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346 posts categorized "Impact/Effectiveness"

[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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Weekend Link Roundup (February 7-8, 2015)

February 08, 2015

Winter-wonderland-tumblr-3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

The Guardian's Damian Carrington reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets totaling more than $850 billion, dumped 32 coal-mining companies from its portfolio in 2014. "Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term," said Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for GPFG, which had had $40 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. "Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand."

Communications/Marketing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, argues that, in the age of the Internet, "communications is not just an opportunity for nonprofits; it's a necessity. Whether we're fundraising or trying to influence policy," he continues,

how we reach the right person with the right message has changed profoundly. Now it can take far more to figure out who the right people are, what channels to reach or influence them through, and how to hear them. It’s one thing to land a grant to open a new art space; it’s another to convince city hall that the community wants it, and still another to build a community to support it....

Education

It is troubling and a very big deal, writes Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, that a majority of U.S. public school children today live in poverty and are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. 

Grantmaking

On the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog, Jessica Bearman (aka "Dr. Streamline) shares six things foundations can do to improve the diversity and inclusion of their grantmaking.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a LinkedIn post, Peter York, founder and CEO at Algorhythm, a Philadelphia-based software company that is working to "democratize" impact measurement, asks: Who really has access to the power of impact measurement? And is there more we can do to make it available to everyone, including the beneficiary?

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Doing Good Is About to Get Better

February 05, 2015

Get On The MapAs the president of a regional association, I regularly need to know what funders in my region are supporting and where they are working. Usually, to get that information, my colleagues and I need to make a series of calls, send out emails and surveys, schedule meetings, and do some real sleuthing. And what we continue to end up with is representative of only a small portion of what is really happening around us. Sound familiar?

This lack of data to inform our work is even more problematic when coupled with all the questions and challenges raised by organizations that want to force their interpretation and agendas on that work. Unfortunately, we can't adequately respond because we don't really know who our collective dollars are serving and whether our grantees mirror the communities we are trying to serve. Because we don't have the data that supports the story we want to tell, others continue to write our story for us.

This is particularly important as we struggle with conversations around equity and justice in our communities and as we prepare for a looming conversation around charitable regulation. Philanthropy needs to be able to demonstrate its commitment to the public good by showing that its investments in community development, civic engagement, and social innovation reach across demographic and economic barriers. Given our special status as a tax-advantaged sector, we need to demonstrate that we are accountable and serve the public good.

In an earlier post, you heard from Joyce White, president of Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington, who shared details of her journey to collect more complete and meaningful data from funders in her region. When the Forum for Regional Associations of Grantmakers and Foundation Center formed a strategic alliance to improve the quality and effectiveness of grantmaking nationwide via data, research, and tools, the successful pilot in Oregon and southwest Washington served as a model for the rest of the country. The first focus of that partnership is a joint campaign to "Get on the Map."

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 3-4, 2015)

January 04, 2015

2015_desk_calendar_pcWelcome back! Hope you all got a chance to grab a little R&R over the holidays and are looking forward to the new year. Let's get it started with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

African Americans

The Washington Post's Jeff Guo reports on an examination of the health disparities between white and black Americans over the last century by the economists Leah Boustan and Robert Margo, who found that while those gaps have narrowed considerably, we're still pretty much "in the dark" as to how and why it happened.

Education

As they do every year at this time, the editors at Education Week have compiled a list of the publication's most-read articles from the preceding twelve months.

The continued rollout of the Common Core was one of the big education stories of 2014, and according to the one hundred articles  gathered by the folks at Educators for Higher Standards (two from each state), teachers were some of the loudest voices in support of the standards-based initiative.

Impact/Effectiveness

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution (and co-author of Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy), argues that Congress must reject efforts by some Republicans to eliminate "the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs."

Leadership

As Robert Egger reminds us, ten thousand baby boomers will turn 69 tomorrow -- and the day after tomorrow, and every day in 2015. And that means a lot of nonprofit CEOs and EDs will be retiring this year (and next year, and the year after that), to be replaced, in many cases, by a millennial -- i.e., someone born after 1980. What does that mean for boards and staff? Eugene Fram explains.

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Best of PhilanTopic: 2014 Edition

December 31, 2014

Hard to believe another year has come and gone. It certainly was an eventful one -- and a busy one here at PhilanTopic, in terms of both the number of items posted and pageviews (the most since we launched the blog in the fall of 2007). Below are the ten posts that proved to be especially popular. Hope you find them to be as interesting as we did!

Have a must-read/-watch/-listen from 2014 you'd care to share with our readers? Use the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Setting Standards in a Booming Market: What Makes Green Bonds Green?

December 02, 2014

Headshot_nicholas+tlaiyeOnce a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.

The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."

Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 15-16, 2014)

November 16, 2014

Ice-ballsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education 

On the NPR-Ed site, Emily Hanford has a piece (the first in a four-part series) about how Common Core is changing the way reading is taught to kids. (The piece originally appeared as part of American RadioWorks' "Greater Expectations: The Challenge of the Common Core.")

Environment

On Friday, the Sierra Club released a statement from its executive director, Michael Brune, in response to an announcement, expected this week, that the United States will contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF),  a new multilateral fund created "to help developing countries reduce climate pollution and address their vulnerabilities to the most dangerous effects of climate disruption."

Here on PhilanTopic, Gabi Fitz, director of knowledge management initiatives at Foundation Center, shares the results of a collaboration between IssueLab and the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation to capture and share knowledge  about sustainable coastal fisheries management.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a post on Forbes, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, argues that pay-for-success models, although not a silver bullet, "hold the potential to illuminate what works and what doesn’t, and to optimize both delivery of service and tax dollars."

International Development

The mainstream media tends to focus on the bad news, but Africa is changing -- largely for the better, as this slide deck from Our World in Data shows.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 8-9, 2014)

November 08, 2014

GOP_waveOur (slightly abbreviated) weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Pooja Gupta, a writer at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, reviews the findings of a 2014 study published in Psychological Science which found that Americans' trust in each other and their institutions (the military excepted) has hit all-time lows in recent years. According to the authors of the study, "Trust in others and confidence in institutions [are] key indicators of social capital," but that kind of "capital"

was lower in recent years than during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s; the Iran hostage crisis and "national malaise" of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the height of the crime wave in the early 1990s; the Clinton impeachment of the late 1990s; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the financial crisis and recession of the late 2000s....

Climate Change

Not that the new Congress will have any interest, but here are ten facts about climate change from the UN's new climate report that should give everyone pause.

Fundraising

The host of this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, fundraising consultant Pamela Grow, has issued a call for submissions. As has been the case for the past few years, this month's roundup is looking for submissions that detail how nonprofit organizations around the world are creating an "attitude of gratitude" (i.e., celebrate the donors who make their work possible). Here's how to submit:

  1. Write a blog post, or choose a recent post that fits the theme.
  2. Submit the post via email to: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com – be sure to include your name, your blog's name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage).
  3. Get your post in by the end of day on Sunday, November 23. You can check back on Monday, November 24, to see if your post made the cut!

Global Health

The hysteria around Ebola in the U.S. may be fading, but the ignorance and misconceptions that fueled it in the first place are still very much with us, Angélique Kidjo, a singer and songwriter from Benin, reminds us in in an op-ed in the New York Times.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 11-12, 2014)

October 12, 2014

Flock-of-migrating-cranesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Kauffman Founders School blog, Neil Patel explains why email marketing  trumps social media.

Although he's primarily talking about news, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, explains how social media has become the new press release, with lessons for all of us.

Giving Pledge

According to this short Bloomberg TV segment, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, the second richest man in the world, will not be signing the Giving Pledge anytime soon.

Impact/Effectiveness

In the second installment of a two-part series on the Markets for Good site, Peter York, the founder/CEO of Algorhythm, an "impact science organization that combines social science, outcome measurement, next generation analytics and technology to place highly accurate and actionable insights into the hands of social change agents,"argues that it's "time for the social sector to try out the method that medicine, psychology, business, economics and ecology have been using for a long time: the observational cohort study (OCS)."

Crain's Chicago Business has a good article about a group of investors led by Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker that plans to invest $16.9 million in "an innovative financing scheme that allows Chicago to expand pre-kindergarten programs for more than 2,000 low-income children over the next four years." According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is the fifth social impact bond to be announced in the U.S.

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

August 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 'Overhead' Pledge

August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Failure to eliminate these provisions will only serve to:

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

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

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

August 05, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 2-3, 2014)

August 03, 2014

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

Advocacy

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

Arts and Culture

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

Impact/Investing

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

International Affairs/Development

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

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Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Play a Leading Role?

July 14, 2014

Feldmann-headshotIs our organization relevant?

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

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

In other words, an organization is relevant if:

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

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

Playing the Lead

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

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

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

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Social Innovation With Our Eyes Wide Open

June 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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