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4 posts categorized "FC Insight"

More Than a School

April 25, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in 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 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. 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.

Let's take another look at the school project we mentioned. An individual donor or foundation provided the funds to build the school, but who else was consulted? There's a pretty good chance it was built without the involvement of the government, NGOs, civil society organizations, local businesses, school officials, teachers, or parents. Which is unfortunate, since collaboration with a range of partners and community stakeholders would have resulted in a facility that was better suited to the needs of the local population. Getting local buy in would have ensured that someone was thinking about training for teachers, meal planning, and long-term project management. And by reaching out to government, NGOs, and civil society organizations, the donor or foundation could have filled funding gaps and secured the kind of expertise needed for long-term success.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

But is that school just a school? Not really. Schools are, or should be, places where many variables come together to allow children to learn, develop, participate, and, yes, even eat a nutritious meal or two. Without that kind of focus on all the factors that go into educating a child, or any of the other complex problems addressed by the SDGs, we will fall short of our goals. That's why, if we hope to bring about systemic change at the national and regional levels, it is imperative for philanthropy to shift its focus from single-issue to integrated solutions and to work together to figure out what is and isn't working.

The SDG Philanthropy Platform is an innovative vehicle to enable partnerships in global development. It builds bridges and advances progress on the SDGs by encouraging philanthropy, the UN, governments, the private sector, and civil society to work together. It also has published a guide, Investing in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya, to help philanthropic and other social investment organizations and individuals map and engage with the complex social change ecosystem in that country. Through our efforts, philanthropy is adopting a systemic and inclusive approach to funding and policy work, shifting from a focus on standalone projects to an embrace of meaningful collaboration. 

Combo_headshot_karolina_mzyk_jessica_russellWe all must see the school in this story not as an individual school but as a part of a wider ecosystem. We must look at everything that makes a project a success and work to enable that success through dialogue, partnerships, and the recognition that philanthropy needs to be a full partner in the conversation. And we must never forget that schools are built by many hands and, like the SDGs themselves, tend to create the greatest impact when no one is left behind.

Karolina Mzyk-Callias is a policy specialist and Jessica Russell is a communications consultant at the SDG Philanthropy Platform.

A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in 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 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. 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 the latest installment in 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 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. 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 by Foundation Center president Brad Smith introduces a new, year-long series here on PhilanTopic that will address 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 role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning nonprofit or changemaker. 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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