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371 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

Weekend Link Roundup (July 23-24, 2016)

July 24, 2016

Bulldog-on-ice1Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Community Improvement/Development

In the New America Weekly, Heron Foundation president Clara Miller explains how the foundation's recent work in Buffalo, the fourth poorest city in the nation, "started as a response to a Heron board member's referral of the local community foundation" and led to the foundation becoming a trusted neutral convener and connector "for a number of contingents in the community."

On the Knight blog, Lilly Weinberg Lilly Weinberg, program director for community foundations at the Knight Foundation, shares three takeaways from a recent convening of twenty civic innovators who've received grants of $5,000 to implement a project in a calenadr year that improve mobility, a public space, or civic engagement in their home cities.

Criminal Justice/Policing

Reflecting on the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in Minnesota, five police officers in Dallas, and three police officers in Baton Rouge, Open Society Foundations president Chris Stone suggests that the divide between black America and American policing is in part the "legacy of slavery, the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynching, of the repression of the civil rights and black power movements, the legacy of the war on drugs" -- and that efforts to close it must include solutions to racial disparities and the building of mutual trust between African Americans and local police departments.

Environment

Here on PhilanTopic, we featured a pair of great posts this week  -- one by Frank Smyth and the second by Maria Amália Souza -- on the noble, unheralded, and frequently dangerous work done by environmental activists in the global South.

Fundraising

Looking to sharpen up you fundraising appeal emails? CauseVox' Kat Boogaard shares five useful email tips guaranteed to inspire your supporters to take action.

Giving

The act of "giving" any amount in any given moment when it is not necessary to do so almost always is considered to be an act of altruism. But should it be? Forbes contributor Jake Hayman explains why the act of giving needs to be contextualized.

Health

Kristin Jones, assistant director of communications at the Colorado Trust, explains why we must see, and address, gun violence as a public health issue.

The HBCU Digest, which bills itself as the "news resource of record for historically black colleges and universities," has reprinted the full text of a letter signed by thirty-three sitting presidents of America's historically black colleges and universities calling on all Americans to join in a series of actions designed to help address the scourge of gun violence.

Impact Investing

Interesting blog post by Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger, who notes that recent estimates put the dollar amount of "global investible capital" at north of $100 trillion, compared to around $80 trillion for global GDP. And with the amount of capital needed to operate the global economy falling because of "just in time manufacturing, faster electronic payments and better working capital management," that means "we have massive amounts of capital available to invest in new endeavors."

On the Devex site, Catherine Cheney chats with the Case Foundation's Jean Case about data, entreneurship, and impact investing.

International Affairs/Development

Bill Gates was in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week to deliver the 14th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture. The theme of this year's lecture was "living together," and, as Gates noted, it was "also the theme of Nelson Mandela's life...[in that the] system he fought against was based on the opposite idea — that people should be kept apart, that our superficial differences are more important than our common humanity."

What can philanthropy do to help make the Sustainable Development Goals resonate with foundations and nonprofits in the U.S.? Writing for the World Post, Natalie Ross, director for global philanthropy at the Council on Foundations, shares some ideas.

Nonprofits

In a post that has generated dozens of comments, NWB's Vu Le wonders why it is so hard for funders to grok the concept of general operating support.

What if instead of "overhead," asks Ben Paynter in FastCo.Exist, nonprofits used a different word or term to refer to their indirect costs? Would funders be more willing to fund those activities if they were re-branded with a less "semantically stifling" term such as "shared costs" or "critical infrastructure costs" or (as Vu Le suggests) "things-we-need-in-order-to-do-our-job-of-helping-people-dammit"?

Based on material from their Nonprofit Mergers Workbooks, the folks at La Piana Consulting have a new post up outlining the key characteristics of effective communications in nonprofit partnerships. 

Philanthropy

Our Foundation Center colleagues at CF Insights have released a new brief updating community foundation growth and related operational activity during fiscal year 2015.

The shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling  and of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge "have the potential to either deepen empathy and understanding among Americans, or divide us even more sharply along lines of race, ethnicity, and gender," write Brook Kelly-Green and Luna Yusai on the Ford Foundation's Equal Voices blog. Which is why, they add, that the foundation is more committed than ever to  be "a thoughtful, effective social justice funder" and is "eager to deepen and expand th[e] community of social justice funders,... nurture bold experiments and help the [Black Lives Matter] movement build the solid infrastructure that will enable it to flourish."

Social Entrepreneurship

And in a post on the Huffington Post's What's Working blog, Loukia Papadopoulos, business development director at UK-based SocialGrowth, explains why the future belongs to social entrepreneurs.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or in the comments section below....

A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

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

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.

Data

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.

Education

How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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What We Learned About Collective Impact Through Raising the Blended Catalyst Fund

March 31, 2016

Community_building3At Living Cities we are looking beyond grants to focus on blending all types of capital to get better outcomes for low-income people, faster. One of the primary tools we have is the Catalyst Fund, a pool of philanthropic capital that we have used to fund the acceleration, scaling, and replication of promising practices. Based on what we learned from the Catalyst Fund, we recently raised our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund, which blends grants, philanthropic debt, and commercial lending from ten different investors. It's exciting to be able to bring together a diverse set of investors for a common purpose. But the diverseness of our investors also meant they each came to us with a different set of goals and restrictions, and as a result we had to overcome some challenges before we could close our fund. The challenges were similar to those faced by many organizations leading a cross-sector partnership.

Here are four things we learned about collective impact through raising our newest fund:

1. Be clear about the "why." What are you hoping to do collectively that participants can't do on their own? In our case, we assumed that because of our investors’ involvement in Living Cities, they already intuited our why. It wasn't until we were able to articulate what we wanted to do together that our investors fully bought into the idea of a new fund. We realized that you're never really past the why. The why is the shared end-game that we all want to achieve, so articulating it is the most crucial component to getting everyone on the same page and the key to keeping all your participants engaged. When we bring potential investments for the Blended Catalyst Fund to our investors now, we are purposeful about emphasizing the impact and innovation, because that is our why.

2. Allow and expect your partners to articulate their own positions and concerns. When we first started building our fund, we — like many "backbone" or intermediary organizations at the center of cross-sector partnerships — believed we had to be the main interpreters and speak for our investors. We were operating in a hub-and-spoke manner. Instead of acting as a network, we were having one-on-one conversations to understand individual investor concerns. As we saw two groups of investor interests emerging, we continued the individual relationships and acted as a messenger between the groups, negotiating with each party, controlling the conversation and what was happening. When we opened up the process and asked our investors to voice their own opinions and concerns, it not only helped build trust within the group, but it also built our investors' trust in us. After the change in our approach, we had valuable discussions with investors setting expectations for what each wanted out of the fund, discussing how much risk each was comfortable taking on, and pushing each other to stretch.

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Measuring Outcomes Across Grantees and Over Time

March 22, 2016

Results1When the Jim Joseph Foundation's evaluators’ consortium met last November, the overall focus was on the long road ahead toward developing a common set of measures — survey items, interview schedules, frameworks for documenting distinctive features of programs — to be used as outcomes and indicators of Jewish learning and growth for teens and young adults. Consortium members and the foundation were especially excited to learn about the work led by George Washington University to develop a common set of long-term outcomes and shared metrics to improve the foundation's ability to look at programs and outcomes across grantees and over time. A key part of this endeavor will be an online menu — developed in consultation with evaluation experts and practitioners — from which grantees can choose to measure their program outcomes.

Already, the GW team is making significant progress toward this end. As part of foundation efforts to inform and advance the field, we think the process and lessons related to these efforts are important to share.

To begin, the GW team reviewed the desired outcomes and evaluation reports from a dozen past foundation grants representing a variety of programs. Six grants address the foundation's strategic priority of providing immersive and ongoing Jewish experiences for teens and young adults. Six others address the strategic priority of educating Jewish educators and leaders.

For this latter strategic priority, the GW team offers a welcome "outsider" perspective, bringing strong expertise on outcomes in secular education and teacher training to the development of common outcomes for the foundation's Jewish educator grants. How, for example, do other programs measure quality and teacher retention? Both of these qualities are desired outcomes for the foundation's grants. Yet, if these qualities are not measured with common metrics, the foundation will never be able to properly determine whether its grantmaking in this area is successful. GW's expertise and strong relationship with the foundation are beginning to provide important answers to these challenges.

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A Conversation With Fred Ali, President/CEO, Weingart Foundation

March 18, 2016

Fred Ali is president and CEO of the Southern California-focused Weingart Foundation, where he is drawing on past experience as a nonprofit executive to recast the relationship between a foundation and its grantees and has become a champion of the movement to cover full costs and provide nonprofits with unrestricted flexible funding. In this latest installment in a series of conversations with foundation leaders, Ali and Nonprofit Finance Fund CEO Antony Bugg-Levine discuss money, power, influence, and outcomes.

Antony Bugg-Levine: The Weingart Foundation is known for providing unrestricted support — a rarity in the world of philanthropy. What led you down this path?

Headshot_fred_aliFred Ali: My own experience as a nonprofit executive has always guided my thinking. When the financial crisis hit, I remember the board meeting where I was asked, "What do we do now?" I made the argument for unrestricted support, and it really made sense to the board. We brought in some of our grantees, as well, to help design our approach. Our board has always appreciated when they hear from the field.

A lot of people said that nonprofits would just take the unrestricted money and invest it in programs, because demand was growing exponentially and it is in nonprofits' DNA to put programmatic needs first. And in our first round of unrestricted grantmaking, that's exactly what we saw. Then we started to see a shift. Based on the questions our program officers were asking, what we started to see — and what we continue to see — is that nonprofits recognized that these were very special dollars. We started seeing organizations use these dollars to invest in their infrastructure, to bring back the financial management position that was lost or the development person they needed, and it was heartening.

ABL: How do you balance the philosophy behind giving grantees the autonomy to do what they know how to do best while at the same time meeting your own need — and your board's need — to know the impact of those dollars?

FA: When we made our decision to devote the bulk of our funding — now over 60 percent — to unrestricted funding, it immediately raised the question of impact measurement. After a few years of hard work, we recently announced a new assessment framework for our grantees that evaluates organizations on nine functional areas, including board governance, financial operations, fund development, staff and infrastructure, client and constituent engagement, diversity, cultural competence, organizational strategy and adaptability, and executive leadership. With the assistance of Paul Harder and Company, we co-created the framework with our grantees. We wanted a framework aligned with our core values as a responsive grantmaker. We wanted a process that maintained a commitment to transparency and practical, actionable learning. And we wanted something that would not create undue burdens on grantees or on our own staff but that would provide us with useful information. Our theory of change is that if you give a reasonably managed, well-governed, strategically focused nonprofit organization flexible, unrestricted dollars, good outcomes will follow.

ABL: The framework gives you a way to determine whether an organization is more effective over time, but how do you measure the contribution your grant made to that effectiveness? Many funders are concerned about attribution versus contribution if they were to move to more general support. How do you and your board approach that issue?

FA: The system we have designed understands the complex nature of assessing contribution to impact. We've developed a process to understand the growth in organizational effectiveness over time. And it starts with the questions we ask in the application process. Then, when a program officer makes a funding recommendation, they complete a detailed assessment based on their perception of where the grantee is against the nine functional areas of our framework. That provides a baseline. At the conclusion of the grant period, we ask the grantee to complete an online assessment, which gives them the opportunity to talk about where they are on those nine areas, and about big-picture organizational goals, and whether or not they are able to attribute the use of our unrestricted funds to any movement in those areas. The program officer receives that information, compares it with his or her initial perception, and then has a discussion with the grantee around the growth that has been achieved and areas of continued need. Last but not least, the program officer completes a closeout report that serves as the application for a new grant. Although it’s still early in the process, things seem to be going well for both grantee and program staff.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 12-13, 2016)

March 13, 2016

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

Children and Youth

Looking for a good collection of juvenile justice resources? The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leader in the field, has published this on its blog.

Climate Change

On the Humanosphere site, Tom Murphy asks the question: Will the Global Climate Fund falter before it gets off the ground?

Education

In the New York Review Books, historian of education and author Diane Ravitch reviews Dale Russakoff's The Prize: Who's In Charge of America's Schools? and Kristina Rizga's Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail it, and the Students and Teachers Who Made it Triumph and finds both to be "excellent." Together, Ravitch adds, the two books also "demonstrate that grand ideas cannot be imposed on people without their assent. Money and power are not sufficient to improve schools. [And genuine] improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children...."

Environment

Nonprofit Chronicles' Marc Gunther has written a must-read post about the recent assassination of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres -- and what U.S. funders can do to combat the organized campaign of terror and intimidation being waged against environmental activists in Honduras: 1) Demand that Berta Cáceres' killers be brought to justice; 2) provide more support for grassroots activism; and 3) recognize/acknowledge the connections between the environment and human rights.

Fundraising

In Forbes, Russ Alan Prince recaps the seven wealthy charitable donor types.

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The Three Sources of Foundation Influence

March 09, 2016

Infleunce_magnetMoney, convening power, and knowledge give philanthropic foundations enormous influence and underlie their unique position in our socioeconomic ecosystem. Endowed by a wealthy family or individual, foundations are blissfully free from the kinds of pressures that drive short-term behavior in other sectors. They don't have to raise money from venture capitalists, the financial markets, or other foundations. They never awake to the terrifying news that that their business is threatened by a new competitor. And they don't have to kiss babies in order to garner votes.

Like grizzly bears, lions and tigers, foundations have no natural predators.

Despite this enormous freedom, many foundations traditionally have professed humility and maintained a low profile — either because of their donor's wishes, a belief that it's their grantees that do the real work, or because of the personality of their leader. Increasingly, however, foundations are waking to the enormous potential they have to wield influence in their home cities, countries, and around the world. And encouraging others to adopt their causes, strategies, and ways of working is coming to be seen as the way foundations can increase their impact many-fold.

Let's look more closely at the three sources of foundation influence.

Flexible money

First and foremost is money. Foundations have an abundance of what nonprofit organizations, social entrepreneurs, and the social sector writ large chronically lack. Nonetheless, they tend to be conflicted about their wealth: foundations will tell you without much prompting how many millions or billions in assets they have, only to claim in the next sentence that their resources are small in relation to the world's problems. Collectively, the nearly $800 billion held by American foundations pales in significance to the hundreds of trillions coursing through the international capital markets. But that misses the point.

Foundation money is one of the last remaining sources of capital on earth without a significant claim on it. As a result, the dollars granted, loaned, or invested in social and environmental causes have tremendous potential for leverage. Public institutions may have large budgets, but in most cases those funds are so thoroughly earmarked that they are left with virtually no "risk capital." Talk to any foundation professional who has answered a call to form a partnership with a government agency, the World Bank, or any other large multilateral institution and she inevitably will express surprise about being asked for a grant. Indeed, many of the private-public partnerships that are viewed as the key to impact and bringing an initiative to scale began with a small foundation grant that served to lever more significant public funding.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2016)

March 01, 2016

A couple of infographics, a book review by Matt, a short Q&A with the MacArthur Foundation's Laurie Garduque, an oldie but goodie from Michael Edwards, and great posts from Blake Groves and Ann Canela — February's offerings here on PhilanTopic beautifully capture the breadth and multiplicity of the social sector. Now if we could only get it to snow....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (November 28-29, 2015)

November 29, 2015

Fall Leaves Oak Frost  11 05 09  019 - Edit-2 - Edit-SOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The CEOs from 78 companies and 20 economic sectors have issued an open letter on the World Economic Forum site calling upon "governments to take bold action at the Paris climate conference (COP 21) in December 2015 to secure a more prosperous world for all of us."

Giving

On the Giving in LA blog, John Kobara, executive vice president and COO of the California Community Foundation, citing the latest findings from neuroscience, notes that our brains have a philanthropic center, powered by oxytocin, that requires regular exercise. "The more we test our biases, certainties and assumptions by directly experiencing our feelings and expressing our compassion," writes Kobara, "the more we energize our philanthropic brains. Our philanthropy gets humanized and embodies the definition of philanthropy — our love for one another...." 

On Giving Tuesday, crowdfunding platform Crowdrise will launch its second-annual Giving Tower campaign, the centerpiece of which will be a virtual tower made up of bricks that represent donations made to participating charities. Megan Ranney reports for Mashable.

And a nice reminder from Money magazine's Kerri Anne Renzulli that there are ways to give to charity this holiday season other than giving cash.

Higher Education

"Low-income high school graduates were far less likely to enroll in higher education in 2013 than in 2008, a downward trend that came at the same time the Obama administration was pushing to boost college access and completion," a new analysis of Census Bureau data finds. The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 14-15, 2015)

November 15, 2015

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

Climate Change

More bad news on the climate change front this week, as the World Meteorological Organization reported that average levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in the early months of 2015, a rise of 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. The Washington Post's Joby Warrick has the details.

Will environmental limits, including limits on the climate system, slow or put an end to economic growth? Not necessarily. Cameron Hepburn, professor of environmental economics at the University of Oxford, explains.

Corporate Philanthropy

As part of its Tech Titans: Community Citizens?, Triple Pundit has a compelling, in-depth look at homelessness in Silicon Valley by Sherrell Dorsey, a  social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social, and economic equity in underserved communities.

Education

The path to college completion for low-income students is a marathon, not a sprint, writes Todd Penner, team lead for the College Preparation & Completion portfolio at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and one of the most important things we can do to help them is to look at each student as a whole, understand the complexities of his/her life, and be thoughtful about the type of support we offer.

Giving

During this season of giving, Feeding America suggests that you think about making a donation to one of the hundred and ninety-nine foodbanks in its nationwide network.

"More than $50 billion in charitable assets now course through our country’s economy via donor-advised funds (DAFs) as a result of changes wrought by the [Tax Reform Act of 1969]," writes Lila Corwin Berman in Forward magazine. And in "no small part due to the acumen and persistence of a mid-century Jewish tax lawyer, those dollars function quite differently from other charitable resources...."

How much are baby boomers expected to give to charity over the next two decades? According to a new analysis conducted by Merrill Lynch, the answer to that question is $8 trillion — part of the $59 trillion that boomers are likely to transfer to younger generations over the same period. Gayle Nelson, a development consultant, attorney, and blogger, reports for NPQ.

Governance

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Crystal Hayling, a former CEO of the Blue Shield California Foundation and current member of the CEP board, argues that picking individual grantees is probably not the best use of foundation board members' time.

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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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