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24 posts from December 2009

'2009: The Year In Review' Now Online

December 31, 2009

2009_review As we do every year at this time, the editors of PND look back at some of the important philanthropic stories and personalities of 2009 -- and look ahead to the start of a new year and decade certain to bring their share of challenges, surprises, and opportunities.

Enjoy. And Happy New Year!

2009: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Weekend Link Roundup (December 19 - 20, 2009)

December 20, 2009

Chain-links Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, suggests that foundations should be writing more challenge grants to arts organizations as a way to build their donor bases.

Communications/Marketing

Sean Stannard-Stockton argues on his Tactical Philanthropy blog that the nonprofit sector garners too few headlines because its work is perceived as being "common place." Writes Stannard-Stockton: "If we...continue to pretend that most nonprofits are doing great work and most philanthropists make great grants, we will continue to limit attention and capital flowing to the nonprofits [that] are really making a difference."

Fundraising

Guest blogging on the Social Citizens blog, Derrick Feldman, CEO of Achieve, encourages nonprofits to think of their supporters in terms of long- and short-term investments. Writes Feldman: "[W]hen it comes to cultivating donors, you need to work with those who can make an immediate impact as well as those who have the ability to contribute stable returns over a longer period." By engaging younger donors, adds Feldman, nonprofits can "develop a relationship that pays long-term returns."

Governance

Nonprofit Board Crisis blogger Mike Burns suggests that, in a post-recession economy, board members should be encouraging their organizations to follow five "fiscal rules":

  1. Live within your means.
  2. Look to the future.
  3. Stop deferring expenses.
  4. Dedicate your surplus.
  5. Set up a rainy-day fund.

Journalism/Media

Responding to the announcement that the Huffington Post plans to let advertisers "buy" comments on its stories and pay for tweets in its Twitter feed as a way to increase ad revenue, Allison Fine calls the news "a horrible idea" and says it smacks of a company getting ready to go public.

Nonprofit Management

"While strategic restructuring is not always the answer," writes Bob Harrington on the Nonprofit Next blog, "nonprofits facing unprecedented challenges to their business models would do well to consider it not just as a survival strategy, but as a vehicle for meeting -- and even transforming -- their mission."

Philanthropy

The Current State of Online Philanthropy, a new research paper funded by the Hewlett Foundation, evaluates fifty-five online donation platforms in an effort to "create a common framework for thinking about how...an online giving community can improve the quality of decision making [for] the entire philanthropic sector." Key findings from the report include:

  1. A small number of platforms attract a large majority of users;
  2. Evaluative analysis about nonprofits has very limited reach;
  3. Certain types of platforms offer more resources for evaluation;
  4. Most platforms provide giving opportunities for any cause, anywhere;
  5. Estimates suggest that U.S. users represent less than half the global total.

Author David Koken puts the fifty-five sites into three categories: information, investments, and donations. Responding to the research, Lucy Bernholz writes: "This categorization alone is useful and confirms our claim in the Disrupting Philan thropy paper that these markets -- individually and in the aggregate -- are important new information features in the giving ecosystem."

On the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofsky asks the "essential" question: "If a charity demonstrates that its core program has changed lives in the past, is likely to change lives in the future, and gets great 'bang for your buck,' is this enough reason to donate to it?" His answer will surprise you.

On her Social Edge blog, FORGE founder Kjerstin Erickson shares the "dark side of online voting contests." According to Erickson, nonprofits need to do a better job of determining "whether or not the predicted payoff of the prize money exceeds the cost of entering the contest."

On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Julia Craig takes a close look at a recent New York Times' article chronicling the "disproportionate effects of the recession on elderly Americans living in rural areas" and suggests a number of things that philanthropy can do to help.

Social Entrepreneurship

In a series of new posts, Nathaniel Whittemore lists the top trends he thinks will shape the field of social entrepreneurship in 2010. His list includes creativity in seed funding, regional innovation ecosystems, sector blending, co-working environments, and online action platforms.

Social Media

Heather Mansfield looks at the "major changes" Facebook plans to make to its Pages application and flags some of the things that may affect nonprofits. Bottom line: "...[N]onprofits with national and international brand recognition, lots of fans, and technical resources will benefit [from the changes, while]...small nonprofits are going have a harder time."

Technology

"Effective online collaboration tools...can't have top-down control interaction design," writes Beth Kanter in a recent post. "This gets in the way of everyone being able to do a little bit of the work." Kanter goes on to list four things that should be embedded in any online collaboration tool to ensure its effectiveness.

And that's it for this week. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great holiday!

-- Regina Mahone

Copenhagen: Now What?

Planet_earth_white_background_pv3j It would be a stretch to call the non-binding agreement announced at the close of the UN-sponsored climate summit a victory for supporters of steep, phased-in reductions in CO2 emissions. Indeed, reaction to the Copenhagen Accord ranged from skeptical acknowledgment of the few meaningful concessions it did contain to bemused disgust ("the emptiest deal one could imagine short of a fist fight").

According to the Seattle Times, the key elements of the agreement were worked out among the United States, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa on Friday:

  • Signatories agreed to cooperate in reducing emissions "with a view" to scientists' warnings to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels.
  • Developing nations will report every two years on their voluntary actions to reduce emissions. Those reports would be subject to "international consultations and analysis," a concession to the United States by China, which had seen this as an intrusion on its sovereignty.
  • Richer nations will finance a $10 billion-a-year, three-year program to pay for poorer nations' projects to deal with drought and other climate-change impacts, and to develop clean energy.
  • They also set a "goal" of "mobilizing" $100 billion a year by 2020 for the same adaptation and mitigation purposes.

In other words, business as usual, with a few extra bucks -- how else to describe $100 billion in an age of trillion-dollar bailouts? -- set aside to help poor countries deal with the long-term consequences of a warming planet.

We will hear, in the weeks to come, how the "failure" of Copenhagen underscores the growing irrelevance of the UN and its approach to the climate change problem. And that's a shame. Because the real lesson of Copenhagen is that solutions to the problem -- and the related issues of energy security and sustainable economic growth -- are never going to be hashed out in a conference room. They lie, instead, with you and me, in the choices we make on a daily basis about how we eat, what and when we drive, how much stuff we need, and what kind of world we want to leave our kids and grandkids.

The politicians and bureaucrats gave it the old college try and came up short. Now the ball's in our court. Here are a few things you can do. Start by adding your voice to the tens of thousands who are fed up with the status quo. Let your elected representatives know you're concerned about climate change and energy independence and are ready to do something about it. Invest in American entrepreneurialism, innovation, and ingenuity. Make a New Year's resolution to be "green" in 2010. And remember the words of Henry David Thoreau: "Things do not change; we change."

--Mitch Nauffts

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...to Support the Arts in Your Community

December 19, 2009

(The following post was written by Katrina Brown, reference librarian at the Foundation Center-Washington, D.C., and originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-Washington, D.C. blog.)

MinkStole This past weekend I went up to Baltimore to see a show at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson -- Mink Stole's Christmas: Unwrapped and Unplugged featuring Mink Stole of John Waters movie fame. Now, John Waters movies may not be considered "art" by everyone, and I went mainly because my brother was in the band providing musical accompaniment for Mink's sultry, chanteuse-y performance. But it was a fun evening all around, with a very enthusiastic audience. And I'm glad to say the show sold out!

But not every arts event is getting that kind of response these days. A new report released by the National Endowment for the Arts said that the number of American adults attending arts and cultural events has sunk to its lowest level since 1982. We posted the preliminary results of the survey on our blog back in October.

This past year has been tough for both nonprofit arts organizations and for individual artists. Donations and grants have decreased along with ticket sales. But this is a great time to do something about that! So here are some ideas on how you can help out the arts in your community while making the most of the holiday season:

  • Need a present for that person who has everything? How about a gift certificate to a performing arts center? Gifts of experiences are a great choice for someone whose house is already full of stuff, and a gift certificate lets him/her choose the show.
  • Visit local artist consortiums, studios, and shows for one-of-a-kind handmade decorations or gifts. You can be sure your sister won't be getting the same glass lollipop ring from anyone else.
  • Have holiday house guests to entertain? Take them to a museum! While there, make a donation to show your appreciation for the great exhibits -- and for getting the guests out from underfoot.
  • And don't forget to check your local newspaper to find out about other special events and shows to help you celebrate the season while supporting local performers and artists.

-- Katrina Brown

Readings (and Other Stuff) - Dec. 18, 2009

December 18, 2009

Here are some of the things we've been reading today:

What about you?

New York Foundation: Celebrating 100 Years

December 16, 2009

Birthday_celebration The "Great Recession" of 2008-09 is often compared to the "double dip" recession of 1980-82 and the Great Depression of 1929-33, the searing economic calamity we seem to have avoided (for now).

But more than a few economists and historians think the more appropriate analogy is the Panic of 1907, when a failed attempt to corner the stock of the United Copper Company triggered a sequence of events that eventually caused the New York Stock Exchange to fall 50 percent and led to numerous runs on banks and trusts. The crisis was finally contained when New York financier J.P. Morgan, acting as the lender of last resort in the absence of a central bank, pledged large amounts of his own money (and convinced others to do the same) to restore liquidity to and confidence in the system.

The similarities between that long-ago panic and our own recent crisis are striking. At their root, both were precipitated by aggressive and largely unregulated risk-taking on the part of Wall Street insiders; both led to a paralyzing crisis of confidence in the integrity of financial markets and market participants; and both seemed to blindside all but a handful of observers.

A century ago, one of the few who saw disaster looming was New York banker Jacob H. Schiff. In 1906, according to Taking Risks That Matter (20 pages, PDF), a new report from the New York Foundation that celebrates the foundation's first hundred years, Schiff "issued a stern warning that America would face critical failure if the nation didn't modernize its banking and currency systems. There would be 'such a panic', he said, 'as will make all previous panics look like child's play."

Schiff turned out to be right, and his pre-panic call for the creation of a central bank "with adequate control of credit resources" became reality in 1913 when President Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law.

Schiff's most enduring claim to fame, however, was the role he played -- along with Edward C. Henderson, Isaac Seligman, and Paul M. Warburg -- in creating the New York Foundation, one of the first philanthropic foundations in the country and one that, a century after its establishment, remains true to its founders' vision: that New Yorkers, given the tools and means, can create social change.

Well versed, as the report notes, in "the world of risk/reward ratios," Schiff, Henderson, Seligman, and Warburg "imbued their new foundation with a principle borne of the vicissitudes of life on the Street: the greater the expected return, the greater the investment risk." From its earliest days, the foundation worked to address issues and problems that others perceived as controversial or unfashionable. Whether that meant funding efforts to improve conditions for garment workers in the wake of the horrific Triangle Factory fire in 1911 or making one of the first grants to the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; funding social welfare work during the Great Depression or supporting the emerging field of community organizing in the 1950s; backing resource-starved community organizations during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s or standing resolutely for the rights of successive waves of immigrants, the New York Foundation has helped and been an inspiration to countless numbers of people who, regardless of race, creed or color, have flocked to the greatest city in the world in search of opportunity and a better life.

Why should we care about the century-old legacy of a medium-sized foundation? It's a fair question, and I like the way the report answers it:

It's important to understand [our] roots, especially in an age when, due to a faltering economy, community needs keep escalating, making philanthropy and its inherent risks matter more than ever. It is also important to note [our] faith in the abilities of community residents. Civic organizations play a crucial role in articulating and advocating community interests. While social theorists, pundits, and political theater customarily stress the necessity of calling in experts to investigate social problems, the New York Foundation has shown a century-old conviction in the irrepressibility of New Yorkers; it has striven to cultivate their capacity to engage social, political, and economic forces while respecting their will to act as the sole arbiters of their fate....

Happy 100th birthday, NYF. We couldn't agree more.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Readings (and Other Stuff) - Dec. 15, 2009

December 15, 2009

Here's what we've been reading today:

How about you?

Climate Change and Philanthropy

December 14, 2009

As the second week of the 15th annual UN climate change conference gets under way in Copenhagen, representatives of the nearly two hundred nations in attendance have produced more "posturing than progress," reports the New York Times. Maybe so, but a new research advisory from the Foundation Center reveals that philanthropic organizations in the U.S. have stepped up in a big way over the last eight years to address the issue. According to Climate Change: The U.S. Foundation Response (4 pages, PDF), foundation funding to address issues related to global warming jumped from less than $100 million in 2000 to nearly $900 million in 2008.

In the advisory, Steven Lawrence, the center's director of research, explains that "while philanthropic efforts to address global warming have been growing, a small number of very large funders still account for most of the support....In fact, the top 25 climate change grantmakers in 2008 provided more than 90 percent of the funding."

Researchadvisory_climate-1

That's a lot of money, but will foundations be able to support the issue at that level given the uncertain economy? It's too early to say, writes Lawrence:

[T]he recent economic crisis has markedly reduced foundation resources, and the Foundation Center predicts that the impact of the downturn will lead to continued reductions in overall foundation funding through at least 2010.

Though the impact of the expected reductions on climate change grantmaking is uncertain, throughout 2009 foundations have continued to announce new grants focused on the climate crisis, suggesting that the foundation community will remain committed to addressing the causes and impact of global warming....

You can download the entire advisory here. And for more information about philanthropy's response to climate change, check out this presentation produced by the center for the Global Philanthropy Forum's 8th annual conference last April.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (December 12 - 13, 2009)

December 13, 2009

Chain-links Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Economy

U.S. senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have issued a report on "wasteful" projects that have received stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Nonprofit Quarterly contributor Rick Cohen highlights several of the senators' bete noirs, including Shakespeare festivals and jazz programs supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and concludes that while it "contains some stuff we can all learn from," readers of the report should not get caught up McCain and Coburn's "ideological peculiarities."

Fundraising

On the Charity Navigator blog, one donor shares the findings from a recent experiment in which he recorded the number of requests for funding he received from charities December 1, 2008, to November 30, 2009. All of which leads CN to wonder, How many requests is too many?

Todd Cohen argues on his Inside Philanthropy blog that nonprofits are "missing out on digital giving." With the recession affecting everyone's bottom line, writes Cohen, "charities need to do more than throw information...on their Web sites. They need to understand how their givers and prospective givers are communicating...and then develop communication and fundraising strategies to connect with and engage those givers."

Impact/Effectiveness

On his Free the Nonprofits blog, Dan Pallotta commends Charity Navigator, Guidestar, GreatNonprofits, Philanthropedia, and GiveWell for stating in a joint press release that "overhead ratios and executive salaries are useless for evaluating a nonprofit's impact." Pallotta also salutes CN for announcing plans to re-vamp its charity evaluation system, noting that it "takes tremendous courage to put the thing that has sustained you second to the things that can sustain real change in the world."

Journalism/Media

Are journalists storytellers? On his Buzz Machine blog, Jeff Jarvis says that maybe they shouldn't be. By assuming "that our role is that of the storyteller," writes Jarvis, "we risk closing ourselves off from forms of gathering and sharing information that do not end up in the form of stories...."

Leadership

In a series of "Shine While Your Light's On" blog posts, Rosetta Thurman explains why young nonprofits professionals should use Twitter and shares some insights into how she was able to build her personal brand by blogging.

Philanthropy

On the It's Your World blog, World Affairs Council president and CEO Jane Wales gives a shoutout to Steven Goldberg's new book Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets: Why Philanthropy Doesn't Advance Social Progress. In the book, Goldberg makes the case for a nonprofit capital market that would "allow philanthropists to know what various nonprofits accomplish, through evaluation and transparency, and not just what nonprofits are trying to accomplish, through anecdotal reporting." Although Wales agrees with Goldberg, she notes that, given "the resilience of human nature," it will not be easy to change people's behavior.

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz has posted a new draft version of "Disrupting Philanthropy 2.0," a grand summing up of many of the memes she's been tracking over the last few years. Written with former Surdna Foundation president Ed Skoot and Barry Varela, the paper explores, in often fascinating detail, how technology is altering "philanthropic capital flows." Bernholz and company are soliciting feedback on the report via her blog: e-mail (lucy@blueprintrd.com), or twitter (@p2173) (be sure to include the hashtag #DisruptPhil).

Seattle Times' reporter Kristi Heim explains why donating to a charity directly may be more effective than purchasing a charity gift card this holiday season.

"Giving is an act of self-expression, and generosity is a practice," writes Sasha Dichter on his blog. "Each time I decide not to give [to a charity or a homeless person], I'm reinforcing a way of acting –- one that's critical and analytical and judgmental." Do you agree? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

On her blog, Heather Carpenter recaps the 2009 ARNOVA conference and offers a few takeaways on the future of nonprofit research.

Do professional athletes have an obligation to give back to their communities? That question has sparked a fascinating debate on the blog of Athletes for Hope, a nonprofit that works to encourage pro athletes to give more to charity.

Social Media

Last week, Google launched a real-time search engine that incorporates Twitter and Facebook updates on the results page of any query. In conjunction with the launch, Facebook changed its privacy settings. But not everyone is happy with the changes. Writes Brad Stone on the New York Time's Bits blog:

While Facebook has given people more refined controls over who can see particular pieces of information they post, one controversial move is that several pieces of data are now visible to all members on the service: your name, city, gender, photograph, the profile pages you are a fan of, and your list of friends.

For the record, it's easy enough to restore your old settings. On your Facebook profile page, click on Settings | Privacy Settings | Profile Information and use the drop-down menus to change individual settings as you see fit.

In a related post, Lucy Bernholz was quick to point out the ironies of Facebook setting up a foundation as a result of an earlier lawsuit against the company involving privacy issues. "Internet time may apply to product launches, but doesn't seem to apply to creating Internet-fueled, legally mandated foundations," writes Bernholz. "I won't even get into the irony of setting up a new foundation focused on Internet privacy rather than directing the money to any one or a combination of the existing nonprofits that already do that work."

Last but not least, Beth Kanter takes a close look at the Ocean Conservancy's recent social media efforts on Facebook and shares a few best practices. Kanter suggests that organizations getting ready to launch a social media campaign should use "very specific, narrow objectives...and specific metrics" to gain more tangible results.

That's it for this week. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

TED on Sunday: David Keith on Climate Change and Geo-engineering

Scientists have been concerned about the uncertain impacts of anthropogenic climate change for fifty years, says environmental scientist David Keith, and yet we have done almost nothing to slow or reduce emissions of manmade greenhouse gases. That's the bad news. The good news is that we can solve the problem of global warming quickly and relatively cheaply by putting fine sulfur particles into the lower atmosphere to deflect sunlight, much as volcanic eruptions do. But geo-engineered solutions to the warming problem create problems of their own, says Keith. First, who gets to decide what the appropriate action and timing of that action is? And how do we resolve what Keith calls the moral hazard implicit in any geo-engineered solution to global warming? After listening to his talk, you'll have a greater appreciation for the challenges confronting the negotiators at the climate change talks in Copenhagen. (Filmed: September 2007; Running time: 16:30)

Liked this talk? Try one of these.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Nonprofit Issues Forum: Boards and Governance

December 10, 2009

(The following post was written by Stephen Sherman, reference librarian at the Foundation Center-Atlanta, and originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-Atlanta blog.)

Stakeholders What if various stakeholder groups -- donors, patrons, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and volunteers -- all had a direct say in the governance of nonprofit organizations in proportion to their contributions? Would this help improve the governance of nonprofit organizations?

These were some of the questions posed by Professor Dennis Young at a recent Nonprofit Issues Forum. The free event was held at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and included a lecture by Dr. Young and a panel discussion on the topic of boards and nonprofit governance.

While nonprofit boards have a tendency to attract highly-motivated, well-intentioned individuals, they often suffer from inherent problems in their structure and composition, resulting in issues such as:

  • Free-riding -- individuals failing to contribute meaningfully to the board's collective activities
  • Groupthink -- the inclination of groups to avoid conflict and debate in order to reach a consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas
  • Conflicts of interest -- individual board members bringing personal motives or incentives into the decision-making process
  • Principal/agent problem -- the board and staff working with conflicting goals or objectives and not sharing the same agenda for the organization

To address these issues, Young proposed reconstituting boards to include representatives from stakeholder groups that provide the resources on which each nonprofit depends. These groups -- donors, customers, private funders, government agencies, corporations, volunteers -- would be represented on each board and receive voting rights in proportion to each group's share of the revenue for the nonprofit. According to Young, this model would have the advantage of introducing competing stakeholder interests and tighten the relationship between resources and the decision-making process.

Panelists Marjorie Fine Knowles, professor of law at Georgia State University; Penelope McPhee, president and trustee of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; and Oz Nelson, retired chairman and CEO, UPS, all offered responses to Young's proposal. Among their criticisms:

  • Stakeholder incentive already exists in the fiduciary duties of boards and therefore precludes the creation of such a model.
  • Board members are required by law to act in the best interests of the nonprofit organization as a whole and therefore would not be permitted to represent specific stakeholder groups or interests.
  • Involving outside stakeholder groups would actually lead to greater occurrences of conflicts of interest and more self-dealing among individuals.
  • Rather than fall into neat categories, many stakeholders would likely have multifaceted interests in the organization (for example donors may also be volunteers), preventing them from representing a specific subgroup.
  • Board members should be recruited according to the skills and interests that they bring to a nonprofit rather than for their status in certain stakeholder groups.

What do you think? Feel free to join the debate in the comments section below.

Want to learn more about nonprofit boards and governance? See the newly-revised FAQs on the topic or search our Catalog of Nonprofit Literature, the Foundation Center's bibliographic database, for the subject Board members.

-- Stephen Sherman

Readings (and Other Stuff) - Dec. 9, 2009

December 09, 2009

Here are some of the things we've been reading today:

What are you reading?

Talking About Impact

(Larry McGill is the Foundation Center’s vice president for research. In his last post, he wrote about the debate surrounding the NCRP report Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best.)

Leadership Underlying all philanthropic work is the belief that we can create or facilitate positive social change. And most of us believe that we do. We can cite examples as evidence.

But how do we know if we are working as effectively as we could be? How do we know that our way of working is as effective as other ways of working?

The belief that philanthropic work can make a difference is nowhere stronger than it is in women's funds. And there is no doubting that women's funds are doing extraordinary work. A quick read of the annual reports issued by the International Network of Women's Funds, the Women's Funding Network, and especially the reports of place-based funds such as Semillas in Mexico or the Women's Fund in Georgia, provides ample and compelling evidence of this. Don't take my word for it -- take a look!

Now, women's funds are poised to help the field rethink how the real-world impact of social change organizations can be specified, assessed, and fed back through a virtuous learning cycle that allows philanthropy to continuously hone its strategies to bring about real change. At a meeting last week convened by the program on women's issues at the Oak Foundation in Geneva, representatives of seventeen women's funds from around the world met with a group of researchers and representatives of philanthropic support organizations to discuss how to measure and assess the social impact of their work.

It should be acknowledged, of course, that many tools, methods, and best practices designed to assess social impact have been developed in recent years -- 150 of them can be accessed through a new web portal called TRASI (Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact), developed by the Foundation Center in partnership with McKinsey & Company. Other organizations, such as FSG Social Impact Advisors, InterAction, and the Innovation Network, are also rich sources of information on the challenges of measuring social impact.

At the meeting, tough questions were raised concerning the applicability of existing measurement and evaluation methodologies to the task of assessing the impact of women's funds. Others who attended the meeting are more capable than I of articulating these challenges, and I invite them to post their own thoughts about this.

For me, the meeting was remarkable for many reasons, but what struck me most was the deep, experience-based understanding of the issues associated with monitoring and evaluation efforts that each participant brought to the discussion. Put another way, for this group, the discussion really mattered. Assessing impact is important, yes; but at what cost, when there is so much work to be done. And if we are going to try to measure social impact, let's make sure to keep it real by grounding it in the pragmatic realities of the situations in which we operate and the people with whom we are working.

This meeting was also remarkable at a personal level. I was privileged to be one of just two men in attendance, and had the opportunity to participate fully. What I discovered was that it was impossible for this man -- an outsider to the group in so many ways (in terms of gender, upbringing, experiences, and unearned advantages social, economic and political) -- to work side-by-side with a group of women of such deep commitment and accomplishment without being personally affected, indeed "changed." For me, courage and strength have a new face -- in fact, more than two dozen new faces. And even that isn't quite right -- because linked inseparably with each of these remarkable women are the lives of countless other women whom they would tell you are the most remarkable of all.

Working with these women, it has never been clearer to me why we do the work we do. Watch this space and see what happens when women's funds bring their collective talents, passion, and lived experience in making change happen to the task of re-imagining how social impact might be assessed. Let's talk, share, and learn.

-- Larry McGill

WEBCAST: 2009 Governor's National Leadership Conference

December 08, 2009

Tomorrow morning (December 9, 11:30 a.m. EST), we'll be hosting a live feed from the 32nd annual Governor's National Leadership Conference in Dallas featuring a panel of nonprofit leaders discussing collaborative efforts to stimulate socially innovative activities in Texas. Panelists include Elizabeth Darling, president/CEO of the OneStar Foundation; Stacy Caldwell, executive director of Dallas Social Venture Partners; and Andrew Wolk, CEO of Root Cause.

Immediately preceding the discussion, the Texas Social Innovation Initiative -- a collaboration between OneStar and Root Cause -- will award each of seven nonprofit organizations from the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth area more than $25,000 in cash and technical support.

Promises to be interesting.

Ten Lessons From the Piper Charitable Trust

The Phoenix-based Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust is the largest private foundation in Arizona. Established in 1995 by Virginia G. Piper (whose first husband, Paul Galvin, founded Motorola), the trust works to improve the quality of life for residents of Maricopa County and makes grants in the areas of healthcare and medical research, arts and culture, and education, as well as to faith-based organizations that focus on young children, adolescents, and older adults.

To mark its first decade of grantmaking, the trust, in the latest edition of its Notebook publication, highlights ten lessons it has learned over the last ten years. Here are a few of our favorites:

Accountability begins at home. "The values of of an organization are either lived or not. If a foundation wants grantees to achieve its values of excellence, honest communication, commitment to improvement and learning, stewardship and community collaboration, then the funder must...embrace these qualities as well."

Expect detours and rerouting. "On the way to a particularly difficult goal, strategies or the mix of strategies may need to shift as the full complexity of a problem reveals itself. Tough challenges demand perseverance and constancy."

"Think nationall, act locally" is not just a political strategy. "Borrowing ideas and tools from the greater world and applying them at the grassroots is a tried-and-true strategy. Foundations should not be afraid to replicate best practices and programs from elsewhere to boost impact locally."

Be prepared for great ideas to come from unexpected places. "Good ideas know no boundaries. In philanthropy, great ideas can flow from a lengthy deliberative process or be sparked by a chance meeting."

Foundations have more to offer than grants. "Strategic philanthropy is not merely measured in dollars invested. Strategy embraces rigorous grantmaking defined by measures of success related to long-term community impact. 'Strategic' also means using the many other tools available to create impact and positive change."

What lessons would you add to the list? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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