge of trying new things and doing more to develop long-term, systemic, sustainable solutions to meeting the demands of a growing human population.

To be clear, we don't think there's a single best approach to conservation. In fact, we believe our  success — as funders, nonprofits, corporations, governments — will require coordinated efforts that bring together vastly different approaches from all sectors.

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Invest in Community College Students; Transform Our Communities

April 19, 2016

News_college_grads2_for_PhilanTopicSecuring $60 million in state funding to overhaul remedial education and equip students with the basic skills they need to succeed in college. Procuring free transportation for more than fifty thousand college students. Establishing undocumented student resource centers in California. These are just some examples of what can happen when we invest in a powerful yet untapped catalyst for community transformation: the leadership of community college students.

The nation's nearly twelve million community college students are a key pillar of America's future. Today, almost half of America's undergraduates are studying in community colleges to acquire the skills they need to achieve their dreams and support themselves and their families. These students are diverse, motivated, and hopeful. After graduation, community college students also are more likely to stay in and contribute to their communities, going on to successful careers as teachers, business owners, civic leaders, and more. That's why if we truly want to expand opportunity, grow our economy, and strengthen our communities, we cannot afford to ignore the potential of community college students as advocates for change.

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The Next Generation of Nonprofit Data Standards

April 15, 2016

Our current moment in the human story is often called the age of information. And indeed, we are too-often overwhelmed by the torrent of data coursing through our lives. As a society, we have developed many tools to organize the information we rely on every day. The Dewey Decimal System helps libraries organize books. UPC codes help stores organize their products. Nutrition labels help to present information about food ingredients and nutritional value (or lack thereof) in a way that's consistent and predictable.

Next generation nonprofit data standards

The nonprofit sector has also relied on data standards: we use the government's Employer Identification Number (EIN) to identify individual organizations. The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) is used by many — including GuideStar, Foundation Center, and others — to help reveal the diversity of the nonprofit community, guide funding decisions, and foster collaboration.

But just as other information systems have continued to evolve so must ours. When the Dewey Decimal System was developed in 1876, Melvil Dewey could not have imagined Amazon.com, e-readers, or Goodreads.com. Similarly, the EIN/NTEE framework is simply not enough to explain, organize, and share the complex story of nonprofits.

So we are glad to share the news that a new generation of social sector data standards is emerging. These can help us all do our work better, making smarter decisions while saving time to focus on that work.

There a several standards that are important, but we'd like to direct your attention to four:

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How to Translate Brand Strategy Into an Effective Website

April 14, 2016

Effective-website-designIn my last article, I noted that the best place to start when developing a website is with a clear brand strategy. It is what provides the shared understanding needed to unite the big ideas and day-to-day details of a nonprofit's activities into a cohesive online experience. It is the glue that ensures a site's design, content, and code work together in harmony to express the entirety of an organization's mission, strategy, activities, and impact to a range of audiences.

No small task, especially when talking about a process that typically spans months and involves many participants.

A Complex, Multidisciplinary Process

The process of creating a website is, by its nature, collaborative and multidisciplinary. It involves many contributors — each with a different area of interest, expertise, and professional vocabulary — and typically spans months and countless decisions, which means there's no shortage of opportunities for miscommunication and stumbles. Over the years, I've learned that these can be minimized (they're almost never eliminated, trust me!) by a framework that emphasizes collaboration and establishes clear goals for the team, in a language everyone can understand.

That is why brand strategy is such an effective unifying force. In a medium that calls for collaboration across such a wide range of stakeholders, it is the one thing that everyone can (or should) agree on, support, and apply to the area they are responsible for.

Sounds great in theory, but what, you're probably thinking, does it look like in practice?

Every website has four major components: Brand, Content, Technology, and Design. The most effective sites are those that get all four working together like members of a band — each playing their part, and each complementing the work of the others. When executed well, the results are much like the experience of hearing a great song: harmonious and uplifting, with a clear point of view you can easily relate to.

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