396 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

[Review] 'Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector'

November 28, 2017

The nonprofit sector has never faced more difficult challenges — or had the potential to create greater impact — than it does today, argue William F. Meehan III, director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, and Kim Starkey Jonker, president and CEO of King Philanthropies, in their new book, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector. But for nonprofits — by 2025 projected to need up to $300 billion more annually beyond currently expected revenues in order to meet demand — to benefit from the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in U.S. history (an estimated $59 trillion expected to change hands between 2007 and 2061), they will have to "earn the right to expand [their] role and maximize [their] impact" in what Meehan and Jonker refer to as the coming "Impact Era."

Book_engine_of_impact_3dDrawing on a number of surveys, including the 2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector; a variety of Stanford Social Innovation Review articles, business and nonprofit management books, and Meehan's course on nonprofit leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Jonker's experience overseeing the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit LeadershipEngine of Impact outlines the challenges nonprofits currently face — lack of impact data, transparency, and sustainable operational support; donors' tendency to give impulsively to well-known organizations rather than high-impact ones; ineffective boards — and then explores a number of tools that nonprofits can use to address those challenges. They do not include venture philanthropy or impact investments, which Meehan and Jonker, somewhat "controversially," are skeptical of. Instead, they urge nonprofits to embrace the "essentials of strategic leadership" — mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, funding, talent/organization, and board governance — which, when brought together thoughtfully and intentionally, create an engine of impact that drives organizational success.

Quoting liberally from business management expert Peter Drucker, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton (an early mentor of Meehan's), Good to Great author Jim Collins, and other luminaries, the authors illustrate each component of strategic leadership with concrete examples often drawn from the work of Kravis Prize winners such as the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), BRACLandesa, and Helen Keller International. And while they concede that some of them may be obvious, they are quick to note, based on survey results, that they are not all well understood or effectively implemented.

They emphasize, for example, the importance of a well-crafted mission statement, and caution organizations against mission creep, even if avoiding the latter means saying no to a new funding source. Indeed, saying "no" seems to be a critical part of strategic leadership, in that the urgent need to achieve maximum impact in a time of enormous challenges and limited resources is too important for nonprofit leaders to be distracted by non-mission-aligned activities — or by debates over semantics (e.g., "theory of change" vs. "logic model"): "if you ever find yourself caught in a debate about these terms' usage," Meehan and Jonkers write, "we suggest you leave the room immediately. We do."

One somewhat puzzling note is Meehan and Jonker's warning against setting up a straw man in the debate over quantitative vs. qualitative data while seeming to do just that — as if nonprofit and foundation leaders in 2017 are all either purely "analytics" or "poets" and don't recognize and value, to some degree, both types of data, as do Meehan and Jonker, who urge their readers to make all impact measurements "quantifiable" but to only "count what counts." It's also important, in their view, to invest in evaluation — the sooner in the process the better — in that such investments create feedback loops that can drive improvement and advance strategic thinking. Alas, according to the Stanford survey, few funders require (or fund) impact measurement, and only 57 percent of nonprofit executives and staff regularly use findings from evaluations to refine their theory of change or adjust their overall strategy. Taking such a step, as well as making unpopular decisions and saying no when necessary, requires insight and courage, write Meehan and Jonker — qualities exhibited by the likes of successful social entrepreneurs such as Drayton, Landesa founder Ron Prosterman, and AIL founder Sakena Yacoobi. Indeed, they are the kind of essential leadership qualities that "even inexperienced" funders can recognize, the authors write, and as such they should be included in funders' grantmaking criteria.

Once an organization has built its engine of impact, that engine needs fuel, which is where talent, funding, and board governance come in. Meehan and Jonker argue for a "team of teams" model that "emphasizes decentralized autonomy, meritocracy, and a sense of partnership"; minimizes bureaucracy; maximizes talent development and leadership opportunities; and, they believe, will become "the new standard for nonprofits, foundations, and even for-profit global businesses." They also urge organizations to get "the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the key seats before [figuring] out where to drive the bus"; to compensate high-performing leaders well; and to see succession planning as the "inherently difficult" but important function that it is.  

The board plays a critical role in all of these areas, as it does in ensuring that mission-focused goals, strategies, and impact measurement systems are in place. Therefore, boards themselves must be designed for transparency and efficient decision making, while board members must bring their "work, wisdom, and wealth" to bear on the organization's efforts. The latter, in Meehan and Jonker's view, is no minor detail: "board members should give at a personal stretch level and should prioritize [their] organization within their charitable giving" — a reasonable, if somewhat audacious, demand. 

"Audacious" also is what strategic nonprofit leaders need to be when it comes to securing funding. After their own board members, the authors advise, nonprofit leaders and development staff should target individuals, who account for the bulk of charitable giving in the U.S., rather than foundations, whose grants typically are project-based and more often than not fail to cover the cost of evaluations, leadership development, and capacity building (especially in the area of fundraising). Meehan and Jonker focus on what they call "plutophilanthropy," the kinds of major gifts from ultra-wealthy donors that have long benefited colleges and universities, medical centers, and high-profile cultural institutions. Social service providers should invest in educating and cultivating donors with the wherewithal to make such gifts by engaging their families and networks, developing individualized cultivation plans, and, for younger philanthropists, fostering a strong sense of community.

So, how many U.S. nonprofits are ready to follow Meehan and Jonker's advice and "tune" their impact engine with the aim of scaling their efforts? Believe it or not, only one in ten (11 percent). Not sure where your organization falls? The book offers a "readiness-to-scale matrix" (supplemented with a diagnostic on the book's website) for assessing whether an organization lacks a well-built engine and fuel ("Scale Jail"); has a proven engine but needs to secure a good fuel source ("Field of Dreams"); provides a specific service to a specific population and thus has no reason to scale ("Small Is Beautiful"); has a poorly built engine but receives significant funding "because the leaders...excel at creating the kind of buzz that fills the atmosphere at social sector conferences" ("The Waterfall"); or has "earned the right to scale their impact by creating a well-built, proven impact model and by finding the fuel they need to sustain growth" ("The Promised Land"). Cute labels aside, the authors showcase options for increasing an organization's impact without increasing its size, measuring its cost-efficiency, and leveraging technology to expand service delivery — if not necessarily increase donations.  

As the repeated use of the phrase "earn(ed) the right to scale" makes clear, Meehan and Jonker believe that only nonprofits that can demonstrate, through quantifiable measurement, their impact and capacity to maximize it, should — and will — thrive in the Impact Era. What's more, their sense of urgency is palpable throughout the book. While none of the concepts they present are revolutionary, they have been reinvigorated and realigned for this moment. Which makes Engine of Impact an energizing, if sobering, read for nonprofit leaders, board members, and funders alike. If the book elides the fact that donors rarely base their giving on impact data ("[W]e hope that situation will soon change"), it is nevertheless an optimistic book whose authors are confident that "in a nation and a world divided...a nonprofit sector poised to bring unprecedented resources and, for the first time ever, a set of robust tools that will support the fact-based decision making that maximizing impact requires" will succeed in creating the change the world desperately needs.

Kyoko Uchida is PND's features editor. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

 

How to Keep Me Scrolling Through What You Are Sharing

November 02, 2017

Hello, my name is Tom and I am a Subscriber. And a Tweeter, a Follower, a Forwarder (FYI!), a Google Searcher, and a DropBox Hoarder. I subscribe to blogs, feeds, e-newsletters, and email updates. My professional title includes the word "knowledge," so I feel compelled to make sure I'm keeping track of the high volume of data, information, reports, and ideas flowing through the nonprofit and foundation worlds (yes, it is a bit of a compulsion…and I'm not even including my favorite travel, shopping, and coupon alerts).

It's a lot, and I confess I don't read all of it. It's a form of meditation, I guess, for me to scroll through emails and Twitter feeds while waiting in line at Aloha Salads. I skim, I save, I forward, I retweet, I copy and save for later reading (later when?). In fact, no one can be expected to keep up, so how does anyone make sense of it all, or even find what we need when we need it? Everyone being #OpenForGood and sharing everything is great, but who's reading it all? And how do we make what we're opening up for good actually good?

Making Knowledge Usable

At some point, we've all battled Drowning in Information-Starving for Knowledge syndrome (from John Naisbitt's Megatrends — though I prefer E.O. Wilson's "starving for wisdom" theory). The information may be out there, but it rarely exists in a form that is easily found, read, understood, and (most importantly) usedFoundation Center and IssueLab have made it easier for people in the sector to know what is being funded, where new ideas are being tested, and what evidence and lessons are available. But to really succeed, nonprofits and foundations will have to upload and share many more of their documents than they do now. And we need to make sure that the information we share is readable, usable, and easy to apply.

1-2-3-reporting-model

DataViz guru Stephanie Evergreen recently taught me a new hashtag: #TLDR – "Too Long, Didn't Read."

Evergreen proposes that every published report be available in three formats — a one-page handout with key messages, a three-page executive summary, and a 25-page report (plus appendices). That way,  "scanners," "skimmers," and "deep divers" can access the information in the form they prefer and in the time that's available to them. Such an approach also requires writing (and formatting) differently for each of these different audiences. (By the way, do you know which one you are?)

From Information to Influence

But it isn't enough to make your reports accessible, searchable, and easily readable in both a short and long form; you also have to include the information people need to make decisions and take action. It means deciding in advance who you hope to inform and influence and what you want them do with that information. If you expect people to read, learn from, and apply the information you're sharing, you need to be clear about your reason for sharing it, and you need to give people the right kind of information.

Too many times I've read reports that include promising findings and interesting lessons, and then I race through all the footnotes and the appendices at the back of the report looking for resources that could point me to the details or implementation guidance. Alas, I usually wind up trying to track down the authors by email or phone.

2005 study of more than one thousand evaluations focused on human services found only twenty-two that shared any analysis of implementation learnings — i.e., the lessons people learned about how best to put the program or services in place. We can't expect other people and organizations to share your knowledge and what you've learned if they cannot access information that helps them use that knowledge and apply it to their own programs and organizations. YES, I want to hear about your lessons and "a-ha" moments, but I also want to see data and an analysis of the common challenges faced by all nonprofits and foundations:

  • How to apply and adapt program and practice models in different contexts
  • How to sustain effective practices
  • How to scale successful efforts to additional people and communities

This means making sure your evaluations and reports include a frank discussion of the challenges related to implementation — challenges that others are likely to face. It also means placing your findings in the context of existing knowledge and learnings and using commonly accepted definitions that make it easier to build on the knowledge created by others. For example, in our recent middle school connectedness initiative, our evaluator, Learning for Action, reviewed the literature first to identify the specific components of and best practices in youth mentoring, thus enabling us to build the evaluation on what had been done in the field by others, report clearly about what we learned about our own initiative, and share that knowledge with the field. 

So please plan ahead and define your knowledge sharing and influence agenda up front, and as you're doing so keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Who do you hope reads your report?
  • What information should it share in order to be useful and used?
  • Review similar studies and reports and determine in advance what additional knowledge you'll need to share, as well as what you plan to document and evaluate.
  • Use common definitions and program model frameworks so that others are able to build on the accumulated knowledge of the field and not have to start from scratch each and every time.
  • Pay attention to the implementation, replication, and management challenges (staffing, training, communication, adaptation) that others are likely to face.
  • Disseminate your evaluation widely via conferences, in journals, through your networks, and in IssueLab's open repository.

And if you do all of the above, I will be happy to read through your report's footnotes and appendices the next time I'm waiting in line for a salad!

Headshot_tom_kellyTom Kelly (@TomEval, TomEval.com) is vice president of knowledge, evaluation and learning at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation and has been learning and evaluating as a practitioner since the beginning of the century.  This post originally appeared as part of Glasspockets' #OpenForGood series, which explores new tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples of foundations that are opening up the knowledge they acquire for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector and is presented in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight.

Finally! A Global (Data) Language!

October 25, 2017

Trying to get global consensus on anything is nearly impossible. But in collaboration with a dynamic cohort of individuals and organizations, we've managed to develop a new manifesto with respect to the structure and sharing of data about global philanthropy that is valued across contexts. Meet the new Global Philanthropy Data Charter.

GDC_infographic
Philanthropy, and more broadly, civil society, play a large and increasingly visible role in solving complex societal issues around the globe. Over the last twenty years, as private wealth in countries around the world has exploded, we've seen a significant increase in giving by institutions and individuals. At the same time, technology adoption and economic populism have emerged from the shadows while foreign aid to the least developed countries has declined. Established in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals paved the way, in 2015, for the multi-stakeholder Sustainable Development Goals. Each step in this evolution was guided by data. Good data? Not always. But in our rapidly changing world, everyone must tell their own story — or risk having it told for them. The good news? Philanthropy has had to become more transparent, more accountable, and more effective. Rather than siloed efforts, maximizing impact based on smart giving and shared learning has become a collective world-wide aspiration.

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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:

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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 that it 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.

Selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. And because 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, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Long story short? 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:

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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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