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Weekend Link Roundup (Sept. 7-8, 2013)

September 08, 2013

Back-to-school-signOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network blog, Kate Emanuel, senior vice president of nonprofit and government relations at the Ad Council, offers some straightforward advice for organizations looking to create and/or leverage an online community:

  1. Think hard about whether you need an online community.
  2. Choose the right platform.
  3. Once you build it, be sure to promote it.
  4. Make your community work for you.

Disaster Relief

On LinkedIn, Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, shares a list of things every community needs after a disaster.

Education

Writing in the New York Times, Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford University, argues that the "policies that govern private giving to public schools [are] perverse" and deepen the "inequalities they are...responsible for diminishing." How can we improve the situation? First, writes Reich, wealthy school foundations should honor the equality-promoting standards released by the National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education. Second, donors and school foundations should support progressive tax reform. And third, Congress should differentiate or eliminate charitable status for local education foundations. What do you think?

Impact/Effectiveness

Nonprofits looking to boost their effectiveness would be wise to employ "continuous flows of data," writes Bridget Laird, CEO of WINGS, an education program that teaches kids how to make good decisions and build healthy relationships, on the Markets for Good blog. "By building into the [performance management] process ongoing review and assessment of...data," says Laird,

WINGS has become far more responsive and accountable. Monitoring...data at frequent intervals means that WINGS doesn't wait until the end of the year, or even the end of a school term, to review how staff efforts are progressing.

But most importantly, this continuous flow and analysis of information allows us to refine and evolve our program model as we prepare to replicate as effectively as possible....

The Center for Effective Philanthropy's Kevin Bolduc and Mark Chaffin sound the same note in a post on the CEP blog. "Foundation effectiveness isn’t something you can just...dial up and expect to remain there," write Bolduc and Chaffin. "Like going to the gym, it's consistent attention to gauging progress and working to improve that really counts...."

And in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Paul T. Hogan, vice president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, weighs in on foundations' ability to measure impact and outcomes. That ability is "seriously limited," writes Hogan, by two critical factors: time and influence. After explaining why the time fator is the most "elusive" and how the outside influence factor is acounted for, Hogan writes:

What I believe can and should be measured by funders in the short term is not whether a program alleviated poverty or made more people literate, but whether the organization providing the programs to accomplish those things is in a position to do so effectively into the future. Ultimately, the funder's primary area of influence is neither the client nor the targeted population, but the organizations that do the work. We are at a remove from the actual work on the street, however reluctantly we have to accept that, but we can and should be directly involved in working with (and funding) the organizations to do the work as best they can....

Nonprofits

Nonprofit revenue increased by more than 40 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, from 2000 to 2010, and the nonprofit sector has survived "surprisingly well" since the 2008 financial crisis. That's a good thing, right? Maybe, writes Peter Orszag, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, on the Bloomberg View blog. Because roughly three-quarters of what nonprofits do involves either health care or education, the answer to that question depends on "whether we want to spend more on health care and education." In a country that is growing richer, says Orszag, that makes sense -- "but only if we obtain better value from the money we spend."

Philanthropy

Is philanthropy "thinking big enough" to help solve the range of challenges facing humanity? That's the question Agora founder and CEO Ben Powell asked in Forbes earlier this week, and -- no surprise -- Powell's answer to his own question was a resounding "no." What would Powell like to see from the field? "[B]old new approach[es], new frameworks and stories, and creative destruction. Ultimately, the choice philanthropists need to make is whether they want to continue focusing on symptoms or start tackling root causes." He then lists five reasons for what he sees as the limited flow of philanthropic risk capital:

  • Lack of awareness about the need for system change.
  • Lack of support to help philanthropists discover the system-changing startups.
  • Lack of understanding about risks and therefore a reluctance to fund anything that may not immediately result in quantifiable social impact.
  • Lack of accountability, which takes away the urgency and discipline that you see elsewhere in the venture capital world.
  • Lack of incentive for incumbent nonprofit leaders or aid contractors who benefit from the current system to change.

Pace Powell, a lot of people would say that organized philanthropy has been tackling root causes since the early years of the twentieth century. But the charge that philanthropy has lost its nerve and become risk averse is a common one. What do you think? Share your comments below.

And in response to an article in the summer 2013 issue of Responsive Philanthropy that bluntly questioned the relevance of the Council on Foundations, Jesse Salazar, the council's vice president of communications, pushes back against the organization's critics on the NCRP blog. "The council has a sound vision and a plan to achieve it," writes Salazar. "We will, however, prioritize the needs of our members, especially those who understand the importance of collaboration and informed decision-making. We have a right and an obligation to serve our membership, and we will not cede that responsibility to other organizations or bystanders."

That's it for now. Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org if we missed something. And have a great week!

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