Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

337 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

Why WITNESS and Other Nonprofits Are Adopting the Serious Business of Monitoring and Evaluation

August 28, 2014

Last month, The New York Times "reviewed" the still-in-development Participant Media Index, which is designed to measure the impact and engagement of social issue documentaries. Anyone in the nonprofit world knows that impact and engagement are the buzzwords du jour. More than a passing fad, however, impact evaluation is serious business – one that many of us in the social change realm grapple with every day.

This has not always been the case in the eighteen years I've worked in the sector. Funders have increasingly driven the trend, asking grantees to not just monitor our progress, but also to develop innovative ways to quantify that progress and share our learnings more broadly. In this way, the nonprofit world is catching up with the fields of medicine, psychology and education – all of which have embraced "evidence-based practice" over the past two decades.

This is mostly a positive development. By laying out concrete objectives and outcomes at the start of a grant (in the proposal), organizations are forced to think more strategically and are held accountable for delivering on their promises. The most forward-thinking funders understand the risk inherent in our work – that social investments, like those in business, are not guaranteed to succeed, and that organizations can learn as much from their failures as their achievements. Yet careful planning (yes, even the ubiquitous logic framework) can help increase the odds that we uphold our end of the bargain: To ensure that precious resources are used to successfully mobilize positive social change.

WITNESS has always been considered an innovator in impact evaluation, starting in the mid-2000s with our groundbreaking Performance Evaluation Dashboard, and including a massive effort we launched recently to overhaul our program. Indeed, we are constantly looking for new ways to ensure we maximize our performance and learnings. But this approach is not without its challenges. Human rights advocacy is notoriously difficult to measure, change is often incremental, and ultimate "wins" can take years to achieve. Video advocacy is even more complex, since video is a complementary tool, intended to corroborate other, more traditional forms of documentation.

A point system for tracking Ouputs, Oucomes and Impact from WITNESS' first Performance Dashboard for our fiscal year 2006.

(A point system for tracking Outputs, Outcomes and Impacts from WITNESS’ first Performance Dashboard covering our fiscal year 2006.)

All this we have known for years. But these days, when millions around the world are turning to video, it can feel like a herculean task to measure our ultimate objective: To ensure that the millions with cameras in their hands can document human rights abuse safely and effectively and help secure justice. In our quest to build a global ecosystem of video-for-change users, WITNESS must find new ways to scale up our sharing of skills and resources and harness the power of networks to reach exponentially more people. We must also establish constant feedback loops so we can listen and respond to real needs on the ground and support what our grassroots partners identify as their ultimate endpoint results.

This leveraging of human capital and the resulting changes in behavior, policies, and practices do not lend themselves to easy (or, necessarily, short-term) measurement. Few organizations have the resources to invest in longitudinal follow-up studies that might go on for years. Furthermore, in WITNESS' case, when clear impact results are achieved, it is simply not in our DNA to claim sole ownership over what is always a collaborative and shared process.

At the same time, it's becoming clear that a rapidly changing technology landscape requires human rights organizations to adapt and become more nimble. We would argue that funders also need to adapt their approaches. Many are still asking for outdated ways of measuring impact – with an overemphasis on numbers, for instance, or in holding grantees accountable to rigid and predictive multiyear outcomes (a potential pitfall of logic frameworks). A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on "emergent strategy" discusses the trend toward balancing clear goal-setting with latitude for iteration and responsiveness along the way – particularly within complex social change work like human rights. Among other things, the article notes that:

To solve today's complex social problems, foundations need to shift from the prevailing model of strategic philanthropy that attempts to predict outcomes to an emergent model that better fits the realities of creating social change in a complex world....

A fascinating blog post by Iain Levine of Human Rights Watch captures the essence of this new perspective, including examples (from Syria and elsewhere) where success is elusive yet the moral imperative of human rights engagement ultimately overrides outcomes.

Given this new landscape, as well as the new thinking around how to best evaluate social change work, what are we doing differently these days at WITNESS? For starters, we have begun to build new evaluation mechanisms into our workflow, constantly collecting both quantitative and anecdotal data from the field. This post on the reach of our Forced Evictions Toolkit is one example of the ways we are aggregating and interpreting information.

Witness_google_map

We are also capturing the stories that make video such a powerful tool for change. In Syria, for instance, we provided Waseem, a 25-year-old student from Homs, with video equipment and a series of in-depth trainings online that helped him become a seasoned citizen-journalist. Today, Waseem's videos are featured on major media outlets that are covering the crisis in Syria, and he teaches other local activists the skills he learned from WITNESS.

Since we cannot possibly track the ongoing impacts of every person who attends a training or downloads our resources online, WITNESS has also begun to work with external consultants on "deep dives" into selected programs that serve as emblematic examples of our approach. We recently completed an analysis of our three-year focus on Forced Evictions (available upon request), which was undertaken with the Adessium Foundation. Findings like these are intended to feed back into the adaptation of that particular program – always in collaboration with our grassroots partners so we can (in emergent strategy-speak) "co-evolve" our collective approach. Given the cross-pollination among all WITNESS programs, such findings are also intended to strengthen our other core initiatives and, we hope, those of our peers.

We're happy that the topic of monitoring and evaluation is getting serious consideration from mainstream media, as it is something social change organizations often toil on behind the scenes. The more we can develop a common understanding – and common standards – across our sector, the more effective, efficient, and impactful we can all become.

Sara Federlein is the Associate Director – Foundations at WITNESS, where she has overseen a fourfold increase in institutional giving since she joined the organization in 2003. This post originally appeared on the WITNESS blog.

Featured image courtesy of Creative Commons.

The 'Overhead' Pledge

August 21, 2014

Cut_costsI was in a room full of international development professionals at the InsideNGO Annual Conference, and the excitement was palpable. Why? We had all just raised our hands and pledged to fully disclose the true costs of our nonprofit operations to anyone who wanted to see them.

This is a breakthrough for our sector, and affirms that we are willing to transparently and consistently report our costs. What's more, the pledge is based on the understanding that the overhead debate actually undermines nonprofits' ability to deliver transformational results. We are convinced that overhead transparency will lead to more open dialogue, real collaboration with funders, and a greater focus on outcomes and results.

Within the core concept of transparency, however, there are two recommendations we are focusing on right now:

Eliminate functional allocation. This IRS requirement allows organizations to allocate costs rather indiscriminately to programs, fundraising, and general administration categories. While the goal is to shed light on organizational efficiency across the nonprofit sector, the relaxed guidelines allow organizations to manipulate their expenses across categories, often inflating their program costs to appear more efficient. Organizational efficiency is never cut-and-dried, however, and more importantly, the guidelines don't take into account organizational effectiveness.

Eliminate direct and indirect costing on grants. Each funder has its own guidelines around direct and indirect program costs. When funders cap the amount they are willing to pay toward indirect costs, organizations are incentivized to manipulate their numbers in order to recover as much as of their costs as possible, or worse, they cut investments in organizational capacity that can result in them having greater impact.

Failure to eliminate these provisions will only serve to:

  • Starve nonprofit organizations from making key organizational investments that boost their impact and increase their efficiency.
  • Create division within organizations between program staff (perceived as "wanted" costs) and operation staff ("unwanted" costs).
  • Limit consistency and distort real benchmarking across the sector.
  • Increase administrative costs (necessitated by having to manage expense reporting in multiple ways to meet a variety of funder needs).
  • Reduce transparency.
  • Place the focus on administrative costs instead of impact and obscure questions around the real cost of social change.

So that day in D.C., we all raised our hands and pledged to clearly and honestly disclose the full costs of our operations, accompanied by explanations about why our investments were essential to achieving our respective missions.

Continue reading »

[Newsmaker] Paul Connolly, Director, Philanthropic Advisory Services, Bessemer Trust

August 05, 2014

At the turn of the twentieth century, great industrialists of the Gilded Age, men such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman and Julius Rosenwald, began in earnest to turn their attention to philanthropy. Controlling vast personal fortunes that grew larger by the day and ever-mindful of the social disruptions and widening income inequality that had come to characterize America, they began, in the words of historian Robert Bremner, "to found institutions capable of distributing private wealth with greater intelligence and vision than [they] themselves could hope to possess."

Institutions like the Carnegie Institute and Carnegie Corporation of New York, the General Education Board and Rockefeller Foundation, MIT and the Eastman School of Music, the Rosenwald Fund and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry helped establish the template for organized philanthropy as we know it and, in the words of TIME magazine founder Henry Luce, helped make the twentieth century "the American century."

Today, a new economic revolution is roiling the planet, disrupting old ways of thinking and doing and contributing to levels of income inequality not seen since the 1920s. At the same time, a new generation of philanthropists, inspired by the example of Carnegie, Rockefeller and others, are leveraging their wealth, networks, and know-how to address seemingly intractable and urgent challenges.

Paul Connolly has had a ringside seat on the changing philanthropic landscape for almost twenty years – first as an officer and director at consulting firm TCC Group, where he oversaw the firm's capacity-building and nonprofit and philanthropy practices, and today as director of philanthropic advisory services at Bessemer Trust, a privately held wealth management and investment advisory firm. Through his writing (Navigating the Organizational Lifecycle: A Capacity-Building Guide for Nonprofit Leaders) and frequent thought pieces in sector-focused publications, presentations at the Council on Foundations' annual convenings and other national conferences, and travels as a trainer and facilitator, he has had his finger on the pulse of the growing and increasingly dynamic philanthropic sector in the U.S. and has helped shape its evolution.

PND caught up with Connolly earlier this month and asked him, among other things, about foundations' ability to move the needle on deeply entrenched social problems, the difficulty of measuring impact, and the generational dynamic in philanthropy.

Headshot_paul_connollyPhilanthropy News Digest: You joined Bessemer Trust last year after more than sixteen years at the consulting firm TCC Group, where you served in a variety of roles and established yourself as a social sector thought leader. Why the change?

Paul Connolly: While at TCC Group, I had the chance to work with many talented colleagues and remarkable clients who were deeply committed to the greater social good. The firm tripled in size while I was there, and I had the opportunity to help steer that growth and provide strategy, capacity building, and evaluation assistance to a burgeoning and stimulating mix of nonprofits, philanthropies, and corporate community involvement programs.

When Bessemer Trust approached me about this job, I felt ready for a new challenge, and it seemed like an excellent setting to positively influence social impact in a different way. In my new position, I am privileged to guide individual philanthropists as well as established foundations. And because we are in the midst of what some are calling a "golden age of philanthropy" – more foundations are being formed, major gifts are getting bigger, and the pace of the massive intergenerational wealth transfer is accelerating – Bessemer is a great place to make a meaningful difference. Plus, it's a growing firm with a stellar reputation that values the philanthropic advising function. So it seemed like the right job at the right place at the right time.

PND: Bessemer, which was established as a family office in 1907 by Henry Phipps, a co-founder of Carnegie Steel, today serves over twenty-two hundred families with more than $97 billion in assets. Do all those families include philanthropy in their wealth-management strategies?

PC: Virtually all our clients incorporate philanthropy into their wealth-management strategies in some way. The purpose, scope, timing, and form of their giving vary widely, depending on the client's financial resources, motivations, values, and family and business context. Some clients are active in charitable giving during their lifetimes, others prefer to endow a foundation or designate bequests as part of their estate planning, and many practice a combination of the two. In the same vein, certain individuals prefer recognition for their donations, while others prefer to remain anonymous. So, they employ different vehicles for giving to help them achieve their particular goals.

Bessemer has about $4.4 billion in assets under supervision associated with five hundred and fifteen family and independent foundations, endowments, and trusts that collectively award more than $220 million in grants annually. In addition, many of our larger clients have professionally staffed foundations that are not directly connected to our firm. Our clients also contribute extensively both through individual gifts and, increasingly, donor-advised funds, which are managed by Bessemer Trust, community foundations, or other entities.

PND: You mentioned a few of the different vehicles available for charitable giving. Is there a dollar threshold for which Bessemer recommends starting a foundation instead of contributing to a donor-advised fund?

PC: Due to the greater administrative costs incurred by foundations, we usually suggest a starting size of at least $1 million if the client intends to continue adding funds in the future. An ideal target for establishing a private foundation is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.

PND: What do you tell clients who may be interested in giving not only money but their time?

PC: We are definitely seeing more and more clients who want to donate their time as well as their funds to nonprofits. Some are younger donors who grew up volunteering and want to continue providing hands-on support. Others are successful executives who are retiring, want to start a new career chapter devoted to civic engagement, and have lots of energy and wisdom to offer. A case in point is a client who sold her human resources company and is now devoting her time to providing pro bono assistance to a few nonprofits that are dedicated to helping veterans enhance their employment skills and secure stable jobs. As you might imagine, her industry knowledge and connections have proven extremely valuable to those organizations.

The key is to help clients clarify their goals and get them thinking about how they can most effectively give, and then help them find the right nonprofit match. Some clients derive the most satisfaction by providing direct voluntary service, such as preparing food in a soup kitchen or tutoring a student who is struggling in school. Others may want to contribute their expertise, leadership ability, and network access by serving on a nonprofit committee or board.

We also realize that when a prospective donor wants to provide pro bono assistance, the nonprofit benefiting from that assistance usually wants to cultivate the relationship so that over time the donor will provide financial support as well. With that in mind, we counsel our clients to clarify expectations around their volunteer roles, responsibilities, and time commitments, as well as the amount of money they might be expected to "give" or "get" to support the nonprofit financially.

PND: How, if at all, do generational dynamics affect your conversations with clients?

PC: Bessemer Trust is more than a hundred years old, and we work with multiple generations of families. Much of our work is facilitating discussion and decision-making among family members about their shared values and interests, as well as ways to engage future generations in philanthropy.

That said, we have seen certain shifts in families' approach to philanthropy. Some younger donors have a more engaged style, are skilled at leveraging their networks, and are more willing to take risks. They also may be more interested in causes like the environment, advocacy, and animal welfare. Recent research by 21/64 and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy has documented these generational changes in a compelling way.

In some cases, we've been able to help different generations discover common ground for their philanthropic interests, which can be a unifying force. We're currently facilitating such a dialogue with a family where the parents want to more actively engage their three adult children in the family foundation. We're guiding them to focus on areas of shared interest, such as their cultural and ethnic heritage and funding research for a disease that has affected family members personally.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (August 2-3, 2014)

August 03, 2014

Gekko_on_vacationOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Advocacy

Michelle Baker, a San Francisco-based attorney, has a very good post on Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog about the do's and don'ts of issue advocacy from a regulatory perspective. It's the first of a two-part series, so be sure to bookmark it and check back later this week for part two.

Arts and Culture

Still not sure what "creative placemaking" is or why you should care? Not to worry. On the National Arts Strategies' Filed Notes blog Taylor Craig explains it all, with the help of a few friends.

Impact/Investing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Manuel Lewin, head of responsible investment at Zurich Insurance Group, and Brian Smith, chief strategy officer at Population Services International, share highlights of a report jointly produced by their organizations that provides a framework designed "to help investors and nonprofits speak a common language, and better understand various financial models through which they can engage with each other."

International Affairs/Development

In Forbes, Andrew Cave looks at Bill and Melinda Gates' efforts to help bring financial services -- bank accounts, loans, insurance, etc. -- to the 2.5 billion people in the world who are "unbanked."

Continue reading »

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Play a Leading Role?

July 14, 2014

Feldmann-headshotIs our organization relevant?

If you work for a nonprofit, you've probably asked yourself that question more than once. Concerns about relevancy stem from the most challenging aspect of organizational sustainability. Unfortunately, even when your cause is viewed as "relevant," your organization may not be viewed in the same way. And while the activist in you may feel that relevancy is overrated and that you didn't dedicate your life to a cause so that you could spend your days worrying about who's "hot" – and who’s not – the fact of the matter is that organizations perceived as "relevant" typically are the ones that receive the most attention, the most financial support, and the most acclaim.

Relevancy, by definition, means being closely associated with a topical cause or issue. A relevant nonprofit is a nonprofit that can speak to an issue with authority and has its thumb on the pulse of activities around that issue.

In other words, an organization is relevant if:

  1. it is a leading voice in the ongoing conversation/debate around its issue or cause
  2. it is recognized as a connector/convener with respect to its issue or cause.

I often tell my clients to think about their particular issue or cause as if it were a play, complete with actors in lead roles and a supporting cast. If an organization wants to be relevant, it needs to do whatever it can to ensure that it has a lead role in the play.

Playing the Lead

There's no shortage of nonprofit organizations or causes worth donating to in the world – a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the fierce competition that exists among organizations in the social sector.

With so many organizations vying for dollars and attention, it's to be expected that a few will emerge from the crowd and be recognized as the leading voice on their respective issue or cause. How do you know who they are? When funders convene, those organizations are usually in the room and/or a part of the conversation. They're the ones new donors are most likely to be familiar with and trust. They're the ones other organizations look to for their cues and people expect to be persuaded and moved to action by. They lead and others follow.

And if an organization has the chops to play the leading role, it usually has at least two or three people in roles that are critical to projecting its competence and capacity:

Continue reading »

Social Innovation With Our Eyes Wide Open

June 19, 2014

Headshot_laura_callananDon’t get me wrong: I love social innovation.

I was a consultant in McKinsey's Social Innovation Practice. I have spilled ink over some of the most popular social innovation topics of the day: impact assessment, sustainable capitalism, and – that current sweetheart – social impact bonds.

But it's my up-close-and-personal encounter with SIBs that has shown me there is way too much hype when it comes to social innovation. Consider some of these claims:

  • SIBs help diversify your investment portfolio because they are entirely uncorrelated with the market. (So is a trip to Atlantic City.)
  • SIBs are great for government because they shift all the risk of new programs to private investors. (Ask the investors if that's a deal they want to take.)
  • SIBs can be used to finance pilots and start-ups. (Ask the same investors how they feel about being paid only if there are results on something with no track record.)
  • SIBs can be used to fund every kind of program – from seeds and fertilizer for small holder farmers in Africa to restoration of blighted neighborhoods in the U.S. (SIBs are pretty expensive and complicated, so if there are other ways to channel aid, harness markets, and use existing community development tools and tax credits, don't use a SIB just because it sounds cool.)

This is not to say that SIBs lack the potential to do a lot of good. I believe they can be a valuable tool for scaling proven programs and supporting government performance transformation. But SIBs are a tool, not a silver bullet.

Continue reading »

Research and Crowdsourcing Shine a Light on Grantmaking Institutions

May 29, 2014

Headshot_sherece_west_scantleburyIn 2013, more than 80,000 foundations collectively awarded nearly $50 billion in grants, benefiting people and causes in nearly every corner of our nation and the world. Grantmaking institutions have an enormous amount of influence in sectors such as health and education, in fields such as community change and economic development, and in the spheres of public policy and advocacy, and more.

Recently, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched Philamplify, which couples evidence-based assessments by experts with an interactive website featuring commentary from people with first-hand experience in philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities. Together, they create a comprehensive picture of what's working well and what could be working better. The impetus to build this new interactive website stems from the belief that transparency, mutual accountability, and knowledge-sharing can transform communities and maximize the impact of the country's grantmakers by creating a safe space for all of us to provide honest, constructive feedback.

As the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation – an institution that values excellence and accountability in its grantmaking – I welcome the feedback Philamplify promises. Empowering our communities to thrive and enabling the dreams and possibilities of those in need through the power of philanthropy should always be a receptive, responsive, and, above all, effective process.

A just, inclusive society is one that welcomes all voices, and philanthropies should be the best ambassadors of these principles. Being heard has never been easier in the Internet age, and we are more connected than at any other time in human history. Online communication facilitates collective knowledge and experience on the practical application of charitable giving that touches so many lives in America and across the globe.

We rate our restaurants, our dry cleaners, and our shopping malls. Philamplify provides nuanced feedback in the way we steward billions of foundation dollars to serve the individuals and families that need it most and to address the most pressing problems of our times. At the same time, we suspect that grant recipients, grant seekers, and others shy away from offering their ideas for what could be done differently, lest their feedback be interpreted as criticism and not received in the constructive way it was intended.

We need to push back on this isolation bubble in philanthropy. I work in the charitable sector not because I believe I know better than the communities with which I work, but because I want to engage in a dynamic conversation with them in the hope of finding innovative, potent ways to solve pressing issues together. I subscribe to the belief that no matter what field you work in, the passion that you find in your mission is only enhanced by the feedback from those whose lives you impact – which is why the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation volunteered to participate in NCRP's foundation assessment process. We found that this impartial, third-party evaluation of our strategies to bring economic, social, and racial justice to the lives of Arkansans was not only helpful, but also necessary to bolster accountable, open, and effective grantmaking activity.

With Philamplify, I believe we've taken an important step in transforming the philanthropic world into a transparent, inclusive space that celebrates the diversity of opinions from those who are our partners in improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. When philanthropy proactively taps into the rich ideas that come from openness and mutual accountability, the possibilities are boundless. I believe that day has come.

Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury is president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Arkansans in education, economic development, and economic, racial and social justice. She also serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a national watchdog, research, and advocacy organization. This post originally appeared on the NCRP blog and is reposted here with permission.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 24-26, 2014)

May 26, 2014

Healing_Field2After another Typepad outage last weekend, we're back with our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Advocacy

In the Summer 2014 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Steven Teles, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, Heather Hurlburt, a senior fellow for national security at Human Rights First, and Mark Schmitt, director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation, argue that the mid-20th-century "golden age" of consensual politics in America was an anomaly and that, for nonprofits and foundations engaged in advocacy, there are three alternatives for dealing with increasing political polarization: staying the course; changing the system; and accepting and adapting.

Climate Change

On the F.B. Heron Foundation blog, Heron board chair Buzz Schmidt applauds Stanford University's recent decision "to 'repurpose' funds formerly invested in coal mining companies into investments that made more positive contributions to society's regenerative capital" and suggests that critics of the decision who suggest that divestment campaigns typically fail because they don't have any impact on companies' stock price are missing "the forest for the trees."

Education

In USA Today, Math for America president John Ewing argues that while the Common Core standards are not perfect, "they provide a structure that has a huge amount of potential if we just give [them] some time to work."

Fundraising

These days, it's hard to avoid talk about crowdfunding. But Social Velocity's Nell Edgington thinks it might be time to distinguish what's exciting about the crowdfunding approach from the hype and shares some questions to help us do that.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 3-4, 2014)

May 04, 2014

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Run_for_the_rosesCommunications/Marketing

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in progress blog, Heath Wickline, a communications officer at the foundation, poses a good question: What is a foundation Web site for? Whatever the eventual answer, Wickline admits that he and his colleagues have "the nagging feeling that we can and should be doing more. The [foundation], like many of our peers," he adds,

is sitting on a huge amount of data that comes out of our grantmaking. We believe it could be valuable to a wider audience: policymakers, funders contemplating grantmaking in fields where we fund, nonprofits who wouldn't be eligible for a grant, but whose work is adjacent to what we fund. We regularly conduct evaluations of our strategies to determine what's worked and what hasn't. And the end result of much of our grantmaking is research that could have important implications for policy. Our commitment to transparency means we can, and should, do everything in our power to ensure that all of that information is not only available, but easy to find and to use....

The Ford Foundation also is building a new Web site and, through an Un-Survey, is asking all of us to tell it what kinds of questions the site should answer. A clever and creative idea.

On the Markets for Good blog, Peter Grundy, the "father of the infographic," credits his invention to two ephiphanies, one in 1990 ("good information design is not about visualizing information but about visualizing our opinions of information" and the second ("making things simple is complicated") in 2000.

Education

On her blog, Diane Ravitch responds to Alexander Nazaryan, the author of a Newsweek piece rebuking Louis C.K. for slamming Common Core standards.

Impact/Effectiveness

In an important post on the McKnight Foundation blog, Kate Wolford, the foundation's president, offers a few thoughts on the foundation's decision to invest $200 million, roughly 10 percent of its current assets, in four impact investment categories: mission-related investments via public markets, mission-related investments via private markets, mission-driven investments, and program-related investments.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Sonal Shah, Executive Director, Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation

May 02, 2014

Sonal Shah is executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Case Foundation, which is partnering with Georgetown's Global Social Enterprise Initiative on a variety of impact investing initiatives, including the development of federal, state, and local policies that support the growth of the field. The Case Foundation also just released A Short Guide to Impact Investing, which is public and open to comment.

Shah is a former director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, where she helped push for and develop new models of innovation in government and championed public-private partnerships as the most effective way to solve problems in an era of constrained budgets. In addition to serving as a fellow at the Center for American Progress, she has worked as an economist in the Treasury Department, managed environmental strategy for Goldman Sachs, led Google.org's global development initiatives, and co-founded the Center for Global Development and the U.S.-based nonprofit Indicorps.

Headshot_sonal_shahPhilanthropy News Digest: Impact investing is a hot topic these days, but I think a lot of people are struggling to define what it is. Can you give us a one- or two-sentence definition?

Sonal Shah: We define impact investing as those organizations or enterprises — both for profit and not-for-profit — and investors — private, institutional, or philanthropic — that intentionally seek a quantifiable social and financial return on their investments. It is important to emphasize that we need impact investing, grants, and government support to have impact. This isn't a trade-off between social and financial returns; it's a combination of bringing in more capital and creating new models in the social sector, leading most importantly to greater impact.

PND: What's behind the emergence of things like impact investing, social impact bonds, and the Social Innovation Fund? Do they represent a paradigm shift in the way society addresses stubborn social problems, or is that overstating the case?

SS: While all of the things you mentioned are innovative approaches to addressing social challenges, they also represent a new way of doing business and signal three interesting developments: First, we need better partnership models. There is a growing recognition that government, corporations, and nonprofits cannot hope to solve our biggest challenges if they insist on working alone. Second, there is a clear need for scale. There are a lot of great pilot projects out there that have shown success, but there has been very little discussion about how we can provide capital to scale those projects — not just in size, but in impact. Social impact bonds and the Social Innovation Fund are two instruments focused on scaling programs that work. And third, we need all oars in the water. For too long, we have drawn a sharp line between grant funding and more traditional investments. Why not use both, grants and investments, as well as hybrid models, to address our most urgent challenges? We should be working together to mobilize capital markets, business, and nonprofits to solve problems.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (April 26-27, 2014)

April 27, 2014

Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Earth_day_treeCommunications/Marketing

On the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers blog, Rick Moyers, vice president for programs and communications at the D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, admits to having become "convinced that almost all nonprofits could engage more supporters and have a greater impact if only they were better at telling their stories" -- and shares some resources the foundation has put together to help nonprofits do just that.

Education

On his Straight Up blog, education policy maven Rick Hess shares a "robust" exchange between teacher/blogger John Thompson and Steve Cantrell, senior program officer for research and data at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, regarding Thompson's concerns about the foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching project.

The Lumina Foundation, in partnership with other leading education organizations, has announced the launch of a social network called MoveED for Goal 2025, with the aim of building a national movement to make attainment beyond high school a reality for all Americans, including low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, and adult learners.

Fundraising

Interesting (and, some would say, familiar) story in Tech Crunch about a recent $23 million investment in CrowdRise, a crowdfunding platform conceived by the actor Edward Norton, Robert Wolfe, Shauna Robertson, and Jeffery Wolfe that aims to be "the crowdfunding platform for charitable activity."

Impact/Effectiveness

The Case Foundation has released "A Short Guide to Impact Investing," a basic primer on the subject based on conversations with hundreds of individuals in the impact investing community. The foundation calls this a "working version" and is encouraging feedback from readers on each chapter as the next step in creating a final version of the guide.

And some good news on that front. New numbers from one of the very first SIB-supported programs in the UK suggest that "short-sentenced offenders receiving through-the-gate support on release from HMP Peterborough as part of an innovative payment-by-results (PbR) Social Impact Bond pilot are less likely to reoffend than those outside the scheme."

On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Jeff Bradach, co-founder and managing partner of the Bridgespan Group, announces the launch of Achieving Transformative Scale, an eight-week-long blog series that will explore some of the solutions that social sector leaders around the world are pursuing to take their work to scale.

Continue reading »

Thinking of Starting Your Own Nonprofit? Think Again.

April 09, 2014

(Susan Danish is executive director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. A founding member of 1,000 Women for Mentoring, she is a member of the board of the National Human Services Assembly and national representative for the U.S. for the International Association for Volunteer Effort.)

Headshot_susan_danishEvery year, Americans start thousands of nonprofit organizations. Some are dedicated to eradicating disease, others to addressing social issues such as poverty, homelessness, or gun violence. In fact, according to the Urban Institute, the number of registered nonprofits in the United States grew some 25 percent, to 1.57 million, between 2001 and 2011.

That's good, right? Not necessarily.

As someone who came to a second career in nonprofit management after working at some of the best-known consumer products companies in the world, I'd ask that we carefully consider whether there might simply be too many small nonprofits and charities in the United States for them all to be effective.

Yes, I'm aware that nonprofits sometimes close their doors and disappear. I also know that in 2011 the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of some 275,000 nonprofit groups for failing to file an annual information return or notice with the agency for three consecutive years.

But even such a dramatic house cleaning doesn't change the reality: a large number of organizations focused on achieving a single goal – however desirable that goal – makes achieving that goal more difficult. That's certainly the case in corporate management, where such an approach typically results in fragmented markets and reduced market share for an ever-larger number of market participants. Of course, in the for-profit world, there are any number of solutions to the problem of too many companies competing for the same customers. Companies, for a variety of reasons, fail all the time. And as part of that process, their investors and shareholders lose their investment and, in theory, become smarter about where and how to invest the next time.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Olga Lech, Philanthropic Account Supervisor, Geller & Company

March 20, 2014

As globalization, technology, and financial innovation combine to create great wealth – and great inequality – individual donors and foundations are under increasing pressure to be more nimble, more strategic, and to take more risks. Even as philanthropy struggles to respond to these challenges, the role of the philanthropy professional is evolving. Business as usual is out; managing complexity is the order of the day.

Earlier this week, PND spoke with Olga Lech, a philanthropic advisor at Geller & Company, about some of the changes roiling the field.

Headshot_ olgalechPhilanthropy News Digest: We often hear that it's harder to give a large fortune away than it is to make one. Do you agree?

Olga Lech: I think they are equally difficult, but in different ways. The level of complexity changes – sometimes significantly – depending on what it is you are trying to achieve. If you simply want to be charitable and support good causes to make the world a better place, you may look to donate to a local charity such as a church or school in your community with a year-end gift that supports their operations and/or mission. If you are looking to be a philanthropist, however, your giving will most likely be focused on longer-term programs that seek to address bigger social issues, which would most likely cause you to look at other components such as sustainability, governance, and the recruitment of staff and volunteers.

The difference between charity and philanthropy is really where the complexity comes into play. Another dimension is impact. Philanthropy often strives for the highest impact in terms of results and outcomes, which in this global age can also require international cooperation and logistics. This often means you need to follow and measure the results of the projects you fund. That said, both charity and philanthropy are equally noble endeavors, and choosing which to pursue is a highly personal decision based on a variety of factors, not the least of which is complexity. 

PND: What are the most common mistakes made by high-net-worth donors? And what can a good philanthropic advisor do to help them avoid such mistakes?

OL: It all begins with the personal vision of the wealth owner and the degree to which an advisor can help translate that into an effective plan in line with other wealth management elements such as taxes, investments, and even succession issues. The advisor role is to not judge the endeavor, but to help strengthen it. For example, the John Templeton Foundation gave a grant to establish an institute for research on unlimited love. If the donor or client came to me with this idea, my role would be to research it, identify the most effective way to advance the cause, outline the risk factors, and find the best ways to mitigate those risks to protect the client's assets. The beauty of private philanthropy is that it allows donors to fund projects, programs, and initiatives that no federal, state, or local government would have the freedom to fund. And many of these initiatives lead to breakthrough discoveries with impacts that touch many lives.

Continue reading »

Catalyzing Impact Investments Through Coordinated Grantmaking

March 19, 2014

(The following post was adapted from "From Grants to Groundbreaking: Unlocking Impact Investments," an ImpactAssets issue brief by Amy Chung of Living Cities and Jed Emerson.)

Illustration_ImpInvPhilanthropy and the practice of grantmaking traditionally have been very separate from traditional investing in both culture and approach, but the emerging field of impact investing invites a productive collaboration between these two disciplines. Indeed, in an increasingly resource-constrained world, the ability to drive more impact investments into the communities and issues we care about is imperative. In the paragraphs that follow, we will explore how family foundations, philanthropic institutions, and public funders can use their grants strategically to unlock future impact investments in social businesses and socially driven business models that are either too risky or not ready for investors seeking financial returns.

In traditional capital markets, there are clear roles that different investors play in the sequence of financing for organizations as they move from seed stage to later stage. In the impact investing field, the role and needs of investors at different stages follows a similar though less clearly defined path. The relatively recent proliferation of socially driven business models makes it challenging for many to identify opportunities that are ready for investment or that have enough of a track record to provide confidence in their future returns. While such an environment provides investors with opportunities to be creative with financing, it also requires increased transparency and communi­cation from investees, funds, and intermediar­ies to accommodate different risk and impact profiles within the same deal or investment opportunity.

In many cases, the work of innovative socially driven business models may be accelerated by combining various types of impact invest­ment capital, in effect "stacking" capital that requires a financial return with capital that does not in order to "buy down risk" or otherwise make a deal happen that philanthropy or market rate investment alone would not be able to achieve. Because grants do not require repayment or a rate of financial return, they can be used more flexibly in certain transactions. For example, grants may be used to provide guarantees, fund a loan loss reserve, or serve as flexible lending capital, each of which may be needed in order to leverage or attract capital seeking a return. Coordinating grants with investment in this way may not only reduce the risk associated with particular transactions, but also can support socially driven financing models, thereby enabling impact investment opportunities that might otherwise not be possible.

Continue reading »

Weeeknd Link Roundup (March 8-9, 2014)

March 09, 2014

We forgot to set our clocks forward, but we didn't forget our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy....

Daylight_savings_timeCommunications/Marketing

On her Nonprofit Communications blog, Kivi Leroux Miller shares the checklist she uses when evaluating clients' email newsletters.

Data

In a post on the Markets for Good blog, Beth Kanter shares three of her favorite DIY data vizualization tools. (Hint: You probably have two of them on your computer.)

Education Reform

In his Straight Up blog on the Education Week site, Rick Hess, an Education "policy maven" at the American Enterprise Institute, shares some suggestions for the Measures of Effective Teaching team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from blogger and award-winning teacher John Thompson.

Impact/Effectiveness

On Friday, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced the names of four finalists for the next round of the state's "Pay for Success" program, which aims to connect private and philanthropic investors with nonprofit organizations that provide direct services for vulnerable New Yorkers in the child welfare and early childhood, healthcare, and public safety sectors. For more information on the program and the finalists, click here.

As impact investment continues to gain traction — and favorable press coverage — an important piece of the story is being neglected: the role of government, Indeed, write Ben Thornley, Cathy Clark and Jed Emerson on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, "impact investing would barely exist — certainly not at its modest, current scale — but for the support and partnership of government."

If foundation leaders really want to "make a difference" — for their missions, their grantees, and the individuals and communities they serve — they would be wise, writes Tim Delaney, president an CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, in the Nonprofit Quarterly, to focus their efforts at the state level. With so little being accomplished at the federal level these days, "the arc of history is being written in the states....[And unless] more attention is devoted to the state policy level, the stealth shift of burdens onto nonprofits and foundations will reach a disastrous tipping point."

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "[Richard] Wagner's music is better than it sounds...."

    Mark Twain

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs