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Weekend Link Roundup (September 28-29, 2013)

September 29, 2013

Ty-mattson-breaking-bad-02Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

How are market forces, public policies, and digital technologies changing nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and associational life at the heart of civil society? That's one of the questions the Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society set out to answer last year through a series of monthly charettes. Now, the fruits of those conversations (and a lot of good, hard thinking) have been captured in a series of reports issued by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Written by Lucy Bernholz, Chiara Cordelli, and Rob Reich, the reports -- The Emergence of Digital Civil Society (42 pgaes, PDF); Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013: Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology (38 pages, PDF); Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the New Social Economy (18 pages, PDF); and The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the Next Century (30 pages, PDF) -- are thought-provoking, deeply researched, and a pleasure to read. They're also available as free downloads from the Stanford PACS site.

Responding to Dan Pallotta's hugely popular TED Talk -- and echoing some of the conclusions arrived at by Bernholz, Reich, and Cordelli in their Recode Good work -- Ashoka's Valeria Budinich suggests that one of the most important points made by Pallotta in his talk (and first book) is a point everyone chooses to ignore: Philanthropy's moral foundations -- and the resulting legal and policy framework in which it operates -- have remained largely unchanged since the 1700s.

Climate Change

The most exhaustively researched climate report in history is out -- and, as environmental journalist Richard Schiffman explains in The Atlantic, its findings are grim.

For those as troubled by the findings of the report as Schiffman is, the UN Foundation's Kathy Calvin has some words of encouragement.

Communications/Marketing

When it comes to communicating using new tools and platforms, no one in the foundation world does a better job, or is more willing to push the envelope, then the Knight Foundation. In part, says Paul VanDeCarr, managing director and co-founder of Working Narratives, that's because "Knight is a place that encourages a spirited exchange of ideas and has a culture" that encourages new ideas and having fun.

Good advice from Jay Goulart, writing on his Philanthropy 2013 blog (not to be confused with Lucy Bernholz' Philanthropy 2173 blog), who notes that, as tens of thousands of nonprofits gear up to produce yet another annual report, the AR itself has become a sort of shrine to the transaction. That's good, right? Not so much. Writes Goulart:

Our obsession with tying success in fundraising to simple measures around transactions has produced the lowest donor retention numbers our industry has ever seen. And please remember the annual report that describes how awesome the organization is is not at all about our most valued customers...

I ask you to consider if something else is at all possible?...

Might it be possible that the annual fund is actually an opportunity for people to become stewards of an institution? What would your communications strategy look like if you were designing an opportunity for donors to have a sense of purpose and feel a level of responsibility in ensuring that the organization's mission could be maximized. Wouldn't that be more powerful than conversations such as: “doesn't really matter what you give as long as you participate.” That statement diminishes the organization, its purpose and trivializes individual investment and commitment....

Data

Everyone agrees: Data is good. Except, says Sara Rowland, a business analyst at International Data Management writing on the NTEN blog, when it isn't.

Grantmaking

"Most grantmakers say they want increased candor in their relationships with grantees, but then many of the structures they put in place actually suggest a lack of trust," writes Kathleen Enright, president and CEO of Grantmers for Effective Organizations, on the Huffington Post. "Program-restricted grants and limits on overhead are both attempts to exert control....[and] in philanthropy's work, control might not get us where we want to go," she adds. That's why it's important that funders lead with expressions of trust, and a place "to start is to give high-performing nonprofits the flexible funding they need to be resilient and to truly achieve meaningful results."

In a short video on Vimeo, Givewell co-founder Elie Hassenfeld shares five questions that any funder should ask a nonprofit before deciding to fund the organization.

On the GrantCraft blog, Rick James, principal consultant at INTRAC (International NGO Training and Research Centre), gets freaky with some tips for funders thinking about signing on to a collaboration. Based on the recently released INTRAC case study Funder Collaboration: A Compelling and Cautionary Tale, His tips include:

  1. Treat pooled funding with trepidation
  2. Choose suitable friends
  3. Invest sufficient senior staff time
  4. Focus on the partner(s), not just the technical program
  5. Let go of control to genuinely share ownership

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Arabella Advisors blog, Arabella director Whitney Mayer argues that, when it comes to measuring impact and impact investments, "we need to move beyond our methodological concerns, particularly regarding the limitations in rating systems and social impact taxonomies, and reflect on the bigger picture of what is and isn’t working throughout the life cycle of an investment."

In a post in City Journal, a quarterly publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, City Journal contributing editor Guy Sorman looks at a number of grants made by the metrics-focused Robin Hood Foundation and concludes that it just might not be possible for charities to accurately measure their effectiveness. What's more, Sorman argues, if, under pressure from donors and funders, charities "do start shifting their priorities toward programs that lend themselves to measurement, something important could get lost in the process."

Of course it's important that we find "more cost-effective ways to address critical needs," argues William Pinakiewicz, a vice president at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. But even "more important is the need to deliver these services through programs that provide more and better results for each dollar invested in them." One way to do that is through social impact, or pay-for-success, bonds, and the good news, adds Pinakiewicz, is that "we're seeing the first signs that nonprofits are actively preparing themselves to access capital from pay for success opportunities and more generally, to operate in the new age of outcomes-based funding."

Philanthropy

Are philanthropists too ambitious? Maybe, writes Forbes Insight contributing editor Kasia Moreno. To bolster her case, she turns to well-known Harvard Business School prof Michael Porter, who, in Moreno's article, says: "There are two crushing weaknesses with the philanthropic model today. There is not enough money to give away. And there is too much fragmentation and not enough large-scale impact. That is why we haven’t gotten a lot of great results yet." What do you think? Is philanthropy the python that swallowed the horse? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Social Good

What's new at Causes, the crowdfunding app that debuted on Facebook a few years back? A lot, actually. As Pandodaily's Hamish McKenzie explains, it's been reinvented as a standalone mobile-first social network "geared around the goals of raising money or signing up supporters for specific" -- you guessed it -- "causes." And what will prevent the new Causes from becoming the old Jumo? We're not sure -- and neither is McKenzie. But it's a nice-looking site, and there's a lot of hidden recommendation-type tech behind it, so who knows? Worth keeping an eye on.

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

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