11 posts categorized "FC Insight"

Colombia’s Peace Accord: Philanthropy Must Not Miss the Boat

July 20, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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COLOMBIA-PEACE-TREATYThe peace deal and disarmament of FARC in Colombia is a remarkable milestone, but it is still not clear to what extent Colombians are ready to effectively transition from peacemaking to peace building. If it is to be successful, that process must result in full implementation of the accord and the enabling of environments conducive to sustainable peace over the long term.

The historic accord itself does not guarantee peace. While the end of the conflict has created the necessary conditions for peace building and reconciliation, a successful conclusion to the process will require creativity, long-term thinking, and all sectors of society to work together. The good news is that the end of violence means other sectors of society are now able to take part in creating a fairer and more equal Colombia.

In an attempt to engage the philanthropic sector in Colombia in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 16 (promote peace, justice and strong institutions), AFE Colombia and the SDG Philanthropy Platform have issued a report, Peace and Sustainable Development in Colombia: The Role of Philanthropy in Building a Shared Future, that aims to serve as a catalyst for new thinking by and dialogue between key stakeholders in the peace process. The report also provides concrete recommendations that local and international philanthropic organizations can act on to support Colombia's transition toward peace.

The current landscape

Colombia is a deeply unequal country. As such, it needs philanthropic organizations and actors to bring their resources and expertise to conflict-affected regions. More often than not, these are underdeveloped rural areas in dire need of social investment. To make the peace deal a reality on the ground will require stakeholders to come together and rethink the ways in which different actors and sectors in these areas interact and cooperate with each other.

At the same time, philanthropy itself must rethink the way it operates, taking into account its unique power to convene and provide a voice to underrepresented people and communities. Philanthropic actors currently operating in Colombia must also encourage new actors to engage with stakeholders in conflict-affected areas through partnerships designed to strengthen the impact of projects and activities already taking place and/or in replicating them in other areas of the country.

Ensuring a gender perspective

Several philanthropic institutions in Colombia are following UN recommendations and working to ensure that women play a key role in peace-building efforts and that their voices are heard. One of them, the WWB Foundation supports and educates women interested in setting up their own businesses. Philanthropic organizations like Fundación Belcorp and the Mujeres de Exito Foundation promote the development of women through education. And still others are providing legal services to women and girls who have suffered violence.

Taking into account the perspective of women was a key focus of the peace process, and the accord states that women's rights and needs (Goal 5) must be addressed by Colombian society as a whole. Philanthropic organizations looking to support the peace process are critical to this effort and should take it upon themselves to support and strengthen local women's groups so that they are able to play a meaningful role in peace-building efforts.

Taking the lead

Philanthropy itself is uniquely positioned to play a leading role as Colombia navigates this critical moment. Long-term vision and a willingness to take risks can be difficult for governments and businesses to embrace given budget constraints and fiduciary obligations. But philanthropy, acting as a catalyst for innovation and collective action, can become a key player in efforts to create the conditions needed to forge a sustainable peace.

The Colombian peace accord is a once-in-a-generations opportunity to improve the lives of Colombia's poorest citizens and communities. Philanthropy must not miss the boat.

Headshot_ferreira_reynoso (002)Juan David Ferreira is a consultant for Asociación de Fundaciones Empresariales y Familiares-AFE Colombia. Merybell Reynoso is an international communications consultant for the SDG Philanthropy Platform.

The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a global initiative that helps philanthropy engage in the global development agenda and informs and catalyzes collaboration between those working in the philanthropy sector and other key actors. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Because What You Know Shouldn't Just Be About Who You Know

July 11, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Knowledge is obsolete." As a librarian, my ears perked up when someone shared the title of this TEDxFoggyBottom talk. It's plausible. Why memorize obscure, hard-to-remember facts when anything you could possibly want to know can be looked up, on the go, via a smartphone? As a mom, I imagine my kids sitting down to prepare for rich, thought-provoking classroom discussions instead of laboring over endless multiple-choice tests. What an exciting time to be alive — a time when all of humanity's knowledge is at our fingertips, leading experts are just a swipe away, the answer always literally close at hand, and we've been released from the drudgery of memorization and graduated to a life of active, informed debate! And how lucky are we to be working in philanthropy and able to leverage all this knowledge for good, right?

Open-for-good_featureforeground

Though the active debate part may sound familiar, sadly, for too many of us working in philanthropy, the knowledge utopia described above is more sci-fi mirage than a TED Talk snapshot of present-day reality. As Foundation Center's Glasspockets team revealed in its "Foundation Transparency Challenge" infographic last November, only 10 percent of foundations today have a website, and not even our smartphones are  smart enough to connect you to the 90 percent of those that don't.

The Foundation Transparency Challenge reveals other areas of potential improvement for institutional philanthropy, including a number of transparency practices not widely embraced by the majority of funders. Indeed, the data we've collected demonstrates that philanthropy is weakest when it comes to creating communities of shared learning, with fewer than half the foundations with a Glasspockets profile using their websites to share what they are learning, only 22 percent sharing how they assess their own performance, and only 12 percent revealing details about their strategic plan.

Foundation Center data also tells us that foundations annually make an average of $5.4 billion in grants for knowledge-production activities such as evaluations, white papers, and case studies. Yet only a small fraction of foundations actively share the knowledge assets that result from those grants — and far fewer share them under an open license or through an open repository. For a field that is focused on investing in ideas — and not shy about asking grantees to report on the progress of these ideas — there is much potential here to open up our knowledge to peers and practitioners who, like so many of us, are looking for new ideas and new approaches to urgent, persistent problems.

As for having a universe of experts a swipe away to help inform our philanthropic strategies, the reality is that the body of knowledge related to philanthropic work is scattered across the thousands of institutional foundation websites that do exist. But who has time for the Sisyphean task of filtering through it all?

No coincidence, perhaps, that a main finding of a recent report commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation was that foundation professionals looking to gain and share knowledge tend to prefer to confer with trusted foundation peers and colleagues. At the same time, the field is doing a lot of soul searching related to diversity, equity, and inclusion — and what it can do to improve its performance in those areas. But if practitioners in the field are only sourcing knowledge from their peers, doesn't that suggest their knowledge networks may be unintentionally insular and lacking in well…diversity of opinion and perspective? And might there be a way to connect the dots and improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and inclusivity of our networks by changing the way we source, find, and share lessons learned?

In other words, shouldn't what we know not just be about who we know?

#OpenForGood

The good news is that as more foundations professionalize their staffs and develop in-house expertise in learning, monitoring, and evaluation (as well as in grants management and communications), there are a number of developing practices out there worth highlighting. And there's more good news: a number of technology platforms and tools have emerged that make it easy for us to improve the way we search for and find answers to complex questions. Here at Foundation Center, for example, we are using this post to kick off a new #OpenForGood series featuring the voices of "knowledge sharing champions" from the philanthropic and social sectors. Some of these experts will be sharing their perspectives on opening up knowledge at their own foundations, while others will clue us in to tools and platforms that can improve the way philanthropy leverages the knowledge it generates (and pays for), as well as the way it discovers new sources of knowledge.

But before we get there, you might be wondering: What does it mean to be a social sector organization that is #OpenForGood? And how does my organization become one? Not to worry. The following suggestions are intended to help organizations demonstrate they are moving in the direction of greater openness:

  1. Grantmakers can start by assessing their own foundation’s openness by taking and sharing the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment survey.
  2. Funders and nonprofits alike can openly share what they are learning with the rest of the field. If your organization invested in monitoring and evaluating results in 2015 or 2016, make the effort to share those evaluations in our new IssueLab: Results In exchange for sharing your recent evaluations, you will receive an #OpenforGood badge to display on your website to signal your commitment to creating a community of shared learning.
  3. If you have lessons to share but not a formal evaluation process, share them in blog format here on PhilanTopic, or on GrantCraft, so others can still benefit from your experience.
  4. Adopt an open licensing policy so that others can more easily build on your work.

The #OpenForGood series is timed to align with the launch of a new Foundation Center platform designed to help philanthropy learn from all the collective knowledge at its disposal. Developed by the team at IssueLab, whose collection already includes more than 22,000 reports from thousands of nonprofits and foundations, IssueLab Results is dedicated in particular to the collection and sharing of evaluations.

IssueLab Results supplies easy, open access to the lessons foundations are learning about what is and isn't working. The site includes a growing curated collection of evaluations and a special collection containing guidance on the practice of evaluation. And it’s easy to share your knowledge through the site — just look for the orange "Upload" button.

The basic idea here is to scale social sector knowledge so that everyone benefits and the field, collectively, grows smarter rather than more fragmented. On a very practical level, it means that a researcher need only visit one website rather than thousands to learn what is known about the issue s/he is researching. But the only way the idea can scale is if foundations and nonprofits help us grow the collection by adding their knowledge here. If they do — if you do — it also means that philanthropy will have a more inclusive and systematic way to source intelligence beyond the "phone a friend" approach.

The bottom line is that in philanthropy today, knowledge isn't obsolete, it's obscured. Won't you join us in helping make it #OpenForGood?

If you have a case study related to knowledge sharing and management and/or the benefits of transparency and openness, let us know in the comments below, or find us on Twitter @glasspockets.

Headshot_janet_camarenaJanet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. A version of this post originally appeared in the Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog as part of its new #OpenforGood series in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. For more posts in the FC Insight series (not to be confused with the Fund for Shared Insight), click here.

Change That Starts in Your Own Backyard: Mapping Dollars Toward the 2030 Global Goals

July 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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SdgsFor many grantmakers in the United States, the announcement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came and went without much fanfare. Some surely must have wondered how the work they're supporting in the U.S. could count toward a much larger international initiative if they weren't funding projects in developing countries. And some may have even thought the SDGs are designed to improve the lives of people only in places like Kenya or Nicaragua, not Kentucky and Nebraska. But what these grantmakers may not realize is that the work they're already doing, day in and day out, can make a huge difference in achieving the goals set forth by the UN as part of its Agenda 2030.

Whether working to end hunger and poverty, providing access to clean water, or championing gender equality, each of the seventeen goals address issues that towns, cities, and states across the U.S. are familiar with. We need look no further than the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the gender wage gap in most industries and communities. The challenge isn't how to get domestic grantmakers involved in contributing to the SDGs; they already are involved through the work they're doing. Rather, the challenge is how to engage them in mapping the work they are supporting domestically against the larger global framework.

The first step in that process is to change the way we think about results and reporting and to continue to push our sector toward a more results-focused approach. Instead of pointing to one-off impact stories, dollars given, or simple outputs like the number of people served, funders need to focus on measuring how a situation has actually changed as a result of their funding. The SDGs help provide a framework for organizations, foreign and domestic, large and small, to do just that by offering a common taxonomy and set of standards that players across the philanthropic ecosystem can look to in reporting and measuring impact.

Measuring outcomes using a standard taxonomy not only enables domestic grantmakers — whether a large corporation or a small community foundation — to better track their efforts; it also helps to fuel collaboration in the service of better results. Without a shared taxonomy, two funders in the same community can be working toward a common goal and never realize that the other organization is doing similar work — or understand how their own work connects to a broader effort. In contrast, when funders and grantees use the same terminology to describe and measure their work, it's much easier to see how collaboration between two or more organizations can be leveraged into a regional, statewide, or nationwide initiative that connects to an even larger, global goal.

Connecting grantmaking efforts to the SDGs also enables funders to more easily galvanize stakeholders — community members, supporters, board members, employees, and customers — around the work they're doing. Showing that a small jobs training program for women in Detroit connects to a global goal of gender equality tells a powerful story. People tend to feel more empowered when they know they are connected to something bigger than themselves or their individual organizations.

Aligning grantmaking to the SDGs may seem daunting, but the good news is that the work is already under way and there are resources designed to help you. As a first step, take a look at the SDGs to see which goals and targets naturally align with your organization's work or corporate philosophy. The Council on Foundations provides material and information for domestic grantmakers looking to get involved with the SDGs, while the Foundation Center's SDG Philanthropy Platform makes it easy to share your progress toward individual goals and to review other funders' progress.

At Blackbaud, we are convinced that collecting and tracking data toward the SDGs will help lay the groundwork for more efficient and effective giving. In fact, it's only through serious, intentional data collection and analysis that we can benchmark our efforts and ensure that those efforts, no matter how small they may seem, are contributing to building a better world.

Annie_rhodes_for_PhilanTopicAnnie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud's Corporations & Foundations Group. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

At the annual summit of the Family Business Council-Gulf (FBCG) in Dubai, Foundation Center's Lisa Philp led a plenary session on philanthropy in action in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. She was joined by Hassan Jameel, deputy president and vice chair, Abdul Latif Jameel Domestic Operations, and Caroline Seow, director of sustainability, Family Business Network International. Philp is working with FBCG and FBN International to shine a light on thoughtful and sustainable philanthropy in the GCC. This post — part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work — is an adaptation of a case study she wrote on lessons learned from Community Jameel.

Jameel_philpAbdul Latif Jameel is an international diversified business with operations in seven major industries — transportation, engineering and manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, land and real estate, advertising and media, and energy and environmental services. Founded in 1945 as a small trading business that later evolved into a Toyota distributorship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the company has achieved this scale and market success in just over seven decades.

The company's entrepreneurial founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel, saw that better personal transportation could empower businesses and individuals and, in turn, advance the economic development of his nation. With that vision to guide him, he established an extensive operations infrastructure and over time built the largest vehicle distribution network in Saudi Arabia. Along the way, the company developed comprehensive expertise across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (or "MENAT"), the region in which it operates, fashioning a reputation for building the "infrastructure of life." Today, Abdul Latif Jameel has a presence in more than 30 countries and employs 17,000 people from over 40 nationalities.

Jameel was a visionary and dynamic entrepreneur who dedicated his family and company to meeting the needs of his fellow Saudis. In 2003, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who had been named chair and CEO of the company a decade earlier, created Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services, or "Community Jameel," as it is known today. Community Jameel has evolved into a sustainable social enterprise organization focused on six priority areas: job creation, global poverty alleviation, food and water security, arts and culture, education and training, and health and social. From its headquarters in Jeddah, the organization coordinates a rage of programs focused on the development of individuals and communities in the MENAT region and beyond.

Holding the Mirror

Community Jameel's mission is to empower people to improve their lives and the lives of those around them — in effect, to "help communities help themselves." It's a mission that is distinct from many charitable organizations in the region, in that it seeks to address global societal and economic problems at the source rather than merely mitigating their symptoms. Three generations of the Jameel family are engaged with the organization, honoring Abdul Latif Jameel's commitment to sustainable development and the pursuit of positive social change.

Initiatives under the Community Jameel umbrella include:

  • Bab Rizq Jameel, a jobs program that has helped create more than 720,000 job opportunities globally since 2003, including over 490,000 in Saudi Arabia;
  • Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a global network of affiliated professors based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Grameen-Jameel, a pioneering microfinance program supporting the MENAT region;
  • Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab at MIT, which conducts research to help combat worldwide water scarcity and food supply shortages;
  • Jameel Gallery for Islamic Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Jeddah Sculpture Gallery, and Jameel Houses of Traditional Arts in Jeddah, Cairo, and Scotland; and
  • MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Start-up Competition, which promotes entrepreneurship and innovation across the Arab world.

Connecting the Dots

The seeds for the successful Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ) job-creation program were planted in 2003 when Abdul Latif Jameel (the company) took some of its vehicles and trained unemployed young men to become taxi drivers. Adhering to its philosophy of sustainability and economic independence, the company asked those who received automobiles to pay them off, interest-free, as they earned money from driving. Over time, young men participating in the program became taxi owners as well as drivers.

BRJ grew quickly and began to fund other entrepreneurial activities using the same principle of low- or no-interest loans targeting populations such as women working from home. Additional avenues included the establishment of employment service centers around the country to put those looking for work in touch with potential employers and setting up training programs to help unemployed Saudis obtain or sharpen their skills.

Over the years, BRJ has created programs that link job seekers and employers, offer interest-free loans to small-business entrepreneurs, and provide remote and home-based job opportunities. The team responsible for developing these job-creation initiatives recognized the need to inform and educate potential participants about their programs. Television campaigns become one way to spread the message; consultation opportunities at employment services centers were another. With the goal of providing consistently excellent customer service and being able to gauge whether a potential candidate for a program was serious enough about his future to stick with a new job or startup business, BRJ employment consultants themselves were asked to undergo continuous training.

The team also learned an important lesson about partnering with employers for its Direct Recruitment program. BRJ had to ensure that any employer it worked with would provide high-quality training and ongoing career development opportunities to program participants, not just short-term job opportunities. Because many employers were unaware of benefits that an employment center could bring them, reputable companies and other organizations had to be found and cultivated for inclusion in the BRJ database.

Government support of the program has been another success factor, thanks in part to BRJ's work to foster relationships with key officials, align its efforts with government employment goals, and take the time to explain experimental approaches and answer questions as models were developed. In addition, BRJ found that creating mutually beneficial partnership with existing organizations helped broaden employment-generating opportunities. This willingness to partner — to bring the right resources together at the right time to solve a problem, not just short-term but over the long-term — has informed the simple tagline the organization uses today: "Community Jameel — Together for Good."

Creating Impact

Jameel_panelOne goal of Abdul Latif Jameel's corporate strategy is to help "people who strive for better to have better: better means, better lives, better prospects." As Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel explains: "We can do this because we are determined in our quest for new potential. We succeed because, through our business and through Community Jameel, we never lose sight of why this matters."

This orientation is reflected in the evolution of Abdul Latif Jameel from a small distributorship into a diversified international conglomerate, of Community Jameel from a small experiment into a sustainable multi-faceted social enterprise, and of Bab Rizq Jameel from a small project into an organization that employs seven hundred people.

Community Jameel projects typically blend a Jameel family member's passion and desire to make a difference with experimentation; leverage the family business's expertise, people, and networks; and include a thorough analysis of the lessons learned. The initiatives launched and supported by Community Jameel are either owned and operated by Community Jameel itself or are organized and managed by external partners with relevant expertise. Examples of the latter include partnerships with MIT focused on global poverty alleviation, food and water security, and education initiatives; a microfinance partnership with Grameen Foundation; and partnerships to promote arts and culture with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Prince's School of Traditional Arts. Based on strong relationships, mutual respect, shared goals, and an entrepreneurial approach, all these efforts have grown organically over the years.

New BRJ initiatives often begin with research designed to understand needs in the community, an audit of available resources, and a small pilot to test the program. Pilots that have demonstrated success have been replicated in Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco. The organization keeps the door open for new collaborations, is always looking to increase the number of branches in countries already serviced, and welcomes new partnerships in countries not yet in its portfolio.

BRJ also seeks opportunities to support other Abdul Latif Jameel business units and activities. An example is corporate sponsorship. The company is the title sponsor of the Saudi Professional League, a soccer league with fourteen teams now known simply in Arabic as Dawry Jameel (or the Jameel League). Abdul Latif Jameel sees Dawry Jameel as an opportunity to bring people together, to entertain, to engage, and to contribute to the ongoing development of Saudi society. In just three years, BRJ has created more than ten thousand stadium jobs for young Saudis who work as snack sellers and field crew employees.

Its many achievements and the organization's success in generating job opportunities through its social media platforms resulted in BRJ receiving the Arab Social Media Influencers Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility category in 2015. A few years earlier, BRJ received an award from the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation for Entrepreneurs for "Best Initiative to Support Entrepreneurship in Arab Countries." And in 2008, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel was presented with the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order, Saudi Arabia's highest civilian honor, by His Majesty King Abdullah in recognition of his personal contribution to job-creation initiatives for young Saudi men and women.

Next Steps

In October 2016, BRJ signed a memorandum of understanding with Uber, the networked personal transportation company, to support job creation, education, and resources for Saudi nationals seeking opportunities in taxi ownership and operation. A month later, BRJ signed a second agreement with Careem, the MENAT region's leading app-based car booking service, to provide income and training opportunities for Saudi citizens who wish to work in the transportation services sector.

These collaborations reflect the shared interest of all parties in supporting Saudi citizens and creating more transportation jobs. BRJ's partnerships with Uber and Careem also are closely aligned with Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030," which calls for a prosperous, sustainable national economy based on making the most of the Saudi people's potential and the emerging "gig" economy.

Abdul Latif Jameel is constantly seeking out new markets, creating new job opportunities, developing new partnerships, and finding new ways to create value. All of it is done with a clear purpose: to help people advance their quality of life by unlocking their potential. Through Community Jameel, Abdul Latif Jameel is a pioneer in the MENAT region in driving positive social change. The work of BRJ and the social enterprise in which it is embedded has enabled the Jameel family to recognize and support the needs of tens of thousands of young people in the region.

The story of Abdul Latif Jameel, Community Jameel, and the Jameel family's philanthropic journey offers a number of helpful lessons for other family businesses and families:

1. Passion:To successfully engage family members over multiple generations, allow individuals to explore their unique passions for social causes. Members of the Jameel family are united in their passion for visual art — both traditional and contemporary — and they have leveraged this passion into programs that showcase world-class art, bring arts education to students, and support the careers of artists.

2. Experimentation: Don't be afraid to test new ideas. Experiment and learn. Then experiment again. Not everything will work, but the bigger obstacles to success and real impact are a failure to try and "planning paralysis" that limits action. BRJ started from a humble experiment involving ten young men. It has grown through smart pilot projects, iterative learning, and good strategy.

2. Community: Be sure to connect with the community you're hoping to serve, even if it's a country or an extended region. Too many philanthropists ignore this step and instead launch programs that do not take into account local needs and circumstances.

3. Expertise:Don't be afraid to hire advisors or staff with issue-based expertise and practical implementation knowledge for programs you choose to run yourself. For bigger initiatives, it may make more sense to partner with an international NGO with expertise and experience in the subject area and targeted geographic region.

4. Evolution:Just as family businesses must anticipate and adapt to changes in the marketplace, family philanthropy must also evolve to stay relevant. Finding a balance between sustaining financial support for older efforts that are working and advancing new opportunities can be a challenge, but the return is worth the effort.

Hassan Jameel offers the following advice: "Let your family's core business values also serve as guideposts for your giving. Ours are respect, improve, pioneer, and empower. We respect and consult with the people we are serving. We have feedback loops to help us improve our results. We pioneer through pilot projects that are of deep interest to family members. And we seek to empower communities with our efforts."

And he adds: "[I]t is important to pick a starting point and to allow your family the opportunity to experiment, learn, revise, and repeat."

May others find the inspiration to forge their own paths to success and significance.

Lisa Philp is a senior advisor at Foundation Center. You can contact her at llp@foundationcenter.org. For more posts in our FC Insight series, click here.

 

Show Me: Why Your Data Should Be Seen (and Not Just Read)

June 19, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

So proclaimed Willard Duncan, a Missouri congressman, in an 1899 speech. Perhaps because I, too, hail from the Show-Me state, I have taken his advice to heart. Now let me convince you of its wisdom.

First let's talk about data. Nonprofit organizations are lousy with it — participant data, program data, financial data, sales data, fundraising data. Nonprofits are drinking from a fire hose and the water pressure is building. We are scrambling just to find enough bandwidth to store our data. And like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little of this data we actually use. We may pay lip service to "evidence-based practices" or "data-driven strategies," or even borrow acronyms like ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicator) from the for-profit world. But, when pressed, many nonprofit managers admit they are not data people. They care deeply about people and programs, but their eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet.

It's okay: we're wired that way. (More on our wiring in a minute.) But for now, let's look at some other reasons why nonprofits may not be making good use of their data.

Top Reasons Nonprofits Avoid Data

Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons. In my experience, the primary causes include:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not "numbers people."

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won't be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

"Dirty" data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be "dirty" data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently. If, for example, Michael Smith is entered twice, once with a middle initial and once without, then tracking his progress through your program will be difficult.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates the positive social impact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students' school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates' wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets. Which means Michael Smith's demographic profile might be captured in one spreadsheet while his attendance in various programs is stored in another, making analysis of, say, age-to-program participation next to impossible.

Why Cave Dwellers Drew Pictures, Not Spreadsheets

Our visual system has evolved over millions of years to process images in parallel. We don't "read" the Mona Lisa from top to bottom or from left to right. We take it all in at a glance and understand, almost instantly, that it is a picture of a woman in front of a landscape wearing a dark dress and an inscrutable smile. The cognitive technology of words and numbers, which is only six or seven thousand years old, requires us to scan individual characters arranged in small groupings and piece them together into words or values and then sentences or equations.

Here's an example: Which image do you "get" first?

Kohm_MonaLisa Kohm_Spreadsheet
Source: GoGuiyan.com and SSuite Accel Spreadsheet

 

Because data is encoded in words and numbers, it can be difficult for us to extract the stories that data tells. But if we use visual elements — solid bars, pie slices, sloping lines — to encode the data, the story comes into focus much more quickly. Data visualizations help us understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context. And if, on top of that, we apply to our data visualizations what we know about how humans process visual cues, they are even easier to digest. Just one example: Humans can discern positions along a common scale more accurately than angles. That's why it is much easier to compare the lengths of several bars on a bar graph than to compare the size of slices in a pie chart.

Florence Nightingale probably wasn't a numbers person, either. She became a nurse to serve others. Yet, she soon realized she could provide care more effectively with the help of data. Working with a statistician named William Farr, Nightingale analyzed mortality rates during the Crimean War. She and Farr discovered that most of the soldiers who died in the conflict died not in combat but as a result of "preventable diseases" caused by bad hygiene.

Nightingale's solution? She invented the polar area chart, a variant of the pie chart meant "to affect thro' the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears." Each pie represented a twelve-month period of the war, with each slice showing the number of deaths per month, growing outward if the number increased, and color-coded to show the causes of death (blue: preventable, red: wounds, black: other). Clearly seeing the importance of hygiene, the Queen and Parliament quickly set up a sanitary commission and, as a result, mortality rates fell.

Kohm_NightingaleChart
 
Fig. 1: Florence Nightingale decided to show (rather than tell) her data
Source: Smithsonian.com

 

Getting Started With Data Visualization

Before designing charts, maps, or graphs, you need to know what you want to know. Perhaps your organization or program already has a logic model. If not, it's worth at least one team meeting to draft one. Logic models, like data visualizations, show rather than tell. They show how resources, programs and services, and desired results relate to each other according to your organization's strategic plan. The graphic below comes from the Pell Institute's Evaluation Toolbook, a site that walks you through logic models, other steps in effective program assessment, and the various types of data you can collect.

Kohm_LogicModel
Fig. 2: The components of a logic model

 

If your organization or program doesn't already have clearly articulated goals, benchmarks, or objectives, a logic model is a good first step toward setting them. You can set goals for any stage of the process (what types and amounts of resources you hope to garner, what types and amounts of services you intend to provide, or what types and amounts or degrees of outcomes you expect to see). The trick is determining which data will be most useful in helping you measure progress toward your goals in a meaningful way.

Once you figure out what it is you need or want to know, don't wait until you have data that supports your logic model to visualize it. It's important to bring the data to life for everyone involved, and that means visualizing it sooner rather than hiding it in spreadsheets and databases.

Even a simple line graph showing progress over time toward a goal will make your data perceptible, prompting you and your colleagues to ask important questions. Is our data accurate? What additional data do we need to better understand the trends we see? What is going on in our program or our community/field that might be affecting these trends? Questions like these can strengthen your resolve to gather new and/or better data — or to make changes designed to enhance the efficacy of your program.

Kohm_LineGraph
 
Fig. 3: A simple line graph showing progress over time

 

There are plenty of software programs out there to help you visualize your data. Excel, which you may already have, is perhaps the simplest to use. Other programs such as Tableau and Qlik Sense allow you to create interactive visuals and "drill down" into your data. If, for example, you see an overall downward trend in program participation, you might want to see if the trend holds for subgroups of participants such as women, men, or those in certain age groups. Free versions of Tableau and Qlik Sense are available as long as you store your data and visuals on the companies' servers. (Both companies give you the option to hide your data and charts from anyone outside your organization.)

Eventually, you'll identify your most important goals, what data to collect and use to track your progress, and how best to visualize that data. Then you can create a data dashboard that everyone in your organization can use to track progress on key goals and ask ever more sophisticated questions about how better to advance your mission.

But first you need to tell a story with an image or picture. Getting that right is the first step toward greater understanding and success.

Amelia_kohm_for_PhilanTopicAmelia Kohm, PhD, is the founder of DataViz for Nonprofits, where she serves as principal consultant. To contact her and learn more about data visualization best practices, visit nonprofitviz.comFor more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2017)

May 03, 2017

For those in the Northeast, April was rainy, cool, and dreary. Here on the blog, though, things were hopping, with lots of new readers and contributors. The sun is back out, but before you head outside, check out the posts PhilanTopic readers especially liked over the last thirty days.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

More Than a School

April 25, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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SDG_schoolsAs a unifying, universal agenda for countries around the world, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a unique opportunity to deliver innovative solutions and much-needed development assistance to the world's poorest countries and regions. Philanthropists the world over have answered this rallying cry and are playing a critical role in filling technical and funding gaps between what is required and what is available, while also providing important intellectual capital. While the current impact of these efforts is not to be underestimated, it is crucially important that philanthropic dollars are directed in the right way, to the right projects, at the right time. Without lasting buy-in from populations and communities targeted by these investments, impact can fade rapidly and disappear altogether over time. But to really have an impact, this funding needs to go beyond standalone projects and contribute to longer-term systems change.

Here's an example of what we're talking about. A foundation or individual donor decides to pay for the construction of a new school in an impoverished village. The odds are good that, when built, the school will have an immediate impact on the local population. But if the school is not supported by parents and local stakeholders, there's a decent chance that, within a few years, it will fall into disrepair. To achieve real, lasting impact, the school should be viewed as a community-based project that, among other things, provides local youth with a competency-based curriculum and skills training that prepares them for market-driven employment opportunities.

These are real-world challenges for philanthropic investment

It is critically important that philanthropists (and other social investment types) understand the complex development "ecosystems" of the countries in which they work. Why? Because no issue is an island, and many issues overlap in a complex web of cause and effect. Those wanting to have a long-lasting impact in a country must understand this reality, invest wisely, and work with local and national stakeholders to make sure the solutions they support truly are sustainable.

One thing we have seen time and again in the development field is philanthropy and government not working with each other. This often leads to missed opportunities for collaboration, additional funding, and innovation. Philanthropy can benefit from the public sector's knowledge of current policy and development frameworks, the specific and interrelated needs of the target population, and details about what has, and has not, worked in the past. Similarly, governments too often miss out on philanthropy's deep field knowledge, agility, and tolerance of risk. To improve this situation, we believe philanthropy and government need to locate where their interests converge, identify instances where they can collaborate, and share lessons learned.

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A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Socially-responsible-investingOne hundred percent of foundations and philanthropists have set up their portfolios for "impact." But in the words of Heron Foundation CEO Clara Miller, "they just don't know if their impact is positive or negative."

The assumption has been that foundations and philanthropists would be among the earliest adopters of investment strategies that align their portfolios, their values, and the social change they are trying to achieve. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to the Global Impact Investing Network's 2016 Annual Impact Investor Survey, foundations in 2016 accounted for only 4 percent of an estimated $77.4 billion in impact investment assets under management. At the same time, there is much in the report to be excited about, starting with the finding that survey respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the performance of their impact investment portfolios. In fact, "[e]ighty-nine percent (89%) reported financial performance in line with or better than their expectations, and 99% reported impact performance in line with or better than expectations."

There are many foundation leaders who are well aware of the potential of impact investing to drive social and environmental change. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, principal of Blue Haven Initiative, captures the sentiment of a growing number of philanthropists: "Just your philanthropic dollars are not enough to solve big world problems. We have a responsibility to use everything we have to make an impact."

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

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"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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Apocalypse Later? Philanthropy and Transparency in an Illiberal World

March 02, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Open-Data-470x352How long will it be before nonprofit transparency takes its place alongside diceros bicornis on the endangered species list? Hopefully never, but in a world that's growing more technologically sophisticated and more illiberal, I'm beginning to think that if it's not Apocalypse Now, maybe it's Apocalypse Later.

The value of transparency

Transparency has been a boon to the philanthropic sector, making it possible for organizations like Foundation Center, Guidestar, the Urban Institute, Charity Navigator, and others to create searchable databases spanning the entire nonprofit and foundation universe. Our efforts, in turn, contribute to responsible oversight, help nonprofits raise funds to pursue their missions, and fuel online platforms that enable donors to make better giving choices. Transparency also enables foundations to collaborate more effectively, leverage their resources more efficiently, and make real progress on critical issues such as black male achievement, access to safe water, and disaster response. The incredibly rich information ecosystem that undergirds the American social sector is the envy of others around the globe — not least because it gives us a clear view of what nonprofit initiative can accomplish, how it compares and contrasts with government, and how social, economic, and environmental issues are being addressed through private-public partnerships.

Where we are today

Federal law — U.S. Code, Title 26, Section 6104 — stipulates that public access to Form 990, a federal information form that tax-exempt organizations are required to file annually, must be provided promptly on request at the exempt organization's office or offices, or within thirty days of a written request. However, exempt organizations don't have to provide copies of their Forms 990 if they make these materials broadly available through the Internet, or if the IRS determines that the organization is being subject to a harassment campaign.

In 2015, Carl Malamud, the Don Quixote of open data, dragged transparency into the digital age when he brought suit against the Internal Revenue Service to force it to make the 990s of a handful of organizations that had been filed electronically available as machine-readable open data. Malamud won, and, somewhat surprisingly, the IRS then did more rather than less to comply with the order: as of June 2016, all Forms 990 filed electronically by 501(c)(3) organizations are available as machine-readable open data through Amazon Web Services. As such, they can be downloaded directly in digital form and processed by computers with minimal human intervention. The development represents a victory not only for Malamud but for the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project, which has toiled for years to make 990s more accessible. The idea, of course, is that free, open data on nonprofits will enable more innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs to use the data in ways that help make the sector more effective and efficient. Since Malamud won his case, the IRS has posted some 1.7 million Forms 990 as machine-readable open data.

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