Arts and Culture
On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, James Irvine Foundation president and CEO Jim Canales discusses the foundation's new arts strategy, which has received both positive and negative feedback from the nonprofit community. "I admire those who have stepped forward to criticize aspects of our strategy, whether they believe it is wrong on its merits or they view it as yet another example of 'strategic philanthropy' gone awry, where we are dictating and imposing our solutions upon the field," writes Canales. "That is certainly not out intention.
What is different for us in our new Arts strategy is that rather than continuing with a broad-based approach that funded projects across multiple objectives, we made the strategic decision to direct our finite resources in a way that, in our view, will best position the arts field for future viability and success. In doing so, we are openly expressing a point of view about how we think the field must evolve to ensure its dynamism and relevance. Yet, we are very clear about our willingness to learn with our partners in this effort, to refine our approach accordingly, and to help to advance the field's understanding of the many ways to engage a broader cross-section of Californians (in our case) in the arts....
So, please keep the ideas, observations and critiques coming. It's the best way to ensure we can achieve the end we all agree upon: a vibrant, relevant and successful arts field....
The Mertz Gilmore Foundation and NYU Wagner's Research Center for Leadership in Action have issued a new report, Beyond Foundation Funding: Revenue-Generating Strategies for Sustainable Social Change (84 pages, PDF), that's designed to aid social change organizations, funders, and technical assistance providers in discussing and implementing different fundraising and revenue-generating practices.
Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks has a few choice words for fundraising consultants who show up at sector conferences with slick PowerPoint presentations designed to shame attendees into contracting their services, but who never, ever reveal whether the campaigns they are so proud of creating actually worked or not.
On her blog, Beth Kanter has a few tips for nonprofits struggling to measure "difficult stuff" like social media results and success. Among other things, Kanter suggests that organizations spend time "brainstorming the 'chain of events' of how your organization's strategic use of social media can be a pathway to your organization's overall definition of success or mission."
The Weakonomist reflects on a recent Wall Street Journal article from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates in which Gates described how his foundation is working to improve measurement of the problems it has set out to tackle, which in turn improves its understanding of a problem. An approving Weakonomist notes that while "Measuring a problem is sometimes more difficult than finding the solution...this is where more work should be focused."
On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Mark Russell takes issue with Gates' argument, which Russell says "reinforce[s] the myth that if only nonprofits would follow the business model, the world would be a better place." Russell goes on to point out that there are any number of measurements that businesses don't track, such as the chemicals used in the hydrofracking process and how those chemicals might affect local residents, and/or information that businesses don't share about the things they do track, such as "who pays for [the] data (and who benefits)." And he closes by reminding us why key stakeholders need to be involved in any measurement process:
In short, to be data savvy is to be a bit of a data skeptic. As [MathBabe blogger Cathy] O’Neill says, there's "power behind a data collection process." Part of that power is to choose what to measure, based on values, or biases, or simply limited resources. As Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, puts it:..."We cannot evaluate everything, so we choose strategically...."
And in a long piece over at The Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen argues that mission-related investing is "worthy of recognition and support not just by nonprofits managing large endowments, but by mainstream nonprofits concerned about maximizing the capital markets' support of socially beneficial investment opportunities."
On the Humanosphere blog, Tom Paulson weighs in with a thoughtful consideration of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's "strategic media partnerships and concludes that
as journalists and news organizations come to depend increasingly on philanthropies like the Gates Foundation for financial support, it is even more important than ever that we stay focused on our main job -- arguably, pushing for critical analysis and accountability -- and tread carefully when asked to strategically partner with even the most well-intentioned humanitarian in promoting a cause...or solution.
On the GrantCraft blog, Lisa Philp, the Foundation Center's vice president for strategic philanthropy, discusses the genesis of Next Gen Donors: Shaping the Future of Philanthropy, a companion piece to the just-released Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy(80 pages, PDF), which found that high-net-worth Gen X and Geny Y (Millennial) individuals are keenly interested in structuring their philanthropy around personal values, measurable impact, and hands-on engagement. A project of GrantCraft, the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, and 21/64, the companion report highlights the "practical wisdom" and insights of next-gen donors with respect to their interest in engagement, new ways of learning, and making a difference sooner rather than later.
On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz reflects on two recent examples of a foundation confronting its critics publicly. In the first, Irvine Foundation CEO Jim Canales (see above) linked directly to bloggers critical of Irvine's new arts strategy. And in the second, the Knight Foundation said it regretted paying Jonah Lehrer, a journalist who was caught plagiarizing by his employer, The New Yorker, and subsequently fired, $20,000 to speak at a recent Knight-sponsored media seminar. Bernholz said she found herself
considering these two events from a few steps further back. We criticize foundations for being opaque, and mostly they are. Steps toward transparency aren't going to be easy (sounds real good if you say it real fast). Both of these examples involve foundations actually in conversation with publics they could (easily, legally, and rather comfortably) ignore. The more important question for all us may be -- why is that the case?
Over at the WASHfunders.org blog, our FC colleagues Nina and Seema share a three-minute video in which Water.org co-founder and award-winning actor Matt Damon pledges to stop using the toilet until more people take the issue of water scarcity seriously. "Aside from publicizing WASH issues, the video aims to inspire people to action," they write, "[and] directs viewers to a new web site, strikewithme.org, where they can learn more about the crisis, and donate their money and social media accounts to the campaign."
That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And enjoy the long weekend!
-- The Editors