393 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

Deepening Audience Engagement With Long-Form Content

October 18, 2017

Communicating complicated ideas can be a significant challenge for social change organizations trying to reach diverse audiences in a short-attention-span world. But it's something long-form content is particularly well suited for. If your organization publishes research, reports, and other types of long-form content, what strategies can you use to ensure that your content resonates with and engages your target audiences?

Audience-Engagement-bubblesDigital communications and social media have had a tremendous impact on our ability to maintain focus and attention — not just online, but in the real world. Online and offline, we are awash in content that's fragmented and comes at us fast. Distractions are everywhere and, for social change organizations, creating awareness around complex issues can feel like an uphill battle.

But even as short-form platforms like Twitter increasingly shape how issues are framed by the media, recent studies show that when it comes to audience engagement, long-form content performs better than shorter content. So, while we may live in a world dominated by short bursts of commentary, opinion, and insights, long-form content remains a critical (and effective!) format.

While every organization with a message to communicate has to learn how to navigate this dynamic, social change organizations face a bigger challenge. Because when your mission revolves around a complicated issue, is connected to a problem in a far-away place or the distant future, or is just removed from the concerns of everyday life, maintaining audience engagement is inherently more difficult.

Still, it usually boils down to the same question: How can we elevate our issue or cause and engage our target audiences? The time-tested principles used by storytellers since, well, forever are an excellent place to start.

Leveraging Narrative Structure

Whether presented as narrative or as academic research, all long-form content can benefit from the three-act structure of exposition, confrontation, and resolution familiar to professional storytellers. In general, it works like this:

Invite your audience in. Whenever you are asking an audience to engage with a longer narrative, it’s important to invite them in to the narrative by stating up front the things you have in common. Establishing a shared understanding and creating common ground with your audience — and appealing to their "better angels" when appropriate — makes it that much easier to pivot to the more complex ideas you need them to engage with and to share new perspectives they are likely to value.

Establish your "characters." Establishing common ground with audience members also earns you their interest and attention — equity you can use to deepen their engagement with your issue or cause. In storytelling, effective writers use this equity to establish their "characters" and the underlying relationships that animate them. Keep in mind, characters don't need to be actual people — they can be a commonly held belief, a way of doing things, or an entire system that impacts your mission. Whether you're sharing a traditional narrative or specialized academic content, it's important to establish this framework sooner rather than later, and to supply important details that will deepen your audience's commitment to, and understanding of, the issue at hand.

Introduce a catalyst. By this point, your audience should both be familiar with your issue and inclined to commit themselves to learning more about it. It's time to elevate their interest by revealing the catalyst! For social change organizations, a catalyst could be a new way of addressing systemic inequity or research that offers insights into how to think about social change in a new way. Whatever the case, your goal is to provide a compelling reason for your readers to step up their investment in your work. And the more complex the issue, the more important it is to clearly lay out the related activities and/or outcomes that are part of the catalyst. Done well, you'll create a connection with your audience that boosts their willingness to engage with and support your mission.

Create a resolution. For many social change organizations, impact is something that happens in the future (sometimes the distant future). The delay in being able to demonstrate results is a major challenge for social change organizations working to address deep-rooted problems such as poverty, structural racism, or climate change. So if your audience is still engaged with your long-form content at this point (and you certainly hope they are), it's critical to offer them some kind of resolution. Depending on the nature of your organization, that resolution can take a number of forms — a satisfying conclusion to a story about impact, a roundup of resources they can use to further their own change-related efforts, and/or a list of things they can do to strengthen their engagement with your organization.

Again, whether your content falls into the emotional narrative category or is fact-based research, the key to deepening audience engagement is maintaining an equal focus on both its structure and substance. And the same best practices that work online can be applied to any medium or format.

Tips for Content Creators

Now that you have a better understanding of the principles of effective narrative, here are some recommendations for crafting compelling long-form content that will deepen audience engagement and spur potential supporters to action:

Be consistently thoughtful. The bar for high-quality long-form content is, well, high. And with so much content so readily available, ensuring that your content is respected, remembered, and returned to means making sure it always speaks to and reinforces your organization's credibility, delivers meaningful value, and provides a great reading experience.

Editorial creativity is paramount. To spark and sustain engagement, long-form content needs to be focused and well structured. To keep your audience's attention, try alternating between simplicity and complexity. Punctuate deeper dives into an issue with simple summaries and key insights. Doing so will not only underscore and amplify what's at stake, it will make it easier to move on to the next idea you need to communicate.

Empathy is important, but... Successful communications is about more than just making sure your ideas are clear, concise, and well-stated. It's about meeting your audience wherever they are (i.e., creating common ground). That said, conveying empathy isn't about purple prose or being gratuitously emotional. Instead, it requires establishing a genuine, meaningful connection to the people you are hoping to engage on terms that resonate with them, and building trust.

Make sure your audience doesn’t get lost. Consistency and clear expectations are critical to building trust — especially in long-form content that requires a greater commitment from your audience (and even more so online). Both in the language you use and the actual vehicles you create for your content, cues designed to orient audience members within the reading experience can reduce cognitive load, improve content accessibility, and create a sense of anticipation that keeps audience members reading.

Provide a place to rest. Giving your audience members conceptual places to take a break is a great way to reduce the fatigue often associated with reading long-form content. Analogy, metaphor, and digression are tried-true techniques that, when executed well, can reinforce context, add needed perspective, and reinforce reader understanding. From a design perspective, creating visually (and conceptually) separate material such as sidebars is also an excellent way to introduce a change of pace into complex material.

Don’t be afraid to pick a fight! As our name suggests, Constructive is all about positive dialogue. But that doesn't mean we don't appreciate the importance of taking clear positions and standing up for what we believe is right. If the issue your organization is working to address requires you to take a stand, you can strengthen your case by contrasting your position with the position of those who see the issue differently and explaining in clear terms what's at stake.

Leave your audiences wanting more. Every piece of content you share with your target audiences should leave them better informed and feeling energized. But the next steps are crucial. You need to give them a rationale for wanting to help you advance your cause, including a range of actions and an explanation of why their actions will create more impact when combined with the actions of like-minded people (as always, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!).

In Conclusion

We create content in hopes that people will engage with our ideas. Storytelling has long been one of humanity's most powerful ways of translating ideas into action. While sharing our ideas through digital communications may be different than telling stories around a campfire, the fundamental principles are the same.

To truly engage an audience, digital content must be meaningful and deliver value — wherever and however an audience chooses to consume it. In a world of too many choices, sustaining online engagement requires that we design and deliver experiences that highlight the alignment of our ideas and activities to the interests of our audience. When ideas are presented in a way that our audience finds to be both accessible and useful, those ideas will be shared with others. At Constructive, we call that a win-win!

Headshot_matt_schwartzMatt Schwartz is founder and executive director at Constructive, a New York City-based brand strategy and experience design firm dedicated to helping social change organizations achieve greater impact.

Best Practices for Implementing New Software

October 16, 2017

Puzzle_cooperation_250If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential you have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.

Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:

  • a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
  • technology needs that go unaddressed;
  • duplication of effort; and
  • lack of systems integration.

At the same time, selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. Unfortunately, many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution. As a result, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Indeed, software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.

Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:

  1. CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
  2. Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
  3. Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
  4. Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
  5. Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.

So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:

  1. Align on expectations. Prior to implementation, set goals with your implementation specialist, share and confirm that all requirements are aligned with organizational expectations, construct a timeline, and get final sign off on the steps in the process.
  2. Appoint a project manager. Once expectations have been outlined and agreed to, appoint a key stakeholder from your team to serve as project manager. The project manager should also be the main point of contact for your software partner's representative.
  3. Focus on the partnership. Once a project plan has been agreed to, discuss and determine the most efficient method of communication between your team and your software partner, as well as the frequency of communications (once a week? biweekly? monthly?). Also, be sure to finalize how best to share and collaborate on all documents created and maintained during the project.
  4. Develop checkpoints. Building checkpoints into the project plan will ensure that your goals and expectations are being met and that any questions are answered in a timely and responsive manner. The objective here is to eliminate miscommunication and make sure that all parties to the agreement are held accountable for their deliverables. We often hear, for example, about a system that has gone live without historical data. If something like that occurs, everyone involved needs to know who made the decision and why it was made. Having checkpoints with specific approval criteria helps keep the project on track and ensures that expectations laid out at the beginning of the project are being met.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Although it can be time-consuming, engaging in a continuous dialogue with your software partner is the best way to ensure that your organization's needs are being met and that everyone involved in the project is on the same page.

All too often, an organization's overarching technology strategy and best practices like those outlined above are considered after an organization has invested in a bunch of different solutions, making it harder to course correct when it becomes apparent that the technologies in question don't connect or integrate with each other.

If your organization is just starting out, focus on the core technologies it needs to be effective and operate efficiently (ideally choosing from the solutions listed above). And when you're ready to build out your technology platform, be sure to reference your organization's overarching technology strategy, which should be updated every two or three years (the world is moving fast!).

Annie_rhodes_for_PhilanTopicGood luck!

Annie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud Foundation Solutions. Follow Annie on Twitter at @AnnieMRhodes.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2017)

August 01, 2017

The most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July include strong calls to action from sector veterans Gary Bass and Mark Rosenman, Cathy Cha, and Kate Kroeger; new posts by Blackbaud's Annie Rhodes and PEAK Grantmaking's Michelle Greanias; and a couple of "repeaters" (John Hewko's account of how Rotary International manages to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, Kyoko's Q&A with the Rockefeller Foundation's Claudia Juech). Check 'em out (if you haven't already)!

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

5 Questions for...Laurie Tisch, Founder/President, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund

July 26, 2017

Laurie Tisch, whose Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is gearing up for its tenth anniversary and will have given $100 million to support access and opportunity for New Yorkers by year's end, describes philanthropy as something that's in her DNA. Foundation Center's Jen Bokoff, a former employee of the foundation, spoke with Tisch about her recent donation to a new fund, her investment philosophy, and how philanthropy creates impact.

Headshot_laurie_tischJen Bokoff: Your family is known for funding major institutions, but your foundation was set up in part to help you make new, innovative gifts. What's a gift you're particularly proud of that defines your philanthropy?

Laurie Tisch: The New York City Green Cart Initiative, which was a $1.5 million public-private partnership. Initially, it was a city government initiative that created new permits for street vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables in food deserts in New York, and we signed on to it soon after I started the foundation. It was a large amount of money for us, which some might call risky, but I prefer to think of it as following one's instincts. The data was clear: there are tremendous disparities in the rates of diabetes and heart disease among neighborhoods, with epidemic levels in certain low-income communities. Street vending was a way to increase access to healthy foods, and the program would also create hundreds of jobs for entrepreneurs. With our mission of increasing access and opportunity, the idea was just too interesting not to try; we pretty much went all in! For us, it was big on so many levels, from the number of organization involved to the number of vendors we hoped would be involved.

There were a lot of unknowns, though. No city had ever tried a program like this. How would we measure success? How would we let people know about it? I had a lot of questions, but the answers weren't always there. If we were too rigid, we might not have made the grant. But we're lucky to be a small foundation with the flexibility to see something like this through, which is a philosophy that has really defined our grantmaking. If an organization or initiative decides to change course, it's okay with us so long as the course correction is in dialogue with us.

JB: I read about your recent gift of $500,000 to a new fund established by Agnes Gund with the proceeds of the sale of a famous painting from her collection. Had you ever sold a painting with a philanthropic cause in mind? And why do so now?

LT: I've donated paintings to the Tang and to the Whitney, but I've never sold one with a cause in mind. I was invited to lunch at Aggie's about a month ago by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. The purpose was to meet Ava DuVernay, who directed the film 13th about racial inequity in the prison system. Aggie got up to speak about how the film and over-incarceration made a strong impression on her, and then she announced she was going to make criminal justice her major focus.

When she revealed she had sold her Lichtenstein to establish a new fund focused on criminal justice, it was remarkable. She had a real personal connection to that painting, and seeing her commit so deeply to a cause really showed how serious she was. When Darren later called me to talk about the initiative, I remembered that I had sold a painting a month earlier, and I thought to myself, "This fits perfectly." Max Weber, who painted the painting I had sold, was known for his passion for social justice causes, so it just was bashert! I donated most of the proceeds to Aggie’' fund, because when she and Darren are backing something, trust is not an issue. And the more I think about it, the more I realize there are so many collectors and wealthy people who could do this. It will be interesting to see whether people look at Aggie as a model and start to sell some of the art they've acquired for social justice causes; it really could add up to something significant pretty quickly.

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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.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 3-4, 2017)

June 04, 2017

Pittsburgh office media carousel skyline triangle  700x476Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, television personality, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center, has some advice for the NAACP, which recently announced the departure of its president, Cornell William Brooks, and its intention to pursue an "organization-wide refresh."

Climate Change

Hours after Donald Trump claimed "to represent the voters of Pittsburgh in his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement," Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering the city entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035. Shane Levy reports for the Sierra Club. (And you can read Peduto's executive order to that effect here.)

Although there's no doubt that "President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on global warming is a short-sighted mistake," writes Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek, the jury is still out as to whether "the decision [will] unravel the entire agreement."

Fundraising

We missed this post by Vu Le outlining the principles of community-centric fundraising when it was first published in the lead up to the Memorial Day weekend. But it is definitely worth your time.

Hey, Mr./Ms. Nonprofit Fundraiser, job got you down and almost out? Beth Kanter shares four warning signs of burnout — and easy ways to make yourself feel better.

On the GuideStar blog, BidPal's Joshua Meyer looks at five unexpected benefits of text-to-give software.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 13-14, 2017)

May 14, 2017

Youre-FiredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Although President Trump has signed into law a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, bringing to an end (for now) months of debate over his administration's controversial budget blueprint, the future of arts funding in America remains uncertain, write Benjamin Laude and Jarek Ervin in Jacobin. Critics who accuse the president of philistinism are missing the point, however. "For better or worse," they write, "the culture wars ended long ago. These days, with neoliberalism's acceleration, nearly every public institution is under assault — not just the NEA. If we want to stop the spread of the new, disturbing brand of culture — the outgrowth of an epoch in which everything is turned into one more plaything for the wealthy — we'll need a more expansive, more radical vision for art."

On the Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, the foundation's president, Earl Lewis, explains why the National Endowment for the Humanities is an irreplaceable institution in American life.

Data

In a post for the Packard Foundation's Organization Effectiveness portal, Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, reflects on the process that led to the center's Digital Impact Toolkit, a public initiative focused on data governance for nonprofits and foundations.

According to The Economist, the most valuable commodity in the world is no longer oil; it's data. What's more, the dominance of cyberspace by the five most valuable listed firms in the world — Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — is changing the nature of competition while making the antitrust remedies of the past obsolete. "Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy," the magazine's writers argue. "But if governments don't want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon."

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap report, 42 million Americans were "food insecure" in 2015, the latest year for which complete data are available. That represents 13 percent of U.S. households — a significant decline from the 17 percent peak following the Great Recession in 2009. The bad news is that those 42 million food-insecure Americans need more money to put food on the table than they did before. Joseph Erbentraut reports for HuffPo.

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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.

[Book Review] Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact

May 02, 2017

How can the social sector create lasting impact? By changing the way it thinks about and approaches social change, writes Tynesia Boyea-Robinson in Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact. Drawing on her experience in both the private and social sectors, Boyea-Robinson shares lessons she's learned and strategies she's found to be effective for changing how we think about and create change, how our organizations work, and how we collaborate.  

Book_just_change_3dIt's an approach well worth considering; as chief impact officer at Living Cities, a partnership of foundations, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the federal government that's committed to improving the vitality of cities and urban neighborhoods, Boyea-Robinson is tasked with ensuring that the organization's investments lead to measurable impact. She also has witnessed, both in her own family and in her previous work at Year Up National Capital Region, the barriers that many poor urban children come up against, leading her to acknowledge that the challenge of creating change, let alone lasting change, is daunting.

Something like closing opportunity gaps, for example, is a complex problem, one that involves interconnected relationships unique to each situation, as opposed to a merely complicated problem, the solution to which involves many difficult steps but can be mastered and replicated. And yet, she writes, we can create lasting impact, even around complex problems, if we work together and focus on a problem's underlying cause instead of its symptoms, continually improve our efforts through ongoing feedback, use data to define the impact we are looking to achieve, and align our programs, policies, and funding streams with clearly articulated goals. 

Boyea-Robinson is careful to note that meaningful social change rarely is driven by a single individual, organization, or sector. And while forging cross-sectoral partnerships is just one of the six ways, as she puts it, to "change how you create change" (the others are focusing on bright spots, changing systems through individuals, defining success in terms of people not neighborhoods, engaging the community, and supporting racial equity), it really constitutes the core message of the book. By definition, participation in a cross-sectoral collaboration creates the possibility of achieving something bigger than any one individual, organization, or sector could achieve alone. At the same time, collaborations, if they are to succeed, require solid relationships and a high level of trust, not to mention partners who are willing to commit to a collective goal that transcends their own individual objectives or reputation.

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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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With Smart Philanthropy, Anything Is Possible

February 06, 2017

Collaboration-puzzle-piecesThere are no limits to what philanthropy can accomplish if we dream big, take risks, and set aside our egos and look for ways to work collaboratively.

"That's ridiculous," some of you may be thinking."Philanthropic dollars are a drop in the bucket. The best we can hope to do is to fund effective programs and improve as many lives as we can."

The truth is, that kind of small-ball thinking is horsepucky, and we need to put it aside if we want to transform and improve our society and the world. Indeed, there's an urgent need, right now, for foundations and high-net-worth donors to invest serious money in organizations on the frontlines of transformative social change.

Think back twenty years ago, to 1997:

  • Gas was $1.22 per gallon.
  • Bill Clinton had just been inaugurated to a second term as president of the United States.
  • The Lion King had debuted on Broadway.
  • The Spice Girls had a song at the top of the pop charts.

Did anyone in 1997 believe that less than twenty years later full marriage equality for same-sex couples would be the law of the land? It didn't seem remotely possible.

But then, in 2000, leaders of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a California-based philanthropy, began to think about how the foundation could best support work to advance the rights of and dignity for gay people.

In 2002, the fund made a $2.5 million investment in the Freedom to Marry campaign — at the time, the largest investment ever made by a foundation in support of gay rights.

The investment by the fund got the ball rolling. In 2004, the fund, recognizing that it couldn't possibly push the campaign to success by itself, helped create the Civil Marriage Collaborative with a handful of committed, like-minded funders from across the country.

It took visionary leadership and trust to make the collaborative a reality. And working together over the next dozen years and in close partnership with the other organizations, the funders of that effort helped accomplish what had once been unthinkable.

It wasn't easy. Changing society is tough work. Even as the campaign secured many wins, it also had to deal with setbacks. But the funding partners stuck by each other and their grantees, keeping their eyes on the prize and building momentum by winning an increasing number of victories at the state level. And then, on June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.

It was a great day for the country and the culmination of a long campaign in which funders and nonprofits worked together to make society a little more fair and just.

I'm sure many of you have a story about how the court's ruling has impacted your life. For me, it was being able to attend the wedding of my sister a little over a year ago.

And here's some more good news. These same kinds of strategies work just as well at the local and state levels.

In 2012, for example, a group of California funders launched the California Civic Participation Funders to support nonprofits in the state working to strengthen civic participation in communities of color and among other underrepresented populations. The funders involved in the effort were focused on different issues — some on health, some on immigrant rights, others on criminal justice or women's rights — but they knew that having robust civic participation from groups that traditionally have been marginalized was essential if they hoped to see success on their issue. So they decided to work together, in close partnership with their grantees, to boost civic participation in four California counties.

That work is paying off.

Last summer, for example, citizens of San Diego voted in favor of an Earned Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Ordinance that immediately raised the minimum wage to $10.50 and then raised it again on January 1,to $11.50 per hour. San Diego is not known as a progressive bastion, and very few people would have guessed that San Diegans would vote in favor of such an ordinance. But with years of sustained investment by California Civic Participation Funders, what was once unthinkable became reality. And thousands of low-income families are going to benefit.

Because I've been studying this stuff for years, I thought I'd share six things that funders should keep in mind if they are looking to maximize their impact:

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 21-22, 2017)

January 22, 2017

Womens_marchOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

Whether we're talking about animal welfare, climate change, LGBT or women's issues, health care, or tax policy, the impact of advocacy is hard to measure — and that is a problem. Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther looks at what one nonprofit is doing to learn more about what it doesn't know.

Civil Society

The Obama Foundation is open for business.

Community Improvement

Zenobia Jeffries and Araz Hachadourian, contributors to Yes! magazine, continue their state-by-state exploration of community development solutions that prioritize racial justice.

Education

In Dissent, Joanne Barkan explains why Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos is the second coming of economist and free-market evangelist Milton Friedman.

Grantseeking

After introducing the FLAIL Scale, a tool that allows foundations to see whether or not their grantmaking process is needlessly irritating to grantseekers, NWB's Vu Le returns with the Grant Response Amateurism, Vexation, and Exasperation (GRAVE) Gauge, a list of the things "nonprofits do that make funders want to punch us in the jaws — or worse, not fund our programs."

Impact Investing

"With uncertainties about the next four years swirling, there is one safe prediction: Sustainability and climate change will not be high on the Trump administration’s priority list," writes Peter D. Henig, founder and managing partner of Greenhouse Capital Partners, on the Impact Alpha site. "If sustainability is to keep moving forward," he adds, "it's up to the private sector" to embrace the "opportunities [that] await mission-driven, impact-focused companies and investors."

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 17-18, 2016)

December 18, 2016

Tis-season-eye-chartOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The government of the Netherlands has presented a long-term energy plan that stipulates that no new cars with combustion engines may be sold from 2035 on and that all houses in the country must be disconnected from the gas grid by 2050. Karel Beckman reports for the Energy Collective.

Fundraising

What's the best way to get donors under the age of 40 to donate to your nonprofit? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks shares a little secret.

Giving

In FastCoExist, Ben Paynter has a quick primer on what certain proposals in the Trump tax plan could mean for charitable giving.

The real possibility of lower marginal rates and changes to the cap on itemized deductions under a new Trump administration has many wealthy donors rushing to donate shares of appreciated stock before the end of the year. Chana R. Schoenberger reports for the Wall Street Journal.

As another year winds to a close, Elie Hassenfeld, Holden Karnofsky, and other members of the GiveWell team discuss the thinking behind their personal end-of-year giving choices.

Impact Investing

For those interested in keeping up with developments in the fast-growing field of impact investing, the Case Foundation's Rehana Nathoo has curated a list fifty impact investing "influencers" you should follow on Twitter.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2016)

November 02, 2016

Seven... Seven more days of this dumpster fire of an election before (with a little luck) we can all get back to our lives and routines. If that seems like an eternity, may we suggest spending some of it on the great reads below you all voted to the top of our most popular posts list for October. And don't forget to cast your vote, along with the hundreds who already have, in our Clinton/Trump-themed poll of the week....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 22-23, 2016)

October 23, 2016

Finish-line-aheadOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

On the Triple Pundit site, Eric Griego, director of business development at @Pay, a secure mobile giving platform, shares five strategies for improving your cause marketing communications.

Fundraising

It's the most stressful time of the year — and, in a post on her blog, Beth Kanter shares a few self-care tips for nonprofit fundraising professionals taken from her new book (co-written with Aliza Sherman), The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout.

On the WeDidIt blog, Ryan Woroniecki shares eight tips for converting your online donors to major donors.

This #GivingTuesday, November 29, Foundation Center and Philanthropy News Digest will be turning our social media feeds over for the day to fine winners of our "Elevate Your Cause" sweepstakes. Learn more.

Higher Education

The dining hall staff at Harvard University has gone on strike for a yearly minimum wage of $35,000 — and the administration of the richest university in the country is not pleased. Michelle Chen reports for The Nation.

Princeton University, the third-wealthiest endowed university in the country, has agreed to an $18 million settlement with neighbors who claimed the university’s tax-exempt status unfairly made their property taxes higher. Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline.com.

And in Washington Monthly, Annie Kim looks at how the Internet wrecked the college admissions process.

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Communications Network site, Hattaway Communications' RJ Bee and Kate Pazoles share three lessons for taking ownership of your evaluation efforts.

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Quote of the Week

  • "[W]hat struck me was the startled awareness that one day something, whatever it might be, was going to interrupt my leisurely progress. It sounds trite, yet I can only say that I realized for the first time that I don't have forever...."

    — Anatole Broyard, book critic/editor/essayist (1920-1990)

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