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360 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

Thinking of Starting Your Own Nonprofit? Think Again.

September 26, 2015

PhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in April 2014. Enjoy.

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.

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GlobalGiving Rewards Curiosity

September 10, 2015

Globalgiving_pict_originalI recently read A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer, Academy Award-winning movie producer and self-professed curious person. In recounting a lifetime of asking interesting people all kinds of questions, Grazer shares his philosophy about the power of curiosity:

[Curiosity is] democratic. Anyone, anywhere, or any age or education level, can use it....For it to be effective, curiosity needs to be harnessed to at least two other traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions....The second trait is the willingness to act....Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets an innovation....

The power of curiosity is a good thing to consider in the quest for social impact. Many organizations – big and small, new and old, well-resourced or not – are working on a wide range of issues – environmental conservation, education, food security, health, the arts – out of a desire to make things better. Because of this diversity, it's hard to agree on an approach that is universally useful.

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#FailEpic Continued

September 09, 2015

Fail_epicI appreciate the lively response to my last post asking why it's so difficult to talk about failure in philanthropy. Commenters brought up important points, including that it can be difficult to decide when failure has actually happened — when do you know to throw in the towel? — and that it's not just admitting failure but learning from it that generates insight and improvement.

I would also note an incisive piece in Nonprofit Quarterly assessing the failure of the social impact bond designed to reduce juvenile recidivism on Rikers Island. Cohen and Zelnick rightly point out that what is being hailed as a partial success — that because the program did not hit its targets, taxpayers did not have to pay for it — masks a more complex reality. Recidivism was not reduced (no upside there), and taxpayer dollars were tapped in the form of in-kind time by city officials. This example reinforces one of the points made by a commenter on my original post: what counts as failure depends on who's doing the telling, and when.

I see two conversations worth pursuing, given the interest my original post has generated as part of an overall mini-trend toward more reckoning with failure in philanthropy.

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5 Questions for...Jean Case, CEO, Case Foundation

July 17, 2015

How the digitally native, media-savvy millennial generation is shaping the way people view and bring about social change has been a topic of debate for some time. Are millennials "the giving generation," or are they just  "slacktivists"? Founded in 1997 by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife, Jean, the Case Foundation has been working to engage millennials in social work for the better part of a decade. As part of that effort, the foundation, in partnership with Achieve, an Indianapolis-based research and creative agency, recently released the 2015 Millennial Impact Report: Cause, Influence & the Next Generation Workforce (41 pages, PDF), the eighth in a series of reports that examines the question: How does the millennial generation engage with and support causes?

Recently, PND asked Case Foundation co-founder and CEO Jean Case about some of the report’s findings and  implications.

Headshot_jean_casePhilanthropy News Digest: Since 2010, the Millennial Impact Report series has examined trends in giving and volunteering by millennials. This year's report is focused on company cause work, the factors that influence engagement in the workplace, and the relationship between millennial employees and their managers. Why is it important for millennials to be engaged in giving and volunteering at the workplace?

Jean Case: Millennials play a powerful role in democratizing philanthropy. Now eighty million strong, the millennial generation is one of the most educated, tech-savvy, and idealistic generations ever. At the Case Foundation, we have long recognized the power of millennials to change the world — and that is why our support of the Millennial Impact Project has been critical to the exploration of how they connect, give, and inspire. Throughout our six years of research (and eight reports) with Achieve, we've found that with few exceptions, this generation is consistently willing and eager to "do good." And they choose not to leave their personal passion for doing good at the door but rather seek to integrate it fully into their work and social network of friends and colleagues. If we are going to solve the complex social problems of our era — eradicating deadly diseases, conquering global hunger, scaling sustainable energy solutions — we need this generation to lead the charge.

One aspect of our research which was telling was that 70 percent of millennials volunteered for a cause last year. That number is triple the average volunteer rate of America as a whole, which was just over 25 percent in 2014. Millennial employees value putting their skills and expertise to work in support of a cause, which means employers have a greater opportunity to positively engage with this growing portion of the workforce.

PND: According to the most recent survey, 46 percent of millennial respondents said they were more likely to donate to a company-sponsored giving campaign if asked by a co-worker, while only 27 percent said they were more likely to give if asked by their supervisor. Similarly, 65 percent said they were more likely to volunteer for a company initiative if their co-workers were participating, while only 44 percent said they would if their supervisor participated. What are the implications of these findings for companies looking to engage their millennial employees in "company cause work"?

JC: Millennials now make up a majority of employees — 53.5 million workers to be exact, or more than one in three American workers. We know that they place value on the relationships and bonds they build with co-workers. This is a generation that demands our attention and wants to take its idealism and put it into action in meaningful ways. CEOs and those in leadership need to understand that millennials are influencers who shape the behaviors and purchasing decisions of their larger social circles, so it's no surprise that they tend to be the most inspired by their colleagues and peers, and less so by management. Organizations can take this opportunity to shift away from hierarchical structures and top-down CSR programs and move toward more collaborative cause environments.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 11-12, 2015)

July 12, 2015

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

Civil Society

In a guest essay for Civicus, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, argues that the international development community's "obsession with quantifiable impact, and frequently dogmatic adherence to discrete deliverables, undercuts the expansive purpose of [civil society organizations], miniaturizing them in their ambition...[and] distort[ing] and inhibit[ing], rather than unleash[ing], the potential of civil society." Walker continues: "If we believe in the work that CSOs are doing — and we should — then [donors] must help usher in a new era of capacity-building investment, for institutions, and the individuals who comprise them...."


"Given the nature of digital data (generative, remixable, scalable, storable, copyable, etc), it's hard to see how the current nonprofit corporate governance structures provide much assurance that these assets will be used for good," muses Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.


"The best way to activate positive-emotion circuits in the brain is through generosity." Kathy Gilsanan, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has announced an annual gift of Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares totaling $2.8 billion to the five foundations he pledged his fortune to back in 2006. As has been the case since Buffett made his pledge, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation received the bulk of the shares, with smaller amounts going to foundations run by his three children and the foundation established by his first wife, Susan, who died in 2004. The Wall Street Journal has the details.

As generous, elegant, and carefully thought through as it may be, the Buffett style of philanthropy is in "the process of being re-formulated by a new generation of capitalists, many of whom earned their fortunes disrupting traditional business models." John G. Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, explains.

In a post on the Oxford University Press blog, Ed Zelinsky (The Origins of the Ownership Society: How The Defined Contribution Paradigm Changed America), the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University, outlines the continuing benefits (and costs) of the Giving Pledge.

The folks at Eleventy Marketing Group have pulled together a list of key findings from the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which details how millennial employees "engage in cause work with the companies they work for — and the factors that influence their engagement and involvement in philanthropy programs."

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[Infographic] Impact Investing Opportunities

June 27, 2015

Impact investing is an activity "that aims to generate a specific social or environmental benefit in addition to financial gain." Previously the domain of institutional investors, over the last five years it has begun to attract the attention of foundations and high-net-worth individuals and, according to the team at Getting Smart, has powered a revolution in ed tech. In addition to outlining basic considerations for donors thinking about making an impact investment and listing ten education investment categories, our infographic of the week (courtesy of Getting Smart) includes a link to a paper (38 pages, PDF) that identifies twenty-five impact investment opportunities in K-12 education.

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[Review] 'The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations'

June 18, 2015

In his poem "i thank You God for most this amazing," e.e. cummings wrote that "now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened." It is precisely this sense of clarity that comes to mind when reading The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by David Grant, former president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Cover_the_social_nonprofit_handbookAs Grant notes, the world of the twenty-first century increasingly is defined by metrics and data. The social sector is no exception, and calls for better and more timely measurement of its activities have become a feature of the landscape. Gone are the days when funders were content to let intuition and anecdotal evidence guide their funding choices. Donors today — both institutional and individual — are keen to move the needle on large, seemingly intractable societal and environmental challenges, and in attempting to do so they have become ever-more interested in data that can demonstrate the impact of the programs and organizations in which they have invested. As a long-time admirer and teacher of poetry and literature, Grant relishes the complexity of this brave new world and applies his nuanced perspective toward a keen assessment of what it means for the field. "Social profit," he writes, "is about desired social benefits, and so it has to be defined locally depending on what a community of people values and what they need. It will never have a fixed or standard measure, and efforts to create one will get bogged down in endless quibbles and conflict about measurement itself."

According to Grant, efforts to measure social impact are fraught with challenges with which the for-profit world does not have to contend. Trying to balance multiple bottom lines, for example, is necessarily more complex than having to worry about a single one, he notes, especially given the fact there is no single agreed-upon unit of "social profit." Rather than focus on quantitative measures, therefore, Grant emphasizes qualitative "formative assessment." While not ignoring quantitative performance measures, he favors "soft measurements" and argues that a true assessment of social profit demands "a combination of pertinent metrics and a qualitative description...that can only be created by the people who are providing and receiving it."

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 13-14, 2015)

June 14, 2015

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

Criminal Justice

On the site, Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, argues that mass incarceration of young men and boys of color "is a symptom of a larger disease that is prevalent both before and after arrest and imprisonment occur." 


A new report from Crain’s New York Business, in partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, finds that 57 percent of respondents to a spring 2014 survey said they expected to raise more in 2014 than in 2013, while a majority — 52 percent (compared to 29 percent in 2013) — said their organizations planned to hire development staff in 2015 to take advantage of the more generous giving climate.

"Generation Z, the heirs to the digital empire built by Generation X and expanded by Millennials, is made up of people who don’t just spend time online — they live there," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "And despite their youth... kids in Generation Z are regularly rocking social media for social good. Well-informed, constantly connected, and more tech-confident than your aunt Jan, they're taking on the world's problems, one online fundraiser at a time.


Where do nonprofit boards fall short? The Nonprofit Law Blog's Erin Bradrick shares some thoughts.


On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington chats with Mary Winkler, senior research associate with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, about measurement as a "necessary practice" for nonprofit organizations, the difference between measurement and evaluation, and the challenge inherent in finding funding for measurement work. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 30-31, 2015)

May 31, 2015

Seppblatter_lipssealedAfter a hiatus for college graduations on consecutive weekends, the weekend crew is back with its roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Anne Whatley, a consultant with Network Impact, shares key takeaways from a new guide that provides metrics and methods for measuring the success of your civic tech initiatives.

Climate Change

"The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It's real and it's relentless." writes Michael Grunwald in Politico. Driven by a team of nearly two hundred litigators and organizers, deep-pocketed donors like Michael Bloomberg, and "unlikely allies from the business world," the Beyond Coal campaign over the past five years "has killed a coal-fired power plant every ten days...[and] quietly transformed the U.S. electric grid and the global climate debate."

Community Improvement/Development

In remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce last week, Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson outlined six areas where Kresge is likely to make future investments in Detroit.


On the Markets for Good blog, Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition, argues that philanthropy can lean learn lessons from the business sector about the link between diversity and success.


Telling your nonprofit's story so it resonates with donors and other stakeholders is easier than you might think, Network for Good's Iris Sutcliffe writes, if you keep the five Cs in mind.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 25-26, 2015)

April 26, 2015

Ss-150425-nepal-earthquake-09Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Disaster Relief

In the aftermath of a major natural disaster like the powerful earthquake that struck Nepal yesterday, early assistance -- in the form of money -- is the best and most effective kind of assistance. On her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog, Joanne Fritz shares other ways to help victims of a natural disaster.

Nearly $10 billion in relief and reconstruction aid was committed to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in that impoverished country. Where did it all go? VICE on HBO Correspondent Vikram Gandhi reports.


Has the education reform movement peaked? According to em>New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, "The zillionaires [who have funded the movement] are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity." Which is why, says Kristof, it might be time to "refocus some reformist passions on early childhood."


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Johanna Morariu, director of the Innovation Network, shares five grantmaker and nonprofit practices "that undermine or limit the ability of nonprofit organizations to fully engage in evaluation."


What is social fundraising? Liz Ragland, senior content and marketing associate at Network for Good, explains.

Nonprofit With Balls blogger and Game of Thrones fan Vu Le has some issues with the donor-centric model of fundraising. "When [it's] done right," he writes, "it’s cool; when it’s done wrong, we sound like the used car salesmen of justice...."

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[Infographic] 10 Traits That Make Nonprofits Great

March 21, 2015

This week's infographic, courtesy of the Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit educational organization "established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among the nation's youth that the American dream was no longer attainable," doesn't break any ground when it comes to the traits that make nonprofits great. These are things all nonprofits need to (rather than should) do if they hope to succeed over the long term. But while some (#4, #6 and #9) are more important than others, all contain at least a kernel of good advice....

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 7-8, 2015)

March 08, 2015

Daylight-Saving-TimeOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Criminal Justice

"For years, punitive policies...have conspired to reinforce injustice and inequality [in America]. Together, they have produced an overrepresentation of people of color in our prisons and jails. Today, more African Americans are part of the criminal justice system than were enslaved on the eve of the Civil War," writes Ford Foundation president Darren Walker in an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee. Walker goes on to mention some of the things Ford is doing to bring change to the criminal justice system and urges policy makers and his colleagues in philanthropy to do more to address the root causes and systemic issues that contribute to the shameful pattern of mass incarceration in the U.S.


In the Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton reports that New Jersey governor Chris Christie's plan to remake the Newark public school system with the help of a $100 million investment from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has run aground.


In a post on LinkedIn, Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steve Nardizzi applauds the Humane Society of the United States'  suit against Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, who, according to Nardizzi, "has waged a public war against the HSUS, accusing the organization of exorbitant fundraising costs for misleading solicitations and untruthful advertisements."

On the other hand...a new report (“Pennies for Charity”) shows that for-profit telemarketers operating in New York in 2013 retained the majority of the funds they raised on behalf of charities.


Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jim Thaden, executive director of the Central Asia Institute, offers a staunch defense of the organization's decision not to fire co-founder Greg Mortenson after a 60 Minutes segment in 2011 questioned  many of the "facts" in Mortenson's best-selling 2006 memoir Three Cups of Tea and raised questions about the organization's finances.


"Impact investing advocates can sometimes give the impression that they have 'outsmarted poverty' (and other societal problems)," writes Alex Counts, president and CEO of the Grameen Foundation, on the Center for Financial Inclusion blog. But "[i]t is important to remember that few if any social innovations besides microfinance have proven capable of reaching large scale and generating consistent profits – which should give people pause before they create a new impact investing 'bubble'."

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Impact Measurement: Fad or Fact of Life

March 03, 2015

Impact_measurementImpact measurement has been a hardy perennial on the agenda of philanthropic conferences and events for a while. Recently, more attention has been focused on the role associations play in supporting foundation impact practice and how they think about their own impact as infrastructure organizations. Thus, it was no surprise that a session was devoted to this topic at the meeting of the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) in Warsaw in January.

I wrote this post to share my experience with the UK Association of Charitable Foundations' Inspiring Impact program and the overall challenges presented by the topic. Being thrown into a different environment and asked to explain yourself forces one to reflect more critically on what one has done, why, and what one has learned from the experience. So, in that spirit, and as I did at the Warsaw meeting, I offer my thoughts and comments on what has been a lengthy and often complex process.

But first, a little background. As "impact" began to gain traction in the social sector a decade or so ago, interest in and activity around tools and techniques to measure it also began to grow. Indeed, it became something of a specialized area, the preserve of "impact nerds," with a language all its own. Research conducted by NPC in 2012 revealed that funders play "a critical role in shaping behavior" with respect to impact measurement. At the same time, it was clear to ACF that there was more at stake than tools and techniques, and that consideration was needed around the art rather than the science of impact measurement, on the broader implications for how organizations operate, and on the relationship between funders and grantees. This prompted ACF's engagement with NPC and organizations representing nonprofits, as well as those with evaluation expertise, leading to the development of an ambitious program, Inspiring Impact, that aims to make good impact practice the norm for charities and social enterprises by 2022.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 28-March 1, 2015)

March 01, 2015

Leonard-nimoy-spockOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


On Medium, Dan Gillmor, the long-time technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News, argues that governments and powerful tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are creating "choke points" on the Internet and "using those choke points to destroy our privacy, limit our freedom of expression, and lock down culture and commerce. Too often," Gillmor adds, "we give them our permission — trading liberty for convenience — but a lot of this is being done without our knowledge, much less permission...."


In an op-ed for the Minn Post, progressive activist and education blogger Lynnell Mickelsen suggests that Minneapolis could change its schools to work better for kids of color, but it "would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children." Be sure to check out the comments thread.


Pamela Yip, a business columnist for the Dallas Morning News, reports on a recent presentation by Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, a New York consulting firm, in which Goldseker touched on several factors that distinguish younger donors from their parents and grandparents.

Global Health

In a podcast on the Humanosphere blog, Gilles van Cutsem, a physician and medical director for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, says the Ebola crisis in West Africa is far from over.

Higher Education

As this well-thought-out data visualization from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows, America’s postsecondary student population is more diverse than ever.

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[Review] 'A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity'

February 10, 2015

Cover_A-Path-AppearsA recent survey conducted by World Vision found that, despite the growing list of humanitarian crises around the world, 80 percent of Americans did not plan to increase their charitable giving in 2014. Discouraging perhaps, but not surprising. Those without the means to fund large-scale interventions tend to feel helpless in the face of widespread suffering, with many believing that a modest donation cannot possibly make a difference in addressing seemingly intractable problems, while others worry that little of their money will ever reach the intended beneficiaries.

In their new book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, award-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, former journalist-turned-investment banker Sheryl WuDunn, beg to differ: You can make a difference. But to do so, you have to be thoughtful and intentional in your approach. That means: 1) doing research to ensure that your gift benefits the target population; 2) volunteering your time and expertise when possible; and 3) engaging in advocacy.

The authors, whose 2009 book Half the Sky examined ways to expand opportunity for women and girls in the developing world, here broaden their canvas to include efforts to expand opportunity for all marginalized populations, in the U.S. as well as abroad, with a particular focus on poverty alleviation. It's a formidable challenge, and Kristof and WuDunn do their best to make it comprehensible by breaking it down into parts: how effective interventions can make a lasting impact; how nonprofit organizations can maximize both their income and impact; how giving can benefit the giver.

According to Kristof and WuDunn, these days individual donors can be more confident about the effectiveness of their donations, for a number of reasons: anti-poverty interventions and development projects have become more evidence-based and cost-efficient in recent years; the Web makes it easier for donors to learn about the impact of their giving; and, increasingly, development projects are run more transparently and with greater buy-in and expertise from local communities. Indeed, the book, as much as anything, is a compilation of admiring portraits of nonprofit practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and activists working to remove barriers to opportunity. At the same time, it emphasizes the importance of (and increasing use of) rigorous randomized controlled trials to ensure that interventions are evidence-based and effective. And in highlighting organizations such as Evidence Action, MDRC, and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, organizations that do the un-sexy but essential work of research and evaluation, it aims to empower individuals to think critically about the programs and charities they choose to support.

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